IT'S A CLASSIC TALE: INDIE COMIC ARTIST CREATES CULT CLASSIC AND THEN MYSTERIOUSLY DISAPPEARS FROM THE ART FORM. ONLY THING IS, THIS GUY IS FAR FROM GONE. HOLD ON TIGHT AS JIM MAHFOOD SHEDS SOME LIGHT ON THE COMEDIC GENIUS OF ROB SCHRAB.
Jim: Okay, itís April 21, 2003. This is Jim Mahfood, representing 40oz. Comics. Iím in the home of Rob Schrab in Los Angeles, California. Rob, how ya doiní?
Rob: Hey, doin' good. Good to be here.
J: Nice. I have a bunch of stuff I want to talk to you about. Basically, I think a lot of people are gonna know you as the guy responsible for the Scud comic book, which was a really big black-and-white cult comic book from Ď93 to Ď97.
R: Yeah, during the mid Ď90s.
J: Okay. Before we get into where you came from and your childhood and all that shit, letís talk about Scud real quick. How did all that come about.
R: Man, itís one of those things where I donít know if it was all hard work, or if it was luck. I was a freelance illustrator in Milwaukee, just getting jobs here and there illustrating for a local newspaper and designing greeting cards. I was making a living at it, but I wasnít very happy. I wanted to do my own thing. I was always making comic books on my own during high school. And I wanted to make a new book, so I was tinkering around with it. I was doing Comedy Sportz and the improv scene-- doing improv and stand-up on the side-- and a guy who was a printer came to the show. I think he printed Chaos! Comics. Chaos! is still around, isnít it?
J: No. Theyíre dead. Theyíre gone now.
R: Theyíre gone? Okay.
J: They folded last year, unfortunately.
R: Oh, well. I think this printer did holograms. Do you remember when holograms and foil silver--
J: The early Ď90s craze; alternative bullshit.
R: Yeah. They did all of that kind of stuff. The guy thought I was funny in the show. I just started talking with him, and he said, ďIíll teach you everything you need to know about distributing and get you all the phone numbers. These are the big distributors in America. You put your ad in their book. Whatever number of orders you get, thatís what you print, so you donít lose any money.Ē So he taught me everything I needed to know, and I published off of my kitchen table. It was kind of like fate. I was lucky enough to be a guy who was already working on a comic book.
J: Youíd always been drawing; always been doing your own ideas.
J: From reading Scud, itís pretty easy to tell that youíre influenced by more than comics. You probably grew up like me: on cartoons, animation, toys, movies, music,.. did all that stuff have a big role in developing Scud and that whole universe?
R: Yeah. I love media of all kinds, whether itís computers or video games or music or DVDs and movies. Iím more of a multi-media sort of a guy; not strictly a comic book guy. Iíve always fancied myself as a director, of sorts. Originally, when I moved out here to California, I used to say that Scud was my reel. Itís like my storyboard. I paid attention to what would make a good soundtrack, what would be good casting,.. just trying to get the feel of what a three-dimensional movie would be like if you watched a Rob Schrab movie. Scud is all over the map. It was everything I liked about everything, jammed into one project.
J: Would you say that it was a positive learning experience for you when it was all said and done?
R: Definitely! I look back at some of the issues of Scud and bite my lip and say, ďOh, thatís pretty sad.Ē Either the drawingís bad or the jokes are corny or, overall, itís just a bad attempt. But I loved it. There are some issues that, still to this day, stick out really well and are fun. Iím proud of the fact that I just said, ďScrew it. Iím gonna do it on my own,Ē and did it. And here I am.
J: Right. Now, you were working on Scud, and then you moved to L.A. with Fireman Press.
R: Yeah, back in 1997.
J: What happened when Scud ended? Did Robot Bastard begin to take shape? And for people who donít know, can you tell us what Robot Bastard is?
R: In 1997, Oliver Stone optioned Scud to be made into a movie.
