I’ve known Greg Beda and his cartoons since we took college classes together many years ago at San Jose State. For years now I’ve been a fan of Greg’s series Zeke and Goulash and his comic book Postmodern AnXst. His comics often explore with insight the ups and downs of relationships. His latest work has incorporated a spiritual dimension, influenced by many spiritual teachers, most prominently Ken Wilber, an American author who has written about mysticism, philosophy, ecology, and developmental psychology. I admire Greg’s cartoons because he maintains a strong personal point of view that is unique in the comics world.
Over the years, Greg has built a steady readership from the many comic book conventions he has attended to exhibit his comics. Last year marked the 25th anniversary of Zeke and Goulash; to see examples please visit the Zeke and Goulash Facebook page
Thanks Greg for this interview. So tell us a little on how you started cartooning.
I loved cartoons as a child and made a decision to become a cartoonist at age five. My first influences were “The Flintstones,” “Underdog,” and the various animated cartoons on television. I started out drawing my favorite TV characters, as many children do. I created magnets and gave them to my Mom. I also created homemade trading cards of my favorite Hanna-Barbera characters and had them laminated at my bank.
You are a big fan of the great Archie comics and teen comics of the 1940s and 1950s, and the cartoonists of that period, like Al Jaffee, Al Feldstein, and Bob Montana, have had a great influence on your art. How has your artwork evolved and grown from your early influences?
I fell in love with the artwork in Archie Comics when I was 10 or 11. I discovered there were many artists drawing Archie Comics and learned to distinguish each of the artists’ styles even if the artwork was unsigned. My favorite Archie artists included Dan DeCarlo, Harry Lucey, Bob Bolling, Sam Schwartz, and Bob Montana. As a teenager I started collecting Archie original art. I also collected many other teenage humor comic book titles, from the 1940s onward; this became a favorite genre, I suppose. As I became older, at around 13 or 14, I discovered reprints of E.C. comic books from the 1950s (i.e. Tales From The Crypt, Weird Science, Shock SuspenStories, Mad, etc.) and became enamored by the artwork of Wally Wood, Reed Crandall, Jack Kamen, and the other E.C. artists. When I was 17, I discovered the work of underground cartoonist R. Crumb, and likewise the music of Bob Dylan, The Doors, Simon & Garfunkel, The Velvet Underground, etc. I became very interested in 1960s pop culture and the popular arts.
My style has gone through many changes over the years, but we could narrow it down to three major developmental shifts. These can be a bit hard to pin down precisely—stages tend to overlap—but I’ll give you a general idea. Phase-1 lasted from around age 5 until around age 21; Phase-2 lasted from around age 21 until around age 41; Phase-3 started a few years ago and is still unfolding. These phases mirror my own interior development and generally point toward my world view or intention as an artist. Phase-1 is more modernist and entertainment bound; Phase-2 is postmodern and tends to deconstruct and evaluate myself and the world around me. Phase-3 is integral and is more spiritual. Phase-3 also embraces what came before it and so I hope my cartoons are still entertaining and analytical. I suppose integrity and sincerity are my main goals as a cartoonist; I do not care too much for excessive putdowns or irony. Satire and social commentary certainty are valid approaches to humor, but right now it appears that many cartoonists and humorists rely too much on satire and irony and not enough on sincerity and deeper human emotions, interactions, and values.
I know you’re a Robert Crumb fan. Are you a fan of his early underground work of the 1960s and 1970s? How has Crumb’s later autobiographical work influenced your comic?
Between the ages of 5 to 17 I went from being a fan of Hanna-Barbera, to Archie, to E.C., to Crumb. As a late teen on the verge of young adulthood, Crumb was certainly unlike anything I had ever seen before. At first I just admired Crumb’s creativity, his outrageousness, and his courage to create anything he wanted, without censorship. His work was postmodern—it criticized social norms but he was also self-deprecating and touched upon a whole range of emotions, including rage, depression, and sexual urges and hang-ups. Crumb was my first glimpse into the ‘untamed id,’ as well as the late sixties underground counter culture.
I love and appreciate Crumb’s later autobiographical work, too, and it was through my interest in Crumb that I discovered the work of Harvey Pekar. Pekar’s subject matter was everyday life and I thought that was fascinating. Another influence on me, however fleeting, was a comic book called Duplex Planet, in which David Greenberger shared interviews and stories about senior citizens he knew. I later created Rosewood, a comic book series that took place in a group home for developmentally disabled women. The first Rosewood story appeared in Postmodern AnXst #1, a comic book anthology of my comics that I began self-publishing in 1995. I tend to not do autobiographical comics overtly, but I do aim for honest self expression.
