gg: I wanted to ask you some very specific questions about strips. One of the hallmarks of your work is a sort of randomness.
th: I’m not sure what you mean. [Laughs.]
gg: What I mean is that it eschews traditional linear narrative, and there’s almost a Dadaesque sense to a lot of your work. Would you agree with that?
th: Ah. I guess when I’m working on it, I feel it’s moving in a direction, I feel it’s linear. But I don’t feel like it’s not traditional narrative, I guess.
gg: No, no. You seem deliberately to reject that. And your use of language, I think, is so idiosyncratic. I’m wondering where that came from. Let me ask you a couple of specific questions just to give you a concrete idea of what I’m talking about. For example, in the issue that this interview will be appearing in, you have a number of stories. One of them is “Iacocca High.” On page two, panel four, you have the janitor say something like “We had to build oxygen from scratch with an atom smasher.”
th: Right, yeah.
gg: So a lot of your work seems to be non sequiturs embedded in an opaque narrative.
th: I guess I thought that sort of made sense.
gg: I thought that line was inspired. I just have no idea where it came from.
th: I think what I was trying to go for there is that the janitor is looking at Wally while he’s walking into class, he has that red carpet. So he’s kind of saying, “Oh, when I was a kid, we had to walk five miles to school in the snow,” that kind of thing. So I was trying to carry that to more of an extreme, so that he would say, “We didn’t have oxygen when I was a kid. We had to make our own.”
gg: [Laughs.] I see. That makes sense, though I’m not sure I immediately intuit that from context.
Walter Gropius, of course, seems to be your signal character. Were you actually a fan of Gropius?
th: I really was not familiar with his work at all, but I thought his name was funny — his last name [Groth laughs] because it has the word “grope” in it, of course. I think the genesis of that is, I ended up doing a page for that Talk To Her book that you guys put out by Kristine McKenna. I chose Tom Verlaine, because I knew that my wife was into his music. And I did that as an Archie kind of thing, because in the interview, it talks about how he was voted “most unknown” in high school, and frankly I thought he looked a little like Jughead. And that seemed to go well. And then, at the same time, I was asked to do the Mome story. And I thought, “Well, Mome is kind of like Fantagraphics’ young adult title,” so I thought, “Maybe I’ll have a teenager kind of story.” And since when I’d done the Tom Verlaine thing, I had just called him Verlaine, like the poet Verlaine, I thought, “Oh, another historical figure is Gropius.” I did end up doing a little research on Gropius and there’ll be little tidbits — like if you look at the “Iacocca” panel, the very first one, that’s actually a Gropius building, a factory. It’s one of his most famous buildings. The whole gist of it, the running joke in it though, is that people are always mistaking him for the actual Walter Gropius when he isn’t.
gg: What strikes me so forcefully about your work is how unorthodox the use of the language and the narrative is. For example, with “Thaddeus Gropius, CEO,” suddenly, in the fourth panel, you’re talking about engaging in “felching with awestruck camel toe,” which is so incongruous with the teenage parodic aspect of it.
th: To me, I thought it would be something like the teenager would want to be a rock star, and [in] a lot of that teenager kind of humor, there’s always something that parents don’t understand. And I thought, there couldn’t be any more of a thing that parents couldn’t understand. Plus, I think the main reason was that I had him receive a candy bar in one of the previous pages, so I wanted him to be biting into it as he was talking about felching.