Colluding with Rob Rogers and Tenacious D’s Jack Black and Kyle Gass

Our FLOOD 9 cover conversation between ex–Pittsburgh Post-Gazette political cartoonist and an irreverent rock duo.
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Colluding with Rob Rogers and Tenacious D’s Jack Black and Kyle Gass

Our FLOOD 9 cover conversation between ex–Pittsburgh Post-Gazette political cartoonist and an irreverent rock duo.

Words: Dan Epstein

opening illustration and comics by Rob Rogers Post-Apocalypto images by Jack Black

October 31, 2018

We know what you’re thinking: What could an award-winning political cartoonist and the self-styled Greatest Band on Earth possibly have in common?

Well, as William Shakespeare writes in The Tempest, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows”—and indeed, the misery of daily life amid the corruption and ineptitude of the Trump administration has tremendously impacted and influenced the current work of both Rob Rogers and Tenacious D.

This past June, Rogers was fired from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after twenty-five years of service, when the newspaper’s publisher decided that the cartoonist’s work was too critical of Donald Trump—despite the fact that the president has repeatedly railed against our nation’s free press, even calling it “the enemy of the American people.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Jack Black and Kyle Gass spent their summer putting the finishing touches on Post-Apocalypto, a six-part animated video series (with an accompanying album of the same name). Written by Black and Gass, who voice all the characters in the series—every frame of which was also hand-drawn by Black—Post-Apocalypto marks The D’s first foray into both animation and politics. When evil stalks the land in the wake of a Trump-triggered nuclear blast, Jables and Kage realize that it’s up to them to save the world, even if it means battling everything from cave-dwelling monsters to White House–dwelling members of the Ku Klux Klan.

In light of all this, we figured that Rogers, Black, and Gass would have plenty to talk about.

FLOOD: Rob, maybe you can start off by telling us a little bit about your story.

Rob Rogers: I’ve been a professional political cartoonist in Pittsburgh for thirty-four years, the last twenty-five of which have been with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. For most of the time I’d been there, they were a very liberal-leaning paper, but the publisher started to slowly grow conservative and move to the right. And then when Trump came in, he became enamored with him, so he hired a new editorial-page editor who also shared his feelings about Trump. In my last three months at the paper, starting in March, I had eighteen cartoons killed, when normally it would just be two or three a year. And then in June I got fired. So there you go!

Kyle Gass: Thank god for the First Amendment! [Laughs.] Could it strangely have had a positive effect [to be fired]?

Rob: Well, it did. I think I had five thousand Twitter followers before this happened. And then, when they started killing the cartoons, the media picked up on it, and they were like, “Why are they not running your cartoons?” Everybody started theorizing that it was because they were Trump cartoons, and people started getting interested in my story. And then when they fired me, it sort of went viral—and now I have ninety thousand Twitter followers.

Kyle: Listen, Rob: I have 100,000 [Facebook] followers, and I never post. It’s not a contest, though! [Laughs.]

Rob: But even though I don’t have a full-time paycheck, it’s been good; I’m getting offers to do cartoons for magazines. And I’m working on a book right now to talk about the story of my firing.

FLOOD: Jack and Kyle, do you anticipate getting any blowback for the political commentary of Post-Apocalypto from certain segments of your fanbase?

Jack Black: I mean, I’ve let it be known that I’m anti-Trump and anti–the current administration. We’ve always leaned left; I don’t think it’s going to be a surprise to anyone. But yeah, I kind of respect the Jim Carreys of the world—you feel something, you let it be known. And if you can pick up a pen and do some half-decent drawings on the subject, all the better.

FLOOD: How long has Post-Apocalypto been in the works?

“The whole planet could be destroyed by one man because of his insecurity about the size of his penis. That is what I think is important to focus on!” — Jack Black

Jack: I think we’ve been working on it for a couple of years now. Right around the time when Trump first came down the escalator—I think that’s when the seed was germinated. The moment of conception was that ridiculous ESCALATOR DESCENT INTO HELL! And I think once the blue wave hits, and the impeachment proceedings begin, we’ll finally be able to move on to our next project.

Kyle: Oh, gosh…

FLOOD: What do you mean by “oh, gosh,” Kyle?

Kyle: Well, let’s not get over our skis now. Let’s let this process play out. Let Bobby Mueller do his job! [Laughs.]

FLOOD: Speaking of moments of conception: There’s a whole lot of seed-planting going on in Post-Apocalypto. The sheer amount of erect penises and gaping vaginas in the series is pretty impressive.

Kyle: Wow, gaping? Were they gaping? That seems like an unnecessarily descriptive word. I don’t know, though. Jack, were they gaping?

Jack: No, there’s no gaping to be seen.

Kyle: No gaping was used in the creation of this series. But it seems like we’ve been hearing that a lot about the sheer number of members.

Rob: As someone who’s had a lot of cartoons killed by my editors, and who is not really allowed to draw penises and vaginas for a family newspaper, I was wondering: While you were working on this thing, did you ever edit yourself? And if so, what kinds of things didn’t make it in?

Jack: No, that’s the advantage of not having a boss!

Kyle: Does it look like we edited anything? [Laughs.] I’d like to know what we didn’t use, too!

