“Don’t fraternize with inkers; they’ll always get you in trouble.”
Cartooning, illustration and animation legend Arnie Levin joins the show to recount his epic career and life. We talk about Beatnik-era New York, his mother’s decades-long plot to turn him into a New Yorker cartoonist, the value of a good art director, telling the Marines he wanted to be a photographer, his two-minute education in directing animation, what it was like to see his style copied by an artist who was previously copying another artist’s style, the time Allen Ginsberg tried to give him an iguana, and more! Give it a listen! And go check out his work at Art.com!
About our Guest
This is adapted from Richard Gehr‘s wonderful book, I Only Read It for the Cartoons: The New Yorker’s Most Brilliantly Twisted Artists:
Born in 1938, the diminutive Levin sports the shaved head, handlebar mustache, and slightly rolling gait of a badass biker. Much of his upper body is tattooed with ornate Japanese imagery by a renowned yakuza body illustrator. And the more you learn about his life, the wider the gap between creator and creations seems to spread.
Levin served in the Marines before winding up as an aspiring painter amid New York City’s late-fifties beatnik heyday. “Swept up in the glamour of the beatnik era,” as he puts it, Levin co-operated an espresso house that hosted readings by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He worked parties as a rent-a-beatnik, encountering Bob Dylan, another new kid in town, during one such event.
At Push Pin Studio, then at the height of its influence upon the design world, he was plucked out of the messenger pool by Milton Glaser, who recommended him to Lee Savage’s Electra Studio, famous for its forward-looking movie trailers and commercials. After leaving Electra, Levin was recruited for The New Yorker by art director Lee Lorenz in 1974.
After taking up motorcycling at age of fifty-nine, Levin celebrated his new hobby with the aforementioned flurry of tattoos. He’s given up biking in the interests of personal safety, however, and now resides more or less quietly on Long Island in New York with his wife.
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 Arnie’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 me and Arnie by me. It’s on my instagram. Photo of Arnie’s ink by Nate Ndosi.
“My father, to this day, will still call and say, ‘It’s not too late for medical school!'” –Sara Lippmann
Come for the Friedman, stay for the Lippmann! Or vice versa! This week’s podcast features two great conversations: first I talk with Drew Friedman at Small Press Expo ’14 about his great new book of portraits, Heroes Of The Comics: Portraits Of The Pioneering Legends Of Comic Books (Fantagraphics), then Sara Lippmann and I solve the gender imbalance issue in literature, and the MFA vs. NYC issue, to boot! We talk about her debut short story collection, Doll Palace (Dock Street Press), getting over the fear of writing, how she lost the Rolex account for GQ, and more!
“I drew them older so you could see the weight of their careers on their faces.” –Drew Friedman
About our Guest
Sara Lippmann is the author of the story collection, Doll Palace (Dock Street Press). Her stories have been published in The Good Men Project, Wigleaf, Slice magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, Connotation Press, Joyland and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a 2012 fellowship in Fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts and co-hosts the Sunday Salon, a longstanding reading series in the East Village.
Drew Friedman is an award-winning illustrator, cartoonist and painter. His work has appeared in Raw, Weirdo, SPY, National Lampoon, Snarf, The New York Times, MAD, The New Yorker, BLAB!, The New York Observer, The Wall Street Journal, HONK!, Rolling Stone, Field & Stream, TIME, The Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, and more. His comics and illustrations have been collected in several volumes, the latest, Too Soon?, published by Fantagraphics in 2010. His collection of portraits, Drew Friedman’s Sideshow Freaks, was published by Blast books in 2011. He has published three collections of paintings of Old Jewish Comedians (1, 2 and 3), but none of Old Episcopal Comedians. He also raises champion beagles with his wife, K. Bidus. You can find his full bio and buy his art at his fine art prints site and you really should read his blog.
Credits: This episode’s music is Sure Shot by the Beastie Boys. The conversation with Drew Friedman was recorded at the Bethesda North Marriott and the conversation with Sara Lippmann was recorded at an undisclosed location on the Upper West Side on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photos of Ms. Lippmann and Mr. Friedman by me.
Life is too short for crappy books. I’ve tried to impress that notion on friends, acquaintances and co-workers who would tell me that they were reading [x] but not enjoying it. Now, I don’t mean that a good book is one that panders, just that a reader should have some degree of joy or curiosity about a book.
