Great Student: Lisa Lim

Lisa Lim's terrific comic has made it to print and is viewable on the web here: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/english/nashvillereview/archives/2787

It's an unbelievable tale of her mom having to retrieve her half-sister from a sort of kidnapping in Egypt, after 5 years in exile. Totally crazy story, with vivid characters and weird situations and lavish diagrammatic, designy illustrations.

Check it out!


Tim Kreider on Stealing From Your Friends

Actually creating art, like giving birth, is a painful, unsightly and ultimately solitary business, best done in private--but conception is necessarily more sociable, and way more fun. Nothing is ever created in total isolation. Here is how you come up with good ideas: cultivate friendships with people much smarter and funnier than you, spend hundreds of hours drinking and talking with them, and steal everything they say. Keep a little notepad and jot down every hilarious idea they come up with. Often you'll wake up to find cryptic and inscrutable items like "Giant Squid--CONSPIRACY???" scrawled in there, but sometimes you will find an idea that's worth preserving. And once in a while you get a gift from the Gods.

I'm being (kinda) facetious when I advocate stealing your friends' ideas. I'm not really recommending anything quite as lazy or straightforward as plagiarism. Being around smart, funny, creative people forces you to be smarter, funnier and more creative yourself, just to keep up. In your effort to impress and best them you better yourself. We've all been in a barroom or car full of friends all riffing on some joke, outdoing each other, trying to crack each other up. it's both a competition and a group collaboration. It's often impossible, in retrospect, to parse out which was whose idea, exactly; they were products of a group mind, quicker and more inventive than any one person's efforts. Just recently, in one of our late-night phone conversations, my friend Boyd and I came up with what sounds like the title of a bold manifesto, Beyond Pants. And at dinner this week some friends and I hit upon the name of a blockbuster that pretty much writes itself: Godzilla Dubai. This is the fruitful battlefield of creativity Nietzsche describes in "Homer's Contest." (Nietzsche, the loneliest of philosophers, wrote eloquently and often on this subject: "One seeks a midwife for his thoughts; another, someone he can assist. Here is the origin of a good conversation.")

Joseph Conrad, in his introduction to The Secret Agent, describes how an offhanded comment dropped by a friend of his in conversation and something he read in a book a week later somehow connected in his mind--he describes the experience as both "illumination" and "crystallization"--and inspired him to begin the novel. H.G. Wells and his brother Frank were walking in Surrey discussing the extermination of the aboriginal Tasmanians when Frank wondered aloud how the English would feel if beings from another world were to drop out of the sky and begin methodically laying waste to the countryside. Not long ago I had a conversation over breakfast with the author of this book, my friend and colleague Tom Hart, in which we got to talking about people we'd known who were habitually dishonest. I'd once had a friend who wasn't a pathological liar but made up a lot of stories and kept a lot of secrets. I'd resigned myself to never writing about him because there were certain secrets I felt bound to keep for him, even thought he'd been dead several years. But in describing him to Tom that it occurred to me that the things I was free to say about him were stranger and more interesting than I'd realized; that perhaps I could write an essay about him after all without revealing the things I didn't want to. Tom is an autodidact, bereft of the chronic boredom and incuriosity that are the gifts of a formal education; his urgent and insatiable interest in the world makes you feel more erudite and fascinating. Such people animate every conversation they enter into, giving even a rambling barroom talk focus and momentum; they make you realize you have something to say.

Even talking with ordinary people, if it can't possibly be avoided, is occasionally valuable. One of the first things I learned in college was that quite often you think you have no opinion on a subject until you listen to other people's stupid ideas and wrongheaded interpretations and realize that in fact you have very strong and peculiar opinions; you'd just mistakenly thought they were so obvious and sensible that they went without saying. Your inner thirteen-year-old who believes that Everybody in the World Is Stupid Except Me isn't actually as smart as s/he thinks and will make you very unpopular if allowed to mouth off uncensored, but that buried arrogance is necessary if you're going to presume on people's time and attention to tell them what you think about anything at all.

And let us not forget what is most important in life: the Ladies. The women I've loved most in my life are the ones in whose company, and for whose benefit, I've become the smartest, funniest, sanest and best version of myself. Impressing women (or men, or both, depending on your gender and orientation) is perhaps the main incentive in any kind of creative endeavor. As my therapist keeps telling me, kind of tiresomely, "Sublimation is the highest form of defense mechanism." (It seems to me like a paltry substitute for fucking, but you do sometimes get paid for it.) Even romantic disappointment and grudges can be powerful incentives; Tom and I once agreed, in a barroom converation, that 94% of all art in the history of the world was created to make some girl sorry. A novelist friend of mine told me an anecdote about giving a reading from her first novel in a bookstore where her first boyfriend, who was, humiliatingly, working as a clerk in that bookstore, approached her and actually admitted he'd read her book looking for any allusion to himself, and had found none. This story is to me as thrilling a tale of vengeance, in its small way, as The Count of Monte Cristo. Yes: we will show them. We will show them all. The night my book of essays sold to a major publisher, my girlfriend brought me five congratulatory cupcakes that said, in cursive icing, one word per cake:

They will rue the day.


