Indie Bookstore Week


In honor of Indie Bookstore Week, I was asked to say a few words about the importance of indie bookstores at last night’s kick-off party, held at powerHouse Arena in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

My experience with independent retailers started in the comics world. As a young self-publisher, I took my photocopied mini-comics and zines to stores like See Hear, St. Mark’s Comics, and Jim Hanley’s Universe. They would often buy the books outright at a 50% split or do it on a consignment basis. Those stores were totally welcoming to an upstart like myself, and even had special places on their racks for the kind of stuff I was doing. It meant so much to know that these stores cared enough to support young creative types with stories to tell. And of course the fact that those stores supported my work made me that much more curious about what other comics they carried. As a reader, I was turned on to many new artists and books by such independent-minded stores.

Later, when I self-published A Few Perfect Hours, I was welcomed by stores like JigSaw (now sadly closed) and Book Court, which not only agreed to sell the books but even arranged an event, where I showed a PowerPoint presentation of some stories from the book, read the stories aloud, and had a signing.

And now with my new graphic novel, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, even though I’m being published by a “major” publisher, Pantheon is completely dedicated to supporting independent retailers. On my book tour, I had great events at Book People in Austin, Octavia Books in New Orleans, the Book Cellar in Chicago, and Brookline Booksmith in Boston.

And I’ve had a number of events in New York — all taking place in independent bookshops: Idlewild Books, McNally Jackson, Book Court, and right here at Powerhouse Arena. Not to mention the new comics retailer Bergen Street Comics, which is modeled very much on the mold of a bookstore rather than that of the traditional dark and stinky comic book store.

One thing I’ve really come to appreciate on this tour through the country’s top independent retailers is how responsive they are to their local community. And how real communities actually form around the stores. The fact that so many stores nowadays feature cafes and hold really interesting readings and events really helps. For the most part, you don’t get that sense in Barnes & Noble’s, Borders, and — obviously — Amazon. (For instance, because of some corporate decision, A.D. is only available in the “History of Louisiana” section in Barnes & Noble’s — who even knew there was a “History of Louisiana” section?! — and not with the other graphic novels. And the Border’s in midtown doesn’t have my book at all, because they only seem to stock superhero trades.

And it seems to me at least that the economic model of the indie bookstore is working, with new local stores opening up all over the place, like Unnameable Books and Greenlight Books, both in my neighborhood — while the big chain stores seem to be slipping fast.

Most of all, I feel like each of the independent stores I’ve been to are reflections of the quirkiness of the owner and the store employees. From the minute you step inside, you get the sense how much the people who run these places just love books.

A.D. lands @ Idlewild


[Wherein I continue my rundown of the A.D. book tour, picking up back home in NYC on August 25, 2009. Will I ever catch up?]

A.D.‘s New York book launch and benefit was held at Idlewild Books on August 25. I had just gotten back from New Orleans the day before and barely had time to catch my breath before diving back into the fray. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way, given this chance to celebrate the book’s release with so many local friends and family. And so many of them did attend, including both sets of my parents, Sari’s folks, most of our brothers and their significant others, a cousin, and many, many friends, both new and old — far too many to list — including a generous helping of my compatriots from the cartooning community. I was truly touched by the outpouring of love and support for the book (and me!).

The party was also a benefit for Common Ground Relief, and was augmented by beer, wine, snacks, pralines flown in from NOLA, and best of all, the live music of Mary McBride! By all accounts, it was a smashing success, as the place was packed for the whole three hours. My only complaint — and it’s not a real one — is I didn’t get a chance to say more than the most cursory hello to anyone, as I was kept occupied pretty much the whole time signing people’s books. In that way, someone likened the event to a wedding, and it was like my wedding day in the sense that it is all now a happy blur.

I do know it actually happened, thanks to my wonderful ex-assistant Rachel, who videotaped my rambling incoherent (and ultimately teary) speech of thanks at the event, which if you insist on viewing can be seen here. Also, just as things were heating up, Jason Boog of GalleyCat did a video interview with me, which can be seen here. And my good pal (a.k.a. Heidi MacDonald) covered the event for Publishers Weekly’s "The Beat," which you can read here (even though, weirdly, I am not pictured!).

In the end, Idlewild sold out of all 75 copies of A.D. — and the benefit raised $1,200 for Common Ground! Big ups to the Big Apple!



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:
(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


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.

