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.
1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona. by Steve Lafler. Cat-Head Comics. 2020, 56pp. $9.95
Adorable Ramona is sweet down to her toes. She also happens to be a guy. But, hey, no problem there say the fellas from the Garment District. Ramon, as Ramona, is just so delightful. So, no problem. Nobody’s perfect! That’s the punchline to 1959’s Some Like it Hot, by the way. The artist and writer Steve Lafler doesn’t actually use that line. In fact, his graphic novel is completely different from what goes on in the Billy Wilder classic. That said, there are definitely some similar elements at play. And perhaps the biggest theme is one recurring in just about every Lalfer book, that of music, specifically jazz, hot jazz! Since, after all, some do indeed like it hot!
Now, Steve Lafler turns out to be a very cool cat–and we’re about to take a deep dive into all things Lafler. Well, as much as I see fit to shoe-horn into this review. We’ll save some more for an interview with Steve Lafler next week. That sounds good, no? Lafler’s latest book, 1956, features a whole tableaux of goodfella types, all of them working various middle management jobs in the Garment biz, an industry with just enough of a glimmer of glamour to be suitable for these big city gentlemen. Lafler mixes the whimsical with the gritty. His style is clean lines in the service of a loose and street smart sensibility that brings to mind such greats as the Hernandez brothers and Kim Deitch. It’s quirky, idiosyncratic, and very much alt-comics. But that only makes sense since alternative comics are very much a part of Lafler’s scene. 1956 proves to be an utter delight.
The one thing I have come to understand from reading Lafler comics is that this is one devil-may-care dude who knows how to dish it out a la bohemian. I envy the ease with which he seems to glide through life. Maybe it takes one to know one. I know it’s not all peaches and cream. That’s part of the point. It’s about making the most of what you’ve got, living by your wits, and not taking anything so seriously that it hurts– except for family. You look out for your loved ones, right? Why do I digress so? I think Lafler just puts me in a very irreverent mood.
Now, take some of his other work and you’ll start to see some patterns. You’ll see that jazz motif bebop around. You’ll see some hard luck hound dogs–or bugs. And you’ll definitely see a lot of that joie de vivre thing we all want some of. You find it all wrapped in a bow in Lafler’s BugHouse, albeit tinged with the harsh realities of life in the big city. Yes, these bugs play a lot of jazz but they’re also prone to drug addiction. Sad bittersweet bugs.
Death Plays a Mean Harmonica
A more recent Lafler work is Death Plays a Mean Harmonica. I find this to be quite a masterpiece incorporating a healthy dose of auto-bio mixed in with everything that Lafler has learned about the uncanny world of comics. Lafler takes his own family’s decade living abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico, and turns it into the misadventures of Rex and Gertie and their two young children. Lafler let’s the good times roll with plenty of magical realism which includes a skeleton who regulars meets with Lafler while he’s asleep. They philosophize and, of course, enjoy playing music together. This serves as background for the main event. It turns out that Gertie is a secret superhero by night! Lots of fun! Bravo!
For more information, including comics, illustrations, paintings, and various merchandise, be sure to visit Steve Lafler.
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.
On Wednesday, 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Life as we’d known it had changed forever. We are all still in this together with renewed hope and resilience. Many of us became creative. And for many of us who are already creative, we’ve found ways to explore further, and seek out joy, humor and grace. I spent 2020 completing a special graphic novel project as well as this whimsical tribute to the New York Egg Cream. You can get the book in print and on digital. Sometimes You Just Want an Egg Cream adds up to a neat showcase of artwork as well as a guidebook tour involving New York history, culture, and egg creams. It is a long time coming and it feels like the perfect time is now to share this with you.
Sometimes You Just Want an Egg Cream!
Briefly, an egg cream is an amazing soda drink, preferably chocolate. But within that simple mix of milk, seltzer and syrup, all kinds of dreams and memories are made. It was back in the ’80s, during that young lean time, that I made my first visit to New York City. I was coming from Houston, which is a hell of a big city but with a small town character if that makes any sense. I was looking forward to roughing it for a couple of weeks and staying in the no-frills yet intellectually lively 92nd Street Y. What I was not expecting was to have the airline lose my luggage! So, there I was nearly naked except for the clothes on my back for two weeks with the mean streets right along with the cultured streets ahead of me.
A book devoted to the egg cream!
