Manuel Betancourt

Post Bang Conference or How Art Spiegelman conversed with Gary Panter

June 13, 2008 · in Comic Books

Post Bang: Comics Ten Minutes After the Big Bang!
Friday, June 6 2008
An all-day symposium on the growing cultural significance of comics curated by Art Spiegelman and Kent Worcester

Blogging about an academic symposium – it seems like an attack on everything I get taught in grad school, but I do feel that the more interesting part of a panel like this is the interactions and the personal reactions from the audience (consider it [retroactive] liveblogging in an academic setting).
7:00-8:00 Art Spiegelman and Gary Panter in conversation
Bill Kartalopoulos (moderator, editor of the EGON comics website and Indy Magazine online), Art Spiegelman (best known for his Pulitzer winning Maus, co-founder of RAW Magazine, forthcoming: Breakdowns and Jack and the Box) and Gary Panter (known for his Emmy-Award Winning production design on Pee Wee’s Playhouse and his Screamers 1970s posters, creator of Jimbo).

This was by far the most ‘informative’ of all the panels – in part because it encompassed such a huge topic (the combined careers of Spiegelman and Panter!) but also because Kartalopoulos was able to guide the conversation seamlessly from their underground/counter-culture roots to their works today, with visual aids that remind you why Spiegelman and Panter are such influential artists today. This is why it makes it more difficult for me to convey the amount of conversation that took place, but here goes a try (simplistic as it may be):

We began, as I said, with Art’s start in the underground comics scene, talked about his initial idea when offered to write Funny Animals: a story following the Ku Klux Kats (“That lasted for 2 days, when I realised I knew nothing about the black experience… But I knew about Jews.” – and thus Maus; or at least its first 3 page version, was born).

Similarly, they spoke of Panter’s beginnings and most importantly of his influences: everything from junk culture to cubism, from Chester Gould and Philip Gustin to Andre Breton (“Beauty must be convulsive” he quoted) and at one point they spoke of his paintings as spaghetti and meatballs version of Picasso – if you just look at his paintings, including the poster of the event you can see where all of this is coming from. Of course then they moved to when Art and Gary met, how RAW published Gary’s art, and his Jimbo.

And as the conversation got more and more personal they spoke of how they worked as post-traumatic stress buddies following the events of 9/11 (both living in NYC, they witnessed and tried to come to terms with the event through their art). “What I kept wondering,” said Panter, “is where’s the motherfucking airforce?!” – spoken with the sincerity of someone who was really bewildered by the events of that morning. “We kept talking on the phone to de-stress each other, and kept wondering… what if something else happens?” shared Art, “Where’s the safest place to run? Should we run to Staten Island?”

Then the conversation turned to Art’s new upcoming children’s book (Jack and the Box) which Bill pointed out had something to do with an old comic-essay on the Jack in the Box he had published years ago (and has a very adult-like tone). In the essay Art had explored the ways the Fool/Jack in the Box (read: flaccid penis) had an underlying scary sense to it. I mean, here’s something that just comes at you and scares you. But, how it turns out it’s funny is by the fact that you control something that (for all you know, as a child) wants to kill you. So, in a sense, he set out to create a children’s book that functioned like a jack in the box. Scary at first, but that would be funny when re-read (“I make comics to be re-read, not just read” he acknowledged).

And from the Q&A (short as it was) we got this great question: “If LSD had not been invented, what your comics look like?” (alluding to the constant reference to the drug throughout the talk by both artists in their formative years)

Art: That’s a tricky question.

Gary: Well, there was always mushrooms.

Art: I have to say, I did no ‘good’ work while on drugs. And I have to say, I would probably have 5 more years as a cartoonist, I guess.

Check back for commentary/’retroactive liveblogging’ of the rest of the panels:

11:00-12:15 Comics and Canon Formation
1:30-2:45 Comics and Kid’s Lit
3:00-4:15 Comics and the Literary Establishment
5:30-6:45 Comics and the Internet
7:00-8:00 Art Spiegelman and Gary Panter in conversation
8:15-9:30 Hillary Chute interviews Lynda Barry