Tag : comics
Tag : comics
Mimi Pond is most recently the author of Over Easy.
Author: Mimi Pond
Subjects Discussed: Different forms of memoir (and related resistance by publishing), James Frey, autobiographical fiction vs. memoir in comics, realizing Over Easy from a manuscript, working from a textual framework, trash-talking line cooks, Charles Dickens, Daniel Clowes, comic book characters often cast into inevitable film adaptations, imagination, picture books, Mama’s Royal Cafe as a locational inspiration, memory vs. reference shots, the difficulty of filling up sketch books while waiting tables, the mysterious Nestor Marzipan, keeping in touch with former restaurant co-workers, keeping gossip alive, taking notes, when memories elude the nostalgia trap, what 1978 establishments can teach 21st century diners, drugs and the willful stupidity of kids, disco wars, how a rudderless culture was maintained by a manager who made waitresses feel special by listening, what people found charming about diners in 1978, Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster, Todd Haynes’s miniseries adaptation of Mildred Pierce, dramatizing working-class life, how dishwaters can form more legitimate claques than art school, the haziness of art school, the green chromatic feel throughout Over Easy, the one character with a jet black character in the book, the cameo appearance of Flipper‘s Ted Falconi, “Art is dead!” proclamations, maintaining aesthetic standards during a time of bad music and bad art, the oppressive nature of avocado green, young kids today who glorify the 1970s, Peter Frampton, the band America, the influence of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, people who overanalyze comics, the early seeds of storytelling, being nursed at the bosom of MAD Magazine, working with Shary Flenniken at the National Lampoon, learning the basics of a comic strip, circular text around objects, cartoonists and the daily grind, doing monthly strips for the Voice, social commentary in comics form, drowning babies, editorial arguments with Drawn and Quarterly, politically incorrect language excised from the finished product, ironic epithets from 1970s liberals, the importance of getting upset to understand a time, Norman Mailer’s “fug,” living in a high mesa in San Diego comparable to the unshaded area of a picnic table, public park metaphors for living circumstances, the New York Times‘s claim that Oakland is the new Brooklyn, being attracted to bad poets before knowing their poetry is bad, the lack of good coffee in the 1970s, diners that once used real linen napkins, the virtues of not being judged for sleeping with anyone in 1978, and slut shaming and Lulu.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: What specific points in 1978 did you really feel compelled to capture? I mean, how could you do 1978 right while also adhering to the exigencies of narrative, which requires a kind of linear path and all that? What was the organizational process like?
Pond: I was just remembering things the way they were then. Things that really stuck with me. And I worked on this over a fifteen-year period, from about 1998 until early this year. It wasn’t so much that I was like “I’m going to capture 1978!” It was “I’m going to remember it the way I’m going to remember it.” So it wasn’t anything that specifically deliberate. It was just the time and the place and what it felt like at the time. And I did take notes over the years from the time I left up until 1982, until about 1998, and I also went back to visit many times. And I talked to my former co-workers, who very generously shared their experiences with me, which I also incorporated into the story.
Correspondent: Were there any stories or anecdotes that were pure romantic forms of nostalgia? Or things you wish would have happened? Anything along those lines?
Pond: No. I don’t think of it as nostalgia. Because there were too many hard lessons learned.
Correspondent: It was too rough to be nostalgic. (laughs)
Pond: Yeah, it was too rough to be nostalgic and there were too many people who wound up down the rabbit hole of drug abuse for too many years to have the dewy glow of nostalgia around it. It was one of those situations where it was really following up to a point until it wasn’t fun anymore. And there’s going to be a Part Two. I’m working on that now.
Correspondent: I know that.
Pond: Part Two gets darker.
Correspondent: Well, what about Part One? Did the darkness threaten to overwhelm some of the romance of the diner? The kind of effervescent look of the place and the feel of the actual book?
Pond: No. I don’t think so. I mean, I’ve always been in love with the look of that place. The first time I walked into it, it just felt like home. So I could just draw that counter and those booths and all that stuff endlessly.
Correspondent: Well, what does a diner like the Imperial — I mean, what could it teach diners of today? What does a 21st century diner not have that the Imperial did have?
Pond: Well, there were no rules. In the ’60s, the hippies threw out all the rules. And in the ’70s, we looked up and we just said, “Oh, the rules are gone. So which ones do we put back? And which ones do we leave out? And how does this all work?” And it was kind of up to you to figure it out. There was no one saying, “Just say no.” So everyone was going, “Woohoo! Drugs! Yeah, drugs are fun!” Like no one said, “That cocaine thing? That’s not such a good idea.” “Jazz musicians used to snort cocaine in the ’30s. So it’s really cool, right?” And kids are always stupid. And this is what drug abuse is about. Like heroin, people are just stupid enough. “I’m not going to get hooked!”
Correspondent: What was the common ground of such a place? You mention early on how the disco wars were what united the punks and the hippies. And then at the end of the book, we see this poetry night in which everybody is allowed his particular moment. Does it really take a place to unite so many subcultures? So many groups? What was the cross-pollination at the time that you were trying to capture here?
Pond: Well, the uniting force in that particular place was Lazlo Meringue, the manager.
Correspondent: Who everybody told their problems to.
Pond: Yeah. Everyone told him their problems. And he was one of those people that just made you feel like you were the most important person in the room. And he validated your experiences by telling you that the fact that you had observed this and you think that about it is meaningful. Not just “Oh! You’re full of shit.” And the other thing was that, yes, this was important and we need to write this down. Because we’re going to make some kind of art about this later. And that was very important to me. And it made all the difference. I mean, I don’t think I ever could have worked in any other restaurant after that. I made a few futile stabs at putting in applications after I left that place, but luckily — I say luckily — no one ever hired me again. And then I had a career as a cartoonist and I never had to go back to that. But it never would have been the same. I mean, his motto was “The Customer is Always Wrong,” which did not really mean that you were entitled to give bad service. In fact, we all kind of prided ourselves on giving good service. It was more like he had your back. And if anyone gave you any crap, he would back you up.
Correspondent: And presumably the walls between the kitchen and the restaurant were thick enough to prevent any of the customers from hearing all of the profane screeches and all that.
Pond: I think, at the time, people were down for that too. Because that’s the kind of place it was. A cook would drop the end of his roach into an omelet and the customer would finally go, “Oh, I found this. Ha ha ha!”
Correspondent: “How charming!”
Chris Ware is most recently the writer and illustrator of Building Stories.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Learning how to wash his hands.
