In the spirit of 20-somethings across America, I thought Iâ€™d start the New Year by finishing my Christmas shopping. Well not shopping per say, but I do have a belated holiday gift for the fans and soon-to-be fans of the Perry Bible Fellowship webcomic: an interview with creator Nicholas Gurewitch.
An aesthetic chameleon and subtle comedian, Gurewitch has been able to balance the profane with the profound, the clever with the sillyâ€”and all in four frames or less. The 24 year old New York native started PBF comics while attending film school, a background that may account for his keen ability to create a sense of timing on the flat page.
Now if you think this is going to turn into a hackneyed version of â€œInside the Actorâ€™s Studioâ€, I promise you that I tried my best to avoid a James Lipton impersonationâ€”regardless of my fondness for the word scrumptrulescent. If you google â€˜Perry Bible Fellowshipâ€™, youâ€™ll find plenty of information surroundingâ€”and praise forâ€”his work, and I encourage you to do so if interested (or you could go straight to the source at www.pbfcomics.com). However, with all that out there, I thought it to be a better use of your timeâ€”and hisâ€”to ask the questions you normally don't hear, and he normally doesn't get a chance to answer.
So on December 26th (National Gift Return Day) I logged onto AIM and got a chance to pick the brain of the PBF creator. I thought instant messaging would be an appropriate way to conduct my meeting with Nicholas; it seemed liked the right way to talk to a guy who has a knack for taking all forms of communication in stride. Plus I didnâ€™t have to worry about writing anything down:
Hey Nicholas...you there?
NG: Hey yeah I was just going to ask you that
Do you go by Nicholas or Nick btw?
NG: I think I appreciate it when women say Nicholas. Otherwise "Nick" is fine. Or put simply, "Nicholas" when the moment should be savored.
How was your weekend?
NG: Not relaxing. But intense.
Ah...a lot of hooplah?
NG: Too many hoops to jump through, yeah.
Are you a Christmas guy btw? Hanukkah? n/a?
NG: I wish I was Jewish. A holiday other than Christmas right now would be so refreshing. I love the Christmas culture, but there's a tinge of discomfort when things are done out of obligation.
Yeah...but I guess it's just as refreshing to be funny and not Jewish.
NG: Well, my Grandpa was technically a Jew. Err, a blood-Jew. So I suppose I've got a little bit there. I can feel it wanting to come out and play.
That's cool...the famous grandpa
NG: you heard about him???
Well it's not like I went into this like a blind date Nick.
NG: He's not exactly famous, though he did turn down Ghandi's party to go on a date with a chick.
Haha...I hope they had a big dinner.
There was a long enough pause here for me to reconsider whether he was being serious or not (if so I just became an asshole), so I thought it best to ask another question
Do you find yourself writing jokes with him in mind...or more generally, how do you gauge the appropriate audience for your strips?
NG: He didn't like my comics. He said a number of them had merit for being clever, but he found the humor to be too direct I think.
Do you like your comics?
NG: My comics make me laugh. Some of them I like a lot.
I was actually wondering about the direct/indirect decisions.
NG: What do you mean?
Well I guess we could take the banana strip as an example. There's a punch line for the audience, and then there's another frame of sort of postmodern self deprecating humor.
NG signed off at 1:13:36 PM.
Dammit! I knew I shouldnâ€™t have said the word postmodern. I donâ€™t even like hearing that word. Iâ€™ve lost my chance.
NG: (still here)
NG: (Just invisible)
Oh good...I was like "was it something I said?"
NG: Hmmm. That strip seems to be the one intentional instance of that (P.S.D.H.), but I try to just make the comics for the audience at all times As a fancy artist, this sounds like a terrible thing to do, but I always try to place myself in the audience.
Ok...so how hard is it for you to do that in let's say three frames and 20 words or less? (I don't know how fair that question is... but I guess it's an exercise in brevity unto itself)
NG: I think it all depends. I think of things simply, so the three-four-frame thinking just comes naturally. Finding a good story sometimes takes some digging.
I got a chance to watch a couple of your shorts, and I found myself thinking of your storyboard process in a 3-4 frame structure. What're the stories on your mind as of late?
NG: I'm working on a feature script. I wonder if it could be cut into fourths. It's a big story about relationships and death. Pretty much PBF territory, but I want it to be more beautiful than funny (unlike the comic, in which those qualities have reverse priority)
Nick has an ability to handle allegory and the â€œbig thingsâ€ very well, a skill that I think would translate well to feature film making. But where did that skill come from?
How'd you do with analogies on tests?
NG: Iâ€™ve always loved analogies. I looked forward to them, and did well I think. I don't recall being stumped.
NG: Tree : Stump
NG: Me: Not Analogies
NG: (that's a terrible analogy)
Yep, nailed it.
