More Meat Amassed

Tucson's--heck, maybe the world's--most warped cartoonist finally releases a new collection of 'toons

Break out your list of most culturally prominent Tucsonans, and Max Cannon has to be there, amidst the Barbara Kingsolvers and Chuck Bowdens and Linda Ronstadts.

After all, Max Cannon's "Red Meat" comic strip is read by millions of folks around the world every week, in more than 80 newspapers, mostly alternative newsweeklies. Cannon says his strip is even published in a handful of different languages: French, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Finnish and even "Canadian." That's pretty damn impressive.

When asked how it feels to be on such an exclusive, powerful list of folks, Max Cannon gets a perplexed look on his face.

"If I am the best Tucson has to offer," he ponders, "I think we're going to be a dust-blown crater within a decade."

The occasion for our discussion, taking place in the largely empty Club Congress on a Thursday afternoon, is that Cannon is finally releasing a new collection of "Red Meat" strips for the first time since 1998. Red Meat Gold, the third "Red Meat" collection, officially hit the streets this month.

It's about damn time. When asked why it took almost seven years for him to release another collection of about two years' worth of strips ... well, the business world can be complicated. "I just thought I'd take a break from publishing for a while," he says.

The book features a little more than 100 strips from 1998 onward (including two very special dead-clown strips). Cannon says he originally wanted this third collection of strips to be a larger book, but an editor talked him out of it, suggesting that it would be more profitable to release a larger number of books with fewer strips.

"It's greedy," the capitalist bastard admitted. "It's a shock an American would think of something like that."

He also promises it won't be another seven years before a fourth collection of comics is published. "I don't want to wait more than a year-and-a-half or two years between books," he says.

So, other than coming up with sick and demented strips for his adoring public, what has Cannon been up to all these years? The answer: A lot of stuff involving TV and cinema. He's working on a horror movie script. He's been cranking on some TV show-development projects.

And how's that been going? "Nothing's gotten made yet," he says, "but ultimately, something will get made."

Well, it's not entirely true that nothing's gotten made. He made six short cartoons a while back--some, God help us, with "Red Meat" characters--that will be running on cell phones. It turns out Comedy Central has contracted with Verizon Wireless to provide programming on cell phones, and the folks at the cable network liked the 'toons enough to run them on tiny, tiny screens.

It's amazing to think this whole thing started in 1989, when the Arizona Daily Wildcat picked up Red Meat "ever so briefly" (even though Max was not attending the UA). He then proceeded to nag then-Weekly editor Doug Biggers for "months" to pick up the strip. Finally, Biggers relented, and from there, "Red Meat" spread like wildfire. That is, a wildfire that can jump oceans and features a demented milkman and a bolo-tie-wearing freak named Earl.

During our wide-ranging interview, we discussed many topics that have almost nothing to do with each other, and therefore are impossible for a writer of my caliber to tie together in any sort of narrative format. Therefore, I'll resort to the bulleted list format, because a lot of this information is fascinating, if not necessarily socially redeeming:

· On what he looks like naked (I asked because my supposedly straight friend--and Weekly contributing editor--D. Brian Burghart wanted to know): "A lot like Poppin' Fresh, with genitalia, a belly button and three nipples."

· On his age: "I am too old for an eyebrow piercing, but too young for an eyebrow lift."

· On how "Red Meat" translates to other languages and cultures: "In Finland, Dan's a mailman. I have no idea why. I guess they don't have milkmen over there. ... My European friends say it's distinctly American. It's generic enough that it plays good everywhere, I think."

· On which "Red Meat" character he's most similar to: "I really hope none of them ... Well, I am a lot like my dad, and the character of Ted is based on my dad."

· On how some think Ted is based on Bob Dobbs, the master of the Church of the SubGenius, even though he's not: "My dad was very Bob Dobbs-esque, without the tripidellic, nihilist philosophy. He was Bob Dobbs without the slack. There was nothing slack about the man. He was living in the '50s long after the '50s ended."

· On what's up with the "slug line" at the top of every strip: "That's just my own form of personal poetry. It's a little something extra for those who don't like comics, but who love the English language."

· Some of his favorite slug lines? "Plastic fruit for a starving nation" and "Official pace car of the apocalypse."

· On Milkman Dan: "Milkmen seem so wholesome, and there's no way anybody can be that wholesome. ... I grew up in a military family, and there's something about that military-style uniform, all cleaned up, a brutal control effort the military necessarily breeds. There's something about that, too."

· On mainstream strips he enjoys: "I like to look at 'The Family Circus' because it's so fucking weird. A lot of people say the world of 'Red Meat' is so separated from reality. I think it's more in step of reality than 'The Family Circus.'"

And finally, on how long he plans on doing "Red Meat": "I'll quit when it starts to suck, but I can't imagine that would be the case, or I'll quit if I don't enjoy it anymore. I imagine I'll continue on doing it for many years to come."

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