Sari Wilson & I are teaching a comics class this summer in Provincetown

Publicity, Travel

What makes a better combination than writing and art? How about summer and Provincetown? Or Sari and Josh? (*wink*)

Come experience all three this July on the tip of Cape Cod! Sari and I are teaching a workshop at P-Town’s Fine Arts Work Center from July 1–6. It’s called The Graphic Novel: At the Intersection of Writing and Drawing.

In his seminal work Understanding Comics, Cartoonist Scott McCloud writes, “The art form — the medium — known as comics is a vessel which can hold any number of ideas and images.” Our class will explore the dynamic realm of sequential art, and the ways that comics can produce powerful moments of frisson between words and images.

Some find their way to the form through their writing and others through their art; comics allows for both options. To that end, we as workshop leaders offer two perspectives—that of a cartoonist and that of a writer. We welcome confident storytellers in either, or ideally, both arenas. If you’re “just” a writer, we believe that you can learn to draw in a way that will serve your words.

As workshop leaders, we are most interested in the literary and the idiosyncratic, so if you’re looking to do a superhero, fantasy, or science fiction comic, this class may not be for you (unless you feel a strong personal connection to a story you want to explore through one of those genres).

Participants should have an idea for a graphic novel and preferably some existing notes, scripts, and/or art. We’ll explore the ideas and images you bring to the table, and through group feedback, generate ways you can further develop your concepts. We’ll also spend some class time on various brainstorming and collaborative exercises we’ve found useful in producing strong comics work.

Click this link to find out more about the program and how to register.

Atlantic Center for the Arts "Master Artist"

Publicity, Travel, Work

The Atlantic Center for the Arts, located in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, is a nonprofit, interdisciplinary artists’ community and arts education facility. Their mission is to “promote artistic excellence by providing talented artists an opportunity to work and collaborate with some of the world’s most distinguished contemporary artists in the fields of music composition, and the visual, literary, and performing arts.”

Last summer I was approached by the ACA to be a “master artist” for their 2012 graphic novel residency, taking place this October 8–28. I was honored to be asked, and excited to accept!

During the three-week residency I will be working with eight associate artists on their long-form nonfiction comics projects. As part of the residency, we’ll be spending two hours a day together, conducting workshops, talking about the challenges we face, and working in a studio setting. I haven’t done a lot of teaching up ’til now (though Sari and I will be co-teaching a comics writing class this summer at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown), but I’m very comfortable in workshop environments. I look forward to working with my associate artists as we explore the best ways to make their ideas come to life.

My residency will be in conjunction with those of two other “master artists,” Megan Kelso and Ellen Forney. I’m particularly excited to be sharing the experience with Megan and Ellen, both of whom I admire tremendously. I look forward to communing with them both, and hope there will be opportunities to merge our three groups for various activities.

A happy coincidence about this opportunity is that, unbeknownst to the ACA, my mother, Martha Rosler, was a Master Artist there back in 2002! It’s a kick for me to be linked with my mom in such a way.

If you’re interested in applying to be an associate artist, or know someone who would, please check out the ACA website for further details. There are descriptions of Megan, Ellen, and my residencies, an FAQ, and lots more information. The application deadline is May 18, 2012.

A.D. hits France (part I)

A.D., Publicity, Travel

A.D.: La Nouvelle Orleans apres le DelugeI spent the period January 19–31 in France, promoting the French translation of A.DA.D.: la Nouvelle-Orléans après le Déluge (published by La Boîte à Bulles)—and attending my first Angoulême International Comics Festival. As you recall, I was in France just last summer, in Lyon as part of Les Subsistances’ Points de Vue festival, but I hadn’t been to Paris since the early 1990s. As a true-blue Francophile, I couldn’t have been more excited about the trip.

Thursday, Jan. 19

The most economical flight I found was a red-eye from Newark, so as I headed off to “Newark Liberty International Airport” via the seldom-used (by me) PATH train, I felt like I was traveling already. And somehow I ended up with my very own private “first-class” cabin on the Newark AirTrain. Woo-hoo!

As usual, I got very little sleep on the plane, despite having my own row to sack out on. Even with the extensive traveling I’ve been doing of late, I still get excited by plane travel (and the allure of free movies on the seat back in front of me).

