Copying Feiffer

Comics, Tribute, Work
Jules Feiffer Kill My Mother

Back in 2013 I posted a comics page that I had copied from R. Crumb. It was an exercise assigned by the great Phoebe Gloeckner, who was teaching a comics class I was auditing at the University of Michigan. (This was during my Knight-Wallace Fellowship in Journalism at Michigan.)

I really enjoyed the exercise, and ever since I have incorporated it into my own teaching, especially when I’m working with comics students who lack confidence in their drawing. The rules of the assignment are no tracing or light-boxing; just to copy the page as best you can. As I always tell my students, there’s nothing like “getting into another artist’s hand” — following their process, step for step, and appreciating they way they solve pictorial problems…

Recently, I had the occasion to assign the copying drill for a comics class I was teaching, and I took the opportunity to again do the exercise myself. The page I chose to copy was from Jules Feiffer‘s 2014 graphic novel Kill My Mother.

I’ve always admired Feiffer “from afar” — his style is so different from mine! — they devil-may-care look of his figures, and his comfort with white space and borderless panels. So copying a page of his was a real exercise for me in getting out of my normal head space as an artist.

As with the previous Crumb copy, I tried to do as little penciling as possible and work directly in ink. The original page was two colors and utilized a faint ink wash, but I chose to do my copy in simple black — although I left in the faint blue pencil marks I made as I was sketching in the figures and lettering. It also appears that Feiffer did his art using a nib (and a brush for the wash?), while I chose to retain my trusty Kuretake Sumi Fountain Brush Pen.

One challenge I faced was that the paper I used to make my copy had a slightly different size ratio than Feiffer’s — mine was a bit “fatter.” So in the end I had a bit more horizontal space to work with than he did.

I really enjoyed this exercise! For the first time I saw what a solid understanding Feiffer has of the human figure — that despite the looseness of the art, how grounded it is in real human anatomy. It was also fun for me to draw “heroic” figures again, a practice I basically abandoned 25 years ago when I stopped drawing superhero comics. I tried my best — not always successfully — to capture the fluidity of his forms, to not let my figures get stiff. I especially enjoyed copying Feiffer’s lettering — the distinctive way he forms his T’s, K’s, Y’s, and G’s is so different than mine.

And as with the Crumb assignment, this process really helped me appreciate what a masterful cartoonist Feiffer was and is — especially when you consider that he produced this book when he was 85 years old!

It’s fun to compare the two pages and see where they differ (mostly in unintentional ways). So without further ado, here are the results: first Feiffer’s page and then my copy…

The Feiffer page from Kill My Mother.
Jules Feiffer Kill My Mother
My copy.

Bonus question: can you spot the typo in the Feiffer page? I fixed it in the copy.

Scene by Scene with Josh and Dean DEBUT

Comics, Geek, Plug, Publicity, Tribute
Scene by Scene logo

I’m excited and proud to announce the launch of SCENE BY SCENE WITH JOSH & DEAN, a new weekly podcast I’m co-hosting with Dean Haspiel.

This season we will be breaking down the 2003 film American Splendor, scene by scene (thus the title!), talking about Harvey Pekar, our collaborations with him, and the joys & challenges of being professional cartoonists.

I was inspired by the burgeoning movement of “minute-by-minute” podcasts to launch this show, and am so thrilled to have Dino as my co-host. We’ve been friends and comics colleagues since high school, and Dean is one of the most talented and entertaining human beings I know. The fact that he also worked for Harvey for a long time — AND was integral to the American Splendor movie happening — made it a no-brainer.

Harvey Pekar has been deceased now for almost ten years, and it’s time people started talking about him again. (After all, it’s impossible to imagine iconic TV shows “about nothing” like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm without the example of the original “ordinary life is pretty complex stuff” American Splendor.)

In the podcast Dean and I will analyze each scene of the movie in order, episode by episode, with analysis, humor, and inside information. We promise to reveal previously unexplored connections between the original American Splendor comics and the film’s construction, and Harvey’s life & career,

Just as importantly, each episode will also serve as a jumping-off point for talking about Dean’s and my own careers. Topics will include the nature of identity, truth in art, and the realm of memoir/autobiography.

We’re having a lot of fun doing the podcast, and I think it shows — the tone is very much in the spirit of our friendship, irreverent and playful. 

Guests on the podcast will include other former Pekar collaborators, as well as actors, filmmakers, and producers. 

And it all starts today! All you need to do to prepare is watch the movie again (or watch it with us, scene by scene!)…

Scene by Scene can be found on all major podcast platforms and distributors. To listen, visit SceneByScenePodcast.com or your favorite pod-catcher. The Scene by Scene website also features examples of our illustrations, comics samples from American Splendor and other places, process drawings, and a store.

So click here and join us as our story begins on Halloween evening in the year 1950

AS 1: 1950 — Our Story Begins
AS 1: 1950 — Our Story Begins

Josh / Hang Dai Etsy store

Comics, Plug, Work
Etsy

I’ve set up an Etsy store: https://www.etsy.com/shop/hangdai! To make available my various custom- and hand-made art, prints, and self-published publications!

