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A Conversation with Jerry Moriarty

[ARTIST]
“THERE IS NO CLAMOR FOR MY ART, AND I DON’T SEEK IT.”
Ways Jerry Moriarty would like you to see his art:
Perfectly reproduced in books
As his children
by Chris Ware
Illustration by Tony Millionaire
header-image

A Conversation with Jerry Moriarty

[ARTIST]
“THERE IS NO CLAMOR FOR MY ART, AND I DON’T SEEK IT.”
Ways Jerry Moriarty would like you to see his art:
Perfectly reproduced in books
As his children
by Chris Ware
Illustration by Tony Millionaire

A Conversation with Jerry Moriarty

Chris Ware
9 Snaps

Jerry Moriarty is one of the great geniuses of the comic strip. If you’ve never heard of him, don’t blame yourself; he’s been out of print for almost three decades. Fortunately, however, a new collection of his work, The Complete Jack Survives, has just been published by Buenaventura Press, and it beautifully reprints, reconfigures, and revives the groundbreaking work that first appeared in and was later assembled by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s RAW Books imprint in the early 1980s. Bold, unassuming drawings blur the imagined essences of Moriarty and his father into unpretentious, searching comic strip compositions that stick in the memory like melodies; it’s as if Edward Hopper had taken up songwriting, or Ernie Bushmiller had taken up painting, or Edvard Munch had actually loved his father. For lack of a better word, it’s poetry—I believe the first that comics has ever seen—and poetry as fresh and affecting now as when first drawn.

One of the few painters to stick with unironic representation when it seemed least fashionable to do so, Moriarty tackled the direct narrative potential of picture-making with the domestic frankness of a short-story writer, creating characters and situations that act out semiautobiographical resuscitations of family, loss, and adolescence. His related masterful and game-changing comic-strip experiments in the 1970s and ’80s influenced a generation of cartoonists for their quiet solidity, introducing solemnity and eternity in a medium that normally trades in the snappy and the lurid. In short, Moriarty has prepared a body of mostly unseen work that is unmatched, in my opinion, for its accessibility and humanity in the accepted history of painting and visual narrative. As clear and loud as a distilled recollection, Jerry’s art vibrates with a balanced uncertainty that feels as fleeting as life itself; one is left with the sensation of having seen into the mind of the artist himself and, by turn, one’s own memories, which every day grow more rounded and distant.

Born in Binghamton, New York, in 1938, Moriarty graduated from the Pratt Institute in 1960 and has taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York since the early ’60s, yet he has had only a handful of shows. He does not sell his paintings or drawings and lives a life of controlled austerity, expecting little other than to paint and draw. In addition to Jack Survives, he’s long been at work on a lengthy collaboration between his paintings and cartoons, Sally’s Surprise, which may see print as early as next year.

It’s no surprise that Moriarty is as thoughtful and unaffected as his work; by contrast, the reader will please forgive the interviewer’s fussy, pedantic questions. This interview was conducted via email in July of 2009.

—Chris Ware

I. “EVERYBODY HAS BEEN LONELY, BUT NOT EVERYBODY IS A LONER.”

CHRIS WARE: It’s difficult for me not to read Jack as your father, though you quite pointedly state that he is not. Did you find that creating the fictional character of Jack made your father come back alive for you? JERRY MORIARTY: I never knew my father as a man. He died ten days before my fifteenth birthday. I have invented and reconstructed him from the core of my memory but not as an obsession. Sometimes when reading a 1940s Life magazine from my collection, an issue he probably read, I imagine us talking about Harry Truman or the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jack Survives is a whimsical, onesided conversation with my father where I am 99 percent of it. All the Jack pages are from my experiences, and only one is based on him. Dad is in Jack as a quiet presence who survives Jack’s frustrations far better than I do. I remember a phone call from a friend a year after starting Jack Survives and he said, “How’s Jack?” That floored me. Someone who did not know my father asked, “How’s Jack?” It had replaced “How’s your painting?” It reminds me of the adage “You are never forgotten if someone says your name.” Yes, my father came to life. He came from the same place ideas come from, and ideas come to life when you make art of them.

