“I have something to live for in the goal of producing this long, fascinating, convoluted, loop-de-loop, metaphysical story arc. And that’s the kind of thing that occupies me and makes my days the joyous things they are: living in this screwed-up dream-world that isolates me from the rest of the world and humanity in general.”
Jim Woodring rejoins the show to talk art, comics and the Unifactor! During a break at SPX 2016, we sat down to discuss the importance of Fantagraphics on its 40th anniversary, Jim’s move to Seattle in 1974 and his move away from there last year, camaraderie with the cartoonists of his generation, what he’d do if he was just starting out as a cartoonist today, the experience of seeing Frank in 3-D, the joys of drawing with a six-foot pen, just what Art is there for, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy his newest book, Frank In The 3rd Dimension!
“Some people say religious experiences are just in the person’s mind, but where else would they be?”
We also talk about how Jack Kirby drew like a haunted machine, why computers have led to a generation of prosthetic geniuses, why he sticks with analog drawing tools (like that six-foot-long pen, known as Nibbus Maximus), the remarkable experience of going on a tour of the South China Seas with “a billionaire friend of mine”, his relationship with the Unifactor (and the perils of trying to circumvent its storytelling imperatives), the role of perseverance in becoming a better artist, and the feeling that he’s done the right thing in his life. Now go listen to the show!
“I feel like a pretender next to guys like Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. With my limited abilities and my ‘that’s good enough’ philosophy of art, I feel like I’ve just sneaked into the party.”
About our Guest
Jim Woodring was born in Los Angeles in 1952 and enjoyed a childhood made lively by an assortment of mental an psychological quirks including paroniria, paranoia, paracusia, apparitions, hallucinations and other species of psychological and neurological malfunction among the snakes and tarantulas of the San Gabriel mountains.
He eventually grew up to be an inquisitive bearlike man who has enjoyed three exciting careers: garbage collector, merry-go-round-operator and cartoonist. A self-taught artist, his first published works documented the disorienting hell of his salad days in an “illustrated autojournal” called JIM. This work was published by Fantagraphics Books and collected in The Book of Jim in 1992. A newer collection of these comics was published as Jim.
He is best known for his wordless comics series depicting the follies of his character Frank, a generic cartoon anthropomorph whose adventures careen wildly from sweet to appalling. A decade’s worth of these stories was collected in The Frank Book in 2004. The 2010 Frank story Weathercraft won The Stranger’s Genius Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for that year. Woodring has published two more FRANK books, The Congress of the Animals, and Fran. His newest book is Frank In The 3rd Dimension, with Charles Barnard.
Woodring is also known for his anecdotal charcoal drawings (a selection which was gathered in Seeing Things in 2005), and the sculptures, vinyl figures, fabrics and gallery installations that have been made from his designs. His multimedia collaborations with the musician Bill Frisell won them a United States Artists Fellowship in 2006. He lives on Vashon Island with his family and residual phenomena.
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 Bethesda North Marriott 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 Jim by me.
“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?'”
About our Guest
Ben 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 ???.
“I think I made three cartoons about Jane Austen before I got around to reading a Jane Austen novel. And then I thought, ‘Oh, this is really good!'”
Cartoonist & illustrator Tom Gauld joins the show to talk about his new book, Mooncop (Drawn & Quarterly), and developing a post-optimistic view of the future. We get into his drawing and storytelling influences, how he got a weekly gig doing literary gags at The Guardian, why he likes doing illustration work, the time he melted down when he met his comics-idols, how he got his first New Yorker cover, the two key elements of productivity for all artists and writers (coffee & walking) and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Mooncop! (and his other books, Goliath and You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack!)
“I never tailored my work to an audience, other than just trying to make what I think is funny.”
We also get into the importance of the hand-drawn line, the question of collaborating with a writer, the balance of long-form comics and weekly assignments, his schoolteacher’s rapprochement with his compulsive cartooning, the challenge of doing literary comics while trying not to read too deeply, the scope-creep of doing the cover for the Drawn & Quarterly 25th anniversary collection, why weaknesses are as important as strengths to one’s style, and why he REALLY needs to learn to draw hands. Now go listen to the show!
