On Monday, April 4, UCSB Arts & Lectures welcomed American cartoonist Roz Chast to speak to a small audience.
Chast, who has been a staff cartoonist for The New Yorker for the past 25 years, showcased a 45 minute illustrated presentation entitled, “Theories of Everything,” based on her most recent book publication of the same name. The crowd, which skewed older, responded well to the Brooklyn-born illustrator. Chast, a petite blonde with a Brooklyn accent, spoke less like a lecturer and more like a quirky comedienne.
“Anxiety, humor and I are very intertwined,” Chast said of comics, which frequently center upon forlorn but amusing characters.
One of the most notable cartoons that popped up on the screen was “Obsessive-Compulsive Santa,” featuring Santa Clause checking off his Christmas list and in dire need of Zoloft. The comic caused an explosion of laughter from the audience, drowning out Chast’s explanation.
Chast went on to discuss her schooling — a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting from Rhode Island School of Design — and the promising events that followed.
“When I got out of school, it wasn’t the golden age of cartoon,” Chast said.
The presentation featured Chast’s first cover, “Shelved,” a sad but relevant comic illustrating the omnipresent usage of laptops in libraries.
“[Drawing comics] is not just about drawing a picture to make other people laugh. You have to find something to laugh at yourself,” Chast said.
Chast revealed how intensive her job actually is, putting to rest any assumption that her job is pure fun. She explained that about 40 people make up The New Yorker’s cartoonist staff, supplemented by outsiders who submit their art. Each cartoonist submits 10 cartoons on average, about 400 submissions a week. Only 10 to 15 comics are chosen.
Chast spends her Mondays and Tuesdays dedicated to her week’s comics, in a determined urgency to meet her Tuesday deadline.
Chast’s entertainingly quirky anecdotes that serve as inspiration for her comics filled the presentation.
“I’ve always loved the pages in comics where they advertise weird things like magic water and authentic Superman costumes,” Chast said.
After Chast finished presenting, she opened the floor to questions from the audience. One audience member asked Chast when exactly was it that she came to realize that she had a sense of humor.
“Around when I was eight or nine, I had a subscription to Highlights Every month, in the section, ‘My Own Page,’ there would be a picture of a horse by Susie, age eight.” Chast said. “I hate horses but I figured if I wanted to be ‘My Own Page’ I would have to learn to draw one. My horses were so bad but they were happy. They made me laugh so hard. With cartoons, [your drawing] doesn’t have to be accurate but your style should have some inherent funniness.”
One of the last questions asked was not a question at all: One man in the audience reminded Chast that it was Monday, that is to say, one day before her deadline.
“Yes, I know. Don’t think I’m not worried about it,” Chast said dryly.
Chast’s dry humor and quietly wacky personality made the hour-long presentation an intimate and witty conversation about her work, which kept the Monday night audience roaring with laughter and satisfied.