Influencing Machine Korean edition cover

Influencing Machine, Plug, Work

Just for poops & chuckles, I thought you’d like to see the cover of the Korean language edition of The Influencing Machine, published by Doddle Saeghim. They took the art from the last page (with Brooke’s head blown up a bit) and colored it—in a much louder style than I use in the book itself. They also added a bunch of shadows. 

IF-DoddleSaeghim-cover-sm

P.S. Anyone out there have a Korean URL for the book? I can’t seem to find it…

Influencing Machine featured on 1book140 (The Atlantic.com's Reading Club)—Twitter convo tonite!

Influencing Machine, Publicity, Work

IF-paperback-coverThis month The Influencing Machine is one of two graphic novel’s being read on 1book140, The Atlantic.com’s Reading Club. And tonight at 7pm EST, writer Brooke Gladstone and I will be taking part in a live Q&A via Twitter. Please join in the conversation!

1book140 has been running since May of 2011 and they’ve read & discussed works by living authors and by dead authors; they’ve read thrillers, mysteries, beach reads, science fiction, poetry, history, and travel writing. Some of the previous entries from the 1book140 reading list include Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five,  P.G. Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves, Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, China Mieville’s The City & the City, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. And they’ve even read comics before, including Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Alan Moore & David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, and Neil Gaiman & Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg’s Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.

1book140 is currently being run by J. Nathan Matias, and the process seems very democratic. Books are nominated on by readers and the finalists are voted on in online polls. And now, after some runoff voting (against  very esteemed competition), The Influencing Machine—along with Chris Ware’s masterwork Building Stories—has emerged as this month’s 1book140 selection! The first two weeks of August were spent on Building Stories and now it’s our book’s turn.

Tonight from 7-8pm EST, Brooke & I will be sitting by to answer any and all questions related to our collaboration. To join in, tweet your question to #1book140; we’ll do our best to respond!

Adventures in Comics Journalism

Comics, Work

Adventures in Comics JournalismA new piece of mine was published today in The Mint, India’s second largest financial paper (and “a content partner of The Wall Street Journal“). I was commissioned to do the 100th edition of their weekly full-page (tabloid-sized!) comic, “The Small Picture” —and the editor and I decided to do it about the field of comics journalism. The result, “Adventures in Comics Journalism,” can be read here.

My comics and sketches in Steve Heller's COMICS SKETCHBOOKS

Comics, Plug, Work

Comics SketchbooksLast fall, just when I was learning the ropes of the Knight-Wallace Fellowship, I received a contributor copy of Steve Heller’s Comics Sketchbooks: The Private Worlds of Today’s Most Creative Talents (Thames & Hudson).

When Heller first approached me about being in the book, I immediately felt my stomach clench. Like most cartoonists I’m pretty insecure about my art; most times, it’s bad enough to see my finished work in print—the idea of exposing my half-assed doodles and thumbnails felt really risky. But how could I turn down an invitation from design legend (and former New York Times chief art director) Steve Heller?

My first problem was that I don’t really have a sketchbook per se (e.g. as a thing I sketch in). I’ve kept my sketchbooks since high school—and thanks to my packrat mother, have artwork dating back to when I was four years old. (No matter how brave I am, I wasn’t about to show any of that!) But I really had to dig deep into old work to find anything suitable. For one thing, the purpose of my sketchbooks has radically changed as I’ve gotten older and as my career has progressed. In going through all the old books, I was amazed  how they reflect my evolution as an artist and as a cartoonist.

In high school, I kept a sketchbook to draw character ideas for various superheroes I created, or to do full-color “pin-ups” of some of my favorite Marvel or DC heroes. My friends and I at Music & Art High School would also trade our sketchbooks and draw in each other’s books, so they were ways of having samples of each other’s work for posterity. For awhile after I graduated from college, I kept a sketchbook at my day job at The Nation magazine, just to keep my skills fresh. That was the first time I really used a sketchbook for doodling and sketching, and as a record of the world around me: my girlfriend, co-workers, guest speakers, people on the subway, and the like. (I was also losing interest in superhero comics around that time, and was casting about for another way to express my artistic impulses.)

