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30 November 2004




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Michael Chabon: Pulp, Comics, and Baseball December 2004

Michael Chabon was raised in a utopian community in Columbia, Maryland. He received a BA from University of Pittsburgh in 1984, then an MFA at the University of California at Irvine, where his master's thesis became his first novel, bestselling coming-of-age story The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988). His other novels are Wonder Boys (1995), Pulitzer-prize winner The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2001), and Mythopoeic award-winning YA Summerland (2002), historical mystery The Final Solution (2004), and alternate history The Yiddish Policemen's Union forthcoming. He has published two collections, A Model World & Other Stories (1990) and Werewolves in Their Youth (1999), and edited print anthologies McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales (2003) and McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories (2004), and comic book anthologies The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist Volumes 1 and 2, based on his character from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Chabon lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife.    
Photo by Charles N. Brown

Excerpts from the interview:

“It's quite obvious to me that so much of what goes on in the world of science fiction has analogies with a ghetto mentality, with a sense of clannishness and that ambivalence that you have: on the one hand wanting to keep outsiders out and identify all the insiders with a special language and jargon so you can tell at a glance who does and doesn't belong, and on the other hand hating that sense of confinement, wanting to move beyond the walls of the ghetto and find wider acceptance. It's a deep ambivalence. You want both at the same time: you feel confined, and you feel supported and protected.”


“I'm not alone in the kinds of things I do -- and sometimes that bothers me! I was very dismayed when I was about halfway through Summerland and this book American Gods by Neil Gaiman came in the mail, with his version of this country's mythology. I put it aside. The same thing happened previously when I was writing Kavalier and Clay and was sent Tom DeHaven's Derby Dugan's Depression Follies. The idea was so similar to mine, I just had to banish it from the house! Now I'm working on a novel set in an alternate-historical timeline where there's no Israel, and in World War II the United States allowed a lot of Jewish refugees into the Alaskan Territories to settle, so they started this Yiddish-speaking territory. And Philip Roth decides he has to write a novel with an alternate-history Jewish World War II timeline! My novel is called The Yiddish Policemen's Union


“Summerland grew directly out of my childhood reading. In fact, the initial idea for it came to me when I was a child. I was reading a lot of fantasy based on Celtic, Scandinavian, and British mythology -- C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander. I loved them, but I was also into American folklore and tall tales, and Native American legends. I remember thinking, 'I wonder if you could write a novel that would be like these books but would draw on American mythology and folklore.' I took the idea and put it away. It really wasn't until I had kids of my own and was reading to them those very books I'd read -- that started me thinking again, and remembering that my original ambition as a writer was to write the kind of book that became Summerland


“At this year's Comicon, I gave the Eisner speech, talking about my idea that children didn't abandon comics; comics abandoned children. They did it very calculatedly and avowedly: 'Let's start making comics for older readers.' It started in some ways with EC Comics in the early '50s, then Marvel in the '60s, but really took off with the rise of the independents in the 1980s. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, not criticizing that at all. It's a completely laudable ambition, and I'm very grateful for all this great work that's been done for an adult readership. Again, there's a certain amount of parallel with the ghetto mentality and the ghetto desire to assimilate. Part of that is, you try to cover up your roots when you start making it. Comics did that. They tried -- with complete justification, because of the brutal treatment their art has received for so long -- to distance themselves from the idea that they were 'greasy kids' stuff.' All I was trying to point out was that now, when comics have achieved at least a measure of critical respect (they're being reviewed in The New York Times Book Review and The New York Review of Books, for godsake!), it's time to relax a little bit.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the December 2004 issue of Locus Magazine.

You may purchase this issue for $7.95 by sending a check to Locus, PO Box 13305, Oakland CA 94661; or via credit card submitted by mail, e-mail, or phone at (510) 339-9198. (Or, Subscribe.)


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