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.
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.
Matthew Baker—or Mx. Baker, as he prefers to be called—is a rather mysterious fellow who writes for a living. He contributed a wonderful “seeder” piece to the “Brothers” triptych of FLASHed (responded to by Jon Lewis and then Julia Fierro), and he curates a blog called Early Work, which (as you might guess) highlights the immature work of established writers and artists. My take on the blog is that the stuff each creator chooses shows hints of the themes and styles of their later, mature work. (Or maybe it’s just amusing to see how far they’ve come!) Folks featured on Early Work include cartoonist Anders Nilsen, writer Kelly Luce, and poet Naomi Shihab Nye, to name a few. And now… me.
As you may know, I’m a bit of a hoarder and I have files full of old artwork, going back to my youngest days. (My mom and dad have their share of my childhood drawings as well.) So there was a lot of material to choose from. On the other hand, I was apprehensive about sharing my immature artwork with the world at large.
One aspect of the Early Work site I really like is its “raw” quality—the drawings are presented on the wrinkled, yellowed paper they were done on. Stories are scrawled in a child’s hand. Nothing is cleaned up in PhotoShop. This is ephemera, often plucked from decades past. So I really tried to get into the spirit of that.
Another fun thing about Early Work is that each contribution features a statement by the creator about the “early work” and a photo of the them from that period. There’s something really poignant and charming about these photos of “anonymous” kids who later became respected writers and artists. Who knew (besides me) that there was a photo of me posing with the late, beloved musician Prince? (Well, a poster of him, at least…) Read on to see for yourself…
So without further ado (what is “ado,” anyhow?), here are some links to my “early work”:
Crescent City Comics has just opened a second location, moving its flagship store to 3135 Calhoun Street, near Tulane University in New Orleans. (There’s a nice little article about the new store here, which features a time-lapse video of their logo being painted in giant scale on their ceiling.) That address, 3135 Calhoun, is the center of an A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge vortex. Let me explain…
One of the main “characters” in A.D. is Leo McGovern, currently the manager of Crescent City Comics. This is what Leo looked like in the book:
(Leo once told me that his fondest desire was to be “one of those sweaty guys in a comic book.” Wish granted!)
But what’s so remarkable about Crescent City Comics’ new location is that 3135 Calhoun Street is the former location of the Calhoun Superette! For many years, the Calhoun Superette was owned by Hamid Mohammadi, another main “character” in A.D. (His name was Hamid in the original webcomic, then changed to “Abbas”—with a mustache added to his face—for the book. When I talked to him last year for a Hurricane Katrina 10-year anniversary comic, he allowed me to use his real name again.) Here’s how Hamid looked in A.D.:
Hamid and his wife opened the Calhoun Superette in 1996 and kept it open for 16 years, through thick and thin. A lot of scenes in A.D. take place at the store. (I wasn’t able to visit the store in person when I was doing my initial research and reporting, so Leo, as a comics fan knowing what kind of reference I would need, kindly offered to drive over to the store, introduce himself to Hamid, and take a ton of photos for me. That was back in 2007, the first time the two long-time New Orleanians met each other—brought together by A.D. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…”)
Here are some scenes from A.D. of the store… from right before the storm:
To when part of the sign got blown off during the hurricane:
To the first hint of flooding:
To when the water had gotten waist-deep:
To when the water was so deep the only thing to do was “abandon ship”:
NOT wimpy! And here’s a scene from period of 16 months Hamid spent gutting the store and rebuilding it after Katrina:
Hamid re-opened the store in 2007 (thank you, Google Street View):
And this is how it looked in 2009 (the sign was finally fixed!):
But sadly Hamid was forced to close the Superette in the summer of 2012. Here’s what he had to say about it:
Forstall Art Supplies moved in to the space soon after (they used be located next door):
Here’s Leo and CCC owner Les Arceneaux posing with other staff members (photo courtesy Bleeding Cool):
After all the things Hamid went through, I was really bummed to hear that he had to close his deli. But I’m so glad its former location is back in the A.D. “family.”
