The artist’s own blotto days are more or less behind him, however: Tony Millionaire (né Scott Richardson) is getting older. Knocking on the door of 50, the Gloucester native and MassArt alum is mellowing a little. He no longer runs around with a fifth of vodka in his pocket. And while he still draws the riotous Maakies every week, his other work is more restrained. His long-time comic-book series, Sock Monkey (Dark Horse), still focuses on simian and avian characters distantly related to Uncle Gabby and Drinky Crow, but its rich panels and subdued, dreamy story lines are more akin to fine art than underground comix. (Here, drawn in much more realistic fashion, “Gabby” is a child’s stuffed animal, and “Mr. Crow” is a real bird with a taste for distilled spirits.) The new Billy Hazelnuts (Fantagraphics), Millionaire’s first graphic novel, is suffused with a whimsical charm and a cockeyed beastliness at once. Echoing devilish illustrators like A.B. Frost and Edward Gorey, it’s his most fully conceived and substantial work yet.
And, after years of showcasing his comics mainly in alt-weekly newspapers such as The Stranger and New York Press (he’s also an occasional illustrator for the Phoenix), Millionaire may soon be on the verge of wider acclaim. The Cartoon Network just scheduled his animated pilot, The Drinky Crow Show, for its Adult Swim programming block. But don’t expect him to dilute his warped world-view for the sake of mass consumption. “I’m lucky that it’s Adult Swim doing this rather than Walt Disney,” he says. “They’re actually encouraging me to keep everything as dirty as I can.”
A man from garbage
The title character of Billy Hazelnuts is a pugnacious homunculus made of suet, rotten-mincemeat pie, and assorted other “stuff from the bottom of the trash can.” The smallish golem is created by mice, in a mansion in some distant mountain hamlet, with the express purpose of fighting the housewife and housecat who mean to exterminate them. Before long, Becky, the girl of the house and a budding astronomer, rescues him from his servitude, and together the two of them set off to sleuth out who stole the moon. Along the way, the narrative moves at a brisk clip, and Millionaire’s detailed, etching-like chiaroscuro is sometimes sublime.
When I reach him at home in Pasadena, where he moved several years ago with his wife, actress Becky Thyre (Mr. Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm), Millionaire jokes about the book’s grounding in autobiography. “It’s the story of a little crazy man, built from garbage. He goes through these adventures, and then the little girl befriends him, takes him over, and molds him. So it’s kind of my life story. The story of a wild man who’s changed by a woman.”