On this winter day in Montreal, cartooning isn’t the first thing on Benjamin Marra’s mind. Instead, with his wife and infant son, he’s attempting his mother’s recipe for sugar cookies. Yet as with his comics, he’s taking it very seriously. “It’s like when you go through something the first time, it's always kind of just like a first draft, and you're not really sure what you're doing,” he says, fretting over the inherited recipe.

It’s a domestic scene that some readers might not expect from the creator of such titles as Gangsta Rap Posse, Terror Assaulter and The Incredibly Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd, the last one including a scene in which the thong-and-leather-clad New York Times columnist, gun tucked thigh-level into her hose, mounts George Clooney only to be paged by her editor while a pair of commandoes crashes through her hotel windows. (Dowd recently sent a thank-you note for the homage, Marra reveals here.)

Nor is it a scene that comes to mind when you page through Marra’s author photos. One day, he’s seen on a rooftop with a book and a football, a shovel nearby for unknown reasons. Another day, he’s gazing out a window, clad in only tighty blackies and an open fur coat, a cigarette dangling from one hand and a coffee cup from Dollywood gripped in the other.

And it’s definitely not a scene you’d expect from the creator of, in Terror Assaulter, a plane crash that features more sex than the most ambitious porn movie can manage in two hours.

Yet as described by Marra — whose contributions to NeoText include an upcoming collaboration with Charles Forsman — it’s all part of the plan.

MICHAEL TISSERAND: I hear from some cartoonists that professionally they’ve been preparing for a quarantine all of their lives, because they are used to being in rooms by themselves for long periods of time.

BENJAMIN MARRA: If I was left to my own devices, it would be like this all the time. My preferred way of existing is to be completely shut into my apartment and be allowed a bunch of hours to devote to just drawing and reading other comics and being productive. Obviously a lot of that is short-circuited by having a small child in our space. But late at night is when I get my work done.

TISSERAND: So many ways of relating to people have been thwarted because of quarantining. Do you find this makes your relationship with your readers all the more profound?

MARRA: My relationship with readers has always been really direct. I think that's pretty true of most people in comics and especially people in independent comics. Creators are very accessible, especially with the technology we have these days. People can reach out to me on social media and I’ll respond, pretty much within the day.

I wouldn't be surprised if there is a more pronounced dialogue between readers and myself in the weird quarantine time when we all can sit at home and take in a lot of reading. And I know a lot of a lot of people that read my stuff are also aspiring cartoonists. So they have more time to devote to that craft. So there's more of a dialogue about process.

TISSERAND: Something like your daily Instagram comic has a real-time immediacy that we’ve been longing for, and missing, in other interactions.

MARRA: That definitely has increased my dialogue with readers.

TISSERAND: When did you begin that?

MARRA: January 1st, 2020.

TISSERAND: So it preceded the lockdown.

MARRA: For the past few years, it’s been a goal of mine to do a daily strip. And I’d seen my friend Michael DeForge do it for a year and I was very inspired by that. I’d done a weekly web comic strip for Adult Swim. My interest in comic strips had been renewed because of that project.

It’s funny, because the older I get, the further back in my life I go for inspiration. Some of my earliest experiences with comics were newspaper comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes, Far Side, Bloom County, and I started rediscovering that form of comics. I started stockpiling strips around November, 2019 and then launched it in 2020. Then the lockdown happened shortly after that.


TISSERAND: I think people may be substituting new routines for old routines. A daily strip on social media can be a welcome new routine.

MARRA: I think that's true. I get a lot of people talking to me about looking forward to the strip every day. And they often cite it being a terrible year but this is something that is kind of like a nice daily break. Even if it lasts just for a few seconds.

I think daily strips kind of have that magic built into them. I think that's why they are successful as a medium. Newspapers are sort of leaving us and moving into new media. And there aren't weekly papers anymore for the Life In Hell strip or something like that. For some reason, Instagram seems to be working.

TISSERAND: Is your process different for that work?

MARRA: It’s more akin to my graphic novel, Terror Assaulter, which was more of a stream-of-consciousness way of writing comics. I have a master outline that has major story beats plotted in. But in between those beats, it just kind of arrives in my brain about how to get there. And I’ll expand the space between those story beats to explore some of the moments that are starting to come to mind.

