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…

Evolution of a book cover: Republic of Outsiders

I illustrated the cover of Alissa Quart’s new book, Republic of Outsiders: The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers and Rebels (The New Press), and I thought I’d take you through the whole process.

The book is about how a diverse group of outsiders who seek to redefine a wide variety of fields—from film and mental health to diplomacy and music, from how we see gender to what we eat—are succeeding in various ways in changing the status quo. So from the get-go the initial concept was to show a large crowd of people on the cover, something to convey the idea of “here comes everybody.” The book’s particular subjects—including  an Occupy Wall Street “alternative banker,” a transgender activist, an autistic artist, and indie musician Amanda Palmer—would be prominently featured at the front of the crowd.  I wanted the art to “bleed,” to extend past the edge of the cover, to help convey the “infinite” size of the crowd of amateurs, dreamers, and outcasts (at that point the book was subtitled “The Power of Rebels, Amateurs, and Outcasts”).

My initial sketch looked like this:

RoO-sketch-lorez

The client was pretty happy with the sketch, with their only major comment regarding the Amanda Palmer figure. Because of some recent negative press, they asked me to downplay her somehow—suggesting I “anonymize her, so she could be a more generic glam genderbending figure.” I pointed out that with my cartoony style I doubted many people who would recognize the character as Amanda Palmer, but I was happy to do as they asked.

We also agreed that I would hand-letter the title and other cover lettering. Given that, the client felt the subtitle needed a little more air. At that point, I came up with the idea of the crowd holding signs making up the words of the subtitle. I thought it further sold the concept of this group being paet of a movement effecting change on society.

This was my first attempt at the pencils (the blue outline shows the bleed and the crop marks of the actual book dimensions):

RoO-pencils-lorez

Although generally happy with the pencils, the client asked for some changes. There was some concern that the central figure (based on a real-life autistic artist was “too prominent and particular.” One way they suggested to do that was to eliminate the plastic iguana she was holding and make her expression less vacant; the second adjustment took care of another unresolved issue, which was how to display the author’s name. They came up with the idea of setting in a foreground sign which also would partly cover the autistic character. In addition, feeling that the “Amanda Palmer” avatar was too aggressive, they asked me to tone down her expression a bit as well.

At this point, I was a bit concerned about the changes being requested because frankly I thought they weakened the impact of the image. My understanding of the project was that the people on the cover were outsiders dancing to the beat of their own drums—and succeeding by doing that. And my feeling was the client’s suggestions were making the cover blander and less memorable. But… in the end, they were the client (who is always right ;->). I expressed my reservations and made the changes they asked for. (I also found out later that there were some legal concerns regarding the autistic artist character, who is only referred to by her first name, Katie, in the book…)

Finally, they asked me to replace the chunky “Outsider” title lettering with a simpler “font.”

This is what the second round of pencils looked like:

RoO-pencils2a-450px

By this point, the client and I were pretty much on the same page, and they gave me the go-ahead to proceed to inks. Wait! There was one more last-minute change: the subtitle of the book was changed from “The Power of Rebels, Amateurs, and Outcasts” to “The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers and Rebels”. So, here are the inks:

RoO-inks2-lorez

After a little more back-and-forth (thankfully, nothing too onerous), they gave me permission to color the piece, which I did in PhotoShop. As is my wont, I went with a reduced color palette, focusing mostly on greens and yellows, with a optimistic blue sky and red lettering to really pop. Here’s how it looked:

RoO-colors-lorez

The first color treatment made it all the way up the line to publisher, but she felt the palette was “too retro.” The client’s direction was to “maybe lighten the skin tones and add a bit more cyan to the clothes, so they’re not so contrasty with the sky.” Given how “unrealistic” the original color treatment was, I  was prepared for some pushback, and thought their comments made sense. So I warmed up the skin tones and made a few other adjustments (including making the “Katie ” painting a bit more distinctive from the rest of the scene). I thought the changes relieved the “monotony” of the original color treatment while staying true to my original concept:

RoO-colors2-lorez

Success! Everyone liked the new color treatment. So I was done, right?

Wrong! When it came to mocking up the book, the artwork on the right-hand side didn’t extend far enough to cover the bleed on to the dust cover flap. Left as-is it would show the art “fading away”—which I thought undermined the “infinite” feeling of the crowd. They also wanted the line “author of Branded and Hothouse Kids” added underneath the author’s name. So… I went back to the drawing board (literally) and extended the artwork to the right (as well as adding the “author of” line in PhotoShop, using a font of my lettering). And, voila:

RoO-revise-lorez

We were finally done! This is how the “mechanical” (front, back, flaps, and crop marks) looked on publication:

Republic-of-Outsiders_1st-mech-lorez

The book came out last month, and it’s been cool seeing my work on the cover—a first for a book I did not myself draw.

After all the back and forth, I obviously felt very connected to the process, and to all the individual decisions that led to the distinctive final product. So I was a bit chagrined when this image was brought to my attention: the cover of Eric Alterman’s 2008 book, Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America (Viking), illustrated by the very brilliant Tom Tomorrow

Alterman-WhyWe'reLiberals-cover-lorez

Oops! I don’t remember ever seeing that book cover before, I swear!

Influencing Machine Korean edition cover

Just for poops & chuckles, I thought you’d like to see the cover of the Korean language edition of The Influencing Machine, published by Doddle Saeghim. They took the art from the last page (with Brooke’s head blown up a bit) and colored it—in a much louder style than I use in the book itself. They also added a bunch of shadows. 

IF-DoddleSaeghim-cover-sm

P.S. Anyone out there have a Korean URL for the book? I can’t seem to find it…

Influencing Machine featured on 1book140 (The Atlantic.com’s Reading Club)—Twitter convo tonite!

IF-paperback-coverThis month The Influencing Machine is one of two graphic novel’s being read on 1book140, The Atlantic.com’s Reading Club. And tonight at 7pm EST, writer Brooke Gladstone and I will be taking part in a live Q&A via Twitter. Please join in the conversation!

1book140 has been running since May of 2011 and they’ve read & discussed works by living authors and by dead authors; they’ve read thrillers, mysteries, beach reads, science fiction, poetry, history, and travel writing. Some of the previous entries from the 1book140 reading list include Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five,  P.G. Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves, Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, China Mieville’s The City & the City, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. And they’ve even read comics before, including Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Alan Moore & David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, and Neil Gaiman & Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg’s Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.

1book140 is currently being run by J. Nathan Matias, and the process seems very democratic. Books are nominated on by readers and the finalists are voted on in online polls. And now, after some runoff voting (against  very esteemed competition), The Influencing Machine—along with Chris Ware’s masterwork Building Stories—has emerged as this month’s 1book140 selection! The first two weeks of August were spent on Building Stories and now it’s our book’s turn.

Tonight from 7-8pm EST, Brooke & I will be sitting by to answer any and all questions related to our collaboration. To join in, tweet your question to #1book140; we’ll do our best to respond!

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