In his 30-plus-year career, artist-writer Bob Fingerman has never been afraid to push boundaries. He’s worked for Cracked and Heavy Metal, published books titled Skinheads in Love and ZombieWorld, and generally been unafraid to make uncomfortable creative choices. (See White Like She, where a middle-aged black man’s brain is placed in the body of a younger Jewish woman.) But his latest project just may be a crowning achievement in his catalog of unflinching art.
Dotty’s Inferno follows the titular character, formerly a call girl, as she’s sent to Hell to work in the “Inhuman Resources department, New Male Arrivals Division.” In addition to “assigning wayward souls their crummy afterlives,” Dotty goes on all sorts of wacky adventures through the pits, including dog-watching Cerberus. It’s sort of like if Betty Boop did shrooms, or Tintin was written by Anton LaVey. (This is the book’s second edition, and features a new story titled “What Music They Make” and pinups, with Adam Brooks’ piece added to those by Mike Mignola, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Howard Chaykin.)
Ahead of the book’s release on August 31, we caught up with Fingerman via email, where we talked about the collection’s many inspirations, what Hell is still so interesting artistically, the power of physical media, and much, much more.
AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for the book? Where did the idea come from originally?
Bob Fingerman: Short version is in life Dotty was a call girl. Never hurt a soul. Now, in the afterlife, she works in Hell’s New Male Arrivals Division, processing damned souls. But she spends more time away from her desk than there. The idea was actually pulled from a novel I started and stalled on. Her character, anyway.
AIPT: Folks might know you best from your work with MAD and creating the awesome Minimum Wage. How much do you think Dotty’s shares with those publications in terms of style, humor, etc.?
BF: I think there’s a Fingerman voice that permeates my work, for good or for ill. Even my so-called serious work—like the soon-to-be released revised edition of my novel Pariah, coming this autumn as Pariah: Redux, also through Heavy Metal—is full of humor. I can’t help it. It’s innate. And Hell had a cameo in Minimum Wage, during one of Rob’s reveries.
AIPT: What is it about hell that’s entertaining to explore via art/comics? What was it like to write a lead character who fits into that chestnut/trope of the “call girl with a heart of gold?”
BF: Hell is both boundless, but also clearly defined, per Dante and other literature (but mainly Dante). So it’s a broad canvas to bring whatever your sensibility is. I’ve always enjoyed smashing together the baroque and the mundane, so for me it’s a great setting for a workplace comedy. As for Dotty, yeah, she does fall into that archetype. But again, I get to put my spin on things. Dotty is pretty pure of heart, which is why her being in Hell is such a mistake.
AIPT: What’s the balance/process like in being both the writer and artist? Is it harder somehow, or maybe just more streamlined overall?
BF: I think it’s more work but way easier. No clashing of egos or approaches. Not that I don’t like working with others, but I prefer doing my own thing my own way. And writing is just as important to me, so I get to scratch both my creative itches.
AIPT: Is there anything that inspired your take on hell and the afterlife? (I get some real vibes of Beetlejuice for some reason.)
BF: Interesting. I hadn’t given Beetlejuice any thought at all. I haven’t seen it in over two decades, but I liked it. I’d say if it’s in there it was subconscious. But yeah, that’s a good pull. I think it’s more likely growing up on workplace sitcoms and being fascinated with Hell. I like mashups. I am not a poetry buff. Most I can’t even get through. But I did make my way through the Inferno part of Dante (the other parts I didn’t make it through), and I also love the poem “A Season in Hell,” by Arthur Rimbaud. Some good stuff in there. There was a great spoken word artist named Ken Nordine, who was also a successful and ubiquitous voice-over performer for commercials. But he had this amazing radio series called “Now, Nordine” (and also “Word Jazz”), where he’d do these intricate audio tapestries featuring skits and musings on art and literature and he performed “A Season in Hell” on one episode and I must have listened to that a hundred times. That definitely made an impression.
AIPT: Why is everyone so naked throughout the story? And does it mean anything at all that Dotty is “semi-clothed” in her bra?
BF: In Hell, damned souls are traditionally depicted naked. My little add-on is that ones that have duties in Hell, like prison trustees, get rewarded with single items of apparel, decided by their bosses. I’m also trying to demystify nudity. Make it less taboo. If it’s everywhere it becomes commonplace. America, in particular, is so provincial and parochial in its attitude about nudity. Puerile. So, for me making everyone naked just makes sense. Plus, it’s also kind of funny. Lots of body types. My comics roots are more firmly in underground comics and Heavy Metal than mainstream stuff, which always left me cold. So, another through line.
AIPT: There’s a contrast between Dotty being good and “pure” and the fact that she’s in hell. What’s the larger message or commentary here?
BF: Dogmatic rules can make for bad policy. That’s it, in a nutshell. She doesn’t really belong there. But because she took money for sex, boom: perdition forever. In the novel, which someday I hope to get back to, that theme is explored fully. I’m about to start a Dotty’s Inferno mini-series of comic books for Heavy Metal. I’ll likely circle around that theme a bit in there, too.
AIPT: Building off that last question, there’s some palpable tension in this version of hell between Dotty’s “reformation” and people being judged eternally for their wrongdoings. Is this ultimately a story/stories about redemption or second chances?
BF: It’s more a lack of faith in systems. Hell is just another bureaucracy, and is broken. Antiquated rules followed blindly. My cynical take is that Heaven is virtually empty, and the only folks that qualified to get in are sooooo incredibly boring that spending time with them would be a kind of Hell, anyway.
AIPT: There’s so many great pop culture references that pop up in scenes, dialogue, etc. What inspired you to include these fun cameos?
BF: Precisely that — fun. Of course, in the new story in the second edition, there’s a band I love. But to follow my own rules, they needed to be dead. For my purposes that worked out well. For real life, not so much. Still, I try to be very judicious in my use of pop culture. Too much can be obnoxious and wearisome. And also become dated. I try never to be too topical. There’s a very clear sell-by date when it comes to that kind of thing.
AIPT: This book is being released via Heavy Metal’s Virus imprint, which promises to “bring real comics, printed on paper, to readers while paying the creators a fair price for their work.” This book comes out amid a more recent rush of creators signing deals with Substack. What are your thoughts on physical books versus this trend to do digital comics? What are the benefits of publishing a printed book, and what draws you toward the printed medium? What has it been like to work with Heavy Metal on this book?
BF: I don’t know what Substack is, so I have to look that up. Personally, I loathe reading comics online or on devices. I’m strictly an ink-on-paper kind of guy. I like books. I bond with them, which is why I’m such a stickler for paper stock. I was very involved with choosing the interior and cover stock for Dotty. And as a result, I am very happy with the tactile experience of it. Matte paper, no finger prints, nice heft to it. It feels substantial. Heavy Metal was very accommodating of my preferences and the results speak for themselves. I think even they were surprised at how nicely it came out. Which is great.
AIPT: Can we expect more misadventures from Dotty? Do you feel like there’s still a lot to explore with this character and/or setting?
BF: Dotty will be returning in 2022 with a four or six-issue series, with longer stories featuring her and the demon comedy duo Ralf and Borax and more. I could run with this for a long time. Mike Mignola has done such brilliant and poetic work involving Hell with Hellboy. I’d like to be the flipside of that coin.
AIPT: How would you encourage a stranger you haven’t met to pick up your book?
BF: I’d ask that stranger if they like humor in an adult vein and if they said yes, I’d say, “BUY MY BOOK!” Then I’d add “please,” because I’m unfailingly polite.