Author: Chris Ware
Subjects Discussed: The significance (or lack thereof) of the date September 23, 2000, technological reliance and its intrusion upon existence in Building Stories, the amount of time that humans presently stare into screens, the virtues of shapes and forms on paper, coming from a family of journalists, Ware’s decision to self-publish, the materials used in Building Stories, Ware’s affinity for small rectangular panels, the buildings that inspired the building, Charles Burns, losing track of time and space while drawing, temporal drift, Ira Glass and accusations of cliche, the pleasant frustration of not knowing the names of the Building Stories characters, people not saying Chris Ware’s name in his dreams, when characters are too defined by their names, flowers that grow along Illinois railways, SoundCloud, whether comics can compete with technology to encourage imagination, comics as a visually reductive medium to create a new language, Brandford the Bee and his influence as a narrative spirit, a fondness for circles, understanding other people, looking at animals for a very long time, empathy, Ware’s insistence on visual clarity, typography, operating from a place of uncertainty, Acme #20 and a character aging one year for every page, working with and without deadlines, how the Oak Park Public School system determines how much Ware turns out, observing the human world, parents who aren’t allowed to see their children as often as they need to, being in a privileged position, failed or aborted forms, Ware’s experiments with television, Ware’s difficulties in working with other people, cartooning as a singular art, whether there is an ideal medium for explicating or portraying human behavior, non-objective painting, representing a multilayered consciousness in comics, the physicality of doing the work, the frequency of Ware characters with afflicted or amputated legs, the creative inspiration which emerges from breaking legs, human frailties, and whether the human soul can be contained through illustration.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: Is there any specific significance to the date September 23, 2000? I do know that a baseball player named Aurelio Rodriguez died that particular day.
Ware: Is that true? I didn’t know that. No, I picked it simply because it seemed like a date that didn’t particularly have any meaning to it. It’s just sort of a random day.
Correspondent: Well, let’s talk about the role of technology in Building Stories. I mean, we see that you have a concern for its effect on everyday life, ranging from the Facebook searches for lost boyfriends to this one page stark illustration with this unnamed woman with the leg. She’s standing naked before her husband and her husband is there with the iPad, also naked, not paying attention to her at all. Then of course you have this really terrifying last page augmented reality future, where they can’t even spell “fuck” right. So this would suggest, I think, a deep pessimism on your part for how technology is affecting life and so forth. And here you have a collection of fourteen various pamphlets ranging from something very small to almost a newspaper size. Is this really what we have to do now? In order for literature and comics to survive, do we now have to create massive physical palpable forms in order to get people off of this highly addictive technology that has encroached itself into culture all around us for the last five years?
Ware: No. I don’t think so. I mean, it is a little disturbing. The amount of time that we spend increasingly staring into these glowing pits in front of us. Just simply standing out on the street here, the number of people who are looking at the palms of their hands. There’s probably a higher percentage of people doing that than actually looking up. And I think the gesture for trying to remember something now has changed from looking above one’s head to slapping one’s pocket. But it’s really not that different from what adults do anyway, which is not necessarily looking at the world around them, but looking into their own past and thinking about their future and simply just kind of navigating in a world. Just trying to get through the world while worrying about the past and thinking about the future. I don’t think it’s necessary to try to make something — I don’t know what word I could use here. It’s elaborate, I guess. That’s what I tried do. But at the same time, why not? I mean, paper can do things that screens cannot. And I’ve tried to take advantage of that with the book. And we’re at a moment right now too where certain experiences and the way that we get knowledge about the world has been attached to certain shapes and forms. And those shapes and forms are disappearing. And it seemed to me just like a possibility for a slight sense of poetry in using those shapes and forms as a physical way of imparting a sense of life or everyday experience.
Correspondent: So shapes and forms in the form of paper. Old forms are the way to counter the conformist technological forms. That the housing of the form is probably going to get through to people more than the elaborate Tuftean graphs you’ve often had in your work. So you think this is going to be a solution? You think paper will persist? Do you actually have to change as an illustrator, as a cartoonist, as an artist in order to woo people’s attention?
Ware: Well, no. I grew up at a time where I read everything on paper. And I don’t have a sentimental attachment to it. I’ve never subscribed to a newspaper in my life. I’ve always read the newspaper either just simply on the Internet or picked it up here and there. Even though I come from a long line of newspaper editors and publishers. My mom was a reporter and an editor. My grandfather was an editor. My great great uncle was a publisher who actually won a Pulitzer Prize for an essay in, I think, 1911. So it’s in my blood. I feel that it’s no longer the most efficient way of disseminating important up-to-date information. Newsprint was for a long time. It was almost a fiber optic cable. But now it’s not. It’s great for art though. So I think art needs a certain kind of containment. And it needs a certain kind of containment to it because so much of the things that one writes about as a novelist or tries to get at sometimes as an artist are so ineffable and uncontainable that they almost need a certain form to stop them or something. Or freeze them.
Correspondent: So this leads me to ask, I mean, did you have to learn a lot about materials and publishing for Building Stories? Or did you have someone shepherding this for you? I mean, how did you decide upon the forms for Building Stories? In which you’re essentially collecting things from the Acme Novelty Library as well as a few new things as far as I know. How did you decide upon the forms? And what research did you do in making sure they would stick together or would be lasting to counter the end of newsprint era that we now have rolling?
Ware: Right. Well, everything in the book is made out of the exact same paper. Which is intentional. And they’re almost all coverless, with the exception of a couple. And that’s also intentional. I didn’t really have to research much. I’ve been self-publishing my own hardcovers now and comics for a while. And I’ve actually dealt directly with printing companies. So I’m more or less familiar with how those things are put together. But for this particular project, the production manager at Pantheon handled all of that for me and was able to make it work. But I just simply gave him very specific parameters for the size and paper that I wanted to use. And he accommodated me essentially. He was a very nice guy. Andy Hughes.
Correspondent: So why did you move to self-publishing? I was always curious about that.
Ware: I was sort of uninspired, I guess, at a certain point. And I felt more that if I published something myself, it would feel closer to art. The way it had early on. And I felt like I was taking the whole risk myself at that point.
Correspondent: You wanted to be a control freak.
Ware: Well, somewhat. Yeah. But at the same time, if there are any mistakes, they were entirely mine. I was solely the product of my hand. It just simply felt more like art. I was making something specifically, giving it to someone. I didn’t go through a publisher. It was less of a product and more of a thing.
Correspondent: So when you’re creating an elaborate — well, there’s tons of questions I have to ask you about layout and so forth. But let’s start — I was always curious about your small microscopic rectangular panels that are often in your work. I’m wondering if part of your attraction to this is because you’re interested in communicating the maximum amount of information with a minimum amount of detail. Is this the allure for you?
Ware: Yeah. Somewhat. Yeah. And the reason I use square panels is simply because the page is square. It’s reflective of the shape of the object itself in the same way that a leaf of a tree is somewhat reflective of the shape of a tree itself. But that’s not unusual. That’s the way all cartoonists work. I think it’s the way it’s been handed down to us.
Correspondent: So the building that is at the base of Building Stories, was this based off of any particular building?
Ware: It’s a synthesis of two buildings that I lived in in Chicago before my wife and I moved to Oak Park, Illinois. But the inhabitants are completely imaginary.
Correspondent: Are they based off of floor plans and layouts that you wandered through or lived in?
Ware: Yeah, it’s a combination of the exterior of the second building that we lived in and the floor plan of the first that I lived in. Which really means nothing to anyone except me.
Correspondent: How much did the building dictate the dimensionality of the characters? Like, for example, there’s this couple who’s unhappy. And of course, we see that pretty much all the walls are painted blue. And I’m wondering if the blue room or perhaps a yellow background may have influenced where you were going with the characters. And had you thought many of them out in advance?
