Reading Rick Worley’s comics, you never quite know what you’re going to get. His comics tackle issues from base sexual exploits and comics-industry griping to romantic yearnings and personal artistic exploration, reflecting a world that’s full, complicated and unpredictable. Present all that with cuddly animal characters and toys, make all the lead characters gay and you’ve got yourself an unstoppable commercial hit!
It’s right up my alley, anyway, which is why Rick was one of the first cartoonists I published at Northwest Press. He’s currently writing and drawing one of our ongoing series, A Waste of Time.
Zan: Your earliest comics frequently contained lurid accounts of sexual and drug exploits. While your more recent work retains some of those elements, it’s also exploring issues of artistic development and integrity. What’s it been like to blend those two flavors into one book?
Rick Worley: I’ve learned a lot doing this over the past few years about the way people react to sex in art. My approach has always been that sex is part of the characters’ lives and an important part, so when it comes up I’m not inclined to avoid it.
Especially in the comics where I’m dealing with the dating lives of my characters, the sex tells you so many important things about them, it’s harmful to avoid it. But in comics when you deal with sex, you’re presenting an actual image of nudity and sexual activity, so for a lot of people, boom, it’s porn now.
With the story that I’m doing now, the theme that I set for myself was just the idea of trying to find happiness in life, find what you feel like you’re meant to be doing. For me, a lot of that is about what kind of artist I want to be, and what accomplishments I would need to consider myself a success in that area. The other part of it is about relationships again, and what I’m looking to find there.
When I was writing this out, it was getting longer and longer and I realized it could easily be two books… I also realized that the stories I was doing pretty neatly fell into two halves. I had this more fantastical stuff where I was having my characters talk to [Calvin and Hobbes creator] Bill Watterson and other artists who are important to me to try to make some points about my thoughts on all of that, and then I had all these other much more autobio sort of relationship comics. So I decided to cut it into two books.
So now I’ve had people who really liked the sex stuff in my first book who have been a little disappointed that it seems to have gone away a little… And then in the next book I will have almost all dating and sex stories and not really bring up the stuff from this current book, so I will promptly alienate people who have been enjoying my current work.
I hope that people can see that it’s all part of a bigger thing. Sex is part of life. Not the only part, but an important part. I hope when you can see a lot of my work together, sex will be part of it, and there will be other interesting parts, too.
You periodically do portraits of fans who send you selfies, in (ahem) various states of undress. Is one of your goals to have a legion of groupies?
I’m half-kidding about the groupie thing, half absolutely not kidding at all.
If cute guys see my work and it motivates them to send me dirty pictures, absolutely, who’s going to complain about that?
The cute guy drawings started as me drawing my boyfriends, or making drawings from pictures just because I like drawing cute guys. Gradually I figured out that telling a guy I would like to draw him was an excellent way to get him back to my apartment and naked. And not necessarily dishonest, either, because I really liked the drawings that resulted from that, in addition to whatever else resulted once we were alone together.
Then I started doing comics about the experience of drawing guys, their reactions to the drawings, and all that. It went well with the dating comics I was doing. From that, guys reading my comics out there in the world got the idea that if, I thought they were cute, I might do a drawing of them and I started to get some messages and emails to that effect.
It’s not the sole purpose of doing my comics, of course, but once I figured out my comics could result in that, it’s absolutely a perk and it’s kind of become a part of the ongoing meta story as I write the process of creating the comics into the comics. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org by the way. I’m just saying.
Have any of the celebrity subjects of your comics — like Troye Sivan (see below) — responded to your work?
A few of them have.
I was doing a series called Douchebags of Comics where I poked fun at some comics industry figures, and I got several responses from that. [Deadpool creator] Rob Liefeld was totally cool with it, messaged me to say that he thought I was funny and he liked it. That was more in the spirit of it, because I was poking fun at these people, but in a lighthearted way that was an opportunity for me to talk about various comic industry things I was interested in.
Some other people besides Liefeld didn’t think it was so funny, and I got some other kinds of responses. It didn’t occur to me when I started that people might actually be upset by it. Rob Liefeld is a millionaire from his comics, why the hell should he care if somebody like me makes fun of something he drew? And that seemed to be the attitude he took it with, but everybody I talked about wasn’t the same. Eventually I stopped doing it because it was getting attention from a lot of people who I felt just weren’t getting the joke.
I’m a big fan of a British comedian named Simon Amstell and I drew him once and took it to a show to give it to him. It turned out that he had actually seen my book before and liked it a lot, and he was very kind about it. I’ve drawn him a couple times since and he always likes it. I’m talking a little bit in an upcoming comic about all that. So, he’s a lovely person and it was a great response.
As far as I know, [openly gay Australian singer] Troye Sivan has not seen the drawings I’ve done of him, despite my best efforts. I went to a show he did, waited in line like a groupie by the stage door after to try to give him a drawing. He came out and was meeting people, taking pictures and then when I was about three people away from him in the line his handlers or whoever announced that he was done and shuffled him back inside the gate. I was only about five feet away, so I reached out through the gate with my drawings, tried to hand them to him, and had a security guard shove them back in my face. So basically I ended up being exactly the kind of pathetic fan I was trying not to be.
The drawings I did of Simon Amstell and Rob Liefeld weren’t sexual at all, though, so I don’t know what somebody’s reaction would be to that. I’m hoping that if somebody like Troye Sivan or [openly gay Olympic diver] Tom Daley ever reads my thoughts about them, they laugh and enjoy it, as opposed to getting a restraining order.
Read more of Rick Worley’s comics on RickWorley.com!