guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

June 2009

Interview with Chris Reilly

By Chris Reilly

It has been said by better men than I that I am officially the worst interviewer ever. And while I would like to imagine that this is a gross understatement, I did receive weeks’ worth of hate mail after my last interview (Harvey Pekar, on stage on front of what turned out to be hundreds of psychopaths). So, when our dear friend of the gutter, Chris Reilly, invited us to interview him about his new anthology/jam comic, Strange Eggs Jumps the Shark, we decided that rather than let me unleash yet another round of letterbombs and anthrax mail, we would ask Chris to handle both sides of the interview table. The new Strange Eggs volume feature contributions from, well, Chris Reilly, of course--but also from Jhonen Vasquez, Steve Ahlquist, and a range of other contributor whose names, strangely, do not contain unlikely combinations of consonants in close proximity. It is also very, very funny and is being released from SLG this week. But before I go and mess it all up again, let’s turn it over to our guest interview and interviewee, Chris Reilly.

CPR: How did the original concept for Strange Eggs come about?

CPR: I actually am a big fan of Michael Kupperman and Eric Reynolds from Fantagraphics just sent me a copy of the HC Tales Designated to Thrizzle Vol. one and I would like to conduct this interview by commenting on the quotes of this book – would that be cool?

CPR: Sure, I guess, why not.

“Kupperman writes a hysterically funny comic book.” -- Andy Richter

CPR: I love Andy Richter and wish FOX would stop cancelling his shows. The fact that his show “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” was so short lived was a crime. It was like Family Guy, but for smart people. I think Andy would love Strange Eggs Jumps the Shark.

“Folks, this is the funniest thing since Monty Python. I mean it. Every page is a catch phrase waiting to happen.” -- Heidi Macdonald, Publishers Weekly

CPR: Heidi grabbed a great URL name… hope she liked Strange Eggs Jumps The Shark.

“Seriously go buy this. Not only is it hysterical, it’s a major influence in my comedy.” – Graham Linheam

CPR: Hell, he wrote episodes of Alias Smith and Jones; I hope he liked Strange Eggs Jumps The Shark, because I love his work.

“Comedy crack cocaine for Silver age comic fans with a sweet tooth for pulpy subject matter and dirty jokes. Dumb jokes for intelligent people have never made anyone laugh louder” --Wizard

CPR: I don’t think this guy actually read the book. Wizard seems to have just cobbled together a bunch of blurb worthy words. I did not send them a copy of Strange Eggs Jumps the Shark.

CPR: Could you please answer some questions about the book?

CPR: Fine.

CPR: Where did the concept come from?

CPR: Eggs.

CPR: Would you be serious for just one second!

CPR: Fine.

CPR: The concept for strange eggs came from…

CPR: Strange Eggs’ co-creator and good friend Steve Ahalquist’s came over my house with the idea just about fully formed. His Wife Kathy, a real sweet chick, runs a daycare and does a lot of real creative stuff with the kids to keep their minds stimulated and encourage creativity. On this day, she told the kids to lie on the floor, curl into balls and pretend they were eggs.

CPR: That’s weird.

CPR: Not really; let me finish the story. She then told the kids to unfold; hatch and asked them what they’d hatched into and to her surprise most of them were not birds or reptiles, they were things like trucks, Winnie-The-Pooh books and wrenches.
Steve told me the story and said we should make a comic out of it.

CPR: Kids in his wife’s care pretending to hatch into wrenches?

CPR: No, kids that were delivered eggs that could hatch into anything. Things like insane puppets, flying saucers, robots, hobos, aliens or operas.

CPR: Were they always the same kids?

CPR: Yes, twin brother and sister, Kip and Kelly Hatcher. Originally Steve wanted Kip to be a scientist and Kelly to be a dreamer, but I convinced him that Boy genius had been done to death, so let’s have Kelly be the scientist, married to logic and Kip the dreamer who just lived in his head.

