ACA Thank-you Card Thanksgiving

This is a week for giving thanks, so I’m penning a little shout-out to my Atlantic Center for the Art associates. They were a great group: so talented, dedicated, and inspiring! And after 20+ years of working solo in my home/studio, I have to say the experience of sharing a studio with them has made me rethink my aversion to studio environments. We shall see…

In the meantime, I wanted to show off the beautiful hand-made card my associates presented me at the end of our residency. Cliodhna Lyons fabricated the card (which measures 4″ x 5-1/2″) as an accordian-style pamphlet. It is now one of my most prized possessions. Check it out:

First, the cover, with a very snazzy French flap! “Team Bogota[s]” refers to a slight miscommunication between Neil O’Driscoll and Sara Woolley and the subject of her project:

ACA-card-cover-web

Read more of this post

Twitter #FF: the JoshComix Collection

Today’s Friday Follow suggestions are all folks who are currently using my art for their Twitter avatars:

mhkeller Michael Keller (@mhkeller)—interactive news reporter @ajam, fellow @towcenter, co-founder @csvsoundsystem, @TreasuryIO. comic book character → http://bit.ly/ajam-tos
justinmaiman Justin Maiman (@jmaiman)—Executive Producer, Business Insider Video, fellow KWF’13 alum
joshdneufeld Josh D. Neufeld (@joshdneufeld) (name sound familiar?)—Associate Professor of microbial ecology studying the diversity, function, phylogeny of environmental and host-associated microbial communities.
scottpeppet Scott Peppet (@speppet)—Law professor with passions for privacy, technology, and various other aspects of law. And a major character in Terms of Service!
aramsinnreich Aram Sinnreich (@aram)—Media Professor @RutgersCommInfo. Bassist @BNGsoul. Author of 2 books: Mashed Up (http://Mashed-Up.com) & The Piracy Crusade (http://PiracyCrusade.com). [The latter book features my cover illustration]
joshneufeld Me! (@joshneufeld)

ACA Narrative Corpse Comix Yearbook!

01-cover-webI’ve been back home from the ACA for about a week now, and am just starting to re-adapt to life away from the perfect temperatures, palmettos, and wooden walkways of the Atlantic Center for the Arts. One of the projects my Associates and I worked on was the ACA Narrative Corpse Comix Yearbook, a fun and unusual comics jam. We wanted to share the results with you, so starting today, I’ll post one page from the comic, to give you the feel of how it was produced. “Which was how?” Let me explain:

We were nine cartoonists fated to spend three weeks together in the beautiful environs of the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Everyone had their individal nonfiction projects to work on, but we were all eager to collaborate as well. And so it was suggested we do a project inspired by the Surrealist game “Exquisite Corpse,” a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled—without prior planning or discussion.

Nine numbers were put in a hat (a San Francisco Giants cap, to be exact—Go Giants!) and everyone drew a number. Joe Luby had drawn first lots and he had the responsibility of starting the narrative. Dave Kiersh was next, and it was his job to continue the story—with nothing to go on but the final panel of Joe’s page. Dave guessed what he could from that clue and continued the narrative in his own unique way. And so it went, over the course of the residency, as each cartoonist’s turn came and went.

And what the heck is the result? We don’t know! Something definitely surreal—and, dare I say, quite beautiful. Just your normal semi-autobio fairytale with dragons and jellyfish and random references to Star Trek and Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain.

So, without further ado, head over to ACT-I-VATE to check out Joe’s page 1, and keep coming back daily until the 9-page comic is concluded. After all, as Team Bogotas member Cliodhna Lyons (and #3 contributor) expressed so perfectly: “We made comics. Comics pretty. Read comics.”

Here’s the URL one more time: http://activatecomix.com/181.comic

Terms of Service

tos-cover-smI wrote about it back in July and now it’s finally here: Terms of Service: Understanding Our Role in the World of Big Data. The new “graphic novella” (Al Jazeera America‘s first graphic feature) by myself and Al Jazeera America reporter Michael Keller examines the role of big data, privacy, and the implications of sharing personal information in the—all via the “characters” of Josh and Michael.

Hopefully, Terms of Service is a thought-provoking, entertaining field guide to help smart people understand how their personal—and often very private—data, is collected and used. Big Data powers the modern world. What do we gain from Big Data? What do we lose? Terms of Service look at such services as Gmail, the Progressive Snapshot program, FitBit and other activity trackers, and the not-far-in-the-future Internet of Everything.