Then, in the early 1990s, when Sari and I embarked on a round-the-world backpacking trip, I took along the Eric Fischl/Jerry Saltz book Sketchbook with Voices (Van Der Marck Editions, 1986; now re-issued). The book is essentially filled with blank pages, but at the top of each page are instructions from  contemporary artists of that period; ideas which served as jumping-off points for various drawings. Oftentimes I would ignore the directives and just draw or paint whatever I felt like during my travels, but the ideas in the book are sharp and fresh, and often helped me when I needed a little prodding. That was also an important period where I did very little comics work, instead just sketching from life and painting watercolor landscapes and the like. The book helped me unlearn a lot of bad habits I had picked up during my youthful years as a wannabe superhero cartoonist. I kept Sketchbook with Voices all throughout my travels through Southeast Asia and Central Europe, and it’s filled with all sorts of memories—and even a few illustrations I’m not too embarrassed to look back at.

Nowadays, however, my “sketches” tend to be highly directed, either character studies or thumbnail layouts for scripts I’m working on—not so much sketches as preliminary drawing for finished comics.

The trip down memory lane was less painful than I feared, and I found a selection of things to submit for the book. I answered a few of Heller’s questions for the profile section, sent everything off, and then basically forgot about it. As I mentioned, the book arrived at my door just as I was immersing myself in my fellowship. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until the fellowship was over (last month) that I was finally able to check out the book.

One thing I really appreciated was Heller’s acknowledgment (in his introduction) of the inherent vulnerability evoked by the project, whose subtitle, “The Private Worlds,” etc. really rings true for me. (And I was relieved to see that a lot of the contributors admit that they too don’t spend a lot of time sketching for sketching’s sake.)

That said, the book features quite an impressive list of contributors, including masters like Crumb, Burns, Seth, and Mazzucchelli. It’s always instructive to see the sketchbooks of guys like that—like peeking into their brains and feeling a bit of the spark of their creative process. Another one of my long-time favorites, cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty, gets really metaphysical about his sketchbooks, talking about how they’re attempts to explore what mystifies him in life, to get to deeper meanings, to discover new paths. And he quotes Matisse, who, when asked to explain one of his paintings, said, “If I could explain it, I wouldn’t have painted it.”

I loved looking at Peter Kuper‘s sketchbook work, much of it from his recent sojourn to Oaxaca, Mexico. Peter Kuper’s Comics Trips: A Journal of Travels Through Africa and Southeast Asia (NBM, 1992) was the only comic book I took with me on my round-the-world backpacking trip. Comics Trips is part comic, part sketchbook, and part photo album. It’s punctuated by beautiful watercolor sketches, ticket stubs and collages, and humorous photo essays like “Toilets of the World.” Comics Trips was a huge influence on my own travel work, and the main inspiration behind A Few Perfect Hours. So it was exciting to me to see more recent sketchbook work from Kuper—the images are energetic, filled with personality, and vibrating with color.

I loved reading British cartoonist Posy Simmonds comments, and looking at her sketches from one of my favorite recent graphic novels Gemma BovaryCarol Tyler‘s work was a revelation. With cartoonist/friend Lauren Weinstein it was cool to see the various styles at work in her sketchbooks, from intricate inked landscapes to watercolor figure drawing. That’s another great function of a sketchbook: to play around with styles you don’t normally use in your professional work.

I really identified with what David Heatley says about struggling to retain the energy of his thumbnail sketches. There’s definitely a spontaneity, looseness, and economy to my sketches that I struggle to evoke in my more polished work. For this reason, my buddy & fellow cartoonist Dean Haspiel is always encouraging me to publish my sketches/layouts as completed comics—more on that later.

