The Monday Media Diet with Will McPhail

On graphic novels, Trick Mirror, and airport fantasies

Will McPhail (WM) has been contributing cartoons, sketchbooks, and humor pieces to The New Yorker since 2014. He was the winner of the Reuben Award for cartooning in 2017 and 2018. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. Buy his first graphic novel here. -Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

I am a man staring out the window of his flat at a takeaway kabab shop that has given me food poisoning twice. Give me food poisoning once, shame on you. Give me food poisoning twice, also shame on you⎯I should be able to enjoy a doner meat pizza without having to cancel plans for the next two days. I’m also a cartoonist and writer, mostly for The New Yorker, and my first graphic novel In” has just been published

Describe your media diet. 

I’m afraid that it’s much like the doner pizza⎯suspiciously addictive and bad for me. Like everybody else throughout the lockdown, I’ve become horribly reliant on my phone and have grown completely comfortable with that hopeless, aimless feeling you get after there are no social media left to check. Like when they’re painting the golden gate bridge and have to start again as soon as they finish, I simply open Instagram again and repeat the cycle until it’s time to die. I guess Twitter is my main source of everything but I’ve also really gotten into coveting objects that I can’t afford. So a website I’m into lately is the balance page of my bank account. Oh, and porn!

What’s the last great book you read?

Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror still blows my mind. I keep revisiting this essay she’s got in there about drifting away from institutional religion and into drugs and music. It’s so far up my street that it’s actually in my flat and browsing the food in my fridge. The whole book is just incredible and made me challenge all sorts of notions that I thought I was sure of.

What are you reading now?

I’ve just started reading Where The Crawdads Sing. I studied zoology at university before I became a cartoonist so Delia Owen’s obvious love for the natural world in that novel is a joy and it’s really lighting my brain up. I’d love to write a book like that but I’ve forgotten almost every single thing that I learned at university. If you asked me now which species has the biggest eye in the animal kingdom, I’d barely be able to tell you that it’s the giant squid. Give it three more months and I won’t remember that. 

What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?

Needless to say, if it’s The New Yorker my first move is to maniacally rifle through the pages looking for my cartoons. If there’s one in there, then all is well and I can go about my day safe in the knowledge that I’m not a failure. I love Emily Nussbaum’s reviews, she has the power to articulate things that I’ve always felt but could never express, so if her work is in the magazine I’ll skip straight to that.   

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

Everyone is definitely already following the work of these people but in case you’re not: Karen Chee is a wonderful writer and has a book coming out soon, The Headgum Podcast is hilarious, Kate Berlant and Jacqueline Novak’s Poog podcast is sublime, in fact literally anything by Kate Berlant and Jacqueline Novak, my fellow NYer cartoonist Jason Adam Katzenstein has a beautiful book out, Conner O’Malley for nightmarish comedy, Patti Harrison when she isn’t banned from Twitter, John Early is a force of nature, Mitra Jouhari really makes me laugh, Josh Mecouch’s Instagram is a wonderfully weird place, and too many more!

What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone? 

I have this app called Flush that shows you where all the public toilets are in your immediate vicinity. People even put in the entry codes for Starbucks restrooms. It’s a beautiful community.

Plane or train?

Plane. I am having daily fantasies about being in an airport. Believe me when I tell you that I have found myself daydreaming about which trousers I would wear on a flight that I will never catch. To be queuing at a bag check. To put my shoes in a plastic box. To have a security guard confiscate my contact lens solution. Heaven. 

What is one place everyone should visit? 

When I was at university, I and a few of my classmates went on an expedition to Tobago where we patrolled moonlit beaches to study and protect the leatherback turtles that spawn there. Every night these enormous monsters would heave themselves up onto the beaches and lay their eggs under shooting stars and sparkling nebulas. It’s a magical place and if you’re at all interested in animals then you’ll love it.

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into

For a short period of time that is still currently happening, I got caught up in the blacksmithing game. That is to say, the watching-videos-of-people-blacksmithing game. I think it started when a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of “Forged In Fire”, a sort of Great British Bake-Off style TV show but with Americans instead of Brits and knifes instead of cakes. I was definitely watching it ironically at the beginning but then like hammerscale from a piece of glowing metal the irony began to peel away and now I’m watching blacksmithing YouTube channels like Alec Steele and Will Stelter with a genuine enthusiasm that I cannot begin to understand. Will Stelter just dedicated an entire series of videos to renovating an old power hammer only for it to fall off a pallet and shatter into a hundred pieces. I could not care less about power hammers, they have zero relevance in my life, but I was absolutely crushed when it hit the concrete. I’m in too deep. (WM)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Will (WM)

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