February 24, 2014

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Rob Kirby Interviews Cody Pickrodt

The Cover to Cody Pickrodt's Reptile Museum 3

Cody Pickrodt is the author and artist behind the well-received new comics series Reptile Museum, which made its debut in 2012 under Pickrodt's own Ray Ray imprint. Pickrodt has made it clear that he intends an extensive run for the series, and he unfolds the action at an intriguingly deliberate pace, featuring characters who reveal more and more of themselves as the tale unfolds. 

Below, he expounds upon some of the deeper implications of the story, revealing a thoughtful, serious approach to the dystopian themes that drive the narrative. Reptile Museum also features many action-packed moments, with especially beautifully rendered fight scenes, so RobK thoroughly recommends that you check this series out. Pickrodt has recently branched out and published two new titles that I highly suggest you nab as well: the delicate personal musings of Flowering Vine by Laura Knetzger (known for her Bug Boys series) and the surreal, groovily Lynda Barry-esque Club Queen Rat King by Philadelphia-based artist, Emma Louthan. I threw a bunch of emailed questions at Cody last week.

Rob Kirby: Tell me about how you got into comics.
A page from Pickrodt's Reptile Museum.
Cody Pickrodt: I've been drawing comics since I could remember. My first paying gig was a story in a Ninja High School Annual when I was teenager in the late 90s. So, I guess that was my big break.

Kirby: What/Who do you identify as influences?
Pickrodt: Martial Arts, Pre-Columbian Era, Genghis Khan, Science, Magic, Transcendentalism, War, Self-Sustainability, Honor, the Wild, Survivalism.

As for artistic influences: Kurt Vonnegut, Stanley Kubrick, Hayao Miyazaki, Hal Foster, Frank Frazetta's pen and ink work, Ludovic Debeurme.

Kirby: Do you see Self Publishing as correlating to Self-Sustainability, as above? You know, as an extension of DIY?
Pickrodt: I never made that connection before, but I see a correlation.

Kirby: How do your influences and background manifest themselves in Reptile Museum?

Pickrodt: I'm terrified of the future. The scenarios that occur in my work are my way of coping with that.

Kirby: What specifically about the future is terrifying to you? Or is it more a general, all-encompassing existential dread? 

Pickrodt: I am not particularly seized by any existential dread. Terrified is a strong word. Rather, I should say I am concerned for the future. Those concerns are conventional, such as the management of resources, income inequality, and economic collapse. Change is inevitable. Conflict and change go hand-in-hand. How people react to this is the x-factor, the true unknown. I am a student of history, and I am engaged in what's happening in the world around me. I feel this maybe offers me a chance to make adequate choices regarding the future. As for other people, I can't say. To me that's scary.

Another page from Reptile Museum.
Notwithstanding the unpredictability of human beings, what I've learned by and large is that resources dictate the norm of behavior. Sustainability is an issue for me, and a hard one to face considering I live and work in New York City. Everyday, I see tons and tons of garbage. And for what? To feed the engine of the city. It can't last forever. Nothing does.

As a counterpoint, innovation has always shown itself to be the single most influential factor in the quality of our lives as a society. These are things like fire, the wheel, plumbing, penicilin, locomotives, the Haber-Bosch process. Now we have electricity, cars, viagra, computers, the internet, GMOs. Soon enough the mapping of the human genome will be complete, and genetics will have its spotlight. This is another concern of mine.

Do your remember Dolly the cloned sheep? Do you recall the cell degradation she experienced that resulted in rapid aging? What sort of effect would that have on society if Dolly were a human and had escaped into the population? There are repercussions to the benefits technology has to offer us. I mentioned the Haber-Bosch process. Had Fritz Haber not figured out the means to synthesize ammonia for fertilizer, effectively ending world hunger, would we have the massive population we do today? Or the nitrogen for explosives? Or Zyklon B for that matter?

What's more, modern invention would not have been possible if not for our abundant resources, specifically fossil fuels. What's life going to be like when a non-renewable resource like that is all gone?

The future can be scary. Dread is a form of fear, and no matter how existential, it elicits a fight-or-flight response. I can bury my head in the sand, and refuse to think about all this, live in the present tense--flight. Or I may choose to educate myself on these matters, formulate a judgment and conceive of actions, which just so happen to manifest as plot for Reptile Museum--FIGHT.

Kirby: That really adds some extra dimension to Reptile Museum. Do you think of it as being primarily genre work? Why or why not?
Pickrodt: If it were genre work, you might call it Post-Apocalyptic, or at the very least, Post-Post-Apocalyptic since the events that occur in my book take place centuries after anything that might be construed as Post-Apocalyptic. That being said, I'd prefer to think of Reptile Museum in more genre-bending sense since the typical science fiction fetishes aren't at the forefront. Primarily, I'm exploring themes common to Bildungsroman, which has compelled Reptile Museum to read as a long-form narrative--serialized and ongoing. I can't think of many independent comics today (with the exception of Michel Fiffe's Copra) that follow that model.

Kirby: Tell me about Ray Ray Books. What made you decide to launch a micro-press?
A page from Laura Knetzger's Flowering Vine
Pickrodt: Due to the serialized nature of Reptile Museum, no publisher would print Reptile Museum. So I sold my boots and started publishing myself. Thus in 2012, Ray Ray Books was formed.

There is so much invention happening in comics right now, and a lot of it doesn't see print due to trends and the bottom line. With the success of other micro-presses like Oily and Retrofit, it was evident that a micro-press was a viable option to establish new ideas and new artists. That's when I set out actively to recruit talent that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

How did you pick your first two Ray Ray artists, Laura Knetzger and Emma Louthan?
Pickrodt: I met Laura at a Desert Island book launch event. I was curating a comics column for a literature blog called Artfaccia at the time and was on the lookout for new artists to spotlight. She literally thrust a handful of comics at me. It was her signature work Bug Boys. Once I read it, I was hooked. Bug Boys is an all ages comic, and although possessing a sensitivity that is whimsical, there is also a seriousness, which hints at something deeper. I urged Laura to explore more mature themes, more personal themes. What she brought to me was Flowering Vine.

A page from Emma Louthan's Queen Club Rat King.
Emma is a Philadelphia artist. I met her through Pat Aulisio at the final BCGF. She told me she was just starting out in comics. After web-stalking her work online, it was apparent she had talent. There was a raw hysterical quality about her work that attracted me. Emma sought guidance often during the editing process for her book Club Queen Rat King. I advised her in the way of crafting, but essentially left all the artistic decisions to her.

The results for both these artists speak for themselves.

Kirby: Okay, burning question regarding tabling/selling at comic cons & book fairs. Do you enjoy this or do you not?

Pickrodt: It's always great to meet fans of the books. I enjoy traveling and meeting new people. I don't particularly enjoy standing in one place all day.

Kirby: What's up next for you, for Reptile Museum and Ray Ray Books?

Pickrodt: Reptile Museum Volume 1 will be wrapping up this year. Volume 2 begins this Summer/Fall. My ongoing study Men With Whom I Share the Same Height returns - it's exactly what it sounds like. There are new books coming from Jensine Eckwall, Ohara Hale and more to be announced. Special subscriptions will also be coming soon. Check the website for news.

Kirby: Thanks again for your time, Cody! We look forward to reading more from you and Ray Ray as a publishing group.

Rob M. adds: Look for some Ray Ray comic reviews as soon as a certain party (me!) isn't apartment-hunting in the Portland area!