Upon returning to the States after our backpacking adventure, Sari and I ended up in Chicago, where I soon got hooked into the cartooning scene. I happened to get to know Chris Ware a little bit during that time, and he once gave me a very useful bit of sketchbook advice. His own sketchbooks were filled with hilarious one-pagers and strips which he did for fun—and as far I know, never published. Anyway, Chris recommended that I use my sketchbook to write and draw open-ended comics stories, to just go ahead with Panel One and see where it led me. I normally work in a very controlled way—full script, layouts, pencils, inks—so I followed his advice a little bit, and found it very useful in un-blocking my creative channels. Spontaneous sketchbook comics were a very good way of breaking habits and rethinking the comics-making process.

sketchbook-questions-lorezStill, old habits die hard—the only sketchbook comics I’ve ever published are the humorous travel tip “How to Squat;” and the one-page sketchbook comic that appears in Comics Sketchbooks. Created almost 20 years ago, in the piece I muse upon the very purpose of a sketchbook. So meta! Even though it’s quite an old piece, it still reflects my questions about the whole sketchbook practice, and I still find it an amusing little story.

The other pieces of mine used in the book were some character sketches and floor plan layouts from A.D., two pages of layouts from American Splendor, a pen & ink & watercolor Tintin cover pastiche called The Adventures of Josh & Sari, and a drawing I did of actors and assorted characters from the late lamented HBO show Bored to Death (which I drew when I was on-set).

# # #

P.S. Ironically, this past year I sketched more than I had in years. All during my fellowship I used my Moleskine notebook to sketch speakers who came in for seminars and presentations. I collected over 50 of those sketches in a booklet I printed up and gave to each of my fellow Fellows at the end of the year.

P.P.S. Regarding Steve Heller. He shows up as the art director from hell in Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage (originally published in the 1990s by Fantagraphics). I’ll never forget the scene where Fingerman’s sweaty stand-in, Rob Hoffman, an up-and-coming illustrator, visits Heller’s offices at the Times to show his portfolio. The Heller character whips through it like a flip book, never actually looking at the images, and sends Rob on his way. I read that scene right before I myself went in to show Heller my illustration portfolio. Talk about bad timing! However, he was kind enough to actually look at my work and gave me a few specific pointers before he rejected me. Well, I guess he didn’t technically reject me—he did give me the coveted contact list of all the art directors at the Times (the heads of the various sections), and eventually I did get a piece published in the paper’s Travel section. (It’s still up on my illustration website!) That was the last contact I had with Heller—I think he left the Times not oo long afterward—until he contacted me out of the blue to be part of this book. Clearly, in his mind at least I had grown as an artist in the intervening decade. Thanks, Steve!

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge academic links

A.D., Work

[cross-posted from A.D. on Smith]

I just stumbled upon a long essay about A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge in the new book Comics and the U.S. South, edited by Brannon Costello and Qiana J. Whitted (University Press of Mississippi, 2012). The essay, “A Re-Vision of the Record: The Demands of Reading Josh Neufeld’s A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge,” is by Anthony Dyer Hoefer, a professor at George Mason University. And a PDF of the essay is available as a free download right here.

Leaving aside the fact that I was stunned to see 30 pages of academic writing devoted to A.D., I was excited to see how much Dr. Hoefer gets from the project—particularly its online component, which debuted on Smith Magazine. He focuses on A.D.‘s “pedagogical impulse” and how it uses the comics form to expose the highly mediated way in which we were informed about Hurricane Katrina. In this context, Hoefer quotes the great Scott McCloud from Understanding Comics, “No other artform gives so much to its audience while asking so much from them as well.”

As with many other reviews and discussions of A.D., I learned a lot from Hoefer’s essay: it’s always fascinating to see the things that readers pick up from my work that I didn’t consciously intend to put there—and are really just an accidental result of the never-ending attempt to simply make “good comics.”

Hoefer’s essay is the latest (and greatest) in a number of academic resources related to A.D. that are available online. Since A.D.‘s book publication, it has been used as a common read text for a number of colleges & universities, including the the University of Wisconsin, the University of Alabama, and SUNY Brockport. My wonderful and talented wife Sari Wilson wrote an extensive teacher’s guide to A.D., and there are other online resources, bibliographies, and so on for both high school and college students. Since Hurricane Katrina is clearly a historical event which we will be studying for generations to come, I figured this would be a good opportunity to list all A.D.‘s academic resources in one place:

Let me know of other useful links out there!

