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.

New comic: “Crossing the Line”

detainment-cropMedium‘s “The Nib” just posted my newest piece of comics journalism, titled “Crossing the Line“—about ethnic/religious profiling at the U.S./Canadian border. In this historical moment of scrutiny of law enforcement’s treatment of people of color (cf. Michael Brown, Eric Garner) the story seems to carry greater resonance.

I was inspired to do the piece by a radio story I heard on the NPR show On the Media. (Yes, the same On the Media co-hosted by my Influencing Machine collaborator, Brooke Gladstone.) OTM producer Sarah Abdurrahman’s piece, “My Detainment Story, Or: How I Learned to Stop Feeling Safe in my Own Country and Hate Border Agents,”  is a riveting, outrage-provoking triumph of radio journalism. If you haven’t heard it already, give it a listen.

As great as Abdurrahman’s piece was, to me it screamed to be told in comics form: the freezing cold rooms, the heartless treatment of families with small children, and most appallingly, the endless, repetitive interrogations. One of the subjects of Abdurrahman’s piece, Khaled A., was especially interesting to me. After speaking with him, I was determined to focus my story on his particular experiences.

Crossing the Line” is one of my most personal—you might say, “subjective”—comics journalism stories. Not only am I a “character” in the piece, but it probably strays the furthest into direct editorializing than any of my previous “cojo” stories. (For “balance,” I did try to get a comment from the Department of Homeland Security and the office of Customs and Border Protection. No one ever got back to me.) Anyway, I hope it works. And I hope you think so too.

P.S. Thanks for Matt Bors for sticking with me and this piece as long as he did, since it was delayed for many months by the demands of my previous comic, Terms of Service.

Jewish Comix Anthology Kickstarter fail?

Sadly, things aren’t looking too good for the Jewish Comix Anthology. Its Kickstarter goal of $50,000 CAD seems to be falling far short—they need more than $35,000, with only five days to go. The anthology features such luminaries as Will Eisner, Michael Netzer, Joe Kubert, Art Spiegelman, and Robert Crumb (um, not Jewish ;->). And me too. I was looking forward to doing an adaptation of the very funny folk tale “Digging a Pit,” about the Wise Men of Chelm. There are tons of other great contributors too—Trina Robbins, Rachel Pollack, Joe Infurnari, Harvey Pekar… the list goes on. Let’s hope Alternative History Comics (the publisher) can figure out a way to fund the book even if the Kickstarter doesn’t hit its goals. In the meantime, please think about backing the project. Shalom.

This Wednesday at the Rubin Museum: Karma-Con: Unveiling

The final component of the Rubin Museum‘s “Karma-Con” approaches. This Wednesday, April 18, the Rubin will unveil the finished illustrations of the “Cartoonists’ Wheel of Life.” After interacting with the art that inspires us, discussing the significance and merit of the Wheel of Life as an artistic image, working collaboratively in an open studio setting and individually in our own studios, artists Molly Crabapple, Sanya Glisic, Ben Granoff, Rodney Greenblat, Steven Guarnaccia, Michael Kupperman, Katie Skelly, and myself unveil our completed works as a unified Wheel of Life.

As I’ve mentioned before, my section is the world of humans. The human world is typically portrayed as one of suffering. These deprivations include:

  • hunger
  • thirst
  • heat
  • cold
  • separation from friends
  • being attacked by enemies
  • not getting what they want
  • getting what they don’t want

Humans also suffer from the general maladies of:

  • pain of childbirth
  • old age
  • sickness
  • death

A careful viewer will see examples of all these sufferings in my image, as well as allusions to the Occupy Wall Street movement (and a sneaky self-portrait of the artist).

The evening includes a Himalayan happy hour & spiral music, a pre-program tour of the Wheel of Life and second floor galleries, the unveiling of the new Wheel of Life and a discussion with the artists moderated by comics historian Christopher Irving, and a post-program tour of the accompanying exhibit Hero, Villain, Yeti: Tibet in Comics. And did I mention the whole evening is free?!

Karma-Con: Unveiling
Rubin Museum
Wednesday April 18, 2012 @ 7:00 PM

See below for a sneak-peek at my section from when it was in progress. And check out the Rubin’s page on the event for the full details.

