“It’s fun for me to find stories that haven’t been told and tell them for the first time.”
Author Ben Yagoda joins the show to talk about teaching journalism, 40 years (!) of writing language columns, the influence of Harry Potter own his students, the history of the memoir, the mystery of why the “Great American Songbook” withered after WWII, his hatred of the term “creative nonfiction”, the invasion of Britishisms into American English, our shared history in the Make-Believe Ballroom, the challenges of watching sporting events on tape delay, and more! (Also, I talk a little about the refugee-ban protests of the past weekend.) Give it a listen! And go buy The B Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song!
About our Guest
Ben Yagoda recently retired from teaching English, journalism and writing at the University of Delaware, and is the author, coauthor or editor of nine books. He has written about language, writing and other topics for Slate.com, the New York Times Book Review and Magazine, The American Scholar, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and many other publications. He contributes to Lingua Franca, a Chronicle of Higher Education blog about language and writing and Draft, a New York Times blog about the art of writing. His personal blog is Not One-Off Britishisms. He is on Twitter as @byagoda. He lives in Swarthmore, PA.
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 Mr. Yagoda’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. Photo of Mr. Yagoda by me. It’s on my instagram, along with a double-selfie of us.
“I love finding people who are obsessed with things. People who devote their lives to things are my obsession.”
Writer and Twitter provocateur Hayley Campbell joins the show for a conversation about her inability to describe her job (don’t call her a “content provider”). We talk about growing up in comics royalty (her dad is the great cartoonist Eddie Campbell), Alan Moore’s magic tricks, nearly losing a comic-shop job because of her lack of a college degree, the celebrity retweet she’s proudest of, and having an accidental career path, no fixed home, and a traumatic brain injury that gooses with her memory (and whether those three things are somehow connected). Also, we get into how she recently embarrassed Jonathan Safran Foer, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy her first book, The Art of Neil Gaiman (Ilex/Harper). And for God’s sake, go follow her on Twitter!
“I think I’m more of a loser in real life than I am on the internet.”
We also get into her obsession with obsessives, becoming the oldest person at her BuzzFeed office in her early 30s, the insanely creepy Moebius comic she read as a kid, the glories of Australian dentistry, digging through old girlie magazines to research her book on Neil Gaiman, and why she loves writing about boxing. We also compare notes on doing interviews with people whose work you love. Now go listen to the show!
“Dad won’t join Twitter because he’s afraid I’ll have more followers than him, and he’ll be ‘Hayley Campbell’s dad.'”
- Scott McCloud
- Irvine Welsh
- John Clute
- Ron Rosenbaum (2013)
- Ron Rosenbaum (2014)
- David Jaher
- Rupert Thomson (2015)
About our Guest
Hayley Campbell writes for a bunch of places but then who doesn’t. She’s written a book about Neil Gaiman (The Art of Neil Gaiman, Ilex/HarperCollins) and if her face looks familiar it’s probably because she sold you comics once. Find her stuff on BuzzFeed, New Statesman, VICE, McSweeney’s, the Guardian, The Debrief, The Comics Journal, The Rumpus, Channel 4 News, Front, Planet Notion and Boing Boing.
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 a pal’s apartment in NYC 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 Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photos of Ms. Campbell by me.
“I always like smart, rebellious young people who feel like the world has done them bad.”
Artist Molly Crabapple joins the show to talk about writing her new memoir, Drawing Blood (Harper), making illustrated journalism from Syria, Guantanamo and Abu Dhabi, translating Nizar Qabbani, growing into her parents’ legacy of art, Marxism and argumentation, finding her soul in the Damascus Room at the Met, balancing community and competition, stepping back from the idea that we’re in an “Age of Outrage” and more! Give it a listen!
“The world hates refugees. I’m convinced that if there was a major crisis in Canada and we had 10 million white refugees, we’d still think of some reason to keep them out. People hate impoverished people fleeing over borders.”
