See you in the funny pages

The cartoons of Paul Karasik at the M.V. Film Center Artspace.

We can all use a good laugh these days. That’s why the timing of the latest exhibit at the M.V. Film Center’s Feldman Family Artspace couldn’t have been more fortuitous if it had been planned that way. Currently hanging in the lobby of the only open movie theater on-Island are a dozen cartoons by Vineyard-based artist Paul Karsik, a two-time recipient of the coveted Eisner Award — the comics industry’s equivalent of the Academy Awards.

Karasik’s work has graced the pages of the New Yorker and the Nation, as well as Vineyard publications, and he will be showing original work from both national and local sources. The New Yorker cartoons comment on topics ranging from gun control to the potential demise of physical books. If you think neither theme lends itself to humor, a visit to the Film Center exhibit will prove you wrong.

For many years now, Karasik has been contributing cartoons to the Vineyard Gazette, and more text-heavy, narrative comics to the back pages of Martha’s Vineyard Magazine. A number of the former are included in the current show. Among the local subjects Karasik has had fun with are the Flying Horses carousel and Back Door Donuts, things he describes as requiring “insider knowledge” to appreciate. “You play to your readership,” says the cartoonist. “The Vineyard cartoons have less fang than some of my other work.”

Although he says that he has “read and loved and collected comics” all his life, Karasik did not start out as a cartoonist. He studied graphic design, but soon realized that, as he puts it, “That was the last thing I wanted to do.” A class Karasik took with renowned cartoonist Art Speigelman led to a friendship between the two men and, eventually, to a job as associate editor of Speigelman’s groundbreaking comic’s anthology RAW magazine. It was during his time with RAW that Karasik realized that he wanted to create cartoons, and so he broadened his drawing skills in order to translate his wit and humor to the visual realm.

While the average cartoon may appear to be a quickly scrawled drawing with text, Karasik notes that the process is anything but simple. “Part of the nature of cartoons is that they should not look overwrought,” he says. “But there’s a lot of work that goes into affecting casualness.” The artist confesses that he can spend weeks executing a single image in order to perfect the visual impact.

“Part of the fun is in absorbing an image and a caption,” says Karasik. “There’s that instant where your mind combines both, along with your base of cultural knowledge, and your synapses connect. If the drawing is overwrought, you have to look at it too long, and the effect is diminished.”

While living in Brooklyn, Karasik met his future wife, artist Marsha Winsryg. In 1989 the couple took sabbaticals from their respective teaching jobs to spend time on the Island, and decided to stay. Karasik helped found the local Charter School, and has served on the board of the Permanent Endowment for M.V. He has written and/or edited a handful of books, including “City of Glass” (with David Mazzucchelli), adapted from the novel by Paul Auster, and “How To Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels” (with Mark Newgarden).

Karasik has also continued his teaching career (via Zoom these days) with courses at RISD, and other schools and workshops all over the globe.

Karasik has shown his work at the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury, and he and Winsryg were the subjects of a two-person show at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse a few years back. The cartoons on display at the Film Center are primarily work that has not been shown publicly before. Originals will be available for purchase, as well as prints for which Karasik will happily provide an inscription and, of course, a complimentary doodle or two.

An exhibit of original cartoons by Paul Karasik will hang at the Feldman Family Artspace at the M.V. Film Center in Vineyard Haven from Oct. 13 through Nov. 15. The public is invited to an opening reception to meet the artist in a socially distanced manner on Saturday, Oct. 17, from 6 to 7 pm. (Please bring your sense of humor.)