2015 Wacky U.S. News Wrap-up in Spirou’s GROOM

Deflategate-colorsThe folks at the venerable Franco-Belgian comics magazine Le Journal de Spirou approached me about contributing to their new publication, GROOM. Like Spirou, Groom is an all-ages publication, but in this case focusing specifically on current events. The inaugural issue of Groom contains stories about terrorism (including Charlie Hebdo), European politics, sports, and various dispatches from far-flung countries like China, Australia, Latin America, Russia, the Middle East, and the good ol’ U.S.A. (I remain continually amazed and impressed at the topics French-language comics touch on, especially in so-called all-ages publications.)

Groom editor Damien Perez asked me to focus on four or five news stories coming out of the U.S. last year that would be particularly shocking for a Francophone audience. So many to choose from! The stories that made the cut were the decision by the State of Utah to bring back executions by firing squadDeflategate; the Rachel Dolezal/NAACP debacle; the Ahmed Mohammed clock incident; and last but definitely not least, the Donald Trump presidency campaign!

Trump-color-nobgIt was funny: when I was pitching the stories to editor Perez, the one he had the most trouble believing was the details of Trump’s vitriol-fueled campaign. As he said, “In the media we often see him as a ‘larger than life man,’ but not dangerous.” To which I responded that Marion Maréchal-Le Pen seems unobjectionable on the surface—it’s her ideas which are dangerous. Touché!

Anyway, this is silly, fun stuff. I hope you enjoy the illos. (For more information on Groom—in English—check out this website, which has also gone to the trouble of translating the Groom editorial page.)

Dolezal-colors Ahmed-colors Utah-colors
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2012-2013 Knight-Wallace Fellow, that’s me

After working in the field of comics-format journalism for the last six years, I’ve been “officially” anointed as a member of the fourth estate—I’ve been offered a 2012–2013 Knight-Wallace Fellowship in journalism!

The Knight-Wallace Fellowship gives mid-career journalists a chance to pursue customized sabbatical studies at the University of Michigan for a full academic year. The program also includes twice-weekly seminars, as well as training in narrative writing, multi-platform journalism, and entrepreneurial enterprise. Fellows also make two extended international tours to Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, and Istanbul.

I’m the first comics journalist to be offered a Knight-Wallace Fellowship, and I believe only the second comics journalist to receive an American journalism fellowship of any kind (the first being Dan Archer, who was a 2010–2011 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford). I’m proud to be part of a growing recognition that this field—exemplified by the incredible Joe Sacco—is legitimate and lasting (as evidenced by the work of folks like Archer, Sarah Glidden, Matt Bors, Susie Cagle, Josh Kramer, Ted Rall, and the folks behind Symbolia and the Illustrated Press, just to name a few).

I was inspired to apply for the fellowship after learning that Archer had done the Stanford version, and realizing how beneficial such a program could be for my craft (particularly the journalism side of things). All during the early part of this year, I worked on my application, essays, and supporting materials, as well as rounding up letters of recommendation. (Thank you again, recommenders!) In mid-March I was notified that I was a KWF finalist, and in mid-April I went out to Ann Arbor for the big interview with the board. During that weekend, I got to tour the Wallace House (named after program benefactor Mike Wallace), and meet the current Fellows. Awkwardly, I also mingled with the “competition,” 30+ other finalists for the final roster of 12 American 2012–2013 Fellows. I came away from the interview weekend with a good feeling, but obviously it wasn’t until that April 30 early-morning call from program director Charles Eisendrath that I knew I had it. (I was asked to hold off on spreading the word until the program put out a press release, which they now have done.)

My study plan is to extensively research Bahrain’s Pearl Revolution (which I did a short piece about for Cartoon Movement, the Eisner Award-nominated “Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand“). I plan on taking courses in the history of the Persian Gulf, Islam (specifically the Sunni-Shia divide), and the language and culture of the region. The ultimate goal is to produce a long-form comics-format book on the topic.

