You probably know Bruce Eric Kaplan's work, even if you don't know his name. Many of the awkward adventures of the ever-polarizing characters on Girls? More than 20 years worth of black-and-white New Yorker cartoons signed with BEK in block letters that explore love, neurosis, and life in the big city? Those things all come from one industrious man.
His latest project is the illustrated memoir I Was a Child (from Blue Rider Press, out now), which is the first time he's written explicitly about himself. "Lena Dunham is inspiring and confusing to me, because she is able to write about people who are alive in a way that I don't know how to do," Kaplan explains one afternoon, at his house in Brentwood, Los Angeles. "I think it's great, what she does. My parents would not have enjoyed being represented in a book. I don't know how I would have navigated that if they were alive."
"Lena Dunham is inspiring and confusing to me, because she is able to write about people who are alive in a way that I don't know how to do."
But now Kaplan is free to unpack his childhood, including his parents' idiosyncrasies, and examine how they've shaped his darkly funny worldview. He does this at length in the book, and during our time together, sipping juice at a restaurant near his home, then strolling on a golf course (a scenario Kaplan calls "ideal"). Eventually, the interview gives way to an informal advice session, in which the artist reveals how he maintains two successful careers.
Here's what we learned.
You Won't Make It—Until You Do
I was rejected every single week for years. I was failing at being a cartoonist in addition to failing at being a TV writer. Then I got my first TV writing job and when I came back from it, I got a FedEx from the New Yorker and they had bought three of my drawings.
Keep Your Twitter Feed Active
My father was dying and I was having such a hard time focusing. I thought, What if I see something right in front of me and have [an immediate] thought? [Twitter is] a way of being present and in the moment. I remember seeing this woman on a subway and thinking, I'll draw her and Tweet it. That was my way of expressing what was happening in the moment in a way that was very hard for me in that time.
Make Peace With the Past
I had a problematic relationship with my parents, even though they were very kind, wonderful people. It was a whole different generation. You didn't reveal that much; they had their own wounds. I was always wanting something from them that I couldn't seem to get. In a weird way I feel like the memoir was my immature, crazy way of saying, "No, they're still alive." Because once I started writing the book it was like I was living with them every day.
Don't Panic in the Homestretch
This is the third final season of a TV show that I've worked on. I wrote for the final season of Seinfeld. I worked on the final season of Six Feet Under. Now I'm working on the final season of Girls—no pressure whatsoever! All three creators have known exactly what they wanted, and I'm at peace with the whole experience.
Do It All
It helps to have multiple things going on; I'm not just a cartoonist. I like having another area I can go to when the other is not right for me, or I'm having a bad time. I don't understand how to live your life with only one occupation.