Virtual Memories Show 348:
Steven Heller

“It’s a learning moment of how powerful symbols are and how powerful graphic design is.”

The Nazi swastika is a symbol of evil, but what about the pre-Nazi version of that symbol? With the publication of The Swastika and Symbols of Hate: Extremist Iconography Today (Allworth Press), Steven Heller returns to a topic he’s spent decades on: the power of graphic design and its abuses by Nazis and other totalitarian movements. He rejoins the show to talk about whether the swastika is redeemable to its original purpose as a Sanskrit Buddhist symbol, why it’s uniquely toxic in comparison to other national and religious symbols like the USSR’s hammer & sickle, and Steven’s biggest surprise when he began researching the swastika’s history. We get into how he teaches students about the ramifications of swastika-derived designs, how most Nazi, nationalist and white supremacist groups are variants of the Cross, his sadness about having to revise and reissue this book for our current era (but happiness about giving it a tighter, more effective layout), the ramifications of free speech vs. hate speech, and whether it’s okay to punch out a Nazi. We also tackle my experiences visiting Germany, the coding of modern-day white supremacists, the impact of graphic design and illustration on Resistance, Antifa’s unfortunate similarities to the SDS, and the question of whether he’s obsessed with hate imagery. (We also get into non-swastika stuff, like how he’s staying occupied while his Daily Heller blog is on hiatus, the role he played in giving a number of illustrators and cartoonists their first gigs, the memoir he’s working on, and why he’s not looking to be the subject of a documentary.) Give it a listen! And go buy The Swastika and Symbols of Hate: Extremist Iconography Today!

(And check out my 2018 conversation with Steven!)

“There are all these ambiguities, but at a certain point you have to put your foot down and say, ‘This is how I see it.'”

“Doing the daily blog, you get into a regular groove, and when you stop, you wonder how you can get back into the groove.”

“When I lecture these days, sometimes I feel like the students know more than I do.”

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

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About our Guest

Steven Heller, former art director of the New York Times Book Review, is the cochair of the School of Visual Arts MFA Design / Designer as Author + Entrepreneur Program. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than 190 books on design, social satire, and visual culture, including Iron Fists: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State. He wrote the Daily Heller for Print magazine and contributes to Design Observer, Eye, Wired, the New York Times, and the Atlantic. He is the recipient of two honorary doctorates, the AIGA Medal for Lifetime Achievement, and the Smithsonian National Design Award for “Design Mind.” He lives in New York City. His new book is The Swastika and Symbols of Hate: Extremist Iconography Today, from Allworth Press.

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

Virtual Memories Show 307:
Mort Gerberg

“People submitting comics to the New Yorker could expect a 98% rejection rate. What kind of a sane person would go into that field?! You have to have some sort of personality aberration to do this!”

On the eve of his exhibition at the New-York Historical Society (Feb. 15 to May 5, 2019), legendary cartoonist Mort Gerberg reflects on more than five decades of cartooning and art. We talk about his new collection, Mort Gerberg On The Scene: A 50-Year Cartoon Chronicle (Fantagraphics Underground), and what he learned in the process of culling the selection of his work for the show. We get into the roots of his groundbreaking civil rights cartoons (and how he got away with making weed jokes in the Saturday Evening Post in 1965), his pioneering comics reportage, how his spontaneity and energy secretly come from laziness, the challenge of drawing people on NYC subways, his intense focus on the business side of cartooning (and how it might be tied into his late start as a cartoonist), and how he tied vacations and even his honeymoon into work assignments. Give it a listen! And go buy Mort Gerberg On The Scene and check out the new exhibition of Mort’s work at the New-York Historical Society!

“When I would see something that looked like an injustice, I had to do something.”

“The first day I walked into the Saturday Evening Post, they told me the cartooning business was dying. That was 1962, and it’s been dying ever since.”

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, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Mort Gerberg is an award-winning, multi-genre cartoonist and author best known for his cartoons in The New Yorker, Playboy and many other magazines, and for Cartooning: The Art and the Business, considered “the most comprehensive, authoritative book on the subject.”

He has drawn three nationally-syndicated newspaper comic strips and has written, edited and/or illustrated 43 books for adults and children, including the best-selling More Spaghetti, I Say!.

