Hamid Mohammadi (1959–2021)

A.D., Tribute

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

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

This is the super-truncated version:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hamid Mohammadi, rest in peace.

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

1 Year Later: Thinking about Seth Kushner

Plug, Tribute

seth_kushnerSeth Kushner—photographer, comic book writer, pop culture maven, husband, father—passed away one year ago today. This is what I wrote about him at the time:

I wish I had something poetic or original to say about Seth, but what impresses me the most is just how many people whose lives he touched—and how consistent their feelings are: that he was a super-talented photographer, that he was a gracious human being with an abiding interest in other people, and that he truly loved his wife and son.

Seth seemed to epitomize the best things about the comics “community”: He was a fan, he was a creator, and he had an unflagging interest in reaching out and encouraging others the way he had been encouraged along the way.

What he did in this last year, with making his battle against leukemia public and human and inspiring and funny and heart-breaking all at once, is an amazing gift to all those who suffer through these diseases alone.

The wonderful thing about art is that—unlike the artist—it lives forever. Seth’s posthumously published semi-auto-bio graphic novel Schmuck, illustrated by a boatload of talented cartoonists (and myself), came out late last year; and his character The Brooklynite is being brought to life by Shamus Beyale, all part of the Dean Haspiel-led “New Brooklyn” series on WebToons (also starring The Red Hook, and, soon, The Purple Heart).

Seth Kushner, 1973–2015. Rest in peace.

Tom Hart's ROSALIE LIGHTNING

Comics, Plug, Tribute

RosalieLightningI just read Tom Hart‘s new book ROSALIE LIGHTNING (St. Martin’s Press), and I was blown away. What is it about? It’s about My Neighbor Totoro, and Ponyo, and EC Comics, and Metaphrog, and James Bond, and Kurosawa movies, and Thich Nhat Hanh, and “O Superman,” and Jeff Mason. And it’s about real estate, and bike rides, and corn mazes, and getting your car stuck in the snow, and being adrift on a raft, and big moons in the sky, and dreams, and trees, and acorns, and about the “capacious hole in your heart” when your child dies.

I’ve known Tom and his fellow cartoonist wife, Leela Corman, (who’s basically the co-star of this book) for a really long time, as fellow travelers on the road of alternative comics—Sari & I were guests at their wedding—but I hadn’t seen much of them in the last 10 years, particularly after they left Brooklyn and moved to Gainesville, Florida. I only met their daughter Rosalie once, probably around 2010, shortly before they left town. I was in Chicago when I heard the horrible, terrible, tragic news of Rosalie’s death—I even wrote a short post about it back then. And the next time I saw Tom & Leela was the fall of 2014 (when I visited them at their school The Sequential Artists Workshop), when they had the gift of Rosalie’s little sister Molly Rose. This book fills in all that missing time.

Tom is a master storyteller and cartoonist, and if he never did anything else the world would always have his creation Hutch Owen. (Where would Bernie Sanders be without Hutch Owen?!) But for Rosalie Lightning he has created a new art style—malleable, scratchy and impressionistic (when needed), and deliriously vibrant, even though it’s “limited” to half-tones. It’s an incredible, gripping book, which I stayed up late into the night reading all the way through. It’s destined to become a classic.

When was the last time a book made you cry? For me, it had been a long time. As a father myself, unable to even imagine the pain Tom & Leela have been through, it was often tortuous to read, and I dried my eyes a number of times. But I’m so grateful for the experience. (I even forgive the book’s “hate letter” to New York, because I feel like that sometimes too.) Thank you, Tom, for this brave, and ultimately triumphant work. Your daughter couldn’t have a better memorial.

Charlie Hebdo

Comics, Tribute

Whenever I debated the pros and cons of being a cartoonist, I never considered that it was inherently a dangerous job. (Unless you’re Joe Sacco, running around in war zones.) But I had to re-evaluate that after the events of January 7, and the massacre of five cartoonists (and seven others) at the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

The last week has been a crazy one, trying to process the events, the manhunt for the killers, the related events at the Paris kosher grocery, the outpouring of pain and outrage, Je suis Charlie, Je suis Ahmed, the backlash, and so on and so on.

