Predominantly known for his tripptastic, psychedelic art and creating the whacked-out world of BOYS CLUB, Matt Furie takes some time to unload on his newest release, a curious children’s book called THE NIGHT RIDERS.
Matt Furie is the kind of artist that when you look at his work, you get this kind of sickeningly fantastic wave of awe and nostalgia that often leaves you laughing as if you just took an enormous, gravitybong-sized rip. His illustrations and comics both exist on entirely different plains, but each showcase a unique re-imagining of characters that have lingered in your brain stream since you were a child. The amazingly grotesque and bizarre cast of colorful anthropomorphic characters in BOYS CLUB geniusly crafted a land of never ending high school fantasies come to life, 80s paraphernalia, video games, and bugged out animal headed sex freaks.
In what could only be deemed as an equally shocking and compelling turn of events, Matt’s newest release is with none other than San Francisco’s McMullens, an imprint of McSweeney’s publishing house. Titled THE NIGHT RIDERS, Matt took a chance on creating a children’s book that displayed his richly detailed and hyper colored illustrations in the form of a story book. Matt was also kind enough to spare some time from his space coasting life to share some thoughts on his newest release.
THE BEAT: I first became introduced to your work through Boys Club, and after hearing that you were creating a children’s book, my initial feelings were an amalgamation of intrigue and confusion. What made you decide to work on a book of this nature?
Children are “Masters of Play”. Animals seem really important and so does fantasy. I can remember getting really into illustrated children’s books as a kid and I have always loved the weirder ones that featured monsters, ghosts, creatures and dinosaurs. I wanted to do a version of a book I would have liked as a kid- one filled with a lot of strange little details that takes place during the mysterious nighttime. Something one could get lost in passing time in a backseat car ride.
THE BEAT: McSweeney’s has had a really great history of working with cartoonists (McSweeney’s Issue 13 comes to mind, with the likes of Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, etc.) Is there a reason you decided to work with McSweeney’s?
I lived right around the corner from the McSweeney’s base on Valencia Street in San Francisco. I had been doing illustration projects here and there for McSweeney’s so when Brian McMullen started his line of kids books and asked me if I was interested it was a no-brainer. He explained that it would be hardbound with foil stamps, full color, and include a poster and I would finally have something in print that I could show my Mom. They make such nice printed matter that is inspired and beautifully designed. I was a little scared at first because McSweeney’s is quite literary so I decided not to use words and just tell the story with pictures.
THE BEAT: Your portfolio other than Boys Clubs is filled with pieces that reminisce of childhood, such as The NeverEnding story and even The Muppets. How were you first introduced to comics? Did more classic comics from anything from the DC or Marvel universe influence you? Did you grow up watching cartoons or anime?
As a kid in Suburban Ohio I would bike to a comic shop to collect X-Men and Image comics (The Maxx, Spawn, Wild C.A.T.S.). My dad collected comics as a kid and he would show me his old X-Men and Superman stuff and take my brother and I to comic shops and comic shows. I liked the Mirage Studios TMNT too and was into the Ninja Turtles. For me, there is nothing more fun than drawing mutants and anthropomorphic creatures. I still like to come up with creatures and characters just purely for the joy of creating them. I aim to keep that feeling going- a childhood feeling of escape and wonder- but also add some of my own thoughts and reflections I have gained as an adult.
As for t.v., I grew up obsessively watching Beavis and Butthead, Liquid Television, Simpsons and Ren and Stimpy. I loved the close-up scenes in Ren and Stimpy where all of the sudden there would be this really gross painting of earwax or some kind on bodily crust. That show is amazing. I used to record it on VHS and play it over and over again. I think my mom thought that the show brainwashed me- or at least helped to warp my mind.
THE BEAT: What was your work process like in making Night Riders? How did it differ from making Boys Club?
I started with character sketches and then wrote out a possible “story” which is actually more like a bunch of little moments strung together. Eventually, after getting some advice from Brian, we came up with a simple panel structure and I got the thing pretty much fleshed out before moving on to the full color. It took about 6 months from start to finish and the entire book is hand-drawn and the drawings are printed in the actual size that they are drawn. I was referencing art by my heroes M.C. Escher and Bruegel for ideas for background elements and also consciously limiting the colors to fit the nighttime mood of the story.
There are some similarities to Boys Club, like some gross moments of eating bugs and sticking out tongues and eye-bulging, but much different in terms of texture, color and detail. Boys Club is streamlined and simple- more similar to art in a coloring book. I wanted this kids book to be more complex.
THE BEAT: One thing that always struck me about your work was that it often made me feel a happy nostalgia for all the references to “kid” things, yet it was also under a veil of a twisted sort of darkness. Did you feel like you had to tone down the darker elements of your work because it’s being published by McMullens, the children’s imprint of McSweeney’s?
The biggest challenge was to just pack the book with little elements of wonder: swimming, biking, exploring, looking at bugs, going into caves, walking by quiet buildings at night, looking at the sky. Childhood is very psychedelic. It takes place at night and there are a few scary moments so there is a bit of joyful darkness in there.
THE BEAT: The creatures in Night Riders are unquestionably peculiar, how would you describe some of the characters? One of them looks like an almost rat/bat hybrid. How do you go about constructing these creatures?
Well, the main dude is a chilled-out frog. The frog’s little buddy is a rat, but many will mistake him for a mouse. Rats are smarter than mice and domesticated rats are vert sweet creatures. The rat is inspired by my pet rat “Wat”. Wat loved to lick me and was very cute. The next creature is a kind of wingless dragon with chicken legs that is ideal for riding. He is friendly yet scary looking and acts like a dog. His master is a bat-like dude that wears jean-shorts. I would describe him as being a cool gamer that likes to hangout in his cave and play video games. The dragon is happy when the frog and rat go and get him out of the cave to go for a ride.
THE BEAT: Have you gotten a positive response from parents/children who have gotten to take a look at the book?
Yeah, my friend Brian’s kid loved the part with the ghost crab. When the boy’s dad got to the end of the book he thought it was wake up time! (because the sun is rising) Brian said he liked the fact that you can kind of come up with your own story as you read it to your kid and that he spent more time on each page because it is wordless.
THE BEAT: Lastly, what’s next in store for you? I know you recently had an exhibit, “The Goblin Universe,” that featured some really amazing drawings of mythical creatures. Will you continue making books and comics, or focus more so on your fine art?
I hope to continue doing all of the above. My girl Aiyana and I will have a booth at the OHIO COMIC CON.
Picking up a copy of THE NIGHT RIDERS is fairly easy. It’s available at a many book stores, or through McSweeney’s!