Episode 219: Frank Santoro


When I hit up cartoonist Jim Rugg before a quick three day trip to Pittsburgh, he sent his apologies. He was leaving town the same night I arrived, but helpfully sent along a list of fellow cartoonists in the city. The city’s comics community is a diverse but tight knit one, and the artists will champion their fellow Pittsburghers any chance they get. I’d totally forgotten that Frank Santoro lived there. He’d moved away from the city for a while, publishing his first works in the mid-90s, as part of the San Francisco comics community. But unlike the Bay, his hometown is actually livable for an artist. In fact, he own two houses on the same street.  The second, a mirror image of his own residence, is the headquarters of the Rowhouse Residency, an off-shoot of his long standing comics correspondence course that he likens to “a dojo for students much like a martial arts academy.” It’s an immersive school from which Santoro broadcasts lessons and publishes the work of the artist in residence, fueled by home cooked meals prepared by his mother who lives up the street. Santoro and I met up at his row house to discuss Pittsburgh comics, self-publishing and the shadow of Andy Warhol.


Episode 218: Ashley Bez


Before it helped elect a president who teetered on the bring of nuclear war with every subsequent tweet, Twitter was an important testing ground for young comedians, honing their one-liners 140 characters at a time. Ashley Bez will be the first to admit that she owes much of her career to the social medium platform.Through Twitter, she’s found steady work and writing gigs for online magazines and TV shows, along with her most recent gig, an online radio dating advice show through Anchor.fm. And really, it’s a pretty good microcosm of a career that she’s put together piece meal through a variety of different online mediums, from a daily clothing blog to a surprise viral video hit that found her microwaving string cheese through a faux-drunk emotional roller coaster. In our first face to face meeting after several years of following one another on social media, Bez comes in from the pouring rain to discuss comedy, New York City, day jobs and the power of Twitter.


Episode 217: Scott Westerfeld


Scott Westerfeld didn’t move to New York expecting to become a writer. He’s dabbled in politics, music and software design, but after 18 novels, it’s pretty safe to say that he’s found his calling. Over the years, his work has largely gravitated toward the young adult end of the bookstore, most often dealing with science-fiction themes, as is the case with his best known series, Uglies and the Leviathan. Westerfeld’s most recent work is the two-part graphic novel, The Spill Zone. Like a number of his past works, the book uses a sort of post-apocalyptic setting to tackle topics like alienation, paired with good chase scenes featuring psychedelic monster dogs and the like. The author sat down ahead of his book tour to discuss writing, life in the city, math textbooks and catering to young readers.


Episode 216: The Coathangers


Everything is running about an hour late, and the opening band has already started by the time two-thirds of The Coathangers show up back stage for the interview. Complicating things even further, bass player Meredith Franco has a nasty cough. The life of a touring rock and roll band is pretty far down the list things any rational individual would want to do for a could. But it’s already cycled through the band once before, and the show must go on.  Guitarist Julia Kugel, who does most of the speaking during the conversation, explains helpful that it’s all just part of life on the road. And besides, the trio (recently down from four) only just got over some nasty parasites. It was a miserable experience — tired muscles, hair falling out. But at least the group got an EP name out of the whole thing. All in all, The Coathangers have been remarkable resilient over their 10-plus years. The band start as something of a lark, with the help of a stolen drumset (long story). The group, Kugel explains, had to be coerced into playing its first show, hoping the space would flood or some other act of god might mercifully intervene. But the group has held on, and somehow manages to get better with every release.


Episode 215: David Lloyd


We’re back from a brief hiatus for a conversation with cartoonist David Lloyd. Recorded at an Irish Pub a few blocks from the MoCCA Fest art show that brought him into town, Lloyd discusses his on-going work as the editor of Aces Weekly, an online anthology he believes hold the key to post-paper comics reading. Lloyd is, of course, best known as the artist on the seminal 1988 Alan Moore collaboration, V For Vendetta. The book inspired a 2005 film and created the iconic Guy Fawkes mask that has since become an online calling card for the hacktavist group, Anonymous. The artist says he has no qualms about being most strongly identified with the work, given the opportunities its opened, including the ability to better promote Aces. The last time we spoke, Lloyd was out promoting Kickback, a book a he’d both written and drawn, whose timing perfectly coincided with the V for Vendetta’s DVD release. A series of unfortunate incidents tied to the book played a key role in the artist’s decision to turn his back on mainstream comics. A few years later, opportunity presented itself once again in the form of online publishing. These days, the artist solely plays the role of editor, having largely abandoned the artist side of things. And from the sound of it, he’s mostly content — aside, of course, from a somewhat heated debate toward the end of the conversation about experimenting with mediums.


Episode 214: R. Sikoryak


“My method is slowly eliminating my style from the work,” R. Sikoryak explains during our long and wide-ranging interview. As with nearly every other creative pursuit, style is one of the key elements of expression, but the cartoonist has spent much of his life working against developing his own. After all, his best known pieces like Masterpiece Comics  work in opposition to original stylistic sign posts, instead immersing themselves fully into a rotating cast of existing artists. The book plays with juxtaposition of high and supposed low art, casting some of the world’s great works of literature with characters from the Sunday comics page. Sikoryak’s latest work, Terms and Conditions finds the artist taking a similar approach, albeit with a widely distributed but largely ignored work: the fine print that arrives with every new Apple device. The new book is a perfect springboard for a conversation about originality, sampling and the ways our brains are wired to find narrative where none exists.


