Showing posts with label Politics and Prose bookstore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Politics and Prose bookstore. Show all posts

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Tim Kreider Q&A: "I’m frankly glad to not be a political cartoonist right now"

transcribed and edited by Mike Rhode


Tim Kreider recently appeared (2/8/18) at Politics and Prose's store at The Wharf to read from I Wrote This Book Because I Love You, his new book of essays. Kreider spent years as a cartoonist for the Baltimore City Paper, and is a very entertaining guy, so he's always on my list of people to see when he comes to town. With his permission, here's a transcript of his question & answer session.

Tim Kreider (TK): It is traditional, I gather, to do a Q&A after a reading, so I will gladly A, if you wish to Q…

Audience Member (AM):  Are you still doing cartoons?

TK: I’m not mostly. No. I don’t know what that’s about. I did it for 12 years professionally and I got pretty burnt out on both cartooning and politics by the end of it. I was a political cartoonist. I think part of it is – my girlfriend studied opera at Oberlin, and she gave that up, because opera singers are basically not allowed to have any fun, ever. No drinking, no smoking, it’s pretty much opera all the time. She doesn’t sing karaoke either now, and I think it’s a little bit like that for me. When you devote yourself passionately to something and then you have to give it up, you have to give it up. It’s like breaking up with some one. For a while, even if you’re going to be friends later, you just cannot see them.

Also, I’m frankly glad to not be a political cartoonist right now. What would you do? One of my students told me about a form of satire that came to prominence in the late Soviet era which consisted of reciting the official propaganda and rhetoric verbatim and straight-faced – which is what we’ve come to in this country. You’ve probably heard Mark Hammill reading Donald Trump’s tweets in the voice of the Joker, and it’s impossible to believe the Joker didn’t actually write them -- they sound so much like him. I think we may be post-jokes now. “No” would be the short answer, but I miss it. There are cartoon ideas, and those are not essay ideas, and drawing is way funner than writing. You’ve got something at the end of the day that wasn’t there at the beginning of the day. Also, you can tell if it sucks just by looking at. This book [holding up his new collection]… I have no idea. No, it’s good, it’s very good.

AM: Do you have a writing process?

TK: Someone asked me that last night and it gave me my first cartoon idea in years. The caption is just, “The Writing Process” and I’ll let you imagine the process by yourself. The first year must be spent procrastinating and feeling anxious and guilty all the time. You must then undertake a series of massive secret time-wasting projects.

Yeah, there’s a lot of that. I don’t even know how this book got written. I barely even remember doing any writing. There was always a lot of time feeling anxious and guilty. Writing a book is a marathon, rather than a sprint. I don’t know how interesting this is, but I made some rules for myself. I decided I had to have an office, so I went to the vast, ornate reading room of the New York City Public Library at 42nd St. to write my first book. It’s good to not do your work in exactly the same chair in front of exactly the same laptop where you email and watch Netflix and goof off. You have do to it on a regular schedule.

Someone gave me the good advice that if it’s going very badly, just make yourself do twenty minutes a day. If you are not getting anything done, call it a day – go to a matinee or go to the zoo. But if you find you’ve accidentally gotten absorbed in it, then good.

I don’t know. Is that an answer to your question? I have no idea what the process is… you know what the process really is? You sit around with people smarter and funnier than you drinking beers, and remember everything smart and funny that they say, and then steal it. That’s pretty much how everything gets done. That’s my actual talent in life – cultivating friends.


AM: I think the last time you were in town [for a book event], you were still cartooning for the Baltimore City Paper, so I was wondering where and what you’re teaching.

TK: I teach at Sarah Lawrence College and I teach one of the few things I am qualified to teach. I teach writing essays, just like the ones I write.  I was very resentful about having to do it at first. Writers just want to be left alone and never work an honest day in their lives. And that’s an honorable goal. At first I felt like I was a bear at a circus, having to wear a tutu and ride a bike, but it turns out that I secretly love it. I’m very fiercely devoted to my young charges and when one of my students got a piece she wrote in my class published, I was much happier then when I get anything published any more. Much. I felt like some doting grandma who wanted to tape it up on the fridge.

AM: [Are you going to write a novel or a longer work?]
20180208_194014TK: I think it might be really hard… so, no. This was hard. 200 pages – it took me five years! I don’t know what idea would sustain me through that much concentration, that much focus, and that much labor. I admire the epigrams of Nietzsche. I think if you can say something in a sentence, why take a paragraph; if you can do it in a paragraph, why take an essay; and if you can do it in an essay, why take a book? There’s a nice book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who wrote The Little Prince, but also wrote a great book on aviation, Wind, Sand and Stars. I’m going to paraphrase, but he’s ostensibly talking about airplanes, but you know he’s talking about writing when he says, “Somethings attain their perfection not when nothing more can be added, but when nothing more can be taken away.” I admire concision and elegance in writing, so it would have to be a subject I felt required a book. It’s hard enough just writing an essay. Some of these essays are just one year and thirty pages long and it took me years. I don’t know what would possess me to that extent, unless I got sent into space... which is what I’m angling for.

AM: How does it feel writing about something so personal? Is it cathartic? Do you not think about the audience when writing?

