Al Schroeder Talks with Sparks and Neveu of Stoopid Pigeon
A befogged pigeon, an abrasive squirrel with a strap-on, a gay robot who collect vintage records, a skull-faced stripper, an insecure head without a body, and a lustful pumpkin. All are the main characters of Stoopid Pigeon, a long-running (coming up on five years!) webcomic that nevertheless has been under the radar of many webcomic readers. Al Schroeder interviewed the two creators of the admittedly offensive and explicit, but often delightfully funny comic, and you can read the results here.
What background do you two have (I know a few details from the site, but I'd like to know more) and how did that contribute to the creation of Stoopid Pigeon?
Neveu: I'm a playwright and a comic fan (always wanted to do a newspaper strip, but never had the drawing chops to even get close or a newspaper that I owned) and I'd been friends with Sparks for a number of years and knew he drew (and amazingly well). So one day I told him I had an idea for a strip and wondered if he might be interested in trying out an Internet comic with me. After a few beers, he agreed. And that was about five damn years ago.
Sparks: I've cartooned since before I could talk, and was a maniacal comic book fan until about age fifteen when I kind of gave up on superheroes. Something I just remembered that may bear on my being involved with Stoopid was a series of dirty cartoons I drew when I was a kid called The Adventures of Captain Dicknose. What was wrong with me, and why didn't my parents put me in therapy? Probably it was a good thing they didn't. Sometimes your problems are the only interesting thing you have going for you.
What was the genesis of the comic itself? And the main four characters---Stoopid, Aubrey, Strappy, and Susan?
Neveu: The genesis of the comic is first from a little doodle I did when I was a working phones at an office job. I had been downtown (Chicago) and had spied some pigeons hanging out under the El tracks. I thought that those damn things would look good in black and white, so I got back to work and drew a silly little Stoopid Pigeon walking down an urban sidewalk. I showed it to Sparks and he took the initial idea and made Stoopid into an actual presence. As far as those other folks, Sparks and I sat in his apartment and discussed what other sorts of folks might inhabit this world with Stoopid Pigeon, and a robot, a dildo-ed squirrel, a pumpkin and a head on a stool all came about in that discussion. The addition of the skull-headed stripper came later when we needed a female foil to this diverse group (skull-headed only because I've always liked the look of a skull head on a regular body â€“ spooky yet comic).
Sparks: Neveu tells it like it is. The characters all sort of came out of trying to use traditional types but skewed a little toward our own neuroses. To psychoanalyze us I would say that, for example, Susan represents our intense desire to get inside the heads of our wives, a couple of gals who will remain forever mysterious. And Aubrey, of course, does all the gay stuff we're too scared to do. Right, Brett? Brett?
I'm reminded of early mid-sixties underground comics like R. Crumb, but that's probably just me... what cartoonists and strips influenced you the most?
Neveu: I'll let Sparks handle the most of that one as far as underground folks go (Crumb for sure, as well as Doug Allen), but for me it was Peanuts (as I said), Garfield and Bloom County. I always found humor in Charles Schulz's lonely and wordy characters, and always loved Berkeley Breathed's cruelty and insight. And Jim Davis? I just liked his repetition and I also sketched a drawing once of Garfield smoking a cigarette and shooting his owner Dave right between the eyes (with Garfield saying, "Die Asshole").
Sparks: Oh yeah, Crumb. The God of us all. I remember picking up a Zap comic when I was young and my mom just blithely paid for it. When I got it home I was completely transformed and scandalized and aroused. Its impact was profound. I was also a big fan of Gahan Wilson working in the National Lampoon. And let's see, also George Herriman, Doug Allen, Everett Peck. I also loved this comic character called Herbie Popnecker but I can't recall the artist. Anyone remember him? In standard comics I liked John Buscema, Gene Colan, and of course Jack Kirby. I wish I was a more conscientious artist because sometimes I get really lazy and just sort of zip through Stoopid, but when I take my time I'm pleased with the results.
One critic said, "it's almost like Lewis Carroll does Seinfeld". What non comic book/strip writers influenced you the most?
Neveu: For me, Seinfeld for sure (especially early on) and I'd also have to say David Mamet, Monty Python and Mad Magazine. Personally, I tried to inject my irrational sketch-writing style into the strip (odd references and made-up language) and the need to not follow pop culture, but to create it.
Sparks: For me there is a Holy Triumvirate plus one: Andy Kaufman, Martin Mull, and Albert Brooks. The add-on is Harry Shearer with a side of Chris Elliot from Get a Life. A lot of these guys have gotten soft with age (or they've died) but in their heyday they were fantastic.
You've been doing this for nearly five years. What have you learned? What would you have done differently?
Neveu: What we've learned is to change it up every once in awhile to keep it interesting for ourselves (the addition of Super Peapod and the occasional diversions with Stupid Pig, Stu the college reporter, Space Priest and various posters). We've also learned to be true to the world we've created and that our best work is often done at various Chicago bars that appear much like the bar that our characters hang out in. Things we would have done differently would include NEVER attempting an animated Internet short ('99) and lazy-butting around on trying to get our wonderful and completed full-length comic published. Oh and always seemingly ignoring fans when they ask when a book-length Stoopid Pigeon compilation will be forthcoming.
