Andor: a Star Wars TV Show for Grownups

Geek, Plug, Review

I can’t believe how good is Andor, the Star Wars TV show that debuted in September on Disney+. It’s a Star Wars show with no lightsabers, no Jedis, no Force-users of any kind—and it’s all the better for it.

The show, which stars Diego Luna, reprising his role as Cassian Andor from Rogue One, is a Star Wars show for grownups. In tone, Andor is closer to excellent adult science fiction shows like The Expanse and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica than any of the other Star Wars offshoots. (To prove it’s “for grownups,” the show even has a sex scene—well, as close as you get to a sex scene in a Star Wars story…)

Andor is created by Tony Gilroy, who took the James Bond genre and gave it a more grown-up sensibility with the Jason Bourne film franchise. (Gilroy was the co-writer of Rogue One.) I feel like Gilroy did a lot of research about oppressive regimes and revolutionary movements before launching this show, and that he has a lot to say! Ostensibly, Andor is about the growth of the Rebellion, which eventually leads to the events of Rogue One and the original Star Wars (“A New Hope“), but it’s really about how revolutions happen in the real world. The show is about the Empire and its oppression, but it could just as easily be about England and the American colonists, or Batista’s Cuba before Castro, or any historical resistance movement.

In previous Star Wars stories, we’ve been told that life under the Empire is “bad” (and in Star Wars, of course, we do see the Empire blow up an entire planet), but Andor digs into what everyday life is like for ordinary citizens: the Empire’s partnership with exploitative mega-corporations who rape the land and abuse their workers, a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, and an ultra-punitive judicial system—and ruling above them all the far-off Emperor (who is never seen in the show).

Do you know Reds, that epic Warren Beatty movie about American radicals—including John Reed, Louise Bryant, Eugene O’Neill, and Emma Goldman—of the early 20th century? I remember watching it back when it came out in the early 1980s when I was too young to follow most of the story. I remember thinking, “This is an adult movie.” (And I was able to understand it a lot better once I was a college graduate.) Well, believe it or not, I feel the same way about Andor.

The show is set in the period after Star Wars Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, when the Empire has established itself and totally wiped out any legitimate opposition. Former Separatists—the “enemy” in the infamous Star Wars prequels—make up some members of the resistance, but other figures are involved too: factionalists like Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker), and current politicians like Mon Mothma (an excellent Genevieve O’Reilly)—future leader of the Rebel Alliance—who masquerades as an ineffectual socialite Senator but is deeply engaged with funding the resistance. Stellan Skarsgård is stellar (sorry, couldn’t resist) as an undercover rebel mastermind, the one who sees the potential in Cassian.

Andor does a really good job of portraying how fraught is life when you’re part of a revolutionary movement—how hard it is to trust your comrades because all it takes is one counter-agent to bring down the whole movement and send everyone to an awful fate.

The show’s characters—even the “baddies”—are complex. There are no heroes, just people trying their best to follow their beliefs. And then there is the main character, really well portrayed by Diego Luna, who’s trying to figure out what his beliefs are. Cassian Andor’s back story is fascinating, touching on issues of genocide—a continual theme in the show—but also explaining his “Spanish” accent.

The show is also surprising in that it chooses to portray a selection of true believers from the “other side”—members of the Empire like Syril Karn and Dedra Meero (played respectively by Kyle Soller and Denise Gough, both excellent in their roles). Their stories in the show—intimately tied to the plot—provide an inside look at the Imperial bureaucracy and the hurdles faced by those who, through their own independent thought, struggle to be heard and respected.

Obviously, I’m a huge Star Wars fan. I’ve seen the original trilogy scores of times, and continue to rewatch the Disney sequels, and, yes, even the benighted George Lucas prequel movies. To me, Rogue One, despite some flaws, was an excellent film (despite my shock, when seeing it the first time with my then-nine-year-old daughter, to discover that it was an unexpectedly violent war movie). And for the most part, I really enjoyed Solo-–of all the later movies, it best embodies the goofy energy of the first Star Wars film, and I thought Donald Glover was spot-on as Lando Calrissian. I’m a Mandalorian fan and have seen the other Disney+ live actions shows (though Obi-Wan was very mixed and The Book of Boba Fett felt like a total waste of time). I loved the Clone Wars animated show, and also enjoyed Star Wars Rebels. I still rank The Empire Strikes Back as one of my top ten movies of all time.

However, I’ve never read any of the “expanded universe” novels or dug deep into the Star Wars mythos beyond the movies and the various live-action/animated shows, so I don’t know if other writers had ever brought such dimension to the franchise. But Andor seems like the best kind of science fiction: filled with new worlds, new civilizations, and impressive visuals, but at its heart tied to struggles and issues we identify with here on Mother Earth.

Anyway, my point is if you tend to dismiss the Star Wars franchise as essentially childish fantasy tales (which is not wrong!), but you’re a fan of adult sci-fi, then consider checking out Andor.

Note: I’m writing this without having read any of the show’s reviews or comparing notes with any fellow Star Wars/sci-fi fans. So I have no idea how the rest of the world has received Andor. Do you like it? I’m also writing this before watching the season finale (which came out today), so no spoilers, please! There’s a lot of plot to resolve, and lots of characters whose fate lies in the balance, and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out…!

The Giants are retiring Will Clark’s number 22 jersey. I think they should also retire Jack Clark’s number 22 jersey.

Life
My version of Jack Clark’s 1984 Topps baseball card, drawn some years back.

On July 30, my beloved San Francisco Giants will retire the number 22 jersey of Will Clark. It’s a well-deserved honor for an iconic Giant of the 1980s and early 1990s. But my question is why can’t the team also retire the number 22 jersey of Jack Clark, an iconic Giants of the 1970s and early 1980s? The two Clarks are not related, but their stats as Giants are comparable…

I owned this giveaway plastic cup for many years.

As a Giant from 1975 to 1984, Jack “The Ripper” Clark played in 1,044 games, slashing at a rate of .277/.359/.477 for an OPS of .836, with 163 homers and 595 RBI. During that time he added 60 stolen bases and 497 walks. He made two All-Star teams (1978 and 1979) and came in fifth in the 1978 NL MVP race. During a notoriously down offensive period for baseball, he was in the top ten in home runs in the National League three times as a Giant. He was a solid right fielder with a strong arm, showing up in the top five in outfield assists three times. The guy who “Lit the Spark of Candlestick Park,” he generally hit third for the team.

A scant two seasons after Jack Clark was traded away, the team promoted another player named Clark and gave him the same number 22 jersey. As a Giant from 1986 to 1992, Will “The Thrill” Clark played in 1,160 games (104 more than Jack), slashing at a rate of .299/.373/.499 for an OPS of .872, with 176 home runs and 709 RBI. During that time he added 52 stolen bases and 506 walks. He made five All Star teams (1989–1992) and finished in the top five in the NL MVP race four times (1987–1989, 1991). A good first baseman, he won the NL Gold Glove in 1991. Will generally batted third, and is famous for homering off of Nolan Ryan in his first Major League at-bat, and destroying the Cubs in the 1989 National League playoffs.

So, yeah, although Will’s stats as a Giant are undeniably better than Jack’s, both were highly productive number 22s. And both Clarks’ final career statistics are remarkably similar, with each finishing with the same career OPS+ of 137. (Will had a higher career batting average, but Jack hit more home runs.) The main difference is that Jack’s most productive years came in the five seasons after he left the Giants, while Will’s best years were with the Giants.