J: Oh, thatís right! What the hell happened with that? (laughs)
R: Thatís one of the reasons we came out here. Dan Harmon and I wanted to write the script.
J: Danís your writing partner?
R: Danís my writing partner and very good friend. He worked on Scud, too. We wanted to write the script. But we were told, ďYouíre comic book people. You donít know how to write a script.Ē In answer to that, we said, ďOkay. Well, weíre just gonna become screenwriters, then.Ē So Dan and I put together a sample script on spec. No one asked us to do it. It was called Big Ant Movie. It was about giant insects taking over Los Angeles. It was this really cool, lots of action, really funny, neat thing. Based off of that script, we got an agent. She really liked what we did. We started meeting with pretty big people. We met Robert Zemeckis. And Ben Stiller was our second or third meeting. We met with Jim Henson Studios and Stan Winston. Pretty much everybody we met with was a name that we were familiar with, so we were really lucky. We got a two picture deal with Zemeckis. And I was writing our first picture with Zemeckis and doing issue #18 of Scud at the same time, and it was just killing me.
J: Right. It was just too much at once.
R: It was just really, really a mess. I remember one year, I did Scud, Drywall, and La Cosa Nostroid all at the same time, and it put me in therapy. I was totally a mess.
J: It literally put you in therapy?
R: Literally. Yeah.
J: Thatís like a whole other interview. Thatíll be part two.
R: Yeah. That was just a crazy, crazy time. With Scud, I was going on my fifth year, and was pretty burned out. I was working really hard. As much as everybody was complaining that it wasnít coming out consistently enough, there wasnít a day where I wasnít drawing.
J: Exactly. And it was all you doing it. I think a lot of comic book fans donít understand how draining it actually is to sit and draw comics every day. Thatís your job.
R: Yeah. Itís like an 12 hour a day job. Youíre isolated with nothing but your own self-hatred--
J: (laughing) Yeah.
R: --to keep you company. You know how it is. Five percent of your brain is working on the comic, and the rest of your mind is going, ďUgh! Whyíd you do that?Ē Itís totally picking apart and analyzing everything. So youíre, basically, sitting in a room doing nothing other than drawing. So itís pretty exhausting, sometimes. And even though Scudís numbers were really good for the black-and-white genre, out here in Los Angeles it wasnít paying enough for me to survive off of. Dan was working for me at the time, and we had to pay him. Every time we paid him, it was taking more money away from us. So everybody was slowly becoming more and more poor. And then we were getting these writing jobs and making the best money Iíve ever had. I was like, ďWell, Iíve always wanted to get into movies. My goal with Scud was to get into movies. So now that movies are here, Iím not gonna screw up my chance to get in. Let Scud go, and get into doing the movies and TV." Issue #20 was such a bad thing-- I was really a breaking point in my psychological makeup. The whole thing is a depressing, very bitter, angry book. Iíd just broken up with my girlfriend.
J: Is that the issue where Scudís girlfriend gets brutally--
R: Yeah. Sussudio gets killed. Itís basically me saying, "Okay, I canít do this anymore. My sanity is at the breaking point. I have to move on."
J: Did you know that fans were really upset and, I think, are still upset that there was never a final issue? Do you care?
R: I do care.
J: I mean, youíre kind of ďover itĒ at this point, right? I mean, itís been five years or something. Would you ever consider fucking with people and putting out a final issue and going, ďHey, sorry itís five years late, but hereís the final Scud adventure!Ē?
R: Iím always trying to work out a way to make Scud into a movie or TV series. The final issue of Scud will not be a comic book. Itíll be a movie. The end of the series will be the end of the movie.
J: So did you always see Scud as a finite series? As having a beginning, middle, and an end?