CW: Do you worry that as you paint and draw your parents, or stand-ins for your parents, over and over again, that your memories of them become less fresh or accurate? Or do you find that doing so helps you remember details that you’d forgotten?

JM: When I draw and paint my parents, they are friendly guides that have a history I know—and they know me. Their essence is true to my memory, but the situations are symbolic of actual events. I have had new experiences with both my mom and my dad that have come entirely from painting. On the day when I was eight years old and first copied Superman accurately, art became a fantasy power that brought me closer to heroes. Fifteen years ago, I did a painting of my father that used the fantasy power to time travel to our living room on January 4, 1953. My dad is reading the paper in his chair. The next morning he would have a heart attack and die at work. My art time machine operates on the principle that all artists know the lower layers of paint or drawing that are covered over in the final painting. We live in those lower layers. I paint where and when I want to time travel and then paint me bursting out of the paint layer inside the picture. As I rip out of the paint in 1953, my dad looks up from his paper to see this bald guy who is ten years older than he is looking down. A visitor to Flatland from the third dimension. Doing that painting felt like I had an actual experience with my father.

I don’t even know if he recognized me. In the longrun, drawings and paintings of my parents are not exercises in memory, or else they could become nostalgic snapshots of a time gone instead of statements about me now. Someone once said, “When a writer is born into a family, the family is doomed.”

CW: Do you “play through” your stories/strips/paintings at odd points in the day? Or do your ideas come to you primarily while you’re working?

JM: New ideas begin with me writing a list of them as they come to me; there could be as many as fifty. Most are forgettable gibberish, but some surprise me. First the Word, then the Image. I write because I am not a writer and do not judge my writing as I judge my art. Writing allows me to think in the extreme—and not just whether I can draw it or not. I am an “illusionist,” meaning my art can be believed as reality even though there are mistakes and details missing because I work from my head without photo references. Humans need less information than you’d think to accept something as reality. We are pattern seekers and storytellers. The next time you recognize a friend from a block away, think of how amazing that is. After writing comes the sketching of the best ideas on Xerox paper with a Flair pen. Maybe twelve ideas are sketched really rough. Next I take maybe eight of the best sketches to 18″ x 24″ Arches paper inked with a brush and altered with white acrylic. If I’m lucky, six ideas will remain from the brush and ink drawings and they will be traced and transferred to 18″ x 24″ heavy Bristol board to be painted in full color acrylics. Finally, the best acrylic paintings will go to oil paint on 46″ x 60″ stretched canvas, usually four ideas, four canvases. The process sounds tedious and redundant but it’s not. Each stage is a different medium, which in turn stimulates different thoughts so new ideas are being generated in a continual improvisation. I am especially pleased if big changes have happened in the process. It is proof that I am getting “smart with art.” Oil paint is my hero medium because I am a shameless romantic. Yet oil isn’t always the best version of the idea. Acrylic or ink could be best. It also happens that I sometimes think everything is going fine and the oil painting proves that the idea in any form sucks. Bad ideas can’t be improved with skill.

CW: You’ve said that Jack is a “loner.” Why is it that our culture considers loneliness strange?

JM: Loner and loneliness are not the same. Everybody has been lonely, but not everybody is a loner. Jack is alone, but he is not a loner. I am a loner and I fully understand why that makes me strange to society. I am not lonely. Being alone is total freedom for me. My lights are on all night long because I go to bed at 7 a.m. and get up at 1 or 2 p.m. Very little of this time is spent on art, but I am always ready to work whenever “art guilt” overcomes me. My internal voice is not interrupted and all thoughts can be carried to conclusion. In Jack’s earliest strip he comes home to an empty house not knowing his wife and daughter have left. My reason is that I did not want to develop reappearing characters around him. They would detract from his private dialogues, which are never expressed in thought balloons (except once, in the first panel). After that, Jack only thinks in talk balloons.

