On today's adventure, we meet young Sam and Toby Alden to reflect on the existence of Walla Walla, Washington, awkward middle-school music tastes, and to discuss their latest creation DUBBLEBABY - a new, promising web comic that is sure to be celebrated by many across the great Internet killing fields:
How old are you(s)?
S: I'm 22.
T: I'm 19. But I'm a child at heart.
Where do you live? How's life over/out/around there?
S: We go to school in Walla Walla, Washington, which turns out to be an actual place, but we're both from Portland originally. Portland's great. It's totally the best place to live if you're into alternative and indie comics. There are a bunch of awesome publishers there, like Top Shelf and Dark Horse, and it has the incomparable comics store Floating World Comics.
It's funny, because when we were kids the only comic book store in town was this place called Excalibur, which I think is pretty close to what most normal people think of when they think of a comic book store. It had these big crappy paintings of Venom and Iron Man on the front, and then the inside was like a massive sweaty museum of superhero comics in clear plastic covers. Then there was one wall way in the back where they had indie titles and graphic novels and such. Excalibur was on the other side of town, and we'd have to ask our dad to drive us all the way there just to buy a comic that didn’t make you depressed about art. Actually, there was also a store that we could walk to, but it was just too sad to ever go. It was called Ancient Wonders. That place was truly a neckbeard dungeon.
T: I once saw the guy who ran Ancient Wonders walk out of a Baja Fresh. He didn't look any happier then he did when I saw him in the store. But yeah, the comics scene in Portland has drastically improved since we were kids. There are tons of stores full of indie comics that were previously relegated to a dank corner smushed between "The Punisher: Killdeath Revenge" and "Batman Vs. Stargate: Battle for Gotham Planet".
What do you do for a living?
S: I draw posters and illustrations for a lot of on-campus stuff. Over this past summer I lived in New Orleans with my girlfriend, and I worked at the city's oldest snowball shop on Tchoupitoulas Street. Snowballs are this classic New Orleans treat, and if you call them sno-cones or shave ice people get really offended; the difference is that they're made with this really fine, powdery ice, so it feels like you're actually eating a snowball.
The machine that we used in the shop was the original snowball machine that the owner's grandfather had invented in the thirties, and to use it you had to cram these massive iceblocks into these scary spinning blades, and then if the ice got jammed you had to reach up into the spinning-blades-of-death chute and fish it out with your hands. That’s the kind of day job I like the most, where it has nothing to do with drawing but you’re still doing something productive with your hands. I think it's probably important to never spend too long doing nothing but your art. You should also go on walks and talk to other people.
T: Very little. I make show promos for our college's radio show and I write for the humor section of our school's paper. One of the first articles I wrote was called "2 Sexy 4 Saturday Morning". It was about this guy who works at an animation studio and sends his boss pitches for increasingly sexual shows. Stuff like "Shirtless Adventures" and "Hotdog Squad". My personal favorite was "Milfbumps" because the tagline was "Grab your spooky bone". Actually, I just remembered I haven't gotten paid for that yet. My biggest failing as a person is probably my inability to complete really small tasks, like going three hundred feet across campus to the office to fill out a two page form so I can get paid.
S: “Grab your spooky bone” was one of the funniest phrases that you’ve ever come up with.
How was DUBBLEBABY formed?
S: Toby and I have this very specific kind of relationship where he'll spend hours and hours just being as annoying as he can. I mean, he's relentless. He'll spew filth from his mouth and yell inanities in restaurants and pretend to hump telephone poles until I crack and think something is funny, and then he wins. Often it's not even the funniest thing that he's said; it's just that I reach the saturation point, where the joke isn't what he's saying but the sheer volume of his obnoxious behavior. So I've always thought that he was really funny, and in this bizarre way where he's brainy and overeducated but he chooses to use that intelligence to make jokes about dicks and video games.
I've been trying to make comics about him for a while; I have a blog called I'm On The Phone which was initially started just to chronicle the conversations that we have on the phone. Then for while, about a year ago, we started doing these collaborative comics where we'd go on walks and he'd just throw out thirty ideas for comics at a time, and then I would pick one and draw them. Some of them were pretty good. I remember this idea that we never drew where it's just ten panels from The Family Circus, in ten completely different scenarios, with some cute little caption at the bottom, except that the exact same picture of Jeffy would appear in every panel, and grow a little bit larger every time, until by the end the entire panel was taken up by a single eye.