R: Yeah, I did. Scud was an autobiography. Everything that happened in Scud would parallel my life. So Scud had to go away (not forever, but for awhile) for me to do what Iím doing now. Which, I think, is for the betterment of Scud. I got so close to getting screwed out of Scud with Oliver Stoneís company, so itís better this way. I got the rights back. Scud is me. Iím trying to direct more. Iím writing a lot. Iím just trying to work my way up. Scud is always on the back-burner. Once I get my chops as a director, once people start taking me seriously as a director, I can pull that bad boy out. And that will be one big, kick-ass film.
J: Yeah, yeah.
R: And it will be mine. So forget about Scud for awhile (which most people who are fans have), and it will come back. Youíll remember it, and itíll be better than it was.
J: I think the cool thing for me, though, is when I see your other work and what you're doing, like with the Robot Bastard film and the Heat Vision and Jack pilot. Those, to me, are like stepping stones from where Scud came from. Youíve always been a guy whoís been into robots and action and guns and over-the-top shit. So, when I saw Robot Bastard, I was like, ďOh, yeah! This is obviously Rob! This is so Rob influenced and so Scud-ish, without being Scud.Ē Same thing with Heat Vision and Jack, and the robots in your apartment. I wish everybody could see your place--
J: -- because Rob has custom-made his own robot guns and figures and toys. Itís really amazing stuff. Itís all stuff that looks like it came from the Scud universe,.. like characters that couldíve been in that book. So letís talk about Robot Bastard. When did that happen, and was that just you doing that? It was funded by you guys, and you just made it?
R: Yeah. I just made it. I was working on Heat Vision and Jack at the time. We were a guaranteed pickup.
J: (laughing) Yeah. Youíd better explain that real quick.
R: One of the first people we met with was Ben Stiller.
J: So, you met Ben and hit it off with him.
R: Yeah. He wanted to work with us right away. We were working on a feature project with him, which still hasnít been completely realized, but hopefully, someday, it will be. But we started working on that with him. And out of the blue he says, ďDo you have any TV ideas, because Iíve got deals with networks and stuff like that. If youíve got any TV ideas, let me know.Ē So Dan and I put together this show called Heat Vision and Jack. Itís the story of Jack Austin, an astronaut who gets too close to the sun. And the sun bakes his brain; the human brain is like cookie dough, so it expands his brain like a bun in the oven. He comes back to Earth the most intelligent man on the planet. His roommate, Doug, comes to save him, because NASA wants to take his brain out of his head, dissect it, and figure out what makes him so special. So Doug comes to pick him up, but thereís an accident, and Doug is fused with his motorcycle.
R: So, it was gonna be Jack Black, the most intelligent man on the planet, riding his talking motorcycle, fighting robots and aliens.
J: And the motorcycle was voiced by Owen Wilson.
R: Owen Wilson, yes. It was written for Jack Black, because Ben said, ďIím trying to do something with Jack. Do you have any ideas?Ē
J: And you got Ben to direct the pilot. And itís hysterical. I mean, I saw it when you guys had that screening party in Hollywood, and itís hysterical. Itís so sad and unfortunate that you guys got screwed out of everything by,.. can we say what network?
J: Fuck Fox then! (laughs)
R: (laughing) It was another one of those ďclose but almostĒ things. We got there with Oliver Stone. That was a big thing. We thought, ďThis is gonna be great.Ē And then we saw the dark side of Hollywood, and we were like, ďItís not gonna be the thing we thought it was gonna be.Ē So it went away. The same thing happened with Heat Vision and Jack. That rivals Scud in popularity.
J: Thereís a huge cult following! I mean, a lot of people know about it. A lot of people are finding it on the Internet and watching it that way. Do you care about that?
R: Naw! I want everybody to see it! I made it to be seen. At this point, I donít care about any money to be made off of it. I want everybody to dub it and share it, because itís sitting on the shelf somewhere in Fox, and they have no plans to ever show it on the air. So, itís this great little thing that most people will never get a chance to see. Itís too bad, because it turned out pretty cool. Itís not perfect, but itís neat.
