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:

Brooke-bookplate

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The ACA’s Closets of Legacy

I’m in Master Artist Cabin #3 (aka Andersen Cottage) here at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, nestled amidst the palms and Spanish moss, accessible by wooden walkway. The cabin itself is a nice size, sort of a semi-duplex with the bedroom up the stairs. I very much think I can deal with these accommodations for the next three weeks!

IMG_5562 IMG_5566

My first introduction to a long-standing ACA tradition came when I opened my closet door to unpack. Scrawled all over the closet walls were signatures—lots of them—from previous Master Artists who’d stayed there. Cabin #3 is traditionally the writer’s cabin (which isn’t entirely inappropriate for me, as comics are, after all, an amalgam of writing and art), and the names on the closet walls are like a who’s who of literary stars: Rick Moody, Ishmael Reed, Richard McCannSamuel R. Delany, the late writer/monologist Spalding Gray, Douglas Coupland… even my old buddy Nick Flynn! Some artists’ names popped out at me too, including the late great sculptor Duane Hanson and MacArthur “Genius” Award-winner Carrie Mae Weems.

It’s pretty inspiring to be (metaphorically) sharing this space with such a roster of creative minds—to think they cooked their meals in the same kitchen, slept in the same bed, woke up to the Florida sunlight pouring through the same skylight…

Flynn & Moody Reed
Flynn & Moody Reed
Samuel R. Delaney Spalding Gray
Delany Spalding Gray (and his son Forrest)
Hanson and Weems Amy Bloom
Hanson and Weems Amy Bloom
Coupland, Dyer, Waldman Doty
Douglas Coupland, Geoff Dyer, and Anne Waldman poet Mark Doty
Mat Johnson Patricia Smith
Mat Johnson (of Inconegro fame) poet Patricia Smith
Richard McCann Quincy Troupe
Richard McCann poet Quincy Troupe

My Atlantic Center for the Arts Residency Starts Monday; Presenting My Associate Artists!

I leave Sunday for New Smyrna Beach, Florida, to start on Monday my three-week “Master Artist” comics residency with the Atlantic Center for the Arts. It’s been three years since I was first tapped for the ACA residency (giving up my spot in 2012 in deference to the Knight-Wallace Fellowship), and I’m psyched for it to finally be happening. (I’m also going to miss Sari & Phoebe! Happily, however, I won’t be without them for the whole time—they’re coming down the very first weekend after the residency starts for a three-day visit, occurring over Sari’s birthday! Do I hear a beach birthday?!)

My residency is focused around nonfiction comics, and I’m really excited about the Associate Artists with whom I’ll be working, who hail from all over the States and beyond, including South Korea, Australia, and Ireland. (It was quite a task whittling down the initial group of talented and deserving applicants for the residency, and I went through quite a bit of heartache selecting these eight exceptional cartoonists.)

My plan for the residency is fairly open-ended and in many ways will depend on the needs and desires of the group. I plan to spend good chunks of each day with them in a studio environment, and we’ll do the occasional group exercise and critique. Maybe some form of collaborative project will emerge? The main thing  I want for each Associate—and myself—is to come out of the residency with a clearer idea of their personal project, and renewed enthusiasm for finishing it.

So without further ado, here are the Associate Artists of ACA Residency 155:

Robin Ha—born in Seoul, Korea, and moved to the United States when she was 14. Since graduating from RISD with BFA in Illustration, she has been working in New York. Her work has been published in independent comics anthologies, as well as Marvel comics and Heavy Metal Magazine. Her plan is to continue working on a graphic memoir about her immigrant experience as a teenager in Alabama.

Sarah Howell—an Australian cartoonist who has worked extensively in festival and youth arts. Sarah’s project is a graphic novel (with support from the Australian Prime Ministers’ Centre) about the final days of the three P.M.s who died in office, all as witnessed by Dame Enid Lyons, the first female federal Member of Parliament.

