Studio Visits: Matt Rebholz
Conspiracy theories and the painstaking work of being a graphic novelist
One of the most remarkable things about Matt Rebholz's series of graphic novels, collectively titled The Astronomer, is the level of graphic detail in each panel. A floating head maneuvers in and out of subterranean biomorphic tunnels; a beardy astronomer makes his way through a vast, flat desert; and (future?) pre-Columbian space deities quarrel and relate to one another. All of these stories are interconnected, of course, and one gets the impression that Rebholz is only getting started on this sprawling intergalactic epic. "The intersection between conspiracy theory and religion really interests me," says Rebholz, "Atlanteans, angels being aliens, or the planet Nabiru, which supposedly comes around every 5,000 years." Rebholz's studio could not be more different from the dark narratives of the Astronomer series; it is homey and filled with light from windows overlooking Eastwoods Park. Rebholz keeps binoculars nearby to watch the birthday parties, pick-up basketball games, and the odd bagpiper who comes around once a month or so. But he's not the only observer in the house – as we talked, Rebholz's rescue cat, Joffrey, planted himself lazily on the edge of his desk and window and looked on with some interest.
Austin Chronicle: What is fascinating to me about your work – and indeed, the work of many graphic novelists – is that there are no shortcuts. And because your work is so detailed, there are so many hours of work you have to put in ... there's no way around it!
Matt Rebholz: Yeah, I was talking to a writer buddy of mine about that two nights ago. The amount of time that it takes to get something worth reading is disproportionate to the amount of time people end up spending reading it. It does take forever!
AC: Was there a point you remember transitioning to making serial work?
MR: I like working in series. Even in grad school - I really liked working in a mode whereby I set up a big project and working within those parameters. I was never really comfortable making one piece and moving on to the next one.
AC: And for this series, The Astronomer, how big is it going to be?
MR: I have no idea! I've started the fourth ...
AC: The format of these is similar to the trade comic book; are you going to aggregate them into a bigger project?
MR: Yeah, now I'm going to start mailing them off. I think it's clearer now that there's a big overarching narrative.
AC: What's a typical workday for you in here?
MR: Sometimes – well, this week I'm trying to fight off my night-working tendencies. I like to work until two to three in the morning, and begin at noon. During the semester when I teach, I get protective of my studio time, and I'll try to do administrative/email stuff in the morning, while working on my own stuff at night.
AC: So is being a graphic novelist different than being a printmaker?
MR: I just got sick and tired of the art world. It was one of the reasons I wanted to be an artist in the first place. I like getting work out there, and having people see it. Even in a printmaking situation, where you're pulling editions of 10 or 20, people aren't really seeing it. I wanted something more commercially viable. I also want people to buy it for ten or fifteen bucks instead of a thousand dollars.
AC: Do you show your students your graphic novel work?
MR: You know what I'll do? I'll bring in a half-inked page, and tell them I'm going to ink this for an hour and your can either watch or wander off ...
Rebholz's work can be seen in "UT Printmaking: Working Generations," through Feb. 8, at Davis Gallery, 837 W. 12th; and "The Contemporary Print," Jan. 18-Feb. 15, at Big Medium Gallery at Canopy, 916 Springdale. His book release for The Astronomer Book III: Hunger Gods will be held Friday, Feb. 7, at Farewell Books, 913 E. Cesar Chavez. For more information and art, visit www.mattrebholz.com.