A few months back I was asked to conduct an interview with Art Spiegelman for Heeb Magazine. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. Spiegelman had worked for some time as a visiting professor at my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz—despite this, however, and the fact that we both operate in occasionally overlapping circles in the relatively small New York comics scene, the opportunity had never really presented itself. In fact, interactions with the legendary artist have been non-existent, save for the occasional elbow brushing at some New York-area cartooning social event. For some time the artist has remained perched high atop a list of elusive interview subjects, just waiting for the moment to present itself.
Of course anyone with even a passing interest in the world of sequential art knows Spiegelman, at least by reputation. Every piece extolling the academic potential of the art form penned at some point in the past two decades has featured the artist with some prominence. And, despite the fact that he continues to grimace at the mere mention of the now ubiquitous phrase “graphic novel,” there remains some doubt that it ever would have achieved such widespread usage, were it not for the artist’s 1986 magnum opus.
The opportunity, as it happens, presented itself in the form of Breakdowns, the newly reissued collection of Spiegelman’s pre-Maus work. A more ideal moment with which to familiarize the populace with the artist’s canon beyond his most famous book would likely not present itself any time soon. This, coupled with the recent release of the artist’s first children’s book, Jack and the Box (released on Toon Books, the new children’s comics published house launched by Spiegelman’s wife and New Yorker art director, Francoise Mouly) and the upcoming McSweeney’s collection of Spiegelman’s sketchbooks seemed like something of a perfect storm for an artist notorious for a publishing schedule that is sporadic at best.
Any writer who has penned a piece of comics for a mainstream publication, however, knows the drill—never assume foreknowledge on the part of your audience—even with an artist so universally loved as Spiegelman. This, naturally, puts us at square one, in terms of questions—slightly problematic for Cross Hatch readers no doubt already well-versed in Spiegelman’s oeuvre.
Fortunately, however, I was assigned an hour with Spiegelman in his lower east side studio—ample time to broach topics aimed at both the unfamiliar and the indoctrinated. The hour, as it turns out, ran even longer, clocking in closer to two. Spiegelman spent the time chainsmoking and wandering back and forth between our table and his studio’s massive bookcases a half-dozen times, unshelving books from his backcatalog to illustrate various points about his work and his unwavering commitment to quality book design that has defined his work from those early days of Raw, up through the aesthetically creative packaging of Breakdowns.
What follows is not the Heeb article—that’s available online (albeit in its shortened print version—soon to be replaced by the original that runs three times that length). Rather it’s the first part of our unaltered conversation. It would have likely proven a touch alienating for a more mainstream publication, but I have no doubt seeing it in a rawer form will hold at least some appeal for Cross Hatch readers.
With that in mind, I present the first part of the Daily Cross Hatch interview with the legendary Art Spiegelman.
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