One of the ones that we ended up doing was a three-panel silent comic. In the first panel, there are two little kids drawn in a classic kid's comic style, and they're arguing over something. One of them is holding a copy of Gravity's Rainbow, and the other one is holding a copy of The Crying of Lot 49. Then in the second panel, they look over (with little surprise marks over their heads) at this long, spindly leg stepping in through an open window. In the last panel, Thomas Pynchon is standing in between them and pinching their cheeks with these freakishly long arms, and they're giggling and smiling. I love this comic because it sets you up for something so brainy– Thomas Pynchon being this dense, intricate author and everything– and then the punchline is the world's stupidest pun: Thomas Pinchin'. That would have been weird even for a DUBBLEBABY strip, I think.
Anyway, after a certain point I was tired of labeling these strips "Comics That My Brother Wrote," and was had enough ideas stockpiled that we decided to just start a webcomic specifically for that, and so we started DUBBLEBABY. We also considered calling it Pandacop, I think.
T: There are a lot of ideas like that Family Circus one that never make to a real comic. Sometimes the joke is just too stupid. I had an idea for a strip I was really proud of a few days ago, but Sam shot it down. There was a pirate talking to a pirate captain who has a parrot on either shoulder, and he goes "Arr captain you be havin not one but two parrots on ya" and the captain says "Arr yes it be a whole new parrotdigm". In retrospect, I can see why that didn't go over so well. Or I had another idea where it's ten panels of a dude climbing hair to the top of a tower, so you think it's Rapunzel? Only when he gets to the top a big fist comes out and hits him and it's actually Ra-PUNCH-zel. Some of my ideas are dumb enough that even I'll concede it, though. A while back I wanted Sam to draw this comic where this guy's yelling "ALL OF YOU ARE COMPLACENT LITTLE WAGE SLAVES! DON'T YOU EVER THINK, SHEEPLE?!" And then the camera pulls back to reveal he's yelling at these horrible mutant sheep-people.
S: That was a terrible idea. You are going through a big pun phase right now.
What's your drawing process?
S: Once Toby gives me an idea, I usually pencil it out and then show it to him for review. He's pretty exacting about what sorts of things he wants in his comic. I remember a big debate about how an astronaut's arms were going to be pumping. If they were in the YMCA stance, the comic read a little differently. It was more like HOORAY! If they were straight up in the air, it was frattier, like he was saying YEAHHH or WOOOO. We eventually decided on the straight-up arms. Toby's able to think really visually, so he's good at picking these things up.
I pencil with any old variety of pencil, but I always ink it with a Staedler 0.7 pen and color it in Photoshop. Because I wanted the strip to have a unified look to it, I follow pretty standardized rules: backgrounds are a single solid color, occasionally in two shades; characters are almost always uncolored, and bleed out to the panel borders if they're touching them. Occasionally, I'll switch up the art style for specific effects. When I want a more classic, serious style, I'll use a brushpen and a lot more photo reference. In general, I think that the jokes work better if the art is mostly utilitarian; prettiness can distract from the rhythm of the storytelling. Overly detailed or representational artwork often draws attention to itself as art, whereas cartoons are a synopsis of whatever they're meant to represent. Ideally, the reader's not aware of looking at a drawing of a person; it's more like they're looking at the idea of a person.
T: My drawing process is walking over to Sam's desk every five minutes and complaining that he's taking forever.
What inspires you? What are some other comics that you dig?
S: In the comics world, I think that Michael Kupperman, who draws Tales Designed To Thrizzle, is probably one of the funniest cartoonists drawing today. And unlike a lot of other contemporary humor cartoonists, he’s also an incredible artist. Richard Thompson draws Cul De Sac, which is my favorite syndicated strip right now; and my friend Craig Thompson, who drew the graphic novels Blankets and Habibi, is probably my biggest inspiration in terms of sheer work ethic. In a broader sense, my friend David Kanaga does incredible electronic and sampled music, and we’ve been trading collaborations for a few months now. I admire his music for being able to capture an atmosphere perfectly without a lot of fussing too much over content. My parents got me started on a lot of it, too; my mom does fantastic art, and my dad was the one who got me really excited about storytelling.