Wheel of Life: Humans

I’ll be on WBAI tonight discussing the Rubin Museum’s Wheel of Life comics project

Tonight, starring at about 9:40 pm, I will be on WBAI 99.5 FM here in NYC discussing the Rubin Museum’s Karma-Con series. Along with fellow cartoonists Katie Skelly and Rubin Museum curator Beth Citron, we’ll be guests on WBAI’s Asia Pacific Forum. We’ll talk about the cartoonists’ Wheel of Life project and the ongoing exhibition “Hero, Villain, Yeti: Tibet in Comics.”

On April 18, myself and a group of other local cartoonists/illustrators will unveil our reinterpretations of segments of the Tibetan Wheel of Life (also known as the Wheel of Becoming, a representation of Buddhist beliefs about life, death, and rebirth). I was given my section last week (at the very enjoyable “Studio Salon“), and I’m in the middle of completing it. My section is the world of Humans, and I’m having fun trying to depict the various suffering we go through in our attempt to reach enlightenment. Here’s a sneak peak of how it’s looking so far…

Wheel of Life: Humans

Rubin Museum Karma-Con “Artists on Art” Talk… Take Two

I was all sent last month to lead a talk at the Rubin Museum when I suffered an untimely injury. I dislocated my kneecap and ruptured my patella tendon playing basketball, and had to have surgery. After being laid up in the hospital for four days, I’m now back home, but am sporting a full-leg fiberglass cast on my left leg (which I’ll have to endure until at least March 30).

But that won’t stop me from going through with my planned talk! This Friday, March 16, we’ll try again. In conjunction with the current exhibition, Gateway to Himalayan Art, I’ll pick out a few pieces from the show that strike me or form some connection with my own practice. And I’ll be accompanied during the event by assistant curator Beth Citron—as I mentioned before, someone actually qualified to discuss South Asian art. I should be able to hobble through this without too much trouble.

Here are details:

Artists on Art
Friday, March 16, 2012, 6:15pm — FREE!

Rubin Museum of Art
150 W. 17th Street
New York, NY

Meet at the base of the spiral staircase

The “Artist on Art” series is part of the Museum’s self-styled “Karma-Con.” Part two, the “Studio Salon,” takes place the following Wednesday, March 21. For that event, myself and a group of other local cartoonists/illustrators will reinterpret segments of the Tibetan Wheel of Life (also known as the Wheel of Becoming, a representation of Buddhist beliefs about life, death, and rebirth).

Molly Crabapple, Ben Granoff, Michael Kupperman, Katie Skelly, and I will create initial sketches, sell and sign our work, and share our creative processes in an open studio setting, complete with cocktails. This event is specifically tied to another Rubin exhibition, Hero, Villain, Yeti: Tibet in Comics. I should be able to prop myself up somewhere, leg sticking out awkwardly, to do some preliminary sketching.

Karma-Con part 3, “The Unveiling,” will take place April 18; further details to come. By then I should be completely able-bodied again!

Here’s more info about the Studio Salon. I hope to see you at both the “Artists on Art’ event and the “Studio Salon.”

Was I a State Dept. Stooge?

Events of the last week in Bahrain have made me see how naive I was about the country — even after my visit there last October. Before this last week, I had no idea that much of Bahrain’s internal tensions stem from a Sunni minority’s rule over a Shia majority. Other factors are at work, of course — including basic tenets of democratic civil societies like the rights of free assembly — but the heart of it really does seem to be this artificially imposed sectarian divide. The Sunni king — part of a royal line that goes back over 200 years — even brings in Sunni (or at least non-Shi’ite) foreigners to serve in the police force and military. All this just to ensure that Shi’ites don’t have easy access to weapons.

What really frustrates me is that I was specifically not informed of any of this background when I was brought in by the U.S. State Dept. to visit the country last fall. I’ve gone back over the literature they gave me, and nowhere does it mention the sectarian split. My foreign national handler (who I now have to presume was Sunni) never made mention of it, nor did any of the people or institutions I visited. (These places included an American university operating in Bahrain, a college for wealthy female students, an art society, and a journalists association.)

