Dinner with Lucas
On Crosshatching, OCD, and Vegtarian Cuisine
[I meet Lucas Richards in a Capitol Hill vegetarian restaurant. We both order faux meats. I order a “burger.” Richards orders a “chicken”-fried “steak”]
BD: Why don't we start by talking about your enormous body.
BD: Of work. You've been doing this artist schtick how long, now?
LR: Wait a second. I don't take much seriously. I'm not a jokester, per se, but I'm sarcastic. I take really nothing seriously, except art. When I talk about my art I talk about it in a very serious way.
BD: Oh, sorry, so when I said, “schtick,” did that diminish your...
LR: No, it's not that. I'm just not going to give a crazy interview like those musicians: Skinner, or Soapy Argyle, or Matt Shupe, and give you lots of hoots.
BD: No, no, that's perfectly fine. I think you have important things to say. I still might make fun of you, though.
LR: All right, then. I've been doing art since I was a kid. My sister was pushed to academics; she was the smart one. So when I was doing really bad in school, my parents pushed me towards art.
BD: What's your sister doing now?
LR: [laughs] She's a doctor.
BD: For seven or eight years now, you've been self-publishing your work in a photocopied zine which is distributed free in several Capitol Hill locations, mostly under the name, Starving Magpie. Starving Magpie contains your comics, like the serial Captain Missiletoe, and then there's also your drawings from photographs -- is there a name for those, those drawings traced from snapshots and given crosshatching, et cetera?
LR: Oh, I just call that “projector art.” I trace the photograph from a projector, and then fill in the details with ink. That's why I keep the publications separate. The zine, Doodlebug Pictorials has just the projector art.
BD: Isn't using a projector considered cheating?
LR: Yeah, it is. There's some people who can draw from photographs, but for real -- freehand. But I cheat. So that's why I keep it separated from the real art. It's a different form, so it gets its own publication.
BD: I have to say, though, you crosshatch like a motherfucker. I've always said that.
LR: My cross-hatch work? Nah, I'm not that good. Did you ever check out the crosshatch from Edward Gorey or Robert Crumb? That's amazing crosshatching.
[Food arrives via our waitress, who is also Richards' girlfriend, Sara Cassidy]
LR: [to Sara] What's this on the side? The stuff with red leaves?
SC: That's chard. The kitchen's trying something different. [Editor's note: Chard is a beet grown for its leaves, rather than its roots. It is an attractive ornamental that adds color to the garden and makes a zesty side dish when sautéed with lemon and garlic].
LR: [samples chard] Why does something different have to taste so nasty? Why would you call something “chard?” Doesn't that mean “burnt?” [Sarcastically] Hello, yes, could I have a to-go bag for my chard? [Laughs].
BD: How many publications have you made so far?
LR: There's 13 Starving Magpies. That's deceptive, because there's two number 11's. ‘Cause I just lost count. There's a secret one, too, I call it the secret one because it's printed in a smaller format than the rest, it's the one with MacAlaster and the monkey.
BD: And the Doodlebugs?
LR: I've put out 7 of the Doodlebug Pictorials. And there's 2 issues of Little Bird Press.
BD: You keep changing the names of your zine, is that because of legal problems?
LR: [laughs] No. Little Bird Press published those foreign language comics, remember?
BD: Ah, yeah: Superpowerfulfish.
LR: Right. So it's just a different serial, so I keep it separate from Starving Magpie and the Captain Missiletoe series.
BD: Will we see a conclusion to the Captain Missiletoe story?
LR: Yes, pretty soon. I'm working on that next.
BD: I'd be curious to know if Captain Missiletoe ever consummates his love with Dora Syntax. Or will he destroy her evil ass? Or will she destroy him? Can you give us any hints?
LR: Well, the story's about a real-life guy who's dorky and short, who just happens to get superpowers. In real life, even if he's got superpowers, a guy like that's not going to to get a hot babe like Dora Syntax, so I doubt they're going to get together.
BD: But you're kinda dorky and short, yet you have a babe for a girlfriend.
LR: Yeah...but I'm not bald. That's the difference. She goes out with me for my big head of hair. [to Sara, passing by] Hey, baby, would you still go out with me if I was bald?
LR: [gestures] Like if I had just hair here on the sides...
SC: [shakes her head] No.
LR: You see, if you're tall and dorky and bald, you still got a chance, but if you're short and dorky and bald, then you're screwed.
BD: Let's talk about the many art shows you've had. I've been to quite a few. There was one with giant oil paintings of yuppies, goths, and hipsters in a desert with the Jackson Five. There was one with sculptures of cartoon frogs in a rock band. Once you painted portraits of everyone you knew. Last year you had painted 400 toy soldiers. This year you produced 40 stuffed monsters. What stands out most for you from these shows?
LR: With the shows, it keeps building. Each art show seems to be better than the last. Back in college, though -- and this might have to do with the amount of time and energy focused on the work -- my two shows really came out great. There was one with the Tadpoles and then the dioramas of Captain Missiletoe. They were awesome, and I think that's due to the environment you're in, where you can achieve more than you could outside of school.
