“Comics are like life. You just grow with them.”
Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell joins the show to talk about getting a late start on his career as a daily strip cartoonist, how Mutts has changed in its 23 years, the evolution of his interest in animal advocacy, the overlap of comic strips and poetry, finding his Coconino County in the New Jersey suburbs, learning from Jules Feiffer’s paste-ups, the greatest blurb he’ll ever get, taking up painting, finding joy in collaborating (occasionally), and how the gospel of Peanuts taught him that the essence of life is love. (We also talk about what to do after you’ve lost a long-loved dog, but neither of us cry, I swear!) Give it a listen! And go buy his newest book, Darling, I Love You: Poems from the Hearts of Our Glorious Mutts and All Our Animal Friends (as well as the Mutts collections and all the other books and projects he’s done)!
“Giving some of the joy and comfort that I got from Peanuts back to the world, that’s my job.”
About our Guest
Patrick McDonnell is the creator of the comics strip Mutts, which debuted in 1994 and appears in over 700 newspapers in 22 countries. Mutts has been anthologized in 25 books in the US and in numerous collections around the world. Patrick has created a dozen children’s books, including the Caldecott Honor-winning Me . . . Jane, a biography of Jane Goodall, and the New York Times bestseller The Gift of Nothing. He collaborated with Eckhart Tolle on Guardians of Being: Spiritual Teachings from Our Dogs and Cats. He is a member of the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States, the Fund for Animals, and the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
There’s a more extensive bio at Patrick’s website. You really should check it out.
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 in Patrick’s painting studio 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. Photos of Patrick and Amelie and me and Patrick by me. It’s on my instagram.
“I’m trying to create music that’s pretty enough to listen to but not interesting enough to pay attention to.”
Ben Model has made a career for himself as a silent-film accompanist, playing for audiences throughout the US (and a city in Norway!). I was thrilled to have him on the show and ask him how he got his start and how he reached the top of his field. We talk about the not-exactly-secret society of his peers, the challenge of reading and adapting to audience and movie simultaneously, the importance of audience preservation, the differences between playing live and recording a score for a movie, the reasons young and old audiences get engaged by silent movies, why you need to city Chaplin’s City Lights with a live orchestra, and more! Give it a listen!
“No film collector is going to hold up a 4tb hard drive and say, ‘Look at all the movies I have!'”
Ben & I also discuss the difference between digital and “real” instruments, the way his style has evolved, the Kickstarter revolution and how it funds his DVD label, the Stan Laurel comedy that makes little kids lose their minds, his love for Ernie Kovacs, the awful and sometimes incomprehensible stereotypes of century-old comedy, his theory of Undercranking, where the next generation of accompanists is coming from, the multi-decade dearth of comedic filmmakers with distinct vision, the lost comic genius of Marcel Perez, and what it’s like to create “music of momentary significance” (as his mentor described it). Go listen!
“Bringing the silent movie experience to a place where it doesn’t usually get to happen is great fun for me.”
About our Guest
Ben Model is one of the nation’s leading silent film accompanists, and performs on both piano and theatre organ. Ben works full-time presenting and accompanying silent films in a wide variety of venues around the USA and internationally, carrying on a tradition he learned from silent film organist Lee Erwin (1919-2000). Over the past 30+ years Ben has created and performed live scores for several hundred silent films, films lasting anywhere from one minute to five hours. Ben is a resident film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art (NY) and at the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre. His recorded scores can be heard on numerous DVD/Blu-Ray releases, on TCM and on his YouTube channel. His indie DVD label Undercrank Productions has released several discs of rare/lost silent films, including films preserved by the Library of Congress. Ben is a regular accompanist at classic film festivals around the U.S.A. and in Norway, and performs at universities, museums, and historic theaters. Ben is the producer and co-founder of The Silent Clowns Film Series, now in its 19th season in NYC. Ben has composed film scores for both orchestra and concert band for accompaniment to films by Chaplin and Keaton. These scores are performed around the U.S. every year by both professional and school ensembles. In his work as a programmer, Ben has co-curated a film series for MoMA, and co-programs a monthly silent film series at the Cinema Arts Center. As archivist of the Ernie Kovacs/Edie Adams collection, he also curated two recent DVD box sets of Ernie Kovacs television shows for Shout! Factory. He is currently a Visiting Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan University.
Credits: This episode’s music is Ben noodling on my friend’s Steinway. The conversation was recorded at my friend’s place in Manhattan on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. B/W photo of Mr. Model by me; no attribution for the color photo.
“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.
It’s time for a (somewhat) long-delayed new episode of The Virtual Memories Show!
“Picasso said that the way you draw your circle is your style.”
This time, postmodern cartoonist Bob Sikoryak talks about the high/low mashups of his amazing book, Masterpiece Comics, the 1980’s art scene in NYC, the sea change in the acceptance of comics as art and entertainment, the (un)importance of having an individual drawing style, and more!
“It’s amazing to me how comics artists can speak to a generation, and that’s it. When you make something, it’s of your time, no matter what you do.”
We also reflect on the art of mimicry, the history of popular art, and who decides when it’s too soon to goof on Dostoevsky. I’ve been a fan of his work since I first read his Inferno Joe strip in 1989, so getting the chance to sit down with Bob for a conversation was a joy. (He’s the sweetest person I’ve met in comics.)
“My roommate in college said, “If you keep reading those comics, it’s gonna affect your style,” and clearly he was right.”
