Spiegelman and Mouly's "Toon Treasury"

It's an irony that Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly no doubt appreciate. After years - decades even - of declaring that comics aren't just for kids anymore and offering up some of the finest examples in the pages of the seminal "Raw Magazine," not to mention Spiegelman's own magnum opus, "Maus," along with Mouly's work as art director for "The New Yorker," the couple now finds themselves in the opposite position of saying "Hey, comics can be for kids too!"

Their advocacy began with the "Little Lit" series of books that featured artists like Chris Ware and Dan Clowes taking a stab at children's material. More recently, it's included Mouly's newest publishing venture, the beginning reader's graphic novel line, Toon Books, which has featured such books as "Stinky" by Eleanor Davis and "Little Mouse Gets Ready" by Jeff Smith.

Most recently, the comics couple has put together "The Toon Treasury of Chidren's Comics," an immense, 252-page compendium of classic Golden Age-era stories for the elementary school set published by Abrams Comicarts, featuring work by such luminaries as John Stanley, Carl Barks, Walt Kelly and many others, as well as one or two surprises. We talked to them recently about how the collection came together, and why revisiting these stories is important, for kids as well as adults.

I know "The Toon Treasury of Chidren's Comics" had a long gestation period, and I was wondering if you could talk about its origins. How did it start?

Francoise Mouly: Around 1998, I felt I wanted to do something in comics outside of "The New Yorker," to have the creative autonomy to do something without having to run it by other editors. Whatever we had done with "Raw" at that point, between Drawn and Quarterly and Fantagraphics, there were plenty of great [publishing venues for alternative artists], but there was something that wasn't getting published, which was the stuff that we were reading to our kids. There were no good comics for kids. That process [led] to "Little Lit," which was "Raw Junior" or "Raw for Kids," a gathering of the greatest artists, writers and cartoonists doing work for children.

The next step was to do Toon Books, aiming at kids just entering into school, when they're learning to read, and making them fall in love with the printed object.

In the course of all this, I found out, having discussions with other editors at "The New Yorker," that children's literature is not considered literature, which was news to me. I had come from a culture that was not quite as prejudiced.  

Art Spiegleman: Just the other week ago there was a Dave Eggers novelization of "Where the Wild Things Are" appearing excerpted in its pages.  

FM: But that's not aimed at children. I mean I've had "New Yorker" editors - perfectly respectable, intelligent people - explain to me that, because children's literature is aimed at this specific age group, and the author takes into account the age of the reader, it can't possibly be anything other than genre literature because of those constraints.

AS:  Tell it to Lewis Carroll.

You're right that it had a long gestation, cause even in "Little Lit," part of it has always been for us what the French call a "patrimony." There is this river of time that you as a cartoonist or editor are diving into, and from the beginning it's "Oh, kids really should know these stories by Walt Kelly."

The new book is a continuation of that. We began working seriously on it about, I think, two years ago. But we never knew how serious we'd have to get to be able to bring this into the world by the end of 2009. It was really an overwhelming six months of compressed time and labor. Oh man, we worked hard to make that deadline.        For me, this was the dream hobby/project. "For the next five years, I would just like to read some comics, talk to people who like these things, and find the jewels that would make the perfect treasury." But that really had to be compressed in order to make it happen. That's why we had this amazing [Board of Advisors] - people like Mike Barrier, John Benson, Frank Young and so on. They were all on that Treasury Board. Glen Bray has encyclopedic knowledge of [Basil] Wolverton and was someone who could show us things to choose from, which is much harder to do if you can only rely on your own comic book collection.

Tell me about how you worked with the board. Did you meet one on one with people or was it more of a general discussion?

FM: There's no face-to-face meeting, even between Art and myself, sometimes. Even though we're in the same geographic location. We took advantage of all the electronic tools that are at our disposal. There were a lot of emails. There was also a Google discussion board so everyone could be reading and logging on and giving their opinion. That was very helpful when there was contention or something really difficult, like finding which Carl Barks story to use.

AS: That Google board really came in handy, because you could upload stories onto it, and then you could have various chains of conversation about different stories and different artists, weigh in and be able to refine ideas more efficiently than if we had met in person. That really allowed for an intense back and forth, if sometimes only to sharpen our own thoughts about why that particular story was so meaningful to us. It was a matter of articulating "why this," as opposed to just having that gut feeling.

Tell me a little bit about the constraints you put on the book. You're focusing on a very specific time period, and don't include much from after, say 1960.

