Matty Boy Anderson
Into It. Over It.:
A Story About Matty Boy Anderson and His Funny Drawings With Word Balloons
I probably still have the package somewhere. An envelope full of examples of assorted comic strips drawn by a recent arrival to Atlanta named Matthew Anderson, along with a hopeful proposal that Stomp and Stammer consider carrying one or more of them. At the time, we were running Maria Schneider’s wonderful “Pathetic Geek Stories” strip, wherein she visualized in comic form true embarrassing/mortifying personal experiences sent in by readers. It was a cute, inspired, off-the-wall strip (check out patheticgeekstories.com for the archives), but I was beginning to feel like it had run its course in S&S. One of Matt’s series of strips, in particular, caught my eye, and I knew immediately they would be a perfect fit for us, as they chronicled his ever-evolving viewpoints on all manner of bands, and the stupid/hilarious events that contributed to it all.
In our November 2002 issue, we ran the first “Bands I Useta Like” strip, featuring four panels documenting his love/hate relationship with the B-52’s. I particularly related to the second panel. “1990 – Saw B-52’s live at Meadowlands,” the setup reads. “Had to endure not only Ziggy Marley as opener, but B-52’s constant environmentalist rhetoric.” In the drawing below, Fred Schneider is barking out re-greened lyrics to “Rock Lobster” (“There goes an oil tanker! There goes an oil slick!”), Kate Pierson is imploring the crowd to visit the Greenpeace booth after the concert, and a hysterically annoyed Anderson is shown in the crowd, yelling, “Gimme a fuckin’ break!” As is often said about genuine humor: It’s funny because it’s true.
Bringing Matty on board has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made with this endeavor, and while it’s more like every third issue now that the strip runs instead of every month, I still greatly anticipate seeing what band he picks (there have never been any repeats, by the way) and the situations involved. His caricatures are a hoot, the expressions on the faces he draws are just amazing, and the stories often send me into all-out laughing fits. I still crack up thinking about the Mazzy Star one. The guy just has loads of artistic talent, a great sense of humor, and a lot to say. It’s an unbeatable combination.
A year and a half ago, he began periodically self-publishing Bands I Useta Like as a comic book/satire magazine. The 32-page paperback compendiums began as a combination of the “Bands I Useta Like” strips from S&S along with new non-BIUL comics and stories. The third and latest volume, however, consists solely of new, non-BIUL comic strips. Confused? “I’m just really interested in the idea of doing an original underground comix magazine, something that’s in the tradition of classic underground comix,” Anderson says. “But most of the stuff in it is still about music, in some way.” Don’t fret – for those fans aching for a solid collection of the “Bands I Useta Like” strips from S&S, Matty published the 60-page Bands I Useta Like Travel Companion in 2014, which compiles a generous chunk of them.
On the occasion of the release of Bands I Useta Like 3, Matty met me on the back patio of the Star Bar to talk about his background and the inspirations (you know – pain, loneliness, anger, frustration, heartbreak) that go into drawing all these funny little pictures.
Born in Manhattan, Anderson grew up in Glen Rock, New Jersey, northwest of the city. Early on, our boy established himself as troublemaker with his art.
“I would draw comics and pass ‘em around in class, in grade school, and I got in trouble for that a lot,” he tells me. “But that’s when I got started. The other kids wanted to read what I was [doing]… and then they started passing it around, and then little by little I started to realize, ‘OK, I see what makes people laugh….’ As far as a cartoon – a picture and words.”
By high school, it became clear he wanted to take things more seriously when he started doing a comic strip for the school newspaper. “I got the gig when I was a sophomore, and I continued it as a junior and senior, which nobody had ever done. ‘Cause… why would you? Why would anybody have that plan? At that time, I was doing parodies, like [of] Scooby-Doo, a lot of Hanna-Barbera stuff. Dynomutt. I made a comic book, I took a Dynomutt comic and I whited all the speech balloons and I wrote nasty stuff in them, and then I published that, and, uh, Evan Dorkin – do you know who that is? He’s a big hero of mine. He did Milk and Cheese. That’s what he’s most known for. But he’s done a lot of great stuff, and when I would self-publish when I was a lot younger, I would send him my stuff, and he used to write me these replies all written out with details and criticism and stuff, and it was great! And he said, ‘Yeah, I don’t know about this Dynomutt thing you did. I think that’s kinda been done, with people whiting out speech balloons and writing in obscenities. I think you’re kinda better than that, probably,’” Anderson laughs.
