Episode 132: Olivier Schrauwen

28Oct

When I asked for interview suggestions for my five day work trip to Berlin, Comics Reporter Tom Spurgeon suggested Olivier Schrauwen, heaping praise upon the Belgian expat and categorizing him among the top living cartoonists.And indeed, the trip halfway around the world afforded a rare opportunity to speak with the Arsene Schrauwen cartoonist, who, in spite of growing acclaim within the comics literati, hasn’t granted all that many interviews over the years — particularly with the English speaking press. Schrauwen agreed, meeting me at Modern Graphics, a wonderful independent comics shop located in the German city’s Kreuzberg district. He arrived on his bicycle after I’d just finished spending some ungodly number of Euros purchasing an armful of comics and minis. We found a sidewalk cafe on the corner and drank beers as trendy Berliners passed by on their way to do some afternoon shopping. An ideal setting for an utterly fascinating conversation with a singular cartoonist.

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Episode 131: Raina Telgemeier

20Oct

It had been eight or so years since I last interviewed Raina Telgemeier. After a few years spent adapting the beloved young adult series The Babysitter’s Club into a handful of graphic novels for Scholastic, the cartoonist was getting ready to branch out on her own. Telgemeier was understandably nervous ahead of the book’s debut, unsure whether or not she would even be able to find a publisher. As of this week, Smile has spent an astonishing 173 weeks on The New York Times’ Graphic Novel Best Seller List, since joined by three more Telgemeier titles, to monopolize four of the list’s top ten spots at last count. The word “phenomenon” doesn’t quite cut it. No other single YA cartoonist comes close — an really, one would be hard-pressed to find any one cartoonist who has experience so much success in such a brief period. Naturally, Telgemeier can be a bit tough to pin down, but after months of trying to meet up, we finally managed to carve out some time to sit down over some Greek food in our mutual neighborhood of Astoria, Queens to discuss her meteoric rise on of comics’ most beloved artists.

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Episode 130: Jaime Hernandez

13Oct

“It comes down to a lot of educated guessing and trying to handle it like a grown up,” explains Jaime Hernandez. We’re seated on a curb outside the San Diego Convention Center and the subject of the Love and Rockets cartoonist’s propensity for strong female protagonists has come up. For Hernandez, writing women is second nature. Writing men, on the other hand — that’s where things get difficult. ”I guess because I am a guy, I would get very self-conscious when I write men. The very first time a woman told me they liked the way I write women, I was gone, man. No holding back.” The cartoonist is kind and candid discussing the 33 year history of alternative comics’ most beloved series. No question is off limits as we sit somewhat uncomfortably watching costumed foot traffic and loud pedicabs pass by. It’s a terrific conversation that’s as wide ranging as it is casual about superheroes, keeping things interesting after three decades, and why that new Mad Max movie wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

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Episode 129: Ed Piskor and Marc Bell

7Oct

I first encountered Ed Piskor’s work through the cartoonist’s collaborations with the legendary Harvey Pekar. The duo released the book Macedonia in 2007, highlighting The American Splendor author’s work to push non-fiction storytelling forward in the medium by highlighting cultural struggles in the Republic of Macedonia in comics form. It was no doubt a formative experience for the cartoonist who would rise to even greater fame in the indie comics community half a decade later with the release of the first volume of Hip-Hop Family Tree, a sweeping on-going series highlighting the music’s rise from the streets of the Bronx to the driving force of international popular culture. Also recorded at San Diego Comic Con back in July, part two is a chat with cartoonist and fine artist Marc Bell, who hilariously explains why his attempts to tell a straight forward story with his latest book, the delightful Stroppy on Drawn & Quarterly, went so horribly wrong. 

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Episode 128: Congressman John Lewis, with Nate Powell and Andrew Aydin

29Sep

It was one of the most surreal things I’ve experienced, legendary civil rights leader turned congressman John Lewis leading a procession of small children through the packed halls of the San Diego Convention Center during rush hour at Comic Con.Turns out it was even more amazing than any of us suspected. Without telling anyone, the Congressman had gone full-on cosplay, recreating what he had worn during the Selma to Montgomery march 50 years prior, right down to the apple he carried in his knapsack. It was, as one might suspect, a packed weekend for Rep. Lewis, who was attending Comic Con along with March collaborators Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell to mark the release of the trilogy’s second volume. We did, however. manage to sit down with all three (first Lewis and Aydin and then Powell) to discuss the powerful graphic novels. Rep. shed light on his history, his thoughts on the current state of the struggle for equality and Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, the $0.10 comic book that influenced a generation of civil rights activists.

