Art Spiegelman, Part 1
By: Hillary Chute | June 20, 2008
Day 1: FROM TÖPFFER TO PULITZER TO A “BUDDING CARTOONIST”
Tell me about your interest in print.
The history of comics is the history of printing. The medium developed as printing technologies developed. The idea of comics as a narrative series of pictures goes from medieval woodcuts—as well as the stained glass windows that are recapitulated in those woodcuts—into something recognizably like comics, with, let’s say, Hogarth’s engravings. They’re secular. They’re story related. They’re a series, and they allow for these complex single scenes that add up to be A Harlot’s Progress. Those things in turn inspired [nineteenth-century Swiss artist] Rodolphe Töpffer, who is the obvious next step in the development of comics. Töpffer took advantage of a then-new technology that was a primitive version of offset lithography, meaning you draw on a piece of transfer paper, put it on a stone. So you draw right reading, unlike engraving.
How does this technology relate to comics?
It meant that a cartoonist could be making the same kind of marks for his writing as for his drawing. In engraving, everything’s backwards, and you have to letter backwards. In woodcuts, if you had type, it would be set type combined with the woodcut.
What this became for Töpffer—who was directly inspired by Hogarth—was not just a series of cartoons but a sequence of cartoons, so that each page was divided up into boxes. He was very self-consciously aware of the drawing being an aspect of writing. He called these “novels in pictures,” and he knew he was creating a new medium. He wrote about it as such. That in its turn eventually went through [German artist] Wilhelm Busch, who made woodcuts with type for the most part, and through various permutations in Europe to America, where lithography ruled in the cartoon magazines at the time. Those lithographer cartoonists became the first generation of Sunday comics-makers taking advantage of yet another evolution in printing—the high speed color printing press developed at great expense by Joseph Pulitzer to bring painting to the masses.
What was the first step in terms of getting your own work printed?
When I was twelve, I went to a local weekly newspaper and asked if they wanted to see my stuff. I brought a little portfolio and, much to my humiliation, they printed one of the drawings, which is what I wanted them to do, but not necessarily under the heading of an article called “Budding Cartoonist Wants Attention.”
What happened next?
In junior high school, I started drawing for the newspaper doing cartoons, and also doing cartoons for the literary magazine and for the yearbook. So that’s when you first started seeing your work regularly in print?
Well, in the junior high school newspaper first, and in fanzines, so it was various clusters of occasions. When I got to high school, I became, even as a freshman, I think, the editor of the high school newspaper, and I did cartoons and writing for every issue.
And in high school, at about age 16, I went back to that paper, and got hired as a weekly cartoonist, as opposed to just being budding at that point. I began submitting cartoons to magazines, mostly getting rejected, but every once in a while finding my way into print. I had the notion that a cartoon didn’t exist until it was printed.