Friday, August 01, 2008

Laural Winter talks with Jason Shiga

Photo of Jason by Eric Nakamura

Is He Your Cartoonist? Laural Winter asks cartoonist Jason Shiga about whether he solves puzzles in real life? Does he enjoy working in libraries? And would he be tough on crime?

LW: As the popular author of Fleep, Double Happiness and Bookhunter do you work at puzzles or mysteries in real life? If yes what kind?

JS:I enjoy reading collections of Google or Microsoft interview questions but as far as real life puzzles, they don't really seem to spring up naturally very often. However there was this one time I found myself trying to cross a river with a goose, a fox and a barrel of grain. No, just kidding.

LW:Writing could be considered a form of fantasizing about characters lives. Have you fantasized in being in the protagonist of FLEEP's shoes? If yes how so? did you do research in a phone booth?

JS:I'm a big fan of Cornell Woolrich and the amnesiac plotline. The one that begins with a man waking up with no identity and he slowly has to piece together how he got there and why there's a corpse next to him. I've often fantasize about being in such a situation myself. For my birthday last year I asked my three closest friends to slip me a roofie and then drag my body into the woods and leave me there. It could happen any day this year so it's very exciting every time I drink a glass of milk.

LW:Bookhunter is about a library police team that retrieves stolen books. Where did the idea for Bookhunter come from?

JS:I've been working for the Oakland Public Library for eight years. Often when I'm shelving or up at the circulation desk, my mind begins to wander. I'll think what if I were trying to track down a missing but I could only use library technology from the 70's. Eventually I just structured all these daydreams into a story and eventually a book.
an interior page from Bookhunter

LW:Do you think stealing from a library is like stealing from a church?

JS:I think it's worse in a way. A library book belongs to the community so you're stealing from everyone in your city. If you steal some jewel-encrusted idol from your church, the only person who's really affected is God who probably doesn't exist anyway.

LW:Further thought on this idea of stealing from revered public institutions, does some part of you feel as tough as Special Agent Bay? Do you wish library staff could be that tough on thieves? Or does this work with the idea if we didn't laugh we would cry? Because you have a wonderful way of blending humor or blasting a troubling human behavior with humor.

JS:Agent Bay in Bookhunter represents a more idealized version of myself. Maybe it's like how Robert E Howard saw himself as Conan the Barbarian when he closed his eyes at night.

LW:I saw you read twice in Portland for the Stumptown Comics Festival this year. You were fantastic! Especially when you did the voice for the character of Finch. How long have you been doing readings? And do you practice or have a routine for preparing for a reading?

JS: The reading in Portland was the second one I've done. I was dreading it at first but actually it was a lot of fun. The one tricky thing about comics readings is that one of the pleasures of comics is that you can linger on a panel if you like it or breeze through it to find out what happens next. In my selection, I usually try and pick very dialogue heavy scenes.

LW: How did you get into a library career? Deliberate choice or fell into it? I ask because mine was a bit of both like many librarians or library staff. I worked at the Portland State University library for work-study during my undergraduate degree. Decided the career of librarian looked pretty good and went for the master's degree a few years later. Though many don't go for the master's. I also heard you may have changed your place of employment recently?

JS: I started working for OPL right after college. I always enjoyed the library. So when I started looking for work after school, the library was first on my list. It's not really an interesting story I guess. Sorry. What can I say? I filled out an application form and six months later I was working for OPL. During the interview they asked me what was the latest book I read. I told them the truth that it was a copy of Knock 'Em Dead borrowed from the Piedmont Branch Library.

the downtown branch of the Oakland Public Library

LW:Card catalogs figure largely in Bookhunter. What do you love about card catalogs?

JS: Their subject headings are excellent. Every MARC subject search I've seen is practically useless.

LW: And like a few library staff I know do you own a card catalog?

JS:I own a couple drawers but the cards are long gone. One of my long term projects is to organize and catalogue my entire comic book collection.

LW: Have you seen Ann Chamberlain's installation of card catalog cards at the San Francisco Public Library?

JS: No. Tell me about it!

LW: She plastered several walls on several floors with the old cards from the SFPL card catalog. And I believe the public was allowed to write things on the cards before she used them. I guess like love letters to the books. Give me some time to read those!

What would be a perfect day in your favorite library branch? A well run computer lab, excellent reference service, quiet reading rooms, vibrant literacy programs, or the spirited mayhem of story-time? What are your favorite services that libraries provide in your favorite library branch?

JS: As a patron my perfect day would consist of finding a new book by my favorite author, finding a new author I liked, an interlibrary loan getting in and a hold being on the shelf for me.

LW: A new practice for library reference staff is to wear a badge that states what we are reading now. I am rereading Lobster Johnson by Mike Mignola and reading Let it Snow: Three Holiday Stories by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle. I just finished reading Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison. What you reading now?

JS: A Brief History of the Dead, Gangster for a Day, and "The World Without Us".

LW: Anything you would like to add?

JS: Return your books by the due date, kids. If you can't, ask your local librarian about the rules regarding renewals.

LW:Thanks for letting me interview you!

A recent review of Bookhunter.

A review of Bookhunter and Fleep.

More Shiga books available here and here.

Sparkplug friend Laural Winter is a writer, librarian, comics fan, crafter, organizer and all around amazing person. She has led the charge to bring zines to the Multnomah Library system in Portland. We'd like to thank her for this talk and hopefully we'll see more from her on the blog soon.

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