Al Schroeder talks to Joe Dunn about his various webcomics including the popular Joe Loves Crappy Movies and his collaboration with Mitch Clem, The Coffee Achievers.
We know you're a graduate of Parsons School of Design at the New School in New York City and now live in Queens with your girlfriend, Yeo. Tell us something about you that's not generally known—like when you were first gripped with the desire to create? Do you come from a creative family?
I'm not sure that I would call my family creative. Not in a comic book sort of way anyway. There was always music in the house, and my parents both have a knack fro writing, but no creativity as far as art is concerned. I've been told though that I started drawing very young.
My mom worked as a computer programmer in the early 80's and would bring home these big reams of computer paper. You know, the old ones with the dotted sides you could peel off, and they were connected sheets so you could stretch the thing out to eternity. She would give me a ream of paper and according to her it would keep me busy just drawing for hours. I have vivid memories of drawing the most complicated G.I. Joe battles on that paper. Or as complicated as a 4 year old could do I suppose.
That all turned towards comics in 6th grade though, when Phil Chan (long time best friend, fellow Digital Pimp founder) got me hooked on the funny books. It gave the drawings I was doing a direction. A purpose, you know?
Which movies most influenced you when you were young? Which comics?
It's always so hard to remember movies from my youth. At least before 10 or 11 years old. I don't think I became a movie junkie until I could actively start going by myself. I mean, Die Hard was out when I was in 6th grade or something, but I had no idea it even existed. I have no idea why, but it just wasn't on my radar. I think I'd walk bare foot over broken glass to see that movie on the big screen now.
I can remember renting movies when I was younger though. I would go visit my dad in upstate NY and he'd take my sister and I to the video store and let us each pick out one. My sister would pick out something lame like Iron Eagle or Iron Eagle 4. (Honestly – Iron Eagle 4!?) But I would always pick the same thing, Running Scared, with Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal.
I have no idea why. It's not like the movie is especially good, but every time I hear that Michael McDonald soundtrack I think of better days.
Once I started finding movies for myself the movies that came to mean the most to me where ones like Roadhouse and Point Break. True crap, I know, but you love what you love. For those movies it's more about the experiences than the actual movies. Don't get me wrong, when Patrick Swayze rips that dude's throat out – it's totally bad ass, but I know they're crappy movies. I can remember watching them with my friends though. Watching them a lot, and just laughing and having a good time. That means a lot. Those are good memories.
For comics, I was a big X-men geek early on. I dug through the boxes and collected everything from 100 up. In high school I moved onto the Fantastic Four and fell in love with Byrne era stories. They were so amazing and so inspirational. The guy really knew what he was doing.
Comics were different back then. I can remember taking a summer school class just to jump ahead, and every day before class I'd buy an old FF book. I'd get to class and blaze through the lesson leaving me with about half an hour of free time in which I would devour the book cover to cover. I would look forward to everything. Even the letters column. Is that comic geek at its best or what? Worst? OhÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ damn.
I know Sam Keith, Chris Cross, Steven McNiven, and Eduardo Risso are some of your artistic influences. Whose current artistic work most amazes you?
Man, I just read the latest 100 Bullets trade and Risso is a god. Brilliant pacing, page set up, concept, everything. I'm thinking about reading that series over again from the beginning just to soak in all his beautiful work.
Over the weekend I also read the new ExMachina, which has been drawn from the start by Tony Harris (He did Starman brilliantly for DC a few years back). His work has matured to a new level. I mean, it was always good but he's rocking some angels and perspectives that no one would think to use in a political sci-fi series. He can make a conversation between two people more action packed than anything going on in half the books that actually have action. He's incredible.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention some of the folks in the web comic world since it's the world I'm in, and one that I draw a lot of inspiration from. Artistically I think the best is Ramon and Rob from Butternutsquash. Pretty much consistently awesome from day one. I should be ripping them off more than I already am.
I think James from Beaver and Steve has a great style that can come off as simplistic, but has a presence and beauty that he makes work like no one else.
I could go on all day. There are a lot of great strips out there.