The work that I remember from our college days was more focused on relationships. But I noticed that your later work has begun to add more spiritual dimensions. When I last visited your studio, you introduced me to some of the ideas of Ken Wilber. Could you explain something of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory and how it has influenced your life? How has this influenced your work on Zeke and Goulash?
For most of my life I have been curious about understanding myself and the world around me. As a young child I had migraine headaches, although my parents and I didn’t know what they were called at the time. These hellish so-called “sun headaches” were the first non-ordinary experiences I remember having, my first deep glimpse into deep human suffering. I also became fascinated with dreams and so I remember waking up in the middle of the night or early morning and remembering vivid, luminous dreams, dreams that had an emotional charge or depth that would remain somewhat after I woke up. But I did not see the importance of dreams as a child or teenager, perhaps because we live in a culture that tends to devalue the so-called “inner world”.
I started studying psychology at age 17, and a few years later I discovered the works of C.G. Jung, Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki, and Joseph Campbell. I knew of Ken Wilber’s books when I was in my early twenties, but it wasn’t until I read his book “A Brief History of Everything” that I became very influenced by him. My Master’s thesis, for example, finally completed in 1996, reveals an early interest in developmental psychology and the evolution of world views. I postulated a theory about Comic Art inspired by Ken’s work: Comic art as entertainment (modernist world view); comic art as social commentary (postmodern world view), and Comic Art as medicine (post-postmodern or integral world view). Do you see how this mirrors the development I talked about earlier as a cartoonist?
I love Ken’s theory because it is comprehensive map of reality that resonates with me. Ken is a synthesizer: he takes a lot of diverse fields and ideas and finds ways to integrate them into a cohesive whole. He talks about how human beings tend to develop through a developmental sequence: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional, for example. The culture we live in tends to be based upon convention or agreed upon ideas. Right now, the world—or, rather the world view each individual holds—appears to be going through a radical transition. Remember that famous quote by Albert Einstein– “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”? However what often happens is that rather than transcend convention (‘the norm’) we tend to rebel, or argue our viewpoint by attacking opposing viewpoints, and became anti-conventional. In other words, it’s often easier to criticize the world than to be an agent of creative change in the world. To go beyond convention is not easy because we are so conditioned as children with the values of our parents and our specific culture.
Another idea I like from the Integral perspective is the distinction between “I”, “We”, and “It”. “I” refers to the subjective I of the beholder, or the interior perspective of the individual. “We” refers to the inter-subjective I-Thou relationship between people. “It” refers to the objective, visible world of matter or form. Another way to look at these: I refers to aesthetics, We refers to morals, and It refers to science. And so, for example, the war between science and religion doesn’t really make a lot of sense using this map because scientists and theologians are looking at different aspects of reality. But often our common notion of reality is reduced to the realm of the material “It” and thus a secular world view arises—not that there is anything wrong with this per se, but material reality is only partial and not complete. Perhaps I have spent a lot of my adult life exploring the subjective “I” and the inter-subjective “We” because that is what was primarily left out of my upbringing and education during the first 20 years or so of my life.
Ken often talks about holding many different perspectives. Maturity might be defined as the ability to hold multiple perspectives, and immaturity as the inability to hold other perspectives. Integral Theory can be quite complex and I have simplified a few key ideas. In order to deepen or expand one’s world view takes time, commitment, and effort,,, while, at the same time, it often requires relinquishing illusions or old beliefs. Ken and most spiritual teachers recommend engaging in various injunctions or practices—meditation, prayer, and spiritual inquiry are common examples—to deepen and expand one’s perspective. These practices help cultivate love and compassion. Other favorite spiritual teachers include Adyashanti, Caroline Myss, Cheri Huber, Byron Katie, and Robert Holden. For an integral Christian perspective, I like Father Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr, and Cynthia Bourgeault.
Spirituality has influenced my more recent work—it is difficult for me to separate my current, emerging world view and my creative endeavors. I do not want to preach or to make all my comics overtly spiritual, but I do want my comics to reflect the person I am today. I think all artists express their values in their work, whether subtle or pointed. And so by expressing my values—i.e. the futility of ego, self-contradictions, the need for love and connection, etc.—I am simply expressing myself as an artist. My jokes have tended to be psychological or philosophical anyway, even the ones I did as a late teen. Goulash tends to be emotional and analytical, whereas Zeke is more spiritual and insightful; the dynamic between the two often creates playful dialogue.
You’ve been doing comic conventions for a long while now and have met a lot of fans and fellow cartoonists. How has that experience been for you? Are there any cartoonists that you have been most thrilled to meet?
