Thursday, February 24, 2011

“how and why with rhoda penmarq: an interview"

rhoda penmarq writes and draws very strange and wonderful stories on several blogs -- primarily “flashing by” -- and, never a dull moment, rhoda also collaborates (words and/or art) with other writers, such as Jason Gusmann, Kathleen Maher, Nooshin Azadi, and this reporter. Recently the notoriously publicity-shy rhoda graciously assented to answer some questions culled from hundreds submitted by various members of "the rhoda penmarq appreciation society":

rhoda, why do you do it? Why do you write and draw what you do and put it up on the internet?

well, it's something to do. and for about the last 2 1/2 years it's something i have had a lot of time to do. as for why i do it on the internet, i love the internet. the internet gives you complete freedom - no publishers, no editors, no teachers - just do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. of course you could always do that if you wanted to sit in your room and do it and never think about getting published - like henry darger.
but the web gives the hope or illusion that at least a few other people will see what you do. and there is a huge though not really rational difference between being read by even a few people - even one person - and nobody at all.

Just about all your work that I know of combines art and words. Why?

that evolved by being on the web. i started by adding usually one little picture - sometimes not even by myself - to anything i posted - usually a poem under one name or another, i suppose because it seemed the thing to do. and i gradually added more and more pictures because i enjoyed doing it and the pictures took over. i would say i now spend at least 90% of my time - my blogging time - on the visuals.

How did you start doing your style of art?

when i first got a microsoft pc of my own at work, it had a simple painter app - called painter or paintbrush or something - and i started doodling with it. i had always been a compulsive doodler on paper - like stalin - but this opened up whole new vistas, as they say. seriously, i had always been interested in cartooning or drawing but didn't have the patience or discipline to do it in any serious way. i mean, how are you supposed to do anything without an "undo" button?

i like really simple apps - because you can work fast with them - and they are becoming harder to find and keep. the software designers keep updating their apps, making them "better". they seem to think everybody wants to draw like titian or rembrandt - or the pre-raphaelites - but this makes them cumbersome and i don't care so much for them.

one thing i really liked was the original black and white macpaint - i guess it was 1.0 - but i can't find it - or anything remotely like it available for the new breed of computer. if anybody out there can help me out on this, i would love to hear from them.

You have generously and prolifically collaborated with other writers. Why?

i just enjoy doing it. i don't do it for any other reason. maybe at some point i won't enjoy doing it so much, but for now, i would like to find more people to collaborate with - if anybody out there is interested. obviously there is a limit - if someone has a 3,000 page proustian manuscript, i can't illustrate it word for word, but within reason, i would like to hear from anyone interested.

Does it ever occur to you to try to do something more commercial? Do you think you could "go commercial" even if you tried? Have you ever tried to interest publishers in your work, so that you can actually get paid for your brilliance?

well of course it has occurred to me, but so far i haven't made any serious attempts. for now i am just trying to get some things done.

What writers and artists, in any genre, have influenced you? How and why?

for artists, the names that come right to mind are max ernst, henry darger, edward gorey, s clay wilson

and robert crumb - the very very early robert crumb.

also photographers who have produced books where the pictures have a sort of dream/narrative quality - like robert frank, charles gatewood. books of weegee's photographs. cindy sherman, i like cindy sherman.

raymond roussel - not an "artist" himself but for his "new impressions of africa" he commissioned an artist to do illustrations per his exact descriptions. -
"a man with one arm in a sling. the sling is very broad."
"a drinker apparently beginning to feel ecstatic. no other characters."

roy lichtenstein. dan, i noticed you and some of your friends saying bad things about roy lichtenstein on facebook but i like him. a big book of his works would be nice to have on a desert island or in a space capsule.

i have to admit i always liked andy warhol - the early "pop art" effect of warhol and lichtenstein was something i aimed for in my earliest efforts. whether they "deserved" to be considered "great artists" - let alone whether they deserved the money they made - i leave to the more abstractly minded.

among early cartoonists i especially like frank willard's moon mullins - there is
just something "inexpressibly droll" about it.

my favorite writers would be what are now called "noir" - fredric brown, richard stark, jim thompson, hammett and chandler, etc. -
but right now i am not seriously trying to imitate them. for writers influencing what i would actually like to do i would say kerouac and burroughs. not so much the subject matter but the ideas of "spontaneous prose" and cut-ups. also gertrude stein and the early official surrealists. anything that at least tries to break through the conventions of 99.9% of writing. i could go on and get pretty tiresome on this subject - i did one little piece on cutups on "cutup capers" and hope to do more.

finally, a poet with a cut up approach few people are aware of was f a nettelbeck, author of a book length poem "bug death". i discovered his work and thought he would become famous - as famous as a poet might get. he was apparently very desirous of becoming famous himself, but he died suddenly about a month ago without achieving this.

Do you read mostly dead authors or authors who aren’t dead yet?

mostly dead ones including many that i can remember as alive.

What dead famous authors do you find the most boring or detestable? Why?

i have never been much for strong negative opinions. generally if i don't like a writer or artist, i just move on - i have never taken reputations that seriously, so i don't get upset if someone is "overrated". i can think of one exception - henry james. there is something really maddening and excruciating - but also kind of fascinating about henry james. i recently read an interview with edward gorey where he said he hated - his word - henry james but had read everything he had written! i can almost understand that.

i might also mention jane austen. i don't have strong negative feelings but there is an interest just because so many people find her so fascinating - i figure there must be something there, but what? i have tried to read all her books, but never been able to finish one.

What living famous authors do you find the most tedious or repellant? Why?

again, i don't have strong negative feelings. there are a lot of writers i don't care for, but being a broadminded individual, i can see where they might appeal to others. one writer whose reputation baffles me is thomas pynchon. if i had read pynchon without knowing his reputation i don't think it would have crossed my mind it could be so high. i can see where his work could provide fodder for doctoral theses but to me it seems completely lifeless and stillborn.