Ware: You know, I thought them out. But I did not think of the colors as having any influence on the narrative. I guess, if anything else, it was just simply a way of color coding the various floors of the building itself. I find — Charles Burns and I were just talking about this recently — that, sometimes when we sit drawing, we realize that we completely lose where we are in space and time. When I’m sitting at a table, sometimes I’ll forget what room in the house I’m in. Or if I’m even in the house that I’m in. That I’ll even imagine for a second I’m in the apartment that I used to live in. And Charles was saying that he would recently find himself thinking that the sister’s room was right around the corner the way it had been when he was a child. And I’ve experienced it. Everyone has certainly. I mean, it starts off. Proust. And when you fall asleep, you tend to lose a sense of where you are when you wake up in the morning. Sometimes you don’t have any idea where you are. You have to recalibrate yourself.
Correspondent: That temporal drift, I think, informs many of the stories that are in here. Especially the thin stripped one where there are no words whatsoever. It’s all about motherhood and how we see the passage of time throughout that. And I’m wondering. Does this often inform how you organize a story along those lines? Do words often get in the way? Is time sometimes more of an allure than words or dialogue or even blank speech bubbles?
Ware: Well, in that case, there was an attempt to try and give it a sense of the general activities that one might go through during a day. And if I use words, then the segments would be too specific and seem too much like a slideshow of actual reality. Where I was trying to get more of a sense of a general repetition as well as getting a sense of time passing very rapidly. That the strip was inspired by a comment that my friend Ira Glass, the radio reporter and…I shouldn’t say “radio reporter,” but the producer and inventor and progenitor of This American Life.
Correspondent: Well, This American Life has journalistic standards. You can call him that.
Ware: I mean, he’s a great journalist. He’s broken many stories for which I think he doesn’t get adequate credit. But I was just telling him one day over lunch how quickly it was that children grow up and how fast time seems to pass. And he looked up at me and he just said, “Cliche.” And I thought, “I’m just trying to tell you a story here, you know?”
Ware: It is actually true. That it is kind of a cliche. So I tried to write this strip in such a way that maybe it wouldn’t be such a cliche and to try and give it a sense of how the time passes rapidly. How it almost seems like in one day your children grow up.
Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud are most recently the writers and directors of Chicken with Plums.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering if his creative skills can be adapted.
Subjects Discussed: Adapting graphic novels to film, Natural Born Killers, sitcoms, Hollywood’s insistence on remakes, splitting duties as co-directors, the importance of preparation, fights during production, the importance of death threats to the creative process, Satrapi’s panels as white backgrounds, creating a cinematic look, separating the graphic novel from the film, when words cram up a panel, spending two years to prepare a film, research, German expressionism, limits on cinematic exaggeration, why vulgarity and bad taste is important, Who’s the Boss?, being inspired by high and low references, the importance of humor, finding a common vision, fighting over small details, being gentle with other people 90% of the time, the miracle of clashing personalities agreeing on something, Chicken with Plums‘s reduced politics from the novel to the film, naming characters after nations, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Name of the Rose, books vs. films, Erich von Stroeheim, art vs. commerce, stress, the virtues of being left in peace to make your own film, how actors provide emotional resonance, directing and finding the right actors, the freedom to telephone an actor in Europe, the importance of creating a fantastical playground for actors, and Satrapi’s tendency to choose silhouettes for the visual style.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I am extremely fascinated by the way that you adapted this movie, that you’ve adapted both of your works. In Persepolis, there’s this extended winemaking explanation for the secret parties. There’s also the increased attention to shopping with, of course, the Marjane in that saying, “One of my favorite pastimes” over and over. Which suggests something that was almost explicitly designed for the cinematic medium. Now in Chicken with Plums, you have a number of moments that take on greater life in the film adaptation. To just cite two, you have the various deaths that Nasser Ali imagines, which is only half a page in the book and which becomes this glorious montage, this wonderful set piece. And then you also have this satirical episode in California in the book take on this kind of 1950s sitcom, kind of like Natural Born Killers but a totally different style, in the movie. So my question is: do you see these movies as a way to improve upon what you laid down in the books? Or do you see them as separate entities that only film can actually create? And what do the two of you do to heighten certain moments and silent other ones?
Satrapi: No. I think a film has to have its own identity and entity. This is not that I think that the books, they are bad and that’s why we have to make the movie. And actually, you know, for myself, I never want to make a work of adaptation ever again. Because it’s very boring. You once have to think about the story in one way and then think about it in another way. But it was a reason for that. And that is that it was my idea to make Persepolis. I had a friend who wanted to become a producer, who proposed to make Persepolis, and somewhere, you know, deep down of myself, I always thought why not try something and learn something. In the worst case, we will make the worst film in the world. But at least I have learned something. And I proposed it to Vincent, who is a very good friend of mine. We used to laugh a lot for the joy of working for him. And he said “Yes!” And so we started doing it. So we made this Persepolis and obviously it got all the attention it got. And we thought that because we were Oscar nominee, now we are going to say we are going to make another film. And it will open the door to a room with billions of dollars. And they tell us, “Take all the dollars that you want and make your film.” But this is not true. Because we are living in a world of remakes. Everybody wants to make a remake of a film. We want to make the things that have already been done. Like before in Hollywood, somebody would go with a script, see a producer. Producer would say, “I would like to watch this film. And maybe, if I feel like seeing it, other people, they would like to see it.” And today you go, and I have already seen this film. It has made me lots of money. So I want to see it again. So it’s a big major difference. But in order to try something new, we had a reason, a specific reason, why we made Persepolis in animation. Because we wanted to be universal. And since that was a story, a specific story of a specific movement of the specific country, the fact of putting it in a real geography with some type of real human being, that’s what I’d been rejected from the other one. Like this geography, we don’t know. These people, they don’t know, they don’t look like us, but the abstraction of the drawing actually gave us the possibility to having a much more universal thing.
Here, we have with Chicken with Plums, of course, you have to make a work of adaptation. You have a story. You read the book. You put it apart. You take whatever you think is usable for the film, like the structure. Some dialogues. Etcetera etcetera. But then language of the cinema is very different from the language in a book, in the comic books. So you have to think cinema. And then for the highlights of the film, the question of rhythm is just as possible just by working a lot. The fact is that both of us, we like to laugh a lot. The vision that we have of the world and the complexity of the human being, the visual style are the things that we have in common, but that we work a lot. This is it.
Correspondent: So how do you two riff off each other? How do you two work together? I’m really curious to get Vincent’s thoughts on the adaptation and the creative process as well. Vincent, do you serve as a veto mechanism or anything? How do you contribute to this? I’m really curious.
Paronnaud (as translated by Satrapi): So it’s really very easy. I read the book. We see each other. And we talk about the way that we are going to make this work of adaptation. So it’s very important. Because, you know, these meetings that you have at the origins are going to affect whatever we will do later. On the set, in the way of filming, in the way of treating everything. And I work with Marjane because I love the story that she says. And my personal universe, the personal world of my own, is really the complete opposite of what she does. So it’s stimulating intellectually and artistically. Then I say all of that. Because then, you know, when we arrive on the set, we split the work. Because we have prepared it. So Marjane is with the actors. And I’m with the cinematographer. And sometimes we have lots of tension. And it doesn’t work. But most of the time, it does.
