Contemporary Literature interview

Contemporary Literature vol. 61, no. 2
Contemporary Literature Summer 2021 (vol. 61, no. 2)

Jonathan Najarian interviewed me about my work for Contemporary Literature, a journal published out of the University of Wisconsin.

In his introduction to the interview, Jon discusses various projects of mine, including A.D.; “The Trump-Russia memos“; “Bahrain: Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand“; “Supply-Chain Superhero“; “A Tale of Two Pandemics,” and others. I was really struck by Jon’s close reading of my work, and his appreciation for the visual details I spend so much time putting in.

The interview is fun to look back on and read—it’s a real conversation, with some good back & forth, and I felt Jon’s questions really pushed me to go deep in my answers. Topics we discussed include whether comics journalism is “real” journalism, what subjects call out to be treated in comics form, collaborating with Brooke Gladstone, how comics are treated in the U.S. as compared to France, the media and Donald Trump, and the insertion of myself into my stories. Shout-outs to Joe Sacco, Scott McCloud, Harvey Pekar, Dean Haspiel, Martha Rosler, and Sari Wilson.

I can say for a fact that Jon’s intro and the interview itself is the most serious treatment of my stuff that I’ve yet seen. I’m blushing here!

Anyway, there’s a short excerpt from the piece here, but I think you have to have an academic journal subscription, or pay a one-time fee, to read the whole thing online.

2015 Wacky U.S. News Wrap-up in Spirou's GROOM

Illustration, Work

Deflategate-colorsThe folks at the venerable Franco-Belgian comics magazine Le Journal de Spirou approached me about contributing to their new publication, GROOM. Like Spirou, Groom is an all-ages publication, but in this case focusing specifically on current events. The inaugural issue of Groom contains stories about terrorism (including Charlie Hebdo), European politics, sports, and various dispatches from far-flung countries like China, Australia, Latin America, Russia, the Middle East, and the good ol’ U.S.A. (I remain continually amazed and impressed at the topics French-language comics touch on, especially in so-called all-ages publications.)

Groom editor Damien Perez asked me to focus on four or five news stories coming out of the U.S. last year that would be particularly shocking for a Francophone audience. So many to choose from! The stories that made the cut were the decision by the State of Utah to bring back executions by firing squadDeflategate; the Rachel Dolezal/NAACP debacle; the Ahmed Mohammed clock incident; and last but definitely not least, the Donald Trump presidency campaign!

Trump-color-nobgIt was funny: when I was pitching the stories to editor Perez, the one he had the most trouble believing was the details of Trump’s vitriol-fueled campaign. As he said, “In the media we often see him as a ‘larger than life man,’ but not dangerous.” To which I responded that Marion Maréchal-Le Pen seems unobjectionable on the surface—it’s her ideas which are dangerous. Touché!

Anyway, this is silly, fun stuff. I hope you enjoy the illos. (For more information on Groom—in English—check out this website, which has also gone to the trouble of translating the Groom editorial page.)

Dolezal-colors Ahmed-colors Utah-colors

La Machine à Influencer invades Angoulême

Influencing Machine, Publicity, Travel, Work

IM-french-cover-final-450pxI’ll be attending my second-ever Angoulême International Comics Festival this week, ostensibly to promote La Machine à Influencer, the French translation of The Influencing Machine. (I’ll also be signing copies of A.D.: Le Nouvelle Orléans Après le Déluge, published back in 2011 by the good folks at La Boîte à Bulles. They’re the ones who brought me to Angoulême the last time, back in 2012, which I’ll be forever grateful for, as this festival is to me like making the pilgrimage to Mecca.)

The French translation (published by Ça et Là) is already the third one for the book, following Korean and Italian editions, with a German translation coming soon. (I already wrote about the evolution of the cover for the French edition in a previous post.) It’s ironic, because when we were working on the book, Brooke kept saying that she didn’t expect much interest from foreign-language publishers because it deals mostly with the unique trajectory of American media. Apparently, however, the book is more universal than even she imagined!

La Machine à Influencer has received a nice reception in France, with the distinguished newspaper Libération even doing a large spread about the book. Despite the fact that Brooke already visited France to promote the book (back in May), it gladdens my heart to be invited as well.

I want to say this without any bitterness whatsoever, but so much of the American reception of The Influencing Machine centered solely on Brooke, to the exclusion of my contributions as co-author. Yes, it’s Brooke’s manifesto, and I illustrated her ideas, but it wouldn’t be a comic book if I hadn’t drawn it. Ya know? In the U.S., the role of “illustrator” often seems to be dismissed, as if it were the work of a soulless machine. (Since I’ve collaborated with so many writers over the years, I can tell you this from long experience, and many of my comic artists cohorts would echo my feelings.) The fact is I sweated over the book for two years, working on it every step of the way from concept to scripts to finished product, and I felt as invested in communicating its “teachings” as anyone else—including Brooke. So, as I was saying, it’s gratifying that Ça et Là’s editor, Serge Ewencyzk, thought enough of my contributions to ask me to come represent La Machine à Influencer at Angoulême. Merci encore, Serge!

