Archive for September, 2009

Richard Sala interview

September 16, 2009

I talked with Richard Sala, a great cartoonist who I have to admit I haven’t read enough of his work. He’s one of the only cartoonists who creates gothic humor stories. He’s compared to Edward Gorey and Charles Addams and Gahan Wilson, and it’s easy to see them in his artistic DNA but he’s much more than just the sum of those parts. His newest book (which features a glowing blurb from Lemony Snicket) is unmistakably his though it’s meant for a slightly younger demographic which means less profanity, blood and violence than his other books. Of course the real reason why he’s such a master is the mood and tone, which remain. What was stunning to learn reading “Cat Burglar Black” was his skill with dialogue, especially the scenes between our teenage heroines.


Further Thoughts on Jim Carroll…

September 16, 2009

It’s funny what occurs to you initially and how often we forget things. Hearing of Jim Carroll I immediately thought of the books, his work, and yet I forgot one of the most memorable and remembered aspect of the film version of “The Basketball Diaries.”

Everyone who’s seen the flick remembers the scene where Leo in a slo-mo scene bursts into his classroom proceeds to gun down the teacher and his classmates in a dream sequence.

Back in the mid-nineties (god that sounds like it was forever ago and not a little more than a decade and it makes me sound ancient…) school shootings were incredibly uncommon. The company behind “The Basketball Diaries” was actually sued in the aftermath of one shooting, I believe in Kentucky.

I remember, before Columbine and the other shootings, sitting in the corner of class with another student and we would joke about how this was the setting of that scene. For us, the violence in the scene wasn’t an inspiration to commit violence, it was cathartic. Perhaps it was so cathartic precisely because we weren’t the type who could ever do such a thing. We didn’t get into fights or play sports where we could work out a lot of anger. I was a writer and she was a visual artist. We did theater. We were determined to get through that class and get through high school and get out.

After Columbine and the other shootings I don’t think we could have joked like that. Columbine wasn’t someone acting this scene out. It was something far more twisted and disturbing. They weren’t exacting revenge they were just shooting off bullets trying to hit as many people as possible because they hated everyone and everything, no one more so than themselves. The media may have tried to romanticize them, but they were spree killers who didn’t care about anything.

For us, that scene was the equivalent of a comedian who says what we all think but no one has the guts to say and we laugh both because of it’s truth but also because we feel a certain catharsis in knowing that we’re not alone in having these thoughts and these opinions and in that moment, we feel a less alone.

That’s the power of art.

Larry Gelbert, 1928-2009

September 16, 2009

Larry Gelbert is one of those names that writers hear and for someone who grew up too young to watch “M*A*S*H” when it originally aired, it was a larger than life name. He was one of the people who wrote for Sid Caesar as part of one of the greatest writers rooms ever. He wrote movies including “Tootsie” which was brilliant. He wrote television movies including “Barbarians at the Gate” and “And Introducing Pancho Villa as Himself.”

He was also a theater guy. “City of Angels” and “Sly Fox” were hits but he’ll always be associated with “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” which originally starred Zero Mostel and was revived with Nathan Lane in a great production I saw back in the 90s. I’m not a huge fan of the Richard Lester-directed film, but Zero Mostel shines in it as do Phil Silvers and Buster Keaton and Jack Gilford. I would have liked to have seen what Zero could do on stage. There is a reason why every actor who’s played Pseudolus on Broadway has won a Tony Award because it’s a great script that inspires actors to do their best work.

I’m also a big fan of Gelbert’s book “Laughing Matters” which was less an autobiography than a collection of stories from throughout his professional life, and with a life like his, who could argue?

There are plenty of people who are far better writers than I who knew Gelbert and his work better than I. Mel Brooks and Woody Allen and Carl Reiner and other giants have spoken of Gelbert as a giant in comedy but also a great guy. That’s a rare combination.

In an interview, Gelbert called Hawkeye from MASH as an an idealized version of himself and went on to describe him as “capable — that is, at work, at what he does. He’s an idealist. He’s a romantic. Somebody who cares about himself and other people. He’s often frustrated by whatever particular system he finds himself fighting against.”

