July 17th, 2008
So David very kindly agreed to do an interview with Mindless Ones, as we’re all tremendous fans of his disturbing, enthralling and brilliant comics.
That’s one way to put it.
Another would be this. Posing as travelling Bible salesmen, we drugged Lapham up to the eyballs, dressed him up like a little girl, and tied him to a chair. Then we set Mr Stairs, our resident knife-wielding monkey to work on that pretty face of his.
After a few hours with Mr Stairs, he was very keen to answer our questions. There’s lovely!
21 Questions with DAVID LAPHAM.
Interview conducted by The Beast Must Die!
Part a) 10 Questions about comics
-Is self-publishing a quick way to an early grave?
You really know how to start it off. The long answer is no. The longer answer is that in the last 10 years the market has changed. The fan base has shrunk. From my own experience, it became a situation where takes 100% commitment 100% of the time. Earlier on the fan base was stronger. If you slacked a little you could recover, but when the base attrits—and I don’t mean me, it’s ALL of comics—the margin of error becomes nil. So when things happen in life and you go through a period when work is not your primary responsibility. Then you’re in trouble.
Having said all that, I can also say, there’s nothing better than working for yourself. As my wife says, he may pay like shit, but there’s one person you never have to beg for work, and that’s yourself.
-Young Liars is a much more gonzo comic than Stray Bullets. The last issue (5) in particular was the most fucked thing I’ve read in ages. What are you aiming for with the series?
Thanks. Like Stray Bullets, Young Liars is my book. It gets all of me. In SB I usually kept the gonzo to the Amy Racecar stories. Here, it’s mixed into the main story. Having that element of surrealism/humor/absurdity is necessary for me. It just comes out of me like that. It’s always grounded though in solid storytelling and it’s not weird for it’s own sake. There is purpose. I guess unless you think the whole purpose is weird or unworthy of your attention. It’s important to me though. And fun.
I’m aiming for the whole thing to be about one particular thing and how complicated and horrible this one particular thing is.
-Your work tends to explore some pretty dark territory. In Stray Bullets for example when you’re writing a character like Roy, and that whole sequence with Ginny and Bobby trapped in his house, do you ever worry that it’s potentially a little exploitative? Where do you set your limits?
No. I feel I have a good sense of the line I want to hold back from. Believe me my imagination can go further than anything I show, but I pull back to a line that communicates what I want. I don’t mean to say I’m giving less of myself, just that I can pull it back to communicate what I want in the stor y, without the exploitative elements overwhelming the story. It’s not shlock horror. I love that stuff. But it’s not what I’m aiming for here.
For instance in YL #5 you just mentioned there’s a rape and a castration. What did I show? Where did I cut? What would happen if I showed all that in detail? It would not have served the story.
However, I could see playing out something in extended version, I’m not saying I wouldn’t. But as long as it serves your story first and the fetish second, I think your okay.
Keep in mind, too, that this is a dark book. Mature readers etc. So my limits are just my own.
And no, I don’t think there was anything exploitative about the Virginia, Roy, Bobby, and Joey scenes. One of the themes of the book is how transforming and important our childhood years are (years which are generally dismissed), and how we react to and survive them. Again, I thing I go to the point of communication and impact not further.
-How do you work? Do you treat it like a 9-5 job, or create whenever the muse strikes?
The muse either keeps up or the bus leaves without her. This ain’t no hobby. This is a career.
-Obviously you get asked this a lot, but do you still have a drive to finish Stray Bullets? It very much seemed like a comic that had an ending in mind from the outset. Is that the case?
Yes. More and more so. Doing Young Liars, which I love to death, makes me want to return to SB even more.
-You’re definitely a creator who seems to enjoy writing female protagonists. Especially crazy, ultra-violent ones. Why so?
There’s a mystery and a strength there that’s appealing. The women I have known seem to have a clear sense of right and wrong and of purpose. They seem to be able to do what is necessary without question, hesitation, or doubt. Actually not doubt…It’s a sense of priority. Say I have tickets to a concert and my child is sick, throwing up, etc. thoughts run through my head, like “Just how sick is she?” “Can’t the babysitter handle it?” Or at the very least, “Aww, man, this sucks.” My wife would just simply know we can’t go and not give it a second thought. That’s powerful.
-You also revel in creating truly fucking terrifying bad guys – what in your eyes makes for a real scary badass?
I think a good killer is a good character, and by that I truly mean CHARACTER. Distinctive. Extreme. And of course capable of horrible things. When you see that killer, even if they seem friendly, you have to know they can fuck things up in an instant. You also have to believe they are good enough to do it. A villain who loses all the time quickly loses his teeth. As a kid I remember watching all those bad 80s cartoons like G.I. Joe and Transformers. I wanted to like them but I really couldn’t stand how the bad guys alway, ALWAYS lost. I used to root for the bad guys. Your badass can’t turn into the underdog. Your heroes have to be the underdogs. Everybody roots for the underdog.
-You need to eat (presumably), so obviously doing mainstream work for the Big Two is occasionally necessary. How do you find work for hire? Do you even enjoy writing superheroes? Are there any you’re dying for a crack at?
