Supply Chain Superhero

“Supply Chain Superhero” in PANDEMIX benefit anthology

Comics, Plug

I’m excited to share a new comics piece that’s just been published in a benefit anthology. It’s about New York City and the COVID-19 pandemic, and it features my very own brother, Jake Neufeld.

We’ve all seen a lot of stories about the medical professionals on the front lines of this crisis. But the doctors and nurses aren’t the only ones in the hospital. Jake, my bro, is the assistant director of emergency management at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK), NYC’s cancer hospital. The story covers the way he and his team responded to one of the worst days of the crisis. The story sheds light on what challenges the “behind-the-scenes” people at hospitals (now in other parts of the country) are facing during the pandemic.

I’m proud of Jake, and I’m proud of how the story came out. And I’m triply proud to have the story featured in the benefit anthology PANDEMIX: Quarantine Comics in the Age of ‘Rona.

Put together by Dean Haspiel and Whitney Matheson, PANDEMIX has 56 pages of comics related to these crazy times, by 18 creators, most of them based in New York. It’s a fabulous collection, with a variety of different takes on what we’re all going through.

PANDEMIX is available for PDF download on Patreon, with all proceeds going to The Hero Initiative, a nonprofit organization that helps comics creators with emergency medical aid and/or essential financial support. All you need to do is donate $5 and it’s all yours! Here’s the link: https://www.patreon.com/pandemix

PANDEMIX cover
pickle hurricane

Food/Riot Comix Collab with my Mom!

Comics, Publicity

Announcing a new collaboration between my mother, Martha Rosler, and myself: “Food Riot? Food Riot!,” a comics story just published by e-flux journal.

The piece is an adapted excerpt from my mom’s mid-1970s manuscript, The Art of Cooking, which features a mock dialogue primarily between Julia Child and Craig Claiborne (with various interlopers.) We took the excerpt and adapted it into comics form—and I am confident in saying that this is a very different representation of Child and Claiborne than you’ve ever seen before!

Why now? Good question! Here’s an excerpt from my mom’s intro to the piece:

The [story] centers on access to food. Specifically, it takes on the people’s right to affordable high-quality food—and the repeated effort to either get fair prices, with government support, from producers and middlemen or otherwise obtain and distribute food by other means, such as by seizing and allocating it via actions often called food riots, which are a recurring form of people’s justice.

Josh Neufeld and I have worked on this comic off and on for about a year, and its topicality and resonance have varied as we did so. In the run-up to publication, when hoarding and price gouging scarred the coronavirus pandemic response, the comic, as already written, seemed to pitch itself in one direction. But as we are about to go to press, with the comic still unchanged, a different question of justice is at stake: people’s right to demand justice and equal treatment as well as equal access to social goods under the law in every aspect of life. No justice, no peace.

Indeed!

My mother and I have done some collaborative comics before, including one on gardening and Guantanamo Bay, and one on Jonas Salk. This is the longest one yet. E-flux journal (to quote their own description) “is a monthly art publication featuring essays and contributions by some of the most engaged artists and thinkers working today. ” They also happen to be the sponsor of the Martha Rosler Library traveling exhibition, which was (to quote Wikipedia) “a reading room in which over 7,500 volumes from her private collection were made available as a public resource in venues in and around art institutions, schools, and libraries.”

Enough blather! Go check out “Food Riot? Food Riot!” on e-flux journal.

A non-narrative graphic narratives narrative

Comics, Life, Work
"Still Life" by Chris Ware

When I saw this week’s cover of The New Yorker, “Still Life,” by cartoonist Chris Ware, I was immediately reminded of a comics piece I had drawn nearly 30 years ago. Chris’ cover is a multi-panel non-narrative portrait of New York City under coronavirus lockdown. My piece, from the fall of 1991, is a multi-panel non-narrative portrait of the U.S. in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm (the first Gulf War).

Untitled by Josh Neufeld

The origins of my piece stem from a period when I was first starting to think about different ways I could use the comics form. Up to that point, pretty much all I had ever drawn were superhero-style comics, but I was losing interest in the genre and I was confused about what other possibilities there were for the form. So this piece, which is untitled, came out of that search.

The page mostly features familiar motifs of the first Gulf War era — camouflage, American flags, military helicopters — and some signs of the season — bare tree branches, fallen leaves. But it also has other more fanciful features. It’s like an impression of a certain time — in the life of the city, and in the psychology of a young man of that era.

One of the most striking similarities between the two pieces are images of New York City’s iconic skyscrapers in the page’s lower-left areas: Chris’s portrait of the illuminated Empire State Building at night, and my portrait of the towers of the World Trade Center, shrouded in fog. (If you are darkly sentimental, it’s easy to imagine those are the towers surrounded by the smoke of their own destruction on 9/11 — still some 10 years in the future.)

It just so happens that I know Chris Ware. We met in Chicago a few after I drew this piece, through a mutual friend, and our occasional get-togethers were very meaningful for me as an aspiring “alternative cartoonist.” Chris was always encouraging to me, and he taught me a lot about the practice of comics; and it was fun getting together with him and his wife Marnie.

Before you ask, he definitely never saw my non-narrative comic, and it has never been published — or until now, even publicly exhibited. I was just struck by the two piece’s superficial similarities.