FM: You're totally right. We couldn't do everything, so one thing that became clear from the beginning that we weren't going to be able to include European comics or manga or anything outside of the U.S.

AS: For a 3,500 page book, yes.

FM: (laughs) Maybe. We had a harder tussle between whether we would include comic strips because, as you know, there's a fluid boundary between [comic books and strips]. We almost included some strips that had been gathered in comic books, but ultimately it was an easier boundary [to not include them], because otherwise you would have had to have "Little Nemo," which was just too vast. We wanted to be a very readable book. We didn't want anything that would be reduced [in size] or hard to read in that format.

In terms of the starting date, the earliest date is the "Scribbly" strip in 1938 or '39. That's the beginning of comic books. There's some interesting work in the '60s and '70s, but it's not the core of that golden age moment when kids comics were a dominant presence on the newsstand.

AS: Our golden age isn't described the same way as the comic collecting types do, especially when dealing with kids comics. There were differences in what happened before the Armageddon of 1954 - the comic code seal - but not as severe as what happened for comics for slightly older readers. The difference between a Marvel comic from 1945 and 1955 was pretty dramatic.  

With kids comics there were differences but not as strong. For us it had to do with that trajectory of the whole thing draining out its battery because television was here to stay. The latest story we had was a Melvin Monster story by John Stanley. I think that appeared in a 12-cent comic book. For me, the first notion was to just stick to when comics were 10 cents, which was at least a sign that they weren't struggling as much to find a place to stay alive. If we'd moved forward in time, there were other things we could have found certainly.

We were quite adamant about what the sensibility would be for the book. What I mean by that is, we weren't after the weirdest stories we could find. There was that sense of trying to function like the more magisterial houses like Dell, but without being quite as square. Not as boring as Dell often got. With that as an awareness that the comics were going to be aimed at, directed at, and designed for kids ages 6-11, not the 40-year-olds slumming. The funny uncles would be kept in the mix of the family dinner, but not allowed to sit at the head of the table.

It sounds like you were really trying to avoid the collector mentality.

FM: Collectors were going to get the book anyway. But they had to take second seats. What was most important to us, what really drove us, was not to satisfy a collector's urge of seeing their stories, but to make a young child who doesn't have any prior love for those stories and characters discover them with fresh eyes, and fall in love with the medium, the book and the characters. At this point, it's hard for kids to discover something new, because all the licensed characters blind them. This stuff [in the Treasury] isn't turned into pillowcases and video games and whatever. The goal was to make a compendium of good reading for a young child. We weren't trying to wink at the somewhat pre-teen, older child and say, "Oh, this is really stupid, children's fare, isn't it?" Which is what a lot of so-called all-ages comics and movies and media in general do. It tries to hit all bases, so it has a story and it has an ironic distancing from the story.

AS: "Shrek" was a great book by William Steig. A great book for kids that an adult could happily enter because they've got the spectrum of language and sensibilities to appreciate what Steig did. It's very different from the "Shrek" movie, where the kid is almost a beard, and the adult is allowed to go into the theater to get all the sniggering references.

FM: I've been working very closely with educators in doing the Toon Books. They have an exquisite understanding of the different stages a child goes through. What we often think of as childish humor is a later stage in a kid's development - the fart jokes, the gross humor. That does come about, but that's a pre-teen kind of thing. The six-year old is just keeps playing with mud. There's a kind of first-degree relationship with the story and the character. Those are the kids we wanted to reach. We wanted them to truly be with Tubby in that ghost hotel and not have the distant associations that come later.

AS: Going back to the question you asked about the collector, the book is informed by people like us who know the history of comics, care about the artists very much. It would be very possible to make a book that would be like, "Here's the Carl Barks section, here's the John Stanley section, here's the section on comics published by Standard." That's a very different thing than organizing around these almost arbitrary themes. [We organized the book] so that a kid would visit and revisit the same artist and character at different times in the book, but would be able to engage in that first degree that every one of us collectors and historians were allowed to initially.

And yet there's clearly - for better or for worse considering the arguments that go on online - a kind of canonical approach, going "Wow these guys are really great. And there's other people who are really quirky and interesting, but these are the core, the larger artists, who had a consistent vision of their work, and they should dominate an anthology." If you're going to be introducing people to this for the first time, the draw has to be the individual stories, not the character. It wasn't "Wow, we've gotta have this story in, even though I don't like that sort of book, because what would we do if we didn't have a superhero story?" It was really trying to figure out where to come from.

