Snakepit is an autobiographical journal comic by Austin, Texas resident, Ben Snakepit. Every day, he draws three panels about what happened to him that day, even on the days where nothing much happens. Despite his claims of it being boring, it’s a fascinating read and an interesting voyeuristic peek into the daily life of an artist and musician.
Ben just released “Snakepit Gets Old,” his sixth book, which chronicles years 10, 11 and 12 of Snakepit comics. I asked Ben a few questions about Snakepit, autobiographical comics, and doing the same damn thing every day for twelve long years.
Disclosure: My husband was college roommates with Ben, and our former publishing company, Young American Comics, published Snakepit for a few years.
1. 12 years is a long time for an autobiographical comic. It seems like most of the time, the kind of artists who make autobio comics are also pretty fragile people and can’t keep it up for long. (Myself included.) Why do you think you’ve been able to make Snakepit for so long?
Well, you know how Snakepit is kinda boring? I think that’s my secret. other people that do diary comics usually try to change it up to keep it from getting boring, so they’ll focus on one event from each day, or they’ll try to get super introspective or go off on a crazy tangent, and eventually they lose what they were going for in the first place. Snakepit is what it is. what I do every day, broken down into its most basic form, you either like it or you don’t, I couldn’t care less. I’m gonna keep doing what works for me.
2. James Kochalka recently ended his autobio strip, American Elf, after 14 years. I recall reading that Kochalka got some negative feedback as the strip (ie: his life) changed – the early days vs. after his children were born. Your life and your comic have obviously changed a lot since you started as well – have you received negative feedback from fans as the comic has changed over the years?
Yeah I’ve had people tell me it got boring after I settled down and got married. Again, I don’t care. I draw these comics because I want to, not because I want to please a specific audience or make money or do anything other than simply chronicle what I do each day. I ripped off this idea from Jim’s Journal. I saw what made that strip work and why it was so compelling, and it’s because he wasn’t trying to please anyone but himself.
3. Everyone you interact with must feel like they know you a whole lot better than you know them. Does it ever get a little Truman Show?
Sort of, but nobody that reads the comic knows anything I didn’t choose to tell them. People always say "I know you so much better than you know me" and I reply "you only know what I want you to know about me."
4. You’ve created and shared music and comics with your fan base for years. In this collection, you got really sick and were able to raise money to help cover medical bills from your fans through social networking. That must have been pretty moving.
It was amazing. I am still completely floored at how many people were so thoughtful and giving. I really wasn’t expecting anything like that. When I went through all that crap with my kidney stone, figured I’d put it on the blog and make a few bucks. at the end I made almost enough to pay for the entire thing, it was really incredible and still blows my mind that anyone would care that much about my dumb ass.
5. Is there a semi-fictionalized version of Ben vs. the "real you,” a la Stephen Colbert?
About a year and a half into drawing these comics, I decided to get "serious" about it and make it a life-long project. Back then I thought that it was important to keep doing interesting things to keep the comics interesting, so I would occasionally make stupid decisions because they would make good comics. Later on I realized that I’m not trying to make good comics. I’m not trying to do anything at all, I’m just drawing what I want to draw.
6. Do you ever go back and re-read old Snakepit?
Sometimes it comes in really handy, like if I need to know when I got my last raise or when the lease on my apartment is up, it’s actually a useful reference material. I don’t really ever read it for pleasure though. Next year, my first book (The Snakepit Book) is getting re-issued after being out of print for six or seven years. I went back and re-read those comics and realized how much I’ve changed over that span of time. I wrote a new afterward for the book, and I don’t wanna spoil it or anything, but I had a pretty important revelation about myself and where I am in my life now versus then.
7. The title of this collection is a play on the old Garfield collections. I know you’re a big fan of Charles Schultz, as well. How have he and Jim Davis impacted your work? What other artists/writers are you inspired by?
Actually it’s a tip of the hat to Bloom County. There’s a Bloom County strip where they make fun of Garfield, and Opus is reading a book called "Garfield Gets Old, his 80th book"… I’ve honestly never been too much of a Garfield fan but I LOVE Bloom County, and Berke Breathed is one of the main reasons I wanted to start drawing comics in the first place. Charles Schultz is, of course, on a completely different level. He totally changed the idea of what a comic strip can be. Pretty much all "alternative" comic artists owe him a debt.
8. What advice do you give to artists/writers who are just getting started with zines/comix & self-publishing?
Don’t wait for somebody to do it for you. Draw that shit and scan it or make copies or however you want to do it, and just put it out there for people to see. If it’s good, people will like it. If it’s not good, keep doing it for a long time and eventually people will like it.
9. What advice do you give to musicians who are out there getting started playing shows?
This is gonna sound harsh but it’s true… Don’t expect anything but rejection and failure for decades and decades. The only person in the whole world that gives a crap about hearing your music is you, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. (I think it’s pretty obvious where I’ve succeeded and failed in my creative endeavors, ha ha.)
10. Austin, Texas is such a cultural hot-spot, and certainly an important part of Snakepit. In this book you celebrated living ten years in Austin and also talked about maybe leaving someday. Do you see that happening? Where would you like to move to?
I’ve kicked around the idea of moving away. Austin has changed a lot in the last ten years, but then again, so has everywhere else. For all things I used to like about this town that I now hate, there are also new things that I love. I think that while I might bitch about it sometimes, I still love it here and I don’t really plan on leaving anytime soon.
11. Will we ever see Snakepit: the Movie? Would it be a documentary? In a fictionalized, Big-Budget Hollywood version, who would you want to direct? Who would you cast as yourself?
There was talk about a Snakepit movie once. It never got past the talking-about phase, but I was pretty flattered that anyone even cared enough to write a script. If I could have a Snakepit movie be made any way I wanted, I’d want Mike Judge to do it, animated, in black and white with minimal scenery, just like the comics. Mike Judge because eveything he’s ever done is totally awesome, and he lives in Austin.
12. What’s next for you? Any big projects on the horizon?
Reissuing the first book next year, I got a few little comics coming out in various anthologies, and I still do my regular column in Razorcake. Other than that I’m just plugging along and hope to keep drawing three panels a day until I’m dead.