Art is dangerous. At least it's supposed to be.
"Subversion was always what it was about." Larry Welz has built his career being quick to ideas despite being slow to the adoption of technology. His stories would raise the hair on your head if only you could shake them loose from him.
MagiciansHouse: Even though Cherry Poptart was created 35 years ago under a very different climate her purpose and attitude doesn't seem to have changed. Was she ever in danger of losing her sense of humor?
Larry Welz: What, you mean like Archie did, where it's a Murder Mystery and/or a Soap Opera and Archie's fucking Ms. Grundy in her car? What the fuck is happening? “In a World Gone Mad!” That's nasty! I didn't even think of that.
In the early days when you were making your books and moving in a circle of underground comics royalty, were there any indicators that using the medium for subversion was going to be the path of the future? Or was the mass appeal of mainstream superheroes and billion dollar movies always the inevitable outcome?
“Royalty”, right. 'Cause we ruled. Hahaha, not really. Larry Todd has expressed amusement at how we (he and I) are now considered “Elder Gods of the Underground”.
Subversion was always what it was about. We were not conspiring, organizing (someone tried to start an Underground Cartoonists Union; it was like herding cats), plotting, attacking, demonstrating, infiltrating or anything. We would rendezvous once a year at the San Diego Comic-Con. Just being who we were was subversive. We were Artists (McLuhan called Artists “the feelers of society”). Art is dangerous, at least it's supposed to be. Altered Perception. Comic-Con moved into the brand new Convention Center. Suddenly there were huge displays right up front for... video games. Sony put up a giant robot or Sonic the Hedgehog or something and we knew what was happening; Mass Entertainment was coming in with big expensive promotional machinery, and it started with Video Games. The Movies came right behind, with their 2-acre video displays and Big Shiny Shit. The rows of dealers with all their cardboard cartons full of moldy comic books got shoved off to the side. The thing that we were trying to subvert ran over us, squished us and took a big shit on us all.
Did setting up shop in New Mexico's UFO tourism industry have a positive or negative impact on your creativity? In Roswell did you at all fit in?
There's a story there. A story of inspiration, exploration, love and hope; anger and betrayal, drugs and desperation, boredom and putrefaction, scorpions and rat bastards... but no amusing plot.
I got creative, but it did not reflect or resonate; we had all these good ideas that just went splat against the wall, they didn't bounce back. I did a few murals here and there, not as many as I could have...
We did make a Roadside Attraction in Roswell, my wife and I; The Roswell Spacewalk, an immersive walk-through blacklight installation that takes you through a Time Warp and a series of cleverly executed dioramas, onto the deck of an alien starship, looking out the portholes at deep Space, with spinning planets and shit. It evolved and was reiterated over a ten year period of time, ending up condensed and shoved into a t-shirt shop a half a block off of the stream of tourist traffic going up and down Main Street. It was never like a Big Hit, but it's there; we did it ourselves: vernacular art that we mostly scrounged out of dumpsters.
You've invested a significant amount of time in the design of carnival attractions. If we're experiencing the final generation of traveling shows are there any weird insider traditions that you think the American landscape will be poorer for having lost?
Ah, there's a story there, too (mumbled the old man as he rattled his dentures and farted). You'd love it. I won't say "can't" (trying to stop saying that); I could relate the whole saga, but there are other things...
I didn't run off and join the Carnival, I didn't even like Carnivals. My friend Greg (who I met through Ron Turner of Last Gasp, my publisher at the time) would hustle up these jobs that involved doing strange art in strange places, moving in and out and around the Carnival World. We were Have Art Will Travel, we were the Sharpshooters, we were the Pros from Dover. It was an Adventure. It was dangerous (to us, not Society). It was Folk Art. For the People. I was a Folk Artist like Joan Baez was a Folksinger. I did Freak Show banners, too, but only one or two Carousels.
At some point it became doing Work for Hire, showing up at the factory where they build trailer- mounted attractions, doing the same thing over and over again. It became, as my friend StewArt would say “working in the Art Mines”. Do it for the Money. Now do it faster. Now do it again.
