FLASHed & Girl Through Glass at the Brooklyn Book Festival

bkbf-logoSari and I will be ALL OVER the Brooklyn Book Festival this Sunday (Sept. 18), with two panels and a workshop. In addition, we will be promoting and signing FLASHed at our publisher’s booth. Here’s how it will go down:

At noon, Sari will be on the panel, “Remember All That? A Look Back at New York City,” along with Tim Murphy (Christodora) and Pia Padukone (The Faces of Strangers); moderated by Rob Spillman of Tin House. “New York City is host to grueling ballet careers, riots in Tompkins Square, a political campaign interrupted by a cross-cultural dalliance, and rare encounters of unmitigated beauty.” Brooklyn Historical Society Library, 128 Pierrepont Street. [Full details here.]

Flashed-cover400pxAt 3pm, Sari and I will run a multimedia flash fiction workshop, “Comics > Prose.” Flex your storytelling muscles as you write your own piece of flash fiction inspired by an original comic. One story created in the workshop will be published on the official FLASHed website! St. Francis College Workshop Room 4202, 180 Remsen St. [Full details here.]

At 5pm, I’ll be moderating the panel “The Art of War” with comics journalist Sarah Glidden (Rolling Blackouts), ex-Marine Maximilian Uriarte (The White Donkey), and historical graphic novelist Ethan Young (Nanjing). “Compelling comics can be drawn from conflict zones.” Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierrepont Street. [Full details here.]

The rest of the day we should be at the Pressgang booth, with copies of FLASHed on hands (and hopefully with some FLASHed contributors as well!). Pressgang’s booth is #529, located near the corner of Joralemon and Adams, right in the heart of the festival.

BKBF is always a great event; we hope to see you there this Sunday!

Brooklyn Book Festival
Borough Hall and environs
Sunday, September 18 (10am-6pm, rain or shine)

Josh & Sari on Publishers Weekly podcast “More to Come”

Flashed-cover300pxSari and I recently had the honor of being guests on the Publishers Weekly podcast “More to Come,” hosted by PW editor Calvin Reid. We sat down with Calvin at the PW offices and talked about Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose, as well as collaboration in general, and our own work.

Topics we cover in the podcast include my autobiographical travel comics collection A Few Perfect Hours (which includes a couple of collaboration with Sari), and my more recent work in comics journalism, including A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. We talk about the online collective ACT-i-VATE and my long creative association with Dean Haspiel.

Talking about Dean, we discuss what it means to be a native New Yorker, which leads to Sari talking a bit about her debut novel Girl Through Glass. This broaches the very rich topic of New York City in the 1970s, and the contrast between that gritty period of urban blight and the rarified world of classical dance. I appreciated Sari’s point that “a novel works through contrasts,” which are really brought out in her book.

The second half of the podcast covers the concept behind Flashed: what is flash fiction, and how Sari & I, and our joint backgrounds in  the worlds of literary fiction and alternative comics, made this project come into focus. We break down a couple of section from the book to explore the connective tissue of such triptychs as “Night Games”—featuring Lynda Barry, Kellie Wells, and Box Brown—and “Mutable Architecture”—featuring Gabrielle Bell, Jedediah Berry, and Carol Lay. And we discuss the honor and pleasure of editing such a talented group of writers & cartoonists.

The podcast wraps up with a couple of shout-outs to some upcoming projects: the week-long comics memoir workshop Sari & I will be co-teaching at the Fine Arts Work Center this summer, and the still-burgeoning Comics & Graphic Narratives concentration I’m helping to develop at the Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program.

We really enjoyed our wide-ranging conversation with Calvin, and we think you will too. Give a listen here.

The Solstice Program and getting your MFA in comics

Solstice-banner-adThe Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College is starting a graphic narratives concentration—and I’ve been hired as the first faculty member/mentor. I officially start this July.

Comics are now being taught at almost every college and university in the country, and there are even a few other MFA programs out there. But Solstice is one of the first low-residency programs to offer an MFA in—pick your favorite term—cartooning/comics/graphic narratives/sequential art.

Here’s how Solstice describes the low-residency component:

Students are in residence on campus for ten days, twice a year, for a total of five residencies over two years. During the 10-day residencies, students and faculty gather on Pine Manor College’s lovely, wooded campus—a mere five miles from downtown Boston—and attend workshops, classes, panel discussions, and readings. At the end of the residency, each student is matched with a faculty mentor with whom he or she will work individually during the six-month semester to follow.

During that six-month semester, students study independently, sending “packets” of work to their mentor every month. The Pine Manor campus really is beautiful, and the program—run by Meg Kearney and Tanya Whiton—is both serious and welcoming. And the other faculty members are an impressive group.

