Welcome to my 'zine tree!

Here in my studio, I've got this wire-y thing hanging above my computer desk chock-full of paper goods that have kept me curious.

Instead of filing one thing away when I wish to add something, I've decided to do these features about some of the creators' works on the tree.

There's a little bit of everything up there - some photography, some stickers, some floppy comics, but most of it is cartoon and comics art and all of it is independently produced.


Pat Palermo is an artist and cartoonist currently living and working in Brooklyn, NY.  He received a BFA from Ohio State University in 2001 and an MFA from Bard College in 2005.  His first comic book, Cut Flowers, was a 2006 recipient of the Xeric Grant for self-publishing cartoonists.  His work has been exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Geneva, Milan, and Paris.  He is currently writing and drawing Live/Work, a serialized graphic novel set in the contemporary art world.  In 2010, he co-founded SOLOWAY, an artist-run exhibition space in the South Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Most recently, he was awarded the Galveston Artist Residency in Texas for the 2016-17 year.


Hiya Pat! Let's begin. What made you want to create Live/Work?

PP: Well, I’ve never thought that the art world has been portrayed—or satirized—effectively at all in other media. I remember that even Six Feet Under, a show that I mostly admired, tried a little and mostly failed at it.

So I wanted to write a story that I felt more accurately portrayed people in and around the art industry. Some are pretentious, some are grotesquely self-absorbed, but many are incredibly intelligent, incredibly hard working, nice people, and it seems like they’re never portrayed that way, that there’s never any effort to actually understand their trajectory.

Also, I had come off of a long and arduous process of building out an actual live/work space with other artists in Brooklyn, and I was thinking a lot about the difference between the utilitarian process of building walls, floors, stairs, and the satisfaction of that, against the process of making art. And the community that organically grew out of the shared purpose of building a home, as opposed to the more competitive and vaguely-defined contours of an ‘art community’.

Artists are like fish in an aquarium— keeping them in a community requires a delicate equilibrium, or they just end up eating each other alive. But that community is still so important—maybe the most important thing—so I wanted to write about the birth, life, and potential death of a small community of artists. Live/Work #1 and the coming #2 issue cover the ‘birth’ part at least.

AG: As a former gallery installer / art events manager, I was very pleased with the treatment of art production in this story.

Most people never witness the very un-fabulous process of presenting art to the public, much less paying mind to the lives of art handlers, office workers, artists even. A white gallery space’s command over its visitor is still very analogous to ideal Greek architecture — the perfection of the craft contained within it also has a mandate to wipe away any evidence of actual labor. When one enters a gallery, the workload of installers, salaried administrators, is vanquished by the stage that is the white cube.

PP: Thank you! It means a lot to me to hear that from someone who’s been in those trenches. Yeah, I feel like a lot of writers treat art like a black box, or like a computer in an ’80’s movie or the internet in the ’90’s. You know, like what goes on inside is just...inscrutable magic! When in fact it’s mostly very prosaic. It’s work.

In fact, if there’s one thing about the art world that I have a real beef about, it’s how it cloaks itself in this exceptional language—lofty political or even mystical rhetoric, while in fact acting like any other for-profit industry. The art world is always trying to have it both ways. And what you say about concealing labor is very gratifying, since I just spent DAYS drawing a multi-page sequence for Live/Work #2 describing each step of constructing a two-part sculpture mold. I was sitting there thinking, "Why the fuck am I doing this to myself? Who in their right mind is going to read this whole thing?" but I felt it was important that the rigor of drawing of the fabrication process match the rigor of the labor -- to not gloss over the huge expenditure of energy in fabricating art.


AG: In this story, Martha Ratzinger (seen above, cropped, on the far left) is a famous artist boss in all its worst; underpaying and overworking assistants, misdirecting anger about her career at younger artists (while attempting to seduce them), ignorant about the Octobriana myth at the center of her own sculpture. Is this individual artistic success-as-occupational delusion at its best, or should a fine artist do everything possible to glamorize the consumption of her work?

PP: Oh no! Poor Martha! Hahahaha you have no idea how fraught this character is for me.

