I’m interviewing Fucked Up’s Ben Cook and Aerin Fogel about their new kick-ass band The Bitters tomorrow at this bar in Leslieville called Stratengers. I love this description of the resturant:
Strats is suitably dim and dingy for a post-breakup drowning with house jewel Jessie handing over the tequila shots and delivering brew in giant frosted glasses. This gorgeous Georgia peach is actually Irish and often wears green accordingly, and her tough yet tender attention is everything you can ask for in this topsy-turvy world. Once she hands over your Gourmet American slices, oddly topped with tandoori chicken, prosciutto and bocconcini cheese, you’ll be planning the rest of your week around Stratengers’ menu.
A good thing about traveling: even though my trip was largely confusing and lonely (as in “why did I fly eight hours on a plane to talk to pretentious hippies in a cafe that plays balkan electro about why everyone should sit through a 9-hour retrospective on Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr?”), when you return - you’re always immediately enthused to do “your town” like you did the town you just visited. Flushed with courage of talking up strangers and partying with German lesbians and pretending you like ambient noise drone, your city becomes a playground full of people you already know! The weather is warm! You’re wearing shorts without fear! And this, even though your arms are covered with what might be hostel bed bug sores, and none of the problems you previously fled are solved, just distant - as in, incommunicado, you’re back! Without a cell phone! Because you forgot to pay your bill! Luckily The Bitters have a soundtrack for that. Here we go. Also: Rest In Peace Will Munro.
The Toronto Fringe Festival is coming up soon, which means that it’s time for accidentally hilarious press releases to start flooding my email. Here’s two plays that sound legitimately funny:
Wedding Night In Canada brings together two of Canada’s great passions – hockey and weddings.
Heddy has been planning the perfect wedding for more than two years. Her big day occurs the same night the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Finals. With her guests more interested in watching the game than toasting the bride, Heddy retreats to a storage room. Can the best man and groom coax her out? Will she miss her own wedding? Will the Leafs finally win The Cup?
Wedding Night In Canada is a play about passion, loyalty, compromise and poached pears with chocolate sauce.
Poster Design by Linda D’Alfonso
An Original Play by Brianne Hogan
John Mayer’s a Douche Bag. Everyone knows it. He knows it. Tired of his tabloid tenure as Hollywood’s “Mr. Wrong”, he sets out to find his long-lost Japanese summer school love, Rihanna (no, not that one) to right his romantic wrongs. Inevitable hijinks ensue when Rihanna’s pals, Carly and Calvin, learn of their forbidden love and realize their own artistic careers could benefit from a Mayer-iffic meeting, and do everything in their power to make it happen—even if it means creating a “Heartbreak Warfare.”
Cameos by Chinnifer and Chestica and a special YouTube performance!
*This is NOT a true story. But it should be.
*John Mayer has no association with this play. But he should.
Just wanted to say thanks again for the lovely orchid. It was a great choice, when I gaze at it I will think of you.
Enjoy Berlin and look at everything twice… once for me.
Be safe and keep in touch so I don’t have to loose sleep worrying about you.
I had a wonderful Mother’s Day - the best I can remember… and it was fun joking around about your new career as a comedienne doing only maltese stand up….but I think it could be a niche market…
This whole thing started because I made Tracy Wright laugh by telling her about how my grandmother wanted to pierce my ears as a baby. “In Malta, they pierce your ears first and then cut your umbilical chord,” I said. Over brunch my mom and I devised an entire 30-minute standup set catering to the untapped Maltese population. Most of the jokes involved mentioning the food “pastizzi” at inopportune moments (a.k.a. “that sacrificial feast to the virgin was great, but now I gotta take a pastizzi!”) Maybe you had to be there.
I wrote a cover story on Daniel Clowes last week for TCAF that apparently nobody (including Clowes) read at all! Regardless, the cover looks really beautiful. You can read it here at EYE WEEKLY. I had a wonderful time talking to him on the phone and thought I should post some of our witty repartee. (Also weird, standing in a line of girls who look exactly like Enid and realizing you are not unique at all.)
CL: Hi is this Daniel Clowes?
DC: This is he.
CL: Hi, this is Chandler Levack calling from EYE WEEKLY in Toronto.
CL: No, Chandler.
DC: Chandler - I’m sorry! She never said anybody’s name, she just said that the lady from Toronto EYE would call you.