My father was happy living in a small house with a family of four kids, two adults, and one dog. As the middle kid, I craved privacy. In the mornings, I remember the intense activity to get up and get five people out of the house for school and work. Mom stayed home but was busy getting brown-bag lunches ready and breakfast made (though it was simple, and not “sit-down”). I always left last, after my brothers, sister, and dad. Many mornings I would look back into the suddenly empty house and feel jealous of my mom, who would be in that quiet place all day. Lots of times I just played hooky and threw my jackknife at a favorite hidden tree in a neighbor’s yard until 3:30 when I was officially supposed to come home from school. It is good I became an artist where civilians expect you to be strange and loners are tolerated. Once I went up to Binghamton to see my mom in the hospital near the end of her life. She introduced me to the nurse as “my son, the artist from New York City.” The nurse replied without missing a beat, “I thought one or the other.” We all burst out laughing.

CW: You once mentioned to me that you spent a good part of your early adulthood sitting with your mother at the kitchen table, listening to her stories about growing up as a coal-miner’s daughter, meeting your father, etc. Do you remember these stories in detail or more the experience and feeling of talking to your mother?

JM: All good conversation was done at the kitchen table with cigarettes and coffee. There are two different kitchens: one where I grew up and the other in my sister’s house where they had built in a cozy apartment for Mom that I visited as an adult. She was Grandma there. When my mom was seventy-four, in the second kitchen, I taped three hours of her telling stories. I had to lug a “boom box” on a Greyhound bus two hundred miles up to Binghamton to tape her in 1976. She was a night person like I am. As a teenager, making art in the cellar, I would come up at midnight to have coffee and cigarettes at the kitchen table and we’d talk. Mom never had anything to say about my art so I didn’t think of her as having any influence on me as an artist. Dad encouraged my art. Mom did the practical things like finding art classes for me when I was a boy and making sure I went to art school (the first in our family to go to college). It wasn’t until recently when I did a companion painting to Dad Watching Me Paint, about sitting at the kitchen table with Mom, that I made the connection of my visual storytelling with my storytelling mom. I remember the joy she got from telling stories. I can see her burst out laughing as she talked like she had just heard a story for the first time. When I played the tape back, she would mouth the words when she heard her voice, her eyebrows raised and her eyes widened. Mom had to leave school in the eighth grade because she had narcolepsy, which in 1916 no one knew existed. She thought her sleepiness meant she was lazy—far from the truth. She loved school and was smart. Mom wrote an article called “Why Girls Leave Home” that was published in Flapper magazine in 1922. She left home at fifteen. She always wanted to be a writer, but it never happened; she had a full life raising four kids and had to go back to work again at age fifty after my dad died. But she gave honor to the “oral tradition.”

Here is a short Mom story that was not taped and is all from my memory:

When I was a little girl in Blossburg (Pennsylvania) us kids did not have any pets but we had piglets named Nellie and Jimmy. Every year or so Nellie and Jimmy would disappear for a while and then come back. When I was about ten years old I saw my father talking to the traveling butcher who went to all the nearby coal mining towns. At the same time Nellie and Jimmy disappeared again. That week we had pork chops for supper. We’d been eating Nellie and Jimmy all those years.

II.“EVERY PICTURE STARTS WITH THE DUMBEST VERSION OF ME AS AN ARTIST AND WHILE WORKING I MIRACULOUSLY GET SMARTER.”

CW: You’ve referred to your paintings as your children, and you’ve never sold any, preferring to keep them in your studio. This means for the most part they’ve only been seen in reproduction. Is this ideally how you’d like them to be seen?

