“Every one of my novels has had at least a portion where I’ve thought, ‘if I do this badly, it’s going to be terribly embarrassing and I’m going to have to hang my head in shame forever, but if I pull it off, it’ll probably be pretty cool!'”
Novelist Matt Ruff joins the show to talk about how his fantastic novel Lovecraft Country began as a TV pitch 10 years ago, and is now on its way to becoming an HBO series. We get into cultural appropriation issues (Matt’s white and LC‘s about a black family dealing with racism and the supernatural in 1950s Chicago), the pros and cons of genre-hopping, the differences between mid-century racism in the North and the South, growing up over the course of his first three novels and learning to be happy with his voice, becoming friends with one of his favorite authors (past and future pod-guest John Crowley), his ambivalence toward HP Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick and his affinity for their imitators, why he loved the descriptions of late Heinlein novels but was disappointed by the books themselves (when he was 12!), bucking his family’s religious traditions, missing his opportunity to babysit Thomas Pynchon’s kid, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Lovecraft Country!
“I intended for Lovecraft Country to be a TV series, so I thought, ‘What if I do the literary equivalent of a season that you binge-watch?’ That’s why the novel is structured very much like an 8-episode TV season.”
About our Guest
Matt Ruff is the author of the novels Fool on The Hill (1988), Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (1997), Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls (2003), Bad Monkeys (2007), The Mirage (2012), and Lovecraft Country (2016), which was recently greenlit as an HBO series.
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 Mr. Ruff’s home 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. Photo of Mr. Ruff by me. It’s on my instagram.
“Marbles was in many respects was the senior thesis in psychology that I never did as an undergrad.”
The great Seattle cartoonist Ellen Forney joins the show to talk about comics, civic art, being bipolar, and the challenges of maintaining! We get into her 2012 graphic memoir, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, finding a graphic representation of her depressive states, the evolution in her drawing style, the letter she stole from Michael Dougan, the process of going from comics panels to enormous murals for a light-rail station in Seattle, the influence of the Moosewood Cookbook, the importance of a psychology stats class she took in college, how she learned to teach comics, the moment when she felt she was using all her artistic tools, and why she needed Kaz to design her back-tattoo! Give it a listen! And go buy Marbles!
“Knowing statistics doesn’t prepare you for the experience of the person in front of you.”
About our Guest
Cartoonist Ellen Forney is the author of NYT bestseller Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir, and the 2012 “Genius Award” winner in Literature from Seattle’s The Stranger. She collaborated with Sherman Alexie on the National Book Award-winning novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, created the Eisner-nominated comic books I Love Led Zeppelin and Monkey Food: The Complete “I Was Seven in ’75” Collection, and has taught comics at Cornish College of the Arts since 2002. She grew up in Philadelphia and has lived in Seattle, Washington since 1989. Ellen swims and does yoga, and fixes things with rubber bands and paper clips.
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 Ms. Forney’s home 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. Promo photo of Ms. Forney by Jacob Peter Fennell. Back-at-her-desk photo of Ms. Forney by me. It’s on my instagram.
“How can you keep experimenting within your own work? When they say people reinvent themselves, they just mean they put on new clothes or something.”
Ben Katchor rejoins the show to talk about the 25th anniversary edition of Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay (Drawn & Quarterly)! We talk about those aforementioned pleasures, the boredom of the modern flaneur, his evolution from genre fandom to “literary comics” (my awful term, not his), the danger in comics becoming over-academic, the challenges of writing a world history, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Cheap Novelties!
“You spend the first 20 years of your life figuring out how the culture works, another 20 years figuring out how to make a living in that culture, and maybe the last part you’re in oblivion, saying, ‘What did I do?'”
We also get into the tedium of the latest iteration of New York City, the experience of capitalism’s end-game, why his comics are a product of a unique moment, his discovery of Undergrounds, the challenges of making anything new, how he found a readership that isn’t interested in comics, and more! Now go listen to the show!
“All these people who weren’t born or were babies when Cheap Novelties came out, now they’re going to look at it and say, ‘What does this mean? How does this even relate to us?'”