Tic Tac Toe Jam with Matt Madden

Matt Madden and I took a morning to do a "Tic Tac Toe Jam" of his invention. We had a lot of fun and I drew probably my 4th superhero ever. See explanation, both jams and more pics in his post on it here: http://mattmadden.blogspot.com/2010/12/tic-tac-toe-jam-new-jam-comic.html


2010 Post Thanksgiving KGB COmix Reading!

Hello readers,

Our annual post-Thanksgiving Sunday Comix Reading at KGB this year will be Sunday November 28 at 7pm and will feature:

Lisa Hanawalt: http://www.lisahanwalt.com
Mike Dawson: http://www.mikedawsoncomics.com/
Kate Beaton: http://www.harkavagrant.com/

KGB Bar:
85 East 4th Street


Let's Get Furious Cover

God knows I've never designed a good book cover myself, so we're letting Andrew Devries Barton at Top Shelf design it and he's making lovely choices. Here's the cover at right, and the entire spread below.

The book is 378 pages, baby. That's more than 300 pages longer than your average new graphic novel these days at about the same cost.

Coming in May 2011.


On Not Shooting the Outline

My wife, Leela and I were trying various episodic TV from HBO, and we watched our first episode of ROME. Hundreds of Caesar’s troops on horseback, are trudging through the woods towards the Capitol. They come to a river. One Centurion looks to another and says “What river is that?” Centurion #2: “That’s the Rubicon.” The troops cross it.

Leela looked at me and scowls, “They’re just shooting the outline!”

You can imagine the dramatic outline of the story here: Caesar makes his decision. The troops prepare. The march starts. They cross the Rubicon, marking the first act of war in Caesar’s civil war.

What’s missing in the producers’ execution is some grace, some evocation of emotion, some decorative element, some genuine grubby humanity.

Mamet gets it right in On Directing Film: “...In the beautiful drama, each moment serves the purpose of the superobjective, and each moment is beautiful in itself. If the moment only serves the superobjective, we have plodding narrative pseudodrama, good only for object-lesson or ‘message’ plays.”

Not shooting the outline, or poetry, is about getting to know the plot point and using it as a springboard to let your humanity explore. This can come in any form of detail- beauty of language (be it verbal or visual), emotional depth, psychological clarity, connections and “poetic units”, great jokes, etc.

If your outline says “The surgeon accidentally put a guy’s feet on backwards” but you write:

The surgeon had finished up sewing
The feet on a man without knowing
He switched them around
Now he walks into town
They can’t tell if he’s coming or going
(-Edward Lear)

You’ve made poetry.

If you write, "Doctor, you've accidentally put the patient's feet on backwards" you've shot the outline. Or written a set-up for the Muppet Show's "Veterinarian Hospital."

Some writers find poetry in language. From Shakespeare to Lear to Mamet, they lock down the outline- the structure of the drama to allow the verbal landscape to soar. A hip-hop artist’s outline might be a single line: “Tell them how bad-ass your rhymes are” and from that 4 minutes of verse flows.

Other artists will find it in their drawings, lighting, composition, etc. Douglas Sirk transcended his “pseudodrama” with an excess of style. Osamu Tezuka dazzled with a brilliance in his craft.


Talks with my Buddhist student

I had a discussion with a student who deeply invested in Buddhism. Some thoughts:

There is a spiritual world and a material world.

If you choose to be in the material world, even just a little, you have to act, you have to do something.

When you choose to be present and you pay attention, you realize life is incredibly strange. So is art. It can be like living twice- it has the potential to be just as strange and wonderful and horrible for the artist as real life. But not everyone has the courage to go through it twice.

Attention is the best artistic gift you can give yourself.

"My life has been about paying attention to things. Most people don't know how few things they pay attention to." - John Cage

Random quotes

Random quotes. Organizing my How to Say Everything detritus folder.

"Nothing is worse than a good beginning" - Pablo Picasso

"As soon as your mind knows that it's on and it's supposed to produce some lines, either it DOESN'T, or it produces things that are very predictable. You want your mind to wander, that's really what you want to happen." - Paul Simon

"Be regular and [word illegible in my notes] in your life so you can be violent and original in your work" - Flaubert

"I was obessesed with movement and action... I pursued them all my life. I began to fall into patterns. Ultimately... you align everything with your need" AND

"Dramatize means to characterize. I wasn't characterizing, I was doing biblical illuminations... As I began to become aware of drama, I became aware of character." AND

"I got away from a totally abstracted view to a more personalized one. I tried to humanize..." AND

On comparing his own work to Harold Grey: "I've never reached that level of being able to casually- I'm corrupted by my ideal to still have a Wagnerian element enter into every subdued picture that I want to do." - Gil Kane, TCJ interview (this and above three)

"Intention of an artist: to make enough mistakes to be able to receive gifts" - uncredited.


Political nuts then and now, in cartoons

Angry rants from the Political Fringe!

From Super I.T.C.H., a great pas de deux with the past and the present:

Cartoon from Puck's Joseph Keppler.

