Great Instagram follow: williambutlerms (William H.G. Butler Middle School)

William H.G. Butler middle school logoMy good friends at Literary Safari are producing an ongoing Instagram graphic narrative that you need to check out. It’s at instagram.com/williambutlerms and it’s a serial work of dystopian fiction about… school shootings.

The premise of the narrative is that williambutlerms is the official Instagram of the the fictional William H.G. Butler Middle School, a school that has suffered a horrible shooting that left some students and teachers dead. The serialized story reveals an Orwellian world where school shootings are the norm. (Actually, tragically, that’s not that Orwellian…)

The format of the williambutlerms narrative is very clever, both in terms of subject matter and the Instagram “delivery system.” It’s rife with hashtags and feels very connected to our techno-cultural moment. What I think works so well is the presentation, with the narrative building one disconnected image at a time. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that slowly comes into focus one piece at a time. The artwork has a primitivist quality which fits the middle school theme. (I wouldn’t call williambutlerms a comic per se, but it definitely falls under the rubric of a “graphic narrative.”)

And what makes the whole thing work is the deadpan satire of the piece, which is so cutting! The narrative starts with a bang (apologies for the inappropriate metaphor) with an opening shot of the school yearbook, featuring some murdered students (and some clever “gun”-related yearbook quotes). Other highlights are a “Targeted School Supplies” series of products, and some clever parodies of famous middle-school/high school texts — The Things They Buried, The School of Mango Street, etc. Good stuff. This tone works incredibly well, as it highlights the very real struggles that schools and educators are currently facing (with no help from the federal government).

williambutlerms debuted in June and a new post appears every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday through the end of the summer. Check it out.

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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?

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

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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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.

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)

1 Year Later: Thinking about Seth Kushner

seth_kushnerSeth Kushner—photographer, comic book writer, pop culture maven, husband, father—passed away one year ago today. This is what I wrote about him at the time:

I wish I had something poetic or original to say about Seth, but what impresses me the most is just how many people whose lives he touched—and how consistent their feelings are: that he was a super-talented photographer, that he was a gracious human being with an abiding interest in other people, and that he truly loved his wife and son.

Seth seemed to epitomize the best things about the comics “community”: He was a fan, he was a creator, and he had an unflagging interest in reaching out and encouraging others the way he had been encouraged along the way.

What he did in this last year, with making his battle against leukemia public and human and inspiring and funny and heart-breaking all at once, is an amazing gift to all those who suffer through these diseases alone.

The wonderful thing about art is that—unlike the artist—it lives forever. Seth’s posthumously published semi-auto-bio graphic novel Schmuck, illustrated by a boatload of talented cartoonists (and myself), came out late last year; and his character The Brooklynite is being brought to life by Shamus Beyale, all part of the Dean Haspiel-led “New Brooklyn” series on WebToons (also starring The Red Hook, and, soon, The Purple Heart).

Seth Kushner, 1973–2015. Rest in peace.

Andrea Tsurumi’s WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?

Andrea Tsurumi's WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?

I’m very excited to plug Why Would You Do That?, by FLASHed contributor Andrea Tsurumi, out now from Hic + Hoc!

The slim volume features a collection of off-kilter, often hilarious, short comics about dogs, baked goods, and feats of derring-do, by one of our most confident and talented young cartoonists. Longer-ish pieces that particularly stand out are “Poodle Smart,” a detailed analysis of the intelligence of poodles, told with utmost seriousness—despite  being completely fabricated; and “Food Photographer,” a set of news clippings from historical events where a confused replacement photographer focused on the food in the room rather than the actual subjects of the stories.

Crafted with the utmost seriousness (and skill), the comics in this book meet at the convergence of Dan Piraro, Gary Larson, and Hieronymus Bosch—and I’m so glad Tsurumi did that!

