“My early career was like stages of grieving,“ award-winning comic and graphic novel creator Bob Fingerman told the crowd at the July 10 launch of his exhibit at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Gallery at the Society of Illustrators. “It was denial, bitterness, pornography…teenage mutant Ninja Turtles [which] as I drew them, turned into middle-aged Ninja turtles with bags under their eyes.”
Interviewed by comic/writer Frank Conniff, the Fingerman fan audience roared at repartees that were R-rated plus and would never pass muster on network TV. As images of his characters — zombies, working stiffs, nudes — were projected on a wall-sized screen behind him, Fingerman — whose most recent offering is the semi-autobiographical updated version of “Maximum Minimum Wage” released by Image Comics — recalled teachers telling him “don’t follow that path,” kids telling him “you draw good,” and taking verbal beatings and being called “Finger f…k.” He smiled: “It was all uphill from there.”
Influenced by Paul Klee, Jean Giraud (aka Moebius) and Will Eisner (“The Spirit”) with whom he studied, he recalled his [SVA] teacher Harvey Kurtzman offering him a job. “I learned everything from him as an editor. He paid me an insultingly low fee… A brutal editor, but as a teacher he was gentle.” Most influential was “The Man in the Cannibal Pot” gag cartoon book by Gahan Wilson.
The innuendo-rich give and take between Conniff and Fingerman had the flavor of a late night comedy club gig. “There is New York and then there is everywhere else. I don’t know everywhere else but I know New York,” said Fingerman. “’Minimum Wage’ was set in the 1990’s [but] technology has changed everything. I did an entire chapter on running around with a portfolio. I don’t know if people pursuing art these days know what a physical portfolio is.” Reflecting on his 1974 graphic novel “Recess Pieces” before there were cell phones, he said, “Little kids and zombies, trapped in a building, can’t call mom or dad. Imagine, a whole generation of kids who won’t know the fun of a dial tone.”
Asked about parental influence, Fingerman revealed: “My mother mercifully never threw anything away…any line I put to paper is in a cardboard box… My father [who was born in the Bronx] was in the Merchant Marine. He gave up his romantic life at sea to become a technical writer. A frustrated novelist, cartoonist…so it is all his fault. My mother wanted to be an artist [but] never had the luxury of being one.”
During our chat a few days after we met at the Society’s event, Fingerman mused: “I think the world is a horrible place with wonderful things in it. Blame it on human beings making it a God-awful place. I have a dim view of humanity… If I had a view of life, it would be skepticism bordering on cynicism…depends on each book. [But] I have mellowed with age. I am not a joiner…. Twenty years of happy marriage.”
Children? “No children. Don’t have any—don’t want them.”
Exhibit on through August 17. Go, gawk, gasp and guffaw.