So I guess you're your own boss these days...have you given yourself any days off?
NG: Rarely. I just told my buddy Frank that I couldn't play RISK tonight. I think he was upset.
As a creative entrepreneur, what advice would you give other young artists when trying to do their thing and get it out there?
NG: Since I enjoy getting work done, it's something that happens during my work & play time allotments. I think the only rule to being an "artist" is that you shouldn't do it if you need other people to want you to; if you're waiting for any kind of return, financial or otherwise, you can (and deserve) to be crushed.
That's pretty sound advice.
NG: Eh, way too harsh now that I reread it. I think I'm lashing out because so much is made without joy. Much of what's on screens these days is strategically BUILT. It's never an expression.
I've sat in enough art school critiques to agree.
NG: Yeah. You must also then know the dangers of saying somethingâ€™s "an expression".
So on the flip side, what's out there right now that you find refreshing?
NG: I'm pretty notorious for walking out of theaters disappointed. I thought Mel Gibson's latest was pretty outrageously exciting though.
No, seriously people. Apocalypto?
NG: Yeah. Certainly not his love-letter to Jesus. The imagery at the Mayan temple was absolutely awe-inspiring. I fall in love every time a movie matches it's emotional fervor with equally intense imagery.
What'd you think of King Kong?
NG: Kong. I got a big love-hate relationship with Kong. [That movie] was also a real exciting picture, but I think I simply have a love-hate relationship with CGI. There were sections of that Brontosaurus stampede where I felt like falling out of my chair - in the bad way. Everything was rushed.
That's how I felt during War of the Worlds
NG: The speed of the characters was matched with 30 mph dinosaurs, etc. I often crave the gravity of a well-made Muppet.
I can understand that...I also think that some of the facial expressions they got in Kong were pretty amazing not just because of the execution, but the necessity.
NG: Well, only insofar as they invoked reality.
Agreed...reality is dope.
NG: Nothing is better.
Do you see yourself continuing with the strip even if the script blows up?
NG: I think what I'll do with the PBF is this: Never retire fully. I might someday only make a strip a year, but I see no reason to call it "quits". I can always make strips. I'll put a couple aside to be published after I die. That's always fun too.
I gotta indulge. Iâ€™m not funny, but maybe Nick wonâ€™t know thatâ€¦doubtful.
I had an idea for a one frame comic the other day after I got the news Iâ€™d get a chance to talk to you.
NG: Oh? You'll let me rob it from you?
Iâ€™m deciding if Iâ€™ll let you have it, or put it in the piece after you crush it. I came up with the idea when I saw an ad for a refrigerator that had a TV in it.
NG: Ha. What a terrible device.
All I could think was: Is this really going to help childhood obesity? So I guess the one framer would be a fat kid watching a special on obesity on the fridge as he goes to grab more junk food.
NG: It would definitely be an inspiration to obese children everywhere. I think Larson could do it. There's definitely comedy in it.
It's rough...but there's something relevant there.
Yeah he didnâ€™t like it. Very polite though.
NG: Thing about any funny idea though: If the author tries too hard to make it funny, it's instantly NOT. Larson is beautiful because he's so casual. It's almost like he doesn't give a shit whether you laugh or not. He must have some blessed insanity. So, like always, everything's about execution.
Yeah...I try to follow the notion that you're telling jokes to yourself, and everyone else is just eavesdropping.
NG: Oh man...The stand-up comics that know that are SUCH a pleasure.
Yeah...I've been kind of a standup junky lately.
Patton Oswalt is the man!
NG: It's so instantly laughable to behold something behaving as they do, say, when they get out of the shower. Have you tried it? It's intense. (something = someone, up there)
I can imagine...I have a friend who is basically my one man audience. He's great to tell jokes to, especially after a couple drinks. Have you gotten up there?
NG: I tried once. I didn't write more than a single paragraph of material, so after my first big pop, I basically held a fond but doomed conversation with the audience. I'd like to try it again sometime.
Yeah, I have a couple friends who've been telling me to try out some stuffâ€¦my alternative solution would be to just record it, and make a cartoon of myself doing the material.
NG: Sounds like a worthy experiment. I would suggest upping your audience to 3 people, or maybe 1 extra stranger. I think the thing what snags a lot of truly funny people is that talking for strangers is not like talking for friends. It starts to feel like a lie if you don't modify your delivery accordingly.
What're you looking forward to most in 2007?
NG: The PBF book probably. Due out late August. I can't wait to read it.
How do you feel about the term "lol"...are you strict with it...do you use it?..
NG: I make it a point to avoid it.
NG: The same way I try to avoid saying words like fuck.
Speaking of both those words, my roommate laughed out loud when I read him the whale strip, I think the whale's name was Barry.