I’m excited to help craft Solstice’s graphic narratives concentration. It’s ironic, because I personally have no degrees in comics or cartooning—only 25+ years of professional experience. When I was becoming a cartoonist there were no programs out there to guide me; my own development was intuitive, and heavily influenced by my favorite comics: Hergé’s Tintin and American superhero comics. Eventually, I came across a copy of Will Eisner’s Comics & Sequential Art, which was the first text I encountered that discussed the form of comics as a subject worthy of study. Later, I was heavily inspired by Scott McCloud’s seminal work, Understanding Comics. But as I evolved, a lot of what I had to do was un-learn a lot of bad habits I had picked up during my youth as an aspiring superhero artist: melodramatic facial expressions, distracting page layouts, and the like.

The most important skill I have developed in my adult years is writing for comics. Growing up, in my mind I artificially segmented the practice of comics into different jobs: writer, penciler, inker, letterer, etc.—because this assembly line system had been institutionalized by the big publishers to meet their monthly deadlines. Discovering the world of “alternative” and literary comics made me appreciate the role of CARTOONIST—a jack-of-all trades in the comics world. This is what I aspired to be as I learned to write—first with memoir and auto-bio comics and now with journalistic stories. (I continue to collaborate with writers on occasion, but that’s because I really enjoy the back-and-forth “mind-meld” that a good comics collaboration produces.) Yes, comics are an amalgam of words & pictures, but I firmly believe a good comic/graphic novel starts with a good story. In the end, the art serves the story.

So as developer of the Solstice graphic narratives concentration, and chief mentor to the students, I will stress writing as the foundation of our practice.

And at this point, my own teaching experience is fairly extensive. I was an Atlantic Center for the Arts Master Artist, where I worked with eight mid-career cartoonists on their nonfiction graphic novel projects. For a number of years I’ve taught week-long comics workshops at the Fine Arts Work Center summer program. And I’ve taught day-long comics workshops at universities, and for students in the U.S. and abroad (including my many foreign trips as a “comics cultural ambassador” for the U.S. State Dept.’s Speaker/Specialist program). I’ve taught comics workshops at the Society of Illustrators, and I’ve served as a thesis advisor for students at the Center for Cartoon Studies and Hunter College.

As part of the first residency, I’ll teach a single two-hour CCT (Craft, Criticism, and Theory) class, as well as lead daily three-hour workshops. As a teacher/mentor, what I most enjoy is helping cartoonists find their voice, identifying their strengths as writer/artists. Over the course of the two-year program, I’ll work closely with my students on their individual projects: a complete comics manuscript—and, of course, an MFA!

These will be the foundational texts of the graphic narratives concentration:

  • Scott McCloud, Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels (William Morrow, 2006)
  • Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (William Morrow, 1994)
  • Jessica Abel & Matt Madden, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures (First Second, 2008)
  • Will Eisner, Comics & Sequential Art (Poorhouse Press, 1985)
  • Ivan Brunetti, Cartooning: Philosophy & Practice (Yale University Press, 2011)

I’m really looking forward to getting this exciting new degree program off the ground. The growth I’ve seen—just over the course of my own career—in the appreciation of the comics form is truly astounding, and I’m excited to support the next great group of cartoonists in reaching their goals. The low-residency format is a great option for motivated, independent creators who can devote a few weeks a year to gathering together in bucolic Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

Check out the Solstice website for further details, including an interview with me about what’s in store. (Here’s an article about my coming on board with Solstice.)

If you’re a cartoonist aspiring to take your work to the next level, or know someone who would be interested, please think about applying. The application deadline for the summer 2016 residency/fall semester is April 15, 2016. I welcome cartoonists working in the realm of fiction or nonfiction—and everything in-between.

This Summer in P-town: Josh & Sari Week-long Memoir Comics Workshop

SariFAWX Summer Workshops 2016 and I are proud to announce that this summer we’ll be co-teaching a week-long comics-making memoir workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA.

This marks the third time we’ll be doing a comics workshop with FAWC and it’s always been a really rewarding experience—for us and for our students. We learned that nothing makes a better combination than writing and art… or summer and beautiful P-town… or Sari and Josh! (*wink*) So that’s why we’ll be teaching the class again this summer, during the week of July 31–August 5.

Here’s the course description for our Memoir Comics Workshop:

Comics use words and pictures together to form powerful narratives. In this workshop, you will use material from your own life to create an original minicomic. It can be about last night’s dinner, or a moment that changed you forever—as long as it fits into a booklet of 8-12 pages. At the end of the week, we’ll reproduce and swap our minis, and set up an open studio to share our work.

