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    What Would You Ask Your Favorite Contemporary Cartoonists?

    Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Alison Bechdel, and other comic artists reveal tricks of the trade in a new book

    Daniel Clowes, The Death Ray, pages 20-21.©DANIEL CLOWES WITH PERMISSION FROM DRAWN AND QUARTERLY.

    Daniel Clowes, from The Death Ray. Click for larger image.

    ©DANIEL CLOWES WITH PERMISSION FROM DRAWN AND QUARTERLY.

    For nearly a decade, writer Hillary L. Chute has been interviewing some of North America’s most influential cartoonists. She has discussed the distasteful aspects of adolescent psychology with Daniel Clowes, the author of Ghost World. She has picked apart the delicate nature of exploring family dysfunction with Alison Bechdel, who produced the autobiographical graphic novel Fun Home. And she’s explored the darker fascinations of Charles Burns, an artist whose characters often deal with disease or disfigurement. Over the years some of these interviews have been published; others have not. But now they’ve all been gathered into an enlightening new compendium, Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists, just out from University of Chicago Press.

    Chute is no stranger to the subject of comics. An assistant professor of literature at the University of Chicago, she has been studying the form for more than a decade. She is also the author of Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics (2010), which examined the contributions of women in the field. And she contributed to MetaMaus (2011), a book that explored the making of Art Spiegelman’s seminal Maus, the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel that told the story of the artist’s family during and after the Holocaust. (Spiegelman, who inspired Chute’s love of comics to begin with, also figures in Outside the Box.)

    Burns_Big Baby_600

    Charles Burns, Big Baby: Fantagraphics Cover, 1999, ink on paper.

    COURTESY ADAM BAUMGOLD GALLERY.

    Like Spiegelman, the nearly dozen artists Chute interviews are all pretty high profile—and collectively, they’ve been interviewed just about everywhere, from Time to the New York Times to The Paris Review. But Chute’s keen knowledge of their work elicits interesting details about their process. Chris Ware, an artist known for his wordless comics of sad sacks and ne’er-do-wells, talks about his interest in the diagrammatic aspects of typography. And Phoebe Gloeckner, who blends literary text with painting and graphic elements, describes the ways in which vintage book illustrations have inspired aspects of her work.

    Gloeckner_600

    A work in progress by Phoebe Gloeckner.

    ©PHOEBE GLOECKNER.

    Bechdel, whose Fun Home was named one of the “10 Best Books of the Year” by Time in 2006, describes the role that photography plays in her work. The artist regularly depicts family snapshots in her drawings, providing a documentary sensibility to her comics. And, in a rather Cindy Sherman-esque turn, she reveals that she photographs herself in myriad poses to use as reference. “I can’t even draw the simplest pose now without a reference shot,” she confesses.

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    Excerpt from Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Click for larger image.

    ©ALISON BECHDEL 2006. USED BY PERMISSION OF HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT PUBLISHING COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

    One of Chute’s more engrossing conversations is with the genre-busting Joe Sacco, an artist who employs comics as a journalistic device, using them to report on his journeys through war-torn Serbia or the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip. In the interview, Sacco discusses his research methods and the instinctive way in which he lays out his pages, but also discloses the emotional relationship he has with his subjects. “You have to put yourself in everyone’s shoes that you draw, whether it’s a soldier or a civilian,” he tells Chute. “You have to think about what it’s like: What are they thinking? What are they feeling?”

    Tomine_NY Drawings (Read-Handed)

    Adrian Tomine, “Read-Handed.”

    ©ADRIAN TOMINE WITH PERMISSION FROM DRAWN AND QUARTERLY.

    Together, the interviews help illuminate the complex web of thinking that goes into producing a single comic panel. It’s an intimate look at the making of significant works of comic book art at the turn of the 21st century.

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