Podcast: Haste Ye Back

Seth on The Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories: Seth – Haste Ye Back

The great cartoonist (and designer and illustrator) Seth joins the Virtual Memories Show to talk about memory and time, his love of digression, being “Mr. Old-Timey”, what it means to be a Canadian cartoonist, and learning to let go of the finish and polish that used to characterize his work.

“When I was young, I thought there were an infinite possibility of stories you could do. As you get older, you realize you’re following a thread, and that you don’t have as much choice about what you’re writing about as you thought.”

“Style’s a funny thing. I think it’s important, but I think it’s a matter of the choices the artist makes that lead to the finished product. It is chosen, bit by bit over time, with each decision you make.”

rhythm-sprott“People only have a limited patience for listening to you go on and on about your own ideas, your own mind, your own memories. Art allows you to have that perfect experience of putting that down on paper without anyone growing tired and making you stop.”

“You add things onto yourself bit by bit through life to create the kind of person you want to be. Eventually, to some degree, it IS you. You picked these things deliberately.”

Seth: The Virtual Memories Conversation. Go listen!

“There’s some little thing that makes it hard to let it go of trying to create that fetish object you always wanted, that comic strip that looks like the best you can make it.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

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About our Guest

Seth is the pen name of Gregory Gallant, a Canadian comic book artist and writer. He is best known for comics such as his ongoing anthology Palookaville, George Sprott: (1894-1975), Wimbledon Green, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, and It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, all published by Drawn and Quarterly. His illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Details, Spin, The New York Times, and Saturday Night, and he has designed books and DVDs for a variety of publishers, including Fantagraphics (The Complete Peanuts), Random House (The Portable Dorothy Parker), and Criterion (Make Way for Tomorrow). Here are his favorite Criterion releases.

Credits: This episode’s music is Time Stand Still by Rush (because Seth’s Canadian, see, and his work revolves around memory and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded in Seth’s hotel room during the Toronto Comic Arts Festival 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 Seth by me.

Podcast: Hello, Columbus

Caitlin McGurk on the Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories – season 4 episode 15 – Hello, Columbus

“I’m a person who works in comics and knows a lot about comics, and I’m teaching people who know nothing about comics to talk to other people who know nothing about comics, about comics.”

Caitiln McGurk, fresh off of curating her first exhibition at Ohio State’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, The Irresistible Force Meets the Immovable Object: A Richard Thompson Retrospective, joins us to talk about how she got into the rather narrow field of comics librarian, the appeal of Columbus, OH, her dream-exhibition, how the Stations of the Cross got her started on comics, and what it was like to meet Bill Watterson! Give it a listen!

“Because of his whole mystique, people assume Bill Watterson’s a real jerk or so socially awkward that that’s why he doesn’t want to talk to people. But he just wants to have his own life and not be bombarded by fans all the time.”

We also talk about her theory on why Ohio has spawned more cartoonists than any other state in the union, how she worked with the cartoonist Richard Thompson to put together his retrospective, why Dan Clowes makes That Face in every photo, why she loves the lost New Yorker cartoonist Barbara Shermund, and more!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Caitlin McGurk is the the Engagement Coordinator at the Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. She previously served as Head Librarian at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT. She’s also an intermittent zinester and cartoonist.

Credits: This episode’s music is Sweet Librarian by Railroad Jerk. The conversation was recorded at Daniel Levine’s childhood home 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. McGurk by me.

Podcast: Feeling Gravett’s Pull

Virtual Memories – season 4 episode 5 – Feeling Gravett’s Pull

“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!)

Paul Gravett Talks Comics Art on The Virtual Memories Show

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

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.

Podcast: The Least Insane of Cartoonists

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 22 –
Pete Bagge: The Least Insane of Cartoonists

“I was asking not to be taken seriously, but I was also getting annoyed that I wasn’t being taken seriously.”

WrebPeter 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.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

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.

The musicalized, heat-filled dream of possessing his beloved

I went to Homecoming at St. John’s College this weekend. I got my master’s degree there, but I consider it my alma mater much more than I do my undergrad institution. I had a good time; it wasn’t as transformative as the Piraeus seminar I attended this past May/June, but it was a great opportunity to reconnect with other students, tutors, and an old pal who came to visit on Saturday. I didn’t get to record any podcast conversations during the trip, but did reach out to a few potential guests.