Did I mention Crescent City Comics hosted a party for the paperback release of A.D. in 2010? That was a good time. They’re a great store. Go visit the next time you’re in NOLA, and pick up a copy of A.D. from one of the characters in the book… in the place where a lot of the book’s action happens!
Hopefully, Terms of Service is a thought-provoking, entertaining field guide to help smart people understand how their personal—and often very private—data, is collected and used. Big Data powers the modern world. What do we gain from Big Data? What do we lose? Terms of Service look at such services as Gmail, the Progressive Snapshot program, FitBit and other activity trackers, and the not-far-in-the-future Internet of Everything.
Between social media profiles, browsing histories, discount programs and new tools controlling our energy use, there’s no escape. As we put ourselves into our technology through text messages and photos, and use technology to record new information about ourselves such as FitBit data, what are the questions a smart consumer should be asking? What is the tradeoff between giving up personal data and how that data could be used against you? And what are the technologies that might seem invasive today that five years from now will seem quaint? How do we as technology users keep up with the pace while not letting our data determine who we are?
I’m currently in the middle of a really cool comics project for Al Jazeera America‘s interactive multimedia team. In conjunction with AJAM staff reporter Michael Keller, it’s a process piece on big data and privacy, especially in relation to our roles as consumers. Michael came to me with the project, having already done a ton of research and reporting on the topic. Once I came on board, we did more reporting, wrote the script together (with great help from our editors), and now I’m penciling it.
Not to give away too much in advance, in the story we get into the pros & cons of such “free” services as Gmail, Facebook, and Foursquare, as well as the increasing popularity of devices like Progressive’s Snapshot and activity trackers like the Fitbit. Some of the experts we talk to include former California State Senator Liz Figueroa (one of the first politicians to recognize the privacy implications of Google’s Gmail), cyber-security researcher Dan Geer, privacy law experts Scott Peppet and Paul Ohm, social researcher danah boyd, and Alessandro Acquisti (who studies the economics of privacy)—as well as a bunch of “regular folks.” Also making an appearance: Al Gore! Imploding robots! The Database of Ruin!
As I mentioned, it’s kind of a process piece. Michael and I are both characters in the story, which tracks us as we travel the country, interview people, and wrangle the issues. It has a similar feel to my prior collaboration with Brooke Gladstone, The Influencing Machine, except I’m a character in the story too! (I find it ironic that after starting my career as an autobiographical cartoonist, I segued away from that into journalism, and have now come full-circle to “autobiographical journalism”!)
Being that the piece will live on the web, it’ll also include some multimedia functionality, à la A.D. on Smith and The Stowaway on The Atavist.
It’s been a fascinating piece to work on, and really the perfect thing for me. Michael did the bulk of the research and reporting, but I’ve been integral to shaping the script, and of course drawing the thing. I’m also excited to be working with the new-on-the-scene news organization Al Jazeera America.
One thing we haven’t been able to settle on, however, is a title for the thing. Even though you haven’t read the piece, feel free to weigh in—or suggest your own. These are some of the candidates (personally, I feel they’re all way too long):
“The Penumbra of Fear: The Future of Privacy and the Technologies and Temptations that Could Get Us There”
“The New Normal: The Future of Privacy and the Technologies that Could Get Us There “
“Cloud City: How Much Privacy is Technology Worth to You?”
“My Data for Your Love”
“TMI: The Dangers of Over-Sharing”
It’s been a labor love project so far: I came on-board in February and we spent at least two months just reporting and writing the script. I’ve been penciling since May. I should begin inking, coloring, and finalizing the piece after next week; we hope to debut it on Al Jazeera America in mid-to-late August. It’s going to be close to 40 pages in length!