And often it meant very reluctant decisions. I love Jack Cole, but a lot of Jack Cole is that moment after the age of innocence. There were ways to bring him into the book, but it was smaller than if it would have been "My Library of Comics for Kids." It's different to have included "Mad" stories by Harvey Kurtzman versus his "Hey, Look" pages, which were more self-contained.

There are about four or five specific authors you highlight in the book. Why?

FM: We tried to have our cake and eat it too. We tried to bring out some individuals, but not just limit it to their work. They were the ones whose stories were the most resonant when we were going through all of the material, with an inkling that we wouldn't be able to do a treasury without Carl Barks or John Stanley or Walt Kelly or Sheldon Mayer. And that feeling became confirmed, because we would spend hours on this, reading books, and the stories we remembered ended up being the ones by those people. The value of their work spoke for itself.

AS: They're all writer/artists. There's no great drawers working with mediocre scripts and trying to fan them into a story. So much of comics at that moment were about just earning a living as best you could and hoping you could move up in the world. Take Barks, as an obvious example, somebody who was only known as the "good duck artist" through most of my childhood. An anonymous cartoonist that was made aware, if he just put duckbills on everybody, he could draw anything he wanted. He's a real artist. He's allotted the freedom to actually make a world there.

And rather than make a river of stuff that was just "Oh, here's a good story, here's another good story," by giving it that substantial base. it gave us a benchmark for everything else we didn't include. It's got have some quality that allows us to include these people. This is was Francoise meant by having your cake and eating it as well. This will allow a core of the book, and through it, a lot of other directions and samples will be offered. Because [a kid's comic] is in some ways the most taken for granted and the least thought about [comic]. There's been a lot of revivals of the world of superheroes, the world of horror comics, and so on. But [kids comics] had as much as an influence on my generation of underground cartoonists as the EC books did.

FM: The only thing we ended up doing that was the icing on the cake, was to actually organize and do an architecture with the stories, so they had common themes. Not every kid will read it in the order it's presented, but cumulatively, I think one way or the other, the kids will read every story in the book, and they'll probably do what I did with my "Spiriou" books, where you read the story you like first and then go to the others. Ultimately, they'll get a broad range of artists and stories and approaches. Not just the characters but in the ways to do stories.

AS: There's that phrase that kept running through my head, "For kids of all ages." The only kid of all ages is the adult comics collector who still has that five year old inside of him and is perfectly happy spelunking around PornTube, or whatever you call it, as well as the more rarified reaches of literature, film and painting. But we had to make something that allowed for a defining moment or approach so an adult could dive happily into this book, but it wasn't winking at the adult and pointing at the kid in the room.

Did you come across any surprises or discoveries? People you weren't aware of before you started working on the book?

AS: One that comes to mind is Andre LeBlanc. I've seen an "Intellectual Amos" story somewhere before, but only when we were focused on this book did I get to look at it many of those as could be found (thanks to the miracle of cbr files).

There are things I was tipped off to that I didn't know anything about, like Tom McNamara's "Alix in Folly-Land." Somebody at DC who was intimately aware of what was in their archives said, "Did you know that Tom McNamara did comic books?" McNamara is someone who worked on comic strips in San Francisco in the George Herriman days.

What did you want to include, but didn't have room for?

AS: We did limit ourselves with Cole and Kurtzman. I think if I spent another 10 years on the book, I could have found the Harvey Comics I would have liked.

You mean like Casper?

AS: We didn't find it. We kept looking. Other people, they like some of that stuff. A lot of it has to do with what you're exposed to as a kid; it can have an imprint before you develop a sense of taste.

FM: There was a fundamental lack of auteur [there] that we could recognize.

AS: We just didn't find the story or the character where you can get to the essence of it in one story rather than just one more iteration of it - the same little "Richie Rich," over and over again, sometimes drawn better, sometimes drawn worse. That wasn't the same as looking at Al Wiseman's "Dennis the Menace" and finding something really special.

FM: You're right in saying "didn't have room for," because if we wanted something just for the sake of putting it in, we'd have had to take out something else, and there was nothing we could take out.

AS: The rights process was really harrowing as part of a crash course in getting the book together. We didn't want to lose a single thing we had chosen. It's a pretty tightly packed thing.

Tell me a little bit about the sequencing. How did you come up with the chapter titles and decide what goes where?

FM: A lot of the stories could have been put in fantasy. There wasn't a hardcore distinction between any of those categories. Funny animals could have included just about everything else, including a lot of the fantasy.