But I believe the main reason Will’s jersey is the number 22 the Giants are retiring is that he is a much more beloved figure in San Francisco. A garrulous character, after his playing career he returned to the Giants as an advisor and “ambassador.” Jack, on the other hand, is known as a temperamental, irascible fellow — he left the Giants on bad terms with the manager, and didn’t make a ton of friends on later teams he played for either.

My 1988 photo of Yankee Jack Clark.

Don’t get me wrong — I have great affection for Will Clark. But for me, Jack Clark was the man. I became a San Francisco Giants fan in late 1978, and he — along with a declining Willie McCovey — was the heart of the Giants’ offense in those early years of Giants fandom. For the most part, the team was pretty mediocre during those years, but Jack could be counted on to produce. (Game-winning RBI used to be considered a reliable metric of “clutch hitters,” and Jack was always a league leader in that category.) Because of him, number 22 became my favorite baseball number (yes, that’s a thing.) I was practically heartbroken when the Giants traded him away, and I followed the rest of his career with great interest. (I still have pretty much all his baseball cards from every stop along the way.) After many years, I got to see him in person again when I was in college in Ohio when, as a member of the New York Yankees, he came to play the then-Indians. (Clark only played one year for the Yanks — because he pissed off the manager.)

Here are the stats of both Clarks — as Giants — added together: 2,204 games with a slash line of .289/.366/.488, 2,312 hits, 339 homers, 1,304 RBI, and an OPS of .854. That’s a pretty good career!

To sum up, I think it’s great that the Giants are retiring the number 22 in honor of Will Clark. But how cool would it be if they invited Jack Clark to come to the ceremony and gave him some due as the first Clark to wear the number with distinction?

My 2020 cutout wearing the no. 22 Clark jersey.

P.S. Full-disclosure side note: two Giants’ players actually wore no. 22 longer than did either Clark — Don Mueller (1948–1957, ten seasons) and Hal Lanier (1964–1971, eight seasons)! Mueller, an outfielder, was a .296 lifetime hitter but had virtually no power, with a career OPS of .712. Lanier was a light-hitting infielder. So there is that.

My Letter to Roger Angell

Life, Tribute

The great baseball writer Roger Angell passed away today. He had lived an impressive 101 years. You can read his obituary in the New York Times. This is a slightly edited letter I wrote to him in 2002 (back before my beloved San Francisco Giants won three World Series in five years). I think it still makes a nice testimonial to his work and what it meant to me during my life…

Dear Mr. Angell,

Your books have given me so much joy over the years. They seem to be about so much more than just baseball. For years now I’ve been meaning to send you a “thank you” letter, but I always feel as if I have so much to say that I’ve intimidated myself! So I figure the best thing to do is just start, and see where it takes me. First off, I’m a 34-year-old cartoonist living in Brooklyn. When I first came across your work, I was a 12-year-old pipsqueak living with my mom in San Francisco. So that’s over twenty years ago! 

My parents were divorced, and my dad lived in New York, and in the summer of 1977, he introduced me to baseball, by playing catch with me every day after work, taking me to a couple of Yankee games (and teaching me to keep score!), and watching the Yanks with me on TV. By the time I returned home to San Francisco and my mom, I had fallen hard for the game. I started out as a Yankee supporter, but I evolved into a huge Giants fan. Sure, the Yanks were great, with their two recent world championships and all, but they were 3,000 miles away. And who could resist the Giants’ magnificent trio of Willie McCovey, Vida Blue, and Jack Clark? I remain a Giants fan to this day. I still root for the Yankees, too (since the two teams are in different leagues), but when push comes to shove, I favor the Giants by a broad margin. 

It was tough being a Giants fan in the early 1980s, when I moved with my mother back to my birthplace of New York. For one thing, in those pre-Internet, pre-sports radio days, it was nearly impossible to get the West Coast scores until late the next day. So frustrating! Secondly, all my friends were Mets fans, and despite both teams being pretty awful, my “pals” found nothing more enjoyable than razzing me about every Giants loss—especially when it came at the hands of their beloved Mets. But, what can I say? I’ve always been an underdog sort of guy, and given the Giants’ perennial also-ran status, that makes them pretty irresistible.

Baseball seemed to answer so many questions for me during that period of my life. Back in San Francisco, I spent more time than was healthy parked in front of the radio (we didn’t own a television), listening to Hank Greenwald and Lindsey Nelson give the play-by-play, as I kept pace, keeping score on my own custom-made scorecards. I got endless satisfaction from the stats, the computing of averages, and the comparisons of players from one era to another. There was comforting reliability to baseball statistics: the whole world fit into these little boxes, everything had a scoring symbol or a slot to fit into, and in my itinerant youth (my mom, a college professor and artist, took me with her to jobs in San Diego, San Francisco, Halifax, Vancouver, and finally, in the summer of 1980, back to New York), this dependability meant a lot. 

I always loved playing baseball, too, although I never got very good at it. In San Francisco, the neighborhood kids and I were crazy about our version of stickball (with a wooden bat and an old tennis ball). And even my two or three years of Little League ball were fun, although I wasn’t much of a hitter (and not much better as a pitcher). 


Until I came across The Summer Game, my exposure to baseball writing had been confined to juvenile fiction and simplified biographies of stars such as Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, and Joe DiMaggio. You know the kinds of books I mean: bland histories where every chapter offers a life lesson. Or the fictional stories, which always seemed to be about that terrible Little League team that over the course of a long summer comes together, bonds, and goes on to win the championship against incredible odds. 

Well, stumbling across The Summer Game (sometime in 1978, I believe) was like opening my eyes to a whole new world. You brought the lyricism of the game to my attention. Even though I was far too young to really appreciate the beauty of your prose, your easy, colloquial style, your love of the quiet moments between the actions, your appreciation of the weather, the stadium, the fans around you: all of this was captivating to me. I’ve re-read your books many times over the years, from my adolescence in New York, to my college years in Ohio, and during even a stint in Prague, the Czech Republic! Since then, I’ve lived in Chicago, back in San Francisco, and now am back “home” in Brooklyn, always with your books in tow.

When I first read your books, I was absorbed by the inside-baseball; the quotes from the stars, the feeling I was vicariously getting to know these superstars (and benchwarmers too). Even at age 12, I was an avid reader of the sports pages, and it seemed to me that the players quoted in there didn’t have the ability to form complete sentences, rarely anything other than the typical clichés about giving “one hundred and ten percent,” taking it one day at a time, etc., etc. But when you spoke to those guys, they seemed real: thoughtful, opinionated, humorous, human. 

And of course I loved the way you brought the big games to life, your annual recap of the pennant races, the playoffs and the World Series. It didn’t matter if I had followed every game myself. Somehow you brought those moments back, capturing the drama, the tension, the whole atmosphere. I realize now that it wasn’t the suspense of the unknown that I craved, but the sense that during those moments, this game was the content of my entire world.

Over the years, as I’ve re-read The Summer GameFive SeasonsLate Innings, and Season Ticket, I’ve come to appreciate your abiding humanism, the way you continually embrace the changing playing field of major league baseball. In the face of greedy players & owners, astronomical salaries, stadium scandals, contraction, and the nearly endless postseason, your love of the game and its participants has never waned. Somehow you’re able to express your concerns, to plainly state why you think the most recent “innovation” does the game a disservice, and yet maintain the generosity of spirit and perennial optimism to know that baseball—the game itself—will persevere. Nay, triumph!

