Bob Fingerman is known for telling a good story and a solid sense of humor. He made his first big splash with his “Minimum Wage” comics, circa 1995. Since then, Fingerman has evolved into a mature creator of graphic and prose novels. “From The Ashes” is his current trade collection of his “speculative memoir” comic set in a post-apocalyptic New York City. Among other things, there’s a fair share of political humor to be found in this book. Let’s take a closer look and also see what Bob has to say about that fateful visit by Captain America to a certain tea party. In the bargain, we’ll also learn something about political humor as well.
Blog@Newsarama: There’s a lot going on in “From The Ashes,” including slice-of-life, horror, sci fi and political humor, and through it all there seems to be a message for tolerance. How would you speak to there being a message in your book?
Bob Fingerman: I’m never sure if it’s good to have a message or let people figure out what they want the message to be. It’s certainly more of a book about being an individual. If anything, the message is that belonging to a group mindset is never healthy or productive. It’s all about holding on to your individuality. The characters in the book that triumph in the end are the ones that stay true to themselves instead of bowing to a bigger mindset.
Blog@: Would you talk to us about your villain, Bill O’Reilly or, in the book, Rile O’Biley?
BF: If it was up to me, it would have just been Bill O’Reilly but the lawyers for my publisher, IDW, didn’t think so. As far as I’m concerned, it would have been protected since it’s satire and he’s a public figure. I don’t think there would have been any fear of any legal action on his part and, frankly, it there was, that would have been some free publicity.
He, to me, is an interesting figure. I find him loathsome but I also find him fascinating. It’s partly because he’s not a lunatic like Glenn Beck. I look at someone like Beck and I see him as an idiot who just appeals to the Tea Party people, those who don’t use their brains. But O’Reilly is not a stupid guy. I don’t agree with him but he’s that broken clock that’s right two times a day. On occasion, with a certain amount of nausea, I’ll agree with him. There’s this quality to Bill O’Reilly even though I think he’s a bully and a liar.
I needed somebody who could play a figurehead to a new movement. He had to be someone who I found aberrant but he’d also have to be seductive to more than the lunatic fringe. He’s offering people in this post-apocalypse wasteland, regular meals, a comfortable bed, and all it comes with is a price tag of kowtowing to a new breeding initiative. Again, there’s that sacrificing of one’s individuality to go along and, in this case, what he’s offering would be hard to pass up. I needed someone who was both a snake oil salesman and a trusted face.
Blog@: Yeah, I think Rile O’Biley will hold up. This character has a timeless quality.
BF: I hope so. Obviously, he’s a topical figure. Believe me, I did something I never thought I’d do and that was pray that Bill O’Reilly didn’t die. I didn’t want to be the guy that was satirizing a dead man. I was wishing him nothing but good health while I was working on this book and for the foreseeable future. I hope I made the character broad enough so that it won’t date on the shelf immediately. I mean, there will always be someone out there like him although I think he is kind of unique.
Blog@: Did you ever consider Rush Limbaugh?
BF: Well, I wanted someone in New York since the story is set in New York and Fox News is headquartered there. O’Reilly was always the one that I felt in my gut was the right choice. I did consider other Fox News people and nobody compared to him. Beck was still new when I was putting this togehter although I could see that he was going to be a star. But, like I say, he’s too much of lunatic fringe guy and doesn’t have any gravitas at all. But O’Reilly does.
Blog@: Sure, O’Reilly does have that show biz professionalism.
BF: Yeah, he knows how to keep it moving. Hannity is just a whiny little bitch, he’s unpleasant, no charisma. For better or worse, O’Reilly has charisma.
Blog@: In your end notes, you regret not having had a chance to include Glenn Beck.
BF: Yeah, that’s why I threw that drawing in. (laughs)
Blog@: I was reading in The New York Times a piece about the Tea Party people and it mentioned that Glenn Beck is something of a leader to them. He says what they want to hear so maybe he’s a little smarter than we may think. This whole revolution stuff he talks about, I thought that was all gobbledygook in the way that “Saturday Night Live” satirizes him but he’s really speaking directly to them.
BF: It’s not gobbledygook but it’s also terribly misinformed. Maybe it’s too hyperbolic to call him an idiot. I’ll walk back from that a bit but not too much. I don’t know if that’s apt for Beck since he’s too dangerous in a way to brush off with an epithet. He thinks about what he’s saying but when you break down his thoughts, it’s so much bullshit. And it’s so much wrong information and I don’t know how much of it is conscious on his part. He strikes me as someone who, for better or worse, is sincere. I don’t think he’s playing a part.