Correspondent: Oh really? So if you’re splitting it down between technical and acting, how did you two collaborate on the first film? How were the duties split for Persepolis?
Satrapi: Well, for Persepolis, it was the same. I would go and simulate the movement in front of them. We would choose the movement of the camera. The background. But all of that is so much related. Because like acting is when you are directing a film. You have to think about actors, but you have to think about the frame. So everything is connected. It’s not like you have one part of the project and the other part. So since there is connection, that’s what we were saying. You know, this work of preparation is very important. Because like that, we know what the other one is doing. But sometimes, you know, I don’t like the framing that he does. I give a direction of acting that he does not like. Most of the time, he goes, “Fine.” But sometimes it’s a fight. You know, we go out. We yell at each other.
Correspondent: How detailed do these fights get?
Satrapi: Like “Go fuck yourself.” Things like that. And in the night I pray that he will die.
Satrapi: He says that they pray that I die too. But then we sleep. And then here’s the actors. And we have forgotten. And the result of that is that we are still friends.
Correspondent: So death threats are really the best way to get the creative process flowing, I presume.
Satrapi: Absolutely. Death is always the best for everything. We have to be aware of our death. Because that will come, even if we want it or not.
[PROGRAM NOTE: Because this show is so unusual, we feel compelled to offer some helpful cues. At the 7:42 mark, Our Correspondent stops tape. He then offers an explanation for why he did this. At 8:09, the conversation with Ms. Bechdel continues. And then at the 40:34 mark, shortly after hearing some unexpected news from Ms. Bechel, Our Correspondent loosens an outraged “What?” that is surely within the highest pitch points in this program’s history.]
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering if his false self is good enough.
Author: Alison Bechdel
Subjects Discussed: Attempting to ratiocinate on four hours of sleep, Virginia Woolf’s diary entries, Virginia Woolf’s photography, To the Lighthouse as surrogate psychotherapy, Woolf’s “glamour shoot” for Vogue, not doing enough research, attempts by Bechdel to “get her mother out of her head,” the memoir and finding the true self, Donald Winnicott, not being “well-read,” reading Finnegans Wake in a closet, not reading John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates, guilt for not reading everything, encroaching mortality, working a double shift of writing and drawing, only reading the stuff you want to use, “Alison in Between,” tinting skin with retouching ink, tinting much of Are You My Mother? in pink, the futility of writing in a word processing document, comics as a language, ambiguity in comics, Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, Bechdel’s mother disappearing into a plexiglass dome, depicting origin points of what Bechdel writes and what Bechdel illustrates, living and writing from a place of shame, aggression and psychotherapy, writing about another person as a violation of their subjectivity, Bechdel’s mother’s tendency to read everything as a personal yardstick, how Donald Winnicott to organize one’s life into a book, Bechdel’s desires to cure herself, Bechdel transcribing her mother’s conversations, difficulties in recreating conversations, Bechel’s “apprentice fiction,” vigorous nonfictional expanse, how Love Life turned into Are You My Mother?, Bechdel going to great lengths to avoid the story about her mother, the difficulties of constantly writing about your life, the connections between writing and living, protection from outside voices, Bechdel’s shifting views on herself as an artist, becoming a secret writer, “literary situations,” the strange transformation of cartooning in recent years, how cartooning and other genres have been co-opted as “literature” after being ignored, artistic liberation and oppression, the risks of mainstreaming culture, Samuel R. Delany, being hypocritical progressives on Occupy May Day, the new obligations of artists to a corporate infrastructure, Susan Cain’s Quiet, introverts, obnoxious journalists pushing for personal details, flogging and pimping, the risks of putting yourself up front, being confessional without revealing much, Chester Brown’s Paying for It, Marc Maron’s interview with Matt Graham, telling all on Facebook, Bechdel’s teaching, Roland Barthes’s autobiography, how memoir subsists in a tell-all age, Foursquare, contemplation and narrative nuances, Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, “the great Internet crackhouse,” Google searches and happenstance, the rabbit holes that emerge when you’re looking for something simple, Hope and Glory, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, why World War II is an emotional trigger point for Bechdel, therapy and First World problems, Bechdel’s mother’s artistic life, palling around with Dom Deluise, ripping off Keats, the mother’s face as the precursor of the mirror, and whether any author can see herself in a memoir.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Bechdel: I need to have pictures to make the kind of associative leaps that get me through my ideas, that get me through to some kind of conclusion. When I was writing Fun Home, I felt like I had to explain why it was a comic book. Like, oh, there was lots of powerful visual images from my childhood. I grew up in this ornate house. It was important to show that. But I don’t think that’s true. I think I was just trying to accommodate, just trying to make an excuse for why I decided it to be a comic book. But I don’t feel like I need to make that excuse anymore. Comics is a language that I’m learning to be more fluent in. And it helps me to make arguments and arrive at revelations.
Correspondent: As you become more fluent in the language of comics, has it become more ambiguous in some way? Has the ambiguity of the grammar and the language that you have staked your claim on been of help in exploring the ambiguities of life and the ambiguities of some life that is presented on the page?
Bechdel: I feel like I’m always trying to push the distance between the text and the image, the stories that are being described and the scenes and the narration that’s running over it. I’m trying to stretch that as far as I can without losing the reader’s attention. But I love that distance. And I think something powerful can happen in that distance.
Correspondent: Such as what do you think?
Correspondent: Is there a moment in this book where you felt that you hit that particular power?
Bechdel: Oh, I think of that Dr. Seuss spread, which was a purely visually driven sequence. I’m talking about one of my favorite childhood books, which was Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book.
Correspondent: The Plexiglass Dome and all that.
Bechdel: The Plexiglass Dome. With my first therapist, I would always describe my mother as having this plexiglass dome. Like at 9:00 at night, she would disappear in plain sight under this invisible dome, where she would smoke and read and no one could talk to her. She was off duty for the night. And I didn’t realize this. But looking through Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, the phrase “plexiglass dome” is right there. And it describes this little creature who lives inside a big dome watching everyone else in the world and touting them on a big chart. It’s hard for me even to talk about this stuff. Because I kind of need the visuals. And I think visually.
Correspondent: I’ve got it right here. (hands over the book)
Bechdel: Okay. (flipping through book) But when I was looking at this illustration as an adult, it just was immediately obvious to me that this dome was in the shape of a pregnant…
Correspondent: Pregnant uterus.
Bechdel: It even has a little door that says KEEP OUT. And this is just a sequence of ideas I never would have gotten at without pictures. I’m able to trace its origins in my own childhood drawings. And I’m able to project this metaphorical connection with the womb and my own desire for that kind of primal oneness with my mother that has been forever sundered. But that was visually driven. I couldn’t have come up with that without pictures and visual metaphors.
Correspondent: It’s interesting to me that the origin point very often of what you read is depicted more than the origin point of what you illustrate, or even what you write. I think of the infamous drawing that you do on the bathroom floor in this.
Bechdel: (laughs) Oh god.
Correspondent: A doctor examining a girl. We don’t actually see this. But what’s fascinating is that we actually do see a page of a memoir, a fragment that you wrote, with your mother’s red inkings all over it. Except that is occluded by all these textual boxes of Alison in the present day.
