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Art Talk with Rory Blank

by Maryssa Chavez
Art Talk with Rory Blank

ART TALK WITH RORY BLANK

Photographs and Interview by: Jinni J 
Introduction by: Maryssa Rose Chavez 

Rory Blank is a Texas native, comic strip artist, creative, and the maker and mind behind the iconic "Ted Cruz was the Zodiac Killer", shirt.

Rory allows a distinct air of honesty into his art, that speaks to the many mundane moments in daily life, and also to the harshness that is our human existence. In his art, he is questioning dimensionality and the depth of everyday moments with a level of absurdity. He adds a flare of humor and personification to things, and ideas, that otherwise would not have language. 

Our very own Jinni J, did an interview with Rory to get some insight into his work, mind, and inspiration(s), as a long time collaborator here at Raw Paw we wanted to share with y'all what we learned about Rory.  

Jinni:
I know you did the Ted Cruise is the Zodiac Killer and it went way more viral than you had anticipated, you donated all the proceeds to planned parenthood. But when and how did it occur to you to put your artwork on t-shirts?

Rory:
Just as a quick clarification, I hear it reported a lot that we donated the money to Planned Parenthood. The money we raised actually went to an organization called The West Fund, which is based and focused in West Texas.
They're a really cool organization. They help people get access to abortions, as well as providing community sex education resources and engage in local activism on other community issues, like dealing with gentrification.

Tim Faust approached me asking if I wanted to draw a shirt based on a joke some of his friends were making online, to raise money for The West Fund. When he brought it up, his exact words were, "I think we could sell like 20 of these and maybe raise a couple hundred bucks or something".

I lived in El Paso for a decade and my mom is a midwife working in that area, so the idea of doing something that would specifically help people from my old home town really appealed to me. I think by the end of the first night that they were up, we'd sold around 200. It's probably the single most surreal thing that's ever happened in my life.

Jinni:
You have this balanced quality of giving voice to the dreadful in a delightfully real yet totally absurd hilarious way, have you always been able to have that lens or did it take you awhile to find your voice?

Rory:
I don't know. I think I have a panic disorder. I mean like a psychiatrist told me that they thought I did, but I never followed up on it, but most of my comics are about dealing with how freaked out I feel most of the time. If I'm any good at getting that across to other people, it's mostly just the result of repetition.
Over time, if you're paying attention to what you're saying, how you're saying it, and how people are responding to it, you pick up tools to help make what you're saying make sense. When I first started making comics regularly, one of the most common responses I would get from people was just "what?".

There's stuff you just have to figure out overtime and find levels on, and it's more about building that muscle, to be able to feel it out than any advice you can get from a writing book. Like a good rule of thumb if you're writing something is that the audience doesn't know what you're thinking, they're not inside your head, and if there's information that they need to get the joke and you don't give it to them, they're going to get confused and, often, mad at you because they don't get the joke. But at the same time, if you get overly expository, and put too much information on the table, the end result is going to be boring and flat. But I also can't tell you where the level is. You just kind of have to feel it. 

Jinni:
It seems like you often raise money for causes with your art, why is activism important to you? / is artwork and activism connected for you?

Rory:
My parents were both really into punk rock, and I've been interested in politics longer than I've been interested in having any kind of creative career. I also feel kind of uncomfortable about having a lot of money laying around, especially as someone who's used to being broke, and I know there's a lot of other stuff out there that needs support more than I need to have a stack of cash sitting in my bank account.

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Jinni:
How long have you been making art? Can you remember the first comic you made, if so do you remember what it was about?

Rory:
I've always drawn. The weird thing is, when I was a kid I really wanted to be a cartoonist, but I was also keenly aware that my drawing abilities were horrible and rather than making a concerted effort to improve there were several years were I just kind of gave up on that idea and thought I should try something else and just draw as a hobby. I don't really remember the first comic strip I drew. I used to just make single one-offs very sporadically whenever I had an easy throw away idea, but most of those have been lost to the sands of time. I guess if there's a lesson in any of this it's that you should keep trying to do something even if you're horrible at it, but let yourself be horrible at it, and be okay with yourself being horrible at it, or you won't get any better.

Jinni:
You're regularly cranking comic strips out! Is there anything that helps you stay focused and find the time to make your art?

Rory:
I mean, as far as I can tell there isn't really any trick, like some cool hack that makes it possible to focus on your work. Sometimes it sucks and is really hard, and it's difficult to focus on anything, and you just kind of have to force yourself to keep going, and not give up or make excuses like "well, it's already so late in the day, I might as well turn in." It helps if can have a set up that you're comfortable with, that feels familiar enough that you innately feel like "this is the place I do work in", but ultimately, you just kind of have to do it.

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Jinni:
You recently quit your full-time job, what helped you make that decision?

Rory:
Honestly, more than anything, I got to a point where I thought I was going to die if I kept working as much as I was. I had a full time, 40 hour a week desk job that I hated, and on top of that, I was also running a distro out of my house, selling shirts and making and selling zines, and adding to that, being in PWR, I basically just had no free time, and a lot of the time, was getting around 4-5 hours of sleep every night. I gained a lot of weight and my chest and head hurt a lot of the time. When I broke my hand at a show about a year ago, that was kind of a big wakeup call, that I was stretching myself way too thin, that I was physically exhausting my body and that things were probably going to get a lot worse if I didn't cut back on some stuff.
I kind of regret quitting when I did though, because about a week after I left, the office went on lockdown because of Covid-19 and there were a few months where all of my coworkers were getting paid but were staying home and not working. Coulda made some easy money.

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Jinni:
What are some recommendations you have? (shows, movies, podcasts, books, comics, etc,.)? 

Rory:
Find and watch the 2004 Japanese experimental comedy film Survive Style 5+. Also Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. I really like the movie Hobo With A Shotgun but I also can understand anyone not liking that movie.
Read Tintin, especially if you want to make comics. Herge's storytelling, which was written for serial publication, can give you a lot of insight into how to pace stuff, and it's also fun and engaging. Although also some of it has aged horribly. Another good comic strip I'd recommend is Tove Jansson's Moomin comics, they're funny, dry, sometimes biting, and have a delicate sense of whimsy to them. Michael Kupperman 's comics have some of the sharpest comedy writing I have ever read in my entire life, along with looking extremely cool.
Also, buy The Marchenoir Library by Alex Degen.  

You can follow Rory on Instagram: @roryblank and check out his shirts as well, at: roryblank.bigcartel.com 
Thank you Rory for sitting down and chatting with us and allowing for a bit of insight into your practice, art, and life.