Between social media profiles, browsing histories, discount programs and new tools controlling our energy use, there’s no escape. As we put ourselves into our technology through text messages and photos, and use technology to record new information about ourselves such as FitBit data, what are the questions a smart consumer should be asking? What is the tradeoff between giving up personal data and how that data could be used against you? And what are the technologies that might seem invasive today that five years from now will seem quaint? How do we as technology users keep up with the pace while not letting our data determine who we are?

Topics addressed in Terms of Service include: Read more of this post

How I “Write”

Booth, which is the literary journal of the Butler University graduate writing program (more of them in a future post), asked me to write about my comics-creating process for a recent issue. Since this was a frequent topic with my Associates during my just-completed ACA residency, I thought this might be relevant…

vagabonds02_coverHow I Write

I create comic books, so I write in pictures—and draw with words. I’ve learned over the years that the uniqueness of the comics form is the dual experience of reading and seeing.

But even thought the experience of reading a comic is unified, when I create a comic I break my creative tasks down into two distinct parts: writer and artist. Both stages uses different parts of my brain, and both allow me to edit and revise the work as it moves forward. So even though my routine is regimented I always make room for serendipity and artistic surprise.

I begin by writing out the story in prose form, always with the goal of showing as much as possible through action and dialogue. I then break down the text into the key moments of narration that will become the individual comics panels. The final script includes short descriptive sentences of what’s going on in each panel—clues and directions to my artist self—and all character dialogue, narration or “voiceover” captions, and sound effects. It reads much like a screenplay.

Once the script is done, I step away from the computer and move to the drawing table. (Although much of my work has first appeared on the Internet, I’m old-fashioned in the sense that I draw entirely by hand.) I lay out the script, breaking it down into thumbnail sketches, using minimal detail, just enough to block out word balloon and character placement. Through thumbnailing, I assess the story’s pace, check its momentum, and see how it flows from panel to panel and page to page. During this stage, I often find ways to condense elements, or, conversely, to flesh out certain scenes.

Next comes penciling, the most time-intensive part of the comics-making process. That’s when I scale up my thumbnails to full-size, drawing in the panel borders, characters, backgrounds, and lettering elements on tabloid-size paper. Again, when translating the layouts to this larger size, I often find better artistic or storytelling solutions. On a good day, I can pencil an entire detailed page from start to finish.

Inking is the most fun of the part of process for me. It’s when the story finally comes into complete focus, as I shape the pencils into finished art, often taking away lines more than anything else. I love the physical act of inking: the gentle pressure of the brush on the page, and the endless tiny aesthetic choices that go into each stroke. In the end, the art looks pretty much the way it will appear on the printed page.

Not every cartoonist works the way I do; many have a much looser system, and some create their work completely organically, literally writing and drawing the story at the same time. And sometimes I too find ways to skip steps along the way. But this “two-headed monster” approach works for me, and helps me break down into manageable steps what can often seem a daunting task—translating the ineffable images in my head into distinct visual form.

The ACA’s Closets of Legacy

I’m in Master Artist Cabin #3 (aka Andersen Cottage) here at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, nestled amidst the palms and Spanish moss, accessible by wooden walkway. The cabin itself is a nice size, sort of a semi-duplex with the bedroom up the stairs. I very much think I can deal with these accommodations for the next three weeks!

IMG_5562 IMG_5566

My first introduction to a long-standing ACA tradition came when I opened my closet door to unpack. Scrawled all over the closet walls were signatures—lots of them—from previous Master Artists who’d stayed there. Cabin #3 is traditionally the writer’s cabin (which isn’t entirely inappropriate for me, as comics are, after all, an amalgam of writing and art), and the names on the closet walls are like a who’s who of literary stars: Rick Moody, Ishmael Reed, Richard McCannSamuel R. Delany, the late writer/monologist Spalding Gray, Douglas Coupland… even my old buddy Nick Flynn! Some artists’ names popped out at me too, including the late great sculptor Duane Hanson and MacArthur “Genius” Award-winner Carrie Mae Weems.

