Sari Wilson & I have a new piece in the comics anthology The Big Feminist BUT

The Big Feminist But

Back in December I encouraged you to support the KickStarter campaign for the new comics anthology The Big Feminist BUT (I love that title!), and now, a few scant months later, it exists in printed form, ready for your purchase!

This beautiful 200-page softcover—whose full title is The Big Feminist BUT: Comics about Women, Men and the IFs, ANDs & BUTs of Feminism-–is edited by Joan Reilly and Shannon O’Leary, and features contributors like Hope Larson, Jeffrey Brown, Vanessa Davis, Emily Flake, Shaenon Garrity, Gabrielle Bell, Justin Hall, Ron Rege, Lauren Weinstein, Liz Baillie, Abby Denson, Jesse Reklaw, Kat Roberts, and Dylan Williams. It also includes a brand-new collaboration of mine and Sari’s (she wrote it and I drew it) loosely based on her experiences as a fact-checker for Playboy Magazine.

The book asks:

“What do we really mean when we start a sentence with the disclaimers, ‘I’m not a feminist, BUT…’ or ‘I am 100% a feminist, BUT…’ What do our great big ‘BUTs’ say about where things stand between the sexes in the 21st Century? We asked some of the most talented ladies (and gentlemen) working in comics and animation today, along with some of the smartest writers we know, to ‘but’ into the heated discussion about the much more level but still contradictory playing field both sexes are struggling to find their footing on today. Fans of Bitch Magazine, Jezebel, Love and Rockets, Wonder Woman, Girls and Mad Men will all find something to enjoy here, as will anyone who likes to read thoughtful, compelling, top-notch comics!”

I couldn’t say it any better—order your copy now.

Here’s a sample page from Sari & my piece (the original art of which was purchased by a KickStarter funder):

SW-JN-03-sm

Lila Quintero Weaver’s DARKROOM

Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and WhiteLast fall I was sent a manuscript copy of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White, a graphic novel memoir by newcomer Lila Quintero Weaver. In 1961, when Lila was five, she and her family emigrated from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Marion, Alabama, in the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt. As educated, middle-class Latino immigrants in a region that was defined by segregation, the Quinteros occupied a privileged vantage from which to view the racially charged culture they inhabited. Weaver and her family were first-hand witnesses to key moments in the civil rights movement. But Darkroom is her personal story as well: chronicling what it was like being a Latina girl in the Jim Crow South, struggling to understand both a foreign country and the horrors of our nation’s race relations. Weaver, who was neither black nor white, observed very early on the inequalities in the American culture, with its blonde and blue-eyed feminine ideal. Throughout her life, Lila has struggled to find her place in this society and fought against the discrimination around her.

Darkroom is an impressive debut work. A memoir in the vein of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby, Weaver’s mesmerizing tale is matched by her accomplished drawing and design skills. Darkroom is the story of a childhood, of a Latino immigrant family, of the struggle for justice in the Deep South. Weaver’s appealing pencil renderings perfectly capture the book’s themes of being caught in the middle, witness to (and participant in) one of the most turbulent periods in American history.

Darkroom is out now from the University of Alabama Press. Here’s a link to buying a copy.

New comics story, “Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand”

Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the SandDebuting today on the Cartoon Movement website is a new piece of mine, “Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand.” The story follows Mohammed and Sara, two young Bahraini editorial cartoonists who found themselves on opposite sides of Bahrain’s short-lived Pearl Revolution.

I met Mohammed and Sara at workshops I led while visiting the tiny Persian Gulf country on a U.S. State Department trip. Shortly after I became friends with both of them on Facebook, Bahrain underwent a great deal of turmoil in protests inspired by the Arab Spring — and also by the country’s simmering sectarian tensions.As the New York Times wrote the other day, Bahrain  is “… a country that was once one of the region’s most cosmopolitan is now one of its most divided.”

In the story I document Mohammed and Sara’s impressions of the events, through their words and experiences — as well as their own cartoons, which were published as things unfolded.

As I mentioned, I visited Bahrain last year as part of a trip that also took me to Egypt, Algeria, and Israel/Palestine. I later realized that the way I was “handled” by the State Dept. folks in Bahrain was very different than in the other countries I went to. Essentially, I feel, things were whitewashed a bit, and I was not given a full sense of Bahraini society, particularly the ethnic tensions between Sunnis and Shiites. You can read my original blog posts about the trip, my first reactions to the Pearl Revolution, and my realization that I had been “duped” here. Also, Michael Cavna of the Washington Post‘s “Comic Riffs” blog wrote a very nice profile of me and the piece here.

