“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.
“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.