Peepshow, by Joe Matt
'Peepshow': 'Fair Weather'. 

Joe Matt was an American comic artist, who spent a large part of his life in Canada. He is best-known for his long-running series 'Peepshow' (1987-2007), of which separate episodes and thematically connected narratives have been published under different titles. 'Peepshow' is an autobiographical comic, in which Joe Matt visualizes slice-of-life anecdotes in a sometimes embarrassingly open-hearted style, but with funny self-deprecating humor. His comics have been translated in French, German and Spanish.

Early life and career
Joe Matt was born in 1963 in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. He came from a poor family, with his father taking any job that brought in some money. He owned a small carpeting store, worked for the tax preparation company H&R Block for a while and eventually got a job at the Amtrak train service. Matt's mother was a devout Catholic, but as a teenager her son abandoned his faith. Catholic teachings of guilt and remorse plagued him way into adulthood. Still, Matt credited his mother for stimulating him to draw and to study Illustration at the Philadelphia College of Art, where future comic artist Matt Wagner was one of his classmates.

Joe Matt enjoyed comics from a young age. Among his earliest graphic influences were Charles Addams, Carl Barks, Al CappWill EisnerJack KirbyE.C. Segar, Charles M. Schulz and Mad Magazine cartoonists Wallace Wood and Basil Wolverton. As a teenager, he discovered underground and alternative comics. He singled out Robert Crumb as his strongest inspiration, particularly since he could relate to Crumb's obsessions with Catholic guilt and sex. Harvey Pekar's 'American Splendor' showed Matt that one could make interesting comics about everyday, seemingly banal events. He also expressed admiration for Art SpiegelmanLynda Barry, Kim Deitch, Frank King, Ben Katchor, David Mazzuchelli, Adrian Tomine, Carol Tyler, Jim Woodring and his best friends Seth and  Chester Brown. Another major influence, from a different artform, was film director and comedian Woody Allen. Matt admired his ability to address personal issues, like relationships, with a sense of comedy.

Colorist in the comic book industry
After graduation in 1985, Matt tried in vain to get work as an illustrator. Being rejected everywhere, he spent many lonely nights at his mother's house. Through his college friend Matt Wagner, he was able to earn money as an inker and colorist in the comic book industry for the publisher Comico. Between 1985 and 1987, he colored Wagner's 'Grendel' comics and later also the DC crossovers 'Batman/Grendel: Devil's Masque' (1993) and 'Batman/Grendel: Devil's Riddle' (1993). Matt also contributed to 'Batman: Featuring Two-Face and the Riddler' (1993), scripted by Neil Gaiman and drawn by Bernie Mireault and Matt Wagner. For Mireault, he inked 'A True Story!' and 'May 29th, 1988', published in 'The True North' (1988, 1991), a collective comic book supporting the Comic Legends store in Calgary, Alberta, whose owners were charged with selling obscene material. At Comico, Matt additionally colored Steve Moncuse's 'Fish Police' and comics based on the animated TV series 'Jonny Quest' (by Hanna-Barbera) and 'Robotech: The Macross Saga'. While Matt enjoyed working with Wagner and Mireault, most of his other inking and coloring duties didn't satisfy him. He didn't like superhero comics, since, in his opinion, the genre never reached the same heights again after the first five years of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's 1960s collaboration at Marvel. Interviewed on the Inkstuds Podcast (3 January 2008), Matt also confessed that coloring exhausted him, since he did everything by hand. For his own comics, he always had a preference for black-and-white comics.

From Philadelphia to Canada
Another early source of income was a weekly job at the Philadelphia comic book store Fat Jack's Comic Crypt, where he had to help unload new deliveries from a truck at three o'clock in the morning. This job, combined with the income garnered from inking and coloring, was just enough to move into an apartment with a roommate. In 1987, Matt started his first serious long-term relationship with a young Canadian woman named Trish Schutz. In July of that year, she was in Philadelphia to visit her sisters Barb, who was engaged to comic artist Matt Wagner, and Diana, who was Comico's comic book editor. Five or six months after they met, Joe and Trish moved into her house in Montreal, Canada. When in 1989, Trish went to study Animation in Toronto, Matt again moved along. In this city, he met fellow comic artists Seth and Chester Brown, who remained his lifelong friends. After his break-up with Trish, he stayed in Toronto until 2002. Throughout his 13,5 years living in Canada, Matt wasn't an officially registered Canadian citizen. Eventually, spending more than a decade and a half in the same town and seeing mostly the same friends, wore Matt down. When he met a girlfriend from New York City, he decided to take the opportunity to move back to the USA. Since 2003, he lived in the Los Feliz neighborhood in Los Angeles. Interviewed by Mickaël Géreaume on 11 May 2016, he revealed that he wanted to move back to Canada - this time legally - as soon as he had finished a comic about his life in LA. This never happened.

