Vale: How did you fund the Bunnyhop [issue] with the Matt Groening “Binky” on the cover?
Noel Tolentino: Seth saved up money, and I applied for a credit card specifically for the magazine. It’s been maxed ever since Bunnyhop started. The high interest rate encourages me to work harder to get the next issue out! There’s a total lack of profit.
When I was first exposed to Matt Groening’s work in 87, he was still relatively underground. I was looking at a t-shirt with “Binky” on it, and I had no idea who that was. Then I saw his book, and I completely identified with his work. I was a fan of “The Simpsons” from the get-go. So when I did the “Binky” cover [Binky knocking out the Trix rabbit] it was an homage to him.
When I did the cover I realized I was using characters that were trademarked or copyright-protected, but I also felt I was creating a scenario that would not otherwise have existed: placing these characters from two different worlds together.
I had heard from various sources that Matt Groening was a big fan and collector of small press zines, so I got his P.O. box address. Being na�ve, I sent him a copy with a gushing fan letter asking to interview him.
Here I was believing that Matt Groening was actually going to open my letter, not realizing that he must receive a ton of mail every day from a whole generation of slackers and counter-culture do-gooders. I was in L.A. working on the production of Ben Is Dead when the letter from the lawyers arrived.
Vale: How did you react?
NT: I thought, “We gotta fight this!” Seth, being a bit more level-headed, said, “We don’t really have the resources to defend ourselves.” Of course, I felt betrayed. I was having difficulty sleeping–it was so horrible.
Vale: Matt Groening’s lawyers demanded that you destroy the “Binky” issue and send proof of destruction, right?
NT: Not only that, they demanded that an apology be printed in a “prominent place” in the next issue of Bunnyhop, with text that had to be approved by them first! We ended up decapitating Binky’s head from the covers and mailing 300 of them in a bag to the lawyers. I wrote a cold, minimal apology–and anyone with a keen eye could recognize a little sarcasm in it. The whole experience was incredibly disheartening. I put an insert in the mutilated copies explaining what had happened and left them at certain places. I wonder if the issue here is irreverance. When you’re using or recontextualizing trademarked characters, there’s a whole gray fuzzy area. What exactly is the problem here?