It’s been a busy few weeks for me. Two weekends ago was the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD. The next weekend we had a wedding in Dawson, PA, about 375 miles from home. This weekend was Annapolis. Next weekend I leave to Madrid and hope that the riots settle down enough for me to get to my conference safely.

I took a half-day from work on Friday, after pounding out pages and sending PDFs to the contributors of the new ish, so they can send me their corrections in time for me to get the new issue out by Wednesday. I left for Annapolis around 2 in the afternoon and had to deal with a little traffic on the ride down, but got in safe and sound, albeit unfed.

I checked in at my hotel, then drove to campus, got my registration packet, picked up a powerbar-sorta thing for dinner, and headed over to the Homecoming lecture, The Musical Universe and Mozart’s Magic Flute, by Peter Kalkavage. Peter was the tutor for my preceptorial on Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right. His 1991 essay on the role of Ulysses in The Divine Comedy was one of the things that convinced me to attend St. John’s. (It’s in this PDF.)

The lecture was way over my head, breaking down Tamino’s aria in technical ways to reveal its beauty. I’m not an opera guy and have no musical training to speak of, but I still enjoyed Peter’s exploration of the structure of the music and the effects Mozart achieved from his notes, tones, etc.

I seriously don’t have a vocabulary for this. In the Graduate Institute (the GI), we don’t receive a lot of the instruction that the undergrads do. They have music, languages (ancient Greek & French), and laboratory science. Because of our truncated schedules, we make do with a lot less. (Not that I’m complaining.) I sat with another GI during the lecture. We laughed when everyone in our section flipped the page of their sheet-music handout at the right moment, while we kept looking at the first bar. It’s always fun to be the uneducated one.

Early on, Peter put on a recording of the aria, which he would later play selections of on a piano (and sing particular segments to demonstrate certain progressions). While the recording played, he swayed a little at the lectern. That’s when my reverie began.

I thought of everything that I’ve experienced in the past few weeks. First, I thought about Jaime Hernandez, the cartooning genius, choking up while telling an SPX audience about a scene from a Tyrone Power movie, The Eddie Duchin Story.

I started recalling moments from SPX: meeting people in autograph lines, arguing (gently) with Chris Ware over how “Gill Sans” is spelled, buying art from Jaime and his brother Beto, sitting at a barroom table with the Mt. Rushmore of modern cartooning (the Hernandezes, Ware, Dan Clowes, and Charles Burns were on hand), trying to talk Kevin Huizenga into recording a podcast next time I’m in St. Louis.

From there to Michael Dirda’s house on the way back to NJ. Looking over his bookshelves, noting the UK hardcover of A Frolic of His Own, discovering that third Nabokov collection of lectures on literature, spying the brick of Kingsley Amis’ letters on the shelf behind Dirda while I interviewed him.

A week in NJ followed, with Rosh Hashanah and then the annual conference I help host. Six or seven hundred people come to a hotel to participate in the show, and it always leaves me exhausted, but at least it didn’t leave me in the emergency room like last year’s anxiety-sleeplessness-caffeine feedback loop did.

Right after the conference finished, I drove home, unpacked, then repacked, and Amy & I drove out to Dawson for a wedding: Six-plus hours in the car on 78 and 76, culminating in a dirt road (Lucky Lane) in the dark before arriving at the hotel. Touchscreen cheesesteak at a truck-stop Wawa; a little local bookstore daring enough to have William S. Burroughs’ Queer and Junky on end-cap display (picked up a used copy of The Two Cultures by CP Snow); meeting gin freaks and elderly computer bazillionaires at the wedding; finishing The Good Soldier, on Dirda’s recommendation; watching eight or nine of the male wedding guests gathering in the middle of the dance floor for a bizarre choreographed haka-polka hybrid set to Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business”; passing on karaoke.

Sunday morning, we drove out to Fallingwater, about 40 minutes away, before heading back to NJ. It was impossible and gorgeous and everything I hoped it would be, and it made me feel a little sad to be returning to the standard nine-room bi-level of our neighborhood. I thought about the engineer in Local Hero telling Peter Riegert and Peter Capaldi, “Dream large.” I got another touchscreen cheesesteak on the drive home.

