JOE MATT in conversation with MungBeing


Mung Being    |    Jody Franklin    |    August 7, 2007

Joe Matt has been exploiting himself in comic strips and books for nearly two decades. Working strictly in the autobiographical form, Joe has exposed some of the most intimate details of his life in his stories. His first book Peepshow (Kitchen Sink, 1992) collected his content-rich one-page strips that appeared in various anthology comics in the late 80s and early 90s. Most of these strips documented the topsy-turvy relationship he had with Trish, his first long-term, serious girlfriend, and how his addiction to pornography caused them strife. Drawn & Quarterly began publishing his comic book series Peepshow in 1992, the stories from which have been collected in three volumes. The first volume, The Poor Bastard (Peepshow 1-6), spun out the tale of Joe's unrequited crush on Trish's friend, and the subsequent dissolution of their relationship. Fair Weather (Peepshow 7-10) gives us a glimpse of Joe as an uptight, adolescent Catholic in the throes of discovering girls one summer in the suburbs. In his latest collection Spent (Peepshow 11-14), Joe portrays himself as a self-reflective recluse who shuns the outside world in order to spend most of his time masturbating to porn tapes he obsessively collects and compulsively edits to suit his tastes.

While Joe always gave me the impression he was something of a Luddite, I was surprised that he agreed to answer my questions via email.

jody: Why do you do autobiography?

Joe: I do autobiographical comics because I'm a voyeur at heart and I'm attempting to produce the kind of comics that I'd most enjoy reading.

jody: Your comics drip with self-consciousness and insecurity, yet you don't seem to portray yourself as vulnerable. Do you feel you ever come across as narcissistic?

Joe: Narcissistic? In love with myself? I don't think I come across like that at all in my comics. To quote Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day -- "I don't even LIKE myself!"

jody: You started doing your autobiographical strips around the same time you started seeing your girlfriend Trish, who was featured heavily in your comics for years. In an early strip, it is revealed that she is also an artist, and the two of you draw an entire strip together. Did you ever hope to develop something along the lines of what Robert and Aline Crumb were doing with their Dirty Laundry comics? Did you hope Trish would ever reach that level of acceptance or participation?

Joe: Truth be told, my view and judgment of cartoonists in general is very harsh... female cartoonists in particular. So, no I've never had realistic hopes that I'd find an "Aline," or, more accurately, a "Yoko." And even if I did, I'd want someone FAR better than me, as a cartoonist. I mean, that's the real fantasy, isn't it? To be accepted by someone better than oneself?

jody: In The Poor Bastard, you show the development of your relationships with "Andy" and "Kim," who seem to play very important roles in your life as close friends. When they discover your comic and how you depict them, they are livid, and you imply that this discovery led immediately to the downfall of your friendships with both of them. Were the relationships damaged for good, and how did you feel about that?

Joe: I tend to view my closest friends as very far and few; hence, I tend to view almost all others as expendable to some degree. And so it was with "Andy and Kim." And while I didn't go out of my way to be hurtful or exploitive to them in my comics, I also didn't care what their response or reaction would be either. I know... that sounds rather cold, but I can't go second-guessing reactions that I can't control anyway. It's counter-productive.

jody: Did you read the interview that Rick Trembles did with Dani, the woman who inspired the Frankie character in The Poor Bastard? She says she discovered the comic after somebody recognized her as being one of your characters. She was quite shocked and angry, and seems to have a low opinion of you. She feels that you unfairly portrayed her boyfriend as a dumb gorilla, and that your infatuation with her may have sabotaged her own friendship with Trish.

Joe: Yes, I did read that interview and thought it was ridiculous when she (Dani) expressed indignation not only over my portrayal of her, but also over the fact that she felt like I owed her royalties and financial compensation for "using" her as I did. As for my portraying her boyfriend as a "gorilla," that was my emotional reaction when I saw him. My visual memory is non-existent, but my writing is guided by emotional memory, not visual. Hence, it was accurate for me. Also, I did change her name, so the hell with her. And as for my infatuation with her sabotaging her relationship with Trish - who knows? It may have, or it may not have. That's life, regardless of having it portrayed in comic form or not.

jody: I was really shocked when you admitted in Peepshow 14 that the threesome in which you participated in The Poor Bastard was pure fantasy. I mean, since the day I bought the original comic some 13 years ago, I believed this was the way the events transpired in your life. As a fan, I suppose I feel a little betrayed by the "lie." Why did you do it? What led to this? Did you even hook up with your ex-girlfriend Laura at all at that time, or was this all a dramatic embellishment?

Joe: I did "hook up" with Laura, as portrayed in my comic, but there was no third person in bed with us. I invented that threesome, partly because I could, and partly because I was influenced by Seth's playing with the facts in his book, It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken. In that book, Seth invents a fictional New Yorker cartoonist whom he becomes obsessed with. I also included that threesome to highlight my own patheticness, regarding my impotence in that scene. (In reality, impotence wasn't a problem, ejaculation was. I didn't want the sex to end. ) Also, I wanted the threesome to "bookend" the fantasy-threesome that opens The Poor Bastard on page one, simply to show the incongruity between fantasy and reality. In the end, though, I hate lying and thus had to confess to this playing with the facts in my subsequent book, Spent.

jody: Spent (Peepshow 11-14) explores your porn addiction in depth. Much of the series is done in monologue, shown as you talking to yourself. Compared to all of your previous work, you show far less human interaction, we get this real sense that you're isolated from the world, reclusive, completely lost in this world of pornography. Autobiographical storytellers are selective, as they choose which aspects of their life to share with people. But is the overall impression the reader gets from this series accurate? Did you isolate yourself to indulge in porn? During this period of your life, were you far less socialized than during other periods?