“The constraints of illustration work are actually liberating. . . . I think I’d go crazy if I had to draw comics all the time.”
About our Guest
Tom Gauld was born in 1976 and grew up in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He is a cartoonist and illustrator and his work is regularly published in The Guardian, The New York Times, and The New Scientist. His comic books, Mooncop, Goliath, and You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, are published by Drawn & Quarterly. He lives in London with his family.
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 Bethesda North Marriott 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 Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Mr. Gould by me.
“A lot of how I draw comes from Greek vases. They’re like ancient comics.”
Glynnis Fawkes joins the show to talk about archeology, comics, dig romances, Homer and more! We celebrate her award-winning new comic, Alle Ego, figure out how to make art while raising a family (hint: mine your family to make the art), explore the correlation of Greek vases to comics, lament the savage history of Troy and Gallipoli, while embracing the comics-centric world of Angouleme, and more! Give it a listen! And buy Alle Ego, the new installment of her book, from her store.
“We’re here now, but human experience goes so far back. Relationships, love, death: this has all gone on so long.”
We also get into her journey from the Pacific Northwest to the Middle East, her senior thesis on satyrs & maenads, the demands of drawing urns based on fragments, the best way to learn drawing comics, her move away from fine art, her life-changing experience at the Maison des Auteurs, and bumping into Alison Bechdel at the supermarket. Give it a listen!
About our Guest
Glynnis Fawkes is a cartoonist, painter, and archaeological illustrator. Her current project is a memoir about working as illustrator on digs in Greece and the Middle East. She drew many of the pages for this book at a residency at La Maison des Auteurs in Angouleme, France in the summer of 2015. She recently completed 50 illustrations and cover for John Franklin’s Kinyras: The Divine Lyre (Center for Hellenic Studies Press, 2016). Glynnis’ background is in art and art history: a BA from University of Oregon, a BFA from the Pacific NW College of Art, and MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Tufts University. During a Fulbright fellowship to Cyprus, she published a book of paintings, Archaeology Lives in Cyprus, and a book of cartoons, Cartoons of Cyprus. She spent almost 10 years working as an illustrator on archaeological projects and excavations in Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, Israel, and Lebanon, and continues to work in Greece. She began a doctorate at the University of Wollongong in Australia, but instead of finishing, married the famous archeo-musicologist John Franklin and had some children (now in school). She has exhibited paintings in Boston, London, Nicosia, Wollongong, at the Laura Russo Gallery in Portland, OR, and in Burlington, VT, where she now lives. She teaches a course in Comics at the University of Vermont and drawing at Champlain College. Glynnis is a member of the NY-based web comic collective Activatecomix.com and publishes on Muthamagazine.com.
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 Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. B/w photo of Glynnis by me. Not sure who to credit with the color pic at the top.
“I don’t think you can go predict when you go into a long-term memoir project, that the people you’re writing about will see their lives profoundly change.”
Carol Tyler spent 10 years making Soldier’s Heart: The Campaign to Understand My WWII Veteran Father: A Daughter’s Memoir (Fantagraphics). We sat down at her home in Cincinnati to talk about her perspective on the book now that it’s in her rear-view mirror. We also talk about the glass ceiling for female cartoonists, what it means to be a parent first and cartoonist second, how her dad’s PTSD affected so much of her life, how she drew the last part of Soldier’s Heart in hospital rooms, going on food stamps in the midst of this project, her struggle to retain her hippie-ish enthusiasm during a period of heavy loss (4 family members and 3 close friends in 4 years), and how she broke into a frat-house to steal post-party empties for recycling. It’s a fun, deep conversation with a master cartoonist (even when it borders on Gil-as-therapist), so give it a listen!
“I couldn’t solve my dad’s problems. I couldn’t solve him.”
I’m not kidding about the therapist business; we get into some really thoughtful stuff about how she dealt with her dad’s behavior, how she sorta tries to replace him now, and how it might lead her into whole new modes of storytelling. Go listen!
“Color speaks; it sings like music! It’s non-language-oriented. When i use it, it helps me tap into what is nonverbal so I can communicate those emotions.”
