Cover artwork: “Self-Portrait in Six Dimensions” by Rick Veitch (2012)
The Universe, the Planet, This One Spot
A conversation with dreamer/cartoonist Rick Veitch
by Jay Babcock
As published in Arthur No. 33 (Jan. 2013)
Born in 1951 in Bellow Falls, Vermont, Rick Veitch experienced the psychedelic late 1960s as a teenager. After overcoming some profound self-inflicted difficulties as a young adult in the early ‘70s—detailed in the following Q & A—he got serious about becoming a professional cartoonist. He succeeded. In the last three decades, Veitch has navigated the comics industry’s ups and downs while creating a singular, deeply weird and challenging body of work: sometimes raw, rough and outrageous in an old-school underground comix way, but more often clever and fantastically imaginative, with moments of startling cosmic beauty. My personal Rick Veitch highest highlights are a few visionary issues from his run as Alan Moore’s handpicked writer-artist successor on the Swamp Thing series in the ‘80s; The One, his deeply anti-superhero comics series, somehow published by a Marvel Comics subdivision, that in a better world would have been the final word on the superhero concept; and Can’t Get No, a daring, dialogue-less graphic novel drawn in landscape format that builds from the story of a corporate drone’s post-9/11 roadtrip into something truly poignant and profound. (Not for nothing did Fug/poet/historian Ed Sanders himself salute that work with a rare blurb—as did Neil Gaiman.)
Rick Veitch’s most unlikely and enduring triumph, though, has got to be Roarin’ Rick’s Rare Bit Fiends, a black-and-white comic book series he self-published under his King Hell imprint for 22 issues starting in 1994. Rare Bit featured no continuing characters or stories—its entire subject matter, issue after issue, was Veitch presenting his dreams in comics narrative form. It was a remarkable run that continued to resonate long after it finished, due to its enduring, mysterious subject matter.
A few winters ago, suffering from two decades of persistent distressing nightmares, I visited Roarin’ Rick in his rural Vermont home. Here is our after-lunch conversation.
Arthur: So Rick, when did you start dreaming?
RV: [laughter] From the time I was a little kid I was a big dreamer. There were normal everyday dreams but then were these big dreams that seemed like movies. I think that my fascination with dreaming was kicked off by a series of recurring nightmares. I would wake up in sheer terror from this recurring dream of a little girl trying to pick a flower below a skyscraper that was being built, and something happens, and the whole skyscraper starts collapsing. The girders start landing around the little girl, and the sound is COSMIC. I dreaded that dream. I had it again and again and again. I credit it with making me pay attention to my dreams.
Arthur: Did your parents know what was going on with your recurring nightmares, terror?
RV: Not really. I grew up in an odd situation. We were a big Catholic family, I was the fourth kid. My parents had sort of ran out of gas running herd on my older siblings. So I pretty much did what I wanted, with not a lot of input from my folks.
I paid attention to dreams in general, just because this terrifying experience kept coming back. I think that’s how nightmares work. They want you to pay attention. That’s what they’re saying: Pay attention to what this phenomenon of dreaming is.
My older brother, Tom Veitch, who also writes comics and is well known as a poet, had an early interest in dreams and spirituality too. He was ten years older than me. We grew up very differently. He grew up with a normal family, while our folks were still paying attention. I grew up when no one was paying attention anymore. By the time I started becoming aware, he was out of the house already, living in New York, so it isn’t like I saw him a lot, but when I did, I would learn interesting things about the culture, about art, and about dreaming. I was telling him some of my big dreams. He was interested in them. And from listening to him I began to understand that there was a system to analyze the symbolism of dreams, that dreams WERE symbols.
Arthur: Was there a turning point when you started to pay serious attention to your dreams?
RV: When I was about 20 years old, I went through a personal crisis. I had just sort of ran my life into the ground as 20-year-olds tend to do. I went into a deep depression. I couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning, that’s how bad it was. And in those days you didn’t go to a psychologist. You just sort of suffered these things. And somebody gave me a copy of The Portable Jung, a big fat paperback that collects a lot of Jung’s writings. I read the whole damn thing, kind of obsessively. I didn’t really understand it, but I went through the whole 700-page thing and began to see correlations in the dreams I was having, which were apocalyptic. That’s what was going on with me at the time. I couldn’t get out of bed. But at night my dreams were just unbelievably strong, really vivid. I began to sense that they were trying to direct me to heal myself. I can’t say I sensed all this consciously, but unconsciously, through the assimilation of all of Jung’s writings and the focus on the dreams themselves, I began to see a way out of my depression. And it worked.
I started this really detailed dream diary, writing down every damned thing I could, which I’ve still got, and bit by bit I began to understand the shadow side of my own personality, what was causing me to fail at growing up. I began to see that I had to ally myself with the deeper parts of myself, I had to trust that. I began to understand the nature of the structure of the psyche, which is one of the great things that Jung brought us. And I began to pull myself out of the hole. That was the beginning of my dreamwork.