CPR: I read Strange Eggs Presents the Boxing Bucket and Strange Eggs Jumps the Shark and I don’t remember a lick of that characterization.

CPR: You had to read the third book which was a graphic novel called The Weirdly World of Strange Eggs. That’s basically Strange Eggs the movie, which was recently optioned as a film. Not the Graphic novel, but the cast and concept.

CPR: You did a fucking all ages GN based on a book as sick and twisted as Strange Eggs.

CPR: Yeah, but if it makes you feel any better it didn’t quite work as an all ages book; little kids loved it and adults were indifferent. Lesson learned.

CPR: What Lesson?

CPR: Never target an audience.

CPR: Okay, enough about the history of Strange Eggs, let’s talk about Jumps the Shark.

CPR: Whatever, man, it’s your interview.

CPR: Why “jump the shark”?
CPR: Jumping the shark means a lot to me. As most know that’s when Fonzie jumped a shark tank on Happy Days and this, for me, was a bad thing. It was broadcast on September 20, 1977. In the third of the three parts of the "Hollywood" episode, Fonzie (Henry Winkler), wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket and boots, jumps over a confined shark while water skiing. This was particularly ironic, in that Fonzie, famous for being a biker, had previously jumped his motorcycle for a publicity stunt, over 14 garbage cans—but was severely injured in the process, and very remorseful for his actions; he then learned a valuable lesson, and delivered a moral message, that taking foolish risks "isn't cool" (a clearly role-model message against popular 1970s trends of youths imitating daredevil stuntmen like Evel Knievel or Ernie Devlin). In contrast, Fonzie's later decision to take an even greater risk on water skis "to prove a point" came across as absurd in many ways (particularly since the "motorcycle jump" episode was a major point in Fonzie's character development).

The infamous scene was seen by many as betraying Happy Days' 1950s setting and its earlier character development by cashing in on the 1970s fads of Evel Knievel and Jaws. I saw Ron Howard on Bill Maher and he said the cast and crew just stood there in horror, looking at Winkler in his boots and leather jacket preparing the stunt and they were all just saying “I can’t believe they are actually going through with this – he’s really going to jump the shark.” They managed to make Fonzie look un-cool and that is quite an achievement.
Even odder was that the episode before this three parter was entitled “Fonzie's baptism” were after nearly being killed in a stock car race crash, the Fonz questions his own mortality, leading him to decide to be baptized. I guess God was going to protect him from Jaws at this point. So religion plays a factor in the origins of Fonzie's Jump the Shark, as it does in our book.

CPR: Based on Jump the Shark, you seem to have a real problem with religion. Is that an accurate statement?

CPR: Absolutely not. I have a problem with organized religion. If someone believes in God, Zeus, Ganesh or scientology and it makes them happy, I have no problem with that. It is when it becomes organized it becomes, in most cases, a group of psychological terrorists no better than a common street gang. And they probably steal more.

CPR: Most of the stories in Jumps the Shark are pretty vicious towards religion. Would it be a safe bet to say that all of the contributors are atheists?

CPR: No, not really. I am an atheist, and I find atheists to be about as annoying as Jehovah’s witnesses that knock on your door and wake you up on Sunday morning, unless I’m drunk and then I let them in. Pushing atheism down people's throats is as obnoxious as people trying to cram god up your ass in polite conversation. So, I don’t know what people’s beliefs are that contributed to the book, because I never asked. I know Steve (Ahlquist) is an agnostic. I have no idea what Ben Towle's beliefs are. Actually, I do know that Dave Ray is a Catholic because he once mentioned to me that he was fasting for lent.

CPR: Do you consider Strange Eggs an attack on Christianity?

CPR: No, I think of it as if Harvey Kurtzman had done an issue of MAD in the 50’s and the subject was religion. It is parody. Do I consider it an attack on stupid people? Yes, absolutely. Thomas Jefferson said this in regard to religion: “Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.”

CPR: Any final words.

CPR: I loved the new Star Trek Movie.