Cartoonist Art Spiegelman was at BookPeople tonight to talk about his new book, Breakdowns. He was funny, he smoked a lot, and he couldn’t believe anyone would rather come see him when they could be at home watching the presidential debates.
Spiegelman is fascinating not because of Maus and the Pulitzer Prize—he’s fascinating because he is someone whose who life has been consumed by and obsessed with comics. The son of immigrant parents, he says he “discovered America” through comics. He has a lazy eye, which makes him see the world in 2-D. He’s spent almost every waking moment researching comics, looking up the words “comics” and “caricature” and “narrative” in any nearby encyclopedia or dictionary.
He’s a prime example of how when you look at everything in life through the lens of your obsession, you not only gain this vast, treasure trove of specialized knowledge, you gain a kind of universal knowledge as well.
It all comes through in his slide show:
He kept talking about how our brains are “hard-wired” to understand comics, so I asked him if he’d come across any specific pieces of neuroscience on the subject that he’d recommend reading. He told me cognitive psychology is a much richer place to look, and gave examples: babies recognizing a smiley face before they can recognize their mother…baby red-beaked birds preferring the caricature of their mother to their real mother—worms fed to them with red chopsticks!
While he was signing my book, my friend Sunni asked him how long he was gonna be in Texas. He said ’til 7AM the next morning. (Book tour has to be a real pain in the ass when it’s all squashed together.)
Thanks Art, for coming to Texas…hope you’ll return when you can stay longer!