Matthew Richter is one of the great champions of the arts in Seattle. When I first moved to Seattle, back in 1993, I quickly went about getting a foothold, any kind of foothold, into the art scene. Over time, I ran a gallery space in the coveted arts district of Capitol Hill. It was, in fact, nothing more than a diner–but it had walls to showcase art upon. I did this for a number of years. Some of the artists, who I provided with their very first art show, went on to bigger and better things. I did a number of other things too, including my ongoing freelance journalism and getting picked up by a publisher. I have a book out next year which you’ll hear more about soon enough. There were plenty of ups and downs over the years. I never ever stopped creating art of one kind or another. I never expected anyone to step in and advance my efforts. In fact, I preferred to develop on my own, as I saw fit. But I did crave community. And I did value walls upon which to present one’s work.
Consolidated Works ( 500 Boren Avenue North location, 2002 – 2006)
I kept up with various art people and Matthew was one of them. I’d read his work in our local alt-weekly, The Stranger. Later, I’d attend shows at his outrageously wonderful multi-disciplinary art center, Consolidated Works, where it seemed that anything could happen. Con Works was a veritable convention space/circus arena collecting various spaces that focused on one art form or another. It began as a brash semi-temporary entity, one of the original pop-ups but on a grand scale; established itself in the South Lake Union area, home to a bubbling stew of creative activity; and then, one day, it was gone, it was no more. Fast forward to the present, Matthew has been developing this concept of art spaces into “cultural spaces,” a means of supporting emerging artists, particularly BIPOC individuals who may not find an opportunity to gather and show art in a real estate market that has priced out the traditional art spaces of yesteryear.
Cultural Space Agency
The Cultural Space Agency is born. Matthew Richter developed his concept of cultural spaces during his time working for the City of Seattle’s arts department. This activity led to the city chartering Cultural Space Agency as a real estate development company, its goal being to seek out, purchase, and establish “cultural spaces.” Will cultural spaces help Seattle to flourish and withstand the headwinds of out-of-control growth? Ah, now all this seemed to me to add up to an interesting conversation. That is my goal with this interview: to explore the urban landscape. That requires looking at things from as many angles as possible, the good and the bad; asking tough questions, and allowing room for fumbling about for answers.
The main thing here is to support the goodwill out there to make any community a better place. That is what Cultural Space Agency is all about and it appears to be off to a good start with Matthew Richter having laid out the foundation. As he has made clear, he is only interim Executive Director for a little bit longer and then he will pass on the baton. There are also other positions to fill and numerous opportunities within this new organization. If you would like to help in any way or get involved, be sure to visit them.
WISCONSIN FUNNIES at Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA)
Wisconsin Funnies. Catalogue edited by Terry Ann R. Neff. Exhibit co-curated by James P. Danky, J Tyler Friedman, and Denis Kitchen with contributions by Paul Buhle. Museum of Wisconsin Art. 2020, 248pp.
Get your own copy of the Wisconsin Funnies: Fifty Years of Comics exhibition catalogue. This fully illustrated 244-page catalogue features more than 150 comic illustrations by thirty-one renowned comic artists. Available at the MOWA Shop in West Bend, MOWA | DTN inside Saint Kate—The Arts Hotel or online right here.
The Real vs. The Ideal, ink on bristol, by Lynda Barry, 1989.
I have nursed a habit, that became a way of life, that became a saving grace. Specifically, for the purposes of this post, I am referring to my own lifelong work in the comics medium. Being a cartoonist really is something very special. It is something so special that all sorts of interested parties want to be part of the magic and that includes all sorts of academic types, galleries and museums. That is all to the good. Comics is still a relatively young medium in some respects so anything that spreads the word can’t be all that bad, right? Comics is an art form, owing so much to countless American contributions and around as far back as there’s been a United States, only now getting the sort of recognition it deserved all along. We can’t, nor should we, include every single shred of work ever made but we have a great bounty of examples to hold up as bona fide works of significance and value. The art show currently on view at MOWA (extended to January 9, 2021) is another step forward. Let’s take a close look at the museum catalogue.
Frank O. King’s Gasoline Alley, page from 1922.
It takes a historian’s perspective to look at Wisconsin and explain all the comics activity there as having a lot to do with Chicago. Well, it’s true. A hundred years ago, Chicago was a home for newspaper empires with a high demand for cartoonists. This is made abundantly clear in Paul Buhle’s essay to this catalog. If a young cartoonist wanted to make it big, a very good place to hone their talent would be in nearby Wisconsin. Keeping to a historian’s long view, we come to understand that comics got baked into Wisconsin bohemian culture. By the 1960s, it was so much a part of the local art scene’s DNA to make you think you were sipping wine and munching on croissants in Paris, where they embraced comics, the Ninth Art, with great fervor as opposed to your average American, especially a corn-fed citizen right in the heart of farms and honest working folk. All sorts of factors simply added up over time. For one thing, never underestimate a cartoonist’s need for peace and quiet. A more methodical pace can lead to a more cerebral and productive life. Wisconsin native Frank O. King, who made the big move to Chicago, showed the way with his deceptively simple comic strip honoring Americana, a comic strip which was also amazingly innovative, Gasoline Alley, which debuted in the Chicago Tribune in 1918. Take a look at the example above and you might see how this highly stylized format would have influenced another master of comics, Chris Ware. Along with King’s trailblazing work, add Sidney Smith (The Gumps), Claire Briggs (Casper Milquetoast), and Carl Anderson (Henry). For an in depth look, read Paul Buhle’s Comics in Wisconsin.
From Denis Kitchen, Star Reporter, 1972.
