MOME Interview 4: Jonathan Bennett

gg: Your characters also have pretty vivid fantasy lives in the sense that they’ll imagine themselves, well, talking to an anthropomorphized version of some inanimate object. In Esoteric Tales, it was the nib of a pen. I think in the first story, there was something like that. The back of the guy’s head was talking to you.

jb: That’s definitely something that I’m guilty of. I have lots of fake conversations with all kinds of inanimate objects or with people who I’ve never met while I’m wandering around, I just find myself just talking, not out loud, to myself, I definitely have a lot of interior monologues and dialogues with myself. So. It’s a weird way of thinking. Strange, I don’t know, but I definitely have always brought inanimate objects to life in my brain, I can’t help but consider their feelings or whatever it is, because I have really strong reactions to things like that. I get really angry at inanimate objects a lot of the time. [Laughter.] So I can’t help but put words in their mouth.{mosimage}

gg: You said that in the story that’s in this issue, that you had the last couple of page in your head first. What did that represent, his crawling into the bed and… Back to the womb, or — ?

jb: That’s the obvious connection. I think it’s one of those things that was much more random until I decided to start writing the first page and made the obvious connections right there with the title of the story. Yeah, it’s more of something I’ve always done since I was little, just really being fascinated by and always drawn to creeping into really small places. I don’t know why that is. I’ve now been consciously obsessed with it, but I always used to like doing that. Slowly pushing myself through the — my bed in my childhood bedroom was against the wall, and I would always squeeze myself between the crack between the mattress and the wall and slide down until I was under the bed. Slowly pushing the bed off the wall. I remember doing that a lot. Not something I ever did with friends, we didn’t play and build caves or anything, and dig underground like Joe Matt apparently did. I don’t know, it’s one of those things I never have even done in real life. That whole mattress, the dualmattress womb. I’ll have to try that someday if I ever am in a hotel with two mattresses. [Groth laughs.] It’s probably pretty awesome.

The whole thing could be a product of being a certain age during the Baby Jessica event. Jessica McClure fell down a well in Texas and I remember staying up really late to see the man with the collapsible collarbones shimmy down the hole to save her. Maybe that’s part of it. My mom has told me the story of how they told her they might have to break my collar bone to get me out of her because I was so big. I think that all answers your question. I have a fixation on “tunneling” because of my birth experience and Baby Jessica. I wanted to be the hero who could save the girl, though I think that guy commited suicide when I was in high school.{mosimage}

gg: One of the lamentations I hear from cartoonists is that the sheer labor of drawing comics is so arduous, and it seems like yours would be more arduous than most, because your stories hinge on such inert details: somebody sitting on a park bench or wandering around a neighborhood wondering where he left his cup and so forth. Is it in fact arduous to do that?

jb: Yeah, it is; it’s one of those things where Amy, like I said, goes to the studio, and she spends her 8, 9 or 10 hours at the studio, and then she comes home around the time I get home from the office and then I sit down at my drawing board. Right now, I’ve been on this writing vacation, since I finished the last MOME story, spending my nights working on some freelance illustration jobs and design work, but once I’ve started on a story, pretty much every night I try to sit down and work for a couple of hours, and she just hates it, you know? She’s very supportive and she likes my comics and she likes that I’m doing it and wants me to do it, but she always resents the fact that she’s on the couch, trying to relax, just staring at the back of my head. [Groth laughs.] She doesn’t complain about it too much, but she occasionally gets very sick of it, and I can completely understand because I’m also doing the same thing to myself I feel sometimes. Like, “Why am I doing this?”

I don’t know if I even feel like I like what I’m working on at the time, and I just don’t know if it’s working, I feel like I’m just putting myself through some sort of torture, because it is very time-consuming, and it’s not like this energetic, creative experience. You’re not in a room with a bunch of people like I was in art school working on prints and everyone’s helping each other out with projects and helping make decisions together. It’s very isolated and you do it all on your own. Maybe that has something to do with it. I’ve also been much less social as I’ve gotten into comics. When you’re in a band, then you bring your song out to your friends and you play it for them and then everyone joins in, it’s this big social thing, even if only with three people.

gg: It’s a very isolated activity. You must have an enormous amount of discipline.

jb: I’ve been working on that. I’m really not that disciplined. I’m lucky if I can get a couple of hours of work out a night.

gg: What I was referring to was a discipline in the sense that your pacing is so very, I don’t know if methodical is the right word, but it’s so slow. You don’t rush things, is the positive way of putting it. And that, it seems to me, would require discipline, there would seem to be something in the back of your head saying, “Come on, get this thing moving,” but you certainly resist that impulse, which I think is one of the virtues of your art. It’s so observant of the minutiae and the details of daily life.

jb: I think that’s more of what I’m excited about, I’m giving myself a story and a dumb situation that’s really inconsequential to deal with so that I can just basically bring out details and observe them and have them happen in my comics on their own. Those are the sort of things that seem to write themselves, that I don’t really think about too much. They happen casually, and I actually get excited about working and making those things happen, just small details that I didn’t foresee, and that weren’t part of my one sentence at the top of my blank page of Bristol board, this has to happen on this page, here’s the next event.