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.

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Tom Hart’s ROSALIE LIGHTNING

RosalieLightningI just read Tom Hart‘s new book ROSALIE LIGHTNING (St. Martin’s Press), and I was blown away. What is it about? It’s about My Neighbor Totoro, and Ponyo, and EC Comics, and Metaphrog, and James Bond, and Kurosawa movies, and Thich Nhat Hanh, and “O Superman,” and Jeff Mason. And it’s about real estate, and bike rides, and corn mazes, and getting your car stuck in the snow, and being adrift on a raft, and big moons in the sky, and dreams, and trees, and acorns, and about the “capacious hole in your heart” when your child dies.

I’ve known Tom and his fellow cartoonist wife, Leela Corman, (who’s basically the co-star of this book) for a really long time, as fellow travelers on the road of alternative comics—Sari & I were guests at their wedding—but I hadn’t seen much of them in the last 10 years, particularly after they left Brooklyn and moved to Gainesville, Florida. I only met their daughter Rosalie once, probably around 2010, shortly before they left town. I was in Chicago when I heard the horrible, terrible, tragic news of Rosalie’s death—I even wrote a short post about it back then. And the next time I saw Tom & Leela was the fall of 2014 (when I visited them at their school The Sequential Artists Workshop), when they had the gift of Rosalie’s little sister Molly Rose. This book fills in all that missing time.

Tom is a master storyteller and cartoonist, and if he never did anything else the world would always have his creation Hutch Owen. (Where would Bernie Sanders be without Hutch Owen?!) But for Rosalie Lightning he has created a new art style—malleable, scratchy and impressionistic (when needed), and deliriously vibrant, even though it’s “limited” to half-tones. It’s an incredible, gripping book, which I stayed up late into the night reading all the way through. It’s destined to become a classic.

When was the last time a book made you cry? For me, it had been a long time. As a father myself, unable to even imagine the pain Tom & Leela have been through, it was often tortuous to read, and I dried my eyes a number of times. But I’m so grateful for the experience. (I even forgive the book’s “hate letter” to New York, because I feel like that sometimes too.) Thank you, Tom, for this brave, and ultimately triumphant work. Your daughter couldn’t have a better memorial.

Charlie Hebdo

Whenever I debated the pros and cons of being a cartoonist, I never considered that it was inherently a dangerous job. (Unless you’re Joe Sacco, running around in war zones.) But I had to re-evaluate that after the events of January 7, and the massacre of five cartoonists (and seven others) at the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

The last week has been a crazy one, trying to process the events, the manhunt for the killers, the related events at the Paris kosher grocery, the outpouring of pain and outrage, Je suis Charlie, Je suis Ahmed, the backlash, and so on and so on.

The day of the shooting, as things were still unfolding, I was asked to come in to the studios of NowThis News and deliver a “rant” on the events. I didn’t know any of the cartoonists killed. I’d never read Charlie Hebdo (though I knew of its reputation, and its previous run-ins with “angry readers.”) But as a fellow cartoonist, I figured I had some kind of perspective on what had happened. I wish I had been more articulate, more forceful, but I think you can see I was still in a state of shock. Anyway, here’s the video.

I’ll be heading to France myself in less than two weeks, to attend my second Angoulême International Comics Festival (and to also do some signings in Paris). I imagine it will be quite a scene there, what with the various tributes to be held, the changed security situation, and so much more I can’t even imagine. I’ll be sure to take plenty of notes.

Finally, most importantly. Matt Bors, cartoon editor of Medium‘s “The Nib” (publisher of some of my work) has put together an amazing special section on the Charlie Hebdo killings. He commissioned work from seven cartoonists with specific ties to the world of satire, Islam, French culture—even one of the original cartoonists from the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy. The result, “Laugh, Cry, Be Offended,” is an incredible collection of heartfelt, thoughtful words and pictures that addresses so many of the issues brought up in the wake of the killings: free speech, racism, Islamophobia… every single piece demands your undivided attention:

