An individual exhibiting such uniqueness or individuality that he or she will cause a roomful of bar cronies to exclaim, "That's one interesting motherfucker!" Actual sexual relations with one's mother are not required.
I don't have to think hard to tell you my favorite Roz Chast cartoon (which is nice, since I'm not very good at thinking hard.) It appeared in the New Yorker some time ago and featured a bunch of travelers in an airport standing around what is labeled as an "Emotional Baggage Claim." As their luggage arrives, several of them are talking out loud... and the one guy I've always loved, the guy I've related to the most, is this fortyish businessman who's reaching over for a nondescript package and saying "There's my resentment of physical beauty!"
I supposed you're reading this and saying, "Good lord, what's he talking about now?" or "It's still more dribble from that annoying Wil Forbis?" or "Will you please remove your hands from my breasts?" Well, I don't know if you're saying all those things but they were all said to me at this rather dismal bar I was forcibly removed from last night, so it's not a real stretch for me to think that you're saying them now. At the very least, I hope you're not saying, "Who's Roz Chast?" Indeed that would depress me even more than the series of bodily blows I received from the tiny Vietnamese woman whose breasts I accidentally fondled for several minutes near closing time, but I suppose it's more than realistic to assume that that's exactly what you are saying and now here I am already quite depressed and only on the second paragraph of this piece.
In many ways, it's quite ironic that Roz Chast would be featured in an Interesting Motherfuckers column. After all, she is a mother of two, a boy and a girl. In fact, perhaps it would be more fitting to list Roz Chast's husband as an Interesting Motherfucker, at least that would be more literal, but as you can see from the definition provided at the top of the page, the phrase "Interesting Motherfucker" is really more a general description to be applied to someone who has the ability to cause others to take notice of their uniqueness and in that case, I think it's quite fair to file Roz Chast under the pedigree of Interesting Motherfuckerhood.
Well, goodness, gracious me, here I am at the fourth paragraph already, and I've really only touched on the subject of who Roz Chast is. Roz Chast is a cartoonist, and a very good one at that. I'm most familiar with her work through the "New Yorker", but it can be found in plenty of other places, including magazines such as "The Sciences", "The Harvard Business Review", and several children's books. Of course, there are quite a few cartoonists running afoul in this world, offering family-friendly one liners of the Garfield and Peanuts breed, so it takes something extra special to make one jump out and be taken notice of. There's no doubt Roz Chast's work does this, by conveying an emotion so timeless it has been an integral part of the human experience since we drew our first cartoons on the walls of French caves. What is this emotion you ask? Love? Fear? Hatred? Awe?
Actually, none of the above. The emotion is good old-fashioned guilt! Particularly the form of guilt pressed into us by our elders, whom after raising us from the crib, make little effort to disguise the resentment they hold when the feel we've abandoned them. Right off the bat, I'm reminded of a classic Chast cartoon that sums this up: A guilty looking women is standing on a dreary New York street and behind her is a store with the moniker, "Mom and Pop Grocery". Pasted on the store's glass window are a variety of adages such as "We never see you any more," "What's the matter, we don't carry enough of your 'gourmet items'", and a poster of a lonely looking parental couple with the caption "Don't worry about us!" Sure the cartoon is funny, it makes you laugh, but it also makes you think of the time you left your mother sinking into a pool of Florida quicksand while you went of in search of beer. And it makes you think, "That might not have been the best thing to do."
But there's more to Chast's cartoons than a dip into the pool of patricidal guilt and societal embarrassment. There's also the Chast 'look.' Her cartoons look as if they've been scribbled onto a stray napkin at a nearby greasy spoon. Like Dilbert, her art doesn't appear that learned, it seems the sort of thing anyone could do after a two week matchbook art course. But, unlike Dilbert, on close inspection you see that's not true; there's something refined about her scribblings. The characterizations are precise and the facial expressions display the rich gamut of human emotion - well, the funny human emotions such as hatred, guilt and verklemptness. (In a cartoon lampooning daytime talk shows, Chast manages to reduce a Klansman to comic impotence in a way that would be unachievable by a thousand screaming, self-righteous Al Sharptons.) Real humans do their damndest to hide the inner turmoil that may be raging inside them, but cartoon humans, especially Chast's, wear their angst clearly upon their faces. Sad people look SAD, Guilty people look GUILTY (and pretty much everyone in Chast's 'toons is guilty of something.) Happy people are so goddamned joyful you want to reach out and pummel them into submission.
After you read a few of Chast's cartoons, you start to become familiar with the recurring characters that inhabit her world. Like Gary Larson and his cows, Chast has a series of familiar profiles that populate her strips, almost all of them exaggerations of stereotypical family members. There's the young kid with the baseball cap, probably named "Jimmy", who's practically bursting with male bravado and brattiness. Then there's the pre-teen daughter, ever resentful of any intrusion her well-meaning mother makes into her life. And don't forget "Burnt Out Dad" who's quietly waiting for the kids to go off to college and retirement to hit so that he can begin life anew. And of course, there's "Mom", the terminally abused matriarch who is ultimately the only glue holding the family unit together. While everyone else can release their tensions in explosive tirades and expect to be forgiven, "Mom" has to eternally keep wearing a smile while she bandages bloody knees, helps with homework, and assuages "Dad's" frail ego. (Perhaps one of the great instances this is a recent multi-panel Chast cartoon depicting a long family car trip. After several panels in which the children have screamed and fought and Dad has threatened to "...turn the car back around and go home this instant!" Chast's ever grinning mother emits the classic "Mom" line, "Who wants some grapes?" to her fuming family.)
Family is the key in Chast's work. Her characters are defined by their relation to the family unit; "Son", "Mom", "Dad." and so on. And this is what makes Roz Chast cartoons stand out from so many other female cartoonists. While artists such as Trina Robbins, Roberta Gregory, and Julie Dresch expound from the viewpoint of the single, liberated woman, Chast is the stay at home Mom who missed out on sexual liberation and all its glories. Despite that, her cartoons actually manage to deliver a stirring message about the feminine spirit. because without "Mom", it would all fall apart. Jimmy's knees would remain bloody (and probably get infected), Nadine's science project would catch the family dog on fire, and hubby Bob's feeling of middle management inadequacy would escalate till he finally walked into the office with four automatic rifles and several hundred rounds of ammunition.
Ultimately, this is where Chast succeeds. her cartoons make evident the unspoken truths about family life - that raising children is ultimately an investment that never returns what you apply, that love fades and true love eventually becomes a case of "settling." Chast operates on a premise that comedians as varied as Woody Allen and Andrew Dice Clay have plied their trade with: Comedy should not be comfortable. It should expose the things about ourselves that we would rather shy away from. While the classic "nuclear family" has been an archetype of Americana since the fifties, in Chast's hands it gets turned inside out. She strips it of it pretense, exposes its flaws, but ultimately, redeems it. Underneath all her what could be referred to as cynicism about family life, you get the feeling that Chast does feel it's worth it, that if she had to do it over, she'd travel the same road again. And in doing so, she expands her role from just "Roz Chast: Mother of Two" to "Roz Chast: Surrogate Mom to the World." And I gotta tell you, that means a lot to those of us who lost our mothers in an unfortunate quicksand accident.
Wil Forbis is the pen named shared by such noted authors as James Ellroy, Katie Roiphe, and Jim Thompson. E-mail him, I mean, them, at firstname.lastname@example.org
View Wil's Acid Logic web log, a stirring endorsement
of sex with pandas!
- LINKS - SEARCH
Columns - Features - Interviews - Fiction - Acid Radio - GuestBook Sign/View - Blogs
View ForbistheMighty.com for more sin and wackiness!