The day of the shooting, as things were still unfolding, I was asked to come in to the studios of NowThis News and deliver a “rant” on the events. I didn’t know any of the cartoonists killed. I’d never read Charlie Hebdo (though I knew of its reputation, and its previous run-ins with “angry readers.”) But as a fellow cartoonist, I figured I had some kind of perspective on what had happened. I wish I had been more articulate, more forceful, but I think you can see I was still in a state of shock. Anyway, here’s the video.

I’ll be heading to France myself in less than two weeks, to attend my second Angoulême International Comics Festival (and to also do some signings in Paris). I imagine it will be quite a scene there, what with the various tributes to be held, the changed security situation, and so much more I can’t even imagine. I’ll be sure to take plenty of notes.

Finally, most importantly. Matt Bors, cartoon editor of Medium‘s “The Nib” (publisher of some of my work) has put together an amazing special section on the Charlie Hebdo killings. He commissioned work from seven cartoonists with specific ties to the world of satire, Islam, French culture—even one of the original cartoonists from the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy. The result, “Laugh, Cry, Be Offended,” is an incredible collection of heartfelt, thoughtful words and pictures that addresses so many of the issues brought up in the wake of the killings: free speech, racism, Islamophobia… every single piece demands your undivided attention:

  •  “I Still Can’t Believe It,” by James Van Otto—a French cartoonist discusses his relationship to Cabu, one of the assassinated cartoonists.
  • If We Back Down On This, What’s Next?“, by Ann Telnaes—the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post reminds us what free speech actually means.
  • I’m a Muslim Who Fights for Free Speech,” by Albaih—a Sudanese political cartoonist criticizes Charlie Hebdo for what he saw as racist, anti-Islam cartoons, at the same time as he laments the attacks. And he reminds the world—as someone who has never fully enjoyed free speech—not to take it for granted.
  • I Drew a Muhammad Cartoon. It Didn’t Go Well,” by Annette Carlsen—one of the infamous Danish cartoonists thoughtfully dissects the events of 2005, which in some ways led to last week’s shootings.
  • Satire Is Dead. And Cartoonists Killed It,” by J.J. McCullough—a self-proclaimed conservative Canadian cartoonist breaks down Charlie Hebdo‘s satire for ignorant American audiences—and hilariously skewers both American political correctness and Charlie “solidarity” cartoons.
  • It’s Not About Islam,” by Safdar Ahmed—an Australian artist and academic sheds a despairing light on the events; his complex argument includes the cheery thought, “Islamophobes share with Muslim extremists the apocalyptic fantasy of a global war between Islam and the West, making such cartoons a force for mobilization.”
  • They Killed My Idols,” by Emmanuel “Manu” Letouzé—a French cartoonist (and United Nations economist) pays tribute to murdered cartoonists Tignous, Cabu, and Charb. Must-reading.

Two days before the horrific events of Jan. 7, “The Nib” published my own story, “Crossing the Line,” about the unprovoked harassment of American Muslims at the U.S.-Canadian border. It’s really important to remember that we can’t allow events like 9/11, like January 7, to compromise our American values—freedom of religion is part of the same amendment that protects freedom of speech. The same goes for the presumption of innocence. Only by holding fast to these fundamental values can we ensure that the terrrorists don’t “win,” and that Safdar Ahmed’s apocalyptic prophecy will not come to pass.

ACA Thank-you Card Thanksgiving

Plug, Tribute

This is a week for giving thanks, so I’m penning a little shout-out to my Atlantic Center for the Art associates. They were a great group: so talented, dedicated, and inspiring! And after 20+ years of working solo in my home/studio, I have to say the experience of sharing a studio with them has made me rethink my aversion to studio environments. We shall see…

In the meantime, I wanted to show off the beautiful hand-made card my associates presented me at the end of our residency. Cliodhna Lyons fabricated the card (which measures 4″ x 5-1/2″) as an accordian-style pamphlet. It is now one of my most prized possessions. Check it out:

First, the cover, with a very snazzy French flap! “Team Bogota[s]” refers to a slight miscommunication between Neil O’Driscoll and Sara Woolley and the subject of her project:

ACA-card-cover-web

Here's a List of Dean Haspiel-Produced Mix Tapes from the 1990s

Geek, Tribute

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.

