Interview with legendary cartoonist Ralph Steadman

Ralph Steadman, 81, is best known as the genius social and political cartoonist who famously illustrated Hunter S. Thompson's depraved adventures in Las Vegas, on the campaign trail in 1972, and at the Kentucky Derby. Juxtapoz's Gabe Scott interviewed the "crucial comic" about the insanity of today, his friendship with Hunter, and "let(ting) the paper discover things for you." From Juxtapoz:

How do you think the difference in personality type and contrasting level of drug intake between you and Hunter affected your working dynamic?

People would meet him, offer him a pill, he would eat it, and then say, ''What was that?'' Eat it first then ask what it was—he didn't seem to worry. To him, it was part of his philosophy on life; taking it the way he wants to go, the batty craziness.

How was your attitude or approach different in that respect? Would you consider it sort of a yin and yang?

Yes, I think yin and yang, really. The only time I did drugs with him was for the America's Cup, where I took psilocybin—he was taking them all the time, and I was seasick, so I asked what he was taking, and he said, ‘’Well, Ralph, these are just pills, you see.” So I said, ‘’Well, would it help me at sea?'' So I took it and, of course, after about a half an hour, I began to completely lose my mind, and Hunter said, ‘’Here's two spray cans, Ralph, what are you going to write on the side of the boat?'' So I said, ‘’How about fuck the pope?'' And he says, ‘’Are you religious, Ralph?'' which was such a wonderful reply, you know… And we luckily got caught, otherwise I doubt I would have left America.

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Short film about Chris Ware: "I distinctly remember being told by my teachers, if you draw women, you're colonizing them with your eyes"

Chris Ware is inarguably one of the greatest cartoonists of the last 50 years. In this short film produced by Ian Forster and Nick Ravich, Ware talks about the challenge of writing stories from the viewpoint of an African-American school teacher named Joanne Cole.

From his home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois, artist Chris Ware shares motivations and challenges for telling stories from the perspectives of others in his work. "I distinctly remember being told by my teachers, if you draw women, you're colonizing them with your eyes," Ware recalls of art school. "Do you not draw women and then maintain an allegiance to some sort of experience that only you have had? Or do you try to expand your understanding and your empathy for other human beings?"

Though it might be uncomfortable, Ware strives to write from a place of empathy, expanding his stories to feature characters whose experiences differ from his own. Among these characters is African-American school teacher Joanne Cole, who appears in Ware's continuing comic series Rusty Brown. "I have to try to somehow push my limits and my understanding of how I feel through other people in what I'm doing," says the artist. "You risk falling on your face doing so, but that's a risk you have to take."

Known for his New Yorker magazine covers, Chris Ware is hailed as a master of the comic art form. His complex graphic novels tell stories about people in suburban Midwestern neighborhoods, poignantly reflecting on the role memory plays in constructing identity.

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New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast on Trump

Ben Marks says: "A couple of weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to interview New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, who was in San Francisco for the opening of her show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Naturally, I felt compelled to ask the author of Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? an unpleasant question: How does she manage to get through the day without drawing a cartoon about Donald Trump?

Here's a snip from the conversation that followed:

“It’s difficult not to do that every time my pen approaches the paper,” Chast replies, her mouth immediately contorting into one of her character’s trademark scowls. “He’s such an asshole—such an asshole,” she repeats, almost spitting the words, as if to exorcise a demon that’s taken up unwanted residency in her spleen. “The despicableness of that person trumps every feeling I’ve ever had about a politician. His horrible voice, that stupid hair, the way he pushes his mouth out like that.” Chast purses her lips like a deranged baby duck.

“The courtesy he shows his wife,” I offer, goading her on.

More lightning bolts. “Oh, God, that’s so terrible. That picture of them getting off of the plane—it’s like she’s just a thing to him. I feel terrible for her.” Chast takes a deep breath.

I ask Chast if she’s been taking a lot of deep breaths lately.

“Yeah,” she says, “because I don’t want to think about him that much.” Chast pauses briefly, shakes her head, and then asks, “Do you know he actually said that he got higher ratings than 9/11?”