When you consider what gives a certain place its character, you must think about its guiding forces. One such consequential force of nature in Wisconsin is Denis Kitchen. This is the story of an enterprising young cartoonist who bought some farmland in Wisconsin and converted the barn into a comics studio. From here emerged Kitchen Sink Press, the legendary comics publisher. In 1973, Kitchen joined the back-to-the-land movement and converted a barn in Princeton, Wisconsin and all sorts of comics emerged, underground and mainstream alike. Kitchen was in a position to continue to grow as an artist himself as well as publish the work of other artists and help them out when he could.
From Buddha Crackers by Michael Newhall, 1977.
Michael Newhall, one of the indie cartoonists in the area, rented a space at the Kitchen barn for $50 a month or, given that he was perpetually cash-poor, would pay Kitchen with a work of art each month. While Kitchen would be the first to joke around about whether there truly existed an underground movement or if it was all just a bunch of hype, there was no doubt that numerous like-minded souls gravitated towards each other. For example, Kitchen includes in the MOWA show a portrait of some of the leading cohorts of that era: Denis Kitchen, Don Glassford, Jay Lynch, Jim Mitchell, Wendel Pugh, Bruce Walthers, and Skip Williamson. Of course, that is just one snapshot of some of the creative folk at the time. Other cartoonists that were part of the scene in one way or another included Peter Loft, Mark Morrison, Peter Poplaski, Trina Robbins, John Porcellino, Lynda Barry, and even R. Crumb. Plus many others. Since Denis Kitchen is also an art dealer and collector, he also includes in his collection the work of some of the all-time greats of past eras like Al Capp, Will Eisner, Will Elder, Ernie Bushmiller and Milton Caniff. All these names are part of this amazing show at MOWA.
A Short History of America, serigraph by R. Crumb, 1993.
The catalog for the show does a great job of presenting the subject of comics in both an insightful and irreverent way. One thing all of us art lovers can’t help but address is what is it that we really want to see. What will it be that compels the viewer to seek out the museum in the first place? While this or that movement will come and go, at the end of the day, the actual human being who is investing time and energy to view an art show will have a significant say in what works advance and, over time, are bestowed with greater legitimacy. It may not always be a work invested in identity. It may not always be a work of raw and simple quality. Or a work of realism.
From Kings in Disguise, script by James Vance, art by Dan Burr, 1988.
From Alice in Watergateland by Bill Sanders, 1974.
From Dreams by Leilani Hickerson, 2011.
From Wildcat Bill From Grizzle Hill by Marty Two Bulls Sr., 2013.
What it will be, one hopes and expects, is work that best represents the comics medium. That, of course, needs to be carefully considered by those in a position to keep the ball rolling. That said, by presenting as wide a variety of thoughtfully selected work, MOWA does a great service to comics. Now, getting back to the catalog, if you want not only a taste of some of the best comics from the last fifty years, but also a fascinating look at the counterculture over the years, then this is the book for you. For an exploration of a particularly notable zeitgeist, running from the late 1960s to early 1970s, turn to a wonderful profile in the catalong of Denis Kitchen by James P. Danky. If there ever really was an underground comix scene, Denis Kitchen would certainly know.
The Bugle, cover art, ink on bristol by Dan Burr, 1975.
Danky follows the history of American underground newspapers, beginning in 1964, with a parallel narrative to Kitchen’s own career, starting with his leap into publishing in 1969 at the age of 23. Over the years, Kitchen became part of undergound comix history. In 1970, for example, R. Crumb invited Kitchen to publish his next comic, Home Grown Funnies. That title proved to be Kitchen’s all-time best-selling comic book, eventually totaling 160,000 copies. Among the landmark work that Kitchen published was some of the best graphic novel work by Will Eisner, including securing the rights to Eisner’s seminal work, A Contract with God. Kitchen would go on to develop The Bugle, his own contribution to underground newspapers. He would go on to other notable ventures, like his partnering with Stan Lee for Comix Book. The rest, as they say, is history–with much to share. For instance, much of the artwork for this art show comes from the collection of Denis Kitchen.
From Will Elder’s Goodman Beaver Meet S*perm*n, 1962.
So, with all the amazing achievements accomplished by cartoonists, why would any serious cartoonist who, by all rights, has created art, ever question whether they have truly created art? Because there are countless people who get in the way for countless reasons. Maybe their mother didn’t love them enough. For example, you have people from various other disciplines who suddenly lurch their way into the comics bandwagon. You have critics and academics who do it, not from sincere interest, but because it can seem like an easier way to gain attention and prestige. This results in more and more blathering from a pretentious echo chamber. No art form deserves this. Then there’s the more straightforward elitist prejudice against an art form from those in the establishment. The best example of this is the ongoing war between fine art painters and the artists who work in the comics medium, part of the larger highbrow vs. lowbrow war. Of course, hip painters are hip to hip comix, but I digress.
A typical comics blowhard. Excerpt from Chicago Sun-Times Sunday Magazine, by Jay Lynch, 1976.
And, by the way, if you think for a second that my referring to pseudo-intellectual blathering is just something I’m pulling out of thin air, I have news for you. It goes on all the time. Your typical review at The Comics Journal, for example, has perfected this posturing tone, a mix of hyperbole and odd use of language. And I’m really not sure for what purpose. It seems that many who aspire to something great get caught up in their own web of stilted expression. It brings to mind a scene in one of the comics on view at MOWA. It is an illustration by Jay Lynch for the Chicago Sun-Times Sunday Magazine, 1976. In one corner you see a pudgy middle-aged man wearing a cartoon wig. He is trying to impress a sexy woman in a Playboy bunny outfit. He drones on about his doctoral thesis on Ernie Bushmiller’s comic strip, Nancy. He states: “the basic tenets of Bushmiller’s cosmology are to 20th century man essentially what Manichaeism must have been to your typical Albigensian.” I can see that a work of profound beauty, like Nancy, can inspire someone to overreach with the most curious of prose. But does it help advance the cause of comics? I only drag The Comics Journal into this because I know these folks can take it. In fact, one might argue that the quirky attitude at The Comics Journal can be traced back to the subversive humor of cartoonist and editor Harvey Kurtzman, who is included in the MOWA show.
