“This book has three things I love: bookstores, painting and name-dropping.”
Artist, writer, humorist and cartoonist Bob Eckstein joins the show to talk about his wonderful new book, Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores: True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers. We get into the origins of the project, how he survived the sheer volume of bookstore-cat stories, how he once got dirty in the back of the Strand Bookstore, getting introduced to art by Sports Illustrated, a great lesson in comic timing, getting a late start in cartooning but making up for lost time, marrying his biggest enemy from art school (and eloping to Iceland), becoming a champion of bookstore culture, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores!
“I got paid the same amount of money doing pieces for the New York Times in 1982 and 1983 as I get paid now.”
We also talk about the collapsing economics of illustration, cartooning, and pretty much every other field Bob pursues, doing seven years of research on The History of the Snowman (in which he discovered some amazing stuff) and accidentally shooting down a TV project based on it, how Footnotes taught him that people’s real story isn’t always the one they think they’re telling you, his exultation at selling his very first submission to The New Yorker and his puzzlement when he didn’t sell another one there for a year, what makes for a good bookstore, the benefits of eavesdropping, and more! Now go listen to the show!
“Every bookstore is thousands of peoples’ dreams, either fulfilled or unfulfilled. Everyone’s life project is on the shelf. And it’s where people’s dreams are going to get triggered.”
About our Guest
Bob Eckstein is an illustrator, writer and cartoonist. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, among many other publications. He is also known as the world’s leading snowman expert and is the author of the holiday classic, The History of the Snowman. He lives in New York City.
There’s a much more extensive (and funny) bio of him at bobeckstein.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 stately Virtual Memories Manor 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. Eckstein & Rufus T. Firefly Roth 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’m able to be what people want me to be when I’m behind the bar or playing music, but I’m not a performer by nature, so it’s not an easy transition. With comics, the joy I feel when I’m drawing comes through.”
Cartoonist Leslie Stein joins the show to celebrate her new book, Time Clock (Fantagraphics)! We talk about her amazing diary comics (recently collected in Bright-Eyed At Midnight), why she picked a really weird name for her ongoing comics project (Eye of the Majestic Creature), the artistic benefits of boredom, finding her style(s), drawing for online vs. print (and color vs. b/w), her strategy for surviving comic cons and festivals, how she got a gig publishing comics at VICE, the disconcerting discovery that she had an audience, and how she strikes a balance of cartooning, being in a band, and tending bar! Give it a listen! And buy her newest books, Time Clock and Bright-Eyed At Midnight (my personal fave of all her work)!
“I’ve been thinking about this one project for five years, and that’s been keeping me from starting it. I feel like it could be amazing or it could be terrible, and I just have to spend a few years on it to figure that out.”
This episode was recorded at the School of Visual Arts, where Leslie studied. Past guest Nathan Fox, chair of the MFA Visual Narrative Department at SVA, offered us a space to record. SVA’s low-residency MFA Visual Narrative Program includes two years online and three summers in NYC. The program focuses on the growing need for original content creators in advertising, video games, picture books, graphic novels, film, comic arts, illustration and animation, and it prepares artists and authors to become innovators in the ever-evolving art of visual storytelling. Now go listen to the show!
“I started diary comics on a whim, which is how I approach everything.”
About our Guest
Leslie Stein is a cartoonist and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of the comic book series Eye of the Majestic Creature, as well as the author of Bright-Eyed At Midnight, a collection of diary comics, both published by Fantagraphics Books. She regularly contributes comics to VICE. She plays music with Prince Rupert’s Drops.
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 School of Visual Arts on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup, inside a closet in Des Allemands, LA. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Stein 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.
“Middle age is such a perfect term. You’re right in the middle of life. You could not be more in the middle of everything. Your parents are old, your kids are little. Life is just swirling around you.”
Time for another LIVE episode of the Virtual Memories Show! Jennifer Hayden (The Story of My Tits) and Summer Pierre (Paper Pencil Life) join us at Labyrinth Books in Princeton, NJ to talk about comics, cancer, middle age, art vs. work, learning compassion through memoir, and more! Give it a listen!
“With my mom dying, I thought, ‘Oh, I’m gonna die? Great, I work well with deadlines!'”
