- Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists by Hilary Chute
In the introduction to Outside the Box, Hilary Chute ruminates on why she is interested in what cartoonists have to say about comics, and why their observations should be important to anyone interested in the comics medium. She writes, “Listening to cartoonists, I became fascinated with the possibilities of the comics form, especially around the relationship between word and image, and the connection of time to space. . . . The exhilarating feature of my [End Page 794] interviews with cartoonists—for me, and hopefully for others—is that they capture moments of practitioners reflecting on the form as it is being shaped in contemporary culture” (2). The proof of Chute’s assertion can be seen in reading through this fascinating collection of interviews that illuminates the process of creating comics, the possibilities of the comics medium, the history and evolution of so-called “literary” comics, and issues of representation and structure in both fiction and nonfiction comics.
The twelve interviewees—Scott McCloud, Charles Burns, Lynda Barry, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Phoebe Gloeckner, Joe Sacco, Alison Bechdel, Françoise Mouly, Adrian Tomine, Art Spiegelman, and Chris Ware—represent a particular kind of contemporary cartoonist who acts as both writer and artist, a fact that Chute readily acknowledges in the introduction. Chute further argues that “the career trajectories on display here fill in a picture of how the world of literary comics has emerged and taken shape” in a way that collectively “presents a crucial recent history of a rapidly expanding art form” (9). It’s important to stress here that these twelve cartoonists represent a history and that this book is a collection of interviews with creators who have been of particular interest to her; eight of the interviews were previously published in the Believer, Time Out New York, Modern Fiction Studies, and Printer’s Row. While there are certainly interconnections between these twelve in their histories as cartoonists, what is particularly striking is how thoughtful and reflective each of them is about the practice of making comics. It is here, in the cartoonists’ careful consideration of their own processes, the medium, and its possibilities, that the real value of the book resides.
It is fitting, then, that the book opens with Scott McCloud, who has, more than any other cartoonist, theorized how comics work and what is possible in the medium. What is particularly interesting here is their extended exchange about Understanding Comics, its reception (particularly by other artists), and the way McCloud now regards the ideas presented there and subsequently re-worked in books such as Making Comics. In interviewing Charles Burns, on the other hand, Chute guides Burns from questions about his history as an artist to the themes of his work and finally to the way that his artistic style embodies the narrative themes he tries to convey in his work. As an example of where Chute’s questioning leads, in talking about his style, Burns says, “I try to achieve something that’s almost like a visceral effect. The quality of the lines and the density of the black take on a character of their own—it’s something that has an effect on your subconscious. . . . Hopefully it makes you have some kind of gut reaction” (50–51). Chute’s abilities as an interviewer are evident here and throughout the collection.
The most extended discussion of form and how the medium works occurs in a previously unpublished interview with Art Spiegelman and Chris [End Page 795] Ware in which the two cartoonists respond not only to Chute’s questions but also to each other’s ideas. This animated conversation can especially be seen in the exchange around “comics as architecture,” an idea which Chute nicely picks up from the previous discussion. Here we see an extended back-and-forth between Spiegelman and Ware that ranges from Frank King’s Gasoline Alley to Japanese prints, all as a way to discuss page structure in comics. Like Burns’s discussion of his visual...