Meet a Local Cartoonist: Rafer Roberts of Plastic Farm and Magic Bullet
Rafer Roberts sent me this note last week about the DC Conspiracy's latest anthology: "Earlier this year the idea was presented that the DC Conspiracy would put out a newspaper filled with our comics. A newspaper? Filled with comics? In an era where comics are presented smaller and on handheld digital devices, presenting large format comics in a dying medium seemed like such an outdated model that we just had to go for it. With the aesthetic that each artist would take advantage of the larger format, Magic Bullet was born." I in turn sent him our standard questions with a few specific to the new comic.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Rafer Roberts: Pretentious art school answer: I specialize in the slightly disturbing and adorable underground anti-authoritative bubblegum pop which caters to an elite audience of overeducated misanthropic disaffected consumerists.
Translation: Dick and fart jokes.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
RR: I was born 1976 in Perth Amboy, NJ.. but grew up along the New Jersey shore in Fair Haven.
WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
RR: I am an outlier in the DC Conspiracy in that I actually live in western Maryland. The area I live in is becoming more of a D.C. suburb every day, which makes me happy.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
RR: I have zero formal training and what little I know I’ve either picked up on my own through self study, learned through observing other artists, or falsely believe that I’ve invented.
WCP: Who are your influences?
RR: Oh man, you’ve got the standards of Kirby and Ditko, as well as David Lapham, Dave Sim, Grant Morrison, Bob Burden, Evan Dorkin, Ted McKeever, William Burroughs, Chuck Palahniuk, Stephen King, David Lynch, Sam Raimi, Ween, Eddie Campbell, Larry Young, Arthur Guinness, Alan Watts, my wife...all for different reasons.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
RR: I should have taken more art classes as a kid. Other than that, I don’t have any regrets.
WCP: What work are you best-known for?
RR: My comic, Plastic Farm, which follows the life of a man named Chester and his slow descent into complete insanity and chronicles how that madness reshapes the world around him. Chester has had a rough childhood, has a magic cowboy that rides a dinosaur living inside of his head, and is now, late in life, sitting in a nameless airport bar during a blizzard telling his life story to a group of people who really couldn’t care less.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
RR: See above.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
RR: Plastic Farm is going to be taking up most of my comic making time for the next few years, but as long as I am making comics, I am happy. If I go too long without drawing, I get cranky.
WCP: What do you do when you’re in a rut or have writer’s block?
RR: I have no idea. This may seem like I’m full of myself, but my biggest problem is that I have too many ideas and not enough time to get them all out.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
RR: Comics, as a medium, aren’t going anywhere. New formats will emerge and old formats will die, or there will be a re-emergence of older formats, but always there will be forward motion and the expansion of the language of comics. I look forward to the inevitable backlash against comics adapted into other mediums, such as the current glut of movies, and the return of making comics for comics sake rather than as illustrated Hollywood pitches.
WCP: What’s your favorite thing about D.C.?
RR: The bars, including music clubs.
WCP: Least favorite?
RR: 270 south in the morning, 270 north in the evening, and driving through Georgetown at any hour of the day.
WCP: Do you have a website or blog?
RR: I have both, and they are located at http://www.plasticfarm.com
WCP: What’s Magic Bullet?
RR: Magic Bullet is the DC Conspiracy’s free comic newspaper, featuring full page comics from 11 of the most diversely inspired cartoonists in the district. The driving aesthetic of the comic, and something I pushed when gathering the artists, was to take full advantage of the lager canvas. With a lot of comics moving to smaller heldheld devices we thought it would be a grand experiment to move in the opposite direction. Large format analog comics for a digital world.
There’s also something to be said for the freedom that a larger canvas gives an artist. There’s room to cut loose and to experiment, which I think is evident in the work.
The comics in Magic Bullet run the gamut from 1960’s San Francisco-based underground comix, to Windsor McCay inspired surrealism, to pulp action, to avant garde, to comics that reinvent comics.
Copies of Magic Bullet can be found at a few local comic shops, such as Beyond Comics in Frederick and Gaithersburg, Laughing Ogre, Big Planet, as well as upcoming comic shows like The Small Press Expo in North Bethesda and The DC Conspiracy’s own Counter Culture Fest. Obviously more info, including a full list of contributing cartoonists, can be found on the website: http://www.dcconspiracy.com
WCP: How did you become the editor? Was the project your idea?
RR: The idea was originally presented by Matt Dembicki, who I don’t think was too eager to jump back into an editor gig right away after working as editor on the recent Trickster antholgy (which is incredible). I volunteered, possibly foolishly, to guide Magic Bullet to completion. Michael Auger and Andrew Cohen, acting as layout editor and submission editor, really did a lot of the background work which I don’t think got them as much credit as they deserve. Also, Matt stuck around in an advisory role.
WCP: Why, when newspapers are whining about their failing business, do you decide to do one?
RR: I don’t know why Matt suggested one, but I liked the idea for the fact that it is a dying medium. There’s something romantic about reading comics and getting that cold-set ink all over your hands, and the stink of the ink and newsprint filling your sinuses as you read the varied sequential adventures that we’re pretty much going to be forcing into your hand. If I had the resources, I’d hire an army of street urchins and give them all 1920’s newsboy uniforms and have them handing these thing out at the entrance of every metro station in DC shouting “Wuxty wuxtry! The finest comics money can’t buy” as they thrust copies of Magic Bullet into the hands of lobbyists and lawmakers, bankers and thieves, and the leaders of our struggling nation. Man, if we really are headed into another great depression I say we go full tilt and start listening to non-corporate radio, dancing the Lindy, wearing top hats if you’re employed and fedoras if you’re homeless and reading some goddam giant comics while you sell your children to the steel mills and wait to slowly starve to death.
WCP: Did the late Bash, the short-lived free comics paper in DC, influence your project?
RR: Having never even seen a copy, I’ll say no. With the only guiding principle being for each artist to push themselves to fit the larger page size, I think Magic Bullet is the sum of each artists’ individual influences and biases.
WCP: Do you plan on doing more issues?
RR: Yes, but we’re focused right now on pushing this first one. The thought at one time was to put these out on a quarterly basis, but I may have to rethink that idea. No matter what, we’re going to do more of these. It’s too cool of a project not to.
WCP: Anything else you want to tell us about the project?
RR: We have an open submission process. As much as Magic Bullet was started as a DC Conspiracy project, we really want as wide a variety of local artists represented. If anyone reading this has an interest in contributing a comic, they can email firstname.lastname@example.org Also, if any local businesses would like to pick up our print tab for future issues, we would love to have them as a sponsor. But, most of all, I hope that people who are lucky enough to get a copy enjoy the little moment of retro-escapism and surrealistic comic experimentation, and I’d like to personally thank everyone who gives Magic Bullet a chance.