From You Had to Be There: George Mosse Finds Himself in History, art and text by Nick Thorkelson, 2014.
Getting back to the hi-lo wars, Photography had to run the gauntlet and prove itself a legitimate art form up against Painting. And, today, a lot of painters are intimidated and in awe of photography as well as video. For comics, it seems like there’s still a bit of a problem about making proper room for it at the great Art table. This is a problem that doesn’t have to exist if common sense were allowed to rear its ugly commoner’s head.
From One Flower Child’s Search for Love by Trina Robbins, 1972.
That brings us to this show currently on view at MOWA. I sincerely believe that the biggest obstacle to understanding comics in the United States (because I don’t believe this dysfunction really exists elsewhere) is a disingenuous notion that comics need to be on some “separate but equal” plane outside of other art forms; or comics require experts to explain how to properly read and appreciate it. No doubt, thoughtful discourse is welcome but a lot of it comes down to common sense too. Some work meets the highest of standards and some doesn’t even come close and has not earned a place of honor. Some comics are so simple it seems like any child could have made them. And some comics are highly sophisticated and unquestionably demonstrate the work of a master.
From King-Cat Comics and Stories #75 by John Porcellino, 2015.
At the end of the day, a comic can tell you a lot if you’re willing to simply share some time with it. The MOWA show is an excellent opportunity to spend some quality time with some exceptional comics.
Get your own copy of the Wisconsin Funnies: Fifty Years of Comics exhibition catalogue. This fully illustrated 244-page catalogue features more than 150 comic illustrations by thirty-one renowned comic artists. Available at the MOWA Shop in West Bend, MOWA | DTN inside Saint Kate—The Arts Hotel or online right here.
Kitchen Sink Press Headquarters, Princeton, Wisconsin, ink on bristol by R. Crumb, 1985.
Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision, is known by many as essentially banning school segregation. The intent was to ban it altogether since it was ruled as unconstitutional. But first, there was resistance to overcome right from the very start. Today, we can look back at this process in many ways. One such path to understanding is legislation that secures the very places where history was made, the sites involved in the 1954 court case. It was not only a high school in Topeka, Kansas. The Brown v. Board case involved six different schools. In partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, these sites are now part of the National Park Service thanks to legislation sponsored by Rep. James Clyburn and Sen. Chris Coons.
George E.C. Hayes, left, Thurgood Marshall, center, and James M. Nabrit, the lawyers who led the fight before the U.S. Supreme Court for abolition of segregation in public schools, descend the court steps in Washington, D.C., on May 17, 1954. The Supreme Court ruled that segregation is unconstitutional. (AP Photo)
Today, September 17, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) held a virtual press conference to announce their new legislation to honor and commemorate the historic sites that contributed to the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
The purpose of this legislation is to expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, to include historic sites in South Carolina and designate National Park Service (NPS) Affiliated Areas in other states. It would recognize the importance of the additional sites that catalyzed litigation in Delaware, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia and Washington, DC, and expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas. The legislation was crafted in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The sites involved are in Farmville, VA; Summerton, SC; Hockessin, DE; Claymont, DE; Wilmington, DE; and Washington, DC. This new legislation makes these schools part of the National Park Service and brings them to the forefront as teaching and learning sites. It dramatically increases the visibility of these sites. 50,000 people each year plan their vacations including National Parks. The legislation also secures curriculum for teachers as well as stabilization and preservation of these sites.
illustration by Henry Chamberlain
Altogether, this is a great opportunity for understanding and learning from history. This definitely opens a window to education and inclusion. As Rep. Clyburn pointed out, only 2 percent of Black Americans visit National Parks. Why is that? Is it because, historically, African Americans have not been fully included? As Sen Coons pointed out, it is only when you can see yourself as part of the discussion that you will feel compelled to join.
Dig deeper and you discover so many facts. One of the sad backlashes to desegregation was that it became more difficult for Blacks to qualify to become teachers. Pushing back on that, as Rep. Clyburn mentioned, are such initiatives as a program advocating for Black teachers, Call Me Mister. As you look closer, you find the road blocks, for every step forward, two steps back. Another such sad case sprouts directly from Brown v. Board. In reaction to the Supreme Court decision, Virginia closed down its schools. It wasn’t until 1959 that schools in Virginia reopened and began to desegregate–and not until the early ’70s that the state completely accepted desegregation.
This new legislation follows in the spirit and values of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to rely upon “the power of places to teach.” For more information on the work being done at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, visit right here.
If you haven’t done an Atlas Obscura event, I highly recommend them. Now, with virtual tours the new normal, it is easier than ever to hop right on a cultural tour. A wonderful example was a tour with Letterform Archive, a non-profit museum and special collections library in San Francisco, California dedicated to collecting materials on the history of lettering, typography, printing, and graphic design. I am a huge fan of Atlas Obscura and urge you to get to know them. There’s a wonderful book on Atlas Obscura you will want to check out: Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. The latest edition is available here. Getting back a bit to Letterform Archive, if you missed today’s tour, there will be more. Typically, the sort of workshops that Letterform Archive do involve an intimate gathering around a table as various items from the collection are compared and contrasted. I took some quick notes, so just to give you a taste, the first photo at the top is a nice snapshot of what was discussed. Going from the top left corner clockwise is a book created to commemorate the Arab Spring of 2012; the back of a newspaper by The Black Panthers, circa 1967; and a children’s book that replaces all the characters with dots.