The drawing is the main difference, because I'm trying to draw in a really fast kind of doodle manner that is not refined in any way. I took inspiration from Japanese comics known as heta-uma for that. I’ve always wanted to draw like that. I discovered Gary Panter during my formative years in art school. I was hating the sort of rigid, photo-realistic pursuit that my art was taking at the time. And I really wanted to break down those habits and those kinds of desires in favor of something more punk rock and raw in its approach.

I started wanting to draw this way when I was in my twenties and I'm in my early forties. It’s taken that long for me to feel comfortable enough to really go that way. And now it took me about a hundred strips to get into a groove and really find the drawing identity of this strip.

TISSERAND: How frequently do you sit down to draw it?

MARRA: When I know that I need to have a strip in advance, I'll sort of sit down and knock out a bunch, so that I know that I'm covered. I think I've gotten thirty or fifty strips in advance sometimes.

TISSERAND: You just have to remember to post it every day.

MARRA: Yeah, that has become a habit now. Actually it’s pretty easy to develop a habit during the pandemic, because the days are pretty much the same all the time.


TISSERAND: So when I knew we were going to talk, the obvious starting place for me to prepare is read the author pages in someone’s books.

MARRA: Right.

TISSERAND: Then I discovered these Ernest Hemingway-meets-Andy Kaufman photographs and mini-bios in your books. I showed them to my eighteen-year-old who’s home because of the pandemic college thing. Usually I can’t get him to really enjoy anything that I'm enjoying because I’m his father. You might learn about this in eighteen years.

MARRA: I’ve been mentally steeling myself for that.

TISSERAND: Except your author photos. I showed him those pages, and we were both laughing hard. How did that tradition begin?

MARRA: I knew I wanted to have an author photo in the back of my first self-published comic, Night Business. I just wanted to make sure the readers weren’t taking the comic too seriously. Obviously, just based on that comic, I'm a huge fan of the ‘80s black-and-white boom era of comics. That's where I fell in love with comics. And there’s a kind of disconnect between what those cartoonists were actually achieving and what they believed they were achieving. That's found in a lot of other things that I'm inspired by, like movies or music. Sort of an attitude of self-importance that is completely unrelated to the result of the work that person is creating.

TISSERAND: Could you give me an example?

MARRA: In movies, it’s more evident. I was just watching a movie on YouTube called Parole Violators that was recommended to me recently. It’s a movie about a vigilante cop. It thinks it’s a legitimate cop thriller. And it’s not. The acting is terrible — but I prefer to watch people who don't necessarily have the training in their craft but have the passion for it. Because a lot of times training in a craft can destroy the passion. That’s something that I’ve been in danger of. So I think that's why I'm inspired by stuff like that. It has a high amount of emotional investment from the creators and that investment is completely unequal to their abilities in their discipline.

I wanted my author page to be a message to readers that they don't need to take this comic very seriously because the comic itself has a lot of horrible violence and really extreme themes. And I wanted people to see that it’s a satire as much as it is an homage to the things I'm being inspired by. That author photo was kind of a wink to the reader to say, “You know, this is all kind of like a joke.”

Yet I also I take it very seriously. It’s almost what I have to do to make some of the comics I make. Pretend that I am this other person who’s the creator making these comics. And he shows up in those author photos.

The funny thing is, people didn't see it that way. They started to think that I actually was that character, that I’m just high on cocaine 24/7 and partying nonstop, when it’s just the exact opposite. When I traveled to Spain, they were really surprised at how sort of mundane I am. They sort of thought I’m somebody who lives on the edge every day. You can't really be that way and make comics. Because it just takes too much time and effort and discipline to do it. You just have no time to be too crazy.

TISSERAND: Most of us live with a censor’s voice in our ears, telling us when we’re going too far. Your work suggests you’ve found a way to push that voice really far away from you. It’s filled with spontaneity and improvisatory energy. It feels like a story is going in a certain direction and then things completely explode into someplace unpredictable. Does this created author persona help you liberate this kind of work?

MARRA: It's funny because I never really thought about it. But then Jaime Hernandez asked me if that was what I was doing, one time when we were at a comics convention. Ever since then I sort of think that yes, that's probably what I'm doing. But I'm not necessarily entirely conscious of it while I'm doing it.

I’m not an actor, but I would imagine it’s similar to an actor’s process where they're occupying a different sort of head space as a character to tell a story. So if I'm this author creating these comics, who is this person and what sort of logic would they have to create these things?

TISSERAND: I compared it to Andy Kaufman but it also reminds me of Chuck Barris’s autobiography where he talks about his supposed past as a CIA agent.

MARRA: Right. Exactly.