We also talk about Charlie Hebdo, the Occupy movement, Molly’s success at bypassing the gallery model and whether her path is replicable, the scariest place she’s ever visited as a journalist, her biggest artistic, literary and journalistic influences, and more! (And if you want to find out who she’s reading nowadays, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show!)
About our Guest
Molly Crabapple is an artist and writer in New York. She is a contributing editor for VICE, and has written for The New York Times, Paris Review, and the Guardian, among other publications. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Follow her on Twitter and Tumblr.
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 Ms. Crabapple’s studio 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. Photos of Ms. Crabapple by me.
“We move through a human-centric world as if that is reality, but we’re surrounded by other species, and their species is centric to their world. I’m interested in how that works, not in humanizing other animals.”
In honor of K-9 Veterans Day, our guests are Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox, the writer and the artist behind Dogs of War, a YA graphic novel about dogs on the battlefield. We talk about their collaborative process and how it developed over the course of this project, as well as the challenges of writing about war for a YA audience, how the trajectory of dog use parallels the development of military technology, and the ways that our empathy for animals can help us better understand the cost of conflict.
“I want the power of time and imagination that resides in the white space between panels.”
Also, find out about their circuitous paths to comics, the alchemy of a writer’s vision interpreted by an artist, why Nathan launched an MFA program at the School of Visual Arts, and how Sheila’s husband wooed her with a page of Love & Rockets!
Praise for Dogs of War
- Starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and The Bulletin of the Center for Childrens’ Books
- School LIbrary Journal Top Ten Graphic Novels
- YALSA Top Ten Great Graphic Novels (Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of ALA/American Library Association)
- ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
About our Guests
Sheila Keenan is an established author of books for young people, including As The Crow Flies, a picture book she did in collaboration with her husband artist Kevin Duggan, and Animals in the House: A History of Pets and People. Dogs of War is her first graphic novel.
Nathan Fox was born in 1975 in Washington D.C. Raised from the age of five on the suburban outskirts of Houston, an early addiction to cartoons, commercials and video games led to a lifelong exploration of Narrative Art and the over-stimulation associated with his generation. In the hopes of making such an addiction his full time job, Nathan left Texas for Missouri, where he attended the Kansas City Art Institute. After graduating in 1997, Nathan pursued Illustration from Milwaukee, WI for the next two years with little result. Frustrated with pursuing editorial illustration and working as an offset pressman, he and his wife moved to New York City in 2000 where Nathan attended The School of Visual Arts (SVA) Illustration As Visual Essay Graduate Program. His work has appeared in The New York Times Newspaper and Magazine, Interview, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Wired, ESPN Magazine, Print, Entertainment Weekly, Mother Jones, Spin, Mad Magazine, MTV Store Windows and Tshirts, Burton US Open 2009, Instant Winner and REAL Skateboards, DC Comics, Vertigo, Dark Horse Comics, Marvel and many other publications and mediums. In 2011, Nathan designed the curriculum for a new low-residency graduate program in visual storytelling and is now chair of SVA’s MFA Visual Narrative program.
Credits: This episode’s music is Atomic Dog by Parliament. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Fox’s office at the School of Visual Arts on a Blue enCORE 200 microphone (for me) and an Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser microphone (for them), feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Fox and Ms. Keenan by me.
“Comics is a medium that isn’t going to go away. It may just now finally be coming into its own in the 21st century. In this internet era, there’s something very special about what comics do, no matter how much they get warped and changed by technology.”
More than 30 years after taking on the role of British comics’ Man at the Crossroads, Paul Gravett remains at the center of the global comics scene. We had an in-depth conversation about the growth of comics as an art form, the surprise of seeing local manga in Algeria, why he considers himself less of a comics historian or curator than a comics activist, how it feels to have been the first publisher of some of the finest cartoonists of our time, and why he should be called Paul “Mission To Explain” Gravett. Give it a listen!
“I’m probably slightly insane for wanting to go on looking and searching and questioning and provoking myself, trying to find stuff that doesn’t give me what I know already.”
