Joe Matt is a Freak…And That’s Why We Love Him
If I had to sum up my second day at MoCCA in one word, it would be "porn." Not that I saw any actual pornography--I wish--or that much of my time wasn't still spent walking the floor, meeting artists and exhibitors and again spending way beyond my means on new comics. It's just that the majority of my recollections keep returning to the many formal and casual encounters we had with the indie hero Joe Matt, who has made a name for himself being excruciatingly and embarrassingly open about his obsession with pornography. I haven't yet read any of his books, but from all accounts they are singularly focused on the countless hours he's spent watching and re-editing porn footage, much to the detriment of his personal relationships (and his career for that matter, his most recent work Spent having taken him about a decade to complete).
According to Matt, he's never understood how anybody wouldn't want to be watching porn and masturbating ALL the time--his record is somewhere over 20 times in one day--and he's more than happy to share that with anyone who will read it. He is, however, a bit timid about it. When he signed my copy of his first collection, Peepshow, he wrote, "Remember--It's AAAAALL FICTION!" and when we were waiting for him to draw John a sketch of his dog, a terrific story in its own right that I leave for him to tell, we overheard him asking a young woman whose copy of Spent he was signing, "Now, you DO know what this is about, don't you??"
But up until that point, I had no real conception of what exactly Joe was all about. Then we sat in on his panel, where he was given the opportunity to really explain his obsession, and essentially admit that the note he wrote me was about the only piece of fiction in the whole damn book. What was truly shocking to me, however, was how rational his argument about why this subject matter is perfect for the comics genre was.
Just as with every form of art, he argued, certain subjects lend themselves to certain forms of expression. Love, for instance, works perfectly with music. The theme of a road trip, he says, works great in movies. Comics too own certain categories, the most obvious of which would be superhero fiction. But, he said, if you're not going to do muscles and spandex, then what works exceptionally well is to "get inside the head of an individual obsessive over something, focus on the subject that interests them, and tell it through their point of view." In Matt's case, this was as simple as examining the thousands of hours of finely-edited pornography that he has amassed and edited throughout the years. By the way, if you're hoping to ever get a glimpse of his handiwork, think again. "Writing about it and seeing it are two different things," he said. "The reality of it is horrific."
But writing comics, Matt explained, is an extremely solitary activity. He spends about 80% of his waking hours alone, so it's not a difficult stretch to imagine how those two aspects of his personality might find some way to integrate. On a side noe, Matt remarkably must be the one porn obsessive in the world for whom the internet is not a porn box. He doesn't own a computer--he uses one at a local library. He doesn't even have porn DVDs. "I have tapes," he says. But in a moment of sheer hilarity, it was suggested that Matt might have been able to finish Spent quicker had he not spent so much time with those tapes. He defended, "Maus to me is the absolute epitome of comics perfection, and that took a long time to complete...not that I'm comparing this with Maus..."
In reality, since he moved to Los Angeles in 2004 to work on a live-action version of his Peepshow book The Poor Bastard for HBO (which sadly fell through, though in his words, "I don't want to be in TV--I just want the fuckin' money.") his porn habit has actually increased--he is, after all, living in the smut capital of the U.S. His first year in L.A., he says, he dubbed about 20 nine-hour tapes, though he's recently cut back. This, of course, begged the following dialogue between Matt and and audience member:
--Did you ever run into any of your favorite porn stars when you were in L.A.?
--Well was it awkwa--
This revelation, along with Matt's recent foray into meditation, yet another failed relationship as well as his general experiences hob-nobbing with the Los Angeles elite are all storylines he plans on addressing in his next graphic novel, which he hopes to complete within the next two to three years--though admittedly he's only taking notes at this stage, and he refuses to be held to that timeline. But he did say that he plans on being less meticulous with the artwork for this book, which should speed the process up. "The lettering will be perfect, though," he said, and by way of assurance added, "The two motivating factors for me are misery and pain. And my last break-up was so painful that it makes me want to work." Well, here's wishing Joe Matt all the pain and misery imaginable, because his loss is most certainly our gain. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch some porn.