TK: I’m a very lazy person, and I really write about my own life because writing about other things would require research. I’m not a journalist. I was never trained in that discipline or those ethics. I’m just a guy. So all I know enough to write about is my life and stories I’ve heard from my friends, so that’s why I do that. But it comes with certain drawbacks, like, it’s weird. It’s weird to go on first dates with people who already know everything about you. I just did an interview on NPR, and it’s one thing to spend five years making a lot of calculated revelations and refining something gradually into what you hope will be art, even if the raw material is your personal life, and quite another to have some guy ask you personal questions on national radio. It turns out I’m actually kind of private [laughs]. You can’t write imaging your mom looking over your shoulder, or you would never write anything at all. Although there is an asterisk after some of the titles of essays in this book, and a note on bottom of the table of contents that says, “Note to Mom. Do not read.” Those will be the first ones Mom reads, I’m sure.

Yeah, it’s somewhat weird, but once you’re able to write about something, if you’re able to refine it to the point of being artful, you’re past it and it’s not really you anymore. There’s hazards to that; writing about something distances you from it and codifies it, and, it’s not really yours anymore in a way. There’s a trick I do in my class when we’re talking about memoir and autobiography, because they’re all young, and young people believe they are special and unique and fascinating. So this is my famous “You are not Special” lecture, which is actually a strength and not a weakness, because all the stuff you think is special and unique, and all the things you think are shameful secrets, are not. They are universal. They are boringly common. The trick I do is a thing I read about in an interview with Orson Welles, who in between being a genius director, had to do all sorts of show biz jobs. He was a stage magician and a fortune teller. He does this thing… I will do it now. I will prognosticate. I will say to someone – you have a scar on your knee… yes? So does everybody else because that’s what you fall on when you’re a kid, so we all have scars on our knees, and we all think that that is our scar. The takeaway for my students is that your secret shameful scars are everybody else’s too.

Some of my circumstances are unusual or unique, but I feel like they are illuminating way more universal conditions. I’m not pathological, I’m just weird, so I’m banking on the assumption  what’s true of me is likely true of a lot of other people. I would say my experience so far is that has been rewarded. The more risks you take, the more letters you get from people effectively saying, “Oh my god, I thought it was just me! I can’t believe you came out and said that.” Which is slightly gratifying.

AM: What do your students think of your writing?

TK: [laughs] I have no idea. Those are some other people you can’t imagine looking over your shoulder while you write. The reason I wear suits is because I teach and I wear them as a kind of armor, a semiotic armor, because I felt fraudulent like most teachers secretly do when they start. I needed the students to buy into this illusion of authority. I need to affect a certain persona in class so they perceive me a certain way, but you would be doing your reader a disservice if you did that. It’s the same kind of compartmentalization that we all do in various fields of our lives, I guess.

I don’t know if many of my students have ever talked to me directly about my writing except to say, “I really liked your book; it was funny”—that kind of bland generic compliment. My hope is that I am modeling for them the kind of honesty that I try to teach. Who knows? But yes, it’s a creepy thought and I try not to indulge in it.

AM: Do you watch and lot of movies, and who are some of your favorite directors?

TK: Yeah, I watch a lot of movies. Actually, the first thing I ever got published nationally was an article in Film Quarterly. That’s where I started writing. I had a slew of articles in Film Quarterly for a while in the late 90s, early 2000s. They were about Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, the Coen Brothers and Steven Spielberg. They were about Eyes Wide Shut and A.I. and The Straight Story and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? I would say that my main artistic role model in life has been Stanley Kubrick, even though that seems a weird role model because he was so, in a way, absent from his own work. But of course, he’s deeply present in that he exerted freakish, fanatical control over every frame. I think I admired him not just for the beauty and the darkness of the art, but for his MO in life which is ‘secure control if you’re an artist.’ That’s a lot harder to do in Hollywood than it is in writing, because more money is involved. And more other people, and other people, as we all know, ruin everything. When you’re a writer, it’s just you and maybe an editor. Securing autonomy and control are real important to me. I know way more about Stanley Kubrick than really is healthy, but he’s someone I look to those anecdotes [about him] for little inspirational guides to conducting my own professional life.

There was a professional conflict where I was very much thinking of a certain Stanley Kubrick anecdote. It was when he was a young man working on his first Hollywood movie. He was some kid in his twenties. Some veteran photographer was working the set, and Kubrick started out as a photographer, so he knew his shit. He told the photographer the distance and the lens that he wanted, and he went on break, and when he came back it was set up at a different distance with a different lens. The guy explained to him, “Yeah, but it’s going to look the same on screen; don’t worry,” and Stanley Kubrick without raising his voice said, “Put the camera at the distance I told you to, with the lens I asked for, or get off my set.” That is utterly alien to my character, but I try to remember that to try to cultivate his discipline, because sometimes you have to be that guy, in the battlefield between art and commerce.

AM: You mentioned liking to write in the NY Public Library. What would be some of the other cultural highlights of the City for you?