Page from If Apples Had Teeth by Milton Glaser, 1960
Basically, this event all added up to a thoughtful discussion with a freewheeling zest to it. A wondrous way to spend an hour, all in the privacy of your own home. In fact, this is a clear case of a feast for the eyes. Much to see indeed. My favorite moment was a look at a children’s book by Milton Glaser, If Apples Had Teeth, from 1960. Milton Glaser recently passed away so this was a most fitting tribute. The boook evokes the uninhibited spirit of young imaginative minds so perfectly well. What kid doesn’t wonder what it would be like if apples had teeth? Well, apples would bite back, right? So, if you seek some culture and adventure during quarantine, then go look over your experience options at Atlas Obscura.
Jerome Charyn concludes his Isaac Sidel mystery series with the recently published “Winter Warning.” In this interview, we begin with discussing the crime fiction genre and quickly gravitate to the strange resemblance between Charyn’s President Sidel and our current American president. Both men are prone to go it alone in the extreme. Mr. Charyn has some choice words to share on his view of the current political landscape as well as the art that can emerge from troubled times
Henry Chamberlain: Would you share with us your thoughts on the American roots to crime fiction and how it was perhaps inevitable for you to make your own contribution to this genre?
Jerome Charyn: I’ve always felt that all novels are crime novels and I just didn’t realize it. Of course, my brother was a homicide detective. And, once I’d read Dashiell Hammett, after having read Hemingway and Faulkner, I began to feel that Hammett had invented a new kind of language: a poetry of crime. To some degree, Hemingway also wrote crime stories. There’s one called “Fifty Grand.” I was overwhelmed by Hammett and not so much by Chandler. Chandler was recognizable in terms of his literary qualities. But Hammett was a true original. We had never had another writer like him, an actual Pinkerton, who described what it was like in that world, and the craziness of that world really mirrors the craziness of the world we’re living in now.
I don’t know if you’ve seen this series, “Berlin Station.”
No, I haven’t.
You should. It’s excellent. It’s about a CIA station in Berlin. And it has the same kind of madness that you would find in my own fiction. So I was very happy to watch it. I think after the discovery of Hammett, and particularly his novel, “Red Harvest,” I felt that this was a world that I had to enter as fast as I could. Also, I had read Ross McDonald but after a while, his novels became repetitive whereas it was Hammett who had invented a new kind of language for the 20th century. And, it seems to me, he has never received the recognition he deserves.
Jerome Charyn, a kid from the Bronx.
You have a terrific hook in “Winter Warning” with a renegade president. What some readers may not be aware of is that you had already laid down the groundwork for Sidel’s political rise to power in the two previous Sidel novels, “Citizen Sidel” and “Under the Eye of God.” With the latest novel, “Winter Warning,” you have Sidel as an accidental president. And you find yourself with the added bonus of the current president.
I wrote this before the election of Trump and, like everyone else, I didn’t anticipate that Trump would win.
Is it a bonus or is it more of a distraction in a way?
It’s certainly not a distraction as much as a mirror, a crazy funhouse mirror of what is actually going on in the world today. There are many resemblances between Trump and Sidel. Republicans and Democrats hate them both. They both have to maneuver on their own. They both have a kind of poetry. Isaac is tenuous. And Trump is not. There are certain similarities: the sense of the maverick, the person who goes his own way.
I imagine you followed current political trends while tapping into timeless qualities of the contemporary American presidency.
I was particularly fascinated with the presidency after writing a novel about Lincoln. And I also wrote a novel about Teddy Roosevelt just as he’s about to become an accidental president after McKinley dies. So, it was very much on my mind as to how the office shapes the man and the man shapes the office—because, in some way, the American presidency will never be the same after Trump. Never. It can never go back to what it was.
It is a very sobering thought. The pieces on the geopolitical chessboard are being jostled with by Trump. With Obama, we had a good role model. With Trump, I think, we have some sort of throwback.
It’s not simply that he’s a throwback. We never realized before the powers that the president had. With the separation of powers, with the Supreme Court, with the Congress, there seemed to be some limits on his powers. But there are no limits. He does what he wants, when he wants, as he wants. He says what he wants. He retrieves what he says. He denies what he says.
And, also, we’ve never had a president who tweets. I mean, it is a kind of crazy poetry. One has to give him that particular credit. He stays up in the middle of the night and tweets his platform. We’ve never seen this. We don’t know how to deal with it. And, obviously, the Democrats, who should have won the election, are completely bewildered—and didn’t know what to do with him. And we still don’t know what to do with him.
I think there is a strange resemblance between “Winter Warning” and the current situation. As I said, I didn’t write it with Trump in mind.
East and West Berliners tear down a portion of the Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989.
It’s interesting how the timeline for the Sidel series puts us in 1989, or an alternate 1989, I should say. In some ways, that was a more quiet time but the world is always changing and we are right on the cusp of the implosion of the Soviet Union.
Yes, as the so-called Soviet Union implodes, separates into separate nations; it is the end of the Cold War but it’s the beginning of a different kind of war. To some degree the secret agents that were in place, on both sides, remained in place even after the end of the Soviet Union, the coming down of the Berlin Wall, and so on. It’s very difficult to determine what is real and what is not real these days as we have a constant variation on the truth, or a constant multiplication of the truth. The truthful lie. I don’t know how else to describe it. Sidel isn’t like that. He’s a very moral person. But, remember, he’s killed his way to the top. He would never have gotten to where he is without his Glock.
I look at “Winter Warning” as a political thriller and a thinking person’s world-weary journey so, in that sense, Trump seems to me to be a distraction. He’s not in the equation to this novel and yet there is an undeniable connection.
He isn’t in the equation except that he is also a kind of accidental president. And Sidel has to go his own way because he’s so isolated in the White House. I particularly like the two trips he makes – to Prague and to Riker’s Island, where he tries to settle a war between the inmates and the guards. New York is still very much in the narrative frame. And everyone around him seems to want to kill him! (laughs)
“I Am Abraham” by Jerome Charyn
There are some presidents who will always lend themselves well to fiction. Lincoln stands out.
