Evolution of a book cover: The Influencing Machine en français

Influencing Machine

IM-french-excerptToday marks the debut of the French translation of The Influencing Machine, my collaboration with Brooke Gladstone. The publisher is Ça et Là, run by one of my favorite people in comics, Serge Ewenczyk. This is the third translation of the book, which had already benefitted from two great cover designs in hardcover (Mark Melnick) and then paperback (Albert Tang):

im-cover-150px IF-paperback-cover-sm

And here are the previous translated editions, in Korean and Italian, also both very cool:

IF-Korean-cover-sm IF-Italian-cover-sm

Serge asked me to draw the cover for the French edition, saying that neither of the American editions would work for French audiences. so here’s a blow-by-blow of the process involved. IM-french-cover-mockup1-450pxHis first suggestion was to create something similar to a panel on page 37 of the book, with Brooke in front of a wall of screens/panels showing TV scenes but also illustrations connected to other media, like press and radio. (I have to also say here that the composition and some of the images on p. 37 itself pay homage to Alan Moore and Dave GibbonsWatchmen—think back to the scenes in Ozymandias‘ Antarctic lair.) As always, my first step was to rough up a couple of sketches. Both went for the idea of “the media” as a sinister, controlling force—even though, utlimately, the book disputes that thesis. The first sketch was pretty straightforward—a spooked-looking Brooke in front of a row of screens…

Bang! Zoom! The Power of Narrative conference 2014

Comics

Last week I was a guest of the 16th annual Power of Narrative journalism conference, held in Boston at BU. Having seen that last year’s guests included Symbolia editor Erin Polgreen, I was curious about what went on—next thing I knew, conference organizer (and BU journalism prof) Mark Kramer had invited me to be part of it. I’m so grateful I had the experience.

What immediately appealed to me about the conference was its similarity in spirit to the Knight-Wallace Fellowship: an opportunity for me to rub shoulders with accomplished professional journalists and absorb their accumulated wisdom. (Attendees consisted of a number of Boston Globe staffers, but also a large contingent from the New York Times, not to mention dozens of editors and reporters from the rest of the journalism landscape.) Of course, despite my having been on the KWF fellowship, I was (and am) still insecure about my craft. (More about that later.) But during our initial chat it became clear that Mark was familiar with my work. He noted that the inherent intimacy of the comics form taps into the reader’s whole persona, not just his/her “indignant voice”—thus opening up a larger “emotion set.” And in Mark’s opinion, my work was committed to “non-fancifulness.” Welcome news to me!

A week or so before the conference, I sat down for a quick Q&A with conference assistant coordinator Jenni Whalen, in which I discussed my storytelling process, the kinds of stories I gravitate towards, and the challenges of “comics journalism.” They posted the interview on the conference Tumblr.

The conference was a packed two days (I had to leave a day early to make it back down to NYC for MoCCA Fest). I arrived Friday just in time to check into my hotel (the very fab Hotel Commonwealth) and register in time for the opening keynote speech, by Jacqui Banaszynski of “AIDS in the Heartland” fame. Her speech, on courage, craft, & compassion, was an inspiring start. That was followed by an engaging and witty conversation between the TimesDavid Carr and The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates. Both speakers are savvy personalities with approachable manners, able to express really smart things while sounding like “regular guys.” (Carr was seminar speaker last year in Michigan while I was on my fellowship.) Both speakers advised the audience to not get too caught up in technology—people will always want to “gather around the campfire”—and Carr reminded us to “not to forget to imitate a human being while you do your job.” I think the most most trenchant thing I took from the conversation was Carr’s quip about Twitter—especially those who live-tweet from a VIP show or (humble)brag about hanging with X, Y, or Z celebrity: “What you think makes you look cool actually makes you look like a douche.” Ka-zing!

Other keynote speakers at the conference included Raney Aronson-Rath, Dan Barry, and Adam Hochschild. I really enjoyed a Saturday panel I attended on the subject of voice. Panelists included Jacqui Banaszynski, the very brilliant Mark Kramer, and writing guru Roy Peter Clark. The room was packed with deeply engaged journalists, with people (like myself) standing in the aisles. There was a strong point made in the beginning that it’s important to differentiate between voice and “style.” Mark talked about the dry voice of newspapers like the Times and the Washington Post, and how as you reduce the formality of your tone you become more human, inviting the reader to explore more parts of the human spirit. (See his earlier comments about comics.) I thought about the choices I’ve made over the years in framing my stories: why did I tell “How to Star in a Singaporean Soap Opera” in the second person? Why did I tell “Josh and I” from the perspective of my mirror self? I think these questions were all about finding the right voice for the story in question. It struck me that much of the discussion could have been in the context of a graduate-level creative writing course.

