“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.
“These days, we tend to think of identity as something chosen; we put on certain masks or we identify as this or that, culturally, ethnically or politically. Bellow is interested in something much more basic: who we really are.”
David Mikics joins the show to talk about his wonderful new book, Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art (Norton). We get into Bellow’s legacy, his fall from academic favor, his transmutations of life into art, David’s humorously accidental introduction to his work, what Jewishness meant to Bellow, whether Philip Roth was right when he told Bruce Jay Friedman, “Saul Bellow am de daddy of us all,” and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art.
“Bellow once said that the reason writers had such messy personal lives is because they didn’t know what to do with the afternoon.”
We also talk about David’s experience as a professor, why writing is harder for today’s students, what it’s like to teach course called, “Is Life Worth Living?” and “The Human Situation”, which science fiction novels warped him as a youth, why we need Slow Reading in a Hurried Age, what contemporary books look like they’ll last, and why he eventually came around on Faulkner. Go listen!
“Canonicity is not where you find it, but where you make it.”
- Rachel Hadas (2014 and 2016)
- Bruce Jay Friedman
- Jules Feiffer
- Harold Bloom
- Langdon Hammer
- Edward Mendelson
- Willard Spiegelman
About our Guest
David Mikics grew up in Carteret, New Jersey and Atlanta. He went to college at NYU and earned a Ph.D. at Yale. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Victoria and son Ariel, and teaches every year at the University of Houston, where he is John and Rebecca Moores Professor of English. He is the author of six books, including Slow Reading in a Hurried Age (Belknap/Harvard) and Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art (Norton), and is a columnist at Tablet magazine.
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 David’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. Intro was recorded on the same setup. Photo of Mr. Mikics by me.
“I always like smart, rebellious young people who feel like the world has done them bad.”
Artist Molly Crabapple joins the show to talk about writing her new memoir, Drawing Blood (Harper), making illustrated journalism from Syria, Guantanamo and Abu Dhabi, translating Nizar Qabbani, growing into her parents’ legacy of art, Marxism and argumentation, finding her soul in the Damascus Room at the Met, balancing community and competition, stepping back from the idea that we’re in an “Age of Outrage” and more! Give it a listen!
“The world hates refugees. I’m convinced that if there was a major crisis in Canada and we had 10 million white refugees, we’d still think of some reason to keep them out. People hate impoverished people fleeing over borders.”
We also talk about Charlie Hebdo, the Occupy movement, Molly’s success at bypassing the gallery model and whether her path is replicable, the scariest place she’s ever visited as a journalist, her biggest artistic, literary and journalistic influences, and more! (And if you want to find out who she’s reading nowadays, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show!)
About our Guest
Molly Crabapple is an artist and writer in New York. She is a contributing editor for VICE, and has written for The New York Times, Paris Review, and the Guardian, among other publications. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Follow her on Twitter and Tumblr.
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 Ms. Crabapple’s studio 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. Photos of Ms. Crabapple by me.
“I want to be working, making comics, and knowing that the thing I’m doing right now is the thing I should be doing and I shouldn’t feel guilty about doing it. I’ve been able to keep that going much of the time for the last 20 years, and it’s kinda great.”
Is Scott McCloud comics’ leading theorist or a deranged lunatic? Find out in this lengthy conversation we recorded during SPX 2015! Scott talks about applying (and forgetting) the lessons of Understanding Comics in his new book, The Sculptor (First Second), the massive implications of crowdfunding for cartoonists and other creators, the problems with ‘balance’ in comics pages, his rebellion against Facebook, the Laurie Anderson model of comics, how he defines success, how to keep a happy marriage inside the comics world, and more! Give it a listen!
“We’ve never seen the consumer dollar at full strength. In traditional print markets, somebody spends a dollar on my work, and I get 10 cents at the end of that chain, that massive army of middlemen. Now we’re seeing what kind of world happens when the consumer dollar stays closer to a dollar. That army of consumers really has an enormous power to put your boat afloat.”