Along the way, Paul and I also talk about his new book, Comics Art (Yale University Press), the new exhibition he’s curating for the British Library, Comics Unmasked: Art & Anarchy in the UK, the history of comics and his history within it, and the way virtually every lifelong comics reader’s home winds up resembling an episode of Hoarders. Paul Gravett is one of comics’ finest ambassadors, and it was a pleasure to talk with him during my recent UK trip. (Oh, and here’s a link to that Richard McGuire comic we effuse about!)
- Tom Spurgeon
- Roger Langridge
- Mike Kupperman / Ivan Brunetti
- Peter Bagge
- Maxim Jakubowski
- Ben Katchor
About our Guest
Paul Gravett is a London-based freelance journalist, curator, lecturer, writer and broadcaster, who has worked in comics publishing and promotion since 1981. Under the Escape Publishing imprint, he co-published Violent Cases in 1987, the first collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, three volumes of Eddie Campbell’s Alec between 1984 and 1986, and London’s Dark in 1988 by James Robinson and Paul Johnson. Since 2003, Paul has been the director of Comica, the London International Comics Festival. His very extensive bio can be found at his website.
Credits: This episode’s music is The Boy With the Jigsaw Puzzle Fingers by Karl Hyde. The conversation was recorded at the Hilton London Euston on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Paul Gravett by me.
The July episode of The Virtual Memories Show is ready to go! This time around, you get two interviews for the price of one!
During my June trip to Boston for the BIO annual meeting, I recorded conversations with Diana Renn, a writer who just published her first book, a YA novel called Tokyo Heist, and Paul Di Filippo, a science fiction writer and critic who’s celebrating his 30th year as a freelance writer.
I thought of posting them as two separate podcasts, but it made more sense to have the perspectives of the first-time novelist and the life-time writer in a single episode. Diana has lots to say about working through the novel-writing process and how her history with comic books informs her, while Paul has a ton to say about the current state of science fiction, how he carved out a role in it, what it’s like to be the “King of Steampunk,” the allure of Providence, RI, and whether he’d have taken an assignment for the Before Watchmen series.
Credits: This episode’s music is Rewrite from Paul Simon’s recent record So Beautiful or So What? I recorded the intro on a Blue Yeti mic into Audacity, and the conversation with was recorded on a pair of Blue Encore 100 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4N recorder.
Friday, Aug. 12: Dead Men & Funnybooks
After a ridiculously wondrous night’s sleep at the Davenport, I had to get to work.
Shannon, one of my work-pals, was picked me up to take me to her office, so I could interview John B., another one of the guys. (Thus turning this leg of the vacation into a business expense for me.) We went with a 9 a.m. start, so I could get work out of the way and Amy & I could spend the rest of the day in the city before the evening’s Royal Wedding.
About the wedding: my pal Dave was marrying a co-worker (not in his department; I’d never met her before the previous night’s dinner). He’d gotten divorced around 2 years ago (so did she), and I gave him a sympathetic ear while he went through that process. He’s a great guy, and has been the primary parent for his 2 daughters since the split. Dave’s also half-black, half-Japanese, and was the only non-white person I saw in my 2002 trip to Spokane. When we got together in NYC last March, he showed me an iPhone picture of him with chef Morimoto at Nobu. I asked him which one was Morimoto. (What did I tell you yesterday about taking the piss?)
But the wedding was a few hours off. At the moment, I sat down with John in his office to shoot the breeze a while. We’d planned to record a little Q&A about managing customer expectations during facility expansions for a writeup in my October issue (I live life of excitement, I know), but I had a secret motive for this meeting. I was going to interview John about what it’s like to die.
John didn’t attend that NYC trade show in March; companies frequently pick and choose / revolve staff for these events. On the second morning of the show, I stopped by the company’s booth to say hello. My pal Peggy said to me, “Something terrible happened to John. He’s going to be fine, but his heart stopped last night.”