Lincoln is quite fascinating. I did a great deal of research on him for my novel. He really grew in the office. He had the prejudices of his own time. The presidency made him great and he made the presidency great. It was a strange evolution. When he talks about the better angels of our nature, there’s real poetry in what he wanted to say. He was our resident poet in the White House. I was hoping that Obama would be the same kind of poet but, in the end, he wasn’t. His speeches didn’t hold up in the same way. We don’t have a Gettysburg Address, which is overwhelming. It’s a kind of tone poem. Everyone was expecting Lincoln to give an hour speech and he spoke for four or five minutes.
Lincoln haunts Isaac Sidel’s White House because, of course, he haunts my own head. We will never see another man like him. I don’t think so. Teddy Roosevelt, in his own way, did a lot of great things but he wasn’t anywhere as poignant as Lincoln.
Of course, I wanted Isaac to be poignant. On the other hand, after completing forty years of work, I didn’t want to have a musical climax or crescendo. It’s just the end. His life can go on. It was the end of a jagged symphony. It was the last twisted movement.
I didn’t want to sum things up. But, on the other hand, I wanted him to end as a sitting president, to go all the way up the American ladder of success. He went from a deputy chief inspector to chief inspector to first deputy commissioner to police commissioner to mayor to vice president, although he never served as vice president. I did think of having him in that job (vice president) but it would have seemed a bit artificial to me. I wanted him to dig right into the dirt.
“Hard Apple” concept art by Tomer and Asaf Hanuka
Without having to give anything away, will the upcoming animated series, “Hard Apple,” based upon the Sidel books, (art by Asaf and Tomer Hanuka) be able to cover all the books?
Well, we will start with “Blue Eyes.” It takes several months to do one episode of animation. I would like it to follow Isaac Sidel’s career. I wouldn’t work on all the books but perhaps six or seven and have Sidel end up all alone in the White House.
Trump on North Korea
Do you think that Trump will make as satisfying a fictional villain as, say, Nixon? Or will people have soured so much on Trump that it will somehow not work?
One never knows. We’re living in such a strange time that I wouldn’t even want to make any kind of prediction. It would be very interesting to write about him just as a phenomenon because that’s all that one can say. He’s a kind of hurricane passing through the entire world. And we don’t know quite what to do. We don’t know how to be prepared for it. And yet, there he is.
If one were to deal with him fictionally, well, you must have seen Saturday Night Live. That’s probably the best fictional representation of him, with Alec Baldwin. I don’t think you can get any better than that. So maybe humor and parody are the way to deal with Trump. Anyway, the relationship between fiction and reality is so tenuous that one can’t anticipate what future writers will do in terms of Trump or how he will be treated.
For example, when we used to think about World War II, we had certain novels like “The Naked and the Dead” and “From Here to Eternity” and then suddenly in the Sixties, we had “Catch-22,” which was a completely different take on the war and the madness of war. It took a long time to re-envision what the nature of war was like.
We would never have thought of war in that particular way. And when Heller tried to do a a sequel, it didn’t really work. The original was too much a product of its own time. In other words, it was the Vietnam War superimposed upon World War II and that’s what made it so interesting.
I think it will take a very long time before we can fictionalize the world as it is unfolding today.
Trump on Distorting Democracy
For someone who seems so unintellectual, Trump does play the most devious mind games. There is his strategy of lying where he flips the lie and makes the accuser appear to be the liar—it’s a Russian technique.
He’s very shrewd in his own way. While Hillary was preparing for her victory at the Javits Center, he was out campaigning on the very last night. He was a man who stood there alone. Whether he believed he was going to win or not, we have no way of knowing. It’s not that easy to figure him out. Certainly, I think the tweets are brilliant. And when he uses the term, “Rocket Man,” for example, he does have a kind of poetry.
You were part of the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest in 1968 protesting against the Vietnam War. Do you think that today’s protests get the same kind of attention?
Well, it wasn’t exactly the way it sounds. What I did was help to educate people. I went door to door in California. I wasn’t trying to convince anyone about how they should feel about the war but just provide them with some history.
That is why I’m a little disappointed with the new Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam because it was a more complicated matter, with opposition coming from within the government, but those details got glossed over.
Johnson himself knew that we could never win the war. And we lost the war the first time American soldiers appeared on the ground. It was a very sad epic. And when you think of what we were able to do in World War II and how we rebuilt Europe. We brought these countries back into the world. So, it was a very different kind of strategy, the way Americans used power. And now, I haven’t got the slightest idea. For example, I wouldn’t be able to write about the current situation. But I did write a novel about the Vietnam War and felt comfortable doing it.
There are two films about the current situation, “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” that really capture the craziness in the world. You have these young American soldiers, who haven’t traveled much, and then find themselves in a world where they can’t read the signs or the signals.
What I found most interesting about Vietnam was the lingo that Americans produced. The way that they combined colloquial French and a sort of Broadway slang, to create a whole new language for Vietnam was extraordinary. But the war itself was never winnable, no matter what we did.
Franklin D. Roosevelt fishes with Winston Churchill at the presidential retreat Shangri-La (later called Camp David) outside Washington in May 1943.
All of the characters in “Winter Warning” are colorful and interesting. One that stands out for me is Ariel Moss, the former prime minister of Israel. As a kid, I remember paying attention to the Camp David Peace Accords so I know that Moss is inspired by Menachem Begin.
I didn’t want to use the name. I wanted to invent a Begin-like character and evoke the sadness he went through after his wife died. Then there’s Camp David. And I had fun researching the presidential helicopter service, Marine One. I knew that Camp David and Marine One were going to create the thrust for the novel. I read whatever I could about Marine One and the squad of pilots and how each president leaves his own stamp on Camp David.