Mort has been a content provider for television and online sites, posted daily topical cartoons, and performed a weekly on-camera-drawing feature. He also wrote and drew animated fables and did live cartoon election coverage. He has done on-the-scene sketch reportage for magazines and newspapers, covering national and international politics, sports and travel.

He taught cartooning for 15 years at Parsons School of Design, was a founder and president of the Cartoonists Guild, and is a member of the National Cartoonists Society. He was voted as Best Magazine Cartoonist of 2007 and 2008 by the National Cartoonists Society, and was a CCNY Commuications Hall of Fame Honoree in 2010.

Mort lives in New York Cit with his wife, Judith. He pitches for the New Yorker softball team, plays tennis and the piano, and sings in a choir.

He’s on Twitter and Instagram as mortgerberg.

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

Virtual Memories Show 271:
Christopher Brown

“I don’t think I would write the kind of science fiction I write if I hadn’t had the experience of eating deep-dish pizza with Strom Thurmond during the Clarence Thomas hearings.”

Science fiction author Christopher Brown joins the show to talk about his first novel, Tropic of Kansas (Harper Voyager), and the redemptive possibilities of dystopian fiction. We get into his SF pedigree, living in Austin and its influence on his ecological themes, the multivalence of Texas, his attempt at subverting the post-9/11 technothriller toward emancipatory ends, his background in business law and politics (and the role of power in both those milieux), his affinity for edgelands and the dysfunctions of time, the storytelling advantages of growing up in the midwest, his cynicism about humanity and optimism about nature, and working on Capitol Hill and realizing Ted Kennedy looked just like a certain Marvel character. Give it a listen! And go buy Tropic of Kansas!

“I’ve always been attracted to these little pockets of interstitial wilderness that still exist in the landscape.”

“Texas, more than any other part of the US, is manifestly colonized territory.”

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

Christopher Brown was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for the anthology Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including MIT Technology Review’s “Twelve Tomorrows,” The Baffler, and Stories for Chip. He lives in Austin, Texas. Tropic of Kansas is his first novel.

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 Standard in Cooper Square 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. Brown by me. It’s on my instagram.

Virtual Memories Show 245:
Eshkol Nevo & Paul Gravett

“I never think of writing as something where I have to achieve something or pass on a message.”

Israeli author Eshkol Nevo joins the show to talk about his new novel Three Floors Up (Other Press) and how he explained it to passport control on his visit to the US. We talk about how his fiction-writing career both integrates and rejects his past lives in advertising and psychology, explore the Robin Hood model of the creative writing school, and get into the background PTSD of daily life in Israel. Then comics scholar Paul Gravett rejoins the show to talk about his new exhibition, Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics, and the book that accompanies it (here’s a video about it. We get into the impact of manga across Asian culture (and beyond), his dream project of a Mexican comics retrospective, and how North Korea’s comics visually portray their glorious leader. Give it a listen! And go buy Three Floors Up and Mangasia: The Definitive Guide to Asian Comics!

“I imagine my deathbed scene being people bringing my silver platters of comics that I’ve never seen, right up until the very end.”

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

Eshkol Nevo is the author of five novels, all best sellers in Israel. Four have been published in English: Neuland, which was included in The Independent‘s list of Books of the Year in Translation; World Cup Wishes; Homesick, a finalist for the prestigious Independent Foreign Fiction Prize; and Three Floors Up. In 2008 Nevo was awarded membership in the Israel Cultural Excellence Foundation. He is the owner and co-manager of the largest private creative writing school in Israel and is mentor to many up-and-coming Israeli writers.

Paul Gravett is a London-based freelance journalist, curator, lecturer, writer and broadcaster, who has worked in comics publishing and promotion since 1981. After graduating with a Masters Degree in Law from Christ’s College, Cambridge, he spent a year and half in the USA, mainly in New Mexico, contributing to Albuquerque’s local public radio and television stations.

In the early 1980s, he started the Fast Fiction table at the bi-monthly comic marts and mail order distribution, inviting anybody to sell their homemade comics from it. Out of this came his first job in comics at pssst! magazine, a brave but misguided attempt at a British version of the sort of a luxurious monthly bande dessinée magazine popular in France. He worked in a variety of positions in 1982 and 1983 at pssst! – as promotions man, traffic manager, coordinating artwork and interviewing potential contributors.

