Charlie Kaufman is the acclaimed screenwriter behind surrealist movies like Being John Malkovich; Adaptation; Synecdoche, New York; and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. My favorite bizarrely wonderful story about him — which, in a way, is kind of a synecdoche for his entire oeuvre of work, which is also something I learned about through his films — is that his Academy Award-winning screenplay for Adaptation is one of the few Oscars credited to a completely fictional person. Kaufman was hired to write an adaptation of The Orchid Thief, and seeing no way to write a dramatic narrative out of some meditative thoughts on flower poaching, he decided to write a screenplay about Charlie Kaufman struggling to write a screenplay about The Orchid Thief. Except, in the context of the movie, Fictional Charlie Kaufman also has an identical twin brother named Donald … who is credited as co-writer on the actual, real-life screenplay.
I thought of this as I read this New York Times Magazine profile on Charlie Kaufman, ahead of the July 7th release of Antkind, a 700-page novel that marks Kaufman's first foray into prose writing. Journalist Jon Mooallem had the article planned well before the pandemic hit, but quickly had to improvise when he realized he wouldn't be able to interview Kaufman in person. As the lockdown dragged on, their long weekly phone conversations became a surprising source of stability for both of them (as chronicled in the article). Moallem thought he had something — but right as he turned a draft into his editor, the political climate took an every starker turn with ongoing protests against racism and police brutality, making his quaint pandemic-focused profile seem out-of-touch. Read the rest
The New Yorker has a great new profile on singer-songwriter / human treasure Phoebe Bridgers, whose new album, Punisher, will be released on June 19. Any interview with Bridgers is a delight, even if you're not a fan of her work. But what really makes this article stick out is its relationship to coronavirus quarantine.
Author Amanda Petrusich initially follows the standard form for one of these type of marquee-musician magazine profiles — embedding herself in the subject's life over the course of a few months, getting them to open up about personal stuff as the journalist explores their home and discusses the creative process, et cetera. I don't mean that to sound flippant; Petrusich is an absolute master of that form. Except the form itself is threatened when Petrusich and Bridgers both end up quarantined (separately) shorter after the initial embedding begins. But Petrusich endures, and finds a way to make it work, using FaceTime to tour through Bridgers' life in Los Angeles and even speak with the singer's mother in her childhood bedroom. This is almost certainly made easier by the fact that Bridgers is already a candid and confessional artist, but it still makes for a very unique profile that illuminates both the artist at the center of it, and the unprecedented time at which the journalism was happening.
It's also available to listen to on Audm.
Phoebe Bridgers’s Frank, Anxious Music [Amanda Petrusich / The New Yorker]
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The Chicago Tribune published a profile of C. Spike Trotman, one of indie comics' most insightful young publishers. Trotman's proving that the mainstream business is leaving everything on the table—and that underserved readers don't need to wait for it to catch up.
Iron Circus raised more than $1 million over its first 14 Kickstarter campaigns from a market that Trotman was told didn’t exist: fans interested in comic books that weren’t made by white heterosexual men and featuring superheroes.
“When I was getting into comics, there was absolutely no room for people like me — people of color who wanted to tell their own stories, or women who wanted to tell their own stories,” said 39-year-old Trotman. “Comics had a very firm idea of what would sell or what qualified as niche. Anything a white, heterosexual man would make would be interpreted to having universal appeal, but anything I would make would automatically be classified as difficult to relate to or niche.” ...
According to Kickstarter, her model has completely reshaped the comics small press and jump-started a renaissance of alternative comics anthologies.
Indie publishers in comics have met great success before, but Trotman's gone further, faster: she's built a sustainable indie publishing business that isn't dependent on a hit series for survival and isn't dependent on the comic trade's miserable direct market. And she did it, it seems to me, while everyone was giving her shit. Sadly for them, Trotman is cutting checks and tongues.
Iron Circus's current kickstarter prokect is The Art of Kaneoya Sachiko, a lavish-looking compendium of the manga artist's "monstrous and romantic" work. Read the rest
At Outside, Kyle Dickman interviews the lone survivor of the Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighting team and tells the story of the decisions that lead to the deaths of 19 men. Read it, and then head over to The New York Times Magazine, which has an amazing piece by Paul Tullis about the scientists, fire fighters, and forest rangers who are trying to get a better handle on how wildfires behave ... and how best to control and limit the damage they cause. That's no small task when you're talking about a force of nature capable of creating its own weather systems. Read the rest