Saturday Art: Roz Chast
She’s adorbs. I’ve always enjoyed her humor and her cartoons in the New Yorker. And now I know her better via this video. Meet Roz Chast:
Not only does she draw Roz Chast pysanky eggs, she makes them for reals — and she does needlework, origami, and even collects cans of a particular sort. Also the birds. If we grew up together, we’d be friends, I just know it. We even hate some of the same things like carnivals (“dangerous rides manned by drunken half-wits”) and hammerheads.
We do differ on Halloween, she hates it and yet for years her husband put on one of the best neighborhood displays in Connecticut.
ROZ CHAST hates Halloween. And so it is with resignation that she anticipates the events of this Tuesday, which include the publication of her latest book of cartoons and the appearance of 1,000 or so strangers on her front lawn here. The hordes will assemble, as many of them have for the past 11 years, to gawk at the Halloween spectacle that is her husband Bill Franzen’s yearly production.
It was 11 days before Halloween. Outside, the rain came and went in gusty fits, stymieing Mr. Franzen’s strict setup schedule, which begins to unfold in late August. He has folders filled with intricate, Rube Goldberg-like schematics and maps. He has a calendar inked with important dates: when to sort the extension cords, when to lay out the electricals, move the skeletons, dummies, headstones, mummies, etc. (there are a lot of props) from a storage area in town to a tent set up in the backyard, when to make repairs, tweak past ideas.
When he’s finished, there might be 15 or 20 tableaux — they have titles, like Alien Crash or Death in the Desert or Lunatic Asylum — each marked by an impish, deadpan humor. It’s the Mad Magazine version of Halloween, said Mr. Franzen, who writes fiction the rest of the year and who was spending the day in his tent behind the house, sorting through his props with quiet urgency.
Roz Chast has loved to draw cartoons since she was a child growing up in Brooklyn. She attended Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in Painting because it seemed more artistic. However, soon after graduating, she reverted to type and began drawing cartoons once again.
Her cartoons have also been published in many other magazines besides The New Yorker, including Scientific American, the Harvard Business Review, Redbook, and Mother Jones. Her most recent book is a comprehensive compilation of her favorite cartoons called Theories of Everything: Selected, Collected, and Health-Inspected Cartoons of Roz Chast, 1978-2006. She also illustrated The Alphabet from A to Y, with Bonus Letter, Z, the best-selling children’s book by Steve Martin, some of which you may see here.
On paper she sounds like a neurotic basket case “What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it? Merck Manual. Yes.”, a professional phobic, but irl she’s consistently funny and productive – and subversive. She’s great because “her cartoons make evident the unspoken truths about family life,” as Wil Forbis puts it. [In the sidebar he notes The Big Book of Parent-Child Fights.]
After you read a few of Chast’s cartoons, you start to become familiar with the recurring characters that inhabit her world. Like Gary Larson and his cows, Chast has a series of familiar profiles that populate her strips, almost all of them exaggerations of stereotypical family members. There’s the young kid with the baseball cap, probably named “Jimmy”, who’s practically bursting with male bravado and brattiness. Then there’s the pre-teen daughter, ever resentful of any intrusion her well-meaning mother makes into her life. And don’t forget “Burnt Out Dad” who’s quietly waiting for the kids to go off to college and retirement to hit so that he can begin life anew. And of course, there’s “Mom”, the terminally abused matriarch who is ultimately the only glue holding the family unit together. While everyone else can release their tensions in explosive tirades and expect to be forgiven, “Mom” has to eternally keep wearing a smile while she bandages bloody knees, helps with homework, and assuages “Dad’s” frail ego. (Perhaps one of the great instances this is a recent multi-panel Chast cartoon depicting a long family car trip. After several panels in which the children have screamed and fought and Dad has threatened to “…turn the car back around and go home this instant!” Chast’s ever grinning mother emits the classic “Mom” line, “Who wants some grapes?” to her fuming family.)
You can enjoy her work clicking around here to start.