I went to my first comic book convention in 1980, and went to small conventions in the 1980s. I first went to the San Diego Comic Con in 1989. At conventions, it is easy to meet a lot of cartoonists; cartoonists tend to be more assessable compared to actors and rock stars! As a young cartoonist, I received a lot of advice and encouragement. I certainly enjoyed meeting many of my favorites. For example, over the years I have met many important syndicated cartoonists, such as Hank Ketcham and Bil Keane, and many comic book legends, such as Will Eisner and Al Jaffee. But meeting someone and getting to know them is different. I first met Dan DeCarlo, the prolific Archie comic book artist, in 1999 and started calling him on the phone during the next two and half years. Getting to know DeCarlo was a dream come true, and something I cherish deeply. I also met other Archie cartoonists, such as Samm Schwartz and Bob Bolling, and many of the newer ones, too. Perhaps what I like most is having cartoonists create a drawing of my characters Zeke and Goulash in their own style; I have been collecting these for use in a future paperback collection.
In some ways, I am more enamored with meeting musicians and actors than cartoonists. I am enjoy collecting autographs and sometimes having my photo taken with someone I admire. I have met many old time radio and TV actors and that is a real treat: Janet Waldo, Frankie Thomas, Art Linkletter, Bob Hastings, and recently Dick Van Patton and Tony Dow. I’ve enjoyed meeting favorite musicians, too, such as Richard Thompson, Davy Jones (of The Monkees), Loudon Wainwright, and Nellie McKay.
Tell me something of how you produce your cartoon. What technique to you use? What do you do to color your cartoons?
I tend to write jokes, which is basically dialogue, on whatever scraps of paper I can find! I pencil my comics on ordinary paper (nothing special!), but embellish the art on duraline (high quality tracing paper) with a black prismacolor pencil. I letter with Sharpies, although I would prefer to create my own lettering font sometime in the future. I do not know if this is the best way, but at the present time this is what I do. I scan in my b/w artwork, which has no shading or blacks, then ‘tweak’ it or fix it (redrawing small details digitally, correcting lettering mistakes, etc.) and then color it using Photoshop (sometimes augmented by Painter).
In your 25th anniversary Zeke and Goulash comic, you have a comic strip with Mingyur Rinpoche. How was that meeting? How did he like your cartoon? Tell us a little about Mingyur Rinpoche.
I had never met Mingyur Rinpoche and thought it would be fun to create a strip with Goulash meeting him. I was a bit unsure of how he would respond, but he loved the strip! He is a Tibetan Buddhist, a very playful, funny, and spiritual guy. He read the strip out loud and laughed throughout. His books Joy Of Living and Joyful Wisdom integrate Buddhism and neuroscience and are very easy to understand—putting the ideas into practice is another matter! I admire his teachings very much and go to a local Buddhist group twice a month based upon his teachings.
One of the things I most admire about your work is that is it one of the most unique comics out there. Your work always has a strong personal point of view. How were you able to maintain that strong voice in your work?
I don’t have to make a living as a cartoonist hence I can be as personal as I want… or as transpersonal I want! When I was younger I strived to be a commercial cartoonist. You might remember that my first professional scripts were published in New Kids On the Block comic books in 1990-91! But as time passed I chose integrity over commercialism. I don’t want to be micro-managed or art directed. Nowadays, my work is moving in a more spiritual direction, but I do not have any agenda. I trust the creative process, although I am not creative 24-7. My creativity will always reflect the current condition of my psyche—for better or worse!
In what new directions do you want to take Zeke and Goulash in the future? Are there any new projects that you want to tell the readers of Everyday Citizen?
I’d like to do some more Zeke & Goulash comic book stories, and more new strips, as well. I’d like to remaster(!) the first Z & G full length story I did in 1997, and then compile a Z & G 100+ page book collection of stories and strips. Eventually, I’d like to do a Z & G graphic novel—one long story—which would be overtly psychological/spiritual and funny at the same time.
Right now, I’m writing a script for a graphic novel that will feature the character Mike from Rosewood. I have never created a graphic novel from scratch, so this is a new experience for me. I want it to be simple and straightforward, but the story does feature way too many characters and a moderately convoluted plot.
I’m also compiling my best work, including early work, into a 35 year retrospective that will show my development from age seven to the present. This book is called Images & Reflections and is an autobiography of my inner world—although the outer world is naturally discussed as well! It will include one panel cartoons, comic strips, comic book pages, editorial cartoons, photos, etc. and will include psychological/spiritual commentary.
Thank you for this interview, Angelo. I appreciate your interest in my cartoons.
Here are more interviews that I did for Everyday Citizen
An Interview With Poet Melissa Tuckey
An Interview With Cartoonist Andy Singer
An Interview With Author Robert Balmanno
An Interview With Cartoonist J.P. Jasper
An Interview With Cartoonist David Cohen