JM: Most of the artists who have influenced me came in printed form, whether they were magazine illustrators, comics artists, or painters. I saw them first in books and only a few as original art. In fact, some original art that I loved in books was less impressive in person. Most of my life has been pre-digital, and the books I saw couldn’t compare with the incredible printing today. But the essence of the ideas survived on those murky pages. Just like a great movie can be appreciated on a twenty-fourinch TV screen, or music can thrill in its digital existence. I prefer to experience music, movies, and art in their reproduced forms. It separates theater from idea. If my art is only seen printed, that’s not a comedown. As a “paintoonist” it is between the book and the wall. The wall acknowledges the painting as an object, demonstrating that something was made of good materials.

The craftsman in me is proud of that. A book has magic without the object—and it doesn’t threaten. My oil paintings are not huge, but at four by five feet they’re the size of a window and have physical presence. I don’t have an overinflated sense of my original art’s value, but [my works] are the only things I have that are worth anything. I don’t have a house, a car, or a kid—my choice. I want to keep money and business out of my art decisions. I am intimidated by culture, the art world, and wealthy people. Why seek them out? Printed art solves the totalobscurity problem of not showing in a gallery. I would like to be recognized for my work and have it touch someone the way printed art touched me. Since I don’t sell my art, who’d want to show it? They have to pay the rent, too. Ideally, I would like my pictures to be seen as objects on a wall in a gallery that displays and sells perfectly reproduced books of my art but not the originals.

CW: Following up on this, all your work—an integrated, complete whole—is still in your studio. Are there plans to archive it?

JM: To archive my work sounds like bookkeeping and crossing the line into responsible, professional behavior. There is no clamor for my art, and I don’t seek it. My ego is enormous, and I know that my work would suffer if there was too much interest in it. Also, my competitive and jealous nature is best not awakened. The “hero” me is in the art “protection” business. However, when I feel compelled to show, I am as relentless as a stage mother. I do think of my art as having a life beyond me. An example of my stage mom-ism is when I did a subway poster for SVA’s fiftieth anniversary and turned it in to Silas Rhodes, the founder of SVA; he said, “If you were a girl, I’d kiss you.” That encouraged me to burst out with, “How about giving me a retrospective at the SVA Museum?” Silas got on the phone and it was done. No one at that time—I was almost sixty— would have ever suggested a show for me. In my fashion, I do “take care of business.” I’m proud that, when necessary, I am proactive, because these are my children.

CW: Your images carry an incredible weightiness, an eternal “somethingness” that makes them seem out of time. Was this a quality you sought out or that came to you naturally?

JM: I think the weightiness comes from the processes that separate a painting approach to art from a graphic art approach. Mine is the painter’s, which doesn’t hesitate to destroy the white canvas—because it is renewable with white paint. Graphic art wants to preserve the white surface at all costs, and to plan ahead. I get “smart with art,” and that forces me to paint over things continually. Every picture starts with the dumbest version of me as an artist and while working I miraculously get smarter. By the end of the picture I am my smartest. When the next picture starts I am dumb again… and so on. I get “smart with art.” Density of drawing or painting has always equaled profundity to me because of my abstract expressionist beginnings. In the last few years the physical weight of paint and the showing of that weight have disappeared completely. My pictures now aspire to the transparency of watercolors, although in acrylic or oil. They show incompleteness and thinness. Art changes as it reflects how the artist’s life changes. Picasso said, “You have to kill your father.” Which I take to mean: kill your influences and abandon the known and safe place to go deeper inside.

CW: You’ve created a series of images of yourself as a seventy-year-old man painting in a basement, with your father looking over your shoulder. What do you think your dad would think of your artwork if he could see it now?

JM: When I was a kid my “studio” was in our cellar, in a former coal bin. It had a bare lightbulb, a fold-up easel, and an old kitchen table. Nearby was a gas furnace, dad’s workbench, and things stored all over. It was dank, low, and funky, but I loved the cellar because no one came down there unless they had to. Sometimes my dad came down after supper and watched me paint, still in his shirt and tie from work. In the paintings, remembering those visits, I am “me-now” (seventy years old) shrunk to the size of “me-then” (a ten-year-old). I didn’t want to copy a photo or make up a ten-year-old boy like I had hired someone to play me. This way I am ridiculous but true. It made me laugh out loud. As to what my dad would think of me being an artist for real instead of an “art kid,” I really don’t know.

