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)

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.

In progress: big data/privacy piece for Al Jazeera America…

Penciled pages so far

Penciled pages so far

I’m currently in the middle of a really cool comics project for Al Jazeera America‘s interactive multimedia team. In conjunction with AJAM staff reporter Michael Keller, it’s a process piece on big data and privacy, especially in relation to our roles as consumers. Michael came to me with the project, having already done a ton of research and reporting on the topic. Once I came on board, we did more reporting, wrote the script together (with great help from our editors), and now I’m penciling it.

Not to give away too much in advance, in the story we get into the pros & cons of such “free” services as Gmail, Facebook, and Foursquare, as well as the increasing popularity of devices like Progressive’s Snapshot and activity trackers like the Fitbit. Some of the experts we talk to include former California State Senator Liz Figueroa (one of the first politicians to recognize the privacy implications of Google’s Gmail), cyber-security researcher Dan Geer, privacy law experts Scott Peppet and Paul Ohm, social researcher danah boyd, and Alessandro Acquisti (who studies the economics of privacy)—as well as a bunch of “regular folks.” Also making an appearance: Al Gore! Imploding robots! The Database of Ruin!

As I mentioned, it’s kind of a process piece. Michael and I are both characters in the story, which tracks us as we travel the country, interview people, and wrangle the issues. It has a similar feel to my prior collaboration with Brooke Gladstone, The Influencing Machine, except I’m a character in the story too! (I find it ironic that after starting my career as an autobiographical cartoonist, I segued away from that into journalism, and have now come full-circle to “autobiographical journalism”!)

Being that the piece will live on the web, it’ll also include some multimedia functionality, à la A.D. on Smith and The Stowaway on The Atavist.

It’s been a fascinating piece to work on, and really the perfect thing for me. Michael did the bulk of the research and reporting, but I’ve been integral to shaping the script, and of course drawing the thing. I’m also excited to be working with the new-on-the-scene news organization Al Jazeera America.

One thing we haven’t been able to settle on, however, is a title for the thing. Even though you haven’t read the piece, feel free to weigh in—or suggest your own. These are some of the candidates (personally, I feel they’re all way too long):

  • “The Penumbra of Fear: The Future of Privacy and the Technologies and Temptations that Could Get Us There”
  • “The New Normal: The Future of Privacy and the Technologies that Could Get Us There “
  • “Cloud City: How Much Privacy is Technology Worth to You?”
  • “My Data for Your Love”
  • “TMI: The Dangers of Over-Sharing”

It’s been a labor love project so far: I came on-board in February and we spent at least two months just reporting and writing the script. I’ve been penciling since May. I should begin inking, coloring, and finalizing the piece after next week; we hope to debut it on Al Jazeera America in mid-to-late August. It’s going to be close to 40 pages in length!

Evolution of a book cover: The Influencing Machine en français

IM-french-excerptToday marks the debut of the French translation of The Influencing Machine, my collaboration with Brooke Gladstone. The publisher is Ça et Là, run by one of my favorite people in comics, Serge Ewenczyk. This is the third translation of the book, which had already benefitted from two great cover designs in hardcover (Mark Melnick) and then paperback (Albert Tang):

im-cover-150px IF-paperback-cover-sm

And here are the previous translated editions, in Korean and Italian, also both very cool:

IF-Korean-cover-sm IF-Italian-cover-sm

Serge asked me to draw the cover for the French edition, saying that neither of the American editions would work for French audiences. so here’s a blow-by-blow of the process involved. IM-french-cover-mockup1-450pxHis first suggestion was to create something similar to a panel on page 37 of the book, with Brooke in front of a wall of screens/panels showing TV scenes but also illustrations connected to other media, like press and radio. (I have to also say here that the composition and some of the images on p. 37 itself pay homage to Alan Moore and Dave GibbonsWatchmen—think back to the scenes in Ozymandias‘ Antarctic lair.) As always, my first step was to rough up a couple of sketches. Both went for the idea of “the media” as a sinister, controlling force—even though, utlimately, the book disputes that thesis. The first sketch was pretty straightforward—a spooked-looking Brooke in front of a row of screens… Read more of this post

THE VAGABONDS #3 in the House!!