(By the way, I colored the piece directly on the page with Design markers — probably the last time I ever used markers of any kind on my comics. Pre-PhotoShop!)

P.S. My very astute wife points out that Chris’s piece is very clearly NOT non-narrative (now that’s a confusing sentence). If you “read” it left-to-right, top-to-bottom, you realize that the story progresses through a day from morning to evening, and much of it is from the perspective of one person stuck in their apartment. There’s so much more to his piece than just an aspect-to-aspect series of images. Proof once again that Chris Ware is a genius!!

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! —the 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!

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

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.)

Irma, Harvey, Katrina—when it comes to hurricanes, what goes around, comes around

A.D., Comics

The A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge website on SMITH was down for a while, but recent events with hurricanes Harvey & Irma made it imperative to get it working again—and so it is: smithmag.net/afterthedeluge. This terrible 2017 hurricane season obviously brings back memories of 2005 (and for older folks, previous big hurricanes that hit big cities). As I wrote in the book’s afterword, the stories in A.D. are highly specific yet somehow universal, and over the years I have found in my discussions about A.D. that the experiences of the real-life characters therein resonated strongly with other hurricane survivors in so many ways. People told me this over and over as I traveled around promoting the A.D. book—in New Orleans (of course), in Houston, in Miami, and even in New York City. By connecting to the stories of Denise, Leo, Michelle, Hamid, Mansell, Kwame, and the Doctor, people gained comfort—and context—for their own experiences.

Watching Harvey and Irma, the cycle feels so similar: tracking the storm, deciding whether or not to evacuate, dealing with the wind damage and flooding, confronting loss—of people, possessions, community—and the long rebuilding process. These are the perennial issues brought on by these epic man-vs.-nature events…

The New York Times‘ coverage of the storms has been particularly good, and these stories reminded me so strongly of specific moments from A.D.:

“Irma Shifting Forecasts: It’s All a Matter of Probability”  evokes “Should I Stay…”

A.D. chapter 2

The Daily story, “How Houston Was Built to Flood”  evokes the Prologue, Part II—“The Storm”

A.D. prologue

“Thousands Cried for Help as Houston Flooded” evokes Chapter 6—“Flotsam & Jetsam”

A.D. chapter 6

“After Harvey, a Return Home in High Water” evokes Chapter 8—“The Bowl Effect, Part II”

A.D. chapter 8

The Daily 360 piece “On Submerged Streets: ‘Houston Has Come Together'”  evokes Chapter 10—“Something in the Water”

A.D. chapter 10

The photo essay “What They Saved: Texans Reflect on Treasures Plucked From Harvey”  evokes the epilogue, “Picking Up the Pieces”

A.D. epilogue

… as does “We Lived Through a Flood. Now We Have a Very Long To-Do List.”

A.D. epilogue

Part of the A.D. experience on SMITH was the links embedded within certain panels that extended the story in various ways: to hurricane resources, YouTube videos, audio clips of the various characters. As part of resurrecting the A.D. site, I also updated all those links, which to my mind all remain relevant for these storms 12 years later. My hope—as it always was—is that the stories of the various real-life people from A.D. continue to give solace and understanding to this new generation of hurricane watchers and survivors.

Stay strong, Texas. Stay strong, Florida.

This June I'll be teaching an intensive comics workshop at the Yale Writers Conference

Comics

I’m proud to announce that this June 15-18 I’ll be teaching an intensive, immersive comics-making workshop at the Yale Writers Conference (part of the Yale Summer Session), held in New Haven, Connecticut.

This marks the first time I’ll be doing a comics workshop with YWC—it’s the first time they’ve done one—but it’ll be closely modeled on programs I’ve run a number of previous summers with the Fine Arts Work Center. Those workshops have always been a rewarding experience, both for me and my students.

Here’s the course description for my workshop Comics: Stories in Graphic Form:

Comics use words and pictures together to form powerful narratives. In this workshop, you will use fictional material, or material from your own life to create original comics. We’ll examine the basic principles of visual storytelling, and complete writing, brainstorming, and collaborative exercises that are useful in producing strong comics. We’ll generate ideas for solving storytelling problems—and look at how other cartoonists have grappled with them. We’ll use group feedback to hone our stories and find the narrative beats. You’ll emerge from this workshop with a toolset for taking your work to another level. In lieu of a writing sample, submit a 250-word description of your comics project and two character drawings with your application.

So, whether you’re interested in fiction, memoir, journalism, informed essay, or anything in between, this comics workshop is for you! The workshop is part of Session II of the YWC. Over four days, participants will meet in a seminar with eleven fellow cartoonists, led by yours truly. We’ll learn constructive criticism techniques that support productive feedback, followed by intensive group writing workshops, with the chance for each participant to showcase his or her writing and receive feedback/critique. (Participants will receive copies of their peers’ work in advance.) I will provide instruction on writing and drawing techniques, revision, and other “tricks of the trade.” And, during the conference I will hold half-hour, one-to-one meetings with each participant. Sounds great, right?

Click this link to find out more about the program and how to register. Please spread the word about the workshop, and encourage people to sign up soon. The deadline is April 30. Classes fill up quickly…