Interview with outsider artist/cartoonist Pat Moriarity -- the problem solving, a kind of crazy cartoon art

"Change from War economy to Peace economy. Get rid of war, altogether."

Pat Moriarity: Creative Problem Solving

Pat Moriarity started out as a punk rock artist in the mid-1980′s music scene of Minneapolis, working for Twin/Tone records, doing things like paste up, poster design and cartoons for acts like CURTISS A, THE REPLACEMENTS, MEKONS, MAGNOLIAS, FAT TUESDAY, SWINGIN’ TEENS and SOUL ASYLUM. He got his start in sequential art in 1987 when Fantagraphics published his first attempt at comics in GRAPHIC STORY MONTHLY, a story called POPCORN PIMPS. In 1988 He won first prize out of 300 entries in the Twin Cities Reader’s First annual cartoon contest. He went on to appear in anthologies like ZERO ZERO, REAL STUFF, PICTOPIA, TOP SHELF, Aleksandar Zograf’s FLOCK OF DREAMERS, DUPLEX PLANET and AESOP’s FABLES before getting his own comic book title, the Harvey Award nominated BIG MOUTH, in 1993. In BIG MOUTH, Pat collaborated with people who wrote stories for him, like Harvey Pekar, Robert Crumb, Mary Fleener, Dennis Eichhorn and Burne Hogarth.

He eventually moved from Minneapolis to Seattle in 1991 and became an art director for Fantagraphics, and later for THE COMICS JOURNAL. In 1996, Pat was honored as ROLLING STONE Magazine’s “hot cartoonist”. This event practically launched his freelance career as a cartoonist and illustrator for clients like Nickelodeon, Crustacean Records, Red Decibel, Subpop, the Stranger, Details, Seattle Weekly and CMJ. In 1997, two of his cover designs received certificates of excellence from PRINT MAGAZINE. Eventually Moriarity got enough nerve to quit his day job at Fantagraphics and try full-time illustration. Moriarity saw his work appear in places like National Geographic Kids, Estrus Records, Columbia Records, Chrysler Magazine, Sasquatch Books, Washington Law & Politics, and THE BEST OF LCD: The art and writing of WFMU. Soon, the Seattle music paper THE ROCKET, asked him to  do a weekly comic strip, called LOOP-DE-LOOP, that ran until the paper’s very last issue. Moriarity was featured in the documentary HOOKED ON COMIX. In 2002 he won the prestigious, merit based GAP fellowship award from the Washington State Arts Commission and the Artist Trust Organization. In 2004, Pat was an Illustration finalist and later a juror, for the SOCIETY OF ILLUSTRATORS of New York City. Pat created three minutes of animation in the award winning 2006 documentary DERAILROADED, that was featured on Robert Redford’s SUNDANCE channel. In 2008 Moriarity was the winner of the coveted GOLDEN TOONIE, making him “cartoonist of the year” for the organization known as CARTOONISTS NORTHWEST. In 2010, Fifteen of his posters were featured on the set of Showtime’s TV show WEEDS, in a scene taking place in Seattle. He currently lives and works from home in Port Orchard, Washington, contributing to MINESHAFT MAGAZINE, PUCK!, ARTIST ACID TEST, TYPHON and SUSPECT DEVICE. As an adjunct faculty member, Pat Moriarity occasionally teaches character design, storyboarding and comics at the Art Institute of Seattle.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos & Artwork © by Pat Moriarity Archive

How would you characterize the philosophy of Pat Moriarity’s artwork?

Well, it’s not exactly “art for the sake of art”. It’s more like “art for the sake of problem solving”. Creative problem solving. I like my art to have purpose. It’s a book cover. It’s a sticker. It’s a record sleeve. It’s a comic book story. It’s a logo. It’s a poster. It’s FOR something, it has a job. Usually the solution is some kind of crazy cartoon art.

What experiences in life have triggered your ideas most frequently?

Deadlines

What has been the relationship between music & literature in your life and art?

