Eric Millikin has been outraging and entertaining readers for years with Fetus-X, currently appearing in several places, including Serializer.net. When we decided the theme for October would be politically inclined, he naturally came to mind. He was kind enough to grant us an interview that is not for the faint of heart or the politically correct.
How has local newspaper syndication of Fetus-X affected Fetus-X's recognition?
Local newspapers are cool. I get a better sense of reader reaction then when I've got comics in papers on the other side of the country. With papers on the other side of the country it just turns into me sending them comics, them sending me checks, and I don't get much interaction with readers because they just send letters to the newspaper's editors. Unless I start buying subscriptions to, say, East-coast college newspapers, I never get to read about how wonderfully my comics suck. But when I'm in a local alternaweekly I get the joy of eavesdropping on the girls at Taco Bell discussing Satanic kittens chasing cheerleaders and fetuses. That makes it all worthwhile.
Is Fetus-X locally recognized by most people in your area?
I don't know about most people — the comic's in an alternaweekly here in Detroit so it's probably only reaching those younger readers, you know? Unless their grandparents are searching the personal ads for "Attention Drag Queen" or "Seeking Hermaphrodite Only," they're probably not reading Fetus-X. Which is why I would encourage everyone reading this interview to contact me about publishing Fetus-X in their local church and senior center newsletters. Old people need their Fetus-X, too.
I know Fetus-X has had an interesting career vis-a-vis newspapers.
It all comes down the newspaper's comics or art director, and Detroit's Metro Times has got a really cool new art director. The whole newspaper looks great. But then again they just hired a new Editor-in-Chief, so I'll probably get fired this week. But, yeah, when you're trying to sell comics about dead babies to newspapers, you sort of get used to getting fired all the time. Especially when it's conservative midwestern farm colleges. But I really can't complain. There are lots of artists that would kill to be printed in half as many papers as I've been fired from. Well, maybe not kill, but desperate enough to beg papers to print their shit for free.
Your main star is a fetus in a jar. You had a mock picture of Bush in his "victory" jet/jump/suit made up of small pictures of American soldiers being sent home in coffins. What to you, is "edgy" and what, if anything, is "over the top"?
I guess the answer there is "nothing." That's something I don't even think about. I just do whatever the fuck I want and let readers decide if they want to read it.
You've said before that you started cartooning when drawing your nightmares as a tot. Do you still have vivid nightmares? Or are all your nightmares taking place in full color on CNN?
I don't exactly have nightmares any more, and, yeah, maybe that's because I've seen enough crazy shit in the waking world that my unconscious mind can't compete. But I've developed new sleeping disorders that more than make up for it. Like when my insomnia leads to sleep deprivation and I start having hallucinations while driving, or when my sleep paralysis kicks in and I wake up but can't move. That tends to fuck me up. And I've also got some left over caveman reflex where I get a huge adrenaline rush when something wakes me up, just in case it's like a dinosaur and I need to go into a berserker fury to defend myself. So, yeah, between all that and the near-constant nocturnal emissions I'm lots of fun at slumber parties.
Who are your storytelling influences? You've mentioned Lovecraft, which I can definitely see…Poe…William S. Burroughs…Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault — who else has influenced you greatly?
I'm doing political horror comics, so pretty much anyone who's done good work in either genre. You know, political comics by people like Tom Tomorrow, Aaron MacGruder, David Rees, Ruben Bolling and Ted Rall and horror comics by Richard Sala, Charles Burns, Dylan Meconis, Thomas Ott, plus all the old EC Tales from the Crypt and what not. And of course Scott McCloud's had a great influence on me, to the point where even when I disagree with him it gets filed under "Ways in Which I Disagree with McCloud," you know? That's when you know someone's had an impact. Clearly I've read "Understanding Comics" on the toilet a few too many times.
Artistically who do you think has influenced you and Casey with Fetus-X? I know Sue Williams, Adrian Piper, Joseph Kosuth and Barbara Kruger—who else?
