Intensity is a Total Buzzkill: An Interview with Bob Schofield
Bob Schofield is a self-described ‘cartoonist’ creating the kind of stuff you’re never gonna see in The Wall Street Journal (unless that paper takes a sharp left turn), which means it’s incredibly interesting. More than that, he’s a writer of some great flash-fiction that goes along with his pictures and the creator of a new book coming out in June, The Inevitable June. It’s a book broken down into daily doses or chapters of days, much like a devotional for alternative cartoons, starring a masked little man, a giant octopus, a yeti, and more. There are fantastic sentences in here, so vivid and so abstract they’ll just make you stare.
Basically, if you still have an imagination, you’re gonna love this book.
I got to email Bob some of my questions and his response were way cooler than I could have hoped for.
KH: So this is purely selfish and lazy for me to ask, but when you’re at, say, a cocktail party or somewhere where you’re forced to small-talk and you tell people you’re putting out this book, The Inevitable June, and they ask what it’s “ABOUT,” how do you summarize it? I feel like whenever I try to reiterate what just happened, it’s like a hack-job of “Ugh, it’s like a guy, and there’s like, loneliness, and sometimes it’s dark on the pages, like literally, the thing is illustrated and the printer must have hated him for making it literally so dark, but then sometimes, it’s like, not dark… ugh…” Just like one of the nosy basic bitches at said cocktail party: EXPLAIN YOURSELF TO ME!!
BS: I haven’t really been to any cocktail parties, or done much socializing with strangers in the past year, so luckily this scenario hasn’t come up. But, my go-to answer for what it’s “ABOUT” is: I was just trying to condense my brain into book form. That’s all it was, really.
I wanted to make like a scale-model of my imagination, and what you’re describing in this question, what you read, is what it feels like in my head. I’ve always seen it a bit like wandering in a museum, or maybe a laboratory. Either way, the space feels somehow curated. Kind of cold, kind of austere, only there’s way more doors and nothing on the walls.
And so stuff just sort of happens. Images pop in and out. They interact. Things bounce around. It’s all somehow very messy and very clean at the same time. That was the experience I wanted to recreate as a book.
KH: Like the last question: When adults (and by adults, I don’t necessarily mean like, people once they hit 32. I mean “adults” like The Little Prince or some other children’s book would mean adults, GROWN-UPs, I guess) ask you what you DO and what the heck is “Experimental Literature,” how do you respond?
BS: I feel like my hypothetical response to an “adult,” and my actual feelings on the subject are two entirely different things. It’s been my experience that when people are asking you what you DO, nine times out of ten they’re just being polite, and don’t really much care, and certainly don’t expect any kind of in-depth response.
And often, at least in my experience, giving them any kind of earnest or impassioned or in-depth answer usually leads to some sort of social faux-pas, a weird bubble of awkwardness.
Like they were just trying to make small talk, and now you’ve gone and like torn your shirt open and ripped your still beating heart out and tossed it in their lap.
Intensity is, more often than not, a total buzzkill.
So my response for a long time to that kind of question was “cartoonist.” Especially when I was focused more on straight up comics. Now I’d probably say something like “I’m a writer and cartoonist,” and then hope they don’t press me for more info, so we can just steer the conversation towards something less dense, more fun, like discussing whatever new thing is currently playing Sundays on HBO, which seems increasingly to be the only common ground we really share now as a society.
And re: “experimental literature,” I don’t really know what that is.
I mean I do, because like I’ve been in a Barnes & Noble before. And I know I didn’t write a like, 200-400 page character driven novel in the lyrical realist mode. And I know Oprah doesn’t give a shit about me, and never will, no matter how many love notes I slip in her locker after class.
But I guess what I mean when I say “I don’t really know what that is” is that I wasn’t trying to be “experimental.” I just wanted to have fun making a thing. And I did. And I think most of the people out there “experimenting,” at least the good ones, putting out the quality stuff, are just fellow weirdos, diligently mining whatever weird shit grows in that deep, sad, beautiful place inside them.
KH: My experience with this book: I read the entire thing while sitting alone at a diner. I kept seeing the dates at the top of the page, telling me I was reading weeks at a time, and yet I just kept consuming. Did I read your book wrong?
BS: Nah, you did just fine.
I don’t really remember what sparked the idea of using the month of June, but I know I liked that it was a boring month. Maybe the most boring. There are no real holidays. It’s just this flat, hot void in the middle of summer.
It felt like it was kind of just lying around, and I was free to take it and inflate it with all my weird bullshit. I wanted it to feel like it existed in both space and time, like it was an alternate dimension you had just woke up in, and you were going to be stuck there until it was over. And that’s why I wanted the book to read quickly. I wanted you to just steamroll through it, and not worry about what everything was supposed to mean, or what was “really” happening. The balance of the images and the length of each piece was important, to keep tugging you along, and the quick succession of dates was ultimately just another technique to further that goal. Keep reeling you in.
KH: What’s the kind of stuff sitting on your bookshelves. Do you have bookshelves? What are they like? Do you alphabetize? What things have you kept on those shelves since you were 14? What stuff are you constantly drawing from?
BS: Bunch of comics. Bunch of poetry.
They’re in sections. I used to alphabetize, but not anymore. There are a couple more shelves, and some boxes too, and then sad ass dusty piles like I’m in prison.
But for maybe six months now I’ve been going real hard on the Kindle. Love it. It’s just so much more convenient. I’m sick of Sisyphus-ing this small mountain of books from one shit hole to another. And I’m not 19 anymore, using my hoard of books to like intimidate others/perform lame, intellectual dick swinging.
KH: What comes first for you: The words or the pictures?
BS: They feed off each other. If I stop doing one for too long, the other suffers.
Sometimes a line will spur the idea for a drawing, and vice versa. And then I figure out where everything needs to go, and what the beats are going to be. It’s like solving a weird, emotional calculus problem.
But I mostly just let it unfurl and see what happens. I like to keep things intuitive, which is one reason why I like having those patterns and refrains in place, like the dates and the opening line always being “This morning.” Having those kind of patterns in place lets me get weird without a risk of getting lost in it. They anchor me.
KH: Finally, when asked what form of communication you would like for this interview (Phone, Gchat, Email), you said 1. Email 2. Gchat. No phone, because that would be “a disaster.” At what point in your life did you begin to question your ability to interact with people in real-time?
BS: The “disaster” thing was mostly just self-deprecation. Though I do feel like doing this over the phone would have definitely made for the least interesting interview.
I’m not sure if I question my ability to interact with people in real-time, so much as I’m just well aware that “real-time” means I’ll be leaning way harder on surfacey, jokey bullshit during the entire interaction.
I feel like I’m by nature a pretty intense person. More intense than most. I know this. And I know that most of the time people are not in the mood for intensity, or just don’t know how to engage with it.
And I guess I know that too, and so to square the circle of being an intense person within a culture that sort of collectively frowns on intensity, I’ve learned to defuse it in most social situations. Hence jokes. Hence self-deprecation. But it’s not that I feel like it’s “phoney,” necessarily, in fact I’m really glad I can do it. I guess it’s just that I feel like I have to do it a bit more often than I’d like.
And I didn’t want to do that during this interview. Because I feel like it’s very rare that I get a chance to freely speak my mind, without subsequently draping myself in all this self-inflected shame and guilt, like two sad millstones I’m wrapping around my neck 24/7.
And so yeah, I just wanted to make the most of this opportunity. I hope I did.