Coming soon: The Beautiful Book of Exquisite Corpses

Beautiful Book of Exquisite CorpsesWriter Gavin Edwards has produced a cool new book called The Beautiful Book of Exquisite Corpses: A Creative Game of Limitless Possibilities (due out August 28), and I’m one of the contributors.

You can be a contributor too, because the premise of the book is based on the old surrealist game cadavre exquis, in which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Much of the book works like the “parlor game” Picture Consequences, where a piece of paper is folded into three sections. The first player draws the head—leaving only small connective lines for clues—and passes it unseen (by means of folding) to the second player who draws the body, then on to the third player who draws the legs. The composite person or creature is then revealed to all by unfolding the paper.

Each page of the book has one of the three section already drawn in, leaving two other sections for you and your friends/family to fill in. Other parts of the book take the same premise, but with words, using a single sentence to launch a story.

Sparking off the various images and stories are 90 visual contributors and 20 verbal contributors, such as tons of cool cartoonists (the likes of Dean Haspiel, Jessica Abel, Leela Corman, Jim Woodring, Dustin Harbin, etc.) and an eclectic group of others like authors Aimee Bender, Chuck Klosterman, and Susan Orlean, actor Griffin Dunne, former baseball player Lenny Dykstra, musicians Chris Frantz and Robyn Hitchcock, comedian Stephen Fry, journalist Emily Nussbaum, DJ Moby, and former VJ Martha Quinn.

As a cartoonist I’ve always been fascinated by “collectively assembled” projects, going back to collaborations with writers like Harvey Pekar, Brooke Gladstone, and Nick Flynn; the exquisite corpse comic I did with Dean Haspiel, Because of You; and of course Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose, which I co-edited with my brilliant wife Sari Wilson.

In honor of the project, this past weekend Sari, Phoebe and I did a couple of “Picture Consequences” drawings on napkins at the local diner. This one has been dubbed the Chicken Seawitch. Can you figure out which of us drew which section?

Chicken Seawitch

And here is a Nosehair Ketchup Hero. Again, can you figure out who did what?

nosehair-ketchup-hero-lr

The Beautiful Book of Exquisite Corpses is due out August 28. Here’s a link to pre-order…

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THE VAGABONDS #6 debuting this weekend at MoCCA Fest

My homage to Captain America Comics #1 (with apologies to Jack Kirby and Joe Simon)

I’ll be tabling at MoCCAFest this weekend (table I 270 A) with the latest issue of THE VAGABONDS. 24 thrilling pages of COMICS JOURNALISM and other great features!

A lot has changed in this country—and the world—since the last issue of The Vagabonds, so it’s only fitting that this issue features a Donald Trump story. My explainer on the former British spy Christopher Steel’s “dossier,” originally published by Columbia Journalism Review in the fall of 2017, remains surprisingly relevant, as the special counsel seems to be using the memos as a “road map” for his investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. This issue’s longest story—originally published by The Nib in the fall of 2016—looks into the influx of costumed characters into New York’s Times Square. In the piece I explore the phenomenon — who are these unlicensed Elmos, Spider-Men, and Minnie Mice, and why are they there? This issue also features a fun story I did for Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge. Do you often find yourself losing or breaking your old phone just when a new model reaches stores? Well, you’re not alone… The story shows how researchers — using the game of Jenga and a precious coffee mug—were able to get test subjects to replicate this risky, self-destructive behavior. THE VAGABONDS #6 closes out with a couple of shorter pieces, including a collaboration with my mother, the artist Martha Rosler.

I look forward to seeing you at MoCCA Fest this weekend and handing you an autographed copy of THE VAGABONDS #6. (And of course I’ll have copies of previous issues of The Vagabonds, as well as A.D., The Influencing Machine, Terms of Service, Flashed, and much more!)

MoCCA Fest 2018—April 7-8, 2018
11:00AM – 7:00PM on Saturday; 11:00AM – 6:00PM on Sunday
Metropolitan West
West 46th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues, NYC

 

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Process: A.D.-“Dining with Strangers” crossover

Last year Anthony Lacey of the fabulous blog Dining with Strangers approached me for an original illustration of himself and Brobson Lutz, the esteemed “Doctor” character from A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. (Anthony had met the Doctor in New Orleans—sharing a meal with him at Dr. Lutz’s favorite restaurant, Galatoire’s—and profiled him for his blog; and they have stayed friends every since.) Anthony’s plan was to present the finished illo to Dr. Lutz as a gift when Anthony was down in NOLA for this year’s Mardi Gras. Always happy to do commissions—and revisit one of my favorite A.D. characters—I of course said “yes.”