In comics, Dave McKean probably did the most to just sort of show me that there was no reason to keep my comics art and my sculpture/installation/performance art separated at all. And there's also a really good Detroit comics scene these days, with other artists like Matt Feazell, Sean Bieri and Suzanne Baumann all doing really interesting stuff.
Lately the biggest impact on my visual storytelling has probably come from South American newspapers like Clarin down in Argentina and El Comercio in Peru. They've sort of taken off and ran with the ball that USA Today threw down with all those infographics in the late eighties. And then when I start looking at journalism I start looking at gonzo journalism and Hunter S. Thompson, Ralph Steadman and Oscar Zeta Acosta. And gonzo journalism takes me to Spider Jerusalem and Warren Ellis and right back to Vertigo comics and Dave McKean.
Wow, that was like six degrees of Fetus-X.
Digital photos/photophones/photoblogs helped spread tales of the abuse in the Abu Gharib prison. Recently, analysis by various bloggers quickly brought up questions about documents presented on a 60 MINUTES report showing how Bush neglected or evaded his National Guard duty. (It doesn't seem to be party-specific.) Yet with all this information at everyone's fingertips,and the speed of spreading information (or disinformation) the political climate is getting chillier and chillier. Is the Internet informing — or lulling — most people? How can it live up to its potential?
It's up to people to realize that potential. Like Warren Ellis says, "The Internet is made of people." I still hear from dudes who have bought into that old lie that politics is just something for fat white guys in suits to worry about. Just yesterday I had a dude telling me that "Not everything is a political issue." Bullshit. Everything is a political issue. EVERY FUCKING THING. The only reason I can make my comics without going to prison is because the ACLU and the CBLDF have fought politicians to defend that right. The only reason you can read my comics on the Web is because the CDA got struck down.
And right now our government is being run by people who think they can tell you who you can and cannot fuck and which gods you can and cannot pray to. With all due respect (and that would be none) Mr. President, that's bullshit.
And to anyone reading this who still thinks they don't want to get involved in politics, I gotta ask, what's it gonna take? I mean, they've already sent 1,000 men and women my age to their deaths because Rumsfeld's old friend Saddam wouldn't magically hand over the weapons he didn't have. They've already tried to pass a Constitutional Amendment that'll tell us who we can and cannot get married to. What are you waiting for? The Soylent Green school lunch program?
It takes just a little extra time to critically read the news and participate in our democratic process. There will still be beer in the refrigerator and porn on the Internet when you get back.
Unless, of course, you let them get outlawed.
What would you like to see in comics as a whole that you don't see now — and webcomics in particular?
I'd just like to see more webcomics by people with something interesting to say. No, "Video games are really fun," is not an interesting thing to say.
How has joining Serializer.net affected your readership?
My experience with Serializer has been great. Yeah, I lost some readers in the "I'll never pay for webcomics" demographic, and if you're a 13-year old girl afraid to ask your mom if you can use her credit card for a Fetus-X subscription, I understand and apologize. But for every reader I lost I probably picked up three. And I've been lucky to meet a lot of cool people. Going down to Savannah to run around in the rain with Drew Weing and Antar Ellis, talking about the historical portrayal of gays in comics with Howard Cruse, talking fried chicken with Joey Manley, that sort of thing. Those memories will last a lifetime. My only regret is that my comics failed to win me the love of Andrew Farago.
What are the pleasures — and problems — of working with a creative partner?
Working with Casey was a blast, especially when he blew all his deadlines and couldn't follow any of my scripts. Seriously though, he just got too busy with some of his other projects to keep working on Fetus-X. Right now he's raising money for an anthology he's put together and managing an art supply store. That's just given me the opportunity to do some cool artwork over the last few years. I probably should have taken his name off the serializer site long ago, but I've left it there as a sign that there was no big hate-filled drunken fist fight that led to the end of our collaboration or anything. It was more of a "tough love"-filled drunken fist fight, except with nunchucks instead of fists.
Would you like to tell us of your upcoming Webcomics Nation project? How will it differ from the other two Fetus-X projects? Are there any other projects you're working on that we should know about?
Alright, who told you about Webcomics Nation? This interview's over.