Category Archives: Interviews

TCM Classic Film Festival | May 6-9 2021 | Interview with Mark Harris

Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris

Cinema is one of the great pleasures in life. If you love good movies, then you will be delighted with the lineup for the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (May 6-9 2021). This post will point you in the right direction as well as provide an added bonus. One of the titles featured during the festival is 1996’s Nichols and May: Take Two. I had the honor of interviewing Mark Harris, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Mike Nichols: A Life. I hope you enjoy our chat and be sure to catch all the great movies during the festival. During our conversation, I tried to fit in as much as possible regarding Mike Nichols (1931-2014), such a iconic figure in the world of improv comedy, theater and film known for such landmark films as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Catch-22 (1970), and Carnal Knowledge (1971). And those three titles are just scratching the surface!

Cast and producers including Al Pacino, third from left, Meryl Streep, third from right, and Mike Nichols, second from right, hold the award for outstanding miniseries for their work on “Angels In America,” at the 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday, Sept. 19, 2004, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Harris first got to know Nichols during his work adapting Tony Kushner’s landmark play, Angels in America. By then, Nichols was in his seventies and a master of his craft many times over. During our talk, Harris noted: “It is remarkable to me how Nichols kept looking outward during a production, while the meter was still running, finding ways to construct and to add.” As for what might be said in describing Nichols’s body of work, Harris said it wasn’t a matter of maintaining a thematic structure. It was really more down to earth. “It was about finding what excited Nichols to pursue a project: a script, a collaboration, a writer, an actor.”

NICHOLS AND MAY: TAKE TWO (1996): TCM premiere of this documentary about the influential comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. Four of their radio sketches have been re-created with new animation created especially for the program.

Includes conversation with author Mark Harris, Mike Nichols: A Life.

Nichols and May: Take Two

SATURDAY, MAY 8 11:45AM ET

And remember, the festival kicks off May 6th! This year’s Festival will be presented virtually and feature four days of incredible programming on TCM and within the Classics Curated By TCM Hub on HBO Max, a dedicated destination for classic movie fans within the HBO Max app.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Catch-22 (1970)

Carnal Knowledge (1971)

2021 TCM Classic Film Festival

Thursday, May 6 through Sunday, May 9 at two virtual venues: the TCM network and the Classics Curated by TCM Hub on HBO Max.

To learn more, go to the TCM Film Festival site right here. You’ll discover a unique film festival experience on TCM.

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A Conversation with Karl Stevens: Realism in Comics

Karl Stevens comics commissioned by the Gardner Museum

Penny is the new graphic novel by Karl Stevens. I reviewed it recently and now I provide you with an interview with the author. If you go on to see the video below, you’ll get to know a bit about a most engaging and talented artist with quite a distinctive style. As a cartoonist, he finds himself in a unique place as a champion of realism in comics, something of a lost art, certainly not as common today as it used to be in Alex Raymond’s day.

There’s a point in my conversation with Karl Stevens where he really gets to the heart of his motivations as a cartoonist. Karl was discussing where he was heading with new projects and that got him to thinking back to the process in general. He started looking back at the artists who influenced him, like Fragonard and Rembrandt. Currently, he’s been exploring genre comics, including a lot of work in Heavy Metal from the ’70s and ’80s, specifically the work of Caza and Moebius.

The Alston scene. Will Greta Gerwig want to turn a Stevens comic strip into a movie?

The point is that Karl was thinking about his attraction to a certain crisp line in the service of realism in cartooning. It’s not for everyone. In fact, it’s relatively rare. Thinking back on it, I’ve always loved exemplary cross-hatching from such greats as Thomas Nast, Edward Sorel, and David Levine–or, for something finer, Goya. Anyway, Karl went on to share:

“The history of comics has always been based on other comics or commercial illustration. It’s rare that you have a cartoonist who has studied art history in a serious way. A lot of comics look like they’ve been commercially made. They have that slick line to it. It’s different from a fine art line. As a younger artist, I was trying to bring that sensibility to comics. I did try to draw in a more cartoony  way. But I found realism to be more complicated, and more interesting.”

Karl, took a pause. He laughed a bit, and said he realized it might sound pretentious to be speaking this way. But what’s an artist supposed to do, really? This is how we explain things. And so he continued.

“The history of realism in comics died in a serious way in the ’60s, along with representational art in general. You had people like Art Spiegelman and Scott McCloud railing against realism, stating that realism was antithetical to comics. I don’t believe that’s true. I just don’t think realism has been fully explored.”

