“Twitter is the best source of political humor now. It’s better than any show on TV. It’s hard to compete with a million writers.”
Comedy writer, journalist and screenwriter Ben Schwartz joins the show to talk serious laughs. We discuss his work on American humor between the wars, writing for Billy Crystal on the Oscars and his contributions to David Letterman’s monologues, the profundity of Jack Benny and the importance of Bob Hope, his amazing (but unproduced) screenplay about Bob Hope and Larry Gelbart in Korea, how Jaime Hernandez’ comics prepared him to move to LA, his take on Charlie Hebdo, and what it’s like having the same name as the actor who played Jean-Ralphio on Parks & Rec! Give it a listen!
“Part of being able to sell stories is having an idea that other people don’t have, having a point of view or knowledge that other people don’t have.”
About our Guest
Ben Schwartz is a comedy writer and journalist whose work began appearing at Suck.com (as Bertolt Blecht) and has appeared since in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Letterman monologues, the 84th Oscars, The Baffler, The New York Times, on the radio show Wits, and with comics collaborators like Ivan Brunetti, Peter Bagge, and Drew Friedman. To what degree the work is considered journalism or satire depends on the legal circumstances of the moment and how serious your libel suit looks. He is currently on assignment for Vanity Fair and working on a history of American humor set between the two world wars, set to come out from Fantagraphics. He’s on Twitter as @benschwartzy.
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. Schwartz’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same equipment in a hotel room in Quincy, MA. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Schwartz by me. It’s on my instagram.
“Comics are like life. You just grow with them.”
Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell joins the show to talk about getting a late start on his career as a daily strip cartoonist, how Mutts has changed in its 23 years, the evolution of his interest in animal advocacy, the overlap of comic strips and poetry, finding his Coconino County in the New Jersey suburbs, learning from Jules Feiffer’s paste-ups, the greatest blurb he’ll ever get, taking up painting, finding joy in collaborating (occasionally), and how the gospel of Peanuts taught him that the essence of life is love. (We also talk about what to do after you’ve lost a long-loved dog, but neither of us cry, I swear!) Give it a listen! And go buy his newest book, Darling, I Love You: Poems from the Hearts of Our Glorious Mutts and All Our Animal Friends (as well as the Mutts collections and all the other books and projects he’s done)!
“Giving some of the joy and comfort that I got from Peanuts back to the world, that’s my job.”
About our Guest
Patrick McDonnell is the creator of the comics strip Mutts, which debuted in 1994 and appears in over 700 newspapers in 22 countries. Mutts has been anthologized in 25 books in the US and in numerous collections around the world. Patrick has created a dozen children’s books, including the Caldecott Honor-winning Me . . . Jane, a biography of Jane Goodall, and the New York Times bestseller The Gift of Nothing. He collaborated with Eckhart Tolle on Guardians of Being: Spiritual Teachings from Our Dogs and Cats. He is a member of the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States, the Fund for Animals, and the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
There’s a more extensive bio at Patrick’s website. You really should check it out.
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 in Patrick’s painting studio 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. Photos of Patrick and Amelie and me and Patrick by me. It’s on my instagram.
“My plan is to make this a research destination for comics studies, especially as they relate to comics in New York City.”
Karen Green, Curator of the Comics and Cartoons collection at Columbia University, joins the show to talk about her secret origin! How did she go from bartender to medieval scholar to comics librarian? We get into the evolution of the library and comics scholarship, her proudest acquisitions, her love of NYC and being a bartender there in the ’80s, reading Playboy for the cartoons, the experience of having a portrait done by Drew Friedman, her Venn diagram with Mimi Pond, and the one cartoonist she’s still speechless around. Give it a listen! And go buy Drew Friedman’s More Heroes Of The Comics: Portraits Of The Legends Of Comic Books; Karen wrote the intro!
“Things that were throwaway materials for the medieval or early modern period are now priceless artifacts in museums and libraries around the world. Who’s to say that the things we see as disposable culture today are not going to be given the same valence?”
About our Guest
Karen Green serves as Curator for Comics and Cartoons at Columbia University. She founded the graphic novels collection in the Columbia University Libraries, while working as the Ancient and Medieval History librarian. She has acquired the papers of Chris Claremont, Wendy and Richard Pini, Al Jaffee, and the Kitchen Sink Press for Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, as well as items from the estate of Jerry Robinson and research materials from Larry Tye’s history of Superman. A former bartender, Green holds graduate degrees from Columbia University and Rutgers University. For four-and-a-half years, she wrote the “Comic Adventures in Academia” column for Comixology. She served as a Will Eisner Comics Industry Awards judge in 2011, a member of the jury for the Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Cartooning in 2014, serves as vice-president of the board of directors of the Society of Illustrators–and former trustee of the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, before its transfer to the Society–has taught and lectured on comics in academia, and curated the Fall 2014 exhibition, “Comics at Columbia: Past, Present, Future,” in Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
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 in a meeting room in Columbia University’s Butler 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 Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Karen Green by me. It’s on my instagram.