  •  “I Still Can’t Believe It,” by James Van Otto—a French cartoonist discusses his relationship to Cabu, one of the assassinated cartoonists.
  • If We Back Down On This, What’s Next?“, by Ann Telnaes—the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post reminds us what free speech actually means.
  • I’m a Muslim Who Fights for Free Speech,” by Albaih—a Sudanese political cartoonist criticizes Charlie Hebdo for what he saw as racist, anti-Islam cartoons, at the same time as he laments the attacks. And he reminds the world—as someone who has never fully enjoyed free speech—not to take it for granted.
  • I Drew a Muhammad Cartoon. It Didn’t Go Well,” by Annette Carlsen—one of the infamous Danish cartoonists thoughtfully dissects the events of 2005, which in some ways led to last week’s shootings.
  • Satire Is Dead. And Cartoonists Killed It,” by J.J. McCullough—a self-proclaimed conservative Canadian cartoonist breaks down Charlie Hebdo‘s satire for ignorant American audiences—and hilariously skewers both American political correctness and Charlie “solidarity” cartoons.
  • It’s Not About Islam,” by Safdar Ahmed—an Australian artist and academic sheds a despairing light on the events; his complex argument includes the cheery thought, “Islamophobes share with Muslim extremists the apocalyptic fantasy of a global war between Islam and the West, making such cartoons a force for mobilization.”
  • They Killed My Idols,” by Emmanuel “Manu” Letouzé—a French cartoonist (and United Nations economist) pays tribute to murdered cartoonists Tignous, Cabu, and Charb. Must-reading.

Two days before the horrific events of Jan. 7, “The Nib” published my own story, “Crossing the Line,” about the unprovoked harassment of American Muslims at the U.S.-Canadian border. It’s really important to remember that we can’t allow events like 9/11, like January 7, to compromise our American values—freedom of religion is part of the same amendment that protects freedom of speech. The same goes for the presumption of innocence. Only by holding fast to these fundamental values can we ensure that the terrrorists don’t “win,” and that Safdar Ahmed’s apocalyptic prophecy will not come to pass.

ACA Thank-you Card Thanksgiving

This is a week for giving thanks, so I’m penning a little shout-out to my Atlantic Center for the Art associates. They were a great group: so talented, dedicated, and inspiring! And after 20+ years of working solo in my home/studio, I have to say the experience of sharing a studio with them has made me rethink my aversion to studio environments. We shall see…

In the meantime, I wanted to show off the beautiful hand-made card my associates presented me at the end of our residency. Cliodhna Lyons fabricated the card (which measures 4″ x 5-1/2″) as an accordian-style pamphlet. It is now one of my most prized possessions. Check it out:

First, the cover, with a very snazzy French flap! “Team Bogota[s]” refers to a slight miscommunication between Neil O’Driscoll and Sara Woolley and the subject of her project:

ACA-card-cover-web

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Here’s a List of Dean Haspiel-Produced Mix Tapes from the 1990s

I just came across a passel of (mostly) funk music mix tapes (yes, cassette tapes) Dean Haspiel propagated in the 1990s. Some of the cassettes were embellished with photos—Dino shirtless, natch, and also one of his beloved cat.

A partial list of these Dino Dazzlers:

  • Been Getting Busy
  • Bound by Business
  • A Fistful of Funk
  • Full Frontal Funk
  • Global Get-Ill
  • Grooveallegance
  • Must Music for the Masses
  • Since Time
  • Snot Rockets for the Booger Inside
  • This is What I Do
  • Time to Get Busy!
  • and of course, Dean Makes JMRN Cool!

(I’m JMRN—Joshua Michael Rosler Neufeld.)

Meeting up with Mohammed from Bahrain in NYC for a cup of coffee!

If you read “Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand,” then you remember one of the subjects of my piece was the young Bahraini cartoonist Mohammed. He did not fare so well after the abortive “Pearl Revolution,” with his work being censored and him been expelled from university. Over the last few years, Mohammed has had some ups and downs, but things improved for him this year: he was able to return to school, he started a cartooning & illustration business, and he won a competition sponsored by the U.S. State Department which enabled him to come to the U.S. for a few weeks this summer.

While Mohammed was here he spent an all-expenses paid week in White River Junction, Vermont, at the  Center for Cartoon Studies, where he took a graphic novel workshop with Paul Karasik. At CCS, Mohammed participated in lectures, collaborative exercises, book discussion sessions, events, and group critiques. And after that experience—which he loved—he came down to the Tri-State Area, and he and I got to hang out in Brooklyn one recent afternoon.