We’ll examine some basic principles of visual storytelling. We’ll also do writing, brainstorming, and collaborative exercises we’ve found useful in producing strong comics work. There will be group feedback to hone our stories, find the narrative “beats,” and help each other discover our “true” story. We’ll generate ideas for solving storytelling problems—and look at how other cartoonists have grappled with them.

You’ll have time to work on your projects in class each day, but you will also probably do some drawing on your own. One of the key features of comics is that they are printed and reproduced. You’ll also design and produce a small edition of your minicomic to share with the other workshop members and for open studio. You’ll come out of this workshop with a tool set for taking your work to another level.

Please email a short description of the autobiographical story you’re going to work on and two character sketches (yourself and another character) to workshops@fawc.org by July 10. This prior work will help you—and us—jump into this intensive project.

Click this link to find out more about the program and how to register. And please spread the word about the week-long workshop, and encourage people to sign up soon. Classes fill up quickly.

This Saturday: Grand Comics Fest, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

GCF-logoThis Saturday, I’ll be in the heart of Williamsburg at the 3rd annual edition of Pat Dorian’s Grand Comics Fest. The original plan was for myself and Hang Dai Editions co-founder Seth Kushner to both be at the festival, but as you probably know, Seth tragically passed away less than two weeks ago.

Seth’s presence at Grand Comics Fest (and going forward) will be sorely missed, but his work will be there nonetheless, including his newest comic, Secret Sauce. I’ll try to have Seth’s other comics on hand as well, including Force Field Fotocomix and Schmuck Comix. And there may be some sort of raffle/giveaway to help raise money for Seth’s outstanding medical bills.

Vagabonds #4As for my own work, I will have copies of The Vagabonds, issues 1-4 (issues 3 & 4 being published through Hang Dai), as well as my books A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, A Few Perfect Hours, and The Influencing Machine. In other words: pretty much everything!

Other cartoonists scheduled to be at the curated show—which is open and free to the public—include such luminaries as Derf, R. Sikoyrak, Kriota Willberg, Jess Ruliffson, James Romberger, Marguerite van Cook, Box Brown, Paper Rocket Comics, and Ink Brick. Come on by!


Grand Comics Fest
Saturday, June 6, 12 noon – 8pm
Bird River Studios
343 Grand Street (corner of Marcy & Havemeyer)
Brooklyn, NY 11211

For more information, email grandcomicsfestival@gmail.com.

Coming May 11 to Greenlight Books: BATTLE LINES by Fetter-Vorm & Kelman. I’ll be there too.

BattleLinesThis coming Monday, May 11, I’ll be in Fort Greene at the wonderful Greenlight Bookstore, discussing Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War, by cartoonist Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and historian Ari Kelman.

I was given a chance to read an advance copy of the nonfiction graphic novel, and was profoundly impressed. Featuring Fetter-Vorm’s inspired storytelling, delicate line work, and haunting watercolor washes, Battle Lines is a tour-de-force of ground-level storytelling. Each chapter takes a single object and works ever outward, increasing in scope—through salient detail, it brings the epic conflict into focus. Profound and strangely beautiful, in my opinion Battle Lines is the best graphic novel ever produced about the Civil War.

The book came out this week (from Hill & Wang), and the authors will be presenting it to readers at Greenlight “on the big screen” on Monday. I will be there to admire the work and help guide the discussion. Please come by if you can make it; it’s really a special book. Here are the details:

Monday, May 11, 2015, 7:30pm
Greenlight Books
686 Fulton St.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

And here’s the Facebook event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/356409167895594/

A.D. to be Featured at the Pantheon Table this MoCCA Weekend

A couple of days ago I wrote about the two comics I’ll be debuting at the MoCCA Art Festival this weekend. I also wanted to mention a work of mine that, depending on how you look at it, is nearly eight years old—A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. (The web version appeared on SMITH in 2007–2008, the hardcover came out in 2009.) Believe it or not, the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is coming up this August, and it’s an event whose repercussions continue to resonate. Apparently, the book continues to resonate as well: just this month, I’ll be traveling to Amsterdam to speak about it and some of my other comics reportage at a narrative journalism festival. The week after that I’ll discussing A.D. with students at a college in Boston who’ve been studying it during this school year.

To commemorate the upcoming anniversary of the hurricane, my publisher Pantheon put together a special oversize “Remember Katrina” postcard, and I’ll be signing copies of A.D. at the Pantheon table on Saturday at MoCCA. Look for me from 2-3 pm at table 405.

