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To paraphrase Mary McCarthy, every word in Françoise Mouly’s interview with CBR’s Alex Dueben is fascinating, including “and” and “the.” It’s a marvelously insightful look at nearly every aspect of the legendary RAW, New Yorker, and Toon Books editor’s multifaceted career: The status of Toon Books, the challenges of producing educational books for children that are also fun to look at and read, her personal history with comics, the importance and legacy of her and husband Art Spiegelman’s seminal alternative-comics magazine RAW‘s production values, the shift among underground/alternative cartoonists’ careers from character-focused (a la Zippy, Jimbo, and Adele Blanc-sec) to creator-focused, her duties and work style as The New Yorker‘s art editor, working with visual artists from across the comics and illustration spectrum, her dream of an increased presence of actual comics in the magazine, R. Crumb’s apparent New Yorker beef, Toon Books’ upcoming slate…pure gold from one of comics’ most influential figures.
Here’s a sample:
[Dueben:] …I know that you studied architecture in school. Were you a comics fan as a child?
[Mouly:] I’m not the only would-be architect that gravitated towards comics. There are a lot of architects in comics, especially in Europe. The two disciplines have a lot in common in terms of organizing information in a visual way and the back and forth between form and function. That mental gymnastics that you have to do between how it looks and how it works. As a kid, I was a comics fan, and so was everybody else I knew. I grew up in France. Everybody read comics.
Why did I switch from architecture to comics? Specifically, because when I was studying architecture, one of the things that endlessly frustrated me was the disconnect between the architect’s vision and what he or she can actually accomplish. Architectural school is an eight year course of training. You are told to envision a school, a museum and apartment complex, a city even. Nobody answered my query, which was, this has nothing to do with what we’ll be doing as a functioning architect. We’re not just going to sit there and make cities. It really bothered me that the practical aspect of being an architect, ninety-eight percent would have consisted of sitting in somebody else’s office and drafting. And not necessarily drafting anything that exciting.
I kept struggling with this, and when I discovered graphic arts and book making, a lightbulb went off. This is my field. With book making, I can actually conceive of something and design it and edit it and get it drawn and do all of the steps, and then I can print. I actually fell into this by buying a printing press and printing my own little books. That’s how “RAW” was born, because of that urge of wanting to make something that I envisioned and being able to give it shape. I’m still high on that ability of, “This doesn’t exist, but I can make it happen.”
Dueben notes in his introduction to the interview that when asked questions about herself rather than her colleagues and collaborators, Mouly appears almost disinterested. I guarantee you you won’t be. Read the whole thing.