When Bob Fingerman [http://www.bobfingerman.com]envisions his future, he sees the end of the world. Not the bleak void left behind when the Earth is blasted to dust, but an apocalypse just destructive enough to leave the planet populated with a collection of mutants, a couple of three-headed dogs, and a healthy supply of Slim Jims.
Of course, this is all speculation.
At the beginning of his latest graphic novel From The Ashes (A Speculative Memoir [http://fromtheashescomic.blogspot.com/), Fingerman and his wife Michele stand alone amidst the rubble – no context, no explanation. Slowly, the decimated planet is revealed to be part paradise, where neighborly zombies live peacefully with their three-headed dogs, mutants farm for Buick-sized vegetables, and Blackberry service ceases to exist; and part nightmare, in which religious fanatics survive to persecute homosexuals, “foodies” feast on the flesh of nuclear-charred celebrity chefs, and political pundit cyborgs are upheld as the prophets and saviors of the world’s remains.
Fingerman, who drew the comic for HEEB’s “Wasted” issue [,http://www.heebmagazine.com/articles/view/180] follows in a long tradition of politically-minded storytellers, with smart, scathing humor as the vehicle for his beliefs. Like Dante in The Inferno and Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland, he casts his favorite social and political villains as players in his fictional setting. The post-nuclear fallout grants a power-thirsty, Wizard-of-Oz-aping “Rile O’Biley” leadership over an underground cult of survivors and appoints “Ma Rove,” as O’Biley’s nursemaid sidekick, a drove of Rove clones in tow. He highlights the perceived weaknesses of society – overconsumption, blind zealotry, obsession with political correctness – in masterstrokes of comedic prowess. Cannibalism begins but days after the holocaust occurs, just down the street from a grocery store spilling over with Chef Boyardee. Zombies insist upon being called “Reanimated-Americans.”
From The Ashes is set pre-2008 election, and though multiple parties of extremists in the tale attempt to claim responsibility for the disaster, the source of the world-ending nuclear blast is never explained. But Fingerman insists the story is not intended to be polemical.
“It was more about a mindset and not about blame,” he says. “I didn’t really want to blame anything specific, other then a general feeling about the state of the world and the state of humanity.”
Fingerman’s heroes are the great satirists of the 60s and 70s – people like Terry Southern, most famous for his penning of “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Loved One” – and his influences for this book in particular were drawn from the early days of MAD Magazine, and the cartoons of Mort Drucker and Jack Davis, with their loose, easy penciling style and pop-cultural/political commentary. Fingerman’s sense of humor is caustic; his outlook on life bleak, but charmingly so. He is a misanthrope whose armor of sarcasm is broken only for his wife, Michele, who is his companion on this post-apocalyptic journey. Buoyant, snappy and resourceful, Michele is the only match for Fingerman’s stubbornness and smart mouth. And in essence, “From The Ashes,” is as much a tribute to Fingerman’s love for her as it is a cross-section of the state of humankind.
Not knowing if we’d be among the survivors of Fingerman’s fictional apocalypse, HEEB thought it best to sit down with the cynical cartoonist now, to talk about everything from his obsession with the end of the world, to how he was almost talked into a thirteen-year-old trip to the bimah, to why he wouldn’t really be a good survivor in an emergency.
A speculative memoir could have taken your life in so many directions. Why out yourself through the apocalypse?
Well, it’s not the first time I’ve dabbled with the apocalypse. That to me is a theme I could come back to, and probably will come back to again and again. Partly because, to me, it’s just a fun scenario to play with. And I wanted to do something kind of silly with it. But I’ve got a novel coming out in August about the apocalypse, “Pariah,” and that’s much more serious. What can I say, the End of Humanity is just something I never stopped enjoying thinking about.
Do you think there’s anything Jewish about your work? Are you a born Jew? Lets start with that.
Well, I’m a born atheist. Both my parents are atheists, so I’m Jewish in name, but not in practice. I guess since my mother wasn’t Jewish at all, according to a Rabbi, I did not come from a Jewish uterus, so I committed the sin right from the get-go. But it’s definitely in there, culturally. I think it’s in the DNA whether you want it in there or not. I probably use more Yiddish in my work than I have any right to. There are so many things you can express in Yiddish that you can’t express any other way. I’ve got Irish -American friends who insist on using words like “kvetch” and “oy.” They just don’t have their own words for them.
