“With this new book, I’m reconnecting with my earlier self from the underground era, but with all the experience and skill that I’ve gained in the last 30 years of doing a daily strip.”
Bill Griffith is best known for nearly 30 years of daily comic strips featuring the absurd, surreal American treasure known as Zippy the Pinhead, but he’s also the author of the amazing graphic memoir, Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist (Fantagraphics). This new 200-page work chronicles Bill’s mother’s affair with the cartoonist Lawrence Lariar, and explores notions of family, infidelity, art, vanishing New York, the transience of reputation and memory, and of course, comics. The book is so significant that I decided to have two separate sessions with Bill, one to discuss his background and his comics history, and the other to focus on Invisible Ink. In part 1, we tackle Bill’s discovery of underground comics and the scene in ’70s San Francisco, his fine art education, the inescapable importance of Robert Crumb, his collaboration with Art Spiegelman on Arcade magazine, how he wound up with a syndicated daily Zippy comic strip, his rediscovery of diners, muffler-men, and roadside advertising icons, his surprisingly youthful audience, the responsibility of blowing up his readers’ minds, and more! Give it a listen! (And go buy Invisible Ink!)
“We thought of Arcade magazine as a life-raft. We were worried that underground comics would die in two ways: economically, with the Supreme Court ruling on pornography . . . and through the limits of its own audience, which was centered around headshops. Arcade was supposed to be where underground comics went to grow up, and build a wider audience.”
Part 2 of this episode takes place at the inaugural Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, where I interviewed Bill in front of an audience that included Art Spiegelman. This section focuses on Invisible Ink, and covers Bill’s relationship with his parents, the reasons he pursued the story of his mother’s affair, the transience of fame, his need to re-draw all of Lawrence Lariar’s art in his book, how he reacted when his mother wanted to get a tattoo of Zippy, what he’s learned from teaching cartooning at SVA, and more! We had two great conversations, so go listen to them!
“Art Spiegelman told me he liked Zippy, but it was a little like being stuck in an elevator with a crazy person.”
About our Guest
Bill Griffith grew up in Levittown, NY. He attended Pratt Institute and studied painting and graphic arts concurrently with Kim Deitch — they dropped out about the same time. Inspired by Zap, Griffith began making underground comics in 1969, and joined the cartoonists in San Francisco in 1970. Griffith’s famous character Zippy the Pinhead made his initial appearances in early underground comic books, morphing into a syndicated weekly strip in 1976 and then a nationally-syndicated daily strip a decade later. Griffith is married to cartoonist and editor Diane Noomin. They live in Connecticut. His new book is Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist (Fantagraphics).
You can find a more extensive bio at Bill’s 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 at Mr. Griffith’s studio in Connecticut in August 2015 and at the Cultural Arts Center in Columbus, OH at 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. Photos of Mr. Griffith by me.
“One of my favorite things is to take a character, figure out what’s most important to them, and then take it away and see what they do.”
Stona Fitch joins the show to talk about balancing his careers as a novelist, a publisher, and a freelance writer with family life. We discuss his new novel, the crime thriller Third Rail, why he he wrote it under the nom de plume Rory Flynn, his influences and favorite crime writers, the challenges of writing a sequel, the futility of debating genre categories, and more! Give it a listen!
“My mentor Russell Banks told me, ‘Go to Miami, you’ll see everything.’ He also said I’d be a great plumber.”
We also talk about what possessed him to write Senseless, which is one of the most disturbing novels ever written. But don’t worry; it’s not all crime and horror! There’s also Stona’s role as the founder of the Concord Free Press, an innovative, generosity-based publishing house! Plus, we explore the benefits of doing corporate work by day and learning about fields you’d otherwise never have any experience in.
“My wife said, ‘Stona, I think you’ve found a brand-new way for writers not to make money.'”