One  more time, here are the MoCCA Fest deets:

MoCCA Arts Festival
April 11–12, 2015, 11am – 6pm
548 W. 22nd St., NYC


La Machine à Influencer invades Angoulême

IM-french-cover-final-450pxI’ll be attending my second-ever Angoulême International Comics Festival this week, ostensibly to promote La Machine à Influencer, the French translation of The Influencing Machine. (I’ll also be signing copies of A.D.: Le Nouvelle Orléans Après le Déluge, published back in 2011 by the good folks at La Boîte à Bulles. They’re the ones who brought me to Angoulême the last time, back in 2012, which I’ll be forever grateful for, as this festival is to me like making the pilgrimage to Mecca.)

The French translation (published by Ça et Là) is already the third one for the book, following Korean and Italian editions, with a German translation coming soon. (I already wrote about the evolution of the cover for the French edition in a previous post.) It’s ironic, because when we were working on the book, Brooke kept saying that she didn’t expect much interest from foreign-language publishers because it deals mostly with the unique trajectory of American media. Apparently, however, the book is more universal than even she imagined!

La Machine à Influencer has received a nice reception in France, with the distinguished newspaper Libération even doing a large spread about the book. Despite the fact that Brooke already visited France to promote the book (back in May), it gladdens my heart to be invited as well.

I want to say this without any bitterness whatsoever, but so much of the American reception of The Influencing Machine centered solely on Brooke, to the exclusion of my contributions as co-author. Yes, it’s Brooke’s manifesto, and I illustrated her ideas, but it wouldn’t be a comic book if I hadn’t drawn it. Ya know? In the U.S., the role of “illustrator” often seems to be dismissed, as if it were the work of a soulless machine. (Since I’ve collaborated with so many writers over the years, I can tell you this from long experience, and many of my comic artists cohorts would echo my feelings.) The fact is I sweated over the book for two years, working on it every step of the way from concept to scripts to finished product, and I felt as invested in communicating its “teachings” as anyone else—including Brooke. So, as I was saying, it’s gratifying that Ça et Là’s editor, Serge Ewencyzk, thought enough of my contributions to ask me to come represent La Machine à Influencer at Angoulême. Merci encore, Serge!

It probably doesn’t hurt that in the last few months the book has been blessed with a couple of journalism award nominations. The first one was from the Assises Internationales du Journalisme, a big three-day international congress on journalism which takes place in the northeastern city of Metz. La Machine à Influencer actually won the “Education to media” award, a special category created just for the book. There was a ceremony back in October in Metz, which Serge E. attended and accepted the award on our behalf.

The other prize the book was up for was the Prix France Info, an award for comics which contribute to journalistic understanding. It didn’t win that one, but still—not bad for our little collaboration!

P.S. One other thing: after Angoulême, I’ll be going up to Paris to do some more signings at some Parisian comics stores. One of them, Librairie les Super-Héroes, previously commissioned an exclusive bookplate for which I drew an image of Brooke as Spider-Man (riffing off a panel from the book, with her exclaiming, in French, Spidey’s famous phrase,“with great power comes great responsibility”). And here’s the image in question:


ACA Narrative Corpse Comix Yearbook!

01-cover-webI’ve been back home from the ACA for about a week now, and am just starting to re-adapt to life away from the perfect temperatures, palmettos, and wooden walkways of the Atlantic Center for the Arts. One of the projects my Associates and I worked on was the ACA Narrative Corpse Comix Yearbook, a fun and unusual comics jam. We wanted to share the results with you, so starting today, I’ll post one page from the comic, to give you the feel of how it was produced. “Which was how?” Let me explain:

We were nine cartoonists fated to spend three weeks together in the beautiful environs of the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Everyone had their individal nonfiction projects to work on, but we were all eager to collaborate as well. And so it was suggested we do a project inspired by the Surrealist game “Exquisite Corpse,” a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled—without prior planning or discussion.

Nine numbers were put in a hat (a San Francisco Giants cap, to be exact—Go Giants!) and everyone drew a number. Joe Luby had drawn first lots and he had the responsibility of starting the narrative. Dave Kiersh was next, and it was his job to continue the story—with nothing to go on but the final panel of Joe’s page. Dave guessed what he could from that clue and continued the narrative in his own unique way. And so it went, over the course of the residency, as each cartoonist’s turn came and went.

And what the heck is the result? We don’t know! Something definitely surreal—and, dare I say, quite beautiful. Just your normal semi-autobio fairytale with dragons and jellyfish and random references to Star Trek and Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain.

So, without further ado, head over to ACT-I-VATE to check out Joe’s page 1, and keep coming back daily until the 9-page comic is concluded. After all, as Team Bogotas member Cliodhna Lyons (and #3 contributor) expressed so perfectly: “We made comics. Comics pretty. Read comics.”

Here’s the URL one more time: http://activatecomix.com/181.comic

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