Worked frantically through the next week, punctuated with a 25-hour break for Yom Kippur. In addition to the standard fast (no food or drink), I decided I’d really get out of myself and not look at a screen for that span: no iPhone, no computer, no TV. It was as liberating as I expected. By the time I checked my e-mail after breaking my fast Wednesday night (at Greek City in Ramsey), I had 35 messages on my personal e-mails, only a few of which I wanted to respond to, and none of which were imperative.

I prayed Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon with the Chabad that I visited in past years. They’ve always been accommodating, no matter how slack of a Jew I am. Some of the older gents in the congregation either recognized me from past years or just wanted to introduce themselves and make new acquaintances, which was nice. I’m so bad about joining community; I’m much better with afflicting myself.

At the end of mid-day prayers, we received a blessing from a kohen. I’d never been present for that before. We were instructed to look in his direction, but not to make eye contact during the blessing. It’s customary to cover one’s eyes with one’s tallis during this. The man in front of me set a good screen, however, so I was able to look forward without looking on the kohen’s face.

When I wasn’t at Chabad, I passed the time by re-reading King Lear, since I’d signed up for a 90-minute seminar in it for Homecoming. I hadn’t read it in years, and this reading may have been skewed a bit by the fast, since I was going without caffeine for this stretch.

After mid-day, I drove out to Nyack, NY to walk around and pass sometime. I discovered my favorite bookstore there was gone, replaced by a dry cleaner. I visited another store, the fiction department of which was filled with stacks of trade paperbacks. I tried looking at some back Paris Reviews in a stack, but it started to tip, then bumped another tower of books. I caught both of them and struggled to get them stable again without anyone at the front of the store noticing. A day of affliction can always use a little levity.

And then it was back to work, and then on to Homecoming, where this reverie began. I scrawled these reminiscences all over the backs of the sheet-music handouts. I also wrote down some details of a wonderful dream I had the night before, where I read the profile of an author who wrote a book that, according to a hybrid of Chip Delany, Michael Dirda and Junot Diaz, I would love. The book and the author don’t exist, but I retained the title of the novel, and woke up and wrote it down. I used to dream a lot more about fully-formed works of art, but it hasn’t happened in a while. I’m afraid of what that means.

Among all these notes Friday night, I wrote, “Made PDFs for contributors; put on conference.” Then I wrote, “It’s funny how unimportant those things are, and how necessary for me to live this beauty. How little of work will I remember as I grow old, and how much will I hold onto from everything else?”

Thanks for sticking around. Here are the books I bought at the college store on Saturday:

St. John's College bookstore run

The Nostalgia Journal

Last week, I mentioned that I once kinda maligned the great cartoonist Richard Sala. A commenter who professed to be a fan of both of us asked me for the story. I was a bit suspicious, given the fact that I don’t believe I have any fans, but hey.

In 1998, I wrote a number of short reviews for The Comics Journal. I’d struck up an e-mail friendship with the editor at the Journal, the oft-mentioned Tom Spurgeon, a few years earlier, and he invited me to contribute to the new short-review section. He probably realized early in our correspondence that my longer-form writing tended to lose its way, contradict itself and otherwise become unintelligible, while my snarkiness, witticisms and occasional insights were best limited to a 150-word maximum. I wish I realized that.

The August 1998 ish of TCJ ran my short review of Mr. Sala’s comic Evil Eye #1:

I was under the impression that this comic was going to be sort of an Eightball to the Lloyd Llewellyn of Sala‘s past work. In fact, after his 17-part, 200-page Chuckling Whatsit serial and subsequent collection, I was sure he’d move in a new direction, that he’d say, “Enough with the conspiracy melodramas. Enough with the mysterious stalkers, ritual killings and overlapping cabals!” Alas, that’s not the case. Evil Eye features a new serial replete with the B-move trappings and labyrinthine plots of The Chuckling Whatsit. Don’t get me wrong: Sala’s expressionistic artwork is more delightfully creepier than ever. It’s just the story is utterly stale. The inside cover of Evil Eye promises “thrills! chills!! and shock!!!,” but Sala’s delivered each of these so unerringly in recent years that I’d love to see him tackle a different milieu.

This was harsh. Not as harsh as some of the things I wrote for TCJ in those days, because it does include my genuine affection for Sala’s art and writing. It’s just that I thought that Mr. Sala had run his course with stories of secret societies, severed hands, fortune-tellers and ape-like killers, and was hoping he’d pursue a new direction with his comics.