It probably doesn’t hurt that in the last few months the book has been blessed with a couple of journalism award nominations. The first one was from the Assises Internationales du Journalisme, a big three-day international congress on journalism which takes place in the northeastern city of Metz. La Machine à Influencer actually won the “Education to media” award, a special category created just for the book. There was a ceremony back in October in Metz, which Serge E. attended and accepted the award on our behalf.

The other prize the book was up for was the Prix France Info, an award for comics which contribute to journalistic understanding. It didn’t win that one, but still—not bad for our little collaboration!

P.S. One other thing: after Angoulême, I’ll be going up to Paris to do some more signings at some Parisian comics stores. One of them, Librairie les Super-Héroes, previously commissioned an exclusive bookplate for which I drew an image of Brooke as Spider-Man (riffing off a panel from the book, with her exclaiming, in French, Spidey’s famous phrase,“with great power comes great responsibility”). And here’s the image in question:


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.

Now up on ACT-I-VATE: "Operation Les Subs"


I'm back home from Lyon and still processing the incredibly, energizing experience of Les Subsistances' "Points de vue, Nouvelles du monde" festival. Today I'm posting the photo comic which served as the introduction to each of my nightly performances. I produced the photocomic in the two days (June 21 –June 22) leading up to the festival. It's a satirical look at the "journaliste BD"'s process of producing a daily comic on the news. (This is an English version — the original is in French.) The beautiful and talented Sari Wilson took the photos.

Once the 120 members of the audience had entered and were seated, the photo comic was projected on a screen, accompanied by a soundtrack. I was waiting in the wings, out of view. Right as the last image came on the screen, I burst into the room (to some applause!), and distributed copies of the day's comic to the crowd. Then (with the help of a translator) I presented the comic on the projector as the audience followed along.

I've set this up so it's Chapter 1 of the "Points de vue" comic. Chapter 2 is my first 8-page mini-mini, on Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei. Chapter 3 is the 8-pager I did on Friday, on the exorbitant fines being handed out to bloggers in Taiwan. Tomorrow, I'll post Chapter 4, the 8-page comic I did on Saturday, the festival's final day.

Operation Les Subs

Now up on ACT-I-VATE, "Ai Weiwei: Free in Body, not in Voice"


Today is the final day of Les Subsistances‘ "Points de vue, Nouvelles du monde" festival. It’s been a thrilling — and exhausting — journey. I’ve really enjoyed mixing with the rest of the participants: Congolese dancer Faustin Linyekula, French experimental theatre company Hauts & Court, Italian theatre troupe Compagny Motus, American radio producer Benjamen Walker, French anthropologist & writer Eric Chauvier, and Haitian-Candian writer Dany Laferrière.

In the two days leading up to the festival, Sari & shot and put together a satirical fumetti (photo comic) about my process as a "journaliste BD." And then each day I researched, wrote, drew, and assembled an eight-page mini-comic in response to a news event of the day. For the first day of the festival (Thursday, June 23, 2011) I chose a story about Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and his release that day from prison.

I’ve just posted the comic up on ACT-I-VATE. I’ve got to get to work on today’s project now, but if I have time I will post yesterday’s project a bit later. Enjoy…

Ai Weiwei

Translated Into French

Publicity, Work

My two-part story, “The Balkan Express,” about my train adventures from Istanbul to Prague, has been translated into French and published in the new anthology, MoCoCo (Modern Cool Comix), by La Boite d’Aluminium. It’s a nice looking 175-page book with contributions from artists from four continents, and if you’re a francophone, you’ll probably enjoy it. I get a big tickle from being translated into French!

Fricken' French!


Remember back in June ’99 when I proudly announced that “A Day in the Life” had been accepted into L’Association’s Comix 2000? Well, it appears I spoke too soon. Here’s part of a letter I recently received from the French publisher:

This letter concern the COMIX 2000 project and we’re afraid it is unfortunately not good news. In fact, L’ASSOCIATION received such projects that we had to reestimate several works at the very end of the selection. In another words we’ve been in the obligation to turn down a few works previously selected. Your work was unfortunately in this position and we have the regret to announce you that at the end you won’t be in the book. We are conscious that it’s not fair at all to cancel a previously positive advice, but we had to be straight with all the elements, even in taking the decision to disappoint some of you…. Of course, you’ll see plenty of works which you’ll judge lower than yours, and it will make another good reason to send us to hell, and well, we’ll go because we have truly no excuse for this….

Boo! Needless to say, I’m very disappointed, not to mention a bit humiliated, since I had made such a point of announcing my inclusion in the book to anybody within earshot over the last six months. Oh, well, at least I got a chuckle over their fragmented syntax. As Ribs Weissman so eloquently put it, this is how they repay us for saving their hash in World Wars I and II?! *sigh*

Josh to contribute to L'Association's Comix 2000

Publicity, Work

I got the good news that my story, “A Day In The Life,” (more commonly known as “West Town Story”) has been accepted in L’Association’s Comix 2000 project. This will be a 2000-page wordless comic demonstrating the state of comics internationally as a living art form. An exhibition of all the work from the project will be held at the huge Angouleme comics festival in the year 2000. I’m very excited by this opportunity to expose my work to readers outside of the United States and to be part of such a monumental end-of-the-century, time-capsule-like project.