Jack: Well, we didn’t use the thing about the two-headed dog giving a two-headed blowjob, which I think was a good self-edit. There were little nips and tucks, but there was no boss upstairs telling us what to do. I think it’s pretty obvious! It’s the most free we’ve ever been with our craft. But on the subject of the penises and vaginas, I wanted to go back to that for a second: It seems like it’s at the center of our current situation—that the whole planet could be destroyed by one man because of his insecurity about the size of his penis. That is what I think is important to focus on!

Kyle: I have never thought of it that way, but you’re right.

Jack: Dude, he’s gonna launch it just to prove that he’s got a big one! I’m sorry, I don’t mean to rant. But if you wanna talk about the connection between genitalia and the end of the world, it’s pretty obvious what’s going down. If you’re going to ask me, “Jack, why are there so many penises and vaginas?” the answer is: “WE’RE HERE TO SAVE THE WORLD!!!”

Rob: I do think it’s interesting that Post-Apocalypto starts with the nuclear bomb coming down from nowhere; you don’t even know who drops it. But I guess that’s the point, right? It doesn’t even matter who starts it.

Jack: Well, it’s a murder mystery—you’ve gotta figure out who destroyed the world. And—spoiler alert—it’s Trump! [Laughs.] It’s one of the most obvious whodunits ever.

FLOOD: It’s interesting that Donald Trump Jr. gets all the screen time in the series, while his dad is only vaguely referenced a couple of times.

Rob: Yeah, he’s like a specter.

Kyle: It’s good that you noticed that; it’s very important.

Jack: Well, there’s a theme running through the whole series about fathers and sons—Jables Jr. and Donald Jr. It wasn’t really something we were conscious of doing; it was just sort of writing itself. And we’ll let the critics and the pundits untangle the subconscious elements [laughs].

Rob: My theory was that he wanted to see the explosion in all its glory—just like when he looked at the sun during the eclipse—and he got fried by the mushroom cloud!

Jack: We just wanted to avoid talking about “President Donald Trump” because I think there are rules against even fictionalized accounts of presidents, depending on what you’re going to do with the character. I didn’t want the FBI knocking on our door saying, “Hey! What are you doing?” So we found the loophole. Donald Jr.—no one cares about that guy! [Laughs.] I’m counting on zero FBI door-knocks or wiretaps. Also, I don’t think we ever say the word “Trump,” so it could be a different Donald Jr.

Kyle: We tried to be a little oblique… And then we just sort of gave up.

Jack: Oh, no—that’s gonna hold up in court.

Rob: I also noticed that Donald Trump wasn’t in it, and I thought that was brilliant for two reasons: One, you’re drawing this at a time when you’re not sure where he’s gonna end up—he may be impeached, he may be gone by the time this thing gets released, right? [Editor’s note: He’s not.] So you’re thinking ahead. But also, you really don’t want him to be president. By not acknowledging that he’s president, it’s kind of a jab at him. So I kind of liked that he wasn’t in it.

Jack: Thanks, Rob. And there’s another reason why he isn’t in it: Isn’t he, like, eighty, and doesn’t he eat Kentucky Fried Chicken every day? We didn’t want it to be old news in that way, either. [Editor’s note: Trump is “unequivocally the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”]

FLOOD: Let me play devil’s advocate here: Do any of you think there are any positive things that have resulted from this administration?

Rob: [Laughs] Good drawings for me!

Kyle: It’s always good for comics and stuff, to have this kind of thing… But yeah, I don’t know. It’s kind of beyond the pale.

Jack: I would say no, really.

Kyle: Sometimes it seems like there is a pendulum that swings back and forth, but I’ve never seen it swing that wildly. Maybe now it will swing wildly into common sense, and wonderful things will happen on
the rebound.

Jack: Yeah, I’m trying to find the silver lining here. I think there’s something to be said about exposing the darkness to the sunlight—the disinfecting that we didn’t even know needed to occur, because we didn’t know what was boiling beneath the surface of America. Like Kyle says, it will be interesting to see how the pendulum swings on the way back here, because it feels like the whole world is under the spell of the swing of this particular pendulum. Nationalism is big not just in the United States, but in the UK and Europe; all across the world, there’s this slamming shut of doors and walls. We’ve got a fever going on here, and it’s scary because it feels like the whole world is in a delicate balance—the survival of the species is at stake if we don’t start working together at some point soon. How long do we have? A hundred years? Two hundred years? We’ve gotta get this shit together. And maybe this pendulum swing will go in that direction.

Rob: When you look at Europe and the rest of the world, a lot of those people that are coming out now in those nationalist parties—do you guys think that has anything to do with Trump? It did begin with the [refugee crisis], and certainly it’s been happening for a while in France. But I think it really exploded when Trump became president, because now all these nationalists and Nazis and racists around the world decided, “Hey, if he can become president, then maybe there’s a chance for us, too.”

Kyle: I just thought that was one thing we could all agree on: that we’re all working for a no-racist society. But I guess that was kind of an idealized civil rights thing—racism remains, and is huge. We’re nowhere near past it yet.

Jack: Did you see that documentary about Jane Goodall where she realized that there was an inherent violence that runs through the chimp’s DNA, that we probably share? At the end of the day, this fucking “winning” thing—this “I’m gonna get us winning, and we’ll get China losing so we’re winning”—is some fucking chimpanzee-brain shit going down here. And it does not end well! I mean, I guess this has always been the way it is, and maybe it’s a very snowflake-y thing for me to say, but it’s time to evolve. FL

This article appears in FLOOD 9. You can subscribe to the magazine here.