Since I finished the piece, the Bassiouni committee, which I mention near the end of the story, has published its report. You can read the original report here [a pdf], or two very thorough New York Times articles about its reception here and here.

In the end, I find the whole story quite heartbreaking — particularly because of the way the demonstrators were so brutally suppressed. It’s also really sad to see the lack of perspective on both sides. There’s a quote from one of the Bassiouni committee investigators that I think sums it all up quite tragically: “‘There is no neutral account ‘ said Mohamed Helal, the commission’s legal officer…. ‘The community is almost living in parallel universes.’ In investigating one episode, Mr. Helal said he found on the same day, at the same moment, ‘there was not one moment of overlap. How can you reconstruct the truth when there’s no overlap?’ he asked.”

Once again, here’s a link to the story, “Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand”: http://www.cartoonmovement.com/comic/24

Pull Up Those PIIGS!

My mother, Martha Rosler, and I have just collaborated on a public art piece in central Berlin. It’s on the topic of the ongoing European debt crisis, and it’ll be on display on the building (at Auguststraße 10, 10117 Berlin, Germany) until the end of November. (I wasn’t aware of this beforehand, but “PIIGS” is an acronym used by international bond analysts, academics, and the economic press to refer to the economies of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain in regard to the ongoing sovereign debt crisis.)

My mom came up with the concept and text, and I did the illustration. The project was commissioned by DAAD (in English, the German Academic Exchange Service). My mother is in Berlin for a year on a residency sponsored by DAAD. This is the second large public art collaboration I’ve done with her, the first being part of the MAK Center’s “How Many Billboards?” project from last year.

The piece is quite massive, approximately 35′ x 42.’ Here’s a photo:

Pull Up Those PIIGS

Pull Up Those PIIGS!

This is how the building normally looks (without the palm trees), sorry about the weird cropping:

Auguststraße 10 10117 Berlin, Germany

And here’s a link to a larger version of the original illo, complete with the groovy yellow-green background which they had to cut out for print-compatibility reasons…

Was I a State Dept. Stooge?

Events of the last week in Bahrain have made me see how naive I was about the country — even after my visit there last October. Before this last week, I had no idea that much of Bahrain’s internal tensions stem from a Sunni minority’s rule over a Shia majority. Other factors are at work, of course — including basic tenets of democratic civil societies like the rights of free assembly — but the heart of it really does seem to be this artificially imposed sectarian divide. The Sunni king — part of a royal line that goes back over 200 years — even brings in Sunni (or at least non-Shi’ite) foreigners to serve in the police force and military. All this just to ensure that Shi’ites don’t have easy access to weapons.

What really frustrates me is that I was specifically not informed of any of this background when I was brought in by the U.S. State Dept. to visit the country last fall. I’ve gone back over the literature they gave me, and nowhere does it mention the sectarian split. My foreign national handler (who I now have to presume was Sunni) never made mention of it, nor did any of the people or institutions I visited. (These places included an American university operating in Bahrain, a college for wealthy female students, an art society, and a journalists association.)

Maybe it didn’t come up because it’s considered impolite to talk about such things. But I would have expected better from the State Dept. to inform me, an official visitor, about the political realities on the ground. After all, in Egypt, Algeria, and Israel/Palestine, my American hosts were very upfront about the political/ethnic divisions in the respective countries. (I tried to do as much independent research as I could before I got there, but there were no guidebooks for Bahrain to be had, and I was visiting so many countries in such a condensed period that I just didn’t have time read much about the country before I got there.) Considering that the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based out of Bahrain, I’m forced to question the motives of my embassy compatriots there. So once again American “interests” conflict with our supposed “values”…

And now I think back even more on the walking-on-eggshells quality of my visit there, right in the middle of Bahrain’s parliamentary election season. A very denuded Parliament, as it so happens. Which makes it even more strange that the State Dept. invited me there — as a “political cartoonist” — yet asked me to refrain from breaching certain sensitive topics. Many of which I was blissfully ignorant of. It makes my head spin.

Bahrain is a tiny country, pretty well off, highly educated. It’s littered with Western chain restaurants: McDonald’s, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Fuddruckers, the list goes on. I got no sense of it being a place on the verge of an explosion. And yet now we see the king cracking down hard on what appear to be very peaceful demonstrators. Seniors, women, children — all victims of repeated tear gas attacks, rubber bullets, shotguns, and beatings.

