Episode 253: Jay Rosen


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.


Episode 252: Jon Wurster


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.


Episode 251: Chris Ware


“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.


Episode 250: Cecil Castellucci


“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.


Episode 249: Nidhi Chanani


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.


Episode 248: Janelle Hessig


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.


Episode 247: Mimi Fischer


“My life makes no sense,” Mimi Fischer says with a laugh. The 64-year-old comedian recently put on her first solo show, “A Late Bloomer” at the PIT theater in New York City. She is, of course, the titular late-bloomer, discovering the world of hoop dancing in 2007, after years of bouncing from job to job. In 2011, she entered the comedy world, at age 58, enrolling in an entry-level course at UCB. It’s all clearly being a liberating experience for Fischer, after years spent in everything from commercial art to Wall Street. Her fascination with hula-hooping captured the attention of comedian Chris Gethard, who made her a fixture on the Chris Gethard show, where she earned the nickname Mimi on the Hoops, fitting in perfectly with the program’s controlled chaos. Just before embarking on her first solo show, Fischer sat down to talk about her journey, and why it’s never to late to discover your true passion. “I’ve been too told, I’m too fat, but i’m f*****g going to do it this time,” she explains. and if i fail, at least i tried once in my life to do something.”


Episode 246: Simon Hanselmann


“I don’t want to go back to the bird shit,” Simon Hanselmann explains, reminiscing not-so-fondly about about jobs past. From all appearances, life is pretty good for the Tasmanian cartoonist. He’s making a living with comics, living in a nice Seattle home he shares with his wife, Jacq, a dog and a basement full of recused rabbits they lovingly refer to as “the bungeon.” His series, Megg, Mogg and Owl has been the subject of multiple award winning collections on Frantagraphics and has drawn interest from television production companies looking to turn his stoner trio into a series. His work appears regularly in magazines and anthologies, and when I arrive, he’s in the middle of preparing his work for an exhibit at a prestigious French art gallery. So naturally, he’s looking to mix things up. Hanselmann is beginning to embark on his most ambitious work to date, a multi-volume set that explores his own family history through the lens of Megs and Mogg, uncovering some early stories that his family would likely prefer stay hidden. It’s a deep and extremely personal story, he’s been meaning to tell for some time. “Once I started became successful in comics,” Hanselmann says with a laugh, “I stopped needing to see therapists.”


Episode 245: Maura Lynch and Andrew Chugg (of Blush)


Blush’s debut album is the culmination of nine years worth of songs. Singer Maura Lynch spent the last decade playing in bands and working day jobs for startups like Kickstarter and Birchbox, all while writing music on the side. What sort as a solo project ultimately coalesced into a proper group, a collection of long time friends (and a pair of siblings) turning those demos into proper songs. Bass player Andrew Chugg stepped in to produce, attempting to retain the home recorded charm in the process. Ahead of the album’s December 8th debut, Lynch and Chugg sat down to discuss beginnings, collaboration and the upside of not quitting one’s day job.


Episode 244: Ron Turner and Winston Smith


Ron Turner is running late. It’s impossible to find parking in North Beach this time of night. I’m nursing a whiskey upstairs as Cafe Vesuvio, the historic San Francisco bar, best known as a famed beat generation water hole. The crowd’s already getting noisy, but the founder of the legendary Last Gasp publishing house couldn’t have chosen a more perfect location for our conversation. An unfamiliar face waves hello, hands me copy of Last Gasp’s latest catalog and sits down at the table across from me. He introduces himself as Winston, a local artist. It slowly dawns on me that the man is Winston Smith, the collage artist who helped create the house style for San Francisco hardcore band, The Dead Kennedys. Suddenly it’s a group interview. Our conversation is wide ranging and occasionally on topic, fueled by multiple rounds of libation. There’s talk of working on the Bakersfield/Fresno train line, Cary Grant’s love of LSD, sending comics to John McCain and Fidel Castro, and how Allen Ginsberg indirectly helped kickstart Robert Crumb’s career. And, of course, the ever-changing face of San Francisco.


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