Franklin Roosevelt first used Camp David as a retreat. Lincoln had his own summer retreat. He’d go to the Old Soldiers’ Home and then ride back to the White House. After writing about Lincoln embodying that world, it was a little bit easier for me to see Sidel in that same house in Lincoln’s shadow. There’s also the way Truman described the White House as the “little white jail.” All of those takes are interesting.
“War Cries Over Avenue C” by Jerome Charyn
Could you name any of the French and Broadway combinations of lingo that emerged from Vietnam?
I wrote a novel called, “War Cries Over Avenue C.” For instance, for “city,” they would use the word, “ville.” I would have to go back and look at the novel. Once I’m out of a world, it’s not easy to go back. It is lingo like you see coming out from this war. You have that in “The Hurt Locker,” just think of the terms themselves. “Black Sites.” “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Like I said, I think “Berlin Station” is very powerful. I think some of the best writing is being done in episodic television. The movies now are for twelve-year-olds. But, in terms of HBO, Amazon, and Netflix, we’re getting exciting options. Think back to “The Wire.” Did you ever see that?
HBO’s “The Wire”
I have yet to see it.
You should. “The Wire” is one of the very best. There are others. “Deadwood” is another one. A lot coming out of the BBC, like “The Singing Detective.” That was probably one of the most creative things I’ve seen on television. It’s the writer-producer who creates the show. In that sense, you can have some very good things as well as bad.
New editions of Sidel books in Germany.
As I wrap up, I just want to say that I enjoyed “Winter Warning” very much and I am going back to read the other books. I am currently enjoying “Marilyn The Wild.”
The series, at the beginning, was very different. It evolved as I evolved as a writer. You never think that you’ll finish all twelve. I consider them three quartets. The only reason I was able to complete the Sidel books is because my editor/publisher at Liveright, Bob Weil, spent a long time on each draft. I’d be working on the Sidel books while he was working on Lincoln, or the book on Emily Dickinson. I had a strange surreal time between novels, trying to keep the distinct voices inside my head.
What I like best about the Sidel books is that you can read any title without knowing anything about the others. It will enrich the experience if you do read the others but each stands alone.
In Germany, they have been republishing each of the Sidel books with a photo of me on the cover that coincides with the time I wrote each book. It’s an interesting idea.
The main thing is that you want to keep working as a writer. I feel that we’re living in a time that is hostile to the writer. You have to have an inner resource to sustain yourself. Writing was something I always wanted to do from the time I finished high school. I never thought in terms of failure or success. I just thought in terms of how to sustain myself. I was very lucky, as my generation was the first that welcomed creative writers to teach at the universities. It had never been the case before. And then I stopped teaching and moved to Paris. And soon I began to teach there. I started a film department at the American University in Paris. As with anything, you also need a tremendous amount of luck.
Four graphic novels by Jerome Charyn, available from Dover Publications.
Yes, luck and will power.
Well, you can have all the will power in the world but if you don’t have any kind of luck, then you defeat yourself. You need some kind of acknowledgement. The books I’ve written are there for people to read. Some of them may survive and some of them may not. One never knows.
Also, the graphic novels that I wrote are very important to me. I was the first American novelist in Europe to work with a French artist and then other French writers began doing it too. I grew up with comics, as you already know. We’ve talked about it.
You have so many portals that one can slip into. You have so many outlets for people to discover your work.
Well, if they take the time. The problem is you don’t have as much time to read anymore. Everything moves so quickly, but if you can take the time to read then you can take the time to discover.
When I went to college, reading was the central occupation of what we did as students. You didn’t do anything but read books. You were much better equipped to deal with the outside world having had these dialogues with writers, with having had Plato inside your head.
Today it’s more of a juggling act. A student’s attention is divided between reading and engaging with social media.
It is in social media where people do their discovering. And, going back to Trump, it’s with his tweets where he’s so brilliant. Maybe you need a child-like manner to do it. I don’t really know. But he has a sort of brilliance with his tweets that very few people have. (laughs)
It’s a very different world. And it has evolved very quickly. What place there will be for books, I don’t know. I don’t feel very optimistic about the future of books.
The art of rediscovering books: “Call It Sleep” by Henry Roth
I feel there are a lot of dedicated readers. My daughter, at 21, prefers to read in print. I like both print and digital equally. There’s a healthy community of readers out there.
It’s not a question of a lack of readers. It’s about the lack of venues for these readers. For example, it’s so much more expensive to put out a print book. When I first started writing, if a publisher liked your work, he knew that you’d have a library sale of between 1,500 to 2000 copies so that you could easily sell four or five thousand copies. That would be enough to do a second book and a third book.
But now the library sales have disappeared; the book clubs have disappeared; and the paperback houses have disappeared so the avenues for income are not there. The only avenue you have left is the translation of a book into a film—and that may be more prominent that it was before. Or a television series. One or the other. And that may be what rescues fiction.
As long as I still get pleasure from books, I will write them. There are fewer book reviews, fewer publishing outlets, so it’s hard to reach the reader.
I think people are reading as much as ever but what they’re reading, I don’t know. Also, someone has to make predictions based upon book reviews. If you look back at the last fifty to sixty years, most of those predictions have been wrong.
What seems to be wonderful isn’t so wonderful. I’m not talking about myself. I am talking about how books can come out of obscurity. For example, “Call it Sleep,” by Henry Roth. It was published in the ‘30s and disappeared. Then it was republished in the ‘60s and it was a phenomenal hit. These things do happen but they happen much less frequently.
That’s the same case with “The Great Gatsby.”
That’s absolutely true. Fitzgerald died at a very early age. He was only 44. He was completely forgotten. It was only because of Edmund Wilson’s essays in The New Yorker that he was revived as a writer. In his own lifetime, Fitzgerald had disappeared into the void, his fame all eaten up.
It’s odd which writers are recycled, which writers come back to haunt us, and which writers speak to us in our own generation.
Thank you, Jerome.
