INTERVIEW: JONATHAN LETHEM
What do you find most compelling about rock music and why is it a consistent subject/character in your writing?
Rock songs -- or pop songs -- are the most emblematic of the 20th-century vernacular forms (comics, movies, etc.) that pose the greatest challenge, and offer the best jolt of revitalizing juice, to the older arts, like narrative prose. The compression, vitality, and freedom that come with the apparently ephemeral gesture of rock and pop (but of course we've stuck that ephemera in museums by now!) plays at being the opposite of "serious art", and in the process shows it a few things, including new ways of being serious.
Your affection for comics is obvious in your novel Fortress of Solitude, and your revamp of Marvel's Omega the Unknown was very well-received. What does telling a story in the medium of comics afford you that sentences and paragraphs cannot?
The biggest fundamental difference, since I didn't draw Omega myself, was the collaborative nature of the work. Obviously with Farel Dalrymple, the artist, but also with many others who contributed directly, and with the creators of the earlier Omega comics, some of them voluntarily, some not. Speaking of vernacular mediums (and mass forms), this collaborative necessity is one of the basic principles -- another set of challenges and shot of new energy for artists stuck, as I tend to be, in the old solitary paradigm.
Conversely, what does telling a story in sentences and paragraphs afford you that other media cannot?
And conversely right back at you: control of every jot and tittle of the creative utterance. I'm the singer and drummer and sound-mixer; I'm the cinematographer and lead and minor actors and music supervisor -- I'm God (even though I don't believe in God).
JONATHAN LETHEM is the author of eight novels, including Motherless Brooklyn and Chronic City.