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as: Have you ever been to "Klezkamp?"
YC: Yeah, yeah, I did! I went there last December. How did you know about it?
as: Harry Sapoznik [evil twin of Henry Sapoznik, the director of Klezkamp] is a good friend of my college buddy Jim Hoberman, who writes the film stuff for the Village Voice. And, a number of years back, he got Jim to go out and show a number of Yiddish films -- Jim did a really great book about early Yiddish cinema, he spent the next two years convincing me to go out. The basic thing was, I have a horror of Christmas. I don't like being in the culture around Christmas around Christmastime --
YC: So Klezkamp is the place to be!
as: That's what he was saying, he was saying "Look, you go here, it'll, it'll totally insulate you from Christmas." So, we had a very young daughter at the time [Nadja], she must've been about three. And we just kind of went up there and let her have the run of this kind of run-down hotel.
YC: Uh-huh. Now it's in a nicer place.
as: I think I gave some kind of talk on comics there, in exchange for --
YC: Yeah, I heard about that. That place burnt down.
as: Oh really? That's not a big surprise, somehow. (laughing)
YC: Now they have it in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
as: Hmm, so it's out of the "drug rehab zone" of the Catskills?
YC: Well, I can tell you, this is one place I would not be able to work.
as: Oh really? Well, you know, every book that's here came here after a period of time, by my chairside, so -- it's not like my shelves are brimming with things I've never seen. Uh, but part -- well, maybe that's my problem, maybe -- (laughing) maybe if I didn't have this stuff I'd get more done.
YC: I'll take 'em. (laughing) I mean, because, whenever I'm in my room or something, I just -- like, whenever I have to do something, I always do my work at the kitchen table, because I always end up sitting there [in my room], and reading some random comic that I have sitting there, one I've read a hundred times already.
as: Well, there's definitely times where I can't work, and I'm grateful to have all these things to dive into depending on my mood. On the other hand, this is finally a studio I can work in. I tried once before having a studio and it was a disaster.
Y'know, I used to do the equivalent of working at the kitchen table, what I -- A long time ago I used to work in my bedroom, so like, there's a little drawing table next to the bed, and it was a nice, prison cell-sized setup, you know? Then as I got older and had kids, there was a certain point when it seemed reasonable to go have a studio, so I rented a studio up on Union Square. And it was just far enough so you actually have to go get there. [Right now, his studio and apartment are on the same street.] And then when I was there, it was a much more office-like setup, and pretty small --
YC: Yeah, I wasn't expecting it to look like this at all. I mean, I had no idea what it was going to look like.
as: Well -- and the problem with the Union Square one was I hated being there, it felt like I was going to work. Which I guess is what I was doing, but I didn't want to think that, so I hardly ever went up there, and most of the time the little bit of work I did up there meant I had left some important book, or art supply, or piece of paper up there, and couldn't work until I got back to the place the next day. Eventually I was just working on our bed, because I didn't have a drawing table at home anymore, and then eventually I carved off part of the house to have a studio. And then seven or eight years ago, I got this place, and I realized, if I set it up like an apartment, I wouldn't feel like I was working, I just would feel like I was single. When the family goes away on vacation trips, I won't go home except to feed cats.
YC: That's cool. [At the time, I didn't notice that he mentioned cats, or at least I didn't make the obvious inference!]
as: But it's like, this way I can trick myself into working because it doesn't feel like it's a work environment.
as: And it's more organic, anyway.
Various current projects
YC: So what exactly do you do throughout the day? I never could figure that out.
as: (laughing) I read these books! --Well, I don't know, I'm working on, about, like now I just finished the Jack Cole project, more or less, I mean there's things to tie up here. We're doing another Little Lit. Right now it involves me getting finishes done in record time for a four-page story.
YC: What story?
as: It's a new story, called The Several Selves of Shelby Sheldrake. It's for the next Little Lit book called Strange Stories for Strange Kids. [More on that later.] And I have to do the Strange Stories for Strange Kids logo on Illustrator. And there's a lot of just -- Francoise's right now picking up the slack because I'm really way behind the eight-ball on my own story, but I'm supposed to be working on the translation of a story by a French artist that's going to be in the next book because his translation's pretty clumsy --
YC: You know French?
as: Well, yeah, but not well enough to translate. It's been translated, now a stylistically smoother version has to be created so it can be lettered.
