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Kate Beaton on ‘Hark! A Vagrant’

October 11, 2011 | by

Kate Beaton makes comics about the Bröntes, Canadians, fat ponies, the X-Men, Hamlet, the American founding fathers, Raskolnikov, gay Batman, Nikola Tesla, Les Misérables, Nancy Drew, Greek myths, and hipsters throughout history. Little is spared her lively pen and waggish, incisive wit. Born in Nova Scotia, Beaton studied history and anthropology, discovering through her university’s newspaper that she could put her knowledge of people, places, and dates to work in a humor column and, later, in comic strips. In 2007, she launched Hark! A Vagrant, which now receives more than a million hits each month. Her new book, of the same name, lampoons Kierkegaard, lumberjacks, Marie Curie, Jay Gatsby, Anne of Cleves, Oedipus, and everyone in between.

Do you remember the first comic you drew in college?

It was about Vikings! Vikings invading the school campus. It was a how-to guide for dealing with this breaking news. The Vikings were very interested in biology class, apparently. In comics, everybody is an expert in their own sense of humor, so either you’re funny to someone else or you’re not. And it’s putting yourself out there quite a bit for someone who is a little bit shy, which I was. I didn’t put my name on the first comics I submitted in case people hated them. You don’t want to be that person who’s unfunny. Trying to be funny and not being funny? That’s awful.

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Paul Hornschemeier on ‘Life with Mr. Dangerous’

July 18, 2011 | by

Forlorn Funnies, the title of cartoonist Paul Hornschemeier’s periodical of short prose comics, aptly characterizes all of his work: bleak subjects leavened by drollery and gags reigned-in by finely drawn anxieties. The author of the graphic novels Mother, Come Home (2003) and The Three Paradoxes (2007) and two collections of shorter work, Hornschemeier recently published Life with Mr. Dangerous, a graphic novel he began serializing in Fantagraphics’s comics anthology, Mome, in 2005. The story concluded last winter, and the novel, which tells the story of a young woman adrift in bad relationships and obsessed with a little-known cartoon show, appeared in book form last month. I spoke with Hornschemeier from his home in Evanston, Illinois.

The story was serialized in Mome over a period of five years. Was the story whole in your mind when you started, or did you create it as you went along?

With most of my stories, I have key scenes in mind and I almost always have the beginning and end done right from the start. With this one, I definitely had key emotional notes I wanted to hit, and I knew how it ended and the set up. But it was strange in that I was both writing it as I was going, and, as it was coming out in Mome, I was going back and editing the story and inserting new pages. So in the book, there are thirty pages that weren’t in the serialized format.

What was needed that wasn’t already there?

I could see there were beats I hadn’t hit that I wanted to go back and reemphasize, pacing issues and characterization issues that I wanted to resolve. I produced that graphic novel really differently than my other graphic novels. Mother, Come Home was very act 1, act 2, act 3, and they were written very much as acts by themselves. And The Three Paradoxes was as close as possible to what a full screenplay would be, because it was so complex, with interlocking narratives. But this one was just a huge, jumbled mess.

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Jamey Gambrell on Vladimir Sorokin

June 23, 2011 | by

In 1985, Jamey Gambrell took her first trip to the Soviet Union as a reporter for Art and America. Her dispatches brought fresh news of the underground art scene to the United States and introduced her to a wealth of artists in Russia, including Moscow Conceptualists Ilya Kabakov, Erik Bulatov, and Andrei Monastyrsky. Among that group was writer Vladimir Sorokin, whose first stories were published that same year in the Russian-English art magazine, A-Ya.

Since then, Gambrell has translated work by some of twentieth-century Russia’s most significant writers: Marina Tsvetaeva’s Moscow diaries, fiction by Tatyana Tolstaya, and Alexander Rodchenko’s essays. More recently, she took on four highly stylized novels by Sorokin: Day of the Oprichnik, a dystopic satire of modern Russia, and Ice Trilogy, three books that span the twentieth century and describe the strange tale of a group called the Brotherhood. In a café near her apartment on the Upper West Side in New York, Gambrell and I discussed the particular challenges Sorokin presents.

