R.M.H. is a comic artist and illustrator, and native Chicagoan. She moved to Montreal only a few months ago from NYC, and now shares a flat with her cannibalistic rodent, Thamption, in Outremont. The following is an interview with Rebecca.
RMH: She’s insane and bloodthirsty. [Referring to Thamption the hamster.]
Jessica Mensch: Oh fuck.
R: She’s not bloodthirsty for humans. She just loves the blood of other gerbils.
J: Whoa. Ach!
R: Did she bite?
J: I don’t know.
R: You don’t know! Well, she is mysteriously prickly . . . I increased my love for her when her bloodthirstiness was really confirmed. She was originally purchased as an accessory for her friend, because I wanted to buy my first gerbil a gift. And she hated her! But finally they overcame their differences, and began a loving relationship. Uh, and then one day, Thamption snapped! And she uh, killed her and began to consume her closest friend in the world. She’s sort of a monster, but I like her more now. I think it’s the fact that she’s laid all her cards out on the table. She’s not faking it anymore.
J: What was she faking?
R: She was faking being not sociopathic, and a functional social creature, and now it’s obvious where her true intentions lie.
J: I didn’t know what enormous feet they had.
R: They hop. I like blowing in her face. You need to watch her eyes. Anyway, she’s a source of great comfort for me. She’s constantly twitching and nervous, and it’s fun to have an obsessive neurotic creature.
J: Does that make you feel less neurotic?
R: No, not really. It’s more like she’s a partner in crime. We’re enablers for each other.
J: Where did you move here from?
R: I went to McGill, so I lived in Montreal for four years. And then I horrifyingly and tragically moved to NY for a year.
(A number of minutes later, after further discussion of NY, Thamption, the placement of our recording equipment, we start in on the topic of Ms. Hartz’ practice.)
Rebecca: This is a time when subjectivity is god. Anyone can define art for themselves.
Jessica: How do you relate that to your work?
R: If it looks appealing, then it’s good. And obviously that’s subjective. I don’t look for meaning behind paintings at all. I used to read a ton of Oscar Wilde. And he was always talking about how art can only be valuable for its own sake, and not for any other sake, so I guess that struck a chord and remained inside of me. I also know that it’s wrong on some levels . . .
J: What’s the difference between art and good advertising?
R: I don’t think there is a difference sometimes….When I draw posters, there’s usually a landscape or a dreamscape, or another world that exists in the poster, and then there will be the selling point based only on how attractive the landscape is. It’s the same concept of selling any product. As long as you have a lady in a bikini with like huge tits . . .
J: Just give me some tits!
R: I know now based on this commercial that after smoking this cigarette, I’ll get some big tits.
J: They’ll just hit me in the face.
R: But I guess I feel the same way even if it’s not a poster, even if it’s not selling anything. But you’re right, it is personal.
J: I’m interested in your idea of what attractive is, because I have one image (of yours) in mind where you have a giant manatee rising over these 60’s type bubble buildings . . .
R: It’s a sting-ray.
J: And a girl with bloody fists from punching it (the sting-ray) out. So your idea of what’s attractive is not typical. So, what in that picture do you see as the selling points . . . err the tits?
R: Where are the tits, this is the question all artists must ask themselves on a regular basis . . . The world is the selling point, I guess.
J: The whole ambiance of that (image)?
[Thamption nibbles Rebecca’s finger.]
R: It’s not a blood bite, it’s a love bite.
J: Maybe we should give her some food . . . she just sucked that right up.
R: She’s storing it in her face . . . There’s a lot of grotesqueness and strangeness and sinister aspects in our world. It’s strange because often physical reality doesn’t reflect it, right. Obviously things are completely chaotic, and it’s hard to make sense of [it], but then at the same time, the structure of cities and the structure of relationships seem easily dissectible and categorized. So there’s the idea of creating a landscape where the grotesqueness and the absurd and haunting aspects are actually in front of your face, instead of under the surface. It’s more comforting. Similar to the way Thamption destroyed her friend, and then she became more lovable because she was really [understandable]. You understand the true character of things, there’s no sugar coating. So I guess the idea is, that if there are sting-rays flying through the air at any given moment, and meanwhile the rest of the world is decaying, and there’s only one or two people left in one part of the world, and then there are a million other people growing octopi out of their bodies, then the physical reality can distract a little from the much more disturbing psychological and emotional reality that is [madness]. I don’t know. I’m spewing words off the cuff. When I have a nice landscape in mind, a nice chunk of another dimension in my mind, I draw it because it seems [like] once you get it on paper, it’s that much more accessible, and within the realm of possibility . . . something you can touch and adore.