T: Achewood is hands down the best comic that's also on the internet. The humor in DUBBLEBABY mostly comes from these wildly implausible scenarios, which is funny but also a little exhausting. What I like about Achewood is it's funny in a really natural way. The characters are all so well-made that they can just be having a conversation and it'll be funny. That comic has totally influenced the way I write. I'm considering having some recurring characters in DUBBLEBABY just so I can do jokes like that, in that conversation format. I'm also a huge fan of Matt Furie's Boy's Club. That's a comic where the art really bolsters the joke in a way where the comic wouldn't work if the art wasn't so good. But since the art is really good, it's hilarious. Michael Kupperman's comics are the same way. I really try and take advantage of the fact that Sam's a good artist to do jokes that are dependent on having good art. If the drawings were just a vessel for the dialogue, I'd be doing MS Paint comics myself. But something like Buddhacop, that's funny because Buddhacop's face is so intensely detailed.
What was the last book you've read?
S: I’m reading Love in The Time of Cholera right now, and before that I read Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami; so a lot of magical realism, I guess. I’m also getting into this fantastic anthology of alternative manga that Top Shelf put out.
T: I'm reading this book Extra Lives by Tom Bissell. It's this collection of personal essays about playing different games, and how he reacts to them and stuff. It's pretty good!
What are you listening to lately?
S: I have historically lame taste in music. Recently I discovered a big box of world music that I owned in eighth grade, back before I ever thought there was anything problematic about the term “world music”. It’s mostly really embarrassing stuff like Afrocelt Sound System and Putomayo discs. So nothing that I’d recommend, but if I’m answering the question honestly, that’s what I’ve been listening to lately.
T: I have super cool taste in music. I'm really into electronic artists from cold, northern countries right now. I've been listening to this album by Secede called Tryshasla a ton. I'm think it's about a guy who's dying in the hospital and lapses into this fantasy world, but I could be wrong about that. It's super lush sounding. I've also been listening to this song "Maybes" by Mount Kimbie a lot. It's got a huge guitar build-up that goes "BWAAANG...BWAAANG...DUNNNNN" for about three minutes and then these crazy manipulated vocals kick in. It's cool.
Any taste I have in music has been earned though. Back in sixth, seventh grade, you know I was rocking that Linkin Park everyday.
How is the world going to end?
S: My brother is probably going to want to field this one.
T: Reality becomes amalgamated with World of Warcraft. Then, the servers go down for maintenance and never come back up.
Actually, I have this recurring fantasy where when Armageddon hits, I have to fight everyone I hate in a giant brawl across an apocalyptic wasteland. It's basically just me against army of dudes wearing Naruto headbands, plus anyone who's made me sit through a powerpoint presentation of their year abroad.
Are there any other projects your working on?
S: I have a more general art blog at gingerlandcomics.blogspot.com. I’ve also been working on my own graphic novel for about two years now. I wanted to finish it by the time I was 23 (Elvis Costello’s first album came out then, as did Craig Thompson’s first graphic novel), but seeing as how I’m only a quarter of the way into it and it’s been two years, I will probably be shooting for 25 or 26 now. I started it my Freshman year of college, which is crazy to think about.
T: I'm working on an as-of-yet untitled flash game about flipping gravity. It's kind of like Terry Cavenagh's VVVVVV, only with more jumping. I've been really into independent games since I played Cave Story my freshman year of high school, but this is the first time I've tried to seriously make one. Sam is going to be doing the art, so it'll be pretty if nothing else. I'm hoping to have it done by the end of the year. I also have an extremely infrequently updated blog at scrubthebutt.blogspot.com. I think it's hilarious.
( Drawn under 4mg. of Dilaudid )
" ...today we live in a narcissistic and obsessive culture, totally overflowing with drugs. And as an artist I am the filter... "
Bryan Lewis Saunders is an artist without any doubt --- when he creates things, people break down and cry. In short, he is a great leader of catharsis and true emotional expression in a modern world of nervous silence.
Although Saunders is renowned mostly for his spoken word poetry, he has earned himself a fair deal of notoriety with one specific project of his - testing and artistically showing the effects of various illicit substances. Each day, through a series of self portraits, Bryan Lewis Saunders opens a new chemical doorway - and sketches his visions and experiences of the unknown pleasures that lie waiting beyond.
dinosaurcity had the chance to sit down with Bryan Lewis Saunders and discuss his personal tribulations with this project. This is the transcript:
How old are you?
BLS: Almost 42.
Where are you from?
BLS: I was born in Washington D.C. but I've lived in Tennessee off and on for so long that I tell people that I'm from there.