I do lots of music related projects- LP covers, CD covers, event posters, jpegs, and flyers. I also do comics here and there, and of course there’s the writing component to that. They usually start out as prose stories, just like you’d read as literature in a book of short stories. Then from there it’s a challenge to break it down into bite size chunks, into pieces of story, in a logical sequence of visuals with words.

How do music and literature affect your inspiration?

I almost always listen to the demo recordings of the album I’m designing. I doodle as I listen, and often as the art develops, it ends up smelling like the music. You can kind of tell, you can see a relationship. As far as literature, I need to be inspired by a story before I’m inclined to draw it. In the past I’ve illustrated substandard stories just to please someone, and I’ve learned not to do that.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

People I’ve met in person, who’ve had an influence on me? When working at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, I was a museum guard. I’ve had some inspiring conversations with great artists showing work or performing there. Four that come to mind- Claus Oldenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Gehry….Dennis Hopper. Artists I’ve met that have actually taught me art concepts or techniques by working or collaborating with me directly- Kim Deitch, Robert Crumb, Shary Flenniken, Aleksandar Zograf and writers Harvey Pekar and Dennis Eichhorn.

What is the best advice ever given you?

I’ve had to learn most everything the hard way. I did not take much advice when I was young, but now I give advice. Ha ha

What are your hopes and fears for the future of art?

HOPES:

1. That art making becomes more commonplace, and less academic and snobby.

2. That artists are embraced and valued more for their efforts, so that creativity is a valid way of life.

3. That art is utilized more in problem solving of all kinds.

4. That artists find more and more areas in life to apply artistic solutions, and that more and more opportunities for creativity arise.

FEARS:

1. That the attitude, and the current pattern of not paying artists and other creative types will get worse.

2. That art and music will only be something the wealthy can afford to do, as a creative endeavor.

3. That people will shy away from expressing themselves for fear of mass surveillance, judgment or punishment.

What do you miss most nowadays from the art of the past?

Until recently, it was a given that the artist would sell original art. My students all seem to want to avoid pencils and paper altogether, and jump straight to technology. Even sketches require work on a cintiq tablet or use of a computer program. The result is that there is no longer original art to sell, it’s just a digital print that can be reproduced. I think this will change the way we see art, but I’m not sure exactly how. I miss the days when you didn’t necessarily need electricity, just to draw a friggin’ picture. Ha ha

What has made you laugh lately?

Facebook. It cracks me up to see people getting all worked up about their opinions, no matter how dumb the topic, like who is the best late night talk show host. Feathers fly! Folks will say incredibly rude things online that they would never say in person to someone’s face. There’s something empowering about the safety of being at home, I guess. Also, people reveal things about themselves that they are not aware of, like the level of their literacy, or lack thereof. Ha ha!

What has touched you (emotionally) from the nowadays comic artists?

The nowadays comics artists? I am still one myself. Ha ha! I plan to be one for a while yet. That said, I’m gratified by small press events like SHORT RUN (in Seattle) and ZINE MACHINE (Durham, North Carolina) where younger artists are still interested in the print medium, instead of just web comics. I was worried that the printed comics and zines would go away, because of the internet but I was wrong. It’s good to see the younger cartoonists peddling their self created and published works.

What do you learn about yourself from the underground culture and what does Counterculture mean to you?