James Kettner—“Kett” grew up in Westchester and studied Illustration at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. After a decade of misadventures he made it to the West Coast (now Oakland, CA) where he received his MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. Kett’s comix have appeared in print and on the web in publications like SF Weekly, and he’s a regular contributor to the punk comix anthology As You Were. Kett’s project is Full Moon, a graphic memoir about his time working at an adult escort agency.

David Kiersh—an associate artist in residence at ACA in 2010, when he worked on his self-published book After School Special. He also received a 2008 Xeric Grant for his book Dirtbags, Mallchicks, and Motorbikes. Dave’s project will be his new book, Love is Strange.

Joseph Luby—a Savannah College of Art and Design honors alumni, where he majored in Sequential Art and Illustration. Joe says he “only ever wanted to do three things in life: be a teacher, be a good father, and draw comics.” Joe’s project is an illustrated history of earth-space science and the scientific method as taught and understood at the middle grade level.

Cliodhna Lyons—Irish illustrator and animator. She studied animation at Ballyfermot College in Dublin and comics at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She has contributed to several comic book anthologies and has self-published a number of minicomics and hand-bound books. In 2013 she became a comic book tourist and spent seven months traveling around the world meeting other comic book artists and creativites in over 30 locations. She currently lives and works in London. Cliodhna’s project is the tale of the ocean-going royal mail ship RMS St Helena, her  crew, and the tiny island of St. Helena which she faithfully serves.

Neil O’Driscoll—Irish illustrator and filmmaker who was born in the southeast of Ireland and is currently based on a cliff just outside of Dublin. Having trained in animation, design, and crafts before completing a degree in film at Edinburgh College of Art, he now works freelance while illustrating the independent comic Big Bastard. Neil’s project is a graphic novel about human rights pioneer Roger Casement.

Sara Woolley—illustrator and graphic novelist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Sara’s project is a fictionalized graphic memoir written with her mother and art partner Leila Gómez Woolley about a young girl’s upbringing in, and exile from, 1950s Colombia.

This weekend I’ll be heading to my first SPX in 5 years

SPX 2014Friday, the Hang Dai gang and I will be heading out to the Washington, D.C., area for the 2014 Small Press Expo, taking place September 13–14. This’ll be my first SPX in quite a while—since 2009, to be exact, when I debuted A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge.

In addition to myself, the Hang Dai table will feature Dean Haspiel, Gregory Benton, and the lovely & lovable Christa Cassano. (Of course, schmuck/mensch and Hang Dai original member #3, Seth Kushner, will be absent as he recovers from a bone marrow transplant—next year in Bethesda, Seth!)

We’ll be at table 16B. I’ll be hawking The Vagabonds #3—only available directly from me, and with a free sketch!—as well as The Influencing Machine, copies of  The Vagabonds #1 and #2, and A.D., and A Few Perfect Hours, and, and… You get the picture.

SPX special guests include Jules Feiffer, Lynda Barry, James Sturm, Bob Mankoff, and a host of others—check out the full list here.

Here are the details:

SMALL PRESS EXPO
September 13-14: Saturday: 11:00 am – 7:00 pm;

Sunday: 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm 
$15 Saturday; $10 Sunday (or $20 for the weekend)

Marriott Bethesda North Hotel & Conference Center
5701 Marinelli Road
North Bethesda, MD 20852

Atlantic Center for the Arts “Master Cartoonist”: Take Two

Back in 2012 I was forced to give up my ACA Master Artist gig due to my receiving the Knight-Wallace Fellowship and moving temporarily to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Well, ACA program director Nick Conroy was nice enough to invite me again, so this fall (October 13–November 2, to be precise) I will be leading a three-week residency focusing on the nonfiction graphic novel.

I still find it a bit intimidating to be called a “Master Artist,” but at least since 2012 I’ve also done a lot more teaching—including two consecutive years conducting week-long courses with the Fine Arts Works Center Summer Program, and more Speaker/Specialist programs (like the one I did last fall in Mexico). So I’m probably more “prepared” for the experience this time around.