Tonight: Comics slideshows in NYC

A.D., Comics

Cartoonist R. Sikoryak kindly invited me to participate in his semi-regular “Carousel” show of slide shows and other projected pictures. I plan on showing some material from A.D. as well as joining Sari for a dramatic reading of a story from my previous book A Few Perfect Hours. Other reader/performers that night include Sikoryak, man_size, Tim Kreider, Brian Dewan, Jim Torok, and Kriota Wilberg. If you’re in the NYC-area, it should be a fun night. Here are the relevant details:

Dixon Place
161 Chrystie Street (btwn. Rivington & Delancey)
New York, NY
April 30, 2009, 8 pm
$15 ($12 students/seniors)
HOWEVER, If “Carousel” isn’t seem like your kind of thing, how about ambling over to MoCCA for the World War 3 Illustrated #39 release party? Now in it’s 28th year of publication! Join them to celebrate the publication of the new issue with live performances by contributors, featuring multimedia presentations of art by:
  • Peter Kuper
  • Mac Mcgill
  • Paula Hewitt Amram
  • Sabrina Jones
  • Eric Drooker
  • Kevin Pyle
  • Chuck Sperry
  • and many others
  • with an animated film by Onur Tukel

Live music by Eric Blitz, Steve Wishnia, Andy Laties, Breeze and others. Details:

World War 3 Illustrated #39 Release Party
Museum of Comic & Cartoon Art
594 Broadway, Suite 401
New York, NY
April 30, 2009 7-9PM
Donation suggested (free for MoCCA Members)

Jerome Avenue in the Bronx


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!

Phoebe sez: "Grass = Bleaugh"


This is Phoebe, taking over my dad’s blog to get something off my chest:

I hate to be a hater, BUT I THINK GRASS SUCKS! I’ve heard nice things about lawns and fields in the past, but I didn’t have to actually touch any of it. When they created urban parks, they put in plenty of paved spaces and concrete playgrounds in a concerted effort to appeal to city kids like myself, which they balanced with some grassy areas to appeal to “nature lovers.” But now there’s more and more grass starting to appear everywhere.

For instance, right near my apartment building, there’s a big grassy area in front of the Brooklyn Museum. Yesterday my mom and dad set me down there, so I could crawl around a bit or even practice “cruising” against the low wall which abuts it. But the instant I touched the turf, I just started to cry. Granted, it is “spring,” which is probably the most intense growing period for natural things like flowers and trees and the like, but it’s crazy out there: grass, grass, grass, everywhere you look! I can’t say enough how unpleasant it is to feel those sharp individual blades on my delicate little hands.

And today my parents brought me to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden! They wheeled me onto this big green expanse and just sat down, plop! in the middle of it. I wasn’t having any of it, even thought my dad plucked some individual blades to show me how “harmless” they were. To me, nothing about grass is appealing. It’s all natural, and green, and multi-faceted. And how can something be both sharp and soft—at the same time?! Sure, I saw lots of other kids running and rolling around on the lawn, seeming to have a good time. But even if I had seen, say, another nine-month-old I knew, that lawn was no environment in which to bite another kid’s arm or drool on their toys.

So now I know I can skip this grass stuff in the future and just stick to safe places like my living room rug or the kitchen linoleum. If nothing else, the experience reminds me why cities were created, and how anachronistic (and insulting!) grass in urban areas is in terms of its attempt to bring “nature” to the civilized world.

Join the COMIC BOOK CLUB with me next Tuesday

A.D., Comics, Publicity

COMIC BOOK CLUB: A Live Weekly Talk Show about Comic Books

Hosted by Justin Tyler, Pete LePage, and Alex Zalben

Tuesday, November 20 @ 8:00 PM

jahfurry aka Jeff Newelt (SMITH Comix Editor, Heeb)
dangoldman aka Dan Goldman (Shooting War)
4_eyez aka Josh Neufeld aka yours truly (A.D., American Splendor)

Tickets: $5
Phone: 1-800-838-3006
Questions? 212-563-7488

The Peoples Improv Theater
154 West 29th Street, 2nd Floor
Between 6th and 7th Aves.

Check out the website:, or on MySpace:

The show is sponsored in part by Midtown Comics

Rodent Football!


Ah, New York in the fall. The air is crisp, the night lights shine brighter, and the rats are for kickin’!

Tonight’s garbage night on Eastern Parkway, and as Sari and I were walking home, we passed pile after pile of garbage bags. One particular stack of bags shuddered just as I came by, and before I had a chance to react, I felt something hit my foot in mid-stride. It bounced off one foot and hit the other. At first I thought I had somehow stumbled and kicked my own foot, but it didn’t feel like that. Sari jumped, and I turned my head just in time too see a big ol’ rat butt disappearing into the nearby shrubbery.

“Did I just kick a rat?!” Yes, indeed. Seems the scared rodent thought the smart thing to do was shoot the wickets — but was a split second too slow. Ah well, he seemed no worse for wear — that thing was solid! Maybe some bruised ribs? And a good story to tell his rat grandchildren some day.