We talk about a bunch of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):
- Third Rail: An Eddy Harkness Novel – Rory Flynn
- Dark Horse: An Eddy Harkness Novel – Rory Flynn
- Senseless – Stona Fitch
- Strategies for Success – Stona Fitch
- Give + Take – Stona Fitch
- Printer’s Devil – Stona Fitch
- The Friends of Eddie Coyle: A Novel – George V. Higgins
- The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
- Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
- The Next Queen of Heaven: A Novel – Gregory Maguire
- Beautiful Ruins: A Novel – Jess Walter
- Citizen Vince – Jess Walter
- I Served the King of England – Bohumil Hrabal
- The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories – Bruno Schulz
- Book of Numbers: A Novel – Joshua Cohen
- The Goldfinch: A Novel – Donna Tartt
- Against the Day – Thomas Pynchon
About our Guest
Via Stona’s site:
Praised by critics and readers, Stona Fitch’s novels are published widely throughout the world and have inspired other works, from graphic novels to films. His latest novel, Third Rail (2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), marks the debut of the Eddy Harness series of Boston-based crime novels – published under the pen name Rory Flynn.
Give + Take (2011) crosses genres with a noir-inflected, hilarious road tale. Printer’s Devil (2009) updates A Clockwork Orange to create a post-apocalyptic parable. Critics cite Senseless (2001) as a prescient novel that anticipated violent anti-globalization protests, online hostages, and use of fear as a political tool. It is often described as one of the most disturbing novels ever written. Senseless is now an independent feature film, a graphic novel, and a cult classic.
In 2008, Stona founded the Concord Free Press, a revolutionary publishing house that publishes and distributes original novels throughout the world, asking only that readers make a voluntary donation to a charity or person in need. The first nine CFP books have inspired nearly $500,000 in generosity.
Stona lives with his family in Concord, MA, where he is also a committed community activist. He and his family work with Gaining Ground, a non-profit farm.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1961, Stona Fitch grew up in the midwest and south. While an undergraduate at Princeton, he received the Creative Writing Program’s Lannan Award for Fiction. He also served as chairman of The Daily Princetonian, and wrote for The Anchorage Daily News.
After graduation, Stona reported briefly for The Miami Herald before moving to Boston and joining its burgeoning underground music scene. In 1984, he joined the seminal Boston-based pop group Scruffy The Cat, playing electric banjo, mandolin, accordion, and organ–as well as writing songs. He recorded two albums–High-Octane Revival (a New York Times top release of 1986) and the highly regarded (and rare) Tiny Days–before leaving the band in 1987. During this time, he worked as a dishwasher and cook at the Hoodoo Barbeque, a notorious punk-rock hangout/crime scene in Kenmore Square.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, which seems to have become our unofficial theme song. The conversation was recorded in the Boston Marriott Burlington 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. Fitch by me.
“My weakness is that I don’t have a set of parameters. My work always looks like a group show. But the connections are real. Anyone who looks can see the connections.”
Artist Mimi Gross joins the show to talk about her art, her life, and the joys of collaboration. Mimi’s been part of the New York art scene for more than half a century, and her paintings, sculptures, sets and designs have been seen around the world. We talk about how she stood out as Mimi Gross when she was “daughter of sculptor/artist Chaim Gross” and “wife of artist Red Grooms”. We also get into the difficulties of having a family while being a working artist, making art in response to 9/11, designing sets and costumes for dance and how that fed back into her other art-forms, the multi-year process of building Ruckus Manhattan, the problems and perks of not fitting into a particular tradition, the experience of building the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, and the loose definition of success. I also ask my half-assed “Jeff Koons: Fraud or Prank?” question again, but I really get shown up for my lack of knowledge of contemporary art. Give it a listen!
“It wasn’t until I was well over 40 that I realized that not everyone has imagination.”
About our Guest
Mimi Gross is a painter, set-and-costume designer for dance, and maker of interior and exterior installations. She has had several international exhibitions, including work at the Salander O’ Reilly Galleries, and the Ruth Siegel Gallery, New York City, the Inax Gallery, in Ginza, Tokyo, and Galerie Lara Vincey, in Paris. She has also shown work at the Municipal Art Society and at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. Her anatomically-themed artwork is on permanent display, courtesy the New York City Parks Department, at the Robert Venable Park in East New York.
Her work is included in numerous public collections, including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, The Brooklyn Museum, the Jewish Museum, le Musee des Art Decoratifs in Paris, the Nagoya Museum of Art, the Onasch Collection in Berlin and the Lannon Foundation, as well as the Fukuoko Bank in Japan and New York’s Bellevue Hospital.
