Jennifer Shaw’s HURRICANE STORY

I strongly encourage you to get a copy of Hurricane Story, the beautiful cloth-bound art book by New Orleans-based photographer Jennifer Shaw. Just out this month from Broken Levee Books (an imprint of Chin Music Press), the slim 7" x 7" volume boasts an eloquent foreword by my old buddy/collaborator Rob Walker.

Here’s the book jacket description, which of course doesn’t do justice to the photos themselves:

Jennifer Shaw was nine months pregnant when Hurricane Katrina blew into the Gulf. In the early hours of August 28, 2005, she and her husband loaded up their truck with their two dogs, two cats, photo negatives, important papers, and a few changes of clothes. They evacuated to a motel in southern Alabama and tried to avoid watching the news. Monday, August 29, brought two life-changing events: the destruction of New Orleans and the birth of a son.

Using a simple Holga camera, Shaw narrates her six thousand-mile journey with dreamy and haunting photographs of toys that illustrate her emotional state during a time of exile, waiting, and eventual homecoming.
 

Hurricane Story is a fairytale of birth and death, joy and sadness, innocence and infinite despair. Through the unexpected device of the Holga camera and the toy dioramas, all the familiar images of the Katrina story are brought back to vivid life, reminding even the most jaded reader of what it felt like to live through those dark days.

The book’s beautifully staged tableaux are alternately sweet and menacing, filled with emotion but never spilling over into sentimentality. The book is highly personal yet somehow universal, mournful yet playful, striking a balance which to me seems perfectly New Orleanian.

The poetic marriage of words and photos makes Hurricane Story a children’s book — or, if you will, a "graphic novel" — for grown-ups.

For links to purchasing a copy, click here.

Jennifer Shaw's HURRICANE STORY

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Sari’s Significant Object

I love that Rob Walker. Not only is he the brilliant author of the New York Times Magazine‘s "Consumed" column and the former "Moneybox" columnist for Slate. Not only did he write the critically acclaimed Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are (Random House, 2008). Not only did he pen the wonderful collection of essays about the Big Easy called Letters from New Orleans. Not only did he create the zine Where Were You, his personal reminiscences about celebrity deaths. Not only was he my collaborator on Titans of Finance. But now he — and partner Joshua Glenn (does he only work with guys named "Josh"?) have come up with a new scheme, one which combines Rob’s interests in art, social practices, and money — The Significant Object project. And my wonderful wife Sari is a participant.

Here’s how it works (from the S.O. website):

THE IDEA: A talented, creative writer invents a story about an object. Invested with new significance by this fiction, the object should — according to our hypothesis — acquire not merely subjective but objective value.

DETAILS:

  1. The project’s curators purchase objects — for no more than a few dollars — from thrift stores and garage sales.
  2. A participating writer is paired with an object. He or she then writes a fictional story, in any style or voice, about the object. Voila! An unremarkable, castoff thingamajig has suddenly become a “significant” object!
  3. Each significant object is listed for sale. Care is taken to avoid the impression that the story is a true one; the intent of the project is not to hoax eBay customers.
  4. The winning bidder is mailed the significant object, along with a printout of the object’s fictional story. Net proceeds from the sale are given to the respective author.
Don’t you love it? I do; I’ve always thought Rob has an amazing talent for using irony to address serious and important issues, and this is a perfect example. Anyway, the S.O. project has already employed the talents of such writers as Nicholson Baker, Kurt Anderson, Colson Whitehead, Luc Sante, Doug Dorst, Ann Nocenti, and now… Sari Wilson. Check out her contribution, all about a sweeeeet penguin creamer, right here. And start bidding — the auction ends September 10!!!

Letters From New Orleans 2nd edition

I should have mentioned this a week ago. For those interested in Katrina Came Calling, this is a much more compelling read, written before Hurricane Katrina, by my buddy R. Walker, who lived in New Orleans for about for years. Anyway, this is where I’ll be tonight:

The Letters From New Orleans 2nd Edition* Release Party
Tuesday March 14, 2006
No cover. Free snacks at 6:30pm
Reading at 7:00pm
Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction
34 Avenue A between 2nd and 3rd
NYC

Rob Walker reads from, discusses, and perhaps answers questions about his essay collection Letters From New Orleans, covering such topics as celebratory gunfire, urban decay, the relationship between people and places, and the pros and cons of masking.

*2nd Edition includes a new afterword, and two or three typo corrections.