According to Labyrinth Books’ promo for the event, “Art is not something we create in isolation. Art happens between the diaper change and the trip to the vet. Between the car accident and the roast chicken. Every day we fight to seize a little more art from the jaws of this wild existence. And if we’re lucky we catch the spark while it’s rising. Autobiographical cartoonists and graphic novelists Jennifer Hayden, and Summer Pierre discuss their graphic lives with moderator Gil Roth of the Virtual Memories Show.” It’s a great conversation about making art in the interstices of life, so go listen! (And go buy The Story of My Tits!)
About our Guests
Jennifer Hayden came to comics from fiction-writing and children’s book illustration. Her new book, The Story of My Tits (Top Shelf, 2015), is a 352-page graphic memoir and breast cancer narrative. Her previous book, the autobiographical collection Underwire (Top Shelf, 2011), was excerpted in the Best American Comics 2013 and named one of “the best comics by women” by DoubleX. She is a member of Activate (the premier webcomics collective in New York City), where she posts her webcomic S’crapbook, which earned a Notable listing in the Best American Comics 2012. Jennifer currently posts the daily diary strip Rushes at thegoddessrushes.blogspot.com. Her comics have appeared in print anthologies such as The Activate Primer, Cousin Corrine’s Reminder, and The Strumpet. After hours, Jennifer plays electric fiddle with The Rocky Hill Ramblers and The Spring Hill Band. She lives in Central New Jersey with her husband, their two college-age children, two cats, and the dog.
Summer Pierre is a cartoonist, illustrator, writer, and teacher living in the Hudson Valley, NY. She makes an autobiographical comic called Paper Pencil Life, and is the author of The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week (which the Boston Globe called, “A virtual bible for artists and day jobs”) and Great Gals: Inspired Ideas for Living a Kick-Ass Life. Her writing and art have appeared in The Rumpus, Hobart, The Nashville Review & Booth Literary Journal, among other places.
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 Labyrinth Books in Princeton on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones and a Blue enCORE 100 microphone 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.
“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.
“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.”
Dan 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.”
About our Guest
Tom Tomorrow’s (Dan Perkins’) 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.
“I was so excited to get an issue of Weirdo in the mail. I ran up my driveway and saw my neighbor and said, ‘Look! I got a letter from Robert Crumb!’ And he said, ‘Who’s that?’ And I thought, ‘Here’s my introduction to the mainstream appreciation of underground comics.'”
Viva Cubismo! Mary Fleener joins the show to talk about her career in cartooning, her love/hate relationship with LA (mostly hate now, but there was a little love in the early days), the Zora Neale Hurston story that made a cartoonist out of her, the story of how Matt Groening accidentally derailed her career, her past-life regression while attending the King Tut exhibition in 1978, the roots of her Cubismo comics style, the joys of simplifying her life, the new book she’s working on, the horrors of The Comics Journal‘s message board, and more! Give it a listen!
“When I was going to college, you’d pass the guys selling ‘Muhammad Speaks,’ then you’d run into the Hare Krishnas, then there’d be the La Raza guys, then the Jesus freaks. Everything was in flux. Everybody was getting in cults. Everyone was either asking you for money or trying to convert you.”
About our Guest
Mary Fleener was born in Los Angeles when smog was at an all time high, Hollywood was still glamorous, and every woman’s ambition was to own a mink coat. Inherited good art genes from her mother and never wanted to do anything else. A collection of her comics was published in 1994 by Fantagraphics as Life of the Party. Her Illustration work has appeared in The SD Reader, OC Weekly, The Village Voice, SPIN, Guitar Player, Musician, and Entertainment Weekly, as well as projects like The Guitar Cookbook, Weird Tales of the Ramones (CD box set), Star Time (the James Brown CD box set), Carlsbad Museum of Making Music – “Hands on the Future” exhibit, and CD covers for The Insect Surfers and Buddy Blue. Her paintings have been exhibited at La Luz de Jesus Gallery, Track 16, David Zapt Gallery, Laguna Beach Art Museum Annex, LACE (Los Angeles), COCA (Seattle), Southwestern College, Patricia Correia Gallery, Sushi Gallery and Ducky Waddle’s Emporium. She also enjoys making hand-built ceramics and wheel thrown functional pieces that she glazes and fires in her own kiln. She enjoys painting on velvet, that which we all consider the King of Kitsch, but which also makes her color and “cubismo” style of drawing even more dramatic and mysterious on the plush background of black velvet. She lives is in Encinitas, CA, with her husband, a dog, a cat, and lots of stringed instruments. They have a band called The Wigbillies.
Credits: This episode’s music is Boomcubism by Brian Eno. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Fleener’s home 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. Fleener by me.