A long-time contributor to Isthmus, the cartoonist P.S. Mueller's work has been published in The New Yorker, Chicago Reader, Men's Journal and countless other newspapers and magazines, and collected in a handful of volumes of his work. The most recent, Cats and Dogs/Dogs and Cats, was published last month by Jones Books. Mueller's work is also included in The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker, published earlier this month. A former radio announcer, he is now the voice of Onion Radio News anchor Doyle Redland.
At the 2006 Wisconsin Book Festival, Mueller joins other elite cartoonists for a stage show based on The Rejection Collection (9-11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20 at the Orpheum Theatre's Stage Door); and discusses his dog and cat cartoons at noon Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Madison Public Library's Main/Central location.
How does being rejected by The New Yorker compare to rejection by, say, National Geographic or Architectural Digest, or Weekly World News?
Well, having never submitted a rare albino ungulate to the Geographic, a cool building to Architectural Digest, or a hideous freak of nature to Weekly World News, I can't really say.
As a badge of honor, how does inclusion in The Rejection Collection compare to inclusion in The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker?
Quite honestly, it's a real kick to be in that kind of company either way. That said, as hard as it is to get cartoons accepted by the New Yorker, I can't imagine how I would have felt to have been rejected by the Rejection Collection. I might have had to find some meds for that.
What is it about The New Yorker that gives it such mystique as a career pinnacle for cartoonists?
For me the mystique is more of a personal thing in that I would have never had a career if it weren't for the impression New Yorker cartoons made on me at a very early age.
Do cartoonists view it as the height of professional gratification, or is that an urban myth?
I sold one to The New Yorker today. The shallow promises of drugs pale by comparison. Reality pales by comparison, too. I asked some other cartoonists about the height of professionalism thing, but they were hiding.
Your cartoons have been published in The New Yorker, George, Isthmus, Chicago Reader, USA Weekend, Hemispheres, Men's Journal, Reader's Digest and all manner of other magazines and newspapers. Are there any markets you have not been able to crack?
I am blackballed from appearing in the pages of a number of so-called alternative weeklies owned by a large and furious corporation. At this point in my career I don't really know if I want to work for people who will buy a paper and throw you out without as much as a phone call.
I've read that for every 20 cartoons that are published in The New Yorker each week, 480 are rejected. That's a ratio of about four percent! How does your own ratio compare?
I hadn't thought about it, or counted, but that sounds like a halfway decent ratio. I draw a lot of cartoons.
Where do all those New Yorker castoffs go? What do you do with your own New Yorker rejects? How many find good homes at other publications, and how many are euthanized by the cartoon humane society or exiled to the Island of Lost Cartoons?
Some never go anywhere since they were drawn especially with The New Yorker in mind. Some end up in other magazines and papers, even Isthmus, though I often re-work them in some way or change the captions altogether. You've been to the Island of Lost Cartoons? I snorkel there during the winter.
What is the best cartoon you have ever had rejected by The New Yorker?
My personal favorite New Yorker rejection is one depicting a woman next to a horrified adult-size infant and she's exclaiming to him, "I want babies, John -- Lots of pink screaming babies with your face." I've many other New Yorker rejects that were more successful in terms of publication, but few as satisfying as that stupid gag.
Without giving too much away, what can the audience expect from Friday night's Rejection Collection cartoon stage show?
I don't have much to give away, really. Matt Diffee, the cartoonist and editor who brought the book into existence, will be getting off a plane here this evening and may call later to tell me what we'll be doing. Matt originated Rejection Night at some New York comedy club where professionally amusing people gather on a regular basis to perform or display rejected material. He metioned something about doing something similar with those of us who are to join him on Friday evening; I believe he has a slide show and perhaps a short film, but I could be making all this up.
I've seen you walk around with thick folders full of your new work. Given your prolific output, what percentage of your work would you estimate is seen by the general public -- your total audience from all magazines and newspapers combined -- relative to your circle of friends and editors? And can we look forward one day to a 1,700-page volume devoted to The Complete Cartoons of P.S. Mueller?
Or maybe a DVDVDVD? I really only put out about forty per cent of what I draw. The remainder will sit around in folders for years before being consigned to the ash heap of hysteria. Honest.
Why cats and dogs for your new collection?
Partly because I have accumulated lots of cat and dog cartoons over the years and partly because I have long suspected that cats and dogs can't read.
You've been paraphrased as saying that you believe dogs, cats and humans evolved together in a way that resulted in co-domestication. How might Darwin support this? And how might an intelligent-design advocate rebut Darwin?
Just look at us -- we humans have lost most of out body hair, Persian cats couldn't defend a single grain of of rice from marauding rats, and the Chihuahua? C'mon. it took us many thousands of years to become this codependent. An intelligent design advocate might rebut Darwin by making up a phony belief system and a bunch of fraudulent science to go with it and then attempting to force it into schools where it will be used to brainwash the innocent. Well, such an advocate just might try something like that. Anything's possible.
We've all heard the old cliche about a dog's bark being worse than it's bite. How would you rate a cat's meow relative to its scratch?
My wife is a petite woman. More than once I have walked into the living room to see one or both cats tossing her in the air and swinging her by the shoelaces, and when I asked her why she didn't call out for help she just muttered something about how they seemed to be having so much fun. Cats know mind control, I tell you. They are meowing now. I must go to them.
Where were you and what were you doing when you conceived the ideas for the cartoons titled "Jo Jo the Dog-Faced Boy After Corrective Surgery" and "Shar-Pei Facelift"?
I drew Jo-Jo over twenty years ago, so I must have been in my upstairs apartment on Division Street and just through with watching Carnival of Souls. "Shar-Pei Facelift" is much more recent. I must have been working from the back bedroom in our old house and had given up on my "Botox Bloodhound."
Some of the most anticipated presenters at this year's Wisconsin Book Festival are graphic novelists, such as Chris Ware, Neil Gaiman and Marjane Satrapi. If you were to publish a graphic novel, what would you title it, and what would it be about?
I have no desire to do a graphic novel, but if I did I might title it something like Big Pretentious Me and then go off on a wild autobiographical tangent about my younger days as a fry cook, and later as the security guard at the phone company where I made the door open and close for all the operators. I had a glass booth and a button and felt like Eichmann after rehab. But I really shouldn't give away the whole plot here.
What was the last book you read that you would recommend to Wisconsin Book Festival audiences, and why would you recommend it?
I would recommend No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, a very stark, cruel, gorgeously written western novel set in the recent past. The book is uncluttered by characters who exist as a sum total of their neuroses. The people in this book simply occur, like the book's events. Very interesting book, soon to be made into a film by the Cohen brothers, I believe.
Among the other presenters at this year's Wisconsin Book Festival, who most piques your anticipation?
Lewis Koch's presentation of When Things Dream: A Text-based Garage Installation. Lewis has made something quiet and wonderful.
Do you have any tattoos?
I have naked ladies on my brain.