Roz Chast has been contributing her work to The New Yorker since 1978 when she burst on the scene in the magazine’s pages causing a mixture of excitement and in some quarters, just a little confusion. The veteran New Yorker cartoonist, Charles Saxon, a giant in the magazine’s ranks, queried Ms. Chast, and not in the most positive sense, “Why do you draw the way you do?” She responded, “Why do you draw the way you do?”
Since that time Ms. Chast has herself gone on to become a giant in the ranks of the magazine’s contributors. Most everyone knows what a Chast drawing looks like (and often they smile just upon hearing her name).
Roz and I have known each other since the year our work first appeared in The New Yorker, Incoming Class of ’78. I remember being introduced to her by the cartoonist, Richard Cline, in the Grand Ballroom of the Pierre Hotel, where The New Yorker once held its anniversary parties. We email from time-to-time, and recently, I asked her if she’d let Ink Spill visitors in on what’s happening in her life these days.
Michael Maslin: Roz, when we connected a few weeks ago you were making your first pickles. It’s not at all what I imagined you would be doing that day. I’m not sure what I imagined you’d be doing, but it wasn’t that. What’s with the pickling? And how did it go?
Roz Chast: I have a couple of friends who are obsessed with pickle-making. Looking back, I think it was peer pressure. Anyway, my pickles were ok. Don’t know if I’ll do it again, though. Voice in my head right now: shut up about the pickles. [Roz’s first batch of pickles are in the photo above].
MM:I know you’ve returned to one of your passions: pysanka egg-decorating. I love seeing group photographs of them, as if they’re assembled for a concert or something. When you’re decorating them, are they individuals, or do they belong to various egg families? In other words, is there ever a story between them, or are they strangers to each other? Am I making sense?
MM: I know you’ve been working on a book, coming out next May, and that it’s perhaps different from previous books of yours. Can you tell us us about it?
RC: It’s called Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, which is what my father used to say whenever a difficult topic, like death or illness, came up. It’s a graphic memoir and includes writing (nothing typeset), cartoons, illustrations, some of my mother’s poems, photographs, and, as they say, much, much more. The book begins when I realized I had to “step up to the plate” and deal with their increasing frailty—that none of us could continue sticking out heads in the sand– and it ends with my mother’s death.
MM: Let’s turn to our favorite magazine for a moment. A good percentage of the cartoonists who began when we did, in the mid-to-late 1970s, are still contributing to the magazine. They’re (we’re) continuing a tradition of long careers for cartoonists at The New Yorker. Jack Ziegler, Mick Stevens, yourself, Liza Donnelly, Tom Cheney, and, of course, our current cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff are full participants nearly some forty years into it. What do you make of that, if anything?
RC: Hasn’t it always been that way, in a way? When I started, it seemed like there were lots of older people who had been contributing for several decades.
MM: Has anything changed for you regarding your work…the way you work, I mean. What’s it like for you now in 2013, going on 2014 when you sit at your drawing board? Is it any different than what it was like in say, 1982 or 1990 or 2005?
RC: It’s the same in a lot of ways. I still contribute a weekly “batch.” I still use a Rapidograph-type pen and draw on 9 by 12 Vellum Bristol paper. I still am happy when something makes me laugh. I no longer go in to The New Yorker in person—I send my work in via pdf, so that’s different. And of course, I’m a lot older and closer to death now than I was when I started. Let’s change the subject.