Interview by Chris Auman
Creator of such delightful & memorable characters as Mickey Pimple, Muktuk Wolf'sbreath, as well as the much loved Unsupervised Existence, CUD, and Eno & Plum comic book series, political cartoonist, co-creator of the syndicated comic strip, Edge City, husband, father, and a man who certainly deserves a better introduction than this one, ladies and gentlemen, Terry Laban (wild applause)
RW: So . . . you've apparently survived another winter in Chicago? How?
TL: I spend all my time in the basement. Who knows from winter?
RW: You've proclaimed your love for this city in comic format, do you still feel the same way?
TL: Well, sure. Though it was more fun when I was a young hipster in Andersonville, as opposed to a middle-aged father of two in West Rogers Park.
RW: Do you find that being locked up by Mother Nature for three to four months every year is productive for you?
TL: Actually, I'm locked up twelve months of every year. I haven't dealt with Mother Nature since 1995.
RW: What brought you to Chicago in the first place?
TL: I was booted out of my political cartoonist job in Ann Arbor and my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Patty, decided to go to social work school at U of C. Since at that point I wanted to both stay with Patty and move to a big city, it worked out well.
RW: Things have come full circle for you in the sense that you're doing political cartoons now which is how you started out in Ann Arbor many, many years ago.
TL: Actually, I've been doing political cartoons on and off my whole career. I was doing them for In These Times in the early '90s. In '92 they decided not to do it anymore, and then in '98 they asked me to do them again. I also do them for a little paper called The Wednesday Journal that's distributed in the Loop—purely local stuff.
RW: And the Republicans are back! That was nice of them. Is George W. providing you with enough quality material to work with? Do you think people are still going easy on him, what with the war and all?
TL: Eh, y'know, the problem with Bush is that he's kind of one-dimensional, always saying and doing pretty much the same stuff. How many cartoons can you do pointing out Bush is stupid; he's actually controlled by Cheney; he only cares about the rich, etc., etc.? Clinton was much more cartoonable. And sure, I think people are still going pretty easy on him, though not as much as they were, and less on domestic issues than foreign ones. Republicans always get a pass though, don't they? Can you imagine what would've happened if Clinton had been flying around on Kevin Leigh's private plane? Jeez.
RW: I was surprised to learn from your Web site (LaBanarama.com) that you and your wife Patty do a daily comic strip. How did that idea germinate?
TL: Don't read the Sun Times much, do ya? Don't feel bad, I hardly ever meet anyone who does. Anyhow, the short answer is that we both realized that, as many family strips as there are out there, there wasn't one that really dealt with modern family life as we were experiencing it. We figured that was a good idea, so we did up a submission and sent it to King Features. I guess they agreed with us, 'cuz now we're syndicated!
RW: I really know nothing about syndicated comics, or about anything really, but is a daily strip the cash cow that comic artists secretly, or openly, dream of? I mean, in the sense that it gives you the freedom to work on other less lucrative projects or am I just completely off my nut?
TL: Well, compared to comic books, especially alternative ones, it's a cash cow, but it's a pretty scrawny one, at least so far. If you can get 100 papers or more, though, you can live at least as well as a union steelworker. Get a couple of hundred, and it's hello Wilmette! It's a lot of work, though. To tell you the truth, given how much my kids eat and how hard they are on their clothes, less lucrative projects are not much of a priority right now.
RW: CUD was your longest running comic book series which started with Fantagraphics but ended with Dark Horse. I've always been curious as to what caused the switch?
TL: I thought I'd get a better deal at Dark Horse, which was true, and that they'd sell more copies of my book than Fantagraphics, which was not. I actually think of those comics as two different series. They did have a lot in common, but if I could do it again I'd call the second one Eno and Plum. But it probably wouldn't have changed anything.
RW: I've always especially liked your shorter three to four page stuff like, "Muktuk Wolf'sbreath, Hard-boiled Shaman", "The Primitives,"—you obviously have some knowledge of creation myths and anthropology, history, etc., did you ever study such things?