About our Guest
Ben Katchor lives in New York, where he is an Associate Professor at Parsons School of Design—The New School. As director of Parsons’ Illustration program, he runs The New York Comics & Picture-story Symposium, a weekly lecture series for the study of text-image work. He has been the recipient of both a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship.
Along with his long-running comic-strip work — Julius Knipl, Real-Estate Photographer, The Cardboard Valise, Hotel & Farm, The Jew of New York, and a monthly strip for Metropolis magazine—Katchor has also collaborated with musician Mark Mulcahy on a number of works for musical theatre. These works include The Rosenbach Company (a tragi-comedy about the life and times of Abe Rosenbach, the preeminent rare-book dealer of the 20th century); The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island, or, The Friends of Dr. Rushower, an absurdist romance about the chemical emissions and addictive soft-drinks of a ruined tropical factory-island; A Checkroom Romance, about the culture and architecture of coat-checkrooms; and Up From the Stacks, about a page working the stacks of the New York Public Library in 1975. Katchor is the only cartoonist to have won an Obie for Best New American Work, for his libretto and drawings for The Carbon Copy Building, a collaboration with Bang on a Can. His TED Talk is titled Comics of Bygone New York. He is on Twitter at benkatchor.
His books include the 25th anniversary edition of Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay, Hand-Drying in America: And Other Stories, The Cardboard Valise, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: Stories, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District, and The Jew of New York.
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 in the garden at the rear of the Columbus Metropolitan Library 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 Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 and then into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Mr. Katchor at his drawing desk by Keetja Allard, photo from his Twitter avatar by ???.
“The world is a mad place, and New York was a good place to be mad in.”
Artist Glen Baxter joins the show for a conversation about his new collection, Almost Completely Baxter: New and Selected Blurtings (New York Review Comics). We get into the roots of his absurdism, his first visit to New York City in the ’70s and how it changed his life, where his cowboy-thing started, why he doesn’t define himself as either an artist or a cartoonist (but maybe as a visual poet?), the challenge of doing long-form narrative when so much of his work is single-panel, our mutual dislike of the contemporary art scene, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Almost Completely Baxter: New and Selected Blurtings!
“All the cultural vibrancy of great cities has been made less possible by the fact that people can’t afford to live there anymore. The energy is dissipated.”
We also get into how absurdism insulates him from this modern world, the impact of Brexit on British culture, why his humor was always a tough sell in the UK, the paradox of political cartoonists’ work being bought by the politicians they ridicule, the joy of ukulele, the experience of having his work knocked off by other artists, the time he got a Cartier commission, and more. Now go listen to the show!
“European culture is important to me. Having that snatched away by Brexit, well, that’s something no one discussed in any of the debates.”
About our Guest
Glen Baxter is the author of many books since the 1970s, including The Impending Gleam, The Billiard Table Murders, and Blizzards of Tweed. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Elle, Vogue, Le Monde, The Observer, and The Independent on Sunday. He is a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters, and his art is often exhibited in New York, Amsterdam, Paris, and London, where “Colonel” Baxter lives. His new collection is Almost Completely Baxter: New and Selected Blurtings (New York Review Comics).
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 the Bethesda North Marriott 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 Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photo of Mr. Baxter by me.
“The enemy of the artist is self-consciousness. You can’t be writing for anyone, because that’ll paralyze you.”
Phoebe Gloeckner, the author of The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures joins the podcast on way too little sleep to talk about transgressing borders: national borders, panel borders, and familial borders. We talk about Diary’s hybrid structure and why it would have been unpitchable to a publisher (luckily, she had a two-book contract), the tightrope of portraying a 15-year-old girl’s affair with her mother’s 30-something boyfriend without making her strictly a victim or “asking for it”, and some audiences’ obsession with “the facts” of the book. We also get into her ongoing, decade-long multi-media project to recreate a life in Juarez, Mexico, her place in the comics scene (too young for the undergrounds, too old for the alternatives), her unrepeatable approach to making art, and more! Give it a listen! And buy Diary of a Teenage Girl!