(My one tiny regret about the fellowship is that I have to back out of my October “Master Artist” residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Fortunately, however, ACA director Nick Conroy was gracious and understanding about my dilemma, and when I suggested that my long-time collaborator and pal Dean Haspiel take over for me, he was thrilled. And maybe I’ll get another chance to do the ACA residency in 2014…)

I really look forward to this amazing opportunity. I especially look forward to immersing myself in the practice of journalism, a field I’ve long been associated with (going back to my early days at The Nation magazine) but am now a designated member! I can’t wait to pick the brains of my fellow Fellows—both American and international—all of whom have more traditional backgrounds and training. The whole experience promises to be incredibly enriching.

So come September, Sari, Phoebe, and I will be temporarily relocating to Ann Arbor, Michigan. We’re all excited to embark on this new adventure. (Spouses and partners are invited to all seminars, and are Fellows in all but name. And the program is notoriously family-friendly.) Everyone I’ve talked to who’s had this fellowship just can’t stop raving about it.

This Saturday: Reportage in Balloons: The Emerging Field of Comics Journalism

This Saturday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m., Union Docs presents “Reportage in Balloons: The Emerging Field of Comic Journalism.” Curated by Amélie Garin-Davet, the evening will feature comics journalists Seth Tobocman, Matt Bors, and myself, as well my Influencing Machine collaborator, Brooke Gladstone, in a discussion lead by comic critic Bill Kartalopoulos. Seth, Matt, Brooke, and I will all show examples of our work. The event will close with a book signing.

Union DocsUnion is a center for documentary art that generates and shares big ideas. They bring together a diverse community of experimental media-makers, dedicated journalists, critical thinkers, and local partners on a search for urgent expressions of the human experience, practical perspectives on the world today, and compelling visions for the future.

Saturday, April 21, 7:30pm. $9 suggested donation
Reportage in Balloons: The Emerging Field of Comic Journalism
Union Docs
322 Union Avenue
Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Now up on ACT-I-VATE: “Operation Les Subs”

I'm back home from Lyon and still processing the incredibly, energizing experience of Les Subsistances' "Points de vue, Nouvelles du monde" festival. Today I'm posting the photo comic which served as the introduction to each of my nightly performances. I produced the photocomic in the two days (June 21 –June 22) leading up to the festival. It's a satirical look at the "journaliste BD"'s process of producing a daily comic on the news. (This is an English version — the original is in French.) The beautiful and talented Sari Wilson took the photos.

Once the 120 members of the audience had entered and were seated, the photo comic was projected on a screen, accompanied by a soundtrack. I was waiting in the wings, out of view. Right as the last image came on the screen, I burst into the room (to some applause!), and distributed copies of the day's comic to the crowd. Then (with the help of a translator) I presented the comic on the projector as the audience followed along.

I've set this up so it's Chapter 1 of the "Points de vue" comic. Chapter 2 is my first 8-page mini-mini, on Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei. Chapter 3 is the 8-pager I did on Friday, on the exorbitant fines being handed out to bloggers in Taiwan. Tomorrow, I'll post Chapter 4, the 8-page comic I did on Saturday, the festival's final day.

Operation Les Subs

Now up on ACT-I-VATE, “Ai Weiwei: Free in Body, not in Voice”

Today is the final day of Les Subsistances‘ "Points de vue, Nouvelles du monde" festival. It’s been a thrilling — and exhausting — journey. I’ve really enjoyed mixing with the rest of the participants: Congolese dancer Faustin Linyekula, French experimental theatre company Hauts & Court, Italian theatre troupe Compagny Motus, American radio producer Benjamen Walker, French anthropologist & writer Eric Chauvier, and Haitian-Candian writer Dany Laferrière.

In the two days leading up to the festival, Sari & shot and put together a satirical fumetti (photo comic) about my process as a "journaliste BD." And then each day I researched, wrote, drew, and assembled an eight-page mini-comic in response to a news event of the day. For the first day of the festival (Thursday, June 23, 2011) I chose a story about Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and his release that day from prison.