Also, if you want to find out who she’s reading nowadays and get a list of the books and comics we talked about, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show! The first bonus episode (coming Jan. 31) includes a conversation with Carol about how she became a reader, and the author she goes back to read perennially.
About our Guest
Carol Tyler is an award-winning comic book artist & writer best known for autobiographical stories. She received an MFA in painting from Syracuse University in the 1980s and soon after began to get her work published in San Francisco with Robert Crumb. At ComicCon in 1988, Tyler was awarded the Dori Seda Memorial award for Best New Female Cartoonist. Her work has received top honors, including ten Eisner Award nominations, the LA Book Prize, and multiple Harvey and Ignatz nominations. “The Hannah Story” was named on the list of the Top 100 Cartoonists of the Century. Her latest book is Soldier’s Heart: The Campaign to Understand My WWII Veteran Father: A Daughter’s Memoir (Fantagraphics). It describes the author’s relationship with her father and how his PTSD shaped her childhood and affected her relationships in adulthood. It has been on Time Magazine‘s Top Ten and recently on Rolling Stone Magazine‘s Top 50 Graphic Novels. She has also published two short story collections, The Job Thing (1993) and Late Bloomer (2005), all with Fantagraphics Books. Professor Tyler teaches Comics, Graphic Novels & Sequential Art at the University of Cincinnati and is also a Residency Artist with the Ohio Arts Council.
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. Tyler’s house 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. Tyler by me.
“My art has become good enough to tell the stories I want to tell. I’m a broken down punk rock geezer, but I’m still a relatively young cartoonist. I’ve only been doing long-form comics since 2010.”
Live from CXC! Derf Backderf made a mid-career course correction, going from alt-weekly cartoons to full-length graphic novels like My Friend Dahmer and his new book Trashed (Abrams Comicarts). In this live podcast, we talk about that transition, how he became political years after being a political cartoonist, the impact of Ohio’s rustbelt disintegration on his worldview, and the surprise of his success in Europe. How do you go from garbageman to winner of the Angouleme prize? Find out from Derf Backderf in this week’s Virtual Memories Show! Give it a listen! (And go buy Trashed!)
“The most surprising and one of the most personally satisfying thing to me has been the success I’ve had in Europe, especially France. . . . I walked around Paris last week just laughing; I can’t believe my luck.”
We also talk about the glory days of alt-weekly comics, the mental gymnastics necessary to write Jeffrey Dahmer as a human being, Derf’s observations and adventures in the French comics market, why he decided not to do a book about his cancer experience, how he made more cartoonist-friends after Joyce Brabner kicked him in the ass about being a recluse, and why it’s so much fun to develop good characters who can drive a story. Go listen!
“I did an interview with a big national newspaper in France . . . and the opening question was, ‘We know the rust belt for three things: LeBron James, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and you.'”
About our Guest
Derf Backderf was born and raised in a small town in Ohio, outside of Akron. He began his comix career as a political cartoonist, first at The Ohio State University, then at a dying daily paper in South Florida. He was fired for, as the editor put it, “general tastelessness.” Derf then gravitated to the free weekly press where his cranky, freeform comic strip, The City, appeared in over 140 papers during its 24-year run. As weekly papers began to wither, Derf moved to graphic novels, starting with Punk Rock and Trailer Parks (SLG Publishing, 2010). He followed that with the international bestseller, My Friend Dahmer (Abrams Comicarts, 2012) which was awarded an Angoulême Prize and named to the American Library Assocation’s list of The 100 Greatest Graphic Novels. His latest book is Trashed (Abrams Comicarts, 2015), a rollicking Rustbelt epic about garbagemen, a career Derf himself enjoyed when he dropped out of college for a spell. His books have been translated into French, German, Spanish, Dutch and Korean. Derf also won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his political cartoons, and has been nominated for Eisner, Ignatz, Harvey and Rueben Awards. He lives in Cleveland, for reasons he can no longer recall.
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 Cultural Arts Center in Columbus, OH during Cartoon Crossroads Columbus in October 2015 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 me & Mr. Backderf by Amy Roth.
“With this new book, I’m reconnecting with my earlier self from the underground era, but with all the experience and skill that I’ve gained in the last 30 years of doing a daily strip.”
