Drawn & Quarterly is known for books from such “Highbrow” creators as Dan Clowes and Chester Brown. So how come one of its first major books for 2016 has the word “Puke” in the title?
Readers will find out why when you read Puke Force, a collection of one of the most surreal, twisted, and detailed comic books ever put to paper. There’s a plot, per se, regarding an exploding coffee shop, repeated changes in point of view, Hell, M&Ms, and even superheroes – but the acid satire is something that’s difficult to simply sum up. Rather, it’s a series of dense, chaotic drawings filled with frantic energy, which are formatted in a unique style explained in each strip – the action moves “like a snake,” requiring you to read each row of panels from left to right, then right to left, and back again.
This synopsis does not include the really strange stuff.
Puke Force is a longtime project of Brian Chippendale, an artist and musician best known as part of the band Lightning Bolt. You can take a look at his artistic style here.
Chippendale, who’s about to do a short tour with Michael DeForge and Nick Drnaso, spoke to Newsarama about bringing Puke Force to life, the unique storytelling style of the book, his favorite comic books, and more.
Newsarama: Brian, how did the collection come about with Drawn & Quarterly?
Brian Chippendale: I’d done the comic for Picturebox’s website for a while, but then they decided to stop publishing. Both Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly got up with me, and Tom Devlin’s at Drawn & Quarterly – he’s an old friend, so that was a deciding factor, getting to work with him. But it was kind of amazing, both knocking at my door at the same time?
Nrama: What was it like putting the strips together in a collection?
Chippendale: I always do my comics with the idea that they’ll be collected in some form. I was putting them online, but they weren’t really “webcomics” per se – they were still drawn on paper, in black and white.
Nrama: I keep encountering that argument, “What constitutes a webcomic?” Because a lot of comics done for newspapers are put online, there’s a lot of comics online that are drawn on paper, like yours – and there’s a lot of comics that premiere online that come out in hard-copy single issues and collections. It’s a broader definition than it used to be.
Chippendale: I don’t know where that line is drawn! For me, if I was going to really do a webcomic, I’d want to use as many digital tools in the toolbox as possible, as a way to say, “this is why this lives on the Internet.”
In a way, maybe all comics are webcomics at this point – all novels are digital, all music is all over the place…it’s just another format, another way to make things available.
Nrama: Well, you have that “chutes and ladders” style of panel progression in the strips, which is something that could work uniquely with things like the “guided view” many tablet readers use for comics.
Chippendale: Right, that’s true. You can scroll, you can do “chutes and ladder” forever, if you’d like! But I’ve actually been doing that style before the Internet even existed. It’d be fun to experiment with, though – like an infinite scroll.
But I’ve always designed things for print, and designed things for page spreads. It’s interesting that now you have more options – younger people who want to draw can decide whether they want to do print or digital.
But I very much felt like, “two-page spread!” I got an iPad for Christmas, and there was a manga called No.5 – it had never been finished in English in the ‘80s. You could read it page-by-page, or double-page spread by double-page spread. On the individual pages, they’re bigger, but the two-page spread, you’re getting the look of the book as it was intended to be seen when it was published. So I read it that way, spread-by-spread.
It’s a matter of intent – if you want something to have guided view, that’s fine, but there’s also how older comics were originally intended to be read.
Nrama: With Puke Force it’s got a quality like those Family Circus Sunday strips where Billy has to do a simple errand and just wanders all over the place, these dotted lines showing his path – you kind of have to find your way through it. You can’t just look at it and “get” it.
Chippendale: Yeah – the comic takes commitment! Hopefully, if you like the quality of the art and the design, you’ll dive in, and once you dive in, you’ll get lost in it.
Nrama: What was it like going through the years of Puke Force for the collection – just kind of saying, “Here’s where I was when I was doing the initial strips, and here’s where I was at the end?”
Chippendale: It was about five years worth of strips – and yeah, I was worried as I was getting it together! There’s some political satire buried in there, and by the time you publish stuff like that, even at the time, it’s immediately dated.
But the amazing thing is that rereading this, a lot of it still rings true. There’s still weird war, and horrible Internet comments, and a lot of the same players are still in the game. It’s all pretty relevant, I think, for today. It’s a weird time.
Nrama: I imagine when you’re reacting to the strangeness in the world, there’s got to be something cathartic about doing a comic book like Puke Force – just getting all that chaos out of your head and putting it down on paper to render all that destruction and pathos.
Chippendale: I kind of draw all the time, so comics are kind of where my drawing goes to the next level. I’ll just draw and draw, and sometimes it turns into a comic, and then turns into a story.
When you’re pulling from politics, when you’re pulling from current events, it’s just an endless stream of inspiration. If anything gets you fired up, usually that fire can burn long enough to finish a few pages of story.
Nrama: Do you see yourself revisiting this world any time in the future, doing more with Puke Force?
Chippendale: Oh yeah – I was literally drawing more stories when you called! I’ve got five new episodes I’ve done just for the fun of it. I work on these things irregularly – if I have a music show or another deadline, I can put it aside and then come back to it.
With this, the story is designed to go on and on and on – the ending is just a moment. The book has a conclusion, but it’s just a piece of the puzzle. So yeah, I want to get more online very soon, to say A) “The book is out, so here’s a reason to get excited about it,” and B) “Let’s put a spin on the ending a bit.”
Nrama: I was curious if you’ve thought of doing anything that combines your comic books and music.
Chippendale: I’ve never done anything overtly like that – there’s some parts of my books that have soundtracks in my mind, but nothing fully like that. I want to do that! It’s been simmering beneath the surface for a long time, but I haven’t “crossed the streams” yet with my music and comics. It’s on the list.
Nrama: Have you ever thought of just writing a comic book someone else would illustrate, or illustrating a comic book someone else has written?
Chippendale: Oh, all the damn time! [laughs] But I just have so much of my own stuff I’m writing and drawing that I never really pursue that very far. My time and energy is so limited throughout the year that when I do have time to work on stuff, I try to make it fully-formulated things on my own. When I have that time – it just feels like it’s time I should use to make comics.
Nrama: I’d imagine working in different media has its own rewards.
Chippendale: It’s awesome! Doing different things helps inform your comics – an art residency I was doing in January helped me in seeing how images relate to each other. You see people who just draw comics, or just draw art, or just make music…I am jealous of their hyper-focus, because then you can soar in one specific thing.
Nrama: What are some comic books and creators you’ve enjoyed recently?
Chippendale: One I’ve really liked – and that was a “webcomic” initially – Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s The Private Eye. It’s a gorgeous volume, an actual hardcover book, it just looks great.
A lot of the Image stuff is great – I really like Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark. I love how it feels like he’s figured that world out before he sat down and wrote it. It just feels completely thought-out.
I read a lot of mainstream stuff – I thought the Secret Wars miniseries was really cool. There’s a few holes in its logic, but that’s okay. [laughs] I have several of the spinoffs in my pile. Jason Aaron’s Thors -- that reminds me of Alan Moore’s Top Ten, that procedural police element and that crazy world. Top Ten, you just can’t touch that, that’s amazing.