Friday, Jan. 20

Flying into Dusseldorf very early the next day, I made the connection to the short Paris flight. Arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport, I found my way to the RER B suburban train, which took me to my publisher’s home in the town of Antony, right outside of Paris. In fact, the train took me right through the heart of Paris, all the while being serenaded by live accordion music! I couldn’t help but smile at the cliché come to life

Weighed down by my old traveling backpack and my laptop bag, I made it to my publisher Vincent Henry’s place, meeting him and his two teenage girls before collapsing on the bed for a power nap. That was all I got, as I had an event scheduled for that night. With Vincent as my guide through the maze of the Parisian metro, it was off to the 17th arrondisement for an A.D. “dedication” at Librairie Apo(k)lyps. The store was remarkably similar to your typical American comics stores, with a healthy collection of American mainstream comics and “alternative” graphic novels to go with their selection of French BDs.

One thing I had been fretting about before my trip was knowing that French B.D. fans expect more than just a quick sketch in their books. I had heard stories about artists doing fully realized illustrations in each copy, some taking as long as a half hour to create. In my years of doing signings in the U.S., I’d never faced that sort of pressure! But I discovered that a head-and-shoulder shot of a customer-selected A.D. character did the trick. Add a little spot color with some pens I had brought with me, and voila! a nice memento in under ten minutes.

Fighting through my jetlag, I pulled off the signing pretty well. It wasn’t overly crowded, but there were a couple of people waiting when we got there, and I had a chance to talk with each buyer—in a combination of my bad French and their better English. And I loved chatting with the owner Laurent and the store manager Remi about comics in France & in the U.S. Then it was back to Antony with Vincent before my Saturday day trip to Metz.

I’ll get into that next time.

My upcoming "Artists on Art" talk at the Rubin Museum

Publicity, Travel

DUE TO MY DISLOCATED KNEECAP AND RUPTURED PATELLA TENDON INJURY, THIS EVENT HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED FOR MARCH 16. See you then.

On Friday, February 24, I’ll be leading a free “Artists on Art” talk at New York City’s very own Rubin Museum. In conjunction with the current exhibition, Gateway to Himalayan Art, I’ll pick out a few pieces from the show that strike me or form some connection with my own practice. I’ll be accompanied by assistant curator Beth Citron—e.g., someone actually qualified to discuss South Asian art!

This is part of a series sponsored by the Rubin, where “speakers from New York and international contemporary art scenes interact with and informally discuss the rich artistic traditions of the Himalayas and surrounding regions in relation to their own practices and processes.” I visited the museum—which is only about seven years old—for the first time last week, and found it a really impressive and beautiful venue.

The Museum is currently exhibiting another show, Hero, Villain, Yeti: Tibet in Comics, and I’ll also be participating in a project centered around that. The subject is especially close to my heart because of my affection for Hergé’s Tintin in Tibet, which I’ve long considered the best of the Tintin adventures. Anyway, along with 7 other graphic artists, I will take part in an “Open Studio” (held at the museum) where we will produce an interpretive graphic version of the Tibetan Wheel of Life (also known as the Wheel of Becoming, a representation of Buddhist beliefs about life, death, and rebirth). This open studio (where I’ll be conceiving and doing preliminary work on my section of the Wheel) will take place March 21; further details to come.

Please come to both events. Here are details on my “Artists on Art” talk:

Friday, March 16, 2012, 6:15pm — FREE!
Rubin Museum of Art
150 W. 17th Street
New York, NY

Meet at the base of the spiral staircase

See you there!

New comics story, "Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand"

Travel, Work

Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the SandDebuting today on the Cartoon Movement website is a new piece of mine, “Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand.” The story follows Mohammed and Sara, two young Bahraini editorial cartoonists who found themselves on opposite sides of Bahrain’s short-lived Pearl Revolution.

I met Mohammed and Sara at workshops I led while visiting the tiny Persian Gulf country on a U.S. State Department trip. Shortly after I became friends with both of them on Facebook, Bahrain underwent a great deal of turmoil in protests inspired by the Arab Spring — and also by the country’s simmering sectarian tensions.As the New York Times wrote the other day, Bahrain  is “… a country that was once one of the region’s most cosmopolitan is now one of its most divided.”

In the story I document Mohammed and Sara’s impressions of the events, through their words and experiences — as well as their own cartoons, which were published as things unfolded.