Photo by Kriota Willberg.
About Our Guest
R. Sikoryak has drawn cartoons for numerous media giants, including Nickelodeon Magazine, The New Yorker, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, as well as for independent publications, films and theater productions. His cartoon slideshow series Carousel has been presented around the U.S. and Canada. He also teaches and lectures on comics and illustration. He lives in NYC with his wife and frequent collaborator Kriota Willberg.
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Credits: This episode’s music is Ambicion Eterna by Thievery Corporation. I recorded the intro on a Blue Yeti mic into Audacity, and the conversation with was recorded in Mr. Sikoryak’s home in Stuy Town in NYC, on a pair of Blue Encore 100 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4N recorder. All editing was done in Garage Band, with some post-processing in Audaity.
I finished reading Book Two of the essays last weekend, but didn’t have time to write. I’m going to hold off on the final essay for now, because I’m still thinking about the beginning of it (the last 20 pages are a sorta by-the-book rant about doctors, but the first few pages are troubling me).
Anyway, Of three good women (pp. 683-690) starts out by telling us how most wives only show feelings for their husbands after the men’s deaths. “Life,” writes Montaigne, “is full of fireworks; death, of love and courtesy.” He contends that the measure of a marriage isn’t how much the wife laments and wails after her husband’s death, but how they got along while both were living.
To that end, he offers us three examples of good women.
One: inspected her husband’s genital ulcers, decided they were incurable and agonizing to him and . . . proposed double suicide!
Two: followed her P.O.W. husband back to Rome, tried bashing her head against a wall to demonstrate her grief, then stabbed herself fatally in front of her husband so he would find the courage . . . for double suicide!
Three: After Nero sentenced Seneca to death, the teacher’s young wife volunteered to . . . join him in suicide!
In that last case, she was prevented from dying because Nero was aghast that someone so beautiful and well-connected would give up her life. So she lived out her days virtuous and pale (she’d tried slitting her wrists, see?).
M. thinks stories like these could be strung together like Ovid’s Metamorphoses to create some sorta tapestry of, um, women who propose double suicide.
This essay redeemed itself by giving us Seneca’s perspective in its closing paragraphs. See, Seneca was a stoic and thus spent his life preparing for death. The thing is, he wrote in a letter to Lucilius that the love of his young wife inspired him to keep himself alive when he was sick and could’ve let himself die. It’s a touching passage, because S. tells his friend that, despite all his years and his training, holding onto life is important because of what we mean to other people:
Since I cannot bring her to love me more courageously, she is bringing me to love myself more solicitously; for we must allow something to honorable affections. And sometimes, even though occasions urge us to the contrary, we must call back life, even with torment; we must stop the soul from leaving between our teeth, since the law of living, for good men, is not as long as they please but as long as they ought.
To me, that story beats the Great Chain of Double Suicides that M. proposes.
* * *
M. follows women with men. In Of the most outstanding men (pp. 690-696), he ranks his top three men in history. The first two were obvious picks, but I have to admit that I’d never heard of the third one.
Homer comes up first. M. praises him for being first, best, and, well, Homer.
Being blind and poor, living before the sciences were reduced to rules and certain observations, he knew them so well that all those who since have taken it upon themselves to establish governments, to conduct wars, and to write about either religion or philosophy, of whatever sect they might be, or about the arts, have used him as a master very perfect in the knowledge of all things, and his books as a nursery of every kind of ability.
M. marvels over both Homer’s art qua art and at the contents of his tales, which have lasted millennia. He writes that it was “against the order of nature” that such poetry was written at the beginning of the form, because things start out imperfect and need to develop. It put me in mind of how titans like Winsor McCay and George Herriman were the early practitioners of the comic strip, yielding a golden age without true precursors.
This idea of precursors comes up a few times in this essay. Originality, is important to M. He admits that Virgil may be unsurpassable as a poet, but the Aeneid is “one single detail” of the Iliad. While this put me in mind first and foremost of the episode where Achilles get his new armor that reflects the entirety of his world, it also reminded me of a more important debate: Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant.
It’s long been my contention that Kobe’s never going to step out from MJ’s shadow precisely because his career was modeled after Jordan’s, right down to needing Phil Jackson to get him over the hump for a championship. Jordan, meanwhile, had no model upon which to base his career. (Some would argue that Dr. J was his strong precursor, but I don’t think it holds up, esp. with Erving spending time in the ABA.)
So Homer is both Winsor McCay and Michael Jordan.
The second man on M.’s list is Alexander, for being even more super-awesome than Caesar, and not living long enough to run his empire into the ground. Dying at 33 helped, even if some of his successes required more luck than Caesar needed.
The third guy was Epaminondas, whom I’d never heard of. He does seem to have a pretty good pedigree as a soldier and as a man, getting named “first among the Greeks,” even if little of his record passed down to us (and Wikipedia). Sez M.:
Antiquity judged that if one examines minutely all the other great captains, there is found in each some special quality that makes him illustrious. In this man alone can be found a virtue and ability full and equal throughout, which, in all the functions of human life, leaves nothing to be desired, whether in public or private occupation, in peace or war, whether in living or in dying greatly and graciously. I know no form or fortune of man that I regard with so much honor and love.
These were kinda neat essays to include back to back, but I’m a little sad that the men are judged by their martial and artistic accomplishments, while the women were praised for their willingness to commit suicide.