“Marbles was in many respects was the senior thesis in psychology that I never did as an undergrad.”
The great Seattle cartoonist Ellen Forney joins the show to talk about comics, civic art, being bipolar, and the challenges of maintaining! We get into her 2012 graphic memoir, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, finding a graphic representation of her depressive states, the evolution in her drawing style, the letter she stole from Michael Dougan, the process of going from comics panels to enormous murals for a light-rail station in Seattle, the influence of the Moosewood Cookbook, the importance of a psychology stats class she took in college, how she learned to teach comics, the moment when she felt she was using all her artistic tools, and why she needed Kaz to design her back-tattoo! Give it a listen! And go buy Marbles!
“Knowing statistics doesn’t prepare you for the experience of the person in front of you.”
About our Guest
Cartoonist Ellen Forney is the author of NYT bestseller Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir, and the 2012 “Genius Award” winner in Literature from Seattle’s The Stranger. She collaborated with Sherman Alexie on the National Book Award-winning novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, created the Eisner-nominated comic books I Love Led Zeppelin and Monkey Food: The Complete “I Was Seven in ’75” Collection, and has taught comics at Cornish College of the Arts since 2002. She grew up in Philadelphia and has lived in Seattle, Washington since 1989. Ellen swims and does yoga, and fixes things with rubber bands and paper clips.
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 Ms. Forney’s home 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. Promo photo of Ms. Forney by Jacob Peter Fennell. Back-at-her-desk photo of Ms. Forney by me. It’s on my instagram.
“One of my favorite things is to take a character, figure out what’s most important to them, and then take it away and see what they do.”
Stona Fitch joins the show to talk about balancing his careers as a novelist, a publisher, and a freelance writer with family life. We discuss his new novel, the crime thriller Third Rail, why he he wrote it under the nom de plume Rory Flynn, his influences and favorite crime writers, the challenges of writing a sequel, the futility of debating genre categories, and more! Give it a listen!
“My mentor Russell Banks told me, ‘Go to Miami, you’ll see everything.’ He also said I’d be a great plumber.”
We also talk about what possessed him to write Senseless, which is one of the most disturbing novels ever written. But don’t worry; it’s not all crime and horror! There’s also Stona’s role as the founder of the Concord Free Press, an innovative, generosity-based publishing house! Plus, we explore the benefits of doing corporate work by day and learning about fields you’d otherwise never have any experience in.
“My wife said, ‘Stona, I think you’ve found a brand-new way for writers not to make money.'”
We talk about a bunch of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):
- Third Rail: An Eddy Harkness Novel – Rory Flynn
- Dark Horse: An Eddy Harkness Novel – Rory Flynn
- Senseless – Stona Fitch
- Strategies for Success – Stona Fitch
- Give + Take – Stona Fitch
- Printer’s Devil – Stona Fitch
- The Friends of Eddie Coyle: A Novel – George V. Higgins
- The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
- Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
- The Next Queen of Heaven: A Novel – Gregory Maguire
- Beautiful Ruins: A Novel – Jess Walter
- Citizen Vince – Jess Walter
- I Served the King of England – Bohumil Hrabal
- The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories – Bruno Schulz
- Book of Numbers: A Novel – Joshua Cohen
- The Goldfinch: A Novel – Donna Tartt
- Against the Day – Thomas Pynchon
About our Guest
Via Stona’s site:
Praised by critics and readers, Stona Fitch’s novels are published widely throughout the world and have inspired other works, from graphic novels to films. His latest novel, Third Rail (2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), marks the debut of the Eddy Harness series of Boston-based crime novels – published under the pen name Rory Flynn.
Give + Take (2011) crosses genres with a noir-inflected, hilarious road tale. Printer’s Devil (2009) updates A Clockwork Orange to create a post-apocalyptic parable. Critics cite Senseless (2001) as a prescient novel that anticipated violent anti-globalization protests, online hostages, and use of fear as a political tool. It is often described as one of the most disturbing novels ever written. Senseless is now an independent feature film, a graphic novel, and a cult classic.
In 2008, Stona founded the Concord Free Press, a revolutionary publishing house that publishes and distributes original novels throughout the world, asking only that readers make a voluntary donation to a charity or person in need. The first nine CFP books have inspired nearly $500,000 in generosity.
Stona lives with his family in Concord, MA, where he is also a committed community activist. He and his family work with Gaining Ground, a non-profit farm.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1961, Stona Fitch grew up in the midwest and south. While an undergraduate at Princeton, he received the Creative Writing Program’s Lannan Award for Fiction. He also served as chairman of The Daily Princetonian, and wrote for The Anchorage Daily News.
After graduation, Stona reported briefly for The Miami Herald before moving to Boston and joining its burgeoning underground music scene. In 1984, he joined the seminal Boston-based pop group Scruffy The Cat, playing electric banjo, mandolin, accordion, and organ–as well as writing songs. He recorded two albums–High-Octane Revival (a New York Times top release of 1986) and the highly regarded (and rare) Tiny Days–before leaving the band in 1987. During this time, he worked as a dishwasher and cook at the Hoodoo Barbeque, a notorious punk-rock hangout/crime scene in Kenmore Square.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, which seems to have become our unofficial theme song. The conversation was recorded in the Boston Marriott Burlington 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 Mr. Fitch by me.