J: Itís very over-the-top. When I watched it, I was thinking, ďI guess I can understand why some idiotic, corporate suits at a network wouldnít understand why this should be on TV. It is its own thing and itís really, really funny. But itís a shame that people like that are in charge of creative decisions, sometimes. Weíve both been through this thing now, dealing with studios and getting optioning deals. It can be fun and exciting when it starts, but then you realize the reality of it. And itís like, ďOh, well maybe I am better off at home, just sitting at my desk, drawing comics and not fucking with these people.Ē
R: The thing about comic books thatís better than television, especially, is that, if you make a comic book, itís there. Even if you donít publish it, itís there. And you can show it to people. You can Xerox it and give it out. When you write a story, itís out on the shelves a month later. Itís all over the country and all over the world, sometimes. But when you do a pilot, like Heat Vision and Jack, and they go, ďHmmm, no,Ē itís gone. You never get to show it to anybody.
J: Yeah. Thatís disappointing.
R: You canít even sell it.
J: Could we break into Fox and steal the master copy or something, and bootleg it? (laughs)
R: (laughing) Thatíd be great. I wish there was a way to do it, because Dan and I and Ben have tried several times to go, ďWell, what if we released it on DVD.Ē But thereís so much stuff that would have to be done.
J: Thereís got to be a lot of legal bullshit to go through for that.
R: Yeah. Itís rough. Hollywood is probably the most poorly constructed art machine. Usually, when youíre an artist, you wait for inspiration to come and work on something and, when itís done, itís finished. Where as, in Hollywood, thereís such a demand for it. Itís like, "Move, move, move, move, move! We have to get this done! This has got to be fast!"
J: The people in charge are so fickle. They change their minds so quickly. You could get an optioning deal and, three months later, they donít like your stuff anymore. Theyíve got five other ďhotĒ things.
R: Yeah. Theyíre more excited about what just came out.
J: Of course.
R: Which is--
J: Which is, usually, shit. (laughs)
R: Yeah. You look at television and itís like The Bachelor and American Idol, which is not even really, to me, television. Because itís putting me out of a job. Thatís just one more slot that Iím not gonna get.
J: Itís amazing that the reality shows just keep getting bigger and bigger, because it just means less writing jobs and less creative jobs for people that work on shows that revolve around story and acting. You know the networks are eating that up, because they donít have to pay actors, writers, or anybody. You just get a bunch of douche bags in a room, put a camera on them and say, ďTry to sing,Ē or, "Fight each other,Ē or, ďFind your soul mate,Ē or some crazy shit.
R: Itís too bad.
J: Do you think that will go in a cycle? Things will circle around in, maybe, two years?
R: Yeah. What makes me the most excited about the next five years is the Internet. As connections get faster, a lot of my friends out here are doing shows online. Theyíre like, ďCome to our site, and hereís all our sketches.Ē Or like homestarrunner.com.
J: Thatís a really cool one.
R: Itís an awesome site. Theyíve got a huge following, and theyíre like their own mini-network. I think that, in the next five years, the Internet is going to be another network, or like a drive-in theater. I think people will be making their shorts or low-budget movies shot on digital video (DV) instead of black-and-white, throwing them online, and having people go crazy over them. Not even have to leave the house or go to Sundance, or anything like that. People can check it out there.
J: Speaking of the Internet, people can see Robot Bastard online, at robotbastard.com, right?
J: And thatís your short.
R: That is my short. Thatís my first directing debut. I directed the title sequence in Heat Vision and Jack and another sequence in that. I directed a sequence in Zoolander.
J: The Ben Stiller movie. What scene was it?
R: I did the scene where, um,.. did you see the movie?
J: Yeah. This is for the people. For the chicken readers.
R: (laughing) Right. When Ben gets hypnotized by Will Ferrell, I did that whole scene. During that time, I learned so much from Ben. He took me under his wing and was trying to teach me how to do stuff. I really look up to his style of filmmaking and his style of comedy.
J: Heís got his own niche. Heís got his own flavor with what he does.
