COVID Check-In with R Sikoryak

Virtual Memories Show
COVID Check-In: R Sikoryak

Cartoonist & illustrator Robert Sikoryak checks in from NYC. We talk about his just-completed new book, Constitution Illustrated (Drawn & Quarterly), what he learned about the US Constitution & America in the process of making that book, and how that deadline insulated him a little from the effects of sheltering in place. We get into remote teaching of his art classes at Parsons, finding his best Zoom angle, trying to adapt his Carousel live cartooning performances to the social distancing world, and the sequel to Masterpiece Comics he hopes to work on next. Give it a listen! And go check out Bob’s books!

You can listen to all these COVID Check-In episodes at The COVID-19 Sessions.

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About our Guest

Cartoonist R. Sikoryak is the author of Masterpiece Comics, Terms and Conditions, and The Unquotable Trump (Drawn & Quarterly). He’s adapted the classics for various comics anthologies, including RAW, Drawn & Quarterly, The Graphic Canon, and more.

His comics and illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Nation, The Onion, MAD, and SpongeBob Comics, as well as on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He’s done storyboards and character designs for Augenblick Studios on various animated projects.

Sikoryak teaches in the illustration department at Parsons The New School for Design and previously at The Center for Cartoon Studies. Since 1997, he’s presented his live cartoon slide show series, Carousel, around the United States and Canada.

He lives in New York City with his spouse, Kriota Willberg. His next book is Constitution Illustrated, from Drawn & Quarterly.

Follow Bob on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and listen to our full-length podcast

Credits: The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used 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 Bob by Kriota Willberg. It’s on my instagram.

Moustache Rides to Williamsburg (blech)

I had two missions for November: write a novel for National Novel Writing Month and grow a moustache for Movember. I failed miserably in the former (although I did write about 1500 words of something that could grow into a short story, a first chapter, or a one-act play) but succeeded wildly in the latter, proving that natural facial hair growth will always trump creativity and a sketchy work ethic.

Amy hated the ‘stache with a passion, and offered to contribute to the men’s health charity behind Movember just to get me to shave it off early. I decided to keep it for a few extra days so that she could take some pix in natural light.

Stash

And, of course, while shaving it off, I had to try out The Hitler:

My pal Tom Spurgeon, the Comics Reporter, was visiting from New Mexico (and staying with us) this weekend to attend the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, so on Saturday I drove out to the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Williamsburg to see some cartoonists and serve as Tom’s valet. I took no pictures, so instead you get 20 quick observations/notes on the afternoon. After I shaved off the Hitler.

1. I was dressed pretty generic adult-prep at the event — white button-down oxford, black sweater, tobacco khakis — and was kinda stunned to find out that all the sartorial stereotypes about Williamsburg hipster guys were true: the trucker hats, wild facial hair, chunky eyeglasses, flannels, skintight jeans, Converse, etc. I had assumed this stuff was an exaggeration, but it was a veritable uniform for the men at the festival and in the neighborhood. I think some of the cartoonists treated me nicely because I was dressed like such a (non-ironic) square. Or an adult. Whatever.

2. The festival was just packed. I was impressed by the turnout. It’s a smaller affair than the Toronto Comic Arts Festival we attend every May, but New York paradoxically may not have the same space opportunities that Toronto has, at least for an event that doesn’t charge admission for attendees. It’s got a lot of potential, esp. with the Williamsburg art-crowd, but it’ll be tough to keep the show from getting too crowded.

3. I was awfully darned happy to get to chat with Drew Friedman, whose work I’ve enjoyed for about 20 years. He turned out to be a really pleasant guy, and liked the stylish business card my wife got me for my 40th birthday. I gave him the card so he could spell my 3-letter name correctly in the copy of Too Soon? that I bought from him. I also picked up a super-awesome print that’s going to be a Christmas present for a pal of mine. He seemed happy when I told him that his dad’s memoir is the next book on my reading list. Overall, I was surprised by how warm he was in conversation. For some reason, I thought he’d be a bit irascible.