Great Student: Sophie Goldstein

Sophie Goldstein re-emerged to show me what she's been up to. Aside from this single strip which cracks me up:


And whatever painting technique she is using to great effect,

She is also demonstrating a great use of PERSONAL FONTS. Sophie made this font for $10 at http://www.yourfonts.com/

So get with the program, read Sophie's Darwin Carmichael is Going To Hell and stop using bad fonts.


A web app. I want. Please build it and give me a free copy.

Ideally, here's what it would do.

Like tweeting, you send a SMS to a number. You are creating a personal log. It records your message, the date (automatically), and a tag. Here's a few sample messages to show how I would use it:

Finished Veronica, Mary Gaitskill; @books, @log
Dreamt dad sitting on tire swing, I pushed him off; @ dreams, @log
idea for new play: old high school bullly earns second degree learning from teacher he once bullied as kid; @ideas
short story read: xxxx by xxxx in New Yorker june 2010 issue; @short stories, @log
finished draft of xxx; @writings, @log

Etc. And all it would have to do is create a database that you can access on the web that you can view (and print) in calendar or spreadsheet form. That's it

A secondary option: use "z-1" to mean you did it yesterday, "z-2" two days ago, etc.


For 2 reasons: no where to record ideas on the go
Nowhere to record personal history on go and it always seems like I do nothing. I've always found that looking at a log of what I have accomplished (even if the accomplishements are small) make me feel so much BETTER.

I would call it TAGLOG (like tagalog without the A) or TAP A Z (and incorporate the "z" idea, above.)


On striving for the mark in fiction.

From Michael Cunningham in the NY Times : (lots more in this essay too.)

"Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire.

But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire.

It feels, in short, like a rather inept translation of a mythical great work."


Sophocles, Philoctetes

This is how you start a story:

"This is it; this Lemnos and its beach
down to the sea that quite surrounds it; desolate,
no one sets foot on it; there are no houses.
This is where I marooned him long ago,
the son of Poias, the Melian, his foot
diseased and eaten away with running ulcers."

-Sophocles, Philoctetes, translated by David Grene

New Banks page!



Badly written business books in bright orange

Just read two semi-recent business books, horribly written (why are they always so?) and branded in bright safety orange: Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur, and Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind.

Both might be right in the short and long run (and are certainly at least half right), but Keen's is unconvincing. histrionic, and full of blanket, unquestioning statements like "We need to reform not revolutionize an information and entertainment economy that has reinforced American values and made our culture the envy of the world." (That doesn't sound like an argument I want to get behind.)

Pink's worst crime is he acts like creativity is crazy some new thing and we're lucky that our American business people are able to behave now like those crazy artist-types they've heard so much about for so many years. He also makes no attempt to predict what will happen in 10-30 years when our so-called competitors (India, China, et al.) are just as "CREATIVE" as we are...

Keen's worst worst worst crime, in a book full of attributed quotes, in a book about separating the trained, publishable professional from the "untalented" amateur is on the last page of "The Great Seduction" chapter:


In a cartoon that appeared in The New Yorker in 1993, two dogs sit beside a computer. One has his paw on the computer; the other is looking up at him quizzically.

"On the Internet", the dog using the keyboard reassures his canine friend, "nobody knows you're a Dog."


No attribution. No mention of the professional behind this tidbit of wisdom. It's just "The New Yorker."

Hey pal- it's by Peter Steiner and it's his JOB to write and draw cartoons. Credit your source.

Here's hoping Jaron Lanier's book (next on my list) isn't as horribly written. No safety orange on the cover, but bright bright lime green. What is it with these books?


New classes, fall 2010

Fall is here, and I'm teaching three classes this fall this to help you to see what you want to say and then say it.

First at SVA, SEQUENTIAL ART: Expanding Your Vision. A basic 12-week cartooning class. We'll do a lot of small exercises early on and then dovetail into longer projects. We'll look at lots of work throughout history and try to expand both our aspirations and our abilities.

Then, also at SVA, Independent Seminar: Comics

Meets for 3 five-hour Saturdays over the fall. An intensive class to get you finishing your big project. Meet other artists, set goals, get lengthy critiques and visit with the guest lecturer. This is always a great class with terrific work coming out of it. Matt recently posted about it, you can read more about it at his (and his wife Jessica's) Drawing Words blog:

Finally, a 5-week intro to the graphic novel class at 92Y Tribeca:


This quick class runs twice in the fall. We'll look at the building blocks of comix storytelling and send you out the door with the ability to communicate and an idea for a longer work.

Visit my teaching website with some links and a little theory and book recommendations. Take a look at my testimonials page for the voices of people who've taken my classes; then sign up!

See you in the fall,



Reporters of War and Refugees - Review of The Photographer, A.D., We Are On Our Own and books by Joe Sacco

An old piece of unpublished writing, circa 2009:

Reporters of War and Refugees

Reporting in graphic novel form (an inexact term, but one which seems to be sticking) is a fairly new development in mainstream media, though visual artists have certainly been commenting on and from war zones for centuries. From Goya’s series of etchings, Disasters of War (about uprisings after Napoleon attempted to install his brother as King of Spain) to Winslow Homer’s etchings of the American Civil War, to Bill Mauldin’s Willie and Joe, single panel cartoons composed in Europe during World War II and printed in Stars and Stripes , artists have often been there, or have been called upon, to document -sometimes not without propagandistic intent- the wars of their culture.