Over the years I’ve kept up with the “characters” from A.D., following their lives as they continue to rebound and regroup from Hurricane Katrina. And it was nice to be able to do the same with Mohammed, to see that he is well and is continuing to pursue his passions. In an interesting twist, Mohammed wrote and drew this piece —in my voice—commemorating our Brooklyn “reunion.” (He photoshopped in my signature.)

MohammedAlmahdi-josh-sm

Flattering depiction, don’t you think?

I welcome him to my studio and gave him a little tour of Prospect Heights. We never did have that cup of coffee, but we grabbed a cone from Mister Softee, strolled through Grand Army Plaza, and made a quick stop at Bergen Street Comics. Mohammed really enjoyed the visit; here’s a “selfie” we took of the actual visit (with me holding the framed print of his piece)…

mohammed-josh

The Three Rogers

For some reason, there have been three writers named Roger who have been inspirations in my life: the science fiction/fantasy writer Roger Zelazny, the baseball writer Roger Angell, and the film critic Roger Ebert—who died yesterday at age 70.

I try to make a point of letting people who’ve inspired me know it. When I was in college I wrote Zelazny (who passed away in 1995) a gushing fan letter (Nine Princes in Amber and Lord of Light are still two of my favorite books)—which he was kind enough to respond to. Some years back I also wrote Angell (who is now 92 years old) to tell him how much I relished his whimsical and lyrical baseball season recaps in The New Yorker. And in 2003 I wrote Ebert the following letter:

… I’m writing you … to thank you for all the wonderful advice you’ve given me over the years. I really value your opinions on movies and often find my tastes to coincide with your own. Most of all, though, I’m amazed at how generous a critic you are, how you always give each film the benefit of the doubt. You seem the opposite of most film reviewers, who seem to take a “guilty until proven innocent” approach! You are also obviously a person with a wide range of references, someone who has a life outside of the movie theater. And this breadth of knowledge, an appreciation of real life, shows in your criticism. Honestly, given the amount of movies you must see each week, I don’t know how you maintain such a fresh approach.

(Despite my praising his generosity, Ebert could also be quite cutting in his criticism. This is a list of some of his most memorable pans.)

In 2010, I wrote a blog post about Ebert’s illness. In it, I wrote that I looked forward to many more of his reviews in the future. Well, I got three more years. My Fridays will be forever diminished by not having a new one to read. Rest in peace, Roger.

Comics Class Homework: Copying Crumb

Gurl-Crumb2A recent assignment in Phoebe Gloeckner‘s Comics & Graphic Narratives class was to copy a page of another artist’s work, the two choices being Charles Burns or R. Crumb. I chose Crumb, the page in question being the opener of the six-page piece “A Gurl,” featuring his Ruth Schwartz character and first published in Big Ass #2 (August 1971). (Oh, that naughty Crumb and his big-butt fetish!)

Both are great artists to emulate, but I chose to copy Crumb because his cross-hatch inking style is so different than mine. (By the way, the rules of the assignment were no tracing or light-boxing; just to copy the page as best you could.) I ditched my normal tool (the Kuretake Sumi Fountain Brush Pen) and picked up a nib for the first time in… Jeez… thirty years! When I tried using a crowquill pen back in high school, I spattered ink all over the place and threw the thing down after twenty minutes. This time was much better, although it’s still a messy business, especially for left-handed me, who’s constantly smudging ink with the side of my palm. Back in high school I was known as “Captain Wite-Out” because of my dependence on the correction fluid. In recent years I’ve found a system (e.g., my brush pen) that’s much less messy, and as a result all my Wite-Out bottles have dried up. But I needed a new bottle for this project!

I hadn’t tried cross-hatching since my ill-fated Joe Sacco phase back in the mid-90s (still to be seen in a few stories in A Few Perfect Hours), and even there it was to create patterns and textures, not to emulate light and shade. For this assignment, even though I did very minimal penciling, choosing to do most of the drawing directly in ink, it still took me absolutely forever to copy the page—at least eight full hours spread over three days.