It’s pretty inspiring to be (metaphorically) sharing this space with such a roster of creative minds—to think they cooked their meals in the same kitchen, slept in the same bed, woke up to the Florida sunlight pouring through the same skylight…

Flynn & Moody Reed
Flynn & Moody Reed
Samuel R. Delaney Spalding Gray
Delany Spalding Gray (and his son Forrest)
Hanson and Weems Amy Bloom
Hanson and Weems Amy Bloom
Coupland, Dyer, Waldman Doty
Douglas Coupland, Geoff Dyer, and Anne Waldman poet Mark Doty
Mat Johnson Patricia Smith
Mat Johnson (of Inconegro fame) poet Patricia Smith
Richard McCann Quincy Troupe
Richard McCann poet Quincy Troupe

My Atlantic Center for the Arts Residency Starts Monday; Presenting My Associate Artists!

I leave Sunday for New Smyrna Beach, Florida, to start on Monday my three-week “Master Artist” comics residency with the Atlantic Center for the Arts. It’s been three years since I was first tapped for the ACA residency (giving up my spot in 2012 in deference to the Knight-Wallace Fellowship), and I’m psyched for it to finally be happening. (I’m also going to miss Sari & Phoebe! Happily, however, I won’t be without them for the whole time—they’re coming down the very first weekend after the residency starts for a three-day visit, occurring over Sari’s birthday! Do I hear a beach birthday?!)

My residency is focused around nonfiction comics, and I’m really excited about the Associate Artists with whom I’ll be working, who hail from all over the States and beyond, including South Korea, Australia, and Ireland. (It was quite a task whittling down the initial group of talented and deserving applicants for the residency, and I went through quite a bit of heartache selecting these eight exceptional cartoonists.)

My plan for the residency is fairly open-ended and in many ways will depend on the needs and desires of the group. I plan to spend good chunks of each day with them in a studio environment, and we’ll do the occasional group exercise and critique. Maybe some form of collaborative project will emerge? The main thing  I want for each Associate—and myself—is to come out of the residency with a clearer idea of their personal project, and renewed enthusiasm for finishing it.

So without further ado, here are the Associate Artists of ACA Residency 155:

Robin Ha—born in Seoul, Korea, and moved to the United States when she was 14. Since graduating from RISD with BFA in Illustration, she has been working in New York. Her work has been published in independent comics anthologies, as well as Marvel comics and Heavy Metal Magazine. Her plan is to continue working on a graphic memoir about her immigrant experience as a teenager in Alabama.

Sarah Howell—an Australian cartoonist who has worked extensively in festival and youth arts. Sarah’s project is a graphic novel (with support from the Australian Prime Ministers’ Centre) about the final days of the three P.M.s who died in office, all as witnessed by Dame Enid Lyons, the first female federal Member of Parliament.

James Kettner—“Kett” grew up in Westchester and studied Illustration at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. After a decade of misadventures he made it to the West Coast (now Oakland, CA) where he received his MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. Kett’s comix have appeared in print and on the web in publications like SF Weekly, and he’s a regular contributor to the punk comix anthology As You Were. Kett’s project is Full Moon, a graphic memoir about his time working at an adult escort agency.

David Kiersh—an associate artist in residence at ACA in 2010, when he worked on his self-published book After School Special. He also received a 2008 Xeric Grant for his book Dirtbags, Mallchicks, and Motorbikes. Dave’s project will be his new book, Love is Strange.

Joseph Luby—a Savannah College of Art and Design honors alumni, where he majored in Sequential Art and Illustration. Joe says he “only ever wanted to do three things in life: be a teacher, be a good father, and draw comics.” Joe’s project is an illustrated history of earth-space science and the scientific method as taught and understood at the middle grade level.

Cliodhna Lyons—Irish illustrator and animator. She studied animation at Ballyfermot College in Dublin and comics at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She has contributed to several comic book anthologies and has self-published a number of minicomics and hand-bound books. In 2013 she became a comic book tourist and spent seven months traveling around the world meeting other comic book artists and creativites in over 30 locations. She currently lives and works in London. Cliodhna’s project is the tale of the ocean-going royal mail ship RMS St Helena, her  crew, and the tiny island of St. Helena which she faithfully serves.