As I mentioned, I visited Bahrain last year as part of a trip that also took me to Egypt, Algeria, and Israel/Palestine. I later realized that the way I was “handled” by the State Dept. folks in Bahrain was very different than in the other countries I went to. Essentially, I feel, things were whitewashed a bit, and I was not given a full sense of Bahraini society, particularly the ethnic tensions between Sunnis and Shiites. You can read my original blog posts about the trip, my first reactions to the Pearl Revolution, and my realization that I had been “duped” here. Also, Michael Cavna of the Washington Post‘s “Comic Riffs” blog wrote a very nice profile of me and the piece here.

Since I finished the piece, the Bassiouni committee, which I mention near the end of the story, has published its report. You can read the original report here [a pdf], or two very thorough New York Times articles about its reception here and here.

In the end, I find the whole story quite heartbreaking — particularly because of the way the demonstrators were so brutally suppressed. It’s also really sad to see the lack of perspective on both sides. There’s a quote from one of the Bassiouni committee investigators that I think sums it all up quite tragically: “‘There is no neutral account ‘ said Mohamed Helal, the commission’s legal officer…. ‘The community is almost living in parallel universes.’ In investigating one episode, Mr. Helal said he found on the same day, at the same moment, ‘there was not one moment of overlap. How can you reconstruct the truth when there’s no overlap?’ he asked.”

Once again, here’s a link to the story, “Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand”: http://www.cartoonmovement.com/comic/24

A.D. at St. Ed’s

A.D., Travel

A.D. event posterSt. Edward’s University chose A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge as its freshman Common Read book for 2011–2012, and last week they had me come down to speak about it. It was the first time I had officially presented A.D. in about six months, and I before I left I re-read it for the first time in a while. This turned out to be really useful — revisiting elements of the book I had long since thought “settled,” and appreciating things that worked, while cringing at things that didn’t. I’m sure the whole exercise will be quite helpful when it comes to future creative decisions.

I flew down to Austin, TX, last week, where I was met by my excellent host, Assistant Dean Jennifer Phlieger. She then set me up for my lunch with St. Edward’s students, a subsequent hour-long Q&A, dinner with some  faculty members, and finally an hour-long presentation for about 300–400 kids.

I didn’t know much about St. Ed’s before I got there, other than that it was a private, Catholic institution that had been founded by the same guy who founded Notre Dame in Indiana. I have to admit about being a little curious about the Catholic aspect, and there’s still a nun in charge of major decisions, but it was explained to me that the school’s religious underpinning is pretty downplayed nowadays. Some of the elements that still remain, admirably, include a requirement that students spend at least one spring break doing some kind of community service, whether it be working for a homeless shelter or helping to build houses in communities like the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The school also does major outreach to the Latino community, offering all sorts of scholarships and the like, to the point that 25% of the student body is currently Hispanic. In most other respects, however, the school is a “typical” private liberal arts school located in the heart of Austin (which, as you may know, is not your typical Texas town).

The first official event was for me the highlight of the visit. About eight students joined me for lunch in the school cafeteria. They were mostly freshmen, and ranged from natives of New Orleans to students in a graphic novel class. We started off with questions about A.D. but soon branched off into the current state of New Orleans, race relations, and politics. I found the students incredibly engaged, not only with the book but with the world at large. They were opinionated, lively, and willing to challenge me about elements of the book. I really enjoyed our conversation.

From there I did a free-wheeling Q&A with about 150 students who had read A.D. I didn’t have a presentation prepared, but there was a video projector in the lecture hall, so I used the web version of A.D. to illustrate various points. In both this class and the lunch, the very question I was asked was about A.D.‘s unique color schemes, so I must make a note to myself to discuss that question in future presentations.

After a nice dinner with about six faculty members I headed back over to the university for my official presentation. As a result of my re-reading of the book, I also made a major revision of my usual presentation, and this was the first chance I’ve had to share it. (Because of a paper written by a U. of Chicago grad student, and my being asked to talk about the “Art of Catastrophe” as part of another event earlier this year, I’ve come to see that a major part of why I was so moved by Hurricane Katrina — from volunteering with the Red Cross to then doing A.D. — was because of emotional trauma I suffered from 9/11. Makes sense, but I never realized that until recently. Duh.) Anyway, the talk went well, though it was such a big venue (they repurposed the university gym) that I felt a bit disconnected from the audience. Still, there were a lot of great questions, and I must have signed about 100 copies of the book for eager (and patient) students afterward.

