Virtual Memories Show 272:
Irvin Ungar

“My rabbinic training taught me: care about who you are and who your people are, and use the best of that tradition to make the world a better place. Szyk was an artist who articulated all those values.”

Arthur Szyk was once one of the most popular artists in America, but after his untimely death his art vanished from public discourse. How did Szyk achieve and lose such renown? Irvin Ungar has spent the last 25 years championing Szyk’s work, most recently publishing the National Jewish Book Award-winning Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art. We talk about his introduction to Szyk, the impact of Szyk’s work in his native Poland, the UK and the US, the way Szyk’s work in so many forms — illuminated manuscripts, Persian miniatures, political cartooning, and more — may have contributed to his posthumous decline, and why Syzk’s Haggadah is like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. We also get into Irv’s dayenu moments promoting Szyk’s legacy, the curious story of how Irv entered the rabbinate as an alternative to serving in Vietnam, left to become an antiquarian bookseller, and how his rabbinic training let him recognize Arthur Szyk as an upstanding man. Give it a listen! And go buy Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art!

(Check out some of Szyk’s art at szyk.com)

“Szyk wanted to use his art to move history from one period to another, from the 13th century to the 20th, through the use of illumination.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Irvin Ungar, a former pulpit rabbit and antiquarian bookseller, has devoted the past quarter-century to scholarship relating to illustrator Arthur Szyk. He has curated numerous Szyk exhibitions worldwide, including those at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Deutsches Historiches Museum in Berlin, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Library of Congress, and the New York Historical Society. He is the author of the National Jewish Book award winning Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art, publisher of the limited edition of The Szyk Haggadah, and producer of the documentary film Soldier in Art: Arthur Szyk.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at a rental apartment on the Upper West Side on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Ungar by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 258:
Willard Spiegelman

“When you review old pieces, you have a double-sided response: On the one hand, it’s ‘Gosh, how was I so smart? How could I write such a beautiful sentence?’ On the other hand, it’s ‘Gosh, what a piece of crap! How I could I be so banal, so jejune, so ignorant?’ The combination of legitimate pride and legitimate embarrassment is a standard one.”

Critic and essayist Willard Spiegelman returns to the show to talk about his new book, If You See Something, Say Something: A Writer Looks at Art (SMU Press), collecting his art reviews from the Wall Street Journal. We get into the notion of legacy after his retirement from 45 years of teaching, then tackle the process of learning to look at paintings, his favorite museums, the question of whether Hockney’s happiness makes him less of an artistic genius than grim/tormented artists, whether one should buy art to match one’s furniture, his love of Marfa, TX, the differences between being a pilgrim and a tourist, the role of curiosity as a remedy for boredom, the challenge of editing a literary magazine in this day and age, whether he’s a role model to younger gay people, the first time he had a student who was the child of one of his first students (that is, when he realized he was getting old), and more! Give it a listen! And go buy If You See Something, Say Something!

“One of the things I’m proud of is that, as a teacher, I’m still learning from teachers. Not university teachers, but dance teachers, swimming instructors, yoga teachers. When you hear somebody putting you through your paces, you learn how they teach.”

“Stoner is not a book to give to a man who has just retired from being an English teacher after 45 years. I was on the train, reading the last 30-40 pages, and I was in tears. I was so glad there were few people on the train with me to see me embarrassing myself.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Willard Spiegelman recently retired from his role as the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where since 1971 he taught generations of students how to read, to write, and to think. From 1984 until 2016, he was also the editor in chief of Southwest Review. He has written many books and essays about English and American poetry. For more than thirty years, he has been a regular contributor to the Leisure and Arts pages of The Wall Street Journal. He has two previous appearances on The Virtual Memories Show in 2013 and 2016.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Willard’s NYC apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Spiegelman by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 250:
Dave McKean

“Everything is in the words. Now matter how many pretty pictures I put in a comic, it’s never going to be worth anything without the words.”

Artist, writer, illustrator, cartoonist, designer, director, composer, and all-around creative force Dave McKean joins the show to talk about how the story dictates the medium, why comics-making shouldn’t be taught, the balancing act of collaborative and solo work, the missed opportunity of Tundra Publishing, his forays into theater and film with the WildWorks team and how they taught him to give up his control-freak nature, the influence of his jazz background, why it’s okay sometimes to judge a book by its cover, the problem-solving nature of a long walk, how the early loss of his father plays out in his work, his tendency to start every project with a complete failure of confidence, and the confluence of forces that led to his amazing new book, Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash! Give it a listen! And go buy Black Dog!

“Up until about 12 years old, I thought comics just arrived on the newsstand from heaven or somewhere. I didn’t realize people made a living from doing these things.”

And what the heck: here’s a load of quotes from the episode:

“I can’t do a half a life. I have to spend all my time doing the things that I feel passionate about.”

“I fell in love with the process of not being in control.”

“I think I went into art school in love with the surface of things, and then realized how limited that is.”

“Record covers were like a little art gallery in your own home.”

“I felt like whoever wrote the Photoshop manual was writing it directly for me!”