“I’d rather do something that nobody else would do if I didn’t do it. That’s why I made TOON Books.”
Live from CXC! Designer, editor and publisher Francoise Mouly joins the show to talk about 20+ years of New Yorker covers, launching TOON Books and cultivating a love for print, the pros and cons of going viral, the changing definitions of what’s offensive (and the time she got hauled into a meeting with an Arab Anti-Defamation League), the notion that comics are the gateway drug for reading, and more! (Sorry, no talk about her time with RAW magazine, since she and her husband, Art Spiegelman were interviewed about that later at the festival.) This episode is part of our Cartoon Crossroads Columbus series of live podcasts. Give it a listen!
“The cover of The New Yorker is where the artists have a voice, on a par with the prose authors.”
We also talk about Charlie Hebdo, the historical arc of gay marriage covers, the contrasts of her multimodal education in France with the American model, which comics she started her kids off with, how she deals with the moving target of diversity, the evolution of women in the comics scene, and why kids are a fantastic audience. Go listen!
“There are some topics the media won’t touch with the same willingness. . . . It would be more interesting if there wasn’t such jitteriness.”
- CXC Live: Dylan Horrocks
- CXC Live: Derf Backderf
- CXC Live: Bill Griffith
- Lorenzo Mattotti
- Ivan Brunetti
About our Guest
Françoise Mouly is the publisher and Editorial Director of TOON Books, which she launched in 2008. She joined The New Yorker as art editor in 1993. Ms. Mouly has been responsible for more than 1000 covers during her tenure at The New Yorker. The American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) has chosen many of Ms. Mouly’s images as “best cover of the year.” In 2012, for the publication of “Les Dessous du New Yorker” by Editions de La Martinière, Galerie Martel in Paris presented “New Yorker Covers,” an exhibit of artwork by Mouly and seventeen other artists. Starting in 1980, Ms. Mouly was the founder, publisher, designer and co-editor with her collaborator and husband, cartoonist Art Spiegelman, of the pioneering comics anthology RAW, where Spiegelman’s MAUS was first published. In 1998, after looking for material to help her two children become readers, Ms. Mouly established a RAW Junior division, to publish first the Little Lit collection of comics with HarperCollins, then The TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics with Abrams, and launched the TOON Books imprint.
Born in Paris, Françoise moved to New York in 1974. She was named Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication. Among the many honors she has received are an honorary Doctorate from Pratt Institute, Gold and Silver medals as well as the Richard Gangel Art Director Award from the Society of Illustrators, and France’s highest honor, the Legion of Honour. She and her husband live in Manhattan.
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 & Ms. Mouly by Amy Roth. Sad to say I can’t find a credit for the photo of Ms. Mouly at the top of the page.
“I have this one focus in my life, which is that this world isn’t real. There are much more interesting right behind it or in it and sometimes you can glimpse them. Those are the most interesting things. That’s what my work has always been about.”
The great cartoonist Jim Woodring joins the show to talk about comics, surrealism, Vedanta, the principle of fluorescence, and why he may be the reincarnation of Herbert E. Crowley! While he was in town for his first solo gallery show, Jim and I met up to talk about his conception of the universe, how his FRANK comics have and haven’t evolved in 20+ years, how art can convey the existence of something it can’t show, why it’s easier to express the grotesque than the beautiful, why younger cartoonists may be lacking the bitter, competitive drive of past generations, and why I think the Prado is a second-rate museum! Give it a listen!
“I always felt in my post-adolescence that, as soon as I figured out how to say what I wanted to say, there would be some people who would respond to it. I never doubted that people would find the work interesting if I could only produce it properly.”
Bonus: I’ve got BIG NEWS about booking an upcoming guest! It’s in the intro.
About our Guest
Jim Woodring was born in Los Angeles in 1952 and enjoyed a childhood made lively by an assortment of mental and 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 was recently collected in a single edition called 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, Congress of the Animals, and Fran.
Woodring is also known for his anecdotal charcoal drawings (a selection of which was collected 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 in Seattle with his family and residual phenomena.
Credits: This episode’s music is Forest Veil by Lisa Gerrard. The conversation was recorded 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. Woodring by me, photo of art by Jim Woodring.
“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.”
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.