Sparks: I've become a better cartoonist through repetition. I've never been one to keep a sketchbook so it's been a great lesson to do weekly art (though, like I mentioned, I'm lazy so the schedule slips a little now and then). I'm abashed and humbled when I look at the early strips and it makes me realize that I'll hate this week's strip a year from now. Something else I've learned is that Mr. Neveu is a terrific writer, and I'm pleased he asked me to share this little adventure with him. I thought he was just a guy, but he's so much more than that. At least when you get some beer in him.
Why did you choose to do this as a webcomic? What advantages or disadvantages do you see to this as a medium? Any advice for anyone planning on doing a webcomic?
Neveu: We chose to do Stoopid as a webcomic because it's cheap, we don't have to worry about distribution or gettin' paid (which is a bit sucky, too, I suppose) and it's fast and simple (and those wonderful control aspects). Disadvantages are that we don't get paid (as I noted, quite sucky), our audience varies from year to year as far as numbers go, and I can't go to the comic book shop and point at Stoopid Pigeon and say, "Yes sir, you jags, that's my damn comic up there! Jags!" Advice to anyone planning a webcomic: don't use it as a blog -- just post the comic. And challenge yourself to make it unique, funny (if funny's what yer going for) and diverse. AND keep it simple!
Sparks: Yeah, what Brett said. I'd also add that webbers shouldn't be thinking of this medium as a way to break into the papers. It's a noble format all on its own. And I also feel that the community out there is very supportive of its members. It's very nice. I liken it to the indie record scene which has had a nice life without big-league interference.
What sort of fan mail do you get? Or hate mail, for that matter? Or even--- since you do a non-punchline comic--- confused I-don't-get-it mail, from those used to more traditional fare?
Neveu: We oftentimes get wonderful fan mail, stating how great fans think we are and the wonderful powers of wonderfulness we have. I think we've gotten two of those. From friends. Who think we have low self-esteem. Anyhow, we get 99% positive fan mail (and message board discussion stuff), and NEVER any hate mail. Although we did get one e-mail that said, "Stupid is right." We liked that, and I think I responded, "Yeah, well, he's oftentimes never wrong!" Ha ha ha ha, as Chris Ware would say. And I'd also say that we may have gotten one or two confused folks e-mails, but I think those folks that are confused by Stoopid click past it fairly quickly and move onto less confusing websites, such as www.scottlowell.com.
How has your readership grown, over nearly five years? (Just in general---you don't have to give specific numbers unless you want to.) Do you actively promote the site, and if you do, how?
Neveu: Our readership as grown at a steady pace, ONLY due to word of mouth (or click of mouse, I suppose). We don't actively promote it and never have. It's like our little Stoopid sanctuary that others are welcome to visit, only they have to clean up after themselves. That said, we have a strong core readership (meaning: a good group of individuals and scattered looky-loos visit Stoopid Pigeon on a regular basis).
Sparks: Did I already mention that I'm lazy? Neveu is too.
I love the character list, and how the individual characters are linked to the sites THEY'D be interested in most, rather than their characteristics crudely spelled out. Do you have any favorites among your characters?
Neveu: My personal favorite has always been Pumpkin. Pumpkin is a freak and always will be â€“ he [is] the perifery friend that can do anything and sleep with anyone. He comments on the individuals while actively participating in their lives. And he's sometimes a shit, too.
Sparks: I agree. Pumpkin. He's the guy you know who does it all. He's not too handsome but somehow he gets all the chicks, does all the best drugs, goes to exotic locales. Plus he's got a well-adjusted mellow personality so you get the sense that he'd give you good advice on the stock market and on lawn fertilizer. I'd like to be him. He makes a good case for armlessness.
Do you have any plans or offers for the future of Stoopid Pigeon â€“ especially in other media? (I could see this as a trade paperback, albeit with a "for mature readers" stamp on it...)
Neveu: We would love to offer it any way possible (there was awhile when we were thinking a series of Stoopid Pigeon bar napkins would be quite cool). The problem is our ambition is low when it comes to promotion â€“ we enjoy our super underground status. I guess we like the strip to mirror the characters; living beneath the radar of the regulars, and actually, beneath the radar of the semi-regulars, too. Although, if someone wants to publish Stoopid, they could for sure do it while Sparks and I hide in the basement.
Sparks: We've completed a full-length comic that we're both quite proud of. We've knocked around the idea of sending it off to Fantagraphics or someplace like that but we've also considered just offering it through the site for a nominal charge. Notwithstanding what I already said about people not using the web as just a springboard to the majors, our reason for wanting to get the thing published is because we like comics as an object â€“ a thing you can hold in your hands and take in the bathroom. As for the strip itself we just want to keep doing it in our low-key, half-ass way and making our dozens of fans happy.
Al Schroeder is a contributor-at-large for the Comixpedia. A former print comic letterhack, who met his wife through Julie Schwartz' Superman letter columns, and who also worked with Marty Pasko on one issue of Superman. He now does his own superhero(ine) webcomic, Mindmistress, trying to prove that there are new twists left in the superhero genre.