The Vagabonds #3

The Vagabonds #3

A loooooong time ago, back before The Influencing Machine, before A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge—before Phoebe was even born—I had a solo comic book series called The Vagabonds (at that time published by Alternative Comics.) It took me three years to produce two issues, but at least it was a real thing—it existed. And now, a mere eight years after the last issue appeared, April will see the release of The Vagabonds #3! In partnership with Hang Dai Editions, I’ll be debuting The Vagabonds #3 next weekend at MoCCA Fest.

To be fair to myself, as I mentioned at the top, there were a few things that have happened since 2006 that slowed the release of this issue. In addition to the “births” of Phoebe, A.D., and The Influencing Machine, there was the Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan, which ended just last year.

But now The Vagabonds is back—and in full color. It’s really nice to have a place to collect assorted pieces of mine from the last few years, as well as have a venue for new work. This issue highlights my journalistic work over the past few years, including reportage on Hurricane Sandy, the Arab Spring, the education wars (with writer Adam Bessie), and the life of a “comics journalist.”

What with A.D. and The Influencing Machine, I’ve spent the last half-decade or so in the trade books arena, with publishers like Pantheon and  W.W. Norton. As wonderful as it has been to work with those major players, I really missed the world of alternative comic books and indy shows. That’s another reason why I’m so excited to be joining forces with Dean Haspiel, Seth Kushner, and Gregory Benton at Hang Dai Editions.

What draws me to Hang Dai is the emphasis on creator-owned publications and personal interactions with readers. There was a great quote from an interview with the HDE guys that went like this: “You’ll get the books made by hand from the hands of their creators, which puts the ‘artist’ back in ‘comic arts’ and puts you, the reader, in a position to engage directly with creators.” I cut my teeth in this business through self-publishing, and it’s refreshing to go back to my DIY days.

As many know, my professional relationship with Dean goes back to Keyhole, the two-man anthology we produced in the mid-1990s. (We’ve actually been friends even longer than that—back to our high school days producing superhero comics!) So it’s awesome to join forces with Dino again; as well as with Gregory and Seth, who I’ve also known in the industry for quite a while. (Bleeding Cool did a nice little piece announcing my joining HDE right here.)

So come get a signed copy of The Vagabonds from me at MoCCA Fest. I’ll be at the Hang Dai table (F15/F16) on Sunday, April 6, all day long. The book is $5, and you get a free sketch in each copy you buy. (I’ll also have copies of The Vagabonds #1 & 2, and my other books, should you be looking for those.)

And I swear you won’t have to wait eight years for the next issue of The Vagabonds. In fact, I don’t think you’ll have to wait eight months—look for The Vagabonds #4 in September 2014 at SPX.

Atlantic Center for the Arts “Master Cartoonist”: Take Two

Back in 2012 I was forced to give up my ACA Master Artist gig due to my receiving the Knight-Wallace Fellowship and moving temporarily to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Well, ACA program director Nick Conroy was nice enough to invite me again, so this fall (October 13–November 2, to be precise) I will be leading a three-week residency focusing on the nonfiction graphic novel.

I still find it a bit intimidating to be called a “Master Artist,” but at least since 2012 I’ve also done a lot more teaching—including two consecutive years conducting week-long courses with the Fine Arts Works Center Summer Program, and more Speaker/Specialist programs (like the one I did last fall in Mexico). So I’m probably more “prepared” for the experience this time around.

The Atlantic Center for the Arts, located in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, is a nonprofit, interdisciplinary artists’ community and arts education facility. Their mission is to “promote artistic excellence by providing talented artists an opportunity to work and collaborate with some of the world’s most distinguished contemporary artists in the fields of music composition, and the visual, literary, and performing arts.”