R: Heís really a perfectionist; he works really hard at it. So I said during the making of Heat Vision and Jack that, ĒIf this doesnít get picked up, Iím gonna dump everything I have into a short. Iím gonna direct a short.Ē A month later, we found out we didnít get picked up. So I was writing the script the next day. I wrote the script, built the Robot costume, built all the models and the guns and everything like that. Then I flew back to Milwaukee, and built the set in a warehouse that I rented. I just charged everything.
J: (laughing) Right.
R: It was between $18,000 and $20,000, which was a lot. But, for an action/sci-fi short, it was pretty cheap.
J: And it looks more expensive than that. Thereíre a lot of effects and things going on. The first time I saw it, I was like, ďHoly shit! This is very action-packed. Thereís a lot of things going on here!Ē You made it look kind of extravagant and over-the-top.
R: Yeah, Iím pretty happy with it. Of course, you look at that the same way you look at your comic books, and go, ďOh, that could have been done better.Ē
J: Thatís just you being your own worst critic.
R: Exactly. But it was a great experience, and it made me want to do it more. I came back to California and the movie was done. I got to pass it around, and got a lot of people interested in it. Iíve just been doing a lot more writing and digital work. Like with the music videos, Iím just practicing with DV because I love the accessibility of digital video. You shoot something, throw it on your laptop, cut it together, and there it is. Itís really fun.
J: So, youíve been doing music videos and experimental stuff with digital video? And that can all be seen on your website?
R: My website is my digital sketchbook of all the stuff that I do. Itís sort of me teaching myself,.. learning by doing, rather than thinking about it or going to school for it. Iíd rather just grab the camera and experiment, so when I do get the chance to shoot on film for a feature, Iíve got a directorís voice, so to speak.
J: And most of the videos youíre doing revolve around stuff that youíre making yourself, like the robots and guns and all that crazy shit. When did you start putting those things together and making your own toys? Did you play with Legos a lot when you were a kid?
R: Yeah. Legos and clay. I always loved sculpting. I had a roommate that worked a lot with cardboard and hot glue. And, at one point, I was like, ďOh, I could just glue stuff together, then paint it, and there it is.Ē That was such a revelation to me, that I keep on doing it to this day.
J: So youíre taking old G.I. Joe and dinosaur toys, hot gluing cardboard and a bunch of other shit on top of them, painting them, and turning them into your own toys?
R: Right. Iíd go to Toys "R" Us and find a laser gun that moves and makes noise. Then Iíd cover it up with cardboard. Iíd make this thing that looks like itís made out of toilet paper tubes, corrugated cardboard, and hot glue. And itís moving and blinking. Itís fun! Itís just a neat little thing. I get really excited over it.
J: Yeah. Theyíre badass.
R: And when I made Robot Bastard, it was like, ďOh, Iíd like to see the whole world be like that.Ē
J: Right. Thatís a shitload of cardboard.
R: That was a shitload of cardboard. We went through a lot of dumpsters.
J: Oh yeah, Iím sure. Now, you just did a pin-up for my Grrl Scouts comic. So you didnít stop drawing throughout any of this. Even with you directing and pitching animation and ideas, it seems like youíre drawing regularly.
R: Not as much as I used to. I hate to say it but, after I walked out on Scud, I was really burned out. I wanted to give it a rest, because I was so burned out from it. But I was doing a lot of pitches with illustrations, and lots of storyboarding on Heat Vision and Zoolander. I miss it. I want to do another book because, like I said, when you do a book, it exists. A script doesnít exist until somebody shoots it. And thatís such a crap shoot out here; you never know whatís gonna happen.
J: So you would be interested in going back and doing your own graphic novel?
R: Yeah, absolutely. Itís just trying to find the time to do it. You know how long it takes to make a book. Thatís a huge amount of time. So Iím trying to get a story going in my head and write it out. And, hopefully, I can do something in my free time, where I draw the book, then set a publishing time. Something like that, I think, is the smartest way to do it.
