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Underground comics are known for their thumb-sucking autobiographical despair, but few travel as deep into the heart of darkness as those penned by the talented hand of Ivan Brunetti. Born on a farm in Italy and transplanted to the south side of Chicago while still a young boy of eight, Brunetti has made outsiderism an art.

But as pathetic as he may portray himself, things are looking up for the cranky cartoonist. Despite years of celibacy, he's now married with a brood of cats, works as a web designer, teaches classes on illustration and comics at Columbia College Chicago and the University of Chicago, respectively, and is editing An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories for Yale University Press. Plus, his newest comic book, Schizo, is now available from Fantagraphics Press.

And the good times continue to roll for Brunetti as he gets his fifteen minutes of skin talking to Mr. Skin. The fellow Chicagoan speaks openly about his now defunct obsession with Drew Barrymore (Picture: 1 - 2), how The Howling (Picture: - 2) initiated him into the world of onscreen nudity, and why a kinder and gentler Brunetti doesn't mean the end of his comic woes. For more information on the funnyman with the ink-stained hands, check out his website at IvanBrunetti.com.

Are you really named after Ivan the Terrible?
Sadly, yes. There must have been a wave of bad movies in Italy about Russian emperors at that time or something; I'm pretty sure that's where my dad got the idea.

Do you follow the terrible example of your namesake?
I'm the biggest wuss on the planet.

When did you first start drawing your comics, and why did you choose to expose yourself as subject?
I drew a strip in college, but it wasn't really autobiographical, at least not directly so. But my real life did creep in there once in a while. It was one-hundred-percent faithful to my emotional turmoil at the time, though. A few years after college, I started drawing directly autobiographical material. It's a decision that seems hard to justify now, but I think it was liberating at the time. I was a highly repressed individual before drawing auto-bio comics.

Yet you tried out for the job of drawing the Nancy comic strip. Why are so many cartoonists fixated on Nancy, is it a fetish?
Nancy is deceptively simple, and "the simplicity is a carefully designed function of a complex amalgam of formal rules laid out by the designer"--that's from How to Read Nancy by Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik, one of my favorite essays. The strip is formally brilliant. It's like a cartooning "how-to manual" in and of itself.

Tell me about the genesis of the new, oversized issue of your comic book Schizo.
Every once in a while, an alternative weekly newspaper would offer me the space to draw a full-page color strip. In December of 1999, I was offered such a chance, and it just happened to be at the time that Charles Schulz retired--he died not too long after.

I drew a strip about Mr. Schulz, and little did I know that this strip--"Whither Shermy?"--would turn out be a template--visually, thematically, you name it--for almost all of the strips I drew for the next six years. At some point I realized that I had a lot of these oversized, one-page, full-color comics and that they told a story of sorts.

At that point I decided to print the strips at the large size in full color in my next issue of Schizo, in the order they were drawn. The thematic connections between the strips were pretty clear to me, and they added up to tell the story of my life during that time, albeit in a somewhat oblique fashion. It was like a subconsciously organized autobiography.

Though you were born in Italy, you've lived in Chicago since the age of eight. Did you know that Mr. Skin is based in Chicago? Are you a fan of our site?
I did know it was based in Chicago, but one of my ex-coworkers freelanced for Mr. Skin. I like it.

When you logged on to Mr. Skin what actress profile or movie review did you first click on?
Those Angelina Jolie (Picture: 1 - 2) shots looked pretty good. I remember seeing her young nude body in that terrible Hackers movie a long time ago and making a mental note to stalk her. I used to watch a lot of cable TV about nine, ten years ago--way too much TV. My life got a lot better when I got rid of the TV.

Do you recall the first time growing up that you saw a sex scene in a mainstream movie?
Oh, jeez... I remember trying to watch scrambled pay-TV movies, mostly. I think the first mainstream movie I saw with a sex scene was The Howling, which I watched at some relative's house in the suburbs--Chicago did not have cable back then. Maybe it wasn't a sex scene, but there was nudity. I wish it were a better movie. But no, The Howling. Christ.

How about screen sirens; I understand that your tastes run more to the classic sex symbols of yesteryear, such as... ?
My favorites are Louise Brooks, Lillian Gish, Anna May Wong. Yeah, I much prefer the old actresses.

But you love some modern-day screen sirens such as Drew Barrymore. Why her, and are there others?
I'm so over Drew Barrymore. That ended way back in 2001, 2002, after that stupid Charlie's Angels movie. I liked her because she was such a hopelessly bad actress--I always root for the underdog--and for a while, say the early to mid-'90s, she was more of an acquired taste. Then she became America's sweetheart again, and I quickly started losing interest.

There aren't any new actresses I'm into. I'm pretty sick of Hollywood movies, actually. God knows how much of my life I wasted on that swill. Lately I've become re-fascinated with Carolyn Farina, who was in Metropolitan. I like her because she disappeared; she was in like four movies total. There's mystery there, which is appealing. She's like an ideal type for me.

You collect girlie and nudie memorabilia. Tell us about this urge to collect and some of the highlights of your collection.
I actually got rid of all that stuff in 2002, when I was flat broke. The urge to collect is easily explained: unbearable loneliness and an inability to make meaningful connections with other people. Thankfully a lot of that has changed for me over the years. I probably would have gone crazy otherwise.

Your bio says you like Frank Capra movies... and pornography. What kinds of pornography?
Capra-esque pornography.

Your comics often expose you as a sensitive unrequited lover. But is it true that you're recently married? How did that happen?
How did it happen? Who knows? I truly was that unrequited schmuck for a long time. Years would go by without knowing the barest touch of a woman, not even hand-holding. Then I got mixed up with a nymphomaniac a few years ago, and then a couple of other crazy women shortly thereafter. And then I went back to celibacy. And then I met a sane woman, thanks to my friends introducing us. Who knew?

I was ready to off myself God knows how many times, and then all of a sudden after meeting my--now--wife, a lot of things started falling into place. Life got a lot better. My advice to my fellow depression sufferers: Wait it out! If there's hope for me, there's hope for everybody. I thank my lucky stars every day, even though the rest of the world is completely going down the shitter.

Will this newfound bliss lighten the dark tones of your work?
I've got enough bad memories to fill at least three more books.

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