 

Early Work: comics and illos from my teens and early 20s

day-life-len-neufeld1-scan-1000pxMatthew Baker—or Mx. Baker, as he prefers to be called—is a rather mysterious fellow who writes for a living. He contributed a wonderful “seeder” piece to the “Brothers” triptych of FLASHed (responded to by Jon Lewis and then Julia Fierro), and he curates a blog called Early Work, which (as you might guess) highlights the immature work of established writers and artists. My take on the blog is that the stuff each creator chooses shows hints of the themes and styles of their later, mature work. (Or maybe it’s just amusing to see how far they’ve come!) Folks featured on Early Work include cartoonist Anders Nilsen, writer Kelly Luce, and poet Naomi Shihab Nye, to name a few. And now… me.

As you may know, I’m a bit of a hoarder and I have files full of old artwork, going back to my youngest days. (My mom and dad have their share of my childhood drawings as well.) So there was a lot of material to choose from. On the other hand, I was apprehensive about sharing my immature artwork with the world at large.

But with Matt’s help, I was able to whittle down all that material to some stuff from my teenage years and early twenties that I wasn’t too embarrassed about: a collection of one-page comics I did for my dad for his birthday each year, a series of illustrations of roommates from my freshman-year college dorm, and a series of trompe-l’oeil illustrations I did for loved ones.

One aspect of the Early Work site I really like is its “raw” quality—the drawings are presented on the wrinkled, yellowed paper they were done on. Stories are scrawled in a child’s hand. Nothing is cleaned up in PhotoShop. This is ephemera, often plucked from decades past. So I really tried to get into the spirit of that.

Another fun thing about Early Work is that each contribution features a statement by the creator about the “early work” and a photo of the them from that period. There’s something really poignant and charming about these photos of “anonymous” kids who later became  respected writers and artists. Who knew (besides me) that there was a photo of me posing with the late, beloved musician Prince? (Well, a poster of him, at least…) Read on to see for yourself…

So without further ado (what is “ado,” anyhow?), here are some links to my “early work”:

3135 Calhoun St. and the A.D. cosmic connection

Crescent City Comics has just opened a second location, moving its flagship store to 3135 Calhoun Street, near Tulane University in New Orleans. (There’s a nice little article about the new store here, which features a time-lapse video of their logo being painted in giant scale on their ceiling.) That address, 3135 Calhoun, is the center of an A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge vortex. Let me explain…

One of the main “characters” in A.D. is Leo McGovern, currently the manager of Crescent City Comics. This is what Leo looked like in the book:

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(Leo once told me that his fondest desire was to be “one of those sweaty guys in a comic book.” Wish granted!)

But what’s so remarkable about Crescent City Comics’ new location is that 3135 Calhoun Street is the former location of the Calhoun Superette! For many years, the Calhoun Superette was owned by Hamid Mohammadi, another main “character” in A.D. (His name was Hamid in the original webcomic, then changed to “Abbas”—with a mustache added to his face—for the book. When I talked to him last year for a Hurricane Katrina 10-year anniversary comic, he allowed me to use his real name again.) Here’s how Hamid looked in A.D.:

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Hamid and his wife opened the Calhoun Superette in 1996 and kept it open for 16 years, through thick and thin. A lot of scenes in A.D. take place at the store. (I wasn’t able to visit the store in person when I was doing my initial research and reporting, so Leo, as a comics fan knowing what kind of reference I would need, kindly offered to drive over to the store, introduce himself to Hamid, and take a ton of photos for me. That was back in 2007, the first time the two long-time New Orleanians met each other—brought together by A.D. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…”)

Here are some scenes from A.D. of the store… from right before the storm:

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To when part of the sign got blown off during the hurricane:

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To the first hint of flooding:

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To when the water had gotten waist-deep:

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To when the water was so deep the only thing to do was “abandon ship”:

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NOT wimpy! And here’s a scene from period of 16 months Hamid spent gutting the store and rebuilding it after Katrina:

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Hamid re-opened the store in 2007 (thank you, Google Street View):

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And this is how it looked in 2009 (the sign was finally fixed!):

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But sadly Hamid was forced to close the Superette in the summer of 2012. Here’s what he had to say about it:

Hamid-bitter

Forstall Art Supplies moved in to the space soon after (they used be located next door):

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But Forstall closed in the summer of 2015, opening the door for Crescent City Comics—they kept Forstall’s potted plants:

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Here’s Leo and CCC owner Les Arceneaux posing with other staff members (photo courtesy Bleeding Cool):

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After all the things Hamid went through, I was really bummed to hear that he had to close his deli. But I’m so glad its former location is back in the A.D. “family.”