The Atlantic Center for the Arts, located in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, is a nonprofit, interdisciplinary artists’ community and arts education facility. Their mission is to “promote artistic excellence by providing talented artists an opportunity to work and collaborate with some of the world’s most distinguished contemporary artists in the fields of music composition, and the visual, literary, and performing arts.”

During the three-week residency I will be working with eight “associate artists” on their long-form nonfiction comics projects. As part of the residency, we will be spending (at least) two hours a day together, conducting workshops, talking about the challenges we face, and working in a studio setting. I look forward to helping my associate cartoonists explore the best ways to make their ideas come to life.

By the way, my buddy Dean Haspiel took over my residency back in 2012—making it very much is own—and his group had a great time. They dubbed themselves Studio Yolo (“You only live once”), engaged in various team-building activities, and even produced an anthology. Read more about the experience here…

If you’re interested in applying to be an associate artist in my residency, or know someone who would, please check out the ACA website for further details. There are descriptions of the residency requirements, a FAQ, and lots more information. The application deadline is May 18, 2014.

Heading off to Mexico for FIL, the Guadalajara International Book Fair

The day after Thanksgiving I’ll be leaving for Mexico, to help represent the U.S. at FIL, the Guadalajara International Book Fair. It’s a new trip with the State Dept.’s Speaker and Specialist Program, my first one since I was in the Middle East back in 2010. (I did do a “virtual visit” to Indonesia last year, but that was limited to a Skype interview and presentation.) After my comments regarding my 2010 trip to Bahrain, I was wondering if I was still on my country’s “good side,” but apparently I am. Bueno!

FIL is the world’s second largest international book fair (after Frankfurt), and this year’s “guest” of honor is the country of Israel. Word is that the president of Israel will be at the opening ceremony, so I’ll be sure to keep my distance from any Uzi-toting security folks.

My involvement at the festival will mostly be with FILustra, an illustrators conference held in conjunction with the book fair. In fact, I’ll be delivering FILustra’s closing keynote address on Monday evening! I’m supposed to discuss how I bring social issues into the world of comics, as well as my observations about the state of comics in the U.S. (and Latin America, if I could be so bold). Needless to say, I’m still working on putting my talk together. *Gulp!*

After FIL, I’ll drive from Guadalajara to the neighboring state of Aguascalientes, to present my work to university students there, and conduct a comics-making workshop with high school kids. Finally, on my fifth day away, I’ll fly into Mexico City and do a couple of workshops—one at a university, and one at the famous Benjamin Franklin Library for a mixed group of kids and grownups. Thankfully, I have a good go-to minicomics workshop that has proven popular with groups from all over.

I’m excited for this new travel opportunity and the chance to learn about the comics scene in Mexico. I also hope to see a few familiar faces along the way…

Instead of Coffee, I’ll have TCAF

600px-tcaf_2013_prelim_poster_maurice_vellekoop_crop_fullsizeThis weekend, we’re heading to Toronto, Canada, for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, more commonly known as TCAF. It’s my first visit to TCAF, and my first visit to Toronto since I was a ten-year-old for a hernia operation (!). It seems like I’ve been hearing about TCAF forever, and this year—seeing as we’re in Ann Arbor, MI—it was more geographically feasible to visit. We’re also making it a family vacation, taking Phoebe out of school and everything. We’ll drive up to Toronto on Friday, stay for the festival, and then hang around for another couple of days to see the sights. I’m excited!

My expectation is that TCAF will be more like a European comics festival than an American-style comic convention. (Since I finally made it to Angouleme last year, I now fully appreciate the difference.) My favorite U.S. conventions—by far—are MoCCA and SPX—and I basically avoid all the rest of them when I can. My hope and expectation is that TCAF will join their ranks. The panels and programming look particularly promising—some of the panels I hope to make it to include Gilbert Hernandez, Michael Kupperman, Art Speigelman & Seth in Conversation, and Adventure Time!

