Tom Neely: Getting Intimate with Henry and Glenn

A comics interview article by: Mike Prezzato

 

Take two musicians with a tough guy image. Stick them in a comic book. Now make them in love. With each other. It sounds like a really funny idea when you're drunk with some friends, but no one would actually go through with it...right? Wrong. Tom Neely did. A collection of Henry and Glenn Forever, chronicling the antics of two iconic rock singers, Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig, has recently been released by Microcosm Publishing.

This here is one funny comic that others may not have been as brave or eager to draw, let alone publish.



Mike Prezzato: OK, lets start with the origins of this book. How the hell did this idea ever cross your mind, and more importantly, why did you go through with it, especially when it involves two real people who could potentially kick your ass? That's gotta take some balls to do for art's sake.

Tom Neely: It all started back in 2005 as a bad idea after a night of too many beers with my art fraternity the Igloo Tornado. Gin Stevens said something like "There should be a book like Tom of Finland, but with Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig." And Scot Nobles and I replied "Yes! We are going to make this happen!" The idea evolved into a series of one page riffs on the idea that Henry and Glenn are roommates or "domestic partners." Somewhere along the way Hall & Oates got thrown into the mix. We self-published it as a couple of xeroxed zines with screen-printed covers and sold them at San Diego Comic Con and it quickly became a sell-out success that lead us to approaching Joe Biel of Microcosm about publishing a full collection.

Why? Because we're idiots. I don't know. It was just a fun thing for us to do. The four members of the Igloo Tornado are all different kinds of artists. We have put together a few gallery shows together, but the Henry & Glenn book was just a fun thing for us to sit around doodling together while drinking beers and talking about art. We never really expected it to become such a phenomenon, so we didn't really worry about anyone kicking our ass. We're all actually big fans of the two real rock stars, and that's part of why it's so fun to poke fun at their bloated machismo. There was some worry before the new book came out about whether we'd be sued or something. But so far so good....

Prezzato: There's a lot of interesting influences, almost both satire and homage at once, from Family Circle-esque single panel strips to Henry's obvious Dick Tracy face. It's all a strange mix, but helps to pull off that classic Sunday morning comic strip feel. What other influences did you toss into the mix?

Neely: It's a mix that comes from a group of four diverse artists. It doesn't really represent any of our individual styles that well. The more traditional one panel comics style pieces are by me. I've always had an interest in classic comic strips and modeled my Glenn after Little Lulu and my Henry after Dick Tracy, while occasionally making parodies of Family Circus and Love Is. Both Gin Stevens and Scot Nobles are not normally cartoonists. Gin is an artist who primarily does realistic scratch board portraiture of blues musicians and southern landscapes. His Henry & Glenn contributions are some of the more crudely drawn pieces, but keep in mind that many of them were scrawled in a bar while we laughed together at the ridiculousness of it all. Scot mostly does collage and painting influenced by street and pop art and hisHenry & Glenn pieces manifested as the repeated stenciled portraits in which Glenn agrees with anything Henry says.

Prezzato: Give us a typical day in the life of Henry and Glenn (the comic book characters…).

Neely: I like to think of them as a punk-rock Bert and Ernie. With maybe a pinch of Abbot and Costello. But the way I approach the characters is with Glenn it's a roller-coaster ride of manic depression fueled by insecurity and masked behind a bunch of gothy pretension. Henry is the rock that holds them together during Glenn's mood swings, while dealing with his own internalized anger issues. I think they love each other very much, but they have a hard time admitting it, and of course it's all very dysfunctional. A typical marriage I suppose.

Prezzato: With all the jokes that reference their music, its obvious that you're a fan of both. That said, why depict them in this situation? Is this just a lighthearted take on a couple of musicians, or is it maybe, even subconsciously, a way to say "you take yourself way too seriously"?

Neely: We're all big fans of their music. For me, that probably started around the first time I heard "Last Caress" by The Misfits when I was in the 6th grade. That song totally changed my life. I've been an obsessive fan of punk, metal and underground music ever since. But at the same time, I'm an adult now who can see some of the inherent silliness in the macho/ghoulish/pretensions of someone like Glenn. As much as I can relate to the sentiment of feeling like a monster, and as much as I listen to countless bands that sing about Satan, I'm beyond the phase in my life where I take Satanic rebellion that seriously. I have a lot of respect for both of their careers, but their public personas are a bit cartoonish, which makes them easy targets. So, really it's like shooting fish in a barrel. But I really love those fish.

Prezzato: I've heard both Henry and Glenn know about the book. Explain their reactions to it.

Neely: Coincidentally, when we had the self-published mini-zine of the book at SDCC in '05, Henry Rollins was doing a DVD signing at another booth. Gin Stevens took a copy of our book and asked him to sign it. He took a look at it and said "Has Glenn seen this? Trust me he would not be amused." And we couldn't resist using that as a blurb on the back of the book. I've heard through the grape-vine that Henry thinks it's a funny book.

