Podcast: Classical Pop

Virtual Memories – season 2 episode 14 – Classical Pop

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.”

Bob Sikoryak on the Virtual Memories Show

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.

Listen to the conversation!

 About Our Sponsor

This episode is sponsored by Out of Print Clothing! Visit their site and check out their great selection of T-shirts, fleeces, bags and other gear featuring gorgeous and iconic book cover designs.

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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.

Down and Up

It’s been an up and down day.

Up: Easy time driving out to the Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival (BCGF), found a parking spot half a block from the site, and had no line for gas on the way out of NJ.

Down: The panel discussion with Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman and Richard McGuire was too crowded to attend.

Up: We took the L train out to 14th & Union Sq., went down to the Strand, and I actually found a whole bunch of books I was looking for!


(L-R: The New Adventures of Jesus (Frank Stack), The Complete Short Novels (Anton Chekhov), Confessions of Felix Krull (Thomas Mann), Journey Into the Past (Stefan Zweig), Officers and Gentlemen (Evelyn Waugh), Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis), and three Library of America editions of Philip Roth)

Down: After we left the Strand, the Sartorialist walked right by us on 5th Ave. and didn’t look twice at my wardrobe. (He didn’t have his camera with him, but I still felt deflated.)

Up: I had the lardo pizza for lunch at Otto.


Down: Back at BCGF, the exhibit halls were way too hot, so I had to go back to my car and drop off my jacket.

Up: Got to meet Richard McGuire, whose 1989 6-page comic Here changed the vocabulary of comics and the understanding of how time and space can be represented on the page. Learned that he’s working on a full-length book of Here. He was friendly and said he was interested in being a guest on the podcast.

Down: Left my business cards in my jacket, so I couldn’t give him one as a reminder.

Up: I had a good conversation with David Mazzucchelli, which I skillfully started by talking about one of his obscure short comics, not his superhero work from the 1980’s. (I later told him that his Daredevil comics were pretty awesome when I was 15 or 16 years old. He was happy that I grew up along with his art.)

Down: He has no interest in being on my podcast.

Up: Gary Panter and Anders Nilsen both said they’d be on the podcast. (I went out to get my business cards, so I could give them reminders.)

Down: Art Spiegelman gave me the cold shoulder while he was talking to a pal of mine outside the show.

Up: Bought an awesome little book by McGuire, and a new edition of Nilsen’s Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, about his girlfriend’s death from cancer.


Down: Nilsen drew an empty chair for his sketch on the book’s frontispiece.

Up: Met Anne Ishii and Jillian Tamaki and had a nice conversation with them and my pal Tom Spurgeon.

Down: Made them really sad when I told them about Anders Nilsen’s follow-up book, The End, which has a 2-page spread that makes me want to cry.

Up: No one I talked to had any too-terrible stories from the hurricane and nor’easter. That makes it a good day.

Hurricane Diaries, part 2: Don’t Drink the Water

Almost 72 hours since the Tree of Damocles fell against the overhead wires, cutting off our power. There was a little progress today; a van from an electrical contractor drove in, coiled up the two lengths of wire that had split on Tuesday, hung them from their respective poles, and put red “caution” tape around them. I stopped the van on its way out, but the two employees within couldn’t tell me anything about when they expect the tree itself to be cut down, which I assume is a prerequisite to restoring our power.

It’s a bit fraught, looking out one’s window and seeing a tree hanging at a 45-degree angle to the ground, supported by the cables and wires that bring this fair city light. (Okay, it’s a “town” not a “city”, and “blah” not “fair”.) At some point, the wires have to give, right?

Still, today was much better than yesterday. After suffering bouts of nausea and blinding headaches on Wednesday, we concluded the tap water has gone bad (or that the CO detector had crapped out and that we were gonna die soon), so we moved over to the bottled stuff, as well as the water we bottled before the storm hit. No symptoms today, so yay.

Internet service has been up and down, but that’s better than yesterday’s total outage. Lines at the gas stations are hours long, as people are desperate to fuel their home generators, so we’re not making any more “let’s get out of the house” treks, except for the 2.5-mile round-trip to the public library, where they have charging stations set up.

I’ve gone down there the past two days for an hour or so at a time to charge the iPads, laptops, and an external battery that charges the phones up pretty quickly. I also, of course, sit around and read while I wait.

I knocked off Fifth Business this afternoon, took a break with Gary Panter’s Dal Tokyo collection, then took up The Manticore. At this point, I don’t know how I won’t finish Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy by Monday. Especially if our internet coverage stays spotty.