4. Earlier in the day, I discovered a great Gary Panter rarity, a cardboard-bound proto-collection of his Jimbo comics from 1982, at our local Barnes & Noble. It was in the first-editions case of the B&N’s used books section. I thought Gary would like to see it, so I brought it to the festival. He beamed, and drew me a great Jimbo & dinosaur sketch inside the front cover. He also liked Amy’s business card and asked to keep it. (You should read my wacky story about my first meeting with Gary.)

5. I turned from one table and literally bumped into Matt Groening, who was at the festival with his son Abe. He may be the highest net worth individual to whom I’ve ever said, “Pardon me.” I’m pretty sure some of my friends would have simply fainted dead away upon meeting Mr. Groening.

6. I had a mind-blowingly good tongue burrito at Yola’s Cafe on Metropolitan Ave.

7. I wanted to pick up some original art from the Scott Eder Gallery table, but wasn’t inclined to spend in excess of $2,000 for a Jim Woodring page. (The “Matt Groening’s here!” prices, as one wag put it.) I ended up buying a partially inked sketch by Al Columbia and a set of 4 silkscreen prints of Woodring’s stuff. It was a lot cheaper. Multiple people warned me against showing the art to Al Columbia when he was signing at the Fantagraphics table later in the evening, for fear that he would take it from me and rip it to shreds. When I saw Al at the table, I realized they were right to worry. This is what I bought:

bobby.jpg

8. I bought the new Gloria Badcock comic from Maurice Vellekoop, because he’s a hoot. He also loved my business card and asked to keep it.

9. I walked over to Union Pool to attend the Chip Kidd & David Mazzucchelli panel, but the room was way overfilled, with attendees milling outside in the bar’s courtyard, way out of earshot. I was bummed. Later in the day, I bumped into Chip and had a pleasant conversation. We have a mutual friend in Samuel Delany, so I established my not-just-a-fanboy bona fides. We talked about his work, the panel earlier in the day, comics in general, and Delany’s health. I told him that I wanted to bring my copy of The Learners along with me for him to sign, but decided to bring “this neat Gary Panter Jimbo rarity” instead. He knew exactly the edition, and was happy to hear that I own both his novels. I also told him that I admired his becoming a celebrity in the field of book and graphic design, since it’s not an area that generates celebrities. He joked it was a little like being the world’s greatest plumber. I was too afraid he’d sneer at them to give him one of my business cards.

10. The BQE separated the church (where the festival was) from the Union Pool bar (where the panels were). The city noise was kinda exaggerated by the volume of cars zooming by overhead.

11. I bought the new Kramers Ergot anthology. I thought about getting each of the contributors to sign/sketch it, because they were all on hand, but I didn’t know many of them by name or work, and thought it would be rude to say, “Don’t know you, don’t know you, don’t know you, don’t — Oh! Hey! Sammy Harkham! What are you doing out on shabbat?” And in a church, no less!

12. I got to meet Jeff Wong, who drew the cover for Tom’s book on Stan Lee. I knew his work from The Comics Journal and Sports Illustrated, and he seemed pretty delighted when I praised his work on the latter. I doubt the Venn diagram of indy comics nerds and SI readers has much overlap.

13. Like all artists, cartoonists really do like to receive praise for their work. I (briefly) interrupted R. Sikoryak’s conversation with a couple to let him know how much I enjoyed his Masterpiece Comics. He really lit up and thanked me effusively for the compliment. I told him that I first read his “Inferno Joe” (Dante’s Inferno in Bazooka Joe style) strips in a late-’80’s issue of Raw, and that it was a positively warping experience (as in, I was warped positively). You really oughtta read his book.

14. I hoped that the Drawn & Quarterly table would be able to replace a recent issue of the Acme Novelty Library that had been misprinted, but they didn’t have it in stock. They promised to send a replacement. When I tried reading the book 2 years ago, I thought perhaps Chris Ware was engaging in some post-modern storytelling wackiness by running the last 12 pages of the book twice, but concluded that the printer/binder just screwed up. It was almost as bad as when I started reading a Xerox preview of The Birth Caul from the last page forward and didn’t realize my mistake for a dozen pages. Now I’ll finally find out what happened to whoever!

