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Artist Interview – RICK TREMBLES

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Before there was Harry Knowles, before thousands of bloggers were clogging the web with opinions, there was Rick Trembles with his unique take on film review. I first came across his art more than 15 years ago, while I was a video clerk at Vulcan Video in Austin, TX – and now that I run this little blog I thought I’d seek him out for an interview, which he graciously agreed to grant. To those familiar with his work this interview will serve as a recap, but to the uninitiated I hope it’ll be an eye opener, so you can search out more of his awesome art.

How would you describe your work? I draw a weekly movie review/preview comic-strip/column hybrid.

How’d you start doing what you do? What was the first movie you ever drew? I was getting my more experimental post-underground comix published in various punk & post-punk zines in the 70’s & early 80’s, and when Montreal’s first alternative weekly The Montreal Mirror was being put together they remembered that stuff & asked if I’d be into contributing. Tobe Hooper’s outer space vampire flick Lifeforce was my first review.

When you’re watching a movie, do you start imagining your response during the viewing or after? What’s your process? I take notes as I’m watching, mostly to jog my memory later when I’m writing and have to keep proper track of the chronology of events from the film. Also to retain juicy quotes. For some reason I usually come up with my initial ideas on how I’m gonna tackle the whole strip while I’m in the shower before getting down to work. Maybe there’s a connection there with why people like to sing in the shower so much. I figure it’s because the water drowns out any bum notes making you think you’re sounding better than you actually do. So probably the same goes for brainstorming.

What’s it take for a movie to inspire a drawing? Does every film you watch get a response or just a select few? I often have no choice, whether I’m inspired or not, because I have to meet my deadline. If a film inspires nothing in me, then sometimes I’ll just come up with a ridiculous non sequitur review so I can at least have some fun with it. If a film is really horrible and I’d rather not mouth off about how bad it is, like if it’s some kinda zero-budget DIY thing that had to have been painful to complete, and the last thing the filmmakers need is to get dissed (especially if I actually know them personally), then I’ll choose another film at the last minute to do instead. If it’s bad, billion-dollar H’wood crap though, then I have no problem calling it what it is.

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What emotional reaction makes the best fuel for your drawings? Do you prefer writing about movies you like or dislike? Disliking can be fun, especially, like I said, when it’s ridiculously wasteful garbage from tinsel-town made for enough money to feed a small country. Poking fun at it helps let off steam. Liking can be fun too, but then it’s harder work because I get obsessed and overwrite, and that means more time-consuming editing when I’m transcribing it into a comic. I only have so much space to work with and it can get pretty cramped.

Has the strip changed at all since you first started drawing it? Do you still feel as moved by the movies you review as you used to? The very first reviews weren’t even called Motion Picture Purgatory yet; they were just single gag panels with the title of the movie on top & cartoon drawings with a buncha text. My drawing style changed a lot in the 25 years I’ve been doing it. It’s more streamlined now. I draw tinier & the cartoon characters look more like hieroglyphics so I can fit in more words. It’s probably gonna make me go blind. I’ve had to start wearing bifocals since drawing this thing. And now I have to use a magnifying glass lamp for the inking process. Feeling moved depends on the movie. If a movie moves me, I can still get moved about trying to convince people how moving the movie is.

Do you have a favorite type of movie to draw? A favorite director? Directors change. Cronenberg’s early stuff had a giant impact on me but now he seems to be doing Harlequin Romances. John Waters too, but some of his more recent stuff doesn’t seem to have as sharp a bite. Thing is, even if a recent film of theirs might not be as groundbreaking as their older stuff from start to finish, there’s always at least one spark of brilliance lurking somewhere in it that’ll stand out and make it worthwhile, so I tend to trudge through no matter what. I’m pretty loyal. It’s tricky to stay consistent and grow at the same time. The Kuchar Bros have been at it since the 50’s and have managed to do it though, and thankfully their body of work is so gigantic it’ll take me ages before I see everything they’ve ever done. Graphically, I like it when the bulk of a picture takes place in one building so I can draw an x-ray vision cutaway of it and show the key people interacting inside like a stage-play.

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How long does it take you – on average – to complete a piece? Have there been certain movies you remember wrestling with more than others? Takes me a whole day and wipes me out. When I spread it out 2 days my brain hurts less. If it’s something special or difficult that I really wanna yammer about, I go outta my way to do it in 2 days, separating the writing & drawing. I like to have a night to sleep on the writing so I can read it over again with fresh eyes the next day. They turn out better that way, when I’m not being rushed. But most of the time I have no choice but to do it all in one day.