TL: Not formally, and not as much as people usually assume. What I do know I mostly acquired from back issues of National Geographic and World Book Encyclopedia, and I made a good deal of the "WolfsBreath" stuff up. Credit must go, however, to the big "Northwest Coast and Eskimo Shaman' exhibit at the Field Museum. Check it out some time, if you haven't before. It's in back of all the Native American stuff on the first floor.
RW: You star in some of your own comics, "Class Action" for example is a pre-Boogie Nights comic, where the author (you) star in a porno and the author (you), it is discovered, has a jaw-droppingly large member. One that would put Dirk Digler (sp?) to shame. Is there a tiny bit of truth to this and is there a porn film out there that stars a young, hung, Terry LaBan?
TL: Sad to say, no. But if anyone wants to make a porn film with a forty-ish, averagely-endowed Terry LaBan, we can talk. Call me during the day on a Monday, 'cuz that's when my wife works.
RW: What are some of the things that you've done to support yourself and your Muse while you were a starving artist? Eno donated sperm. I believe the author again starred in a comic where he (you) donated sperm . . . actually let me just ask this, what are some menial jobs you've taken on to support yourself?
TL: I had a college friend who regularly donated sperm, but I never did. It's a pity, because I think I would've been good at it. The truth is, I've been incredibly fortunate in that I haven't had to do a lot of scut work. Aside from a couple brief stints shooting photostats in art departments, I've pretty much been able to float my boat doing cartoons and illustrations my whole adult life. Sometimes my boat didn't float too well, but I never had to bail. (That's enough of that metaphor, huh?) The closest I've really come to doing a job I hated long-term was doing caricatures at parties, which was a steady source of cash for me for something like ten years. Actually, it was the first way I made money drawing. It was kind of fun when I was young, but I really grew to despise it. You feel just like a trained monkey, doing your trick. Not to trivialize the experience of anyone who's ever endured such a thing, but after drawing forty or so drunken businesspeople at a corporate Christmas party, one after the other, I always went away feeling like I'd been gang-banged. I gave it up in '94, and never looked back.
RW: Are there any plans to do a full-length comic book in the future? An Emo & Plum, maybe, or an anthology?
TL: Dark Horse turned down a second Eno and Plum collection some years ago, and that was the end of that. I have no intentions of ever doing another full-length comic again. But I'd never say never.
RW: Plum is totally hot by the way, I mean, I know she's just a comic character and all but, she ain't no Olive Oyl, know what I'm sayin'?
TL: I'm glad you think so, since that was my intent. With all due respect to Elzie Segar, whom I regard as one of the two or three greatest cartoonists ever, I can't emphasize enough to budding cartoonists out there the importance of learning to draw cute girls. Do you want to read a comic with ugly girls in it? I don't.
RW: Let me mask my mindless male lust in the form of a pseudo intellectual question: What does it say about Plum that she puts up with a slouch like Eno, who is after all, an unwashed heathen and a slacker of the worst variety? I mean, I would understand if he was a "bad boy" but . . .
TL: Eno's a lazy jerk, but he's predictable. I guess Plum is happy with the devil she knows. To tell you the truth though, I think eventually either Eno would have to inherit a ton of money from a hitherto unknown great aunt or Plum would leave him for an entertainment lawyer who's really into rap.
RW: You once described your personal philosophy as being that of an optipess? That combination of optimist and pessimist who doesn't trust anything but has faith that you can still navigate shit creek without a paddle?
TL: Well, I guess that still applies. If anything, I have more faith than I used to. I can't say it's for any good reason though. Maybe it's one of those things that happens to you when you get older, like getting annoyed when people swear a lot in movies.
RW: I reread that ("Optipess") recently and realized that, due in no small part to 911, I myself had come to the same conclusion that things are no better or worse than they've always been so what's the big deal? You kind of just throw up your hands, shake your head and say "Humans! What are you gonna do?"
TL: Well, that's true. Most of the bad things people do today you can read about in the Bible. Though not hijacking a couple of airplanes and ramming them into world famous centers of government and industry.
RW: Your trademark pony tail is . . .
TL: A buzz cut, since 1998.
RW: I think I've wasted enough of your time with this inane line of questioning, but I really must ask, are you gonna eat those corn fritters?
TL: Naw. You can have 'em.