Thank you, Henry
You can listen to the podcast conversation by clicking below:
“Winter Warning” by Jerome Charyn
“Winter Warning” is a 288-page hardcover, available as of October 3rd. For more details, visit Pegasus Books. Be sure to visit the Jerome Charyn website here.
A Village Voice newspaper stand lays on the ground next to garbage in New York City’s East Village on Tuesday. The Village Voice, one of the oldest and best-known alternative weeklies in the U.S., announced that it will no longer publish a print edition. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
One of those youthful memories that drifts up for me at various times is seeing a pile of issues of The Village Voice at a friend’s apartment. He liked going through them. Like me, he loved reading and writing. And, if you were serious about writing, you kept up with such publications on a regular basis. Before the internet, The Village Voice was one of those portals that gave you a taste of certain literary trends and urban happenings. It was fun to pore over the pages and even to simply handle this object made of paper, this symbolic series of messages from that bright big city, New York City, the epicenter of all things media and culture. If you aimed to be hip, wanted a ticket to the subculture, you read (and can still read!) The Village Voice. This publication means a lot of things to many people. For me, it was primarily a writer’s magazine. But no longer can you read new print issues, only digital moving forward.
Now, the end has come to that particular experience. The Village Voice has ceased its free print version, a staple of New York City life and urban life beyond. Well, the end occurred a long while back but this is the definitive end: absolutely no more paper copies! Is this really news? I’m not sure that it is as this transition from print to digital has been steadily going on for years. Just like typewriters and phone booths became extinct, so too will all print newspapers bite the dust.
For some steadfast followers of pop culture, they would like to claim some greater significance to the death of the print version of The Village Voice. To be sure, it does seem to be heart-breaking. But, let’s get a grip. All content moving forward is now digital and that’s great. Digital archives are a breeze compared to microfiche or, God forbid, musty old stacks of actual crumbling newsprint. There’s a reason that newspapers have always been printed on the cheapest paper imaginable. They were only meant to be read on the day, or week, they were published and subsequently used for practical purposes like wrapping fish.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know there are plenty of nerds among us, and I count myself within this group, that can’t help but want to get all sentimental about such things as newspapers. Well, resist that urge. Unless you have more than ample space, say an attic, you don’t want to have a bunch of old copies of this or that newspaper or magazine providing little more than clutter. When was the last time you cracked open that classic issue of Life magazine? Never, right? It’s hard not to be a packrat.
Final print issue of The Village Voice
The practical concern over the shift from print to digital is about the various features in the print version surviving the transition. What about the columnists? And what about the cartoonists? Well, what about them? If a content provider is creating compelling content, then that content is going to find an audience, and it will survive the great transition.
For those of you who did not grow up with newspapers, you’re probably wondering what the big fuss is over. Newspapers, just like magazines, used to be far more powerful and influential. People took far more notice of them and relied upon them. Eyes lingered longer on the text, the photographs, the illustrations, and the comic strips! To this day, I have a memory of a distinctive caricature on the front page of The New York Observer. It was 1976, and I was a precocious tween. The cover featured Sen. Hubert Humphrey. It may have been an illustration by Levine. And the headline asked, “Will He Run?”
The bittersweet fact is that we’re saying goodbye to another link with history. Even as a kid, looking at the cover illustration of Humphrey, I knew that it reeked of the past. Humphrey’s image was being rehabilitated. This was before my time but I knew he was part of the Vietnam War, part of a past that we were steadily coming to terms with. Humphrey was part of the discredited past. Jimmy Carter was part of the future. Seeing that newspaper, holding it, reading it, I could tell there was something slow and quaint about this whole format, acting as much as a portal to the present as to the past.
Village Voice, April 10-16, 2013 issue
The bittersweet fact is that we are currently experiencing the long goodbye to all print publications. And they won’t go without a fight. For some oddball reason, the print version of Newsweek rose from the dead. It will finally die off soon enough. The publications that are least financially stable will drop out of the print game even sooner. The alt-weeklies, which many of us cherished in our youth, will concede to only being digital. For example, here in Seattle, both The Stranger and The Seattle Weekly already behave very much as digital entities with their weekly print versions mostly serving as a place to highlight the features that appeared on their respective websites that previous week.
Getting back to the features that used to have a secure home in print: the creators of observation pieces and comics should follow their heart as best they can if they can’t follow their wallet. Start a blog. In the age of newspapers, you had to tap dance, beg, and plead to join the party. Those days are over! To all you heavy sentimentalists, don’t forget, we are well into a new century. Dry off those tears. The Village Voice is still alive in the format for a new age. The print version was your dad’s Village Voice. Sorry, but we can only move forward.
One last thing, be sure to actually read, and support, The Village Voice. Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it can only survive on sentiment. Visit and support The Village Voice right here.
You’ve seen TED talks on YouTube, right? You can always go right to the source at TED.com. If you’re unfamiliar, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. TED began in 1984 as a conference that today covers just about any topic. These are powerful short form talks in more than 100 languages.
Considering the “Greater Than” theme
Have you ever gone to a TED event? Well, there are a number of these around the world. I went to an independently run TEDx event here in Seattle. You can discover more about TEDx Seattle right here. With a zeal to learn and a trusty notepad, Jen and I took in a day of TED talks. For fans of TED talks, you can imagine how cool that is!
KCTS, a proud sponsor of TEDx Seattle
This is the first year for TEDx Seattle, formerly known at TEDx Rainier. This last Saturday, we settled into our seats at McCaw Hall at Seattle Center and were utterly delighted with each presentation: from Ranae Holland, a biologist-turned-reality TV star on the hunt for Bigfoot all the way to Suzanne Simard, a forestry expert advocating for all us to address climate change.
The theme for this event was “Greater Than,” an umbrella concept that reinforces our sense of community which is greater than the sum of its parts. The talks were further divided into sessions: curiosity > assumptions; future > today; together > alone; and > sum of the parts.