Did I mention Crescent City Comics hosted a party for the paperback release of A.D. in 2010? That was a good time. They’re a great store. Go visit the next time you’re in NOLA, and pick up a copy of A.D. from one of the characters in the book… in the place where a lot of the book’s action happens!

Crescent City Comics
3135 Calhoun
New Orleans, LA  70125
(504) 891-3796
CrescentCityComics.com

Don Brown’s DROWNED CITY

There’s an old saying that journalism is the first draft of history. I was thinking of that recently when I presented A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge to students & teachers at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. Pretty much the entire 10th-grade there had read A.D. in their English classes, so I spent a full day at the school, bringing the story behind A.D. to the more than 1,000 kids from that grade (and a selection of 11th-graders who had read the book last year). It’s crazy to think that those students were around four years old back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and nearly destroyed New Orleans. So to them my book is not a journalistic perspective on the disaster, but rather (ancient) history.

(One positive about that is in regards to the section of A.D. that deals with Denise’s experiences at the New Orleans convention center—without the burden of the false rumors about gang violence, rapes, dead bodies in freezers, etc. that flew around the media at the time, the kids will have a fresher understanding of at what actually went down at the convention center…)

I write at the end of A.D. that

… there are many, many stories about Katrina and its aftermath. Those of the seven people in A.D. are quite particular and highly personal, but my hope is that they provide a window into a larger world, one that few of us understand and that we’ll be trying to make sense of for a long time.

And I always paraphrase that sentiment when I discuss A.D.—that my book is merely one document of many about the storm and its aftermath. And I make sure to mention some of the other great narratives about Katrina/New Orleans (a few of which are much more expansive in scope). Documentaries like Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke or Tia Lessin and Carl Deal’s Trouble the Water. Books like Douglas Brinkley’s The Great Deluge, or Chris Rose’s 1 Dead in Attic, or Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun, or Dan Baum’s Nine Lives. Or more recent works like Roberta Brandes Gratz’s We’re Still Here Ya Bastards, and Please Forward, edited by Cynthia Joyce. And even fictional works like HBO’s solid series Treme.

DrownedCityWell, now there’s another “graphic narrative” to add to that list: Don Brown’s Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Published last summer on the 10th anniversary of the storm, it’s the only other comic book format history of Katrina that I know of. (And I only just found out about it, though apparently it’s been very well received…)

Definitely for a younger audience than A.D., Drowned City takes the reader through the breadth of the Katrina story, from the storm’s formation as “a swirl of unremarkable wind” in Africa to its building in the Gulf of Mexico and finally sweeping into Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. The book shows New Orleans preparing for the storm and the city’s belated & haphazard attempts to evacuate. It shows the breaching of the levees, the people trapped in their attics, and the drowned bodies. The book details how helpless/useless the authorities in New Orleans were to deal with the flooding and the aftermath, and how thousands of people were abandoned at the so-called “shelters of last resort,” the Superdome and the Convention Center. Drowned City shows the chaos that settled over the city, how people were forced to help themselves to much-need supplies—and the instances of looting—and how some brave groups and individuals performed heroic rescues. The book spares no blows in its depiction of the ineptitude and infighting of officials like FEMA head Michael Brown, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, and President George W. Bush. The book ends in October 2005 with the city finally dry, but totally devastated. It talks about New Orleans’ subsequent depopulation, particularly the decline of the city’s poorest (mostly African-American) populations. Nevertheless, the book ends on a tentative note of hopefulness.

Drowned City is gorgeously illustrated, mostly in large panels of pen & ink and watercolor. And it is meticulously researched & documented, with a full source list/bibliography at the back.

I often speak of A.D. as a “people’s history” of Hurricane Katrina. Don Brown‘s Drowned City takes more of a holistic perspective, and in that way is a perfect complement to A.D. I highly recommend you check it out.