Ben Katchor

A picture story just doesn’t run like a film. It doesn’t have 24 frames per second. It doesn’t deal with this illusion of movement. It’s more like if you did an illuminated novel. I think both of those things should be running at full blast, not less of both so it becomes an easier thing. I think it should be twice as dense. That’s just what interests me.

Certain movies that are trying to evoke history are just like being in an antique store, and all you notice is that all the stuff has been gathered together, and it feels like a pile of antiques. How can you think that that will evoke the past? It doesn’t even have to evoke anything, but anyway, it’s how we’re living. It’s this moment where nobody has to immediately think too much about how things are being documented. It’s a great time.

The basis of national identity is to say, “This is authentic to me or my forebears,” and is there even such a thing? How authentic is it to your life? Just because your grandfather did it, what does that have to do with you? If I say I’m working in the style of Rembrandt, so what? You can say it, but are you really? No, because when you try to literally copy a cultural artifact, you change it. It dissolves, and then who’s looking at it? People who appreciate that kind of drawing, or people it means nothing to?

I think a lot of these terms, nationalistic things, somebody is an American, or somebody is a Frenchman, or somebody is a Jew, I don’t know, it doesn’t mean anything to me. You really should start augmenting these words, saying what kind. If you want to say somebody is a Jew, what do you mean by that? Does he have blonde hair? I think a lot of these ancient nationalistic and ethnic terms have kind of lost their meaning, or their meaning is so broad, it’s nothing. It’s like he’s connected to the ancient world. Everybody is.

In America, there’s a very long tradition of a comic strip that comes in newspapers, which is not true all over the world. To sell papers, they put color comics in. It’s worked, up until now. Now these papers can’t afford it. They always had minuscule ad budgets, and now the things which people probably read these papers for are gone.

There’s a real connection between the history of print in Europe and nationalism, and how those two things could be formed. I think they may both now be ending, for good and bad, but I think mainly for good. Either globalism was supposed to make people all realize this is one big business going on and we should know what’s going on everywhere, or it makes people say, “I don’t want to become part of this thing. I want to be incredibly different from you and I want to uphold my local behavior.” Dress a certain way.

What sort of attractions do you think lured our coreligionists out of the ghetto and into the mainstream of European culture? Was it the wit of Molière, or the ingenious stage mechanisms of Pixérécourt? Or was it simply the opportunity to cast an eye, without shame, upon the living, unclad human form?

The funny thing is, nationalism only could have come about in Europe after the invention of printing. You could have this thing that was a book in a vernacular language, and you could imagine there were other readers of this book who you couldn’t see, but they were a theoretical union of readers who all use the same language. That is kind of a prerequisite for a national fantasy. You need that thing, and it’s a strange thing.