We ask Matt Melvin, one of the four authors at Explosm, about Cyanide and Happiness, controversy, and survival in a dystopian society.
How did the comic start?
We used to draw stick figures on napkins in order to pick up girls. It never worked. We picked up each other instead.
Do the four of you work collaboratively, or is each comic an individual effort?
We collaborate here and there on them, but the comics are most often individual efforts. The animated shorts, however, are big collaborative projects, often bringing in people from outside our little, core group.
What’s the weirdest rumour you’ve heard about your comics?
That every comic is based on our real lives. That rumor is actually true.
The comics often get into some dark territory – where do you draw the line on where you will go for shock value?
We don’t really have lines. As long as the subject matter is handled well, anything can be funny. We’ve held back from doing jokes in the past, but more often than not we like to push those boundaries. Comedy is the best when the audience is taken past a line that THEY’VE drawn for themselves, but they’re still laughing.
Your comics aren’t afraid to cover controversial issues , regularly making jokes at the expense of crimes, disease, gender issues or religion – potentially offending the public is one thing, but do you ever worry that you’ll offend someone close to you?
The bottom line is that no matter how safe you think you’re being, you are going to offend people. No matter how you tip-toe around controversial topics, there’s always going to be someone who gets pissed off. So why bother worrying? We don’t get much hate mail these days, but we’ve had countless emails from people lambasting us for making jokes about one subject… while at the same time praising us for another. “You should be ashamed for those Jesus jokes! It’s sacrilegious! P.S. Keeps up the AIDS jokes lol” People choose what offends them. We can’t change that. The thing is, I don’t think we make many jokes at the EXPENSE of touchy subjects. We do jokes about cancer, but we’re not making fun of people who have it. That’s a big difference. And the people that get offended by touchy subjects like that are an odd group. For example, people offended by cancer comics aren’t people dealing with cancer themselves, but people on the outside, people who know OTHERS dealing with cancer. They’re getting offended FOR them. The thing is, they don’t need it. It’s kinda funny, but we’ve had tons of emails from people actively going through chemotherapy THANKING us for those comics because it helps bring some light and humor to their situation. Those close to me can see that difference. That’s kinda why they’re close to me in the first place. I don’t make friends with closed-minded people.
Are you ever trying to point out a moral issue, or are you just having fun?
We hate being preachy. The comic is about fun, not ramming our ideals down viewers’ throats. That kind of stuff takes away from the fun really quick.
How much hate mail do you get?
Not much anymore. We’ve been around for so long that people have probably just become accustomed to what we do.
Do you find that people make assumptions about you or your personality based on the type of comics you produce?
Absolutely. The biggest assumption is that we’re all heavy drug users. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I mean, Kris does meth, but hardly counts, right? Honestly though, people really think it takes a concoction of drugs to think of the things we do. We just have weird senses of humor and active imaginations. Lots of people even assume I’m a huge pothead when meeting me in person. I guess it’s just a stoner vibe.
What do you think is your most controversial character and why?
I don’t know if he’s controversial per se, but people got really angry when the Purple Shirted Eye Stabber was killed off. We get a lot of messages asking for him to be brought back. As for actually controversial, I’m sure Jesus fits that bill pretty well. He’s a fun character.
What has been the biggest change since the comics started?
We’ve learned how to write actual jokes.
How did Depressing Comic Week start and what is your favourite strip from it?
It’s been an evolution, I think. We’d made comics that were funny because of how dark they were. But now DCW is just about making really sad comics with no punchline whatsoever. My favorite example is one of Kris’ where the mother of a newborn leaves her baby on the doorsteps of a nice house to give the baby away to the family inside. Then panel by panel, it turns from night to day to night to day and so on, baby still on the porch, until a man with a sticker-covered suitcase comes back from vacation.
Who of your would survive the longest in The Hunger Games and why?
I get hungry super fast, so I’d for sure starve to death after a few hours, tops. Death by metabolism. Kris has been hunting before, so he’d be the obvious choice, but Dave and Rob would be the ultimate survivors since the audience seems to heavily favor players that are in love with each other. Love conquers all. And what a better way to end an interview, right? Farts.
Cyanide and Happiness is updated daily, and can be found here.