“There’s a degree of inspiration in art, but I’m very interested in paying attention to what provokes that inspiration.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Dave McKean has illustrated many award-winning books and graphic novels, including The Magic of Reality (by Richard Dawkins), What’s Welsh for Zen: The Autobiography of John Cale, The Savage, Slog’s Dad, and Mouse Bird Snake Wolf (by David Almond), The Homecoming (by Ray Bradbury), Varjak Paw and Phoenix (by SF Said), The Fat Duck Cookbook and Historic Heston (by Heston Blumenthal), Rolling Stones: Voodoo lounge, Batman: Arkham Asylum (by Grant Morrison), and a series of works by Neil Gaiman, including Violent Cases, Signal to Noise, Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and Mr. Punch. He also contributed all the cover illustrations and design for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series of graphic novels.

Dave wrote and illustrated Cages, which won the Harvey, Ignatz, International Alph-Art and La Pantera awards. His collection of short comics, Pictures That Tick, won the Victoria & Albert Museum Illustrated Book Of The Year Award, and many of his books are in the V&A Museum.

He has created hundreds of CD, book, and comic book covers, has created advertising campaigns for Kodak, Sony, Nike, BMW Mini, and Firetrap, and has produced conceptual design work for two of the Harry Potter films, Elton John & Bernie Taupin’s Lestat musical, and Lars von Trier’s House of Zoon.

Dave has written or cowritten, edited, designed and directed several short films and three feature films: MirrorMask, The Gospel Of Us, and Luna.

He created and performed a musical/narrative/film work called 9 Lives, which premiered at the Sydney Opera House, and has since collaborated on the multimedia works Wolf’s Child, and An Ape’s Progress.

He has exhibited in Europe, America and Japan, and is represented in private and public collections. He is currently acting as Director of Story for Heston Blumenthal’s three-star Fat Duck restaurant, finishing a collection of silent-movie-inspired paintings to be collected in a book called Nitrate, and working on Caligaro, a new graphic novel, as well as several other film and book projects. His most recent book is Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Olympus Club in London on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. B/W photo of Mr. McKean by me. It’s on my instagram. Drawing-board photo of Mr. McKean by Clare Haythornthwaite.

Virtual Memories Show 240:
John Crowley & Michael Meyer

“Writing has made people feel unsafe and uncomfortable since, oh, the Bible.”

One of my favorite authors, John Crowley, returns to the show to talk about his “final dress novel,” the wonderful Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr (Saga Press). We talk about the sense of his various endings, writing a talking animal book that’s actually about an old man dying, the challenges of reaching a broader audience and why he returned to fantastika, his retirement from teaching at Yale and his thoughts on how students have changed, his Catholic upbringing and how it informed his writing, the pressure of new rules and norms on writers, the radical challenge of sympathy, and more. But first, I call Michael Meyer to talk about his new book, The Road to Sleeping Dragon: Learning China from the Ground Up (Bloomsbury). We get into what Americans really need to know about China, how the country has changed in the 20+ years that he’s been working and living there (on and off), and why Pittsburgh is the Beijing of the US. Give it a listen! And go buy Ka & The Road to Sleeping Dragon!

“We will figure out how to write exactly what we want to write, but within a coded system where we can speak to one another as adults, while people who want to check it against the present rules can read it that way, but we’ll know better.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guests

A two-time winner of a Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing, Michael Meyer is also the recipient of the Whiting Writers’ Award for nonfiction and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His stories have appeared in The New York Times, Time, Smithsonian, Slate, the Financial Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and on This American Life. The author of The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed and In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, Meyer teaches nonfiction writing at the University of Pittsburgh. His new book is The Road to Sleeping Dragon: Learning China from the Ground Up.

John Crowley was born in the appropriately liminal town of Presque Isle, Maine in 1942, his father then an officer in the US Army Air Corps. He grew up in Vermont, northeastern Kentucky and (for the longest stretch) Indiana, where he went to high school and college. He moved to New York City after college to make movies and found work in documentary films, an occupation he still pursues. He published his first novel The Deep in 1975, and his fifteenth volume of fiction, Four Freedoms, in 2009. Since 1993 he has taught creative writing at Yale University. In 1992 he received the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 2006 he was awarded the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement. He finds it more gratifying that almost all his work is still in print.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation with Mr. Crowley was recorded at the Boston Marriott in Quincy on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC.

Virtual Memories Show 226:
Joyce Farmer

“The ’60s were a time of explosive interaction and learning of radical ideas. The thing was, I thought they were sensible, not radical.”

Joyce Farmer joins the show to talk about her transition from housewife to underground comics legend, the adventure of disposing of 40,000 copies of her comic when the state of California was trying to pinch her and her partner, traveling the world and landing in Greece, making Special Exits (Fantagraphics), the heartbreaking comic memoir about the death of her folks after a decade or two away from cartooning, and why she could swear and curse just as much as her male underground peers. Give it a listen! And go buy Special Exits!

“I’m not interested in doing something if it isn’t groundbreaking.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

Lots of ways to follow The Virtual Memories Show! iTunes, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Joyce Farmer, born in 1938 in Los Angeles, is a pioneering underground comics cartoonist. She and Lyn Chevli wrote and drew controversial feminist humor, starting in 1972, publishing the titles Pandora’s Box, Abortion Eve, and Tits and Clits Comix. Farmer has also been published in Wimmen’s Comix, Mama! Dramas, Itchy Planet, Energy Comics, Zero Zero, and the notorious women’s sex comic Wet Satin. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including Austria and Italy. Her most recent book is Special Exits.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Farmer’s house on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Ms. Farmer by me. It’s on my instagram.