It was a matter of trying to find a thread to the book. One thing we considered, and decided not to do, was to do "younger kids, middle and then older kids." That just felt insulting to kids' intelligence. We thought we should organize it with the deep themes of the story, which tend to be, as in Greek tragedy, love, death, friendship, the purpose and meaning of life. The themes are very deep in many of the stories. So that's what we used as the focal point.

AS: The idea was not to do it as "the Little Lulu section," now here's "the DC comics section." Definitely not that. There are certain kinds of motifs that unconsciously define that end of the comic book rack from the part that would include "Tales from the Crypt." There are certain reoccurrences. There's a focus on fantasy. There's a focus on kids' daily life. The whole genre was called "funny animals," whether they had human animals under the age of six as characters or animal animals. There would have been other ways to fix it up, as long as we could give it an articulated section that allowed you the thrill of rediscovering the same character or artist elsewhere in the book.

We have an index and a little bio section so that the fans can reconstruct the book in their heads by auteur, if that's what they need to do.

FM: For a child reader, the expanse of reading the book is to discover a whole range of approaches.

AS: And the choices were made by deciding who would be worth re-reading.

You already touched on this, but tell me a little bit more about this idea of the auteur and how important it was for this book to capture that, rather then picking stories done by committee.

AS: Well, some things could be done in very close collaborations. When I talk about John Stanley, I wish the history had been different, but you've got Irving Tripp there. He's just part of the system, and if I really had my choice, I would have liked to have seen the entire body of Little Lulu comics drawn by John Stanley.

FM: But one thing that's important for the child reading comics, is that he or she intuitively recognizes the hand of the person who made the story. You can see that when you see kids immediately wanting to do their own story. It inspires them to become auteurs themselves. And that hand-made manuscript, which is much more of a trigger for the reader than stories set in type. Part of it is that handwriting; part of it is the simplified drawing. We wanted to have that for the reader as well. It certainly was a guiding principle for us, that even when they're not signed, you can recognize [the artist].

AS: One axiom I invented that's germane here is "It takes a lot of shit to get a few flowers to grow." Looking through lots of brain dead material and saying, "This stands out." Why does it stand out? Well, often it would just be "Wow, this guy can draw his hands off. He's amazing." And yet, I don't know what editor handed him what manuscript, He inhabited it, but it doesn't hold up to a re-read. That was the principle, finding things that could sustain a specific work and felt like they were coming from someplace [special] rather than being part of the sausage factory. Maybe that's my predisposition as an artist and Francoise's predisposition as someone who works with artists all the time - that we're predisposed to think of things as being made by somebody instead of being product.

FM: For you to remember a story after reading a lot of stuff it has to connect to some of your own experiences, or come together as a story. Similar to when you read a book where the characters come to life. In reading thousands and thousands of stories, we kept going back to specific stories, specific characters, specific auteurs that have a presence in their work that other hacks don't have.

AS: Some of it was trying to find a way into artists who I wasn't necessarily feeling congenial toward. "We want to have this in the book cause it's by somebody." "Oh, I dunno. It's by somebody, but I don't know if I want to hang out with that person." That kind of sifting was basic to the whole project. It may be just be our dispositions, because we were trying to make something where the story would be something worth reading as well as representing a character. That wasn't the goal. It wasn't, "Well, we've got to have something of Dennis the Menace, because it's a key moment historically in terms of what was defining kids comics, and you had 500 versions of Dennis the Menace coming out. Only if we could find stories that actually held you and were giving you a hint of how interesting the artist was would it make the cut.

You want to do it because it's a good story on its own.

AS: Right. And that led us away from some things. I'm sure we'll get heat from a fan of one kind of comic or another for our choices.

The one example that was interesting to me was Archie. We thought there should be an Archie story in it, but then we thought, what are we aiming at? It was really for that core moment of childhood. Archie was useful, because it was the one comic kids are likely to have seen at the supermarket. Going from that to saying, "Well, maybe these are the comics you get interested in when your first pubic hair is about to sprout, because that's when you get interested in the whole notion of dating and other stuff." And maybe we should veer backward towards Little Archie. And then it's, what story is not so treacly or conventionally cliched that it would be worth showing? My appreciation isn't as developed as some of the others on that Treasury Board. It was a lot of back and forth before we ended up with the story we used, which turned out to be a misattributed story.

Oh really?

AS: Yeah. We'll correct this in the next edition.

Who was it misattributed to?

AS: To Bob Bolling, because he was the artist associated with Little Archie. But that particular story didn't have a signature, and it turns out it's by Dexter Taylor.

