Since the publication of the now-classic "Minimum Wage" through the 1990s, cartoonist Bob Fingerman has been well known for his intelligent humor, ear for dialogue, and sharp, detailed line-work. Not as well known is his love for horror, and a gift for finding comedy in even the most gruesom scenarios. With the recent release of "Recess Pieces" from Dark Horse, we get a glimpse of his gorier side. CBR News sat down with Fingerman to discuss the graphic novel.
How would you describe "Recess Pieces?" Is this a comedy for horror fans, or a horror book for comedy fans?
Bob Fingerman: I think more the former than the latter, but maybe both. I think fans of Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive" would enjoy it.
"Recess Pieces" has some pretty rich characterization, and protagonists that the reader really loves by the end of the book. Did you find that using children as the lead characters made this easier, or was it even more difficult to make them sympathetic?
About the same as with adult characters. The same challenges applied. I like them all, and can empathize with their plight, so I hope that carries over to the readers.
It's obvious when reading this book that you have a genuine love for gore and zombies. Take us back to the moment in time when young Bob first fell in love with the undead.
I was a pretty squeamish kid. I remember being pretty freaked out by the "gore" in that Monty Python "Salad Days" sketch (the one with all the '20s fops sitting around a piano outdoors, and Michael Palin getting hit on the nose with a tennis ball, which causes an eruption of blood and cartoonish gore). I was nine or ten. Anyway, I always was attracted to horror, but repulsed, too. I think attraction/repulsion are almost equal urges that are often linked, especially when pertaining to horror entertainment. You want to look but you're also scared to look. That was me as a kid. "Creepy" and "Eerie" magazines; I was spooked by both. But I wanted to look.
Like most zombie stories, this one is downright disgusting (and I mean that in the best possible way). How did you approach the gore?
I don't know what to say, really. Drawing gore is fun, I suppose. And I tried for some measure of anatomical accuracy. I do have medical textbooks, and I whipped them out for the scene when Travis cleaves the zombie's head in half to get all the junk in the human noggin correct. I remember years ago seeing a horror comic, and in it a character gets his brains dashed out on a mantelpiece; the brains spiraled out of the guy's head in loops like intestines. I thought that was unintentionally hilarious, because obviously the artist didn't know that the brain is solid. I try to avoid that kind of gaffe.
Did you find that you restrained yourself from taking the gore "too far," or is there no such thing as "too far?"
Sure there's a "too far." Even though the zombies eat little kids in there, I didn't show the children's faces because that would make them human and make it too horrible. And if it were too realistic it would be unpalatable. I'm sure to some it's already a bit strong, but I did this for the gore fans, so I didn't exactly skimp.
I'm wondering about the delicate balance you managed to strike between all these different elements- gore, slapstick, wit, and a sense of sustained tension. Those things don't always work well together, but you managed to keep them all in sync with each other. Was this a constant struggle, or did it gel once you found the right balance?
I can only hope that a balance was struck. It's really up to the individual reader to make that judgment. But I didn't struggle at all. The script flowed nicely.
Did you find it hard to continue "finding the funny" as the book gradually grows more bleak towards the end, or did you approach the entire story with a "Dead Alive" style, tongue-in-cheek tone?
Yes, although I like to think when one of the principals meets his fate that it wasn't funny to the readers. I didn't find it so. But I did want the humor there throughout.
Your last zombie-themed book was illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards ("Zombie World: Winter's Dregs"). Is writing for another illustrator something you would like do more of?
I'd like to do more of that, so long as I got to choose the artist. I've been saddled with some that weren't too good (not Tommy, of course), and wouldn't want to repeat that experience.
The art style you used for "Recess Pieces" is something of a departure from your previous work.
I've eschewed inking in favor of doing just pencil. It retains a freshness that way. I think it's the best looking stuff I've done. And, of course, it's full color, so that makes it purty.
And the colors are amazing. Is this the first time you've colored a full book? It's easily one of the best painting jobs I've seen this year in comics.
It's not paint. It's digital color. But my goal was to make it look as much like traditional materials as possible. I don't like really digi' looking color. But this is my second color book. I did "You Deserved It" in color, too. It cut my teeth, in a way, to tackle this one. That and personal work.
Is this technique specific to this book, or have you found a style that you'll use forever and ever?
Forever, as they say, is a long time. But I'm sticking with this for a while.
Has eliminating the inks saved you time?
Doing the drawing might go a bit quicker, but the digital color, etc., ends up making these pages take longer. But the results are pretty sweet.
Do you miss your pens?
Not yet. It's not like I swore them off. They're just on hiatus. Plus, they stopped making my favorite drawing pen, so I needed a new solution.
After years of working on a semi-autobiographical magnum opus ("Minimum Wage"), are you completely done with the auto-bio/slice-of-life genre? Would you like to revisit those characters?
I'd like to revisit their saga, but I don't know how likely that is. Economic reality and the whims of the marketplace have a way of curtailing a lot of what I'd like to do.
Now that "Minimum Wage" is packaged as a complete novel ("Beg The Question"), do you think it reads better?
I think it reads better as a book than piecemeal, sure.
"Minimum Wage" was a pretty seminal comic in the early nineties- I would put it alongside "Hate" as a book that really captured a very specific time and a place. Do you think that it works as a literary time capsule?
Maybe. It captures some aspects of New York that no longer exist, that's for sure. It's a time capsule for me, certainly. But a conflation of time and events all mixed in a blender. It's very mix and match.
Can you give us any details on the fabled "Minimum Wage" TV pilot? Any chance it will show up on YouTube someday?
There was no pilot. I wrote and directed a sample "episode" in the summer of 1997. It was shot on MiniDV before that format had caught on. I might put the trailer online sometime. I don't know.
With Halloween on the horizon, I expect that this will be a pretty popular book. Can you recommend any other essential horror comics for people to pick up, while they're out grabbing "Recess Pieces?"
Any of the old horror ones by Richard Corben. Bernie Wrightson's old stuff. Old issues of "Creepy" and "Eerie," as noted. If we're talking horror in general - like novels and movies - that's a huge list. But start with the daily paper; that's always terrifying.
Having written both humor and horror, which is more challenging and which do you enjoy more?
I think they're both equally fun and challenging, but as they say, "Dying is easy; comedy is hard."