Because as publisher, editor, curator, and writer he's one of America's great super passionate and knowledgeable fans/historians of his speciality: the crossroads of 20th century comics and art.
Because these deep interests of his continually rub off and have introduced me to several works and movements I'd very likely otherwise have had minor awareness of had they not received his caring attention and treatment.
Because of these specific books with his name attached to them: What Nerve! Alternative Figures in American Art, 1960 to the Present; The Collected Hairy Who Publications, 1966-1969; Return of the Repressed: Destroy All Monsters, 1973-1977; and most recently, Peter Saul: Professional Artist Correspondence, 1945-1976. Gee, I see I really go for his books that tell me precisely in the title what years they'll be covering. I also loved what he did ten years ago with two Charles Willeford re-issues.
Those are a few of the reasons I'm pleased to feature Dan Nadel this week.
Dan's biography highlights:
He started and ran the esteemed publisher PictureBox from 1999-2014.
He was co-editor of The Comics Journal from 2011-2017.
He has curated exhibitions at RISD Museum of Art, Matthew Marks, Prism, Derek Eller, Karma; Marlborough, Eva Presenhuber; and Jeffrey Deitch.
He has published essays and criticism in Art in America, the New York Review of Books, and Artforum.
He is currently the curator-at-large of the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at the University of California, Davis.
Amongst other significant balls in the air he is working on a highly anticipated biography of a living giant who, surprise, straddles the comic and art worlds.
Join me in keeping your eyes on whatever Dan does if you haven't been already. -Wes Del Val
WDV:What do you remember reading when you were younger which was most formative in sparking interests which you’re still passionate about today?
DN: D'Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths was something I read over and over again as a kid, as well as a D'Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths, and a more generic, but (in my memory) cool book about Russian mythology. A coverless copy of an early 1980s Ghost Rider comic book loomed large. So did a Justice League comic book with a villain whose face looked like the melted-face equivalent of Luray Caverns.
Do you still have them and do you still look at and find pleasure in them today? Are there other books from your youth you never stopped regularly opening, up to the present day?
I still have them, but I don’t spend any time with them. Not really. The only books from when I was a kid that I look at now are with my own kid, and that’s Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen. Those two carried over and went right to him. He got much more into my old Batman and Superman comics. So we share those.
Are you precious with your books?
I’m not—unless it’s something actually precious.
So what would you flee with in the standard fire-in-the-house nightmare situation?
I’d rather not take any books if the rest were going to burn. The choice would haunt me... I’m an all or nothing type that way.
When is the last time something visual in a book jarred you in any way?
Maybe eight or nine months ago I bought a book called Images of Horror and Fantasy (Gert Schiff, Abrams, 1978)—it contains a photo of a 1970 installation by Larry Rivers called Caucasian Woman Sprawled on a Bed and Figures of Hanged Men on Four Rectangular Boxes. It’s in the Menil Collection in Houston. Can’t imagine it’ll ever be seen in public in my lifetime. It’s a shocker. But otherwise, though I’m a fraidy cat about horror movies (I can’t watch horror movies), very little in print or art-in-person jars me at all.
Of course after what you just said about it I naturally immediately googled and, whoa, couldn’t even see it online!
How often do you find yourself consulting a book or magazine because somehow there’s just nothing online about the image or subject you’re looking up?
Constantly. For the projects I’m working on now—an exhibition on comics in Chicago, a book on Black cartoonists in Chicago 1940-1980, and a show for the Whitney about surrealism, most of the sources are print-only. In these pandemic times, I am often relying on the kindness of people who can send me xeroxes or even iphone snapshots. So yeah, if you’re looking to write in depth about, well, nearly anything art or comics related, you’re dealing with info that is only in books and magazines, the majority of which have not been digitized. Thus: I accumulate books. I also am lucky to work with great museums and museum workers who can supply scans and access to research databases.
What are some aspects of contemporary book publishing which might surprise other great readers who have never encountered the business?
I had a publishing company for a while, and worked at a distributor, DAP, and I remain consistently amazed by the curiosity and dedication of the publishing and acquisition people and the enthusiasm and knowledge of sales departments and sales reps. These are people who love books and are knowledgeable about books across formats and genres. While I’m at it, the few remaining companies that sell books into libraries amaze me. What a service! I guess readers might be amazed by the sheer quantity of incredibly smart people involved in the space between the writer and the bookstore.
How long have the books in your house looked as they do right now? In other words how often do you rearrange the placement of any of them?
We moved in August, so just since then. We are a two-book-worker household. My wife has her own visual book collection, which she organized and generally leaves in place. The brilliant artist Ohad Meromi designed and built our shelves, so there’s lotsa room for organizing. Me, I move my books around a lot based on projects. So, books migrate in and out of my little office as needed, probably a few times a week. It’s relaxing!
“Lotsa room…” (Sigh) How much more would you say you can take in before space will become an issue? I’m ever curious about how booklovers deal with these not insignificantly-sized things that just keep coming and coming…
“Plenty” is relative. I mean, we just got a slightly bigger Brooklyn apartment and Ohad came up with genius solutions for it. Space is always an issue. I can’t take in much more, really, without getting rid of things. And sometimes after particular projects I can part with various things I’ve accumulated, making room for new accumulations.
What new book did you open in 2020 which made you happiest?
Slant Steps: On the Art World’s Semi-Periphery by Jacob Stewart-Halevy. And not a book, but a zine—pal Frank Santoro’s magnificent radio-play in print form, Caniffer #2, which explores a group of cartoonists in Ohio in the 1930s.
Caniffer #2 seems right up your alley.