Well, I was young and full of energy and imagination. I gorged on all kinds of sights and sounds. I had my list of things to see and do based upon all kinds of reading I’d done: Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Met, Broadway, the Strand, Coney Island, St. Marks Place! And, moving along at a quick pace, I invited it all in: high and low; bright and dull; big and small; euphoric, melancholic, erudite and electronic. Brash youth that I was, I went for the people’s food, not fancy-schmancy. I was still many years away from taking any notice of Michelin ratings. I delighted in street vendor hot dogs and pizza by the slice. In fact, I still love that grub! And, in my young dewy-eyed state, my mind was first blown to the charms of the knish at Yonah Schimmel Knish right along with the awesome experience of pastrami at Katz’s Deli, and the delectable high of the egg cream at Gem Spa–as well as at Lexington Candy Shop! I was as much in love with the Upper East Side as I was with the Lower East Side! Ever since, whenever I visit NYC, I stop by somewhere and have an egg cream, which is what led me to create this book. Recently, I even connected with Gem Spa and they have some of my art on sale at their site. So, one thing leads to another!
Gem Spa, an East Village legend!
I also have related items, like cool prints and t-shirts, which you can buy right here. And I will keep playing around with this. I foresee more books and related events. If you get the book, you’ll see what I mean. I should also add here that I fully encourage you to buy one of my New York Egg Cream t-shirts and then post a photo of you wearing it, preferably while having an egg cream at one of my favorite spots in NYC. Who knows, it could happen! You might be reading this right now and thinking that would be a pretty rad thing to do! And so the egg cream revolution is on!
Lexington Candy Shop, an Upper West Side classic!
I will definitely post again items from the book and hopefully start a whole big wonderful New York Egg Cream conversation! What is your egg cream memory? I’d love to know. You can comment here or contact me directly. And join the egg cream club!
There are a lot of kids in my neighborhood. And some are more outspoken. The other day, one said it all. The little tike had just learned to ride his bike. And, with glee, he announced to his parents: “SO LONG, SUCKERS!” The parents thought that was hilarious. But was it, really? Where did he pick that up and why did he think it was okay to say that? I guess some things are just meant not to overanalyze. However, you adopt that kind of thinking and it’s a slippery slope. You can connect it all the way up to Republicans who choose to abandon reason and integrity and follow the wrong leader off a cliff. Anyway, there’s some background that led to my drawing this cartoon.
Manifesto Items #10. by David Lasky. self-published. Seattle, 2020. 60pp. $10.
When I find a worthy subject, I’ll add a dash or two of me into the mix. In this case, I present to you an ongoing series by cartoonist David Lasky. What I like about it is that I see some of my own passions. I guess, off and on, I’ve been following Lasky’s work for over twenty years. He’s a dedicated guy and he’s created some wonderful moments in comics through his various comic books and mini-comics. Where Lasky has trodded, so have I. The indie landscape is a very rocky road where you keep on truckin’ and, maybe with a little help from your friends, see what you can get.
Paul Gauguin used to ask, “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” These are the sort of big questions that pepper a lot of indie comics and done well a la Lasky. The Lasky universe is one that nibbles at a vast array of mystery and wonder and then finds a spot or two to feast upon and then dutifully report back to the hive. It’s a groovy gentle world of observations, hearty calls to action, and melancholic ruminations. Of course, we want to see more of this in comics but maybe some readers don’t even know what they’re missing until they stumble upon a Lasky gem. Well, with all that said, this latest Lasky work collects a bunch of quirky and offbeat content, as I’ve just suggested.
We begin with, well, it’s a little hard to say. It’s more like one little thing happens that leads to another slightly bigger little thing: a collage poem starts off with Bela Logosi and then gives way to a homage to comics and a tribute to the late great Tom Spurgeon; one exquisite corpse bends to another; tributes to cats lead to tributes to The Beatles; and, as we move along, some diehard fans might spot items that have appeared elsewhere like a page from an anthology about the US border patrol or comics from a workshop at Seattle’s Hugo House.
Walt Whitman a la Lasky
And then we’re hit with something special, like Lasky’s ode to Walt Whitman. Some of Lasky’s favorite, and best, work is literary adaption. For this collection, he provides a generous stretch of comics from Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”
A saucer in search of a cup.
Taken in as a whole, the slow rhythm of alternating images, the searching quality of it all, disparate items, enigmatic and uncanny, it all adds up to a David Lasky experience. It’s like mashing up sleepy Garrison Keillor with a touch of sly David Lynch. Case in point: A Lasky comic that depicts someone looking amused upon seeing flying saucers but actually more disturbed when they beam up her cup of coffee. I suspect that Lasky was zoning into a stream-of-consciousness experiment–his mind zeroed in on saucers and couldn’t resist matching it up with a cup. I’ll have to ask David about it the next chance I get or he is more than welcome to leave an answer in the comments section. Your observations are also most welcome.
So, as I say, this is weird art for art’s sake, good ole fashioned unapologetically offbeat stuff. The humor is so dry that a slight wind could knock it over. But that’s what makes it so distinctive. That is what I am attracted to since my humor can veer off into very dry territory. Maybe David and I have that in common. We’re both rather sensitive souls I’ll have you know. Maybe it’s something in the Pacific Northwest air that we’ve been breathing into our lungs all of these overcast years. Something about it that compels a cartoonist to match a flying saucer with a cup of coffee.