When did you first meet Sorokin?

I met him in ’88. I had become a familiar face in Russia, and I became friends with artists I knew in New York—Komar and Melamid, Alexander Kosolapov, Leonid Sokov. Once you meet one Russian, you meet hundreds. And the art world in Russia was pretty small, so an American from Art in America who spoke Russian? I was a very unusual creature, and everyone introduced me to everybody they possibly could. The first time I met Sorokin was at a kind of picnic/boat ride organized by some of the formally unofficial artists after the Sotheby’s auction. But I didn’t know him very well. And then, for the first time, a lot of people were allowed to go out of the country; a group of German artists invited them to do a show in West Berlin. It was so cool that I could get on a plane and go visit all of these people that I knew, with no visas and nobody tapping the telephones. It was exciting. And that’s when I really met him, really talked to him for the first time.

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Geoff Dyer Tonight!

May 10, 2011 | by

Join Geoff Dyer as he discusses his new book, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, with Lorin Stein, at Greenlight Bookstore, 686 Fulton Street, in Brooklyn. The event begins at 7:30 PM.

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The Paris Review Wins National Magazine Award

May 10, 2011 | by

Last night, The Paris Review took home an Ellie in the category of Essays and Criticism for John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “Mister Lytle: An Essay.” In a long night of long speeches, Lorin Stein did us proud.

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Ida Kar

April 27, 2011 | by

Ida Kar, self-portrait with a painting by John Christoforou and an assemblage by Heinrich Heidersberger, 1962.

After moving from Tambov, Russia, to Egypt with her Armenian parents in 1921, Ida Kar spent five years in Paris. She had been educated at the prestigious Lycée Français in Alexandra, but her stint on the Left Bank, at age twenty, formed the foundation of her education as an artist. André Breton had written the first Surrealist manifesto there four years earlier, and the city was a hotbed of artistic experimentation. In the studio of a young German photographer named Heinrich Heidersberger, Kar made her first foray into photography. She returned to Egypt in 1933, just as that nation’s artists began developing their own iteration of surrealism (André Breton famously wrote to poet Georges Henelin, in 1936, “The imp of the perverse, as he deigns to appear to me, seems to have one wing here, the other in Egypt”), and dedicated herself to the medium.

When the newly married Kar moved to London in 1945, she wasted little time in initiating her photographic career and cultivating the kind of artistic community she had known in Cairo. She began making high-contrast, tightly cropped commercial portraits of theater actors in 1947; by the end of fifties, her roster of sitters had come to include many of the era’s most significant painters, sculptors, authors, poets, playwrights, and composers, among them T. S. Eliot, Noël Coward, L. S. Lowry, and Somerset Maugham in London; Le Corbusier, Man Ray, Marie Laurencin, and Alberto Giacometti in Paris; and Dmitry Shostakovich, Leonid Leonov, Ernst Neizvestny, and Ilya Ehrenberg in the Soviet Union.

In 1960, Kar mounted a groundbreaking solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London; hers was the first retrospective show of a photographer at a London gallery. Of it, she boasted, “We are going to make this show the most exciting photographic event since ‘The Family of Man.’” The comparison with Edward Steichen’s thorough 1955 survey of documentary photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art was apt. The Whitechapel show solidified Kar’s reputation as documentarian of cultural life, while rousing critics to debate photography’s aspirations to the level of high art. “I don’t think it is an art,” insisted David Sylvester, a fan of Kar’s work, “because the essence of art is that the artist creates his forms and does not select them: photography reproduces the form.”

Kar proved unmoved by the debate. Until her death in 1974, she continued her work, making sensitive portraits of the St. Ives artistic community, of Fidel Castro and Cuban writers, and of any number of intrepid, purposeful women artists.

Click on the images below to open a gallery of Kar’s photography.

Ida Kar: Bohemian Photographer, 1908–1974” is on view at the National Portrait Gallery, London, through June 19.

All images © National Portrait Gallery, London

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