As always, I was struck and humbled by how A.D. has connected with so many people from so many different ways and stages of life. I really know what it means now when people say that as an artist all you can do is put the work out there. What the world does with it is, poignantly, beautifully, beyond your control.

Me and a few of St. Ed's students

Off to Lyon with Les Subsistances

Travel

So I’m flying to Lyon, France, tonight, for a week. I’ve been invited by the “international creative research laboratory” Les Subsistances to take part in “Points de vue, nouvelles du monde.” For three days, me and a group of other creative spirits will create “on the spot” evening news bulletins in response to the events of the day (as reported by Agence France Press).

As Les Subsistances explains: “We know about and react to world news more and more quickly. What should we do with this overload of information? Distance ourselves from it? What if artists could transform news into ideas, into a vision? Les Subsistances asked four artists, two writers, and one web-radio producer to create “on the spot” reactions to news topics. Every morning, each of them will select a news story and they will have all day to develop a performance or a short story around it. Every night, the audience will be able to see world news through the eyes of the artists and watch the evening news in the shape of performances and readings.”

I’ll be doing this public experiment with the Congolese dancer Faustin Linyekula, French theatre director Joris Mathieu, the Italian theatre troupe Compagny Motus, American radio producer Benjamen Walker, French anthropologist & writer Eric Chauvier, and Haitian-Candian writer Dany Laferrière.

I really have no idea how this is all going to transpire. All I know is that the group of us will commune for four days at Les Subsistances — on the grounds of an old monastery — maybe coming up with a plan of attack once the official performances begin. Yes: performances. Every evening from June 23–25, four times a night, we’ll be presenting our “on the spot” creations to live audiences. This’ll be like doing editorial work for a daily paper, having to pick a topic and create something from it in a super-tight deadline. Oh, and with the little added detail of having to “perform” the work.

I sure hope my new collaborators have a plan! Because I sure don’t. I’m petrified! Fortunately, I have an ace in the hole: Sari, who’s coming along on the trip (along with darling Phoebe). Sari’s been my traveling companion and creative partner for going on twenty years now, so it increases my intestinal fortitude a hundrefold to know that Sari will be there for me in a pinch.

Oh, and, yeah, I did the art for the event. I’ve been named the “official” Les Subsistances illustrator for the 2011–2012 performance season.

Points de vue poster

Israel/Palestine, Tweet by Tweet

Travel

October 22
Sitting in the Amman airport for four hours waiting for my connection to Tel Aviv. Now it can be revealed that my last stop is indeed Israel. (The fear was that if, say, Algerian officials knew that I would be traveling to the Jewish state, they would have denied my visa or at least made it difficult for me while I was there. The U.S. Embassy even printed up two separate flight itineraries for me, one which showed me going from Bahrain to Jordan, and another which showed that I was actually continuing on to Tel Aviv.)

I still don’t know what kind of people shop in the airport duty-free areas…

Flipping through Royal Jordanian Airline‘s in-flight magazine during the 20-minute flight from Amman to Tel Aviv, I notice that their flight map of the region shows the names of all the countries in the Middle East — except Israel. It shows some of the key cities — Jerusalem, Tel Aviv — but leaves out the country name. I assume that this is because many people refuse to recognize Israel as such, and insist on continuing to call the country Palestine. So even during my flight over, I am reminded of the many volatile complexities of the land I am going to visit…

Arriving in Israel, I am helped through the customs process by an expediter from the U.S. Embassy. I choose to have my passport stamped, which automatically guarantees that in the future, as long as I continue to use this passport, I will be denied entry to Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and any number of other Middle Eastern countries.

I arrive in Jerusalem, Israel’s most religious city, on the eve of the Sabbath. Walking around the deserted downtown streets, I keep wondering, "Are all those stray cats Jewish?" They might be ethnically so but don’t appear to be observant. (No kippahs.) They are extremely skittish and paranoid, though, so…?

October 23
A free day in Jerusalem. Looking forward to a thorough self-guided tour of the Old City. Morning at the hotel buffet: the guests all remind me of my dear, departed Grandma Gus and her pals. The International Herald Tribune is a very large broadsheet, but Haaretz is even bigger: it’s gotta be at least 18" wide. I shudder to think how much food goes to waste everyday from these fancy hotel buffets.