We also talk about his next book (on visual communication and education), his strengths and weaknesses as a cartoonist, making a 500-page comic book that readers could tackle in one sitting, why Reinventing Comics was like “trying to eat 10 lbs. of potato salad”, how every success story in cartooning is unique, the differences in working in print vs. working for the screen, and trying to be a scholar for the first time. Now go listen!
“Craig Thompson’s Blankets is probably off the hook now, because I finally did a comic even more sentimental. So now I made Craig look like Gary Panter.”
We mention a few books in this episode. Here they are:
- The Sculptor – Scott McCloud
- Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art – Scott McCloud
- Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form – Scott McCloud
- Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels – Scott McCloud
- Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection: 1987-1991 – Scott McCloud
- Maus: A Survivor’s Tale – Art Spiegelman
- Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth – Chris Ware
- The Complete Elfquest Volume 1 – Wendy Pini
- The Dark Knight Returns – Frank Miller
- Watchmen – Alan Moore
- Beautiful Darkness – Kerascoët, Fabien Vehlmann
- Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir – Roz Chast
- Kill My Mother – Jules Feiffer
- Blankets – Craig Thompson
- Here – Richard McGuire
- Gamify Your Classroom: A Field Guide to Game-Based Learning (New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies) – Matthew Farber
- The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
- Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir – Tom Hart
- Essays – Orwell
- Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything – Joshua Foer
- How Music Works – David Byrne
- Runaway – Alice Munro
- Blonde: A Novel – Joyce Carol Oates
About our Guest
Scott McCloud is the award-winning author of Understanding Comics, Making Comics, Zot!, The Sculptor, and many other fiction and non-fiction comics spanning 30 years. An internationally-recognized authority on comics and visual communication, technology, and the power of storytelling, McCloud has lectured at Google, Pixar, Sony, and the Smithsonian Institution. There’s a more extensive and funny bio at his site.
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 during the Small Press Expo at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel on a Zoom H2n Handy Recorder and 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. McCloud 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.
“Comics is a medium that isn’t going to go away. It may just now finally be coming into its own in the 21st century. In this internet era, there’s something very special about what comics do, no matter how much they get warped and changed by technology.”
More than 30 years after taking on the role of British comics’ Man at the Crossroads, Paul Gravett remains at the center of the global comics scene. We had an in-depth conversation about the growth of comics as an art form, the surprise of seeing local manga in Algeria, why he considers himself less of a comics historian or curator than a comics activist, how it feels to have been the first publisher of some of the finest cartoonists of our time, and why he should be called Paul “Mission To Explain” Gravett. Give it a listen!
“I’m probably slightly insane for wanting to go on looking and searching and questioning and provoking myself, trying to find stuff that doesn’t give me what I know already.”
Along the way, Paul and I also talk about his new book, Comics Art (Yale University Press), the new exhibition he’s curating for the British Library, Comics Unmasked: Art & Anarchy in the UK, the history of comics and his history within it, and the way virtually every lifelong comics reader’s home winds up resembling an episode of Hoarders. Paul Gravett is one of comics’ finest ambassadors, and it was a pleasure to talk with him during my recent UK trip. (Oh, and here’s a link to that Richard McGuire comic we effuse about!)
- Tom Spurgeon
- Roger Langridge
- Mike Kupperman / Ivan Brunetti
- Peter Bagge
- Maxim Jakubowski
- Ben Katchor
About our Guest
Paul Gravett is a London-based freelance journalist, curator, lecturer, writer and broadcaster, who has worked in comics publishing and promotion since 1981. Under the Escape Publishing imprint, he co-published Violent Cases in 1987, the first collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, three volumes of Eddie Campbell’s Alec between 1984 and 1986, and London’s Dark in 1988 by James Robinson and Paul Johnson. Since 2003, Paul has been the director of Comica, the London International Comics Festival. His very extensive bio can be found at his website.
Credits: This episode’s music is The Boy With the Jigsaw Puzzle Fingers by Karl Hyde. The conversation was recorded at the Hilton London Euston 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 Paul Gravett by me.
“Among the many things that writing does, it gives you the chance for revenge, clarification; there are a lot of basic human emotions that you can address by being able to write about them.”
