Welcome back. Chris Mautner is here today with an excellent, in-depth interview with Bill Griffith about his new graphic memoir, Invisible Ink. This discussion took place at this year’s SPX in Bethesda. Here’s an excerpt:
Chris Mautner: So to start with, this is an image you sent me from a 1974 issue of Young Lust with a page you did where you’re portraying an affair between a cartoonist and a woman. Obviously this is something that had been percolating in your head since you first learned of it. But what was the point where you said, “I have to tell this story, not just come at obliquely, but I have to directly tell my mother’s story?
Bill Griffith: Well the trigger for it was a visit to my uncle. My uncle is my mother’s brother and still alive at 91. Three and a half years ago – this is in the book, this is how the whole thing started – he sent me a letter hinting that he would like me to come visit. And I did. I thought, “He’s getting old, I’m not going to see him a lot in the future and this is a good time to visit.”
In the course of the visit one evening, his wife, my aunt, said, “Do you think your mother ever had an affair with—” … she said a name. And I said, “Not too likely, he was our neighbor. But of course she did have a long affair with Lawrence Lariar.” And both my uncle and my aunt said, “Who? What?” And I explained, and they were kind of OK with it. And I thought, “Wow, I thought they were going to be outraged.” These are conservative people. But underneath all conservative people is a not-so-conservative person and that came out.
I was staying at a hotel nearby. My aunt was very sick, so I didn’t want to stay with them and bother her. So I went back to my hotel that night with this conversation in my head and the book was born in about a four-hour frenzy. I was up ’til three in the morning just scribbling notes, going online, looking up this guy who I had never researched at all. I knew when I was a kid that my mother worked for him as a secretary. And I knew he was a famous cartoonist. But I only had one meeting with him, which is in the book also. So my relationship to him was very slight.
But when I did the research I said, “Oh my god, this guy has done everything in comics”. He worked for the very first comic book, New Fun, in 1934. He had four daily strips. He wrote three how-to-draw cartoon books. He wrote gag cartoons for every magazine from the 1920s to the 1970s – a huge career that’s been completely forgotten. [To audience:] Anybody every heard of Lawrence Lariar? Anybody? [A few people raise their hands.] OK, If this was 1953, you would have said, “Oh yeah, that guy.” He was in Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Look. He was primarily a gag cartoonist. So this book just sort of blossomed out of that meeting with my uncle and aunt.
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Another cartoonist arrested in Iran for shameful reasons.
—Reviews & Commentary. Jared Gardner writes about medicine in comics, including recent books by Katie Green and Porcellino.
—Interviews & Profiles. Drew Friedman gave a big interview to that Greek blues site that’s been interviewing American cartoonists…
Aintitcool talked to New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff.
—Misc. Congratulations to Robin M on ten years of Inkstuds.