Holy Holy Land, Batman! I’m not religious, but it’s hard not to be awestruck by the historical gravitas of the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (not to mention some of the sites on Mount Zion). Unfortunately, both times I try to visit the Dome of the Rock it is closed to non-Muslims. I figure I won’t be able to fake it…

Thanks to the Narnia books I love Turkish Delight, and it is plentiful here.

Magic Hour in Jerusalem’s Old City. The light is beautiful.

October 24
Now it can be said: The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!

Just presented my work to 50 mostly bored students at Hadassah College.

After getting burned by a $60 hotel laundry bill in Algeria it’s laundry time in my bathroom sink. Reminds me of my backpacking days.

Walking back from dinner downtown, traffic is held up on King George St. due to a bomb scare. Police come, three loud bangs, and now everything’s moving again.

Tonight at Jerusalem Cinematheque I talk about Harvey Pekar and our 13-year-long creative relationship before a showing of American Splendor. Seeing the film for the first time since his death, it’s stunning to realize how perfect an epitaph it is. It was made while he was still alive, but is a wonderful, loving tribute to him now that he is gone.

Afterward, drinks with Israeli-Belgian cartoonist Michel Kichka, considered by many to the father of Israeli comics. He too knows my French pal Émile Bravo. I look forward to Kichka’s upcoming comics memoir of his father and the Holocaust…

October 25
Two separate workshops today, with "underserved" 8-10-year-olds in Jerusalem & Holon, then meet-and-greet w/Israeli comic pros at the Israeli Cartoon Museum. Whew!

The Kagan Media Center is in a working-class section of Jerusalem, mostly for Jewish immigrant children, many of Eastern European origin.
Both that workshop and the one held in Holon (near Tel Aviv) — at the Lazaros Community Center in the Jessie Cohen neighborhood — go as well as can be expected for my first time with kids that young. I do a modified version of my mini-mini-comics workshop: we come up with characters and then each kid starts their own mini-mini. The kids in Jerusalem show some real promise; the kids in Holon — mostly Ethiopian emigrees — mob me at the end for personalized sketches. One kid also mimes his love for Eminem, Tupac, and Michael Jackson.

The Holon Cartoon Museum is quite impressive — maybe the best one I’ve seen of its kind. And I really enjoy meeting the cartoonists, most of whom would fit quite comfortably in the realm of what we Americans call "alternative comics." I feel like I am among friends. And I come out of there with a full bag of swag: free copies of the comics of all the participants (who include Shay Charka, Noam Nadav, and Ilana Zeffren)!

October 26
Seaside hotel in Tel Aviv, and there are already people in the water and on the sands at 8 a.m.

Then it’s a talk and workshop for nineteen 9th-graders from the Arab “Mekif” high school in Jaffa. Despite some language and translation difficulties — and typical challenges of working with sulky and/or unruly teenagers — the workshop is fun for everyone.

Rabin Square. Lunching with Daniel Mendelson, my French-Israeli comics pal. Merci toda!

Very nice presentation and Q&A for about 100 students at the Minshar for Art school in Tel Aviv; tomorrow I spend the day in Ramallah, the West Bank.

October 27
At the Jerusalem Hotel, a beautiful Palestinian-owned rustic establishment in East Jerusalem. My last breakfast on this trip. Today I am being programmed by the U.S. Consulate, which is exclusively tasked with dealing with Palestinians. Another example of Jerusalem’s status as a divided city. (The American Center deals with Jewish Israelis.) Until last night, I had no idea what I would be doing today — let alone that I’ll be visiting the West Bank. I’m very excited; after being here for four days, seeing the Jewish side of things, I’m anxious for some some insight into the Palestinian perspective.

Security briefing at the U.S. consulate, and now it’s off to Ramallah. Driving into the West Bank, we speed through checkpoints of Israeli soldiers armed — and armored — to the teeth. VIPs like us breeze through on one road, while the other road for normal folks is backed up for what looks like miles. It is sobering to see the Israeli settlements dotted around the arid hills, overlooking old, long-established Palestinian towns and villages.

Location: PD (e.g. Public Diplomacy) Ramallah. Awesome roundtable with Palestinian political cartoonists from the West Bank and — via Direct Video Conference — Gaza. Participants include Majed Badra, Baha Boukhari, Nedal Hashem, and Mohammad Sabaaneh.