Joe: Yes, totally. And it's on-going. Even today, I masturbated five or six times before leaving the house to come to this library and answer these questions via email. And when I leave this library, I'm going straight to a video store to rent more porn on DVD for dubbing purposes, which I'll be doing later tonight. See? I've got a full day ahead of me!! And zero human interaction!!

jody: After reading your comics for almost two decades, I was surprised to find you on MySpace; I never figured you for an internet guy. Are you fully wired in your home now? How has this affected your relationship to porn? Has the internet made it easier for you to meet women?

Joe: I've never owned a computer and probably never will. Even now, I'm in a public library typing this, with two minutes left before it kicks me off. And so I must say goodbye!! Seriously!! Adios!! And thank you!!


~ Joe Matt

"But, Joe! You ignored some of my questions!And what about the follow-up questions I have? The library? You answered these questions at the library? No wonder I sweated and paced for several days as I waited for your answers to arrive!" Sure, the way the email interview ended was cute, and I would've been happy with that, but Joe sent me another email a couple of hours later saying I could phone him. And I did, the very next day. Of course I wondered if I'd be interrupting a heavy masturbation session. He answered the phone immediately, and I never bothered asking if I "caught him in the middle" of "something". I don't think I wanted to know.

We chatted informally about autobiographical filmmaker Caveh Zahedi, who bared for the world to see his addiction to prostitutes in his recent film I Am A Sex Addict. Joe once met Caveh (which is referenced in my interview with Mr. Zahedi, "I Am A Caveh Addict," in MungBeing 7: Fanaticism ), as the two men share a propensity for both raw honesty in art and compulsive sexual behaviors. While Caveh became a successful twelve-stepper who cured his addiction, Joe... well, Joe took a different path.

Joe: I'm always dubious of these "cures". Whatever the addiction is, I feel the rate of people sliding back is always really high.

jody: In a strip dated October 25th, 1989, you wrote, "One thing's for sure, I'm finally through with pornography... I was just trying to have my cake + eat it too... Now it's over." Eighteen years later...

Joe: Eighteen years later, I'm still loving it. I never thought DVD technology was coming down the road. Even at that point, I hadn't dubbed anything, or started making a collection of edited porn tapes. Back then, I was living with Trish, 89 would be the in first year of that relationship... a crucial crossroads of my life about whether I'd be capable of a "normal relationship," or want to indulge this habit to the maximum like I have and did and continue to do. She went on, got married, had children, had a pretty conventional, normal life. I saw her sister last week at Comic-Con and she said Trish doesn't read or look at comics at all anymore, let alone mine in particular. This seems odd, because at the time she liked comics, she was reading everything I was reading. That whole interest might have been completely tied up with me.

jody: In your strips and stories, you often depicted the conflicts between yourself and Trish that arose as a direct result of you exposing intimate details of your lives, and in particular hers, in your comics.

Joe: It was a strip about somebody in their early twenties. People are still trying to find themselves at that age. It's a pretty good way for relationships to either congeal or work out. I don't have any regrets. It wasn't the relationship for me; it was at the time, but ultimately not beyond that.

jody: In a way, you were authoring your life at the same time as you authored your comics, and it seems the line between art and reality often got blurred.

Joe: Back then, it was very immediate, I'd be doing a strip about something that happened a week prior. When I started doing the Peepshow comic it was about stuff that happened two or three months prior. The slower I got, the less productive I got, the more things fell way back into the past, and a backlog began piling up, which I'll be confronting in my next book in a very wordy manner. It can't really be depicted in comic form, but I can gloss over what I think are the key points from the last decade of relationships. I've had four major relationships in the last ten years.

jody: And you've kept those relationships out of your comics. Have you run into trouble with your other girlfriends over your porn indulgence?

Joe: In my last relationship, which lasted two years, pornography was about as much an issue as eating chocolate. It was inconsequential, it did not matter at all to this last girlfriend. I don't see why looking at pornography has to be such a huge deal that it needs to be such an extravagant issue of debate in a relationship like it was with Trish and I. Everything seems to be more openly discussed these days. Pornography, masturbation, all that, it doesn't seem to be the big thing, the big secret it was back then in the late 80s. Part of that is the changing world, the internet, maybe... It just seemed like a bigger deal back then. Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing. I really had a problem coming to terms with, "am I really objectifying women? Am I really doing something wrong by contributing to some evil industry? When my girlfriend thinks I'm cheating on her, are her remarks valid? " That's all something I had to come to grips with, and it took time.

jody: And you're okay with it all now?

Joe: Yeah. I don't want to give it up, I don't have proper motivation to give it up, it's a great thing, and it's in my life for a reason. Even to have to defend it is absurd. I tried to say all I could on the subject in Spent. I focused on it in that book so I don't have to repeatedly talk about it, or feel like I have nothing else to talk about in my comics.

jody: Do we see the authentic Joe Matt in your comics?

Joe: You see an exaggerated side of me. Certain things I feel just don't work in comics, there are certain aspects of myself I'm completely not interested in showing. I place a high priority on humor. Ultimately, trying to get some laughs is the whole reason I do the work.

While I was primarily interested in examining the problems associated with the authentic portrayal of self within the autobiographical comic medium, our conversations frequently veered off into Joe's love affair with pornography. And, try as I might, I could not help but get sidetracked, as, in my mind, there is absolutely no way I can divorce the comic book from the man: they are one and the same. Even to hear him speak on the phone, to know there's a flesh and blood human on the other end of the line, does not allow me to detach him from his art. Inky blood: he is a living comic book character. This is the very thing that gives the artists who are raw and honest their power to connect with people on a deep level: they live their art.

You might also like


Select Your Location: