PopTheology

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Pop Theology, the Christian website that usually focuses on film and TV — "examin[ing] the intersection of pop culture and theology, religion, and spirituality"  — just posted a lengthy, thoughtful review of A.D. I was taken with the writer’s pinpointing of a unique feature of comics which address documentary subjects:

The genre in which [Neufeld] chooses to work is a treasure because it allows readers to stop and meditate on images that often passed by so quickly on the news or in documentary films like Trouble the Water or When the Levees Broke. The crowds in front of the Superdome or the convention center often “fell victim” to the fly-by helicopter or drive-by tracking shot. Viewers could barely distinguish individuals in the huddled masses. Unintentionally or not, news coverage often grouped images of looters with those who were simply trying to provide for or rescue friends or family members.Thankfully, we can linger here on these images of suffering and/or heroism in ways that the rapidity of other media do not allow. Neufeld’s book, by focusing on real people and slowing down these experiences, helps concretize what so many lost in the experience, both emotionally and materially. From belongings to personal feelings of value and dignity, the victims of this storm will strive for the rest of their lives to piece together what they, perhaps, once took for granted.

was also interested in the review’s attribution of a spiritual message to A.D.:

Neufeld opens his novel with an image of the Earth seen from outer space. As he zooms in on the planet, we see the storm clouds grow larger and larger. As a result, he paints (or rather draws) this event as a global/human disaster, not just an American one. Humanity, not just Americans, has suffered.
 

As a non-religious person, I approached that sequence from a journalistic and "ethical humanistic" perspective, but I suppose it’s easy to see a religious implication. As Pop Theology says in their "About" page:

We also know that a [work of art] can be religious or spiritual or offer important theological insights even if it does not contain explicitly religious characters or tell a historically religious story. It is often the case that when song or a television show seriously explores the human condition, theological questions can’t be far behind.

And to be honest, I’ve always referred to the book’s "prologue" as being from a "god’s eye" perspective.

[Cross-posted on the A.D. blog]

Masstransiscope

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One of my weekly rituals is my Tuesday night basketball game in Manhattan. I live in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, so to get to the game in the Lower East Side, I switch at Atlantic Avenue to either the B or the Q. The B takes me to Grand Street, where I walk to the game; or the Q takes me to Canal, where I switch to the M to Essex. But that’s neither here nor there. (Sorry, bad pun.)

Usually, during the B/Q leg, my head’s buried in a book or my iPod, but the other day, in the section of tunnel right before the train emerged from the Dekalb station into the open air of the Manhattan Bridge, I was idly glancing out the window… and I saw the coolest thing! Flickering by against a background of bright white was what I took to be a complex graffiti mural, something like you used to see in abandoned stations but rarely see in the subways any more. But as I watched the images unfold I realized this was much more than a long string of graffiti. The images moved, morphed, danced, and, at the end, took off in a rocketship! Here’s what it looked like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IwVD5efXz0
(Don’t you love the running commentary?) I did a little Googling and quickly discovered this is a newly restored piece of urban art by Bill Brand called "Masstransiscope". It’s actually a zoetrope — individual paintings (in this case, 228 of them) separated by slits and "animated" by the moving train. Really ingenious — and a technique only over 100 years old, ya big dunce! (It also turns out the art was painted in an abandoned station, "Myrtle Avenue," no longer serviced by the MTA…)

So next time you’re on the Manhattan-bound B or Q, leaving the Dekalb station, keep looking out the right side of the train: you’re in a free Big Apple cartoon treat.

Stampede of the Elephants

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Our upstairs neighbors moved out last week. The owner, a Nigerian gentleman named Obi, sublet the place for the first 4-5 years, to a procession of folks who woke us up with really loud music, or overflowed their kitchen sink and caused water damage to our kitchen, or did the same thing to our bathroom from their shower. Each time Obi was fairly swift about responding to our complaints and paying for necessary touch-ups and repairs.

