Charles Burns interviewed by Rick Kleffel

Hi everyone. Meet Rick Kleffel. Rick has been interviewing authors and reviewing their books for his NPR syndicate The Agony Column every week since 2002. He will be contributing regularly to Litseen, as either Charles or I will film some of his interviews. This first episode is from Bookshop Santa Cruz on Oct 26 10. The podcast can be found here and you can find Rick’s review of Mr. Burns’ newest graphic novel, X’ed Out, here.

“I remember having this feeling of literally wanting to slip out of my skin, shed my skin and turn into someone else.” — Charles Burns

My interview with Charles Burns might have been a chapter in one of his graphic novels. This is not necessarily a good thing.

The conversation was excellent; Burns is eloquent when it comes to talking about his art, and there is plenty to talk about. We set up at Bookshop Santa Cruz, with Charles Kruger of Litseen and Storming Bohemia filming. I’ve been reading Burns for years now. His novel ‘Black Hole’ is the kind of work that you can go back and visit, both as reader and in your reading-experience mind. There was a lot to talk about, in particular, disease. Which proved to be more pertinent than I might have hoped.

I’d been speaking with Burns about 30 minutes, when I started to become a character in one of his stories. That was when something tried to crawl out of my throat.

At first, the glass of water so kindly supplied by Bookshop Santa Cruz kept the critter at bay. But it was strong, and like the things in Burns’ work, would not be denied. That which is inside of us will always emerge, generally to our dismay.

I trust that all of my readers will remember the remarkable dinner scene in the movie Alien. In it, John Hurt is happily eating and conversing, when he begins to cough. Shortly after my water ran out, I began to cough. At first single coughs … then it grew worse.

To tell the truth it was rather embarrassing. I felt as if I might snuff it right there in the office of Bookshop Santa Cruz. The embryonic thing that had been spending the summer inside of my lungs had chosen an unfortunate time to decide to fly and be free. It was all so biological that I couldn’t help but wait for my dead cat, Elsie, so crawl in through a hole in the wall of the office.

Better still, much of this is captured on video. Not what I would call an auspicious start. But it has been a very bad allergy season. I found myself, for the first time, buying antihistamine eye drops. They were insanely expensive, but the itching eyes, which seems so bizarre — how can your eyeballs itch? — were actually making it difficult to work. As was the alien that emerged when I was speaking with Charles Burns. I think it is right there on tape.

The alien did eventually make its way out, and the interview resumed. Charles Burns was a true professional, and a very fine gentleman to be willing to continue our interview even in the presence of so much biology. — Rick Kleffel

We’re very happy to have Mr. Kleffel aboard. Poke around The Agony Column. It will astound you. And stay tuned for interviews with David Pinchbeck, Matt Taibbi, and Michelle Norris.