I feel like I’m just going on and on, so I’ll cut this short. I hope this letter brings you some satisfaction—It’s the least I can do to repay you for all the wonderful hours of enjoyment and education you’ve provided me all these years. 

Thank you again; as always I look forward to your next baseball piece in The New Yorker.

Sincerely yours,

Josh Neufeld

George Pérez, 1954–2022

Life, Tribute

Jeez, what a month of losses this has been. Personally, I’ve lost two family members and, now, two major influences in my art career: first Neal Adams back on April 28, and now George Pérez, who died of pancreatic cancer on May 6. Pérez was only 67 years old.

Pérez art on a Firestorm story from 1980.

I was 13 years old when I first discovered Pérez’s work—on DC Comics’ dynamic (Marvel-style) superhero team comic The New Teen Titans (probably the title that Pérez is still most associated with). I was immediately taken by the energy of his dense, detailed artwork. 

Talk about chops—this was a guy who drew the heck out of each page on which he worked. (And he drew thousands and thousands of pages!) When I think of his work, I picture one of those crazy, crowded city skylines, often shot directly above. Or his group fight scenes, with every character doing a specific action. Or the particular way he would draw a face in chiaroscuro, with that little spot of light under the eye on the shadowed side. He could draw crowd scenes and detail better than anyone.

Looking at his work now, I recognize that the casual observer might not necessarily appreciate Pérez’s art; it can be stereotypical “comic-y” in its reliance on overly muscled, sometimes stiff, characters, and exaggerated “camera” angles and poses. But what set Pérez above all the hacks who emulate that same style was the passion he put into every page, his attention to detail, his devotion to craft, and his love for the form of comics.

As instantly “blocky” and recognizable as his work was, it was also refined in surprising ways. He really cared about differentiating his characters. With so many other comics artists, the basic features of the main characters were the same—without the costume or the hairstyle you might not be able to tell Robin from Kid Flash from Changeling; or Wonder Girl from Starfire from Raven. Not so with Pérez, who clearly thought about the shape of each character’s face and the proportions of their features.

And of course, he loved to draw strong women. His female superheroes looked as powerful as the men—you could believe that Wonder Woman could lift a tank or Starfire could blast through a wall with her powers. 

From that moment I first saw Pérez’ art on Teen Titans, I was hooked on his style, and for many years made it my mission to track down his work, including his earlier run on The Avengers—even those backup Firestorm stories in The Flash!

And he was so damn prolific. Whereas other artists struggled to keep up with a monthly book, Pérez thrived under the heavy workload. In one stretch in 1981, he was drawing both the Teen Titans AND the Justice League—both team books with tons of characters! Not to mention that he was frequently commissioned to illustrate covers for other books (which led to me buying comics in which I had no interest just to savor his amazing cover art).

There were also the odd side projects which showed up from time to time: who remembers his awesome self-inked short stories in Pacific’s Alien Worlds #7 and Vanguard Illustrated #6? (As much as I appreciated Romeo Tanghal’s inks on Pérez in Teen Titans, I loved it when Pérez inked his own pencils—so much more detail!)

Pérez-inspired art of mine from my high school days.

Pérez—along with John Byrne and Frank Miller—was a huge influence on my own comics work at the time. I studied Pérez’ artwork, read his interviews when I could find them, and savored the fact that he was a New York City kid like me. In high school, I drew my own superhero comics, and you can clearly see Pérez’ influences in my work of the time. (In fact, I aspired to one day draw The Teen Titans when Pérez retired!) Without his example, I would never have drawn this crazy one-point perspective cityscape in my high school comic, Blade. There are so many other examples from my comics and sketchbooks of the time of me emulating Pérez’ style—someday I’ll dig them up and display them here…

As the years went by and I went to college, still dreaming of becoming a superhero artist, I continued to follow Pérez obsessively—highlights of his work from that period include the groundbreaking limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, his landmark work as writer/artist on Wonder Woman, and his memorable stint on The Infinity Gauntlet miniseries. (Recent movies and TV shows like Avengers: Infinity War, Wonder Woman, and Supergirl all featured adaptations of stories on which Pérez worked.)


By the mid-1990s, I was transitioning from drawing superhero comics to what I do now—making comics about real people and real life. I pretty much stopped buying superhero comics, and lost touch with Pérez’ career. I draw a different kind of comics now, but those early influences never really go away, and even nowadays I find myself thinking of his work when I draw a detailed city scene or try to find the most dynamic angle from which to frame a shot.

I never got the chance to properly meet George Pérez, or to let him know how much I loved and had learned from his work. The one time I saw him in person was at a comics convention where we crossed paths. I was already getting published in the “indy comics” world by that time, and felt self-conscious about going up and introducing myself to someone who was now in a “different camp.” Plus, he was already surrounded by admirers. I remember just standing there at the con, watching him interact with his fans and taking in the fact that we were both there at the same time.

I usually make it a policy to send “fan letters” to those who have served as “mentors from afar”—I did so with writers like Roger Zelazny, Roger Angell, and Roger Ebert (all Rogers!), and even baseball announcer Jon Miller. But I’m sad to say I never did with Pérez. The closest I came was a fan letter I wrote to—and had published in!–“Titans Tower” (the Teen Titans letter column) in 1984; I like to think that George read it…

Even though I hadn’t followed Perez’ work in recent years, I was saddened last December to hear of his cancer diagnosis. And I was amazingly touched by the letter he wrote to his colleagues and fans, where he announced that he would not be seeking treatment, and instead would be spending his last few months with his family. It turned out that this superstar artist was a brave, inspiring human being as well.

I’ll end this piece with a message for other aspiring artists: his New York Times obit mentions that when Pérez first started getting published professionally, he really struggled with rendering perspective and anatomy. It’s a testament to how hard he worked that those features later became strengths of his; a lesson that every young artist should take to heart.

Thank you, George, from me and on behalf of all those readers whose lives you enriched through your example and your work.

Collage Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Life, Work

I recently unearthed an old art project of mine from 30+ years in storage, and it’s a fascinating time capsule, both of the late 1980s and of myself from that period.

The object in question is a large 36″ x 48″ collage I painstakingly crafted out of images cut from magazines, postcards, and my own art and photographs. Made during my senior year of college at Oberlin — on the cusp of charting my own path as a so-called adult — I see now that the collage reflects my desires, and fears, about the future.

Why did I make this thing? I believe I got the idea from a birthday present I had received a few years before: a wall calendar that encouraged the owner to decorate the page above each month of the year. For some of the months, I drew something, and for some of them, I made little collages.

It must also be acknowledged that my mother, the artist Martha Rosler, had created a series of feminist collages when I was a child for which she became quite well known. (One of those series, Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain, featured images of nude women paired with kitchen appliances!) I actually got to study my own mother’s work in college — I was an art history major with a focus on contemporary art — and while I was there she was invited to visit the school in an official capacity. So, I’m sure my mom’s work was hovering in the back of my mind as well.

Either way, I got in my head to make my own giant-size “Josh Collage.”

At first glance, the collage appears to be a straightforward catalog of my interests/obsessions from that period. My tastes back then were pretty mainstream — they still are — but what I was into, I was REALLY into. (And it’s funny: only in going through this collage in such detail do I truly appreciate how many of my interests and tastes — in music, in art, in politics — were informed by my mother. Thanks, mom — for bringing me into the world and shaping who I am in it.)

