“I managed to go 43 issues before I hit the paralyzing grip of self-doubt and self-consciousness [from realizing that I had an audience]. I feel lucky that I had all those years to write comics in essentially a vacuum. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be 20 years old and trying to write comics in this world with the internet’s immediate response.”
John Porcellino has been publishing his King-Cat Comics & Stories mini-comics for 25 years, but I managed not to check them out until last month. BIG mistake on my part! Turns out the critics were right; John P.’s one of the best autobio cartoonists out there, as well as “a master at miniature poignance” (Entertainment Weekly). We sat down at SPX 2014 to talk about publishing his new work, The Hospital Suite, as a standalone book and developing the skill and courage to tackle longer stories, his disdain for “the culture of like”, overcoming the shame and stigma of his OCD, the process of discovering an audience for his work, the pitfalls of autobiographical comics, discovering the power of negative space, turning his life into a narrative, how comics enabled him to communicate with people, and, most importantly, being an NFL bigamist. Give it a listen!
“If things didn’t get better, I was going to be the guy wandering down an alley in my underwear with tinfoil wrapped around my arms.”
Bonus: Roger Langridge gives us a few minutes at SPX to talk about his new book, Jim Henson’s The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow!
“To me, the best cartooning is the kind that has in place what needs to be there: nothing more and nothing less.”
About our Guest
John Porcellino was born in Chicago in 1968, and began drawing and writing at an early age, compiling his work into handmade booklets. His acclaimed self-published zine, King-Cat Comics and Stories, begun in 1989, has found a devoted worldwide audience and is one of the most influential comics of the past 25 years. His newest book is The Hospital Suite, and he is the subject of a new documentary, Root Hog or Die. His work has been collected in several editions, including King-Cat Classix, Map of My Heart, Perfect Example, and Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man. He is also the author of Thoreau at Walden and The Next Day: A Graphic Novella.
Credits: This episode’s music is Theater is the Life of You by The Minutement (John’s a fan). The conversation was recorded at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel 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. Photo of Mr. Porcellino by me.
Remember how I posted that pic of Lynda Barry and Jules Feiffer taking a selfie at SPX 2014? Well, Lynda just sent me the actual selfie (with permission to post it)!
“I hate to find out that people I admire are schmucks.”
Legendary comedy writer, producer and performer Merrill Markoe let me into her home after seeing pix of my adorable greyhounds, and we got to spend an hour talking about how she co-created Late Night with David Letterman, how she was too worried about getting canceled to appreciate changing the nature of comedy on TV, which show she would love to write for if she was starting out today, what Letterman of 25 years ago would have thought of Letterman of today, and more! Along the way, she proves Christopher Hitchens wrong (women can be very funny), weighs in on Steven Colbert’s prospects taking over the Late Show, and talks about her literary influences and favorite cartoonists. And then we get overrun by her dogs, including Wally Markoe:
“Had I been able to rewrite the whole thing from the ground up, it would’ve been far preferable not to be involved personally [with the host of Late Night] and to only have been a writer. To have doubled up on that was a real big mistake.”
We also find out about her favorite Stooge, The Merrill Markoe Method of Sleepywriting (which she learned while recovering from a double-hip replacement), how she learned to stop sweating the details and start cartooning, and what she fears will be the first line of her obit. (BONUS: I offer a greyhound adoption PSA of sorts and tell silly stories about my dogs.)
About our Guest
Merrill Markoe has written for TV series such as Newhart and Sex and the City, and co-created the original David Letterman show, for which she won five Emmys. She’s published eight books: four collections of funny essays (How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy Like Me!, Merrill Markoe’s Guide to Love, What the Dogs Have Taught Me: And Other Amazing Things I’ve Learned, and Cool, Calm & Contentious) and four novels (It’s My F—ing Birthday, Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, The Psycho Ex Game (with Andy Prieboy), and Nose Down, Eyes Up) and has written for a wide variety of publications including but not limited to NYTimes, LATimes, Time, Rolling Stone, Real Simple, Vanity Fair, etc. etc. She also does standup and did a number of her own specials for HBO in the 80s and 90s, including being a performer writer on Not Necessarily the News. She had a talk radio show for a while and was a funny lifestyle reporter for local news for a few years. Follow her on twitter at @merrillmarkoe.