TK: I was just talking about this earlier with somebody. You know, there’s a life cycle to New York. There are some people that go there and they’re lifers. They love that place, and they’re never going to leave until it gets nuked. If then. I wasn’t one of them, or didn’t think I was. I went there for the reason that a lot of young people do, which is ambition. You have a specific ambition and you go there, and you either fail or you fulfill it and then you move somewhere reasonable for a human being to live. Unfortunately, I accidentally acquired a circle of friends, and a girlfriend, and a job I like, and now I’m stuck in the most god-awful place on earth. The things I truly love there are Film Forum an art house revival theater, Grand Szechuan Chinese food (never more than twenty bucks), and yeah, I like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I used to go only when I had out of town visitors, because you always hit the same highlights, and I started to cultivate it as a habit. You just go for half-hour… it’s basically free… well, a suggested donation… I like those things about the city. It’s a good city for depressed people. It offers constant stimulus if you require that. And it’s a good backdrop for your life, when your life is not going so well. You look up at the skyline and think “Well, Jesus, at least I’m not in Belair, MD.”

AM: It sounds like you don’t your assign your book to your students…

TK: Oh my god, no.

AM: …when you teach a class on essays, and assign good examples. Do you take much yourself from those examples? It sounds like your inspirations are more music, or movies or drinking with your friends.

TK: I read all kinds of stuff. I think I’m pretty catholic in my reading tastes. I secretly had to take a class course in essays when I agreed to teach one, so I’ve read a lot of them. I had certainly read the essays of David Foster Wallace. When I came across his ocean liner essay in Harper’s, I weirdly felt a kind of relief because back then I was a frustrated writer while being a cartoonist, and I felt, “Ok, this guy is the writer I would be if only I was a much better writer, so I’m off the hook. I don’t have to do that anymore.” But I think everybody in my generation of writers kind of felt that way. “He was speaking in the voice that everyone hears in their heads,” is the way people often put it. I read a lot of non-fiction, but you don’t learn to write by studying things for lessons. I feel that when teaching writing, you’re really just a study hall monitor. You have to make them read a lot and write a lot, and they have to do that core year, and eventually maybe they’ll be writers. You just absorb it by osmosis. You learn the rhythms of good prose. Hunter Thompson said he used to type out the last page of The Great Gatsby because he wanted to know what it felt like in your fingers to type prose that great. I make my students memorize literature, because I think you have to internalize those cadences and you have to have that in your head. I think you absorb stuff by example, unconsciously.

One of the first sentences I ever noticed as a young reader was from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I noticed it because it wasn’t the content in the sense that it was funny; it was the way it was formed. It was when the Vogon ships, these giant rectangular spaceships come to Earth to destroy it. It’s a scheduled demolition; we just hadn’t been informed, and the sentence is, “The ships hung there in the sky in the same way that bricks don’t.” It’s nice, huh? You learn these tricks, and you file them away, thinking “Ah, I’ve got to do that,” and you just pick up about a million of those. Any wise stuff I pretend to say in class is just filling time while they are reading and hopefully learning stuff like that. Right now, I’m reading Robert Caro, the historian. I read all his volumes in the LBJ bio, and now I’m reading Power Broker about Robert Moses. He writes 800-page books which are only volume one of his series, and I write really short essays, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot from him. You are never lost reading that stuff; he turns everything into a story. You always know where you are and why you’re reading. Even the boring part of the LBJ bio, which is where LBJ grew up, what that landscape is like, he turns it into a story, and the story is, “This land is crap.” It looks incredibly fecund on the surface and it is for a couple of seasons until you denude it with crops or with cattle, and then the rains come and wash it away down to the bedrock, and you’re fucked. Ambitious people came there , and their fortunes were squandered and this is the background LBJ came from. It all ties into why that guy, who was a sociopath, cared enough to pass the Great Society bills and the Civil Rights bills. Even in the tiniest details, you understand why you’re reading this stuff. I’m sorry, I’ve gone on too long. We do that when we read the Caro books; we become colossal bores.

AM: Are there any female essayists or authors you introduce  your students to?

TK: They all love Joan Didion. I don’t. Mostly because she’s humorless. I acknowledge that she’s a great writer, but I just can’t lover her because she’s not funny. It’s just my predisposition. I can’t really warm up to a writer who I don’t think is hilarious. But they love her, and I respect their judgment, so I teach Joan Didion.

The first week I always teach M.F.K. Fisher’s essays, a great food writer. I don’t care about the food at all, but she makes you understand why you should, or at least care about something passionately. I like Rebecca Solnit a lot; she’s one of my favorite political writers. And she’s not just a good political writer; she wrote a great memoir called The Faraway Nearby. I really like Lionel Shriver for her prickly, contrarian intellect. Meghan Daum is a great essayist, she wrote a book called The Unspeakable. A friend of mine introduced her work to me because she thought we were up to the same things, which is using the raw material of our own lives to try to write about universal stuff, but it was not memoir, it’s personal essay. Those are some of my top picks.

AM: What’s your impression of Washington, DC?

TK: I don’t really have a strong impression here. I’ve got a lot of good friends here, and I visit often, but I don’t really know the city. I don’t have a good sense of it as a city. I should say I’m from Baltimore, so I’m biased. I like Baltimore because it’s an eccentric, hard-drinking, dirty, insane city. And DC is not like that, to my knowledge.

AM: I find your voice refreshing and unusual for the New York Times. How did you start writing for them?

