Evan Dorkin's Milk and Cheese Comics Haven't Spoiled in 20 Years
Starting in 1991, Evan Dorkin's characters, Milk and Cheese, were an extension of the punk ethos into the grunge era and became a cult expression of furious, hilarious rage. "Dairy Products Gone Bad!" we are warned each time we read a Milk and Cheese comic. And indeed they are, in the best of ways. The hard-drinking pair proclaim themselves "a carton of hate and a wedge of spite" and are prone to rage-and-liquor-fueled rampages of epic proportion, provoked by just about everything, including stand-up comedy and -- in one of their more arbitrary and infamous episodes -- Merv Griffin.
This simple concept sustained Milk and Cheese through their own comic series, appearances in Dorkin's Dork comic, and numerous cameos in anthology comics. Dark Horse is releasing their collected adventures in a handsome new omnibus edition, including some material seeing print for the first time. Evan Dorkin spoke with us on the eve of the book's release about his characters' origins and their enduring legacy.
Can you briefly trace Milk and Cheese's origin story for us?
I first drew Milk and Cheese on a restaurant napkin while waiting for food after a ska show. I was drunk, which explains a lot about the characters. This was in 1987, but I didn't draw the first comic with them until late 1988 after meeting Kurt Sayenga of Greed Magazine at the San Diego Comic Con. I was drawing Milk and Cheese convention sketches that insulted the people I was doing them for. Kurt said if I ever did a comic with them he'd run it in the magazine. That's how the ball got rolling. I didn't create them to make comics, they were just a napkin noodle that got out of hand.
One of Evan Dorkin's first drawings of Milk and Cheese (note the early version of their tagline)
Where were you in life when you created Milk and Cheese? What kind of work had you done up to that point?
I was working in a comic shop and as a bar-back in a punk club on Staten Island while trying to break into comics. I spent a lot of time seeing bands, mooning over girls, getting sloshed, eating garbage food -- just another semi-aimless, semi-useless, middle-class youth. I hadn't done much published work at the time Milk and Cheese was developing. I did the terrible artwork for a terrible small press comic called Phigments, started up my own comic called Pirate Corp$!, did a few scripts and oddball jobs and drew comics for music zines like Greed, X-Magazine, and No Idea.
I was peddling Milk and Cheese strips around to various small press comics anthologies and got a few bites, but they all got canceled before printing them. That's how I ended up with enough material to put together Milk and Cheese #1 which was published by Slave Labor Graphics in 1991.
Where does the characters' bottomless rage come from?
I blame my parents and society. And that guy from The King of Queens. I hate that guy.
I'm not very technically savvy on the subject of comics creation, but I can tell that you enjoy filling panels with detail. Were Milk and Cheese comics terribly time consuming?
I'm not technically savvy about making comics myself, that's why my pages are so cluttered. I used to use the detail as gravy to cover up bad meat, to distract from my poor draftsmanship. My drawing has gotten better but the clutter remains, although it's better-organized. My pages do take me a while because I'm anal-compulsive and have a problem with negative space, and self-doubt causes a lot of rethinking and reworking. I also grew up on Mad and Jack Kirby comics, which had a lot going on in them. I loved the background "chicken fat" details in Bill Elder's collaborations with Harvey Kurtzman, the energy and kitchen sink approach to humor in those pages.
Milk and Cheese was originally designed to be a lark that I could knock out quickly, but it fell victim to my tendency to throw more material onto the page than I should. Over the years I started junking the pages up more and more, adding more jokes and panels and text. I kind of need to ease off, and I always tell myself I will, but I'm one of those hapless cartoonists who overdoes everything. I'm in therapy for it. Among other things.
A lot of your early work (not just Milk and Cheese) reflects anger channeled into real humor. Given that 20 years have passed since the first Milk and Cheese comic, do you think you've mellowed? Looking back, how do you view the guy who did those comics?
Evan Dorkin with his "Beasts of Burden" collaborator Jill Thompson at this year's New York Comic Con
I've definitely mellowed out a lot, I'm calmer and I don't lose my temper much these days, in print or in life. In some ways I'm angrier than I used to be, but it's a focused anger and a lot of it comes from being a parent and seeing how rotten so many people and institutions are through that new perspective. Also, 25 someodd years in a business as frustrating and ass-backwards as comics would make most people nuts. I don't channel a lot of my negative energy into my comics these days mostly because I'm working on projects like Beasts of Burden and comics for Bongo's Simpsons line where it generally isn't called for. But if a project requires anger, I can still bring it.
As for the guy who made all the old Milk and Cheese comics? He needed an editor and a little more life experience, and he definitely needed to work on his cartooning chops. I admire his energy, enthusiasm, and drive, but I'm glad I'm not him anymore. Also, he was a bit of a jerk.
How did the publication rights get transferred to Dark Horse for this new collection?
It was hard to leave SLG -- I'd been there over two decades, we'd had a good run in the 1990s, and Dan Vado and I were friends. But sometimes you have to move on and do what you feel is best for you and your work and your family. There wasn't any wrangling or anything as far as the rights went, I could have moved Milk and Cheese from SLG at any time during my stay there. I've worked with Dark Horse since 1991, both publishers have meant a lot to me throughout my career, but Dark Horse has pretty much been my main place of residence these past few years, especially since Beasts of Burden became a going concern. It made sense for a variety of reasons to bring Milk and Cheese there, and I think it paid off. I'm very happy with how the collection printed.
Finally: Why Merv Griffin?
Because Hervé Villechaize was too hard to spell.