Tomorrow, we'll premiere the first four strips from Chad VanGaalen's new Chart Attack comic series ZOOOSH, with new installments coming every two weeks after that.
Chad says he's taking inspiration from The Far Side by Gary Larson, who he says "fucking slays with a demon sword through everyone’s face." "If you’re not laughing at Larson," he says, "fuck yourself. Because that guy’s the king."
Check out a sneak peek below, and check back tomorrow for the full installment:
Chad VanGaalen is an increasingly, impossibly enigmatic institution. He produced both records from beloved post-punks Women. He's released four adored solo albums with a fifth, Shrink Dust, out today on Flemish Eye, under his real name and face. His music - completely honest and uncompromising jumble sales held just outside the offices of Big Indie - still seems to add to the notion of a completely unknowable artist, spotlighting a few areas of his depths while hinting at countless more.
For clues to his source, I spoke to the Calgary artist about his first passion: drawing. "I 100% love it," he says. "I couldn’t be doing anything better with my time." His style is a spiritual descendent of both The Incal and late night cartoon blocks, transcending traditions of both sci-fi and stoner humour by embracing both.
When not recording Shrink Dust, Chad has been busy working on his animated feature, The Translated Log of Inhabitants, which he describes as "2001 meets Strange Brew." He's building a portfolio of music videos acting as a retina of his subconscious, both for his own songs and artists like METZ, Timber Timbre, J Mascis and an upcoming clip for alternative hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces. If you haven't seen those, watch some now, so you know why I'm so excited for this thing.
In his interview, Chad VanGaalen also mentions a wide spectrum of artists that have all contributed to his style, philosophy, and passion for making the kind of visuals you reach out to a publicist on a whim and say: "Hey, can we pay your guy to do this?"
How long have you been into comics?
Since I could spend money on comics. I have every single Mad Magazine from 1981 to 1989. I stopped collecting it when they lost the original crew. My dad was an illustrator as well so he had The Freak Brothers lying around and Zap, all sorts of Crumb. Once I saw that as a kid it was over.
So those were the bridge into your own psychedelic style.
Yeah, I could definitely see that there was a darker side with Mad Magazine, but I was maybe 10 or 11 when I saw my first Freak Brothers comic, and was like “What the fuck? There are people who are actually publishing this?” I had no idea what drugs were. I didn’t know if I should even be reading it. It was like I discovered the Ark of the Covenant.
Was there any sort of concurrent underground comic scene building up in Calgary, or did that come later?
I don’t even know. I’ve always been pretty solitary. Phoenix Comics was the place that I went and still go to get my comics here in town. I’ve been going there since I was a kid. Ben, this guy who was in this local band The Primrods, he started selling me comics when I was a kid and bringing in weird stuff. It was pretty much the only place you could get stuff that was non-superhero. I was into X-Men but I was more into Marvel Universe and DC’s Who’s Who. They were compendiums of characters first appearances and weapons. Then I found Eightball and Stray Bullets and stuff like that. When Frank Miller’s Hard Boiled came out I lost my mind. I stared at that every day for two years and promised I’d get better at drawing. He’s a badass illustrator.
Do you have a top five?
Animation is a really strange world in itself. It’s almost like a primitive dream machine.
Like your music videos. They have a threadbare plot that grounds you and allows you to explore visually.
For sure. I really just like the idea of keeping yourself entertained while you’re animating. I just felt that in order for it to happen at all I would have to improvise all the time. If I knew what was going to happen next I would just get bored and not do it. But now I’m getting better at that.
That must be a difficult balancing act, staying rooted in the improvisation that gives your work so much power while attaching something so the audience doesn't get overwhelmed.
I like what comes out of nothing. Animation is a really strange world in itself. It’s almost like a primitive dream machine. It’s so crazy to grow something out of your subconscious because you’re in a state of total non-thinking. But maybe that just applies to me. I know a lot of animators get really anal about the story and what comes next.
Have you seen Jodorowsky’s Dune?
There’s definitely an underground comic culture you have to embrace, otherwise you’re a fucking asshole.
Did you see any overlap in terms of your influences?
You can see Sergio Aragonés and Mad Magazine. We were probably reading the same comic books as kids. There’s definitely an underground comic culture you have to embrace, otherwise you’re a fucking asshole. You love it and you want to die for it, which is like me, because nobody does it like that anymore. I don’t know if there are any comic book superstars like there were back in the day, like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I guess Daniel Clowes is maybe the closest thing to that, or Moebius or Crumb, but it’s not on the tip of everybody’s tongue. You’re pretty much in that geeky world by yourself.
One thing about Jodorowsky is how his style is based on what can flower from the subconscious and at the same time these mythic, Joseph Campbell kind of tropes that go back thousands of years.
And the drug culture of the time! Doing lots of LSD, but on a real spiritual level. He was really shamanistic about how he developed his stories. But Joseph Campbell has a much broader scope of stories across the world. He just knows so many ancient ones. “Oh that story is the same as this, and the water symbolizes this.” He breaks everything down so well. It would be so cool to condense every story down into the metastory.
Anyway, number two would be Charles Burns. I just really like the way he’s crazy anal. Geof Darrow. Daniel Clowes, because he made me feel so fucking sad as a teenager. And then Jim Woodring. He’s supernatural. As a comic book artist, to be able to transcend language is so powerful. And Hergé, for Tintin. Those scenes are incredible. I really like Joe Daly, the guy who did all the Dungeon Quest books. And Michael DeForge. Someone said I should check out Michael DeForge after I finished that Timber Timbre video, and he’s badass. Joe Sacco. Comic journalism is crazy. I feel like the work he’s done, he’s just starting to get the recognition he deserves. It’s pretty amazing.
What's your process for creating music videos?
I just sit down and draw. Most people who ask me to do videos already know that they should tell me what I should do, cause it’ll wreck the video. For the Timber Timbre video, that song is amazing. Taylor’s lyrics are already so cinematic, so there was enough to riff off that. I’ll listen to the song on the floor with my eyes closed and see what morphs in my mind then start drawing. If you draw something long enough it starts morphing into something else. Then I’ll pull that image out of whatever else I’m working on or put it aside. And riffing off Taylor’s lyrics, I was imagining the death of cinema and the time Kennedy was assassinated, and there was all this romanticism surrounding film at the time. I was imagining the old school and the new school smashing together in 2014.
When I was watching your latest music video I thought of the Codex Seraphinianus, and wondered if you had your own encyclopaedia of the worlds you create.
For this feature film that will come out sometime soon, The Translated Log of Inhabitants, there's an actual book, a big format Moleskin. It’s more of a D&D guide, but it has like plants and actual tools and characters that are in the film. I’ve always wanted to put out a graphic novel. I’ve never done anything that’s that linear and I don’t know if i’m built that way. Then I realized other stuff that I really love, like Ernst Haeckel and apothecaries from the 16th Century.
And what do you do when you release and indie film these days? You tour it at festivals. And I might put out this compendium that comes along with it. I started really protecting the book at first, but then I started liking how it was getting thrashed with coffee stains. That’s probably going to be the copy that I scan now.