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.

“A Scanner Constantly,” my new collaboration with Adam Bessie

scanner01-teaserThere’s a new piece out this week that I haven’t had a chance to write about: “A Scanner Constantly,” my new collaboration with writer Adam Bessie. He and I have worked on a couple of prior pieces, but this one is the most involved and the one closest to my heart.

Adam is bravely living with a brain tumor, all the while remaining a devoted husband and dad, and a university professor. And a prolific comics writer—check out all the pieces he’s done over the last few years…

“A Scanner Constantly” explores what it feels like—what it means—to undergo a constant regimen of scanning—MRI’s, X-rays—and the way that forces you to look at yourself. It’s also about the way others look at you. And it gets into some fascinating existential stuff, thanks to “guest stars” like author Philip K. Dick and Italian artist (and crowd-sourcer) Salvatore Iaconesi.

I feel that the piece asks some important questions—not only about one’s sense of self, but also concerns we all have about our increasing techno-security state…

The excellent journal Pacific Standard has published the piece; why don’t you check it out?

A Syrian refugee odyssey in comics, photos, and prose

road-to-germany-p1Just out this week in Foreign Policy magazine is “The Road to Germany: $2400,” which depicts the odyssey of 11 Syrians from the doorstep of their unrecognizable homeland to a life in exile. The bulk of the piece is 11 pages of comics by yours truly, adapted from the reporting/writing of journalist Alia Malek. And as in The Photographer (by Emmanuel Guibert, paired with Didier Lefèvre’s photographs), “The Road to Germany” incorporates photos by Peter van Agtmael, who accompanied Alia on her immersive reporting journey. (Back in September, Alia and Peter shadowed the subjects of the story all the way from the Greek island of Kos to Frankfurt, Germany, meeting up with them at many points along the way.) In other words, this is a very unusual piece to be running in a mainstream news magazine!

In crafting the comics component, my job was to take Alia’s amazing, heartfelt reporting and create a narrative to fill in the visual gaps between Peter’s incredible photographs. I was handicapped, though. Unlike Alia and Peter, I hadn’t actually accompanied our protagonists—Muhanid & Ihsan; Mohammed & Sawsan, and their children Sedra, Ali, & Brahim; and Naela, Maysam, Suhair, & Yusef—on this odyssey, so I immersed myself as best I could. Sadly, in recent months, this type of journey has become all too common, so there were a lot of visual resources out there. And with the help of Alia’s notes and Peter’s archival shots, I dove into the minutiae of life vests, the UNHCR outpost in Gevgelija, and German border police uniforms.

I was also struck by the chart that Syrians and other refugees use as the main guide through their route. Even though everyone has smart phones and the resources of the Internet at hand, they still hold on to this crude schematic, which is more like a game board than a map:

muhanid's-chart-map-cropped

I wanted to integrate elements from the chart into the story, not only to remind readers of its importance to the refugees, but also as a bridging device for changing scenes and pushing the narrative forward.

For the comic’s opening scene on the overloaded raft, I was struck by Alia’s description:

Women and children . . . lined up, nearly supine, in the raft’s base. . . . Where any space remained on the bottom, another layer of women and children wedged in. Everyone’s bags were thrown in a heap on top of them while the men were pressed in along the edges.

FP Executive Editor Mindy Bricker and I quickly decided this image would be the “splash” panel of the comic, and I intuitively felt that the best way to capture it would be from directly overhead. This is from the pencils:

page01pn1-pencils2-lr

The comic starts with five pages of my hand-drawn art; the last six pages incorporate Peter’s photos into selected panels. Combined with actual quotes from Alia’s reporting, it’s pretty cool to see this marriage of documentary forms. And after a solid month of work back in December, it’s very gratifying to see this story in print.

I would say I’m speaking for Alia & Peter as well when I say I hope this piece succeeds in humanizing a refugee crisis which is all too often thought of in impersonal numbers—or sensationalized hysteria—and gives readers a feeling of “being there” on this harrowing journey. As the opener states, “Showing what happens when strangers are thrown together by adversity—how desperate alliances formed and dissolved—[‘The Road to Germany: $2400’] is a diary of an exodus from a war zone to a hopeful, if uncertain future in the West.”

For now, the piece is only available in print, in the Jan./Feb. issue of Foreign Policy. If it becomes viewable online I’ll be sure to post a link. (UPDATE: Here’s the link)

road-to-germany-spread

FLASHED–linked stories in comics and prose, edited by Josh and Sari

Flashed-cover300px

The cover of FLASHed. Art & design by yours truly.

A couple of years back, Robert Stapleton of the literary journal Booth (published out of Butler University‘s MFA writing program) approached me about editing an anthology of comics. I had never edited a significant project before—and although I was flattered to be asked, I didn’t want to just put another anthology out there. I wanted my first editing project to be “special.”

That’s when we hit on the idea of Sari Wilson and I editing a book together—an anthology of linked stories in comics and prose, the two forms working together, hand-in-hand. Maybe even somehow embodying the nuances of our own creative relationship, the way we have edited, collaborated, and influenced each other’s work over the years.

Why flash fiction? As a cartoonist, I work almost exclusively in nonfiction; Sari’s fiction is in longer forms, with lengthy short stories under her belt, and her novel Girl Through Glass set to debut next year. But we are both fans of flash fiction—stories with the heft of a trinket but the narrative punch of a sledgehammer. And the flash fiction form is perfect for a project that’s all about pushing boundaries and cross-fertilizing creative communities.

So FLASHed is a collection of flash fiction stories in comics and prose, pressed up against one another. In dialogue. In concert. In conversation. As a result, FLASHed is more than an anthology; it’s a conversation—among some of today’s most exciting prose writers and cartoonists—and between the forms of prose and comics. As contributor Myla Goldberg put it: “This is like a Telephone/Exquisite Corpse mash-up, which would make it an Exquisite Telephone Corpse.” Exactly!

Our 45 contributors are an amazing, accomplished lot: they include Junot DíazLynda BarryAimee BenderJohn PorcellinoSteve Almond, and Gabrielle Bell, to name a few. Flashed features original comics from the likes of Nick BertozziBox BrownBrian BiggsAndrea TsurumiJason Little, and Matt Madden; and amazing new flash pieces from writers like Ben GreenmanKellie WellsJedediah BerryTara L. MasihGina Frangello, and Pamela Painter. And some pieces that defy categorization, like Rachel Cantor‘s comics script, complete with panels arranged on the page, or Carol Lay‘s illustrated text story, or dw’s intricate narrative sketchbook.

The experience of co-shepherding FLASHed through its generative, production, and distribution process has been equal parts exciting and exhausting. I’ll never begrudge the suggestion of an editor again! Working closely with Sari (and our publisher Robert Stapleton) was a profound experience, but for me the most rewarding part was getting to work closely with so many cartoonists I admire.

FLASHed is coming out February from Pressgang (Butler U.’s press). In the coming days and weeks  we’ll be releasing much more information, sample pieces, and plans for the release, including bookstore events, readings, and panels. Stay tuned!

And here’s a complete list of our amazing contributors:

CARTOONISTS

WRITERS

Debuting at MoCCA: The Vagabonds #4 and Terms of Service

I’m debuting not one but two new comics at this year’s MoCCA Art Festival, this coming weekend April 11–12!

vagabonds04-cover-250pxFirst off is THE VAGABONDS #4 (my second issue with Hang Dai Editions). This issue serves up a spicy blend of journalism, social commentary, memoir, and literary fiction. The lead piece is a new work of comics reportage called “Crossing the Line,” about profiling at the U.S./Canadian border. I’m also very proud of three collaborations with my wife, writer Sari Wilson (whose debut novel is coming out next year!). Throw in a couple of light-hearted travel tips, and The Vagabonds #4 is chock-full of goodies! The Vagabonds #4 is 24 full-color pages, and is only available for sale directly from me, or from HDE.

Terms of ServiceThe other book I’m debuting is the print edition of Terms of Service: Understanding Our Role in the World of Big Data. Between social media profiles, browsing histories, discount programs, and new tools controlling our energy use, there’s no escape from Big Data. As we use technology to record (and share) new information about ourselves (such as FitBit health data), what are the questions we should be asking? What is the trade-off between the benefits we gain from sharing data and how that data can be used against us? And what are the technologies that seem invasive today but in five years we’ll unthinkingly accept? How do we keep up with new technology while not letting our data determine who we are? Terms of Service examines the role of technology and the implications of sharing personal information. Our hope is that it is a thought-provoking field guide to help smart people understand how their personal—and often very private—data is collected and used. Co-produced by myself and Al Jazeera America reporter Michael Keller, the 48-page “graphic novel” follows our comics avatars as we learn about such topics as the “Unravelling Theory” and the so-called “Internet of Everything.” Terms of Service debuted online on Al Jazeera America’s website in late October 2014, and is now available for the first time in print. Editor & Publisher calls Terms of Service “funny, informative, and ridiculously readable,” and Panda Daily calls it “smart, breezy, and beautiful.”

So come get signed copies of both new comics from me at MoCCA Fest (at its swanky new location, Center548, just steps from the High Line). And while you’re at it, pick up new books from my HDE partners Dean HaspielGregory Benton, and Seth Kushner (making his triumphant post-leukemia return!). Here’s a lineup of all of HDE’s debut books.

We’ll be at the Hang Dai table (#314, Third Floor, Yellow Zone) both days, April 11 and April 12, from 11am–6pm. (I’ll also have copies of The Vagabonds #1–3, and my other books, should you be looking for those.)

Once again, here at the key details:

MoCCA Arts Festival
April 11–12, 2015, 11am – 6pm
Center548
548 W. 22nd St., NYC

My collaboration with Martha Rosler for THE ART OF SAVING A LIFE

salk-comic-tile7My mother, Martha Rosler, and I have a new collaboration, in the online art/public service campaign The Art of Saving a Life. Sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the project brings together over 30 “world-renowned musicians, writers, filmmakers, painters, sculptors and photographers” to promote vaccinations (particularly in the third world). Some of the other creators involved the project include Annie LeibovitzChristoph NiemannDeborah KellyMary Ellen Mark, Mia Farrow, and Yiyun Li. (The project has been covered by, among others, The New York Times.)

My mother’s and my piece, titled “Gift to the World,” tells the story of Jonas Salk and his development of the polio vaccine. The nine panels of the comic float, bubble-like, on the surface of a radiating ripple. As a child of the polio era, this project seemed particularly personal to my mom. We were both moved by Salk’s comment (quoted in the piece), “Who owns the patent to this vaccine? Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” I can safely say that Jonas Salk is one of my mother’s personal heroes.

My mother and I have collaborated on a number of other projects over the years, including a monumental piece about the European debt crisis, a billboard graphic about education & prison spending, and a two-page comic on the Iraq War and Guantanamo. It’s funny, because when I got into the comics game, I figured our two creative worlds would never intersect, what with comics being a “low art” and her career firmly ensconced in the academy. Times have changed! Of course, the subjects of our respective work overlap in some places, particularly our shared interest in real people’s stories. Which is no surprise, as my mother has, through her raising me and through her long career as an artist, shaped my life’s moral compass.

Check out The Art of Saving a Life here. And support vaccination!

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

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

Read more of this post

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