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Adventures in Programming: The Life of a Chair Breaker and other Stories, an evening with Ben Katchor

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On a beautiful spring night last week picture story teller Ben Katchor came to Mid-Manhattan to do a reading of his work. I had asked Ben Katchor to come do a program almost a year ago and through many correspondences and date changes Wednesday, May 7th finally arrived. To be honest, I discovered Ben Katchor a few months before I had invited him to speak at the library. In a conversation with a friend, his name was mentioned as someone I should come to know. Ben Katchor I learned is a comic strip creator unlike any before.

His comic strips reveal the absurdity of everyday life. He presents wonderfully drawn scenes, using characters who are quintessentially human. The characters, sometimes subtle and sometimes not, always pack an ironic punch. Katchor has the uncanny ability to show the funny side of the ordinary, the mundane and the pedestrian. His work focuses on the parts the rest of us don’t think about until we happen to read one of his comic strips. The obvious we take for granted is the palette Ben works from. This is where the beauty of Ben Katchor’s work lies. I admire and enjoy his intuitive understanding of what can be funny… for Ben Katchor it is anything.

Ben Katchor has been making comics strips for years and his work has been in many publications, currently his work can be found in Metropolis Magazine. He has published a number of books and written operas. He is constantly working. I was a bit nervous about meeting him because of his stature. He was the recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Award, a 500,000 dollar Genius Grant, an award aimed at gifted and largely unrecognized talents. Ben Katchor is a big name and I was enormously proud when he came to Mid-Manhattan to do a reading.

At 6:15 PM the room was filling nicely. I stood at my usual spot in the hallway, greeting the people as they arrived. Ben came into the hallway at one point and we chatted briefly. I discovered he was pleasantly warm and easy to talk to. He expressed pleasure and appreciation of the people arriving. At 6:35 PM my programming director, Debbie Hirsch, suggested we begin. I ushered Ben into the room. I told him I would introduce him and then he could begin. At 6:40 PM I stood at the podium and read my introduction. I then turned the stage over to Ben Kacthor and the lights went dark.

Ben Katchor’s work is wonderful on paper. However Ben’s reading of his panels, displayed huge on a screen is truly special. Frame after frame in beautiful colors appeared in front of us. The written narrative normally seen in his comic strips was hidden from view. Ben read the narratives aloud, in the most calm and understated manner, he then punctuated the narrative with the animated voices of the characters. The audience responded with appreciative laughter throughout the program. 70 people attended a most enjoyable and intimate event.

Picture Story: The Call of the Wall by Ben Katchor

Links to articles on Ben Katchor: Bomb Magazine, Identity Theory

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