Sari Wilson & I have a new piece in the comics anthology The Big Feminist BUT

Plug, Work

The Big Feminist But

Back in December I encouraged you to support the KickStarter campaign for the new comics anthology The Big Feminist BUT (I love that title!), and now, a few scant months later, it exists in printed form, ready for your purchase!

This beautiful 200-page softcover—whose full title is The Big Feminist BUT: Comics about Women, Men and the IFs, ANDs & BUTs of Feminism-–is edited by Joan Reilly and Shannon O’Leary, and features contributors like Hope Larson, Jeffrey Brown, Vanessa Davis, Emily Flake, Shaenon Garrity, Gabrielle Bell, Justin Hall, Ron Rege, Lauren Weinstein, Liz Baillie, Abby Denson, Jesse Reklaw, Kat Roberts, and Dylan Williams. It also includes a brand-new collaboration of mine and Sari’s (she wrote it and I drew it) loosely based on her experiences as a fact-checker for Playboy Magazine.

The book asks:

“What do we really mean when we start a sentence with the disclaimers, ‘I’m not a feminist, BUT…’ or ‘I am 100% a feminist, BUT…’ What do our great big ‘BUTs’ say about where things stand between the sexes in the 21st Century? We asked some of the most talented ladies (and gentlemen) working in comics and animation today, along with some of the smartest writers we know, to ‘but’ into the heated discussion about the much more level but still contradictory playing field both sexes are struggling to find their footing on today. Fans of Bitch Magazine, Jezebel, Love and Rockets, Wonder Woman, Girls and Mad Men will all find something to enjoy here, as will anyone who likes to read thoughtful, compelling, top-notch comics!”

I couldn’t say it any better—order your copy now.

Here’s a sample page from Sari & my piece (the original art of which was purchased by a KickStarter funder):

SW-JN-03-sm

Back my Illustrated Field Guide to Preventing Human-Elephant Conflict KickStarter!

Travel, Work

Trans Africa-Asia Human Elephant Conflict Education ProjectI wanted to let you know about a new project I’m involved with: The Pictorial Guide to Human-Elephant Conflict Education and Resolution.

Human elephant conflict is a serious threat to elephants in both Africa and Asia. You’re no doubt aware of the horrors of the ivory trade and poaching (36,000 elephants slaughtered every year!), but elephants in both continents are also in danger from the encroachment of humans into the animals’ habitats and other factors.

The Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS) is spearheading an education and awareness campaign to combat these issues. The biggest challenge is the vastness of the area, and the scale and magnitude of the problem. The other challenges are that even though human elephant conflict is common to both Africa and Asia, there are regional, geographical, and cultural variables that have to be given consideration. Through its partnerships with local stakeholder organizations, the SLWCS is working with local communities that are the worst affected by human elephant conflicts. Developing the project from a bottom-to-top process through discussion with all stakeholders will ensure that the project surmounts these challenges effectively and delivers the final project product: The Pictorial Guide to Human-Elephant Conflict Education and Resolution.

I’ll be illustrating the field guide, which will be translated into regional languages, and laminated to withstand the rigors of remote wilderness application. It will be distributed in areas throughout Sri Lanka, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. It’s exciting to imagine that my drawings might help educate local communities and help to save elephants from threat!

The SLWCS has launched a KickStarter campaign with a goal of raising $20,000. Two weeks into the campaign, they’ve raised nearly $2,000—but that leaves only two weeks to raise over $18,000. (As with all KickStarter campaigns, the project won’t be funded—and you won’t be charged—if we don’t reach our goal.)

Take a look at the KickStarter page: watch the detailed explanatory video, read the FAQ, and check out some of the thank-you gifts. Please help if you can—and spread the word about this very worthy project.

