Chad Wants to Know

My Interview with Cartoonist Hans Rickheit

Chad Parenteau
7 min readMar 26, 2024

Cartoonist Hans Rickheit was born in New England and has lived in such places as Philadelphia and Cambridge, Massachusetts where he was involved with the since closed Zeitgeist Gallery. I first came across his work through such early comics as Kill Kill Kill, False Transmissions and various issues of his Chrome Fetus series before his breakthrough graphic novel, the Xeric winning Chloe. Since then he has created several other works including The Squirrel Machine, Cochlea & Eustachia and Folly: The Consequences of Indiscretion, all published by Fantagraphics Books. Most of these works of sexually charged surrealism continue to explore his concept of The UnderBrain. On his website in the early two-thousands, he described The UnderBrain as the collective unconsciousness, going on to say:

The UnderBrain is prone to malevolence, if probed indiscreetly. However, this tempestuous force can be tamed when the correct stimulation is applied. It is a hungry thing. The Underbrain rewards us with insight in exchange for its vital nutrition; the absorption of our everyday sensory input.

Rickheit continues to publish Cochlea & Eustachia comics and a new even more sexually charged series, The Gloaming, seven issues of which have been successfully crowdfunded. Over twenty years since my first print interview with him and nearly fifteen years since posting my video documentary, I wrote to catch up with him.

When looking at your work in the past, there were always sexual elements in it, but I never would have thought it was meant to entice the average reader. With The Gloaming, you are clearly drawing more sexually charged work meant to entice an audience. While sex sales, did anything else motivate this change?

From The Gloaming #1

Gee, although I’m glad to have more readers with the sexy work, enticing an audience wasn’t the sole goal. I genuinely thought it would be fun to draw a porn comic.

Truthfully, I wanted to try writing a “normal” plot with a standard three-part structure, etc — rather than my usual rambling, “stream-of-consciousness” stuff. Since expectations are so low for porno plots, I figured that would be a safer way to go. Every time the story got stuck, I could just have the characters have sex with each other (sometimes this works in real life, too).

It does present all sorts of interesting artistic challenges. Not all of my drawings are successful, but I’m pretty pleased with a lot of the results.

Cover of The Gloaming #1

With the growing awareness of sex workers in this country, adult comics might be the last truly victimless guilty pleasure for those who enjoy their porn. Has The Gloaming been profitable?

My own awareness is not entirely up-to-date or thoroughly informed. I’m not sure if there is a way to gauge what percentage of sex workers in the porn industry are “victims.” I’ve met and known too many men and women who are proud of their status as “sex workers.” I guess I could agree that with comics there is a higher likelihood of no victims being involved. I guarantee that all the victims in my comics are completely fictional!

I wouldn’t say that I’m rolling in riches, but The Gloaming— thus far — has mad me more money than any other books of my work, self-published or otherwise.

Last time I interviewed you, we discussed your idea of The UnderBrain. How has your exploration of this concept changed over the last couple of decades?

From Chloe.

As I get older, my relationship with THE UNDERBRAIN has changed, but not in ways that I can tangibly say. I think the term has always been a convenient placeholder for a process of receiving and generating ideas that resonated with me. There are days when my ability to commune THE UNDERBRAIN is more fractious than ever. Most days, however, my ability to focus and let the notions flow is stronger than ever. I credit a lot of this regular meditation.

My memory is vague, but I think in the last interview, I said something about not taking things so dead serious anymore and getting into more “self-satire.” This is probably more true now, but I’m more fixated on making pretty pictures, and perhaps being a bit precious about rendering beautiful things.

You worked with a writer in your early zine days. In recent years you have collaborated with two authors on more substantial works. One of those authors was your wife, Krissy Dorn. What was your takeaway from those collaborations?

The Sigmund Freud comic, written by Rye

I’m a terrible collaborator. I’ve passed up opportunities to work with personal heroes, like Bob Burden, because I don’t feel that I could produce the level of work that would match theirs.

Working with Krissy, however, is very nice. Although she mostly just inks the pencils I give her, she does contribute a lot of story ideas that I’m neither smart enough or intuitive enough to have worked out on my own. On top of that, I love her inks over my (very scant) pencil work. I think there’s sorting very “grounding” in her embellishments that give the DELIA comic a much-needed personal feeling that my other weird comics don’t have.

From Delia

We’re currently working on a sequel which I hope to start posting online in September!

A page from The Squirrel Machine, currently being recolored by Rickheit on his website.

You’ve lived in cities, and even then your stories were set in places that evoked small semi-rural New England towns, not quite backwood, yet nowhere near gentrified [Note: this is coming from someone raised in Bellingham, Massachusetts]. You live in one such town today. Does living in this setting again inform your work to any new degree, or is that type of environment just ingrained in you?

I’m just a New England guy, I guess. I do live in just such a town right now, mostly because it’s a cheap place to buy a beautiful Victorian house to live in. Although I wish there was more of a local “art scene” to tap into, I really do like the town very much.

I think I’m like most cartoonists — very insular and closed-off from the outside world. I would probably be fine living in a bomb shelter with the most basic supplies, as long as I have my drawing stuff and music.

A Cochlea & Eustachia page form Folly: The Consequences of Indiscretion

Your most enduring work is Cochlea & Eustachia, which reads like an ongoing series of dreams? Do you think adherence to years of traditional story and continuity is what’s killing modern comics today?

I don’t know if anything’s “killing modern comics today.” It would certainly seem that way if you only looked at the shelves of a typical comic shop. There’s a lot of homogeneity there.

If you look at comics online, there’s a wealth of strange and unique stuff being produced everyday — a lot of which deviates from “traditional story and continuity.”

I do prefer reading things in print form, though. I’m glad when online cartoonists eventually make book collections available to order. I wish more of them would.

I’ve now read at least two stories from you where your female characters have a tendency to get cloned. Is this something you’re aware of?

a Cochlea & Eustachia page from Hans Rickheit’s website.

Sometimes, painfully so.

Again, the truth is that I’m lazy. I recognize that I suffer from the “Betty & Veronica” syndrome that cartoonists get of drawing the same female type for different characters and only altering the hair color, or other inconsequential changes. Rather than work on this tendency, I opted to lean in on it, and find cheap excuses to make ALL of my female characters look alike. I even use the same template on some of my male characters, too.

In the early aughties, you created “Hail Jeffrey,” an over-the-top satirical story that made one think of then-White House occupier George W. Bush. Did you ever think there would come a time when the passing of history (and possibly democracy) would make that comic possibly seem tame today?

Tragically, that comics does seem quaint today. It seems like some mysterious entity of the Powers-That-Be read the “Hail Jeffrey” comics and, failing to recognize it as SATIRE, opted to use it as blueprint for future presidential candidates.

Of course, it appears that our country has embarked on an experiment in not having presidents anymore since 2016.

Free-style question: What do you really want?

Right now, I’m doing exactly what I want, when I want, and happily so. I recommend it to everybody.



Chad Parenteau

Poet for Hire. Link to buy my new book, The Collapsed Bookshelf, available via my website: