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Graffiti for July 29, 2010…My Interview with Mark Alan Stamaty

July 29, 2010

FOR HIS EIGHTH birthday, Mark Alan Stamaty’s parents gave him his very own radio. Little did his mother realize that that innocent-looking plastic box would one day be the gateway for a new kind of sound that would “rock” her nearly out of her mind. . . .

Mark first heard the howling thunder of Elvis Presley singing Hound Dog on the radio one lazy day and his life was forever changed. Soon he was styling his hair like the King and practicing his dance moves with a tennis racket as his pretend guitar in front of the mirror. But his mother lived in constant fear that her son’s new love of rock ’n’ roll would turn him into a juvenile delinquent. Could Mark’s performance at his Cub Scout talent show change her mind?

SHAKE, RATTLE & TURN THAT NOISE DOWN–Knopf Books for Young Readers

Linda Davick starts her interview with Mark Alan Stamaty with the following statement:

There are scads of brilliant cartoonists and illustrators around, but I like Mark Alan Stamaty the best because he has the most heart and soul.

I agree with her but think that she should have added “intelligence” and “ear” as well.

Intelligence needs no explanation but “ear” might. As I read his book “Washingtoon” I found myself often not laughing out loud but emitting large “guffaws” because of his use of ideas like the area between the Middle East and the Far East being the “Three-quarters East”. Or the fact that this area is responsible for 44% of the world’s production of the raw materials needed for artificial food additives. Did you know the design of the Washington monument was changed from a Greek Temple to its current vertical shape so that souvenir thermometers could be sold? Did you know there is a medication called “Palaverzine” that enables you to generate “small talk”…an attribute all good politicians depend on. Or that there is a weapon being developed that kills only those people who don’t carry credit cards. Are you guffawing yet?

Of course these ideas taken away from the illustrations and the rest of the running “joke” don’t really stand on their own. That’s where the “ear” comes in–“hearing” where they fit to make it funny.

I felt the same way with his 1999 children’s book: Too Many Time Machines. The full title is Too Many Time Machines or, The Incredible Story of How I Went Back in Time, Met Babe Ruth, and Discovered the Secret of Home Run Hitting. Are you guffawing yet?

Instead of going on and on I’d rather Mr. Stamaty talk for himself through word and picture.

On the other hand, my essential dream has tended to be to make something great, magical, beloved, and enduring. Something brilliant and classic that comes from some true, deep place in me and stirs a powerful joy and enrichment in my readers. Maybe that sounds like a bunch of flighty adjectives possibly launched by a grasping ego. I mean for it to be about intuition. I do believe we carry a magic and a miracle inside of us and that great artists tap into it and bring it forth in ways that give their audience a powerful experience of the magic and miracle within themselves. And that is always what I hope to do.

In cartooning though, as far as I’m concerned, the big issue is the writing. That is the hard part. That is the part that makes me bleed. The writing, the rewriting, the re-re-rewriting. The pacing. The rhythm. The structure. Once the writing is done, the drawing part for me is just a matter of time.

But revelation came to me in the works of four master cartoonists: Jules Feiffer, Ronald Searle, Saul Steinberg, and George Grosz.

From The Education of a Comics Artist by Michael Dooley and Steven Heller.

One interesting highlight of my political cartoon career: On March 13th, 1993, during an White House visit with a group of political cartoonists and our wives, I did my Elvis Presley impersonation for President Clinton and Vice President Gore IN THE OVAL OFFICE. And President Clinton signed and gave me an Elvis necktie. And this event got mentioned in an article on the front page of the New York Times and I did a cartoon about it in Newsweek. As far as I know, I am the FIRST and ONLY cartoonist in American history to do that. So I do have a place in history. Plus, I still have the tie.

From an interview in the blog: Rands In Repose

I appear in several places in the book. The “hippie-like gentleman” in the back seat opposite the copyright page is a portrait of me back then. (I don’t look like that now.) In that drawing, I am speaking Greek. (I am half Greek.) What I am saying is: “YES, LIFE.”

I also appear on the page where Sam first arrives in the city. I’m the hippie-looking guy in the pea coat standing by the marquee that says “Corner Vegetable Market.”

I also appear as a bird on the right hand side of the spread that has Abe Lincoln in it. I am also speaking in Greek there, saying: “I can” or “I am able.”

Speaking about the cult, classic “Who Needs Donuts” in an interview from the blog: Rands In Repose

SHAKE, RATTLE & TURN THAT NOISE DOWN was a labor of love for me. It is a very personal story, but I think it is also kind of universal in its depiction of a classic sort of generation gap–a parent not only not appreciating, but, in fact, being horrified by the music and idol of her child. And a child not understanding how his parent could be so upset by something so clearly wonderful. The book also gives some sense of the importance of Elvis in the history of popular music and culture, while at the same time making mention and paying homage to the great musicians who preceded him and the great musicians who, because of Elvis’ breakthrough, were able to enjoy much wider popularity in the mainstream of American and world culture. Elvis didn’t create Rock ‘n’ Roll. My book is very clear about that. What he did do was popularize it. And that was no small achievement.

From Linda Davick’s interview

My interview with Mark Alan Stamaty will be available here in about ten days. In the meantime check out his website. That should keep you busy for at least ten days.

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