This is the second part of a two part interview with Larry Gonick about his book The Cartoon History of the Modern World Part 1: From Columbus to the U.S. Constitution
Scott Butki: The first four questions pertain to the historical period you covered with this book. Which historical figure do you find most intriguing? Which would you most like to have a drink with?
Larry Gonick: I wouldn’t mind hoisting a few with the first Emperor of the Han Dynasty, back when he was still a commoner. They say he was a great drinking buddy. Plus I might be able to get him into the time machine for a game of ping-pong, which I could probably win because he’d be drunk.
Which historical figure that you wrote about do you feel has been most misrepresented in the past?
I have no idea. Important historical figures, especially ones fairly close to the present, are represented so many different ways by so many different representers! Not too many other historians talk about Columbus as a bungler, though. The most under-represented historical figure has to be William I “the Silent” of Orange. You don’t see much written about him or the Dutch War of Independence anywhere outside of Holland. And yet his leadership and this war were critically important for modern history, and one of the few developments you can characterize as essentially positive.
Which historical development was most difficult to portray?
Just about anything that doesn’t involve action: philosophy, science, intellectual disagreement. Religion’s not so hard, though, because it comes with all this wacky imagery.
If you could go back and live during any historical period which period would it be?
What can I say? I like electric lights and central heating and indoor plumbing. How about Paris right now?
For cartoon books your books are incredibly dense. Would you rather they be read in one sitting like typical cartoons, or read in bits and pieces like a traditional textbook?
Oh, dear… and I try so hard to de-densify them. But I just can’t resist putting in the maximum amount of story, because the stories are just so doggone good. Obviously, no one’s going to read 250 pages of comics in a sitting, but I hope the alternative isn’t a history textbook! How about reading it as you would a dense cartoon collection like Pogo, and then rereading it again and again and again and again until the covers fall off and you have to buy a new one?
Which of your books is your favorite? Which was the most difficult?
Favorite is probably the very first 48-page volume of The Cartoon History of the Universe, “The Evolution of Everything.” When I finished page 48, I said to myself, you’ll never do another one that good. The most difficult was The Cartoon Guide to Statistics because the concepts were so hard to wrap my head around. I majored in math, and take it from me, statistics ain’t math; it’s one of the black arts.
I enjoyed your Cartoon Guide To Sex book but was unsure how best to incorporate its content into my life. Would you suggest the book be brought into the bedroom with the couple or studied before and after sex acts?
It should be used for ideas during sex acts. You know, like, “excuse me, honey, I’m at a loss here, let me check the book, and while I’m doing it, would you mind…” And then afterward, you can tear out a few pages and use them as paper towels.