I’ve just posted the comic up on ACT-I-VATE. I’ve got to get to work on today’s project now, but if I have time I will post yesterday’s project a bit later. Enjoy…

Ai Weiwei

Off to Lyon with Les Subsistances

So I’m flying to Lyon, France, tonight, for a week. I’ve been invited by the “international creative research laboratory” Les Subsistances to take part in “Points de vue, nouvelles du monde.” For three days, me and a group of other creative spirits will create “on the spot” evening news bulletins in response to the events of the day (as reported by Agence France Press).

As Les Subsistances explains: “We know about and react to world news more and more quickly. What should we do with this overload of information? Distance ourselves from it? What if artists could transform news into ideas, into a vision? Les Subsistances asked four artists, two writers, and one web-radio producer to create “on the spot” reactions to news topics. Every morning, each of them will select a news story and they will have all day to develop a performance or a short story around it. Every night, the audience will be able to see world news through the eyes of the artists and watch the evening news in the shape of performances and readings.”

I’ll be doing this public experiment with the Congolese dancer Faustin Linyekula, French theatre director Joris Mathieu, the Italian theatre troupe Compagny Motus, American radio producer Benjamen Walker, French anthropologist & writer Eric Chauvier, and Haitian-Candian writer Dany Laferrière.

I really have no idea how this is all going to transpire. All I know is that the group of us will commune for four days at Les Subsistances — on the grounds of an old monastery — maybe coming up with a plan of attack once the official performances begin. Yes: performances. Every evening from June 23–25, four times a night, we’ll be presenting our “on the spot” creations to live audiences. This’ll be like doing editorial work for a daily paper, having to pick a topic and create something from it in a super-tight deadline. Oh, and with the little added detail of having to “perform” the work.

I sure hope my new collaborators have a plan! Because I sure don’t. I’m petrified! Fortunately, I have an ace in the hole: Sari, who’s coming along on the trip (along with darling Phoebe). Sari’s been my traveling companion and creative partner for going on twenty years now, so it increases my intestinal fortitude a hundrefold to know that Sari will be there for me in a pinch.

Oh, and, yeah, I did the art for the event. I’ve been named the “official” Les Subsistances illustrator for the 2011–2012 performance season.

Points de vue poster

The message for today

“406 Concord, I didn’t get no papers today. 406 Concord, I ain’t got no papers today.”

— recorded on my answering machine, 7:46 this morning.

Rumors

During my initial Red Cross orientation sessions, they stressed how important it was to avoid spreading rumors. Especially in a Mass Care/Sheltering environment, where the situation is fluid and people’s lives are discombobulated, it is vital that only valid information be passed on. So the first thing I noticed when I got to SeaBee base is that we volunteers exchange a lot of “information.” The only thing is the caliber of that info seems questionable. Here’s just a small sample:

Someone stole an ERV to sell for drugs • Someone got arrested stealing a box truck loaded with supplies • Each Red Cross meal costs us $8 • Someone insisted on being an ERV driver even though none were needed, and refused to do other work. They were turned right around and sent back to the airport an hour after they arrived. • Someone got sent home for having sex in a Port-a-Potty • Because of flooding in the Northeast, they’re sending volunteers from the Gulf Coast to New Jersey and New York • Someone spent all their three-week $900 cash allotment before he left home. He used part of it to get a $300 tattoo • Someone was told to withdraw all their $900 in cash, and then their wallet was stolen at the airport • Someone got a pedicure and a manicure with their Red Cross card • Someone went AWOL from SeaBee for three days and ran up $20,000 in fraudulent credit card charges • One guy at the base doesn’t have any duties at all and just sleeps in his cot all day • They’re shooting at Red Cross workers in New Orleans • Kitchen 7 is closing and they’ll be sending their remaining people to Kitchen 35. (That last one was true.)