How to be an Obscure Alternative Cartoonist Specializing in Real-Life Topics

Last Thursday I gave a presentation for Gelf Magazine’s Non-Motivational Speaker Series. (I was there along with and the New Yorker‘s Farley Katz.) In my speech, "How to be an Obscure Alternative Cartoonist Specializing in Real-Life Topics (in, Give or Take, 20 Years)," I took the audience through my career, starting with my love of Tintin, continuing on to my high school romance with superhero comics, my travels and travel comics, Keyhole, Titans of Finance, Harvey Pekar, and ending of course with A.D. Then I answered some questions about New Orleanians’ response to A.D., what the real Harvey Pekar is like, and whether I had ever read Destination Moon.

I’m sure the reason you couldn’t make it to the event was because you were just too broken up about Michael Jackson’s death, and I understand, I really do. Fortunately for all of us, Gelf just posted a two-part video of my presentation, so now you can watch it in all its cable-access-style glory. Just click on the links below:


“Thriller” Redux

I was at a huge outdoor arena — possibly the Rose Bowl — for Michael Jackson’s public funeral. The stands were packed, and Phoebe and I were way down at the bottom of the stage. They wheeled in the body on a hospital gurney, covered by a thin sheet, and it ended up parked right next to our location. Looking at the corpse laying there under the sheet I had a premonition… and in the next second it came true. Michael moved, his hands came up and lifted off the sheet, and he sat up! I realized the whole thing — his "death," the tributes, the wall-to-wall news coverage — was a huge publicity stunt, a device to build interest for his new 50-show London concert series.

The crowd freaked, a mixture of cries of joy and rage. Underneath the sheet, Michael was dressed to perfection, in a white suit and white fedora. But he looked different: his skin was dark again, how he looked in the early 1980s. He reached up to remove this latest mask, but it wouldn’t come off. It was his "new" face. A mask of death and renewed life.

Michael looked around at the crowd and smiled. "Now I know how you really feel about me, what you think of me." He paused as the shouts, hoots, and whistles rained down on him. "Sounds like some of you wish I was still dead!" He jumped off the gurney and pirouetted onto the stage, as the music came on. It was electric.

Phoebe scrambled up on to the empty hospital gurney and started toddling uncertainly along it, performing an awkward dance to the music. I ran over to her to stop, to save her from hurting herself.

“Michael, We Hardly Knew Ye”

That was the text message I got informing me Michael Jackson passed away. How bizarre that on the very day I wrote a tribute to Prince’s Purple Rain that the extremely troubled former King of Pop should die. The similarities between the two stars are many, the most obvious being their ability to transcend musical (e.g. racial) boundaries and draw people of all stripes to their music.

If the summer of ’84 was to me Prince’s summer, then the summer of ’82 was obviously Michael’s. Thriller dominated the world in a way probably no album has since. That summer I was also a camp counselor (at Beth Elohim, in Park Slope, if you must know), and I can’t say I was plugged into Jackson’s music before Thriller. I mean, I dug it and all — especially "Billie Jean," which is still one of my favorite Jackson songs — but he didn’t do all that much for me until… that moonwalk on the Grammy’s in 1983! Holy crap! I never got the glove thing, or all that sparkly stuff, but that man could perform! The combination of his Tourettes-like yelps and rubber-band-man dancing made him the most kinetic entertainer I’d ever seen. (Even Prince, with all his stagecraft, had to take a back seat to Michael.)

Without absorbing Jackson’s music first, I don’t know if I would have been able to truly appreciate Prince’s. They were both extremely… odd… human beings (and the 80s was known for some pretty outrageous fashion choices) but Jackson’s G-rated persona paved the way for the more "sophisticated" role played by Prince. (Though of course as Wacko Jacko came more and more to the fore starting in the 1990s, who could’ve guessed how R-rated — or maybe I should say NC-17 — he would become?)

Another great memory was during some random free period in high school, back at the old Harlem building of Music & Art. I was sitting in the auditorium reading an X-Men when the "Thriller" music came on somebody’s boombox. I looked up on stage and there were about twenty of my fellow students doing an impromptu yet perfect step-by-step run-through of the "Thriller" video choreography. It was freakin’ awesome!

In the end, you have to agree that no matter your personal musical tastes, there was no way of escaping Jackson’s music or it impacting your life. The closest personal connection I have to this moment is when my mom woke me up on a cold December morning in 1980 to tell me John Lennon had been shot. As with Lennon, this is my generation’s Elvis moment. I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life.

My Michael Jackson Top 5 — probably not too many surprises here:
5) "The Way You Make Me Feel"
4) "State of Shock" (with Mick Jagger)
3) "Ease on Down the Road" (with Diana Ross)
2) "Beat It"
1) "Billie Jean"

“Purple Rain” Turns Silver

The summer of 1984 was the summer of Springsteen, Ghostbusters, and Madonna, but more than anything that summer’s soundtrack was Purple Rain. You couldn’t escape Prince, the songs, or the movie, and I was one of the millions who fell under its spell. I was a teenager working as a camp counselor that summer, and it was the beginning of a lifelong obsession with the Purple One: his racial and sexual ambiguity, his warring themes of sexuality and spirituality, and most of all the rockin’ funky brilliance of his music. "Let’s Go Crazy," "Darling Nikki," and most of all "When Doves Cry" were all unlike anything I’d ever heard before — transgressive, titillating, just plain buck wild — and that was before I discovered the unparalleled brilliance of "Computer Blue" and "The Beautiful Ones." And the album version of "Purple Rain" will always be my personal anthem — romantic, bombastic, silly, profound, beautiful, but in the end, perfect.

