Meet a Formerly Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Bebe Williams
A couple of decades ago, self-published comics hit a new boom period, and alternative comics spun out of the sputtering underground comix model. It was a heady time in comics, and the movement is still reverberating today. When I moved to Arlington, I eventually discovered that a close neighbor of mine was Bebe Williams, who posted regularly on Comix@, a listserv about alternative comics, and who also published his own comic book (this used to be a lot harder to do). When I saw a passing post by him on Facebook, I asked him to answer the standard questions. For those still curious after reading his interesting take on comics, Williams' main website is artcomic.com.
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
Bebe Williams: I create cartoon artworks for gallery shows—oil painting comics, installations, a whole wall could be larger daily comics formats, photo-comics, performance art funnies (starring in my stuff doing the graphic equivalent of performance art), daily comics, and comic book stories centered around thematic interests. I currently freelance and take on projects.
WCP: How do you do it? Are you working with pen and ink, or electronically, or a mixture?
BW: I work with pencils on paper, ink with pens but mostly with my squirrel brush, electronically (either fully or partially), oil paint, colored pencils, printouts, metal, mixed media, and photography. It depends on the type of comic that I'm working on.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
BW: I'm from Petersburg, Va., born in 1952—July 18th.
WCP: Why aren't you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in when you were here?
BW: I lived at the edge of Clarendon, southside Arlington, Va , to be exact, the Lyon Park area [WCP: When I met him around 1993, Williams was in Alcova Heights]. I moved to a small town to find a new niche, to lighten up the air.
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
BW: I'm self-taught with lots of intake of reading, admiring art, and other forms of pop culture....although I did take four years of art in high school and attended art classes at VCU. Later on I became a teacher for some time. I taught photographic cartooning all over the state of Virginia in museums, galleries, and schools. I did this for the Virginia Museum in Richmond VA. Other jobs teaching were as an artist in schools in Arlington, Arlington's Career Center, and the University of Maryland.
When I say self-taught, way back in 1993, I decided that I wanted to try my hand as a daily cartoonist. It wasn't exactly natural for me to get into it, so I said to myself, "I'm going to make a daily comic no matter what it takes." The first day I spent hours trying to figure it out, how to make my mind change into having a natural way of writing and drawing the thing. The first one took maybe five hours. The next day just as long. Finally after a month of doing this, I reached the point of ease. It only took a few minutes to write and draw the daily. Nowadays, the complete process of creating a daily takes me about an hour.
I did the daily Art Comics Daily from 1995-2007. I also did a few other dailies (Groups, Bobby Ruckers, Just Ask Mr-Know-It-All, Showcase) in that period and had a syndicate, as well as worked for a syndicate in San Francisco.
WCP: Who are your influences?
BW: I'm constantly influenced by others, mostly in a mini-fashion. I try to improve my writing, to go further than what I see to be slightly futuristic. When something funny comes out of me, I attempt to add two more levels to that humor so I can say that I saw that idea when someone else outputs it to that lower stage. Influences are Herbie comics, DC comics that contained three stories each issue, Doctor Who, 13th Floor Elevators, WFMU, random conversations, The Residents, Malcolm Morley, Bill Griffith's Zippy, difficult listening, John Keel, Night of the Living Dead, multimedia FLASH, and others showing me their works.
WCP: What work are you best-known for?
BW: Bobby Ruckers (a photo comic book) or Art Comics Daily (web and newspaper comics). I wrote the book Instructions for Meeting Time Travellers which has been reprinted in a few places, Ruckers has been in Strange Magazine, Whacked, and in art shows such as CEPA's montage show in Rochester, NY buses and at Brody's Gallery (next to the RAW magazine art show held the next month).
The Xeric Foundation funded some of my comic books.
WCP: You were self-publishing your comic book early in the 1980s, right? And you were at the first Small Press Expos? Anything you'd like to share about the second great wave of indy comics publishing?