I’ll be taking part in a panel myself, called Comics & Politics, on Saturday from 4:00–5:00 pm. My fellow esteemed panelists are Sarah Glidden, Rutu Modan, and Matt Bors, and the discussion will be moderated by Nicole Marie Burton. That’s Saturday, May 11, at the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel, Forest Hill Ballroom. More details here.

When I’m not at a panel, or seeking out buddies I haven’t seen in a while, I’ll be seated at table #112 in the Atrium, alongside Colosse and Sophie Yanow. I’ll have copies of A.D.: New Orleans After the DelugeThe Influencing MachineA Few Perfect Hours, and a mini-comic I put together just for the occasion. Hope to see you there!

Toronto Comic Arts Festival
May 11-12, 2013
Toronto Reference Library (TRL)
789 Yonge Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M4W 2G8

Back my Illustrated Field Guide to Preventing Human-Elephant Conflict KickStarter!

Trans Africa-Asia Human Elephant Conflict Education ProjectI wanted to let you know about a new project I’m involved with: The Pictorial Guide to Human-Elephant Conflict Education and Resolution.

Human elephant conflict is a serious threat to elephants in both Africa and Asia. You’re no doubt aware of the horrors of the ivory trade and poaching (36,000 elephants slaughtered every year!), but elephants in both continents are also in danger from the encroachment of humans into the animals’ habitats and other factors.

The Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS) is spearheading an education and awareness campaign to combat these issues. The biggest challenge is the vastness of the area, and the scale and magnitude of the problem. The other challenges are that even though human elephant conflict is common to both Africa and Asia, there are regional, geographical, and cultural variables that have to be given consideration. Through its partnerships with local stakeholder organizations, the SLWCS is working with local communities that are the worst affected by human elephant conflicts. Developing the project from a bottom-to-top process through discussion with all stakeholders will ensure that the project surmounts these challenges effectively and delivers the final project product: The Pictorial Guide to Human-Elephant Conflict Education and Resolution.

I’ll be illustrating the field guide, which will be translated into regional languages, and laminated to withstand the rigors of remote wilderness application. It will be distributed in areas throughout Sri Lanka, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. It’s exciting to imagine that my drawings might help educate local communities and help to save elephants from threat!

The SLWCS has launched a KickStarter campaign with a goal of raising $20,000. Two weeks into the campaign, they’ve raised nearly $2,000—but that leaves only two weeks to raise over $18,000. (As with all KickStarter campaigns, the project won’t be funded—and you won’t be charged—if we don’t reach our goal.)

Take a look at the KickStarter page: watch the detailed explanatory video, read the FAQ, and check out some of the thank-you gifts. Please help if you can—and spread the word about this very worthy project.

A.D.: NYC

It’s been a week since Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and I’m just now coming to understand how devastating the impact was. A good part of the reason for this disconnect is that I am currently living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship. (One of the conditions of the fellowship is that you must live in Ann Arbor for the academic year, and you are forbidden from publishing anything professionally during the duration of the program.)

Weirdly enough, the first person I heard from after Sandy passed was Leo, one of the heroes of A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. Obviously, a guy who lost everything in Katrina would be supremely attuned to the effects of the “superstorm” which hit the East Coast. He wasn’t sure whether I was back home in Brooklyn or still away, and was relieved to hear me and my stuff were okay. (Our apartment is on the fifth floor of a building in Prospect Heights—e.g., not near sea level.) In fact, thankfully, my family and pretty much everyone I know well in New York was relatively unaffected by the storm.

But as the days have gone by, we’ve been hearing more about others in our wider circle who weren’t so lucky. There’s the staff member at Wallace House whose family lives in Breezy Point (they lost everything), and one of my fellow Fellows, Amy Haimerl, who hails from Red Hook. Her husband Karl drove back to NYC the day after the storm to help with clean-up; Amy is coordinating efforts from afar via social media.