Just a few months later (November 1998), TCJ ran a lengthy interview with Mr. Sala, conducted by Darcy Sullivan. Discussing the recurring “components” (Mr. Sullivan’s word) in his stories, Mr. Sala remarked,

Many artists actually have a specific vocabulary of obsession. Look at Hitchcock: he told very similar stories over and over again, and those are the ones that people love. When he tried to do something different, a screwball comedy or a period piece, people just didn’t accept it. As an artist, your goal should be to recognize your own personal obsessions, your own personal vocabulary, and use it. There was a review of my work where a guy said, “Enough with the mysterious killers and secret societies.” That’s like saying, “I’d sure like Peanuts a lot better if it didn’t have those kids in it.” I mean, that’s what I do. If you don’t like it, read something else.

It’s possible that I wasn’t “a guy,” because of the interval between publication of my review and the interview, but it sure sounds like what I wrote. Now, the point I was trying to make was that Dan Clowes’ Lloyd Llewellyn comic was a young man’s work in a narrow(ish) genre, where the next stage of his career — Eightball — was a quantum leap in terms of sophistication, humor, experimentation, and storytelling. One major difference was Mr. Clowes’ use of stories that directly address/engage the reader — like Art School Confidential, I Hate You Deeply (and its followup, I Love You Tenderly), Chicago, and Grist for the Mill — in which “Dan Clowes” or a stand-in plays the role of (usually irate) narrator. (This wasn’t the only thing I dug about Eightball, but it felt like a significant move away from LlLl.)

What I didn’t really get back then is that not everyone is Dan Clowes (or Pete Bagge). For Mr. Sala, all those recurring themes, locations and components are as direct as he can get. As he put it in that interview, explaining why he’s not interested in characterization:

What I’m writing are fever dreams. One person thrashing about in a world he doesn’t understand. Don’t bother searching for anything resembling a fully-rounded character. Don’t bother looking for any situation that has anything to do with reality. In other words, characterization is subordinate to plot and atmosphere. I’ll sacrifice characterization in a second for atmosphere. I don’t care what the character had for breakfast.

I mean, these stories are basically extensions of my personality. People use to ask me, “Why don’t you do autobiographical comics?” And I would say, “I’ve been doing them. These are my autobiographies.”

A few years after writing my review, I read over my old Sala comics — Thirteen O’Clock, Hypnotic Tales, Black Cat Crossing — and found them much richer than I recalled. Sure, his usual coterie of storytelling elements cropped up again and again, but I saw them now as much subtler symbols, not simply of the mystery-at-hand, but of the roles of mystery and mysticism in the psyche. Of course, I can’t discount the possibility that agents of a secret society had sneaked into my home and replaced the earlier comics with new, stranger ones, but it’s more likely that I’d grown to understand the role of these personal, stylized components to Mr. Sala’s storytelling.

So I realized that my complaint about Mr. Sala’s lack of “development” was like asking Edgar Allan Poe why he didn’t write Last of the Mohicans; it’s not the story he was here to write. Moreover, to continue the cartoonist comparison, Dan Clowes soon outgrew the “personal narrator” device and went on to write some remarkable comics during the past 15 years.

It’s a good thing I didn’t take Mr. Sala’s advice — “If you don’t like it, read something else” — because I’ve gotten a great deal of joy out of his later work. Even if Delphine reads a little too quickly for a book that took almost 4 years to serialize. (I know, I know: Delphine is as much about the textures as it is about the story.)

Now go immerse yourself in some of Mr. Sala’s comics. I’m waiting for Cat Burglar Black.

2D6E7C7C-989A-4463-A9EBA11169DA13DF

Cover art to Richard Sala’s Black Cat Crossing.

* * *

Reading over my old reviews as I prepared to write this post, I realized that they really need their own forum, so I’m planning to run “Klassik Komiks Kritikism” every Thursday, bringing you the best of my 11-years-old meanness. Because you’re worth it.

To be fair, I also wrote some positive reviews. In fact, one of my most gratifying moments came when one of the Langridge Bros. mentioned that my longer review of Zoot Suite meant a lot to them at a time when one of them was ready to get out of comics, because it told them that someone out there “got it.” Sure, it sounded to me like the episode of Cheers where Cliff appears on Jeopardy!, but I was happy for the flattery. So I’ll run my good reviews, too.