I cannot begin to explain the allure of these novels, but they’re a blast. Davies’ narrators and his cast of characters are utterly enchanting.

And now, back to stoking the wood-burning stove. (I put a fresh 9-volt battery in the CO detector, btw.)

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.


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:


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.

Licensing Expo of the Weird!

Back in 1996, I was the associate editor of a magazine called Juvenile Merchandising.

(It was double-duty; I was also associate editor of Auto Laundry News, the car wash industry trade magazine. People always laugh when I tell them that. “There’s a trade magazine for the car wash industry?” they ask, and I tell them, “Actually, there were three trade magazines for the car wash industry.” See, the immutable law of trade magazines is that once a journal manages to make a dime in any industry, at least two more publishers will try to chisel in. Stick around for more valuable lessons from the working world.)

That June, one of my assignments at the magazine was to cover the Licensing Expo in New York City. The exhibitors at the expo were license-holders, that is, the companies that owned the rights to various characters and properties, like Godzilla and Winnie-the-Pooh. The attendees were people who wanted to license characters for pens, videogames, bags, and, well, a bazillion other pieces of merchandise.

I had interviews set up with a number of major exhibitors like Sony and Paramount, mainly to talk about how their various characters were being used for different kid’s products, but also to try to get some of their neat giveaways, like Simpsons T-shirts from the Fox pavilion. Those companies had giant exhibit-space to show off their properties, but I also made time to wander among the smaller exhibitors and their lesser-known characters.

On the afternoon of my first day at the show, I was walking down one aisle of minor exhibitors when I saw a small booth displaying Pee-wee Herman dolls and toys, as well as some hyper-grotesque cartoons of Jimbo Comics on the counter. I was floored to discover that one of my favorite cartoonists had a stand at the expo, and I blurted out, “Holy shit! Gary Panter!”

The gentleman behind the counter started with fright. “Do I know you?” he asked.

“No, but I love your comics!” I told him. Gary smiled, relieved. I was 25, and I don’t think I’d ever met a published cartoonist. Plenty of campus comics geeks, sure, and That Guy Who Tried To Draw Like Frank Frazetta, but no one who had made an actual career out of comics.

We talked. About comics. For hours. I cleared out of his booth whenever attendees stopped by. Gary had designed the sets for Pee-Wee Herman’s old stage act, as well as the set of the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse TV show, but I don’t remember what he was trying to license. I guess since he was Brooklyn-based and the exhibit space didn’t cost too much, he gave it a shot.

I was elated both that a great cartoonist would make the time to shoot the breeze with me, and that a great cartoonist was so personable and easy-going. He was the first guy who really impressed upon me the economics of making comics while raising a family. Now that I’m middle-aged and have seen most of my idols take time to do better-paying non-comics work, I think back on that part of our conversation quite a bit.

At one point, I noted how few “mainstream” comics I was reading. “Really,” I said, “the only Marvel books I bought this decade were those monster and horror reprints they did a couple of years ago.”

“The what now?” he asked, a little surprised.

I told him that around 1994, Marvel had reprinted a bunch of old monster comics from the ’50’s in a pair of 4-issue series called Curse of the Weird and Monster Menace. “They’re great! All these old strips by Kirby and Ditko and Heath and even some Wolverton.”


“Yeah! I’ll bring ’em in for you tomorrow, if you want to see!”

And I did (along with my copy of Jimbo, so he could draw a sketch for me). He looked over the comics and asked, “Can I hold onto these?”


He thanked me, then said, “One thing: you may not get them back for a little while. I, um, have a pathological thing about the post office.”

“. . . Sure . . .”

And then we went back to another 3-hour conversation about comics, Matt Groening, married life, Brooklyn, and whatever else a 25-year-old indie comics geek and a 46-year-old punk-rock cartooning icon have to talk about.

Months and months passed, and I forgot about the comics. Then, one January day, I opened my mailbox and blurted out, “Holy shit! It’s Gary Panter’s envelope!”

(okay, maybe not)

He had decorated just about every inch of the envelope with pastiches of panels from the comics. His style was more suited for the Kirby drawings, but he threw in some good Ditko ones, too. I guess it was a fun, throwaway thing for him, but of course I’ve held onto it for a dozen years.

So that’s my story about meeting Gary Panter. I met him again in 2005 at the Comic-Con in San Diego, but I don’t think he remembered me. I should’ve mentioned the monster comics.

For more conversations and other encounters with cartoonists, writers and artists, visit The Virtual Memories Show podcast!