Lunch at a very chic sandwich place in Ramallah, and then A.D. presentation and mini-mini-comics workshop with students of the International Academy of Art Palestine. Once again, I come out with loot: a T-shirt, a mug, and a tote bag. Shukran!

I admit it’s difficult to reconcile the two images of Palestinians I see in the occupied territories. On one hand there are the encroaching Israeli settlements, the many travel restrictions, and the obvious privations of everyday life. On the other hand there is the clearly flourishing city of Ramallah, which is awash in investment and new construction. The city is renowned for its night-life (much better than moribund Jerusalem) and will soon be opening its first five-star hotel. As usual, I leave my new experience more confused than when I started. But this is good.

Back in Jerusalem, I do a quick event at the Consulate’s new East Jerusalem library/outreach center, America House. There I meet with a select group of Israeli Arabs, mostly local artists. Then, we take a crazy trip through Mea Shearim, looking to find a cheap bag to bring home all the swag I picked up during my three-week tour. Success, and then it’s off to the airport.

Ben Gurion. This is it. Heading back home to the good ol’ USA. Wow, Israeli airport security is no joke. They are giving me the third degree about every aspect of my trip. My "official" U.S. State Dept. affiliation has little impact. Even the fact that I have an expediter with me, a U.S. Consulate employee with a special badge who escorts me through all the security and passport checks, does not deter them. They ask me all sorts of questions about the purpose of my trip, why I had visited the three Arab countries, and ask to see official letters from the U.S. Embassy. And the guy keeps asking me the same questions about the purpose of my visit, trying to see if he can catch me in a lie or a contradiction. But I actually enjoy the ordeal, and keep my cool the whole time. Finally, after double X-raying all my bags, looking through all the Hebrew, Arabic, and French comics I have acquired throughout the trip, and practically dismantling my laptop, they let me go through.

Damn! Crappy older plane w/o personal TVs. Now I can only pray I get my whole row to myself so I can sleep.

October 28
I’m baaaaaaaack! Comics Diplomacy 2010 comes to a close. And just in time too as my trusty Tumi backpack just fatally busted a strap.

Bahrain, Tweet by Tweet

Travel

October 18
Left Algiers, transited through Istanbul, and landed in Bahrain. Man, oh man, Manama. I feel like I am on the moon.

October 19
After getting in late last night, I enjoy the cushy bed here at the Gulf Hotel. Today I am celebrating Sari’s birthday in absentia.

Back-to-back hotel lobby interviews with English-language papers The Daily Tribune and The Gulf Daily News. Bahrain is deep in the midst of parliamentary election campaigns, and before the interviews my Embassy handlers advise me to speak on any topic except the elections. Only a "democracy" since 2002, politics is a touchy subject here in Bahrain. There’s no tradition of public debates here, so campaigning seems limited to six-foot-tall roadside campaign posters (all hilariously similar: with the candidate’s name and a mug shot) and small-scale electoral rallies.

The country is a tiny archipelago connected by a causeway to the tip of ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. Incredibly liberal by Arab standards, Bahrain bills itself as a regional business and entertainment destination. (In fact, Saudis flood into Bahrain during the holy days of Friday and Saturday, eager to take part in family activities, movies, and the like, which are expressly forbidden in Saudi Arabia during those days. And many relatively liberal Saudi families send their daughters to study at Bahraini universities, which offer the girls many more educational/career options than they are allowed back home.) In ages past a land of small villages and pearl divers, Bahrain has undergone an incredible building spree — apparently with no consideration of urban planning. Giant office towers and ultra-modern hotels loom over patches of empty desert.

You see many Saudi businessmen in their full formal outfits, the ankle-length thawb and the keffiyeh headdress. You also see women in all stages of "cover," from burkas to a modest veil. The variety of veils and their configurations is amazing. I am most struck by women I see in tight, almost form-fitting burkas, with their heavily made-up eyes showing through in a most fetching way.

Almost 50% of the population is from India, and the country welcomes foreign guests of all stripes. You can get real pork bacon from hotel room service — and I did!

Off to meet Bahraini artist Abdulla Al-Muharraqi in A’ali, and then to the Bahrain Arts Society to present my work & some context for US comics. Two more interviews: one for live radio and one for Bahrain weekend TV.