I just came across a passel of (mostly) funk music mix tapes (yes, cassette tapes) Dean Haspiel propagated in the 1990s. Some of the cassettes were embellished with photos—Dino shirtless, natch, and also one of his beloved cat.
There are “bucket lists” and then there are bucket list items you don’t even think about because they are so far beyond the realm of possibility. One of those for me has always been getting to see my team, the San Francisco Giants, win the World Series—in person. And yet, yesterday that’s exactly what happened.
First of all, what are the odds that the one year I’m living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, both the Giants and the Detroit Tigers make the playoffs? And then each survive two rounds of postseason play to make the World Series? And then, when the Giants come to Detroit, they go up 3-games-to-0—thereby depressing ticket prices to the point that I can actually afford to buy one? Like I said, beyond the realm of possibility.
Well, along about 3 p.m. Sunday I checked StubHub and found an affordable ticket—prices had dropped from $400 for standing room to $100 for an upper deck seat. I made the purchase, jumped in a Zipcar, and sped excitedly out to Detroit and Comerica Park.
I found parking, strolled to the stadium, and took in my first-ever World Series game. (I had been to a first-round Yankees playoff games a few years back, but the stakes were not nearly as high.) The stadium was packed, the lights were bright, and hopeful Tigers fans (and a few hardy Giants rooters) were streaming in. For me it was like a dream.
Climbing up to my seats (section 211, in right field), it was freezing cold, with the wind howling and shaking the stands. But I was cozy as a cat. As opposed to my normal anxiety and resignation that the Giants would probably lose, up to that point the whole World Series had been going so well that I was in a completely different frame of mind. It was like the Giants beating the Cardinals in the NLCS, after trailing 3-games-to-1, had completely wiped the slate clean. No more sweet torture. The Giants’ pitching, timely hitting—and the obvious rust the Tigers had after waiting so long between their own league championship and the beginning of the World Series—made them the superior team. New emotions!
Now, seeing as how I was sporting my Giants cap and bright orange jacket, I came in prepared to be heckled, jeered, pushed around, and spat on. I shudder to think how I would’ve been treated back in New York—in either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field—but the Tigers fans were totally sweet, everyone just enjoying the vibe of World Series baseball and communal huddling against the cold. (I also think in many ways the fans had already accepted that they weren’t going to prevail in the end; after all, no team has ever come from back down 3-games-to-0 to win the Series.)
The rest of the evening unfolded like a dream. The Giants went up 1-0, fell behind 2-1, went up 3-2, were tied at 3-3, and won the game in 10 innings. And suddenly there I was, hugging two total strangers (fellow S.F. rooters a few seats down from me in my row), watching the Giants pile on each other near the pitcher’s mound! Shortly afterward, as I was wandering around in a happy daze, a young Tigers fan of about 17 years old actually came up to me and shook my hand in congratulations. Now that’s a boy whose parents raised him to be a good sport!
I eventually made my way down to field level—kudos to Comerica management for allowing riff-raff like me down there—to get close to the on-field celebration. All the San Francisco fans who’d made it to the game—a few hundred of us—had gathered above the Giants dugout to savor the moment. I had to keep pinching myself because it was so hard to believe I was actually there in person for the celebration. It was an amazing scene, converging with all these other fans who’d traveled from far and wide. Two guys I talked to had also purchased their tickets that day, had driven six hours from upstate New York, and were preparing to drive back following the celebration. (By this time it was already long past midnight.) Another guy had also bought his ticket same-day and driven four hours from Cincinnati. He was also going back that night/early morning. Given that I had paid less than any of them for my ticket, and only had a 40-minute drive home to worry about, I felt like I was sacrificing very little for the privilege of being there.
