Greg Ruth, whose works ‘The White Lodge‘ took the Twin Peaks community by storm over the Summer of 2017. I was very honoured to chat with Greg about his work and inspirations.
LS: Greg, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. You have worked solidly throughout the Summer creating some truly incredible art representing The Return of Twin Peaks. Your work took the Twin Peaks community by storm in 2017. Were you surprised by how it all went down?
GR: I was surprised by how hugely it hit. I normally just don’t think about that stuff and post and go back to work. It was wonderful to see all that support and interest, and it meant the world. Getting the cast involved made it particularly sweet, and even Showtime went out of their way to be supportive of the series. It was entirely and wholly fun and exciting to do. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as free and challenged and excited to draw each week than I was while working on The White Lodge. I can’t wait to see about getting back into it.
LS: Do you have a favourite creation?
GR: So hard to pick a favourite… I think they fall into two categories generally: those that successfully push the boundaries, through experimentation, of the craft of the drawing for me personally… and those that interpret the story the drawings illustrate in an additive and even sometimes predictive way. But here are some that do that:
And of course like any Sophie’s Choice…there are other babies I still love. So if you have ones you’d like to speak to, by all means.
LS: Absolutely! The branches of the Evolution of The Arm feature in a number of your pieces, can you talk through your thoughts in relation to that?
GR: The thing about a lot of Lynch’s work I appreciate so much is his use of almost Jungian archetypes repurposed through his own personal symbology. So you have things like fire and trees operating on several levels at once. And his ongoing refusal to reveal that dictionary along with his encouragement to derive one’s own when watching his films invites a perfect scene for using the language of those symbols in interesting especially visually. So in this case, and beginning with the “Evolution of the Arm” piece, the sycamore tree and its cross-universal tendrils come into play. They denote connectivity, take on the appearance of electrical bolts that also mirror veins… there’s some kind of ungraspable reality to them I love playing with. When I did this piece I wasn’t yet aware of the Dougie/Bad Coop/Agent Coop schizoid ideas, but somehow in sticking with these base symbolizes, I managed to predict that kind of break of self here. It happened a lot in this series… a piece would filter through and while perhaps not literally anticipating something, they foretold like some errant drunk gypsy from the 13th century prophetically misunderstanding cell phones or television. Not quite a spoiler, but something more fun from which new ideas and notions can branch out.
The “We Need to Talk About Diane” piece was one of the more clear predictions of the owl-as-black-lodge-agent cuckoo she turned out to be. I think I did that maybe three or four weeks before that reveal and it struck me like a bolt of lightning when it aired and her tulpa-nature collapsed. All of it really just belied and affirmed a sense I was on the right course. I didn’t know what it meant, but there it was anyway, and found some real artistic value in getting it a little bit wrong, or misunderstood. Some sub rosa whispering from the wellspring. That’s when I know as a creative person when things have slotted in and begun to flow.
LS: I think that is what is so great about your work, in particular, is that it is your personal representation of what you have seen on the screen. How does that process work for you? Did these ideas come to you as you watched?
GR: Okay. So I’ve done a fair number of film-related illustration work for Criterion and Mondo, etc… and I tend to use the same process for these drawings: just watch the show, and let the ideas spark. I can always tell when it’s going to be a well-matched effort when I get visual images or something sparks right away. With Twin Peaks, it’s like leading with the grand finale. It never really stopped.
What is a little different about this series and doing that other work, is I think, intent. With a Criterion gig, the goal is to accomplish some image or moment or overall ethic that captures the spirit of the film for the cover, and maybe a secondary swipe at that for an interior poster, or little sidebar illustration… this was just running amok in a fully stocked playground. No image needed to be the end-all of the series or even the episode. It was more about capturing a moment, or a sub rosa idea, or thought-form, and giving that Tulpa its body. Sometimes, more often than not actually, I’d have a half dozen ideas from a single episode that would spill over for a few pieces and several weeks. Episode 8 for example… I could do thirty pieces derived from that single hour of screen time alone.
LS: Absolutely, Part 8 completely blew everything out of the water both visually and imaginatively. You started The White Lodge three years ago is that right? And was this was a personal project rather than a commissioned thing? Have you been a Twin Peaks fan for some time?
