Maakies' Daddy in the House
Austin Books & Comics hosts Tony Millionaire
Depravity and bloodshed! Jolly Jack Tar and a barrel of woe! Maritime shenanigans à la Grand Guignol, and all resultant from or attended by a relentlessly alcoholic corvid by the name of Drinky Crow: Such are the vicissitudes to be found, limned with uncanny draftsmanship and the most twisted of wits, in Tony Millionaire's long-running comic strip Maakies.
We're not telling you this because there's a new book out (although Millionaire's excellent non-Maakies graphic novel Billy Hazelnuts is too recent to discount) nor because the animated version of Maakies is about to debut on Comedy Central's Adult Swim (because that won't happen until February). No, we mention Millionaire because the man himself will be in town and signing his various works at Austin Book and Comics on the first of December.
"But why," we imagine the incredulous query, "is this fellow coming to Austin if there's nothing with a sweet sizzle of immediacy to promote"?
"My wife's sister lives in Austin," explains Millionaire via telephone from his Pasadena, Calif., home. "We were gonna come for Thanksgiving weekend, but the plane fare for four people is like $5,000 for that weekend and only half of that for the weekend after."
Not the sort of economic jockeying you might expect from a Millionaire, but then this one's a Millionaire in (assumed) name only – although he's long supported himself without a regular day job.
"Making a living from Maakies didn't happen until around '94," says Millionaire. "But I went to the Massachusetts College of Art, and while I was there, I got this idea of going out to the suburbs, where the really big mansions are in Boston, and just knocking on doors and asking people if they'd like me to draw their house. And I ended up doing that for 20 years. That was my main job – and then any other odd jobs I could find illustrating, but mostly it was just drawing houses. In the springtime, when the flowers were out, or around Christmas, when people wanted a gift, it was great. But in the dead of winter or the really hot, long months of summer when people are on vacation, it was not very good, and that's when I barely scraped by."
These days, with Maakies running in the New York Press and other alt-weeklies and on its way to animated Adult Swim glory, with the popular Sock Monkey series of comic books from Dark Horse Press, with Billy Hazelnuts in hardcover via indy comics powerhouse Fantagraphics, with a panoply of sharp and shining merch available worldwide, Millionaire no longer needs to pimp his architectural rendering skills to landed gentry. Still, those skills are in constant evidence, whether in the cartoonish Maakies or, especially, the more realistic, fine-lined world of Sock Monkey, where ink from the artist's seldom-resting fountain pen is lavished on the wainscoting and cornices and balustrades of many-roomed, multigabled Dutch Colonial Revivals and salt-sprayed bungalows.
"I try to do a new house in each Sock Monkey book, because I just like exploring the insides of old houses. But it's kind of based on my grandmother's house in Newton, Massachusetts, a big old house that had creaky staircases and weird closets. My grandparents were both artists; they had a gallery on Bearskin Neck, an artists' colony out in Rockport. That's why there are so many ships and seaside scenes in my drawings – because I learned to draw while living on the ocean with my grandparents."
You might think, due to Sock Monkey's stunning visuals, not to mention the charming adventures of its stuffed-animal characters, that it would be the Millionaire creation most likely to be adapted as an animated series. If so, you'd overestimate the market's appreciation of subtlety.
"Yeah," says Millionaire, "the guys at Adult Swim, they want the funniest but also the most depraved sort of stuff." And that's Maakies, a weekly narrative featuring two animal antiheroes with, as Wikipedia puts it, "a propensity for drunkenness, violence, suicide, and venereal disease." On Adult Swim, it'll be called The Drinky Crow Show. In real life ... well, of course none of the characters exist in real life. But what if they did? What if they were out in the world, among us?
"If any of them came to life?" says Millionaire, "I'd get a shovel and try to kill it."
But not if it was one of the more gentle characters from Sock Monkey, right?
"No, regardless of who it was," says Millionaire. "That'd be too scary."
Tony Millionaire will be at Austin Books and Comics Dec. 1, 3-6pm, with his collected volumes and original art available for purchase. For more information, see www.austinbooks.com.
Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Nov. 27, 2009
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