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Episode 127: Anders Nilsen

22Sep

In one sense, perhaps Comic Con is the ideal setting for this conversation. It’s a conversation about authenticity, about the unintended artifice of a sketchbook created for public consumption. By all other measures, however, it’s completely bizarre. The show occurred a week or so after the release of Ander Nilsen’s new book, Poetry is Useless. A loud and boisterous setting for a low-key artist making low-key art. Nilsen recommended a spot behind the San Diego Convention Center — a small island of grass and shade with pedicabs whizzing by on either side blaring top 40 hits. Even so, it’s a fascinating conversation about the creative process, letting art happen, and the ups and downs of dealing with grief in a public forum. And cosplay, naturally.

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Episode 126: (Bonus) Alex Winter Talks Frank Zappa

19Sep

The moment I heard Alex Winter was working on a Zappa documentary, I wanted to get him on the phone again. For starters, their was our first conversation, which ranks among my top RiYL episode — and then there’s the fact that I’m constantly on the look out for someone to help gently nudge me into the musician’s massive and sometimes impenetrable back catalog. As Winter quickly notes, however, that’s not his job. Nor is it the job of his forthcoming documentary. The Deep Web filmmaker is far more interested in Zappa the man and polymath, examining his strange and singular career outside of music, including his increasing involvement in social activism.  It’s another fascinating conversation with Winter about Zappa’s legacy and why it’s was so important for the director to go beyond the standard rock-doc.

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Episode 125: Dean Haspiel

16Sep

We delve into insecurities almost immediately. It’s a surprising way to kick off a conversation with an artist infamous for going topless at regular intervals in public gatherings. Surprising, but appropriate, given the nature of Haspiel’s new collection, Beef With Tomato.The cartoonist, who’s made a name for himself with Jack Kirby-influenced takes on the superhero genre such as his own Billy Dogma, takes a far more introspective turn in this latest collection, pulling together short autobiographical pieces documenting his move from Manhattan to Brooklyn. It’s a collection no doubt inspired by Haspiel’s work with autobio masters like Harvey Pekar and Jonathan Ames, the latter of which helped the artist score a Emmy Award for his work on the much beloved HBO series, Bored to Death. In the course of the hour-long interview, we discuss Haspiel’s long list of collaborators, a push toward minimalism and his self-imposed growth as a storyteller.

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Episode 124: Kate Beaton, Jeffrey Brown and Jeff Lemire

26Aug

As we prep ourselves for the onslaught of belated Comic Con interviews, here’s a trio of quick conversations with comics creators, Kate Beaton, Jeffrey Brown and Jeff Lemire. Our conversation with Beaton occurred at the Scholastic offices in the weeks leading up to San Diego. The Hark a Vagrant cartoonist was in town to promote her new kids book, The Princess and the Pony, which centers around the friendship between a young girl and her portly equine friend. We caught up with Jeffrey Brown who was wandering the halls of the San Diego Convention Center in between panels about his own recent success with younger audiences, thanks to his unique take on the Star Wars franchise through books like Darth Vader and Son and Jedi Academy. It’s a galaxy far away from the manner of introspective autobiographic work he was best known for the last time we spoke. And speaking of fascinating career trajectories, we sat down with Jeff Lemire to discuss how the author of the idiosyncratic Essex County series went on to become one of the most prominent writers of mainstream superhero books.

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Episode 123: (Bonus) Roderick on Politics

21Aug

With his Seattle City Council campaign behind him, I suggested to John Roderick that we sit down for a short conversation to reflect on the run.  But as fans of the Long Winters singer’s popular podcast Roderick on the Line are no doubt already aware, when it comes to John Roderick, there’s no such thing as a short conversation. The Pacific Northwestern polymath’s knack for nuanced conversation may not fit in particularly well in the soundbite-driven world of stump speeches, but it makes for an extremely compelling podcast for anyone interested in the a conversation about running for office from someone who’s more than happy to discuss all of the gory details. We’re running this as a bonus episode, since the conversation was conducted remotely, but hopefully you’ll get as much out of it as any installment of the regular show. You can also find a longer RiYL conversation with Roderick here.

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