Interview: Maximum Bob Fingerman
Bob Fingerman has had a career in comics and illustration for decades. He has worked on everything from humor magazines (Cracked/National Lampoon), mainstream properties (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures), album covers (The Toasters) and adult magazines (High Times/Penthouse). He has also written novels (You Deserved It/Zombie World: Winter’s Dregs & Other Stories) and produced covers and short stories for Dark Horse Comics and DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint. However, it is his own creation, Minimum Wage, that has given him the most praise and fans. Bob gave us a call over (while he was drawing!) at TuffGnarl.com, where we talked about his career, a love of French comics, the digital vs. paper debate, and the current state of Minimum Wage.
TuffGnarl.com: So you’re actually drawing as we speak? Do you have a set schedule for that?
Bob Fingerman: Generally. When I was working on Minimum Wage I did have one. There’s always flexibility built into it, though. I find when you have a deadline it’s best to have a discipline. For me, it’s best to have quotas. I gotta get such and such done every single day. Otherwise, the book is not gonna come out on time.
Who put out Minimum Wage before Image?
It was Fantagraphics.
What made you go with Image? I have to say their current output is fantastic. It really has changed over the years. They went from being very “‘90s” to one of the strongest and varied publishers out there.
Oh absolutely. They also offered a deal that Fantagraphics wouldn’t have been able to match. The last new Minimum Wage stuff I did for Fantagraphics was over a decade ago.
Did you always intend to bring Minimum Wage back?
It was more that I hoped to bring it back. But when more than ten years have passed you begin to think, “yeah I guess I’m not gonna get back to that.” Working on that big hardcover reinvigorated my interest, but it never did feel finished. I kept working, though. I’d been writing novels and so forth. I didn’t want to limit myself either.
And Image put out that beautiful hardcover you mentioned, with the forward by Robert Kirkman.
If it weren’t for Robert it wouldn’t have been resurrected and it certainly wouldn’t have come out in that big deluxe format. He was a fan of mine back when he was starting his career. [Laughs]
He used to send me the stuff that he was working on at the time. A series called Battle Pope.
I remember Battle Pope. I read about it in Wizard Magazine of all places. Early on Wizard was different, though. They did a good job of covering something from the indie scene. I first read abut Tales of Beanworld in Wizard. [Laughs]
They were kind to me in the early days too. [Laughs]
How autobiographical is Minimum Wage?
A lot of it is pure fiction. Especially in the Image run. The series to me was always more about being entertaining than being true to life, or rather true to my life I should say. I do want it to feel true and authentic.
That’s one of the things I love about it. It’s so entertaining. It’s funny. The pacing is great.
Oh, thank you. I see it as a TV show on paper. It’s pretty episodic.
So TV is an influence?
Definitely. Even if there’s an on-going story, I try for each issue to have a beginning, middle and end. And that’s very much traditional TV style. Especially in comedies. For me, that’s the way I’ve structured Minimum Wage since the beginning. Obviously, it’s always going to be a much richer experience if you read the whole thing, but you can come in on it late and not be lost.
So this second volume, So Many Bad Decisions, is fairly new.
It came out in May actually.
I saw more experimenting in this volume. The colored dream sequences for instance. Little details like all the word balloons being square shaped.
Yes. For the one dream issue, I wanted to play with stuff. The rendering style was different. The drawing style too. It was a clear separation. I wanted a gradual transition to the dream so the first page and half, that’s done in my customary two-tone, but once it transitions into the dream it all changes. That issue was fun for me. I’m not sure if it was fun for anyone else, though. [Laughs]
You have a lot of influences. You’ve worked for a lot of publishers. Mirage/Archie with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures. Even Heavy Metal Magazine right?
Yep. I did.
You also worked for Cracked right?
Oh, now that’s going way back!
Cracked was a favorite for me as a kid growing up. I actually read It more than Mad Magazine, since it was more accessible at the time.
Well, it certainly wasn’t because it was better. [Laughs] It wasn’t.
Going back to the dream issue, I did see a Heavy Metal Magazine influence to it. Not just in the sort of post-apocalyptic setting, but in the art as well.
Yes. That’s where the whole rendering technique was different, it was in that one. I also drew it with colored pencils as opposed to ink. Rob’s hair, which became even in his waking life progressively more ridiculous, in the dream is ludicrous. [Laughs]
I don’t know why his hair lost control. It got away from me. It has a mind of its own.
