An Interview with New Yorker Cartoonist Roz Chast

The notable humorist appears at the Hopkins Art Center March 14 and 15.

Roz Chast’s career with The New Yorker started in 1978, when the renowned magazine printed one of her cartoons. She’s since published hundreds of cartoons in magazines around the world, put out several books and has garnered a reputation as a world-class wit. She’s speaking at the Hopkins Art Center on March 14 and 15 as part of the Hennepin County Library’s Pen Pals series. Chast spoke via email about her working process, her upcoming projects, and driving on frozen Minnesota lakes.

What made you want to start drawing cartoons, professionally or otherwise?
I've always loved to draw, since I was really little. I loved cartoons because cartoons involved writing as well as drawing. Also, I was terrible at everything else. I also liked things that made me laugh, like MAD magazine and Charles Addams.

What is your work process like? Do you work best in certain places or situations?
I have a studio in our house. I like a quiet room at a good temperature. Not too hot and not too cold. I like my drafting lamp. I'm not a big fan of natural light-- it varies too much and moves around.

How do you capture inspiration? A notebook? A doodle?
I write down ideas for cartoons on pieces of paper and stick them in my pocket and hopefully take them out before they go through the wash. Deadlines are important, too.

Are there any lessons you've learned over the course of your career? Or life tips?
I'll quote Samuel Beckett here: "I can't go on. I'll go on."

How much time do you spend on a cartoon? Do you refine or draw multiple drafts?
It depends on how complex the drawing is. Longer stories take more time. Although sometimes a simple drawing can take an unexpectedly long time because I won't be able to get someone's facial expression or something like that right. I love working in color, but color takes a lot of time. So yes: lots of redrawing.

Your cartoons often tell a small yet detailed story around an object, person or idea. Do you ever work in longer, more “conventional,” or multi-panel cartoon or comic storytelling?
I'm working on a book—a kind of graphic memoir—right now that is much longer. It's about my parents' last years. They died in 2007 and 2009 at the ages of 95 and 97. After that, I'm doing another children's book.

Do you have any Minnesota connections?
My husband is from Minnesota!  On one of our first trips out there, it was below zero and his dad took us out on a frozen lake in their car. I think he thought it would be the height of fun, because he knew how anxious it would make me. Which it did.

Do you have any career advice for people whose ideal job might entail some lean times, like musicians, photographers, writers or, of course, cartoonists?
If you truly, truly love what you do, keep doing it. Stick to your guns. If you keep working at your craft, hopefully something good will happen work-wise, and at the very least, you will be doing what you love. and getting better at it. Lean times or good times, careers in the arts have never been for people who put making tons of money and job security ahead of everything else. 

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