YC: So you're taking the English, and --
as: Yeah, if there's any question I'll ask Francoise, but she's already done me -- actually I don't know if it's she, maybe the artist did it, I'm not sure. So there's that, and a number of other editing things on Little Lit and some design things on Little Lit. So that's one large mountain. And, I've got, just as of yesterday, unless things go wrong, I've got approval on a one-page thing for The New Yorker, I've done the rough sketch on but I have to do the finishes for by Monday.
Annnnnd... then I'm supposed to be working on a long piece about Fredrick Wertham and comic book censorship for The New Yorker, but I haven't really focused -- I have about four projects that the New Yorker gave me a go-ahead on, that I haven't been able to organize myself towards yet. So most of the time I sit around either one of the drawing tables, or at the computer, or in the La-Z-Boy reading and writing, or sitting here in a stupor trying to figure out how to get the other stuff done.
But it's not like I'm without a long list, it's just that the list changes as it moves along because a lot of it's short-term.
Drawn to Death, the musical theater project
as: I'm also working on a music theater piece. In about twenty days, I'm going into hiding for two weeks somewhere, in order to get this thing written. I have to do another version of the libretto because in June we're going into a workshop. So I have two weeks to do about two months' worth of work, and I'll just go somewhere, where I have access to somebody who's really smart about, um, theatrical things to help me as a dramaturge [not sure about that word].
YC: What is this, this musical theater thing?
as: Something called Drawn to Death, and it's bizarre to try to explain how it got to where it is --
YC: Oh, I heard about that!
as: Well, I did a workshop of it. There's something in The Comics Journal, where somebody wrote about it, last issue. You know, though nobody's supposed to be writing about it yet.
YC: I found out from that Pseudonym guy.
as: Who? -- Oh, on your web site there's someone who calls himself "Pseudonym"...
YC: Yeah, he doesn't say anything about who he is, he just gives me all this information, I'm like, okay.
as: Uh-huh, that's neat. Well, yeah, so there was this thing that was written. You know Comics Journal, the magazine?
YC: Yeah, yeah.
as: Somebody wrote a review of some kind of the first, um, moments of it, you know like trying to get it up and running. I'm working with a jazz composer called Phillip Johnston, uh --
YC: Jazz is good.
as: Phillip Johnston's good. He has a group called The Transparent Quartet and The Microscopic Septet. The one thing he did that I really liked, which was what got us together was a live accompaniment score for Lon Cheney's The Unknown. It's really very nice. All these things are sort of out on disc, but -- he plays a lot of gigs. He's able to write in a lot of different jazz styles, which are appropriate to the historical trajectory of Drawn to Death.
And right now Drawn to Death is about Jack Cole, Bob Wood, who's the comic book artist who was the co-editor of Crime Does Not Pay, a crime comic-book that eventually led to the comic-book hearings... You don't know what I'm talking about.
YC: No idea. -- oh, right, I know what the hearings were!
as: Okay, so the hearings came about because there was this comic book that was more lurid than the others. Before the horror comics, there were crime comics, and they had a lot of sex and death in them, and it got people freaked out. This is what led to, eventually, these comic book hearings.
So the three figures in the thing I'm writing are Jack Cole, who did Plastic Man; Bob Wood, who was not the genius behind but was one of the two people who came up with Crime Does Not Pay comics, who later on went on to kill his girlfriend, after comic books, uh, bit the dust because of the hearings; and then a character who's based Dr. Wertham, who wrote the book that brought about the hearings [Seduction of the Innocent].
So, it travels from the 1930's to the early 60's, and it does a history of comics in the context of that, but it's mostly done in music, with what'll eventually be projected backgrounds, and also some very primitive animations. So, that's a big project, and it involves mastering some kind of animation program on the computer, or at least learning how to control it a bit, and learning how to write in ways I haven't written before.
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