GR: I did. The first White Lodge cycle was a simple smaller scale portrait collection in graphite as part of my ongoing 52 Weeks Project drawing series — where I’ll promise a new piece each week on a given theme, be them random news items, portraits of coal miners, characters from Dune and Star Wars, musicians, a pro-immigration series… whatever. The idea is to sort of play hooky straight off the bat each week, but they were originally quick Sumi ink drawings – which help with the need for haste with these. I had intended a series of portraits of mythical gods & goddesses, but after doing Macha, found they took too long in graphite at the time to function weekly. The series could forestall actual work but couldn’t crowd it out entirely, and the graphite drawing speed was too much for the series. The initial White Lodge collection was an attempt to try it again… go smaller, simpler and use characters I was already long familiar with. It clicked and led to this larger more challenging second series for The Return. But the first infiltration of Twin Peaks into the 52 Weeks Project was really a series of about a dozen funerary log portraits entitled ‘Logs I Have Known‘, which utilized quotes from Margaret Lanterman.
I was a sophomore at Pratt in Brooklyn when Twin Peaks first aired and have been a fan of the show ever since. There was simply nothing like it at the time or since, really. I remembered it aired at 10 pm on Saturday night and despite this, the campus ground to a halt for that hour as we all crowded into the room of whoever had a working television to watch it together. Getting a thousand art school kids to stay in for Saturday night in NYC in the early ’90s was a feat on its own.
LS: I love that everyone has their own story to tell about how Twin Peaks arrived in their lives and stayed with them. I imagine for art students it really was the greatest! I hope Season 3 is having the same effect on the next generation of artists. I was a little kid when it first aired. It clearly made a huge impact and it’s why I’m here today, doing what I do. It is so important we feel, to celebrate the art made by fans because this community is like no other. The creativity of this fandom is truly unique.
GR: It had a huge impact on our weirdo art world. I know it’s hard to remember the before times, but back when it first dropped on air, there were only three TV networks back then and no Internet yet. You could only see it when it was on air or if someone bootlegged a copy…if you missed it, you missed it and had to hope for a VHS release a year or two later. So a lot of the community aspect was smaller and interpersonal. We had fewer ways to share back then but we also had less to share.
LS: We waited a long 25 years for The Return, how did you feel when those first 2 hours aired after all that time? How did you feel about the new series in general?
GR: I think I was caught a bit by surprise by the new series, if not terrifically. I had seen Fire Walk With Me of course and was excited to see Lynch and Frost really start to cement their expanded universe, the third series was such a radical difference from the former structurally, it was an off-balance moment for a lot of us. The original series was built around the weekly prime time soap opera model like Dallas, Dynasty or Falcon Crest, and kept nodding to that brilliantly with its “Invitation to Love” soap that ran on the local station in the show. This new series was much more like a film experience, and as we now know, spent a lot less time in the town of Twin Peaks, and not seeing Agent Cooper return in full until the third act of the series was an impressively bold surprise. But we’re a smarter viewing audience now, and having grown through the impact and knock-on effects of what TP brought to TV narratives, I was more concerned its oddness would seem quaint and feared a kind of sappy final tour of indulgence and nostalgia than a new furthering of the story. Needless to say, I was truly excited by the end of the second episode for what might be coming.
LS: Absolutely! I think most people were pretty shell-shocked, the nostalgia of seeing Shelly and James at The Roadhouse was perfect timing after those first 2 hours of something completely different to perhaps what we were expecting, I think that was probably Lynch’s acute understanding of this fandom, how it will absolutely embrace his work whatever it brings, but that it was also exciting for us to see the old favourites. It put us in good stead for what was to come, though I don’t think any of us could’ve predicted what actually happened. Like you said earlier, especially Part 8.
Of course, I write a lot about my interpretation of what we’ve seen here but your work in particular I think is a visual interpretation, not just a representation. Were you getting to work straight away after watching? How long does it take to do a piece generally?
GR: Yeah I think he managed that well, particularly in blending in some of the old in hints and keeping the focus on what the hell Cooper has been up to in the Black Lodge all this time, afforded him a wider ability to get broader, introduce new characters, cities and broaden the themes. The pilot episode of the initial series still is an object lesson in how you write a brilliant pilot episode: count out the first 15 minutes and write a list of all the characters you’ve met and what is going on. It’s a remarkable narrative feat.
I had done this piece below as a whim, and then did a more expanded form of it as a commission… and assumed that would be it. I honestly had no intention of taking it up again as a series given my workload…
…but then on a whim, I did this other one that Jeff Lemire grabbed up, and the itch to do more was mighty. It just took off like wildfire after that. The first one took a good couple of days so I never expected to take it to series, but the second one came together in a matter of hours and suddenly it seemed doable.