Comics Class Homework: Copying Crumb

Comics, Tribute, Work
Gurl-Crumb2

A recent assignment in Phoebe Gloeckner‘s Comics & Graphic Narratives class was to copy a page of another artist’s work, the two choices being Charles Burns or R. Crumb. I chose Crumb, the page in question being the opener of the six-page piece “A Gurl,” featuring his Ruth Schwartz character and first published in Big Ass #2 (August 1971). (Oh, that naughty Crumb and his big-butt fetish!)

Both are great artists to emulate, but I chose to copy Crumb because his cross-hatch inking style is so different than mine. (By the way, the rules of the assignment were no tracing or light-boxing; just to copy the page as best you could.) I ditched my normal tool (the Kuretake Sumi Fountain Brush Pen) and picked up a nib for the first time in… Jeez… thirty years! When I tried using a crowquill pen back in high school, I spattered ink all over the place and threw the thing down after twenty minutes. This time was much better, although it’s still a messy business, especially for left-handed me, who’s constantly smudging ink with the side of my palm. Back in high school I was known as “Captain Wite-Out” because of my dependence on the correction fluid. In recent years I’ve found a system (e.g., my brush pen) that’s much less messy, and as a result all my Wite-Out bottles have dried up. But I needed a new bottle for this project!

I hadn’t tried cross-hatching since my ill-fated Joe Sacco phase back in the mid-90s (still to be seen in a few stories in A Few Perfect Hours), and even there it was to create patterns and textures, not to emulate light and shade. For this assignment, even though I did very minimal penciling, choosing to do most of the drawing directly in ink, it still took me absolutely forever to copy the page—at least eight full hours spread over three days.

What did I glean from the exercise? First of all: What an incredible draftsman Crumb is. Not that I didn’t know that already, but there’s nothing like following someone, step for step, to appreciate their mastery. The nuances of his line work and hatching! I could spend a hundred years perfecting my craft and I would never have his light touch. Crumb’s work is also so tactile, so filled with the mass of real life. As I was working I was transported back to bohemian San Francisco, in that room with Crumb as he created the page. I also appreciated his comprehensive knowledge of anatomy. Even though this piece uses exaggeration for humorous/erotic effect, it’s all still based on the real human form (and real window blinds, furniture, rugs, etc.).

Although I felt the assignment was for me to be as slavish as possible, there were a few tangents in Crumb’s original that threw me off. By tangents I mean places where lines in the picture touch each other in awkward ways that disrupt the illusion of three-dimensionality we crave when looking at figurative art. In panel one, these tangents are the Gurl’s left foot, which seems to rest on the bottom of the panel border; and also the toe of her right foot, which perfectly touches the Gurl’s left heel. Far be it from me to correct the master, but tangents bother me! So in my drawing I lowered her left foot just a tad so that it clearly goes below the panel border. And I added a little space between her left and right feet. Probelm solved!

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this exercise. It’s always good to get out of your comfort zone—especially if, like me, you’ve been doing something for a long time. And who knows how it might affect my future work? Time will tell.

So here’s the big reveal: first Crumb’s original page and then my imitation. Just for fun, I’m also throwing in Crumb’s own original sketches for the piece, preliminary drawings from his sketchbook. Enjoy.

R. Crumb's "A Gurl," 1971
Crumb’s original, 1971
"A Gurl" copied by Josh Neufeld from R. Crumb
Josh’s copy, 2013
R. Crumb, preliminary sketches for "A Gurl"
Crumb’s preliminary sketches


Finally, here’s a detail from the original scan of my page before I started liberally applying Wite-Out. Smudge City!

Smudge City!
Smudge City!

Halftime at the Knight-Wallace program: Course update

Comics, Work

Here it is mid-January and I’m already halfway through my fellowship. My study plan is focusing on Bahrain and the Pearl Revolution (as well as the wider Arab Spring), and last semester I tried to take courses which focused on that region:

I also started taking a yearlong fiction writing workshop held once a week at the fellowship headquarters, Wallace House, with a bunch of the other fellows—and which Sari is taking too. That has been a fun and thought-provoking experience, and the skills I’m learning will undoubtedly help my work as a comics writer.

