21.Jan.2011 Winning Streak: An Interview with Nick Maandag
Nick Maandag’s comic about a streakers club has won a Xeric grant. In Streakers, three men, menial workers by day, dedicated streakers by night, search for their Holy Grail - ‘the perfect streak’. The Xerics are financed by Peter Laird, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to help cartoonists self-publish their first professionally printed books.
A veteran of photocopied mini-comics, Maandag is earning his best sales yet with a story that continues his interest in quietly desperate characters. Humdrum and unnoticed, they need to get naked to get seen. Currently it’s only available from the zine rack at the Beguiling comic store in Toronto, but the professional printing this year should bring a wider audience.
Dalton Sharp spoke with him about the power of letting it all hang out.
So why streaking?
I really like the idea of streaking, although I’d never do it myself. I just thought it’d be a good subject for a comedy. I was at a baseball game one day with my friend and we were talking about streaking, and it just suddenly hit me that it’d be a good story about a group of streakers, and I started thinking about who the characters might be.
Did you do a lot of research for it?
At first. I thought I’ll do a lot of research and really get to know about the history of streaking, and I’ll read books, and watch documentaries, and all that. I actually started doing that, and I got really bored so I just said, “screw it I’ll start writing it. Who cares?” Because once I started and the more I thought about the story the more I realized I didn’t need to do a lot of research because it really wasn’t about streaking.
It wasn’t about the history of streaking or anything like that, it was about the characters and the story which just happened to be about streaking so… I did a little bit of research, like I read the Wikipedia article on streaking and some other things like there’s a few blogs out there dedicated streakers put in entries like, “oh, I hit the public school today. It was a good streak.” Things like that or, “I went on a night time streak, two people saw me. It was a big thrill.” I found that more interesting. These modern streakers who blog about it I found that more interesting than the history of it. So I read some of that stuff just to get an idea of what goes on inside a streakers mind and why they do it. But as far as the history goes I didn’t do very much research.
Comics is a way for me to unleash my id, and say things that I wouldn’t normally say as a reserved person. Act out things I’d like to act out I suppose.
So there really are these…it really is an underground cult activity?
It’s much more underground than it was in the 70′s, but yeah, there are these clusters of people out there. There’s different kinds of streakers. You have your attention seekers who do it at the sporting events. On the other hand you have these people who do it more for the thrill of it. The fear of getting caught gives them a thrill. It hasn’t gone away. Of course it never will. There are still clusters of people out there.
Yeah I was thinking…is it an art form? I mean it does what artists do in that they’re exposing themselves and they’re seeking attention. So it has this…if anything it’s the ultimate art form…
Yeah I would classify it as art. I don’t know if streakers would consider themselves to be artists. Guess I have a pretty broad definition of art so I would group them in there.
I think it’s a recent phenomenon that you have Golden Palace and companies like that paying people to streak. Do you think that’s corrupting the purity of streaking?
The Xavier character in the book would be outraged by that because he takes the art form of streaking seriously, so he would consider that guy to be a sell-out clown or this horrible person who’s corrupting the art form. I’m personally not offended by that, because I’m not a streaking connoisseur like the Xavier character is.
For a comedy about nudity this story is strangely sexless.
If you’re a real streaker…the official definition of streaking is that it’s not supposed to be erotic. You can’t be doing it for sexual or erotic reasons. That’s the standard definition. And that’s why the Xavier character doesn’t consider Doug to be a true streaker because he’s in it for his jollies. He likes to expose himself to girls. If you read books or articles on streaking by streakers they’ll say it’s nudity, but it’s not sexual. It’s about screwing with people or about having fun or political reasons.
So 1974, as you point out in the comic, is the pinnacle of streaking [‘s popularity], and there’s that famous photo with the [British] bobby covering the guy’s crotch with his helmet, and everyone’s smiling and it all seems good fun. From there it seems to…now in the States if you get convicted of streaking you’re declared a sex offender.
Only in some states though.
Did you note that intolerance happen too? As it peaked as a fun fad and…
Things just seemed to get more conservative after that time period.
Any theories about why that is?
I guess things just got too liberal and people reacted to it. The reactionaries pushed things back a bit, I don’t know. But yeah, things got less streaking friendly in the 80′s it seems.
Also streaking just started happening in a big way in the 70′s so lawmakers didn’t really have a chance to react to it. And then once it became this fad I guess that’s when they decided they had to start cracking down a bit. But yeah, it seems the law is less friendly to streakers than it was back then. Not that I’m an expert on this, because as I said I’m not…
I was kinda thinking that it’s interesting now that you’re finally getting resistance in the States to the 911, the different restrictions on people’s freedoms…and it’s over TSA workers fondling air passengers…it’s seems that nudity is this weird…
Yeah it’s ridiculous. Y’know, that Janet Jackson breast incident at the Super Bowl, remember that?