Bechdel: Yeah. My narration overlaying it.
Correspondent: So my question is: why didn’t you portray that drawing in an explicit way? Did you feel that you were more driven by words as a way to find the track here?
Bechdel: Well, sometimes, it’s more powerful not to show an image. In that case, maybe it was a cop out. But I really didn’t have the original image.
Correspondent: Yes, there’s that.
Bechdel: My mother had thrown it out. And I couldn’t replicate my child’s drawing without seeing the original. But that was just a cop out. I was very relieved I didn’t have it. Because I wouldn’t want to show that. It was just — that chapter was so difficult to write. Just revealing that childhood sexual fantasy was excruciating. I was living in just a horrible pit of shame for months as I was working on that chapter. For all of these chapters, whatever old dark emotion I was writing about — shame or depression or grief. All of that would take over my life during the period I was writing about it in a very uncomfortable and disconcerting way.
Correspondent: Is shame a source of comfort for you? I mean, I’m sure not everything here was written in shame. I mean, to my mind, I really like the therapy sessions. Because you draw yourself as just being super-excited to confess. More so, I think. We see the Alison in the therapy sessions. She’s like, “Yes! I’m going ahead and getting my aggression out!” And all this. Aggression, I suppose, or delight must have fueled this in some way. You can’t exclusively draw from a sense of shame to really confront something.
Bechdel: No. There was a whole range of different emotions. And the realization of my aggression was a great breakthrough. Something that I think enabled me to push through and finish writing Fun Home, my first memoir, and that I had to tap into again for this memoir. But my mother — it was a terribly aggressive act. Writing about any real person is such a violation of their subjectivity.
Correspondent: Well, how do you go ahead and honor your mother either during or after this book? I mean, she did review a good deal of it — at least if I’m going by the book here.
Bechdel: Yeah, she did. Well, you know, I feel lucky to have such an interesting and smart mother who cares about writing. Maybe my whole putting myself down about how little I’ve read is like a mother issue. Because my mother reads voraciously. She’s read much more than I do. She keeps up with all the criticism. She reads the London Review of Books. She reads a lot. And I could never stack up to that. So I guess I have to just keep whining about that in public.
Correspondent: But why should that even matter at this point? I mean, that’s the thing that fascinates me. I mean, if this book was your own To the Lighthouse, to free yourself of your mother, I mean, here we are talking about books and I’m like, “Well, Alison, at this point, you have nothing to worry about.” I would think. From a reading standpoint.
Bechdel: All right.
Correspondent: Even considering the mortality thing, which I totally understand. But I think you’re perfectly erudite as it is. You’re certainly more erudite than most Americans, I would say.
Bechdel: I’ll just have to settle for that, I guess.
Correspondent: Settle for that? Why? I mean, why not just be? We were talking about the true self in this, right? What about the true self of the Alison right here?
Bechdel: Maybe it’s just that I used to read so much as a child and I don’t read at that same pace. So I feel that I’m not living up to my image of myself.
Correspondent: Is this the same for drawing? And for art? And for illustration and all that? Do you feel that you’re holding yourself up to any yardstick? Or is it really just…
Bechdel: No, I feel pretty good about my drawing output.
Correspondent: I actually wanted to as you about a number of situations in this book where words are often operating on a different track than the life that is unfolding that you were depicting. I’m thinking, of course, of the “ersatz” argument with your mother while you’re going through Winnicott. Lying in bed with a book, as you have Eloise trying to tell you something that is very vital. And you’re just there with your book. Your mother patching your jeans while you discover the Jungian mother archetype.
Bechdel: Yeah. Those are some scenes where I feel like I really am pushing on that distance and asking a lot of the reader to follow my story, but also listen to my little essayistic digression. And I never quite know if that’s going to work. I hope that it does. Often, it’s sort of a plane to the thing. I’ll try to have a really interesting, compelling scene unfolding in the foreground so that the reader has some patience for these less related thoughts.
Correspondent: Is it a way of compartmentalizing yourself? To come to grips with certain truths? To decide what you’re going to put down and what you’re not going to put down?
Bechdel: No. I’m not sure what it is though. I can’t think of a counterargument to that.
Correspondent: Well, how does someone like [Donald] Winnicott help you in organizing your life?
Bechel: Oh man. Well, Winnicott helped me in organizing the book. But I knew from the beginning that I was fascinated with him, that I wanted to learn more about his ideas. But I didn’t know for quite some time that I would actually use him as some kind of structuring device. Each chapter in the book is organized on a different one of his pivotal theories. So he organized the book. But also I feel like I was trying to vicariously be analyzed by Winnicott. I wanted to be his patient. And so I did that through reading his work. And I haven’t actually thought about this explicitly. And this is the first time I’m trying this out. But I’m creating this attenuated analysis with Winnicott. Comparing myself to other case studies that he talks about. The famous Piggle case of the little girl he worked with. Who was just about my age. And I sort of identify myself with this child. With other people in case studies. Like in his mind and the psyche-soma paper, he talks about a middle-aged woman who just never felt like she was really alive or really present in his life. And I identify myself with her. And through his patients, I’m trying to cure myself.
Correspondent: Cure yourself? Or find points of comparison? Just to have a guide here?
Bechdel: I want to cure myself.
Correspondent: Cure yourself?
Bechel: I’m always trying to cure myself.
Correspondent: Is anybody completely curable? Are you completely curable?
Bechdel: No. But I would like to be more cured.
Daniel Clowes recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #394. He is most recently the author of Mr. Wonderful.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Uniting with the bald community.
Author: Daniel Clowes
Subjects Discussed: Moments of simultaneous consciousness, creative methods of beating imposed deadlines, being intrigued by thought balloons, Superman and narrative urgency, formal lettering, what motivates words in Daniel Clowes’s life, the type of lettering that causes one to read narration in a robotic voice, sound effects and newspapers, CHOFF CHOFF vs. SMOOTH SMOOTH, mass readership and not receiving significant mail, Eightball reader responses vs. New York Times reader responses, angry Southerners who object to the word “Jesus,” following Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron versus following Mr. Wonderful on a sequential basis, pre-Internet audiences, “Check out my blog!” as a recurrent audience response, the advantages of insulation, the general sense of distant feedback, Chris Ware homages in Ice Haven, the amount of detail compressed in any individual frame, not wanting to cheat the reader, the complex issue of bald spots in comics, the many permutation of Wilson’s look, depicting eating in visual mediums, Terry Zwigoff’s enthusiasm for eating, the difficulties of illustrating table settings, reference shots, drawing pay phones, drawing without reference shots, the consequences of fussing over an illustration too much,
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: As a fellow gentleman who also has the male pattern baldness, I feel compelled to ask you about bald spots. In Wilson, his physical form changes from set to set to set. He’s often chunkier. He’s often muscular. He’s receding in different places each time. And I noticed in Mr. Wonderful, when you expand to one of these large panels, we do in fact see this silver of a bald spot.
Clowes: He has a bald spot throughout, I think.
Correspondent: Yeah. But we don’t really see it so much in some of the smaller panels.
Clowes: No. It looks weird if you have this little dot of flesh in a small panel.