So WHY did I make this collage? I believe it was a form of “art therapy” for my insecure 21-year-old self, a way of proclaiming, “Hey, I exist!” And if so, it was a fun coping mechanism, like solving a puzzle, fitting all the images together in various pleasing (and occasionally clever) ways.

That said, it’s interesting to see what I chose to reveal about myself. Surprisingly there are virtually no images from popular movies or TV — no stills from Vietnam films (my obsession at that time), or Taxi Driver or The Godfather, or Woody Allen movies (probably for the best, that last one). No Star Wars. By the same token, there’s virtually nothing from the world of comics — other than my own artwork of the time. Clearly, I was trying to project an idea of myself, and even though I was still an avid reader of mainstream superhero comics at that point, I must have felt self-conscious about advertising it to whoever walked into my room. (This was all before I “discovered” the world of alternative comics — Harvey Pekar, Joe Sacco, et al.)

And, in poring over the collage again, I see that there was actually a larger concept behind it. The collage is roughly divided into sections — about me and my friends, about pop culture, about sports, about art, about city life, and about politics (with a fair amount of overlap). Looking at it now, though, from the vantage point of 30+ years, it seems to actually be a reflection of my anxieties and desires about the next stage of life in the “real world”: the big city, career, relationships… family?

So, here’s the full collage and my thoughts on its various elements. Prepare yourself for a trip back to 1988 — and the contents of my unformed brain…

Just in case you don’t instantly recognize these icons of the late 1980s (and in the spirit of the cover of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali), I’ve created a legend that identifies the various images that make up the collage. Let’s go through it, section by section, shall we?

Collage legend with highlighted sections

This first section focuses on 21-year-old me: self-portraits, my own art, my friends, and my sense of humor. In retrospect, it also reveals some preliminary anxiety I might have had about one day becoming a father…

  1. Self-portrait in pen-and-ink — It’s only appropriate that this self-portrait collage should start with a literal self-portrait. Like most teenagers, I spent countless hours staring (unhappily) at my face in a mirror. I drew this “soulful” chiaroscuro self-portrait in 1985, at the start of my freshman year at Oberlin. Is there any significance to the fact that I cut off the left (dark) side of my face from the original portrait? You tell me!

2. Slash vs. Blade — a panel from “Battle,” a jam comic I did with Dean Haspiel also during my freshman year, in the period 1985–1986. (Back then, pre-Internet, we would draw a page of the strip, fold it up and mail it via the post office to the other guy so he could continue the story. I was in Ohio; Dino was back in NYC.) Dean and I have known each other since freshman year of high school; this may have been our first true collaboration, predating our two-man anthology Keyhole, the jam comic Lionel’s Lament, and of course our podcast Scene by Scene with Josh and Dean. Slash was Dean’s character (inspired by Star WarsBoba Fett) and Blade was mine (inspired by the Teen Titans villain Deathstroke the Terminator). In this panel, my character Blade is torturing Dino’s character Slash by stretching his mask to its fullest extent so it will snap back on his face in an extremely painful manner. (Later on in “Battle,” the two characters wind up naked and then have sex with each other.)

3. Blade as drawn by Dean Haspiel — I always loved/envied this drawing of Blade, which I felt looked cooler than any image of my own character that I had ever drawn. (Did I imagine that Dean was a better version of myself? No, that can’t be…)

4. Self-portrait reflected in a car window — my mom (also a renowned photographer) had given me a Minolta X-7A 35 millimeter camera, and I loved it. And it presented new opportunities to make “interesting” and “dramatic” self-portraits. Deep!

5. Josh & Jake — a candid shot of me and my college BFF Jake Elsas up to our usual hijinks. I’m not sure where this photo was taken, but I don’t think it was at Oberlin. Possibly one of our family homes on a spring break visit? A few years later, after Jake spent a year in the Soviet Union, he and I were roommates in a couple of too-small NYC apartments. Then, my girlfriend (and future wife) Sari moved in and Jake moved to Portland, Oregon.

6. Nikon 35mm camera — As mentioned before, I was really in love with my Minolta camera (remember, this was before everyone had a high-quality camera in their pocket). I guess I couldn’t find an image of my exact camera, but this Nikon looked pretty similar.

7. Earl the Dead Cat — “Earl the Dead Cat(TM) means farewell to smelly cat food and messy litter boxes. Earl is a cuddly, under-stuffed and very dead toy cat complete with his own death certificate. The brand new L’IL EARL also has suction cups on his paws to stick on car windows. Earl the Dead Cat(TM). The last cat you’ll ever need.” Apparently, this toy was introduced in 1985, and was featured on The Tonight Show and Weekly World News. A typical example of the “ironic” humor from that period. True, I was never much of a cat fancier, but this seems to clearly reveal anxieties I may have had about taking care of a real living thing…

8. Residents of Dascomb second-floor men’s wing — my first two years at Oberlin, I had the weird fortune of living in the same dorm room (with a different roommate each year) on the second floor of Dascomb Hall. Freshman year I drew a series of pen-and-ink portraits of roommates on that hall; sophomore year I saved time by just drawing a whole group of guys at once. (It was a fun bunch — we all had a lot of good times together despite them being so much younger than me LOL.) This is that illustration, which was probably originally drawn in 1987.

9. Sammy Safesex sez… “Slip It On Before You Slip It In!” Another example of what I found HILARIOUS back then. Anyway, note how Sammy Safesex is strategically placed over my self-portrait’s crotch from no. 8. Safe!

10. Life in Hell cartoon by Matt Groening — two panels from “Childhood is Hell: Chapter 2: How to be a Wily 1-Year-Old,” probably from 1988. I loved the Life in Hell strip, which ran weekly in alternative papers (and at that point was the closest thing I got to so-called “alternative comics”). Matt Groening, right around this time, was creating The Simpsons, an animated show that changed American humor forever. But I can’t help but find it significant that I chose and placed this strip, focused on childhood, in the vicinity of the above condom cartoon…

11. The Ocelot — When I was still in high school, I hooked up with an APA (amateur press association) called The Chain that was set up to help wannabes like myself get work in the comics industry. I met writer Gene Phillips through The Chain. He and I collaborated on a number of stories in the late 1980s — none of which ever saw print. This image, drawn in the late summer 1988, was of our superhero The Ocelot, whose powers derived from her allegiance to the Aztec god Itztlacoliuhqui. Following every sexist superhero comics trope of the time, I designed her as a scary/sexy cat-woman. Tsk. Hiss!

12. Frisbee — my dad is the one who first taught me to throw a frisbee, and I’ve loved tossing one around ever since. (There’s nothing more “Oberlin” than a frisbee.) While I was still at Oberlin, a pal from another school commissioned me to draw a T-shirt for his Ultimate team, Dasein.


This next section — the biggest part of the collage — focuses on what were my pop culture interests: music, TV, and sports. (I still find it odd that I left movies out of the collage. Maybe there was just too much for me to condense down to a few images?) Again, many of my musical interests back then reveal what was foremost on my mind (hint: it’s spelled S-E-X)…

13. Mighty Mouse — As a scrawny youngster, I had really identified with this little cartoon mouse with big super-powers. “Here I come to save the day!”

