Cartoonist & illustrator Karl Stevens rejoins the show to celebrate his new book, Penny: A Graphic Memoir (Chronicle Books), in which Karl explores the inner life of his eponymous cat Penny. We get into the challenges of realistically drawing a tortoiseshell cat (and writing her existentialist thoughts), the book’s origins in his Village Voice strip, and how he avoided plenty of cartoon cat cliches while crafting a book that can appeal to non-comics readers. We also get into his new work adapting another writer’s script for a comic, the experiments he’s doing with different drawing styles, his productive pandemic, and how he’s trying to create book about his father’s Vietnam experience. And we talk about our respective running habits, the virtues of Transcendental Meditation, his learning curve with New Yorker comic submissions, and his deep-dive into back issues of Heavy Metal. Give it a listen! And go read Penny: A Graphic Memoir!
About our Guest
Karl Stevens is a graphic novelist and painter whose comics have appeared regularly in the New Yorker, Village Voice (where Penny premiered), and Boston Phoenix. Stevens’ graphic novels include Whatever, The Lodger, Failure, and The Winner. He lives in Boston with his wife and their
overlords cats, Penny and Pepper. His new book is Penny: A Graphic Memoir.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used 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 Karl by someone else. It’s on my instagram.
“I don’t like drawing young people, attractive people. I used to get assigned drawings of the cast of ‘Friends’ for Entertainment Weekly, and it was painful. I would finish a drawing of Jennifer Aniston, and to reward myself, I’d draw Shecky Greene.”
It’s the Vermeer of the Borscht Belt! Drew Friedman, the great painter, cartoonist, chronicler of modern fame (and infamy), and Howard Stern’s favorite artist, invited me out to 2nd Ave. Deli in NYC one Saturday morning to record a conversation about art, leaving New York, show biz, R. Crumb, Joe Franklin, Tor Johnson, the Friars Club, Howard Stern, Abe Vigoda, the gallery show commemorating his books on Old Jewish Comedians, and his upcoming book of portraits on comic-book legends (as in ‘artists, writers and publishers’). We also talk about how Harry Einstein died during a roast for Lucy and Desi, trade Gilbert Gottfried stories, discuss the state of the illustration market, explore why he used stippling effects and why he stopped, and more. This one’s a lot of fun. Go listen!
“There’s a theory about why there were so many Jewish comedians: the smile behind the pain, the haunted smile. I don’t buy into it. I think they’re all just a bunch of hams. They like to be up there, telling jokes, being funny, and meeting women.”
Photo of Drew Friedman and Jerry Lewis courtesy of Jay Ruttenberg
About our Guest
Drew Friedman is an award-winning illustrator, cartoonist and painter. His work has appeared in Raw, Weirdo, SPY, National Lampoon, Snarf, The New York Times, MAD, The New Yorker, BLAB!, The New York Observer, The Wall Street Journal, HONK!, Rolling Stone, Field & Stream, TIME, The Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, and more. His comics and illustrations have been collected in several volumes, the latest, Too Soon?, published by Fantagraphics in 2010. His collection of portraits, Drew Friedman’s Sideshow Freaks, was published by Blast books in 2011. He has published three collections of paintings of Old Jewish Comedians (1, 2 and 3), but none of Old Episcopal Comedians. He also raises champion beagles with his wife, K. Bidus. You can find his full bio and buy his art at his fine art prints site and you really should read his blog.
Credits: This episode’s music is Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals by Raymond Scott. The conversation was recorded at the 2nd Ave. Deli in Manhattan on 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 a waiter at 2nd Ave. Deli.
I’m off to Louisiana! Down in the Treme, just me and my baby! (okay, we’ll be nowhere near Treme, but still.)
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I had some trepidation going into On some verses of Virgil (pp. 774-831 in the Everyman’s edition), because it’s more than 50 pages long and I’ve, um, never read Virgil. My fears were unwarranted; “some” verses turned out to be 8 lines, and those 8 lines turned out to be the launching pad for a fantastic essay on love, sex and marriage. I should know better by now.
The actual verses he quotes are:
The goddess [Venus] ceased to speak, and snowy arms outflung
Around him faltering, soft fondling as she clung.
He quickly caught the wonted flame; the heat well-known
Entered his marrow, ran through every trembling bone.
Often a brilliant lightning flash, not otherwise,
Split by a thunderclap, runs through the cloudy skies[. . .]
Gave the embraces that she craved; then on her breast,
Outpoured at last, gave himself up to sleep and rest.
With age and ill-health are wracking him, Montaigne uses those verses to explore the passions of his past, and sums up early that erotic love has no place in marriage. Not if you want your wife to keep her wits about her. “I see no marriages that sooner are troubled and fail than those that progress my means of beauty and amorous desires,” he tells us. “It needs more solid and stable foundations, and we need to go at it circumspectly, this ebullient ardor is no good for it.”
That said, M. doesn’t portray women as scheming, evil creatures. If anything, he finds them to be victims of the rules set up by men. His women have needs, desires, and sometimes make decisions as irrationally as his men do. By essay’s end, he contends that men and women “are cast in the same mold; except for education and custom, the difference is not great.” It’s a wonderful journey to this point, as M. uncovers the parts we keep covered and shows how we’re all prisoners of sex.
What makes this essay such a joy to me isn’t just M.’s hip take on gender issues, but his explanation for why he needs to write about the topic.
I am annoyed that my essays serve the ladies only as a public article of furniture, an article for the parlor. This chapter will put me in the boudoir. I like their society when it is somewhat private; when public, it is without favor or savor.[. . .] What has the sexual act — so natural, so necessary and so just — done to mankind, for us not to dare talk about it without shame and for us to exclude it from serious and decent conversation? We boldly pronounce the words “kill,” “rob,” “betray”; and this one we do not dare pronounce, except between our teeth. Does that mean that the less we breathe of it in words, the most we have the right to swell our thoughts with it?
It’s as if he’s building Howard Stern’s platform, four hundred years early. Later in the essay, he even complains to Nature about being unable to satisfy a woman because his penis is too small: “Certainly she has treated me unfairly and unkindly, and done me the most enormous damage.”
In Howard Stern fashion, he explains his openness:
I owe a complete portrait of myself to the public. The wisdom of my lesson is wholly in truth, in freedom, in reality; disdaining, in the list of its real duties, those pretty, feigned, customary provincial rules; altogether natural, constant and universal; of which propriety and ceremony are daughters, but bastard daughters.[. . .] Our life is part folly, part wisdom. Whoever writes about it only reverently and according to the rules leaves out more than half of it.
I wish I had time and space to write more about M.’s character. I feel like that’s my biggest failure with these writeups: an inability to convey the joy of meeting this man through his essays.