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Cartoonist Roz Chast Relishes the Dark Humor of Life

If you've ever thumbed through The New Yorker magazine chances are you've come across the cartoons of Roz Chast.  They feature middle-class Manhattanites fretting about the most mundane things with absurd titles like, "Rejected by the School of Hard Knocks" or, "Unfeasible Good Luck Charms" or, "Little Investment on the Prairie."

Roz Chast [credit: Bill Hayes]

When Chast was a girl she loved to read Addams Family cartoons and Mad Magazine, which suited her dark sense of humor.

"Oh I love dark humor, always have.  I remember when I was around four years old, I knew the word 'anxiety' but I thought it was pronounced 'ang-ja-dee'.  I was a pretty anxious kid and so there's a lot of relief when you look at Charles Addams cartoons and you think, 'this is hilarious, this is great," Chast said.

She started to draw and sketch in hopes of getting one of her drawings in the kids magazine,  Highlights

"I think the idea of seeing oneself in print was clearly something that appealed to me at a very young age," Chast said.

But young Roz realized that she couldn't draw the one thing that so many other girls were submitting to the magazine: horses drawings.

"I filled up this sketch pad with drawings of horses one day.  I looked at them when the sketchbook was full and they were so terrible.  They just looked like weird dogs.  But they were so funny!" Chast remembers.

Today all of Chast's drawings published in the The New Yorker take on life in 21st century Manhattan, the place she lived at the start of her career, before moving to Connecticut to raise a family.

Self-portrait in chair [credit: Roz Chast]

So when her daughter was off to college in Manhattan, Chast decided to give her a guidebook to her beloved burough, but it was a handmade guidebook with her signature cartoon style.

"I wanted to give her this book so when she came to Manhattan she'd have at least a basic understanding of how to get around - what uptown was, what downtown was, what the east side was, what the west side was, what the various neighborhoods were, how to get on the subway," Chast said.

This month that kernel of an idea, which began as a gift, becomes available to all as a published book,  Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York.

Chast hopes the book proves as useful and humorous for others as it did for her daughter.

Roz Chast appears at The Akron-Summit County Public Library Thursday at 7pm.





Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.