Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cartoonist Roz Chast draws lessons from life at the Four Arts

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Cartoonist Roz Chast draws lessons from life at the Four Arts
‘New Yorker’ cartoonist Roz Chast spoke about such diverse topics as her profession and the death of her parents Tuesday at The Society of the Four Arts.






















Daily News Arts Editor
Tuesday’s lecture at The Society of the Four Arts was an excursion into the poignant, wacky world of cartoonist Roz Chast.
She interspersed examples of her angst-ridden, tongue-in-cheek cartoons with snippets from her life, covering how she started cartooning, what it’s like to work for The New Yorker and her experiences as an only child taking care of her parents in their final years.
The last topic was the subject of her 2014 graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?Last week, the book won the National Book Critics Circle award for autobiography.
“She’s able to take a few panels of a cartoon and describe things in ways that would be very difficult to do in words,” said resident Robin Martin, a longtime fan.
Chast has had more than 1,000 cartoons published in The New Yorker since she started working for it in 1978. That’s pretty good odds, considering the amount of competition. The New Yorker receives about 800 cartoon submissions a week for 15 to 20 slots. The final selection is made by a small group of editors.
“I have never been to one of those meetings,” she said. “It’s like, I know my parents have sex, but I don’t want to see it. I imagine them something like this.” She displayed a cartoon of a Roman emperor and empress pointing down at a gladiator from the stands.
Among the many cartoons she shared were her ideas for narcissists’ greeting cards, which bore messages such as “Wow! Your birthday is really close to mine. Isn’t that amazing?”
Chast grew up in Brooklyn with her much-older parents, who remained in the same apartment until they no longer could take care of themselves.
It wasn’t difficult to discern where the angst that permeates her cartoons comes from. Chast’s cartoon titled The Wheel of Doom said it all. Shaped like a game spinner, the wheel was divided into segments describing bizarre deaths she was told about as a child, including being killed by a baseball or a falling flower pot.
Her parents were in their 90s when she noticed they were “leaving the TV commercial old age, where you’re like normal adults just with gray hair, and moving into the part of old age that’s scarier, harder to talk about and not part of our culture,” she said.
The first alarm bell was the grime her mother — who once lectured her about the dangers of dust breaking the furniture — allowed to accumulate in the apartment.
Eventually, her parents agreed to move into an assisted living facility, but they didn’t go graciously. Chast flashed a cartoon in which her mother complains, “We are not residents. We are inmates.”
Her mother lingered for two years after her father died, fading into sleep toward the end.
“I drew her,” Chast said, as she displayed sketches of her mother on her deathbed. “It was a way to communicate with her, be with her and to pay attention.”
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