What led to the decision to start these self-portraits under the influence of various drugs?
BLS: Well I've drawn/painted at least one self portrait every day since March 30th of 1995 and on some days I experiment with drugs. However, the drug series itself began in 2000 when I moved into an 11 story building with the idea that I would make a documentary on all of the interesting characters there. The building, is well known in Johnson City for its creeps and loonies.
After moving in, one of my good friends Jennifer Renfro, from art school purchased an old church nearby and was turning it into a house to live in. While finishing the downstairs flooring she died in her sleep when it caught fire.
The day after her funeral my best friend Don Morgan, also from art school, shot himself in the head, in one temple and out the other with a Russian .32 and survived! Unfortunately he ended up with severe brain damage and permanent confusion. While he was still in the hospital my right lung collapsed for the third time (spontaneous pneumothorax), and I had a lobectomy in which they removed the top half of my lung to prevent it from collapsing again.
Meanwhile my other best friend, Brandon Bragg, was on the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiking from GA to ME. experiencing great and wonderful things in nature. Once I myself got out of the hospital and Don was sent to a nursing home, Brandon was hiking in nearby Damascus, VA and convinced me to continue the journey with him. I had never been hiking before and with only 1 1/2 lungs I put my life in his hands.
It was incredible. I had 5 pounds of art supplies with me! Every day I saw tons of beautiful things in nature. I'm from the city and so every new kind of bark I saw, or toadstool, or wild animal gave me such a rich wealth of phenomenon to draw and see myself in a totally different world. That experience was truly miraculous and healing. (To this day that book is my favorite of all of the self-portrait books.)
( Huffing Lighter Fluid )
Anyway, back to the drugs.
While Brandon and I were hiking one day he asked me, "Whatever happened with that documentary you were going to make with the veterans and the loonies?"
And I told him how everything had happened so fast with the tragedies and how I thought the people would be really interesting to document, but in fact they were all on drugs, suffering in solitude, some too obese to physically leave their apartment, and for many it was all they could do to get out of their recliners 3 times a day. And I told him how when I first moved in, a paraplegic in a wheelchair showed me an encyclopedia of pills and said he could find at least one of every kind of pill in that book in the building and that book was huge!
When Brandon and I got to NY, I unknowingly became very dehydrated and started hallucinating and had a psychotic break and ditched him at a monastery because I thought he was trying to poison me. I took the greyhound straight back to Tennessee where I had an epiphany. I thought not only am I going to draw myself everyday, I'm going to do a different drug everyday, after all there was one of everything in the building...
And that was when I officially started the project.
What were your favorite substances consumed? What were the worst?
BLS: Xanax (totem poles - 4mg) would probably be one of my favorites. It made me feel real at peace with life and with the trauma, and it also made me a real social dynamo! I'm sort of a recluse but with the Xanax I could just walk up and talk to total strangers! The Butane Honey Oil was a real blast too!
The worst is a toss up between PCP and Seroquel (heavy tranquilizer/anti-psychotic agent) 100 mg. I went to a doctor to hopefully get more different drugs and told him about my project and showed him my pictures on various drugs and he only wrote one prescription for 90 Seroquels thinking I was psychotic for taking such an undertaking and it was awful!
I always saw the lion in Africa on TV with the hurt foot getting shot with a tranquilizer dart and assumed that that lion was woozy and in lala land! Boy was I wrong. In reality, that lion actually wants to tear out those people's throats with awe inspiring savagery but it just can't move. At least that is how the Seroquel did me. It's a long story but as you can see from the drawing I had to fight against its effects, and it took every ounce of strength I had!
( Ladies and gentlemen, PCP! )
The PCP was just as bad. Any drugs that detach your mind from your body I don't care for too much. The PCP day I ate a ham sandwich with tomatoes in it and people kept knocking on my door asking if they could look at my Appalachian Trail self-portraits and I'd get to telling about 20 people at a time all of my hiking stories and showing them all of my drawings and then all of sudden someone would whisper, "Bryan, these people aren't real." And I would flip the hell out! Because even the person that whispered that wasn't real. And then there would be another knock at the door and more people would come in wanting to see my pictures and they too weren't real.
What's crazy is, my friend Audra said that she really did knock on my door and could hear me talking in there but I wouldn't answer it. It was all I could do to draw myself vomiting on PCP, and each time I heaved my face shifted off in stages and red clumpy chunky stuff kept coming out of my nose. I thought my brain was hemorrhaging, but it turned out it was just tomato from my sandwich. Thankfully.
