JOE MATT in The New York Press

Joe Matt’s spent after all that whacking off

The New York Press    |    Brian Heater    |    July 6, 2007

“As I’m speaking, I’m naked on the floor, with a small fan blowing on me.” Taken out of context, it could almost be some charmingly misguided attempt at telephone eroticism. Joe Matt, however, speaks the phrase with a characteristically dry frankness, capping it off with, “It’s not an appetizing thought, but I’m like a nudist. I like being naked. My life is basically my being in my room, naked, looking at books, all of the time.”

And with that, whether deliberate or not, Matt sums himself up in a nutshell, both literally and spiritually. Opening one of his books is like catching the artist naked, walking into his room unexpectedly, only he doesn’t try to cover up or make apologies, and at no point attempts to push you out of the room. He knows that whatever he was doing, when you abruptly entered through open the door, was perhaps wrong or embarrassing or unwholesome on some level, but he’s too tired or indifferent or lazy to make amends.

Spent is a graphic novel about vices—not drugs or alcohol or money, though Matt does devote much of his life to complaining about his poverty. Matt’s addiction is porn. The artist devotes eight hours a day to editing his massive collection of tapes, lying flat on his stomach, switching between two VCRs—that is, when he’s not attempting to break his own masturbation records (an impressive 20 times in one day). “I’m sure some of my readers relate to my character,” Matt explains. “I think a housewife in the middle of America can enjoy it for what it is.”

There is something strangely universal in Matt’s very self-specific story. So what, I have to ask, is there in a book about obsessive habits centering around a porn addiction that a middle-American housewife can come away with? “I think any pleasurable addiction is universal. For a housewife, it’s drinking while her husband is away or overeating or something.” It’s certainly not some sort of vast moral that Matt sends his reader away with. Matt’s character refuses to grow or mature at the end of the book, and though he winds up literally covered in shit in the final pages, one gets the feeling that, by the time he washes himself off, he’ll be ready to launch straight back into his old habits.

Matt also chalks some of the book’s appeal up to his improved artistic abilities, “It’s my fourth book, and of all my books, it’s the one that I’ve put the most work into. The coloring makes it look the best, and the lettering, too. My craft has gotten better. The more I do, the better I get.” Matt spent more time working on the book than any previous work—taking nearly a decade to complete the four comics serialized in the anthology (including, of course, the full years devoted to sitting around doing nothing), and resulting in a book of which the artist couldn’t be more proud. So, will he invest the same amount of effort into his follow-up? “It was just too self-defeating and unpleasant. I didn’t want to work, with the process being so unpleasant,” Matt answers in that famously flat delivery. “I’ll probably never put that much effort in again.” Now that’s the Joe Matt we know and love.

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