Discover more from ToonStack’s Newsletter
Good morning and welcome back to Toonstack! I’m Johnny DiNapoli, your editor this week, and I have some GREAT news. Or, rather, a great discovery. Did you know...you can sing “ToonStack” to the tune of “Love Shack” by The B-52s?
Well, I think it’s great. I’ve been singing it nonstop. Which brings us to this week’s topic: what’s everyone listening to when they draw?
I made a comic about Blick’s hold music, which is my favorite song. It’s too long to post in its entirety here, so if you want to see things go off the rails, click here to continue reading.
I’m not very good at listening to things! I spend long stretches listening only to the perpetual clanking coming from the street. Occasionally I think, “but other cartoonists are learning things as they draw!” and I download the audiobook of The Power Broker and try to listen to that while I’m drawing, but I can never concentrate. So then I think, “Well, I can at least expose myself to interesting music,” and I put on, I dunno, The Fugees, but I also find that too distracting, so I wind up listening either to music that is so familiar to me that it doesn’t engage any part of my brain anymore (Phoebe Bridgers) or Pop Country, because I don’t know. Or the clanking.
William S. Burroughs once said, “Modern man has lost the option of silence.” Makes me wonder what podcasts he was listening to while writing. Side note: according to Wikipedia, Will was a chaos magician, which isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds.
Like Sofia, I’m also not very good at listening to things while drawing. Or doing anything really. At the end of my second year of teaching the 5th grade, I had my students write letters to the incoming class. One of my students helpfully wrote, “Sometimes Mr. Mahdavian doesn’t hear you when you say his name. Don’t worry, he’s not ignoring you. He is just bad at doing two things at once.” Obviously, I flunked him.
Unfortunately, I’m also not good at sitting in silence. I’m reminded of this cartoon by the great Charles Barsotti.
So I persist, ‘cause mum didn’t raise no quitter (and those dog butts aren’t going to draw themselves).
Currently on repeat:
1. Derry Girls (I am Erin)
2. The soundtrack to the film Nebraska (which features the wonderful Tin Hat Trio and makes me think of wider, more open spaces than my cluttered desk)
3. “The Lost Pirate Kingdom” on Netflix (I’m actually known as “Blackbeard” in the cartooning community. Pass it along. Please.)
I’m currently listening to what I always listen to:
Some murder spooky podcast, this month it’s The Apology Line! I heard about it from my sister who heard about it from someone else’s mother who saw it in The New Yorker.
Episodes of Law and Order that I don’t even really watch but they’re just permanently on, around me, at all times.
If we are having a conversation, and I perchance have learned something recently (for example did you know the same person, Maurice Hilleman, is responsible for developing most of the vaccines I’ve received, or that Dolly Parton wrote “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” on the same day??) it’s highly likely that I learned this information from a podcast. I’ve resolved to only allow myself to share the things I learned on a podcast once for every three times the phrase “I was listening to this podcast...” pops into my head.
Favorite podcasts for human connection: Heavyweight, The Shadows, Appearances, Black Mountain Radio (listen for me on an upcoming episode!), Dolly Parton’s America, Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel
So yes, I listen to podcasts, but only when I’m inking. Usually the voices in my head are too loud for me to listen to anything when I’m sketching. Sketching is a little like writing, so any words or too-compelling sounds interfere with my pencil-brain soundtrack.
Inking is a little like dancing, so if I’m ever tired of becoming an expert on things, I’ll listen to Afrobeat and try not to groove too hard.
OK, here is what I listen to.
Silence punctuated by sounds of me drinking coffee (+ street clanking)
Bon Iver over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
Or, La Oreja de Van Gogh over and over and over and over and over again.
Or, playlists based on the stylings of Bon Iver or La Oreja de Van Gogh (over and over and over...)
Podcasts. A favorite is Comic Lab - like Car Talk but for cartoonists.
Bookkeeping/ paperwork/ file organization/ client communication/ pitching/ career admin
Silence punctuated by my sighs
This is from a concert of 8 French trombonists. The drawing accomplished what I wanted: a fun page in my sketchbook and some French trombonist buddies to hang out with after the concert. If these guys would come to my studio, I’d pause ol’ Bon Iver.
Silence? Never heard of her! I can’t listen to words while thinking of jokes, so my gag cartooning sessions are usually spent hunched over an iPad on the couch for hours while my husband plays Destiny 2, very loudly. BUT, while doing anything else (drawing, cooking, running, organizing receipts, having a shower) I have on a constant stream of audiobooks or podcasts. I alternate between educational/current events/”serious” podcasts and books in the hopes that I will learn things, and funny buddy podcasts which drown out the ubiquitous low hum of dread and make me feel less profoundly lonely.