That came up on the internet that somebody actually streaked at that Super Bowl, but the cameras turned away.
Y’know one of the major setbacks for streaking in the last couple of decades is that now when a streaker appears at a sporting event the cameras always turn away.
It didn’t used to happen that way because they weren’t prepared for it. A streaker would show up on the field and for at least a couple of seconds travel through the airwaves. But they have these systems in place now where as soon as a streaker shows up they know…
Like a subway jumper, it doesn’t get reported.
It’s the time delay. Yeah, no one knows about it except the people at the stadium, so people at home watching on TV…they’re missing out on all the streaking these days.
Right. It kinda makes it even more subversive, it kinda just becomes a whisper I guess.
Why are the settings in your comics always fictional?
The stories that I do are never about Toronto first of all. I don’t really like when cartoonists draw stories about Toronto because I feel that…
Poor Scott Pilgrim.
I really dislike national pride, civic pride, any sort of pride about where you live. I feel that when a cartoonist does a story about Toronto and they advertise it as such, not in all cases obviously, but I feel that there’s a lot of civic pride going on that just annoys me. I don’t want to be a part of that, and since the stories aren’t about Toronto I might as well make it a generic city. I want it to be more universal. I want people to think, “oh, this could be my city.” There’s no real reason to label my cities as Toronto. Of course the city in Streakers is definitely modeled on Toronto. It’s just a personal thing for me that I just don’t like to advertise the fact that I live here. What if someone’s living in Pittsburgh and draws a cartoon about Pittsburgh? I’m not interested in that. I guess it would sorta alienate me a bit. I’d rather read about generic cities.
Do you think there’s similarities between Streakers and Jack and Mandy [Maandag's last story about the unrequited love of a geek in university]?
One obvious similarity is that they’re both semi-autobiographical. None of the events actually happened, but they’re both autobiographical in spirit I guess.
Which would mean that you’re searching for some…thing…some Holy Grail, I don’t know…is that accurate?
Because they both seem to be about seeking some great hard-to-reach experience.
I would agree with that. Comics is a way for me to unleash my id, and say things that I wouldn’t normally say as a reserved person. Act out things I’d like to act out I suppose. Yeah, it’s just a way for me to go a bit crazy. An obvious difference is that Jack and Mandy is more dramatic. I think that’s probably the last serious story that I’ll do.
I thought parts of it were pretty funny though.
Yeah I intended parts of it to be funny.
…in a sad cruel way but...
Uh, I’ll ask a technical question. Why do you have no line variation?
I like comics that are very clean. By having those solid grey areas, those uniform lines it makes it very clean. I don’t know. It’s a good question. I could easily change the direction of those lines.
But for some reason I always want them to be diagonal. There’s probably no good reason for that. Maybe I’m just afraid to change the direction.
Ha ha. Really? It would almost look strange at this point to see…
To see any kind of line variation at this point.
In my comics?
I associate your comics with…basically a straight line.
I think if I changed the direction of the lines it would just get too crazy for me. It would upset everything. My mind needs those lines to go in the same direction every time.
So you’re not going to be using a brush anytime soon?
Well I use a…you mean for the lines?
No. I’ll never change at this point.
Those lines are going the same direction until I’m dead.
I’ll just ask a final question, I thinking as we age our eyesight will go, our hearing will go, our sexual function will go, the one thing we’ll still have…will be the ability to feel the air on our skin. Have these characters accidentally…I don’t know, stumbled on some sort of profound truth?
Well if you streak, and this is what streakers say is that when you go for a streak you feel alive and a rush and that’s definitely what they get out of it. So yeah, it doesn’t matter how old you get, you take your clothes off and go running around in public you’re going to get a thrill out of it. Maybe there is something transcendent about it that gets their attention. That’s why they do it.
Y’know, now that I think about it, probably the thing that got me started on the book was I was watching the movie Borat and there’s this scene where Borat’s manager, they’re at some stuffy business function…
In a hotel?
Yeah. And they streak. They take off their clothes and his manager is gigantic, he’s obese…
He has massive man-boobs.
Yeah. So you’re watching this stuff and you’re at a business function and this guy in his suit is talking about the last quarterly results or something like that and suddenly this obese fat man runs up on stage and starts flopping around and I found that scene to be so funny. And it wasn’t just funny, there was something else about it, because it was this stuffy business meeting, dull, drab, like death really, no life at all, and suddenly you get the exact opposite. There’s some sort of life source behind streaking I think.
Nick Maandag’s website is http://www.laffdepot.blogspot.com/