I think, understandably, my main focus has been on what’s going on in my hometown. This morning I was streaming WNYC radio, which was performing their civic duty of spreading the word about the storm, and cleanup and relief efforts. They were crowdsourcing listeners: people calling in from Staten Island, the Rockaways, and other devastated areas. As with Katrina, certain mantras were repeated over and over: the police didn’t know where to go or to contact to donate stuff or labor; FEMA was hardly in evidence; rumors swirled. (Although the New York City Department of Sanitation was getting high marks for their round-the-clock cleanup efforts. Let’s hear it for New York’s Strongest!) Again like with Katrina and New Orleans, there are so many communication gaps: people in one part of the city have no idea what’s going on in another.

And there are still so many regions without power; even now, a week later! The areas most badly hit—no surprise—host large numbers of public housing high-rises, and residents there, especially in the upper floors, are trapped with no elevator access, no lights, no heat, and often no way to get food & water. And the cold is setting in. (Word is that the Occupy Wall Street folks have been down in affected areas like the Rockaways doing great work.)

Sari pointed out this morning that, as New Yorkers we’re used to manmade challenges—political red tape and corruption, socio-economic barriers, over-crowding, etc. We’re not used to dealing with natural disasters like this. It’s almost like we grew up believing things like this only happened to other people, far away—sort of like that famous Saul Steinberg New Yorker magazine cover, “A View of the World from 9th Avenue.”

So now we’re facing the reality of up to 40,000 people permanently displaced, maybe up to 40 public schools that won’t be able to re-open until next summer. Again, these are the images from post-Katrina New Orleans.

I had been thinking a lot about A.D. this week, regardless of the storm. Last Thursday I presented my work to my Knight-Wallace compatriots; on Friday I was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, site of a series of devastating tornadoes in April 2011, to present A.D. to freshmen students there.

Back in 2005, when I volunteered with the Red Cross, and in 2007–2008, when I was working on A.D., I was an outsider come to document the post-Katrina Gulf Coast experience. Now, with Sandy, now I am an “expatriate” New Yorker forcibly removed from the event. I desperately wish I was in New York right now: to help, to bear witness, to be where I belong.

“Stowaway,” my new comics journalism piece, debuts on The Atavist today

The boutique digital publisher The Atavist releases Stowaway today, a new comics journalism piece by Tori Marlan and myself.

Atavist No. 17, Stowaway, is an “enhanced e-comic” that traces the 12,000-mile journey of an orphan from Ethiopia to America. Stowaway follows Fanuel on his odyssey from the streets of Addis Ababa to the deserts of Mexico, through the Atavist’s immersive storytelling technology, which includes sound, music, video, and interactive graphics. Fifteen-year-old Fanuel dodges authorities while relying on complete strangers as he struggles to find a mysterious woman in Seattle named Sofia,who is his last hope for the future. This is the first Atavist story to be available through the Web as well as The Atavist tablet app. The App version can be downloaded from the iTunes store.

The Atavist’s software team created a custom comics app which includes panel-by-panel navigation and a soundtrack integrated with all of the traditional extras features the Atavist is known for, like interactive maps, timelines, background interviews, and animations—all in the service of bringing the reader into Fanuel’s uncertain world as he tries to hold onto a dream which at times seems to disintegrate before his eyes. Extra features include a five-minute interview with Tori and me which also shows various stages of production of the piece, from script to thumbnails, pencils, inks, and colors. And the compelling soundtrack is by my brother-in-law Evan Wilson!

Tori, who I’ve known since the early 1990s, first met Fanuel in 2006 while doing research at the International Children’s Center in Chicago. She eventually learned the details of his journey to the U.S. Although Tori’s background is investigative print reporting, and she had never worked in nonfiction comics before, she felt strongly that a graphic approach would bring Fanuel’s story to the public in a unique way. Our collaboration developed organically.

Stowaway is $3, either through the app or on the Web. To learn more, visit http://www.atavist.com/stowaway.