Correspondent: To wrestle with the idea of bald spots in comics, is it really just a matter of liking to draw these?
Clowes: I’m trying to support our community.
Correspondent: Oh yes. Exactly. You meet in the secret halls as well as I do.
Clowes: Yes. Yes.
Correspondent: They don’t know how much we are…
Clowes: Again, I’m trying to normalize our ilk for the rest of the world.
Correspondent: What about the six panel approach of Wilson? I mean, sometimes we see….
Clowes: There’s seven or eight.
Correspondent: Sometimes we see at the very bottom of the row, we see three there. But I’m curious if that formalism caused you to shift Wilson’s appearance. I was always curious about why. Was it just a matter of trying to have almost every type of reader reading this finding her version of Wilson in the actual…?
Clowes: That was — that was part of the intent. We all see ourselves very differently from day to day. And I was trying to capture all the various ways that Wilson sees himself and feels about himself. And each one of those looks gives something specific to each of the strips. And I wanted each of them to have their own identity. They exist in this, as you say, very severe structure where it’s six, seven, and eight panel gag strips. And so I wanted them to have that, but also to have this way where they’re drastically differentiated from each other.
Correspondent: Sure. I mentioned Marshall eating a French fry earlier. And I did tell you that I had a followup question. I had a rather elaborate one.
Clowes: Bring it on.
Correspondent: I have — and this might just be an expression of my obsessions — but I have been very interested in the notion of depicting eating in visual mediums. You see a film sometimes. And often they’ll go to a restaurant or a diner or a bar or a cafe and nobody will eat. Similarly, I have noticed in your work that there is a reticence — especially in the early work, although we’re increasingly seeing more of a development in terms of depicting characters eating. Although I should point out that in the film of Ghost World, there’s a great moment where Bob Balaban is eating that toast.
Clowes: There’s lots of eating in that film.
Correspondent: Yeah, there’s lots of eating.
Clowes: Zwigoff enjoys eating.
Clowes: Often, if he can’t think of anything else, he would just tell an actor, “Just put a bagel in your mouth and do the line that way.”
Correspondent: But in Ghost World the comic, we don’t actually see Enid and Rebecca eating. We see Josh eating.
Clowes: They’re too busy talking, I think.
Correspondent: They aren’t too busy talking. People talk and eat. They talk and eat in Ghost World the movie.
Clowes: It looks weird though. It makes someone look sort of vulgar if they’re talking and eating. And so you have to be careful with things like that. There are very subtle little things in comics. You have just this one panel to express something. And it confuses the audience if you’re not…you know.
Correspondent: Well, have you tried to get more eating? For example, the hospital in Mr. Wonderful, where incidentally Marshall feels more comfortable there than in the diner. Suddenly, Clowes feels more comfortable depicting picking at food and actual eating. I was reading this, championing the characters eating.
Clowes: Well, I think he’s relaxed. Before, he’s sort of taking a little bite and he’s not even thinking about eating. If you show someone eating, they seem at ease. And so I wanted to show that he’s given up. He’s totally relaxed. And he’s free to just eat his French fries.
Clowes: It’s all intuitive. You don’t think about the details of it. You’re thinking about how to get across the performance of the character and how best to do that. Drawing table settings is really difficult. It’s one of the more difficult things you can do. Because you have to draw plates and perspectives and you have to kind of keep everything in the right place. You know, people don’t consciously notice if a glass moves from one side of the table to the other. But they unconsciously know that something’s off. And so it’s not at all easy. So I try not to write around that. I try to do my work and get it in there.
Correspondent: So being a script supervisor for your own work, it would seem, is part of the perfectionist in you.
Clowes: Table settings are famously the script supervisor’s nightmare.
Correspondent: Is there anything more difficult for you for the comics than table settings? In terms of getting things consistent?
Clowes: Oh yeah. I mean, there are many things that I have written around. I can’t imagine drawing a detailed battle scene. I mean, if I had to do it, I would. But it’s not my idea of fun, you know? It would be a chore. Or to draw people riding horses is the one I’ve tried a few times. And my horses look very weird. I’d have to spend three weeks just working on the horses and get some way to do that down before I could do a Western I think.
Correspondent: In the Ghost World special edition, there is a reference photo that you provide indicating that this is the model for the Ghost World hardcover photo. This leads me to ask, since we were talking about panel size before, how much reference you actually need. In the case of horses, I’m wondering if part of the difficulty has been getting enough horses to model for you or to be photographed.
Clowes: There’s certainly plenty of reference nowadays on the Internet. And as it’s gotten more and more available, I’ve tried to use less and less of it. Because I find that I can look back at my work and say, “Oh, I just looked at a photograph of a pay phone.” There’s something much stronger about trying to remember what a pay phone looks like. And that way you capture both the essence of a pay phone and you also capture what your vision of a pay phone is. And so I try and only use reference if it’s something where I just can’t get a clear picture in my head. I mean, that reference of my wife for the back cover of Ghost World, that was for doing a very specific kind of detailed painting. I wanted it to look like an old pinup painting. And so I wanted it to have that kind of phony posed look. And so I would use a photo for something like that. But I would almost never, for a person, use a photo.
Correspondent: At what point, do you just simply draw a gesture without reference? Some people say that you can tell when a cartoonist is coming into a room. You immediately know who he is. Because that’s exactly like the drawings. Is there a similar predicament in just wanting to be off the reference altogether and just using your imagination to get something a little unreal? What do you do in a situation like that?
Clowes: I try to always go in that direction. I’m much more interested in making things up. It doesn’t always work out. And then you have to go back and fix it. But very often it’s much truer than if you’re fussing over it too much and trying to get things perfect.
Correspondent: But when you’re talking about capturing the essence of a pay phone, if you fuss over it too much, is it going to have an impact on capturing the essence?
Clowes: No. I mean, if you fuss over it too much, it pulls it out of the rest of the world, which is not fussed over. I try to draw as naturally as I can. Which took me forever. You know, my early work, I look at it and it makes my hand ache from thinking how agitated I was trying to get everything a certain way and not getting there. It was just constantly frustrating. And I was always throwing pages out the window and starting over and whiting out entire faces and pasting things on. And it was never pleasurable. And in the last five or six years, I’ve gotten to the point where I can feel good about without absolute agony. Or at least I know how to fix it at this point. I know that everything is fixable.
Adrian Tomine is most recently the author of Scenes from an Impending Marriage.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Attempting to reconcile the impending with illustrations depicting events from years ago.
