“Cartooning for The New Yorker is like being in a jazz club, and you don’t go into a jazz club and play the Ramones.”
It’s late-night podcast-action with cartoonist Shannon Wheeler! We get into the history of his Too Much Coffee Man comics and his new book, Sh*t My President Says: The Illustrated Tweets of Donald J. Trump (Top Shelf), learning the language of cartooning at The New Yorker (and learning to work with a new editor there), the ways his architecture training informs his storytelling, his discovery of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers at WAY too young an age, the cartooning trick that made him want to draw, his dream project on the history of northern California, and the redemption of the guy who used to dress up as TMCM at conventions! It’s coffee-fueled! Give it a listen! And go buy Sh*t My President Says!
“Liberals can be some of the most conservative people you’ll ever meet.”
About our Guest
Shannon Wheeler is the Eisner Award-winning creator of Too Much Coffee Man, who has appeared internationally in newspapers, magazines, comic books and opera houses. He has contributed to a variety of publications, including The Onion newspaper and The New Yorker magazine. Wheeler currently lives in Portland, OR with his cats, chickens, bees, girlfriend and children. He publishes a comic every day at tmcm.com.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at an undisclosed location on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Wheeler by me. They’re on my instagram.
“I’m able to be what people want me to be when I’m behind the bar or playing music, but I’m not a performer by nature, so it’s not an easy transition. With comics, the joy I feel when I’m drawing comes through.”
Cartoonist Leslie Stein joins the show to celebrate her new book, Time Clock (Fantagraphics)! We talk about her amazing diary comics (recently collected in Bright-Eyed At Midnight), why she picked a really weird name for her ongoing comics project (Eye of the Majestic Creature), the artistic benefits of boredom, finding her style(s), drawing for online vs. print (and color vs. b/w), her strategy for surviving comic cons and festivals, how she got a gig publishing comics at VICE, the disconcerting discovery that she had an audience, and how she strikes a balance of cartooning, being in a band, and tending bar! Give it a listen! And buy her newest books, Time Clock and Bright-Eyed At Midnight (my personal fave of all her work)!
“I’ve been thinking about this one project for five years, and that’s been keeping me from starting it. I feel like it could be amazing or it could be terrible, and I just have to spend a few years on it to figure that out.”
This episode was recorded at the School of Visual Arts, where Leslie studied. Past guest Nathan Fox, chair of the MFA Visual Narrative Department at SVA, offered us a space to record. SVA’s low-residency MFA Visual Narrative Program includes two years online and three summers in NYC. The program focuses on the growing need for original content creators in advertising, video games, picture books, graphic novels, film, comic arts, illustration and animation, and it prepares artists and authors to become innovators in the ever-evolving art of visual storytelling. Now go listen to the show!
“I started diary comics on a whim, which is how I approach everything.”
About our Guest
Leslie Stein is a cartoonist and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of the comic book series Eye of the Majestic Creature, as well as the author of Bright-Eyed At Midnight, a collection of diary comics, both published by Fantagraphics Books. She regularly contributes comics to VICE. She plays music with Prince Rupert’s Drops.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the School of Visual Arts on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup, inside a closet in Des Allemands, LA. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Stein by me.
“I really think New Jersey has the most diverse food culture around.”
This week, John Holl joins the show to talk about his new book, Dishing Up New Jersey: 150 Recipes from the Garden State (with photos by my wife)! We also get into his work as editor of All About Beer, becoming a journalist at 16, traveling to Cuba on a beer run, the weirdest ingredients that craft brewers incorporate, why he thinks NJ is the best dining state in the country, and more! Recorded at Carton Brewing Co. Give it a listen! And buy Dishing Up New Jersey!
“The internet has made some research easier, but it’s also made some reporters lazier. I feel fortunate having learned from reporters of the old school.”
