Wassup Rockers

Marjane Satrapi + Chris Ware @ NYU Skirball Center (Festival of New French Writing).

Earlier tonight I went to see Marjane Satrapi and Chris Ware in conversation, with Françoise Mouly as moderator. Even though I wasn’t feeling 100%, this was an event I needed to attend because… well, how often do you see a lineup like that? It was fucking free, too. So I HAD to go. I didn’t take notes but here are some of my impressions:

I’d seen video footage of Marjane Satrapi before doing interviews and stuff, so I had a clear sense of what she’d be like. Thanks to my coworker, I had the pleasure of seeing Comic Book Confidential a little while back, so I knew what Françoise Mouly would be like, too. (In one word: HOT.) When it came to Chris Ware, however, I didn’t even know what he looked like, what his voice sounded like, so imagine how surprised I was when he walked onto the stage. No really… one some level he looks like a walking, talking version of one of his drawings, which weirded me out. Even the kinda bummed out attitude was so familiar. And yet, as the discussion went on, he uncovered all these interesting layers that made me appreciate him so much more as a complex individual. His self-deprecation was almost off-putting (his wife must be one patient woman) but it was still genuine enough for people to be able to laugh in sympathy. And hey, for such a mopey cartoonist, he had great comic timing.

I think for the most part I gained a lot of wisdom from Satrapi, but it may just be that her French-accented English just made her sound really deep. What’s cool is that even though Satrapi and Ware have such wildly different styles in their artwork and their creative process, most of the hour-long conversation was dedicated to noting how much they had in common. So one of the really cool things that Satrapi talked about was the relation of the audience and the medium of her work. For example, a reader is very active when reading a comic because they are allowed to imagine what is going on between the panels, but working on the film version of Persepolis, it was difficult to have to fill in those missing points between the panels because a film goer is a lot more passive when experiencing a movie.

Another point Satrapi made was that drawings are closer (more intimate?) to human nature than, say, photographs, because a photograph reproduces reality whereas a drawing reflects the way an individual views the world. Well this reminded me of that Bible passage, “God made man in his own image,” which makes me think of how artists are trying to create the world through their own eyes. There is some quality of wanting to take control and be a little bit God-like when you are an artist, of creating a world and having a say in how things turn out… Do I make any sense right now?

I think it was at this point that Chris Ware chimed in, speaking of his daughter. He spoke of how his four-year-old daughter has been scribbling or doodling ever since she could hold a pencil, but ever since she’s started (pre?)school, she’s been coming home with these pictures of, for example, things that could be recognized as faces. What he meant is that she learned that certain abstractions, certain shapes or whatever, can be combined to form something recognizable. So that a circle can be a head and two dots can be eyes and there can be a line for the nose and a line for the mouth. And this isn’t something that was innate, but that it was something she learned. Yeah, I was thinking about McCloud’s Understanding Comics when Ware talked about this. But I mean, what really struck me was realizing that we learned that certain symbols are universal, so that everyone sees “<3” and says, “That’s the shape of a heart,” or maybe a triangle resting on top of a square symbolizes “house,” and that this is something learned.

We were able to see Ware’s gradual artistic process, from the blank page until the final product, and you could kind of feel the audience going, “Holy crap.” Cos even in its raw, blue-pencil form, you could see how detailed everything was. Even Mouly and Satrapi were looking at the images and whispering to each other, “Incroyable!”

The other amazing thing was we all got to watch a short animation that Chris Ware did of this… I don’t know, I guess it was a feature on This American Life. The story he animated was so hilarious, and not just because the story was so great, but because the artwork complimented the storytelling so brilliantly. It makes me wish he only did animation. It was pretty wonderful to see his familiar figures in motion.

Man, I haven’t laughed this hard since… er, well, since last night’s 30 Rock. But really, I felt so happy to be there and to witness this event, not least because we got to see this short animation. Earlier today, as I got ready to go out to this discussion, it kind of hit me how lucky I am to live in New York where there’s always all this cool, oftentimes free shit happening. Sometimes I wish I lived somewhere cheaper, but shit like this makes me feel so privileged to live in this city.

I liked hearing about the different methods Satrapi used in her different comics, too, but it was really cool to just hear about her childhood, too, about how she had limited exposure to comics as a child, and then finally learning how much potential the medium offered her to express herself. I wish Ware had shared more about his childhood, too, though he was so sure that the audience didn’t care to hear anything about it. He did mention, though, how annoyed he was

As the conversation wound down, Mouly mentioned that Ware and Satrapi had published their first books at a relatively young age, at 31 and 30 respectively. After the event was over my friend and I were walking down the street, and we both expressed some sort of relief that we still have time to accomplish something. I mean, frankly I find it kinda hard to even see myself alive at age 30 (is that a weird thing to say?), but this event gave me a bit of hope. It made it slightly easier to see a future ahead of me, one where I could actually contribute something of substance to the world, whatever that may be.

Hm… I forgot to mention a lot of stuff about their conversation, so hopefully some other bloggers will fill in. They’ll probably be a lot more eloquent, too. Ultimately, I was left with a deeply positive impression of Mouly, Satrapi and Ware, and it was really cute to see Satrapi and Ware, in particular, praising each other’s work.

Before I sign off, I have some name-dropping to do. First, as I’d hoped, Art Spiegelman was totally there, sitting in the audience. I was just thrilled to be in the same fucking room as Spiegelman. Second, when I walked outside Skirball, I almost bumped into this person taking a picture of his (her?) friend with… Paul Auster! Can you believe it! Paul Auster was at the event too! I mean, unless he just happened to be walking past the Skirball Center at the very moment the discussion was over and everyone was spilling out onto the street. But I doubt it, especially knowing that his work has been graphic novel-fied, I’m pretty sure he attended the discussion too. Fucking cool. Once again, I love living in New York.


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