Sometimes I will listen to music, but because quarantine has me craving consistency and comfort, I listen to a thing I like on repeat for literally weeks and it makes my Spotify playlists very uncool. The most recent serial replays:
The string quartet arrangement of “In My Blood” from Bridgerton
Hamilton (first act only)
“Harvest Moon” by Neil Young
The “Minari” soundtrack (crying mandatory)
“Garden Song” by Phoebe Bridgers (also while crying)
“The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston (very inspirational!)
Quarantine has forced my wife and I into one small work space, so normally I listen to her meetings. Did you know that Bill from Orthopedic Surgery submitted his grant late, and failed to apply for a no cost extension and didn't even realize that there isn't subcontract carryover from year 3 to year 4? I hope you're writing this down. When I’m not being shocked, SHOCKED, by Bill’s latest budget fiasco I’m listening to podcasts. I’m just not a music person. I guess I like that song “Tequila,” but I can never remember the lyrics. I also like the music they play in elevators, unless they're playing it live.
Anywho, my current podcast roster is: Decoder Ring (My friend Benjamin Frisch is the producer!), The Daily, Still Processing, You’re Wrong About, Blank Check, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me…, and Slate Political Gabfest.
So go ahead and give a listen! Or don’t. Honestly I generally don’t like suggesting stuff to people because it reveals my taste, and hey man, my taste isn’t some static thing! It changes! I may hate some of these podcasts tomorrow! I don’t know! Stop judging me!
I am a big fan of background noise while I draw but also occasionally forget music exists, so I often put on terrible but amazing reality TV—Summer House, Love Island, the incredibly underrated prosthetic makeup competition show Face Off that no longer exists, Battle Bots. This is my taste in music. When I remember music exists I listen to stuff like these songs—partly because I love them and also because my upstairs neighbors have been going through a Gotye phase and I would rather not hear that. I’ve been listening to a lot of SOPHIE because I miss her a lot.
I do a lot of listening to the radio, especially in the mornings. I can’t write and listen to people talking about stuff I actually want to hear at the same time, so podcasts are mostly for when I’m doing chores or have a specific and repetitive task. I used to do more podcast listening but I gave up on most because there are too many and it stresses me out—I’m sure your podcast (of course you have one) is excellent! Consider me a fan! I do love and often recommend Death Panel and Rude Tales of Magic. I feel I also have to mention I recently pivoted to musician and lent some vocals to my friend Christian Lee Hutson for a rendition of the Bones Song from I Think You Should Leave. We’re all doing fine!
To wake up I need nine hundred coffees, which lately have paired well with Nina Simone and Piano. When I’m trying to come up with ideas, I either need music that has no lyrics or lyrics I’ve heard one million times. One go-to record is Todd Terje’s “It’s Album Time.”
As the nine hundred coffees wear off and the ideas begin to take shape, the music needs to get LOUD. This means “Pod” by The Breeders or “Siamese Dream” by The Smashing Pumpkins. Or...sigh….The All American Rejects self-titled album.
But cartooning, dear reader, is not always the glitz and glamor of coming up with words and images. Sometimes it’s lettering, shading, coloring, cross hatching, all of the slow, long work of making an image come to life. This is where podcasts come in, voices to keep me company in the slower parts of the day. I love You’re Wrong About, Mike Duncan’s Revolutions, Blank Check, Citations Needed, Know Your Enemy and Current Affairs. To all of the people putting these shows together, thank you for making shading my cartoons a lot more fun.
Also, I love talking with Ellis about Blank Check :)
Sadly, my music and podcast-listening is mostly relegated to car rides now which are few and far between. When I do muster up the motivation to leave the house, I put on Doughboys, a podcast about fast food, or Action Bronson, a rapper with a culinary background and coincidentally a food show (F*ck That’s Delicious). I tried a few of the TikTok trends on for size but they didn’t stick. Other than the one really viral one, I couldn’t find a sea shanty I particularly enjoyed, and Mario Kart music proved too distracting for focus.
My drawing is usually accompanied by whatever’s playing on the TV in the evening. If I were more disciplined, I’d draw in silence or have a playlist of film scores to fall back on. My wife and I have been on a Survivor kick lately. If not that, a Bravo reality series will do. Let it be known: those producers are masters of tension and release and I will not stand for any Bravo-slander.
I start my mornings with classical music on good ol’ public radio. I listen to WQXR online with my morning coffee, and try to keep my mornings as quiet and relaxed as possible as I write. Later when I’m drawing, I go for something more upbeat. Lately it’s been disco. It’s a kind of musical caffeine for me, I guess. What can I say- I Love the Nightlife.
COOL CARTOON EXTRAS
Amy’s monthly Patreon class is TODAY at 3 PM EST! Sign up for her Creative Community tier on Patreon to get the Zoom link and join.
Hilary, Sofia, and Amy, are all featured in the hilarious Notes from the Bathroom Line
Be sure to check out Shelby Lorman’s newsletter, Please Clap
The same goes for Sofia Warren’s advice newsletter, You’re Doing Great
Go read Ellis’ weekly cartoon series Junk Drawer!
Thanks for reading!