Episode 213: Josh Bayer


Josh Bayer is coming a teaching class up town, and I’ve just finished work, so find a middle ground, a coffee shop called Ralph’s, bathed in the shadow of nearby Trump Tower. The place came highly recommended online, but there was no mention of the fact that it’s stashed away on the second floor of a Ralph Lauren store. Descent coffee, though. Bayer’s already there when I arrive, poring over comics on a tablet. He’s excited to talk about his work as a comics educator, having just come fresh off a class. His students run a broad spectrum, from upper east side kids to adults in need of a sort of art therapy. A deconstructer by nature, the work has caused the artist to pull the curtain back even further on what goes into making a great comic. The artist’s best known works are exercises in their own right. His Suspect Device anthology made a mission of turning well known comics source material on its head, with postmodern popcultural mashups and collaborations with a broad range of different alternative artists. His latest work, the ongoing All-Time Comics finds the artist paying homage to golden and silver age comics superheroes published by Fantagraphics, an odd destination for the tights and cape crowd. The each issue focuses on a different character, an experiment of sorts of step-by-step word building with a broad range of creative collaborators including the late-Herb Trimpe and covers by the likes of Jaime Hernandez and Anders Nilsen.


Episode 212: Frank Stack


“I’m a Texan and I don’t dislike Texas,” Frank Stack explains. “But I don’t like those sons of bitches.” The artist’s first major work sums up his feelings toward attitudes in the Lone Star State. First published in the pages of University of Texas paper, The Texas Ranger, The Adventures of Jesus is often regarded as the first underground comic. The strip is seen through the eyes of a Jesus newly returned to Earth. It was, predictably, controversial subject matter in Stack’s backyard, as it tackled issues of religious hypocrisy. The stories were first collected by fellow UoT student and underground comics luminary Gilbert Shelton and decades later by Fantagraphics. Stack also found acclaim for his work with Harvey Pekar, both in the pages of American Splendor and in the groundbreaking book, Our Cancer Year, co-authored with Joyce Brabner. But his cartooning career has been sporadic, broken up by long comics droughts, due to struggles with publishers over the decades. The artist has, however, found success as a fine artist and had his most steady gig as a professor at the University of Missouri, from which he retired roughly a decade ago. Record on the show floor of Big Apple Comic Con, this conversation covers much of Stack’s long and fascinating career in and out of comics and manages to drop a wide range of references from Picasso to Mystery Men.


Episode 211: Ryan Walsh of Hallelujah the Hills


You’re bound to raise some fan suspicion when the first track off your new album A Band Is Something To Figure Out has a title like “What do the People Want,” particularly when the thing is released on the 10th anniversary of your band’s existence. Hallelujah the Hills frontman Ryan Walsh admits that the album’s name was intended to raise some questions about rock music in general. And for full effect, Walsh adds, he first suggested it in the middle of practice, when a writer from the UK was in Boston getting material for an upcoming book on the group. But then, Hallelujah the Hills has always put on a good show. The band has released a half-dozen records in their decade-long existence, coming out of the gate with 2007’s Collective Psychosis Begone, which made them something of a media darling right at the apex of the 00s blog band boom. But while the group has maintained a steady fanbase (who’ve helped fund the last couple of records), Walsh has held down a day job for nearly all of its existence. These days, he’s also jammed book writing into his already-packed schedule. Walsh is adapting a 2015 Boston Magazine piece in a full-length book for Penguin, documenting Van Morrison’s late-60s self-imposed New England exile that gave rise to Astral Weeks, one of rock and roll’s most beloved masterpieces.


Episode 210: Gareth David of Los Campesinos!


“[Depression] is something I’m comfortable with now,” Los Campesinos singer Gareth David explains during our conversation backstage at the Warsaw in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He’s remarkably open and funny about the subject, adding, “the best thing for my mental health has been Pokemon Go.” It’s clear that his time serving as the lyrics writer for the joyfully woeful seven-piece has gone a ways toward opening him up over the course of six albums. And indeed, titles like We Are Beautiful , We Are Doomed, Hello Sadness and Sick Scenes perfectly reflect the balance of musical excitement and melancholy subject matter that have long defined the group’s work. It’s also clear that the band’s longevity is the product of sheer love for the music. The group, formed in Cardiff, found early success among the blog band boom of the mid-00s, with an early single appearing in a Budweiser advert. These days, its members have gone on to support themselves with day jobs, reforming for the sheer love of playing. But the continued commitment to the group has resulted in a band that seems to get better with each subsequent release. The group on this year’s Sick Scenes is clearly the one found on 2007’s Sticking Fingers into Sockets, but the decade since its release have found the group operating with far more maturity and depth for the most fully-formed songwriting of its career.


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