TK: I never stopped writing even while I was a cartoonist, and the reason I started writing for them is that a guy I sort of knew got something published there, and it was terrible, and I thought, “Oh, if he can be in the New York Times, I’m going to be in the New York Times.” So I wrote something for that same column and it just happened to appeal to a certain editor there. He’s my go-to guy there, and he’s also a friend, and we go out to lunch at least once every couple of months. It just happened to appeal to him personally, but it also occupied a good in-betweenish niche. It was a column on alcohol, and it seemed like everyone’s column was either “Oh man, I went out and got wasted last night,” or “I am now in a 12-step program and it has saved my life.” I was neither of those people. As someone who used to drink a lot and loved it, and now had to moderate things some, and missed it, I had all that ambivalence. I tell my students if you can find that niche in between, you’ve got a shot at getting something published. That led to me standing here, in a weird succession of events. An agent saw that, and is now my fabulous agent, and she got me a book contract, and it was all very abrupt and unexpected. It forestalled a midlife crisis for me. I’m sure it’ll come crashing later.

AM: I was wondering who is your favorite comedian?

TK: Well, some names are now taboo to speak. I don’t think I have a favorite one. I really like good standup comedians. I really like Chris Rock. I just saw Dave Chapelle’s second Netflix special which I liked, a lot, partly because he addressed his first one, which I did not see, and spoke to some of the criticisms in a way that was interesting and funny. Those are the first two that come to mind. Humor-wise, I was more into cartoonists and writers. My favorite cartoonist, B Kliban, was a guy who studied under Richard Linder, a surrealist painter at Pratt Institute, and he always continued being a surrealist. He was just a surrealist who drew cartoons. He did this famous book, Cat, in the late 70s and you saw these tiger-striped cats everywhere on dishtowels and mugs and stuff. When I was twelve I got Cat, because I made the lateral move from Garfield to Cat, and then I read his other books which had titles like Whack Your Porcupine or Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head. That blew my mind, his very observant and dark humor. It took me decades to get some of those jokes. I’m still in the process of getting some. My first book is just shamelessly imitative.

Yes, Kliban has a totally different style from Linder. But I’m a teacher now, and I’m not trying to teach my kids to write in my style. Ideally, I’m trying to teach them to write as well as they can, which may be very different from mine. And sometimes you have students you’re probably not helping much because they’re too different from you.

AM: Back when you were cartooning for the Baltimore City Paper, did you consider yourself a political cartoonist?

TK: Yeah, I did. I didn’t start out that way. I wanted to be like B Kliban and do absurdist nonsense. My first book, which is still my favorite of my books I have to say, is all that stuff, and then the 2000 election got stolen, and then 9/11 happened, and we invaded some other country that had nothing to do with 9/11 for some reason, and it felt like it would just be frivolous and unforgivable, with access to even a really tiny marginal public forum, like the Baltimore City Paper, to do art about anything else. I have some regrets about that, because those were prime creative years I squandered on a really ephemeral art form. I wouldn’t go back to it now. I feel like I did my time. It was like being conscripted in the Army in a way. It’s time for younger people to get out there.

AM: Do you recommend any African writers?

TK: Nope, I am almost entirely ignorant of the entire literature. I’ve had students complain in evaluations that my syllabus is pretty ‘white guy Western canon,’ but I suffer from the boundaries of my experience, and being sheltered, and being who I am. I have to teach the stuff that I authentically know and love, and that happens to be that stuff. I teach Montaigne and went way out of my way to find a bearable translation for them. They’re still lazy; they didn’t even like Nabokov. I should probably work to expand that canon since hopefully I’ll teach there for a long time. I don’t feel my students from other cultures are being well-served, necessarily. 

AM: It took five years to write your last book; is there anything before that where you feel you totally missed the mark and would like to go back and revise?

TK: Yeah, Montaigne did that. In real scholarly editions of his work, they show which lines were written when, because he just kept going back and revising. He would think of clever things to say or a related anecdote or he would have a new thought. In fact it just happened to me. It happens all the time. This is why you can’t look at your old books. When you’re writing a book, you’re obsessed the whole time with “Is this any good or does this suck?” which is not a very useful question by the way. At some point, that stops being the relevant question, and the relevant question is, “Is it done?” and then that’s when you’re done. When it feels like the best book that the guy I was in those five years could write in that time. And we commend him for his effort and move on to the next book. Although there’s some lines I wrote in my first book that I love more than any lines in this book, but that’s probably just because I hate this book right now.  That’s a bad way to end. [laughs]

Friday, February 09, 2018

Review: Adrian Tomine's Killing and Dying

by Mike Rhode

If I had to come up with a quick descriptive word for Adrien Tomine's work (and I just did), I think I'd pick "astringent." Tomine's a master of a cool thin line with a flat color palette, and his stories are often about people you'd prefer to avoid IRL. Tomine will be in town at Politics and Prose talking with Linda Holmes about Killing and Dying, his 2015 collection of his Optic Nerve comic book now available in paperback.

I'm reviewing the book now, even thought I bought it at 2015 at the Small Press Expo, because Drawn & Quarterly sent me a comp copy, and I don't want them to think it was unappreciated. Also, because in spite of my description above, I like his work. There are six stories in the book, all obviously by Tomine, but all different from each other as well.

