“I’ve read enough Roland Barthes and Foucault to know it’s all fiction, man.”
Richard Gehr’s new book, I Only Read It for the Cartoons: The New Yorker’s Most Brilliantly Twisted Artists (Amazon/New Harvest), profiles a dozen New Yorker cartoonists. We talk about the genesis of that project, lament the dearth of cartooning in print and online, bond over Abe Vigoda, and ponder why it is that so many New Yorker cartoonists had teachers or educators for parents. We also get into Richard’s history in the arts-journalism racket, the joys of Robert Walser, his time in the Boy Scouts with Matt Groening, how he built a career out of his oddball enthusiasms, and the most mind-blowing “Which celebrity did you totally melt down around?” story in the history of this podcast. (Seriously.) Give it a listen!
“I love New Yorker cartoons, but they might be the whitest form of art ever conceived.”
About our Guest
Richard Gehr has been writing about music, culture, and travel for quite a while. He has been an editor for the Los Angeles Reader, Spin, and Sonicnet/MTV Interactive. He currently writes for Rolling Stone, Spin, The Village Voice, Relix, AARP: The Magazine, and other publications. He was a senior writer for the book Alt. Culture: An A-To-Z Guide to the ’90S – Underground, Online, and Over-The-Counter and co-authored The Phish Book with the Vermont quartet. His new book is I Only Read It for the Cartoons: The New Yorker’s Most Brilliantly Twisted Artists. He resides in the Brooklyn arrondissement.
Credits: This episode’s music is Homesickness by Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou (because I’m on the road for a week). The conversation was recorded at Mr. Gehr’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on the same setup in a hotel room in San Diego, when my voice was shot from a three-day podcast-athon in Los Angeles. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Gehr by me.
“My impulse is to break the windows of Starbucks, but I’d get arrested if I did that, so I make comics about people breaking the windows of Starbucks.”
Cartoonist and MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship winner Ben Katchor joins us for the first live episode of The Virtual Memories Show (in conjunction with the New York Comics & Picture-stories Symposium). Ben & host Gil Roth talk in front of — and take questions from — an audience of 50 or so about Ben’s career in cartooning, including his new book, Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories (Pantheon), which collects his monthly comic page from Metropolis magazine. During the episode, Ben even performs several of his comics. If you’d like to see the comics themselves, you can download Manumission Houses and Lossless Things.
“People ask about influences and where I get my ideas. A lot of people looked at all the stuff I looked at, and they’re doing something else. It’s not like there’s an equation, like you read Saul Bellow and you look at Poussin, and then you make my comics. It’s not an equation. It’s brute force.”
The conversation and Q&A also cover his work process (with a surprising revelation about how he draws!), how book publishing lost its identity, what he learned from working in other art forms (like musical theater), how he teaches cartooning, the allure of new technologies, his one critical audience demographic, the joy of imperfections, whether he has an ideal era for New York, what happened to his History of the Dairy Restaurant book, how fear of shame keeps him productive, how Google can help when you need to draw a Russian prostitute, what he picked up from the Yiddish humor strips he read as a child, which one book the Library of America should withdraw, and how to pronounce “Knipl”! He didn’t win a “Genius” grant for nothing!
“It’s a golden age of art comics. It didn’t exist when I started. Most bookstores wouldn’t carry a comic, or even something that looked like a comic, back then. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a young cartoonist now, when these things are taken seriously and there’s an audience for them.”
About our Guest
Ben Katchor’s picture-stories appear in Metropolis magazine. His most recent collection of monthly strips, Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories, was published in March 2013 by Pantheon Books. Up From the Stacks, his most recent music-theater collaboration with Mark Mulcahy, was commissioned in 2011 by the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library and Lincoln Center and was performed at both venues. He is an Associate Professor at Parsons, The New School for Design in New York City. For more information, visit www.katchor.com.
Credits: This episode’s music is Big City Blues by Sun Ra and his Arkestra. The conversation was recorded in the Bark Room at The New School in NYC on a pair of AT2020 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. Mr. Katchor’s readings and some of the questions from the audience were recorded on a second Zoom H4n. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB mic into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo by Amy Roth.