“As I neared the end of profiling these six people, I started to suffer separation anxiety. I’d gotten to know them, I’d gotten involved in their lives. I’d gone with them to jazz clubs, and to the podiatrist.”
He is the author of two previous books: Hip: The History (HarperCollins, 2004), and Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They’re Not What You Think) (Viking, 2007). Before joining The Times, Mr. Leland was a senior editor at Newsweek, editor in chief at Details, music critic at Newsday and an original columnist at SPIN magazine. Mr. Leland is a graduate of Columbia College and a dropout from the Monster Factory, a school for aspiring professional wrestlers. He did not last long, but he got a story.
“What’s easier now is that I know the approach I need to take. What’s harder is coming up with ideas.”
Legendary illustrator / designer / artist Seymour Chwast joins the show to talk about what it means to continue beyond “legendary” status. We get into his 60-plus-year career and why he can’t slow down (much less retire), the impact of Push Pin Studios, the (de-)evolution of commercial art, his mutant hybrid of typography and design, the process of overcoming the anxiety that Saul Steinberg made all the great work already, the immediate gratification of woodcuts, the reason he makes classic literary adaptations, his interest in different religions’ notions of Hell, how a gay dance instructor helped him avoid the draft for the Korean war, and more! Then, our very first Virtual Memories Show guest, Ann Rivera, drops in on the way home from MLA 2018 to talk about the future of the humanities, her love for Pete Bagge’s bio of Zora Neale Hurston, whether students should be seen as consumers or constituents, the success of the Yale history department’s revamp, the role of the public intellectual, the problems with academia’s insularity, and the novel she returns to every year. Give it a listen!
“We’re in a state of insecurity because we’ve forgotten our public function. And a big part of that public function is to serve the people we’re working WITH, not speaking TO.”
Seymour Chwast is an American graphic designer known for his diverse body of work, and lasting influence on visual culture. Born in 1931, in New York City, Chwast attended Abraham Lincoln High School, before studying illustration and design at the Cooper Union. He is a founding partner of the celebrated Push Pin Studios, whose revolutionary work altered the course of contemporary graphic communication in the 1960s, and continues to affect the field of design worldwide. In 1985, the studio’s name was changed to The Pushpin Group, of which Chwast is the director.
Developing and refining his innovative approach to design over the course of six decades, Chwast’s clients include the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and Print, as well as leading corporations, advertising agencies, and publishers both in the United States and abroad. His designs and illustrations have graced posters, packaging, record covers, advertisements, and animated films, as well as corporate and environmental graphics. He has created backgrounds for productions of Candide at New York’s Lincoln Center, and for The Magic Flute, performed by the Philadelphia Opera Company. Chwast is the author of over 30 children’s books, four graphic novels, and several typefaces. Pushpin Editions, the studio’s publishing arm, produces books on the arts and graphic design.
His work has been exhibited in major galleries and museums in the United States, Europe, Japan, Brazil, and Russia, including the influential “The Push Pin Style,” a two-month retrospective at the Louvre’s famed Musée des Arts Décoratifs, and several one-man shows of his paintings, sculptures, and prints. His posters reside in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Library of Congress; and the Gutenberg Museum, Mainz. In 2015, Washington University’s Modern Graphic History Library acquired a complete collection of Chwast’s posters, which will soon be available for study by students and the general public.
A member of the Art Directors Hall of Fame, and a recipient of the AIGA Medal, Chwast also holds honorary Ph.D.s from Parsons School of Design and the Rhode Island School of Design. He is a frequent lecturer, with recent speaking engagements at Design Indaba, Offset, Point Design Conference, and the upcoming Typographics. Chwast resides in New York City with his wife, graphic designer and painter, Paula Scher.
Ann Rivera is an assistant professor of English at Villa Maria College in Buffalo, NY. She attended Hampshire College along with your humble podcast-host in the early ’90s, which may help explain our mutual wariness of postmodernism. She has made two previous appearances on The Virtual Memories Show, in 2013 and in our very first interview episode.
“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.”
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.
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.
It’s time for our year-end Virtual Memories Show tradition: The Guest List! I reached out to 2017’s pod-guests and asked them about the favorite book(s) they read in the past year, as well as the books or authors they’re hoping to read in 2018! Three dozen responded with a dizzying array of books. (I participated, too!) Just in time for you to make some Hanukkah and/or Christmas purchases, The Virtual Memories Show offers up a huge list of books that you’re going to want to read! Give it a listen, and get ready to update your wish lists!
This year’s Guest List episode features selections from 36 of our recent guests (and one bonus guest)! So go give it a listen, and then visit our special Guest List page where you can find links to the books and the guests who responded.
Also, check out the 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 editions of The Guest List for more great book ideas!
The guests who participated in this year’s Guest List are Pete Bagge, Kathy Bidus, Sven Birkerts, RO Blechman, Kyle Cassidy, Graham Chaffee, Howard Chaykin, Joe Ciardiello, John Clute, John Crowley, John Cuneo, Ellen Datlow, Samuel R. Delany, Nicholas Delbanco, Barbara Epler, Joyce Farmer, Sarah Williams Goldhagen, Paul Gravett, Liz Hand, Vanda Krefft, Michael Meyer, Cullen Murphy, Jeff Nunokawa, Mimi Pond, Eddy Portnoy, Keiler Roberts, Martin Rowson, Matt Ruff, Ben Schwartz, Vanessa Sinclair, Ann Telnaes, Michael Tisserand, Gordon Van Gelder, Shannon Wheeler, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, Matt Wuerker . . . and me, Gil Roth! Check out their episodes at our archives!
“The cartoonists in that community were very intent on making their own way in life with the tools they enjoyed working with, rather than being slotted into a pathway of someone else’s devising.”
This podcast has been to Hicksville and Coconino, so why not Fairfield County, CT? Cullen Murphy‘s new book, Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe (FSG), tells the story of Prince Valiant cartoonist John Cullen Murphy and the community of cartoonists, illustrators and comic-book artists who settled the southeastern corner of Connecticut in the ’50s and ’60s. Cullen & I talk about the confluence of factors that led to that community and his goal of preserving that golden age in this book, his realization that “cartoonist” was not a normal job for one’s dad, his own cartooning aspirations, what writing Prince Valiant with his father taught him about storytelling, how his upbringing around cartoonists affected how he worked with illustrators as a magazine editor, why his father stuck with realism and never worked in bigfoot style, and what Cartoon County taught him about himself & his family. Give it a listen! And go buy Cartoon County!
“When I was thinking of the audience for Cartoon County, I very much had my family in mind.”