Revolver #2, which consists of an excerpt of Salgood Sam and my upcoming graphic novel Therefore Repent!, has been nominated for the Expozine Alternative Press Award for best comic. It’s an offshoot of the awesome Montreal zine fair, one of the more successfully bilingual events I’ve been to. This is the second time they’ve done the award and, although I have fairly ambiguous feelings about prizes and competitions, I think the attention it draws to underexposed artists is definitely a Good Thing.
Case in point, a nominee in last year’s Expozine competition The Hero Book by Scott Waters.
Scott’s a pal, and the book is great, but he’s a curmudgeon. Not likely to tour, or do readings, or talk to people, he’s not exactly a media magnet. But awards like the Expozine Award give a context in which to talk about him. Or, in this case, interview him.
The Hero Book consists of short pieces of writing and paintings inspired by your three years in the army. Of the many sordid stories you tell, what ones do people find most fascinating? Are they the ones you also find fascinating?
I guess often enough the more excessive stories are so normalized for me that I forget that they have the ability to shock. For example, I know peeing on each other while drunk in the shower, singing along to The Little Mermaid soundtrack, is perhaps sordid, but I mostly think fondly of events like that.
Often I am more drawn to the simpler moments (running across snowy expanses of prairie with a bar of soap rattling in my rucksack) because they have personal resonance. But at the same time the shift back and forth between sordid and simple is important to make rattling soap resonant.
There is a book for me and a book for the reader; shock and debasement for the reader, quiet contemplation and anthropological cataloguing for me. Switching is allowed and encouraged though.
You like the word homosocial. Why? Is it because it sounds like another word?
You mean “antisocial”?
Oh, the other word. Actually, The use of the word originated because I was researching military and social theory for The Hero Book (originally part of my MFA thesis). When searching on Google, the word “homoerotic” often returned only porn info.
I explained my problem to Toronto visual artist Stephen Andrews and he suggested searching using “homosocial.” It returned a goldmine of info.
Also, though, homosocial suggests a relationship which is not based on sexuality but rather a very close fraternity.
Painter and soldier are hard to reconcile. How much of this project was about projecting an image or conception of yourself into the world that is complete?
Painter and soldier are only hard to reconcile if you are one or the other, or neither. Unfortunately, that is most people.
For myself, I have always envisioned that a (perhaps unachievable) goal of both professions is to contribute to society. Obviously the two groups often use wildly different means to do so but proponents of both professions talk of similar well-meaning possibilities.
I have always taken comfort in both group’s semi-outsider status, that they are often misunderstood and lumped as stereotypes.
The other week I found an illustrated book of a Special Forces unarmed combat techniques in a used bookstore. When the teller rang the purchase through, she asked me if I was a soldier or an artist.
She was joking but at the same time I suppose her thought was, who else would want a book like that?
Conversely, when this question is asked I recognize that one of the ideas I hope the project shows is that you can fundamentally reconstruct yourself given enough time, effort and consideration – that we are all redeemable.
It seems to me that you are less defending the military and more defending your admittedly conflicted fascination with it. True or mostly true?
Part of me is loath to defend the military because it was for me and my friends a pretty demoralizing place. The fool in me, however, still has some pretty antiquated romantic views about the potential role of the military.
That for me is the fulcrum, I hated it – and I mean really hated it – but now, after all these years I feel its pull and still want to believe, even though I know better.
You are, magically, suddenly in charge of the Canadian Armed Forces. The #1 General, or whatever. What do you change, if anything?
Back in the day, on holidays such as Christmas we would have the appropriate meals at the mess. We would go over for dinner and turkey would be on the menu. When we started chewing however, we realized that what we had been served was mock turkey.
The reason was that all of the food came through the Navy base and then was allocated to the infantry. Accordingly, the sailors would get the actual turkey (and all the best desserts) and we would get turkey substitute. That always rankled.
I would say that while there is still a long way to go – the pay is still too low and there is never enough equipment – things are getting better, at least on the Army side of things. Given the emphasis on the Afghan mission (and not on naval patrols) I suspect I know who is now getting the mock turkey.
I remember reading how Anthony Swofford, after finishing writing Jarhead, started working on military fiction, I thought how sad it was that he needed to cling to the thing that he claimed to revile so much. But that’s the big question… now what? I really worry about being that guy, the sad clinger-on.
Having said that, the current project I am working on is based on my recent participation as an official artist for the military. For the project I was attached to an infantry company as they trained to deploy to Afghanistan.
At first I planned to simply continue investigations into how fraternity is constructed in the infantry. Now, however, what I am really excited about is considering how it was being back with the military – in admittedly limited capacity – after all these years, how I was treated as a civilian but also as an ex-infantry soldier.
All the hate I had for my service years has inevitably faded but I still remember the hate. Keeping that kernel of knowledge alive, I have to admit that it is too easy for me to get wrapped up in the romantic mythologies, in the metal, the explosions and the fraternity.
What this official project allows me to do is address these same issues, this complicated fascination, but from another side.
Instead of a critique which acknowledges lingering desire, I’m considering how the military romantic in me reconciles those fundamentally negative experiences I had as a soldier.
He didn’t win the Expozine prize (Shannon Gerard did) but Scott points out another benefit of the Expozine nomination was that David Widgington from Cumulus Press read his self-published edition and consequently published it more widely. This year’s Expozine prize gala happens this Wed., Mar. 7, in Montreal. UPDATE: The excellent Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki took best English comic this year. Congrats!