14. Prince — I was a HUGE Prince fan during this period (I still am), buying every single, every 12-inch, every bootleg, and of course every album he released. (To this day, my favorite Prince song is the album version of “Purple Rain.“) I also tracked down every article I could find about Prince in every magazine. Prince’s whole image and much of his music were centered around sexuality and its taboos. This photo looks like it’s from the Controversy period (circa 1981).

15. John Lennon — Even though Paul McCartney was my favorite Beatle, John came in a close second; and even almost a decade later, I was still mourning Lennon’s 1980 murder. This image is from his famous 1972 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

16. The Beatles — my first musical obsession, dating back to when my mom introduced me to their music when I was about ten years old. I still have my vinyl LPs of all their American albums and a few imports. According to Discogs, this image is from the Swedish edition of the “Hey Jude” single, released in 1968 with “Revolution” on the B side. (Since you didn’t ask, I would say my favorite Beatles songs are “A Day In the Life,” “I Am the Walrus,” “I Want You [She’s So Heavy],” and “Ticket to Ride.”)

17. David Letterman — from the get-go I loved Late Night with David Letterman and Dave’s send-up of the traditional stodgy talk-show format. Late Night‘s combination of absurdist humor, wacky segments, and awkward celebrity interviews — sprinkled with huge heaps of irony — really spoke to me and my ilk. Back then, it seemed like a big deal that a late-night host wore sneakers with his suit!

18. Michael Jackson — It wasn’t exactly cool to like Michael Jackson during this period (which is probably why I chose this image), but I really did love his music, beginning with Thriller and continuing on with Bad. (I retroactively came to love Off the Wall as well.) But one couldn’t help but be fascinated with how odd Michael was — little knowing how much more bizarre he would become (tragically). This was from a British tabloid image of him walking the streets in “disguise,” coming off a bit like a skinny Reggie Jackson — no relation — from the 1970s. It looks like Michael put in fake teeth too? Oh, Jacko!

19. Terence Trent D’Arby? — It’s small and blurry, but I’m 85% sure that this photo is of Terence Trent D’Arby, because the cap and leather jacket are extremely similar to what the singer wore in the video to “Sign Your Name Across My Heart.” I’ve also seen a live rendition of “Wishing Well” where he wore a coat even more like the one in this photo. See no. 16 for more on the singer now known as Sananda Maitreya.)

20. Madonna — Is it a shock that I was really into Madonna (oh, and her music too)? This photo was taken in New York City on September 11 (!), 1988, when Madonna ran the 5k event Sport Aid 88: The Race Against Time, which was held simultaneously in cities all over the world. Madonna is shown here holding up her running bib number 1,000,001 (fellow pop stars like Sting, Steve Winwood, and Eurythmics took part in Sport Aid 88 as well). Sponsored by CARE, the race was part of a slew of charity events all inspired by Bob Geldof and Live Aid.

21. Prince — yep, him again, looking quite fetching. This iconic androgynous photo is from the cover of Lovesexy (1988).

22. Terence Trent D’Arby — As soon as I heard the music from his 1987 debut album,  Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby (this image is from the cover), I was in love. And how could I not have been, given how evocative of Prince he was in both his music, his stage presence, and his general vibe? Though D’Arby’s follow-up albums had some good stuff, I wasn’t as into Neither Fish Nor Flesh (1989) or Symphony or Damn (1993), and I lost touch with him after that. I wasn’t even aware that he had changed his name to Sananda Maitreya until I looked him up again recently.

23. The cast of M*A*S*H — My favorite TV show for many, many years, a show that artfully combined humor and pathos (“dramedy”). I identified with the character of Hawkeye Pierce to an extreme degree, and I think my personality was greatly formed by that admiration. (I became equally obsessed with Alan Alda for similar reasons.) A shared love of M*A*S*H in high school and college lead me to a number of lasting friendships. Even though the show had gone off the air some years earlier, while at college I watched daily reruns on a tiny black-and-white TV in my dorm room. This postcard shows the latter group of cast members, including B.J. Hunnicutt, Colonel Potter, and Charles Winchester; but no Radar, Trapper John, Frank Burns, or Colonel Blake.

24. The Death of Rhythm & Blues — I never read this book by Nelson George, but I loved the cover art, which to me evoked cubism and art deco. I periodically read George’s column, “Native Son,” which ran in the Village Voice around this time, and I remember his work as being passionate and challenging. I’ve read that in this book, George partially blames Michael Jackson and Prince for bringing R&B to the white mainstream, which helped “kill” it as an art form. And now they’re both dead too — RIP.

25. Sam Cooke (“Shake”) — After she got me into The Beatles, my mom introduced me to the music of Sam Cooke, and I still get a thrill when I hear his distinctive, heartfelt voice, especially on songs like “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Frankie and Johnny“. My mom has good taste in music! This album, Shake, was released in 1965, one year after Cooke’s untimely death (murder?).

26. Sheila E. and Cat — Two of Prince’s sexy protegés from the Lovesexy era. Sheila E. is an awesome percussionist who was associated with Prince for much of the second half of the 1980s — as well as heading her own band — and Cat Glover (“Woman”) is a dancer, singer, and choreographer who performed with Prince in the late ’80s.

27. Prince — Mr. Rogers Nelson looking cool as can be; this image is from the cover of the “When Doves Cry” single (1984). When I first heard the song, I hated it — I think it scared me. After I saw the Purple Rain film, and came to appreciate Prince for the genius he was, I came to accept “When Doves Cry”… and now I rank it as one of my favorite Prince songs.

28. Porky Pig — he’s a funny little cartoon pig with a stutter. (He also looks like a baby, which is probably why I glued this pic down next to nos. 8, 9, and 10 of the previous section.) It’s crazy to think that many people today are unfamiliar with Porky, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and their Looney Tunes friends.

29. Jack Clark — My dad taught me to play baseball when I was about 11 or 12, and I soon became obsessed with the game. Right around that time, I moved to San Francisco, becoming a Giants fan, a team I have stayed loyal to ever since. Jack Clark was the team’s indisputable star, and I was obsessed with him — even after he left the Giants I followed his career with great interest. (I still have pretty much all his baseball cards from every stop along the way.) I took this photo when I went to see him play in person in mid-September 1988, when the Yankees visited Cleveland Municipal Stadium to play the then-Indians. (Clark only played one year for the Yanks.)

30. Spike Lee — I love Spike’s movies, but at this point I mostly knew him from the Nike commercials he — as Mars Blackmon — shot with Michael Jordan! (I don’t even think I had seen She’s Gotta Have It at this point). After seeing Do the Right Thing in the summer of 1989 — still one of my all-time favorite films — I wrote Spike a letter begging to work for him at 40 Acres and a Mule Productions. I got a postcard back — all it said was “Fight the Power! Fight the Power! Fight the Power!


As I’ve mentioned, I was an art history major at Oberlin, and this section features reproductions of European fine art, mostly of paintings I had seen in person when I spent a month traveling around France, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands on a Eurail Pass in the winter of 1987–1988. That trip followed a fall semester I had spent at University College, London. Oberlin’s study abroad program was extremely expensive, so to get to London, I temporarily transferred to Beaver College, which ran a much more affordable study abroad program in the U.K. (I never actually set foot in Beaver College, which was located in Glenside, Pennsylvania.) And, yes, before you make any dumb jokes, Beaver College changed its name in 2001 to Arcadia University (in large part because its name was being filtered out of Internet searches due to the “other” meaning of “beaver” LOL).

31. Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Édouard Manet (1862–1863) — I was an art history major at Oberlin, and really came to love French 19th Century painting; this originally infamous image of a luncheon on the grass is one of my favorite works from the period. (I’m sure the fact that it features a nude woman sitting with two fully dressed men has nothing to do with that.) It hangs in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

32. Nude with Coral Necklace by Amedeo Modigliani (1917) — My dad had a pair of Modigliani reproductions — of a clothed man and a nude woman (there’s that theme again) — hanging in our apartment for many years, and I studied them intently. This particular Modigliani painting hangs in Oberlin’s very own Allen Memorial Art Museum, which is where I got the postcard for my collage.

33. Still Life with Red Onions by Paul Cézanne (1896–1898) — Cézanne was an artist I had to be taught to appreciate; when I first saw his work I was put off by the angularity of his work. When I later studied him in art history class (thank you, Pat Mathews!), I came to love Cézanne: the vibratory tension, the geometry of forms, his beautiful understanding of color — and that brushstroke! This painting also hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.

34. The Charging Chasseur by Théodore Géricault (1812) — Géricault is another favorite artist of mine. When I first visited England and France, as a high school teenager, my mother was dragging me through the Louvre Museum when I caught sight of Géricault’s epic history painting The Raft of the Medusa (1818–1819). According to my mom, I audibly gasped, and stood there for ten minutes just taking it all in. That may have been the moment that led to me eventually majoring in art history. The Charging Chasseur also hangs in the Louvre, which is where I got the postcard.

35. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (1503–1506) — as beautiful and mysterious as everyone says. Also hangs in the Louvre.

36. Peter Slips Under the Fence by Beatrix Potter (c. 1902) — my mom was a huge fan of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, and she read me the stories when I was kid, pointing out how beautiful Potter’s illustrations were. I grew to love them as well; I picked up this postcard when I was studying in England.

37. Bedroom in Arles (3rd version) by Vincent Van Gogh (1889) — What’s there to say about Van Gogh‘s work that hasn’t already been said by people way more articulate than me? This painting also hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.

38. Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo (1508–1512) — I got to visit the Vatican during my 1987-1988 Eurail adventure, an experience I will never forget. Being in the actual Sistine Chapel, staring up at the ceiling Michelangelo painted was as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever had. I bought this postcard in the Vatican gift shop.


This section focuses on city life — featuring monuments, crowds, deserted streets, and images of implied violence. Living through the 1980s in New York felt like an achievement, and though I wore that experience like a badge of honor, I was clearly a bit apprehensive about my imminent return to the Big Apple! But I think that after spending the better part of four years in the quiet corn fields of Ohio, I felt the need to reclaim my urban origins.

39. Big Ben in London — The “city section” is bookended by two towers; this famous clock being one of them. My semester in London was foundational for me. I made some good friends, I had a lot of adventures, and I learned a lot — about history, art, and myself. I also spent a lot of time involved in an ill-advised long-distance love triangle, which entailed various periods of panicked phone calls and letters back to the U.S. Oy!

40. Empire State Building — I’ve long had an appreciation for the Empire State Building, which to me always represented the essence of New York City. Looking back, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t have the same affinity for the Twin Towers. *Sigh*

41. Penciled Panel from The Ocelot — this panel from The Ocelot #2 ostensibly takes place in Houston, Texas, but I didn’t have much photo reference for Houston, so I drew my version of a neglected NYC street instead. This page was penciled in August 1988; I finally finished the 8-page story in February of 1989 (probably working on the bulk of it during Oberlin’s Winter Term).

42. Batman by George Pérez — this is the only example of professional comics in this whole collage, and I couldn’t resist adding an image by one of my original artistic heroes, George Pérez. (Batman stands here atop a Gotham building; Gotham was a comics analog for New York City.) My early attempts at superhero comics were greatly influenced by Pérez and John Byrne. Pérez recently announced that he has inoperable cancer; his last wish is to share his final months with his family, friends, and fans. What a brave and generous spirit.

43. Cleveland, Ohio (Michael Dukakis rally) — In September of 1988, I went with a busload of Oberlin students to nearby Cleveland for a Dukakis presidential rally, which is where I took this photo. See nos. 52–55.

44. V13 Gang Members — Despite being a typical Oberlin peacenik, I was (not so) secretly obsessed with images of guns and portrayals of gun violence. The photo, by Merrick Morton, of a baby-faced Venice 13 gang member pointing his gun right at the camera, was irresistible. It accompanied Mike Sager‘s Rolling Stone article, “Death in Venice: The Effect of Crack on Gangs in Venice, California,” (September 22, 1988), which helped open my eyes to the “hardness” of life in American cities other than New York.

45. Surgeon General’s Warning: “Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health” — I was really anti-smoking! I didn’t even like my friends to smoke around me (which is probably why I didn’t have any friends who were poets or intellectuals). Smoking is certainly not confined to urbanites, but back then the image of cigarettes and tough city streets really went together.

46. Sidewalk? — Hard to tell, but this looks like one of my own photographs, maybe a bird’s eye view of city sidewalks, shot out of a window from the second or third floor.

47. Blade from Slash vs. Blade — “Yo, man!” Blade is very upset with Slash because in the previous episode of “Battle,” Slash cut him in half. From what I recall, this scene took place in the city where Slash and Blade were having their battle. (It also probably just fit really well in that particular spot of the collage.)


The final section of the collage features politics and the world around me in 1988. A big focus is the 1988 election for U.S. President (already alluded to in no. 43), which pitted Democrat Michael Dukakis against George H. W. Bush. Spoiler: Bush won. By a lot. It was a depressing time.

48. Unknown Civil Rights Pioneer — The best I can tell, this is a photo from the Civil Rights era, of a lone Black woman escorted by FBI agents and flanked by National Guard soldiers — possibly bravely desegregating a Southern school? Like many college students during this time, I felt very engaged with the anti-Apartheid movement during this period, so the connections between what was then going on in South Africa and the American South during the 1950s were very clear. My guess is that this photo was from a Rolling Stone article about the Civil Rights era. If anyone can identify the woman in the image, I would be most grateful.

49. Sean Tucker — Sean was on my hall in Dascomb during my freshman year, and this image is from the drawings I did of various sets of roommates. He had this inherent gravitas, and this great deep voice, and it always seemed to us that he was destined to become a politician, which is why I drew him speechifying at a podium! Sean was from Cleveland and I went to visit his family once. I also once flew with him and another Oberlin couple in a tiny 4-seater prop plane; they flew the plane to an island on Lake Erie, we ate dinner at a restaurant and then flew back to a local airfield outside of Oberlin. Sean and I went back to our respective cities after college, and we fell out of touch. I don’t know if he ended up pursuing public service.

50. Anthony Lewis — My mom got me a subscription to the New York Times while I was at college, and I actually read it — well, at least the sports pages and the op-ed page. Lewis was one of my favorite columnists — his At Home Abroad column always helped me see the alternative point of view during that period of conservative Reaganism.

51. William Greider — I was an avid reader of Rolling Stone magazine during this period, and I loved Greider‘s columns. He wrote powerfully about finance and income inequality in ways I could actually understand. (I had never taken an economics class.)