Harvey Kurtzman is a god. Of course, you can’t please everyone. Panel excerpt from HATE by Peter Bagge, 1991.
Comedy is not pretty. Isn’t that what Steve Martin concluded oh so many years ago? Well, it’s true. If humor has anything to do with revealing the truth, then it’s gonna get ugly. Harvey Kurtzman knew something about this too and was revered by other cartoonists moving up the ranks, like Peter Bagge. And, if you study Peter Bagge’s work, you’ll see the Kurtzman influence, sometimes subtle and sometimes in a direct reference.
From “What’s in a Name?” Written by Peter Bagge. Drawn by Danny Hellman.
A sample of Harvey Kurtzman: Mad #4, 1953
One of the darkest and most hilarious bit of comics I’ve read is a collaboration between Bagge as writer and Danny Hellman as illustrator. The piece is about a meeting between young aspiring cartoonist Peter Bagge and the legendary cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman. With a cutting New York sense of humor, Kurtzman is brutally depicted as a bitter doddering old man. The punchline, as it were, states that Kurtzman’s erratic behavior may have been caused by the fact he was dying from cancer; and he did indeed die not long after this infamous meeting!
Ah, and then there’s the R. Crumb influence–and that certainly makes sense, if you know anything about Peter Bagge’s work. My goal in this interview was simply to explore the process with a masterful cartoonist and hopefully end up having asked the right questions. I think what really stands out for me from our conversation is that Bagge’s outlook is that of a highly irreverent individual, as well as a sensitive and thoughtful person. So, basically, Bagge possesses a sensible mix of character traits that most of us can relate to. That is part of the magic of Hate’s main character. Everyone can relate to something about Buddy Bradley, the guy who wants to get along, but not too much!
A sample of Peter Bagge: Hate #16, 1994.
Well, that gives you an idea of Bagge’s offbeat sense of humor. Comedy, the very best and most cutting, is definitely not pretty. And so it was my goal to explore this subject with Bagge, and many other related matters! I hope you enjoy the video interview, which you can access by clicking to it down below. Peter Bagge’s work is most definitely adult fare and in the best spirit of the term. It is dark, sophisticated, and meant to elicit a world-weary cackle of recognition. Enjoy!
The Complete Hate from Fantagraphics is available November 24, 2020. Book One (HATE 1-15) focuses on young Buddy Bradley’s travails in early 1990s Seattle. Book Two (HATE 16-30) focuses on Buddy and his girlfriend Lisa Leavenworth’s move back to Buddy’s native New Jersey (and a switch from black-and-white to full color). Book Three (HATE Annuals 1-9) features the final arc of Bagge’s magnum opus, as Buddy and Lisa become parents (and buy a garbage dump). Each volume, along with the slipcase, contains new covers, endpapers, title pages, and other surprises by Bagge.
Friends: The Official Cookbook. by Amanda Yee. Insight Editions. 2020. 176pp, $29.99. And $44.99 for the GIFT SET which includes a Friends apron.
Did you know there’s an official Friends cookbook? It’s not directly in response to the unofficial Friends cookbook but, let me tell you, that one was very disappointing for one particular reason. That book didn’t incorporate the show enough into the recipes! Wow! You would think that’s TV fandom 101! Of course, you must make such a cookbook relevant to the show you are paying tribute to, right? Am I right? Of course, I’m right! Seriously, this book is the real deal, a perfect mix of pop culture and foodie goodness. And now you can get the book or the special gift set which includes a Friends apron!
Friends. Friends. And More Friends. Can’t Have Enough Friends!
I don’t know about you but I always felt there was a bit of a subversive thing going on with Friends. It was, or it seemed to me, pretty self-concious that it was treading water, a sitcom for the post-modern era that really had nothing new to offer so it would revel in that fact and not in an ultra-clever way like Seinfeld but in a mainstream way, in a way that it could have its cake and eat it too. In other words, it wasn’t out to make a statement or even be especially funny. To me, Friends was amusing, meant to be utterly escapist and fluffy comfy. And so it all adds up, in a weird but fun way, as a show waiting to be turned into a cookbook! Anyway, the book is jam packed with quite an assortment of very practical recipes with intelligent tie-ins to specific episodes. You could actually give this to someone and they could very easily live off eating food prepared from this book for a year, maybe indefinitely. It’s that good a cookbook! Who knew, right?
Definitely Not Vegetarian Lasagna! Yes!
Of course, I gave this a try!
Now, this is one serious cookbook filled with one recipe after another! Check out Definitely Not Vegetarian Lasagna! Yes! Well, of course, I had to give this a try and, if I do say so myself, I achieved excellent results!