Author: Adrian Tomine
Subjects Discussed: Doing time in Sacramento, veiling a personal experience with a sex change, which of Tomine’s characters is least like him, the liberation that comes in fabrication, scratched out names and Victorian literature, the original small audiences for Scenes and 32 Stories, the father’s fund, taking criticisms to heart, the drawbacks of working in the same realist vein, Tomine’s wife as the “first audience,” the artist’s fragile ego, the influence of printed literature and storytelling upon art, humbling versions of inspiration, Tomine’s degrees of aspiration and ambition, living a life in service to the drawing, facing the world, the “strenuous” exigencies of cartoonists, drawing panels without decor, Tomine’s perfectionist qualities, the freedom in pursuing work that isn’t going to be reviewed, feeling highly scrutinized, the pleasure in publishing harsh letters, the look of the ranger, using the fewest lines to get the maximum amount of detail, settling upon the three panel approach, maintaining a private style in secret scrapbooks, varying levels of creative insulation from the public, the very low frequency of sound words, the tongue licking in “Alter Ego,” seeing external details that other characters cannot, the grotesque reality of Chris Ware’s furry cats, the number of people who read books in Tomine’s New Yorker illustrations, the Venn diagram between 1990s subcultures and digital culture, disappearing subcultures, cartoonists who detest hippie and hipster culture, gesture and look, Alison Bechdel’s elaborate photographic process, and the pursuit of “realism” in an “unreal” medium.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I wanted to get into the ineluctable autobiographical angle through a different mechanism. Interviewers, critics — they’ve all said, “Oh, well, Tomine is totally autobiographical.” But here, you are tempting fate again with the subtitle of the book: “prenuptial memoir.”
Correspondent: You mentioned in the introduction to 32 Stories that you “learned the useful trick of taking a personal experience and veiling it with a sex change or two.”
Correspondent: So we have to talk about this. But I’m going to ask you: Which of your characters is least like you? How much of Scenes [From an Impending Marriage] emerged out of your reality? Or is there some liberation, so to speak, in the fabrication?
Tomine: Oh completely. I mean, everybody has been focusing on the autobiographical nature of this book and I think some of the promotional materials are talking about how it’s such a personal work or something. But I think in truth, in some ways — well, I wouldn’t say the least personal, but it’s certainly no more personal than the other books. And I think that definitely in the fictional stories, I feel a lot of the freedom that you refer to. And the flip side to that is there’s an inhibition that comes along with drawing yourself as the main character. And I think this book, this current one, is all definitely drawn from real experience, but very carefully edited and selected.
Correspondent: Yeah. Starting with the first story, where we see scratched out words of names and places and the like. Which, to my mind, didn’t necessarily mean privacy, but possibly meant an ode to the Victorian literature, where you have the first letter and the line long after that.
Tomine: Yeah. And also I think that this was the first time I just embraced the idea that this would be intended for as wide of an audience as possible. So it set up the ending, where I have the one swear word of the book scratched out too. So it doesn’t quite jump out as much as it would otherwise.
Correspondent: So wait a minute. I understood that this started out as something to be disseminated to wedding guests.
Tomine: Yes, that’s right.
Correspondent: Okay. So was it always intended for public consumption?
Tomine: No. The original version that was slimmer. There were fewer pages. It was basically just Xeroxed and assembled. And it was meant to just be given out at the wedding. So the only audience was really going to be our close friends and family.
Correspondent: Well, this is interesting. Because 32 Stories came back in a third life, I suppose, by having that box of minicomics. And it seemed to me from the introduction that it also came about under a certain amount of duress. I’m wondering if people have to push you or kick you into getting things published these days. How does this come about?
Tomine: Well, I think that if someone really wanted to read between the lines and investigate. The dedication of this book explains a lot about why it’s now in stores. Because it’s dedicated to Nora, who’s my one-year-old daughter.
Correspondent: Aha! The father’s fund.
Tomine: Yeah, exactly. We know a lot of people are confused. They say that in the book you say your wife’s name is Sarah. Who’s this Nora that this book is dedicated to?
Correspondent: Your mistress, I thought.
Tomine: (laughs) Right. My Irish mistress.
Correspondent: (laughs) Yes.
Tomine: Yeah, my wife was actually joking about that and saying, “Nobody ever has an Irish mistress.” I mean, there were a lot of reasons that went into the decision to actually publish it. But if I’m honest, one of them would definitely be just a bit of that new father panic of “I’ve got a life that I’m responsible for other than mine now.” So that was part of the thought process. At the same time, there was also the element of just how off the beaten path this book was for me. And that was appealing. Because when I finished my previous book, and digested a lot of the reviews and the response, that it was really clear to me that whatever it is that I publish next had to be pretty different. I think people had their fill of that specific tone and that meticulous realistic style of drawing. I don’t think it was — well, I take — the criticisms of that I took to heart. Not that it was poorly done, but that I’d been putting out a lot of that in that same vein for a number of years. So I didn’t really have a plan of what I was going to do next. But then it was kind of a relief to me when I realized that I basically had a complete book just sitting in my sketchbook. And it was as dramatic of a change as I was looking for.
Correspondent: Well, we’ve brought up a number of things just in the first few minutes.
Tomine: Right. I derailed you.
Correspondent: No, no. It’s great. I love this. Working on art for money. Working on art for audience response. And then simultaneously mining from your own personal life to generate narratives that often take an immense amount of time. In the case of Shortcomings, four years. So this leads me to wonder whether there’s possibly a double-edged sword here, if you are revolving your creative process around what the audience is telling you. Clearly, you still read reviews.
Correspondent: Clearly, there is an interest to stay in this business. Obviously. But on the other hand, the fact that this book, this latest volume, came from a safe place. Where you were almost buffered by the possibility of critics dissecting every little aspect of your work. I mean, how does this work? How do you gravitate between the two? Or is it all one unified theory here? So to speak.
Tomine: No. I think you touched on a lot of the things that were in my mind really. Because this wedding book was definitely the most breezy and loose and — a word that’s never applied to my work, but — fun. And I think it was because of what you’re talking about. The idea that it basically wasn’t meant to be published. And that no one but a handful of people that I knew and loved would be seeing it. And really, even though I knew the people at the wedding would be seeing it, the only real audience I had in mind when I was creating it was my wife, Sarah. A lot of it was just a question of not “Is this going to be a great strip?” or “Is this going to be beautifully drawn?” or anything like that. But just “Is this going to make her chuckle at the end of the day?”
Correspondent: So really she’s your first audience.
Tomine: For this, especially.
Correspondent: Do you see that being — she’s going to be your future audience? Her and Nora perhaps?
Correspondent: I mean, how do you insulate yourself from the constant probing?
Tomine: Well, I mean, whether I like it or not, she’s going to be my first audience. Just as the nature of working at home, and her curiosity. When she scrolls through my studio each day, she does take a look at what I’m working on. But at least so far, it’s been a real asset to me. Because she’s more well-read than I am. She used to work in publishing. And she has editing experience. She also, along with that, knows the fine art of dealing with the fragile ego of the writer or the artist. And she also just has a really good sense of humor. And I think that she’s, if anything, encouraged me over the years to try and tap into that a little bit more in my work.
(Image: Sarah Brennan)
Laurie Sandell is the author of The Impostor’s Daughter.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering if the coalminer was an impostor.