The America and Middle Eastern Wars class was fascinating, and gave me a very strong background on the recent history of the region, and how inextricably tied the U.S. is to everything that happens there (with Bahrain certainly being no exception). The class was taught by the very brilliant Juan Cole (who is also my academic advisor), and at the end of each perfectly crafted lecture I felt like jumping to my feet to applaud. The Quran class was an amazing experience, getting deep into a topic that I really knew nothing about. (I felt very strongly after completing my Cartoon Movement piece on Bahrain that if I was to truly understand the roots of the conflict there I would have to learn more about Islam and the roots of the Sunni-Shia divide.) The fine line the professor walked was treating the Quran as a sacred text (in deference to the many Muslim students in the class) while trying to really unpack it for a Western audience. A lot to chew on. The journalism & ethics class was relevant in the sense that here I am on a journalism fellowship and I had never taken a journalism class before. In the end, I found it incredibly useful—even if it does seem that I often break the “rules” in my own practice as a comics journalist!

But now here it is the Winter semester—which takes us through April and the end of the fellowship—and it’s time to decide what my final few University of Michigan courses will be. Our “head fellow” Charles Eisendrath always encourages us to stretch our horizons, and I’m acutely aware that this may well be the last chance I get to just be a student. I really want to take advantage of the intellectual resources available here at the university. So with that in mind I really pored over the Winter course catalog, looking at classes in Religion, Art & Design, Communications, English, Screen Arts, History, the Humanities, Political Science, Sociology, and even the School of Information. In the end I narrowed it down to three choices, and now after the first full week of classes, I feel pretty good about them:

The Intro to Islam class may sound a bit remedial, but it’s actually the perfect follow-up to the Quran class—and is being taught by the same prof. (In fact, he wrote the book on the topic!) Now that I’ve learned a bit about the Muslim holy book, I can follow its growth as a religion that started in a small portion of modern-day Saudi Arabia and today has spread to be the faith of over 1.6 billion people worldwide. The Apocalyptic Film & TV course, which is cross-listed in both Screen Arts & Cultures and English, is definitely my “fun” course, but I can justify its relevance to my craft by just citing A.D.: a graphic novel about the near-destruction of an entire city. (And aren’t all comics sort of about the end of the world?) Plus, it’s no joke of a class. Major critical theory reading is in store, from Roland Barthes to Jacques Lacan, Susan Sontag to Walter Benjamin. The teacher is younger than me (damn him!) but he’s whip-smart, with a really charismatic classroom presence. The comics class is being taught by the very great Phoebe Gloeckner, and I’m really excited to take part in my first-ever such class! After all, back in the day when I went to high school (and college, natch), academia wouldn’t touch comics with a ten-foot brush. Times have changed in 25+ years…

As I mentioned at the start, time is running out on this gift of a fellowship, and I’m feeling the pressure to squeeze out every ounce. And, what with the classes, twice-weekly fellowship seminars, the fiction writing workshop, and our fellowship’s upcoming trip to Turkey in March, my biggest challenge—as it was last semester—will be just keeping up with the readings.

NOLA pal Blake Boyd has opened a gallery and I'm in the inaugural show!

Publicity, Work

Blake Boyd

Blake Boyd (Brooklyn Cereal), 2011

My New Orleans buddy Blake Boyd—puckish artist & performer—has opened a gallery on Julia Street along with his paramour Ginette Bone. The Boyd Satellite Gallery (“BS” for short!) inaugural show has been curated by Hollywood actor Blake HOWARD Boyd, and it is in honor of our own Blake NELSON Boyd.

Entitled Megalomania, it features work by such esteemed creators as Andres Serrano, Billy Name, Dave Eggers, Al Jaffee, and Steve Martin. And I have a piece in there, too, a pen-and-ink portrait of Blake in homage to his Louisiana Cereal Polaroid portrait project. The show opened on Saturday (I was sad to miss it) and has already gotten some nice coverage from the Times-Picayune and NOLA Defender. Should you be in NOLA for the next few months (the show will be up til mid-February), be sure to check out the show.

Megalomania
Boyd Satellite Gallery
440 Julia Street, New Orleans
Tuesday–Saturday, 9:30–5