One of the things we liked to do is, if Abrams gets it together, is make parts of our Google Board available, because the conversations are fascinating.

Was there any fighting between the two of you over what to include? I have this image of you throwing comic books at each other.

FM: (laughing) We argue, but not about that specifically. It really was a come and go. I actually used it as an occasion to learn a lot from the defining of the aesthetic and the worst of the work. It really was an open question to me: How are we going to figure out what's good and what's not good and articulate it? I have a good sense of it for new work for when I'm the editor at Toon Books and working with the artist. But with stories that are already done, where do you draw the line? If something is a good story, but the drawing is not great, it's really hard for me to decide. If the drawing is very lively, but the story is "ack," does that make the cut or not?

AS: We landed well in terms of back and forth. It was never acrimonious. It was never acrimonious with the board, either, because everybody was very generous and engaged in the same thing. But there were moments like, "You've gotta include this!" And somebody else would say, "Why on Earth would you include that?"

FM: And there were also kinds of things that were totally subjective, like "Do we want to put in this story by Barks, even though it already appears in Mike Barrier's anthology?" This story might be available, but should we exclude it from the Treasury?

AS: You were asking at the beginning about the collector. Yes, the collector could find "The Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics," but ultimately, most parents will not go onto Albiris to find it.

But there were a lot of discussions, for example, on that story about the five babies, the John Stanley story. It's one of the great, great John Stanley stories. It has a lot of his strongest qualities. It gets to the essential themes of Little Lulu, and it's a work of comedic genius.

FM: And it was a great way to start the book for us.

AS: On the other hand, it appeared in a book that's very long out of print. It wasn't that well printed, unfortunately, so it made sense to take that story, even if a collector could find it more easily.

There was an aspect of rescue missions. "Nobody will see this unless we publish it, ever. It will get buried in the swamp of newsprint." But that was part of the process of making those decisions.

Tell me a little bit about the marketing and publicity you'll be doing for this. I would imagine there would be a certain difficulty in making sure this gets in the hands of kids, as opposed to traditional comic book fans.

FM: Our goal was to make such a good book that it would speak for itself. There's this kind of dictum in the world of publishing of "Oh, we shouldn't do reprints, because they don't sell." Of course, Carl Barks sells well throughout the world, but doesn't sell well in the US. Now we have Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly doing decently well with reprints.

AS: Abrams is an interesting house to be working with because, yes, they have art books, but now they have a comic imprint, and they have their Amulet books. They have a reach into the children's section, as well as the graphic novel section, as well as the art section. That helps a lot in terms of letting people know that such a thing exists. The fact that Francoise has become an expert in and producer of what is now being described as a renaissance of children's comics helps. "Little Lit" came out in a very lonely moment. As a result, now, with the Toon Books, Francoise has the trust of librarians and children's bookshops.

How has the book been received so far?

FM: We were just at the Strand last night and everybody seems delighted in the response. What really makes me very happy is seeing a range in the ages of people interested. People that have been studying graphic novels in college, hip, young adults as well as parents who want to have this for their kids, as well as older people saying, "Oh this is just like what I grew up with."

AS: One thing with Abrams is - I don't think it was even publication day - they decided the book was going back to press just on the basis of the enthusiasm with which it was being greeted. That's a good indicator it might be finding its way out there.

I also wanted to ask how Toon Books was doing?

FM: Toon Books is doing great on the one hand, and dismally on another. The great part is, [it is] something that is very dear to my heart is in libraries and has gotten an unbelievably positive critical response. Libraries are acquiring them in a way that is wonderful. It's actually doing dismally in stores. But that's partly because there's no sales force. I work with Diamond as a distributor. It's not the same thing as having a Random House or HarperCollins book, where they have sales people walking into stores.

I'm very grateful I did it myself, because had I been accepted by one of those mainstream publishers, I would have been part of the great...

AS: ...meltdown of 2008.

FM: Yeah. I would have been brought into some dark back room where the CEO would have said, "Well, you know, Francoise, we tried everything we could and put all our efforts into this, and we're so sorry, but we're discontinuing the line." Considering I'm my own publisher, I can take myself into a dark back room and say "Hey Francoise, you did fabulous!"

I can wait. It's a very long-term relationship with Diamond. They do not penalize me if the books don't sell right away. There's no pressure on that front. Libraries acquiring books is a very slow process. It's not like every three months the book does well. In 2009, the libraries will be looking at the books that we published in 2008.