Later on that afternoon, I sat on a panel with Kramer and the equally smart Boston Globe reporter Farah Stockman on the subject of “How Much (or Little) Can You Make Up.” We talked about some notorious journalistic made-up moments: Rick Bragg, Patricia Smith, Mike Barnicle. (We didn’t even get into over-the-top fabricators like Janet Cooke and Stephen Glass.) Mark made the good point about Rick Bragg’s unattributed use of an intern’s prose that the piece felt like “the poet was present”—thus breaking the bonds of reliability and trustworthiness.

For me, what came out of the discussion most clearly was that forum matters—a newspaper projects a certain standard of veracity, whereas a single author’s book carries other expectations. As Kramer said, it’s all about playing fair with the reader—one Janet Cooke screws it up for everyone.

This led into a discussion of my practice as a so-called comics journalist—which often results in a messy mixture of journalism and art. For instance, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, though based on extensive interviews, research, photographic research, and so on, has a number of scenes with reconstructed (e.g., made up) dialogue. I made those choices for the purposes of the story flow; a much more elegant choice than using caption boxes to summarize scenes or boring panels of talking heads. Comics 101: I always try to show instead of tell. Other examples of this from A.D. include how one of the characters (“Darnell”) is someone I never met, interviewed, or even saw a picture of. (I based his representation on my interviews with “Abbas.”) I showed the audience parts of another section from A.D., where I used the actual incidence of a sign being blown off Abbas’ store to bridge a scene—the sign comes careening down the street into Denise’s neighborhood, setting up an establishing shot of her building. I also talked about how I’ve always tried to be up front and transparent about these practices.

As a counterpoint, however, I showed the group the moment in the story when Denise, scared for her life during the storm, jumps onto her bed, screaming “I’m gonna die in this bitch.” It was such a great line that one of the story’s readers (when it was originally posted online) felt that it was too good to be true, that it took him out of the reality of the story. But then Denise herself jumped onto the comment board to confirm she had indeed said those exact words!

One of the audience members pushed back a bit at my practice, and I didn’t really have a solid rebuttal. I’m still figuring this stuff out—what are the “rules” of comics journalism? In my solo panel the next day, I tried to get into the issue a bit more, showing excerpts of Lukas Plank’s recent comics essay on comics journalism best practices. We agreed that these are issues worth considering, but that pasting an icon on each and every panel to signify whether it’s based on an interview, an audio recording, a scientific paper, first-hand experience, or the “inner experience of the protagonist” would be clumsy, inefficient, and impractical.

The last panel I was on was called “Five Speakers, Five Genres.” My fellow panelists were multimedia producer Val Wang, video journalist Travis Fox, photographer Essdras M. Suarez, and feature writer Meghan Irons, and it was really interesting to me to see how much in all of our practices the demands of “art” converge with the demands of journalism.

I was definitely the “token” comics journalist at the conference, and a bit of an oddity, which isn’t always a bad thing. BBC’s Newshour found out about me being at the show, and on Saturday afternoon I was interviewed by Julian Marshall about my work and comics journalism in general. (I gave Joe Sacco a major shout-out, of course.) Later on, there was a book signing, and I autographed my share of copies of A.D.—as well as a few issues of The Vagabonds #3!

Late that night, I left on the train back to New York completely exhausted and exhilarated—and still confused about what to call what I do.

Evolution of a book cover: Piracy Crusade

Illustration

PC-cover-final-150pxI illustrated the cover of Aram’s Sinnrich‘s new book, Piracy Crusade: How the Music Industry’s War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties (University of Massachusetts Press), and I thought I’d take you through the process.

As the title indicates, Sinnreich’s argument is that so-called “piracy” is really the battle between those who believe information (e.g., music) should be shared and the media cartels who want to control that flow. In the spirit of openness, Aram even made a draft of the book available online under a Creative Commons license.

Before I got to work, Aram and I talked a little bit about the cover. (Unlike with my previous book cover, for Alissa Quart’s Republic of Outsiders, Aram was acting as his own “art director” on the project, so I dealt directly with him.) One thing he was keen to include was traditional pirate ship/pirate flag imagery, as well as the symbols for copyright and “copyleft” (essentially, the same concept as the Creative Commons movement). He even drew up a sketch, which featured two tall-masted ships firing on each other, with the cannon balls, smoke, and water splashes forming a “Jolly Roger” death’s head between the ships. His drawing looked like this:

Evolution of a book cover: Republic of Outsiders

Illustration, Plug, Publicity

I illustrated the cover of Alissa Quart’s new book, Republic of Outsiders: The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers and Rebels (The New Press), and I thought I’d take you through the whole process.