A young man I met at one of my workshops there has been corresponding with me on Facebook. He was in the Pearl Square roundabout until about 1 a.m. on Wednesday, leaving just a few hours before the riot police moved in, clearing the square (and killing at least five people). A friend of his, a 23-year-old engineering student, was among the dead. My Bahraini Facebook friend implored me, “Please help us.. we need world’s help..!!” Surreal.

A recent tweet by a Bahraini citizen with the handle RedhaHaji sums it up: “Hard to hold back tears. This is not real. Not happening. We hear things like this happen in other places not our home.”

Bahrain — The Next Domino?

I guess after what happened in Egypt I shouldn’t be surprised by anything, but I definitely wouldn’t have guessed that protests would now be taking place in Bahrain. As I wrote when I visited the country back in October, Bahrain seemed stable — not exactly a representative democracy, but certainly much more so than its immediate neighbor Saudi Arabia. Bahrain has only had elected representatives since 2002, with two rounds of elections having taken place since then, but on the whole I got the sense that people there seemed happy. The artists and students I met there all seemed proud of their country and its relative openness. But I guess general prosperity doesn’t necessarily mean people are truly satisfied with their lot.

After all, as I observed during my visit: "My [U.S.] Embassy handlers advise me to speak on any topic except the elections. … Politics is a touchy subject here in Bahrain. There’s no tradition of public debates here, so campaigning seems limited to six-foot-tall roadside campaign posters and small-scale electoral rallies." Not exactly a vibrant public square. And I guess the proof is in the streets right now.

We’re really living in incredible times!

Domino Theory — 2011 Edition

I've been watching with some interest the "Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia (also known as the "Twitter Revolution"), as protesters in that country have successfully overthrown a corrupt, autocratic government. Seeing as how I recently visited a neighboring country in the Maghreb — Algeria — I asked an American friend living there if similar rumblings were being heard where he was. Turns out there have been indeed — as well as protests and "riots" in Middle Eastern countries like Egypt and Lebanon. My friend reports that Algeria went through about a week of rioting, witnessing five dead, 800 injured, and more than 1000 arrests. The Algerians feel great solidarity with the Tunisians, particularly in regard to the autocratic, corrupt nature of their government; and what is happening in Tunisia has sparked optimism that maybe things in Algeria could also change. According to my contact, however, the Algerian police and military were very restrained in dealing with the protests, with many of the injuries actually being suffered by the government forces just trying to restore calm. So that was smart (though obviously painful for the cops).

Reading stories like this — and what's been happening in Cairo recently — is so strange to me, having walked those same, then quiet, streets, just a few short months ago. As with in Burma, I'm reminded that what seems to be a complacent citizenry can rise up quickly against their repressive government when provoked. While I was in the Middle East, I often heard about the infamous "red line," the theoretical line that dissenters could not cross. In Algeria and Egypt, the red line was understood in media circles as being anything directly critical of the military or the ruling family. So it was okay to write about "corruption" or to attack certain government figures, but never go beyond that. Well, it seems in recent days those red lines are being crossed and stamped out.

(I'm also struck by how big a role Facebook and Twitter have played in all this. I can't tell you how many students, artists, and journalists I met during my travels in Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain, and Israel/Palestine who had FB accounts and have since friended me. How could these governments not have foreseen the way these social networks would enable people to work together and plan actions? It's really mind-boggling.) As "my man in Algiers" writes, "What happens next will be critical. If Tunisia has real elections and installs an inclusive, democratic government like they say they will, the rest of the Middle East will really start to shake." My instant association with all this, of course, is 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, followed by the demise of the Soviet Union and its satellites. Such a thing taking place in the countries of the Middle East is incredible to contemplate. I mean, three of the countries I visited last year — Algeria, Egypt, and Bahrain — are all classic oligarchies.

I'm saddened to hear, however, that my own government's pragmatic concerns are taking precedence over this potential explosion of democracy. After all, the U.S. enjoys good relations with the autocratic leaders of both Algeria and Egypt, both of whom assist us in the "war against terrorism." True to form, my friend reports that "some of the latest regional media stories are all about how terrified the U.S. is over the prospect of the Tunisian Revolution spreading throughout the region." He goes on to sarcastically comment, "Yeah, that would really suck for us if all the corrupt dictators were swept out of power and replaced by democratically elected governments…"

I'm certainly no expert, but it seems pretty obvious to me that people living under a fair, representative system would be less inclined to spread fear, terror, and violence — and less likely to target countries like the U.S. that they see as hypocrites when it comes to spreading democracy…

New Orleans’ Perfect Storm

Yesterday kicked off a momentous fortnight in New Orleans, with a mayoral election, the Saints’ participation in the Super Bowl, and Mardi Gras all taking place in a span of eleven days.