I finished reading Book Two of the essays last weekend, but didn’t have time to write. I’m going to hold off on the final essay for now, because I’m still thinking about the beginning of it (the last 20 pages are a sorta by-the-book rant about doctors, but the first few pages are troubling me).
Anyway, Of three good women (pp. 683-690) starts out by telling us how most wives only show feelings for their husbands after the men’s deaths. “Life,” writes Montaigne, “is full of fireworks; death, of love and courtesy.” He contends that the measure of a marriage isn’t how much the wife laments and wails after her husband’s death, but how they got along while both were living.
To that end, he offers us three examples of good women.
One: inspected her husband’s genital ulcers, decided they were incurable and agonizing to him and . . . proposed double suicide!
Two: followed her P.O.W. husband back to Rome, tried bashing her head against a wall to demonstrate her grief, then stabbed herself fatally in front of her husband so he would find the courage . . . for double suicide!
Three: After Nero sentenced Seneca to death, the teacher’s young wife volunteered to . . . join him in suicide!
In that last case, she was prevented from dying because Nero was aghast that someone so beautiful and well-connected would give up her life. So she lived out her days virtuous and pale (she’d tried slitting her wrists, see?).
M. thinks stories like these could be strung together like Ovid’s Metamorphoses to create some sorta tapestry of, um, women who propose double suicide.
This essay redeemed itself by giving us Seneca’s perspective in its closing paragraphs. See, Seneca was a stoic and thus spent his life preparing for death. The thing is, he wrote in a letter to Lucilius that the love of his young wife inspired him to keep himself alive when he was sick and could’ve let himself die. It’s a touching passage, because S. tells his friend that, despite all his years and his training, holding onto life is important because of what we mean to other people:
Since I cannot bring her to love me more courageously, she is bringing me to love myself more solicitously; for we must allow something to honorable affections. And sometimes, even though occasions urge us to the contrary, we must call back life, even with torment; we must stop the soul from leaving between our teeth, since the law of living, for good men, is not as long as they please but as long as they ought.
To me, that story beats the Great Chain of Double Suicides that M. proposes.
* * *
M. follows women with men. In Of the most outstanding men (pp. 690-696), he ranks his top three men in history. The first two were obvious picks, but I have to admit that I’d never heard of the third one.
Homer comes up first. M. praises him for being first, best, and, well, Homer.
Being blind and poor, living before the sciences were reduced to rules and certain observations, he knew them so well that all those who since have taken it upon themselves to establish governments, to conduct wars, and to write about either religion or philosophy, of whatever sect they might be, or about the arts, have used him as a master very perfect in the knowledge of all things, and his books as a nursery of every kind of ability.
M. marvels over both Homer’s art qua art and at the contents of his tales, which have lasted millennia. He writes that it was “against the order of nature” that such poetry was written at the beginning of the form, because things start out imperfect and need to develop. It put me in mind of how titans like Winsor McCay and George Herriman were the early practitioners of the comic strip, yielding a golden age without true precursors.
This idea of precursors comes up a few times in this essay. Originality, is important to M. He admits that Virgil may be unsurpassable as a poet, but the Aeneid is “one single detail” of the Iliad. While this put me in mind first and foremost of the episode where Achilles get his new armor that reflects the entirety of his world, it also reminded me of a more important debate: Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant.
It’s long been my contention that Kobe’s never going to step out from MJ’s shadow precisely because his career was modeled after Jordan’s, right down to needing Phil Jackson to get him over the hump for a championship. Jordan, meanwhile, had no model upon which to base his career. (Some would argue that Dr. J was his strong precursor, but I don’t think it holds up, esp. with Erving spending time in the ABA.)
So Homer is both Winsor McCay and Michael Jordan.
The second man on M.’s list is Alexander, for being even more super-awesome than Caesar, and not living long enough to run his empire into the ground. Dying at 33 helped, even if some of his successes required more luck than Caesar needed.
The third guy was Epaminondas, whom I’d never heard of. He does seem to have a pretty good pedigree as a soldier and as a man, getting named “first among the Greeks,” even if little of his record passed down to us (and Wikipedia). Sez M.:
Antiquity judged that if one examines minutely all the other great captains, there is found in each some special quality that makes him illustrious. In this man alone can be found a virtue and ability full and equal throughout, which, in all the functions of human life, leaves nothing to be desired, whether in public or private occupation, in peace or war, whether in living or in dying greatly and graciously. I know no form or fortune of man that I regard with so much honor and love.
These were kinda neat essays to include back to back, but I’m a little sad that the men are judged by their martial and artistic accomplishments, while the women were praised for their willingness to commit suicide.