Art Spiegelman says he learned everything in his life from comics—sex from Betty and Veronica, economics from Donald Duck, philosophy from Peanuts and everything else from MAD Magazine.
“It’s just short bursts of language we’re wired to understand,” he told a packed Irvine Auditorium on Sept. 27, explaining the appeal of the medium. “Comics are about time turned into space.”
Spiegelman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and graphic novelist has always been interested in the “stuff around the edges,” in bending the boundaries of the page through space and color. In his talk, “Comix 101,” part of the 2005-06 Penn Humanities Forum on Word and Image, Spiegelman highlighted some of the bright spots in comic history—from the full-page color drawings in the papers of William Randolph Hearst, to today’s melancholy and moving graphic novels by Chris Ware.
He illlustrated his humorous talk with numerous projected images, including a “Nancy” cartoon (which he ironically analyzed, to the amusement of the audience), a panel from avant-garde artist Robert Crumb called “Drawing Cartoons is Fun” and several of his own covers for the New Yorker magazine, including the black-on-black image of the World Trade Center towers that ran after September 11, 2001.
Spiegelman is considered one of the greats of the form, having co-founded the comic anthology publications “Arcade” and “RAW” in the 1970s and then writing the 1986 graphic novel, “Maus,” his story of a son learning about his parents’ survival of the Holocaust. The publication of that acclaimed work was, he said, a total fluke. It was about “me just wanting to make a comic book that needed a bookmark.”
Spiegelman said his most recent book, “In the Shadow of No Towers,” was an attempt to try to make sense of what he had seen on and after September 11. He tried to escape that “shaky world” through an exploration of old comics, and channeled those efforts into satire like “The Tower Twins,” based on a comic that ran 100 years earlier, “The Katzenjammer Kids.”
The graphic artist—who lit up five cigarettes in Irvine over the course of his talk—emphasized that the future of mainstream comics is work like Ware’s “Jimmy Corrigan,” rather than the genre comics of superheroes and science fiction. His advice to aspiring cartoonists? “Keep your day job. Every working cartoonist is an anomaly.”
Originally published on October 6, 2005