Tomine is one of the group of formerly alternative 1980's cartoonists such as Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware who've hit the big time, and whose work is now instantly recognizable, as they're doing regular covers for the New Yorker and publishing graphic novel collections on a regular basis. This is a far cry from when they all were part of the small press scene being published in 'floppies' by Fantagaphics Books. Amazingly, those who've stayed in the field have largely remained true to the aesthetic they developed in their early works.

Tomine's first story, "...Horticusculpture" is purposely constrained to appear to be a weekly comic strip telling the story of a man growing old while attempting to convince the world that his new plant/sculpture hybrid is art. Six "strips" in black & white mimic a daily, while the full page Sunday is in color. Someone more academically-minded could theorize about the appeal of old-fashioned comic strips for alternative comic book cartoonists; among others, Daniel Clowes did a whole book using this motif, as did Bob Sikoryak who cast his net of influences a bit wider in his book on Apple. In the end, Tomine's story is about a man who's largely a failure personally and professionally, but is redeemed in the very last panel by his family's love.

"Amber Sweet" is a story of a modern-day mistaken identity in that a college student is a doppleganger for a porn actress. This coincidence ruins her life until the two of them finally meet. "Go Owls" is a cautionary tale which of a woman letting a man assume control over her life under the guise of protecting her. "Translated, from the Japanese" could easily have appeared in the New Yorker. No people are shown in the story, just scenes from traveling on plane, but again it's another story about human loneliness and failure in relationships.

Local cartoonist Dana Maier told me yesterday that "Killing and Dying" is her favorite story in the book, but I had to dash off before we discussed it. We may have that conversation here, if I can convince her to. A part of another dysfunctional family, a teenage girl wants to try standup comedy, and her mother agrees while her father thinks it's a mistake. Tomine has put several twists in the story, so that's all I'll reveal. Finally, "Intruders" is from the point of view of a failed veteran who breaks into the apartment he used to live in during the day, attempting to recapture his happier past, while providing no trace of himself in the present.

Tomine's cool, cerebral stories won't be to everyone's taste, but they're definitely worth sampling and this is a good collection to start with. He's grown to be an assured artist and writer, and will continue to be part of the graphic novel 'canon' for years to come.



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Adrian Tomine - Killing and Dying — in conversation with Linda Holmes — at Politics and Prose at The Wharf



Saturday, February 10, 2018 - 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Now available in paperback, this collection of six graphic stories shows the impressive range of Tomine’s narratives and his expressive use of line, color, and half-tones. Especially adept at capturing the nuances of character and emotion, Tomine, author/artist of Shortcomings and Scenes from an Impending Marriage, is one of the most literary of graphic storytellers. Many of the pieces here chart the turbulent arcs of relationships in which the partners are angry, disoriented, or both. In one variation on these themes, the title story focuses on a fourteen-year-old aspiring stand-up comic. As her mother praises her and her father criticizes her, the three work to deny the greater tragedy that is about to befall the family. Tomine will be in conversation with Linda Holmes, writer and editor for  NPR’s entertainment and pop-culture blog, Monkey See.

This event is free to attend with no reservation required. Seating is available on a first come, first served basis.
 
Click here for more information.
Politics and Prose at The Wharf   70 District Square SW   Washington   DC    20024


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Ann Telnaes Q&A at Politics and Prose


IMG_20180124_190746_672After she read Trump's ABC, her new book of caricatures about the administration, Ann Telnaes took questions from the audience for about thirty minutes. With her permission, I've transcribed them.

I’ll tell you a little about his book came about. I did not plan to do an ABC book. I had done a lot of sketches in 2016, especially during the primaries and debates, and I originally tried to get a book published of those sketches. My book agent went around, still during the primaries when most people thought Hillary was going to win the presidency (myself included), and couldn’t get any interest. People were already tired of it, and thought Hillary was going to win, so the feedback from publishers was, “We’d like to see a Hillary book.” I thought, “Ok, I can try that – this will be interesting - first female president” – but for some reason, I had this nagging feeling and I just couldn’t come up with something. Of course then the election happened and most of us were surprised, and I thought everybody would be interested in a Trump book. But you’d be amazed at how many publishers didn’t want to do a Trump book – at least an editorial cartooning book.

I put it aside and I happened to take a road trip down to Savannah during the holidays. I had a nine hour drive down and a nine hour drive back. I was driving, because my dog doesn’t, and I didn’t have my hands free to do any sketches. I was thinking about a suggestion a friend had given me, which was to do a political ABC book. Since my hands weren’t free, I put my phone on, and started to recite, “A is for blah, B is for blah...” and I kept doing that all the way down to Savannah and all the way back up. By the time I got back to D.C. I had a book.

Which was amazing, because the hardest thing for me is to let go and let that new thing happen. When you get something in your head – I had a different type of book in my head – but once I let go of it, and I went with what I was thinking, it just came. That was a surprise, a nice surprise. I took a few hours and did some sketching. By chance I was giving a talk at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, and I was talking to James Sturm the co-founder of the college. He looked at my sketches and said, “I’ll put you in touch with Fantagraphics.” I had an email exchange with publisher Gary Groth and it was great. He said, “Yeah, let’s do it” and that’s how the book came to be.

The rhymes were done by the beginning of 2017, and the artwork was finished by May, and I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t hold up. There are some things that obviously aren’t in here, but I’m pretty pleased with it. I’m happy I did it.