J: Yeah. Do your book casually, and whenever itís done,...
R: Yeah. Going through that hectic schedule with Scud was really just too much.
J: What influences you the most when it comes to coming up with ideas for comics, movies, or animation pitches? Is it a little bit of everything?
R: Itís totally a little bit of everything. I got really jazzed going to Meltdown and picking up those comic books. I mean, I ran home and started drawing again. These guys are doing some really great stuff, and I miss doing that. Thatís a part of me thatís starving to work again. But as far as where I get my ideas, I love bad, old movies. I love cartoons. Itís interesting,.. I never sit down and think, ďWhat is it about that stuff that makes me interested in it?Ē I just never get sick of it.
J: It seems like certain people are like that from birth. Certain people are just into movies, reading, comics, and drawing. And certain people are into sports. Itís just two different types of people. All my friends that are professional comic book artists, theyíre all influenced by and say they grew up on this type of shit. So it seems like a sort of reoccurring theme.
R: Yeah. I just never get sick of it. Youíd think Iíd get sick of watching the same kind of movies or reading the same kind of comics. But Iím always looking for something that Iíve never seen before. Iím really fascinated by stuff that doesnít give a shit. Itís like, ďWeíre doing this because itís cool. Not because itís right or--ď
J: Whatís an example of that?
R: (looking around the room) Letís see. What do I got? Zapped! with Scott Baio--
J: Which is laying on your floor. What was that movie we were watching?
R: Lion Man. Itís a Turkish action movie. Itís about this guy whoís got steel claws, kicking the shit out of people. I like low-budget stuff. What I like about independent, black-and-white comic books like yours, is that you donít see a lot of computer stuff behind it. You can see the brush strokes. Itís very tactile and accessible. When you get towards the more expensive, slicker books,.. yeah, thereís a lot of drawing in there. But, still, itís all very clean and professional and tight. Itís not as accessible. I like books that look like theyíre thrown together and messy. You know,.. you can see the fingerprints on it. Thatís what really inspires me,.. watching something and going, ďOh, I could do this.Ē Or looking at a comic book and going, ďOh, I can see the fingerprints and the cross-hatching. I donít need to scan this into anything. I just need to get out a pen and draw.Ē Thatís exciting to me, too. Like, when I see Japanese monster movies, and the monsters are obviously guys in rubber costumes, Iím like, ďOh, thatís all you have to do.Ē
J: Like Inframan.
R: Yeah. Inframan is kick-ass. Thatís another one thatís just like, ďFuck it. Letís just make a movie about a guy who can do anything. Who cares about the logic of it.
J: (laughs) It doesnít matter if you can see the marks in his costume from us sewing him into it, or a boom mic in the shot above. Weíll just do this and have it be the film.
R: I think thatís charming. I think thatís really cool. Iím a fan making comic books. Iím not necessarily a ďcomic book guyĒ. Iím just a fan. Iím like anybody out there, and Iím just doing it. Thatís how I feel about being a director or a writer. Iím not a writer or a director. Iím just like you guys. Only, I got the keys.
J: Youíre just trying the shit out.
R: Yeah. Iím just trying to make it.
J: Thatís the best way to do it. And, finally, do dogs have lips?
R: (laughs) Do dogs have lips? I donít think dogs have lips, do they?
J: This is a reoccurring question with tastes like chicken interviews.
R: I donít think dogs have lips, because they canít kiss you. They donít pucker. They canít whistle. Did I answer right?
J: Thereís no correct answer, yet. It hasnít scientifically been proven, either way. Itís just a question that they have everybody ask at the end of an interview: ďDo dogs have lips?Ē People have a different response every time.
R: Do most people say they do?
J: I think most people say, ďYeah. They do have lips.Ē They have some sort of gum above the teeth. I donít know.
R: And thatís considered a lip? Okay.
J: Either way, thereís no wrong answer.
VISIT ROB HERE.