15. Near the end of the evening, I caught up with Gary Groth at the Fantagraphics table. We spoke briefly a few nights earlier, at an event at The Strand honoring legendary cartoonist Jack Davis (Fantagraphics just published a retrospective of Davis’ career). This time, I asked Gary what he’s been reading lately (non-comics division). He was so fried from working the table all day that he just stared down at the various books on display, pondered for a bit, and then mentioned a brief biography of Cahiers du Cinema, but said he was drawing a blank otherwise. A few moments later, when I bought a copy of Michael Kupperman’s new book, Mark Twain’s Autobiography 1910-2010, with a $20 bill, Gary tried to give me $80 back. It was a long day.

16. I found street parking right around the corner from the festival, which made up for my getting raped by bridge-tolls: $12 at the GW, $6.50 each way on the Triborough. The Triborough really is an amazing bridge. Robert Moses sure had a heck of a vision for New York City. (You can be wrong and still have a vision.)

17. Tom moderated a conversation with Brian Ralph and CF, neither of whose work I’d read before. I took Tom out for dinner before the panel, where he worked on his questions, and then dropped him at Union Pool while I took our stuff back to the car. I thought that the panel would be more sparsely attended than the Kidd/Mazzucchelli one from a few hours before, since it was the last one of the day, but it was packed, with people spilling out of the room and into the courtyard. So I sat in the bar, had a Plymouth & tonic, and wrote for a little bit.

18. There were 3 women at the table behind me, arguing about whether one of them knew she was hot and was just downplaying it. One said, “Screw you! You don’t go to a comics festival in a kimono and thigh-highs if you don’t think you’re hot!” I was puzzled because, when I walked past the table on my way in, I reflexively noted that none of them were hot.

19. A woman standing by my table looked at me like she was about to say something, then stopped. I asked her if I knew her. She said she thought I was someone else. “The mayor of Chicago?” I asked. “Because I got that last week.” She didn’t see any resemblance between me and Rahm Emanuel. I admitted it was puzzling. She sat down at my table and we chatted for a big about cartooning. She gave me her new photcopied 8-page comic, presumably because I told her I was here with Tom.

20. Lots of people give Tom their comics. We joked about the “Comics Reporter sales bump” and thought about designing a stamp, a la Oprah’s book club, for the CR Seal of Approval. After his panel, Tom made his round of goodbyes back at the festival, and we headed back to NJ. The drive home was smooth, and I was glad to escape the constant vibration of the city. I’m afraid I’m a little out of tune.

What It Is: 9/7/09

What I’m reading: I left off on Moby Dick for a little while. I picked up Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, which I’d meant to write about during the summer. That was derailed by Rufus’ ordeal, so I’m hoping to get back to it this fall. I also read R. Sikoryak’s wonderful Masterpiece Comics.

What I’m listening to: Dear Science, by TV on the Radio.

What I’m watching: In The Loop, which was fantastic, followed by Local Hero, so I could have a Peter Capaldi double-feature. Now I have to find out if one of my British relatives can get hold of the DVDs of The Thick of It. Amy & I also watched a couple of the Comedy Central Roasts (Bob Saget, Joan Rivers), both of which featured fantastic Gilbert Gottfried riffs.

What I’m drinking: Plymouth & Q Tonic.

What Rufus is up to: Finally going out on a Sunday greyhound hike! And helping me add the captions to the photoset of our trip to my cousins’ place in Connecticut a few weeks ago.

Where I’m going: Greyhound picnic in Bridgewater, NJ next Sunday! Here are some pix from last year’s picnic. And more pix!

What I’m happy about: Um . . . not blogging, actually. I think I boxed myself in with all the “regular features” posts, so I’m happy not to think about those, even though I’m disappointed that I couldn’t come up with a good joke for how Wheaties’ new “EVOLVE” campaign is a broadside attack on the Intelligent Cereal Design crew.

What I’m sad about: Not getting that joke to work.

What I’m worried about: Change, y’know? And losing readers by not posting so often. I’m a (hot) neurotic mess, okay? Sue me. And go follow my twitter feed, if you want some sorta fix: twitter.com/groth18

What I’m pondering: I’ve decided to take more time off from the regular posting, and continue to rethink what I want to do with my writing. Last week, I had an idea for a new direction and a more coherent project than my standard ramblings here. So I’m pondering whether my dear readers would still be my dear readers if this project turns out to become a (self-published) book that I’d ask those readers to buy.

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