Who are your writing/humor influences?
Hard to say, I mean most of the strips I write are just developed from either real world conversations, or make believe ones in my head.
In terms of the reviews that go with each Joe Loves Crappy Movies strip, I don't look towards any style or individual. I just try not to spell every word wrong. I've been thinking lately about doing more research on how to craft a review. Getting books with tips, maybe even taking a journalism class in critique. Something to help the reviews get to the next level.
So the answer is "none", but I recognize that answer as a problem.
What is your all-time favorite guillty pleasure at the movies? What is the ultimate "crappy movie" that you can't resist watching? (And incidently what's Yeo's all-time favorite crappy movie?)
Oh, don't make me choose! I would say that it changes actually. I can remember periods where I would watch only one movie. Summers during college I used to work on the New Jersey Turnpike (jealous?) and one of those years, every day I would come home, collapse on my bed, and instantly put on Kingpin. I must have seen that movie 50 times, easy.
That pattern has happen with movies like Mallrats, Mumford, Mission Impossible, basically lots of movies starting with the letter M.
You know, it's weird but it was easier to repeat that pattern when everything was on VHS. Once I got DVD's everything seemed so precious and breakable.
Yeo's favorite movies are Grease 2 and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Both garbage in my opinion, and I love bad movies. Though Grease 2 does have Shooter McGavin in it, which is just hysterical to me.
So, if you were dictator of the world, or Dante imagining who goes in what circle of hell — what would happen to people who brought crying babies to movies? To those who use cell phones in the middle of a movie?
Oh, man did you read my review of Silent Hill, where that little girl was just looking at me? It still gives me the chills to think about.
Crying babies do suck. I find though that most people that bring the babies know they suck and will vacate the theater right away if the baby starts acting up.
I went to see A.I. (the Spielberg movie about a well behaved obedient robot child replacing a kid that died) and there was this kid talking. So someone yells, "Shut that kid up". The parents manage to calm him down and everything is fine.
A few minutes later the kid starts walking around and someone yells, "Get that kid outta here." The kid is taken out and brought back a few minutes later. Everything is fine.
The kid starts running around in the front of the theater and screaming at the top of his lungs. Someone yells, "Replace that kid with a robot kid." And everyone in the theater erupts with laughter. It was so insanely funny. Way better than the actual movie.
Cell phones suck too. Again, most people know to turn them off or to silence them if they start ringing. If a phone rings I'll look at the person and if they shut it off right away I'll forgive it. These things happen, it's not a huge deal.
But if people start talking on their phones I get really mad. If this happens to you here are the three best ways to handle it:
- Ask them politely to stop talking.
- Say "What!?" loudly. When they look at you say, "Oh, you weren't talking to me? I thought you were talking to me since you were talking out loud. I can't imagine any other reason you'd be talking in the theater." And my favoriteÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
- Say loudly so everyone can hear "Tell your mom you're going to have to call her back when the movie is over." I don't know why that's so funny, but it ALWAYS works.
Really though I'm ok with babies and phones. There are other things more offensive. Loud talkers I can't stand. We're not in your living room, shut the hell up or at least learn how to whisper. The most horrible thing about the movies though is popcorn.
I know, I'm shocked too, but popcorn is loud. Seriously. Sit in a silenced theater before the movie starts and listen for it. Smacking and cracking and crunching and uggh, its so disgusting. And it's because people eat with their mouths open. Why, because it's dark and you think people can't see? "Oh finally I can eat the way god intended, with a big bucket on my lap and no prying eyes watching my every move!" It's just wrong. Tossing the popcorn in their mouths and chewing away. Close your mouth!
What's your favorite movie munchie?
I used to go through phases. High school was Milk Duds and college was Dots. The nerd rope was my pinch hitter when one wasn't available. Now though I'm on a diet and sugar is out so I usually end up sneaking in something like an orange or rolled up pieces of ham. Diets suck.
Your partnership with Mitch Clem on The Coffee Achievers was very impressive. How did that partnership work? DId you have imput into the plotting, or did Mitch send you the script and you drew it, or what? Which do you prefer — working with a partner or working solo?