We also get into how newsrooms and journalism have changed over his 20-year career, how he discovered the craft beer scene while reporting on the road, the farthest he’s traveled on a beer assignment, how the Blizzard of ’96 changed his life, why it can be hard to separate craft and mainstream beers, and where his love of NJ comes from. Go listen!
“I’m less interested in rare beers. I’m always looking for the next fun experience with new friends, or brewers, where I can have a well-made pint and a good time. My memories of the people are stronger than those of the liquid in the glass.”
About our Guest
John Holl is a New Jersey native and covered the Garden State for the New York Times and the Newark Star-Ledger. He began his career at New Jersey Network Television and has written for the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Wine Enthusiast, and many other publications. He is the award-winning editor of All About Beer magazine, the author of Dishing Up New Jersey and The American Craft Beer Cookbook, and is a syndicated newspaper columnist. John is an avid home cook and lives in Jersey City, where his exit is 14C.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Carton Brewing Co. in Atlantic Highlands, NJ, on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder.
“Being in a wheelchair didn’t change me; it just made things harder to do.”
From the Flora-Bama to Vietnam, Claudia Young has sprinted through life. We got together to talk about running songwriting workshops in Nashville, redesigning the menu for the hippest bar in Cleveland, living in the Chelsea Hotel as a teen, and being confined to a wheelchair for the past 35 years. We also talk about food-blogging, southeast Asia’s pull on her, the place she regrets she’ll never visit, what she’s reading, and getting the sear on a scallop! It’s a fascinating conversation, so give it a listen!
About our Guest
Claudia Young used to blog at CookEatFret. She should probably get back to that.
Credits: This episode’s music is The Wheel by Roseann Cash. The conversation was recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Young by me, photo of both of us by Amy Roth.
“Churchill was one of the last members of the Aesthetic Movement, except he applied his aestheticism to war.”
Professor Jonathan Rose joins the show to talk about his new book, The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor (Yale University Press). It’s a fascinating work about the books and plays that influenced one of the 20th century’s greatest statesmen, drawing connections from Churchill’s literary interests (and aspirations) to his policy decisions. Prof. Rose tells us about the most surprising literary influence he discovered, Churchill’s roots in Victorian melodrama, his love of the coup de theatre, his no-brow approach to art, how Hitler was like a photo-negative of Churchill, and why a politician like him would never survive in today’s party-line system.
“Just as Oscar Wilde was a public performer who created a persona, I think Churchill did something very similar in his life. His greatest creation was Winston Churchill. It was his greatest work of art.”
Along the way, Prof. Rose also tells us about the one book he wishes Churchill had read, why Churchill would love the internet, why so many politicians cite him as an influence but fail to live up to his example, what it’s like teaching history to students who weren’t alive during the Cold War, and why we need more literary biographies of political figures (at least, for those who read).
About our Guest
Jonathan Rose is William R. Kenan Professor of History at Drew University. He was the founding president of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, and he is coeditor of that organization’s journal, Book History. His book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes: Second Edition won the Longman-History Today Historical Book of the Year Prize, the American Philosophical Society Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History, the British Council Prize of the North American Conference on British Studies, the SHARP Book History Prize, and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities Book Prize. It was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Award and the British Academy Book Prize, and named a Book of the Year by the Economist magazine. His other publications include The Edwardian Temperament, 1895-1919, The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation (Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book), and A Companion to the History of the Book (with Simon Eliot). His latest book is The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor (Yale University Press).
Credits: This episode’s music is Mr. Churchill Says by The Kinks (duh). The conversation was recorded at Mr. Rose’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into my brand-new Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Prof. Rose by me.
“Restaurants follow the opposite direction of stories: they’re like finding a book of blank pages and trying to come up with something to fill the space. That’s not how it goes with stories.”
