More meat amassed

One of the world’s most warped cartoonists finally releases a new collection of ’toons

Red Meat cartoonist Max Cannon has a new book, and he’s working on another one.

Red Meat cartoonist Max Cannon has a new book, and he’s working on another one.

Photo By Tricia McInroy

When Max Cannon started his strange little comic strip in 1989, who knew that the day would come when “Red Meat” would be published around the world—even in Finnish?

“In Finland, [Milkman] Dan’s a mailman,” says Cannon, a resident of the wacky Southwestern town of Tucson, Ariz. “I have no idea why. I guess they don’t have milkmen over there. … My European friends say ["Red Meat"] is distinctly American. It’s generic enough that it plays good everywhere, I think.”

It’s certainly playing well these days. The “Red Meat” strip is read by millions of folks around the world every week, appearing in more than 80 newspapers, mostly alternative newsweeklies. ("Red Meat” has been running in the RN&R since 1996.) Cannon says that in addition to Finnish, “Red Meat” is published in a handful of other languages: French, Italian, Spanish, Danish and even “Canadian.”

But we aren’t here to discuss languages. The occasion for our discussion, taking place in a largely empty Tucson nightclub on a Thursday afternoon, is that Cannon is finally releasing a new collection of “Red Meat” strips for the first time since 1998. Red Meat Gold, the third “Red Meat” collection, officially hit the streets in April.

It’s about damned time. When asked why it took almost seven years for him to release another collection of about two years’ worth of strips … well, the business world can be complicated. “I just thought I’d take a break from publishing for a while,” he says.

The book features a little more than 100 strips from 1998 onward (including two very special dead-clown strips). Cannon says he originally wanted this third collection of strips to be a larger book, but an editor talked him out of it, suggesting that it would be more profitable to release a larger number of books with fewer strips.

“It’s greedy,” the capitalist bastard admitted. “It’s a shock an American would think of something like that.”

He also promises it won’t be another seven years before a fourth collection of comics is published. “I don’t want to wait more than a year and a half or two years between books,” he says.

So, other than coming up with sick and demented strips for his adoring public, what has Cannon been up to all these years? The answer: A lot of stuff involving TV and cinema. He’s working on a horror movie script. He’s been cranking on some TV-show development projects.

And how’s that been going? “Nothing’s gotten made yet,” he says, “but ultimately, something will get made.”

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Well, it’s not entirely true that nothing’s gotten made. He made six short cartoons a while back—some, God help us, with “Red Meat” characters—that will be running on cell phones. It turns out Comedy Central has contracted with Verizon Wireless to provide programming on cell phones, and the folks at the cable network liked the ‘toons enough to run them on tiny, tiny screens.

It’s amazing to think this whole thing started in 1989, when the Arizona Daily Wildcat, the University of Arizona’s student publication, picked up the strip “ever so briefly” (even though Max was not attending the university). He then proceeded to nag then-Tucson Weekly Editor Doug Biggers for “months” to pick up the strip. Finally Biggers relented, and from there “Red Meat” spread like wildfire. That is, a wildfire that can jump oceans and features a demented milkman and a bolo-tie-wearing freak named Earl.

During our wide-ranging interview, we discussed many topics that have almost nothing to do with each other and therefore are impossible to tie together in any sort of narrative format. Therefore, here’s the bulleted list format, because a lot of this information is fascinating if not necessarily socially redeeming:

• On what he looks like naked (one supposedly straight editor wanted to know): “A lot like Poppin’ Fresh, with genitalia, a belly button and three nipples.”

• On his age: “I am too old for an eyebrow piercing but too young for an eyebrow lift.”

• On which “Red Meat” character he’s most similar to: “I really hope none of them. … Well, I am a lot like my dad, and the character of Ted is based on my dad.”

• On how some think Ted is based on Bob Dobbs, the master of the Church of the SubGenius, even though he’s not: “My dad was very Bob Dobbs-esque, without the tripidelic, nihilist philosophy. He was Bob Dobbs without the slack. There was nothing slack about the man. He was living in the ‘50s long after the ‘50s ended.”

• On what’s up with the “slug line” at the top of every strip: “That’s just my own form of personal poetry. It’s a little something extra for those who don’t like comics, but who love the English language.”

• Some of his favorite slug lines? “Plastic fruit for a starving nation” and “Official pace car of the apocalypse.”

• On Milkman Dan: “Milkmen seem so wholesome, and there’s no way anybody can be that wholesome. … I grew up in a military family, and there’s something about that military-style uniform, all cleaned up, a brutal control effort the military necessarily breeds. There’s something about that, too.”

• On mainstream strips he enjoys: “I like to look at ‘The Family Circus’ because it’s so fucking weird. A lot of people say the world of ‘Red Meat’ is so separated from reality. I think it’s more in step with reality than ‘The Family Circus.'”

And, finally, on how long he plans on doing “Red Meat": “I’ll quit when it starts to suck, but I can’t imagine that would be the case, or I’ll quit if I don’t enjoy it anymore. I imagine I’ll continue on doing it for many years to come.”