Then, about 5 years ago, he brought back a Nigerian bride. She was sweet, but their adorable newborn eventually turned into a not-so-adorable toddler who enjoyed nothing better than running up and down their hallway about 50 times a day — when he wasn’t riding a Big Wheel (or whatever modern equivalent little boys have nowadays). I’m pretty sure the kid had the strength of Spider-Man as it also seemed he rearranged the furniture on a regular basis. Then, a couple of years later, his little brother was born, and that kid seemed to be able to run right out the womb. The amount of noise those pipsqueaks could produce was truly awe-inspiring — it was like two baby elephants lived upstairs. When friends would visit, their eyes would shoot up to the ceiling in alarm. We shrugged — we live on a fairly noisy boulevard, and after a while you can get used to anything. (And now we have a kid ourselves, who’s not exactly light on her feet.) When we would run into the kids’ mom on the elevator, she would look at us in chagrin. We asked her only two simple favors: to not let the kids begin their Olympic trials until after 7 each morning (which is when Phoebe generally wakes up), and if the mom could make sure to do her house-music-accompanied-personal-trainer-morning exercises in the living room — as opposed to the bedroom above ours.

Anyway, Sari ran into Obi on the elevator last week, as his family was loading their last things into the moving van. (They’re moving back to Nigeria, to Lagos.) She wished him luck and he took her hand in his. "I just have to thank you," he said in his courtly way. "You have been the best downstairs neighbors anyone could every have. So patient, so gracious, I can’t imagine how bad it must have been for you." Sari shrugged demurely. "Hey, you know, that’s big city apartment living."

In any case, the folks who bought Obi’s place? A family with FOUR kids.

"Thriller" Redux

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I was at a huge outdoor arena — possibly the Rose Bowl — for Michael Jackson’s public funeral. The stands were packed, and Phoebe and I were way down at the bottom of the stage. They wheeled in the body on a hospital gurney, covered by a thin sheet, and it ended up parked right next to our location. Looking at the corpse laying there under the sheet I had a premonition… and in the next second it came true. Michael moved, his hands came up and lifted off the sheet, and he sat up! I realized the whole thing — his "death," the tributes, the wall-to-wall news coverage — was a huge publicity stunt, a device to build interest for his new 50-show London concert series.

The crowd freaked, a mixture of cries of joy and rage. Underneath the sheet, Michael was dressed to perfection, in a white suit and white fedora. But he looked different: his skin was dark again, how he looked in the early 1980s. He reached up to remove this latest mask, but it wouldn’t come off. It was his "new" face. A mask of death and renewed life.

Michael looked around at the crowd and smiled. "Now I know how you really feel about me, what you think of me." He paused as the shouts, hoots, and whistles rained down on him. "Sounds like some of you wish I was still dead!" He jumped off the gurney and pirouetted onto the stage, as the music came on. It was electric.

Phoebe scrambled up on to the empty hospital gurney and started toddling uncertainly along it, performing an awkward dance to the music. I ran over to her to stop, to save her from hurting herself.

Jerome Avenue in the Bronx

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On Saturday, Sari, Phoebe, and I were up on the grounds of Bronx Community College, checking out the Kids Comic Con. Afterwards, it being a beautiful day and Phoebe needing a stroller nap, we walked down Jerome Avenue and River Avenue all the way to Yankee Stadium, before we got back on the subway for home. Not a terribly scenic walk, unless you’re really into auto-body shops (at one point we crossed over the Cross-Bronx Expressway), but certain elements of the walk really brought be back to my childhood.

When I was a kid I lived in California, but I would spend a month each summer visiting my dad in New York. He lived in Manhattan then, in the far West Village, and I fondly remember those days walking around the streets of late 1970s New York. That was when a "normal" person could actually afford to live in Manhattan. Apparently, things haven’t changed all that much in that part of the Bronx. It was a riot of color and activity: restaurants and shops of all colors and varieties, and people and families out and about.

Hot sidewalks, the shade of the elevated train, music blaring from an apartment window, fried food, discount stores, outdoor vendors, graffiti, illegal posters (remember "Post No Bills"?): it was wonderful. So much stimulus, the sense of intersecting so many other lives. Sure, like late ’70s New York, the streets were dirty and maybe they weren’t the best place to hang out at night, but so what? There was life, and bustle — and no freakin’ chain stores!