CL: Well it’s nice that she called me a lady.
DC: Yes especially knowing Peggy, it could’ve gone far worse.
CL: Oh really?
DC: She doesn’t mince words, let’s say.
CL: Oh I didn’t know that about her. How has it been - the switch from… you were at Fantagraphics before.
DC: Yeah I”ve done a lot with Fantagraphics, and I’ve done a lot with Pantheon, which is like Random House. And so far - it’s been pretty ideal I have to say. They’re like the greatest publisher in the world.
CL: Yeah. They love comics and they really have this beautiful way of publishing things.
DC: And they don’t do too much, which I really appreciated. They just focus on a few things every season and they’re not just trying to fill up the world with books, which I think is good.
CL: Yeah. I think the format of Wilson is really interesting. It’s at once very confined, to this six panel, one page punch line and the punch lines of every page seem to get darker and darker.
(We both laugh).
CL: As Wilson kind of goes through…
DC: It seems like the more you know him, the darker they get. Like if you started in the middle, “Oh these are funny.”
CL: Yeah at first they seem sort of funny, like a screwed up Family Circus-kinda punchline. And then by the end you’re like “oh this is real gallows humour.”
DC: Yeah I think that’s probably the right term.
CL: Why did you decide to structure a narrative like that?
DC: It came out of - I was reading, I read a biography of Charles Schultz just as this was sort of popping into my head. And I just started to think about the experience of reading those big books of Peanuts comics, and you’re reading one strip after another, and each strip is very funny and you know, you could just read three of them and get some enjoyment out of that, or you could read the whole book and get a different kind of enjoyment. And they’re not really a narrative in between the strips, you know the whole book is not really a narrative and yet it sort of feels like a narrative. Because it’s all seasonal - you know it’s got like Christmas stuff, and you know Valentine’s Day, and summer - and after reading a book you kind of feel like you’ve read some very elusive narrative that you can’t quite put your finger on. And I thought, that would be cool to use that format to tell a more conscious narrative. You know to tell a story that’s kind of told in between these strips - so you’re only seeing the particular moments that are actually sort of funny or amusing, and yet somehow all between these things is a much bigger story that the reader has to put together on its own.
CL: Yeah. That’s really interesting. And the drawing styles really vary too.
DC: Yeah I thought about doing it all in the same style at first - I almost was gonna do it like it was some lost comic strip that you know, I discovered somewhere and try to do a fake thing - where it was by some fake author or something. And then somehow it didn’t quite work when it was all in the same style. It didn’t seem true to the guy, I feel like you can look at him differently in every strip a little bit and I felt like I needed someway to replicate that - that kind of shifting, you know either of his sense of self or our sense of him. I felt like I needed some way to make each strip it’s own thing.
CL: Yeah there’s these teeny bobblehead figures occasional - that look like our perspective is shifting, and that’s manifested. Sometimes you feel more removed from the situation, sometimes it feels more like close-ups in a movie.
DC: Right. Right and certainly you know, at some points I want to draw back and take you out of the horror that you’re witnessing. (We laugh.) And at some points I want to put you right in it, and there you are - in this sort of realistic version.
CL: Critics are either calling Wilson your most formative book, or your most depressing book to date.
DC: You know, there haven’t been too many reviews yet. But so far the response has been pretty much what I had hoped for.
CL: I almost feel like the moral in the book is having a sense of humour about your situation in life.
DC: It could be.
CL: Like no matter how bad things get, or what meaning he’s searching for in his life…he always has the sense to be aware of the situation he’s in.
DC: I think that’s true. I’m hoping that maybe on a second or a third reading, people can start to find the book funny. Because I was laughing my head off when I was writing it. (Laughs).
CL: Well a lot of punchlines seem to come from flaming dog shit.
DC: Well that seemed to take on a life of it’s own. It was one of those punchlines where I thought - should I really go this low? Well, it made me laugh so…yeah.
CL: Sure. Do you feel that he shares a commonality to the other protagonists in comics that you’ve drawn?
DC: No, I don’t know - I’m not sure if I could ever help that, because there’s all written with me, it’s sort of me, it’s me as an actor playing a character when I’m writing. You know I’m sort of imagining what a character would be like. And I’m bringing my own thoughts of what would make that character up to it, so it’s clearly me in some way. Whether you know I’m writing what I’m actually thinking - or writing the opposite of what I would say, or expressing my true opinions of what I would be afraid to express if it was a character named Dan Clowes.
