Interview: Bruce Mutard

Melbourne cartoonist Bruce Mutard launched his first project under his publishing imprint Fabilaux, Art Is A Lie by Carol Wood and Susan Butcher, at Melbourne's Homecooked Comics Festival earlier this year. Art Is a Lie is currently available via an Indie Go Go campaign.

Collecting material originally published in Artillery magazine as well as unpublished comics, Art Is A Lie employs the comic styles of many masters of the art-form to present the truth about art and the artists that make it. I asked Bruce a few questions via email about Art Is A Lie and his entry into publishing with Fabilaux.

Matt Emery: What motivated you to enter the heartbreak and sorrow of publishing comic books?

Bruce Mutard: Aw, c’mon, think positive! Well, look, obviously I’m not in it to make money, so it’s a case of wanting to publish Art Is A Lie in particular, since I knew Artillery were unable to do a collection, and neither could Carol or Sue, yet I wanted a collection of it. But the quality of the work was so amazing, I knew there’d be plenty of other people who’d appreciate it as much as I do, and hopefully, among Artillery readers, who’d been chortling at Dead or Alive (the name the strip goes under) for the past nine years. So, it’s a case of putting my money where my mouth is. I will not have my heart broken by this, and how can putting out comics be sorrowful? It’s spreading the joy, even if it’s only fifteen copies.

Emery: When did you first encounter Carol and Susan's work?

Mutard: Coming across their self-published Pox, probably the first or second issue way back in the mid 1990’s. I can’t recall if I saw it in a shop, or we started trading our comics via reviews in other comics and zines in that mail-trading pre-internet era or what. But Pox always stood out for it’s rambunctious, acerbic, intelligent satirical bite, which appealed to me immensely in the days when I was much more an underground cartoonist than the *ahem* serious graphic novelist I am now. Now that I’m an *koff* artist, I can appreciate their wit and talent in Art Is A Lie so much more. Maturity does have its pluses, so long as one doesn’t overdo it. 

Emery: Can you talk a bit about the material in Art Is A Lie and its original publication? Do you have a favourite piece in the book?

Mutard: I have a one sentence summary: Art Is A Lie is a collection of one page satirical biographies of famous artists, done in the style of famous cartoonists. But that’s not entirely accurate, as there are five strips of two pages or more, including an art alphabet done like Edward Gorey mixed with Ambrose Bierce. There are also a few of fumetti, one with Carol and Sue, and others featuring models on sets, all made and built by Carol; she’s an amazing model-maker. The one quality I am totally in awe of is the depth of the girls knowledge of pop culture and ephemera, particularly that which is nostalgic. They have amazing collection of breakfast cereal toys which in themselves, are of amazing quality; it’s hard to believe they used to come with Weeties and Corn Flakes. There are thousands of pop-cultural and art references in Art Is A Lie, such that probably only someone like Jim Bridges would get most of them. My favourite piece is Tom Kat Of Finland. I mean, who else could have thought of doing a biographical piece of Tom of Finland as a Krazy Kat story and make it work? But then there’s Frida Kahlo as a Betty Boop cartoon (there is a resemblance), Marcel Duchamp in a Dick Tracy story, The Van Eyck brothers as a Spy Vs Spy parody… there are NO weak entries in this book. 

Artillery is an American art magazine with a refreshingly insouciant approach to Art, not taking itself or the art world too seriously. Like all art mags, it’s dominated by ads for art exhibitions in galleries, mixed in with content, which can be new takes on famous artists, revision of a movement, or speaking to contemporary artists about their work, art theory, movements, ideas and what not. And… they have Dead Or Alive. It runs on the smell of an oil paint and turps soaked rag out of the editors house in the hills of LA. 

Emery: Were you involved much in an editorial capacity with Art is a Lie?

Mutard: Not really. Carol and Sue work as a team, so they tend to edit by bouncing ideas off one another. Susan once told me that Carol is the one who comes up with all the craziest ideas and she slowly whittles them down to what’s actually able to be done. They both write and draw, with Susan tending to do the art that looks tighter, and Carol, the looser. The only time I asserted editorial authority was one time I visited them after a long break and was blown away by this magnificent model monster horror lab as if from the 1930’s Frankenstein movie. The detail in it was amazing. Carol then told me that they were thinking of doing a fumetti wherein they would tell the story of how they come up with their ideas. I promptly told them that I was herewith asserting editorial privilege and demanded that they do that strip otherwise no book would be published. They delivered. Boy did they deliver. They had to reanimate John Constable and then re-kill him to do it, but it was worth it. 

Emery: Are future Fabilaux publishing plans in the pipeline?

Mutard: My plan for Fabliaux is to publish niche works, so books that I don’t think have a huge readership, but nevertheless should appear in print. The reason for that is to keep a lid on the scale of the operation so that I can continue to spend most of my time making comics, which is what I think I do best. Sales will mostly be done online, via crowdfunds and tables at comic festivals and book fairs, so nothing mass market. I will probably publish my long hidden graphic novel Alice In Nomansland, which is definitely niche. I am also wanting to publish a collected Pop Culture and Two Minute Noodles by Dillon Naylor and the amazing list of artists who’ve drawn those characters. I’ll probably only publish one or two books a year to start with.