The recent surge in reportage and memoir graphic novels has been paved by Art Spiegelman’s Maus , a memoir of the author’s father’s experience during the holocaust. Having won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, Maus is now widely known and is found in bookstores, libraries and schools around the world.

Since Maus, other artists have gone to find and report the stories of people in wars, and of the refugees fleeing them.

By Joe Sacco
Published by Fantagraphics
ISBN: 978-1-56097-844-2

Joe Sacco’s Palestine, a collection of dozens of short stories reporting from the occupied Arab areas of Israel during the early 1990s, cemented the genre. Palestine was slow to take off; at the time people didn’t understand this type of reporting. Mainstream media thought that comics was a childish format for serious subject matter and as such didn’t even notice the prodigious accomplishment Sacco was achieving beneath their radar.

In Palestine, we were shown stories, interviews, places, events and reactions in rich visual detail. Sacco is an artist with great attention to detail. He cross-hatched and rendered every rivet and every wrinkle, and drew faces full of flesh, fatigue and emotion. Sacco’s own curious and excitable voice was never absent, the comics were always filtered through his unique sensibilities. He had a robust sense of humor that came across in his narration and self-caricature. He played himself as warm and understanding, fully aware how lucky his own situation was, and humbled before the stories of the people who were hosting him. He draws himself slightly odder than the people around him, a sort of homunculus amidst a cascade of real human stories.

In Palestine, we watched him make his way from ravaged villages to broken factories to floorless living rooms to Israeli cafes, interviewing Arabs and Jews-anyone wanting to share. Sacco, trained as a journalist and is always the listener, always looking at all sides and presenting what he understands the story to be.

Eventually, ten years after Palestine’s initial published serializations, the mainstream media were won over and Sacco had popularized, if not created a new form of direct graphic novel journalism. His 320 page hardcover collection of the Palestine stories, recently republished in 2007 with sketches and notes and an introduction by the late historian Edward Said, is a touchstone for anyone doing similar work since, including Sacco himself.

Safe Area Gorazde
By Joe Sacco
Published by Fantagraphics
240 pages
ISBN: 978-1-56097-392-8

In 1995, presumably while taking a break from finishing the drawings for Palestine , Sacco visited Gorazde, a UN-created “safe area” in eastern Bosnia during the Bosnian War.

While Bosnian Serbs were ridding their country of Muslims , these areas were supposed to be enclaves of safety for the Muslims living there, protected by the U.N. Instead what happened was that these difficult-to-reach areas were instead where some of the fiercest exterminations happened. Of the three safe areas, only Gorazde was left with inhabitants standing at the end.

Sacco arrives, and the book begins, when a permanent peace settlement is about to be announced. Will Gorazde be given to Serbia in exchange for more of Sarajevo? Would these people who have endured years of living on the run and in whatever shattered buildings they could find be forced out of the town they grew up in?

In Gorazde, Sacco shares the townspeople’s stories, histories, opinions, framing his book around the waiting during these peace talks. Like in Palestine, Sacco divides and titles his chapters according to themes, stories or characters. Each chapter is a little human essay, on history, on war stories, on state of electricity, or on one particular character. One image returns over and over: the shell-damaged main road through town. The road, where the Serb tanks roll through, the road along which the citizens of Gorazde run to escape into the forests, the road on either side of which they wait for the U.N. convoys after the cease-fire.

He recounts grim war stories told the inhabitants. Months of hiding in woods, watching their town and possessions burn and be looted. Stealing food, swimming upriver beneath the watch of the Serbian enemies on the riverbanks. Other times he shows the people light-hearted, ready to begin living again. The teenage girls want jeans from America, college students begin going back to classes, and when the U.N. convoys begin delivering flour, people begin to cook their favorite dishes again. For comedic relief, Sacco treats us to several portraits of a soldier named Riki, who loves to party and belt out American pop songs.

Sacco’s drawings are detailed- he draws every muddy rock, every tree, every piece of bombed out rubble and broken lumber- but they’re not lush. Drawn with cold lines in stark black and white using coarse cross-hatching for most lights and darks, the effect is fragile, coarse, and brittle. When he draws faces harried and haunted faces, he draws them as he saw them, noting each line, brow and muscle of every expression. The drawings are clearly full of affection, but become filled with a grim resignation too. A permanence. Young women seem old, even children’s faces seem haggard.

Sacco lets his drawings loosen for parties and fun. Faces flushed, teeth and gums joyously about to fly out of mouths, bodies loosened and pressed up against one another, or tautly marshalling energy to belt out a song into a toy microphone. Sacco allows himself more cartoonish freedom in these instances, the instances where the people of Gorazde give in to hope and joy.

The book teems with Sacco’s humanity in fact, even though most of the stories are grim. At the book’s core are a handful of first person accounts of the war. “Disappearance” details the night that the Serb residents of the town (it was once almost half Serb, half-Muslim) disappeared in the night. The military attacks on the Muslim population began from the outlying hilltops the next morning. “The First Attack” picks up a couple weeks later. Already, people who lived too close to the hillsides have abandoned their homes and found shelter where they could. The chapter shifts between five narrators, all trying to escape enemy fire as the attacks escalate. What was once a town is now an outpost, with everyone using whatever they find shelter, to fortify the defenses, and to keep themselves warm and fed.