John, who’s an athletic, fit guy in his early 40’s, was playing soccer with his team that evening, felt light-headed, and sat down. And promptly died.
That is, his heart had stopped for 15 minutes. Lucky for him, several doctors are on his soccer team, and they were able to keep him pumping blood till the EMTs arrived and he got zotzed back to life. But he was, as he’s the first to say, dead.
At our dinner the night before, he told us, “I found out recently from my cardiologist that when he got the call that I’d died, his wife, also a doctor, asked what was up. He said, ‘One of my patients just died,’ and she asked, ‘Well, is he still dead?’ Only a cardiologist would ask that . . .” He was laughing when he told this story. If I were in his position, of course, I’d be looking off into the distance, pausing dramatically.
Which is why I wanted to talk to him about it. He was a cheerful guy before this episode, and didn’t seem any different the two times I’d seen him since, so I was hoping that a more in-depth conversation might reveal whether he’s looking at things differently now. My plan was to bust out the audio-recorder for our pharma-interview, but also conduct another conversation with John about his death, and how he’s lived since.
(He said the doctors have no idea why his heart stopped, so they’ve installed a defibrillator in his chest to zap him if it happens again. The day after his death, he told Peggy that he was planning to come to the office the following Monday. She threatened to fire him if he did, but he managed to make it in for a few hours anyway, broken ribs/sternum and all.)
But a funny thing happened on the way to the undiscovered country: we started talking about comic books.
During our pharma-conversation, I mentioned a comics-related anecdote about John’s CEO, prompting John to ask what sort of comics I read. Now, this conversation can be pretty fraught. My comics are, um, “non-mainstream,” which is to say, “not superheroes,” but many people tend to equate comics solely with costumed crusaders. So I offered up an early gambit by saying, “I like more indy, art-fare, like Clowes, Bagge and the Hernandez brothers.” This used to be the holy trinity of art-comic surnames to cite; a little out of date now, but I didn’t want to go hardcore geek, in case John was a big reader of, say, Spider-Man.
I was gratified to discover that he actually knew what I was talking about, and that we could have an intelligent conversation about funnybooks, art, and storytelling. He even tossed a Cerebus reference into the conversation (!). Stupidly, I didn’t turn on the recorder for THAT segment, because it would’ve been pretty entertaining. At one point, he mentioned seeing an episode of True Blood (which I haven’t watched), and said, “I don’t know who the writers are, but they owe a huge debt to the southern gothic vibe that Alan Moore had in his run on Swamp Thing.”
To which I (internally) replied, “Daaaaaamn!” and decided to break out my story of the time I met Frank Miller at a party but didn’t realize it was him for half an hour or so.
So, rather than have a mopey conversation about death (which I’m not sure John’s capable of, since he’s so damned upbeat), we talked comics for at least an hour. He had an 11:00 a.m. appt., we took care of our pharma-interview, and I made a note that I have to bring him one of my favorite art comics when he comes to NJ for our conference in September.
(The last time I mentioned my comics interests in a work context was at a trade show in June. That advertiser-exec took it as an opportunity to ask me what I thought of the Green Lantern movie. I haven’t seen it and don’t plan to, but do have strong opinions about it.)
After we wrapped up, Shannon took me back to the Davenport. I unloaded some of my work-stuff, like the big-ol’ Zoom H4 audio recorder that I brought from the office, and headed out to find Amy.
She was back in Riverfront Park, outside the brazenly named Sugar Shack, shooting pictures. The island was a run-down railyard something in the old days, but had been given a make-over in 1974 as part of the World’s Fair. Which was held in Spokane, WA. No, really. The new park has some nice walkways and rides and fountains for kids, as well as a shit-ton of concession stands dedicated to furthering childhood obesity and diabetes.
Amy & I meandered around the park and downtown, stopping in at Auntie’s, a nice, multi-level indy bookstore that Shannon had mentioned. I had to tell myself, “I have more than 1,400 books at home, along with a Kindle; I’m not buying any books here.” But it was nice to see that sort of store seemingly flourishing. I looked for a copy of The Leopard, so I could give it to Shannon, but they didn’t have it in stock.
