Arts Desk

Meet a Formerly Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Steven Weinberg

Here's how Steven Weinberg introduced himself to me: "I'm a cartoonist and illustrator who grew up in D.C. and Bethesda. Since then, I've gone on to live all over the place, which is kind of what my first book that I just made with my girlfriend Casey Scieszka called To Timbuktu is all about. The book, which would be categorized as somewhere between a graphic novel and an illustrated travelogue, is about the two years we spent living in Asia and West Africa after college. Casey wrote the words. I did the pictures." Weinberg answered our usual questions.

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

Steven Weinberg: All kinds. A whole lot of book work recently for my new book To Timbuktu, an illustrated travelogue I did with my girlfriend and writer Casey Scieszka. But I also draw an internet/bar comic about a shittily drawn cat with an even shittier disposition called Shitty Kitty (which Casey also writes).

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

SW: I love using a variety of mediums so each project can have its own look. For To Timbuktu I used conté crayon and ink (put to paper with nibs and brushes). For work that ends up living more online, like Shitty Kitty, I like starting with nibs and ink, then putting it on the computer and adding digital color.

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

SW: I can be very specific: February 13, 1984. (It was a Wednesday, not a Friday.)

WCP: Why aren't you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area did you live in?

SW: Until second grade I lived in Ward 3 only a few blocks from Western Ave. Then my parents joined the '90s migration northwest to Bethesda, mainly for the schools. That’s where I grew up, but since then I’ve gone to school in Maine, lived in countries like China, Morocco, and Mali, and have now settled in Brooklyn.

I’m not in Washington now for a bunch of reasons: my girlfriend Casey is from there, the book world is in NYC so it makes more sense to be up there, and though I speak the praises of Bethesda Bagels around the world, Brooklyn really has the D.C. area beat on that end.

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

SW: I’m a big old mix. My art training has always been in oil painting, which I still love to do and find ways to work into my cartoons and application of color. But I really got off the ground as a cartoonist for my college paper. I started as a freshman and worked my way up the paper’s hierarchy to become co-editor in chief by senior year—thus allowing me half a broadsheet to draw sprawling cartoon accounts of the crazy shit students got into as told by some campus security guard friends.

WCP: Who are your influences?

SW: It all started in the Washington Post’s comics page. I grew up devouring Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, and then slowly moved to another part of the Style section to Richard Thompson’s work in what was then Poor Richard’s Almanac.

From there, I watched a whole lot of The Simpsons growing up and also love the book work of folks like Art Spiegelman, Guy Delisle with his Pyongyang and other travel books, and finally Graham Romieu continues to rock my world with his Bigfoot books and his regular stream of editorial illustration.

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

SW: I was pretty reluctant to commit myself to drawing pictures until about halfway through college. That was kind of dumb. I don’t know what kind of person I would have made if I stayed as a government major in college.

WCP: What work are you best-known for?

SW: Depends who you ask, but most likely To Timbuktu. Shitty Kitty has some rabid followers though. I was told she was just named patron saint of my favorite bar in San Francisco, Shotwell’s.

WCP: What work are you most proud of?

SW: To Timbuktu. Besides being a massive amount of drawings, I love how Casey was able to tell the story of our two years out of college. She cracks me up and it’s an honor to get to illustrate her words.

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

SW: More! More travel based books like To Timbuktu, picture books, editorial illustration, gallery shows and installation based art. I could go on!

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

SW: Doodle. Go for a walk. Get a coffee.

Although it’s been really nice collaborating so much with Casey because we’re kind of always on each other’s case to keep the other one working when we need to be. So we can kind of be the anti-writers’ block for each other.

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

SW: Bright but tough. I think it’s never been easy to make something and get people to notice it and technology has just given us more means to spread the word. There are so many more venues now than just the comics page of a paper and the occasional graphic novel that it’s going to push cartooning to keep on evolving in form and style.

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

SW: The museums and the Zoo. Go Smithsonian! I spent many weekends going to the Natural History, Air and Space, the Zoo, and the National Galleries growing up. They rock, are free, and get your mind going.

That, and my family. My parents, a grandma, and brother and sister-in-law are down there. Living in Brooklyn is great because I get to go down and see them a lot more than when I was living in Timbuktu.

WCP: Least favorite?

SW: I don’t know. It used to be growing up that I didn’t see enough people making art and doing the kinds of things I wanted to be doing but so much of that has changed over the years. It gets me really excited to see all that.

WCP: What monument or museum do you return to when you're back in town?

SW: National Gallery. I tend to beeline to where the older American painters are. I like to stare at George Bellow’s The Lone Tenement or John Copley’s Watson and the Shark. That’s a crazy painting from the 18th century of this British dude getting his foot bitten off by a shark. We need more of those in this world.

WCP: Will you be at SPX this year?

SW: I want to be. It’s an amazing lineup and I love Craig Thompson’s poster right out of Habibi (which I have been eagerly awaiting for a few years now.) Casey and I are all over the place this fall going to schools and talking about To Timbuktu so my schedule for September is kind of nuts.

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

SW: Don’t I!

Everything that Casey and I do is on TelephoneAndSoup.com

To Timbuktu has its own site AllTheWayToTimbuktu.com

And Shitty Kitty is bad at sharing, so she lives at ShittyKitty.biz

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