BW: I self-published a few books in the 1980s, and I've been doing Bobby Ruckers since 1982. I haven't made a comic book in the last decade, I just do minis and guest shots.
I was at the first three Small Press Expos, but never really fitted into the scene along with the other cartoonists, nor was I ever asked to participate in the compilation books, etc. I just went away since it became more of a venue for the well-known crowd. I found it costly to do comic books. All of the indy stuff is split up this way and that way now. It's not hard to be that way, since deluxe variety is there. TV is the same way, movies, books – you think "wow, so many books in the bookstores" and the best ones aren't even in your regular bookstore. The web has made it possible to be very detailed in ones' interests.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
BW: I just came out of a two year period of serving as Town Councillor of the Town of Scottsville. Political work came fairly easy for me when doing community service. I wasn't elected the second time around, lost by 7 votes maybe because I became vocal about legalizing marijuana in Virginia.
Now I'm proud of my weekly 2-page newspaper that I create each week in collaboration with Lisa DeBrito entitled The Scottsville Weekly. I've published 35 issues as of today and you can read them all online – I consider this to be similar to making art or comics and this paper does have four daily comics in it every week.
I made too many large works of art. I got to the point that many artists find depressing — creating large paintings and running out of places to store them all, so now I just do small works on mixed media for easy storage as well as computer art. Even in computer art, you can run out of storage.
I also have been in music for years, creating works with people that make their own instruments. Some of it can be heard on community radio stations in different cities......my band's name is "Bebe and the Double 13(e)s."
I liked the wall tiles artworks that I did in the old Insect Club and Crowbar. Are any of them still there? I still make wall tile artworks, you can check them out at my website.
This piece is called "Alkahestic Artisans." It was interesting the way that I created this one. First, I made hundreds of single wall tiles artworks, just lots of random imagery. Most of them were photographic transfers, car model paints, and markers. I places all of the hundreds of works on the floor, looking down at them. Then, slowly, I pieced together images that I thought worked good side by side, piecing them together to make them into one artwork, to where they fitted and talked to one another. From there, I firmed up the work in a collective way with more paint.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
BW: I would love to write and draw some Herbie stories. Comicwise (or art in general), I would enjoy taking on a thematic idea and going with it.
I am on a future project now, in collaboration with others we are making a documentary version of my newspaper The Scottsville Weekly. You can read a bit about the idea.
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
BW: I never have writer's block. I just sit down and start writing, it's just like a spigot, turn it on and start working.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
BW: Creativity abounds. There are so many cartoonists and comic books, and competition is fierce in some ways. Gone are the days when one could go to the newstand and buy every single comic book that came out that week. Can you imagine going to a comic book store and buying every comic? Expensive! When I went into the daily comics business, I thought being different, alternative, would work out big,and it did work good in some regards. The problem with daily comics in the newspaper is that they really have not advanced or improved that much as a group. It looks like dailies are controlled by law firms or third generation families riding the shirt tails of parents or rights owners. I think these cartoonists are called "sequels"......the same as actors that get into acting as it's handed down to them by family members that started the lineages.
The overflux of cartoonists is good for trading my own books for their own books at shows.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about DC?
BW: There's so much to do in the area. Food-wise it's got it all and so much of it is great. You have access to alternative everything. I like coming to town and ditching my car, by calling for a taxi. It's one of the easiest areas of the world to find computer work. The town is the most conservative looking, but liberal town in the whole country. The best of any category can be found once a person takes the time to learn about them all. There's so much to discover all of the time.
WCP: What monument or museum do you want to revisit, or did you take most out-of-town guests to?
BW: Well, the Washington Monument is so tall, that I can take my visitors anyplace in town and point out to them, then we are done for the generic sightseeing; after all, I'm always anxious to eat at one of my favorite restaurants as soon as I hit town. By the way, I'm surprised that when the Million Man March was in DC, the marchers didn't surround that Washington Monument, pick it up and carry down the street as the masthead of their march. Just saying......strength in numbers.