October 20
Ran a fun collaborative mini-comics workshops for about 40 girls at the Royal University for Women. That afternoon/evening, I conduct two workshops organized by the Embassy in cooperation with Hewar Youth Society and the Bahraini Journalists Association. For the first workshop, with young, aspiring Bahraini cartoonists, I give them four stories from today’s paper. Then, acting as an "art director," I have them work up illustration concepts for the various stories. My goal is to show them the difference between the dominant form of opinionated political cartoons and the more subtle practice of editorial illustration. I get a kick out of the way all the students in my workshops here call me "Mr. Josh."

Professional Bahraini cartoonists from local Arabic and English dailies participate in the second workshop, during which they share their ideas and techniques, as well as discuss the challenges they face in publishing their own political cartoons. We wrap up our meeting
— which is the first time the artists have all been in the same room together — with an illo jam (which sadly, I don’t have a picture of). Artists at the workshop include Sara Qaed, Hamad Al-Gayeb, and Nawaf Al-Mulla.

October 21
Today’s Bahrain schedule: workshop at the New York Institute of Technology (!), a meeting with the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, and an interview with an Arabic newspaper. Leaving my hotel, I see my first woman in a burka with a veil completely covering face. Not even holes for eyes. Husband leads her by the hand.

My time in Bahrain is winding down. it’s been fascinating, totally different in every way from Algiers. Leaving tomorrow morning for country-to-be-named-later, the final stop on International Comics Goodwill Tour 2010.

October 22
The agent at the Gulf Air check-in counter has no idea what country Tel Aviv (my "final destination") is in — she thinks it might be in Europe. Because most Arab airlines don’t fly directly to Israel — I’m flying through Amman, Jordan — it’s almost as if the country doesn’t exist. (Later, I am informed that I should have told the agent that Tel Aviv is in the same country as Jerusalem. Everyone knows Jerusalem.)

Manama by Moonlight

[Check out a full album of photos from Bahrain here…]

Algeria, with great respect to all other nations, of course

Travel

Tuesday, Oct. 12
Flew in to Algiers sick as a dog. Never should have had that Egyptian KFC. After many bathroom visits & sleeping 10 hours, I feel human again. They’ve put me up in the beautiful and history-steeped El-Djazair, whose former guests include Dwight Eisenhower, Simone de Beauvoir, Edith Piaf. Not too shabby.

My first official activity is a presentation of my work at a local “access school,” an English language school for underprivileged youth sponsored in some part by U.S. funds. Goes well.

My compatriot, comics writer Brandon Jerwa, and I are taken to the central newspaper “district” for a fairly extensive and thoughtful interview with the largest Algerian daily, El Watan. (My interview ran here. Warning! French language.) After that, a short nap and missed connections ultimately proves unable to derail a nice dinner with several of the other visiting artists, including Pakistan’s Nigar Nazar and three young women from Lebanon, Joumana Medlej, Amal Kawaash, and Lena Merhej.

I just learned from the TV that Global Handwashing Day is coming up next week.The two English-language TV stations here show 1.) 20th Century Fox movies, and 2.) 80s/90s music videos. Oh, and BBC News. (P.S. The music video station is actually a German station, but they predominantly show English and American pop.)

Wednesday, Oct. 13

Quino

From Algérie News: My portrait of the great Argentine cartoonist Quino (on the body of his character Mafalda)

F!BDA, the Festival International de la Bande Dessinées Algérie, opens tonight. That one year of college French is serving me well here! The only downside to this trip is having to shave and wear pants every day.

Today, a day of storms and rain, I am doing a bullpen-style drawing marathon with five other cartoonists for Algérie News, a daily paper which will be entirely illustrated by us! I draw four finished illos in about seven hours, sort of like Illustrator Boot Camp. The job runs so long we miss the wet F!BDA opening ceremonies. Too tired to eat. G’nite from the Meghreb.

Thursday, Oct. 14
F!BDA proper begins today. My first look at the festival, which is set up on the European/Angouleme model. Almost like a little village, the festival consists of tents housing a bookstore, exhibition spaces, an event space, and smaller “booths” for exhibitors. This is the anti-San Diego Comic-Con: no video games, no movies or TV shows, no cosplay to speak of… The emphasis is on the art of comics, and the experience of reading.

