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Painter Chris Mars talks about his book Tolerance.

Readersvoice.com aims to pick up a few interesting reading tips. For this issue I interviewed comics artist Jeffrey Brown, author of Funny Misshapen Body: A Memoir (Simon and Schuster). Jeff Brown was also featured in Best American Comics 2007, edited by Chris Ware. His comics are like a diary packed with visual detail, well drawn. Also I interviewed Chris Mars. His book Tolerance (published by Last Gasp/ La Luz de Jesus) features 159 of his paintings plus his essays about them. The paintings are populated by seemingly monstrous people. But on closer inspection, these outsiders evoke empathy. First up, Chris Mars.

READERSVOICE.COM: Your work was scheduled to appear at Scribble 08 in July [last July] in association with the Comicon in San Diego. I was wondering if you had ever dabbled in comics or if you were interested in trying this medium, along with all the many others you’ve worked in, and why you might or might not be interested in trying comics.

CHRIS MARS: I have not dabbled in comics, although I’ve enjoyed taking in a number of graphic novels over the years. I think the problem I have with making my own comic or graphic novel would be the repetitive nature of the characters, design-wise.

I purposely try not to repeat faces in the context of my paintings, and surely that would be a requirement with a comic. But I appreciate what others are doing with the medium.

RV: In 2005 you did an interview for readersvoice.com where you gave a really interesting list of books you’d liked. I was wondering if you’d come across any other interesting books since then, whether fact or fiction, and if you could mention some.

CM: I’m currently reading Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel, and also the collected works of Thomas Payne. I recently enjoyed Tom Perrotta’s The Abstinence Teacher, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and highly recommend Tony Earley’s Jim the Boy.

RV: I was wondering how you found out about books like the ones you’ve mentioned, as they were not the sort you’d hear about just anywhere. How do you go about hunting interesting stuff to read?

CM: Sometimes I’ll hear about them through other media – an author will be on C-SPAN or Air America and it will pique my interest.

My wife, who is an avid reader and writer, will often turn me onto works of fiction.

RV: You’ve mentioned in interviews how you are increasingly interested in politics and activism. What do you think of the line between politics and art, and how do you avoid creating propaganda?

CM: To keep the art in a universal arena, to make it timeless, is something I am conscious of. Sometimes I may not succeed because the message may be more blatant than at other times, for instance when I use a well-known likeness.

Many political themes repeat over centuries, especially themes of personal and interpersonal politics. I think the majority of my work does focus on these.

RV: What is the criterion for good art as far as you’re concerned, regardless of the medium?

CM: If it’s something that is heartfelt and is done with care, and is a reflection of the creator’s internal vision, I think there’s a good chance it fits my own definition of “good art”.

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