The Return of the Ring

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Ever since I broke the ring finger on my left hand, I haven’t been able to wear my wedding ring on that hand; the knuckle on the finger is just too swollen. (In fact, I had taken to wearing the ring on my right hand; is that some kind of social signifier?) Yesterday, though, I happened to be passing the jewelry district on 47th Street, so I thought I’d look into my options. I know jewelers can "stretch" rings a bit to make them a little bigger. Well, the difference in my ring size on that hand was way too much for stretching — thanks to the break, it went from a size 7 to a size 10! The only option was to cut the ring and add some gold to fill in the extra size. And that’s what I had them do. I have to say the jeweler (a nice elderly man originally from Istanbul) did an amazing job: he matched the design of my vintage ring so well I can barely tell which is the new part. And all in about two hours!

I try not to get overly sentimental about many things, but it really means a lot to me — and, it turns out, to Sari — that I can now properly wear my wedding ring. It’s been almost four years — Welcome back, ringy!

This Wed, Apr. 8: Sari reads from "Slice"

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Do you like fresh, hard-edged short fiction? Do you like beer and/or other alcoholic beverages? Are you not Jewish and/or not attending a seder this Passover? Are you in New York City? Then come to Pacific Standard this Wednesday, April 8 (yes, the first night of "Pesach") to hear Sari read from her excellent, newly published story "Patriotic Dead." She’ll be there with a contingent of fictioners from Slice #4, as part of Pacific Standard’s reading series. Details, you say? Yes…

Wednesday, April 8, 2009, 6:30-8 pm
Pacific Standard, or Jon & John’s House of Starchy Living and Temperance Den, "a cozy, relaxed West Coast microbrew pub"
82 Fourth Avenue (between St. Marks and Bergen Streets), Brooklyn

See you there?

ACT-I-VATE "The Tacky Tic"

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The Tacky TicThroughout the last two years, while I was toiling away on A.D., sitting on the little cart next to my drawing table was a script for a story I wrote called "The Tacky Tic." All during these past two years, I never was able to get to the piece and actually draw it. But now that A.D. is finally done — huzzah! — I have finally been able to fulfill my true passion! And you are the lucky beneficiary. I think the piece is a powerful statement on the human condition, and I’m sure you’ll agree. Just click your mouse on over to ACT-I-VATE and check out "The Tacky Tic" in all its glory.

P.S. "The Tacky Tic" is a one-pager in the "real" world, but I cut it up into a whopping 16 pages for your Internet enjoyment. Just let me know if the lettering is too small…

Co-op Convert

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This year I finally joined the Park Slope Food Co-op and I’ve decided I actually like working there. For years I had avoided joining, while enjoying the fruits (literally) of Sari’s membership, but I was forced to sign up about six months ago.

I grew up in the lefty/hippie enclave of 1970s Southern California, and my mom even shopped at a co-op out there— called "People’s Food," naturally. Years later, when I went to Oberlin College, I wanted nothing to do with their strong co-op movement. I was turned off by the hairy, crunchy, unshowered ethos of those places, not to mention that I was too preoccupied with other aspects of college life to think about actually working for my food! Flash forward many years later, and those were the same reasons I didn’t join the Park Slope Food Co-op. Now that I’ve been a member for a while, I’ve certainly encountered my share of smug, ideologically driven co-oppers, but the vast majority of members are "regular folks" who enjoy being part of the community. Like Sari & me, they just want a place to buy cheap, fresh food, and don’t mind donating three hours of their time once a month to get it.

I’m in the shipping & receiving squad, and basically I unload trucks, stock shelves, and crush boxes. It brings back fond memories of my Red Cross deployment after Hurricane Katrina.So much of the life of a freelance cartoonist is about "selling yourself," "putting yourself out there," and "expressing your vision" — it’s a relief to let go of my ego, to just be a cog, as it were, working for the "greater good." I’m also grateful that my co-op duties involve physical labor, enabling me to get out from the desk and the drawing table. And the food really is good.