Ben White lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and dog, works at a copy centre and occasionally plays in a band or two. You’ve probably never heard of him, and based on what I just told you – why should you have? Ben White is the mastermind behind the Snakepit autobiographical comic series that’s been going since 2000, that’s why.
Every day is represented with a song he listened to and three panels; even the days where he goes to work, comes home and does ‘normal’ stuff. Every one of his books (three multi-year books, three single year books and a collection of one-offs) is fascinating, and when read in order allows the reader a very interesting voyeuristic look into his life.
He knows he's not the greatest artist in the world and Ben’s never been shy about letting people know that he doesn’t care if you like Snakepit or not, he’s doing it because he wants to. Nevertheless, Snakepit and Ben himself, has many passionate fans, illustrated by the generosity of them when he was in need. Back in August 2011, Ben had a kidney stone and had medical bills piling up, he uploaded the strips covering the days where he was suffering onto his blog and the donations came pouring in. (He's not shy!)
More recently, Ben had dental work done which depleted his savings, which lead to him offering the chance to be ‘Snakepitted’. (A chance that I jumped at, FYI)
So, after my introduction, let Ben tell you more about himself and his work.
Why did you first decide to start drawing daily?
At the time I was in a band with a super-flaky drummer, he kept fucking up our plans, bailing on tours, disappearing right before shows, flaking on practices. It was very frustrating, and I decided I needed a creative outlet where I was the only person in control, and I didn't have to rely on anyone else for it to succeed.
What or who inspired you? Either stylistically or content wise.
Jim's Journal by Scott Dikkers. I had been a huge fan of it for years, and once I found out it was fictional, I saw the opportunity to do it for real.
Why did you originally decide to end Snakepit at the end of 2010?
I was getting really burned out and tired of it. The last three yearly books I had done (2007, 2008 and 2009) had sold very poorly and I was really discouraged. I now realise that the comics work best in big volumes, like 3 years at a time.
Why did you change your mind?
It actually wasn't a conscious decision. On the last week of 2010 I was in the craft store and just bought a new sketchbook, even though I wasn't planning to draw in it. Like muscle memory or something, and on January 1st of 2011 I just sat down and drew it like I always do.
I've read before that in the early days you purposely did things to make the strip more entertaining. Can you give any examples? Do you still do this?
I definitely don't do it anymore, but I would definitely make stupid decisions just to make the comics better. One example would be the time I was riding on tour with a band and decided to stay in Milwaukee to hang out with a girl, even though I had no money, no clothes, no toothbrush, nothing; and I had no way of getting back home either, I just decided to see what happened.
Do you ever have fans approach you as if you're friends?
All the time, honestly I don't think it's creepy. People only know the things about me that I want them to know. There's plenty of stuff that I don't put in the comic.
Has keeping track of every day ever come in handy? Have you ever used it as a point of reference?
Yeah, once when I was working at the record store my boss gave me a raise. When it didn't show up on my pay check and he was debating with me about when my new pay rate was supposed to start, I pulled out a copy of the zine and showed him the comic for the day he gave me the raise.
The flip side, has it ever got you in trouble?
Yes indeed. There are a few ex-girlfriends who still hate my guts to this day.
Why did you make the decision to move from quarterly to collected volumes?
That wasn't really a conscious decision either. I never really wanted to do the quarterlies, but the Young American Comics people were really into the idea. When they went out of business I decided to try and just do larger collections, because I think the comics are most effective in big chunks.
Are there any plans to reissue 'The Snake Pit Book'?
YES! It's going to be re-issued for the tenth anniversary by Microcosm Publishing in the spring of 2014.
For those not 'in-the-know', what are zines?
A zine is short for "fanzine", a small, self-published magazine usually pertaining to a particular subject. The first zines came out in the 40's and 50's for science fiction fans.
Do you have any recommendations of zines or other artists the readers should check out?
I've been out of the loop for a long time but some of my favourite comic writers are John Porcellino, Delaine Derry Green, Carrie McNinch, Adam Pasion, Missy Kulik, Greig Means, Noah Van Sciver, Chynna Clugston... that's all I can think of off the top of my head
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR EVERYONE
1. Who - dead or alive - is on your fantasy dinner party guest list?
Charles Bukowski, GG Allin and John Belushi. It would be a pretty good party.
2. Favourite TV show?
All Time: Star Trek TNG. Currently on: Mad Men
3. Funniest joke you've ever heard
A penguin is driving through the desert. His car breaks down and he gets it towed to a mechanic in a tiny Arizona town. He's in a hurry to get back to the North Pole and impatiently asks the mechanic when his car will be ready. The mechanic explains that he's the only one there and it will take a little time to diagnose the problem. He recommends the penguin go eat lunch at the diner across the street. The exasperated penguin sits down in the diner and looks at the menu, there's nothing he wants to eat. He finally settles on a bowl of ice cream because it is cold. He eats it very quickly, then returns to the mechanic to check on the status of the car. The mechanic says "It looks like you blew a seal." to which the penguin replies "No, that's just ice cream."
4. If you were an animal, what would you be?
5. 3D movies, yay or nay?
It depends on the movie. A big crazy CGI space odyssey in an IMAX theatre is cool in 3D, but I doubt it would be necessary for Kramer Vs. Kramer.
Snakepit Gets Old and other issues are available from Bird Cage Bottom Books. You can also find Ben’s column/comics in Razorcake. You can follow his blog here and the man himself on Facebook here.
You can also find some of Ben’s work in both Digestate (various artists food anthology) and As You Were (on punk music) by Mitch Clem at Bird Cage Bottom Books.