52. Jesse Jackson — Jackson’s name artfully placed over the eyes of the eventual Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis (see 53). It’s hard to overstate now how exciting was Jackson’s run for the Democratic nomination in the spring of 1988. A civil rights leader who had worked with Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson was leader of the National Rainbow Coalition, and an inspiring public speaker. At that time, 20 years before Obama’s election, it was so thrilling to imagine the possibility of a Black president. By the time Obama won in 2008, it felt like most people had forgotten how far Jackson got in ’88 — winning 13 state primaries and caucuses, and accumulating over 1,000 delegates to the convention. I voted for him in the primaries and always thought he would’ve been a far better candidate than was Dukakis. After college, I applied for a job with the Rainbow Coalition, though I never heard back from them 🙁

53. Michael Dukakis — I always think of that video of him riding around in a tank. Meant to make him look tough and “presidential,” it instead made him look like a silly little kid.

54. BU ll SH it in 88— get it? Summarized my thoughts on the guy who beat Dukakis — in large part due to Lee Atwater’s infamous “Willie Horton” strategy.

55. Oberlin students at the Dukakis rally, Cleveland, Ohio — I clambered up a lamppost or a stanchion to take this shot of a bunch of Obies in the crowd.

56. Spuds MacKenzie — the cute bull terrier from those Bud Light commercials. Spuds was attacked by politicians because he (actually she) supposedly made beer seem attractive to kids. Big industries like beer and tobacco would never stoop so low as to target underage consumers, right, Joe Camel?


Phew! So there you have it: thanks for taking that trip back in time with me.

The collage itself, once I finished it, was obviously very important to me, because I ended up framing it for wall display. I think I actually did hang it on the wall of my first New York City apartment, but by the time I moved in with Sari, barely a year and a half after graduation, it had been put away, never to be displayed again. Like I said, a time capsule.

And you know — I shouldn’t have been so anxious about the future… Life since college has been pretty good: I’ve discovered my calling as a nonfiction cartoonist, had the opportunity to travel widely (pre-pandemic), and have gotten to share my knowledge with later generations. And best of all, I’ve been able to spend 30+ years married to my best friend, and together we have a wonderful daughter.

Makes me wonder what a contemporary version of this collage would look like. Well, that’s a project for another day. (And then I can revisit that collage when I’m in my 80s and analyze it to death as well!)

Hamid Mohammadi (1959–2021)

A.D., Tribute

I am very sad to report that Hamid Mohammadi, one of the real-life stars of A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, has passed away. He was 62 years old.

Hamid was a colorful character and a great resource to A.D. As I was working on structuring the book, I “found” him through a good friend whose cousin happened to be Hamid’s wife. I first contacted Hamid in December of 2006. Although he was a busy man—with a wife and family, his store to run, and managing other properties in the area—he was always friendly and found time to tell me his story in detail as I was working on the project.

This is the super-truncated version:

Finally, in part due to Mansell’s ill health, Hamid was convinced to “abandon ship;” he was evacuated from NOLA on a truck to Atlanta.

After many long months, Hamid and his family eventually returned to salvage their lives and business. This excerpt is from August of 2015, 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. I caught up with A.D.‘s characters—including Hamid—and to get their thoughts on the city a decade after the disaster.

By the way, Hamid’s real name was used in the original webcomic, but when it came to the printed book, he asked me to change it to “Abbas” (his son’s name)—with a mustache added to his face. He never explained why he wanted this change—I always assumed it came from him essentially being a private person and not comfortable with being a “celebrity.” In any case I learned that in the period after A.D.’s book publication, a number of readers came into his store and identified him as the real Hamid! Which, thankfully, he found amusing.

When I talked to Hamid for the ten-year anniversary comic, he allowed me to use his real name again. By that point, he no longer owned the Calhoun Superette—and was understandably a bit bitter…

Weirdly, as I documented in detail in 2016, in a visual post called “3135 Calhoun St. and the A.D. Cosmic Connection,” Hamid’s store location was eventually taken over by Crescent City Comics, the employer of another real-life A.D. character, Leo McGovern! It’s worth checking out the post, as it goes into more detail than I can spend here about Hamid’s experiences at the store during and after Katrina.

Even though the former superette ended up in good hands, I hear that Hamid never really recovered from losing his store. After 16 years, through thick and thin, I can certainly imagine why!

As different as we were in our backgrounds, I felt a real kinship with Hamid—with his sense of adventure and his matter-of-fact way or recounting his experiences. There were so many little things he did during the disaster, from giving away food after the storm, bringing bottles of water to stranded neighbors, and ensuring Mansell’s health, that I consider heroic. (Not to mention all the years of hard work he spent restoring the Superette to operation again.) Despite everything that happened, and all the danger he had been in, he confided to me that he regretted leaving his flooded store, and felt that he has “wussed out”—which of course he hadn’t.

Hamid was born in Iran and came to the U.S. as a young man. He made a good life, with a wife of 36 years and two beloved children. In addition to the Superette, he owned other property in the NOLA region. During our conversations, he talked fondly of fishing trips with friends and watching Saints football games on TV. He was also a blackbelt in aikido. I felt very honored to have known him, even tangentially, and I am so grateful that he was willing to share his experiences with the readers of A.D.

You can read extended excerpts of Hamid’s experiences in the original webcomic version of A.D, particularly in Chapter 7, “The Bowl Effect, Part I,” and “The Bowl Effect, Part II.”

Hamid’s family has created a Life Tribute page for Hamid for people to share their memories of him. If you knew him, I encourage you to contribute something. “Unsung” people like Hamid deserve to be remembered and their lives commemorated; they’re the reason I chose the life of a nonfiction cartoonist. https://www.muhleisen.com/obituaries/Hamid-Mohammadi/

Hamid Mohammadi, rest in peace.

Contemporary Literature interview

Publicity
Contemporary Literature vol. 61, no. 2
Contemporary Literature Summer 2021 (vol. 61, no. 2)

Jonathan Najarian interviewed me about my work for Contemporary Literature, a journal published out of the University of Wisconsin.

In his introduction to the interview, Jon discusses various projects of mine, including A.D.; “The Trump-Russia memos“; “Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand“; “Supply-Chain Superhero“; “A Tale of Two Pandemics,” and others. I was really struck by Jon’s close reading of my work, and his appreciation for the visual details I spend so much time putting in.

The interview is fun to look back on and read—it’s a real conversation, with some good back & forth, and I felt Jon’s questions really pushed me to go deep in my answers. Topics we discussed include whether comics journalism is “real” journalism, what subjects call out to be treated in comics form, collaborating with Brooke Gladstone, how comics are treated in the U.S. as compared to France, the media and Donald Trump, and the insertion of myself into my stories. Shout-outs to Joe Sacco, Scott McCloud, Harvey Pekar, Dean Haspiel, Martha Rosler, and Sari Wilson.

I can say for a fact that Jon’s intro and the interview itself is the most serious treatment of my stuff that I’ve yet seen. I’m blushing here!

Anyway, there’s a short excerpt from the piece here, but I think you have to have an academic journal subscription, or pay a one-time fee, to read the whole thing online.

Josh Neufeld Name Story panel 1

The Josh Neufeld Name Story NFT

Comics, Life, Work

There’s a funny story in today’s New York Times about a battle for supremacy that took place on Saturday in Lincoln, Nebraska, with a bunch of guys named Josh. It couldn’t be more apropos because I just drew this humorous one-pager on the story of my name. Touching upon my being Jewish, growing up different, Star Wars, Superboy, and so much more, the comic has fun with our current obsession with identity and self-discovery. (By the way, I have only ever run into one guy with my exact name—the Canadian Josh Neufeld is a professor of microbial ecology and a very nice fellow).