Viral Marketing

My old Titans of Finance compatriot, Rob Walker (“Consumed” columnist for the New York Times magazine), recently spoke to the blog “Like It Matters” about his new book, Letter From New Orleans. Check out the interview and the book. As Rob says, Letter is “… driven by ideas and observation, … diary-like without being ‘confessional,’ and done with complete indifference to the idea of ‘timeliness’ or ‘a hook.'” This makes it a fascinating series of portraits of the Crescent City, and surely of interest to anyone who’s lived or visited there.

Perseverance Pays Off

Working the crowds at Federal Hall

Working the crowds at Federal Hall (photo by Dean Haspiel)

Titans of Finance: True Tales of Money & BusinessIn 1968, Robert Crumb patrolled the intersection of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, selling copies of his comic Zap out of a baby carriage. On October 3, 2002, I stood on the corner of Broad and Wall Street in New York City, selling copies of my comic Titans of Finance out of a Nike sports bag. How times have changed.

But still, one thing remains the same: if you try hard enough, you can find your audience. I was there with hundreds of other folks for Ralph Nader’s “Crackdown on Corporate Crime” rally. Nader’s goal was to “focus attention on the vast array of corporate misdeeds and to propose sound remedies that will help shareholders, taxpayers, workers, and consumers tame the reckless and out-of control corporate bosses.” Nader was joined by such progressive luminaries as former NYC mayoral hopeful Mark Green, NY Green Party Gubernatorial Candidate Stanley Aronowitz, singer/songwriter Patti Smith, and talk show host Phil Donahue.

Interview

The harsh glare of the spotlight (photo by Dean Haspiel)

Needless to say, this was a perfect opportunity for me to hawk Titans, billed as “True Tales of Money & Business,” featuring stories of greed, betrayal and indictments, and starring folks like Revlon chairman (and ex-Marvel Comics owner) Ron Perelman, “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap, and bond trader Monroe Trout. As Pete Seeger says, “to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose.” Last September, when the book came out, the last thing people wanted to read was business-world satire. After all, we had just seen thousands of Wall Streeters massacred in the fall of the World Trade Center. But, a year later, what with the Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, and Haliburton scandals leading the business news every day, there’s a built-in audience for what writer R. Walker & I have to say.

You see, despite Titans being favorably mentioned in the New York Times, Money magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger’s and Fortune Small Business, we’ve had very limited sales, somewhere in the 1500-2000 range. Obviously, this is because the book targets those with an interest in the business world (and a good sense of humor) — not your typical comics specialty store customer. But Barnes & Noble won’t carry it because it fits neither of their rigid definitions of a book or a magazine, and how else to get eyeballs? Well, with Nader’s rally, I had finally found my audience.

A typical reader

Just your typical reader (photo by Dean Haspiel)

The day was overcast, giving the tall downtown buildings a gray brooding presence as the crowds began to gather. A giant pink inflatable pig dominated the intersection in front of Federal Hall and the Stock Exchange. The police had set up barricades, sending demonstrators out in two directions away from the stage, yet still allowing passers-by to reach their destinations.

Dean and Josh

Your ToF newsboys, Deanand Josh (photo by anonymous)

As rally organizers got things going and folks started to congregate for the speeches, people of all political stripes and agendas began to appear. There were your expected bands of Green Party student activists, the obligatory Socialist Worker flacks and miscellaneous single-issue protestors. As I donned my “costume” of suit, tie and sandwich board and prepared to enter the fray, I was joined by Pot Whore, a blond-wig-red-lipstick-wearing woman in a g-string and black bra. She bought the first copy, and I was on my way.

My buddy and fellow cartoonist volunteered to be my sidekick for the event, and I couldn’t have done it without him. As a freelancer who more often than not works in his underwear, I found the oppressive monkey suit (a $5 thrift store purchase from my college days) a real challenge to endure. But Dean kept me on topic, spied out the best venues for prospective sales and steered copies into the hands of interested buyers. My sales pitch stressed that Titans featured real stories of corporate CEOs, all taken from the business pages, hand-drawn by yours truly. People were intrigued by the sandwich board’s slogans and my verbal hawking and came over to see what I had to offer. Over 90% of them ended up buying a copy. Many people were excited to buy directly from the artist, and I even signed a copy and did a sketch for one middle-aged woman (using Dean’s broad back as a writing surface, natch). Always looking to do my part in the fight against corporate greed, I sold the book for $3.00 — 50 cents off the cover price.

Stock Traders — Titans in Training?

Stock Traders — Titans in Training? (photo by Dean Haspiel)

What was wonderful about the rally was how diverse it was. I sold books to people you wouldn’t see in a comic shop in a hundred years: middle-aged working class black men, red diaper baby boomers, college-age radicals, and activist grandmas. In two hours time, I sold almost 40 copies, more than I’ve vended — total — at three separate comic conventions (Baltimore, MOCCA, and SPX). I love the idea of all those disparate people taking the book home and enjoying the fruits of my labors, having a laugh at some of the stories inside, and maybe even learning a thing or two about the business world.