Life under occupation, life under threat, life on the run, life renewed with glimpses of hope, all of this is in Gorazde, as the people in the book try to put their lives back together. Sacco’s books, his essayistic style, his narrative inclinations like the richest documentaries, his detailed cartooning, and his verve and love of people make his books the strongest in the genre.

We Are On Our Own
By Miriam Katin
Published by Drawn and Quarterly
ISBN: 9781896597201

Not a book of journalism, We Are On Our Own instead is a Katin’s recounting of her time as a young girl, running with her mother from the Nazis in Hungary. Katin is an animator by trade, and she draws her story with a quick soft line, all the drawings lasting only long enough to get to the next image. This is a book about fleeing and it makes sense that her book, in fact her career, would be about movement. We Are On Our Own is quick book, a book on the run.

Katin’s mother Esther is a sophisticated Jewish woman in Budapest, with a husband in the war. It’s 1944. She is told to hand over her dog to the authorities, to catalog her personal items and to leave the list with her landlord. She is forced out of her apartment and turns to black marketer for false papers to help her escape to the countryside.

In the country, in the guise of a servant, she finds shelter with a family of grape farmers. A German Commandant stops by to steal wine, and taking a fancy to Esther, returns frequently to rape her while offering her lavish gifts.

When the Russians move in and the Germans have been kicked out, she is raped too by a Russian soldier who then dies at her side. Esther and Miriam are forced to go deeper into where another family takes them in. This family has grown to be expert in trimming the goods from dead soldiers. They take boots, bloodied uniforms, and Esther spends time sewing, and repairing these garments until she soon realizes she is pregnant.

World War II piled it on; situations went from bad to worse. Esther is now in search of an abortion. Meanwhile, Esther’s lost husband returns to Budapest and begins his search across the country for his family.

The title of the book comes from Esther’s loss of faith during this turmoil, and young Miriam’s misunderstanding of those ideas about God and faith. The book occasionally shifts briefly to present rendered in colored pencil, where Miriam and her husband and children discuss faith and God. After the book’s experiences, adult Katin is a secular non-believer.

Katin’s quick animator’s pencil sometimes renders the drawings in this book so quickly that they are clearly designed to be glanced at, like any horrible situation. Who wants to draw the rape of their own mother? Who wants to linger while reading that? Like fleeing the Nazis, you flee through Esther’s story. Esther is a strong and fearless character; Miriam’s drawings are fearless, but fleeting. We Are On Our Own is the story of flight in the face of great horror.

The Photographer
By Emmaunel Guibert
Didier Lefevre
Colored and designed by Frederic Lemercier
Published by First Second

Most recently, we’ve seen The Photographer, a riveting, vivid book by Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefevre. This book is ostensibly a documentation of the activities of Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) in Afghanistan in 1986. But more than that, it is also a moving, terrifying story of the man who sought to provide that documentation, Didier Lefevre, The Photographer. What Lefevre and Guibert have collaborated to do is to present the full range of Lefevre’s documentation, entwined with the story of his many physical and emotional trials during the mission to create what seems like an entirely new genre, an entirely new form: the photo/comix mélange.

In 1986, Lefevre was a photographer still in his 20s when he got the opportunity to document an MSF mission in Afghanistan. His story starts there. On page 1 he is packing his things, he takes photos of the surroundings he says good-bye to his mother, and he boards a plane to what will be his home base: Pakistan.

Over the course of the next few months, Lefevre will endure terrible travel conditions. He will be endangered over and over again, he will meet strong people, sickened people, secretive, powerful people, spies, war-ravaged villagers, war-wounded and war-strengthened Mujahideen.

And he will take over 4000 photos. Hundreds of these photos are woven into this book and his story, and it is in this way that I say Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefevre have created an entirely new genre. A book that is both read and stared at; a story that is experienced and presented in anecdote, event and character, but also glimpsed via the windows and lenses through which the protagonist himself literally once looked.

Without the photos, it would be a powerful travelogue. A story about a man traveling outside his boundaries, outside his comfort zone to summon the fortitude to be better than he was before. With the photos intertwined via the fabulous design work of Frederic Lemercier, the book and story is a precipice the reader will always feel on the edge of. A tunnel into another world, a book to be involved with, so penetrating and serious that I scarcely believed my heart was still beating when I finished reading it.

The story follows Lefevre as he meets his MSF crew in Peshwar in Pakistan, moves around the subculture of expats and NGOs there, and prepares for his mission to Afghanistan. He and the MSF crew join a caravan which will take a month on horse and mule over mountain passes to get to the small villiage where they will serve the Afghani people for three months, and then will return to Pakistan before the mountains become unpassable in the winter.

He is properly clothed, is hazed while packing supplies, meets people who might or might not be spies in western bars, and spends time documenting an aimless month in Peshawar.

Guibert has done a superb job of giving us the details of Lefevre’s story and then letting the photos amplify or punctuate those details. Often those story events are new cultural scenarios, strange to western readers, which the photographs give us a better glimpse into. Sometimes those events are surprising or shocking, sometimes they’re absolutely tragic. In many of these circumstances, Guibert’s habit of allowing pictures to comment after the fact allow us as readers to deepen our experience with the story at our own pace.