We chatted about a lot of other things, including the great art heist at the Gardner Museum, but I think what I’m quoting here is probably the best gem. As far as representational art goes, I think the death of figurative painting is something that is perpetually declared in art circles. And, as for realism in comics these days, well, I think there are some fine examples that pop up here and there but you really don’t often enough see realism in comics, at least not in the United States. What came to mind as part of my response in the moment to Karl’s comments was just that, as much as I like to play with quill pen points, I don’t tend to have the patience to pursue realism. I’ve gotten some nice results but I really need to be motivated. Clearly, Karl is very motivated!

With that said, I do hope you enjoy our full conversation. I provide a number of images that help round things out and give you a better sense of the man and his art. For now, it’s Karl’s latest book, Penny, that’s the main focus. Do check it out! For more details, be sure to visit Chronicle Books.

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The Comedy of SMORK BOLSON

Yes, this is Smork Bolson!

When a comic decides to do a character as their act, it is making a commitment to one particular point of view, one particular persona. And, within that set of limits, there can be unlimited freedom. It is not for everyone since most comics have a healthy ego that demands undisguised attention. But some comics like an added artistic challenge, like Andy Kaufman. And so it is my honor to introduce to you, Smork Bolson. He is erudite, a bit out of touch, and ironically unironic. The comedy of Smork Bolson is mellow with sharp edges. This is a man seemingly of small words but maybe not. It just depends upon how long he is going to tolerate you.

The best way of looking at Smork Bolson is to not stare. Just look. Just listen. And let the comedy come to you. Deadpan. Droll. Maybe even a bit of steampunk–or maybe not. One thing’s for sure, Smork Bolson is not to be toyed with. He is serious about being serious and that’s what makes him hilarious. I hope you enjoy this conversation between Bolson and myself. I turned it into something like a card game as I had a stack of questions from which I drew from. It turned out to be a fun game and you might enjoy playing it with a friend. And getting back to our subject, be sure to stop by and check in on what Smork is up to at his new website. There are plans for puzzles, games and wordy amusements plus you’ll find a blog there too.

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Alyson Chadwick | Comedy | Paul Rusesabagina | Activism

Paul Rusesabagina

Alyson Chadwick is a standup comic and an activist. That keeps her busy balancing the funny and the serious. In this talk, we cover it all, including Paul Ryan and even Matt Gaetz! On the serious side, be sure to look up Paul Rusesabagina and his being kidnapped by the Rawandan government. You may know Paul from his story turned into the film, HOTEL RAWANDA. Paul did his part in opposition to the genocide of the Tutsi by Rawanda in 1994. Last year, Paul was kidnapped by Rawanda’s Kagame regime and is awaiting trial on false charges.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/01/hotel-rwanda-activist-paul-rusesabagina-kidnapped-from-dubai

You can do your part to help bring about his release. Visit Alyson’s website as well as the No Business with Genocide website:

http://www.alysonchadwick.com/

https://actionnetwork.org/groups/no-business-with-genocide

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Interview with Garth Ennis: The Art of the War Story

Garth Ennis has been writing comics since 1989. Credits include Preacher, The Boys and Hitman, with successful runs on The Punisher and Fury for Marvel Comics. As well as his own war series War Stories, Battlefields, and Dreaming Eagles, he recently revived the classic British aviation character Johnny Red, and has produced two series of World of Tanks for Wargaming.net. Originally from Northern Ireland, Ennis now resides in New York City with his wife, Ruth.

It is an honor to have the opportunity to discuss comics with such a notable comics writer as Garth Ennis. Even the most casual of comics readers will recognize the name behind such big hit titles as Preacher and The Boys. For this conversation, we focus on the exciting Garth Ennis titles being published by Dead Reckoning, particularly the newly collected, The Tankies. Any writer will easily relate to what Ennis has to say about growing up reading war comics. As a child, the only comics he could access back in Belfast in the 1970s was 2000 AD, a sci-fi anthology, and Battle, a monthly collection of the best British war comics. It was there that he read Charley’s War, a collected comic strip about a boy soldier who enlisted in World War I just in time to fight in the Battle of the Somme. What really struck Ennis was the veracity of these works. These were real stories about real people. It stood in stark contrast to fantastic themes he was reading elsewhere. And it stuck by him. Like any good writer, he has essentially been recreating what had the most impact upon him as a child.

CHARLEY’S WAR

For those of you who are longtime fans as well as new fans emerging from The Boys on Amazon, Garth Ennis has so much to offer the reader in incisive and highly engaging work. Our talk, in fact, pretty much focused on the collected Tankies as there was already plenty there to cover.

