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The not-so-far side

Cartoonist Roz Chast to visit UPS tonight

National best-seller comes to Tacoma. Photo courtesy Wall Street Journal

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For years, there was a cartoon pinned to the wall over this writer's desk, a square clipped from The New Yorker. It was a simple ink drawing that depicted a sour-faced locomotive and bore a caption that read, "The Little Engine That Could But Just Didn't Feel Like It." The train engine glared balefully at the viewer and snarled, "Get lost." That cartoon, along with hundreds of whimsical pieces from a career that spans four decades, hails from comic artist (and native Brooklynite) Rosalind "Roz" Chast. More than 800 of her cartoons have been published in The New Yorker alone since 1978 - she was 24 when first accepted - and have been published in 18 books. One, the national bestseller Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, is a graphic memoir that won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award. Other Chast cartoons have appeared in dozens of magazines including the Harvard Business Review and Scientific American. In 2015, her work was given a grand exhibit at Stockbridge, Massachusetts' Norman Rockwell Museum.

Chast's wry, single-frame cartooning style is comparable in some ways to that of Gary Larson (The Far Side). But while Larson's writing tends to ventriloquize human thoughts into the snouts of animals, Chast populates her images with humans in all-too-prosaic settings. Her style has been described as ratty, even punk. She maintains a clear sense of place, as she acknowledged in an interview with Salon:

"I don't like cartoons that take place in Nowhereville. I like cartoons where I know where they're happening ... I hate sitcoms because they don't seem like real people to me."

Many of her cartoons reflect her late mother Elizabeth's distrust of consumerist accumulation, which she called a "conspiracy of inanimate objects." Consider, for example, the Chast cartoon in which a baggie full of "Urban Trail Mix" is labeled, "Contents: Tic-Tacs, Zoloft, Tylenol, Xanax, No-Doz, Valium, Tums, almonds."

Much of Chast's work, in fact, finds average people struggling to deal with the overwhelming complexities of big-city life. In Can't We Talk, a panel finds Chast herself sitting between her aged parents on a couch. "YOU ARE HERE," says an arrow pointing to Chast's head. "SUCK IT UP." Another offers greeting cards tailor-made for forgetful consumers, like "Congratulations (just in general)" and "With sympathy for whatever."

Chast's lecture at the University of Puget Sound will culminate in a question-and-answer session with the audience. It's presented as part of the Susan Resneck Pierce Lectures in Public Affairs and the Arts series, which has welcomed such luminaries as Cory Booker, Junot Díaz, Philip Glass, Spike Lee, Robert Reich and Twyla Tharp to UPS. Early reservations are recommended, even for university faculty and students who have the opportunity to get in for free. Tickets are available at Wheelock Information Center or online at tickets.pugetsound.edu.

An evening with Roz Chast, 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, Schneebeck Concert Hall, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, free, $20, 253.879.3100

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