Friday, January 09, 2009

Corsair Interview: Jonathan Ames

(image via observer)

Jonathan Ames, the quintessential New York writer, has written an amazing graphic novel/ fictional memoir called "The Alcoholic." We emailed the writer/boxer via email about the lines between truth and fiction, the people that show up to his readings, David Letterman and scat:

The Corsair: The Alcoholic artfully blurs the line between the deeply confessional and fiction told in noirish black and white graphics: 1) why a comic book, and 2) did the graphic arts medium influence your decision to infuse the story with fiction (i.e. the girls school incident?)

Jonathan Ames: The illustrator of 'The Alcoholic', Dean Haspiel, is my dear friend and for a number of years he kept suggesting that we collaborate. And so I came up with this story so that we could work together. I know it may not seem like an 'artistic' reason for choosing to do something in a new medium, but the motivation was friendship. 2) Often in my fiction, I've had my characters closely resemble myself and so this was an extension of that, but, too, most of the graphic books I had read were of the memoir variety and so this faux-memoir ('The Alcoholic') was an homage to those non-fiction graphic works. I do want to make one thing quite clear -- 'The Alcoholic' is a work of fiction. Once you significantly change your own story, it's no longer a memoir, i.e. non-fiction. You can recreate dialogue in a memoir, but you can't make up events that never happened. Most of the events in 'The Alcoholic' didn't happen or certainly didn't happen in the way that I configured them in the book. That said, the incident at the girls' school has quite a lot of truth to it. But anyone who knows me, knows that 'The Alcoholic' is a novel in the traditional sense of the word. My parents are alive, I haven't written mystery novels -- these are just two differences, though significant, between myself and the character Jonathan A.

The Corsair: How has the reception been to the book at your readings? What is the Jonathan Ames groupie like?

Jonathan Ames: The reception has been perfectly pleasant. I don't think I have groupies, but I have noticed that appealing members of all three genders, male, female, and mixed, sometimes show up at my readings or performances.

The Corsair: How did you get to be a guest on Letterman? Not too many writers become recurring Letterman guests.

Jonathan Ames: Someone gave him one of my books several years ago and he very kindly and generously tracked me down and had me on the show. But I'm not really a recurring guest. I was on three times in 2003 and 2004, but haven't been back on the show since July 2004.

The Corsair: How come you don't blog?

Jonathan Ames: I used to blog, except it was called a newspaper column back then. For several years, I wrote a bi-monthly column for New York Press called 'City Slicker.' It ran from 1997 to 2000.

The Corsair: "The the Herring Wonder's" fight against Craig Davidson last year was amazing. To what do you owe the victory?

Jonathan Ames: Thank you for thinking it was amazing. What was amazing was that I didn't get hurt. My opponent fought beautifully, but I managed, through luck, to hit him a few more times than he hit me, though he did viciously pound my rib-cage during one exchange, but I had so much adrenaline going that I didn't really feel it.

The Corsair: Did that incident with the amorous coke dealer and the garbage can actually happen or was it a case of ars poetica?

Ames: The garbage can part happened.

The Corsair: How do your girlfriends deal with the confessional nature of your writing (esp. the scatology)?

Ames: I think the scatology is less of an issue than the false reports of mad promiscuity that fill the pages of my pathetic oeuvre.

The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel is on sale now.

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