I did my last Carnival Ride (yeah, funhouses aren't really Rides, they're Attractions, but we still referred to what we were doing as “Ride Painting”) in Jurupa Valley, California at the beginning of this year. I had been doing that (off and on) for 35 years. Wait, what? Why, that's the same as... Yep. (The Old Man hacks and coughs, spits, takes another hit from his ProtoPipe, stares off into Space)
Guys painting rides by hand with solvent-based paints (yes, there were girls involved as well; Sharon has gone with me to exotic locations like the Jersey Shore and slung hazmat paints around right beside me in the boom lift on the boardwalk at Morey's Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey) are an anachronism at this point in History.
You were once prolific with posting your art and thoughts on Tumblr but now appear to use social media very little. What's been your experience with the different platforms and their shortcomings?
I had my own blog, Smoking Crater, and it was OK, not high-profile, but not like hidden or anything. I heard that all the Cool Kids were not doing blogs any more, they did all that kind of stuff on Tumblr. Being a Satirist, I'm always scanning for patterns and trends in Popular Culture, so that I may avoid them. Or not. So I shut down Smoking Crater, but now I'm not sure if Tumblr is the appropriate place to do the kind of sharing that I have in mind. I missed the part where, yeah, they're doing Tumblr, but also still doing their website (blog) and putting their stuff on a compiler comics website as well as Facebook and another website or two. I'm an introvert, I have a hard time with this blast-all-yer-shit-all-over-everywhere-all-the-time shit. Which is too bad for me being as how I now seem to need to do a Kickstarter campaign (dread) as well as the Patreon thing, 'cause that's how you do shit these days, delivering content on a regular schedule, with a self-imposed deadline, and interacting with one's customers, I mean fans, in a positive upbeat outgoing uplifting kind of way. Commitment! Which is not really my style but I am an actor so maybe I can do it ironically or something. I hate Brands, and now I are one.
I don't do chat. I hate chatting.
What are you doing now and where can people find you online?
I'm doing a lot of commission work, which is good and bad. It's been 16 years since I did a new book and I still have fans out there who want some of my stuff, so they throw money at me and ask me to do something stupid. Like these sketch cards, which is a new thing, I call it Little Nuggets of Original Art. Which is fine. But I'm the kind of asshole that thinks that taking requests is tantamount to, if not completely equivalent to, prostitution. Yes, but are you a Good Prostitute, Larry? Well, I usually have a bad attitude when I'm doing them, so they don't always come out as well as they might, but no one seems to notice, they're usually tickled shitless, so I guess I'm good enough. And Sketchcovers, a bizarre phenomenon that I have a unique relationship with; I can always throw my character, Cherry, onto a Batman or Superman cover and it's not Fanart! But still, they are one-offs and don't really add much to my Body of Comic Work.
So I am starting all over, like a total Noob, learning as I go, as I have always done. I have to watch tutorial videos by Millenials who are smarter (and hipper) than I will ever be or ever was, condescendingly showing me how to drive these things that didn't even exist the last time I was doing comics.
So watch for an exciting announcement from cherrycomix.com real soon about something really exciting that may or may not happen in the real near Future.
Meanwhile, I am getting more and more involved in the Albuquerque Theatre Scene, which is actually a thing. Sharon runs the Costume Department at the Albuquerque Little Theatre, does costuming (design and fabrication and/or finding) for some shows. She also keeps the whole place clean, and generally raises the morale around there. I paint scenery there; big panels and walls and structures and backgrounds on the same scale as the funhouses and darkrides I used to paint. It's like a circle. No, it's more like a Moebius Band. (“Whoa, we're back at the same place... but, we're on the other side!”) This has resulted in me doing the Most Satisfying Thing I've Ever Done. I hand painted Skid Row for the Little Shop of Horrors. I created a World for the actors to inhabit. I did paintings to help tell a story, and it worked.
Sometimes it's just nasty, though. They just did the God-awful stage adaptation of Disney's Mary Poppins. But it's OK, this too shall pass, and it did.
Also I get to act every now and again. I had been really good in the incredible Drama Department we had at Bakersfield High School, so after a 44 year break, I got back on stage, which I really enjoy. They also do a lot of shooting of TV shows and movies around here in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and I'm working on trying to get in on some of that. Yeah, I'm trying to start a new career at 68 years old. I may be downbeat, morose and melancholic, but I'm actually an eternal optimist. With a half-empty glass.
Our store is at cherrycomix.com
I'm on Facebook under my real name... www.facebook.com/Larry-Welz-Fan-Page
Sometimes I do Tumblr... Larrywelz.tumblr.com
Oh, and Instagram... instagram.com/larrywelz