The book is about how a diverse group of outsiders who seek to redefine a wide variety of fields—from film and mental health to diplomacy and music, from how we see gender to what we eat—are succeeding in various ways in changing the status quo. So from the get-go the initial concept was to show a large crowd of people on the cover, something to convey the idea of “here comes everybody.” The book’s particular subjects—including  an Occupy Wall Street “alternative banker,” a transgender activist, an autistic artist, and indie musician Amanda Palmer—would be prominently featured at the front of the crowd.  I wanted the art to “bleed,” to extend past the edge of the cover, to help convey the “infinite” size of the crowd of amateurs, dreamers, and outcasts (at that point the book was subtitled “The Power of Rebels, Amateurs, and Outcasts”).

My initial sketch looked like this:

RoO-sketch-lorez

The client was pretty happy with the sketch, with their only major comment regarding the Amanda Palmer figure. Because of some recent negative press, they asked me to downplay her somehow—suggesting I “anonymize her, so she could be a more generic glam genderbending figure.” I pointed out that with my cartoony style I doubted many people who would recognize the character as Amanda Palmer, but I was happy to do as they asked.

We also agreed that I would hand-letter the title and other cover lettering. Given that, the client felt the subtitle needed a little more air. At that point, I came up with the idea of the crowd holding signs making up the words of the subtitle. I thought it further sold the concept of this group being paet of a movement effecting change on society.

This was my first attempt at the pencils (the blue outline shows the bleed and the crop marks of the actual book dimensions):

RoO-pencils-lorez

Although generally happy with the pencils, the client asked for some changes. There was some concern that the central figure (based on a real-life autistic artist was “too prominent and particular.” One way they suggested to do that was to eliminate the plastic iguana she was holding and make her expression less vacant; the second adjustment took care of another unresolved issue, which was how to display the author’s name. They came up with the idea of setting in a foreground sign which also would partly cover the autistic character. In addition, feeling that the “Amanda Palmer” avatar was too aggressive, they asked me to tone down her expression a bit as well.

At this point, I was a bit concerned about the changes being requested because frankly I thought they weakened the impact of the image. My understanding of the project was that the people on the cover were outsiders dancing to the beat of their own drums—and succeeding by doing that. And my feeling was the client’s suggestions were making the cover blander and less memorable. But… in the end, they were the client (who is always right ;->). I expressed my reservations and made the changes they asked for. (I also found out later that there were some legal concerns regarding the autistic artist character, who is only referred to by her first name, Katie, in the book…)

Finally, they asked me to replace the chunky “Outsider” title lettering with a simpler “font.”

This is what the second round of pencils looked like:

RoO-pencils2a-450px

By this point, the client and I were pretty much on the same page, and they gave me the go-ahead to proceed to inks. Wait! There was one more last-minute change: the subtitle of the book was changed from “The Power of Rebels, Amateurs, and Outcasts” to “The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers and Rebels”. So, here are the inks:

RoO-inks2-lorez

After a little more back-and-forth (thankfully, nothing too onerous), they gave me permission to color the piece, which I did in PhotoShop. As is my wont, I went with a reduced color palette, focusing mostly on greens and yellows, with a optimistic blue sky and red lettering to really pop. Here’s how it looked:

RoO-colors-lorez

The first color treatment made it all the way up the line to publisher, but she felt the palette was “too retro.” The client’s direction was to “maybe lighten the skin tones and add a bit more cyan to the clothes, so they’re not so contrasty with the sky.” Given how “unrealistic” the original color treatment was, I  was prepared for some pushback, and thought their comments made sense. So I warmed up the skin tones and made a few other adjustments (including making the “Katie ” painting a bit more distinctive from the rest of the scene). I thought the changes relieved the “monotony” of the original color treatment while staying true to my original concept:

RoO-colors2-lorez

Success! Everyone liked the new color treatment. So I was done, right?

Wrong! When it came to mocking up the book, the artwork on the right-hand side didn’t extend far enough to cover the bleed on to the dust cover flap. Left as-is it would show the art “fading away”—which I thought undermined the “infinite” feeling of the crowd. They also wanted the line “author of Branded and Hothouse Kids” added underneath the author’s name. So… I went back to the drawing board (literally) and extended the artwork to the right (as well as adding the “author of” line in PhotoShop, using a font of my lettering). And, voila:

RoO-revise-lorez

We were finally done! This is how the “mechanical” (front, back, flaps, and crop marks) looked on publication:

Republic-of-Outsiders_1st-mech-lorez

The book came out last month, and it’s been cool seeing my work on the cover—a first for a book I did not myself draw.

After all the back and forth, I obviously felt very connected to the process, and to all the individual decisions that led to the distinctive final product. So I was a bit chagrined when this image was brought to my attention: the cover of Eric Alterman’s 2008 book, Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America (Viking), illustrated by the very brilliant Tom Tomorrow

Alterman-WhyWe'reLiberals-cover-lorez

Oops! I don’t remember ever seeing that book cover before, I swear!