CW: How did the idea of drawing comic strips come to you? Was there a specific inspiration, or model, for making them?

JM: I am a collector by nature and learn the most I can just through the act of collecting. Because of my inability to be a passive audience, collector becomes creator. In the last few years I have collected Hawaiian shirts. I am not a social guy, so I only get to wear them to the supermarket. I liked them slowly at first and once I got an amazing one I liked them a lot. I hung them on my wall and saw that they were a way for me to accept abstraction again as long as abstraction was presented in the reality of a shirt. Conversely, I don’t want something real on the shirt like a photo or a realistic painted palm tree. Now my art is showing the creative impact of the collection and my painting has been changed. The way I learned the power of collecting was going to Comic-Cons in the ’70s, and when it worked, getting that “comic high.” The flashover from collector to creator happened in the late ’70s. By then I was in complete awe of certain comics artists and felt the need to exercise the fantasy power of art to close the passivity gap between me and my heroes. I started Jack Survives. Justin Green was one of those heroes with Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary. Justin dared to try to say something that seemed impossible—to visually show an emotional and psychological state in a real setting. Edvard Munch dared when he was young, and Philip Guston dared when he was old. I am not a completist; I don’t want a complete collection of anything. Every collection ends and a new one begins. I don’t collect comics much anymore.

CW: In the new printing of Jack Survives, drawings and words that you “edited out” of the final comic page by whiting them out are still visible as ghostly gray palimpsests. Was this always an important part of the pages for you?

JM: The “ghosts” of Jack are a painting artifact that my thinking process tolerates. I leave them, if they don’t distract, to bear witness to how hard art is for me. In the ghosts of Jack my handwriting is visible. I acknowledge my nervous system, which has an anxiety threshold that may abruptly call for sudden brush attacks rather than measured deliberations. I think later. Another reason is what I learned from playing solo sax and improvising with myself. Sometimes I hear the sound in my head, then I make the sound on the horn; sometimes I make a sound, then I hear it. In art the same thing can happen. Sometimes you see the line in your head, then you make the line and sometimes you make the line, then see it. When the art is representational without references, there is a lot of “flying by the seat of your pants.” I want to be surprised.

A music critic once said, “Jazz is the sound of surprise.” An author once said, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” I want the palimpsest and pentimento to remain because they are part of the truth for that picture. And there is my morbid fear of being professional.

III. “BEFORE I WAS A PAINTOONIST I WAS AN ILLUSAINTER.”

CW: You’ve called yourself the world’s only “paintoonist.” Could you explain, firstly, how difficult such a task as painting a series of readable images is, and secondly, how it is you’re the only painter I know who’s made it work?