I also loved the appearance of Marc Maron in the story. I know from his WTF Podcast he is a big indie comics fan. How did you guys meet? Same as the book?
That’s actually relatively a lot like it was in the book. I knew someone who had made a short film, Stalker Guilt Syndrome, that Marc was in. I mention the film in the book. One of the restaurants I like in the city; do you ever watch Louie?
All the time.
In the opening credits, where he goes down into the comedy club? Right above that club is a restaurant I have frequented for many years. I was there having dinner and I saw Marc in the back where the comics would wait to go on, have a meal and so forth. I knew Jonah who had made the movie, so I thought I’d go say hello. In the comic Rob introduces himself after one of Marc’s one man shows. I just met him sort of hanging out in the back of a restaurant. But everything else was kind of the same. I said “You were in a film my friend wrote and directed” and Marc just said, “Yeah ‘wrote.'” [Laughs]
That movie is almost all voice over narration and it’s very clearly Marc’s voice. And so a very prickly friendship began. We were both in a different place in our lives at that point. That was in either ’99 or 2000. And kind of like everyone who had a friendship with Marc in those days, it sort of came to an abrupt end. [Laughs]
But we got back on track many years later. I don’t think anyone who has been friends with Marc doesn’t have a “Marc breakup story.” [Laughs]
Marc’s a complex guy. And complex people go through complex emotions. But there are no hard feelings there. No bad blood.
How do you get so many awesome artists to do all those great pinups in the back of the book?
I approach them. That’s just me being shameless. [Laughs]
Volume Two has one from Alex Robinson. I’m a huge fan of his book, Box Office Poison.
Asking him to do one was long overdue. Again not to sound egotistical but back when he was doing Box Office Poison as just a little Xerox mini-comic, he used to send me fan mail with copies of the new issues. I’m just a few years older than him, but he said my work was an influence. It’s all very flattering actually.
You mention mini-comics, which were a kind of “hard copy” precursor to webcomics. I see webcomics as an almost digital evolution to the minis.
They absolutely are. It’s one of Rob’s struggles in the book to find his own voice, do his own comic instead of his work for hire stuff. I think in the book, at one point Rob sees mini comics as a step backward. I’ve never taken to reading comics on-line or digitally, though. I’m old school. I like analog. I like paper. Living in the world we live in, there’s enough out there on digital vs. analog; they’ve actually analyzed this and people do retain stuff better when they read it on paper rather when they read it digitally. Part of it is that with analog, there’s no distraction. Particularly when most people read books on their tablets, they are much more given to switch back and forth between the book, texting, web surfing, and social media. There is other stuff coming at them. Especially if you’re also getting notifications. At the top of the screen, there’s constantly little icons begging for your attention. One article I read actually said that textbook sales have not been hurt [by digital book sales]. They sell far more traditional textbooks than they do downloads. Because when people are actually studying they need to concentrate.
So what are you working on now?
I’m working on something for the French comics market. That is my true love in comics. Specifically, what they call the “Franco-Belge” comics. There are so many amazing French comic artists.
Most people are only familiar with Moebius.
Oh, well he’s my God. [Laughs]
His art was the one that completely was an epiphany for me. It was incredible. And actually, in a dream sequence in Minimum Wage Volume One, there’s a Moebius tribute and a Richard Corben tribute.
I love Richard Corben.
He’s one of my heroes. Top 2 or 3.
What are you reading these days?
This is where I let people down. [Laughs]
Sometimes I’m a bad consumer of comics. Largely I fall into that category of “wait for trade”. There were a few things I picked up as single issues. But it’s been a while. Now everyone who reads this can turn against me. [Laughs]
I mean I order stuff from Amazon France but that’s not really doing anyone here any good. One of my absolute favorites is a guy named Nicolas De Crecy. He’s amazing! Humanoids published a couple of his books in English. They did a nice hardcover of The Celestial Bibendum or ‘Bibendum Céleste’ in French. Which is astonishing. His art is unique. Nobody draws or paints anything like this. This guy is really free. Really loose. And yet so incredibly detailed. It’s just gorgeous stuff. And a really bizarre and original story. His writing is just really fascinating.
For me when I read something where I can’t even begin to think how he came up with this, that’s always going to be a treat. But American comics, and I don’t want to sound like a company man, but when I have picked those up they generally have been from Image. I really loved something they put out called The Field by Ed Brisson and Simon Roy. I hadn’t seen anything like that. I don’t know if you read that one.
I didn’t but I’m going to check it out now.
Yeah, I highly recommend you do. It’s great.
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