Stiles, the man you want in a clutch.

We discuss the main character of Stiles, an awful little man who redeems himself over and over again by leading his men into combat. Stiles may not be likable or pleasant but he knows what can and can’t be done on the battlefield. Stiles is the man. He is not much to look at but, in the end, he wins you over by sheer determination and integrity. And Stiles is the glue that holds together the three stories in The Tankies.

The Korean War. We forget it at our own peril.

As we progressed, we turned our attention to the Korean War. I pointed out that this trilogy of war stories could have easily been all from World War II. Ennis said that, by the time he came around to writing a third Stiles story, it became imperative to do a whole separate story set during the Korean War, a war that has somehow receded into the shadows of history. It’s a sobering thought to think such a war is sort of lost to history given it really had all the factors that could have led to World War III.

THE TANKIES!

So, if you’ve read some Garth Ennis by now, I highly recommend his war stories and you will find a perfect selection of The Tankies, The Stringbags, and The Night Witches, over at Dead Reckoning.

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Interview with Steve Lafler: Comics, Jazz & Gender Bending

Steve Lafler’s 1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona

I have interviewed Steve Lafler and I’m letting that sink in. The man is a walking encyclopedia of experiences and knowledge. I do hope we can chat again sometime. For a first interview, we covered a lot of ground. I was intrigued and delighted and I’m sure you will be too with this most provocative cartoonist.

Steve Lafler is a very cool cat–and, as promised, we’re about to take a deep dive into all things Lafler. Long before Zoom interviews, I’ve been taking notes and chatting with a good many talented folks. I think we cartoonists, at least a certain subgroup, are compelled to express ourselves in numerous ways. You’ll find, for instance, that comics and journalism have been entwined since the American colonies. In Mr. Lafler’s case, he has devoted a lot of energy in two directions, the love of comics and the love of music. In my interview, I try to focus on how Lafler has lovingly included music, especially jazz, into his comics.

1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona is Lafler’s latest title and we enjoy talking about it. The subtext is pretty much in the forefront: our main character, Ramon, seems to be most happy when he gets to be Ramona. Or, if not most happy, then it’s definitely a sweet joy to dress up and be a woman for the night. That said, the comics pretty much speak for themselves. Lafler, himself, has provided a few clues over the years that he enjoys indulging in some gender-bending dressing up. One must follow their muse! I think, with 1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona, Lafler beautifully expresses that most basic and primal human need to be true to one’s self.

Be sure to visit Steve Lafler right here.

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Interview: Nate Powell and SAVE IT FOR LATER and RUN

RUN

SAVE IT FOR LATER

Nate Powell is an American graphic novelist and musician. His 2008 graphic novel Swallow Me Whole won an Ignatz Award and Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel. He illustrated the March trilogy, an autobiographical series written by U.S. Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, which received the 2016 National Book Award, making Powell the first cartoonist to receive the award. Powell’s latest book is Save it for Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest, published by Abrams and out April 6, 2021.

Today is especially newsworthy in connection with a Nate Powell interview as it was officially announced that Run, a new trilogy and a continuation of March will be coming out this August. Thankfully, Powell and I get to talk about that towards the end of this interview. Here is the news release today by The Associated Press:

NEW YORK — The award-winning series of graphic novels about congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis will continue a year after his death.

Abrams announced Tuesday that “Run: Book One” will be published Aug. 3, just over a year after Lewis died at age 80. As with the “March” trilogy, which traced Lewis’ growing involvement with the civil rights movement in the 1960s, “Run” features longtime collaborator Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell as they shape a narrative around Lewis’ reflections. Comic artist L. Fury will assist with illustrations.

“Run: Book One” begins after the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

“Lewis recounts the highs and lows of a movement fighting to harness their hard-won legal protections to become an electoral force as the Vietnam War consumes the American political landscape — all while the forces of white supremacy gather to mount a decades-long campaign to destroy the dream of the ‘Beloved Community’ that John Lewis, Dr. King, and so many others worked to build,” according to Abrams.

Lewis, Aydin and Powell shared a National Book Award in 2016 for the third volume of the “March” trilogy.

How do we get to where we want to be when it comes to social justice and related matters? Well, as Nate Powell points out in our interview, we need to arrive at a shared objective reality. That seems to be a tall order now in the disrupted and fragmented world we live in dominated by social media and tribalism. But if we don’t find a way back, we just add to our struggle. Powell brings up Nelson Mandela’s call for a return to truth in order to achieve reconciliation. And that’s at the heart of so much of the conflict and misunderstanding, intentional or not. This is an interview that focuses on Powell’s new book, a set of essays that explore the American landscape since the Trump era and beyond. Will we move on? In the big picture, we Americans have no choice. It all hangs in the balance, including democracy as we know it.