“Well,” I suggest, choosing the words that follow carefully, “at least he was comparing apples to apples.”

And with that, the furrows in Chast’s brow clear, her frown transforms into a mischievous grin, and a conspiratorial chuckle sneaks out of the corner of her mouth.

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Interview with 95-year-old MAD cartoonist Al Jaffee

MAD "Fold-In" artist Al Jaffee has been a professional cartoonist for 73 years. Guinness World Records has certified him as the oldest working cartoonist. Sam Thielman of The Guardian recently interviewed Jaffee about his brilliant career.

Was there a particular kind of baloney you were attracted to satirizing?

Well, yes. The world is full of bloviators. And you find them in politics, and even religion, if I may say so, where somebody appoints themselves the spokesman for God. And this kind of stuff, when there’s someone on the public scene who’s really going beyond his duties as a politician or a religious leader or a sportsman, he’s fair game. The main thing about Mad is that it’s not a preachy magazine. It’s not selling one kind of politics or one kind of religion or sports team or anything like that.

The main thing is to keep your eyes and ears open and when you hear something that’s clearly baloney, such as “eight out of 10 doctors smoke Chesterfield cigarettes” – these are ads that actually ran! One of the tobacco companies had the nerve to claim that doctors prefer their cigarettes. So it’s easy to shoot down that kind of bull.

But you do it with a gentle hand, you don’t preach and say “tobacco kills! How can these doctors do that?!” No, you just go them one step further and say, “In addition to eight out of 10 doctors smoking this brand of cigarette, in their time off, they each drink a gallon of bourbon, which also has health benefits.” You can can let the air out of individual bloviators but they keep cropping back up.

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The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Worlds of Herbert Crowley

Beehive Books is kickstarting a super-deluxe book of the work of Herbert Crowley, who was kind of an early 20th Century Jim Woodring.

The cartoonist, painter, illustrator, and sculptor Herbert Crowley was an innovator at the dawn of comics, and a defining figure of the early 20th century New York City avant garde art scene.

He exhibited his work in dozens of venues, including the legendary Armory Show of 1913 alongside Picasso and van Gogh, and in a joint exhibition with Léon Bakst in 1914. He received countless glowing reviews, describing him as a visionary voice exploring a brand new form of art. His cartoons were featured in the now-storied New York Herald Sunday comics section, printed on the reverse side of of Winsor McCay's masterpiece LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND.

A 1915 article in The Bookman called Crowley an artist whose “star is very decidedly in the ascendant. New York City at large discovered Herbert Crowley only a few months ago; but, once having been discovered, he is not the sort of person easily to be forgotten.”

But then… he was.

In 1917, he disappeared from the New York City scene, and never showed his artwork again.

In Art Out of Time, Dan Nadel’s 2006 collection of comics by unknown cartoonists, several of Crowley’s strips are reproduced as examples of vital early newspaper cartooning that had been unjustly and completely forgotten. In a short piece at the end of the anthology, Nadel describes Crowley as representing the “single largest information gap in this book,” — a book about unremembered artists — and writes that that aside from the existence of these comic strips, “nothing else is known about Crowley or his work.”

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What Am I Doing Here? Existential absurdist cartoons from the 1940s

What Am I Doing Here? by Abner Dean New York Review Comics 2016, 168 pages, 7 x 0.75 x 9.5 inches $19 Buy one on Amazon

In the 1930s and 1940s, Abner Dean was a highly sought-after illustrator who drew covers, cartoons, and illustrations for The New Yorker, Esquire, Time, Life, and Newsweek, as well as advertising illustrations for insurance companies and product manufacturers. In 1945, Dean quit his day job and drew the first of seven books that have been described as “existential gag cartoons.”

What Am I Doing Here? is Dean’s second book, and is generally regarded as his best work. It was originally published in 1947. This facsimile edition just came out today and contains about 100 single panel drawings, rendered in India ink and graytone washes (in the classic New Yorker style of gag cartoons).