The Coffee Achievers was ridiculously fun to work on. It was like comic strip boot camp throwing myself into a daily strip like that. I wasn't even sure I could handle it, but Mitch had faith.
I'd say that my art had some impact on how things turned out but I had little input on the story otherwise. Mainly because, even before I was ever asked to participate, Mitch had the majority of the story mapped out in his head.
That was a good and bad situation because I would start telling stories in the art that would eventually contradict the actual story.
One of the characters Karen gets seduced by a barista, and to add the threat of evil I had the pair being followed by a known Coffee Achievers villain in the far distance. It was small, but readers noticed.
It turns out the barista was the villain in disguise. I was pounding my drawing board the day I got that script. It's great for the story but frustrating as hell personally.
It was a combination of miscommunication and too much freedom. I guess. I look back now and it makes me smile, but the perfectionist in me is still a little bothered that I didn't play it safe.
There are equal benefits to working solo and having a partner. I actually recommend that all artists do both. Working solo allows you to pour out all your ideas, all your frustrations. It's the ultimate personal outlet.
Working with a partner forces you to really focus on the craft. You'll end up trying things you'd never thought you'd try with your art. For instance, I hate drawing cars, so rarely will I have the gang from Joe Loves Crappy Movies go on a road trip. Mitch and Phil (who writes the Wednesday strip Matriculated that I draw) have both given me car stories.
And I'm glad they did. Those were stories that pushed me to look at cars and figure out how to make them work in a comic strip. It was a pain in the ass, but if a car story ever comes up again – I'll be ready.
As hard as Coffee Achievers was to do I don't regret it a bit. I'm far better off for it as an artist and a person.
Who would direct and star in your ideal movie? What kind of movie would it be, in what genre?
God, I don't even know. Somebody asked me a similar question a couple weeks back and I totally blew the answer. It's hard because I like all different kinds of movies. Stupid comedies and crime capers are light years apart, know what I mean?
I guess my ideal movie would be action over humor. More twists than a bag of pretzels. Quality actors over big stars. A script so sharp you could cut the corners off your sandwich with it. And that right there is a movie written and directed by David Mammet. He's the man! Is anyone watching the new show he's producing The Unit? It's one of those shows you think will be boring, but it kicks me in the ass every week.
What are your future plans for both JOE LOVES CRAPPY MOVIES and yourself? The proposed JOE LOVES CRAPPY DVDs reviewing classic movies? Different projects altogether?
Ideally I'd like to be putting out two printed coolections a year. One collecting the movies I see in theaters and post on the site, and the other collecting the best of whatever DVD's I felt like watching that year.
But I'm hesitant to start producing these. Mainly because I'm not sure the audience is there. The traffics good, but is that enough?
If I go to print I want to do it right. Full color, full reviews, the strips, the incentive images, the whole kit and caboodle. So it's going to cost a lot and I need to know it's going to work. So, no big collections yet, but hopefully one day.
In the meantime I'm getting shirts and buttons together and possibly a couple of 24 page printed comics featuring original stories to try and sell at conventions. We'll see though. My main priority is getting fresh content up online as often as I can.
Other projects are always in the works. Mitch and I really need to sit down and hash out our next project Rain Dogs, although the next time I talk to him I may push Coffee Achievers 2 or a project that would be entertaining but low maintenance that we could do during the hiatus. I pitched him a weekly comic called Henry Rollins vs. Godzilla. How hard core would that be!? We'll see though.
I'll continue my three digital pimp strips Joe Loves Crappy Movies, Free Lunch, and Matriculated. And I'm starting a new strip for a poker site called On A Draw about a group of guys that play poker. I've got about a dozen of those strips done and it's shaping up nicely. It always takes time to find a specific voice with each strip, but I'm excited about it.
The future personallyÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Yeo and I are getting married in July which is going to be awesome. I'm trying to convince her to get pictures at a movie theater in our wedding attire. "It'll be great for the strip!" She's warming up to the idea.