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Rod Filbrandt: Noir

Adam Wilson

rod Filbrandt is a Vancouver-based artist/cartoonist whose work is often found in the likes of the Georgia Straight. He is responsible for such abstract comic strips as Wombat and Dry Shave. He can be reached at rodfilbrandt.com. This is part of his story...

Rod Filbrandt at the Neon Graveyard, Vegas

Adam Wilson
What made you want to go into the field of art?

Rod Filbrandt
I knew pretty early on that I wanted to draw for a living, but it took me a few years to realize that I was probably going to be a cartoonist and not a painter or portrait artist or whatever. I was always going for a laugh, a cheap gag, or just drawing stupid characters, as well as the requisite spaceships and dinosaurs.

Adam Wilson
Your artwork has a very distinctive/retro style about it. what influences show up regularly in your strips/artwork?

Rod Filbrandt
I think that childhood influences are the most prevalent and lasting, a foundation that you build on as you go along. It seems a lot of cartoonists of my generation start out with very similar influences; Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera, Mad magazine, newspaper comic strips. Tin Tin was also a big one for me, just because Herge's drawings were so clean and tight and appealing. Later I became obsessed with the simple graphic style of the 50's and early 60's; jazz album art, children's books, old ads from magazines, UPA animation, pulp novels, the architecture - there's just tons of great stuff from that period and it's still being ripped off and re-invented constantly. I still get a charge out of finding some new artist or weird off-shoot I never knew about from that period. Books, movies, music - it all goes into this mental catalogue of small thefts.

Adam Wilson
When you went into art in college, what were your desires for taking the course? Did you want to work in animation? Print?

Rod Filbrandt
I wanted a foundation in the basics, a little bit of everything to get some technical chops, to learn how certain things were done. I still wanted to be a cartoonist (much to my instructors' chagrin), but I knew that I might have to do other things as well. I suppose that was back when being a professional still meant something. We did some animation, but I never really thought of it as anything I might end up doing - it seemed so tedious and there's no immediate results. Back in the early 80's it still seemed like big league stuff, like there was only an elite group of the chosen few who got to go to Hollywood and work for Disney or something. I didn't have a clue as to what kind of indie work was going on and it never felt like an option; I preferred working alone on things I could produce in a couple of hours. I think that animation requires a different part of the brain.

Adam Wilson
You'd said that right out of college you worked for a "low-rent novelty company" designing packaging. What types of products were you designing packages for?

Rod Filbrandt
Pretty lame stuff - stickers, novelty pens, notepads, stupid little cheap gizmos and toys. It was actually a pretty sweet gig right after school, because I was their first "in-house" designer and they had no idea that I could draw so fast and I ended up doing a lot of my own work on their dime. I was meeting the deadlines and producing, but meanwhile I was drawing comics out of sheer boredom that later turned into my first strip, "Wombat".

Adam Wilson
What drove you do go out on your own and do freelance work?

Rod Filbrandt
Laziness. After that job went belly-up, I came to the conclusion that a 9 to 5 job wasn't really my thing; I don't like working with other people, the whole office situation feels so suffocating - it just generally felt like a big waste of time. I mean, I was pretty realistic about it, I knew that I'd have to scrape around doing shitty jobs, but I didn't really care as long as I felt like I was going somewhere, anywhere, with my own cartooning.

Adam Wilson
What was it like working on an animated film (referring to Beat)? How was it different than doing a comic strip (other than the obvious)?

Rod Filbrandt
Well, it can be a lot of fun when you don't know what you're doing. We were basically just winging it, so in a lot of ways it was very similar to the way I approached strips at the time - just start drawing and see where it takes you. But it was a collaboration, which was new for me, and it added a new dimension to my work, because I realized how much fun, how invigorating it could be to shoot ideas back and forth with a like-minded, creative person. It was a grind in a lot of ways, but certainly more involving than a comic strip, and a great excuse to drink copious amounts of beer while banging out gags and drawings.

Adam Wilson
How has Mike Grimshaw influenced you? Do you still work with him at all?

Rod Filbrandt
Grimshaw has a great "can do" attitude. I'm much more cautious and pragmatic and he really taught me to think bigger, to think "why not?" We both find that the combination works well; I reign in his crazier plans, but he also prods me to take bigger chances. And through him and our work I met a lot of other artists, jazz musicians, animators, and other assorted weirdos.  We still collaborate and will probably be returning to a 35mm cartoon pretty soon.

Adam Wilson
How did the two of you get hooked up with Mike Judge and the people involved with Beavis and Butthead?

Rod Filbrandt
Grimshaw met Judge back in our "Sick and Twisted" days with our second film "Quiet Please". I kind of distanced myself from that film at the time, but they were both just going along for the ride. "Beavis & Butthead" was obviously much more saleable than our piece of vile filth, so when Judge got his MTV gig, he invited Grimshaw and I to write some scripts, which was fun and all, but not exactly the most fulfilling work out there. Actually, I think I was only involved in 2 or 3.