Peepshow, by Joe Matt

In September 1987, Matt launched his signature comic 'Peepshow', although he had been experimenting with the idea and overall style for about a year in his sketchbook. Since he considered himself incapable of writing fiction, he ventured into autobiographical, slife-of-life comics. Interviewed by Mickaël Géreaume (11 May 2016), Matt explained: "I instinctively felt there was only one Joe Matt and I had to benefit from my individuality." Early episodes still lacked a definitive title. They are presented as one-page gags, with a punchline in the final panel. His drawing style was loose, following a small-panel format. Episodes appeared in the alternative comic magazine Snarf (Kitchen Sink Press) and one page in issue #27 of Robert Crumb's Weirdo magazine (1988). The first book collection hit the market under the title 'The Cartoon Diary of Joe Matt' (Kitchen Sink Press, 1992, reprinted in 1999 by Drawn & Quarterly). Starting in 1992, Drawn & Quarterly published the next volumes as a full-blown comic book series, allowing Matt to draw longer stories with big panels, following a continuous narrative. From this moment on, Matt's comics received the permanent title 'Peepshow', which perfectly summarized their voyeuristic nature.

During the early years of his autobiographic comic work, art by his girlfriend Trish occasionally appeared in Joe Matt’s pages. These included single panels from one of her own comic strips (like in the 26 November 1987 episode), a self-caricature (22 May 1988), or Trish drawing herself alongside Matt in a 10 April 1989 story.

'Peepshow' offers a sneaky, but humorous look at Matt's private life. He was able to find comedy in recognizable everyday banalities. The author, for instance, often has urgent work to do, but instead wastes his time on more short-term pleasant, but long-term pointless activities. He prefers re-reading his favorite comics for the zillionth time or talking to friends in a Donald Duck voice. Matt also described himself as a hoarder. He loves collecting comics, but the books take up too much space in his apartment. Yet he can't bring himself to throw anything away. And when he does, he quickly regrets his decision and rebuys his stuff, only to face the same problem again. In his comics, Matt doesn't romanticize his daily life. He is lonely and often has trouble to make ends meet. But the reader doesn't always feel sympathy for him. In some scenes, he comes across as a pathetic, whiny, self-pitying neurotic. As a result of his childhood poverty and low-rent existence, he is very thrifty. In restaurants, he waits until he can eat his friend's leftovers. Matt even devoted an entire page on 'How to Be Cheap'.

'Peepshow' shows its creator as stubborn, indecisive and very self-centered. When he lusts after a woman, he can be uncomfortably pushy. But when she wants him to do her a favor, he refuses to do so, preferring to stay home and laze about. It comes to no surprise that Matt is often single. He keeps longing for "the right girl", but often obsesses over women based on superficial physical preferences, while rejecting potentially suitable partners for similar petty fixations. Matt complains how his life feels like a depressing vicious circle. Yet he rather procrastinates than actually give it a different direction. Even his friends sometimes lose their patience with him. Joe Matt knew that comedy is found in anything negative: "People's shortcomings will always be funnier than their virtues, from Charlie Brown to Woody Allen. All drama is based on conflict. By lack of a real 'enemy' in my comics, I decided to portray myself as my own worst enemy."

Matt went far in his "warts and all" approach. He didn't shy away from discussing and depicting stuff most people would prefer to stay quiet about. One 'Peepshow' episode informs readers on "How To Take A Good Shit". Equally icky is his tendency to urinate in his sink or special bottles, when he is too lazy to go to the downstairs bathroom. One of Joe Matt's most infamous taboo topics was his love for pornography. In 'My Darkest Secret', he recalls one particular embarrassing moment when a prostitute approached him in a porn theater. Once he had his own home, he rented porn videos. Matt often depicts himself masturbating. If this wasn't intrusive enough, he also shows himself compiling his porn video collection on separate tapes, categorized by favorite scenes, topics and actresses. Friends and partners often urge him to throw his porn stash away, especially since it takes up so much time he could spend on more productive activities, like investing in relationships, or drawing comics.