TISSERAND: We’re doing all these Zooms and seeing the books on people’s shelves, and I want to ask you about one of your author photos in which you are reclining with a cocktail in your hand, wearing a fur vest. But my eye really went to the background, where there’s an Aubrey Beardsley book on the shelf. I was wondering about the influence of Beardsley on your work.

MARRA: That was actually shot in my girlfriend’s — now wife’s — bedroom a few years ago. I think that fur vest was hers. And that Aubrey Beardsley book was her book, that was her book shelf.

TISSERAND: So much for my research into Aubrey Beardsley. I looked him up and saw how he was influenced by Japanese erotic art and did these illustrations for Oscar Wilde, and he once said, “If I am not grotesque, I’m nothing.”

MARRA: There are some serious parallels there.

TISSERAND: Maybe it helps us understand your marriage, if nothing else. Is there anything that you could say that without it, you’re nothing?

MARRA: I have a weird need to go in directions that are dangerous. A lot of times, it’s weird violence and grotesquery. But I wouldn’t say that without that, I’m nothing.

TISSERAND: So you’re not into Beardsley, but the author photo guy is.

MARRA: Definitely.


TISSERAND: As far as those directions, Night Business did not prepare me for American Blood which did not prepare me for Terror Assaulter. There are similarities. It’s not a shock to discover the same person is behind these books. But there are real shifts in the art and how you tell your stories, as well as the types of humor that thread through it all.

How do you decide how you’re going to tell a given story? Do you plan it out, or does your style develop alongside the narrative?

MARRA: I started making comics because I just wanted to draw stories. It always started as a drawing exercise for me. The writing was always second to it. So the drawing is always a huge creative struggle. But the writing — because it's not the craft that I’ve devoted my life to — flows very easily. Whereas the drawing for me is always more of a struggle, because that's what I’m laser-focused on and over-thinking and constantly obsessing over.

I have to be excited about the direction that I'm going to take with the drawing. Night Business is my first comic I was actually able to make — up to that point I wasn’t able to complete a full comic because I just get so disinterested, or I didn't like how it was turning out. I would just abandon those projects. But then I finally was just like, I need to finish this thing.

I was looking at a lot of comics whose artwork I felt was verging on amateurish. And that was really exciting to me, because I felt like that was something that I could achieve, instead of having these sort of lofty goals that I think art school sort of imprinted on me — these lofty ambitions that I was never able to fully achieve, and that were really paralyzing. So if I had this accessible way of working, of drawing, I could complete it.

The writing, the storytelling, all emanates from those choices of the drawing, and the genre that I’m operating within. What kind of cliches I like to play with or subvert within the genre.

Night Business, I was really influenced, obviously, by Paul Gulacy doing Master of Kung Fu. Gulacy is actually the most accomplished influence of mine. If I could sort of feel like I was approaching things the same way that Gulacy was, that it was something that I could do, and I could get excited about my own work the same way I was excited about his work. And that could sustain itself throughout the project.

There were other artists, like Eric J on Rex Mundi, or Marc Laming who was drawing the Howard Chaykin book, American Century. Those three sort of allowed me mentally to feel like I could do a comic.

But then I quickly abandoned that style to try to do different things with a comic like Ripper and Friends or the second issue of Gangster Rap Posse, to see what kind of line work I could use or get away with. And I was drawing on different paper sizes and drawing comics in sketchbooks or on separate pieces of paper, on Bristol board, on lower-grade paper. Just trying. Constantly experimenting with the tools I'm using and how they feel and how that affects how I draw things and how I approach things.

For Terror Assaulter, I was using brush pen and some Japanese manga nibs to draw that. It jumps around. But the drawing is really where everything springs from. The writing becomes a game, or opening my mind to possibilities and trying to think of things that are interesting choices. That, I think, leads to the feeling of unpredictability in the story.


TISSERAND: What’s the first thing you remember drawing that you first really got that feeling you’ve described, of enjoying the act of drawing?

MARRA: A lot of the drawings I did early in my life I have no memory of. They’re there because my parents saved them. There's this spaceman that I do remember drawing — drawing the boots and then sort of standing on ground, which is, you know, just a line. And my dad turned it into a linocut that they would use for their holiday card that year. My mom was doing office work for a New York City abstract expressionist, Richard Pousette-Dart. And she showed him the drawing, and he was like, there's something here, you should really encourage him to continue to make art.

