Portrait of the Cartoonist as Philosopher – Grant Snider

Yes, it’s true, we have a little something extra today…an article about Grant Snider, as opposed to our most recent presentation of his brilliant work, just a little earlier this morning. So glad we found this one:

by Jeffrey Kindley

GRANT SNIDER’S first book, The Shape of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity, a compilation of cartoons from his website Incidental Comics, has just been published by Abrams ComicArts. “What do ideas look like? Where do they come from?” asks the jacket copy. Surprisingly, Snider’s beautifully composed cartoons have cogent answers to those questions — or if they don’t, he’s at least an urgent asker. He’s created something unique: a synthesis of comics, philosophy, and poetry: a thoughtful new way of packaging eternal ideas in cartoon boxes.

Snider grew up in Derby, Kansas, outside of Wichita, reading newspaper comics like Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side and drawing with his twin brother Gavin. “Our parents gave us an easel,” Gavin remembers. “Grant would have one side and I’d have the other. We’d tear a big roll of paper and stick it on there and get markers and create these imaginary worlds.” They drew pirates, asteroids, aliens, and Bigfoot, and used the drawings to tell stories to each other.

“I kept drawing past when most people stop,” Snider says, “but I didn’t start seriously cartooning until late in college at the University of Kansas.” Then, while he was in dental school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, he won the Charles M. Schulz Award for college cartoonists, which came with a $10,000 prize and a trip to the National Press Club in Washington, DC. That caught the attention of the Kansas City Star, which started running his strip Delayed Karma.

In 2009, Snider launched Incidental Comics, which gave him the freedom to draw whatever he wanted. “When I first started putting it on the internet,” he says, “nobody was reading it, so it didn’t really matter.” Soon, however, thousands of people were reading it and finding new favorites every week. He began drawing smart, fanciful, hilarious literary cartoons forThe New York Times Book Review as well.

I spoke to Grant Snider a few days after the publication of The Shape of Ideas.

JEFFREY KINDLEY: You’ve described your work as “self-help for myself,” but another word for it might be “philosophical.” In creating “An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity,” you’re providing endless images for the mind’s activity — even one called “The Internal Decathlon.” I can’t think of anyone who’s done this before: ideational cartooning.

GRANT SNIDER: I love that term, “ideational cartooning.” It reflects the goal of much of my work: capturing my mental state in graphic form. I’m also trying (and sometimes failing) to find a closer connection between comics and poetry. Both contain condensed language, strong imagery, and ideally leave the reader with a new insight. Lately I’ve been obsessed with Billy Collins’s poems; I’ve tried to emulate his approach of following a line of thought wherever it takes him. He also has a lot of poetry about the writing process, which appeals to me as a writer, but also in the unusual connections he draws between writing and life.

That said, I try not to think of these things as I’m drawing each individual comic. I’ve found that having grand ambitions for my work (planning multiple comics on one theme or plotting the creative arc of my future projects) takes away from the discovery and exploration that should be present in each new piece. Maybe this is the reason I tend to work in small, short bursts of inspiration: I prefer to craft a single page that stands alone, rather than a comic essay or graphic novel. As a reader, I prefer the haiku to the long poem. My mind is impatient.

Many of the cartoonists you admire — Matt Groening, B. Kliban, Roz Chast, Tom Gauld, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes — have a somewhat jaundiced take on things, whereas your perspective is uniquely open and celebratory. Do you feel like an outsider in the world of cartooning?

No, I very much relate to the stereotypical cartoonist persona: grumbling, introverted, slightly misanthropic. It’s my default mode of seeing the world. Maybe it’s due to the lonely hours spent at the drawing table? The celebration that comes through in my drawings is me trying to transcend my normal way of looking at things.

And much of the celebration and joy in my comics follows panels of building frustration. Usually it’s frustration with the creative process. There’s one called “Hitting a Wall” where every introductory panel is some creative wall, and in the following panel I find a way over that wall, including charging at it on horseback and vaulting over it with a spear. In those moments of frustration, I’m always looking for the way out.

I want my comics to be motivational but honest. It’s a fine line; inspirational stuff can easily become sentimental. Sometimes I find the right balance, other times I don’t. Cynicism is easier than sincerity, but for me sincerity is more powerful.

It may come as a surprise to some that you’re an orthodontist in Wichita with a wife and three kids. People tend to imagine artists devoting themselves to their work 24/7. You have a brilliant cartoon, “Day Jobs of the Poets,” which features, among others, William Carlos Williams, pediatrician; Wallace Stevens, insurance executive; Robert Frost, failed agrarian; and T. S. Eliot, bank clerk. Why is it, do you think, that we expect artists to be above the workaday?

A lot of that stems from a misunderstanding about how art is made….

Read it all at L.A. Review of Books