Items available include original art, A.D.-related gicleé prints, my autobio travel book A Few Perfect Hours, select issues of my solo comix series The Vagabonds, and one-offs like Terms of Service and my exquisite corpse collaboration with Dean Haspiel, Because of You!

Talking about Dino, the Etsy store — Hang Dai — features both our work, with much more of Dino’s stuff to come…

Most items on the store come personalized, often accompanied by an original sketch. So start shopping!

Harvey Pekar’s artists

Geek, Plug
Harvey Pekar

I’ve been thinking about Harvey Pekar a lot recently; more details to follow. But in the meantime, I revived and updated a “coping mechanism” project I first created years ago: a comprehensive listing of all the artists Harvey worked with over the years, from his first published piece in 1974 up through his death (and beyond). You can find it here.

Great Instagram follow: williambutlerms (William H.G. Butler Middle School)

Plug

William H.G. Butler middle school logoMy good friends at Literary Safari are producing an ongoing Instagram graphic narrative that you need to check out. It’s at instagram.com/williambutlerms and it’s a serial work of dystopian fiction about… school shootings.

The premise of the narrative is that williambutlerms is the official Instagram of the the fictional William H.G. Butler Middle School, a school that has suffered a horrible shooting that left some students and teachers dead. The serialized story reveals an Orwellian world where school shootings are the norm. (Actually, tragically, that’s not that Orwellian…)

The format of the williambutlerms narrative is very clever, both in terms of subject matter and the Instagram “delivery system.” It’s rife with hashtags and feels very connected to our techno-cultural moment. What I think works so well is the presentation, with the narrative building one disconnected image at a time. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that slowly comes into focus one piece at a time. The artwork has a primitivist quality which fits the middle school theme. (I wouldn’t call williambutlerms a comic per se, but it definitely falls under the rubric of a “graphic narrative.”)

And what makes the whole thing work is the deadpan satire of the piece, which is so cutting! The narrative starts with a bang (apologies for the inappropriate metaphor) with an opening shot of the school yearbook, featuring some murdered students (and some clever “gun”-related yearbook quotes). Other highlights are a “Targeted School Supplies” series of products, and some clever parodies of famous middle-school/high school texts — The Things They Buried, The School of Mango Street, etc. Good stuff. This tone works incredibly well, as it highlights the very real struggles that schools and educators are currently facing (with no help from the federal government).

williambutlerms debuted in June and a new post appears every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday through the end of the summer. Check it out.

Coming soon: The Beautiful Book of Exquisite Corpses

Illustration, Plug

Beautiful Book of Exquisite CorpsesWriter Gavin Edwards has produced a cool new book called The Beautiful Book of Exquisite Corpses: A Creative Game of Limitless Possibilities (due out August 28), and I’m one of the contributors.

You can be a contributor too, because the premise of the book is based on the old surrealist game cadavre exquis, in which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Much of the book works like the “parlor game” Picture Consequences, where a piece of paper is folded into three sections. The first player draws the head—leaving only small connective lines for clues—and passes it unseen (by means of folding) to the second player who draws the body, then on to the third player who draws the legs. The composite person or creature is then revealed to all by unfolding the paper.

Each page of the book has one of the three section already drawn in, leaving two other sections for you and your friends/family to fill in. Other parts of the book take the same premise, but with words, using a single sentence to launch a story.

Sparking off the various images and stories are 90 visual contributors and 20 verbal contributors, such as tons of cool cartoonists (the likes of Dean Haspiel, Jessica Abel, Leela Corman, Jim Woodring, Dustin Harbin, etc.) and an eclectic group of others like authors Aimee Bender, Chuck Klosterman, and Susan Orlean, actor Griffin Dunne, former baseball player Lenny Dykstra, musicians Chris Frantz and Robyn Hitchcock, comedian Stephen Fry, journalist Emily Nussbaum, DJ Moby, and former VJ Martha Quinn.

As a cartoonist I’ve always been fascinated by “collectively assembled” projects, going back to collaborations with writers like Harvey Pekar, Brooke Gladstone, and Nick Flynn; the exquisite corpse comic I did with Dean Haspiel, Because of You; and of course Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose, which I co-edited with my brilliant wife Sari Wilson.

In honor of the project, this past weekend Sari, Phoebe and I did a couple of “Picture Consequences” drawings on napkins at the local diner. This one has been dubbed the Chicken Seawitch. Can you figure out which of us drew which section?

Chicken Seawitch

And here is a Nosehair Ketchup Hero. Again, can you figure out who did what?

nosehair-ketchup-hero-lr

The Beautiful Book of Exquisite Corpses is due out August 28. Here’s a link to pre-order…

THE VAGABONDS #6 debuting this weekend at MoCCA Fest

Comics, Plug

My homage to Captain America Comics #1 (with apologies to Jack Kirby and Joe Simon)

I’ll be tabling at MoCCAFest this weekend (table I 270 A) with the latest issue of THE VAGABONDS. 24 thrilling pages of COMICS JOURNALISM and other great features!