BD: All the art in your shows are very cartoonish, toy-like—
LR: The work in my shows are a 3D version of my comics. The reason I do the shows is because it makes me feel like a real artist. No matter how many zines I put out, I'll never get the feedback and the sense of accomplishment that I get from doing a big show.
BD: So you don't get any feedback from the zines?
LR: I have no idea who takes them, or what they think of it. Greg [Soapy Argyle] says leprechauns steal them. He might be right. I guess I'd know if I leave the house more.
BD: You don't even sit in the coffee shop after you drop off a stack and watch who picks up a copy? I've seen people have them. They do look Irish, come to think of it.
LR: No, I just drop them off and get out of there without looking at anybody. I don't want people to think I'm showing off.
BD: Do you remember at the last show, the one with all the plush toys, my roommate Sean came up to you and said, “Lucas, you're art's getting soft...”
LR: [laughs] No, but that's funny. I can't remember anything from that show.
BD: It was eight days ago.
LR: It was a blur. I've got a terrible memory. I can't remember anything from my childhood, for example. That worries me sometimes.
BD: You can't remember anything?
LR: No, well what I can I think is just from photographs, I've seen the photographs and imagine I was there, but I don't think that's a memory.
BD: Perhaps you were molested by your rabbi.
LR: [Laughs] Maybe.
BD: I can remember the first time I heard the phrase, “I don't know.” My Grandma had said it, and I only then fully understood the meaning and implications, and I just couldn't stop laughing. I kept saying it to myself and cracking up.
BD: [Laughs] “I don't know!” Hilarious.
LR: Is there a question in there?
BD: Sorry. Tell me about Sparky the Dog Records. You've been the artist-in-residence there for quite a while. You've drawn all of the album covers -- except for the last two. What's up with that? Did you piss someone off in management?
LR: [laughs] No, it's something I've been happy to help out on, and I've teased Greg [Soapy Argyle, producer at Sparky the Dog] and Matt [Shupe] about Matt using his art on the last couple, but it's not like making those covers is the only outlet for me. Usually what happens when Greg asks me to do some work, it's when I'm in the middle of my own project. I view Starving Magpie and Sparky the Dog Records as sister cities in a way -- we exchange students and services back and forth...
BD: Like a foreign exchange program.
LR: Right. [Laughs] Except Greg's deal is like New York , everybody wants to go there, and I'm a shitty town in India . [Laughs] That's only because Greg has more to offer people than Starving Magpie would. They're similar in another way, too. They don't really exist, Starving Magpie and STD Records. If we stopped, nobody would probably remember. But Greg wants to become a better musician and…he wants to learn how to record better, so he records other people, and I want to work at being a better artist, so these “companies” with fake deadlines forces us to put out more than what we would normally. It's just like being back in school, except you make your own goals instead of having a professor telling you what to do. And it works. Drawing without some set goal is boring.
BD: Soapy Argyle, for a long while, has exchanged his writing services over to Starving Magpie, most notably writing the script for the superhero series. Is there a challenge when working with someone with a different skill set than yours?
LR: Since I've staring doing comics, even back in college, I've always had someone else do the writing. I'm used to collaboration. There's a balance that has to be made between the illustration and the writing. In the beginning of Captain Missiletoe, Greg was a little heavy on the writing. There were frames that were mostly text, with just a little room at the bottom to draw the character. Now I think he realizes that for a comic he can tone down the writing and leave more room for the illustration to tell the story.
BD: [eyeing Richards' plate] Are you going to finish your chard?
LR: Hey, it's nice to be interviewed. Normally I don't get many questions, since everyone I know is a musician, and they're always talking about music. If they ask me anything, they usually turn it the conversation back to music and what they're doing, because that's what asshole musicians tend to do.
BD: What's something no one ever asks you?
LR: I don't think people know about the drive behind it, you know? I don't believe I was born an incredible artist. I'm working my ass off and I know if I really work at it, I'll become an incredible artist. I'm not saying a great artist. Being a great artist you have to be born incredible and work hard. I just work hard, but I know I'm constantly improving.
And, the other thing is, I'm not afraid to ask for help. I'll grab it from anybody. And I think it creates a symbiotic relationship -- maybe the other person isn't as motivated, but the project will get them excited. And, their ideas will push me in a new direction.
BD: You must be meticulous, too. You have hundreds of hours of tedious work invested in some of your exhibit pieces.
LR: I'm obsessive-complusive. I'm just an overly organized person.
BD: Like you'll hang up all your shirts a certain way?
LR: Yeah, or I'll even come back from a night out and hang up my shirt and pants while I'm wasted so I don't have to do it in the morning. I'll even pour a glass of ice water for my night stand before I go out.
BD: You mean you pour your hangover prevention water before you go out and start drinking?
BD: That's the most anal-retentive behavior I've ever encountered in a cartoonist. [to Sara] Could I get a to-go box for my tabouli?
--Brett Duesing, February, 2005