My parents were super supportive of my interest in drawing and art making, and they always pushed me in that direction. I think that drawing probably had a really big effect on the trajectory of my life.

TISSERAND: Were you reading comics at this time? Did anything grab you right away?

MARRA: Hergé, the Tintin series. I had a friend and his next-door neighbor had the entire collection of Tintins and looking at them was like looking at treasure. A pile of gold. I opened those books and it was really magical drawings. And then the stories were really interesting. And that's actually how I learned to read. I was just staring at these comics and really wanting to know what the words were saying.

I would get a new Tintin issue as a gift from my parents every time I had a birthday or something. Back then they were a larger format bande dessinée size. And they had the covers of all of the other Tintin installments on the back. So I could track which ones I had and eventually I had them all. I remember a car trip reading one and all of a sudden the words started making sense. It was a pretty amazing experience.

TISSERAND: Was Tintin himself a character who inspired you? Was he someone with whom you could identify?

MARRA: I really did. I think that the way Hergé draws him, he’s almost childlike in many ways, and he's got enough of a featureless face that you could kind of imprint your own face onto his if you wanted. And there's a curiosity and a can-do feeling about the world that I think for a young person whose mind is open to absorbing new ideas, you want to share that with him.

TISSERAND: Then you decided to study art. Formally.

MARRA: We were in a new high school and it was a bland, institutional building with zero character. The school decided to have students create a bunch of murals that would go around the building to give it some life. They had a professional illustrator come in and he sort of guided us and gave us suggestions on how to paint these things. And he talked to my mom about what schools I might want to choose.

At the time I wanted to be a movie director, but it kind of dawned on me, if I was going to be poor, I would rather be drawing something than trying to make a movie. Making a movie, you kind of have to bend a whole bunch of people to your will in order to get it done, and you have to have a have a significant amount of money piled away. Whereas if I wanted to draw, I could just sit down on a couch with a piece of paper and a pencil and get pretty much the same kind of creative satisfaction.


TISSERAND: But you said earlier that training can destroy passion. Was that part of your experience studying art? Would you have to unlearn some of what you learned in art school?

MARRA: Yeah, absolutely. Just doing comics would be considered a giant middle finger to some of my professors. My professors at art school were from a generation where comics were considered pornography, or less than pornography. They had come through McCarthyism and the Comics Code, the way that comics were marginalized in American society. Not marginalized — they were reviled.

So I picked up a lot of bad habits and ended up having to re-teach myself a bunch of things. But I think also art school is designed for you to do that too.

Also, I did have a part of my personality, I had a bit of a perfectionist way of working, and a masterpiece complex. I think that that was enhanced by my professors in art school.

TISSERAND: So your school put the burden on your back but also gave you tools to take that burden off?

MARRA: I would say that’s it, exactly. I had to wrestle with a lot of things. And I also think it's part of my artistic DNA to overthink things, too.


TISSERAND: But somehow in all this, you found your way to working with David Mazzuchelli.

MARRA: I ended up in grad school at the School of Visual Arts for illustration. There I finally came across some professors who thought comics were a great idea. My last year of grad school I had David Sandlin as my thesis professor, and he was a huge Jack Kirby fan. I wanted to do a comic for my thesis and I approached David Mazzucchelli, who was teaching there, to be my advisor on my thesis. He said he would do it if I took his comic book workshop class. So I took that class, which is an amazing, amazing class. And that's where I actually met other comic book artists, including Dash Shaw, with whom I have a very good friendship to this day.

I can't say enough about that class because there's still things that I use and think about to this day. There are some fundamentals in there that I hadn't uncovered just by reading comics.

TISSERAND: Like what?

MARRA: He did a whole lecture on how words and pictures are basically different narrative information channels. The words are doing one thing and the pictures are doing another thing, and it’s that tension between those two delivery systems that creates the magic of comics. You can really play with the meaning of the words versus the meaning of the pictures. He cited a Chris Ware story from Raw. A superhero story in the pictures, but the words are telling of a mother’s new husband with an objectionable worldview. They’re completely different from one another but there are moments when they overlap. At the time it had never really occurred to me how important it was to have command over that when you are creating a comic, or just to be aware of it. That was really powerful.

TISSERAND: Do you look at your comics and see a point where you put that idea to work in a way that you were really happy about?

MARRA: It’s funny because Terror Assaulter is actually a formal satire of that idea. I was like, “Well, if words and pictures are supposed to be doing different things, what if I do an entire comic where they're doing the same thing?”