Jim Carroll, 1950-2009

September 16, 2009

Jim Carroll died recently. He was slightly older than my parents, which is odd since while I never thought of him as my contemporary, I always considered him to be closer to myself and my own age than to theirs. Part of this is I think simply the nature of art. All art is contemporary. When I first read “The Basketball Diaries” I was around thirteen, I think, and I was reading about a teenager, who lived a life so unlike my own.

I’ve read the book cover to cover a few times and certain sections dozens of times. I remember the film version of the book which starred a young Leonardo DiCaprio. I’m not a big fan of the movie but it’s a flick that made DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg and there are scenes in that film that have stuck with me years later. The Jim Carroll Band and the 1980 release “Catholic Boy” is considered the last album of the American punk movement.

I’ve always been most interested in his poetry. Living at the Movies. The Book of Nods. Fear of Dreaming. Void of Course. I got to meet Jim once years ago at a poetry reading and I approached him after in line with a bunch of other people in their teens and twenties with our dog-eared paperbacks.

What is striking looking back and reading his work was how despite all the labels that were affixed to him, how he refused to be defined by him. He may have been a punk, a poet, a rock musician, a member of Warhol’s factory, a diarist, an addict. He was so many things but he refused to be any of them. He was always moving, always changing and adapting.

His influence may be scattershot. His best work may be spread out here and there in poems and fragments and songs dispersed over decades but at the heart of it all was an artist who wanted to change the world and who refused to be defined by anything including his own art. There’s something to be said for that.

I’ve read that he’d been working on a novel, The Petting Zoo, for a number of years. I would have liked to have read that novel.

The end of John Allison’s Scary Go Round

September 11, 2009

Scary Go Round by John Allison was one of the first webcomics I read on a regular basis. That was….many years ago. Allison has been writing and drawing the strip for more than seven years and I’m not going to claim that I love every single strip but even without his previous work, Scary Go Round has been a great success both creatively and otherwise.

Some people are sad the strip is ending, but the truth is that I’m not. Mostly because I know that next week Allison is starting a new comic. I have no idea what it will be but I’m looking forward to it.

Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac has anniversary

September 11, 2009

Richard Thompson’s comic strip Cul de Sac is one of only a handful of comic strips in the past decade to draw some attention. There are too few spaces for new comic,s but there are bright spots and Richard Thompson is doing some good work.

Don’t take my word for it. Art Spiegelman and Pat Oliphant are fans. Plus that guys, you know, he made that comic about a boy and his tiger…oh right, Bill Watterson. He wrote the introduction for the first collection of the strip.

Happy Anniversary. Looking forward to many more.

Interview with Becky Cloonan and Hwan Cho

September 10, 2009

I’ve been a fan of Becky Cloonan for years (What self-respecting comics fan isn’t? Demo? American Virgin? East Coast Rising? 5? Pixu? Tales of the Vampires?).

She and Hwan Cho have teamed up for a new weekly webcomic “K.G.B.” ( and they gave me some of the inside scoop. Honestly anytime two cartoonists team up to co-write and co-illustrate something, it’s always interesting and if the first installment is any indication it doesn’t look exactly like anything either has done before.

Greg Rucka Interview on Suicide girls

September 10, 2009

Greg Rucka will always be one of my favorite people. I first interviewed him in 2000 when I was still in college. It was my first “real” interview where it was me and him and a tape recorder. For a variety of reasons, the piece ended up not running (and to this day, every now and again I curse my then-editors for that). I’ve interviewed Greg a few times since for different outlets. We run into each other every couple years and say hi. He’s also married to Jen Van Meter, the very underrated comics scribe, who also happens to be one of the nicest people.

In this interview we talk about the movie adaptation of “Whiteout,” I avoid asking about Batwoman’s sexuality but we end up talking about it anyway and he spills on his next novel and what’s happening with Tara Chace.