Adam Wilson
You've been involved with 3(?) comic strips in total. How do you like them compared to the work producing a piece of art?

Rod Filbrandt
I don't know from art, but the four-panel strip is one of my favourite formats, going all the way back to "Peanuts". It's work that's entirely mine, which is something that I think is important when you're mostly doing commercial work.

Adam Wilson
Where do you get the ideas for a strip like Dry Shave?

Rod Filbrandt
I'm a big fan of film noir and hard-boiled detective novels, which I started parodying in the previous strip "Wombat", but with "Dry Shave" I wanted to get just a little sleazier, a little raunchier. I moved to Seattle around that time and living in the 'States definitely supplied me with material. I love American bars, I love American archetypes - it was all there, just waiting for a punch-line.

Adam Wilson
How long did it take you to get your strips published after you started drawing them?

Rod Filbrandt
I got my first strip "Wombat" published in a free paper called "Discorder", put out by UBC's CITR radio. It wasn't hard to get published since they paid nothing and seemed to prefer crude, new-wave-y crap.

Adam Wilson
Why do you think Dry Shave was widely "rejected" as you put it? How long did it run?

Rod Filbrandt
With this one I did a pretty wide mail-out for North American weeklies, alternative and otherwise, and generally got the old "we don't get it, what the hell is this?" Which is odd, because I thought the whole thing was pretty straightforward. I thought it was nothing but cheap laughs and exploding cigars and seltzer bottles - burlesque and stag party jokes - like "The Asphalt Jungle"  played for laughs, but some people actually seemed to find it dark and ugly or something. Maybe it was the atmosphere of hard-drinking and murder, I don't know.

Adam Wilson
You seem to love to travel. how has (or has it) travelling influenced your work or changed you personally?

Rod Filbrandt
Our first film, "Beat" got us to the Zagreb animation festival and that was my first trip to Europe. It was wild - then coming back to the suburbs after that was an eye-opening experience, from that point on everything was different. And so you get hooked on "different" and need regular injections. It's like the Elvis Costello lyric," they say that travel broadens the mind 'til you can't fit your head out the door" - which can be taken any number of ways and they're probably all true.

Adam Wilson
Will there ever be any chance of you bringing any of your strips onto the big (or small) screen?

Rod Filbrandt
I've experienced enough of the TV racket to feel just slightly soiled, I'm not sure that I want to get any greasier. I'd like to make some more cartoons the old-fashioned way - hand-drawn, hand-painted, and filmed on 35mm. We'll see.

Adam Wilson
Why did you decided to move to Seattle in the '91? and then back to Vancouver in '98?

Rod Filbrandt
I had an American girlfriend at the time and it made more sense for me to move down there - I was practically a drifter anyways. I still really like Seattle, but it seemed a little rougher around the edges a few years ago. Like the whole west coast, it's getting all twinkly and shiny and consumer-friendly - the substance is dwindling away behind a facade of designer burritos and fascinating mega-stores. Unfortunately, I had to weather pretty much the entire Grunge rodeo, but I'd still trade a Seattle bar for a Vancouver bar any day. I came back to Vancouver unable to resist the stinky siren call of the 99-cent pizza slice joints and to design backgrounds for Danny Antonucci's show, "Ed, Edd, 'n Eddy" for Cartoon Network in the 'States.

Adam Wilson
Where can one read Tar Paper Town? I can't find much information on it.

Rod Filbrandt
It hasn't been running very long, just in the Georgia Straight. I haven't done a big mail-out yet, but I do have at least one rejection.  I'm still trying to hit stride with it, let it develop naturally, monkeying around with the feel of it, waiting to see which characters come to the forefront; sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. Again, it's really for myself.

Adam Wilson
Are you a self-employed artist now? do you live off the money from your artwork, or are you like most other artists (me) and have to have a regular job to curb your income?

Rod Filbrandt
I'm proud to say that I haven't had a real job for about 15 years. Two words: low overhead. As long as I have enough dough to get my ass on a plane once in a while, I'm happy.

Adam Wilson
What are you working on right now other than the new strip?

Rod Filbrandt
Well, I've been getting my work into galleries here and there, so I'm continuing to do my own paintings, although I hesitate to call them "paintings" - "pictures" seems more fitting. I'm working on a movie-related series right now, something that I chip away at. Basically, I'm always trying to improve, particularly with the painting. I'd like to work bigger and possibly more abstract once I feel my chops are there. And as I said, I'd like to get back to making a cartoon on film, which Grimshaw and I are ready to get going on - toot suite.

Adam Wilson
Where do you see yourself or your artwork in the future?

Rod Filbrandt
I see myself in some white-washed town in southern Spain painting pictures of bulls on wine flasks to flog to trinket-hungry tourists, a nice frosty San Miguel in hand and a plate of chorizo and olives next to the paint brushes.

Note: Rod Filbrandt can also be seen at www.rodfilbrandt.com


contrary to popular belief, adam wilson IS still alive and working with canadian content. he can be reached at wilsonmanifesto@hotmail.com

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