Episode 146: Carla Speed Mcneil and Denis Kitchen

3Jan

Our final round of interviews from Baltimore Comic Con includes two artists who have had a profound impact on the American underground/independent comics community. Carla Speed McNeil has produced the sprawling, epic aboriginal science-fiction series Finder since the mid-90s, making it one of the longest running series in all of indie comics, with 10 printed volumes of output released through the artist’s Light Speed Press. McNeil has also collaborated on a number of series through the years, including Queen & Country: Operation: Stormfront with Greg Rucka and the recent Image miniseries  No Mercy, created with writer, Alex De Campi. Inspired by underground masters like Robert Crumb and Jay Lynch, Denis Kitchen began self-publishing comics in the late 60s. The artist would ultimately have more of an impact behind the scenes, through publishing companies like Kitchen Sink Press and Kitchen Sink Books, as well as serving as an agent for the works of comics giants like Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman.

Kitchen also counts the founding of The Comic Book Legal Defense fund among his many industry-shaping accomplishments.

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Episode 145: Judd Winick

29Dec

In A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Dave Eggers describes the auditioning process for The Real World: San Francisco. The spot the McSweeney’s founder tried out for was won by another artist, a cartoonist who served a, perhaps, the moral compass for a reality show fueled by roommate strife. Most of us can count on a single hand the moments that had a truly profound impact on our lives. For Judd Winick, that key moment was spread out over an entire season and broadcast on MTV. But while the show put the artist on the pop cultural map, it’s the work he’s done in comics and animation that will be his lasting legacy, from his break through Graphic novel Pedro & Me, to his run a slew of DC Comics titles and his work as the creator and lead writer of the Cartoon Network series, The Life and Times of Juniper Lee. Released in September on Random House, Hilo marks his most ambitious work to date. The comic is fun, funny, and instantly engaging, a welcome embrace of all-ages comics from an artist with kids of his own.

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Episode 144: Chip Kidd

21Dec

Of course Chip Kidd put out a book with Art Spiegelman. In an age when the transition to digital seems all but inevitable, both artists have a vested interest in the book as object, crafting tangible experiences that cannot be recreated on a tablet or e-book. For his part, Kidd is probably best known for his book designs for cartoonists Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware, along with a who’s who of contemporary novelists, including Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy and Donna Tart. But the designer is an author in his own right, having penned two novels, a tribute to Plastic Man creator Jack Cole (alongside Spiegelman), and  Bat-Manga, a collection dedicated to Japanese Batman esoterica. His latest release is Only What’s Necessary, a gorgeously designed volume that pulls together little seen work from Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, including sketches, unpublished strips, letters and merchandise. It’s a lovingly designed tribute to one of newspaper comics’ most beloved pioneers. Kidd joined me on the jam-packed floor of New York Comic Con to discuss the book and long standing love of print in a world gone digital.

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Episode 143: Colin Hay

15Dec

“All you really want to do is get yourself excited, get your wife excited, get your friends excited,” Colin Hay explains with a smile. “Beyond that, who knows? You want to say to someone who’s upstairs, ‘hey, come and listen to this. This is cool.’ ” The crowds, the fans, the radio play, the record sales are secondary. Thirty-four years after the release of Men at Work’s debut, Business as Usual, Hay is a songwriter first and foremost, having settled in to a seemingly zen-like approach to the craft. Distribution methods and record industry nonsense be damned. Write a great song and it’ll find an audience. A decade and half after putting his band to rest for good, Hay has never failed to find an audience. Where many of his contemporaries have relied on nostalgia or quit the game altogether, Hay’s work has managed to attract new generations of fan through thoughtful, straightforward songwriting. Hay and I sat down at the bar in his hotel lobby ahead of a New York City show to discuss growing as a songwriter on his new record Next Year People, coping with loss, and why writing the perfect three minute pop song has never gotten any easier.

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Episode 142: Jules Feiffer

8Dec

The artist has been something of a hero before I’d even heard his name, through his illustration work in the aforementioned classic children’s book and as the screenwriter of Robert Altman’s perfectly chaotic 1980 cinematic adaptation of Popeye. Since then, Feiffer’s work has been a constant in my life, from his four decades long stint as an editorial cartoonist for the Village, to his early apprenticeship with Will Eisner, and a stint of film projects like Little Murders, the artist’s work always seems to find its way back into my life. Now in his mid-80s, the modern day renaissance cartoonist is trying his hand at an entirely new endeavor, writing and drawing his first graphic novel 69 years after he first began working his way through Eisner’s The Spirit at the tender age of 16. Kill My Mother maintains the cartoonist’s loose approach in a far more sustained form than his other cartooning works, marking yet another remarkable turn for the octogenarian.   We pulled up a couple of seats in the lobby of the hotel where Feiffer was staying during Baltimore Comic Con to discuss his latest career and the important of perpetually testing one’s limitations.

