Five in the morning is a “favorite time” for Peter Schumann to do comics, he said. Ideas can come from just about anywhere: the weather in the Northeast Kingdom, where he lives, or a piece of the monthly report, a long-standing socialist publication. “I rely on what’s happening in the world,” he said.
Schumann, 88, is a visual artist and performer – painter, sculptor, puppeteer, dancer – who is best known for founding the Bread and Puppet Theater 60 years ago. During those many decades he also drew comics, hundreds of them.
Schumann began writing and drawing comics in the early 1960s on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where he remembers “peddling” them to the Astor Place subway station. He sold his chapbooks for 25 cents each – or two for a penny, three for a nickel.
“Since then, we have been millionaires thanks to these sales,” he joked.
These days, the cost of a Schumann comic defies an inflationary economy. At its street performances, Bread and Puppet’s Parking Lot Dance Co. sells comics for 50 cents apiece, two for a quarter, and three for free.
A sketch in his notebook could become the basis for a comic strip, Schumann said. “Instead of leaving it hidden on these pages,” he said, “start drawing it and making it public.
“The combination of the imagery that you use and the wording, and you contrast or merge them, that’s what’s interesting,” he continued.
Schumann’s drawings and comics are used as “story-making material” for the puppeteers when the company works on its annual summer show. Our Domestic Resurrection Circus, whose theme this year is “Reforming Homosapiens”, will be performed at Bread and Puppet’s home in Glover on Sunday afternoons from July 10th to August 28th.
The type of storytelling seen in the competition — which incorporates images, words, music and dance — spans cultures and centuries, Schumann said. He has vivid memories of watching such shows – called Bankelsang – as a child in his native Germany.
“I was very impressed,” Schumann said of those shows. “It’s not in the palace, it’s in the street.” Sort of like a chapbook sold on the sidewalk: one for a quarter, two for a penny, three for a nickel.