Dean’s drawings look like cartoons but they aren’t very funny, at least not in the traditional sense. They’re absurdist and disquieting. Everyone is naked and the action takes place either in decrepit urban settings, living rooms filled with grinning desperate characters, or barren surrealistic wastelands. Each drawing features the same hapless character, a lonely youngish man who questions his role in the human race, represented by a crowd that changes its form and behavior from page to page. The people are sometimes club-swinging brutes, other times they are blinkered sleepwalkers, insincere mask-wearers, bloodthirsty mobs, hysterical celebrators, suicidal lemmings, or guru-seeking fools. They often look more like animals than people. The protagonist is at times foolhardy, delusional, disappointed, fearful, proud, insecure, ruthless, or bewildered. Read the rest

How Cuba's greatest cartoonist fled from Castro and created 'Spy vs. Spy'

As a kid, my two favorite things in Mad magazine were the Fold-In and Spy vs Spy (which I pronounced "spyvisspy"). It was a wordless one-page comic about two oddly pointy faced spies, one dressed in black and the other dressed in white. Other than their different colored outfits, they behaved identically. They hated each other and created elaborate Rube Goldberg type machines to try to kill each other. Sometimes their machines worked, often, they’d backfire. They were tricky but usually too clever for their own good.

Atlas Obscura has an excellent article about Antonio Prohías, the creator of Spy vs Spy.

In New York, Prohías took work in a factory during the day, while working up his illustration portfolio at night. Taking inspiration from his supposed spy status, Prohías altered the look of El Hombre Siniestro, and gave him a counterpart, creating what we now know as Spy vs. Spy. In 1960, just months after moving to the city, Prohías, along with his daughter Marta who acted as an interpreter, walked unannounced into the offices of MAD Magazine. The editors were skeptical of the artist, but his silly spy gags won them over, and he had sold three of the strips to the magazine before leaving that day.

Spy Vs Spy: An Explosive Celebration, by Antonio Prohías and Peter Kuper, is an excellent book about Spy Vs Spy, with lots of sample strips. Read the rest

Watch: Daniel Clowes Complete Eightball release party at Meltdown Comics

I had a great time interviewing cartoonist Daniel Clowes at Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles about his Complete Eightball anthology. This video was shot in glorious VHS by filmmaker Rocio Mesa and was produced by Gaston Dominguez-Letelier.

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Dan Clowes profiled in California Sunday Magazine

Robert Ito wrote a wonderful profile of cartoonist Daniel Clowes in California Sunday Magazine. It includes some nice illustrations of Clowes by other cartoonists.

In the third issue of Eightball, Clowes published “The Return of Young Dan Pussey,” a scathing takedown of the comics industry. In the strip’s satirical alternate reality, Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee is a glad-handing cheapskate with an eye for prostitutes, while Fantagraphics co-founder Gary Groth is a bully who consults a thesaurus mid-rant to come up with fresh ways to insult his artists. Art Spiegelman is a creepy, chain-smoking taskmaster who forces his stable of unpaid artists to create work for his comics magazine in a miserable hovel with burlap sacks for beds. “I just felt it was nasty, snotty, gratuitous,” recalls Spiegelman. Françoise Mouly, his Raw co-creator, says, “I became aware of [Clowes] as a wise­ass a long time ago.” Clowes has a different explanation. “Jealousy isn’t the right word, but I just had a longing to be a part of that world and had that feeling that I wasn’t,” he says. “It was sort of an expression of rage and self-pity and trying to make myself feel better about that.”

Clowes' full-length graphic novel, Patience, will by published March 1, 2016 by Fantagraphics.

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A biographical look at pre-digital sign making by comic artist turned sign painter

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Justin Green is the author of the classic Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, an underground comix autobiography about growing up Catholic and OCD. Sadly, creating brilliant underground comix doesn't provide the most stable of incomes, so in the mid-1970s – with a family to support – Green went into business as a commercial sign painter.

Sign painting, or "commercial brush lettering," evolved over hundreds of years and is probably the earliest form of advertising. But by the 1980s – when Green was seriously devoting himself to the business – it was being eclipsed by computer type and cheap printed vinyl signs. Master sign-painters were aging out and few young craftspeople were taking up the brush, so Green started his monthly comic strip "Sign Game" (collected here) to record some of this hard-won knowledge before it disappeared.