I’ve always warmed up to punk rock. I have a soft spot for hardcore. And underground comics. I think I’ve always identified with being sort of an outsider, so I was attracted to stuff like that. What did I learn? I’ve learned that there are other outsiders, that I like them too, and it’s a good thing to be an individual. Being normal, a little TOO well adjusted, can sometimes be uninteresting. Character flaws can help. I’ve always been drawn towards people who are not quite normal somehow. Ha ha! I like eccentrics. Maybe it’s because I’m a boring Midwestern farm boy trying to escape. What exactly IS counterculture and underground anyway? It’s a moving target. You can’t always find it, because it’s always in opposition to mainstream society’s popular culture, whatever it happens to be at the moment. And by definition “underground” means only a few know about it, so modern counterculture is hard to find or keep up with. Everything that was considered underground in my teen years and college years? That’s all mainstream now. Everyone knows about the Ramones and Devo, they’re giants, but I was considered a weirdo for listening to that stuff on 8 track tapes in 1977. They called that strange counterculture music “new wave”. The new counterculture of 2015 is off my radar, because I’m not paying enough attention. I’m in my own little world, still reading Crumb’s latest comics and listening to Devo’s newest record. Well, I do get to hear new artists, from record labels when I do art for them. Look for BANDA DE LA MUERTE from Argentina, or MYTHOLOGICAL HORSES from Alaska.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of counterculture comix of 60s with the new generation of artists?

It’s all a blur- ZAP, ARCADE, RAW, WEIRDO, ZERO ZERO, BLAB, … and now MINESHAFT. A lot of the underground artists from the 60’s and 70’s are still contributing to MINESHAFT magazine- Crumb, Art Spiegleman, Bill Griffith, Kim Deitch, Mary Fleener, Jay Lynch, and even Justin Green. At 53, I’m one of the younger contributors to Mineshaft. My comics work appeared in comics like ZERO ZERO, GRAPHIC STORY MONTHLY, PICTOPIA, REAL STUFF, BIG MOUTH, ARTIST ACID TEST, PUCK, etc. I started contributing to MINESHAFT at issue 23. (Photo: Pat, Crabb, Poplaski & Crumb)

If you could change one thing in the world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Change from War economy to Peace economy. Get rid of war, altogether.

How you would spend a day with Ramones?

Being bored with nuthin to do. Maybe eat some refried beans. No glue sniffin.

What would you say to Babyface? 

In the 1990’s Babyface got into the movie biz with Edmonds Entertainment Group, and produced the film JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS in 2001. I have never seen the movie, but recently I’ve read that there are a lot of serious political statements in what seems like a silly mainstream movie. Supposedly the movie hints at an actual dark side of the music business, an underworld…. The film is said to be pulling the curtain back to show a system of media control in general. All this deep philosophical stuff, allegedly hidden in what appears to be a dumb cartoon based movie adaptation. I’d like to talk to Babyface about what he thinks about it, this old movie getting that reputation. Then, after I hear what he says, I’ll decide whether I’m interested enough to actually watch the movie myself. I can’t get past the trailer.

What would you like to ask Bukowski?

In the last few years of his life, he was letting me draw comics out of some of his writings, a handful of poems he provided to Dennis Eichhorn, another writer. I would send Buk a check in the mail for twenty five dollars, one for every poem I drew, and then he would cash it. I would get the endorsed check, so I knew he approved. That was it. He saw the first few published comics pages, but not all of them. I always wondered what he would have to say about the comics I drew that he did not live to see in print. Since he was going through health problems, I’m sure my comics adaptations were not the first thing on his mind at the time.

Where would you really wanna go via a time machine and what memorabilia (books, records) would you put in?

If I were to go way back in time, I’d want to bring books about how to build a record player, so I could blow people away with music by the Clash, Meat Puppets, Dead Moon and Elliot Smith. Plus, just the very act of me providing the technology of the record player would make me a god. Ha ha! And I would have the only records! I guess I also would want to bring books about recording.

I’d probably also pick a bunch of books I haven’t read or seen yet, instead of taking stuff I’ve already absorbed. Probably art books by Basil Wolverton, Chris Mars, Jim Woodring. But I’d take Crumb’s Book Of Genesis with me, just to mess with people.

Now, when in time would I travel?...I don’t know, was there EVER a good time to be on Earth? I guess I like being here now. OK, maybe I’d go back to 1963, and take a crack at preventing the assassination of President Kennedy. I could yell “Duck down!” or “Your shoe’s untied!” He’d bend down, the shot would miss him, and history would be changed forever.

Pat Moriarity - official website

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