“If I thought of myself as a victim, there was nobody who was going to feel sorry for me, or help me. I was a victim, but a teenager in that situation doesn’t feel like a victim. The minute you feel like a victim, any power you have is sucked from you. It’s a dangerous thing to call yourself.”
She also tells a hilarious story about her first meeting with Matt Groening, explains why she’ll never get into another relationship, discusses her attachment to the works of Dr. Ira Lunan Ferguson, and reveals perhaps the most insane version ever of the “reconnecting with your ex on Facebook” phenomenon. Go listen!
“I know there are limits in art, but I reject them as long as I can.”
About our Guest
Phoebe Gloeckner is a graphic novelist and a Professor at the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design. She is the author of The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures (which was recently made into a film), and A Child’s Life and Other Stories, as well as many short stories, illustrations, and comics which have appeared in a variety of publications over the last 25 years. She has a master’s degree in Biomedical Communications from The University of Texas at Dallas, and was an undergraduate at San Francisco State University. She also studied at Charles University in Prague and L’Unversité D’Aix-Marseille in France. She was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008. Phoebe is currently working on a multi-media novel based on the lives of several families living on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. She has traveled frequently to Juárez over the last 10 years to research the project.
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 the ink48 Hotel in NYC on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of pissed-off Phoebe by me.
“I started writing stories as soon as I knew what stories were. I taught myself to type when I was 8 years old, because I couldn’t write fast enough.”
Novelist and immersive theater director Kathe Koja joins the show to talk about her new novel, The Bastards’ Paradise, the arc of her career from splatterpunk (hey, it was the ’90s) to YA to the 19th C. romance of her Poppy trilogy, the meaning of Detroit, her life-changing experience at a staging of Sleep No More, the joys (and perils) of defying genre conventions, the epiphany of brutally murdering Tweddle-Dee, saving her first novel (from when she was 14) to feel better about herself, why great poetry is like IV drugs, and more! Give it a listen!
“I think the story of the wrongness of science fiction is like an exposure of the nature of homo sapiens on this planet. Science fiction goes wrong because we go wrong, and it does it with great clarity. I want a record of that and I want to see how we go wrong and how we can learn.”
Then John Clute returns to the show to talk about establishing the Clute Science Fiction Library @ Telluride! Also, he uses the word “haecceity” in conversation, which is a Virtual Memories first! Go listen!
We talk about some books and a couple of movies in this episode. Here’s a list of them:
- Under The Poppy – Kathe Koja
- The Mercury Waltz – Kathe Koja
- Bastard’s Paradise – Kathe Koja
- The Cipher – Kathe Koja
- Kink – Kathe Koja
- The Mad Man – Samuel R. Delany
- Dracula – Bram Stoker
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
- Come Along with Me – Shirley Jackson
- Riddley Walker – Russell Hoban
- A Dead Man in Deptford – Anthony Burgess
- Anna Karenina – Tolstoy
- Synecdoche, NY
- Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
- The Odyssey – Homer
- The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann
- Dr. Faustus – Thomas Mann
About our Guests
Kathe Koja’s 16th novel, The Bastards’ Paradise, is just out from Roadswell Editions. Her other novels include The Cipher, Skin, Strange Angels, Buddha Boy, Talk, and Headlong. Her work has won numerous awards, been multiply translated, and optioned for film and performance. As a director/producer, she leads the performance group nerve in creating immersive live events.
