simmonds, spiegelman… and groening!

I love London so much. I imagine that in New York or LA, you’d have join long queues of fans at conventions to see your illustration, comics and animation heroes, but in London, you can have a nice chilled out conversation in the ICA bar or sit in a fairly small room to hear them speak.

Last night I arrived a bit early for the interview of Art Spiegelman by Posy Simmonds, and somehow nabbed Matt Groening while he was wandering around near the bar looking a bit lost. We were joined by his Argentinian painter friend Agustina Picasso, who’s having an exhibition (Mondongo at Maddox Arts). Matt can’t quite get her to admit if she’s related to Pablo or not. Then Stephen Betts and two more of Matt’s American friends arrived, Gilbert Shelton and Spain Rodriguez, who’s recently published a new comics volume about Ché Guevara. Matt Groening was very nice, although he’s doing a grumpy old man pose in the photo. Jim Medway gave him a copy of the DFC, and it was funny to see Matt looking at Vern and Lettuce. I thought I’d been a bit forward, but he came up at the end of the talk and slipped me his business card, which gave me a little tummy flutter.

Gilbert Shelton and Matt Groening

Spain Rodriguez

I must confess, while I think Art Spiegelman’s work is amazing, I really went to see my comics hero, Posy Simmonds. I did a sketch of her in my notebook, but it was so rough that I went over it with a brush pen on my light box when I got home. Spiegelman thinks she’s pretty cool, too, and talked about her use of subtle facial expressions, body language, and how all her characters are so distinct from each other. Spiegelman compared her characters to those by the Hernandez brothers, I can’t tell their characters apart except for the bust size. Spiegelman and Simmonds hadn’t met before, although Spiegelman had earlier commissioned her to do a piece for Little Lit.

Highlights of the talk included Simmonds and Spiegelman singing a rousing rendition of Davy Crockett, hearing Simmonds’ very passable mimicry of an American accent, and a debate over the proper name for a downward spiral scribble (Is it a spurl or a squeen?) Spiegelman complimented Simmonds’ great drawing technique; You don’t mind going out and drawing f***ing trees! He discussed his theories about humour, saying it’s built on something disturbing, then you discover it won’t actually hurt you, then you feel a pleasant mastery over it. Both artists said they were hugely influenced by Mad Magazine; Simmonds got most of her early comics from the kids of GIs who lived on the nearby US Air Force base. Spiegelman showed early work published in his new book, Breakdown, the Portrait of the Artist as a Young… and the fascinating comics he made for the preface to put them in context. Actually, much more of the talk was about Spiegelman than Simmonds, so you will soon be able to read a more balanced account on Stephen Betts’ Comix Influx blog. There were a lot of familiar faces in the audience, including Jan Pienkowski in the front row.

Thank you, Paul Gravett, for another wonderful season of Comica!

On the way to the station, Stephen took me through one of the tiled subways on Trafalgar Square that I somehow have managed to miss during the ten years I’ve been living in London. (I guess I always walk overground there.) I had to take a picture of one of the many weird and wonderful sets of painted tiles:

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