I actually kind of like Martha. I based some of her funny straight-talking ‘tude on a real contemporary artist and friend who I admire immensely in an effort to blunt her more… questionable behavior.

But admittedly, she hasn’t revealed much depth— yet. I needed a ‘successful artist’ character, and wanted it to be a queer woman to highlight that the scuzzy capitalist system that underwrites the art world remains present, and continues to operate even when the person at the controls isn’t a douchey old straight white guy.

I think Martha demands the thing we all want: autonomy to make her work, to have the personal and economic freedom to do what she loves, unhindered. It’s the conception of autonomy that we’ve had since the mercantile class first coalesced. But it’s also the autonomy that’s desired by feminists, LGBTQ people, everyone! It’s not necessarily sinister to want to actualize yourself! But the problem for artists becomes: ‘ How many people need to be exploited for me to be free to be myself? Is it even possible to do this outside of a system I suspect to be corrupt and exploitative?’ And of course, there’s no easy answer to this question.

Hopefully she reveals a little more of this nuance in the next installment.

AG: This character was heartbreaking; Recently graduated artist Abilene (on page above), is from a farm in Tennessee, now works for New York artist Martha Ratzinger, is searching for pertinence in her own work.

Regard this sequence, which is correctly placed:

AG: Until you see:
AG: After this display, we discover, to Mike’s disappointment, that Abilene is a lesbian and has a girlfriend with a penchant for She-Hulk comics. You reveal Abilene the character to us through Mike’s art, through his expectation that he could have a connection with her, yet she is not who he/we think she is.

PP: Wow! I’m not sure I composed that panel with that reading in mind. But I won’t rule it out, either. Happy to say Abiline gets a lot of stuff to do in the next issue. Looking forward to you reading that.
AG: The affectation of a cold, inaccessible 1980’s-styled irony still taints the widespread perception of the fine arts world (i.e. popular mystery novels set in the art world are unreadable).

When cartoonists such as Daniel Clowes and Brecht Vandenbroucke tackle contemporary art in comics, there’s still that tendency, I think, to not discuss the intention of producing art on the basis of character dynamic -- to, I guess -- make comics that are explicitly for people who already understand fine art’s purpose, who are comfortable being cynical about it. Why do you take this slice-of-life comics approach to engaging with contemporary art?

PP: Oh god, here comes the part where I spend my first interview as a comics artist bashing Dan Clowes,
who is my hero! I worship him.

Yeah, I hated Art School Confidential (the film, based on Clowes' book). Because it has the same problem as latter-day Simpsons: There’s no love undergirding the satire. It’s wall-to-wall contempt, and worst of all it seems to actually infer that only people who can, like, classically draw are ‘real’ artists, and everything else is just made-up bullshit. It’s bewilderingly reactionary.

Like, I think good comedy can come from straight loathing, but the only way to make really great satire is to kind of love the thing that you’re taking down. You have to have a stake in the game, you have to care about it.

There was no love in Art School Confidential at all. Again, I think it’s more interesting to actually see the art these characters are making. Like, another thing about movies and TV about artists characters— they do everything to avoid showing the art that’s being made. That’s crazy! These people are artists! What they make says a huge amount about them! So I think it’s important to see them working hard, and to believe they are acting more-or-less earnestly.

That’s partially why I took the tact of not including any internal dialogue. The reader can only judge them by what they say and then what they do, and occasionally what they produce. You aren’t allowed to read their minds. I think if you put any normally flawed four people in a room together, their motives will become confused, fascinating relationships will form and dissolve, and complicated questions will arise without having to stack the deck, if that makes any sense.

AG: Fine art is a hard-scrabble industry – luck is perhaps a condition for success, so whim becomes sustenance for the ambitious. The art workers in this story, wherever they are in their respective careers, struggle with their living standard. In light of the recent Ghost Ship tragedy in Oakland (a former classmate of mine died in the fire), what would you tell student artists about this profession if you couldn’t use comics ?

PP: Well first off, let me say I am very sorry to hear about your classmate. I’m lucky that I didn’t lose any friends at Ghost Ship, but I know so many people who have. It’s horrific.