Charles Blackstone, managing editor of Bookslut, joins us to talk about his new novel, Vintage Attraction, out this week from Pegasus Books! We recorded in Chicago last April, so he wasn’t in full book-publicity mode, and I hadn’t read the book. Instead, our conversation veers all over the place, covering his descent into post-grad career madness, the problems with getting mired in literary theory, what he does at Bookslut, how he deals with the sheer volume of books published every day, Chicago’s restaurant culture, the similarities between deconstruction and molecular gastronomy, and how to master the party-throwing art of taking a guest’s coat while handing them a beverage.
But we really do talk about Vintage Attraction (which has great blurbs from Jay McInerney and Gary Shteyngart)! I promise!
About our Guest
Charles Blackstone is the managing editor of Bookslut, as well as the co-editor of the literary anthology The Art of Friction: Where (Non)Fictions Come Together (University of Texas Press, 2008) and the author of the novel, The Week You Weren’t Here (Dzanc and Low Fidelity Press, 2005). His short fiction has appeared in Esquire‘s Napkin Fiction Project (the piece was also selected for the &NOW Awards: The Best Innovative Fiction anthology), Lewis University’s Jet Fuel Review, and the University of Maine’s Stolen Island. His short plays have been produced by Victory Gardens and Lifeline Theaters. He is married to Master Sommelier and television personality Alpana Singh. He currently is a ghostwriter, coach, and editor for clients at all stages of the publication process in private practice. He and his wife live with their pug, Haruki Murakami, in downtown Chicago. His new novel is Vintage Attraction.
Credits: This episode’s music is Graceless by The National. The conversation was recorded at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago on a pair of AT2020 cardioid condenser mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded in the InterCity Hotel in Frankfurt on a Samson Meteor USB Studio mic. File-splitting was done in Audacity and all editing and processing was done in Garage Band on a Macbook Air. Photo of Charles Blackstone by me.
Today’s my 100th day without a drink. I got off the sauce because I wanted to see how much it was affecting my reading. Feel free to laugh at that notion.
I wasn’t drinking heavily — just 2 to 2.5 oz. of gin in a 6-oz. G&T — but I was drinking often: four or five nights a week (always at home, with my wife). At the time, I was doing most of my reading in bed before turning in, and wondered if I was short-changing my books and myself by dulling my brain beforehand.
Like an alcoholic, I started out with a “one day at a time” perspective, seeing if I could go a week without having a drink, then two weeks, then a month. Unlike an alcoholic, I had no history of blackouts, no increasing tolerance to booze, no craving for same, no desire to drink alone, no embarrassing behavior at parties, no boozehounds in my family history, and no pints hidden in the toilet cistern. I’ve never once thought, “Tough day at the office, time to have a drink.”
I should note that this isn’t the first stretch I’ve been on the wagon. In college I didn’t drink until my senior year. In the past, I ascribed that to my “being a drama queen,” but I recently came across a much better term for it in Michael Dirda’s memoir, An Open Book: moral vanity.
I didn’t drink back then so I could consider myself “pure” or unsullied or somesuch idiocy. It wasn’t enough not to drink; I had to be a martyr to the rest of the clear-thinkingly besotted population. I was not a joy to be around, as you can imagine.
I realize now that I’d have had a lot more fun during those years if I’d gotten tanked with my pals every so often. I might have managed to get some of my worst behavior out of my system if I’d bothered to drink and party like everybody else in college. Instead, I held onto some ugly traits for years after.
There’s very little vanity to my sobriety this time around. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed by my dry status. I’ve avoided talking about it unless someone offers me a drink. For years, I’ve (truthfully) told people — a la Ron Swanson — that the only things I drink are water, black coffee and gin. Cutting that down to water and black coffee loses some of its charm.
I’m sure I’ll get crap about this from work-related pals when we’re at trade shows. I haven’t really had to go on the trade show circuit since I got off the sauce, but I have three big shows in September and October. I’m interested to see how I’ll deal with that. Most of those people know me in the context of a casual drink after (and/or during) a trade show. Of course, they also know me as the weird thinky guy who writes editorials about the Talmud, so they likely won’t find my motivation that unfathomable.