Saturday’s election of Mitch Landrieu ushered in the city’s first new mayor since Hurricane Katrina. (Ray Nagin was term-limited — and surely would have been voted out this time). You may recall that back in August, I signed a copy of A.D. for one of the mayoral candidates, State Senator Edwin R. Murray, at The Doctor’s A.D. release party. Well, Senator Murray pulled out of the mayoral race last month. In any case, although Landrieu will be New Orleans’ first white mayor in over thirty years, he won 66% percent of the vote, including a large share of the African American electorate. Let’s hope Landrieu truly is a mayor of unity and progress, and speeds up the Crescent City’s post-Katrina rebuilding.

As for the Saints, all eyes will be on them and their stars Drew Brees and Reggie Bush this evening. And when I say "all eyes," I really mean it — I’ve never seen a more football-crazy town than the Big Easy. I’ve lived in some big sports towns in my day, including Chicago and my own New York City, but New Orleans beats ‘em all when it comes to the Saints. They truly are a team that unites folks from disparate backgrounds: black & white, rich & poor, corporate-type & artiste, etc. — which is all the more remarkable given that for most of the Saints’ history they’ve been worse than mediocre. But this year they’ve been pretty damn good, and it should be a good match with the (slightly) favored Indianapolis Colts (whose quarterback, Peyton Manning, is a New Orleans boy himself).

So what’s A.D.‘s connection to the Saints and the Superbowl? Check this out: Last August, right at the beginning of the NFL season, A.D. character Leo McGovern published an editorial in his music zine Antigravity. It took the form of a dream he’d had, and went like this: "It’s the morning of February 7th, 2010. I’m cleaning my Mid-City apartment and making the final preparations for what will surely be the greatest party ever thrown. All the food is simple — chips, dips, vegetable trays, and pre-made sandwiches, as to not give the hosts (me, my wife and our roommate) any chance of having to be away from the television for any reason. . . . So I’m now putting the finishing touches on a clean apartment, tapping the kegs and arranging the sandwiches, because tonight we’re watching the Saints play in the Super Bowl."

Unfortunately, Leo’s dream didn’t reveal who won the big game, but like any good New Orleanian, Leo will "have two kegs of a local amber and, for backup, a few bottles of a local rum — enough to make us forget, if it comes to that." But should the Saints win tonight, you can be sure next Tuesday’s Mardi Gras parade will be a city-wide party to remember.

Election Day Time Capsule

My MoveOn.org Obama pin finally arriving — on election day… Testing the "electioneering" rules and wearing my pin to the polling place — only to have the poll worker make me remove it… Pulling the lever with pride (and hope)… Spending the day in strangled anticipation and worrying about the Bradley Effect… My sister-in-law's 9 p.m. self-assessment: "Cautiously very optimistic"… The strangled yelp of triumph from an anonymous ABC staffer when that network called the election for Obama… Eleven-o-clock tears of joy… Jesse Jackson's tears… Celebratory calls from my West Coast pal Jake and my East Coast mother-in-law Nancy… All those stunned happy crowds… Reading all those joyful Facebook status tweets… The Onion's headline, "Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job"… Brian Williams on NBC showing a poster of America's first 43 presidents — all white men — and the profound reminder of the historic significance of the moment… McCain's gracious and eloquent concession… Praying that there were no crazies in that Grant Park crowd. When Obama and his family emerged on stage in Grant Park, my one overriding thought was  "Please nobody shoot him" … and "Michelle Obama's dress — WTF?!" … A victory speech that struck all the right notes, without being triumphalist…  The cars honking in celebration on Eastern Parkway… The guy parading down the street at 1 a.m. blowing a trumpet… The crowds of thousands in Washington, D.C., storming the White House gates chanting "Yes we can!"…

Yes, we did!

Bay-beeeee

Recently, Phoebe has discovered the word (and concept) "baby." Wherever she sees a baby — in real life, in books, on TV, on her jars of food, even photos of herself — she yells out "bay-beeeee!" She’s totally fixated.

The funniest thing, though, is she thinks pictures of balding old men are babies too. Specifically, one of the guys running for President:

John McCain

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,710 other followers