I discovered when I lived back in San Francisco in the late 1990s that Giants fans really are a special breed. They are as devoted and dedicated as any East Coast fans, but without the caveman edge. For one thing, there are lots of rabid female fans, and they all have a good sense of humor. And Giants fans wear all sorts of ridiculous outfits: panda hats, Brian Wilson beards, orange and black Rasta wigs, you name it. And pins! Giants fans love to wear pins. All this “character” was in evidence among the assembled throngs, and it really made it feel like some beautiful Bay Area weirdness had settled down for the night in the middle of the Great Lakes.
The crowning moment was when Giants GM Brian Sabean emerged from the dugout with the distinctive silver World Series trophy, which he held up in triumph for the adoring crowd. That was truly special—a tribal chief exulting with the spoils of victory.
Finally satisfied, I left my clansmen (and clanswomen), headed back to my car, and made the drive back to Ann Arbor. It was 2 a.m., I was exhausted, and I was as happy as I could ever be.
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, it changed my life as a fan forever. I had always been the underdog, the guy whose team never won. Now all of a sudden I was a winner! That moment was like a release valve for a pipe that had been clogged for 32 years. Before that, I had almost literally lived and died with each Giants’ win and loss. Since then I’ve had a much more… balanced… relationship to my fandom—the stakes just don’t seem as high. No matter what happens in the future, I’ll always have the memories of that great 2010 run.
Yet now here it is a scant two years later, and improbably—almost impossibly—the Giants are back the World Series! My mind is having trouble processing that. If the 2010 Giants were all about Fear the Beard, the 2012 team is about playing one more day for each other. They’ve had six wins in the current post-season where their backs were against the wall—win or go home. Talk about “sweet torture!” If the 2010 team was about Aubrey Huff’s rally thong, the 2012 team is about Hunter Pence’s pregame football-type hypefests. And if the 2010 team was about Brian Wilson’s beard, the 2012 team is about Brian Wilson’s even bigger beard (and his painted fingernails)! It’s about karma! And Pence’s broken bat triple-hit double. And the ultimate “player to be named later,” Marco Scutaro. (And—update post-game 1—Panda Power! And—update post-game 2—Mad Bum Power!)
I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but 2012 is shaping up to be very 2010. The key difference for me as a fan—in addition to my more Zen-like approach to watching the games—is that I’m actually here in the States to witness it. Back in 2010, I was tooling around the Middle East for most of the postseason, unable to catch any of the games due to the time difference—and the general indifference to baseball in those countries. I made it back just in time for games 2-5 of the World Series, which of course was great. But getting to see this whole postseason unfold, in real time, has been a thrilling, once-of-a-kind experience.
When I left San Francisco and moved out East in 1980, it was like being forced to move away from my first love. I had devoted myself to the Giants for two years in 1978-1979, listening to most of their games on the radio (we didn’t have a TV), keeping score of many of them, keeping track of the player’s stats, collecting all their baseball cards. (Remember, I was twelve years old.)
But I stayed true to my team. Out in Brooklyn, I was relegated to seeing them twice a year—if I was lucky—when they came to New York to play the Mets. (If I tuned in the radio really well, I could sometimes catch their games on WPHT when they played the Philadelphia Phillies.) And the Giants being a West Coast team, most of their games took place long after I had gone to sleep; their box scores never even made it into the sports pages of the New York Times.(I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that this was long before the Internet, or even the late-night scores published each morning in USA Today.) In New York the San Francisco Giants were completely irrelevant.
Until their 2010 championship, the Giants were very much under the radar. Of course there was all the hype about Barry Bonds, but for the most part that was about celebrating individual achievements (achievements that now seem very tainted). Despite it all, through those teenage years in New York, then college in Ohio, traveling and living abroad, and four years in Chicago, I kept the faith. Fate would have it that I was able to return to my team in the late 1990s, when Sari & lived in San Francisco. Those were special years, though the team didn’t fare particularly well then either. But then it was on the road again, and the last dozen years in New York again (and now a year in Ann Arbor).
Essentially, the Giants have mostly seemed like my own little secret. That’s why, even now, it’s especially weird to see the team being covered by the national media, the Times, etc.