Q: How has your image of Trump changed as he’s gone from being the joke candidate to being the actual president? How has your portrayal changed? I know the tie has gotten longer.
IMG_20180124_191508_027
Yes, the tie is wonderful. The tie is the prop that keeps on giving. I’m still playing with that tie.
You know, I didn’t really think of him too much as a joke in the beginning. I had done a couple of Trump cartoons before when he ran earlier that were more joke-like, but when he announced this time, I actually did a cartoon where he was saying, “Me, me, me” all the time, because his run for president was all about him. I think in terms of how he looks physically – to me caricatures are more about who the person is. The more that I listen to him, and the more that I realize that this is all about him, that has developed my caricature.

A difference in the last couple of years is that I’ve gone back to doing colors by hand instead of on the computer. Watercolor is a wonderful medium for accidents. I don’t even know how to use watercolor, but it doesn’t matter.

Q: On your road trip where you composed the book, did you have any ideas that were too angry or obscene to include, and if so, will you share them now?

Probably, but I don’t remember them. Actually, it’s amazing. Except for a couple of letters, I pretty much kept to it. The only one I remember going back and forth on was the “K is for Killing without a new plan,” about Obamacare. At that time, they were just in the middle of trying to kill it and I wasn’t sure if I should say they killed it, or didn’t, so I decided that they’d try to kill it, but they still haven’t killed it yet.

Q: Would you consider doing sequels for other years if he lasts that long? Every day there’s some new crazy story…

Oh god. You’re right. The only thing I find wanting in this book is that there’s other things I want to address. Maybe I can do a counting book.

Obviously I had to make a decision what I was going to do for each letter, and there were certain things I wanted to make sure I got in there, like the separation of powers, and I had to include something about his appearance and his hair, even though that’s kind of silly. People would notice if that wasn’t in there. I wanted to hit specific things. Using “pussy” was deliberate on my part – this is something new. I work for the Washington Post, and I had to ask if I could use that word. I can tell you that they wouldn’t have allowed me to use it in any other situation, but once the President says it, I’m allowed to use it. And now I use it.

Yes, now for another book I could use “shithole countries.”

Q: Since Trump is famously thin-skinned, do you know to what extent he has objected to your cartoons?

Let’s broaden that and say, “Has he reacted to any editorial cartoonists?” Not that I know.  I honestly think it’s because the man doesn’t read. He gets his information from television. We’re not on television and I think that’s the reason he has noticed us. There’s been plenty of work out there that has been hard-hitting against him.

Q: Did Fantagraphics come up with the board book format, or was that something you came into the deal with?

No, actually that was something they had to sell me on. I draw very large, and I tend to want my work printed large. At first I thought it would be a bigger book, but I had a really great designer, Jacob Covey, and he and Gary Groth were both telling me that we needed to do this as a board book. I said, “I don’t know, that’s kind of small,” but when I saw it and held it my hand, I thought, “Yeah, this will work!” I’m really pleased that they convinced me to do it this way because I think it’s perfect.

I draw large. The reason I draw large is because I have an art background. We were encouraged in art school during life drawing classes to draw from the shoulder and not from the wrist. So I’m always doing this [as she makes a big sweeping motion with her arm]. I always feel I draw better larger. It takes more time, but I feel I get a better end product.

Q: The rhyming flows well – was that hard to do?

I’m not a writer. Maybe because I was in the car… I had a lot of time. I said a lot of things over and over, but I’m not a writer. I think because I was raised on Dr. Seuss books that might have helped me a little bit. It’s not perfect, but it worked.

Q: As a journalist, how do you process all the ongoing controversies? Do you ever tune it out?

I have to be honest with you – ever since Trump became President, I just feel the need to draw. I’ve been drawing editorial cartoons for 25 years, and even though I did a lot of cartoons criticizing the Bush administration, and I didn’t agree with their policies, this is a completely different situation for me. It’s a dangerous time. I wake up every morning just wanting to draw. I have to decide what to draw and that is one thing that I’ve made a conscious effort about. There’s a lot of silliness, and with social media, that tends to spiral out of control sometimes, so I try to make sure I’m criticizing actions and policy decisions and not just stupid things he says. Things that have consequences are what I try to do; I don’t know if I’m always successful at that. Personally, I’m having trouble sleeping lately because I’m thinking about it. That is one thing I do. I don’t watch the evening news after the PBS Newshour. I stop, because then my mind is racing for the rest of the evening. But that’s the only personal struggle that I have.

Q: I’ll put you on the spot - where do you see this all ending up?

I think it’s going to go on for a while. I really do. There was a short time right after he became president where I thought “Maybe this is going to be over quickly.” The problem is, and this is what I do my most critical cartoons on, the Republican leadership is the enablers. They are the reason we are still at this point. They have decided that they are going to keep this man in office as long as he is useful to them. And unfortunately, I think that the way Trump operates, and what he responds to, and what he wants out of this… it’s going to be a back-and-forth situation. We’re just going to have to roll along with it. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a while.

Q: For a cartoonist, it must be very tempting to hop on the hot-button stuff, the craziness and the complete nuttiness and not the more complicated stuff about the state of the Environmental Protection Agency and political contributions. How do you find a way to make the more complex issues visual?