J: When did you get into comics?
R: I wasn’t into comics when I was little, at all. Except I always loved Matt Groening. I loved Life in Hell. I still do. I think it’s hilarious. I read that when I was little – little being middle school, little school. I didn’t start getting into comix comics until high school. And then it was still the pussy comics. It wasn’t superhero stuff, it was the whiny autobiographical indie stuff, which I love and I’m a sucker for just like all the other whiny indie introspective pussy’s out there. I really like Daniel Clowes, I started reading Eightball and Ghost World, and them some of his other stuff, which is terrifying. But I don’t like the comics he’s put out recently. And some stupider comics like Flaming Carrot. I really like Peter Bagge. He’s great and hilarious, but the artwork doesn’t do so much for me except that it’s crazy. He does a good job of showing people totally freaking out, so I like that.
J: When did you make your first comic?
R: I started making comics when I started reading R. Crumb. I always drew comics where it would be just one person saying something, but R. Crumb made the idea of drawing comics more accessible because his comics don’t necessarily have a plot, and they’re not necessarily witty. . . I’m going to say a lot of things that sound like I’m bashing R. Crumb, but I think he’s great. And obviously I have no level of entitlement to bash R. Crumb because he has beautiful stuff. . . But, he does bring it down to a really accessible level, in the same way that I like watching B movies because it makes me feel like I can just write a movie, because it’s that easy, but of course it’s not easy. Even if you’re not trying to write something brilliant, even if you’re not shooting that high, you can at least get something out. R. Crumb is visually brilliant. Sometimes he has some insights, content–wise that are nice, also his lack of reservation is appealing, and the self indulgence is appealing. That’s a nice leap. You have to be self indulgent to write autobiographical comics sort of, because you have to assume that people are going to give a shit about anything you have to say. You’ve read his stuff, right? He’ll just be complaining about whatever, and the visual aspects command your attention. I guess he’s somebody you want to relate to, but I don’t think he’s an attractive character. Sometimes he is, sometimes he isn’t.
J: Does he (R. Crumb) offend you in any way?
J: Does anything . . .
R: Offend me? No. Very little . . . Rape, that offends me. Anti-Semitism.
J: Your work seems to have a science fiction theme.
R: I love science fiction.
J: Tell me about that. Has it always been there?
R: No, that’s more recent. When I was little and I was drawing, I kept drawing people over and over and over again. And it was [mostly] a process of trying to improve my drawing. More recently I’ve started to draw things with more of a story line as opposed to doodles or chunks of something. So, the sci-fi aspect became heavy in my work two years ago when I started doing posters. I guess when you have to deliver a picture that has a story behind it, my mind just automatically gravitated towards that. That’s what I think about generally, sci-fi or other dimensions, alternative realities, or our reality with a physical aspect reflecting internal chaos and absurdity. I guess science fiction and horror is something that continues to fascinate me. I used to read a lot of things that had heavy emotional content. As I got more neurotic the emotional content became a little too hard to handle. I don’t need my life saturated with it.
J: I can relate to that.
R: So I started watching sci-fi movies and horror movies. I used to be able to listen to heavy music and stuff, and very intellectual and articulate lovely music, and now it all has to be very simplistic girl pop.
R: Ultimately I don’t wind up listening to disco. But I really like girl pop because it cuts to the chase, and there’s no bullshit. There are definitely authors that influence a lot of my drawings. I read a lot of H. P. Lovecraft. I feel like he’s on a similar wavelength. I read a lot of old horror stories and ghost stories.
J: I see you have a lot of books on Jewish culture, Jewish history. Does that come into your work at all?
R: Not a lot. I had an idea last year for a Jewish cigarette company, because Hasidim still smoke a ton.
J: That’s a good idea.
R: I think so. It’d make a lot of money. And they also like getting products from other Jews. So I designed a special Jewish brand, Jewbrand it was called, and the mascot is called Smoky the Jew. But I never showed a lot of people because it seemed crass, or it could be misinterpreted, or something like that.
To see more wild posters and comic art, click HERE for R.M.H’s blog.
Jessica Mensch is a visual artist living in Montreal. You can check out her work at jessicamensch.com