He brings up a few other seminal influences. “Ivan Brunetti did a comic called Schizo. And he does the whole ‘sendups of the comic strip format,’ and they’re so funny and disgusting. Crazy magazine did that too. Crazy, I was a big fan of in the ‘80s. They did a lot of amazing stuff. Fake labels… I just love that stuff like Wacky Packages. I worked with Jay Lynch very briefly on Garbage Pail Kids about ten years ago. He was one of the creators of Wacky Packages, a seminal underground cartoonist who’s still around. He’s one of the big guys. Him, Robert Crumb, Art Spielgelman, S. Clay Wilson… Spain Rodriguez is deceased unfortunately. Robert Williams is still around. That’s like the Zap crew. He’s one of those guys. And Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, the two poster guys. I like to study [Griffin’s] logos and try to see if I can get the style. That’s something that I really enjoy, inking different techniques. Because a lot of ‘em were on speed! And that was a real rude awakening, like in my 20s I was like, ‘Ah, I just wanna do underground comix like they used to… ‘ And a few years ago, somebody said, ‘Yeah, they were all on speed – that’s why they were able to sit there and do these incredible – like, Rory Hayes – these detailed [drawings].’”
Upon graduating high school, Anderson drained the family finances attending SCAD in Savannah for a year before dropping out when he got a job doing a comic strip in a newspaper. Although his time there was brief, Anderson chalks up his studies at SCAD as pivotal.
“I had some great professors there! When I went, I was only drawing cartoons. I had to have that broken, and then learn to draw actual figures, and people, and faces, and not just cartoons, because that was all I was doing in high school. It just was very flat, two-dimensional. The objects that I drew didn’t look like they existed in space, they just looked flat like Beetle Bailey. So it was good for that. And then I could go back to building up a cartoon style after that. I grew up reading underground comix from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and MAD magazine, and National Lampoon, and it’s just so much better to know a lot of different styles, and be able to pick and choose, to do parodies and pastiches and stuff.”
Matty started working in a record store called Tracks at the Savannah Mall around the time he left SCAD. Soon after, Anderson recalls, “it changed from Tracks to Blockbuster Music. And it went straight to hell.” He later ended up kinda/sorta running the music department at a nearby Media Play (all three chains are long defunct). As any of us who’ve ever worked in music retail would rightly surmise, many of his “Bands I Useta Like” storylines come from those years.
“Yeah, that’s when the shit started,” he laughs. “That’s where a lot of the really hilarious, awful stuff comes from. The breaking of the merchandise… it was right around the time of ‘Whoomp There It is,’ and Hootie and the Blowfish, and fuckin’ Pearl Jam Ten, which, I mean, we were just told to play it all day. Just leave it on.”
Anderson swears the episodes in “Bands I Useta Like” are “pretty much all real. It’s not so much embellished as exaggerated. And the thing is, it becomes real after I write it, because it replaces whatever the memory was in my brain! The memory isn’t a memory anymore – it’s a strip, so it’s visual. That’s the thing about movies, you know, when you have a movie that’s based on a historical time or incident, that becomes that history in people’s minds. That’s where we’re at now. But if I made things too false, it would undermine what I’d already written that was true. So it’s kind of a fine line. Because it has to have a certain harshness to it.”
Anderson – who, when pressed, cites John Zorn as his favorite musician, with Zappa probably a close second – came up with the idea for “Bands I Useta Like” in 1998, while still in Savannah.
“Do you know the magazine Motorbooty? I had an issue for years, and it had a bunch of comic strips from Lloyd Dangle. He was just writing about going to see Iggy Pop, and how he got pressed up against a support beam, and he got sick while Iggy was singing ‘You’re Pretty Face Is Going to Hell.’ And something about it – because I was real young, I was just starting to go to concerts when I read it – and I was like, ‘This is kind of a fun idea!’ The fucked up stuff you experience at concerts. There’s never a shortage! And I went to so many GWAR shows in the ’90s, and that’s just a mecca for the most unbelievably fucked up shit…”
The way I look at Matt’s comics, now that I’ve come to know him, it seems almost like therapy for him. A way of telling what he’s been through, in a funny way, but also a purging of something…
‘Yeah, absolutely,” he says. “There’s a fickleness that everybody has regarding music. And social mores play into it, and everybody’s really kind of funny about it. And I like that weird fickleness. That’s something that I feel in myself, where I’ll love a band one day and the next day I’m wantin’ to kill ‘em! Because I can’t get it out of my head, or it’s annoying me. It’s that weird limbo of you’re entertained by this group, in an emotional way, and you’re working it out. That’s something I’ve really been enjoying exploring. It’s something that really exists in most people.”
