Millionaire talks "The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees"

Wed, February 20th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

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Van Jensen, Guest Contributor

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"The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees" on sale March 3

March sees the Fantagraphics Books release of the sixth collection of "Maakies" cartoons from acclaimed "Sock Monkey" creator Tony Millionaire, "The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees." The collection continues the misadventures and drunken inanity of Drinky Crow and Uncle Gabby. The crass and depraved tales come lushly rendered in Millionaire's unmistakable, old-fashioned line work; a callback to classic comic strips in style, but certainly not content.

Millionaire spoke with CBR News about how having a family and living in California has somewhat calmed the notoriously dark strip, and why he still loves doing it so much even after 14 years. He also explained the new collection's irreverent title, why he now can't drink anything stronger than Budweiser, and what other projects are presently on his table.

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The new Maakies book that's coming out is named after "The Camel with the Wrinkled Knees," the old Raggedy Ann book, right?

Yeah. I name all my Maakies books after children's books done by people I like. The first one was after Winnie the Pooh. It was great before they made cartoons of it. The new one is a Johnny Gruelle Raggedy Ann book. His writing isn't so great, but his drawings are so beautiful.

Is there any rhyme or reason to how you choose titles?

No, I just try to think to myself, "What's a children's book I really like?" When you're doing a collection, rather than just number them, I like to come up with a title for each one.

Strip from "The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees"

What are some of your favorite strips collected in "The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees?"

Where is that damn book? The thing that's been happening lately... when I first started doing this shit, I was doing really depressing, nihilistic [things]– drinking just for killing yourself. Since my life's gotten to be kind of deader, I've got a nice house with a garden, so my mind's not as focused on blowing my brains out. It's focused more on absurd humor. I sometimes feel that I'm losing it, that I'm not putting enough effort into it, but then I look back and say, wow, I'm improving. The more you do it... after a certain time, it starts to deteriorate. I'm always waiting for that to happen. You have to keep your eye on your work. I see plenty of cartoonists who peak and then got lazy and started drifting off.

Strip from "The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees"

You obviously put a lot of work into the strip. Does it seem strange at all, putting that much effort into something that's pretty zany?

Everything else I can let slide, but this strip is important to me. I can do whatever I want. I have no editors. Here's a picture of a guy humping a dog. Nobody said anything about that. I have so much freedom. I just love it, it's like a weekly diary.

A "diary?" Doesn't that make it sound like you were humping a dog?

Okay, not a diary. A journal. Let's just call it a notebook. Anytime I have something funny come to mind, I go to my notebook. Whenever a deadline comes up, I go to my notebook. I look around for stuff I've jotted down over the past few weeks. Sometimes I don't have anything, though, and I just have to come up with a joke. Which often ends up being the funniest thing.

Strip from "The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees"

Is there any planning to your process, or is it all pretty much on the fly?

Most of it happens just by walking along and seeing something, and then thinking of something else, and then a joke hits me. Just by living and talking to people. Often, I really have to think of myself, "Okay, my deadline's up, and I don't have a joke." I have to go back to the world itself. I'll just go back to the house and then imagine stuff happening. That often works. I think a good comic strip has a center it goes back to now and then. So that it's a place you go to, a familiar place.

Strip from "The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees"

Has living in California and seeing different things changed the book? You've since created many strips about vegetarians.

I don't think that vegetarian culture really exists in California. Most of that came from New York. I'm not a vegetarian. I'll eat anything at all. The thing that has changed by moving out here, more strips have to do with land. In New York, I was really interested in ships and the ocean. I would take the ferry to Staten Island just because I wanted to be on a boat.

Now, I look outside and I see a mountain. I just really love these mountains. It's hiking. I got these little girls, and I say, let's go to the woods. They say no, it's boring. I say, I'll give you some candy. So they go to the woods and they love it. I want to be able to get up there and, within 20 minutes, you can be where you see nothing but mountains at all.

Strip from "The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees"

Did you live in the city when you first moved to Los Angeles?

Yeah. I'm not crazy about LA. My thoughts about the strip are all based on old-fashioned stuff. When I was in New York, I was surrounded by old buildings. In LA, it's all new buildings and stucco boxes. I need to get that old-fashioned feeling that monkeys have.

Is it strange at all to think you've been working on this strip for more than a decade?

It would if I was drawing "Beetle Bailey." If I were drawing strips about the army, I'd lose it. But I'm drawing about monkeys. I can do whatever I want. If I have a thought that's kind of poetic or philosophical I can just go with it. Or if I've got some crazy stupid gag about colon surgery I can do it. Every time I go to the doctor, I get great material.

Strip from "The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees"

The little mini-strip that runs at the bottom of "Maakies" -- how did that get started?

I was doing it from the beginning. My style is taken pretty much from old newspaper comics. They did that a lot. I always thought it was great. With the top strip, if I decide to do something poetic, I can put a joke in the bottom. People want to have a joke. It's good to have a little place to put them. Still, sometimes that means I have to do come up with two jokes, which is tough, because they've got to be good.

I really like my comics, and when you set the bar as high as that, you've got to keep the quality up at all times. It's hard to be as good as me. [laughs]

You don't doubt yourself too much?

My daughter, she was looking at a book the other day and she said, "What does humble mean?" My wife said, "Not like your daddy."

Strip from "The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees"

Are you still drinking very much?

Not the hard stuff. There are still plenty of empty cans of Budweiser. I should probably stop drinking them. I can't take the hangovers anymore.

How much drinking goes on while you're working on "Maakies?"

I actually do the strip sober. I have to get it done Monday by the afternoon. But the "Sock Monkey" book, there's no weekly deadline, so I'm pretty drunk when I do those. I do the penciling in the day when I'm sober. Then at night I settle down with some beer, turn on the radio and just get to work. Sometimes I'll wake up in the morning and the last two panels are just a big mess. I have to redo them and Photoshop the new panels in. You can see it if you look through the book.

Strip from "The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees"

Do your children read the strip yet?

There are some strips I will pull out and do let them read. But most of it will be packed away, and they won't read it until they're 25.

I know you come from a family of artists. Are your daughters getting into that yet?

All the time. It's not even me encouraging them. The first time I took my little daughter out to the woods, we found a stream, and my youngest one stuck a stick in the water and then started drawing on a rock with water. They draw in the dirt. They're constantly drawing. It's just something in their genes.

My parents are both artists. My grandparents were very good artists. My grandfather was friends with Roy Crane and Les Turner. He wanted to be a cartoonist, but he couldn't break into it. I asked my mother, what should I teach my kids? She said don't teach them anything, just give them lots of supplies.

Strip from "The Maakies with the Wrinkled Knees"

Other than "Maakies" and the "Sock Monkey" books, what else do you have going on?

We have an order for a TV show of "The Drinky Crow Show." That'll be on the air by the fall [on Adult Swim]. We're working like crazy on that.

I'm working on "Billy Hazelnuts 2." It's willfully late. I'm doing "The Art of Tony Millionaire" with Dark Horse, a collection of art of mine from my whole life. I think I have some drawings I did from when I was 6 or 7 years old. I'll definitely put that in. Art of books can explain process too much. I would rather just have it look like a big box full of stuff. I spent some really crazy years in Berlin and I'll put all that in.

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