Gross has been the recipient of countless awards and grants including from the New York State Council on the Arts, twice from the National Endowment for Visual Arts, the American Academy & Institute of Arts and Letters, and a “Bessie” for sets and costumes. She held the McMillan/Stewart Endowed Chair in Painting at the Maryland College of Art in 2010-2011, and has taught at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Penland School of Crafts, Syracuse University, SUNY Purchase, as well as other universities and educational institutions, giving workshops and advising students, as a visiting artist.
From 1960-1976, Gross collaborated with Red Grooms on many large, multidimensional installations, including the fabled Ruckus Manhattan. Since 1979, she has collaborated in a fruitful (and on-going) partnership with the dancer, Douglas Dunn and his company, designing sets and costumes for his performances. She also collaborated with the poet Charles Bernstein. Her on-site drawings of the World Trade Center from 9/11 and after are included in the volume, Some of These Daze, published by Granary Books.
Credits: This episode’s music is Shoulda Been a Painter by Karl Hyde. The conversation was recorded 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. Lower photo of Ms. Gross by me, no credit given for upper photo (studio shot).
It’s the ONE-HUNDREDTH EPISODE of The Virtual Memories Show! And they said it would never last! To celebrate hitting the century mark, I asked past guests, upcoming guests and friends of the show to interview me this time around!
This special episode includes questions and recorded segments with Maria Alexander, Ashton Applewhite, John Bertagnolli, Lori Carson, Sarah Deming, Paul Di Filippo, Michael Dirda, Robert Drake, Aaron K. Finkelstein, Mary Fleener, Drew Friedman, Josh Alan Friedman, Kipp Friedman, Richard Gehr, Ben Katchor, Sara Lippmann, Brett Martin, Zach Martin, Seth, Jesse Sheidlower, Ron Slate, Tom Spurgeon, Levi Stahl, Maya Stein, Rupert Thomson, Peter Trachtenberg, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, Frank Wilson, and Claudia Young.
Find out about my reading childhood, my dream list of pod-guests, my best practices for productivity (don’t have kids!), my favorite interview question, my top guest in the afterlife, the book I’d save if my house was on fire, what I’d do if I won a Macarthur Grant. and more! Give it a listen!
About our Guest
Gil Roth is the host of The Virtual Memories Show and the president of the Pharma & Biopharma Outsourcing Association.
Credits: This episode’s music is Stupid Now by Bob Mould. Several of the conversations were recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro and the self-interview segments on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of me by Aaron K. Finkelstein.
When I make a post for a new podcast, I usually include a quote or two from the guest. In Wayne White’s case, there were a whole lot of good quotes. I didn’t want to put them all in that post, so here’s a bunch of ’em:
- “Success really messes with your ego.”
- “I think most really famous people — politicians and movie stars — are sorta insane.”
- “Art has to show a level of confidence, or no one will want to look at it.”
- “The movie has given me the opportunity to do bigger and better things, but as far as a psychological concept that I can use in my art, I’m still trying to figure out a way to make work that expresses what I’ve been through. It was quite a unique experience, being in the spotlight. I’d like to do some work that shares that story.”
- “Getting on stage and performing is just another art project to me. It’s a way of manipulating people; that’s what art does. It was just another way of getting over an emotion, or a laugh, or an idea, just like a drawing or a painting does.”
- “Sometimes it looks like I’m going for the laughs, but I’m going for connection, for the emotion. All artists are. What else is there, when you’re looking at a piece of art?”
- “There’s something in the air out here in LA, with the big words in the landscape, the big open plain with the big monumental something sticking out of it.”
- “I gloss over my art and say, ‘I just go for the laughs and I’m just a plain old guy, and I like to entertain people,’ because it’s funny and I don’t like to get too serious about it. But there are a lot of thorny issues with it and a lot of subtleties. It looks like I’m just defacing a painting and being funny, but I’m not. There are a million subtle things going on and that’s what makes it art.”
- “I’ve always loved cartoonists, like Mad magazine. Cartooning informs my work, big time.”
- “Cartooning is the hardest craft I ever did, because it’s no-shit-everything-has-to-work. With a painting, you can fudge things. Everything in a cartoon has to work, like a car, or it won’t run. I learned a lot about craft and discipline from cartooning, way more than painting.”
- “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had three separate careers: freelance illustrator, then set designer, puppetteer and animator, and now fine artist. I just bluffed my way into every one of ’em!”