My home base is in Brooklyn, and I do still love it. But the local economy there is doing almost everything to stifle its artists. I think I’m actually part of the last generation to have secured an affordable, large studio in Brooklyn. I do not know what will happen if I finally become priced out of my space. I’ve lived in the same place I built ten years ago and can’t imagine having to start over. Increasingly, the only people who can afford to even attempt an art career are people who were born into wealth so they don’t have to work. That is incredibly infuriating but I try—can you feel me trying now?— not to demonize those people.

I would say work with what you have. One of the best, most democratic thing about comics is how cheap they are to make, to purchase, and how little space you need to make them. If you do need studio space, find out where you can get as much space as possible, cheap, because that’s where the other artists will be going too. Increasingly, that won’t mean New York or L.A. Proximity to cultural institutions is great, but proximity to other artists— to your natural community— is much more important.

The main reason I haven’t seriously entertained leaving New York is because most of my people are still there. I’m like, "Why won’t you fucking move upstate already so I can come with you??"



AG: Congratulations on your Galveston, TX residency, Pat! Your daily diary comics seem to reflect that you’re primarily interested in dialoguing with fine art. If you are interested in any comics as a springboard for your work, could you name some cartoonists or books that have impacted you? Can I make a pre-emptive request and ask that any mention of Nancy* be omitted?? :-)

PP: Thank you Adam! Well, Clowes, of course. Los Bros. Hernandez are a no-brainer, with Jaime’s The Love Bunglers being just the most recent incredible culmination of his dedication to those characters. Despite being a completely different kind of story, Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen is so deep in my DNA that those kind of cinematic match-cut panels they used pop up all the time in Live/Work. Eddie Campbell. I enjoy the hell out of Joe Matt too, who makes me feel better about my work ethic and my personal habits. Too bad he seems to have retired. Harvey Pekar and collaborators. But really, right now I wish I could draw as funny as Kate Beaton. Holy hell, she did some drawings recently about Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger regarding Dagger’s... ‘costume’... that I would like to tattoo on my body, they’re so funny and on point. Hard to keep up with all the great comics being done right now.


*Created in 1938 by Ernie Bushmiller, Nancy was a newspaper comic strip that peaked in the 1970’s. Known for its implausible, unintentionally surreal gags , fine artists, including pop artist Andy Warhol, have referenced the strip in their own work, often as a satirical device indicating an appreciation of polish and derision of populist mediocrity.

AG: The second thing I noticed about your diary is how you precise you are at the episodic — there’s some mention of what you’re making at this residency, but you don’t mark the completion of bigger works at all. The only long term-themes in the diary seems to be the fact of the residency, experiences with the art of others, and drinking lots of alcohol. I didn’t see any stories continue over the course of days. Was this a deliberate choice to not include your own creative process in a public record? This is your diary — understood — but I’m wondering if in fact there’s something extremely different about reality as a distracting past-time for cartoonists as opposed to fine artists... What do you think?

PP: Hmmm. Well, I started the diary because I’ve never done a daily project and thought the set up of having a ’temporary exile’ in Texas was a perfect opportunity. Also, frankly it’s keeping me sane and connected— Galveston is small and I don’t have much of a social life outside of the studio. Right now, I’m mostly finishing the drawing for Live/Work #2, which is going to be a larger installment than the last. And it doesn’t seem exciting or desirable to talk about the minutiae of that. I’m also collaborating on some paintings with a friend in NYC via mail, but there just isn’t a story in that for me. Yet, at least. It is weird coming up with ‘material’ every day but that’s what I like— being forced to rush in every morning without editing or fussing. It’s somewhat difficult, because some stuff I can’t write about since it might harm relationships that I’m having in real time. I was wondering how weird and internal it might get, but unfortunately Trump has almost entirely hijacked the diary. I was the kind of kid who used to fast-forward through all the political songs on the album to get to the love and loneliness stuff. And right now, January’s diary is like a whole album of JUST political songs! But it’s happened organically, since that’s what’s truly anguishing me right now. But we will see where it goes, I’m still not even halfway through my stay yet.

And also, I apologize for the language, but did I mention fuck Donald Trump?


Visit Pat's website>>

Visit Pat's Galveston, TX Artist Residency Diary blog>>