To get started, we agreed on a size and format, and Anthony sent me a couple of photos from their meal, as well some recent interior shots of Galatoire’s—which of course hasn’t changed at all in recent memory. Taking those reference photos as a basis, I first worked up a sketch for Anthony’s approval, which I executed on my Cintiq tablet:

Anthony having approved the sketch, I moved on to full pencils—which zoomed in on my two subjects a bit more (and moved the Doctor’s left arm up on to the table)…

For the inking stage, I realized I wasn’t happy with the placement of the Doctor’s hands, which were being blocked by the Galatoire’s serving dish in the foreground. So I “moved” the dish a bit to the right. In addition, because the background of the picture is so busy, I made sure to ink Anthony and the Doctor with thick brushstrokes, while inking the background in much thinner lines. This helped “pop” the main subjects. I also fine-tuned details throughout the drawing…

Finally, for the color stage, I wanted to be a little more “adventurous” than the limited palette which defines A.D. But again wishing to bring forward the Doctor and Anthony, I colored them with “hotter” and more saturated tones, while keeping the background elements more limited in palette. I then applied my “patented” texture pattern on top, and… voila! 

I printed the final illo on a nice ragstock paper at 11″ x 14″, and sent it off to Anthony, who had it professionally framed. From what I heard, the unveiling was a big success, and the print is now hanging in the Doctor’s house amidst his eclectic art collection.

Fake News? My comics piece for COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW on the Trump-Russia Dossier

Remember the Donald Trump-Russia “dossier”? Released by BuzzFeed in January (shortly before Trump was sworn in as U.S. President), the 17 short memos (compiled over seven months) featured some pretty wild claims—sex parties, etc. But the main takeaway was that Trump and his cronies were in the pockets of the Russians.

Amidst the furor over the memos’ contents was an equally strong uproar in the journalistic community. Was it ethical of BuzzFeed to publish the so-called dossier, which was unverified and contained some specific errors? The backstory, of course, is that during the previous months, the memos—and their author, former British spy Christopher Steele—had passed like a hot potato through every major news organization before BuzzFeed finally pulled the trigger. So was the outrage honest, or really just a case of sour grapes at being scooped? A new piece I just did for Columbia Journalism Review“The Trump-Russia memos”—tracks that long strange journey.

The events described in the five-page comics story are based on reporting and research, including interviews I did with journalists who sought to verify the memos and wrote about them—or chose not to…

As far as the actual contents of the memos, none of the more outlandish claims have been verified—although the FBI and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller apparently are using the memos as a “road map” for their ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia…

So check out the piece and see what you think. (Thanks to Vanessa Gezari for commissioning the piece and shepherding me through the whole process.)

PROJECT:OBJECTS Lost Objects: “Cologne”

CologneThe brilliant creative souls Rob Walker and Josh Glenn have a new ongoing PROJECT:OBJECT. Lost Objects is a 25-part series of nonfiction stories about… lost objects. It’s the fifth P:O series, which started with Significant Objects (featuring, among others, a great piece by our very own Sari Wilson), then Political Objects, followed by Talismanic Objects, and then Illicit Objects. (That last one also features a piece by Sari.) Other contributors include Paul Lukas, Jessamyn West, Douglas Rushkoff, William Gibson, Doug Dorst, Kate Bernheimer, Michael Tisserand, Randy Kennedy, Seth Mnookin, Luc Sante, and many, many more.

For Lost Objects, Josh G. & Rob W. asked 25 writers to tell them about a significant object they’d lost (or thrown away, or destroyed), then assigned these stories to 25 illustrators. Thusly, Dan Piepenbring of the Paris Review wrote a piece, about a bottle of cologne, and yours truly illustrated it. And here it is—as you read, you’ll should soon see why I was compelled to do it.

Enjoy—and then make sure to check out all the other great contributions to the PROJECT:OBJECT series.