Maybe it didn’t come up because it’s considered impolite to talk about such things. But I would have expected better from the State Dept. to inform me, an official visitor, about the political realities on the ground. After all, in Egypt, Algeria, and Israel/Palestine, my American hosts were very upfront about the political/ethnic divisions in the respective countries. (I tried to do as much independent research as I could before I got there, but there were no guidebooks for Bahrain to be had, and I was visiting so many countries in such a condensed period that I just didn’t have time read much about the country before I got there.) Considering that the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based out of Bahrain, I’m forced to question the motives of my embassy compatriots there. So once again American “interests” conflict with our supposed “values”…

And now I think back even more on the walking-on-eggshells quality of my visit there, right in the middle of Bahrain’s parliamentary election season. A very denuded Parliament, as it so happens. Which makes it even more strange that the State Dept. invited me there — as a “political cartoonist” — yet asked me to refrain from breaching certain sensitive topics. Many of which I was blissfully ignorant of. It makes my head spin.

Bahrain is a tiny country, pretty well off, highly educated. It’s littered with Western chain restaurants: McDonald’s, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Fuddruckers, the list goes on. I got no sense of it being a place on the verge of an explosion. And yet now we see the king cracking down hard on what appear to be very peaceful demonstrators. Seniors, women, children — all victims of repeated tear gas attacks, rubber bullets, shotguns, and beatings.

A young man I met at one of my workshops there has been corresponding with me on Facebook. He was in the Pearl Square roundabout until about 1 a.m. on Wednesday, leaving just a few hours before the riot police moved in, clearing the square (and killing at least five people). A friend of his, a 23-year-old engineering student, was among the dead. My Bahraini Facebook friend implored me, “Please help us.. we need world’s help..!!” Surreal.

A recent tweet by a Bahraini citizen with the handle RedhaHaji sums it up: “Hard to hold back tears. This is not real. Not happening. We hear things like this happen in other places not our home.”

Mob Comix, or “Of Mr. Bean and Buddhist Monks”

Exquisite corpse

Our last two activities as part of the “International Week of Graphic Novels” were group affairs. For the Friday “amateur” session at the Alliance Française, Émile, Badoux, and I arranged another “exquisite corpse” exercise, much as we did with the professionals earlier in the week. Once again, the three of us started up the narrative, and then the Burmese participants joined in. As the story developed, page by page, we taped the results up on the board. I had been worried that the activity would be boring for all those except the person who was drawing, but surprisingly the activity proved to be a real crowd-pleaser. Everyone gathered around the person at work, laughing as the picture took shape, and often throwing in words of advice or encouragement.

During my stay in the country, I had come to feel that one of the most discouraging things about the state of comics in Myanmar was how isolated the comics practitioners seemed to be from each other. I’ve always been aware how fortunate I have been during my comics career to have ready access to a large group of fellow cartoonists, as well as generous, older mentors. And that was something that, other than a few exceptions evidenced among the morning session professionals, seemed to be missing from Burmese comics culture. But I was happy to see during our Friday afternoon exercise that the older, professional artists in the group were encouraging some of the more tentative or less skilled participants, and that some form of mentoring really was happening. My hope is that some of that cross-generational energy continued past our visit to their country.

Saturday, our last day of “official” business, was a bit less intensive than the preceding four days. Émile, Badoux, and I each presented our work at the Alliance Francaise — Badoux and I using slideshows — for an audience of workshop participants and the public (including the German ambassador and his family, who seemed really into comics). Much of the Alliance’s outdoor area had been transformed into an exhibition space of the various exercises we had done — both professional and amateur — during the previous week. It was really nice to see everything displayed in such a loving and celebratory way. I really have to hand it to Fanny, the Alliance employee who did much of the hard work putting the “International Week of Graphic Novels” together.

That was followed by a live drawing demonstration, the idea for which Émile again came up with. Similar in spirit to the exquisite corpse exercise, the idea was to do a group drawing on a long roll of paper. As the crowd gathered in the outdoor café, an artist drew something in an approximately two-foot-wide area. Then the drawing was covered up — except for a two-inch sliver on the edge. The next artist, sight unseen, continued the picture by connecting their drawing to that sliver, guessing at what it depicted. The audience, seeing it all take place in front of their eyes, had a good time laughing at the strange results. The game went on for about an hour, with about twenty artists (including Émile, Badoux, and myself) taking part; the final picture was unveiled to much surprise and amusement for whole gang at the very end.

