Episode 191 – Ben Katchor


Virtual Memories Show #191: Ben Katchor

“How can you keep experimenting within your own work? When they say people reinvent themselves, they just mean they put on new clothes or something.”

Ben Katchor rejoins the show to talk about the 25th anniversary edition of Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay (Drawn & Quarterly)! We talk about those aforementioned pleasures, the boredom of the modern flaneur, his evolution from genre fandom to “literary comics” (my awful term, not his), the danger in comics becoming over-academic, the challenges of writing a world history, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Cheap Novelties!

“You spend the first 20 years of your life figuring out how the culture works, another 20 years figuring out how to make a living in that culture, and maybe the last part you’re in oblivion, saying, ‘What did I do?'”


We also get into the tedium of the latest iteration of New York City, the experience of capitalism’s end-game, why his comics are a product of a unique moment, his discovery of Undergrounds, the challenges of making anything new, how he found a readership that isn’t interested in comics, and more! Now go listen to the show!

“All these people who weren’t born or were babies when Cheap Novelties came out, now they’re going to look at it and say, ‘What does this mean? How does this even relate to us?'”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

ben_katchor_close_upBen Katchor lives in New York, where he is an Associate Professor at Parsons School of Design—The New School. As director of Parsons’ Illustration program, he runs The New York Comics & Picture-story Symposium, a weekly lecture series for the study of text-image work. He has been the recipient of both a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Along with his long-running comic-strip work — Julius Knipl, Real-Estate Photographer, The Cardboard Valise, Hotel & Farm, The Jew of New York, and a monthly strip for Metropolis magazine—Katchor has also collaborated with musician Mark Mulcahy on a number of works for musical theatre. These works include The Rosenbach Company (a tragi-comedy about the life and times of Abe Rosenbach, the preeminent rare-book dealer of the 20th century); The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island, or, The Friends of Dr. Rushower, an absurdist romance about the chemical emissions and addictive soft-drinks of a ruined tropical factory-island; A Checkroom Romance, about the culture and architecture of coat-checkrooms; and Up From the Stacks, about a page working the stacks of the New York Public Library in 1975. Katchor is the only cartoonist to have won an Obie for Best New American Work, for his libretto and drawings for The Carbon Copy Building, a collaboration with Bang on a Can. His TED Talk is titled Comics of Bygone New York. He is on Twitter at benkatchor.

His books include the 25th anniversary edition of Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay, Hand-Drying in America: And Other Stories, The Cardboard Valise, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: Stories, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District, and The Jew of New York.

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 in the garden at the rear of the Columbus Metropolitan Library 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 Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 and then into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Mr. Katchor at his drawing desk by Keetja Allard, photo from his Twitter avatar by ???.

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