Virtual Memories Show 327:
Karl Stevens

“I wanted to be an artist but I didn’t know how, and comics were so accessible that I latched onto that.”

It may be a fine line between comics and art, but Karl Stevens‘ fine line crosses effortlessly between them. Karl & I talk about how his realistic drawing style and watercolors treat comics as fine art, and how that visual style complements his naturalist stories, especially in his recent collection, The Winner (Retrofit Comics). We get into his gateway from superheroes to art-comics, his recent commission to make comics that accompanied a Botticcelli exhibition at the Gardener Museum in Boston, his work as a guard in that same museum, the challenge of drawing his wife, the challenge of getting paid as a freelancer, and whether he regrets his his teenaged decision to devote his life to comics. We also talk about his upcoming book of cat comics, drawing gags for the New Yorker, being WAY too high to meet your idols, visiting the Words & Pictures Museum in ’90s Northampton (a.k.a. Comics-Mecca), his road not taken with Dave Sim, how short strips and gag panels have made it tougher for him to write longer stories, and plenty more! BONUS: You get the origin story of my friendship with Tom Spurgeon AND my recent crisis of faith! Give it a listen! And go buy The Winner!

“The way light hits objects is part of the story.”

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if you could make a comic that took the techniques of the dead painters I’d been studying?'”

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

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

About our Guest

Karl Stevens is a graphic novelist and painter. His first book, Guilty, was published in 2004 with a grant from the Xeric Foundation. He is also the author of Whatever (2008), The Lodger (A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist, 2010), Failure (2013) and The Winner (2018). His comic strips appeared in The Boston Phoenix between 2005 and 2012 until an incident with an advertiser resulted in the strip’s cancellation. The realist comic artist has also co-produced the Phoenix comic “Succe$$” with Gustavo Turner. In 2016 The Village Voice began running his cat comic strip “Penny”. Stevens’s work appears in select art galleries and he has published numerous cartoons in The New Yorker. He was recently commissioned to produce a comic to celebrate the Gardner Museum’s Botticcelli: Heroines and Heroes exhibition.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville 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 Karl by me. They’re on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 326:
Barbara Nessim

“I couldn’t imagine a more fulfilling life than being an illustrator and an artist and having people recognize and like my work for what it is.”

With a career in illustration and art stretching back to 1960, Barbara Nessim has been a trailblazer in multiple ways (albeit unintentionally). We talk about the 2013 retrospective of her work at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the process of seeing her oeuvre distilled by a curator, as well as her own 7-year project of archiving her work, and the role and rules of her decades-long sketchbook practice. We get into her pioneering work in computer art and her involvement in SIGGRAPH, her career drive and her “1 for them, 6 for myself” philosophy, her decision to take up pottery at 80, her Random Access Memories exhibition and its one-of-a-kind art-generator, what it was like working with Harvey Kurtzman for Esquire and on fumetto, her 65-year love affair with salsa and how she taught a bunch of illustration and design legends to dance, and how she may be the most well-adjusted, thankful and gracious artist I’ve ever met. Bonus: you get my oddball story of meeting Gary Panter in the ’90s! Give it a listen! And go buy Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life!

“Curators say they love working with me because I don’t have a big mouth.”

“When I see it, I don’t feel like my work has anything to do with me anymore; it’s like someone else did it.”

“I like the work I did in the past, but I don’t miss anything.”

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

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

About our Guest

A vital contributor and influential visionary in the world of art, Barbara Nessim has always been original in her thinking and unprecedented in her creativity. Inspired by her mother, a clothing designer, Barbara financed her studies at Pratt Institute by working as a freelance fashion illustrator, designing everything from shoes and apparel to textiles.

Recognized for her fresh approach to image-making, she was among the few female freelance illustrators of her time. In 1980, she embraced innovation and began using the computer to create published and personal imagery. Never short of inspiration, she attributes the ongoing creativity in her work to her fine training as an artist, and relies almost solely upon her sketchbooks to generate new ideas.

Nessim’s passion for her work and desire to bring more to her art set the stage for what would become a long and illustrious career that has inspired many others along the way. Her illustrations have appeared in our nation’s most prominent periodicals, from The New York Times to Rolling Stone, and her paintings and drawings have graced the walls of prominent museums and galleries around the globe including The Smithsonian Institution, The Victoria and Albert Museum, and The Louvre among others. She has also shared her gifts in the classroom as a mentor of aspiring artists at the School of Visual Arts and at Parsons/The New School for Design, where she served as Chair of the Illustration Department from 1992 to 2004.

Today, the artist focuses on the creation of large-scale works for public buildings, and continues to create personal art for exhibition in New York City and beyond. She’s on Instagram as barbaranessim.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Barbara’s studio 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 Barbara & her studio by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 325:
Boris Fishman

“Cooking is the only thing in my life that creates the same exalted transport that writing does.”

