Feeling Awesome About Comics and Beyonce: A Few Rantings with Pete Toms

S.J. Chambers is an articles editor for Strange Horizons.  Not only has her work appeared in that fine forum, but also Tor.com, Fantasy, Bookslut, and The Baltimore Sun’s Read Street Blog.  She is also currently working with Jeff as his Master Archivist for The Steampunk Bible. You can find out more about S.J. at www.sjchambers.org.

Palfs a self-portrait by Pete Toms

Palfs

Pete Toms is a rare tour-de-force that I would have never met if it wasn’t for the Internet and Aleks Sennwald, who is also his partner in crime over at Mystic Milk.  Stationed in New Jersey, he creates wonderful illustrations and comics that cull together pop cultural references and bits of existential longing into interesting narrative and surreal pieces that are not only fun to look at but fun to deconstruct.  His work has appeared in various publications, including Arthur Magazine, The Portland Mercury, and Bejeezus.   He is also a very accomplished musician under the handle Go Down, Matthew, and probably one of the funniest men I have had the pleasure to meet and spar with.

Pete Toms: Ha. Let’s do the interview in Latin. Semper Livejournal.

S.J. Chambers: I’m feeling more Space Ghost-ish. “Welcome to Vanderworld. Are you getting enough oxygen? Were the squid nice to you?”  I guess that means we’re starting.  Well, if I can recall, when I first met you on Livejournal you were writing more music than drawing and writing comics. One, am I right about that, and two, did music lead you to drawing, or are they not at all related in your creative process?

Pete: I was actually always doing about the same amount of all of them (also dancing and woodworking). I was, however, essentially internet/computer illiterate, so getting comics and drawings online took me like 2 years to Google how to do it.

S.J.: Well it seems you are making music less and focusing more on comics and drawings more.

Nobynobyboy photo by Pete Toms

Nobynobyboy

Pete: I burned myself out on music a little. Also, I get restless, so I only focus on things I’m not necessarily good  at. Not that I got to a point and I said ‘Music: accomplished’, but I’m more into making comics right now, because I’m still sort of figuring out how to do that. I know exactly how to make a shitty Go Down, Matthew song. Also, I always wanted to be a cartoonist. Actually I always wanted to be Robocop.

S.J.: Secret project? How’s that going?

Pete: I have cyborg elbows, so far. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s helping me clean up the streets. Or at least my living room. This would be my interview question to you “Hi, how good is Robocop?”

S.J.: Robocop was one of the first R, or maybe it was PG-13, movies I saw when I was a child [like maybe 5]. I watched it back to back with Critters, and I have to say Robocop was the more inspiring. It made me terrified of becoming a cop and is maybe why I hate singularity discussions.

Pete: Critters made me scared to let my hand hang off the bed when I was a kid. I still think about it if I’m sleeping and it accidentally happens.  I’m telling you, singularity discussion in Latin=The Internet interview.

S.J.: Et tu, Toms?

Pete: That and semper Livejournal actually might have used up my Latin vocabulary.

S.J.: Well, in addition to Robocop, what pop culture has inspired your work?

Pete: Everything.

S.J.:  Well, maybe we can zero in on childhood comics that you may or may not still read today.

Pete: I’m actually sort of realizing what I’m influenced by in reverse right now.  I was huge into marvel comics from the late 70s-80s when I was a kid.  And, thanks to the horrible comic store I go to in New Jersey, I’ve been re-buying all those comics for 25 cents each for the past couple of years. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been ripping them off. Not only in my own stuff, but in my daily life. I eat breakfast just like Daredevil does.

S.J.: How does Daredevil eat breakfast?

Pete: Blindly, with thoughts of justice.

S.J.: Well, does it bug you that your influences are deeply embedded within your subconscious, and from that, your work. Are you preoccupied with the “truly original?”

Pete: No. Wait. Fuck no.  I want this whole interview to be about how I dislike the whole “keep it real” concept.

S.J.:  Go for it.

Dream by Pete Toms

Dream

Pete: I’m obviously not drawing Spider-Man.  Everything I do goes through that filter that people have in their heads. And I have a lot of garbage in that filter, my own life, books, movies, music, my own theories about things.  But I’ve noticed as contemporary pop culture sort of speeds up, and mass culture is starting to understand postmodernism, that there’s this abstract “keep it real” rule that people are obsessed with. The most controversial thing in American culture right now, even before the whole Kanye West thing, is Beyonce.  Because apparently she’s “not real” anymore. She “doesn’t write her own songs,” her vocals are pitch-shifted, she dresses like a robot, she married a famous guy, etc.  It’s like the whole culture decided they were punk rock teenagers, and they get to make up rules about what’s selling out and what isn’t.

S.J.: Yeah, well, going back to past pop, like the Beatles for instance, which I may be crucified for even slumming them into this, but when they first hit it big their whole thing was artifice. They all dressed alike, had the same hair cut, even as they “evolved” they had similar costumes. Sure they all still wrote their own music, but their entire shtick was sort of premeditated as they went.  I wouldn’t say that was “real.” I always think of artists as representing an idea, and ideas are by no means authentic

Pete: Exactly. And the Beatles didn’t exist in a vacuum. I think, since it’s 500 years later, and their music is still around, it seems that way, but they were taking from their contemporaries just like everyone else does. Everyone in Pop Culture does it. You have to create an identity to sell. Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Stephen King.  I think the backlash is stemming from people, with the internet, who now are living their own personal lives more publicly. So rather than having one personality for work and one for home, they can have a different personality for every message board they go on.

S.J.:  So you are accusing the Internet of fragmenting 21st century self-identity?