Neil O’Driscoll—Irish illustrator and filmmaker who was born in the southeast of Ireland and is currently based on a cliff just outside of Dublin. Having trained in animation, design, and crafts before completing a degree in film at Edinburgh College of Art, he now works freelance while illustrating the independent comic Big Bastard. Neil’s project is a graphic novel about human rights pioneer Roger Casement.

Sara Woolley—illustrator and graphic novelist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Sara’s project is a fictionalized graphic memoir written with her mother and art partner Leila Gómez Woolley about a young girl’s upbringing in, and exile from, 1950s Colombia.

Giants Win War of Attrition 3-Games-to-1

So in their recently completed Division Series the Giants hit .222 as a team, with a sum total of six extra-base hits. They were thrown out stealing more times than they were successful. They scored nine runs in the entire four-game series. And yet they beat the powerful Washington Nationals three games to one. How they did it was that the Nats were even more pathetic offensively than the Giants, hitting .164 as a team. I’m not even sure if the Giants’ pitching was so great (a 1.60 team ERA ain’t bad) or that offense just disappeared for both teams—other than Bryce Harper and his three moonshot home runs.

The Giants won every game by a single run, and other than Brandon Belt’s 18th-inning blast in game 2, many of the runs they did score were gifts: bases-loaded walks, wild pitches, fielder’s choices… They won passive-aggressively! What a strange series. Which matches the Giants’ strange season: dominance in April & May, June & July swoon, and enough resurgence in August & September to squeeze into the 2nd wildcard slot.

But, hey, I’ll take it! On to the N.L. Championship Series and the St. Louis Cardinals (who dispatched the favored Dodgers in four games as well). My big trepidation, moving forward, though, is the absence of leadoff hitter Angel Pagan. You wouldn’t know it from his stats, but he is the Giants’ catalyst. Their record the last two years is directly related to his presence in the lineup: a winning team when’s he in there, and a losing one when he isn’t. And he’s out for the rest of the year after back surgery. But… enough pessimism. Bring on the Redbirds!

And this IS an even-numbered year: 2010, 2012

This weekend I’ll be heading to my first SPX in 5 years

SPX 2014Friday, the Hang Dai gang and I will be heading out to the Washington, D.C., area for the 2014 Small Press Expo, taking place September 13–14. This’ll be my first SPX in quite a while—since 2009, to be exact, when I debuted A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge.

In addition to myself, the Hang Dai table will feature Dean Haspiel, Gregory Benton, and the lovely & lovable Christa Cassano. (Of course, schmuck/mensch and Hang Dai original member #3, Seth Kushner, will be absent as he recovers from a bone marrow transplant—next year in Bethesda, Seth!)

We’ll be at table 16B. I’ll be hawking The Vagabonds #3—only available directly from me, and with a free sketch!—as well as The Influencing Machine, copies of  The Vagabonds #1 and #2, and A.D., and A Few Perfect Hours, and, and… You get the picture.

SPX special guests include Jules Feiffer, Lynda Barry, James Sturm, Bob Mankoff, and a host of others—check out the full list here.

Here are the details:

SMALL PRESS EXPO
September 13-14: Saturday: 11:00 am – 7:00 pm;

Sunday: 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm 
$15 Saturday; $10 Sunday (or $20 for the weekend)

Marriott Bethesda North Hotel & Conference Center
5701 Marinelli Road
North Bethesda, MD 20852

Joel Christian Gill’s STRANGE FRUIT

Strange FruitIn 2007 Boston-area cartoonist Joel Christian Gill started drawing a story about a 19th-century man who escaped slavery by mailing himself to freedom in a box. The following year he made a minicomic and went to his first comics show to sell Strange Fruit #1 (followed by six additional issues). Today those stories and more are collected in Strange Fruit, vol I: Uncelebrated Narrative from Black History (Fulcrum Publishing)—with a foreword by Henry Louis Gates!

These offbeat stories of heretofore-obscure African-American pioneers are filled with heartbreak and triumph. Without whitewashing the realities of slavery and racism, Strange Fruit has a wry, welcoming tone—much aided by Gill’s dynamic, inventive storytelling. After reading about such real American heroes as chess master Theophilus Thompson, bicycling champion Marshall “Major” Taylor, and lawman Bass Reeves, I’m eager to learn more—and so should you!

So buy the book—and check out Gill discussing it recently on HuffPo: http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/537e66e3fe34440f9d00011c

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