With his new memoir, Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (a Memoir with Recipes), author Boris Fishman explores his family’s Soviet Jewish legacy, his arc as a writer, and the glorious and varied meals that kept his family together from Minsk to Brighton Beach. We get into why creative nonfiction is his first passion (after publishing two novels), how he guaranteed his family’s disapproval by writing about them throughout his career, how he couldn’t leave Sovietness behind until he moved out of his parents’ home at 24 (despite emigrating from the USSR at 9), what he’d do if he quit the writing game, and why the recipes were the toughest part of Savage Feast. We also talk smack about certain books and authors, compare Malamud to Roth and Bellow, discuss the first (very not Jewish/not Russian) writer Boris became friends with, and explore the use of fiction to imagine alternate lives for oneself. Along the way, we make a life-changing pact, decide whether an MFA is worth pursuing, share book tour best practices, and conclude that Soviet Jewish guilt is exponentially more severe than Jewish guilt. It’s a whole lot of talk about books, food, and deracinated Jews! Give it a listen! And go buy Savage Feast!

“What makes me Soviet is not having spent my first 9 years in that country, but how many years I spent under my parents’ roof.”

“We read novels trying to sniff out what really happened, and we read memoirs what didn’t really happen.”

“I had this very smug idea that the recipes would be easy, because they didn’t involve creating sentences. I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

“The finality of one’s self can be devastating.”

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

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

About our Guest

Boris Fishman was born in Minsk, Belarus, and emigrated to the United States in 1988. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Travel + Leisure, the London Review of Books, New York magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian, among other publications. He is the author of the novels A Replacement Life, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and winner of the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal, and Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo, which was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He teaches in Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program and lives in New York City. His new book is the memoir, Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (a Memoir with Recipes).

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at my 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 me & Boris and b/w photo of Boris by me. It’s on my instagram. Nicer pic with brick wall by Stephanie Kaltsas.

Virtual Memories Show 324:
Bill Griffith Returns!

“I remember coming back from that first viewing of Freaks to my Brooklyn apartment and thinking, ‘I have to make art out of this somehow, but I don’t know how.'”

Who can top the memoir of his mother’s infidelity with the biography of a sideshow pinhead? Legendary cartoonist Bill Griffith, that’s who! Bill rejoins the show to talk about his new graphic biography, Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead (Abrams ComicArts), the empty nest syndrome that led him to dive into it right after finishing his first longform book, the challenges of separating fact from fiction in Schlitzie’s life, and how a 1963 viewing of Tod Browning’s movie Freaks changed Bill’s life forever and led him to create Zippy The Pinhead. We also get into Bill avoidance of cheap sentiment in the process of humanizing Schlitzie, the familial support network of sideshow folk, the decision by circus-owners to present to Schlitzie on stage as female, and how to answer the crucial question of whether sideshow work was exploitative. Along the way, we also get into Bill’s comics-making lessons, why Zippy is more about word-play (or word-jazz) than absurdity and non sequiturs, how that strip’s long stories fed into Bill’s book-length work, the biography of Nancy cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller he’s working on next (and why he’d like to do fiction for his 4th book), the riddle of his middle-of-the-night Post-Its, his dad’s very odd idea about keeping his son off skid row, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead!

“Art with a capital A is about self-expression; Comics with a capital C is about communication.”

“Zippy speaks a little like he’s playing a musical instrument.”

“I guess I’m a late-life graphic novelist.”

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

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

About our Guest

Bill Griffith is the creator of the syndicated daily comic strip Zippy. Griffith’s prolific output has been included in such publications as the Village Voice, National Lampoon, and the New Yorker. According to Bartlett, Griffith coined the popular phrase “Are we having fun yet?” He lives in Hadlyme, CT, and also Dingburg. His new book is Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at a Marriott in Toronto 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. Griffith by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 323:
Hugh Ryan

“I come to these stories in part because I’m trying to find myself.”

Let’s celebrate Pride Month with a conversation with Hugh Ryan, author of When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History! We talk about Brooklyn’s untold queer history and how it reflects the story of Brooklyn itself, the challenge of relating 19th century views of sexuality’s spectrum to a modern audience, and why his history began with Walt Whitman and ended a few years before Stonewall. We also get into the toughest part of his research, the best story that didn’t make it into the book, the commercial challenge of pitching a popular queer history, the accidental scoops he made by being the first person to explore this history, and how he wrote such long hours he broke his wrist. Oh, yeah, and he cringes over Naomi Wolf’s demolition and we share a laugh over his great story of the Coney Island impresario who threw a male beauty pageant in 1929 but had no idea what was in store. Give it a listen! And go buy When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History!

“One of the things I learned was how intimately connected queer history is with the history of prisons and policing in America.”

“I can’t write fiction because I have no imagination whatsoever. Everything has to have happened for me to write about it.”

“Having studied theory helped me understand what I was seeing, but having 20 years away from theory was more helpful for writing.”

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

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

About our Guest

Hugh Ryan is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn. He is the Founder of the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History, and sits on the boards of QED: A Journal in LGBTQ Worldmaking, and the Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Tin House, Buzzfeed, the LA Review of Books, Out, and many other venues. He is the author of When Brooklyn Was Queer, and is the recipient of the 2016-2017 Martin Duberman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a 2017 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Nonfiction Literature, and a 2018 residency at The Watermill Center. He is on Twitter as hugh_ryan and on Patreon.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Ryan’s office 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 me & Mr. Ryan by me. It’s on my instagram. Solo/flannel photo by Jia Oak Baker.