Hail The White Rhinoceros Part Two (of Three): Shaun Partridge Continued

Posted by on February 22nd, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Shaun Partridge Part One.

I Dreamed a Dream

BURNS: You met Josh [Simmons] on the Netjerk Lounge, which is Jim Goad’s message board.

PARTRIDGE: I met him, and that’s how the White Rhino thing happened. Years ago, I was walking down the street and I had this idea. “Wouldn’t it be funny …” Because everyone’s always like, “Oh, what’s racism?” or “That’s racist!” or “That’s not racist!”

I thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny to put a record out and say ‘This album’s racist.’” And it would be called Hail the White Rhinoceros.

People would get the record and be, “This is going to be horrible!” And you’d listen to it and every song would be about a white rhinoceros, it would make no sense at all. Just put songs about a white rhinoceros and that would be it. People would be like, “What. The fuck’s that record about?” [Laughter.]

And then a few years later, on the Netjerk Lounge, I one day started writing about the White Rhinoceros. It was just strange stream of consciousness kind of stuff. And I remember turning around to my girlfriend Kaleidoscope and I said, “I think I should write a book about this. I think this makes sense.”

A few days later some people were like, “Hey, you should do a comic! Josh could do it.”

And Josh said, “Yeah I’ll illustrate it.”

Originally it was going to be a book, and then I was walking down the street after me and Josh had agreed to work on it, and I was like, “Wait a second, Josh is a comic artist, it should be a comic, clearly.” I mean that’s what he does, you know what I mean? He’s good at it. So then he moved out here, and that’s how that session happened.

BURNS: How long were you a part of the Netjerk Lounge, and are you still participating there?

PARTRIDGE: I’m not on there anymore.

BURNS: But you were on there quite a while before the whole White Rhino discussion.

PARTRIDGE: Yeah. I wrote that first, well, maybe only a year into it. Yeah, I think the Netjerk Lounge, if I remember, started in 2003. And it was 2004 when me and Josh first discussed the idea. And then a few years went by. He came out here in Portland in 2006, and we started working on it.

BURNS: I guess people should know, even the writing of the story happened on the Netjerk Lounge before …

PARTRIDGE: Yeah that’s where it first happened. In fact we put a lot of stuff on there, like when we first started doing characters Josh would put little character sketches up there. I guess we should talk about the White Rhino the character … there was a dream that happened.

BURNS: Yeah I was going to ask you about that.

PARTRIDGE: That was a weird synchronicity. Me and Josh had been working on The White Rhino all summer long, and then I dreamt about this former dream I’d had that was about this White Rhinoceros. And I realized when I woke up that it actually was a real dream I’d had years before. I had this dream, and it was one of those intense dreams. I’m like outside in a field and there’s a gigantic, huge rhinoceros. And next to me was like this weird skinhead guy, and he was terrified of the rhinoceros. I was looking at him—there was a door I had to go to — I go, “I need to go by this rhinoceros to get to the door.” It wasn’t a white rhinoceros; it was just a gigantic rhinoceros. And this skinhead guy was terrified. I remember going, “Well, I’m going to go.” As I walked by the rhinoceros I was thinking, “This is an ancient, powerful creature.” I was really tense walking by it. But as I started walking by it started rippling rainbow colors, and I remember going, “I don’t remember rhinoceroses having rainbows …” [Burns laughs.] And I thought, “How weird.” Then I went in this door and all this psychedelic shit happened. Psychedelic magic. So anyway I thought that was a really weird dream. I always wondered why there was a skinhead there.

The day I remembered that dream I went to work and I go, “I’ve got to tell Josh about this dream.” And then I come home, open the mailbox, and Kaleidoscope has gotten a letter from Ian Brady. There’s a stamp on there of a prehistoric rhinoceros. I’m like, “This is fucking weird.” Of all days, you know what I mean? Those are those magical synchronicities that just make you realize you’re on the right path. And then later of course it makes sense. The whole idea of The White Rhino, it’s like … colors, you know, the Rainbow Warriors. And why was there a skinhead? Well, because the White Rhinoceros deals with racism. At the time I had no idea why there was this paranoid skinhead sitting there afraid to walk by the rhino. That was an interesting dream: very prophetic. Again, that’s why I say things are just planned. We’re just little vessels, you know?

Me and Josh, we always know something is good when we feel we didn’t do it. When I do a painting, if I look at the painting and go, “That’s a cool painting! Oh! I did that! How weird.” That’s when I know it’s good and that’s why I think we know The White Rhino is really good. I’m connected to it in a way. I am. I wrote it; Josh is illustrating it. But we stand back from it and we’re like, “Wow, this is really far out and fun.” And we just laugh.