CL: Right because you’re never done a straight-up autobiographical comic.
DC: Not really, you know I’ve done little bits and pieces, but every time I start off to do one it just - I can’t, it never quite feels right. I always feel like I need to make stuff up to make it a little more interesting, or change things around - but, now it’s a fiction piece.
CL: Which is interesting since the comic memoir became a really important..
DC: Yeah, yeah - to me that’s always the funny thing since the whole “graphic novel” is always based on things that aren’t novels at all.
CL: That’s really true.
DC: Art Spiegelman and Joe Sacco and the book “Fun Home”, all those - none of those are even close to being novels. Which is why the term doesn’t quite work, but we’ve all come to accept it which I why I find myself saying, “Yeah I do graphic novels.” I never thought I would say that.
CL: You originally didn’t like that term.
DC: I just never thought anyone would fall for it, it seems like a marketing trick. You know? I just felt like, “well we do comics”, let’s undersell it, you know? My thought was like, let’s make it seem like the dumbest, most possible throwaway thing and then people would say “Oh this isn’t as bad as I thought.” Other than, “It’s a graphic novel” and try to make it like this thing that has much higher expectations from the audience, you know, it seemed like a bad idea to me. But somehow it worked, we needed a word from the kind of things we do to separate from kids comics and newspaper comics and that’s just what it was. And there’s no fighting it at this point.
CL: It’s kind of become a status symbol at this point for people to read graphic novels.
DC: And to be honest we all tried to come up with better names and nobody could think of anything. So you know, what are you gonna do?
CL: Did you ever come up with any other kind of contender?
DC: No, believe me if I had I would pitched it to the world, but everything I never think of is just idiotic.
CL: They’re “literate illustrations.”
DC: Yeah. And people hated the term movies for years, they thought “that’s so degrading - it’s cinema!”
CL: How easy is it to sum up a person in one panel? Like in a drawing?
DC: You can imply an awful lot, but you certainly can’t get into deep character stuff unless you’re Vermeer or something. But you can get across an awful bit. I’m always struggling , if I’m doing a New Yorker cover or something - if you’re doing a character and that’s the one time they’ll appeal - I really struggle the most over just getting their face exactly right, getting their personality to project what I’m trying to project. And it’s not easy - often it’s this kind of magical thing, that you can’t quite control, and the harder you try the father away it gets sometimes.
CL: Do you feel - I know that you’re working on projects now - but when Art School Confidential came out, it basically got pretty panned. And did you feel defeated by that after the critical acclaim of Ghost World?
DC: You know, it was just was - that film just felt like “this isn’t going to quite work”, from Day One.
CL: Oh really?
DC: Yeah I mean, I kind of felt like - well the same thing, it felt the same with Ghost World, it sort of felt like “this is gonna be a disaster.” And then at the last minute Ghost World kinda came together, and then all of a sudden, I thought “hey this is gonna work all of a sudden.” And so with Art School, I kinda kept hoping that would happen. But it got very far away from what I saw originally in my head as I was writing it. And by the end it was so far from that, I just couldn’t really see what it was anymore. And then… So it wasn’t that big of a shock when it was panned. But it was frustrating, it was just like - ah that could’ve been, if you tweaked things just a little here and there I could kind of see where the problems with the audience had with it could’ve come from… It was frustrating, but it was just like - you know. The movies to me are just sort of a hobby I have. You know I’m working on other stuff, and I work hard on them and I do my best but it’s - the comics are what I’m most invested in. That’s my thing that I do all by myself and the movies, you have so little control over how it actually turns out.
CL: Yeah. I guess because you had a creative partnership with Terry, maybe you guys worked more in tandem with each other?
DC: Yeah we did. Certainly more than any other writer ever gets allowed to work with any director. Most directors just ban the writer from the set after the first day. Which I can understand why. It’s actually very confusing to have two authors present. You know the actors would like go to me and ask me something, and I’d say “You better ask Terry,” who’s the director. And they’d be really confused, that there was these two guys here. So I can sort of see the kind of military rule of a movie set. Like why did it has to be the way it is.
CL: How did you envision Art School Confidential being in your head?