That’s true. We have invented many ways to complain.
When I was twelve, my father’s mother, who was orthodox, attempted to bully me into preparing for a bar-mitzvah. I got kind of bushwacked. My dad hates religion with a passion, but he drove me out to my grandmother’s apartment in Co-op City in the Bronx, and his sister and her husband were there along with my grandmother and I thought, “What’s happening?” And my father sat in the kitchen because he didn’t want to have anything to do with it, and the three of them just kind of ganged up on me and were like, “You should have a bar mitzvah.” It was a really weird moment. My grandmother was orthodox by her own rules. People who are that fervent about things, they kind of always make up their own shit to some degree.
Well, in the book you hold accountable all sorts of people that have fervent beliefs they impose upon other people. What do you think it is about the “God Hates Fags” clan, or even the foodies that makes them so ripe for parody?
I think you kind of say it in the names. I mean, “God Hates Fags?” Not to undermine myself, but they’re almost self-satirizing. I’ve been aware of Pastor Fred Phelps and his idiotic brood for a long time. I really wanted to work with those guys. It sounds like I wanted to jam with a band. â€˜This finally felt like the right project.’ But they can’t wait to get raptured, you know? None of those guys. It would be disappointing to them if they didn’t go.
Okay, so the “God Hates Fags” group is a no-brainer, but why the foodies?
I actually think things like the Food Network are part of the downfall of this country. For one thing, this country’s just too obsessed with food, but not in a healthy way, like Europe is obsessed. Here it’s just about consume, consume, consume. But now it’s consume consume, but with this patina of, “Oh, you’re eating something fancy now…But eat a lot of it!” And I don’t know how affordable they’re trying to make things, because you’ll hear them say things like, “Just use your imported truffle oil.” Like, “Yeah, sure. Why wouldn’t I?”
Why did you cast Rove and O’Reilly the way you did?
Well, in a way O’Reilly’s easier. Cause in a way he’s a figure of just nauseous fascination for me. He’s such a horrible person. But at the same time, he does have kind of a snake oil, salesman charm. Cause he kind of a little twinkle in his eye. He can sometimes be, appealing. Which of course makes him even worse. I think I kind of let myself down in not making Beck a figure in the book – but Beck ONLY appeals to lunatics and idiots. He’s just another sign of the apocalypse. At least the apocalypse of American discourse. He has brought it down to such a level of toddlers. It wouldn’t surprise me if he just whipped it out one day and pissed on a photo of someone he hated, just because he couldn’t find the words anymore.
A few celebrities are discovered not to have survived the disaster in your book. If Anthony Bourdain and Will Smith bite the dust in the apocalypse, who are the celebrities with the strong will to survive? Like DeNiro. DeNiro’s gotta make it out, right? He’s a tough guy.
Well, think of who’s your most robust celebrity. Joe Pantoliano, he’ll survive. He strikes me as a scrappy fellow. I say that with all due respect. You can’t knock him down. “Joey Pants” will be around forever.
So what are the deciding factors as to who survives these kinds of doomsday events?
I think the pure arbitrariness of it is part of what I’m going for. Obviously it’s a humor thing, but that’s why it starts off with a ludicrous image of Michele and I standing in a crater, where everything around us is devastated. It isn’t so much why, it’s why not, you know?
And also, I think of anyone to survive a Holocaust, I’m probably the least likely person I can think of. Because I couldn’t talk my way out of it, and talk has always been sort of my defense mechanism. I don’t really think I have much in the way of a survival gene. But Michele, she would be a great survivor. Hitching myself to her wagon would be a very wise thing to do. I would probably just start crying and wetting myself, but she would say, “Okay, let’s get things done.”
Will sex really be one of the first things you think about after the apocalypse hits?
Oh, absolutely. That’s the glue. That’s kind of what holds me together in a way. It’s like, “Well, there’s always that.” That’s like the one happy thing that I can always rely on.
You really don’t need anything but yourself – and a willing partner. And your partner is willing. Your wife!
And in a way, this is where I go from what might be a kind of detestable attitude towards everything, and become a softie romantic, but really, I think as long as I had her with me, everything would be alright.
So, let’s say there is no apocalypse in your time. What is the default alternative scenario for the “speculative memoir?” Like, do you and Michele have a million babies? Do you become a Republican?
As much as I love horror stories…