(1940- ) Canadian novelist and sf critic, in the UK from 1969; married to Judith Clute from 1964. He has been the partner of Elizabeth Hand since 1996. His first professional publication, a long sf-tinged poem called “Carcajou Lament”, appeared in Triquarterly for Winter 1960 (i.e. in 1959), though he only began publishing sf proper with “A Man Must Die” in New Worlds for November 1966, where much of his earlier criticism also appeared. This criticism, despite some studiously flamboyant obscurities, remains essentially practical, and has appeared mostly in the form of reviews, many of which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Foundation, Washington Post, Omni, Times Literary Supplement, New York Times, New York Review of Science Fiction, Interzone, Los Angeles Times, Observer, Science Fiction Weekly (see Online Magazines), the Independent, Strange Horizons and elsewhere. He has written two regular review columns: Excessive Candour for Science Fiction Weekly between 1997 and 2009; and Scores, intermittently in The Infinite Matrix 2001-2003, regularly in Interzone between 2005 and 2008, and in Strange Horizons from 2010. Selections from this work, almost always revised, have been assembled in Strokes: Essays and Reviews 1966-1986 (coll 1988), Look at the Evidence: Essays and Reviews (coll dated 1995 but 1996), Scores: Reviews 1993-2003 (coll 2003), Canary Fever: Reviews (coll 2009) and Stay (coll 2014). An ongoing project to construct models of story “moves” in the literatures of the fantastic is represented by a set of connected motif entries in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) with John Grant [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] and in The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror (2006), as well as in Fustian (2006 chap) with Jason Van Hollander, a long interview focused on these issues. In later essays – like “Fantastika in the World Storm” (Spring 2008 Foundation) and “Physics for Amnesia” (October 2008 The New York Review of Science Fiction), both assembled in revised form with other essays as Pardon This Intrusion: Fantastika in the World Storm (coll 2011) – he has suggested that a central task for Fantastika in the twenty-first century is to dissolve the cultural Amnesia that has arguably consumed the Western world since World War Two (see Horror in SF; Postmodernism and SF). Primarily for his critical work, he received a Pilgrim Award in 1994, the IAFA Award as Distinguished Guest Scholar in 1999, and a Solstice Award (see SFWA Grand Master Award) in 2012.
In 1960 Clute was Associate Editor of Collage, an ill fated Chicago-based Slick magazine which in its two issues did manage to publish early work by Harlan Ellison and R A Lafferty. He served as Reviews Editor of Foundation 1980-1990, and was a founder of Interzone in 1982; he remained Advisory Editor of that magazine until 2004, and then contributed the column mentioned above. He was the Associate Editor of the first edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1979; vt The Science Fiction Encyclopedia 1979), which won a Hugo award, and was co-editor of the much-expanded second edition The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993; rev 1995; further rev vt Grolier Science Fiction: The Multimedia Encyclopedia of Science Fiction 1995 CD-ROM; further rev 1999), for which he shared 1994 Hugo and Locus awards with Peter Nicholls. Though Clute and Nicholls were listed as editors, the book was in fact written mostly by them and Associate Editor Brian Stableford. The current third edition, again much expanded as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (online from 2011) edited by John Clute and David Langford with Peter Nicholls serving as Editor Emeritus and Graham Sleight as Managing Editor, has similarly been written in the main by its editors and Contributing Editors; it won a Hugo as Best Related Work in 2012. Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia (1995), which he wrote solo and for which he also received a Hugo in 1996, is a companion to sf, not in any way connected to the encyclopedias listed above. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) with John Grant, for which both editors shared a 1998 Hugo, deals with fantasy within a frame broadly compatible with that governing this Encyclopedia, which is its elder sibling.
Over his career, Clute has published several sf stories and two novels: The Disinheriting Party (in New Worlds Quarterly 5, anth 1973, ed Michael Moorcock; exp 1977), which is Equipoisal with the fantastic, but demurs into rationalizations at the end; and Appleseed (2001), which is a Space Opera with an anti-Religion bias. The Made Minds (AIs) who dominate much of the action manifest themselves throughout as Avatars allied to a Forerunner mentor in support of all surviving humans, who are shunned because of the sexual (see Sex) odour they emit; but as they are genetically deaf to god (see Communications; Gods and Demons), the galaxy-wide diaspora of Homo sapiens has created a Pariah Elite destined to become central combatants in the coming universal War against the Entropy-generating deity, as proclaimed for the first time in the book’s Slingshot Ending. [JC]
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation with Ms. Koja was recorded at the Saratoga Hilton on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder (except for when I screwed up the recording and used my Zoom H2n backup). The session with Mr. Clute was done on my enCORE 200 & Zoom H5. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Ms. Koja and Mr. Clute by me.