DC: It’s not - like an overall vision of it, to me it was more like a sick love story and all that stuff just slowly got taken out of it. Like it became more, like this, like a more overt comedy than I intended to do. And the same sort of thing happened with Ghost World but somehow that kept its - the kin dof core of the characters and it still worked. I don’t know, it’s a very subtle thing and it’s very hard to make a movie. There’s so many things that have to come together. And once it comes away a little bit, it’s very hard to see it - you’re like in the eye of a hurricane.
DC: It’s got its moments - it’s definitely got like 3 or 4 scenes that really work, and you’re just like “oh man, if only it could’ve held together a little better…”
CL: And one of the funniest lines ever, when that girl says “Oh you’re so September 10th.”
(We laugh crazily.)
DC: Yeah I thought that was going to be a big line.
(We laugh crazily again.)
CL: I always forget about it, and then I watch the movie again and think, “Oh I have to start saying that.”
(We laugh crazily.)
DC: I actually heard someone say that once. I wish I could take credit, but it was such a genius thing to say.
CL: Somebody actually said that?
DC: Somebody actually said that - a human being actually said that.
CL: Oh my god!
(We laugh insane.)
DC: It was in Berkely at a café, a college girl.
CL: Oh my god. I hope she was…
DC: I can’t imagine what it had to do with.
CL: …in like a writing workshop or something.
DC: Oh she was in something.
CL: Yeah. I think in Ghost World you focus on specific things - if Enid can find a perfect look, that will allow her to present herself to the world in the way that she’s meant to be seen.
DC: Yeah, or just you know, she’s trying to get her confused inner life to be external in some way. And she can’t figure out what that is because it’s always misinterpreted.
CL: Yeah. And the relationship that she has with Rebecca is definitely relatable to friends I had in high school. Did you have relationships like that in your own life?
DC: Yeah I had a friend in high school who was just kind of my only good friend. And you know, I drew on that a little bit. But I knew a lot of girls who had a really intense friendship with someone in high school. And the pain of that kind of falling apart was always really palpable - it was always like, somebody died when that kind of inevitably broke apart. And the few friends that I know who stuck together, and you know it kind of continued on - it seems really unhealthy. It seems really like they didn’t move out of their parent’s house.
CL: How hard do you think it is to be an individual?
DC: In the world?
DC: I don’t know.
DC: It’s certainly…it’s hard to have your own specific interests that aren’t you know, the average interests of the average person. And to connect with a large group of people, although I guess it’s easier than ever online - although I’m not sure that really counts. I don’t know - I don’t feel like that’s - it’s better than nothing I guess, but it doesn’t feel very solid somehow.
CL: And in Wilson, there’s also some kind extension of a theme in your work, of romantic options being somehow dismal and bleak.
DC: Yeah it seems… you know, that’s not how it’s presented in the movies, certainly. Everyone always has their soulmate waiting around the corner, but I think it’s fairly difficult in this world.
CL: Why do you think that is?
DC: Well you know, a guy like Wilson - it’s gonna be tough. He’s got a - his demands of the world are, he doesn’t want just some girlfriend, he wants this intense connection, this kind of family that he didn’t start when he should’ve and now he’s desperately trying to force the issue and that’s certainly doomed to failure.
CL: Yeah. The scene where he’s talking to his grandson on Skype.
DC: Yeah, that was the one where I almost like cried.
CL: Yeah that was really powerful and very sad too.
DC: Yeah my son, who’s 5 is always talking to his grandma on the iChat. And you know, they get along really well and there’s nothing sad about their relationship at all - but there’s something about watching him talk to his grandma on a computer that’s very…close to being very depressing. Although it’s kind of great, it’s kind of great that he actually gets to see her and not just on a phone.
CL: Does she live far away?
DC: Yeah she’s a couple hundred miles away so she can’t see him all the time. And you know, she loves it and he loves it but it’s like right on the verge of being really depressing.
CL: Yeah. I mean I guess Wilson probably feels that life - and I guess maybe technology but certainly society is not the way that it used to be, and it’s not the way that it should be. Like there’s kind of this inhumanness to the way that people communicate with each other now.