I’m on a morning panel charmingly titled “Can the Comics be Therapeutic?” After the panel, Brandon I are taken to L’Ecole des Beaux Arts to teach a class together. It goes very well, despite our mid-exercise fear that the whole experiment is going to derail. The students are eager and the teacher tells us later that we achieved results in 90 minutes that would have taken him a week. We share tea with the director and the head teacher, and exchange books.

We are shuttled about in a specialized Embassy SUV, which looks normal on the outside but is heavily armored on the inside. The doors seem to weigh a ton, requiring real strength to slam shut, and the insides are all built up with plating, so much so that squeezing into one’s seat is actually quite difficult. The windows are all bullet-proof glass, of course. John B., our Embassy host, brags that the vehicle is so well protected that we could “drive over a land mine and not even feel it.” I have no desire to test that assertion.

Then we tour the stunning the Bastion 23. Whenever the guide mentions anything to do with Islam he says, “With great respect to all other religions, of course.” It is very charming — and quite odd.

After another interminable wait in the lobby, we drive to a restaurant far on Algeria’s outskirts for a group dinner with the FIBDA organizers and invited artists. The roasted headless sheep they deposit on our table is undeniably tender, yet I think I have been forever cured of a taste for mutton.

Other than the lamb misadventure, I am finding Algeria to be a fascinating country — with really uninspired cuisine. How can a culture with French and Middle Eastern origins have such drab food? It’s like the cooks conspire to drain the taste out of what should be delicious, culturally specific foods. For instance, the couscous has been bland and mealy, and the crepes tough and tasteless.

Friday, Oct. 15
Our first full day at the Festival. Brandon has a morning panel, then after lunch we head over to the book-selling tent and signing area. It is really fun to soak up the atmosphere, check out all the great BDs, and meet festival attendees. We even sell a few books, and I sign and sketch for folks, just like back home. Then we have dinner back at our hotel with John B. and our new British friends Paul Grist and Nana Li. I hear the tale of the Cuban cartoonist, first time off the island, refuses to shake John’s hand because she is afraid that her Cuban handlers will think she is planning to defect!

In the evening we are guests at a party at the U.S. Marines’ quarters in the U.S. Embassy. There are six Marines stationed there — six of the sweetest, fresh-faced kids (of all races) you could ask for to represent the U.S.A. Most of the guests are young Algerians, typically well-off and “connected” somehow…

monkeys

Algerian primates

Saturday, Oct. 16
Today we get a break from the festival to do a little exploring: tours of Blida and Chrea are on the agenda. This is an internal U.S. Embassy function that we are lucky to be included in on. The dozen of us pile into two vans, and, as required by Algerian law, are given a police escort all the way on the hour-long trip. Not exactly a subtle travel method, though it’s a cool way to speed through traffic, what with the guns and sirens and everything.

Back from the tour of the former “Triangle of Death.” We had monkeys! Brandon & I are hitting the streets of Algiers while we can. As per Embassy safety regulations, we are forbidden from using public transportation or private taxis, though we’re allowed to walk anywhere we want. Unfortunately, the El-Djazair isn’t in the most happening area of town, though there are some awesome views of the harbor.

Back in the room after a street excursion and subsequent hotel-room-patio steak dinner with Brandon. Our British friends are free to hang out, but the front desk says the wait for the only cab we’re allowed to use is at least 45 minutes. Calling it a night and hitting the whirlpool tub.

Sunday, Oct. 17
Last night I was awakened by the loudest explosion I’ve ever heard. Was sure it was a bomb. Turned out it was thunder. Then it began to rain.

LeHic

Algerian cartoonist Le Hic’s portrait of Brandon Jerwa and me at the embassy video conference.

Today is the Last day of F!BDA: Jerwa panel on comic book adaptations, then to the U.S. Embassy for a video conference with some Algerian and Iraqi political cartoonists. Fascinating to be a fly on the wall as they discuss the ins-and-outs of lives, careers, press freedom, and the like. Supposedly it was covered by CNN. Anyone see it? (The Embassy posted a photo and short blurb about the event on their site.)

Then back to F!BDA for the closing ceremonies: prizes awarded, many sad goodbyes, commemorative sketches, Facebook friendships initiated.

Monday, Oct. 18
Rainy morning. After I pack, check out, and have a final breakfast with Brandon and Nigar, it’s Airport Time.

[Check out a full album of photos from F!BDA Algeria here…]