Lefevre spends a month in Pakistan awaiting the departure of his group. This aimless, almost luxurious month is a gift to us: we are treated to three pages of photos: a city few people have ever heard of, teeming with people and commerce and life of all kinds. We see the streets, we can look into the eyes of children on this side of the world, in this part of the story.

Out of necessity, the MSF group must attach itself to a weapons caravan consisting of more than 100 horses and donkeys and 40 armed fighters. The group is woken in the middle of the night and smuggled across the border to meet their caravan in Afghanistan.

The crossing is hard and takes a month. Lefevre struggles hard and is strengthened by the arduous trek over the mountains. In this time, the caravan struggle against fatigue and hunger, they lose a member of the caravan, Lefevre is shot at by other members of the caravan, they meet warlords, and visit the grave of a man who didn’t make it the last time. The doctors treat villagers along the way while Lefevre takes photographs. Guibert (with Lemercier) strings this all together, combining his own drawn renditions of the trip with the photographer’s, Lefevre’s exact record.

Slowly Lefevre learns something of this strange culture, as his Western guides inculcate him and his Afghani guides inspire him. His body acclimates, his heart widens, his photographer’s eye remaining alert and active, his shutter always clicking. By the time they arrive in Zaragandara, their goal, he has seen and recorded enough to last a lifetime.

It’s in the primitive hospital/shack of Zaragandara where MSF get finally down to the work they came for, the treatment of Afghanis wounded by war. Children arrive with burns, maimed soldiers in excruciating pain are tended to. The Photographer presents dozens of these cases, documenting via photo-montage entire operations, including a man having his jaw resewn, another having shrapnel removed from his eye, and another having his leg amputated above where his foot fell off. The effect of these silent extended photo sequences is harrowing, severe and saddening.

I will refrain from giving away more of the plot, because amazingly, in a book which seemingly at first seems to serve as documentation of the astounding altruistic work that MSF does, in fact, what happens is that Lefevre himself becomes a major protagonist in a story that is shocking, vivid and terrifying.

That The Photographer manages to have so few photographs of its main character (3, by my count) allow what should be a strange mixing of comix and photography to become a perfect blend. I was originally annoyed that the book was called The Photographer; it seemed a boring title, but I now see that it’s perfect. The main reason the photos work is because it offers you a way to experience the main character through another point of view, through his own non-literal point of view.

Photographs have occasionally been used in comics, often as source material, back-up material, or the stranger merging of fumetti, where dramas are staged and photographed; word balloons added on top. Rumor has it that Harvey Kurtzman would give any student in his cartooning class an A+ who tried such a bold form.

The Photographer sometimes reverses the traditional order of importance, by allowing drawings to comment on sequences of photographs, not the other way around. Lefevre’s eye is all through out this book. His desires, his fascinations, his hunger. We see traces of his thoughts on full contact sheets as he identifies the photos most worth developing further. He is a man who lived through his camera, and with The Photographer, readers get to live a portion of his life.

The Photographer, in a way similar to Joe Sacco’s work because of Sacco’s dedication to drawing every single line, is a book that is meant to be read but also forces you to look. Most graphic novels, Maus and Persepolis, and Katin’s book included, are designed to be read. The Photographer is multi-layered. You’ll read it, but you’ll also stare at it, faces will stare back at you. You’ll look deep into the story. You will be transported.

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
By Josh Neufeld
Published by Pantheon

Josh Neufeld’s A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, is designed to be read, maybe even seen. The story telling is cinematic, the shots and sequences designed to be experienced like one would experience a modern movie; even the characters look and act like indy movie actors. It almost comes with an orchestra. You are expected to sit back and take it all in.

A.D. is about Katrina-ravaged New Orleans in 2005. It starts before the storm, focusing on seven main characters preparing themselves and their belongings for the oncoming storm. Three of the characters evacuate, two stay to guard their convenience store. One sticks it out in his home, and another goes from evacuation zone to evacuation zone Neufeld documents all their stories thoroughly, in a straightforward, sometimes melodramatic way.

A.D. is a seamless reading experience. Weaving from one story to another, your main thread is the storm that ripped and destroyed an entire city. In Neufeld’s book, we see the storm from many human angles: from the dead center, from the horrific Superdome, from the protected French Quarter, from the highways, from the outskirts, from the rooftops.

What sticks about A.D. is the tremendous story of those who stay in New Orleans. The dramatic center is the story of the two men, Abbas and Darnell, who aim to guard their store, and wind up soon on top of its roof with water, warm beer and a couple of handguns. Abbas loses his Mercedes to the flooding, and Darnell’s asthma worsens as he is stung by mosquitoes while sleeping on the roof. Their story sticks because they they have contributed to their own experience, their decision-making effecting their situation as their tender friendship seems to deepen in this crisis.

This contrasts with Denise’s story. Denise, though a strong personality, is a victim and her story couldn’t have turned out any less tragic than it did. She is shipped from one part of the story to another, from one evacuation route to another, ultimately winding up in the horrific tragedy that was happening in the Superdome.