For those in the know, “The Josh Neufeld Name Story” is also an homage to a story by Harvey Pekar, illustrated by R. Crumb, which first appeared in American Splendor #2 (1977). (As I’m sure you know, I was an artist for Pekar on American Splendor for 15 years.) (The best online link to the original story I could find was this mashup of the comic and Dan Castellaneta’s monologue of it from the American Splendor play produced in 1990. [starts at 1:13].)

Furthermore, my piece is not the first comics reference to “The Harvey Pekar Name Story”—Damon Herd did an homage to the Pekar/Crumb piece back in 2013. And of course the story was dramatized in the American Splendor movie… But I like to think my piece puts a different spin on it.

Anyway, I often use the Pekar comic and a set of prompts I created as part of a workshop where I have students draw their own “name story.” Whether they’re high school art students or people who may have never drawn a comic in their lives before, the results are always fascinating. They help the students get into the “comics space” and enable me to learn a little about each participant.

But it always bothered me that—until now—I had never done my own name story. It’s one of the first autobio comics I’ve drawn in a while, and I enjoyed the experience—hearkening back to those halcyon Keyhole days! (Talking about Keyhole, and my long-time collaborator Dean Haspiel, he and I talk about “The Harvey Pekar Name Story” quite a bit in episode 28 of our podcast Scene by Scene with Josh & Dean…)

On a separate note, because I’m fascinated by the emergence of the NFT (or non-fungible token), I am announcing that I am auctioning off the hi-rez NFT of this comic! It seems appropriate that a piece like this—which I created entirely digitally—would become an NFT, which after all helps artists in this age of endless digital copies to benefit from their work. Plus, the comic is a double-layered reference to a previous original story, which somehow also seems appropriate.

To tie it back to Pekar, I will donate 25% of any proceeds from the auction to the  Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library (which features a memorial desk and statue dedicated to Pekar). So hopefully some Pekar/Neufeld fans out there will open their digital wallet for this particular NFT. You can find the auction—and bid it on—here. Otherwise, just read it for free right here!

Anyhoo, enough talk for a frickin’ one-page comic! Here it is, in all its “glory”—“The Josh Neufeld Name Story”:

Josh Neufeld Name Story

Feeling grateful #IGotTheShotNYC

Life

I got my second COVID-19 vaccine shot this weekend, and I am feeling so grateful: to our scientists to and to all the volunteers and workers at the Carnegie High School vaccine site.

I got my (Moderna) vaccine through the New York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene, which is why I had to schlep out to Canarsie on two spring Saturdays four weeks apart, but in the end, I was happy to do it that way rather than through some fancy hospital.

As you can see, there was nothing fancy about the experience—from the already weatherbeaten signage to the handwritten tickets to the institutional atmosphere of the old high school. But I felt safe and well-cared-for all the way through. Most of all, after this year of fragmentation and isolation, I felt like I was part of something. I was just another New Yorker getting their vaccine, one of the many hundreds (thousands?) of people of every “race, color, or creed” going through the system that day. If this is what my tax dollars go to, then I couldn’t be more happy to contribute.

Both times when I showed up, there was hardly any line, and I was quickly ushered into what would have been the school’s lobby. Every 30 feet or so there was a volunteer in a red or yellow vest—almost all of them African-American women—to shepherd me on my way. After a few moments of waiting, I was told to show my documentation to a person at a desk. They checked my ID and scanned my appointment QR code (they did have digital tablets for that part), and I was given the go-ahead to get the shot.

From there it was a short walk to the school cafeteria, where they were administering the vaccine. There were maybe 30 tables set up in the large room, with a vaccination station on each end; by my count, there were about 60 people getting the shot at any one time. I sat down at my allotted spot, the nurse checked my credentials once again, and then it was time for the poke. The woman who gave me the shot the second time told me that it was the same exact dosage for both shots—0.5 ml. I’m not particularly squeamish about needles, so I watched her give me the shot in the shoulder. It was a long needle, but it was also very thin, and I really didn’t feel much at all.

Then it was on to the school auditorium, where I was given another number and told to wait 30 minutes—to make sure I didn’t have an adverse reaction to the vaccine. The first time around, once my 30 minutes was up, I was called up to a table at the front of the stage to schedule my next appointment. This time around, after my second shot, I was able to leave after 15 minutes. The whole thing—from intake to exit—took less than 30 minutes!

I loved seeing this handmade sign as I headed out the door back into school’s sunlit courtyard:

There was something so inspiring about the humble, makeshift nature of the whole experience. It made me think of those photos from the “old days” of the distribution of vaccines against polio and smallpox. I was struck throughout the whole process by how cheerful everyone was. I like to think it was because they were also inspired by this feeling that we’re all in this together, of our community working together to bring something close to normalcy back to our lives.

My mother lives alone, in another neighborhood in Brooklyn. Now that we’ve both been vaccinated, I can visit her and give her a hug—the first hug she’ll have had in over a year. Thinking of moments like that is what we’re all grateful for.

A Tale of 2 Pandemics

New comic: “A Tale of Two Pandemics”

Comics, Plug, Work

I’ve been working the last three months on a 10-page comic about COVID-19, “Black immunity,” and historical health inequities. Titled, “A Tale of Two Pandemics: Historical Insights on Persistent Racial Disparities,” it was published yesterday by Journalist’s Resource (out of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center).

The piece springs from the work of three doctors Lakshmi Krishnan, S. Michelle Ogunwole, and Lisa A. Cooper — and a recent paper they wrote for the Annals of Internal Medicine. In their paper, they discuss the similarities between the COVID crisis and the 1918 “Spanish Flu” pandemic, particularly racial health disparities and the spread of misinformation.

With their piece and my interviews with them as the frame, I take readers through some of the misinformation about coronavirus circulating on social media, and the impact of that on communities of color, particularly given that African Americans have been dying at a much higher rate than white Americans during this crisis.

I learned a lot while working on this piece — particularly the insidious myth of “Black immunity” to disease that was used in our country as rationale for all sorts of horrible things, from Benjamin Rush urging Philadelphia’s Black citizens to act as nurses for white people during the 1793 Yellow Fever outbreak, to J. Marion Sims’ 19th-century experiments on enslaved Black women, to the infamous 20th-century Tuskegee syphilis study.

No wonder polls show that many African Americans are distrustful of any potential COVID vaccines in the offing!

But I also learned about the work of Black newspapers and columnists from the World War I era, who worked to combat misinformation about the Spanish flu as it related to their readers. So one thing I really appreciate about the doctors’ paper and my conversations with them is their commitment to finding paths forward — like working with “trusted voices” and with modern organizations devoted to protecting the lives of BIPOC. As we enter a new, deadlier third wave of the virus, that’s something to look forward to.

Right?

Anyway, check out the story (and looks for cameos from Idris Elba, Cardi B, and Ariana Grande!): https://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/public-health/pandemics-comic-racial-health-disparities/

P.S. As a companion piece to the story, Journalist’s Resource also published a Q&A with me on comics journalism and my particular approach. You can find it here: https://journalistsresource.org/coronavirus-research/documenting-pandemic-comics-journalism/