DC: Yeah and I actually can’t tell if we’re in a specific period of time where that is really pronounced or everybody who is basically my age or Wilson’s age starts to feel that way about the world. That the world isn’t what you thought it was going to be, and it’s getting father and farther away from what you hoped it would be. And I feel that’s sort of the case for a lot of people my age, you just feel like - I don’t really want to spend the rest of my life on the computer. That seems like that’s what’s going to happen, and that seems really depressing but that’s what’s we’re going to do - like, oh there won’t be any stores left, we’re just going to buy stuff on the computer. And there will be no place to actually go except for coffee houses and stuff. And that doesn’t sound like a great idea.
CL: Yeah we’ll just be on our iPads downloading things.
DC: Yeah - and I don’t know if that’s…it’s easier but I’m not sure if it’s a better thing. I’d like there to be bookstores, I’d prefer that, rather than getting an “instant book” in 30 seconds.
CL: What do you think about the next wave of graphic novelists who have read your comics and now want to do what you do?
DC: I think that it must be interesting for them. They sort of see - they have a few role models. The guys in my generation - all we had was, really Art Spiegelman was really the only role model and Robert Crumb, and you weren’t going to replicate Robert Crumb, I mean he had such a wave of hugeness in the hippie era, there was no way to possibly duplicate that. And Spiegelman seemed like such an isolated case, it wasn’t like anybody else was going to have the good fortune to have a father in the Holocaust.
DC: To have - it’s hard to come up with a story like that. So it’s very hard to navigate, like “what’s the next step?” You know, how do we all do this? So we just all just kind fo did what we felt was the right thing to do, for each of us. And that seemed to work out fairly well.
CL: When you were going to Pratt were you ever drawing comics at the same time?
DC: Oh yeah sure, the whole time I was drawing some form of comics - or at least, talking about it amongst my friends. That seems to be what you do in art school - talk about stuff and never actually do anything.
CL: But were you submitting that kind of stuff as your class projects or were you trying to emulate the kind of work that art schools would want?
DC: I tried very briefly just to be a “drawing major” but that just didn’t’ work out. So I switched to illustration. And so I was trying to do these kind fo Saul Steinberg illustrations, like these very stylized and very simple magazine illustration kind of things. But in my spare time I was drawing lots of comics and I don’t think I actually ever submitted any of them, but that was the intent - to get up enough good stuff that there was somebody to send them to. But I wouldn’t have known who to send them to, that was the thing - there was nobody printing that kind of stuff. The world was like a wateland at that time, a total wasteland. The late 70s - there was no worst time, culturally.
CL: But now comics are being - like I took a class in comics in university.
DC: (Laughs) That’s just mind boggling. I used to bring comics into my graphic design classes and they would just go - why are you doing this?
CL: Yeah it used to be that you’d be reading a comic in class because you didn’t want to do your work.
DC: Or it would be - like if you went to culinary school and you were like “Oh I got this Big Mac.” How about that? It was just thought of the lowest class - they just thought I was trying to be willfully obnoxious or something. And I was like “well isn’t there potential in this?” And they were like, “No, there’s not.”
DC: Yeah it was very hard to get that across. Once in awhile someone would go, “You know there’s a lot of very good comic artists, but I just don’t recommend. It’s not a very good field to get into.” Which you know, that was good advice. But for the most part, it was just “this is really dumb, just don’t do that.”
CL: Is that why you have a lot of contempt for art school? Because basically they told you what you wanted to do was worthless?
DC: I didn’t have contempt until the bill came due. And that was a year after I was out of art school and I thought - I didn’t understand about my college loan at all, I just thought “I won’t have to pay this until I’m 40.” I just signed the paper and didn’t think about it. And then when I got this huge bill, saying “this is due now”, and I thought, “OH god, I got ripped off!”
CL: Was there ever anything you submitted - did you ever pull the tampon in a teacup trick?
DC: I didn’t but a classmate of mine certainly did, it was a real thing. That was a great moment because the teacher just didn’t get it - he was like “What? Why did you do that?” And then he picked up the tampon and went - “What is this?”
SDH: What does Lydia Lunch do when she’s not being Lydia Lunch?
LL: Do you mean when I’m teaching the cat to box or scouring the 10,000 books I still need to read or bawling my eyes out over the devastating effect architecture has on me when it’s murdered ghosts leek into my bloodstream as I stalk abandoned villages in search of kindred spirits, or sitting quietly in a room contemplating regicide?
Whatever I fucking feel like doing.” —Amen, sister.