Just Posted: Author’s Note on Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies

Art Spiegelman, around the time he created the book jacket, frontispiece, and incidental drawings for Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies.

Art Spiegelman, around the time he created the book jacket, frontispiece, and incidental drawings for Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies.


In 1996, I published Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies, a book that never would have been written without the friendship, encouragement, and astonishing generosity of the great cartoonist Art Spiegelman. At Café Pinfold–in the BOOKS section–I’ve just posted a new essay about the circumstances surrounding the creation of the novel of mine that’s my own personal favorite.

Please click here or on the image of Art Spiegelman to read more.


RAW2Although my two stints as a hired hand writing screenplays were, ultimately, not very successful, I’ve  never regretted them. For one thing, the jobs were crazily well-paid, by my standards at least, and for another thing, I picked up a lot of narrative strategies that I’ve applied ever afterwards to my fiction. And for another thing I learned a screenwriter’s “game” that I’ve used again and again over the years to generate ideas when ideas weren’t jumping up and biting me in the imagination. The game is this: take two disparate (but successful) movies and splice them–then see what ideas start to percolate. Example? Okay. Um. All right–how about this. The Godfather meets On Golden Pond. What might that look like? Or–The Hangover meets The Evil Dead. See? It’s great.

So when Art Spiegelman asked me to write a short story for an issue of RAW that would fit in with the issue’s mini-theme of “50’s Commie Nostalgia,” and when I was desperate for some workable idea, I recalled that old screenwriter’s game. First, I asked myself: when I think of the 1950s, what comes straight to mind?  And what came was “I Love Lucy” and the House Un-American Activities Committee, the televised McCarthy hearings, all of those propaganda films we were shown in grammar school, and the anti-communist B-movies of the era like The Red Menace, Whip Hand, I Was a Communist for the FBI…and (bingo!) I Married a Communist (a film by Howard Hughes later retitled The Woman on Pier 13, and a title appropriated much later by Philip Roth). Thus the story below–which originally appeared in RAW Volume 2, Number 1, in 1989–was generated by this bit of associative game-playing: “I Love Lucy” meets I Married a Communist. The result: A 50s “sitcom” (called ”Peg”) about commie spies in the suburbs.

I don’t know how great a short story it is, but it still makes me laugh when I read it. So I like it.  Continue reading


The sequence of ten vignettes below originally appeared in RAW #8 (1986), the comics anthology edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly; Art gave me pica and line counts and I wrote to spec, unifying the sequence by making each part of it pertain, in one way or another, to the lives of cartoonists. The title, which Art came up with, is a jokey reference to my first novel, Freaks’ Amour (1979). During the time I wrote these, I was also working on a book of linked novellas eventually published, in 1988, as Sunburn Lake, which accounts for the address of the Spangler Home-Study School of Professional Cartooning in the first vignette. In 1985 I’d published Funny Papers, the first novel in my trilogy about the fictional “Derby Dugan” comic strip; for the third novel in the trilogy, Dugan Under Ground  (2001), I shamlessly cannibalized from nearly all of these vignettes, which still rank high, near the top, on my list of favorite creations.

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