I take a lot of notes. It’s really a question of what am I going to address today. And make sure I keep the ones that I may go back to later. It is more difficult to do an editorial cartoon about a complicated thing. The EPA is a great example – they’re gutting it. They are gutting it. And people don’t realize the extent of it until they turn their faucets on and they have dirty water. I try to address those things, but when TV is talking about the recent silliness, then that’s what people are paying attention to.

Q: Are there other members of the administration that are iconically recognizable that you can build a cartoon around?

Oh, I love drawing Pence. Pence is one of those examples where I think my cartoon doesn’t really look like him, but it is him. I’ve done Sarah Huckabee – she’s interesting. There’s a lot of good characters in this administration. I drew them in G – grabbing pusy. The KKK guy [in the background] was the last thing I put in the book, because it was right as Charlottesville was happening. The [G-H] spread kept getting more and more people in it and I was so thankful when Scaramucci dropped out. I was like, “Where am I going to put him?” and I just didn’t have to. I stuck Comey in here, because it was the time when he got fired, and everyone said he’s a hero, but they failed to remember that he’s the one that decided to announce that he was reopening an investigation into Hillary. So that’s why I stuck half of him in there.
IMG_20180124_190545_189Q: I wanted to thank you for ending the book on a positive note.

It wasn’t intentional [laughing]. I showed it to a close friend when I first got it, and she said, “You ended it on a positive note. That’s not you.” Z is hard. Zebra or Zen?

Q: Do you now see Trump as wrong, or as evil? If the latter, will that affect your drawing? You draw him as funny-stupid person versus an evil person.

I draw the Republican leadership as evil. I think he’s an opportunist deep down. I think he’s got a lot of faults and he’s an opportunist in the worst sense. He’ll say anything to get what he wants, and he’s got a lot of people around him that are enabling him to do that. And let’s face it – he’s a 71-year-old man. That’s him.

Q: To what extent do you get requests from the editorial board of The Post, or readers, or is it just what you want to do? Do they ever make requests?

No. I come up with the idea and run it by them. They’ve always let me decide what I want to cartoon on. They’ve nixed a few things. Around the time of the Charlottesville protests and killing, I came up with an idea they wouldn’t allow me to do because I think they were concerned about the tenor of the country. I think if I had offered that idea at any other time, it probably would have gone through. Sometimes they have to think about that.

Q: Does The Post have right of first refusal? Or are they your syndicate?

No, I’m not syndicated. I’m exclusive to The Post. I do other work, for The Nib occasionally, but they have the first rights. I did that cartoon for The Nib; they ran it.

Q: Have you been threatened?

By people? Oh yes. All cartoonists get threatened at some point or another. After 9/11 was a difficult time. I did a cartoon about Senator Cruz and I got a lot of threats for that. I think when everyone’s emotions are running high are when you get the most. But mostly we get emails telling us how stupid we are.

Q: Could you talk about becoming a political cartoonist, and then if you have the desire to move out and do other forms of illustration?

Sometimes. [laughs] It depends. I actually started in school for animation. I went to California Institute of the Arts, and studied character animation in the traditional Disney style and I worked for a few years in the animation industry. I had no interest in politics whatsoever. I didn’t read newspapers. I lived in LA – why do you need to read newspapers? One night I was doing a freelance project and I had the television on, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 happened right in front of my eyes and I think that woke me up. I became more and more interested in political events, and watching C-SPAN a lot, and I just started doing my own editorial cartoons. Then what finally caused me to decide that I wanted to be an editorial cartoonist was watching the Anita Hill / Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991.

I was a young woman, in my late twenties, and I had dealt with sexual harassment myself and I knew perfectly well it was a problem. To watch a bunch of senators up there, both conservative and liberals, and say that it couldn’t possibly have happened and they didn’t believe Anita Hill made me decide I needed to become an editorial cartoonist. So you can thank those senators; they’re the reason I’m an editorial cartoonist.

Q: What’s your sense of how the #MeToo movement is going to affect the 2018 elections?

Let’s hope it does. Women are mad. I speak to my friends who are my age, and they’re mad, really mad. I hope so because I think it’s about time. It’s funny to hear people to talk about sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. There’s all forms. I’ve dealt with it my entire career. I laugh when I hear people express doubt about it. Every woman has gone through it one way or another. It’s not all rape, but it’s a lot of forms of assault.

I’m going to give a personal example that I’ve never told anywhere. I’m in my fifties. When I had just turned fifty, I was walking down the streets of Washington, D.C. in broad daylight and I had a guy come up from behind and grab me like Trump grabs people. In broad daylight. I’m not a young woman. I was floored. To deal with the police after that? Two female policeman took down everything and did nothing. I was furious. That’s just unacceptable. It was some thirty-something year old guy just thinking he could do it. It’s a problem. And it’s not just for young women, it’s for older women too. There – now I’m really mad.

Q: Is Fantagraphics sending you on a book tour for this?

Yes, I’m going west. I’m going to first start in LA, then to Oakland, then Pixar (where a lot of my old colleagues from CalArts work), and then finish up at Fantagraphics in Seattle in February.

