CARTOONIST BEN KATCHOR is best known for his weekly comic strip, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, which he has been writing and drawing since 1988. Katchor has seen his bumbling New York loafer anthologized in print, even performed on NPR with actor Jerry Stiller playing the title role, and he’s since started up three new comics, written multiple works of musical theater, and received numerous awards, including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship.
In this interview with LA Review of Books editor-in-chief Tom Lutz, Katchor dives deep into his own art form, unearthing a history of primitive theater annotations and Victorian picture books. He also addresses why he’s stuck to short comic strips and kept away from graphic novels, explaining that one of his hallmarks is that he doesn’t think comics ought to feel too “cozy” for readers. “Otherwise it’s like a stupor,” he says. “What is immersing yourself in a work of art or storytelling? Is it an opiate, or do you do it like a cold shower, wake up, and go on with your own life?”
In addition, Katchor shares some of his favorite new cartoonists, talks about academics’ attempts to keep up with the exploding popularity of the form, and also explains why he once had to kill off a character who he felt was upstaging the author.
Filmed at the 2014 LA Times Festival of Books. Also check out our review of Katchor’s latest book ‘Hand-Drying in America’ from contributor J. Ryan Stradal.