We had stopped by Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Pine and overheard a couple of young women. One said to the other: “And you can spend your whole life in public service, like Hillary, and still lose to a man!” That’s a good sense of what clings to the air and will remain in the air for years to come. So, heading to our TEDx event seemed like quite a fitting place to be: a place to try to make sense of the rifts and the shifts we are currently experiencing.
I was curious about how each talk would act as a thread to a larger conversation. Can we answer the big question, How do we all come together? Celeste Headlee, a longtime host at National Public Radio, made the case in her talk that we are far more isolated than we may realize. The healing won’t take root, said Headlee, until we respect each other and form authentic bonds. That struck a positive and constructive chord that reverberated throughout the conference.
Scott Wyatt talks about urban density.
As the day progressed, Jen and I got really caught up in the talks. In fact, there were so many ideas presented that it is a bit overwhelming to attempt to recap everything and do it justice. I will focus on just a few with some brief comments. Scott Wyatt, a partner at architecture firm NBBJ, hit the nail on the head regarding the critical mass we have reached as a crowded city. Part of the solution is to adapt and that is what Wyatt covered. With more and more of us shoulder to shoulder, it compels us to find ways to live in harmony.
Another compelling talk was on artificial intelligence presented by Oren Etzioni, an entrepreneur and AI researcher. His main point was that the robots are not coming for us and never will. No, it’s quite the other way around. It is up to us to embrace the new tech as it is ultimately there for us and to help us come together.
Eliaichi Kimaro. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.
Eliaichi Kimaro presented an outstanding talk on her journey of self-discovery. Given the opportunity and the motivation, Kimaro found herself making her first documentary without any prior filmmaking experience. She set out to tell the stories of her ancestors in Tanzania. What she came back with were stories that would summon deep reserves for healing and transformation. Her wish for all of us is that we flood the world with our stories. You can visit the website for Kimaro’s film, “A Lot Like You,” right here.
We also greatly enjoyed the talk by Judge Wesley Saint Clair who has some impressive ideas on providing options for youth who find themselves in criminal court. No, he said, this is not a Hug a Thug program. Instead, it is a no-nonsense program that provides these youth with an opportunity to become part of the community. It was a moving talk and the judge deserves all the support he can get.
We ended the day on a high note with Suzanne Simard, a professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia. Her talk covered the intricate and complex nature of ecosystems. Simard made clear that climate change is very real. Ultimately, we all must come together, as Simard stated, not only for our sake but for the sake of our planet Earth.
In these uncertain times, we can always count on brave and thoughtful people to speak the truth.
Paul Buhle is busy these days with various comics projects. He is truly a friend to cartoonists. And, as we find out in this interview, there’s a good story behind that. In fact, there’s plenty to talk about when you engage in a conversation with Paul Buhle. Today, his latest book, co-edited with David Berger, is out and avaiable, “Bohemians: A Graphic History,” a 304-page comics anthology that explores the world of bohemians in America from about 1850 to 1950 (my review here). It is published by Verso Books and you can find it here.
Paul Buhle retired a few years ago from Brown University where he lectured on History and American Civilization. He has written and edited numerous books on labor, culture, and radicalism. Now, Mr. Buhle finds a good portion of his time devoted to editing books that tell their stories through comics.
Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924
“Where have all the heroes gone?” asked Sherman. He asked this plainly and earnestly, without even a hint of irony. He looked to be about 16-years-old and not remarkable at first glance, just a kid. He wore a cardigan sweater, had messy hair, a well-worn t-shirt, jeans, and Converse high tops. Maybe a geek but not a proud geek.
A NIGHT AT THE SORRENTO AND OTHER STORIES is a quirky batch of comics that is steadily gaining ground as the subject of a fundraising campaign at Kickstarter. It launched on April 3 and has reached the 30 percent mark in pledges. The campaign runs through May 6. You can view it HERE.
Now, here’s the thing about this one, it has a raw honesty to it that it shares with other Generation X artists. That’s where this artist, Henry Chamberlain, dates back to. That sort of blunt honesty has been refined over the years although an outsider’s view still remains. Think of Charles Burns, for example: acerbic, alienated, yet very heartfelt and authentic. You can find that in this collection of comics. That’s important to bring out here because this book includes the graphic novel, ALICE IN NEW YORK, which is an older work and very much aligned to that spirit. The other part of the book collects recent work, done in the last three years, that originated with 24-Hour Comics challenges. Altogether, you get one artist’s vision over a span of many years.
So, let’s focus in with a few more words about the graphic novel, “Alice in New York” that is part of this collection. What makes it share a Gen X sensibility has to do with the main character’s feeling of being at a loss. For many of a creative and intellectual bent, it just felt like we were in for a long stretch of lowered expectations. Sure, that’s pretty shortsighted. But, growing up in the ’80s, with Reagan and Thatcher running the show, with the Baby Boomers having hogged the spotlight for so long, with a perpetual rehash of pop culture, it didn’t look so good. Of course, we all knew things would change one way or another but it fostered a healthy sense of cynicism and self-deprecation.
You have the main character, Henry, a young man on his first visit to New York City still holding on to dreams of previous generations, from the myth of the Great American Novel to the lure of fifteen minutes of fame. Is it any wonder the boy is a wreck? But, he stumbles upon just the right circumstances and meets the right people to help him out. Is he too lucky? Well, sometimes you make the most of what you get, create your own luck. Add to that a little magic from Alice in Wonderland, and you have a story that transcends any generation which is what you want to do in the end!
Generation X’s way of life is not for everyone. You basically had to be there. Just saying that is so Gen X. If you’re looking for something to read that is a voice of a generation, while stubbornly refusing to be labeled, and ending up being so much more, then check out this work at Kickstarter HERE.