Episode 125 – Signal Boost

Virtual Memories Show #125:
Dan Perkins (Tom Tomorrow) – Signal Boost

“This Kickstarter, this is me, having seen my incredibly negative narrative and hopeless sense of the future just blasted out of the water. I feel like this week has changed my life.”

25yearsbluesmall-630Dan Perkins (better known as Tom Tomorrow) is celebrating 25 years of his weekly political cartoon, This Modern World, with a kick-ass Kickstarter project to collect all of his strips in a two-volume, slipcased edition! Shockingly (to him, but not the rest of us), his fans hit his funding target in less than 24 hours, and more than doubled it by press time. (It’s open through August 4, 2015, so there’s time to make a contribution!) I caught up with a flabbergasted Perkins to talk about the resounding level of fan support for the project, the detective/archeologist work of compiling 25 years’ worth of his strips, the trepidation he had about looking at his early work, how This Modern World changed after the advent of the internet, the ways in which his cartoons work as a coded diary of his life, how the validation of this Kickstarter experience has changed his view of the future, and more! Give it a listen! (If you want to skip my rambling intro, you should jump to the 8:45 mark.)

“Charles Schulz said if he were a better writer, he’d be a novelist, and if he were a better artist, he’d be a painter, but he’s kinda good at both, so he’s a cartoonist. I’ve always held onto that.”

We also talk about his cartooning influences, his early attempt at doing a mainstream daily comic strip, his favorite contemporary political cartoonists (and his apologies for any influence he had on them), what he wants to do next, how he fights against burnout on a weekly basis, why having to make a comic about a terrible event is like sewer-work, why a Trump presidential candidacy is no fun for his comics, the way This Modern World served as a pirate radio signal, and why Pearl Jam lent him a hand on his Kickstarter (which, as I mentioned, is open through August 4, if you want to take part)!

“The internet has given mankind low-grade telepathy. We are now in this low-grade hive-mind where we have access to the darkest and most disturbing thoughts of many of our fellow humans. I think it used to be easier to maintain illusions about humanity.”

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

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About our Guest

18965063854_514aac0dd0_mTom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) lives outside New Haven, CT with his wife (a professor of modern political history at Yale University) and their twelve year old son. His weekly cartoon, This Modern World, appears online at The Nation, and Daily Kos, and in approximately 80 papers across the country. His cartoons have also been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, Esquire, The Economist, and numerous other publications.

He was the 2013 recipient of the Herblock Prize, and was awarded the first place Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Cartooning in 1998 and again in 2003. He was also a finalist for the Pulitze Prize in 2015. He has also been awarded the first place Media Alliance Meritorious Achievement Award for Excellence in Journalism, the first place Society of Professional Journalists’ James Madison Freedom of Information Award, the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, and the Association for Education in Journalism Professional Freedom and Responsibility Award. He is the author of 10 cartoon anthologies and one children’s book, and in 2009 collaborated with the band Pearl Jam to create the artwork for their Backspacer album.

Credits: This episode’s music is Just Breathe by Pearl Jam. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Perkins’ home 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. Perkins by me.

Podcast: Visible Cities

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 8 – Visible Cities

“My impulse is to break the windows of Starbucks, but I’d get arrested if I did that, so I make comics about people breaking the windows of Starbucks.”

Cartoonist and MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship winner Ben Katchor joins us for the first live episode of The Virtual Memories Show (in conjunction with the New York Comics & Picture-stories Symposium). Ben & host Gil Roth talk in front of — and take questions from — an audience of 50 or so about Ben’s career in cartooning, including his new book, Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories (Pantheon), which collects his monthly comic page from Metropolis magazine. During the episode, Ben even performs several of his comics. If you’d like to see the comics themselves, you can download Manumission Houses and Lossless Things.

“People ask about influences and where I get my ideas. A lot of people looked at all the stuff I looked at, and they’re doing something else. It’s not like there’s an equation, like you read Saul Bellow and you look at Poussin, and then you make my comics. It’s not an equation. It’s brute force.”

The conversation and Q&A also cover his work process (with a surprising revelation about how he draws!), how book publishing lost its identity, what he learned from working in other art forms (like musical theater), how he teaches cartooning, the allure of new technologies, his one critical audience demographic, the joy of imperfections, whether he has an ideal era for New York, what happened to his History of the Dairy Restaurant book, how fear of shame keeps him productive, how Google can help when you need to draw a Russian prostitute, what he picked up from the Yiddish humor strips he read as a child, which one book the Library of America should withdraw, and how to pronounce “Knipl”! He didn’t win a “Genius” grant for nothing!

“It’s a golden age of art comics. It didn’t exist when I started. Most bookstores wouldn’t carry a comic, or even something that looked like a comic, back then. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a young cartoonist now, when these things are taken seriously and there’s an audience for them.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out our archives for more great conversations!

Ben Katchor on The Virtual Memories Show

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About our Guest

Ben Katchor’s picture-stories appear in Metropolis magazine. His most recent collection of monthly strips, Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories, was published in March 2013 by Pantheon Books. Up From the Stacks, his most recent music-theater collaboration with Mark Mulcahy, was commissioned in 2011 by the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library and Lincoln Center and was performed at both venues. He is an Associate Professor at Parsons, The New School for Design in New York City. For more information, visit www.katchor.com.

Credits: This episode’s music is Big City Blues by Sun Ra and his Arkestra. The conversation was recorded in the Bark Room at The New School in NYC on a pair of AT2020 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. Mr. Katchor’s readings and some of the questions from the audience were recorded on a second Zoom H4n. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB mic into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo by Amy Roth.