PC: When did you start making art?

MG: I don't remember starting. I made art like most children, I suppose. I was certainly no prodigy, but I've had the label "artist" for as long as I can remember. I recall making my first oil painting at age 12 in an art class my parents signed me up for at the Miller Art Center in Springfield, Vermont.

PC: What sort of art did you see as a child and as a young man?

MG: I didn't have access to museums or art books as a small child. I saw illustrations in children's books. My favorites were the hand-me-downs from my father. Classics like Uncle Wiggily, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and my favorite, a 1921 copy of The Blue Fairy Book with luminous plates by Frank Godwin. They left a big impression. But very soon it was...

…comic books, comic books, comic books. I was obsessed. Especially Superman! I read and reread them, and I copied them, learning much about drawing the figure in the process (after all, superheroes are basically drawn nude, a pertinent point). I was especially taken with Curt Swann, who rendered elegant and expressive Supermans, Lois Lanes and Jimmy Olsens for DC Comics. I studied and copied his figures and other comic artists' as well, and in between I pored over my Uncle Linwood's big mail-order cartooning volumes which were surprisingly strong on the subject of anatomy. So began a lifelong preoccupation with the human figure, and the comic form.

In art school I was strictly outré. While my classmates were gluing sneakers on canvases, I skipped class to study the Pre-Raphaelites and the Symbolists. This was at a time, the mid 1970's, when those movements were highly discredited and dismissed as unimportant by the art thinkers, but popular among a certain set (me and a girl I knew). What drew me to the likes of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, William Holman Hunt, James Ensor, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Ferdinand Hodler, and Arnold Böcklin, to name a few favorites, may have had something to do with me wanting to be contrary (I was a semi-reclusive non-conformist in school). But mainly it was those artists' unique relationship with realism, the illustrative, narrative quality of their work, and their skirting of the fantastic. Later I would come under the spell of Russian Constructivism, Cubism, Surrealism, Dada, and onward, but for then I craved imaginative figurative work and those déclassé artists made for fertile homework lessons.

PC: In what media do you work?

MG: Besides some occasional forays into performance and installation work, I usually paint in oils. And I draw, using all types of methods. However, with work on this book, I have become digital. The pages of Tales of the Buffoon are created by scanning original pencil sketches into the computer and then building on them in layers, "inking," coloring, shading, and adding pattern and texture using Photoshop and a tablet and stylus. The result is a digital drawing.

PC: Who are the artists to whose work you find yourself attracted?

MG: In no particular order: Giorgio di Chirico, Kasimir Malevich, Andrea Mantegna, Winsor McKay, Henri Fuseli, William Blake, Paul Cadmus, George Tooker, Henry Darger, Maxfield Parrish, Jared French, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braques, Marcel Duchamp, Hieronymus Bosch, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Todd Schorr, Lari Pittman, Jacques-Louis David, Léon Bakst, Charles Dana Gibson, Salvador Dali, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Henri de Tolouse-Lautrec, Robert Crumb, Thomas Hart Benton and the Pre-Raphaelite and Symbolist painters mentioned above. I can't possibly narrow down this list!

PC: What drew you to the subject of the buffoons?

MG: This material has fascinated me on and off for twenty-five years. It seems to have a life of its own, and I have to admit that I don't completely understand certain aspects of it or its hold on me. What I do have is a crystal clear view of the world of The Buffoon, which seems to have sprung, fully formed, from the material itself, so immediate was my association with it.

I stumbled upon the original folktale through an avid interest in Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Twenty-five years ago I was just embarking on a long fascination with that heady explosion of early 20th century multimedia modernism, and in an effort to experience all of its aspects, I routinely scoured the local used vinyl record shops for ballet scores by the likes of Stravinsky, De Falla, and Satie. One find, a little known Sergei Prokofiev score for a 1921 Russian-Constructivist-styled production was a favorite; "Chout," it was called, pronounced "shoot," a French Romanization of the Russian word шут meaning "buffoon," or "jester." The music, as conducted by Walter Susskind and performed by The London Symphony Orchestra, is spiky and tuneful, Prokofiev at his best in my opinion, and still, for my money, the best recording of this piece (lots of versions of this work are now available - - back then? Not so much).