If anything weakens A.D., it might be Neufeld’s overly-straightforward way of drawing and storytelling. Never shooting for the poetic heights that Joe Sacco or Emmanuel Guibert shoot for, it’s the "Law and Order" to those creators’ "The Wire". Where the stoicism of Guibert’s photographer and the shell-shocked determination of Sacco’s characters serve to allow the reader a little room to imagine their emotional insides, Neufeld’s characters never fail to indicate their feelings, never fail to act for the camera or the pen and brush. Thus, the music always seems to be swelling or falling, the camera always going in for the dramatic close-up.

The most powerful moments in A.D. come from the horrific sequences in the Superdome. When Denise and her family first arrive there, in a single illustration spanning two pages, a word-balloon from the bus asks “Why is everyone outside?” No attendant music is needed. The remainder of Denise’s story is the horrible answer to that question, shown it in desperate, terrifying detail; detail that Denise and no citizen of this country was in any way prepared to witness. A.D., for this documentation at least, should be required reading for every American, as it prods these details of this suffering back into the public consciousness. “Never Forget” perhaps should not refer to not to the attacks on the World Trade Center. but to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A.D. is a public service.


Finding your style

From a recent New Yorker short story, The Train of their Departure by David Bezmozgis:

"Apart from recommending a doctor, Karl was no help. Alec was left to his own devices. And, with Polina sitting in his kitchen, it occurred to him that life, which he’d treated as a pastime, and which he’d thought he could yet outdistance, had finally caught up with him. And he discovered, much as he’d suspected, that once life caught up with you, you could never quite shake it again. It endeavored to hobble you with greater and greater frequency. How you managed to remain upright became your style, who you were."

Best description of an artist's style I can think of. How you manage to remain upright...

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2010/08/09/100809fi_fiction_bezmozgis?currentPage=8#ixzz0xOHeS6ln


Another "re-make": Segar Popeye

This time I took a Segar Popeye strip tried to make it my own. Click links for larger, and to see the earlier Julie Doucet rework.
From The Seen - Reworked panels, pages and stories from predecessors.
From the Fantagraphics old series volume 8; first few months with Swee'Pea. Being a new dad I was drawn to this one, and -sob- know exactly how Popeye feels!

From The Seen - Reworked panels, pages and stories from predecessors.

Not sure who the woman is on the left. A friend of Barney's, if you can believe that.


92Y summer cartooning camp for teens

Join cartoonist Tom Hart, creator of Hutch Owens, for a two-week cartooning extravaganza! Cartooning camp at 92Y for teens Aug 9-Aug 20 M-F, 10am-3pm.


Great Students: Penina

I was Penina Gal's thesis advisor in 2007 at Center for Cartoon Studies. I must have seemed like I'd be a compassionate tutor when we met and I suggested we play ping pong rather than suffer through Leela's "figure drawing gulag" upstairs, when clearly Penina wasn't feeling well. Since then, Penina's done great work on her "The Fire Messenger", especially the post-Tom input issue 2. She's really gotten into painting lately, and has begun landscape painting between drawing projects. Her slightly Turner-like abstract landscapes go up in at The Zollikofer Gallery White River Junction, July 23.

Go Penina!


Tom Heart is watching you with his cartoons

I did a small workshop at the bookmaking camp at St. Ann's School in Brooklyn. We did character creating and then a little storytelling then a gallery walk. I found this in my mailbox a few weeks later as a thank you.


Sarah Glidden visits SVA summer seminar

Sarah Glidden gave a great talk at my and Matt Madden's Comics Seminar class at SVA. She talked about her self-instruction in comics, her dedication to a larger project, her being scooped up by Vertigo and then their SLAVE for 2 years!

Her "How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less" is going to be wonderful. A complex, journalistic investigation with full-color, handpainted artwork.


Ware, Feiffer, Barry, Groening on the demise of the weekly strip

Great run-down of a semi-recent panel featuring Chris Ware, Lynda Barry, Matt Groening, Jules Feiffer on the demise of the weekly strip.



Great Students: Nicole Virella

Nicole was my student for the SVA Pictorial Problems class a few years back. Nicole did a beautiful painted project and also begun the project at left, viewable more on her blog, http://www.nikvirella.com/

Since then, she's been working on a GN adaptation of a popular series of vampire novels, The Mortal Instruments.


Go Nicole!

New Barney Banks Page at Act-I-Vate

Barney Banks page 43!


Great Students: Stephanie Buscema

Stephanie Buscema was in my Principles class at SVA some 5 or 6 years ago. The granddaughter and niece of the respected Mavel Buscemas, she had a lot of rough skills but couldn't She is the only person I ever sat down and suggested she move from comics to illustration, which she did, but she has ultimately triumphed in both.

Discovering gouache (at some point after my class!), she made that her primary medium and creates delightful, vivid, fun paintings and comic pages steeped in pop-culture hipness, and sheer pleasure of color and form.

Check her out at



Great Students: Jen Rose

The horrible hilarious love lives of Jen Rose ("Mouchette")

Jen slipped into my 92Y class after taking some workshops with the amazing Lauren Weinstein. Jen loves to describe all the crazy sh*t she's going through, and crazy sh*t it is.

