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Michel Choquette's Astounding, Iconic 1960s Time Capsule

The curator of a new collection of long-shelved comic art on wooing Salvador Dalí, hiring a Hitler impersonator, and going bust for his dream.

MJ: Who's the person you most regret not being able to get?

MC: I don't have one person, but it would've been kind of nice to get Dalí to do something. I even proposed to him that he do a blank page. And then he said, "Yeah, that's a good idea," and then a few minutes later, he told his wife that we'd had this idea, and later he told this other guy who was with us in Spain that it was his idea. But that didn't bother me. If he'd done that and signed it, I suppose I would've run it. Then he wanted to do a poster for the book. He asked me if I was rich because he told me he wasn't very interested in the poor, and I said, no I wasn't rich. And he asked me if my publishers were, and I said, well, they might be able to do something like a poster if you wanted. I always hoped, and perhaps this is why I wish I had Dalí in the book, I always hoped I could've come back to Dalí and—let's say Dalí wanted $25,000 to do the poster—I could've said, "Well, here's 12,500 bucks. Do half a poster." But I never had that opportunity! I enjoyed very much meeting him, and I definitely had fun sitting with him around his penis-shaped pool.

Detail from "The Commune," Text & Art by Randall EnosDetail from "The Commune," text & art by Randall EnosMJ: After Wenner dropped out, how did you go about this?

MC: I went to see a lot of publishers in New York. Harper and Row is the one who bit, in the fall of 1972. I think I was actually only two months without a publisher. And Cass Canfield Jr., who was running the editorial department at Harper and Row, was very keen on the book and that gave it a new impetus and enough of an advance so I could go back to Europe and collect the work from the people who'd promised it to me, find new people, and also travel around the States. I produced a dummy of the book, and Cass was very happy with the dummy, but his marketing people in the end backed out. They just couldn't quite understand what to do with book and how to market it. There was such an eclectic combination. It wasn't really like Marvel Comics people, it wasn't really like all underground—it was a mixture. So I was left with no publisher. After that I tried to raise private money to put out the book myself, and I came very close. But in the end, it didn't happen. That took up another three or four years, making a total of about seven years I'd been working on the book. At which point I just had to move on and just put everything away safely and hope that something would happen someday.

MJ: You sort of disappeared from view and then reappeared decades later in a 2009 profile in Comics Journal. What were some of your high points during that hibernation?

"A few artists were concerned that, 'My stuff doesn't look like that anymore.'…We had people who literally even swore: 'I never did such a piece.'"

MC: Well, one of the low points was that I declared bankruptcy because I had spent so much money on the book. The advances were just a drop in the bucket compared to what I spent, borrowed, and earned wherever I could to put into the book. So I just lay very low for awhile and I became not even a barman, but a barboy in a bar in Montreal. I pulled out of that and started making films at the National Film Board. I directed and wrote films—animation and live action. I ended up being asked by McGill University in Montreal to teach screenwriting, and then by Concordia University in Montreal, and I've been teaching screenwriting and creative writing for years now. I've been doing the odd project, one little film here and there, reviving some of my old songs and recordings. I got involved for a while in the shmatte business, because my girlfriend is a fashion designer. After Bob Levin's article on me appeared in the Comics Journal, Charlie Kochman at Abrams decided he wanted to publish the book. There was a lot of work left to do, even though I had the actual original art: all the strips had to be colored and all that kind of stuff, contacting everybody to renew my old agreement with them, or their heirs. I had to employ a crew of nine people to get the book done.

MJ: What was the reaction of the artists when you contacted them after all this time? Did anyone want to pull out of the project?

MC: No. I had a couple who gave me a hard time, but everybody else, it's, "You hung on for so long. Congratulations! What perseverance!" I'm getting that from everywhere. I was afraid there was gonna be a whole Pandora's box of angry contributors, and I was ready to face it. But I can't tell you the cooperation and enthusiasm I've gotten. A few of the artists were concerned that, "My stuff doesn't look like that anymore. I've improved so much. I'm a little worried. Let me see a scan of the artwork." And I had to persuade a few of them, "No, no. This is a time capsule. You can't change what it was." They all came around in the end, thank God.

MJ: I spoke with Randall Enos, one of the contributors, who's been a contributor to Mother Jones, and he was thrilled by the whole thing. But he said, "I honestly could not remember doing the strip and until they showed it to me; I couldn't remember what it was like."

MC: And then he said, "Hey, not bad!" I remember that, actually. We had quite a bit of that: People who literally even swore, "I never did such a piece." On the other hand, I called Russ Heath, and he's getting on a bit, and I gave him my usual pitch, "Well, you may not remember this but years ago, you did a strip for me." And he cut me off right away. He said, "Yeah, I think I spelled something wrong on that guy's helmet." [Laughs.] He was right."

Detail from an untitled comic, text & art by Louise SimonsonDetail from an untitled comic, text & art by Louise SimonsonMJ: One thing that's interesting to me is the women cartoonists and writers in your collection. You've got some stellar people, including Trina Robbins, who's done influential work and founded the Wimmen's Comix series. To my eye, there's a distinct difference between what the women and the guys in The Someday Funnies are seeing as liberation at this time in history. Any thoughts?

MC: I never really thought about it, but I guess you're right. In fact I know that Louise Simonson said about her contribution, "Oh, I wonder whether I was saying the right thing," until she saw the strip. And then she said, "Oh, it's alright. I didn't draw too well then. But, you know, I like the strip." So, there you are.

MJ: So what's your next career change going to be?

MC: [Laughs.] Well, I'm booked for teaching next year, starting right after Labor Day, so I'm not sure. I think I will probably do a documentary film on my father, who was a very well-known writer and poet in Canada. But mostly he is the one who started dramatic radio in the 1930s and he wrote, believe it or not, 6,500 scripts for radio and produced them himself—plus about 300 for television—so his life is a kind of a look back at what the beginnings of media were here in French Canada, in Quebec.

MJ: I did notice in Levin's piece that both of your parents set fairly high standards for you in terms of their accomplishments.

MC: They let me do what I wanted to do. They encouraged me. Put it that way.

Click here for a slideshow of selections from The Someday Funnies.

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