Liana Finck is a New Yorker cartoonist and your discerning friend’s favorite Instagram account. Her daily output of deft social observations — how can one person see so much? — is so reliably insightful and funny that it can make you feel self-conscious about the pace of your own experiences. Finck is also a bit of a cartooning nerd. Today, she shares her personal cartoon syllabus with Fold: 10 fellow cartoonists she recommends looking into, in no particular order.
I started reading cartoons when I was 12, when we started getting the New Yorker. Saul Steinberg was one of my favorites early on. There’s this great wistfulness to his work. He’s cool in this way I’ll never be, like when you have a friend who knows how to dress for a party. He was born in Romania and left because of anti-Semitism, studied in Italy before coming to America, so he’s lived in this great span of countries and has this distance from everything. He also trained as an architect, which gives him this ability to look at whole streets and capture them. I’ll zoom in on a face and just get the expression. He does humanity on a large scale. He’s virtuosic and not a show-off.
Gabrielle Bell reminds me of Chekhov in a way that I can’t explain. Chekhov can take a normal experience and make it special. I know that if I went into that Russian house at two in the morning and sat up talking to uncle Vanya who has insomnia, I’d be bored and exhausted and annoyed at him and think he’s kind of stupid. But Chekhov makes all these scenes feel like jewel boxes. And Gabrielle does that but with pictures. I think she draws very slowly. She makes emotional, wild scenes feel calm and relatable.
Jules Feiffer started out as a superhero guy, but he’s done a ton of things, made movies, written plays and novels. His cartoons are usually a series of one person’s monologue. And they’re so expressive. He recently reinvented himself as a graphic novelist. His book Kill my Mother is so good. It’s about a mother, who’s a great character, and a girl who’s mad at her mom all the time. His books are quick and not labored in this way that feels so natural to me and that’s so unusual in comics.
Lord Birthday’s work is funny, deep poetry, which is my favorite kind of poetry. I read lots of poetry as a teenager, which I think came from reading the Torah at school. I find the Torah so funny. It’s so simple and then suddenly, it’s like, wait, what did you just say? Lord Birthday’s’s work is kind of like that, but on purpose. He has a book coming out called How to Appear Normal at Social Events and it’s really great. I love his work so much.
Roz Chast is one of the first people who has been allowed to become a New Yorker cartoonist without fitting into the box of New Yorker cartooning. Her work is so emotional and sprawling. She used to do the whole back page of the magazine almost every week. She’s so good at that full page format — just always so funny and I love how she draws. The traditional New Yorker cartoon format is like a Jerry Seinfeld joke, economical and well-crafted with a lead-up and punchline that surprises you at the end. Roz Chast is unpredictable. The funny doesn’t always come at the end. It could come at the middle or all the way through. Her work is a living thing.
I love cartoonists like Ruby who draw and really know what they’re doing but aren’t show-offs. She has a great book called “It’s all Absolutely Fine,” which is is a series of cartoon essays about bipolar disorder, among other things. Her work reminds of Roz Chast, when she reinvented herself as a comic artist, and threw away the idea that comics have to be a box with pictures and words. She’s so smart.
Ruppert & Mulot are a team who work in Paris. They work in a similar format to French kids’ comics, but they’re really stream of consciousness and surreal and sometimes really violent, but always so perfect. They have one book that’s been translated that I know of called Barrel of Monkeys. I go to Montreal sometimes to buy them in french. I like reading comics in languages I don’t speak perfectly because you can always figure out what’s happening and it’s a way to learn some words. I can spend a few days reading one of their books.
Krazy Kat is so soulful and perfect and weird. George Herriman was black but pretended to be white, and I always wonder what his gender and sexual identity was. He has this wonderful way of distilling feelings. His cartoons feature the same characters. The mouse is always throwing stuff at the cat. The mouse is always a boy and the cat is sometimes a girl and sometimes a boy. The cat loves the mouse and the officer loves the cat, but the officer is just so stupid. I relate to the cat so much, just shamelessly chasing this tiny mouse that hates it.
I read her children’s books as a child and they’re all so wild and funny and free and didn’t follow the usual structure of a children’s book. She wrote for kids like we were wacky beatniks or something. She’s also cool in this way I’ll never be. I think a strong design sense is what makes an artist cool. I think it’s a part of the brain. I think it’s connected to spacial awareness or something. You can fake it if you don’t have it naturally, but if you have it naturally it’s really intense. If she loves an object, not only does she love it, but she knows how to put it somewhere so that you will love it too.
Dominique Goblet is a genuine artist. Her pencil drawings are so beautiful. They’re outside the box and yet so competent. I read a book of hers recently that was translated into English, Pretending is Lying, published by the New York Review of Books comics. It’s about a mother and daughter, and the mother’s memories of her own mother, and it is really painful and sweet.