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Episode 141: Scott Fagan

1Dec

By all rights, the story of South Atlantic Blues should have ended in 1968. Released the same week as Van Morrison’s masterpiece of pastoral angst, Astral Weeks, the record failed to garner any notice, in spite of promises that its young singer-songwriter would soon become “bigger than Elvis.” A masterpiece of a soulfully sung, lush psychedelic folk, the record vanished into obscurity, thanks to a perfect storm of record company failure. Not even a chance encounter with acclaimed painter and fan Jasper Johns could rescue the album from the remainder bin. Thankfully, the story of the album and its creator don’t end there. Nearly 50 years after its release, South Atlantic Blues is finally getting the recognition it deserved — and unlike so many of these story, which recapture public consciousness posthumously, Scott Fagan is still alive, well, and singing at 70. In the intervening 47 years, Fagan has led a fascinating life, achieving some fame as a calypso singer, struggling with addiction and reuniting with his long, lost son, Magnetics Fields frontman Stephin Merritt. Fagan was already seated when I arrived a few minutes early to set up for our interview. What transpired was one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve had in some time.

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Episode 140: Jim Starlin and Brian Stelfreeze

28Nov

Two conversations with extremely talented — and patient — artists conducted at Baltimore Comic Con. Both were also prefaced by waiting quietly for their signing lines to slow down before taking time out of their signing schedules for a chat. In the case of the legendary Marvel artists Jim Starlin, it was a long, unbroken line of autograph seekers carrying armfuls of Silver Surfer and Warlock comics to sign. With most, Starlin simply signed and small talked, tossing off a few notes about each. On occasions, however, a fan would present a copy of Captain Marvel and discuss the book’s impact on a personal level, how the story of the hero’s battle with cancer impacted them as a young reader — a testament to the power of important stories filtered through the pages of superhero books. As I waited for Brian Stelfreeze, meanwhile, the Gaijin Studios artist walked a young fan through the drawing process, critiquing his portfolio and demonstrating how to draw without focusing too heavily on the details — a method he discussed with me, before giving some insight into the eagerly awaited Black Panther miniseries he’s working on with journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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Episode 139: Luc Sante

25Nov

I’ve been wanting to have Luc Sante on the show for some time now, and a recently appearance at the Brooklyn Book Fair finally afforded the opportunity to sit down with the author. Immediately after a panel with Vivian Gornick and David Ulin on the topic of writing about cities, Sante and I sat down in a courtyard on a windy Sunday. Published the same year I moved to New York, the author’s book Low Life might well be my favorite book I’ve ever read about the city, peering into the crime dens and slums often whitewashed out of portraits of Gotham’s golden age. Sante was at the show promoting his most recent work, The Other Paris, which offers similar insight into the city of light. He happily agreed to discuss the two vastly different, yet eternally link metropolises, while giving candid look into what keeps him writing.

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Episode 138: Sara Varon

21Nov

It had been a while since I’d last spoken with Sara Varon. At the time, the artist had a handle of comics and kids books under her belt, including most notably — and recently — Robot Dreams, a delightful wordless buddy comic about a relationship between a robot and a dog. Since then, Varon’s been plenty busy, adding several more titles to her bibliography and teaching printmaking at her alma mater, the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. She also has a trio of books already planned for publication over the next two years, including a reissue of her 2003 short story Sweater Weather, a book about an anthropomorphic donkey for First Second and President Squid, the tale of a giant squid who runs for president. Varon and I sat down at her studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn surrounded by shelves of children’s books to discuss quitting her day job, writing for kids, and a failed TV pitch about unicorns.

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Episode 137: Stan Sakai

17Nov

Like many of roughly my age bracket, my first exposure to Usagi Yojimbo was as an action figure — a badass samurai rabbit that fit in perfectly in world where Ninja Turtles roam the streets of New York at night. It’s one of those perfect sorts of synergy, anthropomorphic superheroes trained in Eastern forms of combat born out of the small press black and white comics revolution of the mid-80s. But Usagi’s roots are far deeper than his gritted toothed action figure implies. Stan Sakai has been telling the samurai rabbit’s story for 30 years now, writing and drawing one of the most complex works in all of comics. It’s a work deeply tied to the cartoonist’s early obsessions with his heritage, bits and piece of Japanese culture he poured over in his formative years in Hawaii. Conducted on the show floor of this year’s Baltimore Comic Con, Sakai and I discuss the roots of his beloved creation and how he manages to keep Usagi’s story fresh three decades in.

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