BURNS: And it is interesting because the original writings on the Netjerk Lounge are completely different than what’s going on now. It’s almost like a big transformation happened when that turned into a comic.

PARTRIDGE: Absolutely. In fact, at first I wrote all the stuff, it was going to be for a book and Josh was going to illustrate it. It was going to be very William Burroughs-like: just stream of consciousness, insane dream world of racial craziness. Because I think when you do racial things I think you should do it on overload. People like to do things real safe. That’s why I really liked Dave Chappelle, and I was really sad that he ended his show. He was taking racial stuff and just overloading it to the point that it was just absurdist and weird. I think that’s the way to deal with this stuff.

When we started working on the comic it just changed so much. All these other weird things were happening. It became a totally different entity. It was just a very strange scene. At the time my girlfriend would go to work in the morning. She’d go to bed around 12 or 1, and then I would sit there for like four months just sitting there writing. And I’d have to go into this weird, active imagination … kind of live in this weird world. So this long process that seemed like it would never be done. Writing this stuff down, writing this stuff down. And then Josh finally started illustrating it and it was just amazing to actually see it come alive. It was just unbelievable. He’s just flowing. I think his stuff is so amazing.

Transformation

BURNS: So we come back to deconstructing something and creating a new idea: gold out of shit.

PARTRIDGE: That’s what happened. I was taking a shower one day, and I was like, “I should write a book.” And then that famous saying “Write what you know” pops into my head, and I laughed. The reason racism is interesting is the fact that you just couldn’t discuss it. People get angry. People scream. You can’t have a rational, turned-on conversation. I thought, “Well that stuff is interesting, all this ugly stuff. What else do I love? I love fairy tales, I love fantasy.” So I just thought, “Why not merge these?” That’s the idea with The White Rhino.

I thought, “Let’s go back to your childhood.” And my first, earliest memories of racism were because of All In the Family. Because I didn’t know what racism was when I was a little kid. So I’d watch All In the Family, and it was just Archie Bunker calling everyone “coloreds,” and the main thing was always calling Meathead a dumb fucking Polack. “You dumb Polack. Yah big dumb Polack.” And then I started hearing Polack jokes, and I was a kid and I was like, “Are Polacks real?” ’Cause I’d look at Mike Stivic and think … I imagined this race of people that were kind of stupid and pink and sweaty, they were retarded people, but humans, they were Polacks, and they were just dumb. I was confused. I was young. “Are they real?” So that was my earliest turn on to the racist scene and with racism.

Then later, when I got older, Roots came on. That was a big thing. One of my best friends was black, and so all of a sudden everyone was talking about racism when Roots started in elementary school. And I remember going to school one day thinking about racial slurs, and I go, “Why do blacks have more racial slurs?” And I started thinking, “What are white racial slurs?” At the time all I knew was “honky” and “whitebread.”  And honky reminded me of the comic, Turok: Son of Stone. The Indians called the dinosaurs Honkers. I started thinking one day, “A lot of these racial slurs aren’t so bad. ‘Jungle Bunny’ …” I actually pictured a really funny little jungle bunny. And then I thought ‘gook’ sounded like an alien frog to me. And I started wondering about racial slurs.

So I went back to that with The White Rhino, and let’s make these mythological creatures. In this world, they’re not what you think they are: Spear Chuckers are actually these great warriors that have spears — to transform that. The story’s just a really cosmic, amazing, fantastic adventure that’s completely alchemical and mystical and fun.

But yet when you read these things, it’s funny, we’d be going over in it and then all the sudden we’d start laughing because if someone were to hear us discussing this … it sounds like a schizophrenic has some crazy you know … horrible racial slurs. We’re discussing like, “OK! The Spic does this, and then the Spear Chucker comes through and goes here …” [Burns laughs.] And it just sounds really offensive, and yet we’re just describing these amazing characters, you know? I thought when I printed out the script, “If I left this on the bus, what would someone think?”

I guess Josh’s girlfriend’s friend read like the first chapter and said, “What kind of person would do this? This sounds like an insane person.” [Laughter.]

That’s a good compliment. The other thing is, after Josh and I decided to make this a reality I started thinking, “Do I really want to do a comic that has all this heavy racial baggage attached to it?” Because I think people want an answer. If you’re dealing with a racial session, they want an easy answer. And there is no easy answer. Ray Kroc said: “Keep it simple, stupid.” And as a Servant of God, that’s what I’m going to try and do.

Tomorrow: Josh Simmons talks about drawing The White Rhinoceros.

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