JM: Painting is my primary sense organ—like the nose of a dog or the eye of a cat. I trust it to find an honest way to express passions. When I connected with comics in the ’70s, my painting sense immediately wanted to be active, but it didn’t work. There was stuff to learn about making comics. It took another twenty years before I put three panels on my canvas and the gap between single image and comics closed. The significance of “time” and “movement” as being divisible helped me explore comics’ power: the movement of still images and the passage of time. When the painter does not take “time” as seriously as “movement” and the paintings have no panels, allowing “movement” to be loose, the work becomes a mural. The cartoonist’s advantage is the “reading brain,” which goes to the upper left panel and “reads” visually left to right. Using simple panels as guides for “time” separation worked for me in the large canvases. I never see the panels assembled until the oil painting. As 18 x 24 acrylics, each image is full page—no page is divided into panels. That is three panels on four pages, two vertical single pages, and one horizontal doublepage spread—four pages in a book sequence. I allow paint to paint, which means I don’t compromise subtlety for readability or clarity to compensate for loss in the printing process. Lastly, I was embarrassed being called a “cartoonist” (less heroic back in the day than now) instead of a “painter” (less heroic now than back in the day). Comics were my “guilty pleasure” that engaged me fully but had to be kept on a short leash like porn. I was a painter (also self-proclaimed) with no gallery and no professional creds. In reality I was an artschool instructor after a failed career as a “girlie” magazine illustrator (not Playboy or Penthouse), butart is the “ultimate hope machine.” When the early Jack Survives was received so well, it surprised me. At forty-two I was part of a community of cartoonists who were the smartest people I had (and have) ever met. True artists. But the wannabe hero-painter in me resisted the cartoonist label. I spent five years dedicated to Jack Survives with side trips to refresh my painter’s “chops.” Once I left the comics world and, in time, looked back, it was clear that Jack was my first truly original art. Everything I did before Jack had the stink of PAINTING. It was natural to finally combine passions—and a “paintoonist” was born.

Moral: self-embarrassment is the first sign of self-knowledge.

CW: For me, your work was the first I saw that took the innate bold loudness of the comic-strip form and made something quiet, subtle, and poetic out of it. Was this one of your aims?

JM: There was no conscious attempt to be poetic or subtle. I think it is a personality thing. I am not a fan of bigness or theatricality. I prefer string quartets to symphonies, jazz trios to big bands. The bigger and louder things are, the more individuals are drowned in a sensory flood. The poetic condition is desired if defined by leaving stuff out so the viewer fills in the gaps with their own experience, becoming active participants in the picture. An actor once said, “I don’t cry onstage because if I do, the audience won’t have to.”

CW: Could you describe a typical workday?

JM: Every day is a typical workday, whether I work or not. Living in the same space that I work in, there is art in progress and recently finished things all around. When I get up and turn on the radio, my cat joins me to sit and look at the new stuff. We have breakfast (2 p.m.), read magazines, paper, nonfiction something. Turn on People’s Court and turn on computer, screw with a million different things online, all along building up “art guilt.” Sometime after Jeopardy! I think about artwork but instead play sax and burn a ten-minute music track. Maybe after midnight I start art work, maybe not. More “art guilt,” done by 3 a.m. Make supper, watch a movie while I eat. Go to bed at 7 a.m. Get up at 2, look at new art (a week old), a pang of “art guilt.” Plan to make art today… maybe.

CW: Do you listen to music when you work? If so, what?

JM: Someone once said, “All the arts aspire to the condition of music.” Not sure what that means, but I would agree with its essence. When I make art, music has to be on—music I control, not the radio. Artists are the original multitaskers. Art is a right-brain activity, the hemisphere that has no mouth. The judgmental words come from the left brain; it has a mouth and is conservative. It says to you while you are making art: “The nose is too big, the ears are too small, the arms are too long,” etc. Listening to music neutralizes pushy Left Brain because it is now busy with music judgment or bliss. I make special CDs of solo sax players and have many hours of just sax music, sometimes with a bass or cello. These are listened to deeply by Left Brain. I spend a lot of time separating sax solos from jazz LPs and CDs in order to create my perfect eighty-minute CDs. Meanwhile, Right Brain is free to make art in peace. When I take a break for coffee to look at the art, Left Brain comes back online to take credit for what works and to blame for what doesn’t. I think artists are more developed musically than writers or musicians are developed toward art because of the need to have an exciting musical environment for picture making. I have been playing alto and tenor sax since 1972 and am self-taught. I am better than I was. My favorite form is “free jazz” and total improvisation. Lately, I am relating to jazz music that five years ago was too “out” for me and I can’t even listen to most of my special sax CDs I made beyond five years ago. My music is more “out” than my art. Yes, I do aspire to the condition of my music.