Do you love any living author as much as you do any of your favorite dead authors? Why?

one writer i "discovered" at the library a few years ago was j m g le clezio, a french writer almost unknown in america. now he has won the nobel prize and he is still almost unknown in america. the early books i "discovered" , which were translated but ignored, were indescribable, original, very witty, and i highly recommend them. it seems that he then switched to a more conventional style and these books - some of which have now been translated - are to be avoided. one reviewer on amazon said his book "desert" - apparently his first in the second style - was the most boring book he had ever read and i can't disagree.

i like joyce carol oates but have not read all her books. i liked "them" and the early "rosamond smith" books.

mary gaitskill's "two girls fat and thin" is a book i really liked by an author still alive.

Getting back to the combination of art and words, do you read graphic novels or comic books, old or new? If so, who and what are your favorites, and why?

sure, i look at the new graphic novels. i will just say that - um - the possibilities are infinite, there are a lot of people who can draw - a lot better than i ever will - but lately i haven't found anyone with that extra flash of originality that even someone as raw as mike diana had, let alone what crumb and wilson had. but, i am always open to recommendations.

as for comics, i could go on and on. one style i like is the old horror comics - the really cheesy ones. there is a new book from fantagraphics - "four color fear" - which reprints some stories from the old horror comics other than e c. e c was sort of like mad magazine or the weekly world news - you feel a sort of frat boy sensibility - hey guys look at this, yuk yuk. where these others have a quality of real desperation - the desperation of guys chained to desks and forced to crank out dozens of vampire and zombie stories every week.

i have always liked batman. no matter how done to death batman seems to be, there is just something about batman - like noir films or noir novels - that seems to hold infinite possibility. moon mullins and batman are the two comics i am tempted to just rip off - do "fan" stuff on.
i would also like to say that i have always been a dc person. dan, from your blog and facebook postings you seem to be a marvel person. i think it is a sign of how far we have come in this country that a dc person and a marvel person can get along and work so well together.

I love the poems (like this one) that you have resurrected from the lost works of “horace p. sternwall”. To me these are the best poems being published today. What can you tell us about Horace?

it was a rainy night in early december. i stopped at a sub shop on my way home from work and ordered a mushroom and egg sub and some onion rings. while i was sitting in a booth waiting for my order i noticed someone had left a book on the seat. i pointed it out to the counterman and he said it had been there for three days. "nobody's come back looking for it. take it, if you want it." it wasn't a library book and had no name or markings on it. it had no dust jacket and both the front and back covers had large circular stains. flipping through it i could see many pages were scribbled over with crayons, mostly green and red. it was "alcibiades feast and other poems", by horace p sternwall. i took it home. most of the poems that were legible i have since put on the web, in illustrated versions on flashing by and unadorned on a little site i set up under the sternwall name. since then i have managed to find a few other books - "hades carnival", "lover and other poems" in as bad or worse condition - and have posted some of their contents as well. i have also tried to decipher some of the defaced poems, and taken other steps to obtain and verify individual poems. it seems he also published some stories under pseudonyms in the weird tales manner - apparently none in weird tales itself - and these are even harder to find and verify.
now of course a breakthrough has come with the discovery of a number - perhaps a very large number - of original paperback novels under even more names. these seem to have been written after forgoing poetry. you of course, being largely responsible for them, know more of these latest discoveries than i do.

Please forgive me, but do you have an “artistic credo”?

not one of my own, but i know a good one to steal. s clay wilson said, "do your own thing and the world will find you." i don't know if that is true - probably not - but it is a nice thought.
i also like burroughs' "total dissatisfaction with everything i have done in writing" - a good attitude.


Old 333 said...

rhoda, I skipped thru the interview to say to you: everything ever run on old apples is available in emulation (and you can download both the 'disk images' and the emulators): it's the last one, some website in Zaire, the rest are gone. i grew up with an Apple II - I actually thought you wwere using an old PrintShop app to draw - I guess MicroProfit stole it too. the style is one of the things that first drew me to your work - but man, whatever you draw with, i want to see it. Like matisse - you got it. Start here (with Oregon trail, where I started in Grade 4, when all the bad shit started too, how odd what sticks with one!!!): Clique!.

Listening to Yes Starship Yeeeeeeah!!! so goooood, so apropos for now, a B-52 is ALWAYS aboove you: here, too: Clock!.

And goodnight. Now, I'm going to read the interview slowly, with a glass of wine, while I roast eggplant slices....oh, yes, eggplant slices. With cheese, olive oil, basil salt and Ragu underpants. Sizzle, drool. Boiled baby bok choy with balsamic drizzled on the side. My cholesterol is apparently just murder; so i am trying out a more vegetarian larder.

G'night, and thanks both Dan and Rhoda. You guys are the fucking vanguard, man.


Old 333 said...

Great interview. Rhoda, I am very curious: have you looked much at the work of Geoff Darrow? He is one who really works for me. Same with Jim Woodring and the insanely cool Alex Grey. Anyway - thanks! What a pleasure to get to know you a bit this way.

-a devoted fan

kathleenmaher said...

What a perfect meeting of minds, here, small disagreement on Roy L. or not. I have misspent my life and know nothing worth knowing! (Perhaps I knew this before but then there's knowing and truly knowing...)
You probably know this already but one dismissal of Henry James that's always amused me is this: Has anyone ever written so much about such elaborate upholstery?

human being said...

as interesting and beautiful as the works s/he generously shares with us!

thanks dear Dan Leo and rhoda for this everlasting portrait...

rhoda said...

thank you very much for the info! i will see what i can do with it.

kathleen and hb,
thanks as always for your continued support...