TISSERAND: Such as panels in which someone is narrating, “You’re tearing off my arm, you’re ripping out my throat.”

MARRA: Right. It was just a total pursuit in messing with that kind of idea.


TISSERAND: There is a lot of humor in those moments. Also, in Zorian the Sword Lord, there are these moments in which you’re crossing out words in the narration to add different words, which I found in the moment to be spectacularly funny.

MARRA: I wanted to leave the mistakes on the page, leave the evidence there. I was doing that comic on my lap on the bus when I was commuting to my job in New York. in an effort to be to be more productive and use the time that I had to make more comics. So I wanted it to be really rough and look like it was done as a doodle on a piece of Xerox paper, which is what it was. I wanted that feeling of un-preciousness.

TISSERAND: Is that also why American Blood is printed in purple ink?

MARRA: It was actually originally printed in Spain. And they printed it with purple ink because in Spain that was how some cheap publications and cheap newspapers were printed. I guess it was just a cost savings. And so we just sort of kept that when we did the American version.


TISSERAND: There are movies built around plane crashes. There are whole franchises built around plane crashes. But none have achieved what you achieved with your plane crash in Terror Assaulter.

MARRA: I think that's safe to say.

TISSERAND: With, as you said, the characters narrating their action as it’s happening. You’ve already addressed this somewhat, but just how as an artist do you give yourself permission to take a narrative that far into sex and total destruction?

MARRA: I think this is maybe one of the things that I learned in art school. These professors who hated comics were also the ones who would say that art needs to challenge other people’s ideas of what they think about the world, that's where it functions. And that's what modernism is sort of based on — it's basically challenging people to reassess what they think is beautiful. If you’re studying art history and studying what Picasso was doing, and what Cézanne was doing, and Van Gogh — and then R. Crumb, especially within comics, like it or not. To create successful art you need to push it into spaces where people don't expect you to go and maybe aren't comfortable going. And maybe you're not comfortable going. That, to me, is exciting because that usually is where the most interesting choices lie.

Entertaining myself is a huge priority when I'm making stuff. Because otherwise I can't sustain interest. Eventually, it doesn't become trying to make stuff to challenge people. I'm just trying to make stuff that's really interesting to me. It's not only challenging the reader — it’s challenging me as a creator.

TISSERAND: You mentioned Crumb. How much of an influence is his work, or the work of the other 1960s and 1970s underground cartoonists?

MARRA: I don't think about him when I’m drawing. But it’s difficult to be a cartoonist and not feel like you’re operating in a world that he hasn't affected. I read a book on Caravaggio and it said there was a time before Caravaggio and there was a time after Caravaggio, and those two times are way different than each other. And that’s how I feel about Crumb. He changed the game.

TISSERAND: You said for better or worse.

MARRA: There's definitely a wave against the way that he depicted themes of Americana, with sexism and racism. It can be difficult now that times have shifted and attitudes have shifted to look at what he's done and just entertain the question of whether or not it’s valid anymore.

TISSERAND: There are cartoonists I admire who hold Crumb in the highest regard, and others I admire who have denounced him from comics awards podiums. When you approach a work like Gangster Rap Posse, with caricatures and stories filled with sex and violence — however layered in irony — do you consider that sort of criticism? Does it affect your choices?

MARRA: I’ve definitely been criticized for those stories. I don't want to put myself on Crumb’s level because I feel like he's just accomplished a huge amount, and I wouldn't want to compare myself to him in that regard. But I do think that there was an attitude that underground comics could do what a Disney film couldn’t do, or mainstream media couldn’t do. Underground comics could be a place to try to tell stories that were difficult to tell. So I kind of felt like I was part of the underground philosophy.

TISSERAND: And if a reader is not getting what you’re doing, there is no shortage of opportunities to be offended.

MARRA: It demands a little bit of contextual knowledge.


TISSERAND: Along the way you take on icons as sacred as Jesus and Maureen Dowd. Let’s start with Jesus. There was some controversy around Jesus Freak. How much attention do you pay to something like that?

MARRA: It was funny, because the controversy occurred before the comic ever came out. So nobody had read it. I worked in newspapers for several years, so I know what it's like to try and generate story content. You have to fill up time. Once it came out, nobody really said anything. This is to Joe Casey’s credit because he researched the story pretty in-depth before he wrote it, and it wasn’t actually as controversial a take on Jesus as maybe people who had the knee-jerk reaction believed it to be.

TISSERAND You had FoxNews coverage even before the comic came out.