Anyway, on the back of this beat-up old record jacket, the plot of the ballet was described. Grotesque, absurd, exposing the baser side of human nature, it features the mass murder of seven women and a goat. First I was flummoxed by the idea that such a scenario was danced! (To choreography long lost). And then I thought: here is a true example from the dark side of fairy and folk tales, the real thing, mean and powerful. And darkly funny. I found the original in a volume of stories collected by Alexander Afanasiev, the Russian equivalent of The Brothers Grimm. And later I discovered that variants of the story appear in folkloric traditions all over Europe and Asia. This was a primal character, a Trickster figure. Might a version of this "buffoon" have the power of a Jungian archetype to appeal to others? I know it resonated with me.

PC: When did the figure of the buffoon enter your work? What was the first of these?

MG: The first time I used "The Buffoon" as the title of a work was for a pencil and charcoal drawing on paper (at the time, 1988, large-scale finished drawings were my thing). In it, The Buffoon is a clownish character, seen from the back, nude, gesticulating like an ape from a doorway in front of a large crowd in a city square. He is different from what The Buffoon will become. Off to the side, The Buffoon's Wife and Baby crawl on their hands and knees, a motif I would come to repeat on the first page of the novel.


The Buffoon - 1988 - pencil and charcoal on paper - 22.5 x 29.5 inches



Tales of the Buffoon (the novel) page 1  - digital image - 8.5 x 11 inches


PC: What came first, the large paintings or the tales?

MG: The tales.

I wanted to incorporate the Russian folktale into my own work somehow, but beyond that first image, I couldn't find a way to definitively capture the idea into a single drawing or painting and have it make sense. During that time I was showing with a small alternative gallery in Philadelphia called Studio Diaboliques. The owners, brothers Stephen and Robert Carb, were trying to get a home-grown arts magazine off the ground and asked me to create a serialized artwork of some sort. The folktale reared its head, the first of many, many times. The original story as told by Afanasiev has several episodes and I figured with a few adjustments, and some additions and subtractions, it might make a decent comic strip. The magazine folded before it began, but I was already completely invested in the project and went on to produce ten crudely drawn black and white tales (using the originals as a template of sorts, I wrote the rest of the tales myself, with some invaluable help from my father).


Tales of the Buffoon (Comic Version) - page 2 - detail - 1989 - ink on paper - 5.75 x 8.5 inches

Eventually the Brothers Carb would publish the ten tales as a stand-alone comic book, a very nice gesture indeed.


Tales of the Buffoon (comic cover) - 1989 - ink on paper - 11 x 8.5 inches

And later, I would use the first four panels of the comic as inspiration for a quartet of paintings.


A Tale of the Buffoon Part I - 1990 - oil on canvas - 53 x 83 inches



A Tale of the Buffoon Part III  - 1990 - oil on canvas - 53 x 83 inches


Other paintings and drawings were related thematically as well and together they became a body of work which I exhibited.


Comedy-Tragedy - 1990 - oil on canvas - 80 x 72 inches



Fools Too Near The Hellmouth - 1993 - oil on canvas - 108 x 84 inches

PC: What was the first tale?

MG: As mentioned, the original folktale is made up of several separate episodes, in which The Buffoon encounters several adversaries. But the episode that first sold me on the material was the same one that the Prokofiev ballet opened with - a tale I call "The Magic Whip." I open the novel with it as well, with this setup:

"Once in a village lived A Buffoon, His Wife, and His small Family.

Also in the village lived 7 other buffoons…

…and the 7 other buffoons had 7 wives too.

The Buffoon, His Wife, and the 7 other buffoons and their wives, were entangled in a never-ending war of wits."

The story: At a meal with the 7 other buffoons, The Buffoon and His Wife stage an argument and he pretends to stab her to death with a knife (a clever ruse, using a hidden bladder of pig's blood). But then he revives her with a "magic whip." The 7 other buffoons must own such a treasure! The Buffoon sells it to them for 300 rubles. Anxious to try out their new toy, they run home and murder their own wives and try, in vain, to bring them back to life.


