Roz Chast's Artistic Anxiety

This story originally aired on April 1, 2007

Between the lines the cartoons in The New Yorker magazine offer us a humorous history of our times. Take Peter Arno's lecherous leers at the opposite sex, or James Thurber's take on the war of the sexes, or Saul Steinberg's classic Manhattanite's view of the world.

Now you can see the work of a rising star amongst New Yorker cartoonists, Roz Chast, in a new book of her cartoons, "Theories of Everything: Selected, Collected, and Health-Inspected Cartoons, 1978-2006."

Chast sees the universe through the eyes of a 52-year old wife and mother, dreaming her dreams and trying to cope with reality.

Click here to see some of Roz Chast's cartoons.
"In my mind's eye I will always be a short, frizzy-haired twelve year old," Chast told Sunday Morning anchor Charles Osgood. "The formative book of my youth was the Merck Manual. I knew that sore throat was not mere sore throat but leprosy - everything you wanted to know about scurvy but were afraid to ask. I was terrified of lock jaw. Every week I would learn a new disease to be afraid of."

The story behind Roz Chast's cartoons is the story of Roz Chast's life.

"Sometimes it does seem like every action you take, there's about like eleven things that can go wrong. And so, you think, 'Well, maybe if I just don't do anything,' you know, nothing will go wrong," she said.

She's been sending about 10 cartoons a week to the New Yorker since 1978 - more than 1,000 have appeared in the magazine. Of course, for every hit, there are many rejects. She keeps all of them in a file cabinet. It hurts her, even though she is one of the more successful cartoonists.

"I always know a way to look at it in the worst possible light," she said. "So that, if they don't buy something, of course that's depressing, 'cause then that's total rejection. But if they do buy something, they're like that much closer to getting sick of you. So you know, there's really no possible way to win."

"She nestles into these really weird corners of domestic and psychic life," New Yorker editor and chief David Remnick said. "Roz invented her own language, which is what geniuses do. James Joyce comes along and the novel changes forever; Shoenberg comes along and music is never the same; Bob Dylan comes along, the popular song is never the same. Roz Chast has her own language and her own look."

Chast doesn't like to leave home because she says too much can go wrong. In a room off the kitchen are pet parrots. Upstairs is her studio. When we visited, she drew a cartoon, just for Sunday Morning.

"I think this woman does not want to be on TV - let us say she is a tad concerned," Chast said, describing her cartoon. "Just the idea of leaving her house, of going anywhere, she is on the sofa, [and] every move from that sofa is fraught with problems."
  • Caitlin Johnson

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