How important are zines to you today compared to any other time in your life and outside of art book fairs how do you stay on top of all the tiny and fantastic print productions which are being continually made all over the world?
Oh, this is a funny one. The answer is that I don’t stay on top of it. Happily. I “grew up” in the eighties and nineties. So zines were hugely important to me for music and comics. Chemical Imbalance, Ben is Dead, on and on. But I guess we should focus on comics. When I was in high school and all the way through running PictureBox (so, ugh, I guess roughly 1999-2014) zines were important because for certain artists (John Porcellino, Ron Rege, Megan Kelso, CF, Mister Mike, et al) it was nearly the only way I could see or learn about anything that wasn’t published by one of the few indy publishing houses. I remember my first package from Paper Rad back in the year 2001 or so…opening it sitting in a laundromat. How quaint! I exhibited at the first, I dunno, eight or so Printed Matter Art Book Fairs and co-founded Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest (later called CAB), did fairs all over the place, including one steaming hot Tokyo Art Book Fair kept company by Yokoyama and Hathaway. And I distributed minicomics and zines through PictureBox. So, I guess between 2005 and 2013 I really tried to stay on top of it all. But after that I was pretty tired! And now there are more zines and fairs than ever. But I’m satiated, Wes. I’m content. I want for nothing in the world of zines. Sometimes an old friend like CF, Freibert or Carlos will send me something and I’ll be so happy. And Johnny Ryan’s Instagram feed is the best zine of all. But otherwise I have been trying to focus on my own work (which sometimes, as with the MCA Chicago exhibition, cross into zines, but then only for a discreet purpose) and mining other areas of culture. Plus friends tell me if there’s something I “must” see.
Think of your favorite books. Which ones do you most desire you could have been a fly on the wall during the acquisition and editorial meetings about them?
Having been in, and conducted those meetings, I don’t really want to ruin my favorite books by thinking about them, but if I had to, it would be 1968’s Head Comix because I’ve read some of the correspondence involved and it captures a moment in mainstream New York cultural production when people like Jules Feiffer, Paul Krassner and Milton Glaser were somehow considered tastemakers who could sell a product. That was certainly a blip. Yeesh.
God, “blip” certainly is the truth.
Who in the visual, graphic, and/or comic worlds has the most interesting personal history and stories, who if the right biography came out it would cross over to readers not usually interested in those topics?
Robert Crumb, and I’m writing the biography right now, so don’t try anything funny.
Oh that’s fabulous! I think I actually read that somewhere and am so pleased you’re the one doing it. I could ask you a dozen Crumb-related questions, but that’s for another interview, so just these: When’s it coming out and who’s publishing it??
The book will be published by Scribner in 2023 or 2024.
What’s a subject there are not enough books written about?
The history of cartooning. There are so few books written about the medium and its practitioners, which means the full scope of its many complicated histories has only barely been glimpsed.
Well you’re certainly doing all that you can to rectify that!
I try, but there are so many conversations, so little infrastructure, and such a small audience for such endeavors that it’s a slog. A fun slog, but still.
Back to crossing over and Robert Crumb. Like the 1994 documentary Crumb, which many people not necessarily into comics watched and enjoyed, what are some of the best books for great readers who may have never picked up a comic book or graphic novel but know excellent writing when they see it?
For a book about comics, you can hardly do better than Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik’s How to Read Nancy. For a book OF comics: I would refer you to Kevin Huizenga’s The River at Night. It’s one of the rarest and most difficult achievements in art: a perfect book that contains profound thinking rendered in plain language that, in its execution, achieves a poetry of surface. It’s as good as anything can get.
Wow, what an endorsement!
Which writers’ career arcs have most fascinated you?
Many, but lately: Nick Tosches. I’ve gone back to Tosches to track the evolution of his thinking about lineages, race, and the twisty paths followed by songs.
“Twisty” for sure, that’s a perfect word for his approach. He’s one I was most pleased to spot walking downtown one evening by himself a year or so before he died.
If you could steal one book from anywhere right now, where and which would it be?
Wherever this is, I would like to spend some time with it:
Here is the auction description:
Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dune. From Frank Herbert's Novel. [No place, possibly Hollywood: circa 1975]. First edition, featuring concept art, designs and storyboards, photographically reproduced, for an unrealized film adaptation of Dune, produced to pitch the project to prospective financiers. Oblong folio (8.125 x 11.5 inches; 209 x 294 mm., with a sheet bulk of 3 inches (78 mm.)). Eleven full-color leaves, nine are costume and spaceship designs by Chris Foss, and probably Moebius (Jean Giraud), and two are by H. R. Giger; one text leaf (title-page, verso blank); and 268 black and white leaves of storyboards and designs for characters, sets and spaceships. Most of the storyboard pages are laid-out with twelve rectangular panels filled with artwork, captions in French and English in image, (many storyboard pages have some blank panels). All pages on thick photography paper, printed on rectos only. Printer's light blue cloth, gilt-lettered blue cloth labels on the front board and spine, snap enclosure to fore-edges (strap with button lacking); red ribbon bookmark. Binding rubbed and thumbsoiled. Front hinge almost entirely broken, as expected with the stress of the thick text-block; rear hinge starting; the first leaf and last few leaves creased. Still, very good, contents very well preserved. Rare. An important artifact from a high-profile unrealized collaborative project, the subject of Jodorowsky's Dune (Sony Pictures Classics, 2013).
I see on the site this information was added below that: Possibly, as many as twenty copies were produced, but we were able to locate just one other online.
So, unfortunately you may never get to see it. On the other hand, if anyone could I feel like it would be you. Thanks Dan!