TCJ 300 Conversations: Art Spiegelman & Kevin Huizenga

Posted by on December 7th, 2009 at 12:05 AM

 

Huizenga:
I just want to say that I know I interrupted Art back there and that I’m sorry, and I didn’t mean to interrupt — I interrupted you in the middle of saying something, when you said the word “repressed.”

Spiegelman:
Oh, I was just saying in terms of what remains to be done — it’s the rest of that spectrum that has to do with finding ways to express something emotionally charged without falling into bathos — it’s difficult, you know?

Huizenga:
Yeah, I think it’s that, well on the one hand, it’s the huge influence of Jimmy Corrigan that may have upset some of the balance in the Force, you know?

Groth:
But that less repressive expression is being done. It may not be being done in sufficient quantity to satisfy you.

Spiegelman:
It’s not really about quantity; it’s just that I think we’re looking at what will — what can still happen. There are areas that aren’t being poked at the same way that also can give a yield. We’re just at the beginnings of a place where one can do comics about whatever one wants to make them about and in whatever way one wants to make them and what will give a real charge and their charge — you know, life’s full of landmines, not just streetlights.

Huizenga:
Yeah, and going back to Ware, there definitely are a lot of crazy graphic dynamics in his one-pagers and mixed in with the quiet fiction. That doesn’t always get emphasized.

Spiegelman:
And the fact that he’s constantly striving to have some emotional content in the work is actually part of what’s keeping it so lively. Two artists that we haven’t mentioned and, for me, should be mentioned in this conversation is trying to figure out where Dan Clowes is heading, because they cross-fertilize very well in their Chicago moments, I see the ways they influenced each other that are still playing themselves out. Dan certainly picked up a lot of design chops and graphic things through that, but also brought a narrative concern to the foreground that makes his work remain very interesting.

Huizenga:
A literary modernism.

Spiegelman:
Yeah, and certain kinds of indy film are part of that vocabulary, not just because he’s interested in movies, but in terms of the narrative and visual flows that that offers. The other person who’s coming to my mind a lot these days is Kim Deitch, because he’s marching to his own drummer in a really interesting set of ways. They’re not coming from that — I’m sorry if I was too acerbic about it — that Protestant place. It’s still informed by that goofy exuberance that came with Fiction House comics or something.

Groth:
And you’re basically saying, Art, that you think we need more of that, or a greater variety of that?

Spiegelman:
Well, it’s like, where will things land? I dunno, but I’m at least as interested in the things that are relatively unpoked at, that have to do with different balances of word and picture, maybe, on the one extreme, something like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, and on the other extreme, something that moves into the places that Phoebe Gloeckner’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl moves between prose and pictures has also got something. All of it is interesting; I’m just saying that I’m not sure the next 30 years will be “graphic novels” and I’m not sure that they will move toward naturalism as they mature. One thing that I remember Chris saying at some point was about how stuff was moving toward daily life because it was an antidote to all that superhero stuff. That’s true, but it’s not an endpoint, it’s part of a longer conversation.

05-39


From Maus II, ©1991 Art Spiegelman.


Huizenga:
I guess there’s daily-life stuff, and then there’s fantasy stuff. I’m sure there are other choices [laughter] — no, I know there are, but I’m just wondering how you would describe the other ways to go. Obviously, there’s drama, like there are on television shows where there are multiple plotlines and many characters, histories —

Spiegelman:
Well, let’s stop with the word “fantasy” because one thing that comes to me when we’re using shorthand is steroids and swords —

Huizenga:
And science fiction. I don’t think it’s bad, or anything; I’m just thinking of that as a particular kind of storytelling where it’s a portal to another world with different rules, and then, within that world, there’s dramatic conflict and resolution.

Spiegelman:
You’re just describing what people tend to call Aristotelian narrative.

Huizenga:
Right, but in a fantasy setting, rather than an everyday setting.

Spiegelman:
But that’s exactly what I was trying to veer us away from: the notion of fantasy as meaning that, because fantasy includes — What’s Kafka and Borges, if not fantasy?

Huizenga:
Yeah, I’m not using fantasy in any kind of negative way, I’m just using it in a neutral way. You were saying, there’s one or the other, but you wanted to move toward something else. We’re just talking about great literature, I guess.

Spiegelman:
Yeah, literature, which has a wide spectrum and that some things will feel more naturalistic, some things will feel more filled with artifice, some things will feel like watching somebody’s inner life explode out — whatever idiom they work in — and those things are now within our possible sets of ambitions. My personal struggle now is that I keep going back to and am unable to resolve what the hell “fiction” might be for me. It’s not the natural place that I trope toward.

Huizenga:
That’s strange to me. I guess I would say, well, what do you want to write about? You know what I mean?

Spiegelman:
Yeah, the subject matter changes and it’s usually that what I want to write about is what I can’t shake any other way.

05-40


From Or Else #2, ©2004 Kevin Huizenga.


Huizenga:
And it’s a problem to turn that into fiction?