However, Matt didn't regard his porn-viewing and editing hobbies as an addiction, more as a weakness. In his opinion, it wasn't much different from people who enjoy drinking, eating or other leisures. He also felt it was too much of a taboo in society, given that in almost every article or interview about him, it was a topic of discussion. Still, he was aware that porn became a problem. In volumes #11-14 of 'Peepshow', collected in 'Spent' (Drawn & Quarterly, 2007), it is even a central topic. By then well into his forties, Matt felt melancholic about still living alone in an apartment, watching sex videos as if there was no tomorrow. He tried abstaining from porn, sometimes embracing it, but never seemed quite sure how to deal with it. He even deliberately refused to take an Internet connection at home, to avoid getting access to an ocean of online pornography.

Interviewed in Comics Journal issue #162 (October 1993), Matt mentioned that he kept his comics centered on himself, so he wouldn't invade other people's privacy. Yet unavoidably, others got written into his narratives and, equally unavoidably, often got upset about it. In several interviews, he stated it was a price he was willing to pay. In conversation with J. Flinn Akroyd for Mung Being Magazine (issue #15, 2007), he commented: "I tend to view my closest friends as very far and few; hence, I tend to view almost all others as expendable to some degree (…) And while I didn't go out of my way to be hurtful or exploitive to them in my comics, I also didn't care what their response or reaction would be either. I know … that sounds rather cold, but I can't go second-guessing reactions that I can't control anyway. It's counter-productive." Still, several people close to him felt exploited. It cost Matt his relation with his favorite girlfriend Trish. Not just because he portrayed their sex life and arguments, but also because Matt didn't shy away from confessing that he felt attracted to other women during their relationship, including one of Trish's friends. One of his girlfriends once confronted Matt in the street. She also went to the press, feeling that he owed her royalties and financial compensation. Later in life, Matt dated women who at least were familiar with his comics, so that they knew what they were up against. But Matt claimed that these relationships still ended because of his porn-viewing habits. Much of Matt's on-and-off relationship with Trish and additional attempts to find another partner are covered in 'Peepshow' volumes #1 through #5, and compiled in the book 'The Poor Bastard' (Drawn & Quarterly, 1996).

Many times, Joe Matt's comics also divided readers. He printed some of the letters he received in the opening and closing pages of his books. Some praised his talent, while others felt he needed therapy, or downright accused him of being a self-centered asshole who mistreats the people who love him. Interviewed in The Comics Journal issue #162 (October 1993), Matt explained that stories like 'My Darkest Secret' spurred him since he had a constantly resurfacing fear that he might die tomorrow and as well "tell something good that I've got. (…) It really won't matter after I'm dead. I think about death an awful lot and that creates a real sense of urgency. It gives it a real liberating attitude. It makes me forget about any kind of audience reading the book and reactions. It makes me focus on how it completes myself, the work. And I think that's always best."

Yet Matt emphasized that no autobiographical story is ever 100 percent how things really happened, since they follow a subjective personal viewpoint and memory is selective. The author also edits and filters what he wants to present to his audience. Even Matt, who wasn't afraid of depicting himself in an unflattering light, kept things out. His comic book persona, and everybody else depicted in the stories, are caricatures. Some events are combined or exaggerated for comedic or dramatic effect. In 'The Poor Bastard', he once straight out invented a threesome scene, where he suffers from impotence. Since he rarely completely delved into fiction, he felt guilty about it afterwards and admitted his “lie” in volume #14. Matt also stated that his problem wasn't impotence, but being unable to ejaculate. In the aforementioned 1993 Comics Journal interview, Matt commented that “other people don't understand how I exaggerate things for humorous effect. They just see themselves being portrayed and they get angry.” In 2007, he stated that his real problem was that his exaggerated comic persona could become a formula, which could be both a blessing and a curse.

In volumes #7 through #10 of 'Peepshow', Matt decided to break away from his signature style and make something completely different. He had already covered much of his present-day life, but since he was single, not much happened that he could translate into comics. Inspired by Chester Brown's graphic novels 'I Never Liked You' and 'The Playboy', Matt decided to delve deeper into his own past, all the way to his childhood in the 1970s. He liked Brown's use of silent panels to convey drama and paced his next graphic novel more leisurely, to evoke a cinematic feel. For the first time, Matt used photographic material to accurately draw houses and buildings from his former neighborhood. His mother and sister gave him additional archive photos. These volumes of 'Peepshow' were collected into one graphic novel as 'Fair Weather' (Drawn & Quarterly, 2002). The book centers on the friendship between Matt and his pal Dave, who often go out biking, watch horror B-movies on TV or visit secret hiding places. The stories are a series of loose anecdotes. Matt depicts himself as a naïve, timid kid, who wants to buy comics at bargain prices especially after his mother threw his collection away. Matt liked 'Fair Weather' as a welcome thematic change. He could include more outdoor scenes, avoiding the claustrophobic feel of previous 'Peepshow' stories, where he simply depicted himself sitting in his bedroom. 'Fair Weather' has longer sequences in which not much happens, but Matt instead builds atmosphere. Since the plot focuses on an innocent childhood friendship, he could avoid the topic of sex. Some readers liked this stylistic break, while others asked him to return to his present-day antics. 

