Leah Fitzgerald Interviews Bob The Angry Flower’s Steven Notley

Stephen Notley planted his first comic seeds the mid 90s while drawing weekly strips for the University of Alberta’s Gateway (a student newspaper that managed to churn out not only Notley’s work, but also Cigarro & Cerveja, Deathworld, and the now-defunct but fondly-remembered Space Moose all in the same span of time). It did not take him or his comic idea about a disgruntled sentient weed – umm, sorry – flower to take root and bloom brightly in the still-Edenic Garden of Webcomics. Now already releasing his fourth book, the creator of Bob The Angry Flower can be seen on the comic convention circuit sporting large yellow petals on his head and pollinating truths about life, the universe, and political everythings as only an angry, petal-bedecked person could.

How did you first start Bob the Angry Flower?
I was back at the University of Alberta doing a continuous week-to-week superhero strip, The Germ, and I wanted to do something a little more free-form, and I’d had this notion of a flower with a mohawk, so I sketched it a couple of times, ditched the mohawk, and I had a character.

What kind of response has the comic had over the years?
Lots of kinds of responses. Plenty of good response, delightfully; lots of people from different walks of life seem to dig it. I don’t really get a lot of hate mail, considering how "outrageous" my cartoons are; I don’t quite seem to have the talent of some of my peers for offending people. A lot of people say they think the strip is hilarious but that none of their friends or co-workers get it, which confuses the hell out of me– how can someone not get my comic?

What keeps you motivated to continue creating the comic?
Well, it’s the outlet for all my frustrations and artistic pretensions, and at this point I’ve got a fair bit of my self-identity wrapped up in it. I don’t really know what I’d do without it, so I’ll keep plugging away at it until I really start to suck.

How would you describe your political stance?
Socialist-libertarian-technocrat, I suppose? I like freedom, I like recognizing common social goods and working towards them, and I like science as a way of knowing things.

You’re Canadian and working in Canada – how do you think that affects your view of the States?
Well, that’s the thing. We Canadians are very much like Americans, but we have that extra bit of distance, so we’re more likely to see America the way the world sees it rather than the way it sees itself. As a Canadian, I can’t directly participate in the American political process; all I can do is stand by the sidelines and shake my head in horror/disgust/disappointment/frustration. And then draw cartoons about it.

What do you think of the current political climate in the States?
It’s a disaster. It’s good to see that some people are finally starting to complain about the insanely immoral and irresponsible behavior of their rulers, but it never should have been allowed to get as far as it has. I’d say this Bush government has damaged just about everything it’s touched, whether it’s Iraq, the economy, civil rights, international law… I can’t really think of anything they’ve done right. It’d be easy to explain if they were evil, if they were just demons and vampires, but the sad thing is that they’re not even smart enough to be evil; they’re just foolish and incompetent and limitlessly arrogant.

What place do you think political comics have in the world?
A great place. Comics can lay things out real clear, point out the obvious absurdities in a way not much else can. Tom Tomorrow’s This Modern World, Ruben Bolling’s Tom the Dancing Bug, Ted Rall‘s comics… all of them do a great job of collating and processing complicated political ideas, boiling them down to their essence. Political comics bring clarity to the table, I would say.

What do you think about Arnold as governor?
Well, I probably wouldn’t have voted for him. It was a little bit disappointing to see people come out for him despite the fact that he made no promises, laid out no plans, and did nothing whatsoever to prove that he had the knowledge or experience to run California. I mean, he can’t blow the deficit away with a rocket launcher, so what’s he going to do that the old governor couldn’t, exactly?

Not to mention the fact that he’s Republican, and though it didn’t seem to get a lot of play during the election, we shouldn’t forget that Republicans were and remain deep, deep, deep in bed with the crooks and market-gamers like Enron who stole billions of dollars from California and created the crisis in the first place.

How did you first get into comics?
Uh… always liked ’em, drew ’em when I was a kid. I never really logically thought about "getting into comics"; I never took art training or anything like that, but I always drew stuff and then once I got into university and started a strip I never stopped.

What do you do in real life?
Draw comics. Review movies. Used to write analysis of movie scripts, but that’s dried up lately. Write dialogue for video games. Play video games. Hang out at the bar. Smoke dope. Pine over girls. I think that covers most of it.