Episode 257: Emil Ferris

11Feb

“Do not listen to people’s idea about what you can accomplish,”  Emil Ferris insists as we wrap up our interview. “ You must do the thing you were sent here to do.” We’re short on time during the quick conversation. Someone’s stopped by to whisk her off to her next appointment. But, she adds, it’s important that she get that one simple and powerful message across. Ferris’ brief career as a cartoonist is nothing if not a lesson in perseverance. In 2001, she was paralyzed by West Nile Virus contracted from a mosquito bite. After a hopeless diagnosis from doctors, she learned to walk and draw again, eventually receiving a creative writing MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2017, at age 55, Ferris release her debut graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monster, a painstakingly crafted coming of age story that led Art Spiegelman to call the cartoonist, “one of the most important comics artists of our time” in a lengthy New York Times piece. Since then, the book went on to become far and away the most lauded book of the year, with a second part due out this August. In this brief but fascinating conversation, Ferris relays a message of hopefulness for aspiring artists and those dealing with seemingly insurmountable health issues. The cartoonist also expounds on her love for classic horror movies and how to overcome demons of negative thinking.

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Episode 256 (Bonus): Joseph Remnant

8Feb

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Joseph Remnant’s debut graphic novel since he began collaborating with underground comics pioneer Harvey Pekar for the online Pekar Project anthology back in 2010. The moment finally arrived last year when Fantagraphics published Cartoon Clouds, the tale of recent art school graduates grappling with the realities of adult life. Of course, the cartoonist has been busy in the meantime, working on his on-going floppy series, Cartoon Clouds and working on Pekar’s final book, Cleveland, a fitting send off for one of the medium’s most influential writers. Remnant and I sat down at the CAB show in Brooklyn to discuss his work to this point and the process of setting out to create a debut graphic novel after years of shorter work and collaborations.

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Episode 255: Torquil Campbell (of Stars)

4Feb

“Without nostalgia,” Torquil Campbell explains, “I don’t know how you make pop music.” It’s an inescapable dimension of Stars music, if only because the band essentially grew up together in Toronto.  Plenty has changed, of course, in the nearly 20 years since the group formed. Two members married one another, and Campell became the sole member to move away, relocating part-time to Vancouver and a spot near Niagra Falls for his wife’s theater acting career. But the indie-pop group’s career has remained strong. Stars’ ninth studio album, There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light is among their strongest, and we meet up backstage at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, fans are already lined up, waiting to get into one of multiple sold out shows. Back in the city where the spent so many of its formative years, the singer seems especially reflective. “Pop music without nostalgia,” he adds in almost a whisper, “Is like coffee without cream."

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Episode 254: Emily Haines

28Jan

“The thing that is the product is the excrement,” Emily Haines posits, loosely paraphrasing English writer, Jeanette Winterson. “The thing that is of value is the experience.” We’ve only got half an hour for an interview, as she rolls through town to promote her latest solo project, Choir of the Mind, and by the end it feels as though we’re racing to cram as many ideas as possible into that brief window of time. The Metric front woman and Broken Social Scenester is a self-proclaimed “bad meditator,” but she clearly has no issues living in the moment. She’s equally reflective, as well — an artist who’s clearly thankful for where her skills have helped her get. Haines’ first solo in 11 years in an exploration of memory, the result of returning home to Toronto after years spent in New York City. It’s the story of the cyclical nature of one’s life confronted by the realization that we’re invariably vastly different people than we were the last time we set foot on a familiar block. Fresh off a limited run of solo shows, Haines is happy to be back in the city she once called home, if only for a few moments. And from the sound of it, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Episode 253: Jay Rosen

21Jan

I was first made aware of Jay Rosen when he began to pop up in my Twitter feed. As the last presidential election neared, he began to show up more and more often through the retweets of friends and colleagues. Now that Donald Trump has declared an all-out war on journalism, Rosen’s voice is ever more essential in the national conversation. A week after the President issued his “Fake News Awards,” here’s a talk with the NYU journalism professor that attempts to get to the bottom of precisely what got us into this situation in the first place. As a journalist — and, for that matter, a reasonably thoughtful human being — it’s a tough conversation. Rosen struggles to find a perfect historical analogue for the current state of the press in US, settling on the Civil War — a chilling comparison to say the least. There’s not a lot of hopefulness contained in here, save for the fact that perhaps the internet — the same medium that helped get us into this mess — could ultimately be the one that redeems us.