We have a number of books that have broken through, such as Art's book or the Harry Bliss book, and now the Jeff Smith "Little Mouse Gets Ready." I'm sure a larger publisher would have been able to turn that into a bestseller.

AS: Getting that award that Eleanor Davis won last year was really significant.

FM: Right. The "Stinky" book.

I keep reminding myself that, it feels like a thankless task, but when I'm being asked about if I want to do more Toon Treasuries now that there's a renaissance in kids' comics, I just do a double take and say "Ok, keep going." If people can now perceive that there's a renaissance in kids' comics, then...

AS: Especially when you're trying to define something new. When we were doing "Raw Magazine," it was as peculiar as anything. Now it's the operating system manual for where comics have gone.

FM: We started "Raw" in 1980, and in 1981 there were some critics saying "Oh I liked 'Raw' when it was just starting out and defining the field, but now it's really rote and repeating itself with the third issue." You cannot possibly do anything if you read the critic or pay attention to what other people say. It's difficult, but you must remain focused on what it is you wanted to do and keep doing it.

So, right now I'm very excited about the next Toon Book, which has a nonfiction component. That came from doing a presentation with some of those librarian conferences. The first question from the librarians was, "Why don't you have nonfiction comics?" So we now do. The spring book has nonfiction elements woven into the story.

Jim David does his own nonprofit foundation, doing things as tools for kids to use on the Web. We've done toon readers, which are audio version of our books read by the artists, which are available for free on our website, as well as translating the books in four or five different languages - Russian, Chinese, Spanish and French, as well as English. Toon Makers allows kids to do their own comic in response to having read the book. So all of this stuff is about to unveil in a month or so.

Who's doing the nonfiction book?

FM: The nonfiction book is written by a debut writer named Nadja Spiegelman.

(jokingly) Any relation?

FM: (laughing) Yes, our daughter. The cartoonist is named Trade Loeffler, who has done "Zip" and "Li'l Bit," which is a webcomic. This is his first printed book. That's exciting.

I'm not trying to flood the market with 20 books a year. We have nine books, we'll soon have 11, which is more than enough. I want to be an old-fashioned publishing house where the book stays in print. It's not "Oh, that was last year's book and it's not available anymore." A book like "Silly Lilly" is a book that kids five years down the line can find just as much sustenance in.

Do you have any plans to make a Treasury sequel?

FM: We'll play it by ear. We're still stunned. We'll see how it lands and works out. We hope that it will incite many people to publish great kids comics. We'll see.

I get the feeling it was a real labor of love, but the emphasis was on the labor part.

AS: It would have been all love had we had a five-year luxury of "OK, time to kick back and spelunk some more gems." There's a lot of concentrated time so we could go "Voila, a book for 2009!" We didn't cut corners. We just cut sleep out of the equation.

A sequel? Maybe. Certainly there are more than enough pages to fill it up a million times over. Let us savor the fact that we made this balanced volume.

FM: We had to be extremely disciplined, so we did not edit the book by saying "We'll put this in the sequel." That wasn't allowed. We had to nail it down as if there was never going to be another one.

We're welcoming the feedback once the book goes out into the world. We're hoping people send stories to us. "Why didn't you put this in?"

Art, I wanted to ask you what you're working on now that this project is done?

AS: On the other side of thinking about children's literature, I did a a broadsheet-sized comic thesis about the nature of childhood and the nature of comics. That will be a page in the next paper issue of "McSweeney's." They'll have a comics section. It will be published sometime in the fall.

It helped me focus on the fact that, as I've been saying, I've been called the father of the graphic novel in certain essays that make me cringe. I also want a blood test, because I'm not sure it's the only interesting way for comics to proceed. "Maus" was 300 pages, but it could have been 1000 pages. I could have made it longer, with a different aesthetic and a different approach. But I've always been interested in things that take advantage of comics as a compressed form. Not like in manga, where someone goes down the stairs and out the door and that could be an eight-page sequence. The kind of length and stories for kids are an important part of what makes me want to still make comics. I'm working on a number of short, different formats. I'm not really thinking about how I put it together. I'm not making a book with a theme. I'm making various bits and pieces that are worth reading and re-reading. They don't have the obvious thing of "Here's a graphic novel that you can put on your bookshelf." My focus is really on shorter pieces, from one to 20 pages. That's what I'd like to make right now. I see people making really interesting things that are called graphic novels. To me it's like watching my friends get stricken by swine flu. You're going to be laid up for at least three years.

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