BEA Dispatch: Art Spiegelman Calls Out Contemporary Comics

Spiegelman and City Lights Bookstore's Paul Yamazaki Friday night Photo: Boris Kachka


Sure, Barbara Walters and Arianna Huffington were in attendance at Knopf's big Book Expo dinner Friday night in L.A., but our big score was sitting next to Art Spiegelman, who'd requested a seat at the end of the table so he could easily run out for smoke breaks. "They told me I would live longer if I quit," he said, "and it's true, the year and a half I didn't smoke was the longest part of my life." What concerns him most these days is his son, a junior at St. Anns, who joined Spiegelman and his wife to visit colleges on the West Coast. With admission rates at a record low, "I feel for him," he said. "He's anxious, and I don't make him feel any better by saying, 'I was a college dropout, it all works out.'"

Soon enough, the conversation moved outside, where, as cars whizzed by on Melrose, Spiegelman expressed his puzzlement with L.A. and waxed nostalgic for the old Soho (where he still lives), but copped to abetting its gentrification with a secretly ad-driven map of the neighborhood he'd started with his wife, thereby financing Raw. So modern Soho dismays him. What about modern comics, a.k.a. graphic novels?

"I wanted this Faustian deal to get struck," he said. "I thought, 'This would be good if comics were in bookstores and you could find them without blushing,' but like with most publishing, it moves in waves and fads. Every publisher wants to have one, but they haven't a clue as to what a good one or a bad one might be." He's reading a lot of manga, he says, but FSG's new graphic versions of historical events — the 9/11 Report, the life of Muhammad Ali — "are not very good. They remind me of certain comics I had in a separate corner of my comic library, which were like My Friend Wheat. You're supposed to learn something. They have pictures, they have text, but they don't have that beat." —Boris Kachka