I got more than I bargained for when I interviewed John Holmstrom — which is saying a lot when you know going into things that you’re sitting down with the guy who co-founded Punk Magazine for a couple of hours in an East Village watering hole. We kick things off with a conversation about Holmstrom’s time at SVA, which led to part time gigs working with comics legends Harvey Kurtzman and Will Eisner. In 1975, Holmstrom, publisher Ged Dunn and (past guest) Legs McNeil co-founded Punk, a magazine that helped cement the name for the burgeoning undergrounding music bubbling up around them. Holmstrom edited the magazine and contributed Mad-inspired cartooning that would become a trademark of the scene and also contributed cover art for the iconic Ramones records, Rocket to Russia and Road to Ruin. In the years following Punk’s folding in 1979, the artist has contributed work to a wide range of publications including Scholastic’s Bananas Magazine, Spin, The Village Voice and Heavy Metal, along with an extended stint at pot culture chronicler High Times, where he ultimately served as publisher and president. Holmstrom sat down at a table at Manitoba’s, the East Village bar run by the Dictators front man of the same name. It a long and fascinating look at an artist who bridges a wide range of cultural touchstones and who, thanks to events like the on-going Ramones retrospective at the Queens Museum, appears to finally be getting his due.
Delusions of Grand Fur is a sort of return roots. It finds the band experimenting with the sort of fast and loose improvisational set up that first gave rise to Rogue Wave. Like the band’s first record, which began as the result of a somewhat spontaenous cross-country trip by frontman Zach Rogue, upon being laid off from a startup at the height of the dot-com bubble bust, the latest record lacked a formal recording structure — even going so far as eschewing a producer. The result is breezier, looser, and more fun loving than the band’s recent work, thanks to both a change in recording techniques and the recent birth of Rogue’s son shortly after the release of the band’s last album. Back in April, Rogue and longtime drummer Patrick Spurgeon found themselves in New York for a few days, making the promotional rounds for the band’s latest record. The pair sat down at one of my favorite recording spots in the city to discuss the band’s return to form, musical experimentation, and how to separate the personal and the professional.
He won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animated Programming, was inducting to the Art Directors Hall of Fame, and has drawn multiple covers for the New Yorker, but his most lasting legacy may be the mid-60s advertisements he created for Alka-Seltzer and CBS — a fact that makes R. O. Blechman a quintessential 20th century artist. This year, the swiggly-lined artist released his second graphic novel more than 50 years after his first. Amadeo & Maladeo is a whimsical prince and pauper story, charting the life of two musically-inclined half-brothers separated by vastly different circumstances. Blechman is quick to admit that he sees the product as only half-finished, a sort of storyboard for the animated film in his mind. Fittingly, the artist presented a truly incomplete film during an appearance at the MoCCA Festival in New York, debuting his attempt at a feature length adaptation of Voltaire’s Candide for the first time in public. It’s both a testament to the artist’s vision and a bittersweet look at what might have been. It’s a theme that has followed Blechman through much of his career. A victim of circumstance and a failure to fully embrace trends, it easy to imagine the New York City cartoonist having become more of a household name, but with a robust resume dating back to 1953, the Blechman has left an impressive mark on the fields of animation, production and cartooning.
A week or two after our interview, Penguin released the cover for Where Am I Now?, featuring a young, precocious Matilda-era Mara Wilson smiling for the camera. It’s the Mara Wilson most familiar to book browsing audiences, the one who will live on forever the hundreds of times every week Mrs. Doubtfire plays ad infinitum on basic cable The Mara Wilson who sits down for an interview is a million miles away. A professional writer eking out a living in New York City, having ostensibly given up the acting game decades early, she’s cultivated a large online following through published works, social media and frequent live story telling appearances. She’s become a regular on Welcome to Nightvale and recently made a return to TV with a cameo on Broad City, with an upcoming appearance on Netflix’s Bojack Horseman just over the horizon. In a sense, Where Am I Now? is where the two Mara Wilsons meet, the grownup, professional writer having finally found the proper distance with which to examine a childhood that has made her an iconic for a generation and the surreal subject of terrible internet clickbait. During our hour-plus conversation, Wilson discusses the creative process, anxiety, and embracing the things that helped define us.
When I mentioned casually to a friend that I would be interviewing Ariel Schrag, her answer was less excited that confused, “you haven’t had Ariel Schrag on your show yet?” Fair enough. I don’t really have any great answer as to why I haven’t had had the cartoonist on in the three-plus years we’ve been doing the show, but I’m happy to say I finally managed to amend that at this year’s MoCCA Arts Festival in Manhattan. Following a panel on autobiography in comics, which Schrag sat out but was name-checked as an influence multiple times from the sidelines, we found a reasonably quiet spot in the hotel lobby to discuss the artist’s accomplished body of work, starting with 2014’s Adam: A Novel and working backwards to her precious comics creating youth. Along the way, Schrag has written for Showtime’s The L Word, been name checked alongside Angela Davis and Gertrude Stein in a Le Tigre song and been the subject of her own documentary at the tender age of 23. It’s a fascinating discussion about sexuality, comics, and writing what you know.