W4H is fine. Even Young Liars is W4H, although I am the creator and there’s an understanding that within’ a broad range of reason it’s my story. I’ve always had fun, even though sometimes things didn’t work out exactly how I thought they would. Batman I loved writing. I didn’t think I would, but I loved how mythological the DC Heroes a re. Marvel I’ve found tougher. When I did Terror there was a lot of latitude, but Spider Man, there were so many don’ts. I really still liked what we did there a lot, but It was a challenge trying to communicate the things I wanted. The coke and whores were out early on.
No there’s no character I’m particularly dying to do, though I’d take any character as a challenge. I also wouldn’t mind doing Batman again. I’d love for Sienkiewicz and I to be able to take another crack at him.
-Why comics? What drew you to the medium?
-What other comics/creators do you dig?
I grew up on Miller. Huge fan of strip work. Segar. SEGAR! Caniff. Love Rude and Mazzucchelli. The Hernandez Bros. particularly Gilbert; I think he’s a great mythmaker. Sienkiewicz. Dave Gibbons. Paul Pope. Jay Stephens. Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer. Scott McCloud.
Part b) 10 Questions not about comics
-What’s the best /worst haircut you’ve ever had?
When I was a teenager I used to go to a barber who gave everybody triangular/angled sideburns, like you were a character on Star Trek. I was just a dumb kid and didn’t notice, till I met my wife and she…um…pointed it out.
Best haircut. Short. Just fucking short.
-Who’s your favourite celebrity Scientologist?
All of them, Dan. Every last beautiful one of them. And I’m not just saying that because I fear an IRS audit.
-What’s your favourite Fall record?
Favorite. Real New Fall. U.S. version with the rocket propelled Sparta and the eerier Recovery Kit and the two extra tracks. What a monumental achievement for a band 25 years old. The best, though, I’m hard not to pick Hex Enduction Hour or Perverted by Language. Hex transcends though, one for the time capsule. Greatest post punk album ever made.
-There’s a gun to your head. If you don’t tell me what your favourite film, book, and album (no comics – everyone knows they’re for sissies) of all time I’m going to pull the trigger and end your miserable life.
Favorite again not best. I’ll say Wild Bunch, Breakfast of Champions, Real New Fall, and I’ll throw in comic because it’s a strip E.C. Segar’s Popeye one of the greatest works of any kind anywhere. No other comic even comes close.
-What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
-Is nostalgia harmful?
No. Necessary. It can overwhelm if you let it, but to have admiration for the past and to let it come through your own work is necessary to evolve forward. We’re not cavemen reinventing the wheel. Eras of the past have a lot to offer and through the filter of history we can distill the best of that.
-You’re in front of a space tribunal. A harsh but enlightened alien race wants you to provide an example of humanity’s worth. If not they will obliterate everyone, starting with you. This is your Shatner moment. What you gonna do?
We have the Big Kat. First we had Kit Kats then the good people of the Earth made the Big Kat. If that’s not a step forward I don’t know what is. Also hookers.
-What’s the best animal?
-If you could travel back in time what would you tell Young David Lapham?
Hang in there kid, you’re going to have a girlfriend one day!
-What’s your problem?
Dem’s fightin’ words.
Part c) Finally, the Big Question.
‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ – Plato.
With that in mind whose gonna win – Superman or Wolverine??
It’s funny because, I’ve have spent a lot of time, money, and energy on this subject. First we have to define thet “win” means. Do we mean win, as in, win a fight? Or win as in a broader “life” perspective way. Then we have to define the perspective. For example. Who would have more relations with members of the opposite sex? Clearly Superman with his super speed could win this match up, but it’s highly unlikely he would force himself on that many women, whereas, you know Wolverine’s a dog.
We could also ask who is the greater humanitarian? Again Superman could easily outdo the midget with the claws. However, don’t you get the feeling Sups could be doing more? World hunger and all that? War? Crappy cell phone service? He could solve all of that before breakfast but, nope, he’s stopping bank robbers. Can’t the police do that? Meanwhile Wolverine always seems to be going above and beyond.
So how about that one on one match up. Superman could clearly pick up Wolverine and throw him into the sun. So Superman would win right?
These two characters exist in entirely different universes. For them to meet in a battle of this sort a lot of contracts would have to be drawn up. Then, of course, Superman, being a big icon and all, would be contractually obligated to win, but Marvel, not wanting to lose one of their fan favorite characters, would, at least, insist on a simple KO and nothing like a weenie roast on the sun! You know this would be decided before they ever got in the ring. Therefore the whole thing would be rigged and thusly thrown out and a determinating factor in this discussion.
So, I guess wolverine takes it.
Nanny nanny poop poops.
Many, many thanks to David for taking time out to answer our stupid questions. If you haven’t already, then you must, must, must read Stray Bullets; his brilliant new Vertigo ongoing Young Liars, the gripping noirs Murder Me Dead and Silverfish; plus (if you can find them) the Amy Racecar Colour Specials. They’re all worth your time and hard-earned shecks. (He hangs out at Jason Aaron’s fine message board with a host of other good writers and artists, if you want to know the cut of his jib) Mr Lapham is an inspiration to anyone who’s ever considered self-publishing, one of the best crime comic writers out there, and an absolute gentleman as well.