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!

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!

"Stowaway," my new comics journalism piece, debuts on The Atavist today

Comics, Publicity, Travel, Work

The boutique digital publisher The Atavist releases Stowaway today, a new comics journalism piece by Tori Marlan and myself.

Atavist No. 17, Stowaway, is an “enhanced e-comic” that traces the 12,000-mile journey of an orphan from Ethiopia to America. Stowaway follows Fanuel on his odyssey from the streets of Addis Ababa to the deserts of Mexico, through the Atavist’s immersive storytelling technology, which includes sound, music, video, and interactive graphics. Fifteen-year-old Fanuel dodges authorities while relying on complete strangers as he struggles to find a mysterious woman in Seattle named Sofia,who is his last hope for the future. This is the first Atavist story to be available through the Web as well as The Atavist tablet app. The App version can be downloaded from the iTunes store.

The Atavist’s software team created a custom comics app which includes panel-by-panel navigation and a soundtrack integrated with all of the traditional extras features the Atavist is known for, like interactive maps, timelines, background interviews, and animations—all in the service of bringing the reader into Fanuel’s uncertain world as he tries to hold onto a dream which at times seems to disintegrate before his eyes. Extra features include a five-minute interview with Tori and me which also shows various stages of production of the piece, from script to thumbnails, pencils, inks, and colors. And the compelling soundtrack is by my brother-in-law Evan Wilson!

Tori, who I’ve known since the early 1990s, first met Fanuel in 2006 while doing research at the International Children’s Center in Chicago. She eventually learned the details of his journey to the U.S. Although Tori’s background is investigative print reporting, and she had never worked in nonfiction comics before, she felt strongly that a graphic approach would bring Fanuel’s story to the public in a unique way. Our collaboration developed organically.

Stowaway is $3, either through the app or on the Web. To learn more, visit http://www.atavist.com/stowaway.

This Wednesday at the Rubin Museum: Karma-Con: Unveiling

Publicity

The final component of the Rubin Museum‘s “Karma-Con” approaches. This Wednesday, April 18, the Rubin will unveil the finished illustrations of the “Cartoonists’ Wheel of Life.” After interacting with the art that inspires us, discussing the significance and merit of the Wheel of Life as an artistic image, working collaboratively in an open studio setting and individually in our own studios, artists Molly Crabapple, Sanya Glisic, Ben Granoff, Rodney Greenblat, Steven Guarnaccia, Michael Kupperman, Katie Skelly, and myself unveil our completed works as a unified Wheel of Life.

As I’ve mentioned before, my section is the world of humans. The human world is typically portrayed as one of suffering. These deprivations include:

  • hunger
  • thirst
  • heat
  • cold
  • separation from friends
  • being attacked by enemies
  • not getting what they want
  • getting what they don’t want

Humans also suffer from the general maladies of:

  • pain of childbirth
  • old age
  • sickness
  • death

A careful viewer will see examples of all these sufferings in my image, as well as allusions to the Occupy Wall Street movement (and a sneaky self-portrait of the artist).

The evening includes a Himalayan happy hour & spiral music, a pre-program tour of the Wheel of Life and second floor galleries, the unveiling of the new Wheel of Life and a discussion with the artists moderated by comics historian Christopher Irving, and a post-program tour of the accompanying exhibit Hero, Villain, Yeti: Tibet in Comics. And did I mention the whole evening is free?!

Karma-Con: Unveiling
Rubin Museum
Wednesday April 18, 2012 @ 7:00 PM

See below for a sneak-peek at my section from when it was in progress. And check out the Rubin’s page on the event for the full details.

Wheel of Life: Humans

I'll be on WBAI tonight discussing the Rubin Museum's Wheel of Life comics project

Illustration, Publicity, Work

Tonight, starring at about 9:40 pm, I will be on WBAI 99.5 FM here in NYC discussing the Rubin Museum’s Karma-Con series. Along with fellow cartoonists Katie Skelly and Rubin Museum curator Beth Citron, we’ll be guests on WBAI’s Asia Pacific Forum. We’ll talk about the cartoonists’ Wheel of Life project and the ongoing exhibition “Hero, Villain, Yeti: Tibet in Comics.”

On April 18, myself and a group of other local cartoonists/illustrators will unveil our reinterpretations of segments of the Tibetan Wheel of Life (also known as the Wheel of Becoming, a representation of Buddhist beliefs about life, death, and rebirth). I was given my section last week (at the very enjoyable “Studio Salon“), and I’m in the middle of completing it. My section is the world of Humans, and I’m having fun trying to depict the various suffering we go through in our attempt to reach enlightenment. Here’s a sneak peak of how it’s looking so far…

Wheel of Life: Humans