Fulfilling my patriotic duty

Fulfilling my patriotic duty (photo by Dean Haspiel)

At one point, Dean reached across the barricades to show Titans to some local stock traders, who were lounging outside the Exchange watching the rally. “Hey, number 273,” Dean yelled to one, “Check this out! You might like it.” “I wouldn’t wipe my ass with that shit,” the trader retorted before he stomped off in anger. Apparently, he didn’t approve of our implicit criticism of the hyper-capitalist system. Dean grinned and shrugged, and we immediately sold a few copies to some nearby observers.

My suit-and-tie outfit must have given me some kind of goofy look of authority because at one point a very well-dressed man approached me for help. It turned out he was Lebanese, newly arrived from the old country, and was anxious to meet his long-lost relative Ralph Nader! You see, his grandfather and Ralph’s father were brothers, and this man hoped I could arrange a family reunion. He even pulled out a beaten-up copy of the 1973 book, Citizen Nader, showing me a chronology of the Nader family which proved that Nader’s father had immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon in 1912. I was touched by this family drama but admitted I had no special access to Nader. I encouraged him to try talking to Ralph after the rally, handed him a free copy of Titans, and sent him on his way.

Finally, the speeches over and the strains of Smith’s “People Have the Power” echoing away, the crowd started to disperse. Dean and I headed up Nassau Street to start the journey home to Brooklyn. I felt like I had achieved a small but significant victory. What had begun as a publicity stunt had mutated into a full-fledged “marketing success:” I had found my audience, and they had responded. To top it off, as we left the Federal Hall/Stock Exchange area, Ralph Nader himself, with entourage, passed by. I pressed a copy of Titans into his hands and gave him a quick spiel. As we walked off in opposite directions, Dean looked back and remarked, “Hey, Nader’s reading the book — not listening to the guy talking to him anymore!”; What more could a humble cartoonist want?

[ here’s man-size’s version ]

Titans of Finance one-shot due in August from Alternative Comics

Regarding American Splendor: Portrait of the Artist in His Declining Years, the Comics Buyer’s Guide says that “the best stories are illustrated by Haspiel … and Neufeld,” so who am I to argue?

And it’s now official: Alternative Comics will indeed by publishing Titans of Finance as a deluxe one-shot this August. 24 pages, printed on money-green paper with dark green ink, all for $3.50. What a bargain! Here’s what our promotional blurb says about the issue: ‘Titans aims for where the action is, delivering America a swift kick in the business. Meet Ron Perelman, the man who made millions while presiding over the Mighty Marvel Comics train wreck. He’s just one of the characters in this ground-breaking collection of true tales from the world of money and business. Over the past five years, Titans has crushed the benchmark S&P 500. You’ve never seen anything like it. Titans features the crisp art of Josh Neufeld, and the incisive scripts of the mysterious R. Walker. These tales “hit the mark,” says Harvey Pekar, and are “a brilliant use of the medium,” according to TheStreet.com’s James J. Cramer.’ (For more info, visit http://www.indyworld.com/tof)

“Titans of Finance” syndicated by TheStreet.com; more

“Titans of Finance,” R. Walker and yours truly’s comics series of true tales of money & business, is now a monthly feature at TheStreet.com! “Titans” tells the tales of Wall Street’s most well-known Icaruses. The strips are entirely based on press accounts, with practically no embellishment. TheStreet.com, an online financial publication that covers Wall Street with an “irreverent and edgy” tone, features commentary by the likes of outrageous hedge fund manager James Cramer. We’re hoping that “Titans” and TSC make good partners in our attempt to “break up the pretensions and self-aggrandizement characteristic of so many ‘self-made’ entrepreneurs, showing how their own all-too-self-denied foibles and obsessions eventually bring their grand schemes to ridiculous ends.” (The Comics Journal)

Anyway, “Titans” runs once a month on TheStreet.com, in the “Weekender” section. They’ve done a fabulous job with translating the comic to the web environment; we think it looks terrific. Check out each “Titans” episode here.

In other “Titans” news, look for a new SEVEN-PAGE story, featuring Revlon Chairman and former owner of Marvel Comics, Ron Perelman, in the indy anthology EXPO 2000, published by the Small Press Expo. A Mighty Marvel Epic, as only R. Walker & I could tell it!

Finally: Is it American Splendor or is it Keyhole? The next two issues of Harvey Pekar’s “neo-realist” comic feature stories illustrated by moi, including a full-color back cover. Look for the newest American Splendor (published by Dark Horse) in stores soon.