NG: Right. There was a lot of deliberation between my friend Jordan and I about the name of the whale. For a while, it was Keith.
Barry's got a lot more water cooler value though.
I don't know anyone named Barry who's ever been younger than 30 in their life. What's your birthday, or when I guess?
NG: March 9th, 1982. I really like that birth date for some reason. The very site of it fills me with fondness and warmth. Maybe because of existing associations, but I think I really like the numbers.
I tend to like mine more.
NG: Lay it on me.
August 2nd, 1983.
NG: Could be a little tighter, but that's still a nice one.
Thanks. I tried.
Speaking of tight...do you think the term Pillsbury Soldier sums up your mantra/perspective?
(firstname.lastname@example.org is the contact email for Nick and PBF Comics)
NG: I think it sums up the mantra/perspective of me, age 17. It's an old e-mail.
If you had to come up with a new address on the spot to represent you at 24 (which is a good age...I'm looking forward to it)...what would it be?
Youâ€™d probably get a lot of spam.
NG: It'd probably send out some spam too.
Touchez. How do you deal with your fans? You seem like a really accessible guy.
NG: Accessible because I answer e-mails?
NG: If I don't know how to respond to a message, I just wait until I do.
I wonder how Nick deals with being home for the holidays, which is basically another term for high school reunion shitshow?
Did you like high school? (it's on my mind, because I went to a bar last night, and ran into just about everyone in my town)
NG: High school was pretty haywired. Strange that people have to go through the most difficult part of their life at their most vulnerable. It was a riot, really. I got in all sorts of terrible situations.
Oh yeah? Terrible like a wedgie, or terrible like a misdemeanor?
NG: Terrible like felony. But all in good fun. I discovered the value of courage around the ages 15-17 I think. Or at least, the value of wanting to be courageous.
How are the ladies treating you these days?
NG: Captain Courageous has been out at sea for a while. Been working a lot. I see girls in magazines that I would ask out.
Do you think there are girls out there that can appreciate your sense of humor?
NG: Some of them write me to say so. It's exhilarating.
I think that would make my day.
NG: It only ends in heartbreak, son.
What's the worst job you ever had?
NG: Haha. I just remembered my friend Dan had me help him be a "videographer" for a farm video. We were going to record and edit an instructional video for Mexican farm-hands. It had to be so good that it could be understood without any knowledge of English.
I'm not sure what to do with that one
Still not sure, but I thought people needed to hear about it
NG: Dan and I had spent the day filming cows, udders, and mud. Thing is though, this mud was all over. By the end of the shoot, we had this mud all over us. The kicker to the story that I'm still not willing to admit is that the mud was actually cow shit.
NG: I threw out the jacket from that day. Took two showers. Video never got edited because the farmer stopped talking to us.
It'd be funny if it was a leather jacket
NG: That would be sweetly ironic.
Or a horrible joke. Itâ€™s okay Nick, you couldâ€™ve just said it.
You're a New York native right?
Ok...Analogy time...New York is to Los Angeles as blank is to blank?
NG: Wisconsin is to Nebraska. Pretty similar. But the section where I'm from is probably similar to northern California, I'm guessing. Towards Buffalo.
Who do you live with?
NG: Mom, pop, Eric.
NG: Little bro.
Are you the eldest?
NG: He's cool. I'm second-born.
NG: One of them.
How many siblings?
NG: (4 total) er, that is 3 total siblings
You mind giving me the names/ages?
NG: Alex is 26. He's got black hair. Noelle has reddish hair. She must be 23 right now. Eric is a dirty blond at 15. I mention the hair thing because I'm brown, and I appreciate the spectrum at hand.
Iâ€™m a middle child too. We're cursed with awesomeness, and brown hair.
NG: And awesome hair.
I suppose I should've guessed you were in the middle.
NG: It's not that awesome.
It's got its perks, like personality and compassion.
Who do you go to (literally or figuratively) for the stamp of approval before you release a comic?
NG: I got buddies I run things by. Or maybe just whatever friend happens to visit the studio. I rarely publish without getting someone's opinion though. I think way too many things are funny.
Do you have a favorite?
NG: Um, I recently re-mastered "Angels Caught". It used to look crappy, but it looks great now. The last frame is so simultaneously funny and scary to me, I'll probably call it my favorite. Can you imagine having to perform sex for God? What conflicting pressure!
Probably like trying to run a comic idea by Nick Gurewitch? Nope, too much praise. How about like trying to run a comic idea by Nick in front of an online audience? Nope, too queer. Bad analogy. I think Iâ€™m stumped. I should probably email email@example.com to get help finishing this last frame.
WORLD - CULTURE
Copyright © 2010 Hassassin
Pillsbury Soldier: A Conversation with Nicholas Gurewitch
Copyright © 2010 Hassassin
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