We discuss Carol Tyler’s early artistic life in San Francisco, the question of legitimacy, and why the artist doesn’t consider herself part of the underground in this final part of our interview.
Did you move to California to pursue comics?
No, no, no. I was in New York, in Syracuse, and then I went down to New York City for the obligatory ‘go to New York and become a famous artist’ move. So I moved to Carroll Gardens [Brooklyn]. I had my graffiti pens in my pocket, so I could tag up the subways, like everybody was doing, back then—spray cans in my old overcoat.
And I had a chance to either, A. stay in the Lower East Side, in an apartment about the size of a postage stamp all summer, with this guy I was with—in searing heat, with no air conditioner—or B. go visit my friends in San Francisco who had an extra room. And, while I was there, I could go around and meet all of the cartoonists. So I called up Bill Griffith and Spain [Rodriguez] and Trina [Robbins]—everybody, while I was out there.
I called up Justin, and he’s the only one who asked me to lunch. That’s his M.O.
When you say “called them up,” you literally looked them up in the phone book, or did you have some connection to them?
Art—Art Spiegelman. He was teaching at SVA. He coughed up the numbers. So I’d go, [dialing noises] “Bill Griffith? Hi. I’m from…I like your comics. Would you like to read my comics?” You know, that stuff. He was very friendly and kind. Spain…and then Justin. He took me to lunch.
At what point do you become legitimate, in the eyes of your fellow cartoonists?
Am I legit? I still don’t know.
Well, you can call up Bill Griffith and now, and he’d probably even go to lunch with you.
I had dinner with Bill, last time I was in New York.
So you’re legit, right?
I’ve got pictures of me sitting on Robert Crumb’s lap.
You mentioned that!
Aline and I are old friends. I’ve got pictures of our kids playing together. Legit…I don’t know… See, I respect the underground times. They did what they did. Crumb started Weirdo and that started, I guess, the alternative era. That would be the 80s, 90s. So, that’s kind of where I jumped in. So I never see myself on the level of, like, Justin. They’re legends in the underground. I know them, and I’m of that age and from that era, to some degree, but I am not somebody who should be in that group. I’m one of the alternatives, because I first got published with Aline in ’87, I think. So I find myself in more of the Dan Clowes era.
But that’s on the same level, artistically, if not chronologically, right?
The quality? I think chronologically, because when I teach the comics class, I talk about the underground movement and what precipitated it and who the key people are and what the significance of that is. And then I talk about the significance of publications like Weirdo, extending that, and ushering in a whole new crop, and what happened in Seattle.
Yeah. And then by the time Drawn & Quarterly came out, we’re talking about a whole new animal that’s different that the underground era. I do talk chronologically, a lot, and I’ve met people who can’t think past—to them, comics begin with Chris Ware. Because he was the most significant person who hit their lives at the time they needed that influence. To me, it’s underground, and there’s other people who thing, “no way, it’s Mad Magazine.” Everyone has their place where it starts. There’s people now who say, “Kramer’s Ergot is when it started for me.
Everyone has their place when they jumped off the diving board, into the pool of comics. The fact is, it’s continual.
But if they’re interested enough in the medium, they’re going to explore where it came from.
That’s true. And I’m really intent on teaching the whole of comics and giving props in the right place. And if somebody says, “well, I think so-and-so is the greatest cartoonist, ever.” I say, “well, you know what? You need to make sure you have the right context. Because you’re going to say, in the 1920s, this person was the greatest for their time. There are people who meet and exceed it. of course, Robert Crumb. But then, there are people who got overlooked, or it wasn’t enough, or they didn’t have a greater body of work or they missed the boat slightly.
Context changes over time. The really forward thinking artists are often overlooked in their prime.
That’s true. But there’s still hope…