How do you differ from most critics or movie reviewers (besides the obvious fact that you draw)? I don’t generally like movie critics unless they’re serious academics or infuse a personal touch into their writing with all their own quirks and peccadilloes. Most critics sound so similar to me they’re interchangeable, lazily wallowing in publicists’ hype from film companies. Hip tastemakers can be really annoying in their predictability. Eccentric, passionate, obsessive, controversial rants cut through best for me. Audiences who’d rather read capsule comments use film criticism as a consumer guide and nothing else, but what can you do? You can’t force-feed them convoluted points of view when all they wanna know is how best to kill a few hours in a movie theatre. It comes down to what people actually want out of the movies. Most not only want escapism inside their films but consider the whole film-going process as escapism in itself. But I can be like that sometimes too so I’m not gonna knock it.

Are you aware of public reaction to the films you review as you begin your review, and does it in any way color your response? I sometimes check other generic reviews just to get a refresher on the film’s synopsis before I work. Also, I like to read at least one extremely bad review and one extremely rave review to see what the polar opposites are.

What are your thoughts on the state of Hollywood & the movies coming out of it today? Crappy.

Are you a fan of the 3D format? Yes. I like a good gimmick.

Do you think CGI has hurt the craftsmanship of genre filmmaking? The process bores me to tears but they’re doing some mind-blowing stuff.

Have you ever revisited a piece? Changed your mind about a movie & redrawn it? Nope. It’s written and drawn in stone. Ghost World I kinda regret because that movie hit a nerve with me. It gave me an overload and I burned myself out trying to figure how to write about it, so out of exasperation I ended up doing something non sequitur, which backfired. I wouldn’t mind revisiting that one, but I wouldn’t do away with my old review because it captures how I initially felt about it, no matter how mixed up. Videodrome I’d like to do multiple strips with because it’s one of my fave horror flicks ever and I find there’s endless stuff to say about it. My review for that one only isolated one of the many sequences I liked in it. I should cartoonicize every sequence in the film.

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You ever get in trouble because of your work? Death threats once. Some hate mail.

You seem to like movies that provoke & push boundaries… Do you think this should be an agenda of film? Yes.

Every so often your comic strip contains biographical vignettes from your life. Ever regret sharing? Nope.

Without your comic strip I would’ve never sought out movies such as Death Bed, Lemora, Ace in the Hole, Valerie & her Week of Wonders, or Thundercrack! Who’s going to carry on the tradition of sifting through the mainstream clutter to find diamonds in the rough for like-minded adventurers? Well even I had to somehow find them to begin with, and often they were recommended to me by fellow enthusiasts, so you’ll just have to hang with the right peeps. Spread the love.

How do you think movie-going will change, given the changing landscape of distribution and home video? Everything’s already on YouTube & Bit Torrents. It’s kind of over already. That’s why all the recent gimmicks like 3D. They’re trying to make movies you can only see in a theatre instead of your laptop.

Do you give the Trembles treatment to other forms of media? I wanted to start doing horror video game reviews back when I was getting into Resident Evil, Fatal Frame, Silent Hill, Shadow of the Colossus, etc, but I had no venue for it, and I’d need to get paid properly for that because they’re way longer and more multilayered than the average movie, so it’d be more work. I was also toying with the idea of criticizing TV ads using the same comix technique. Ads just come and go so quick, and some are so preposterous I thought they should be immortalized. Because when most current TV ads are gone, they’re really gone forever, from our collective memories as well as the boob tube. I even pitched that idea to The Montreal Mirror but they thought it might be too esoteric, or the shelf-life on these ads might be so brief that by the time the strips came out, already nobody would know what the hell I was talking about anymore.

Do you still play music? How would you characterize your art beyond the sphere of movie reviews? I’ve been playing guitar & singing as long as I’ve been cartooning. I’m still in my post-punk band The American Devices (founded in 1980). I often draw comix about the band and sometimes even sing about the comix I’ve drawn about the band about the comix. And then I make animated movies about that. It’s all one big meta-muddle.

How can I (or other filmmakers out there) get my movie drawn by you? Send me a screener.

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Check out Rick’s website, http://snubdom.com, and buy Motion Picture Purgatory Volumes 1 & 2 here and here.

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