I had my first beer that summer, at a showing of the Purple Rain movie, thanks to Dean Haspiel, and I’ll always credit Prince and that album for profoundly loosening me up. Up to then, I had been a weirdly repressed and judgmental kid; something about the Purple Rain summer helped get that stick out of my ass. Probably a month hasn’t gone by since 1984 that I haven’t listened to Purple Rain; it’s cool to hear the songs out in the zeitgeist again amidst all the tributes.

This Thursday: Gelf’s Non-Motivational Speaker Series

Come join me this Thursday, June 25, for the newest installment of Gelf Magazine’s Non-Motivational Speaker Series!

"Illustration will be this month’s theme. Speakers include artist Molly Crabapple (aka ), creator of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, a cabaret-life-drawing class with 57 branches around the world; New Yorker cartoonist and editor of the magazine’s comedy blog Farley Katz; and Josh Neufeld, author of graphic novels A Few Perfect Hours and the widely acclaimed A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, to be published by Pantheon this fall." Should be entertaining and informative. And it’s FREE.

Non-Motivational Speaker Series
Thursday, June 25, 7:30 pm
JLA Studios [Google maps]
63 Pearl St. (between Water St. and Front St.)
Brooklyn, NY 11201
[Next to the F train. Close to the A/C. Accessible by the 2/3]

Sweet Tweet of the Week

Wow, Now I’m on Twitter. It’s so amazing! You should check it out — all the kids are doing it. You can "follow" me at

Vice magazine reviews “A.D.”!!!

The reviewer thought I "did a pretty good job" even though my art  is "generic." He also wanted to "slap" me because I featured a character who lost his comics collection, whereas other characters were "sleeping on their roofs and fighting off rats" and "struggling to get drinking water." Check it out.

MoCCA wrapup

Evan Dorkin has a lengthy and IMHO balanced wrap-up of MoCCA on his blog. I basically agree with his comments (which he seems to have taken some heat for from other bloggers — big surprise).

I’ve been to every MoCCA since it started, and I treasure the show dearly. Lately, I’ve been tending to go to MoCCA (and the New York Comic-Con) more to see compatriots than buy much stuff, though there’s always a gem or two which finds its way into to my hands. This year, despite the fact that for most of it I was wheeling a napping Phoebe around the gym, er, Armory, I had the pleasure of seeing and chatting with man_size, chatterbox_dc, James Romberger, George O’Connor, Joe Infurnari, Charlie Orr, Bob Sikoryak, Isaac Eddy Littlejohn, Mark Siegel, Gary Sullivan, Greg Bennett, my old assistant Nick Sumida and my current assistant Ben Moody, David Mazzucchelli, and my benefactor, Pantheon publisher Dan Frank. I also spotted, but never got a chance to talk with, Chris Staros, Brett Warnock, Lauren Weinstein, Tom Hart, Brendan Burford, and many other folks.

That was great. However, given all that, I totally agree with Dorkin’s characterization of the show. The new locale changed the feel of MoCCA from a "classy" art show to a punk rock flea market. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re into, but I guess I’m not. On the face of it, I applaud the fact that the Armory’s new one-room layout democratizes the space and equalizes all the presenters, but I miss the way that certain publishers had pride of place in the old layout. You always knew where to find Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, and Pantheon.

Personally, I didn’t notice the heat, but I wasn’t working a table (other than sitting at the Pantheon table for an hour), and I was only there on Saturday.

There were some advantages to this new location (the bathrooms, the location of the panels, the all-in-one-room openness), but I miss the more elegant (yea, "precious") feel of the Puck Building. And I agree that the organization, with the dysfunctional badges and wristbands, long lines, etc., was a total mess. I hope they can work out all these kinks for next year, as I love MoCCA and fervently root for it to succeed.

The day after “Earth 2100”

Well! That was pretty cool. The final show was a lot more "viewer-friendly" than the show I was originally brought on to write. For one thing, they integrated a lot more "solutions" into the "collapse" narrative, rather than saving them all for the end. They also soft-pedaled some of the more dire/horrifying peeks into the future. In the end, they pretty much changed every word of dialogue Sari & I wrote, while still keeping the basic storyline and "action sequences." Even so, other than the occasional cringe-inducing line of dialogue, we didn’t hate it; in fact, there were many instances where the new dialogue worked better than what we’d come up with. And the art and animation was stellar! Great work from Messers. Infurnari, O’Connor, Purvis, Hamilton, Bair, and the Guerilla FX crew.

And, yes, Lucy’s love interest was indeed named Josh. Truth be told, all the characters (including the hurricane which struck Miami) were named after people or their loved ones in the creative staff. They made me name Lucy’s hubby Josh, but it was a surprise that Infurnari, et al. actually drew him to look (vaguely) like me! I got a kick out of that. And of course it was satisfying to "die a hero."

I’ve yet to read any mainstream reviews of the show, though there has been some early blog reactions, most of them fairly negative. (One in particular felt that the comics element — big surprise — lowered the program’s overall IQ.) Early word is that the show drew in around 2.5 million viewers. Not bad, except that was fourth place in the network battles. Of course, we were up against an Obama interview and two shows with the word "Mental" in the title. (Note to self: maybe we should’ve named the show Mental 2100?) Also, seems the show has been bought by the History Channel, so expect to see reruns over there shortly enough.

All in all, a fun dip into the TV world. And it gave me and Sari an excuse to at least get a skeletal version of the Dojo Graphics website up.

EARTH 2100 coverage