In 1983 he launched Escape Magazine, which he co-edited/published with Peter Stanbury, showcasing the cream of the alternative cartoonists of the 1980s. Escape lasted for 19 issues before closing its doors in 1989. For six years, Escape helped to promote an evolving bunch of distinctive British creators, including now major names like Eddie Campbell, Jamie Hewlett, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean.

Between 1992 and 2001 he was the director of The Cartoon Art Trust, a UK charity established in 1988, dedicated to preserving and promoting the best of British cartoon art and caricature and to establish a museum of cartoon art with gallery, archives and reference library. As Project Director of The Cartoon Art Trust, he worked on numerous exhibitions, including tributes to Carl Giles and Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, and The 100 British Cartoonists of the Century.

Among the exhibitions of comics art he has curated in Britain and in Europe, ‘God Save The Comics!’, in 1990 was the first major survey of British comic art at the National Comics and Image Centre in Angoulême, France. In 2004, he curated the first exhibit devoted to British writer Alan Moore and his collaborators at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Charleroi, Belgium.

Paul has also organised retrospectives on Jack Kirby, Tove Jansson and Posy Simmonds. In 2008 he curated ‘Manhua: China Comics Now’, the first exhibition in Britain of contemporary Chinese comics at the London College of Communication. In 2010, he curated ‘Hypercomics: The Shapes of Comics to Come’, at the Pump House Gallery in Battersea Park.

Since 2003, Paul has been the director of Comica, the London International Comics Festival, instigated by him and John Harris Dunning at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Since 2011, Comica has been an independent not-for-profit organization running both the annual festival and other events and exhibitions throughout the year.

Paul is the author of the book Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics (2004), and co-author, with Peter Stanbury, of Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know (2005), Great British Comics: Celebrating a Century of Ripping Yarns and Wizard Wheezes (2006) and The Leather Nun & Other Incredibly Strange Comics (2008). He is also the editor of The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics (2008) and 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die (2011).

On television he has been a consultant and interview subject on The South Bank Show’s programme Manga Mania (2006) and BBC4’s documentary series Comics Britannia (2007). Also, he appeared as interview subject in the DVD documentary The Mindscape Of Alan Moore (2007). He is regularly interviewed for radio and television documentaries, discussions and review programmes. He also lectures in art schools, museums and galleries and is a judge for several prestigious prizes including the Embassy of Japan in London’s ‘Manga Jiman’ Award and The Observer / Jonathan Cape / Comica Graphic Short Story Prize.

He continues to write about comics for various periodicals, including The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Times Literary Supplement, ArtReview, ArtReview Asia, The Comics Journal, Comic Heroes, Time Out, Blueprint, Neo, The Bookseller, Dazed & Confused, New Internationalist, Third Text, 9eme Art and The Jewish Quarterly.

His recent books include Comics Art, published by Tate Publishing (2013) and Yale University Press (2014), and Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK (2014) with John Harris Dunning, published by The British Library. This accompanied the exhibition of the same name which Gravett and Dunning co-curated at The British Library, the largest exhibition of British comics ever held in the UK, which attracted some 60,000 visitors, almost half of them first-time visitors.

In 2016, Paul co-curated the exhibitions: Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics at House of Illustration, London; The Story of British Comics So Far…: Cor! By Gum! Zarjaz! at The Lightbox, Woking, Surrey; and Land Escapes: Contemporary Comics from the United Kingdom at Fondazione Benetton, Palazzo Bomben, Treviso, Italy.

For 2017, Paul completed a combination of a major new book for Thames & Hudson and a related exhibition for The Barbican Centre. Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics is the first exhibition to explore manga or Japanese comics in a wider Asian content and survey the comics cultures of nearly twenty Asian countries. Mangasia opens in Rome at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni and continues to other venues in 2018 including Le Lieu Unique in Nantes, France, followed by a further global tour of Europe, North and South America, Asia and elsewhere, for a maximum total period of five years.

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. Nevo was recorded at Rocking Horse Cafe in NYC and the one with Mr. Gravett was recorded at the home of John & Judith Clute 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. Photo of Mr. Nevo by I-don’t-know-whom. The one of Mr. Gravett by me. It’s on my instagram.

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.