A partial list of these Dino Dazzlers:

  • Been Getting Busy
  • Bound by Business
  • A Fistful of Funk
  • Full Frontal Funk
  • Global Get-Ill
  • Grooveallegance
  • Must Music for the Masses
  • Since Time
  • Snot Rockets for the Booger Inside
  • This is What I Do
  • Time to Get Busy!
  • and of course, Dean Makes JMRN Cool!

(I’m JMRN—Joshua Michael Rosler Neufeld.)

Meeting up with Mohammed from Bahrain in NYC for a cup of coffee!

Comics, Tribute

If you read “Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand,” then you remember one of the subjects of my piece was the young Bahraini cartoonist Mohammed. He did not fare so well after the abortive “Pearl Revolution,” with his work being censored and him been expelled from university. Over the last few years, Mohammed has had some ups and downs, but things improved for him this year: he was able to return to school, he started a cartooning & illustration business, and he won a competition sponsored by the U.S. State Department which enabled him to come to the U.S. for a few weeks this summer.

While Mohammed was here he spent an all-expenses paid week in White River Junction, Vermont, at the  Center for Cartoon Studies, where he took a graphic novel workshop with Paul Karasik. At CCS, Mohammed participated in lectures, collaborative exercises, book discussion sessions, events, and group critiques. And after that experience—which he loved—he came down to the Tri-State Area, and he and I got to hang out in Brooklyn one recent afternoon.

Over the years I’ve kept up with the “characters” from A.D., following their lives as they continue to rebound and regroup from Hurricane Katrina. And it was nice to be able to do the same with Mohammed, to see that he is well and is continuing to pursue his passions. In an interesting twist, Mohammed wrote and drew this piece —in my voice—commemorating our Brooklyn “reunion.” (He photoshopped in my signature.)

MohammedAlmahdi-josh-sm

Flattering depiction, don’t you think?

I welcome him to my studio and gave him a little tour of Prospect Heights. We never did have that cup of coffee, but we grabbed a cone from Mister Softee, strolled through Grand Army Plaza, and made a quick stop at Bergen Street Comics. Mohammed really enjoyed the visit; here’s a “selfie” we took of the actual visit (with me holding the framed print of his piece)…

mohammed-josh

The Three Rogers

Tribute

For some reason, there have been three writers named Roger who have been inspirations in my life: the science fiction/fantasy writer Roger Zelazny, the baseball writer Roger Angell, and the film critic Roger Ebert—who died yesterday at age 70.

I try to make a point of letting people who’ve inspired me know it. When I was in college I wrote Zelazny (who passed away in 1995) a gushing fan letter (Nine Princes in Amber and Lord of Light are still two of my favorite books)—which he was kind enough to respond to. Some years back I also wrote Angell (who is now 92 years old) to tell him how much I relished his whimsical and lyrical baseball season recaps in The New Yorker. And in 2003 I wrote Ebert the following letter:

… I’m writing you … to thank you for all the wonderful advice you’ve given me over the years. I really value your opinions on movies and often find my tastes to coincide with your own. Most of all, though, I’m amazed at how generous a critic you are, how you always give each film the benefit of the doubt. You seem the opposite of most film reviewers, who seem to take a “guilty until proven innocent” approach! You are also obviously a person with a wide range of references, someone who has a life outside of the movie theater. And this breadth of knowledge, an appreciation of real life, shows in your criticism. Honestly, given the amount of movies you must see each week, I don’t know how you maintain such a fresh approach.

(Despite my praising his generosity, Ebert could also be quite cutting in his criticism. This is a list of some of his most memorable pans.)

In 2010, I wrote a blog post about Ebert’s illness. In it, I wrote that I looked forward to many more of his reviews in the future. Well, I got three more years. My Fridays will be forever diminished by not having a new one to read. Rest in peace, Roger.