After the bookstore, we had a wonderful lunch next door at Sante, where I had a burger that made up for the awful one in the SeaTac airport. Because I keep score.
I liked the vibe in downtown Spokane (which I realize I haven’t discussed). It felt very mid-century to me, with lots of brick buildings, and there were plenty of local shops alongside the inevitable global brands. There was a bit of a college-town vibe, which I miss. The baristas in the coffeeshop around the corner from the Davenport were unreasonably cheery, but I could overlook that.
During our drive to the company’s site that morning, Shannon mentioned that European trade shows the last two years gave her her first opportunities to travel outside America. I told her my theory that Bush II wanted a weak dollar during his presidency to make it more expensive for Americans to travel abroad. That way, we wouldn’t have anything to compare our lives to.
Shannon said she was amazed by the sheer history in these foreign cities, coming from an area that was so recently settled. I told her I felt the same way, even though my town was founded in 1742 and had a ton of Revolutionary War history. We’re both going to a big trade show in Frankfurt in October, but she and her husband are making a side-trip to Prague after. I told her that Amy will kill me if I go to Prague without her. She told me that she likes to read novels about the places she’s visiting. I told her not to read Prague.
Anyway, after our meander around downtown, we headed back to the Davenport, read for a bit (who watches TV?) and got ready for the wedding. Rather than get a ride from Shannon, we decided to walk. However, since our wedding shoes weren’t too comfortable (I brought a pair of black Johnston & Murphy brogue wingtips for the occasion), we packed them in my tote bag (freebie from Monocle) and wore comfier kicks to walk to the wedding venue. In my case, that meant pairing my navy suit (Rubenstein’s) and yellow striped shirt (Brooks) with a pair of white SeaVees. With a seersucker Alexander Olch tie and a white silk pocket square tucked in presidential-style, I felt invulnerable to criticism.
The route we chose put us smack dab in the “club district,” such as it was. It went on for a block and the activity at that hour (6 p.m.) consisted of band-members hauling their equipment out of vans and hangers on hanging on. We drew some looks, but no one made any comments. Even though we deserved them. I credit the tie and pocket square. (This is the closest you get to any Mean Streets of Spokane reference. That pic I posted yesterday was from two blocks away from our hotel, when I was out for coffee. It looked like someone had it in for a car window, the night before.)
At the wedding, we got to meet all my pals’ spouses and kids. It’s funny how much more real that makes people. I mean, it was one thing to see John B. as “the guy who died” and build a little theoretical framework about how that experience might have affected him. It was another to meet his wife and 2 teenaged daughters and to think about how close they were to losing a father last March. The pictures keep getting more detail.
The wedding ceremony was lovely, and included this colored sand rite, in which Dave participated with his new bride and his two daughters. It was meant to illustrate how their lives would blend together. Since Dave’s company performs lyophilization of injectable drugs, I thought he could’ve come up with something that involved freeze-dried particles in suspension, but I guess that’s a little too “inside pharma.”
I don’t have any great anecdotes from the wedding. The food was good, the conversation was fun, and the view of the river from our venue (the rooftop of the Spokane Convention Center) was gorgeous.
It struck me that second weddings should feel different than firsts, but I’ve only been to two or three so I haven’t been able to characterize them “‘Til death do us part,” seems kinda silly to keep in the vows, but what do I know? I only got hitched at 35.
During a conga line, we put on our comfy shoes and walked back to the Davenport and its comfy bed. I wanted to thank Dave for inviting me and wish him bliss & love, but he was already there. Plus, I was afraid of getting sucked into that conga line.
Thus endedth day 2!
Coming up in Day 3: Discovery Park and the Cosmic Cube!
Just because I’m on a mini-vacation, it doesn’t mean that Unrequired Reading gets to take a week off!