CW: When you did the Jack pages in the early ’80s, the art world wasn’t exactly sympathetic to directly told personal stories about parents and children. Drawings of people were dismissed as “illustration.” Did you find this artistic climate a hindrance, an inspiration, or neither?

JM: In the big-A art world of the early ’80s it was the time of the “neo-expessionists” on the Lower East Side, tiny galleries. My favorite artists from that time were Eric Fischl and Paula Rego. Both painted in an “illustration,” stylized way. Both artists’ themes were sexual seduction. Fischl painted teenage boys in suburban settings being tempted by older women in a family environment. Rego in England showed sexual fantasies of a rich young girl from Portugal. I became aware of them in the ’90s when I was overwhelmed by Balthus and sought out more “seducer” artists. By then their work had gone from the frenzy of their primitive early-’80s stuff to boring “look at me, I can paint.” Fischl aped Hopper, and Rego aped Lucian Freud. I was not painting in large oils until the ’90s after a twenty-year layoff. In the ’80s I was completely dedicated to Jack Survives, Visual Crimes, and Rotart Sulli (spelled backward: “illus trator”). Over the years, illustrators have gotten a bad rap as artists. In connection to fine art, you always see the qualifier: “mere” illustration. I grew up with the full range of good to bad illustrators and it matches equally with good to bad cartoonists and good to bad painters. I have another formula to live by: 99 percent of everything sucks. The position of fine art is that the 1 percent good defines them but they would define illustration as the 99 percent bad. I would match the good 1 percent in illustration and the good 1 percent in comics to paintings’ 1 percent any day. When I was a magazine illustrator in the ’60s and I would be given a godawful story to illustrate, I called it the “illustrator’s challenge,” or “can you turn shit into gold?” Sometimes I think I did.

I always tried to make the illustration look like I would have done this picture on my own without it’s being an assignment. There was a time when illustrators were so regarded that they would appear in expensive Scotch ads as themselves. Illustrators probably dumped on cartoonists, though, and painters dumped on both of them. Illustration is an art you come upon accidently while thumbing through a magazine. Possibly a surprise moment of visual excellence or, like 99 percent of all art, a forgettable one. The next time you see “mere illustration,” think about it.

Before I was a paintoonist, I was an illusainter.

CW: You say in your midbook introduction of Jack that nothing sad could happen to him, though as a reader, I’ve found my eyes tear up at unpredictable times while reading your work, and I have also laughed. Is there something wrong with me, or does this emotional reaction square with your artistic aims?

JM: Thanks for telling me that Jack had an emotional effect on you, Chris. The fact that you are in your early forties like I was when Jack started and that your are a father helped. Also that Jack Survives was a suppressed form of mourning for a lost father could explain part of it. I made Jack forget the usual lessons from experience so he might be in a state of perpetual wonder. I was trying to preserve innocence and my childhood without him becoming a stupid man.

Jack is neither me nor my father. There are things he did where I could only follow his lead and if he got out of character I would stop him. However, not always. There is one Jack page that has forever haunted me because I didn’t catch an “out of character” moment. Jack is at a bus stop and while taking a token out he accidently empties his pocket into a grating. His wallet, keys, and coins fall through. Jack squats down, looks through the grating, and says, “All my identity is down there, that’s sad.” What is wrong is Jack saying, “That’s sad.” It is a comment of self-awareness and self-pity that is out of character. That is why I stated, “Nothing sad could happen to him.” I probably should have added, “that he knows.” Awareness is working with yesterday’s problems. One of the things I have remained in awe of since becoming an artist on my own is the “afterlife” of pictures. I do a picture and it is done. If it worked out I get that reward immediately. If it didn’t it could be a “sleeper” and will be good six months later. Or it could suck forever. The “afterlife” is the truth of the picture. Sometimes the picture that was good immediately is a “best of” picture that has everything you know in it and was recognized instantly. It has no “afterlife.” I feel sorry for artists who sell their original art within a year of finishing it because that is when my pictures start to talk to me.

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