At most I expected it to go to 18 pieces to match the episodes…then that math turned to 25 to match the years… then once I hit 32…well, I stopped bothering with counting and just let it ride.
LS: Your pieces are so detailed and well thought out, the more you look the more you notice, take for example piece #33 “Do you remember everything?” That alone asks so many questions of the now alive Laura Palmer. Do you have theories or feelings that just kind of fit right with you about the finale?
LS: As for “Do You Remember Everything?” which was up to now the last in the series…and I think those of us who’ve seen it through or were watching it unfold in real-time can understand it left a LOT of room open to ponder. It’s sort of a perfect place for what I was doing because answering the questions are less important and inspiring than asking the right ones. Personally, I tend to go with the idea of a trap for Judy theory that’s running around. I think Cooper was earnestly trying to save Laura, and they seem clear, and obviously when visiting the Palmer house, that they had leapt to our universe at the end. That gas station alone and much of that whole trip to Texas and back to TP was so much, much more verity’ than anything else shown. It FELT like a different world… so I can’t help escape the notion that while Coop clearly sought to help Laura, he also was using her for the mission he and Diane and The Fireman worked up to deal with Judy. There was always for me at least, a sub rosa conversation around the objectification of Laura Palmer… by her own hand, Bobby’s, James’, Bob/Leland’s while alive and Cooper and the rest of the town, even Bob and Judy and Sarah Palmer when she had become a victim or a rallying cry as a corpse. So her “rescue” in the woods felt a little like saving an injured deer to use as bait to rap a wandering tiger, and there’s an indictment in there for Cooper.
It makes me want to see how Judy affects and lives now in our world, and also curious to see the effect of her absence on the TP universe.
LS: It’s incredible the amount of work you created in such a short time! And with other stuff going on too. What are other projects have you been working on?
GR: During the reunion of The Return, I was mostly concentrated in the script phase of my second book partnering with Ethan Hawke, entitled MEADOWLARK, so aside from a few errant cover jobs, some posters for Mondo, the field was wide open to play in the Twin Peaks sandbox. I likely could and would have continued it had work demands not come into play as September rolled in.
LS: You mentioned Dune which was one of your 52 Weeks Projects, and a novel that of course became a Lynch movie. Are you particularly a Lynch fan?
GR: Yeah the Dune series was particularly more oriented towards the first book rather than the Lynch film for specific reasons unto itself. The casting of that film was so perfect it made it a tough row, but the intention was to eventually go beyond the first book and tackle the others, so sticking to the original text for the source as an assume depositing of difference against the Lynch film seemed a challenging way to go. I am quite a big Lynch fan since I first saw Elephant Man, and then Eraserhead at a late-night arthouse showing. I’ve followed his filmology closely through to Inland Empire, loved his Angriest Dog in the World cartoons and even stopped by to check his weather reports when we were doing them. To me, Twin Peaks was his magnum opus, so getting to see it elevated to such heights as it was recently was a real revivification of that love.
LS: I absolutely agree, Twin Peaks Season 3 will be incredibly hard to beat and thankfully put to bed any worries I’d had about it spoiling the first two Series. Do you think it should end there or would you like to see more?
GR: I think it ended perfectly and don’t think there’s the same requirement for another series myself. I would rather it stick its landing and hold it than spoil the soup but of course if Lynch and Frost felt compelled I would gobble up more in a heartbeat. The arc of trapping and defeating Judy, of bringing it into our world has a lot of potentials, and I would love to see Agent Cooper adrift in our universe and interact with our FBI, etc… as a curiosity. But I feel like avoiding the temptation to have all answers and curiosities fulfilled. I like leaving it where there’s more to go. No story should ever really be complete if it’s to feel real, so I’m good where it wrapped.
LS: I have pretty much the same feelings, though would always welcome more as long as Lynch & Frost were on board.
That is exciting news, to be working with Ethan Hawke again. You created INDEH together in 2016 is that right? Can you tell us a little more about that, and MEADOWLARK?