MARRA: That’s exactly what I'm thinking of.

TISSERAND: Yet the word “reverent” might apply to the comic — it’s a reverent attitude both to Jesus and to Bruce Lee.

MARRA: I remember getting a message from someone saying I wouldn't be opposed to this comic being handed out at my Sunday school. That was an interesting take.

TISSERAND: In taking on something like Jesus, did you find yourself thinking of what the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists went through taking on the figure of Mohammad? The idea that you could stir up the fundamentalists in any faith?

MARRA: No, because the way Jesus has been depicted in pop culture in the past is not the way the prophet Mohammad has been depicted in popular culture. You could say that Jesus’ adventures beyond the Bible are an entire genre of comedy.

TISSERAND: Nor do you see Maureen Dowd depicted in popular culture very often. And Thomas Friedman even less. You must have heard from her after that comic came out.

MARRA: Only recently, actually. She wrote me a handwritten note that arrived in the mail. She said that she was sorry it took so long to say something, but that she really appreciated the comic. And that it was a cool thing that happened in her career that she never saw coming.

TISSERAND: Did the idea for that comic come from your time working in newspapers? It’s sort of the same idea as your author photo — a writer’s persona, amplified in an absurd, magnificent way.

MARRA: I was in New York when 9/11 occurred. That was right when I was in grad school and I started reading the Times every day to understand what was happening. And she had this really flattering byline photo and she looked really glamorous. And so I started reading her column just based on that. And I’d read Friedman’s book From Beirut to Jerusalem. So I was very much in the New York Times ecosystem.

She sort of stuck with me as a figure, and I was doing drawings of her in my sketchbook in sexy lingerie, and a friend of mine was, “You should really do a comic about Maureen Dowd.” I didn’t know how I would legally do it, or what the story would be. But then, as soon as I said that, the story kind of just started falling into place like blocks.

It was a weird sort of thing to experience, but that happens sometimes. I have no intention of doing a comic, and then all of a sudden, the plan is just all laid out for me, and I kind of have to do it.


TISSERAND: How do your own political viewpoints come through your satire? Or do you think that they do?

MARRA: I don't know. I'm a very, very progressive sort of person, but I'm also kind of a realist in a lot of ways. I hope that it comes through, but I have no idea if it does or not.

A lot of times, work is judged or even people are judged based on the things that they do unconsciously. So there are things I'm sure I'm doing that people are forming opinions on that I would be surprised to hear.

TISSERAND: You said your work was inspired by living in post 9/11 New York. Certainly the war on terror shows up in your work. Do you consider yourself a social or political satirist?

MARRA: It’s weird because when I look at my work objectively, it's clear to me that it's satire. That's not my objective. The objective is to make a really interesting story that I think is entertaining. What comes out of that is something that’s satirical.

My main source of inspiration is genre itself, and the tropes of genre. Especially in exploitation films and action movies. But I think I can sort of lay that genre stuff on top of a satirical foundation.

TISSERAND: Some of the exploitation films feel like they're in on the joke, and others don’t.

MARRA: I’m more interested with the ones that aren't in on the joke. But I'm making stuff that is in on the joke. Which is frustrating because I don't want to be in on the joke.

But I think that there are a lot of ways where I'm not in on the joke. There's a lot of things that I’m probably doing that I’m not even conscious of. And I’m sure people that are smarter than me are looking at it and judging it in a completely different light.

TISSERAND: One last question: Throughout this interview, I’ve been hearing your child in the background. Is there a book you are particularly eager to put in his hands?

MARRA: There’s a book that I had as a kid that we have now, that’s called Mr Benn — Red Knight. It’s an obscure one from the 1960s. The only copy I've ever seen is the one that I own. It’s about a guy who’s going to a costume party and goes to a costume shop and puts on a suit of armor. And there's a door in the changing room that he goes through, and all of a sudden he's in a fantasy world where he's this red knight. And the drawings are really beautiful. They’re unconventional in the kind of 1960s way. I love it for that reason. Perspective is off on a lot of drawings. It’s very free in a lot of its logic with how scenes are depicted.

I can't wait to show it to him. Some picture books can be overly conventional in their visual aesthetic. I want him to be shown stuff that has a different perspective.

All artwork (c) Benjamin Marra, all rights reserved.

Michael Tisserand is a New Orleans-based author whose most recent book is Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White — the Eisner Award-winning biography of cartoonist George Herriman, the creator of Krazy Kat .