Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Q&A: New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast talks toons, Trump and drawing with sensitivity

The cartoonist will be in Philadelphia on Wednesday to receive Moore College's Visionary Woman Award.

Left: Pigeon Little; Right: Roz Chast, New Yorker cartoonist
Left: Pigeon Little; Right: Roz Chast, New Yorker cartoonistRead moreBill Hayes

There's only one question I want to ask Roz Chast, the hilarious New Yorker cartoonist who will be receiving Moore College of Art's Visionary Woman Award on Wednesday evening:  "Can I switch brains with you for an hour?"

Even an hour would give me a chance to experience how she can look at the most mundane item, like a pigeon, and turn it into "Pigeon Little." Or, how she notices standpipes and turns them into a running photo gag in her recent book, "Going Into Town, A Love Letter to New York."  Or, how she becomes fascinated with hooked rugs, Ukrainian painted Easter eggs,  or Japanese matchbook labels, and weaves them into her own art.

I reached Chast a week before her son's wedding and found her obsessing about how she got old enough to have a marriage-aged son plus a grown-up daughter, parrots Eli and Jacky, and a 34-year marriage to her husband, humor writer Bill Franzen.

You include a wide assortment of characters in your cartoons. Do identity issues ever factor into how you draw?

They probably do, but it's probably on a more subconscious level.  I did a cartoon about shopping for a mother-of-the-groom dress after having gone to the formal department of  Macy's and almost died laughing at all the sparkles. I drew nine "looks." (They include "SEXY LADY: Mama's Still Got It Going On" to "FULL BJORK: The thing to wear if you hate your kid AND the person he or she is marrying.")   After it was posted online, someone said it was mean.  Someone else said it was stereotyping women. Someone else asked, "Why are all the women so overweight and dowdy?"  I just wanted to say, "THIS IS WHAT 60 LOOKS LIKE!"  Maybe they thought at 60 you looked like 30 but with silver hair. That kind of sensitivity I don't really care about.

Why not political cartoons?

I think I knew at heart that I wasn't a political cartoonist. You have to be a news junkie to be a good one. That wasn't my world. I have occasionally done them.

Do you take special care when drawing characters of different races?

I feel all my people, no matter the skin color, all share the same characteristics of confusion, worry, and just sort of trying not to make things worse. They all look a little alike. You know how French women can take a $1.99 scarf and make it look like a million bucks?  My characters, no matter the color, sex, or age, look like they could take a scarf that cost a million bucks and make it look like $1.99.

What do you hope to leave with your readers?

If I'm drawing something that's funny or odd, I hope that that's what comes across. I wrote a piece about these beautiful and deeply interesting Japanese matchbox labels. I just stumbled across them on eBay. I feel I'm lucky, because I have this way of sharing things that are funny or beautiful or sublime or hilarious with other people.  That's really all I want to do.

Signe Wilkinson is the editorial cartoonist at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. She  received the Visionary Woman Award in 2011 and will be introducing Roz Chast at Wednesday night's event.