Irma, Harvey, Katrina—when it comes to hurricanes, what goes around, comes around

The A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge website on SMITH was down for a while, but recent events with hurricanes Harvey & Irma made it imperative to get it working again—and so it is: smithmag.net/afterthedeluge. This terrible 2017 hurricane season obviously brings back memories of 2005 (and for older folks, previous big hurricanes that hit big cities). As I wrote in the book’s afterword, the stories in A.D. are highly specific yet somehow universal, and over the years I have found in my discussions about A.D. that the experiences of the real-life characters therein resonated strongly with other hurricane survivors in so many ways. People told me this over and over as I traveled around promoting the A.D. book—in New Orleans (of course), in Houston, in Miami, and even in New York City. By connecting to the stories of Denise, Leo, Michelle, Hamid, Mansell, Kwame, and the Doctor, people gained comfort—and context—for their own experiences.

Watching Harvey and Irma, the cycle feels so similar: tracking the storm, deciding whether or not to evacuate, dealing with the wind damage and flooding, confronting loss—of people, possessions, community—and the long rebuilding process. These are the perennial issues brought on by these epic man-vs.-nature events…

The New York Times‘ coverage of the storms has been particularly good, and these stories reminded me so strongly of specific moments from A.D.:

“Irma Shifting Forecasts: It’s All a Matter of Probability”  evokes “Should I Stay…”

A.D. chapter 2

The Daily story, “How Houston Was Built to Flood”  evokes the Prologue, Part II—“The Storm”

A.D. prologue

“Thousands Cried for Help as Houston Flooded” evokes Chapter 6—“Flotsam & Jetsam”

A.D. chapter 6

“After Harvey, a Return Home in High Water” evokes Chapter 8—“The Bowl Effect, Part II”

A.D. chapter 8

The Daily 360 piece “On Submerged Streets: ‘Houston Has Come Together'”  evokes Chapter 10—“Something in the Water”

A.D. chapter 10

The photo essay “What They Saved: Texans Reflect on Treasures Plucked From Harvey”  evokes the epilogue, “Picking Up the Pieces”

A.D. epilogue

… as does “We Lived Through a Flood. Now We Have a Very Long To-Do List.”

A.D. epilogue

Part of the A.D. experience on SMITH was the links embedded within certain panels that extended the story in various ways: to hurricane resources, YouTube videos, audio clips of the various characters. As part of resurrecting the A.D. site, I also updated all those links, which to my mind all remain relevant for these storms 12 years later. My hope—as it always was—is that the stories of the various real-life people from A.D. continue to give solace and understanding to this new generation of hurricane watchers and survivors.

Stay strong, Texas. Stay strong, Florida.

Brooklyn is still Brooklyn

Scene: Interior Washington Gourmet Deli bodega.

Customer: Yo, lemme get a stamp!

Bodega guy: No stamp, no stamp.

Customer: No stamp?! … Okay, lemme get a Tylenol.

This June I’ll be teaching an intensive comics workshop at the Yale Writers Conference

I’m proud to announce that this June 15-18 I’ll be teaching an intensive, immersive comics-making workshop at the Yale Writers Conference (part of the Yale Summer Session), held in New Haven, Connecticut.

This marks the first time I’ll be doing a comics workshop with YWC—it’s the first time they’ve done one—but it’ll be closely modeled on programs I’ve run a number of previous summers with the Fine Arts Work Center. Those workshops have always been a rewarding experience, both for me and my students.

Here’s the course description for my workshop Comics: Stories in Graphic Form:

Comics use words and pictures together to form powerful narratives. In this workshop, you will use fictional material, or material from your own life to create original comics. We’ll examine the basic principles of visual storytelling, and complete writing, brainstorming, and collaborative exercises that are useful in producing strong comics. We’ll generate ideas for solving storytelling problems—and look at how other cartoonists have grappled with them. We’ll use group feedback to hone our stories and find the narrative beats. You’ll emerge from this workshop with a toolset for taking your work to another level. In lieu of a writing sample, submit a 250-word description of your comics project and two character drawings with your application.

So, whether you’re interested in fiction, memoir, journalism, informed essay, or anything in between, this comics workshop is for you! The workshop is part of Session II of the YWC. Over four days, participants will meet in a seminar with eleven fellow cartoonists, led by yours truly. We’ll learn constructive criticism techniques that support productive feedback, followed by intensive group writing workshops, with the chance for each participant to showcase his or her writing and receive feedback/critique. (Participants will receive copies of their peers’ work in advance.) I will provide instruction on writing and drawing techniques, revision, and other “tricks of the trade.” And, during the conference I will hold half-hour, one-to-one meetings with each participant. Sounds great, right?

