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Technoccult Interview: Wilhelm Reich Comic Book Biographer Elijah Brubaker

Technoccult Interview: Wilhelm Reich Comic Book Biographer Elijah Brubaker

reich panels

Elijah Brubaker is the writer and artist of Reich, a biography of Wilhelm Reich in comic form. Reich (1897 – 1957) was an Austrian psychotherapist known for his theory of character analysis. He fled Nazi Germany in 1938 and came to the U.S. where became obsessed with orgone, which he claimed was a universal energy. He also began developing technology based on orgone, including the orgone accumulator, which he believed could cure cancer, and the cloudbuster, which he believed could make it rain. He was eventually arrested for medical fraud and died in prison.

Reich is published by Sparkplug Books and is available in fine comic shops or directly from Sparkplug. You can read the first few issues online here.

This interview was filmed back in 2008 for Technoccult TV, but the audio and video were too corrupted for release. I managed to transcribe most of the interview, so here it is at long last.

Klint Finley: So you do a comic about Wilhelm Reich, were you involved in Reichian therapy before you started the comic?

Elijah Brubaker: No, I wasn’t involved in the therapy at all. I had read about Reich kind of anecdotally through William Burroughs. And he just seemed like this cool crazy guy, and he’s a great thing to talk about to your friends who don’t know about him. I just like to talk about esoteric bullshit at parties. My interest kind of grew after I read several biographies of him and I started looking at him as more of a person, so my interest comes from the compassionate part of it now. It started as “Ha ha ha, there’s this crazy quack” Now I feel like I’m a crazy quack too.

That really shows in the comic. You don’t vilify him or idolize him. It’s a really human portrayal of him. I think it’s generally sympathetic towards him, was that your intent?

Yeah, just today I was reading the back of a biography of Ayn Rand. And there was a pull quote on the back that said that the people who lionize her and demonize her equally do a disservice by dehumanizing her. That’s how I feel with Reich, he’s such a controversial figure that people don’t really look at him as human anymore, he’s just this series of events that happened or a series of ideas. They either agree or disagree and everyone has a strong opinion about it, but it’s not coming from a very humanistic point of view I guess.

How long did it take you to research it before you started on the comic?

I did strict research for about a year, and then I said “I’ve just got to get something on paper.”

Were your reference materials particularly difficult to find?

Yeah, at first. This book, Wilhelm Reich vs. USA, was pretty hard to find. I actually found it at the library, and I kept checking it out and checking it out and finally found it at Powell’s. I don’t read German. I would like to find some of the papers that he wrote that are only in German, but that would be sort of pointless right now.

Do you do any original research, like interviews with family members or people who knew him?

I wish I could. No. I started out thinking this was going to be a much smaller project. I would still like to travel around and find whoever I could to talk about it now. Originally I thought this would be a way for me to practice cartooning, essentially, of telling a true story in the most truthful way that I thought I could.

Did you expect it to be so long?

Well, I deal better with long works. So yeah, I thought it would be like 300 pages, but I didn’t think that I would have a publisher. I thought I would print like 100 copies and give out to friends.

Have you heard from any Reich experts who has taken issue with any of your portrayals?

Not that has taken issue, but I recently got an e-mail from a person that was at a conference on orgone and pulled out my comic and showed it to everyone. Everyone was really skeptical but semi-supportive.

The e-mail was essentially “Please don’t think mess this up. Graphic novels are a big deal these days and you have the potential to do our work some harm if you portray this in the wrong light. No pressure though!”

Well, it’s one of the most flattering things written about him, so it seems like it could do his work a lot of good.

Well, it’s still early in his career, I’m sort of interested in how people feel about how I deal with some of his more controversial views, his ideas on aliens and what not.

So you haven’t gone through any of the therapy at all, just as research even?

No.

Seen an orgone accumulator?

Yeah, I’ve seen an orgone accumulator, but they weren’t… I don’t know if anyone builds them professionally any more, but the person who owned it was the person who built it.

Are there any ideas of his that you’ve come to accept now, or that have affected you?

Well, since starting working on the book I think about sex in a lot less uptight way. I can actually talk about things in an open matter, where before it was like “teehee, he said the word erection.” I’m still a pretty uptight guy, I’m not going to talk about free love or anything like that.