Josh Alan Friedman, author of Black Cracker, is the third Friedman brother I’ve interviewed, as part of my “Capturing the (Other) Friedmans” series of podcasts. (I really gotta rename that.) Josh is an accomplished author and guitarist, and has plenty of stories of New York at its most sordid. We met up at a cafe in Times Square to talk about his old days writing for Al Goldstein’s Screw magazine, why it took him more than 30 years to write Black Cracker, his “Lewis & Martin” theory about his estrangement from his brother Drew, his parents’ successful divorce, and more!
“I want my list of works to be lean and mean and everything was urgent and had to be done. Nothing to play the market. My family’s had to suffer for that, that I haven’t done commercial jobs just to bring home the bacon.”
Along the way, we also develop an idea for a high-concept movie, talk lewdly in front of some tourists, pay homage to his literary idols, and figure out that therapy just gets in the way of making good art. If you’ve got a problem with any of that (especially the coarse language) then you should skip this episode.
About our Guest
In 1987, writer-guitarist Josh Alan Friedman sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads (the Crossroads of the World: Broadway & 42nd Street) and moved to Texas. He’d just written Tales of Times Square, a cult classic. Josh’s latest book is Black Cracker, the story of his tumultuous childhood as the only white boy at Long Island’s last segregated school. In 2008, he wrote Tell the Truth Until They Bleed: Coming Clean in the Dirty World of Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll. He has also written When Sex Was Dirty, and I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life (with Al Goldstein), and co-edited Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern, 1950-1995. Josh also set off satirical fires and lawsuits as writer-half of the Friedman Bros, the most feared cartooning duo of the late ’70s and ’80s. Two anthologies remain in print, featuring the art of Josh’s brother, Drew Friedman: Warts and All, and Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental (Two). On the music front, as “Josh Alan,” he barnstormed the state of Texas for 20 years, rocking whole arenas with his Guild D-40. Copping three Dallas Observer Music Awards for Best Acoustic Act, he released four albums: Famous & Poor, The Worst!, Blacks ‘N’ Jews (the title of which became a documentary on Josh’s life) and Josh Alan Band.
Credits: This episode’s music is Jeff’s Boogie by Josh Alan (Friedman). The conversation was recorded at the Cafe Edison on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded in a hotel room in London on the same gear. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Josh Alan Friedman by me.
“I was asking not to be taken seriously, but I was also getting annoyed that I wasn’t being taken seriously.”
Peter Bagge, the comics legend behind Hate!, Neat Stuff, Apocalypse Nerd and Everybody is Stupid Except for Me, joins us to talk about his new book, Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story. We have a great conversation about why he chose to write about the founder of Planned Parenthood, how he made the shift from fiction to nonfiction comics, who his favorite “pre-feminist feminists” are, why he decided to stick with comic books over paperback books (and why he came around on the latter), what the strangest sketchbook request he ever received is, and how he feels about being a comics convention prostitute.
We also talk about how he never got a word of approval from his dad or his editor, how his libertarian politics got him ostracized after the 2008 election (and how some people seem to be coming around on that), why he doesn’t draw elbows, and what it felt like to be considered the “least insane of cartoonists” by R. Crumb.
About our Guest
Peter Bagge‘s newest book is Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story. He is best known for the 1990s comic book series Hate!, which followed the exploits of slacker ne’er-do-well Buddy Bradley (collected vols. 1, 2, and 3). He is a contributor to Reason magazine, which led to the collection Everybody Is Stupid Except For Me, and Other Acute Observations, and his work has appeared in Weirdo (where he served as managing editor), The Stranger, New York Press, Entertainment Weekly, Details, Seattle Weekly, Screw, and more. He is also the author of Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff, Reset, Apocalypse Nerd, Other Lives, and Bat Boy: The Weekly World News Comic Strips, among other works.
Credits: This episode’s music is Hateful Notebook by the Descendents. The conversation was recorded at the Bethesda North Marriott during SPX 2013 on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded in my home office on a Blue Yeti USB microphone. File-splitting is done on a Mac Mini using Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo by me.