The early strips tell how Green found his footing; including the one-thousand hours required to brush a perfect "O." In later strips he requested techniques and stories from veteran brushmen. They offered priceless knowledge like how to mix your paint so it stays put under the hot sun or how much arm-twisting to apply when a client lets an invoice sit for too long. Some of these sign painters became recurring characters in "Sign Game," and a few died during its run leaving these strips – and a few fading signs – as their final memorial.

Like a great sign, Green's strips are dense with information, lettered in classic historical styles, yet easy to follow. Read the rest

This poster for the Cincy Comicon pays homage to old comic book ads

Cartoonist Tony Moore (co-creator of The Walking Dead comic book series) designed this very fun poster for the Cincy Comicon (September 12-13), which pays homages to the old comic book ads for novelties and practical jokes. He did such a good job that I asked him to write a bit about it. Read the rest

Alex Toth - the cranky genius cartoonist who designed Johnny Quest and Space Ghost

The three Genius Illustrated books dedicated to the life and works of Alex Toth make up what’s likely the most lavish and complete portrait ever of an American comic book artist or animator: Toth was both. In the worlds of both comics and cartoons, Toth was viewed as an artist’s artist. His figure work, use of light and shade, and especially his sense of character and page design were universally admired by his peers.

He was also a real pill.For every story about Toth’s genius, there are those about his cranky moods and prima donna behavior. He regularly walked out on jobs or was fired because his vision conflicted with that of editors and other supervisors, who Toth nearly always viewed as his inferiors. If he didn’t like a comic book script, Toth would simply change or re-write it as he saw fit. As a result, his work for publishers such as DC and Marvel Comics was sporadic and limited. He hated superheroes, anyway. He had a memorable run at the Standard Comics, producing romance comics and tales of adventure and suspense.

Toth loved the movies, especially old, swashbuckling ones starring the likes of Errol Flynn. His Zorro comic for Dell is a classic with its use of shape and shadow, the main character swooping through the night with his cape swirling and sword gleaming. He could also draw airplanes and aerial battles like nobody’s business. But Toth found his most steady and productive work in Hollywood, principally for Hanna-Barbera, where he storyboarded cartoons for TV and designed characters. Read the rest

Art Out of Time – Strange and now-forgotten cartoonists

When comics in newspapers (“funnies”) were first invented in the 1900s, a thousand crazy ideas were tried in every local newspaper in the country. Most of these local attempts at this new media were awful, but many of these earliest comic strips and later comic books were truly innovative, original, and bizarre.

There was nothing like them before – or since. Even the underground comix in the 1970s were not as strange and unusual as these now-forgotten visionaries. Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 presents a sampling of overlooked fantastic and fantastical comics harvested from small town papers, yellowing zines, and short-lived strips. Like many other types of first-attempts, there is still much to be learned from these odd pioneers.

See sample pages from this book at Wink. Read the rest

Listen: interviews with Scott McCloud and Jim Woodring

On his RiYL podcast, Brian Heater interviewed two extraordinary comic book people: Jim Woodring and Scott McCloud. Read the rest

UPDATE: Ivan Brunetti's Nancy comic strips

You asked for them, here they are: a sample of Ivan Brunetti's Nancy comic strips. I think they are great! (See Ivan's feature, My failed attempt to draw the Nancy comic strip.)

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My failed attempt to draw the Nancy comic strip

Nancy is a harsh taskmaster; resuscitating it was a grueling task, but the challenge was invigorating and edifying. By drawing Nancy, I realized that every character (even the environment) in a strip is the cartoonist and is invested and imbued with the cartoonist’s life force.

Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio

The names Joe Simon and Jack Kirby are synony­mous with comic books, and their partnership ush­ered in the Golden Age of comics starting in the 1940s. Together they created memorable characters such as Captain America and Sandman, invented romance com­ics, and raised the standard for the genres of western, crime, and horror comic books.

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