Other than just freeing of my own language, I don’t think I’ve really adopted any of his teachings or whatever you want to call it.

I’m not exactly part of the anti-psychiatry movement or anything like that. But I’ve never been to therapy and I’m not looking to.

So you found out about Reich through William S. Burroughs — how did you find out about Burroughs?

You know, I can’t really remember. I think Naked Lunch was a book that my brother had in his apartment, just because it was a strange book and my brother likes strange stuff so he kept it around to show his friends. So one day I stopped by his apartment and didn’t have anything to read so I just picked it up. It’s not a narrative in any sense of the word, it’s almost just a collection of jokes or something. But I really gravitated towards it because everything I had read was just straight forward plot stories, and this had no plot and was just dirty and gross and was this guy’s entire brain smashed up. Ever since then I’ve looked for artists that do a similar thing, where it’s just self-expression whether you like it or not. I can’t say that my stuff is even close to that, but I hope that I’ve learned a little bit from that type of sensibility.

That actually makes sense looking at your work, that it would have been influenced by Burroughs, just the psychological aspect of it.

Right. I also like his unapologetic paranoia, because I’ve always felt a certain amount of “they’re out to get me.”

You have a really distinct style, how long did it take you to develop that, where did it come from?

I’ve always had an interest in that 20s era Weimar German Expressionism sort of stuff. And just through looking at George Grosz and Otto Dix and stuff like that, and trying to see what they were doing. I just sort of stole ideas from this person and that person.

You’re also working on a biographical comic on serial killer Billy Gohl. Why was his story so interesting?


I’ve always liked the idea of a serial killer as a boogey-man sort of thing. And Billy Gohl, there’s no movie about him, he’s not in popular consciousness yet.

His story is interesting to me, because he was accused of a hell of a lot more murders than he actually took part in. He was a braggart and a loud mouth. He said he cannibalized a man in the mountains one year.

Gray’s Harbor, Washington at the time was this rough port town where people would go missing all the time. The Christian population of the time looked down on the fact that he had a bar. Fights would break out there and they’d blame Billy Gohl.

He was made a representative of the sailor’s union and he was responsible for watching sailors’ belongings while they were out at sea. If they didn’t come back he was in charge of distributing the goods however he saw fit. Finding the families and everything. Chances were he’d usually just keep it. So his stories were “Oh this sailor I didn’t like, I just killed him and took his stuff.”

And people would show up floating in the bay. I think there was one year where the was just a little under 200 people found floating in the bay, and they referred to them the “floater fleet.” And Billy Gohl was eventually accused of every single murder that happened there, thousands of people over the time that he was living in Gray’s Harbor.

He was eventually convicted of two murders, one of which the court decided he didn’t even actually pull the trigger, he just convinced the other guy to pull the trigger. I don’t know how the legal wrangling were over that.

I think it’s a cautionary tale about how being a loud mouth and talking what a terrible person that you can be. Eventually you’re going to try to prove that and you’ll find your justice.

What’s your favorite work of your own?

Reich is the thing that I’m most proud of. I think the stories in Papercutter are a little bit more aligned with my sensibilities, I think I’m having more fun with those stories, but I think Reich is a more fulfilling story.

See Also

My wife’s intro to Reich and alternative psychology

Brubaker interviewed by Wizard Magazine

William S. Burroughs dossier

January 17, 2013 0 comments
Wilhelm Reich and Alternative Psychology

Wilhelm Reich and Alternative Psychology

reich panels

My wife’s intro to Wilhelm Reich and alternative psychology:

The underpinnings of the human mind and our behavior as an extension are naturally fascinating. It’s no surprise that Sigmund Freud caught on fast in the 1940?s and was a household name by the 1960?s. But what once held so much potential became more of a racket for years and years of expensive and sometimes cruel treatments that may never leave patients cured, or worse, the mentality that pharmaceuticals alone can cure all of our social problems. Traditional psychotherapy is characterized by a therapist who acts as an authority figure, and generally, a session includes the patient talking extensively as the therapist silently analyzes. It can take months or years to get anywhere, because as many therapists have noted, patients tend to exhibit defense mechanisms for their inhibitions, anxieties, and neuroses. Some will even express hostility towards the therapist. A good therapist has to be able to work past the defenses, known as resistances and negative transferences. Only then can breakthroughs happen.