Click this link to find out more about the program and how to register. Please spread the word about the workshop, and encourage people to sign up soon. The deadline is April 30. Classes fill up quickly…

The Pendulum Swings

Trump-color-nobg

I drew this back in 2015 for a French comics magazine. The concept was to illustrate some of  the “weirdest” news stories of the year—you know, like the idea that Donald Trump was running for U.S. president..

One of the things I’ll never forget about the 2008 election was watching the returns on TV and also tracking it on my Facebook feed. Facebook was a relatively new phenomenon at that point, and the folks who were on it seemed to so epitomize the energy that the Obama team was bringing to the White House. I’ll also never forget that, late that night on November 4, a lone trumpeter paraded down Eastern Parkway (in front of my apartment building), tooting triumphantly on his horn for blocks and blocks and blocks.

On January 20, 2009, I wanted to experience the moment of the inauguration of our first African-American president with other folks in my community, so I headed over to Cafe Shane. I sat at their coffee bar, watching the ceremony on TV with a diverse crowd of celebrants. I remember toasting the moment, with my cup of tea, with the 40-ish black guy, and his cup of coffee, sitting next to me. (I also remember Chief Justice Roberts fumbling the words as he led Obama through the oath. Do you remember that?)

Back then, after eight years of George Bush, it all felt like a fresh start, like our country had taken a giant stride forward. Now, eight years later, our country seems to be making another “fresh start.” But it’s not something I can bear to witness with a crowd of folks. I’ll watch the inauguration here at home on my TV, but it’s hard for me to see this fresh start as anything but a giant stride backward.

Elmo and pals: the costumed characters of Times Square

ElmoAs a native New Yorker, I don’t visit Times Square very often—too noisy, too bright, too many tourists. Of course I was aware how much the area has changed over the years, with the banishment of the porn palaces and prostitution, and the Disneyfication that began during the late 1990s. Back in the day, if you walked around the area, you’d get “asked for a date” ten times per block. Now, improbably, the area had returned to its early 20th-century roots as a tourist Mecca.

But when I did walk through the area a few years back I couldn’t help but notice a whole new group of inhabitants: Elmos, Minnie Mouses, Spider-Mans, and packs of others in Sesame Street and superhero costumes, posing for photos with tourists for tips. It was like they had come out of nowhere and had taken over the Square. (By the way: did you know that the area is actually not a square at all, but really more of a bow-tie shape?)

When I first began noticing the costumed characters it was really freaky and random to me, totally out of left field. And now, a few years later, it’s just another fact of life in NYC. Despite the shiny electronic billboards and chain restaurants, you still can’t walk through Times Square without being accosted. Maybe times hadn’t changed that much after all.

I don’t read the tabloids or watch the local TV news, so I didn’t know anything about all the hysteria surrounding these costumed characters—anti-Semitic “Evil Elmo,” the Spider-Man who punched a cop, the Cookie Monster who pushed a child, the occasional beefs between “performers” that erupted into blows, and so on. And the general complaints about the characters’ aggressiveness and panhandling techniques.

elmo07-pn5All this got a ton of local recent coverage, particularly in 2014. And believe it or not, the City Council held hearings on the matter—including the idea of requiring you to undergo a background check before you can put on a Spongebob costume—and instituted some new restrictions.

I was intrigued, so I spent a little time hanging around the area, and I couldn’t help put notice that most of the people underneath the costume were Latino. I wondered about them. Where do they come from? How much money do they make? What’s it like to do that job all day long? I decided I would find out–and show what I learned in a comics piece.

I spent two months doing research and interviews, and another couple of months writing the script and drawing the piece, which includes more than 50 panels of comics. (Much credit goes to The Nib editor Matt Bors for helping me winnow down the more than 70 panels I originally envisioned!)

The pull of the story, of course, is its sheer wackiness—plus, for those not from New York, this whole scenario is new information. And that’s how I suck you in. But then, halfway through the story, I go “behind the mask” to get the other perspective—that of the people in the costumes. And with all the new regulations spurred by the hyperbolic press coverage and local business associations like the Times Square Alliance, the real story comes into focus.

elmo07-pn3This story in particular is perfect for the comics treatment because of the costumed character aspect. It’s all be very meta, with the reader not being sure if he or she is looking at someone in a costume or just a drawing of the actual character from the cartoons or comics… (In that vein, I had fun with the color concept of the piece—let me know if it works for you.)

So debuting this week on The (new-and-improved) Nib is “Costumed Chaos in Times Square: The infamous street Elmos of NYC fight for their right to take selfies with tourists.” Check it out.