During the three-week residency I will be working with eight “associate artists” on their long-form nonfiction comics projects. As part of the residency, we will be spending (at least) two hours a day together, conducting workshops, talking about the challenges we face, and working in a studio setting. I look forward to helping my associate cartoonists explore the best ways to make their ideas come to life.

By the way, my buddy Dean Haspiel took over my residency back in 2012—making it very much is own—and his group had a great time. They dubbed themselves Studio Yolo (“You only live once”), engaged in various team-building activities, and even produced an anthology. Read more about the experience here…

If you’re interested in applying to be an associate artist in my residency, or know someone who would, please check out the ACA website for further details. There are descriptions of the residency requirements, a FAQ, and lots more information. The application deadline is May 18, 2014.

Jewish Comix Anthology Kickstarter fail?

Sadly, things aren’t looking too good for the Jewish Comix Anthology. Its Kickstarter goal of $50,000 CAD seems to be falling far short—they need more than $35,000, with only five days to go. The anthology features such luminaries as Will Eisner, Michael Netzer, Joe Kubert, Art Spiegelman, and Robert Crumb (um, not Jewish ;->). And me too. I was looking forward to doing an adaptation of the very funny folk tale “Digging a Pit,” about the Wise Men of Chelm. There are tons of other great contributors too—Trina Robbins, Rachel Pollack, Joe Infurnari, Harvey Pekar… the list goes on. Let’s hope Alternative History Comics (the publisher) can figure out a way to fund the book even if the Kickstarter doesn’t hit its goals. In the meantime, please think about backing the project. Shalom.

Evolution of a book cover: Piracy Crusade

PC-cover-final-150pxI illustrated the cover of Aram’s Sinnrich‘s new book, Piracy Crusade: How the Music Industry’s War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties (University of Massachusetts Press), and I thought I’d take you through the process.

As the title indicates, Sinnreich’s argument is that so-called “piracy” is really the battle between those who believe information (e.g., music) should be shared and the media cartels who want to control that flow. In the spirit of openness, Aram even made a draft of the book available online under a Creative Commons license.

Before I got to work, Aram and I talked a little bit about the cover. (Unlike with my previous book cover, for Alissa Quart’s Republic of Outsiders, Aram was acting as his own “art director” on the project, so I dealt directly with him.) One thing he was keen to include was traditional pirate ship/pirate flag imagery, as well as the symbols for copyright and “copyleft” (essentially, the same concept as the Creative Commons movement). He even drew up a sketch, which featured two tall-masted ships firing on each other, with the cannon balls, smoke, and water splashes forming a “Jolly Roger” death’s head between the ships. His drawing looked like this: Read more of this post

“SuperStorm Stories” on Medium

RHF01-pn2In commemoration of Hurricane Sandy’s one-year anniversary, Medium is debuting “SuperStorm Stories: A Red Hook Family” (part one), a piece I reported and drew about a Brooklyn family’s experiences during the storm and its aftermath. This segment specifically deals with the family’s love of books (and music), and the horror of seeing some of their most treasured memories destroyed by the “gasoline- and poop-filled water from the Hudson River.” Jim, the dad, speaks memorably about “black-bagging a favorite book” and its resemblance to “a mangled body.”

For some reason in recent years it has been my lot to be connected to hurricanes; first with Katrina and A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, and now with my home city of New York and Sandy. (I wrote in this space about the frustrations of being “stranded” away from New York during the actual storm last year, while on my journalism fellowship in Ann Arbor.) As an artist, I can’t stop thinking about floods and rising waters—nature’s inexorable, nightmarish consumption of all things fragile and man-made. I think I was first awakened to this fixation by the horrific events of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. And my contributions to the 2010 ABC Primetime special, Earth 2100, about catastrophic climate change, only contributed to that obsession. Well, if Al Gore is correct, I’ll have plenty of fodder for this in the coming decades. ;->

So check out “SuperStorm Stories: A Red Hook Family,” and look for part two (which promises a happier conclusion) in the coming days…

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