Alternative psychology opts to take a different, and usually faster approach to breakthroughs- and many practitioners include the use of body language analysis, or the incorporation of movement or exercise as therapy techniques.

Prime Surrealestate: Wilhelm Reich and Alternative Psychology

See also: The Reich biographical comic book

September 2, 2010 0 comments
Reich comic artist Elijah Brubaker interview

Reich comic artist Elijah Brubaker interview

reich panels

While you wait for the much delayed next episode of Technoccult TV, featuring Elijah Brubaker, you can read this Wizard interview with him:

I think a lot of the problems that Reich faced throughout his life are still very real threats to anyone with so-called “crazy” ideas and I hope examining those problems through the lens of the past will shed some light on the social ills of modern life.

My less grandiose and presumptuous answer is; Reich’s life combines some of my favorite topics and themes. Human sexuality, fringe science, Nazis, political oppression, there’s even some stuff about weather-control and aliens later on. A lot of that stuff is just plain fun to draw and riff on.

Full Story: Wizard

January 5, 2009 3 comments
Somatherapy: Therapy for Revolutionaries

Somatherapy: Therapy for Revolutionaries

Soma is a group therapy where people come together for about 18 months to do physical exercises and engage in personal and political discussion. It combines ideas from Austrian Jewish psychologist Wilhelm Reich, capoeira Angola, and anarchism. And unlike traditional psychotherapy, Soma rejects the authority of the therapist: during a session, a therapist is present, but he or she participates equally with the other members of the group and does not draw conclusions or make analysis. There is an emphasis on pleasure and physical release. The documentary shows Soma groups deep in physical play, doing theater and movement exercises. Participants call the work difficult but “delicious.”

Now decades later, Soma has spread across the world and is still liberating modern-day revolutionaries — young people, artists and students — who are fighting against the bourgeois and seeking liberation.

Full Story: Wiretap Magazine

See also: Soma: An Anarchist Therapy documentary.

(Thanks Surrealestate!)

August 28, 2008 2 comments
Sex Brings Rain to Farmers

Sex Brings Rain to Farmers

“It’s been wet lately, hasn’t it? Really wet. So wet, in fact, that two artists got bogged on the way to their opening at Kellerberrin last Saturday, arriving only after being dug out by a few of the locals. Still that’s what you get for cloud busting and playing around with orgone energy. For the past month in Kellerberrin, David Haines and Joyce Hinterding have been chasing atmospheric phenomena in the way someone else might fish for trout. Through hope, coaxing, and a fair degree of positive thinking, Haines and Hinterding have been siphoning sexual energy into the Wheatbelt. Yes, this is cultish, but don’t be alarmed, it’s all in the name of creating rain.

In the 1940s and 50s in the American State of Maine, Wilhelm Reich was investigating the existence in the atmosphere of what he called ‘orgone’ energy. Reich at one stage was part of Freud’s inner circle in Vienna and many of his psychoanalytical methods are still used today. But in the course of time and on a different continent Reich turned his attention to more esoteric issues and in the process, many would argue, instigated the greatest sexual revolution in human history. His inquiry into universal sexual energy and its application through something called the orgone accumulator also saw him hounded by the FBI. In the end Reich’s inventions were confiscated, his life’s writings burnt and he died in jail. Something tells me there was more to this man than meets the eye.

As with all good contemporary art, Haines and Hinterding at the International Art Space Kellerberrin Australia (IASKA) is thick with research and high on the sub-culture factor. These two are by no means the only artists in the world interested in Reich’s theories but their application of his ideas is timely and offers more than a tongue-in-cheek look at the esoteric history of art.”

(via The West Australian)

(Cosmic Orgone Engineering Site)

August 1, 2008 0 comments
Awesome comic about the life of Wilhelm Reich

Awesome comic about the life of Wilhelm Reich

reich the comic book

I just got done reading the first issue of Reich, Elijah Brubaker‘s excellent comic book biography of Wilhelm Reich. I highly recommend it.

Reich # 1 preview.

You can buy it from Sparkplug Comic Books, or fine comic book shops like Portland’s Floating World Comics.

January 13, 2008 0 comments