Before the self-portraits, how experienced were you with these substances? Were there any you did the first time with these experiments?
BLS: I've always experimented with drugs to some extent, and when I was much younger I had a couple of seizures on cocaine binges, but many of them were new to me. Most of the pills were new and some of the huffing.
People that don't 'really' know me often think I'm a party animal because of this body of work, but in truth I will only do a drug for the drawing/experience and if I've never done it before. Some drugs I have already done, but it was before I began drawing myself every day so I'll do it again under the influence.
( 2mg. of Xanax )
I've snorted Heroin several times, but I've never done a drawing on Heroin because I haven't had the opportunity since I started the project. I only do drugs that people donate to the project. All all that I really care about is how drugs change my perception of the self. As the scientist and the 'lab rat' I often have to wait to be in the perfect place in life and in the perfect frame of mind and in the right environment with the right people or alone which can take months sometimes to get all of that aligned. I do this to drastically limit possible outside factors that may complicate the self-perception.
From an artist's perspective, what drugs have been the most useful for you?
BLS: I would say none of them were very 'useful' outside of just sharing a one time unique experience. Adderall did seem to give me a lot of patience and focus, but I wouldn't say it was more useful than Salvia which I started drawing right before taking and finished by painting right after.
Even I, who has conditioned myself to draw while in a drunken blackout and not remember it, still can't draw when completely obliterated or on a different planet, so I try not to overdo it. The act of drawing is much more useful than any drug.
On your website, you mention that you became "lethargic and suffered mild brain damage" because of this experiment - can you elaborate on the after effects?
BLS: Well, in the beginning I got carried away and became enamored with the uniqueness of how the different drugs made me see myself and how each one had its own special quality. And after a few days or so the excitement was really building up in me, As to were the different drugs. And as soon as the effects of one would wear off I'd just do another one without thinking about any harm I was causing myself.
And then when the word got out about the project people started really showing up at my door with all kinds of stuff, I mean really cleaning out their medicine cabinets for me. So the day after someone showed up with 2 bottles of Robotussin and a can of lighter fluid.
My friend Audra saw my pictures and the breaking down of my mental state and said, "Look! Bryan! You're giving yourself Down Syndrome!" (to put it nicely). And sure enough I had been mixing the wrong drugs with each other for days and gave my self mild-brain damage without even knowing it. Luckily not permanent and thankfully she was there to even spot it. It was quite some time before I tried a new drug again.
Are these experiments still going?
BLS: Yep, the drawing still goes on. Never missing a day. Just finishing up my 89th book of self-portraits and quickly approaching 8,000 in all.
Not all of them on drugs of course, but from time to time when the situation presents itself and an interested party donates a new one I'll do it. But only on my own terms, like I said everything has to be just right I only do it for the drawing.
What's next? Where's the acid?
BLS: As far as acid goes, I've tried acid 3 times in NE Tennessee and all 3 times it was really crappy. Nothing like the U.V.A. acid in the mid eighties. People here say, "I did 8 of 'em. I took 4. I did 6 of 'em.". And I'm like, "If one doesn't do it for you, why take 7 more? That's ignorant!"
As for what's next, it all depends on what people give me. I don't seek them out and there are still plenty of big ones I need to draw under the influence of; Heroin, LSD, DMT, Computer Duster, Ayahuasca, Peyote and I don't want to die until I do a self-portrait on Crack. You see today we live in a narcissistic and obsessive culture, totally overflowing with drugs. And as an artist I am the filter. Picasso and Matisse got it right when one of them said, "Cézanne is the father of us all." It's not a stretch by any means to say, "On some days, my brain chemistry is my vantage point and my face is his Mont Sainte-Victoire."
( The artist, having snorted 15mg of Buspar )
For people interested in this particular body of work, my Facebook has the best and most up to date collection of drawings under the influence. And I'm a weird person, and I'm way more well known for other stuff besides the drawings and drugs...
To look more into the world of Bryan Lewis Saunders, please visit his website.
cyv2 - France.
Andrew Phan - Brooklyn, New York.
Ilya Ilyukhin - Moscow, Russia.
Violeta Niebla - Málaga, Spain.
heddaselder - Sweden.
Randy P. Martin.
Dylan Menges - United States (currently crossing America on a bicycle).