As for Glenn... About a month after Henry & Glenn Forever came out, my friend J. Bennett was interviewing Danzig for Decibel magazine. The Igloo Tornado signed and gift-wrapped a copy of our book for J. to give to Glenn. When J. tried to give it to him, he refused to even look at it and then proceeded to rant about it for a bit. J. was nice enough to lend me the transcript of their interaction and I made a comic strip of that called "The Final Blow." 

Prezzato: Was there ever an initial thought that perhaps creating this may be received negatively by the musicians or their fans? You must have heard from at least a few fans who aren't hip on the joke. How has the overall reaction been?

Neely: The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and stores can't seem to keep it in stock. I have heard there are some hardcore, humorless Danzig fans who hate us, and I've heard that any mention of the book on the official Danzig website message-board will get you banned for life. I've also heard rumors of Danzig fans planning to jump me at comic conventions and Satanic curses cast on my house. But for the most part people really seem to love it. I've received book orders from some of my favorite rock stars and musicians and even signed a copy for Rick Rubin (who produced some of Danzig's best albums), so even though I'm sorry that Glenn and his fans can't see the humor and love in our book, practically everyone else seems to love it.

Prezzato: Do you think that you've broken down any unwritten barriers involving living people as main characters in a comic book?

Neely: Nah...Maybe we had the balls to tackle one of the most notoriously humorless icons of punk, but I don't think we've done anything more outrageous than MAD magazine. One thing that I'm happy about is the cross-over success from comics into the music world. The book has received a lot more attention and acclaim from music magazines and fans of punk and metal music than it has in the comics scene, and I think that's a big part of the book's success.

Prezzato: Is this book a one trick pony, or should we expect further volumes? How long can you go on playing out a gay joke with these two?

Neely: I'm not the kind of artist who likes to repeat himself. So, if we do another book, it will be something very different. But there's still life in these characters. I just completed an animated cartoon "Henry & Glenn Forever Anti-X-Mas Special" that is currently up on YouTube. I'd love to do more animations with the characters, but haven't planned anything yet (Hey, Adult Swim- gimme a call). And The Igloo Tornado is currently putting together a group art show at a gallery in LA featuring other artists riffing on the Henry & Glenn theme. It's shaping up very nicely with diverse group of 25 artists doing artwork in tribute to the book and the real icons. That will open at La Luz de Jesus Gallery on February 18th. (www.laluzdejesus.com)

Prezzato: Tell us who and what Igloo Tornado is, and other projects you are involved in.

Neely: Igloo Tornado is an Art Fraternity that includes Gin Stevens, Scot Nobles, Levon Jihanian, and myself. We are a loose-knit group of like minded, but diversely interested, artists who like to get together regularly to discuss art, critique each others work, and help push our careers forward. To date we have had a couple of successful gallery shows together, a couple of solo shows, curated a couple of group shows, and produced Henry & Glenn Forever. Individually we have all had several solo and group gallery shows and pursue our own individual art forms.

I'm a dedicated self-publishing cartoonist and author of the Ignatz Award winning graphic novel The Blot. I've also published several other comic books including a comic adaptation of a Melvins album and a recent anthology of gag cartoons by 33 underground artists called Bound & Gagged. I'm currently finishing my second graphic novel The Wolf. I also do a lot of artwork for bands including album covers and posters for bands like ISIS and Wolves in the Throne Room. Gin Stevens is gallery director and a significant part of the low-brow art scene of Los Angeles. His scratch board artwork often depicts realistic portraiture of blues singers, folk tales and haunting southern landscapes. He recently was a part of an art show at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in December. Scot Nobles is a painter/collage artist and art teacher who's unique work straddles the line between punkish street art and pop art. Levon Jihanian, who decided not to take part in the Henry & Glenn book, is a cartoonist and painter currently completing an epic, fantasy, sci-fi comic series called Danger Country. We are also currently looking for a new gallery for another Igloo Tornado 4-man art show.

Prezzato: Last question. You can only read one comic book title for the rest of your life. What do you pick?

Neely: Oh jeez... that's almost impossible to answer... I suppose if I really had to choose only one comic to read forever, it would have to be E. C. Segar's Thimble Theater comic strips starring Popeye.



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Henry and Glenn Forever can be purchased at www.microcosmpublishing.com 

Igloo Tornado: iglootornado.blogspot.com 

Tom Neely: www.iwilldestroyyou.com

Gin Stevens doesn't have a website, but his work can be seen on his gallery site here:www.laluzdejesus.com/shows/2010/Gin-Stevens/Gin-Stevens2010.htm

Scot Nobles: www.losergoes1st.com

Levon Jihanian: www.levonjihanian.com


 



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