But I’m sure you’re wondering, “How’s it treating you, old boy?”
Booze-free for a hundred days, I find that my reading has grown subtler and more intricate. I also find that I’m making much more time to read, since I’m no longer having a G&T and watching TV. I’ve finished 13 books of wildly varying lengths since I made that choice. I seem to remember them all pretty well, too. Overall, I’m sleeping better, but there are some non-booze factors that play into that, too.
Also, I’m healthier. Early this year, my urologist told me that I could reduce my susceptibility to flare-ups of prostatitis by quitting alcohol, caffeine and spicy food. I said, “That’s crazy talk! This isn’t the time for rash measures!” But I haven’t had any degree of prostatitis — which dear Lord is no fun — since going on the wagon. So let’s go eat Mexican and wash it down with coffee!
Besides getting more and better reading in and not feeling like I’ve been walloped in the nuts, the best part of this whole process is reassuring myself that I don’t have a drinking problem. After all, I was able to stop drinking cold turkey and never found myself regretting that choice. It seems that having 4-5 drinks a week was more about my tendency to build up habits and routines than it was about a drinking habit.
The worst part of this experience has been the realization that most people are even more boring than I thought.
I first encountered A Dance To The Music Of Time in the mid-’90’s. A Borders bookstore had opened at the West Belt Mall in Wayne, NJ, and as was my wont, I inspected the fiction section — or was it “literature”?
At the time, my points of reference were the beginning of the G’s, where I’d look for Williams Gaddis and Gass, as well as David Gates, and the late P’s, where I’d check the selection of books by Richard Powers and Thomas Pynchon. It was in the latter section that I discovered Anthony Powell. University of Chicago Press had recently released a four-volume, slipcased edition of A Dance To The Music Of Time.
In college, I focused on “the encyclopedic novel” for my literature degree. I had a vague idea of what that term meant, and wound up conflating it with “really long novels with which I could impress/cow my contemporaries.” As such, this 12-novel cycle looked like it was right up my alley. Still, I’d never heard of Powell and the internet in that period wasn’t as awash in fan pages for obscure artists as it is today.
Further, I don’t recall there being any “flap copy” or anything else involving a plot description on the slipcase, which was shrink-wrapped to prohibit singleton sales. So I had nothing to go by, in terms of knowing what this series was about. The case was adorned with Poussin’s eponymous painting of the Dance, and the spine of each volume was a detail of one or another face of the dancers. I knew nothing of Poussin back then, still a year away from reading Arcadia for the first time.
Sixty or so dollars was a large sum to me in those days, so I held off on buying the Dance. It slipped off my radar shortly after. When Powell died in 2000, I read up on the Dance a little. I considered tackling the series, which is a sort of roman a clef of British literary & society life through the eyes of a crypto-Powell narrator over the span of half a century, but never got around to it. I noted at the time that it seemed like a book to tackle in my 40’s. I used to say that about Proust when I was young, but I got around to him before turning 35, and should’ve done so sooner.
It wasn’t until last December, when U of Chicago Press announced that it had released all 12 novels as e-books, that I returned to the notion of reading the Dance. Like a good drug dealer, the publisher was offering the first e-book free. I had just finished My Year Of Gin, in which I would try a bottle of a new (to me) boutique gin each month of the year. I had planned to write about the project, but both overachieved (in terms of bottles) and underachieved (in terms of coherence), and so scrapped my chronicle of the project. You can, however, find photographic evidence here:
A Dance To The Music Of Time, it seemed to me, would make for a fine followup. The two projects were of a piece with what I now realize is a life of dilettantism. Why not give my amateur passions some degree of structure by organizing them around the calendar?
And so I decided to read one book of the Dance each month throughout 2011. Besides allowing the pace to mirror the seasons themselves, around which each novel was (subtly) organized, I was also protecting myself from burnout. I know myself well enough to know how easy it would be for me to roll through 3 or 4 of the books in the first 6 weeks of the year, before allowing the distractions and derailments that characterize much of my life to lead me away.