More pictures from the evening can be seen at Bruce Guthrie's site. If you want to see how large her drawings are, original cartoons by Ann can be seen at the Library of Congress in the Drawn to Purpose exhibit or in the Hay-Adams Hotel's Off the Record bar.  An article about the bar and the cartoonists (that I wrote and interviewed Ann for) will be in the upcoming issue of White House History magazine. Ann's previous book, Dick, about Vice President Cheney can be bought online and is highly recommended. Three styles of t-shirts with Ann's cartoons on them can be bought at Amazon.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Juana Medina window display at Politics and Prose

A Winter Wonderland at P&P


feature
Come see our new holiday window display, spanning the entire storefront at our Connecticut Avenue location! We teamed up with local children's book author and illustrator Juana Medina, who drew characters playing against a snowy backdrop exclusively for this display in her typically colorful and vibrant style. Underneath, our Holiday Countdown Calendar will reveal a new item we love each day until December 24, so keep checking to see what's new. Appropriately, our first pick for the Countdown Calendar is the picture book Juana and Lucas, by Juana Medina.

Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse
(5015 Connecticut Ave. NW)

Bruce Guthrie stopped by and  took some photographs this afternoon. Click through to see more.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Sept 26: Jeffrey Brown and Judd Winick in Takoma Park

Monday, September 26, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.
Andy and Lucy may live 40,000 years in the past, but these Neanderthal siblings have problems—crushes, squabbles, and baby brothers— that persist today. Brown tells their story alongside nonfiction sections that serve to dispel misinformation about these human relatives.

In Winick’s sequel to Hilo, the titular heroic alien robot unexpectedly returns to Earth and human friends DJ and Gina. Then, mysterious portals pop up all over town and disgorge one terrifying creature after another. An enormous mutant chicken and a million killer vegetables are only some of the foes that Hilo, DJ, and Gina must confront in order to save their community. Ages 9-12

Takoma Park Library (MD)
101 Philadelphia Ave
Takoma ParkMD20912

Monday, October 19, 2015

Liniers today at Politics and Prose at 10:30 am

If you can get away this morning, you should go to this.

I saw Argentine cartoonist Ricardo Liniers last night. He was really entertaining and a sweet guy. He did a painting on stage, Michael Cavna interviewed him, he did some more painting and then signed books. His comic strip Macanudo is a big success in Latin America, and is now appearing in books in English. He's also done 2 books for younger readers with Toon Books. All three should be available at the bookstore today. He does a nice drawing in each book.

You can see more see pictures at https://www.flickr.com/photos/42072348@N00/albums/72157659990511236

He's done 3 New Yorker magazine covers:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/cover-story-obamas-elephant-problem
http://www.newyorker.com/uncategorized/cover-story-straphangers-by-liniers
http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/cover-story-2015-03-16\

He also did one very crazy thing with one of his books. He printed Macanudo #6 (only in Spanish now) with a blank cover and drew an individual cover for each of the 5,000 in the first print run.

Here's one he did for me last night.

 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Did you miss the pre-SPX Little Nemo and Dylan Horrocks events?

Did you miss the pre-SPX Little Nemo and Dylan Horrocks events?

If so, not to worry. ComicsDC had people there covering them for you. We got audio recordings of both events. The Library of Congress filmed the Little Nemo presentation, and it'll eventually be on their website, but for now, you can listen to it here. Click on the title to be taken to an audio file.

  

DRAWING ON HISTORY - Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream

Bruce Guthrie has photographs of their presentation on his website and you can follow along by syncing his pictures and the audio.






Dylan Horrocks was last at SPX in 1999, talking about his book Hicksville and bring a traveling exhibition with him.

He's back and better than ever. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

May 22: Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 7 p.m.
Fetter-Vorm, author and illustrator of Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb, chosen by the ALA as 2013’s best graphic novel for teens, and Kelman, professor of the Civil War era at Penn State and author of A Misplaced Massacre, have teamed up for a unique and illuminating view of the War Between the States. Using Fetter-Vorm’s full-color panoramas and Kelman’s concise, penetrating commentaries, each chapter begins with an ordinary object—a pen, a flag, a set of manacles—which then gains extraordinary meaning for its wartime role.

Politics & Prose 
5015 Connecticut Ave NW
WashingtonDC20008
$26
9780809094745
On Our Shelves Now
Hill & Wang - May 5th, 2015

Friday, May 15, 2015

May 18: Jorge Aguirre at Takoma Park library

Takoma Park Maryland Library
Monday, May 18, 7:30 p.m.
Join us on Monday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m. when artist Jorge Aguirre presents his newest graphic novel for kids, "Dragons Beware!" The book, aimed at ages 7-12, is a sequel to the popular "Giants Beware!" Politics & Prose will be selling copies of Aguirre's books, but the program is free and no purchase is required to attend.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tonight: Jay Hosler in Takoma Park

Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 7:30 p.m.
 
Entomologist Hosler’s action-packed graphic novel depicts the tale of Lucy, a curious and tenacious scientist, who happens to be a beetle. She leaves New Coleopolis, her urban home at the edge of a vast desert in the protective shade of a palm tree, to discover something new about the world. With a team of researchers, consisting of a firefly, a stag beetle, and a variety of kin at her side, Lucy’s quest is rendered in sweeping pen and ink illustrations and filled with information on the scientific method and its applications. Ages 10 – 14

Takoma Park Library (MD)
101 Philadelphia Ave
Takoma ParkMD20912