As the crowds dispersed, many kind words were exchanged and pictures were taken — my favorite one is us three “international” artists and the Buddhist monk.

Alliance Francaise café

The week's work on display

Badoux at work on the exquisite corpse exercise as Émile Bravo looks on

The exquisite corpse is unveiled

Cheese!

Let us pray

A little postscript about the monk: He was a pleasant, quiet sort of guy, so I quickly got over my nervousness about having such a spiritual person in my class. And the other students didn’t seem intimidated by him either, so everything went fine in the amateur workshop he attended. He wasn’t the most accomplished or imaginative artist, but he could hold his own with the other amateurs. And I liked that he eagerly took part in the last two group sessions. But Badoux told me a hilarious story about the monk, from his workshop earlier in the week. According to Badoux, the monk carried around a little sketchbook, much as artists do in the West. So Badoux asked to see it, and was mildly taken aback to see it was mostly filled with sketches of buxom and “sexy” women. A little odd for a chaste Buddhist, but whatever. But what really threw Badoux for a loop was when he turned the page to find a loving depiction of the British comic character Mr. Bean… with breasts! (Man, I wish I had a picture of that page from the sketchbook.) Obviously, after hearing that story, I never looked at that little monk in quite the same way again.

PopTheology

Pop Theology, the Christian website that usually focuses on film and TV — "examin[ing] the intersection of pop culture and theology, religion, and spirituality"  — just posted a lengthy, thoughtful review of A.D. I was taken with the writer’s pinpointing of a unique feature of comics which address documentary subjects:

The genre in which [Neufeld] chooses to work is a treasure because it allows readers to stop and meditate on images that often passed by so quickly on the news or in documentary films like Trouble the Water or When the Levees Broke. The crowds in front of the Superdome or the convention center often “fell victim” to the fly-by helicopter or drive-by tracking shot. Viewers could barely distinguish individuals in the huddled masses. Unintentionally or not, news coverage often grouped images of looters with those who were simply trying to provide for or rescue friends or family members.Thankfully, we can linger here on these images of suffering and/or heroism in ways that the rapidity of other media do not allow. Neufeld’s book, by focusing on real people and slowing down these experiences, helps concretize what so many lost in the experience, both emotionally and materially. From belongings to personal feelings of value and dignity, the victims of this storm will strive for the rest of their lives to piece together what they, perhaps, once took for granted.

was also interested in the review’s attribution of a spiritual message to A.D.:

Neufeld opens his novel with an image of the Earth seen from outer space. As he zooms in on the planet, we see the storm clouds grow larger and larger. As a result, he paints (or rather draws) this event as a global/human disaster, not just an American one. Humanity, not just Americans, has suffered.
 

As a non-religious person, I approached that sequence from a journalistic and "ethical humanistic" perspective, but I suppose it’s easy to see a religious implication. As Pop Theology says in their "About" page:

We also know that a [work of art] can be religious or spiritual or offer important theological insights even if it does not contain explicitly religious characters or tell a historically religious story. It is often the case that when song or a television show seriously explores the human condition, theological questions can’t be far behind.

And to be honest, I’ve always referred to the book’s "prologue" as being from a "god’s eye" perspective.

[Cross-posted on the A.D. blog]

Christian Rock illo process

I just did a new illustration (for the San Antonio Current) and thought it would be fun to show the process. The illo was for a story about how dull the “Christian Contemporary Music” scene is. The art director had a concept in mind when he called, so this was one of those gigs deadredfred first told me about, where your job as an illustrator is basically to “do something nice that can hang over the couch.” But that’s cool; I didn’t have the energy for a great new concept.

Anyway, the a.d’s idea was to show Jesus in a band T-shirt, rocking out to music in a crowd of polite, conservatively dressed Christian concert-goers. The a.d. had worked with me before, so he didn’t need to see sketches or even pencils; he said I could go straight to final.

Even so, for my own piece of mind, I worked up a tiny thumbnail, just to get the basic layout for the dimensions of the piece:
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