What did I glean from the exercise? First of all: What an incredible draftsman Crumb is. Not that I didn’t know that already, but there’s nothing like following someone, step for step, to appreciate their mastery. The nuances of his line work and hatching! I could spend a hundred years perfecting my craft and I would never have his light touch. Crumb’s work is also so tactile, so filled with the mass of real life. As I was working I was transported back to bohemian San Francisco, in that room with Crumb as he created the page. I also appreciated his comprehensive knowledge of anatomy. Even though this piece uses exaggeration for humorous/erotic effect, it’s all still based on the real human form (and real window blinds, furniture, rugs, etc.).

Although I felt the assignment was for me to be as slavish as possible, there were a few tangents in Crumb’s original that threw me off. By tangents I mean places where lines in the picture touch each other in awkward ways that disrupt the illusion of three-dimensionality we crave when looking at figurative art. In panel one, these tangents are the Gurl’s left foot, which seems to rest on the bottom of the panel border; and also the toe of her right foot, which perfectly touches the Gurl’s left heel. Far be it from me to correct the master, but tangents bother me! So in my drawing I lowered her left foot just a tad so that it clearly goes below the panel border. And I added a little space between her left and right feet. Probelm solved!

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this exercise. It’s always good to get out of your comfort zone—especially if, like me, you’ve been doing something for a long time. And who knows how it might affect my future work? Time will tell.

So here’s the big reveal: first Crumb’s original page and then my imitation. Just for fun, I’m also throwing in Crumb’s own original sketches for the piece, preliminary drawings from his sketchbook. Enjoy.

R. Crumb's "A Gurl," 1971

Crumb’s original, 1971

"A Gurl" copied by Josh Neufeld from R. Crumb

Josh’s copy, 2013

R. Crumb, preliminary sketches for "A Gurl"

Crumb’s preliminary sketches


Finally, here’s a detail from the original scan of my page before I started liberally applying Wite-Out. Smudge City!

Smudge City!

Smudge City!

Harvey Pekar & JT Waldman’s NOT THE ISRAEL MY PARENTS PROMISED ME

The late great Harvey Pekar left behind an amazing legacy of work. He had so many books in the pipeline when he passed away in July 2010 that there are still new books coming out today (including the wonderful Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, illustrated by Joseph Remnant). Another new book of Harvey’s, illustrated by JT Waldman, was sent to me in galley form by his publisher, who asked for a blurb. I was happy to oblige, and here it is:

Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me is a fascinating history of the so-called Promised Land—as seen through the eyes of an estranged Jew from Cleveland. Brimming with classic Pekar asides and details, the book sheds light on a subject usually obscured by heat. JT Waldman’s evocative artwork combines down-to-earth American Splendor-style illustrations with motifs inspired by everything from mythology to Islamic Art to illuminated manuscripts to Chagall. In cleverly reminding us of its collaborative nature, the book evokes the uneasy conversations Jews often have amongst themselves about Israel. Personally, I never got to say goodbye to Harvey, a man I had known and worked with for over fifteen years. Reading this book was like having a final, wide-ranging conversation with him.

Rosalie Lightning, 2009–2011

How horrible to write that “headline”…

Our friends Tom Hart and Leela Corman lost their two-year-old daughter, Rosalie, on Friday night. Sari and I can’t even begin to imagine the grief they must be going through. Ironically, tonight we just came back from a weekend trip to Chicago, where we left Phoebe behind with her grandparents. On Friday, right before the flight, Sari and I talked a bit about what we hoped would happen to Phoebe — and how she would be cared for — should we both die in a plane crash. Little did we know what was transpiring that very same time, but in reverse, with Tom and Leela.

Their dear friends and fellow cartoonists, Lauren Weinstein and Jon Lewis, have more to say about the situation. I found this line of Jon’s particularly touching: “My friends are in a horror world I don’t even know if I can understand, past some mountains and behind a veil; I want to touch them and protect them but there’s no way to do that.”

Now would be a good time to read Tom’s ongoing strip, “Daddy Lightning,” inspired by his journey as a father. He says he plans on continuing the strip.

Please consider donating to the Rosalie Lightning Memorial fund (administered through PayPal), to help the family with funeral and related expenses.

Now I must go hug my daughter… for a very long time.