Nick Bertozzi has spent the last several years collecting awards; specifically some of the most prestigious that the medium of comics has to offer including the Ignatz, several Harveys and an Eisner nomination. Starting with his lowbrow Incredible Drinking Buddies through his innovative Boswosh to his award winning The Masochists and Rubber Necker, Bertozzi has continued to be an innovative cartoonist and storyteller.

This month, two long-awaited projects will be released, The Handcuff King written by Jason Lutes (Berlin, Jar of Fools) and published by the Center for Cartoon Studies and Hyperion) and his solo effort, The
Salon (published by a division of St. Martin's Press).

I've known Nick for over twenty-five years and besides being one of the nicest persons on the planet, he is by far the tallest talented cartoonist working today.

How did you get involved with the Center for Cartoon Studies, and specifically, The Handcuff King?

James Sturm, having seen parts of The Salon, my comic about Picasso and Cubism set in 1907, thought I'd be a good fit for drawing The Handcuff King, since I'd shown skill at drawing bowler hats and horse-drawn carriages. I'd never worked with Jason before and when James asked me if I wanted to get paid to learn at the knee of one of my favorite cartoonists, the answer was an emphatic, "YES!"

Jason Lutes has previously done comics focusing on the subject of magicians before. What drew you into the project and were you a fan of magic/Houdini prior to being involved?

I was never that interested in "magic". But I liked the shape of Houdini's head, it was fun to draw.

Most of your comic work has been with you writing and drawing the material. What was it like collaborating with Lutes? Did you have any input on the story?

I tell my cartooning students at The School of Visual Arts that Jason's thumbnails are the Gold Standard of Cartoon Thumbnailing. In this sense, I wasn't so much collaborating with Jason as learning about clear pacing and composition. After twenty or so pages I felt confident enough to vary some shots and add some Bertozzi goofiness.

You also have The Salon coming out, a project that you both wrote and illustrated. What is it about?

The book flap says it best: When someone starts tearing the heads off modernist painters around Paris, Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo realize that they may be next on the killer's list. Enlisting the help of their closest friends and colleagues: Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Alice B.Toklas, Erik Satie, and Guillaume Apollinaire, they set out to put a stop to the ghastly murders--only to discover that an addictive absinthe that painters around Paris have been using to enter famous paintings may in fact be responsible for all their troubles. Filled with danger, art history, and daring escapes, this is a wildly ingenious murder-mystery ride through the origins of modern art.

What was the impetus of doing a graphic novel about Picasso?

Though I took several Art History classes in college, I never felt as though I fully understood the tenets of Cubism. I thought that doing a comic about Picasso and Braque and how they developed the artistic movement would be an opportunity to really understand how painting changed after 1907. However, I felt that a comic that showed artists in their garrets painting might be a little slow visually, so I wedded this to a thriller story that I'd been kicking around in which Paul Gauguin had discovered a magical blue absinthe that allowed him to enter into any painting he wanted. This had the added benefit of allowing me to copy the composition of famous paintings.

What did you learn about both Houdini and Picasso that surprised you when researching their lives?

The sheer volume of Picasso's work is really amazing when you think about it from a day-to-day point of view.

Houdini was a jogger!

This past year you also launched an online strip on Act-i-vate. Are you a traditionalist, preferring printed comics or do you enjoy the electronic format?

It's hard for me to read comics online but the potential audience is so vast that it'd be goofy for me to avoid it.

You've had work published by Marvel and DC and did a super-hero story for Superior Showcase. Why do you think that so many indie creators shy away from super- heroes and do you have any other super-hero stories that you want to tell?

I pitched a ton of super-hero stories to both Marvel and DC, but they're looking for a very particular formula that I have trouble writing within.

Who are your biggest influences on your work?

Hergé and Crumb. Clean-line adventure and id-ful rage!

Any dream collaborators/projects? What's next for Nick Bertozzi?

I'm working on my dream-project right now at Act-i-vate. It's called Persimmon Cup and it's the first time I've felt brave enough to tackle sci-fi/fantasy.

I just signed a contract with Houghton-Mifflin to draw a comics-bio of Lenny Bruce, written by Harvey Pekar!

On April 26th, Nick will be hosting THE SALON/CBLDF benefit party to defray legal costs of Rome, Georgia retailer Gordon Lee, owner of Legends Comic Shop, who was charged with distributing "indecent material" to a minor when he accidentally gave away a preview copy of THE SALON featuring a page in which Picasso is nude. So far the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has spent tens of thousands defending Lee in a landmark Free Speech case (at the cost of $3,200 a day!) If you live in the New York area and would like to attend, please check out the CBLDF site or visit Nick's site for more details.