Arts Desk

Meet a Visiting Cartoonist: A Chat With Nick Bertozzi

Nick Bertozzi has been working in comics for just over a decade, starting with his self-published, Xeric-grant-financed, map-formatted Boswash in 2000. I thought The Salon, a ghost and murder mystery featuring Cubists like Picasso and Braque, was one of the best graphic novels of 2007, but his nude drawings of Picasso (specifically his penis) led to criminal charges against a comic book store owner in Georgia. He and Jason Lutes also collaborated that year on an all-ages biographical story, Houdini: The Handcuff King. He's a member of the Brooklyn-based ACT-I-VATE webcomix cooperative founded by Dean Haspiel, and has a story in the ACT-I-VATE Primer. Bertozzi's latest book is another historical fiction, this time set in the American West. He'll appear at Big Planet Comics in Bethesda on Saturday.

He's done enough of these interviews that he guessed at a couple of the questions ahead of time, and also answered a couple we didn't ask, but frugally we used his answers anyway.

Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

Nick Bertozzi: I'm known primarily for historical-based/historical fiction comics. I've written or drawn comics about Houdini, Picasso, and now Lewis & Clark. I've also drawn comics in almost every genre from autobio to sci-fi, experimental to children's comics.

WCP: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

NB: I'm a traditionalist when it comes to drawing on paper with ink, but I use the computer for everything else.

WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

NB: 1970. I'm a 40-year-old man, and I like it. I was born in a naval hospital in Queens, N.Y., but grew up in and around Providence, R.I. I went to public schools including U Mass, where I received a B.A. in Spanish Literature. I spent a semester in Madrid, lived in Philadelphia, Pa.,(where I was a manager at Fat Jack's Comicypt), and have lived in four out five boroughs in NYC since 1994. I currently live in quiet Jackson Heights, Queens, and have a studio in an old mattress factory in Long Island City.

WCP: Can you tell us a little about your new book that you'll be in town signing?

NB: My new book about Lewis and Clark, called Lewis & Clark squeezes their two-year journey into 128 pages. If you like history or just adventure stories I can say with not a little certitude that you shall enjoy this book.

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

NB: Self-taught! I learned a lot from copying Tintin pages.

WCP: And you're teaching now?

NB: I've been teaching comics at the School of Visual Arts in NYC for nearly a decade and have taught for brief stints at The Center for Cartoon Studies and Rhode Island School of Design. My classes focus mainly on storytelling in comics from the germ of an idea to execution. Former students include Mickey Duzyj (now my brother-in-law), Dash Shaw, and Nick Gazin.

WCP: Who are your influences?

NB: Before I could read, my father would read me copies of Hergé's Tintin and Classics Illustrated Comics. I later developed a deep love of Jack Kirby's Kamandi (which remains my favorite comic to this day) as well as Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury. And after a long period of not reading comics in my late teens, I was reintroduced to them via Dan Clowes' Eightball.

In Providence, we lived a few blocks away from an art house movie theatre and when I was ten my Dad took me to Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath Of God, Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Kurasowa's The Seven Samurai, all of which made an intense impression on me, certainly infecting the way I continue to think about stories.

WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

NB: I would not have sold out.

WCP: You moved from self-publishing formal experimentation to doing more popular works with large publishers. How did this evolution happen for you, and how do you feel about it?

NB: I'd won a few comics awards for my small-press work and several agents started asking me what I was working on next which translated into drawing comics that other people had written. I'd prefer to draw from scripts that I write, but as long as I'm learning something about cartooning on a commercial project then I'm happy.

WCP: What work are you best-known for?

NB: I believe that more people have read my online comic Persimmon Cup than anything else I've done.

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

NB: Lewis & Clark is the best-realized comics that I've managed to make so far.

WCP: What would you like to do  or work on in the future?

NB: I need to finish up a graphic novel that I was working on ten years ago, called Drop Ceiling, and get back to my online sci-fi strip Persimmon Cup. My next comic that I'm writing and drawing is a biography of the explorer Ernest Shackleton for First Second. At the same time I'm drawing the 380-page Jerusalem from a script by director Boaz Yakin also for First Second.

WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

NB: Keep writing, even if I hate it.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

NB: Extreme stratification between digital and hand-made models.

WCP: You've attended the Small Press Expo in the past – do you have any thoughts about your experience? Will you be attending it in the future?

NB: SPX is where I met many of my best friends and my favorite artists and I'll certainly be returning.

WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?

NB: The National Gallery has a whole room of George Catlin's paintings that he made 30 years after Lewis and Clark's journey, retracing their steps.

WCP: Least favorite?

NB: The fact that there's no representation in Congress!

WCP: What monument or museum do like to or wish to visit when you're in town?

NB: The cafeteria at the Museum of the American Indian!

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

NB: nickbertozzi.com for all your Nick Bertozzi needs.

Bertozzi will appear 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday with Jason Little at Big Planet Comics Bethesda, 4908 Fairmont Ave, Bethesda, Md..

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