A few years back, one of my co-workers told me he was struggling with Infinite Jest. I asked him if he felt he was getting something out of it. I knew he was very into tennis, and thought that aspect of the book would at least have captured his interest. “Not really,” he told me. “I’m 400 pages in and bored shitless. I get the corporate sponsorship joke, and that addicts have tough lives, but does this get any better?”
“Depends on what you mean by better.”
“Do you ever find out what’s on the videotape that amuses people to death?”
“. . . No. Infinite Jest is actually a thousand-page novel about boredom. That’s the joke.” In my opinion.
He put it down and went on to something else.
Which brings me to On the Road.
I first tried to read Kerouac’s novel in the summer of 1991. I was staying at a college pal’s family’s farmhouse in Athol, MA, and there was a limited selection of books at hand, one of which was an old mass market paperback of On the Road. Back at Hampshire, it was praised by plenty of people I didn’t like and whose taste I didn’t trust, but I thought I’d give it a shot.
The characters, I recall, didn’t demonstrate much character and the writing itself was plain and uncompelling. Thirty-five pages in, I was bored shitless and put the book aside. Instead I read Gaiman & Pratchett’s Good Omens, which I picked up on a visit to my girlfriend in Worcester.
Twenty years later, I found myself willing to try Kerouac again. At a book party in February, I met the writer Fred Kaplan and his wife, writer and NPR/WNYC host Brooke Gladstone. I’d enjoyed Mr. Kaplan’s writing on Slate for years now (mainly covering the Defense Dept. beat), and mentioned that to him. He told me a little about the book he’s working on and, two G&Ts into the evening, I decided ot tell him that I had yet to read his book, 1959: The Year Everything Changed.
I know authors don’t like to hear about how people haven’t read their books, but I told him that I’d been interested in the book for a while and promised to get it for my Kindle the next day. He was amiable about it. Certainly moreso than Greill Marcus, who once lectured me about the content of Lipstick Traces after I told him that I had only read about 100 pages of it.
Anyway, I did download 1959 from Amazon and read it over the next week. Weirdly, the Kindle format of 1959 puts an extra line-break after every paragraph, so the entire work looks like it’s composed of aphorisms. I enjoyed it, although it didn’t have the voice that I find in nonfiction work by, say, Clive James or Ron Rosenbaum, whose book party we were attending that evening. (Speaking of which, buy Ron’s new book! It’s the bomb! Also, he owes me money!) Still, I found it pretty informative, the thesis largely holds up, and Kaplan’s love of jazz shows up strongly in his chapters on Miles Davis (Kind of Blue), Dave Brubeck (Time Out) and Ornette Coleman (Shape of Jazz to Come).
The sections on Allen Ginsberg and the obscenity case for Howl (tried pre-1959, but setting a precedent that would enable that year’s rulings to overturn federal obscenity laws) made me curious again about Keroac and On the Road. I thought, “It’s been 20 years since I tried it. Maybe it was the mass market paperback’s typesetting. Maybe it was my philistinism. Maybe it’s one of those works that will resonate for me now, one of those books you grow into. Maybe its time-capsule distance from me will prove of interest.”
I bought it for my Kindle, and gave it another shot. This time, I made it a quarter of the way through before surrendering.
I was expecting some sort of lyricism that would show Kerouac’s aesthetic competition with Ginsberg, or a benzedrine-fueled madness that reflected Burroughs’ influence on him, or maybe some of the sheer poetic-mystic beauty of the idler’s life that Henry Miller was so good at in Tropic of Cancer, which I thought was the obvious precursor for On the Road.
Instead, I still found the events uninteresting, the language flat, the characters (still) not having have much by way of character, and no serious observations about America or its crippled, postwar ideals. I’m still incredulous that this book was a monster hit for half a century. I know the Eisenhower years were boring, but was this really such a great alternative?
So I acknowledged that slogging along through a book I didn’t like was reinforcing the crap mood I’ve been in lately, and yesterday I picked up Arcadia, the Tom Stoppard play that I’m seeing this week on Broadway (provided there are no safety violations in the big finale with the multiple Septimus Hodges getting launched by catapult over the audience). According to The List That Knows More Than I Do, it’ll be the fifth time I’ve read Arcadia, but the language is so gorgeous, the ideas so artfully integrated into the stories, the plot and staging so ingenious, that I don’t mind returning to that well.
Moral: go back to the first sentence of this post.