Tales of the Buffoon (the novel) page 3  - digital image - 8.5 x 11 inches

The first thing I changed, besides 300 rubles to 300 dollars, was to resuscitate the 7 dead wives - they made for too many comic possibilities to be rid of them. The episodic nature of the tale suggested repetition, so I would come to kill and maim (and humiliate) both the 7 other buffoons and their wives over and over again. Then I brought The Buffoon's Wife to the foreground to be the equal of her husband in trickery, added a baby, then a dog, then a mother-in-law, a brother-in-law… and so forth.

PC: Had you done much writing before you took on this series...or it took you?

MG: No - other than a couple of curatorial essays and a screenplay collaboration (unfinished). I've dabbled, written this and that, had ideas, made notes... I've tried to hone my writing skills over the years. I certainly aspire to be able to write.

PC: Have you a long-standing connection to graphic novels? Has that changed as you are working on Tales of the Buffoon? Are any of these writers of particular interest to you, most congenial in worldview?

MG: I'm afraid I'm out of step with the world of graphic novels, although I am most assuredly glad for their plenitude and successes. I've read a few; Art Spiegelman's Maus, Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, Charles Burns' Black Hole - masters all. Coming from a painting background I must admit I feel as though I fall outside the mainstream of the graphic novelists. I am not immersed in that world. And though Tales of the Buffoon is lacking many of the key trappings of many graphic novels, it is in fact, a graphic novel. But that's what is so wonderful about the form; its capacity for variation is endless.

PC: Would you describe your process in writing these tales?

MG: The format of Tales of the Buffoon is unusual, which has made for an unusual process. The structure grew organically out of those original ten comic book tales I created way back when. Around the same time I had made some notes on cards for developing those ten tales into a full-length work, and years later I found them in a drawer and put them to use.

It works like this: Each tale or chapter (there are 36) is a self-contained ruse or trick with one or more twists and the exchange of $300. The book starts out with tales that are quite independent of one another. Then, gradually, they begin to relate, until an overarching plot takes over and carries through to the end of the novel (just over 300 pages in 3 parts). Characters are introduced along the way, victims all, and many reappear; there is a chase across the countryside, and a denouement in the palace of the king and queen. All this is told with one or two drawings to a page (more like a children's book than a graphic novel), no dialogue or speech balloons, and as little narration as possible. It was conceived of in a linear fashion. Each tale and its connection to the greater story was like a puzzle to work out, and many of those were solved while lying back in a hot tub of water with my eyes closed.

PC: When you're writing a tale do you draw first and then provide a text?

MG: No, it's the other way around.

Once out of the bathtub, mighty wrinkled, but with notes on each tale and how they would fit together, I organized it all into a screenplay type of format with notations on how it would fall on the page and how many panels I would need, similar to scenes or shots in a film. Within this framework I wrote the first few drafts of the narration. When that was finished, I began to make thumbnail sketches, and so on. I had my doubts about the peculiar structure, so I felt it necessary to finish each stage of the work as completely as possible in order to try to assess whether it was working or not before moving on to the next step.

PC: These are violent tales. Mayhem is a constant, but the chaos and disorder in the tales would not be possible without a strong, clear moral vision. Although the Tales of the Buffoon present a dark vision of and commentary on humanity-the world as it is-they also offer a set of virtues if only by contrast. How would you describe your world view?

MG: It's dark. And absurd. That is because I'm a believer in the old gods from darker times - the wild and woolly gods of human experience, all but forgotten, but still around and still potent. And unpredictable! The Buffoon may be one of those gods, perhaps a god of misfortune or a divine arbiter of bad behavior - there is certainly plenty of that, always has been, always will be.

I think The Buffoon may not be a god after all, but a simple mortal cursed by Fate. I have great sympathy for him and his little family. Isn't reality for The Buffoon a type of purgatory? Condemned to exist always at the very bottom of the social strata, where he is constantly put-upon by all others and forced to trick them out of $300? It's not his fault if we're greedy, mean, deceitful, conniving, stupid, and lustful. But of course we are all those things. We might as well have a laugh about it.

PC: Is it too early to ask, "What's next?"

MG: Yes! I have so much work left to go!