Meet the world’s most famous underground cartoonist. Transformers actor Shia LaBeouf is hardly the first celebrity to dabble in comic books, but where other stars slap their name on tie-ins for nerd-friendly Hollywood franchises or thinly disguised movie pitches in comics form, he went lo-fi and DIY.
In his short graphic novels Stale N Mate, Cyclical, and Let’s Fucking Party, as well as his webcomics series Cheek Up's – all available through his self-publishing imprint The Campaign Book, also home to projects from Marilyn Manson and Kid Cudi – LaBeouf combines knowingly crude art with writing that alternates between achingly sincere and viciously nasty. It’s an unusual blend if you’re new to the wild world of alternative comics, but LaBeouf’s no dilettante; he knows what he’s doing.
In this exclusive interview, Rolling Stone talked to LaBeouf the pros and cons of this unexpected second career.
What attracted you to making your own comics?
I’m coming from an art form that takes fifty people on the ground floor to make, not including the three hundred people who are in an office waiting for you to finish what you’re doing on the battlefield. It’s really nice to get away from that. Comics, for me, is being able to sing alone in the shower. I find it freeing. You just pick up a pen and get to it.
Your famous name aside, these comics feel like you made them because you had to.
As an actor, the minute you start getting real in interviews, you lose mystery. I feel like I’m really honest in my interviews, to a fault. I’ve lost friends over it. Major friends. And I’m heartbroken about that. But that still doesn’t do shit to my capacity for honesty. I have that Che Guevara in me that wants to say what I want to say and what I feel and what I’m passionate about. I had to create another avenue for my honesty, and that had to be through art, and the only art that I could do that and still maintain mystery, I found, was through comics.
You didn’t use your fame or clout to promote the books – you just contacted retailers and asked if they’d stock them, and let the work find its own audience.
The comic book world is a tough business. If you’re a celebrity with a comic, it already has a residue of shit on it because so many shit celebrity slash wrestler slash race-car driver slash who-gives-a-fuck books have already tainted the possible audience for it. This is not a get-rich-quick thing, it’s not a way to prolong my career – I would like the same fans that I respect in comics to like my books, and I know the only way to get there is to earn it, and the only way to earn it is to come up the same way everybody else does, as much as I can.
To an extent it’s unavoidable. I legitimately like your comics, but I like comics by a lot of people whom I’m not interviewing for Rolling Stone.
Exactly. There’s a certain aspect to it I can’t get away from unless I become the Slipknot of comic books, or change my name to Ziggy Stardust. There’s only so far I can take that before it overwhelms the art.
Your art style is raw, and in your writing you wear your heart on your sleeve, or maybe put your ass on the line. Are you prepared for blowback and ridicule?
I don’t know. I’ve experienced being held up by everybody in the [filmmaking] community. I’ve also experienced everybody turning their backs on me and going "Whoa, dude, you’ve got to figure it out, man." That alleviates a lot of the fear, and fear would hold me back in displaying honesty, in every art form.
In my short career, I remember wild blowback from the worst kinds of people you can get blowback from: your heroes. If you can imagine meeting Superman, hanging out with Superman for a couple of years, and having Superman wake up one day and go, "Nah, man, you’re a fucking asshole" – that checks you in a way no parent or circumstance can. It was humbling, and remains humbling, but it’s also completely freeing.