And his other strips are often quite personal, too, as anyone who’s picked up one of his Bands I Useta Like magazines can attest. Frequently Matt’s the central (or only) character, talking to us in cartoon form, ranting from panel to panel about something or other. The first issue even had some stuff about his arrest three years ago for taking a baseball bat to a parasitic street lunatic who wouldn’t stop screaming and banging on the door of his Little Five Points home for no reason one night, eventually lunging at Matt. Anderson spent a whopping 48 days in the Fulton County Detention Center for defending himself and his property against this scumbucket.
“It’s just painful to write comics about jail,” he tells me. “It’s all really personal.”
Even more personal and painful, two years later, in March 2015, Joe Hruska and Chay Kelsey were shot dead in the parking lot behind Junkman’s Daughter in Little Five. Yeah, it’s the double homicide whose perps are just now going to trial. Those were Matt’s good friends and roommates.
“It was brutal,” he says, in the understatement of the century. “There’s still a couple of places I’ve only just started going back to, in town, where I’m not… even the spot, over there, it took me some time to walk through the spot. Because…it’s there. Three minutes away. I don’t know how I didn’t hear it.”
“This is a fucked up city,” I blurt out bluntly, for indeed it strikes me as such more often than not anymore.
“Yeah. It’s really fucked up,” he agrees. “But…I’m pretty fucked up. And it’s felt more like home to me than any place I’ve been in the past. I never thought of leaving [Atlanta]. That’s when I knew I was probably supposed to be here. As close as I’m supposed to be anywhere. When shit like that happens, right there, three minutes away [from my house]. I timed it. It’s more like, if I leave, I’d be missing a chance to make anything better. It’s like giving up…”
While it’s not likely that particular horrendous experience will end up comicized by Anderson, in recent years he’s transformed his bandsiusestalike.com website into more of a freewheeling blog where he regularly writes essays and extended commentaries about all kinds of topics. Sometimes they’re about himself or his comics or things that have happened in his life; other times they’re about current issues, observations on culture and society. And they’re really great.
“I try to keep it on topic, like with music and culture, and cartoons,” he says, but as with anything these days, things can get political. Most of the time, I consider Matt a libertarian. But then his commitment to Bernie Sanders leads me to believe he’s more far left. Then again, other statements he makes are right in line with common sense conservatism. I’ve never been able to place him.
“At this point, it’s basically the alt-right that is not giving me the business. They make jokes, and I laugh, and I make jokes, and they laugh. So it’s pretty much the alt-right,” he says. “The left have become monsters. And I essentially just stop communicating. I just let them continue, and I say, ‘OK. I’m not going to contribute. You’ve made a decision to be religious about your political choices. You’ve made a decision to be emotionally reactive, and nothing else. You use no logic, so that’s it – we’re done.’ It’s fucking Hunter S. Thompson times. Where you can’t even believe the stupid shit that’s unfolding.
“I’ve pretty much always been like this,” he continues. “I just have no tolerance for people’s bullshit whatsoever. And politics is all bullshit. And I’m a cartoonist, and as such, politics are… politics and cartoons are like peanut butter and jelly. You can’t be a cartoonist and not be political. You can, but you’re not going to be a very interesting cartoonist. Cartoonists are political. They’re mercurial, and angry, and it’s just the way it is. It comes from sitting by yourself and drawing cartoons! You don’t draw cartoons ’cause you’re happy! You don’t draw cartoons ‘cause you’re gettin’ pussy all the time. ‘Here’s a cartoon about how I got so much pussy!’ No.”
“It’s the new punk rock,” I submit.
“Yeah. It really is. That’s why, for me, I feel like there’s a better purpose to be putting together a humor magazine than there was ten years ago, when I was just doing it to do it. Now it feels like an ‘act.’ Like a political act. Look: I did this, and it offends people! And it’s funny, and it makes you think. Instead of just lulling you into watching people dance on TV ’til you’re hypnotized.”
A signing party for Bands I Useta Like 3 will take place at My Parents’ Basement, 22 N. Avondale Rd. in Avondale Estates, on Friday, September 16th beginning at 7 p.m. Matty Anderson will have copies of all of his books on hand. Your attendance is requested.