- “Like Red Grooms, I travel to a city, I hire local young artists and we build cool stuff.”
- “Like my work, Jeff Koons is a similar kind of notion: Can I just hit it on the head and still make it art? Can it just be a complete, dumb, big idea that someone can get in a second and still be art?”
- “To me, I like the hand-made, the feeling that the artist made it himself. That’s where the human smell comes in. . . . Some people would say, ‘soul’ or ‘spirit,’ but I like to use the word ‘smell’.”
- “I’m a frustrated writer; that’s why I do the word-paintings. Of course I write poems that I don’t show anybody. I’ve written lyrics that I’ve pitched to my musician friends, but they’re not interested.”
- “To live in New York, you have to love the street. The street is your front yard. That’s where you live most of the time. I got tired of that street energy.”
- “My favorite thing to do is just to draw. That’s where it all comes from, and that’s what gave me the confidence to bluff my way into things, because I could draw. It’s the default position for me, my core.”
“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had three separate careers: freelance illustrator, then set designer, puppetteer and animator, and now fine artist. I just bluffed my way into every one of ’em.'” –Wayne White
Artist Wayne White joins the show to talk about how his life and art have changed since he starred in the documentary Beauty is Embarrassing (which, if you haven’t seen it, go do so now now NOW!). We talk about the allure and absurdity of hubris, how much of the movie-Wayne maps onto the real version, how LA influenced his word-paintings, how he balances art and commerce, what happens to the giant puppets that he makes for installations, what he thinks of Jeff Koons, why he’s moving toward art-as-public-spectacle, what art form he’s dying to get back to, what his next big project is, when he’s gonna get rid of that beard, and more! Give it a listen!
“Cartooning is the hardest craft I ever did, because it’s no-shit-everything-has-to-work. With a painting, you can fudge things. Everything in a cartoon has to work, like a car, or it won’t run. I learned a lot about craft and discipline from cartooning, way more than painting.” –Wayne White
But first, we have an interview with Wayne’s wife, Mimi Pond! I interviewed Mimi last May (go listen to it!) at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, shortly after the release of her graphic memoir, Over Easy. This time around, we talk about the success of the book, the surprises of the book tour, how the sequel’s progressing, how it felt to win a PEN Center USA Literary Award, and more! (There are also some overlapping questions, and I thought you guys might dig hearing their different perspectives on topics like LA vs. NYC, and becoming empty-nesters.)
“In LA, it’s the law that you must be engaged in writing a screenplay with your hairdresser, pool boy, personal trainer, life coach, dog walker, or yoga instructor.” –Mimi Pond
About our Guests
Wayne White is an American artist, art director, illustrator, puppeteer, and much, much more. Born and raised in Chattanooga, Wayne has used his memories of the South to create inspired works for film, television, and the fine art world. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University, Wayne traveled to New York City where he worked as an illustrator for the East Village Eye, New York Times, Raw Magazine, and the Village Voice. In 1986, Wayne became a designer for the hit television show Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and his work was awarded with three Emmys. After traveling to Los Angeles with his wife, Mimi Pond, Wayne continued to work in television and designed sets and characters for shows such as Shining Time Station, Beakman’s World, Riders In The Sky, and Bill & Willis. He also worked in the music video industry, winning Billboard and MTV Music Video Awards as an art director for seminal music videos including The Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight, Tonight and Peter Gabriel’s Big Time.
More recently, Wayne has had great success as a fine artist and has created paintings and public works that have been shown all over the world. His most successful works have been the world paintings featuring oversized, three-dimensional text painstakingly integrated into vintage landscape reproductions. The message of the paintings is often thought-provoking and almost always humorous, with Wayne pointing a finger at vanity, ego, and his memories of the South. Wayne has also received great praise for several public works he has created, including a successful show at Rice University where he built the world’s largest George Jones puppet head for a piece called ‘Big Lectric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep.’ He was the subject of Neil Berkeley’s 2012 documentary, Beauty is Embarrassing.
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. She is currently working on the sequel to her 2014 graphic memoir, Over Easy.
Credits: This episode’s music is I’m Ragged but I’m Right by George Jones. The conversation was recorded in Wayne and Mimi’s dining nook 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 Mr. White and Ms. Pond 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.