Spiegelman:
Well, maybe. It’s easier for me if I stay close to what would be called autobio, even though there are passages and sequences and things that I do that are hardly naturalistic. The sign system, just to impart ideas and information that wouldn’t be called fiction will be more likely called “essay form” or something, you know?

Huizenga:
Yeah, with diagrams.

Spiegelman:
Yeah, I was interested in finding out that you had a background in infographics of some kind.

Huizenga:
Yeah, I worked at a company and we did infographics for software companies and that got me really interested in diagrams as a concept and how that can tie into comics.

Spiegelman:
Yeah, it’s hard to do that well. Like, all of a sudden that 9/11 comic book came to mind, the one that took the report and —

Huizenga:
I didn’t look at it.

Spiegelman:
Oh God! [Laughter.]

Huizenga:
It’s like anything, there’s good and there’s bad.

Spiegelman:
Oh yeah, and it’s not infographics, it’s just trying to figure out, “What on earth do we draw a picture of here? I know: We have a Presidential seal we can use for this panel and fit another paragraph in.” [Laughter.]

Huizenga:
Well, I think nonfiction comics are difficult to do for the same reasons that fiction comics are hard, or anything.

Spiegelman:
It’s very interesting to me, but I think the nonfiction side of the bookstore is probably more active than the fiction side of the bookstore, you know? A lot of people are willing to go out and try to get information from a book than get one more story, even if there are those 10 best-selling authors that can do that.

Huizenga:
I think most people come to nonfiction books with different expectations, though. I think we’re willing to forgive things in nonfiction books that we’re not willing to forgive in a novel. If it’s not really as tight and as perfect as we would like, real life can still make for some amazing reading. And with the right research, I don’t think it’s that hard to turn up some weird, amazing stuff to write about.

Spiegelman:
One thing I really loved was that David Foster Wallace collection of his nonfiction essays [Consider the Lobster]. I thought that was so great because it brought all of the arsenal that one would use to create the world of a novel, the kind of writing that one would only hope for in novels and then was applying it to a porn convention in Las Vegas or to a lobster festival in New England.

Groth:
Isn’t that just an extension of New Journalism, though?

Spiegelman:
Yeah, it is, and maybe New Journalism is what all journalism is becoming in the age of the blogger. But David Foster Wallace approached his new journalism with all the mastery of a first-rate novelist.

Huizenga:
There was that New Yorker article about him after his suicide, where it said something along the lines of that he didn’t like to write nonfiction because it was too easy. It came so easily to him. I thought that was such a strange — I guess I can understand, you should always be suspicious when things are too easy, but at the same time, if something’s going well, why not — I dunno, it’s sad.

Spiegelman:
Huh. I guess when I looked at those essays, I saw them as an attempt to be a writer who could no longer pretend he was in the world of literary masterpieces, that the moment for Joycean creation had past; that he was writing after the moment where one can expect that patience from a reader required for Infinite Jesting, and he wanted to see if he could get all his big themes into these small essay-sized containers. I love that Consider the Lobster book.

Huizenga:
Yeah, I just meant that he struggled so much with his novel that he had been writing.

Spiegelman:
Well, it’s part of what we’re talking about with the form when we’re shying away from talking about what it means to still be working for print versus working on a screen and how that’ll all shake out, you know? That ambition — that could have been the norm for somebody born a couple of generations before me — of trying to make that novel be one that contains the entire world in it, is less likely to find a recipient in the age where everything moves so fast than it could earlier in the century. In some ways, the graphic novel is the last place one can hope to apply this and still find a constituency who are willing to run with it. At the same time it makes me go, “Yeah, and that’s why short-form comics have a future, as well, because there is a reason to encapsulate and compress so that something great can be said in an aphoristic length.”

Groth:
Of course, look at manga.

Spiegelman:
Well, there’s that…

Huizenga:
Manga will destroy us all, and so will the Internet.

Spiegelman:
Well, it makes everything else very particularized. Dan Clowes remarked that because comics take so long to make, because you have to stick with an idea for so long to give it form, it encourages layers of thought, and in that sense, it makes use of its existence on paper. The fact that when you’re passing somebody something that’s on paper, you’re giving them something, quite literally, substantial to contend with — it has substance, it’s not just a flickering moment on a screen, so you’re asked not to just take it in and move on, but to linger with it.

Huizenga:
Like an article in a magazine that has been written and rewritten and gone over by an editor and a proof-checker and a fact-checker as opposed to a blog entry or a — forgive me — tweet.

Spiegelman:
Yeah, I’m sure there’ll be a master of the Twitter haiku eventually, but I think there is something that one gets from the process of reworking that comes with comics and also of rereading that comes with the act of reading paper.

Groth:
I think it’s called “thinking.”

Spiegelman:
Well, it’s certainly a different way of thinking than whatever the hell is going on with these young whippersnappers now.

Huizenga:
Yeah, get off my lawn! [Laughter.]

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