This interview is very special as I appreciate Nate Powell’s work as working at the highest level of what we expect in the best of comics and graphic novels. A select group of cartoonists can truly call themselves graphic novelists. A select group of cartoonists reach a point where they truly are the go-to folks we can rely upon for solid compelling storytelling. Nate Powell, without a doubt, is in that group.

So, I hope you enjoy this conversation. I hope it does all the good things that an interview can do: inform and inspire.

Save it for Later is available as of April 6, 2021. For more information, visit Abrams ComicArts.

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Interview: Ted Rall and THE STRINGER

War journalism ain’t what it used to be.

Ted Rall is a journalist, cartoonist, and columnist. Ted Rall’s new graphic novel, THE STRINGER, is a political thriller that will appeal to readers who enjoy a full-bodied story with twists and turns. Bringing in his own experience as a war correspondent, Rall’s book has a gripping authentic voice that takes the reader on a wild ride with food for thought.

After so much hard luck, Mark Scribner could really use a lucky break. Be careful what you wish for.

A movie version of The Stringer would be something like George Clooney in Three Kings or Jeremy Renner in Kill the Messenger. It’s a gritty vibe; a fable for our overly-disruptive times. Here is an interview with Ted Rall where we cover the creative process and discuss Rall’s collaboration with artist Pablo Callejo as well as tackle the media and political landscape. Today was a particularly interesting news day with President Biden’s first formal press conference. Rall has some observations on that too. This is a guy who takes on the left with as much gusto as he does the right. It depends upon the issue and who is in power. One way or another, you may disagree with him but you can’t say his thinking is sloppy and he’s just phoning it in.

Forget the old tropes. A younger woman and an older man who are just friends.

There’s a friendship that Mark strikes up with Margreet, a female reporter half his age. Running counter to the old romance tropes, they remain just friends. It’s not something that’s emphasized. It just is. And it’s nice to see. Rall is highly opinionated but that doesn’t mean his work is heavy-handed. Often, what I see in Rall is someone who is simply daring to talk about a better world–and that can run against various interests; and a lot of people’s tendency to leave well enough alone. Rall’s attitude is “don’t settle for the lesser of two evils.” Don’t settle on corporate lies. Just don’t settle. That approach is what fuels the best of Rall’s work and that’s what you’ll find in The Stringer.

Visit Ted Rall at his website. For more information on The Stringer, visit NBM Publishing.

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Interview: John T. Reynolds and Understanding Comedy

Writer and actor John T. Reynolds

John T. Reynolds is a writer and actor, who draws comics and writes for television including The President Show on Comedy Central and “six pants-busting years” on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS. You can find his comics at A Fistful of Babies. We cover a lot in this conversation and there was definitely more we could have chatted about! For this one, I focused on the art of comedy and I think it was a good glue to keep things together.

Craig Ferguson, at the top of his game.

This is a conversation about understanding comedy. Now, to begin with, does comedy need to be understood? Wasn’t E.B. White who said that comedy was like a frog? Once you begin to dissect it, it’s dead, right? Comedy writer Scott Dikkers refers to that in his book, How to Write Funny, and concludes it’s a small price to pay in order to learn comedy! Indeed, that is what this interview is all about: understanding comedy. We run a class act here at Comics Grinder so I opened by interview referring back to a book that Reynolds mentioned in a comedy writing class I took that he was leading. Reynolds referred to a recent collection of writer workshop essays by George Saunders and commented that it’s interesting to note that the mechanics of creative writing considered to be at the highest levels are just as relevant to the mechanics of comedy writing for the general public. Ah, so we began on a classy high note. There was nowhere else to go but down from there–or so it seemed. Because, in fact, the point here is that there’s an art to everything, even a seemingly goofy show like The President Show, about one of the goofiest creatures to ever roam the earth.

Anthony Atamanuik mercilessly channels Donald Trump on The President Show.