And get a Friends apron too!
And, of course, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, this book has got you covered with a sumptuous holiday dinner recipe. Perfect! For this post, I was a bit less elaborate but not by much. So, yeah, I chose to make a lasagna dish from the book to start with and I encourage you to do the same. It actually was a lot of fun and I’m not exactly new to cookbooks. I’ve tried my fair share of them. I think the book, like the show, is oddly amusing while also quite attractive. The layout and design is very upbeat and engaging. Any fan of the show would find that book and show are in sync. That said, I highly recommend you get yourself a copy. And, if you were wondering, yes, Insight Editions does have other pop culture themed cookbooks for you to choose from. Just go visit Insight Editions right here.
Insight Editions’ Friends: The Official Cookbookis one of the bestselling cookbooks of the year. Now, fans of Friends can enjoy the book’s 100+ recipes and an exclusive, new-to-market Friends Apron in the FRIENDS: THE OFFICIAL COOKBOOK GIFT SET(Insight Editions; 11/10). The gift set is on-sale today!
The Official Friends Cookbook. New for 2020, Friends: The Official Cookbook is the freshest officially endorsed Friends cookbook and features dozens of full-color images and delicious recipes from the beloved hit show. With over 100 recipes, readers will learn how to master Monica’s Friendsgiving Feast, Rachel’s Meat Trifle, Just for Joey Fries, Chandler’s “Milk That You Chew,” Phoebe’s favorite Faceless Foods, and of course, Ross’s Moist Maker.
Gift Set Includes Exclusive Turkey Apron. Not available anywhere else, this high-quality apron features adjustable straps, a large front pocket, and Monica’s iconic holiday turkey recreated in glorious full color.
There’s a scene in The Big Chill, the landmark 1983 movie about the sighs and regrets of the Baby Boom generation, when the Kevin Kline character says, “They don’t make music like that anymore.” The Boomer group of friends have been reunited and they’re listening to Motown hits. In fact, The Big Chill soundtrack led to a big revival of interest in some great classics from the ’60s. Well, the comics of James Kochalka could be one of the beloved artifacts to Generation X, a generation smart about a lot of things, like nuance and understatement. So, the legend goes, James Kochalka walked into the offices of Top Shelf Productions stark naked and screamed that he was an elf and began scrawling a series of simple but compelling drawings on the walls with his own excrement. After the Top Shelf top guns, Chris Staros and Brett Warnock, had subdued him, they surveyed the damage and concluded they had a wild genius on their hands. Well, maybe I just made that up but, no doubt, Top Shelf and Kochalka did form a very tight bond and you can argue that the very best results were comics dealing with an epic battle between monkeys and robots. It was, to be sure, in sync with a zeitgeist and something that has stood the test of time.
An epic battle between monkey and robot.
Monkeys and robots do not mix. Monkeys are real. Robots are artificial. When robots and monkeys collide, blood will shed. Cartoonist James Kochalka was thinking about monkeys and robots and collisions during a house party some twenty years ago. As he puts it, he was just having fun when he was struck by the idea to take his monkey and robot thoughts over to a drawing board. The first collection of Monkey vs. Robot comics was Published by Top Shelf Productions in 2000. The rest, as they say, is history: indeed, the book had a huge impact on the indie culture of the time. This was well after the game changer boom of The Simpsons; well within the era of the alternative comics boom; and well before the expansion of the twee attitude in youth culture we’ve seen in such places as Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. For a golden span of time, if you were looking for a comic with a cute aesthetic but also packed a nice punch, then the go-to comics were coming from Kochalka.
Simian vs. Mother
Now you can own the Monkey vs. Robot collection which includes the original graphic novel with its sequels. Having just read the whole book, I am pleased to revisit the original and compare it with the whole vision. It strikes me how the whole Monkey vs. Robot saga reads like a true epic! These comics are far too sophisticated to be considered only to be storyboards for some amazing animated feature. Instead, while the comics do make me wonder about an animated version, the quality of movement and pacing keeps me moving along from panel to panel in the unique way that only the comics medium can provide.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
James Kochalka rose from the ranks of the indie crowd to follow through on his specific vision. While there have been many imitators, his comics are the real deal, authentic and resonant, like his sharing something personal with the reader. Kochalka tapped into a way of drawing that reads as something unique to that artist, like his own handwriting. Many aspiring cartoonists put the cart before the horse, feel entitled to be recognized as cartoonists, but forget to create anything compelling. The secret to how Kolchalka makes his deceivingly simple artwork come to life is the fact that he’s invested the time and effort to bring his comics to life. So, you end up with elves you care about as well as monkeys, and even robots, you care about! That said, this 20th anniversary collection is truly epic!
Monkey vs Robot: The Complete Epic is available as of October 27, 2020. For more details, visit Top Shelf Productions right here.