I’ve been following Beck for awhile now. I wrote several emails to CNN saying that, if they wanted to hold on to their legitimacy, they couldn’t have him doing newscasts. He’s a horrible guy. I think he’s a racist. Unfortunately, I think Glenn Beck is an important figure and will remain so.
I didn’t want this book to be overly topical and I wanted to be careful about including non-New Yorkers. For instance, when I include that God-Hates-Fags group, the Westboro Baptist Church, it works because they’ve made a pilgrimage. I could work them into the story in a way that was narratively cohesive. You know, the fact that they’d come up to New York and gloat over all the bodies of all the dead fags, all the people that they hate. But to include Sarah Palin makes it too topical and polemical. Ultimately, I wanted to have fun with some people that I find objectionable. I wanted to do something that was entertainment. Something that doesn’t feel like I have an axe to grind because that’s boring.
Blog@: That loses it’s steam really fast. It makes me think of that new book coming out, “Repuglicans.” That comes across as too obvious.
BF: I don’t know that I’d buy it but I’d certainly take a look at it. For me, anything that’s one note is boring. “From The Ashes” hopefully has elements of social commentary but I didn’t want it to be preachy. I did preachy once. It was called, “White Like She” and it’s the one book of mine that I really can’t stand. I got up on my soapbox several times through the mouths of my characters. And I just think now, Jesus, just get off it. I guess I was trying to make a statement but it ultimately did not serve the piece.
Blog@: You learn from your youthful excess.
BF: I don’t want to soften up either. As some artists get older, they soften up. I’d like to think I have some even more biting satire in me than I’m doing now. You figure out what works. It’s like a cigarette. It’s the delivery system for the nicotine. I gotta figure out how hopefully each of my books will be a delivery system to get out some kind of world view without it feeling like I’m cramming it down someone’s throat.
Blog@: This may seem late in coming to talk about, the whole Captain America/Tea Party thing, but it says a lot about what’s going on or at least seems to be going on right now. I would say, in a nutshell, the Tea Party is a fabrication. It’s made up of outraged people but then you look at what’s pushing it along and it’s lobbyists like Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks.
BF: It’s a very inorganic movement that being window dressed as being completely grass roots. So much of it is funded by, or the propaganda that fuels them comes from, special interests with deep pockets. And, not the least of which being Fox News. They’re not reporting the news. They’re creating the news. How often have we seen their so-called reporters drumming up the crowds. The anchors are creating the movement. It’s just propaganda.
It’s a very unthinking movement. It’s a herd mentality. It’s angry frustrated, by and large, disenfranchised feeling white people who can’t stand having a black man in the White House. You don’t see any substance to what they’re saying. They don’t even know what the original Boston Tea Party was in protest of. If you break it down to a taxation without representation thing, you need to say to these fuckers, you guys are paying your taxes but you have representation. You’re really misappropriating a moment in history because, I don’t know, you have a tricorner hat fetish.
Blog@: It all sounds totally bogus. I started to notice them when they started to protest healthcare legislation and that made sense that they were pawns to special interests that wanted to obstruct healthcare legislation.
BF: And they always bring up the Wall Street bail out. That’s a major component of what they say and, in all fairness, I don’t disagree that the bail out is deeply flawed, to put it kindly, but they don’t have much of a grasp on what’s going on. When they’re screaming, “I want my country back,” they never articulate what that means and I think that part of what that means is that they want a white man in the White House again, something that they understand.
Blog@: They can only handle, or want to handle, little bits of information.
BF: They’ve got a real goldfish mentality. Their memories are easily erased and rejiggered. At this point, they’re blaming everything on Obama. It’s like they’ve forgotten eight years of Bush policies that have put us in the position that we’re in, particularly economically. They always scream about their rights being taken away. What rights have been taken away from anyone? None. It’s all just stuff that they’re regurgitating.
At a certain point, though, it gets wearisome. Here is where I get weary of both sides, left and right. At least the left has the legitimacy of having some real central beliefs. And the right is just reactionary. I don’t want to hear anyone screaming and yelling anymore. But that’s me being selfish.
Blog@: I wanted to bring out that quote from Mark Waid. He said that he was humiliated and mortified to see Fox News able to bully Marvel into apologizing to lunatics.
BF: That’s from a Twitter, isn’t it?
Blog@: Yes, it is.
BF: I totally agree with that. Marvel is a complete pussy for doing that. I don’t know why they felt the need. They could have easily said that the story is not finished yet so why not wait until it’s done and this is America and we have freedom of speech.
Blog@: What is anyone afraid of? This Tea Party thing is a fringe element and does not speak for most Americans.