Pete: It was already fragmented.  That’s why people use the internet to communicate.  Maybe all of my sentences should start with ‘I think’

S.J.: No way, assert your “authoritah.”

Pete:  If anyone wants to fight with me in the comments of your blog, I should probably mention, I type with one

Giraffe by Pete Toms

Giraffe

hand and lift weights with the other.

S.J.: I will duly note that. I don’t know what is so wrong about wanting to make money off of what you love.  I mean, deep down, that is what everyone wants.  That is sort of steering from the path a bit, or maybe being too direct, but that is also what the Internet is–one big advertising firm

Pete:  Yeah, I talked about this on my blog, and in the comments everyone went off on their own personal tangent.  I think people read enthusiasm into it that wasn’t there. I wasn’t saying any of that stuff was wrong, just that it exists.  The Internet gives everyone that uses it a chance to take part in pop culture.  So everyone’s using it to market themselves in some way. Even if it’s to market yourself as “real” and against marketing.

S.J.: Well, it’s like the punk rock kids.  Yeah, you were against the man and such, but it was all about who was against the man more, which is basically the same sort of pissing contest as any other sort of culture.  Also, I think it’s funny people pretend that they don’t live in a consumerist environment, like the whole green movement isn’t successful because ad execs figured out how to make green cool and flashy.  I saw you were typing and then you paused–my tangent has you awe-inspired.

Pete: I actually went to smoke a cigarette. I only mention that to market myself as a smoker.

That whole ‘green advertising’ thing would be really funny if it wasn’t kind of depressing.

S.J.: Yeah, it is pretty depressing.

Pete: But you’re right, or how politicians realized that they could sell people the same thing over and over if it looked like there were two incredibly opposed groups.   If you look at a political blog with Conservatives vs. Liberals, and then you look at a video game blog with Playstation vs. Xbox, it’s the exact same arguments.  People like teams. I’m assuming that goes back to the cavemen, when the Beatles were popular. But people sort of choose their idea of a team now.

S.J.:   I want to talk more about your comics, photographs, and illustrations, which I think you described way above quite well.  You’ve been publishing some comics recently in Arthur magazine and collaborating with Stanley Leiber.

Sneak Peek at Paws, Pete's forthcoming comic.

Paws

Pete: I’m obligated by contract to mention how awesome Stanley Lieber is every time I get interviewed on the Internet.  He’s the godfather of Internet 2.0. The above tangent should also answer your question about being nervous about ripping off old Spider-Man comics or whatever. The comic I’m doing now covers a lot of what we’re talking about.

S.J.: What is the new one called?

Pete: Paws. I’m probably going to be putting it up on my website 5 pages at a time starting in a couple of weeks.  It’s essentially about identity in contemporary culture (again). It’s about a hermit that never leaves his house and only really has contact with the outside world through TV, and he decides to write a play based on his life. And it’s a horror comic.

S.J.:  Pink Tombs was sort of like that too…a comic writer in his own head that ebbs in and out of reality

Pink Tombs was serialized in Arthur Magazine earlier this year.

Pink Tombs

Pete: Yeah, it’s the same basic theme. I want to tell people it’s sort of like a sequel, but I have a feeling I’ll be beating these ideas to death for the rest of my life.

S.J.: Well, I think they are really relevant, especially in light of what we were talking about.  It’s very easy to become more disillusioned and also fooled by our imaginations now that we can give them free reign, thanks to Internet, etc.

Pete: Yeah, and to make fun of punk rock kids again, when I was maybe 12, I was in a band that was part of the punk rock scene, and I couldn’t get over the fact that all these kids made up their own rules and then took them so seriously. As an adult, I realize that was just a microcosm of the larger culture.  You still see it with religion, or national pride on a larger scale, or identifying as a vegan, or someone that hates Apple computers, or Facebook on a smaller scale.  But people really believe in this stuff, which is why I find it hard to take anything seriously.  Which puts me into the group of the “sarcastic assholes.”  So I kind of just want to deconstruct some of those ideas with my stuff.  Most of my old song lyrics were about the same thing as well.

Come On Tanelorn is latest LP from Go Down, Matthew

Come On Tanelorn

S.J.: Your songs are wonderful. They cover Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, requisites of a fantasy novel, the apocalypse–it’s a genre reader’s soundtrack,  that is if it is the type of reader that acknowledges this is all made up.  Well, Pete, I think I’m all puttered out. I really enjoyed the conversation.  Thank you.

Pete: Can I give shout-outs?

S.J.: Absolutely

Pete: Phoebe, what up! The ghost of Pimp C, holla.  Maybe I’ll talk about my upcoming stuff instead of Pimp C.

S.J.: Yes, please do.

Pete: I’m drawing something like 14,000 pages for Stanley Lieber’s anthology FAKE, which I’m assuming is coming out next year, and guessing that it will be to the Internet what Jesus was to God.

S.J.: A-men.

Pete: And PAWS should be on my website and then in print before May of next year. And Jason Levian, who is the editor of Arthur‘s Comics blog, is going to be possibly printing a story I did soon.  And, if the technology all works out, I want to breakdance into people’s dreams at some point.

S.J. Isn’t that what Michael Jackson’s This is It suppose to about?

MJ by Pete Toms

MJ

Pete: Yeah, I was hoping it was like a job ad. The world needs a new MJ. I have experience.

For more on Pete Toms’ comics, illustrations, and music, you can visit him at his website, I Feel Awesome.

S.J. Chambers is an articles editor for Strange Horizons.  Not only has her work appeared in that fine forum, but also Tor.com, Fantasy, Bookslut, and The Baltimore Sun’s Read Street Blog.  She is also currently working with Jeff as his Master Archivist for The Steampunk Bible. You can find out more about S.J. at www.sjchambers.org.

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