GR: Yeah, Ethan and I worked on INDEH for a good many years to get it to work out and come together. It was a remarkable and purely collaborative experience for us both in a way we both particularly love, so we both felt itchy to do more. Our initial presumption was to continue the story and we’d written up a solid brief for a second volume of INDEH, but while we were travelling on tour for the book, we started talking about this father/son crime story set around the Huntsville Prison in Texas, a state we were both born into at the same time. We both have young teenage sons of the same age and we’re going through a similar struggle with them, with ourselves as fathers to young men and reconciling ourselves with our own childhoods… it just came together so quickly it overwhelmed all the notions of doing another INDEH. On the plane ride to and from the Texas Book Festival gala where we were keynote speakers last year, MEADOWLARK sparked to life in a major way. I think we plotted the whole story as it now stands on the plane trip back to NYC… it just became clear we wanted to do this next. As challenging as INDEH was for a number of reasons, MEADOWLARK was scarier as an enterprise, and we like to chase what scares us as a creative ethic.
LS: It sounds wonderful, I very much look forward to reading it. When is it likely to be published?
GR: Well we can hope! Maybe… 2020? Not sure. I need to draw it. That takes oh so much time. Comics are a terrible medium and I warn away anyone and everyone from it wherever I can… despite the fact I can’t seem to stop submitting to its terrible commands myself.
LS: What does 2018 hold for you? Do you have other projects lined up? Is there anywhere can we go to see your work in the flesh?
GR: I do have a busy year in front of me, but need to scale back to make room for MEADOWLARK. There will be a point where I’ll need to close up the inbox and make it my sole devotion for a good year or so. I’m returning to The IMC to teach this June in Amherst and have joined the SmArt School staff to begin teaching my first online classes for comics and covers this February… some exciting new things coming from Mondo starting this month, and beyond, more cover work and another children’s picture book in the works. Honestly, I want to revisit the White Lodge series, particularly if I get to publish them in a book. I’ve been working with Showtime and Lynch a bit to secure the license to do so properly… how and in what form that might manifest is hard to say yet. But I feel like a lot was started with the series that I’d like to continue exploring, both formally in terms of image-making and pushing further to see what the graphite can do. Showtime was generous enough to gift me with the Blu-ray set so I’m sort of waiting until I get space enough to watch it and be ready to draw more. There’s a lot of missing bits… Deputy Chief Hawk, Lucy, Andy, Shelly, etc…
LS: Oh yes, a book of your White Lodge work would be wonderful. I imagine that it would be snapped up by fans in a heartbeat. Can your White Lodge work be bought presently in print format?
GR: No I won’t make prints to sell without a proper license agreement. The difference between art and product, and it’s not my material to produce products from on my own. It’s tricky getting a license together, but happily, we have a preliminary nod from both Showtime and Lynch… wrangling CBS is another step. Still working out the details figuring out how best to do it. but if it pulls together, then I want to make another batch to go along with these.
LS: I really hope that works out as it would be great for fans to be able to own artwork that means so much to them, in either print or book form. It must be a great feeling knowing that David Lynch himself has given the nod to your work.
GR: Thanks, me too – trying out via a publisher friend of mine, but also despite the madness of doing another Kickstarter, it seems like a perfect fit for this.
LS: The online classes sound very interesting. Is this something that people can sign up to?
GR: The SMart School thing should be really fun. Three hours or more each Monday night, working over and directly with students on their work in real time together. So futuristic. Yeah I think sign-ups happen hereabouts: Smarterartschool.com
LS: We wish you great success with MEADOWLARK and all your future endeavours, it sounds like you’re going to be super busy! We are really grateful for the time you’ve spent talking to us.
GR: Thanks – MEADOWLARK is a particularly personal thing for us both, despite being a kind of breathless crime tale. I am always happy to talk about the Twin Peaks!
Greg Ruth is a New York Times Bestselling Author of The Lost Boy and has worked making books and comics since 1993. He is published through The New York Times, DC Comics, Fantagraphics Books, Caliber Comics, Dark Horse, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Hyperion, Simon and Schuster, Random House, Slate, CNN, Penguin, MONDO, and Tor. He has created two music videos for Prince and Rob Thomas, and has worked on nearly a dozen children’s picture books including Our Enduring Spirit (with Barak Obama), Red Kite, Blue Kite (with Ji Li Jiang), A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade ( and Recess) (both with James Preller), and his latest from Feiwel & Friends entitled Coming Home. His comics work includes Conan: Born on the Battlefield (with Kurt Busiek), Freaks of the Heartland (with Steve Niles), Sudden Gravity, The Matrix Comics and Goosebumps with R.L. Stine and is about to start work on his second project with Ethan Hawke (the first being INDEH), Meadowlark. He lives and works in Western Massachusetts.