BF: I think that the teabag people are to America what Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are out in the world. They’re much smaller groups than the media would have you believe. Al-Qaeda, at any given time, is never more than a couple of hundred members but you’d think that they were in the millions and that’s not too diminish how dangerous they could be but, at the same time, the media exists to inflate things. For instance, for one of these teabag rallies, Fox portrayed it as if it were a million people. It turned out to be more like 10 or 20 thousand. That’s not insignificant but that’s not a million. But they shout loud and they can certainly fill a frame.
Blog@: One other thing connected to politics is from your publisher, IDW, and one of its current comic book titles, “Weekly World News.” IDW’s editor and publisher, Chris Ryall, is writing it and he really makes sure it’s sharp. All the characters come to life in the comic, particularly Bat Boy and Ed Anger.
BF: Yeah, I used to subscribe to Weekly World News just because I enjoyed Ed Anger’s column.
Blog@: This comic is really funny, more than anything. It sets a good standard for that kind of humor where you don’t push too hard or, if you do push, it’s done with style.
BF: I’ll check it out.
Blog@: What general advice would you give up and coming cartoonists?
BF: Don’t do what I did! I managed to put stuff out but I haven’t reached the readership I’d like.
Blog@: What stands out for you in the early days?
BF: Misery. (laughs) Working for Cracked and porn magazines is a way to pay the bills but not a way to look at yourself in the mirror with any dignity. Those were rough days. In my down time, I was doing really reprehensible underground comics stuff. When you’re working all day for Cracked magazine under restrictions of what you can do in a kid magazine, back in those days, when I was flying my own freak flag, I would turn to just drawing hideous stuff.
Blog@: Well, you built up your chops.
BF: That’s the thing. The only regret I have is not having used a pseudonym for the work I did for those men’s magazines. I had this very cocky attitude that I wasn’t ashamed of it. Whatever. It’s all a matter of building one’s chops, meeting deadlines. And for Cracked, it helped hone my caricature skills. It all had its place. I’m just glad it’s not still my place.
Blog@: I was looking at your blog and I saw some beautiful work up there under the title, “The Hell Of It.” Is that for an upcoming graphic novel?
BF: It’s a story set in hell and it could end up a graphic novel or a prose novel. My next book is a prose novel, “Pariah,” coming out by Tor, a major publisher, and I’m excited about that. As for “The Hell Of It,” the story is malleable enough that, as a graphic novel, it would skew towards being more humorous and, as a prose novel, it would be more serious.
Blog@: You’re in an elite group of people that draw and write. What made you make the leap to focus on prose?
BF: I always wanted to do it and then I saw a friend get published and that made me think I could do it. Also, some of it came from a dissatisfaction with working in comics. I’ve always liked playing with words and language. There is only so much you can do in comics. I’ve always had fun writing the dialogue. But writing prose is such a different experience. It’s something I just enjoy doing. Hopefully, I can reach a larger audience with prose. I just haven’t reached that big an audience with my comics. Some of that has to do with the infrastructure of how comics are distributed. A lot of it comes from a lack of support in terms of marketing. And there’s the fact that I do stuff that is a little nichey. So, there’s a way to reach a whole new audience through prose that I’m not reaching through comics.
Blog@: What can you tell us about your upcoming prose novel, “Pariah”? Is there anything we should anticipate about it?
BF: It’s a bit more serious than other stuff I’ve done. But it’s interesting that in the Tor catalog, they call it “darkly comedic.” I mentioned this to my editor and he said that it might be more serious than anything I’ve ever done but it’s still funnier than most horror novels would be. My characters and dialogue are more snappier. I think what I do will always have some kind of humor.
The one thing I can tell you that’s comics related is that it’s sort of, unofficially, a sequel to a zombie comic that I wrote a number of years ago that Tommy Lee Edwards did the art for. It was for Dark Horse’s “Zombie World.” I did an arc for them called, “Winter’s Dregs” which was collected into a trade paperback a few years ago. “Pariah” was going to be a graphic novel but the “Zombie World” series got cancelled. In a way, that was for the best since I got to write something that was more adult instead of something more PG-13. I got to go more in depth writing it as a novel than I would have been able to in a 96 page arc. And it does have one carry-over character from the Dark Horse run. I don’t know if there’s ever been something that started as a comic and then continued in a novel. So, for any fans of “Winter’s Dregs,” they should enjoy “Pariah” as a more mature follow-up on what I was laying down in that.
Blog@: It sounds good. I look forward to it. Well, we’ll end it there. Thanks so much.
BF: It was a pleasure talking with you.