Reynolds trained with the Upright Citizens Brigade. It’s from there that he teamed up with Aubrey Plaza and other comedic talent. My connection to all this is a course that Reynolds leads, The Writers Room at Laughing Buddha Comedy in New York. I did an open mic a while back, pre-Covid, and I recently took his course, Late Night Writers Room available via Zoom, among an array of awesome comedy workshop courses. We discuss that and many other things, including Mr. Reynold’s own cartooning adventures that you can find at A Fistful of Babies.

cartoon by John T. Reynolds

And here is some more data in a different configuration via the UCBT site: John wrote and performed on the Peabody Award-winning The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS for six years before the host quit. Now John writes full time for DreamWorks Television. He has been in many shows at the UCBT in both NY and LA, most notably in ASSSSCAT, Reuben Williams: As Seen On TV, as Joe Eszterhas in Showgirls: The Best Movie Ever Made and on Harold Night. He has also performed in many roles on television, radio and film and has written for many other TV shows like MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch and Comedy Central’s little seen, but greatly loved, Window Seat.

The latest dumpster fire no one can take their eyes off of.

As you will find, the world of late night comedy writing is all about topical humor. You can create masterful “evergreen” pieces, that are timeless and have their place. But you also have to keep on your toes and be hip to whatever the latest thing has gone viral and is the latest dumpster fire no one can take their eyes off of.

Be sure to keep up with John T. Reynolds and Laughing Buddha Comedy. And one more place you need to check out, which we should have talked about is a show that John does with his partner, Carmen Lynch, that is pretty hilarious. Check out The Human Centipod.

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Interview: Jerome Charyn on J.D. Salinger, History and Heartbreak

Jerome and Henry discuss writing, history, and J.D. Salinger.

Just about any reader has an opinion about J.D. Salinger. In his latest novel, Sergeant Salinger, Jerome Charyn takes that most celebrated and enigmatic of writers and crafts a story about history and heartbreak. It is about history nearly lost. It is about history relived. It is about heartbreak of the most sorrowful. In the end, this is a dazzling work that will take you on trip that will give you a more vivid sense of World War II and the journey that led J.D. Salinger right to the precipice. Was J.D. Salinger a great writer. Yes, he had that magic touch, that artistic vision. What does Jerome Charyn do with this story? As Jerome was adamant to tell me, this is not a story seeking to find out who J.D. Salinger was in any conventional sense. This is, after all, a work of art, a work of fiction.

Slapton Sands was a debacle that was almost covered up and lost to history.

For me, I just want to share with you a marvelous novel. There’s so much to enjoy in the way of masterful writing. I cite one example here where J.D. Salinger finds himself levitating up and flying over Central Park on his way to Belvedere Castle. He is transformed back into a boy along with his sister, Doris, becoming a young girl again. They confront a sinister figure, a witch, who is actually Salinger’s estranged wife, Sylvia. Doris is puzzled when the witch invites Doris to a lesson she can’t learn in any school. What could that be? asks Doris. “What can you teach me?” The witch looks at Doris and replies, “How not to exist.” I know this is out of context but I trust you feel a chill from this.

J.D. Salinger was there for D-Day on Utah Beach.

Another reason you may enjoy my conversation with Jerome Charyn is the historic ground that we cover. We do talk some about literary theory and such. But, I think, a lot of you will find more than just interesting a brief overview of World War II. Yeah, in short order, we end up covering a lot of ground. But it couldn’t be helped. J.D. Salinger covered an enormous amount of ground during his service in the war. Salinger witnessed more combat than some of our most celebrated writers on World War II. Salinger was there to observe the calamitous Exercise Tiger, the D-Day landing at Utah Beach, and the liberation of the first Nazi concentration camp. Salinger saw so much, too much. And it sort of broke him. But not so much as to keep him from going on the complete a small but significant body of work, which includes, of course, The Catcher in the Rye.

J.D. Salinger was also there for Hitler’s last stand at the Battle of the Bulge.

Given our conversation, and my continuous searching to understand, Charyn summed it up nicely towards the end of our talk. “As for meaning, I don’t know what the ‘meaning’ is. I know what the music is. The music becomes the meaning. I’m not a philosopher.” Yeah! Kick-ass writing without apologies. For Jerome, the war, J.D. Salinger, New York City from a certain era, all of this Jerome lived and breathed himself. So, creating fiction from it came easy to him. “History is a very strange kiss that lands on you and invigorates and destroys. It is the past that I’m most interested in. It is the past that I try to summon up in my own way.” J.D. Salinger wasn’t a person to dissect and create a profile from. For Jerome Charyn, J.D. Salinger was a haunted house which he moved into and built some solid fiction from. Bring your A-game reading to this one!

And J.D. Salinger was among the first Americans to witness the liberation of the first Nazi concentration camp, Dachau.

Be sure to view is conversation. I kid you not, you’ll be glad to did. And, if you have a moment, your comments are always welcome.

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