Credits: This episode’s music is Pets by Porno for Pyros. The conversation was recorded in Ms. Markoe’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Wally Markoe by me. B/W photo of Ms. Markoe by John Dolan.
The great cartoonist (and designer and illustrator) Seth joins the Virtual Memories Show to talk about memory and time, his love of digression, being “Mr. Old-Timey”, what it means to be a Canadian cartoonist, and learning to let go of the finish and polish that used to characterize his work.
“When I was young, I thought there were an infinite possibility of stories you could do. As you get older, you realize you’re following a thread, and that you don’t have as much choice about what you’re writing about as you thought.”
“Style’s a funny thing. I think it’s important, but I think it’s a matter of the choices the artist makes that lead to the finished product. It is chosen, bit by bit over time, with each decision you make.”
“People only have a limited patience for listening to you go on and on about your own ideas, your own mind, your own memories. Art allows you to have that perfect experience of putting that down on paper without anyone growing tired and making you stop.”
“You add things onto yourself bit by bit through life to create the kind of person you want to be. Eventually, to some degree, it IS you. You picked these things deliberately.”
“There’s some little thing that makes it hard to let it go of trying to create that fetish object you always wanted, that comic strip that looks like the best you can make it.”
About our Guest
Seth is the pen name of Gregory Gallant, a Canadian comic book artist and writer. He is best known for comics such as his ongoing anthology Palookaville, George Sprott: (1894-1975), Wimbledon Green, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, and It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, all published by Drawn and Quarterly. His illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Details, Spin, The New York Times, and Saturday Night, and he has designed books and DVDs for a variety of publishers, including Fantagraphics (The Complete Peanuts), Random House (The Portable Dorothy Parker), and Criterion (Make Way for Tomorrow). Here are his favorite Criterion releases.
Credits: This episode’s music is Time Stand Still by Rush (because Seth’s Canadian, see, and his work revolves around memory and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded in Seth’s hotel room during the Toronto Comic Arts Festival on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Seth by me.
“With some of the people in the story, I thought, ‘What if they get mad? What if their feelings are hurt? What if they say, “That’s not the way it was!”,’ and then I thought, ‘Y’know what? Let THEM try to spend 35 years trying to figure this out! I’ve devoted my life to telling this tale that needs to be told.'”
Mimi Pond joins us to talk about her New York Times-bestselling graphic novel Over Easy (Drawn & Quarterly)! We talk about the book, which offers a semifictional version of Mimi’s life in art school and working at a legendarily kooky diner in Oakland, CA in the late 1970’s. We also cover her life in New York in the early 1980’s, how she met her One True Love at a puppet show, the big break she got from a paper described as “The Village Voice for the Upper East Side,” the difficulties of balancing mom-hood with art, the variety of ways she was screwed over by book publishers, her fixation on the Patty Hearst kidnapping, what she hopes young people get out of Over Easy‘s rendition of its era, and more! (It’s kinda hard to believe we got to all that in less than 40 minutes!) Give it a listen!
“One of the great things about the ’70s was the liberation of both sexes. But the slut-shaming nowadays is such a double standard. . . . I made plenty of mistakes, but I learned from them and I married the right person. “
About our Guest
Mimi Pond is a cartoonist, illustrator and writer. She’s created comics for the LA Times, Seventeen Magazine, National Lampoon, and many other publications. Her TV credits include the first full-length episode of The Simpsons, and episodes for the shows Designing Women and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. She lives in LA with her husband, the artist Wayne White.
Credits: This episode’s music is Busy, Pretty Waitress by Stellavision. The conversation was recorded in a study room at the Toronto Reference Library on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Pond by me.
“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.