This morning, I finished reading the last of the 12 books, Hearing Secret Harmonies. My wife still asks me, “So, is it good?” and I don’t know exactly how to answer her.
I certainly enjoyed reading the novels, and I’ll be the first to admit that Powell’s prose can be quite tortured at times. I was also amazed at the reticence to reveal anything about the narrator’s own life or feelings, to the extent that one never learns Jenkins’ children’s names nor much about the books he writes over his 70 years (his volume on Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy notwithstanding).
At times, the sheer volume of coincidental meetings can be maddening (coincidence being the author’s point, I know). Another type of coincidence, during a bombing raid of London, strains all credulity. But then, perhaps that’s because my own life doesn’t have much room for chance meetings nowadays. In the early books, bumping into old friends takes the place of the narrator having to commit any real activity. While the stories and the interrelations of his friends and acquaintances are engaging, I found the “autumn” novels — those covering WWII — much more entertaining, because the narrator was largely removed from his society surroundings and had to become much more of a participant in the world. Paradoxically, the level observation is much sharper in these books than the preceding ones. There’s a wonderful comedy of manners of Jenkins’ superiors at dinner, highlighting the absurdities and hierarchies of military life. (There’s also a great moment when Jenkins, who remembers everyone over the years, encounters his brigade from earlier in the war, and discovers that his old cohort has no recollection of him whatsoever.)
I think Jenkins also undergoes a maturation process during the war novels. By book 9, The Military Philosophers, his literary persona really blooms as his military duty begins to draw to a close. There’s a wonderful passage where he realizes his assignment has taken him to Cabourg, the town that Proust fictionalized into Balbec. Maybe it’s a sort of clue into the roman a clef of the whole Dance itself, but it’s also some of the most gorgeous writing in the books.
As I look back over the scope of it all, a story beginning in 1920 or thereabouts, carrying on to 1971 (the year I was born, coincidentally enough), and flashing back to Jenkins’ childhood in the naughts, I’m struck by the vividness of so many minor characters. Just like life, I didn’t think much of some of them at the time and miss them now they’re gone. (Speaking of which, Powell is merciless in his characters’ ends. So many figures are simply reported dead as the years carry on. I was under the impression that the whole cycle of novels would revolve around the four schoolboys introduced in the first book, and then found myself thinking, “Well, they didn’t actually show us [x]’s body, so maybe he’s still alive and will be back in a later novel…”, as though Anthony Powell was writing The Fantastic Four or something.)
But I won’t write too much about the goings on of the Dance. I do think it comprises a wonderful tapestry of the transformation of a certain class in British society throughout the century, but it’s also the sort of thing that no one (I know) reads anymore. In harmony with my college self, that’s probably a big part of why I stuck with this project all year.
Just as Jenkins sees patterns and echoes throughout the generations (and there are plenty of echoes in the last novel), I know there are echoes of myself from that pretentious college kid to this pretentious trade magazine editor. But there are also substantial changes, both internal and external. That Borders was demolished a few years ago, before the chain itself went under. Pynchon and Powers? I don’t read them much anymore.
I’m not sure if I’ve changed all that much since beginning A Question of Upbringing last January. It’s been a complex year, and I think reading The Leopard had more of an effect on me than these 12 novels. Perhaps I’m underestimating. After all, the clarity of the first 800 words or so of this piece — written in the morning after finishing Hearing Secret Harmonies, driving my wife to the bus stop, and walking the dogs in a frosted-over field — and the sense of bliss I had all morning long could be telling me that I’ve been feeling a subtle anxiety about completing the Dance. Maybe my hesitance and depression of these past few months has stemmed from an anxiety about coming to the end of something so long and continuous. (Everything after Anatomy of Melancholy was written following a long day at the office.)