A lot has changed in this country—and the world—since the last issue of The Vagabonds, so it’s only fitting that this issue features a Donald Trump story. My explainer on the former British spy Christopher Steel’s “dossier,” originally published by Columbia Journalism Review in the fall of 2017, remains surprisingly relevant, as the special counsel seems to be using the memos as a “road map” for his investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. This issue’s longest story—originally published by The Nib in the fall of 2016—looks into the influx of costumed characters into New York’s Times Square. In the piece I explore the phenomenon — who are these unlicensed Elmos, Spider-Men, and Minnie Mice, and why are they there? This issue also features a fun story I did for Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge. Do you often find yourself losing or breaking your old phone just when a new model reaches stores? Well, you’re not alone… The story shows how researchers — using the game of Jenga and a precious coffee mug—were able to get test subjects to replicate this risky, self-destructive behavior. THE VAGABONDS #6 closes out with a couple of shorter pieces, including a collaboration with my mother, the artist Martha Rosler.

I look forward to seeing you at MoCCA Fest this weekend and handing you an autographed copy of THE VAGABONDS #6. (And of course I’ll have copies of previous issues of The Vagabonds, as well as A.D., The Influencing Machine, Terms of Service, Flashed, and much more!)

MoCCA Fest 2018—April 7-8, 2018
11:00AM – 7:00PM on Saturday; 11:00AM – 6:00PM on Sunday
Metropolitan West
West 46th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues, NYC

 

SaveSave

Process: A.D.-"Dining with Strangers" crossover

A.D., Illustration

Last year Anthony Lacey of the fabulous blog Dining with Strangers approached me for an original illustration of himself and Brobson Lutz, the esteemed “Doctor” character from A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. (Anthony had met the Doctor in New Orleans—sharing a meal with him at Dr. Lutz’s favorite restaurant, Galatoire’s—and profiled him for his blog; and they have stayed friends every since.) Anthony’s plan was to present the finished illo to Dr. Lutz as a gift when Anthony was down in NOLA for this year’s Mardi Gras. Always happy to do commissions—and revisit one of my favorite A.D. characters—I of course said “yes.”

To get started, we agreed on a size and format, and Anthony sent me a couple of photos from their meal, as well some recent interior shots of Galatoire’s—which of course hasn’t changed at all in recent memory. Taking those reference photos as a basis, I first worked up a sketch for Anthony’s approval, which I executed on my Cintiq tablet:

Anthony having approved the sketch, I moved on to full pencils—which zoomed in on my two subjects a bit more (and moved the Doctor’s left arm up on to the table)…

For the inking stage, I realized I wasn’t happy with the placement of the Doctor’s hands, which were being blocked by the Galatoire’s serving dish in the foreground. So I “moved” the dish a bit to the right. In addition, because the background of the picture is so busy, I made sure to ink Anthony and the Doctor with thick brushstrokes, while inking the background in much thinner lines. This helped “pop” the main subjects. I also fine-tuned details throughout the drawing…

Finally, for the color stage, I wanted to be a little more “adventurous” than the limited palette which defines A.D. But again wishing to bring forward the Doctor and Anthony, I colored them with “hotter” and more saturated tones, while keeping the background elements more limited in palette. I then applied my “patented” texture pattern on top, and… voila! 

I printed the final illo on a nice ragstock paper at 11″ x 14″, and sent it off to Anthony, who had it professionally framed. From what I heard, the unveiling was a big success, and the print is now hanging in the Doctor’s house amidst his eclectic art collection.

Fake News? My comics piece for COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW on the Trump-Russia Dossier

Comics, Work

Remember the Donald Trump-Russia “dossier”? Released by BuzzFeed in January (shortly before Trump was sworn in as U.S. President), the 17 short memos (compiled over seven months) featured some pretty wild claims—sex parties, etc. But the main takeaway was that Trump and his cronies were in the pockets of the Russians.

Amidst the furor over the memos’ contents was an equally strong uproar in the journalistic community. Was it ethical of BuzzFeed to publish the so-called dossier, which was unverified and contained some specific errors? The backstory, of course, is that during the previous months, the memos—and their author, former British spy Christopher Steele—had passed like a hot potato through every major news organization before BuzzFeed finally pulled the trigger. So was the outrage honest, or really just a case of sour grapes at being scooped? A new piece I just did for Columbia Journalism Review“The Trump-Russia memos”—tracks that long strange journey.

The events described in the five-page comics story are based on reporting and research, including interviews I did with journalists who sought to verify the memos and wrote about them—or chose not to…

As far as the actual contents of the memos, none of the more outlandish claims have been verified—although the FBI and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller apparently are using the memos as a “road map” for their ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia…

So check out the piece and see what you think. (Thanks to Vanessa Gezari for commissioning the piece and shepherding me through the whole process.)