One of the whack-a-mole topics of conversation that recurs periodically on social media is this whole notion of the side hustle. Do you take one of your hobbies that you’re really good at and then turn it into something you make money off of? Or do you protect that hobby at all costs from the imperatives of capitalism, and instead turn to it as an escape from whatever your daily grind may be?
While of course there are plenty of arguments for and against both of those options, I feel like a big part of what I’m trying to do with this podcast is shining a light on people who take a sort of third route, where it’s a little more difficult to dismiss these major parts of people’s lives as “just” a hobby, even if it’s not something they make any money from or gain any significant notoriety for. I think there are way more interesting, and way less reductive, ways to think about the specific things that people commit their time and attention and energy to.
Which is why I’m so excited to be able to introduce you all today to my good friend Michael Sherron.
Although there are any number of things he and I could have spent an hour talking about, I specifically wanted him to talk about the process of becoming a docent at the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona.
He’s currently an apprentice docent from the class of 2018 and now leads tours there for adults and school groups. In his day job, he’s an engineering manager building large scale cloud hosting solutions for the enterprise.
Mike is one of the most remarkable people I know, in terms of his sheer capacity to tackle incredibly ambitious projects simply for the joy of learning how to do them. That deep focus and insatiable curiosity is definitely at the heart of what led him to commit the past two years to studying really intensely in order to start giving tours at the Phoenix Art Museum.
In addition to talking about what the program was like, in the last twenty or so minutes of our chat, Mike guides me through a deeper look at two paintings from the Phoenix Art Museum’s collection, Lew Davis’s The Rebel and Frida Kahlo’s The Suicide of Dorothy Hale.
The Legends of Speed exhibit will be on display at the Phoenix Art Museum through March 15, 2020.
The Wondrous Worlds: Art & Islam Through Time & Place exhibit was on display at the Phoenix Art Museum January 15, 2019, through May 27, 2019.
The Heard Museum
Howard Terpning’s Offerings to the Little People (Offrendas a los enanitos)
The exhibition India: Fashion’s Muse will open at the Phoenix Art Museum on February 29, 2020, and will be on display until June 21, 2020.
The exhibition at the Getty Museum was called Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, 1911-2011, and it was on display June 26, 2018, through October 21, 2018.
The exhibition Ragnar Kjartansson: Scandinavian Pain & Other Myths was on display at the Phoenix Art Museum from November 3, 2018, through April 14, 2019. You can see a clip of The Visitors on YouTube.
The Tower from the Rider Waite Smith deck
The “Falling Man” photograph was taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew. You can read more about the photograph in this Esquire piece by Tom Junod.
So, as soon as I started my podcast project “I’ll Follow You,” I knew with absolute certainty that I had to have today’s guest on, preferably sooner rather than later. I’m absolutely thrilled not just to have him on for this wonderful chat, but also to be able to introduce him and his work to those of you who may not have had the pleasure of knowing him–yet.
Today I’m so excited to welcome to the show Dr. Gene Kannenberg Jr.
Gene is a cartoonist living in Evanston, Illinois. His comics, mostly abstract with asemic writing, include Qodèxx, Space Year 2015, and The Abstract Circus. His work was included in the Minnesota Center for Book Arts’ 2017 exhibit “Asemic Writing: Offline & In the Gallery” and also appears in the book Abstraction et bande dessinée, produced by the ACME Comics Research Group at the University of Liège in Belgium.
Gene received his PhD from the University of Connecticut in 2002, and he has served in the past as Chair of both the International Comic Arts Festival and the Comic Art & Comics section of the Popular Culture Association. His book 500 Essential Graphic Novels was published by Collins Design in 2008.
Gene is currently the Research and Media Assistant at the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University, where he has curated two exhibits on comic art.
As we allude to later in the conversation, Gene moved to Illinois in late 2014, and it was one of those rare examples of a later-in-life instant friendship. Just like, “yep, you’re my people.” He had gone to grad school with my partner Brian Cremins (whom we also allude to later in the conversation), and pretty much from the moment he signed the lease on his apartment, he was showing up at our gigs and taking the best photographs of us playing music, inviting us out to excellent readings and film screenings, and just generally being a key part of our urban family. We also collaborated together on a modern take on the Book and Record set with his project Qodèxx, an abstract graphic novella for which Brian and I composed the soundtrack. (You can read a bit more about my thoughts on making the album here.)
So, pardon all the giggles and excited blathering that you’ll hear from me here–it really does come from a place of extreme warmth and affection for Gene and our friendship and of course my enthusiasm for his work. So now to let him speak more for himself, here’s my conversation with Gene Kannenberg.
The quote from Dan Snaith comes from his October 2014 interview on The Quietus:
[Arthur Russell’s] voice has been so important for me. I was already singing on my music before I heard this, but I was always disguising my voice as much as possible. His voice is so beautiful and distinctive, but it’s not the classical idea of what a singer should be. So it gave me a way in to singing on my own tracks, even though my voice is weak and pedestrian. It’s a way for those of us who are non-traditional singers to not have to think about comparing ourselves – y’know, I’m a singer, and Marvin Gaye’s a singer… He’s like the vocal equivalent of a Stradivarius. But it gave me a way of thinking about singing that wasn’t about being professional; it’s about embracing the amateurishness and foibles of my voice.
Charles Hatfield is Professor of English at California State University, Northridge, the author or co-editor of four books in Comics Studies, curator of Comic Book Apocalypse: The Graphic World of Jack Kirby (CSUN Art Galleries, 2015), and founding President of the Comics Studies Society.
Tom Spurgeon was an enormously influential comics critic who recently and unexpectedly passed away at the age of 50. The New York Times published an obituary for him, and Douglas Wolk’s stunning remembrance of Spurgeon’s importance is on The Comics Reporter here.
Gene’s asemic tribute to The Who’s iconic Maximum R&B image appears in the zine Satan Is My Father: A Zine about Forgotten, Misremembered, and Nonexistant Bands.
Check out a short video of Gene’s handmade book “A Nameless Land, A Timeless Time!” (Tribute to Steve Ditko) here.
Check out Shawn Sheehy’s pop-up books here.
The video of Gene’s pop-up tribute to the first Peanuts comic strip is here.