Bill Griffith is best known for nearly 30 years of daily comic strips featuring the absurd, surreal American treasure known as Zippy the Pinhead, but he’s also the author of the amazing graphic memoir, Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist (Fantagraphics). This new 200-page work chronicles Bill’s mother’s affair with the cartoonist Lawrence Lariar, and explores notions of family, infidelity, art, vanishing New York, the transience of reputation and memory, and of course, comics. The book is so significant that I decided to have two separate sessions with Bill, one to discuss his background and his comics history, and the other to focus on Invisible Ink. In part 1, we tackle Bill’s discovery of underground comics and the scene in ’70s San Francisco, his fine art education, the inescapable importance of Robert Crumb, his collaboration with Art Spiegelman on Arcade magazine, how he wound up with a syndicated daily Zippy comic strip, his rediscovery of diners, muffler-men, and roadside advertising icons, his surprisingly youthful audience, the responsibility of blowing up his readers’ minds, and more! Give it a listen! (And go buy Invisible Ink!)
“We thought of Arcade magazine as a life-raft. We were worried that underground comics would die in two ways: economically, with the Supreme Court ruling on pornography . . . and through the limits of its own audience, which was centered around headshops. Arcade was supposed to be where underground comics went to grow up, and build a wider audience.”
Part 2 of this episode takes place at the inaugural Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, where I interviewed Bill in front of an audience that included Art Spiegelman. This section focuses on Invisible Ink, and covers Bill’s relationship with his parents, the reasons he pursued the story of his mother’s affair, the transience of fame, his need to re-draw all of Lawrence Lariar’s art in his book, how he reacted when his mother wanted to get a tattoo of Zippy, what he’s learned from teaching cartooning at SVA, and more! We had two great conversations, so go listen to them!
“Art Spiegelman told me he liked Zippy, but it was a little like being stuck in an elevator with a crazy person.”
About our Guest
Bill Griffith grew up in Levittown, NY. He attended Pratt Institute and studied painting and graphic arts concurrently with Kim Deitch — they dropped out about the same time. Inspired by Zap, Griffith began making underground comics in 1969, and joined the cartoonists in San Francisco in 1970. Griffith’s famous character Zippy the Pinhead made his initial appearances in early underground comic books, morphing into a syndicated weekly strip in 1976 and then a nationally-syndicated daily strip a decade later. Griffith is married to cartoonist and editor Diane Noomin. They live in Connecticut. His new book is Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist (Fantagraphics).
You can find a more extensive bio at Bill’s site.
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 Mr. Griffith’s studio in Connecticut in August 2015 and at the Cultural Arts Center in Columbus, OH at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus in October 2015 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 Mr. Griffith by me.
It’s the ONE-HUNDREDTH EPISODE of The Virtual Memories Show! And they said it would never last! To celebrate hitting the century mark, I asked past guests, upcoming guests and friends of the show to interview me this time around!
This special episode includes questions and recorded segments with Maria Alexander, Ashton Applewhite, John Bertagnolli, Lori Carson, Sarah Deming, Paul Di Filippo, Michael Dirda, Robert Drake, Aaron K. Finkelstein, Mary Fleener, Drew Friedman, Josh Alan Friedman, Kipp Friedman, Richard Gehr, Ben Katchor, Sara Lippmann, Brett Martin, Zach Martin, Seth, Jesse Sheidlower, Ron Slate, Tom Spurgeon, Levi Stahl, Maya Stein, Rupert Thomson, Peter Trachtenberg, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, Frank Wilson, and Claudia Young.
Find out about my reading childhood, my dream list of pod-guests, my best practices for productivity (don’t have kids!), my favorite interview question, my top guest in the afterlife, the book I’d save if my house was on fire, what I’d do if I won a Macarthur Grant. and more! Give it a listen!
About our Guest
Gil Roth is the host of The Virtual Memories Show and the president of the Pharma & Biopharma Outsourcing Association.
Credits: This episode’s music is Stupid Now by Bob Mould. Several of the conversations were recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro and the self-interview segments on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of me by Aaron K. Finkelstein.