Author: Laurie Sandell
Subjects Discussed: Chicken recipes, the quest for truth within memoir, how narrative shapes and stretches truth, subjective vs. objective accounts, the essay written anonymously for Esquire, memory vs. concrete evidence, emails from Ashley Judd, how hard evidence enhances a visual diagram, lawyers sifting through evidence, the use of clothing against background, working with a colorist, becoming one’s parents, the use of motion lines, adopting comic book semiotics, drawing from an intuitive part of the brain, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, feeling liberated in comic form vs. restrictions in textual form, maintaining privacy vs. spilling all details to the public, diagramming environment, knowing the lay of the land, static panels, consulting graphic novels, Scott McCloud, arrows pointing to figures, strange stays in five-star hotels, sketching out the book before drawing, taking the story arc from the text version of The Impostor’s Daughter, structure and spontaneity, maintaining momentum vs. contending with painful memories, emotional change and artistic change, whether or not writing is the proper way to exorcise demons, the story of Sandell’s father as a former sense of identity, the ethical dilemmas of narrative seduction, and fearlessness.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I should point out I’m not trying to insist that stretching [the truth] is necessarily a bad thing. I’m merely pointing out that memory, as we all know, is a fallacious instrument.
Sandell: Yes, it is.
Correspondent: It’s been said that memory is the greatest liar of them all. It’s been said — by, I believe Lincoln — that you have to have a great memory to be a great liar.
Correspondent: So given this conundrum, I’m wondering to what degree you relied on your own memory and to what degree you relied on reference shots. You have, for example, illustrations that crop up within the course of the book. This leads me to wonder about other specific details. But maybe we can start on memory vs. concrete evidence.
Sandell: Well, you know, it was a mix of memory and concrete evidence. On the one hand, I had a lot of concrete evidence because I had interviewed my father over a period of two years and I tape recorded our conversations with his knowledge. This was leading up to the Esquire piece when I had a 300-page transcript. So most of the things that my father said in the book came directly from those transcripts. So he’s telling stories from his past. Those came directly from my father’s mouth.
Sandell: As far as — I’m trying to think. I don’t know. What else?
Correspondent: Well, I could actually cite specific examples.
Sandell: Okay, sure.
Correspondent: For example, the difference between the narration and what is actually spoken in the text bubbles.
Correspondent: Here’s one example. When you’re working at the office, you have a text box point to the screen: “Have you considered inpatient treatment.” We don’t actually see the email on the screen.
Correspondent: We actually see your particular perspective.
Correspondent: And so I want to ask you about why that particular emphasis — I mean, that’s inherently subjective. We’re counting on your subjective viewpoint as to what is on the screen. As opposed to later on, when we actually see what’s on your screen, when you’re on your laptop in your motel room.
Sandell: I need to be honest. The reason you didn’t see that screen was probably because it didn’t fit in that box.
Sandell: And so I had to deal with little callouts so you could actually see what was on the screen. But the interesting thing about the process of putting together all this evidence — a lot of it really was evidence — is that there were so many emails. For example, that email was an email, I believe, from Ashley Judd.
Sandell: And I have those emails from Ashley Judd. I have the emails from my father. You know, I worked with a private investigator for two years. So I have all of his information and the lawsuits he compiled and all the various evidence and things written by my father. You know, I think — did you ever read Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy?
Correspondent: No, I never read that.
Sandell: It’s a beautiful memoir. Ann Patchett later went on to write Truth & Beauty: A Friendship.
Correspondent: That’s right.
Sandell: And one of the things that Ann Patchett said in her afterword — after Lucy died, Ann Patchett wrote an afterword to the book — and she described how, at a reading, someone said to Lucy Grealy, “How did you remember all those details about your past?” And she said, “I didn’t remember it. I wrote it.” And people were a little bit up in arms about that. But she was pointing out the fact that this was a piece of art, it’s a piece of subjective memory, and the most important thing is to show the emotional truth of the situation. And I would say that in my case, because I have so much evidence, and evidence that Little Brown asked to say and anytime I’ve done television, they’ve actually asked to see the evidence, I feel pretty comfortable that there’s not going to be any big explosive James Frey situation.
Correspondent: Well, to what degree were they asking for the evidence? Because we’re talking about transcripts. We’re talking about investigative reporting. This is all text right now. And here you are. You have a visual document here.
Correspondent: You have to construct something from the text here. So it’s a wonder that evidence even means anything if it’s a visual result.
Sandell: I think it does. I mean, the visual result is obviously my memory. It’s the way I remember the situation.
Just in time for Election Day! David Rees is most recently the author of Get Your War On: The Definitive Account of the War on Terror: 2001-2008.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Struggling to cast his vote.
Author: David Rees
Subjects Discussed: Why red was selected for the Get Your War On backgrounds, My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable, inverting clip art figures in different panels, the shift from static panels to animated movies, rotoscoping and stock body language as kinetic clip art, the lack of appeal in drawing original art, laziness and being responsive to news headlines, negotiating the personal and the professional, how the weekly strip for Rolling Stone is determined, live readings, worrying about public perception, Berkeley Breathed, using Voltron in Get Your War On, the relationship between Uzbekistan and Bill the Cat, Iraqi Crybaby Theater, Thomas Friedman’s mustache and facial hair, unusual government allotments, journalistic accuracy, the importance of rage in producing comic strips, the standing guy and his wire and binders, and meta gags.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I wanted to also ask about the use of white space, and often the lack of white space, with some of the panels that have this extraordinarily long rant that one of the characters is conducting versus using the clip art and shifting it to the right hard edge of the panel or the left hard edge of the panel, or what not. What is your criteria in terms of white space and filling up the panel? Is it contingent upon the words you have to deliver for any particular strip?
Rees: You probably don’t know this, but the U.S. government allots all political cartoonists a given amount of white space in a year, and a lot of budgetary issues. If you don’t use your white space in a year, you don’t get it back the following year. There’s no rollover white space.
Correspondent: Yeah, yeah, it’s the appropriations and the earmarks I’ve heard.
Rees: So you have to really challenge yourself every year to use just enough white space, so that they’ll give you more white space next year. You have to submit this form. A white space form. Form JKL-202. And you submit this form. And they will give you more white space. And so as a political cartoonist — I mean, if you’re registered with the government, which I am, which all political cartoonists are supposed to be, if you find yourself at the end of the year that you haven’t used enough white space, then you go on a big rant. So there isn’t much white space around. You know what I mean?
Correspondent: Sure. Sure.
Rees: Because you don’t want to go over your limit immediately. Because you’ll be penalized.
Correspondent: But with all the “fucks” within the rant, that can be very problematic. I know you’ve gotten into trouble based off of that. Because of the specific requirements of this act.
Rees: Right. You’re referring to the Left Wing Political Cartoonists Profanity Allotment Act of 2003?
Correspondent: Yeah, yeah, I am. The number of “fucks” are quite frenetic. Exactly.
Rees: Well, I trade on the gray market. I trade — you know, cap and trade with carbon emissions? They set up the same thing for cartoonists, where you get a given amount of profanity. Fuck, goddam, asshole, shit, cocksucker, bitch, all that stuff. And then if you want to use more, you buy a set on the International Profanity Market. You buy a certain amount from other cartoonists.
Correspondent: They come in 200 units, I think.
Rees: Right. Well, it’s 200 syllables. You don’t actually buy the profanity by the word. You buy it by the syllable. So “motherfucker” is four syllables. You can use those four syllables to deploy one “motherfucker” or four “asses.” So I usually just buy them from cartoonists like Bil Keane, who does The Family Circus. He never uses his allotment. In a year, he never says “fuck” in The Family Circus more than ten times. So I will buy him out usually at the beginning of the year, so that I have enough to get me through a season.