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Episode 252: Jon Wurster

14Jan

Recorded on the eve of a pair of celebrating the 20th anniversary of his first Best Show call, we managed to catch Jon Wurster at the perfect time to reflect on his work. It’s been a strange career — the musician has drummed for some of the biggest names in indie rock, from his longstanding gig as a member of Superchunk, to on-going work with The Mountain Goats and Husker Du frontman, Bob Mould. But it’s his work with Tom Scharpling about which Wurster seems to take the most pride. “I think when i’m dead that’s is what i’d like to most be remembered for,” he explains, adding that the groundbreaking, long form comedy program is the purest expression of himself. Twenty years ago, Wurster called into the then-WFMU program as a music scholar of sorts, who’d penned the book Rock, Rot and Rule, a definitive ranking of rock acts, filed into one of three titular categories. What started as a goof has since grown into one of underground comedy’s most beloved on-going programs, building up a town’s worth of Wurster characters in the process. The drummer-turned-comedian sits down to discuss the birth of the show, breaking into comedy and dealing with creative dry spells.

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Episode 251: Chris Ware

4Jan

“I never thought i’d making a living doing this,” Chris Ware explains, candidly. “I just thought i’d be a weird guy on the street shuffling around with tattered notebooks.” Maybe he’s half-kidding, or at least winkingly slightly. It’s hard to say. He’s hard person to read. But the cartoonist is nothing if not candid to a fault when it come to discussing his art and the work that goes into it. As we sit in a bare hotel room on one particularly cold early morning in Brooklyn, he’s more than happy to deconstruct the process of creating some of comics’ most complex and layered work. Perhaps he’s feeling especially introspective, following the recent publication of the massive Monograph, a 280 page art work that doubles as something of a career retrospective, with Ware deconstructing his own work in the marginalia. It’s a beautiful and lovingly crafted mid-career examination of one of the art form’s most important figures. If you tell him that, of course, he’ll likely thank you effusively, as though it isn’t something fans suggest to him on a fairly regular basis.

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Episode 250: Cecil Castellucci

30Dec

“Sometimes I’ll write something and I’ll weep while I’m writing it,” Cecil Castellucci explains, as we wrap up the interview with one final question. “It’s like I’m getting as close as possible to being human.” She gets close to that state just answering the question. Creation is a pure process for the writer. It’s one that sometimes feels like banging her head against the wall, but it’s an essential part of her existence, from her mid-90s indie rock career as Nerdy Girl, to her career as a young adult novelist that kicked off with 2005’s Boy Proof. Two years later, she collaborated with cartoonist Jim Rugg on The P.L.A.I.N. Janes. Her first graphic novel was a bit among the earliest books that helped form the core of comics’ current YA renaissance. In the subsequent decade, Castellucci has been prolific in both mediums, including a run on the D.C. superhero book, Shade, The Changing Girl and the upcoming Don’t Cosplay With my Heart, which draws upon the writer’s own history with fandom.

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Episode 249: Nidhi Chanani

23Dec

We sit down on a pair of chair in the First Second booth, smack in the middle of a crowded New York Comic Con show floor early on a Saturday. Nidhi Chanani is still high from the release of her debut graphic novel, Pashmina, which only hit store shelves a few day prior. The book tells the sort of a young Indian-American girl’s fantastic journey, as she reconnects with the homeland she left at a young age. There are certain parallels to Chanani’s own life, though the author’s earlier attempt at straight autobiography had been scrapped sometime before starting on her debut. It was a false start at a first comic that taught her a lot, but perhaps hit a bit too close to home. “Every bad drawing is going to teach you something,” she explains. “So 200 pages of bad drawing is definitely going to teach you something.” Pashmina, on the other hand, has garnered a warm reception in the intervening months, particularly among schools and libraries. In this conversation, we discuss cultural identities, the artist’s struggles with art school and the pains and pleasures of putting a book out into the world.

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Episode 248: Janelle Hessig

17Dec

Founded in 1990, Tales of Blarg became one of the longest running and most influential zines out of the East Bay punk scene that gave the world Lookout Records. Over the years, the it published the work of such Northern California punk rock luminaries as Aaron Cometbus, Iggy Scam, Lawrence Livermore and Robert Eggplant. Janelle Hessig (née Blarg) hasn’t published an issue since 2006, but the writer/cartoonist is still strongly invested in the world of independent publishing. (And inspired a song by Bratmobile along the way.) For years, she worked for Last Gasp, and these days publishes other artists’ work through her own publishing house, when she’s not on the clock at San Francisco PBS affiliate, KQED. In 2014, she published The Cruising Diaries, a collection of writer Brontez Purnell, which Hessig also illustrated. Next year, Gimme Action will publish Rotten Philosophies, a personal collection of work from Hessig, who spent much of last year battling breast cancer. Hessig recommended a local San Francisco bar decorated with work inspired by outsider artist Henry Darger for this conversation, which touches on the importance of self-publishing, the downside of the internet and living day to day with a life threatening disease.

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