Graphic and written contributions
In 1989, Matt contributed the short story 'A Moron's Guide to Avoiding AIDS' to the educational comic book 'Strip AIDS U.S.A.' (Last Gasp, 1988) to benefit the AIDS education organization the Shanti Project. In 1990, Matt collaborated with Seth and Chester Brown on the story 'Them Changes', scripted by Dennis P. Eichhorn and published in issue #6 of the 'Real Stuff' comic series. The story was drawn by Seth, but since he couldn't find the time to complete the story, the final page was ghosted by Brown and Matt. Matt made additional crossover comics with Marc Bell, Chester Brown, Ivan BrunettiJulie DoucetWill EisnerJames Kochalka, Seth, Dave SimAdrian Tomine and Chris Ware, collected in 'Joe Matt's "Jam" Sketchbook' (1998). In 2004, Matt provided a foreword to volume #26 of 'The Complete Peanuts', collecting Charles M. Schulz' famous newspaper comic.

Final years and death
Throughout his career, Joe Matt enjoyed a strong cult following. Many of his books were exported and translated, but he was never a wealthy artist. In the previously mentioned 2016 interview with Mickaël Géreaume, he claimed to be so poor that he couldn't remember the last time he had to pay income taxes. Despite some erroneous online claims, he never received any awards either. In 2004, HBO started production on an animated TV series based on 'The Poor Bastard', adapting stories from 'Peepshow'. David X. Cohen, producer of Matt Groening's animated series 'Futurama', and writer Donick Cary ('The Simpsons') were attached to the project and envisioned it as a mixture between animation and live-action, comparable to Shari Springer Bergman's film adaptation of Harvey Pekar's 'American Splendor' (2003). Originally, Matt agreed to the project, since he wanted to have enough money to finally buy a house. But halfway he changed his mind, because he disliked the idea of attaching his name to an embarrassing TV show exposing his little alternative comic to millions of viewers, while not having full creative control over it. He therefore succesfully sabotaged the project.

Matt's entire professional comic career is concentrated between 1987 and 2006. After that date, he still made cartoons, paintings and hosted his personal MySpace account from a local library with Internet access. But fans waited in vain for new book titles. Interviewed in 2016, Matt revealed that he had finally found the love of his life, who accepted both his comics and porn-watching habits. The downside was that he didn't want to lose her by depicting their private life in his comics, so he didn't dare to make any autobiographical comics anymore. In other interviews, he simply admitted being just as lazy as ever. Matt did plan a new comic book, but as of 2016, he only had a bunch of notes and hadn't put a line on paper.

In past interviews, Matt had often talked about his fear of dying and leaving only a small oeuvre behind. This fear unfortunately became reality in September 2023, when he unexpectedly died from a heart attack behind his drawing table. He was only 60 years old.

Legacy and influence
Joe Matt was an influence on many comic artists, mostly from the autobiographical genre. In the United States, he influenced Chad BilyeuIvan Brunetti (whose fan letter was published in Peepshow #11), Sophie Crumb, Matt Groening, Alec Longstreth and Jim Woodring, while receiving praise from veteran artists Peter Bagge, Ed BrubakerRoberta Gregory (whose fan letters were printed in Peepshow #2), Gary Panter (whose fan letter was printed in Peepshow #10), Dave Sim (a fan letter by him appeared in Peepshow #13), Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar. In Europe, he has followers in Austria (Ulli Lust), Belgium (Erik Meynen) and The Netherlands (Maia MatchesBarbara Stok). Two letters of praise by Stok were actually printed in Peepshow # 9 and #10. ‘Peepshow' inspired the title and similar comedy style of the TV sitcom 'Peep Show' (2003-2015), developed by scriptwriters Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. Other celebrity fans are pop musician Moby, singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, comedians Janeane Garofalo and Ben Stiller and independent film director Caveh Zahedi (whose fan letter was printed in Peepshow #9) and Rivers Cuomo, lead singer of the band Weezer. In Peepshow #10, Cuomo's fan letter was printed, in which he claimed Matt's comics were a thematic inspiration for their classic album 'Pinkerton' (1996). Matt was also a friend of TV actress Jenna Fischer (best known as Pam Beesly in the U.S. TV series 'The Office').

Spent, by Joe Matt

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