Go check her site out. She told me to find it by googling "This summer I subjugated myself to an elf."

However, I can offer YOU the direct link here:

Jen's demons go up to 111!

Great Students: Maria Sputnik!

I'm beginning an ongoing series of work by great students. Starting with the first two chapters of this weird, silly, literary, visionary story about "Big Nose National Monument" by student "Maria Sputnik":



Elia Kazan on directing

Elia Kazan on "Streetcar" and directing...

I've never done a storyboard in my life, I wouldn't know how to start. It wouldn't mean anything to me...

You can't make a storyboard until you see what the actor's going to give you. And if you have any respect for your own talent, stirring up an actor, or the actor's talent for responding to your direction, you're not sure of what the hell's going to happen. And a good director's not sure when he gets on the set what he's going to do. I like directors who come on the set and create something that's a little dangerous, difficult or unusual.

I fell that the more ambivalent you are and the more uncertain you are in the morning, then you'll get something you have not gotten before and that you can not anticipate and no one else can anticipate.


John Cage's Rules For Students

John Cage's Rules for Students and Teachers

* Find a place you trust and then try trusting it for a while.
* General duties of a student:
* pull everything out of your teacher.
* pull everything out of your fellow students.
* General duties of a teacher:
* pull everything out of your students.
* Consider everything an experiment.
* Be self-disciplined.
* Nothing is a mistake. There's no win and no fail, there's only make.
* The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something.
* It's the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things. You can fool the fans but not the players.
* Don't try to create and analyze at the same time. They're different processes.
* Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It's lighter than you think.
* Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Save everything. It may come in handy later.

Keep in mind I found the above on the INTERNET so not sure it's his for real, but it sounds like Cage. Found here.


Walt Kelly quotes

Walt Kelly: "You got to be yourself, you got to discard all the bull and get YOU across... and get what you have to say across..."


Lotsa links: Milt Gross, Dingbats, Searle and more

Craig Yoe really made a splash this year at MOCCA, by presenting his recent line of great comic collections, including a fantastic new Milt Gross book, a collection of Krazy Kat "Tiger Tea" strips, some Dan Decarlo and lots more. His site got me browsing around and collecting these wonderful links.

Go read these bits and lovelies:

Wild zaniness from Milt Gross:

I never realized how gorgeous his Punch work was. I'd love to find bigger scans of these:

Tons of Pogo:

Jon Lewis and I cherished this comic when we found it years ago. Love that Kirby always felt like he was talkin' to "the kids":

Shame on me for not realizing there was a whole Blair dynasty. I'm really in love with Mary Blair's watercolors:

I was talking yesterday with Matt Madden, we were looking at the trend of simple work by young cartoonists whose major theme seems to be characters who like spending time with each other. These lovely little illustrations by an illustrator I never heard of prior to today show how to draw these themes with originality, flair and wit. Study these, young students!

And of course every time I run into the below, I'm floored:


Barney Banks: Extra Life! on Act-I-Vate - Chapter 6 starts. Plus lots of notes and sketches

Part 6 starts here, and I'm starting to understand Lodi, and figure out how Banks can get close to her. Sketches are below, and then a block of text that probably is more relevant to the late December postings.


after two weeks (or so) off to get various errands done, woke up early and began doodling/writing. After a look at the index cards (the ones at right felt right for this point in the story), I doodled a sheet (see scan) and came to ideas about the new section. I knew this section was about Banks and Lodi getting more friendly, but how, and what changes, and how to keep it lively, fun, engaging, deep- all that stuff?

On these sheets, I tend to start from an upper right corner? Why?! I don't know- I think I tend to think the notes I'm writing will later be minor notes and the real notes can go in the center where important notes belong. Invariably, I wind up creating a maze of ideas and events and images that I can barely follow. But it seems a good way to sow a little disarray to think in new ways about the material...

At some point I realized I would end this section again with an exclamation from a video game player. From in the latrine. I have to be careful this doesn't become a trope, but my annoyance with how often I use this idea could force the Barney Banks character to rebel even sooner than I have been thinking.

Your characters react to you. You react to all sorts of stuff, but your characters are filtered through you. They may surprise you, because you are in a different place than you think, or you a different person than you think...


Hutch Owen Strips: Fortune Cookie!

Still gathering and working on the 368 page Hutch Owen collection for Top Shelf. I was always charmed by these strips about finding a bag of fortune cookies. Like a giant pinata of luck salad...

These were my favorites, the rest are here.


Daddy Lightning Rough Draft pages 1-5

Talking with Sarah Glidden, Karen Sneider and Domitille Collardey got me determined to catch back up with "Daddy Lightning", so posting here the first 5 pages of a super rough first draft.

My problem: I have good ideas with a good sense of storytelling, but my first and second drafts of anything are horribly drawn. See for yourself. The better pages here (1,3,4) are second drafts. Page 5 you can see the 1st draft and 2nd in progress.

See below "Daddy Lightning" for the earlier stages of the process...

Also, I stole some features of the lady on page 5, panel 2, from Nylso, who is my favorite unpublished-in-America French cartoonist. I'll show him these pages someday...