I don’t talk too much about my day job, in the podcast or on this site. I’m the president of the PBOA, a pharmaceutical industry trade association, but that doesn’t provide much of a clue as to what I actually do. If you’re interested, you can watch me get interviewed (by Russ Somma of Sommatech Consulting) at INTERPHEX in April of 2015.
I don’t think I’d have this much ease on mic/camera (or in front of an FDA panel or talking to Congressional staffers) without the experience of 100+ podcast interviews.
I went to my former company’s Christmas party this past Friday. It’s sort of a tradition, if you don’t leave on bad terms, to come back your first year out. I was glad to see my old coworkers, and I was reminded of all the dread I had about making the jump. Looking back, I was more nervous about breaking the news to my bosses than I was about undertaking my new gig.
Today’s the one-year anniversary of when I got serious about quitting my job and launching a new business. I’d been considering the move for a few weeks, and when I was at the office Christmas party a day earlier, I found myself looking around the banquet hall and thinking, “Is this the last time I’m going to be at this?”
The next day, I called one of the advertisers in my trade magazine to ask him three questions:
- Do you really believe your industry needs a trade association?
- Do you believe I can build it and run it?
- Do you think you can convince your company to join and provide start-up funding?
He said, “Yes,” to all three, but he’s also a good pal of mine, so I wasn’t 100% convinced that I should do it. I mean, I wondered if our friendship affected his judgement about my abilities to do this. But, because he’s a good friend, I knew I could trust him not to spill the beans while I started reaching out to more companies.
I called another advertiser-pal a few days later — I’ve made a bunch of good friends from the nearly 15 years I spent on the magazine, which has helped me launch this new biz — and asked him the same three questions. I got the same answers.
In the next few weeks, I called on three more companies, getting farther from my friend zone with each call. The fifth company was a major player in the industry, but I had no close relationship with anyone there. My contact enthusiastically told me they’d be on board and would forward me funds if I needed them to get things off the ground. That meant I was five-for-five, and that’s when I knew It Was On. Fewer than four weeks after I made that first call, I gave notice at my job and started this crazy ride.
I think I’ve gotten used to having a job that doesn’t yield a tangible product like a magazine (quite a transition, since I’d been doing this for 19 years), and I’m still working out the kinks of being my own boss, but I can’t forget that first call a year ago, that first time I said to someone besides my wife, “I’m thinking of quitting the magazine.” Did I need to say it to believe that I was really going to do it?
My pal wasn’t in when I called that Saturday, but he rang back that evening while I was at our neighbors’ place. I took the call out on their enclosed deck, watching the headlights on Skyline Drive through the trees while we discussed my future. We talked about our businesses, and our midlife crises, and how long he’d been waiting for me to make some sort of change. (The second pal I called said, “FINALLY!” when I told him I was thinking of leaving.)
I don’t have much to add; I just want to mark the anniversary.
“I managed to go 43 issues before I hit the paralyzing grip of self-doubt and self-consciousness [from realizing that I had an audience]. I feel lucky that I had all those years to write comics in essentially a vacuum. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be 20 years old and trying to write comics in this world with the internet’s immediate response.”
John Porcellino has been publishing his King-Cat Comics & Stories mini-comics for 25 years, but I managed not to check them out until last month. BIG mistake on my part! Turns out the critics were right; John P.’s one of the best autobio cartoonists out there, as well as “a master at miniature poignance” (Entertainment Weekly). We sat down at SPX 2014 to talk about publishing his new work, The Hospital Suite, as a standalone book and developing the skill and courage to tackle longer stories, his disdain for “the culture of like”, overcoming the shame and stigma of his OCD, the process of discovering an audience for his work, the pitfalls of autobiographical comics, discovering the power of negative space, turning his life into a narrative, how comics enabled him to communicate with people, and, most importantly, being an NFL bigamist. Give it a listen!
“If things didn’t get better, I was going to be the guy wandering down an alley in my underwear with tinfoil wrapped around my arms.”
Bonus: Roger Langridge gives us a few minutes at SPX to talk about his new book, Jim Henson’s The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow!
“To me, the best cartooning is the kind that has in place what needs to be there: nothing more and nothing less.”
About our Guest
John Porcellino was born in Chicago in 1968, and began drawing and writing at an early age, compiling his work into handmade booklets. His acclaimed self-published zine, King-Cat Comics and Stories, begun in 1989, has found a devoted worldwide audience and is one of the most influential comics of the past 25 years. His newest book is The Hospital Suite, and he is the subject of a new documentary, Root Hog or Die. His work has been collected in several editions, including King-Cat Classix, Map of My Heart, Perfect Example, and Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man. He is also the author of Thoreau at Walden and The Next Day: A Graphic Novella.
Credits: This episode’s music is Theater is the Life of You by The Minutement (John’s a fan). The conversation was recorded at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a 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 Mr. Porcellino by me.