The webcomics blog about webcomics

Thing I Learned Today — David Rakoff And I Shared A Birthday

Indulge me in not talking particularly about webcomics for a few hundred words. David Rakoff — writer, actor, This American Life contributor, winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor¹, and all-around genius — has died, and the world is poorer for his passing.

I met him once, back in 2000 when TAL had their fifth-anniversary tour² and my wife and I were privileged to meet the performers³ at an after-show reception. In his story on office politics he had mentioned, in an offhand way, voles, and it had triggered a memory in the back of my mind. A year before while waiting to get my hair cut, I’d read a piece by him in Outside magazine, the title of which described him as:

Acolyte of the Standard Class, Master Bowdriller, Sweat Lodge Scaredy-Cat, and Friend to the Vole

Go read it now. If it’s not the sort of thing you find to be hilarious, chances are we can never be friends.

Now voles are not something that come up particularly often in casual writing or conversation, which is I suppose why I remembered the earlier reference. So I asked him — was he particularly fond of voles?

Oh, I hate you, he exclaimed before immediately apologizing that it was nothing personal. He and his editors for the then-in-progress collection, Fraud, had figured that the Venn Diagram of people that had read his work in Outside and those that followed him in other, more NPRish venues hell of looked like an eight, so he wouldn’t have to bother rewriting either his TAL piece or his Outside piece to remove a redundant reference to a rarely-recalled rodent. I had just disproved the theory and now he was going to have to do some work, and so he (very briefly) hated me before laughing about the absurdity of it all.

I have never been happy to be hated before or since.

So this is what I think about comics today — anybody that’s not familiar with Rakoff’s very unique, wry, witty, funny, funny, funny and humane voice should immerse themselves in his work. Audio or transcripts of his This American Life contributions may be a good place to start. And if you want to practice drawing characters in a mood you’ve likely never seen outside of Achewood, may I suggest the following snippet as an exercise?

Sheila taught me a survival technique for getting through seemingly intolerable situations, interminable lunches, stern lectures on attitude or time management, being trapped by the office bore beside the sheetcake in the conference room, and the like. Maintaining eye contact, keep your face inscrutable and mask-like with the faintest hint of a smile. Keep this up as long as you possibly can. And just as you feel you’re about to crack and take a letter opener and plunge it into someone’s neck, fold your hands in your lap, one nestled inside the other, like those of a supplicant in a priory. Now with the index finger of your inner hand, write on the palm of the other, very discreetly and undetectably, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, over and over again as you pretend to listen.

Rest in peace, Mr Rakoff. Thank you for your words and your (very temporary) hate.

¹ Although Mr Rakoff never denied his innate Canadianness, cf: here or here.

² Although he was part of the recording tour, Mr Rakoff’s piece was cut for time and included in a later show.

³ Including Ira Glass, Sarah Vowell, Russell Banks, several TAL staffers, and Ira’s dad who is a very funny guy. Also, Ira is much larger than his voice has ever led you to believe — 190cm, broad build, everything about him except the glasses screamed “recreational rugby player”.

RSS feed for comments on this post.