9/11 + 10

On September 11, 2001, I had actually woken up early (for me, at that time, pre-Phoebe). I had gotten up at 8 am so I could go with Sari to vote in the N.Y. primary election being held that day. (The election was later cancelled and rescheduled.) Then Sari went off on the subway to work at her job near Madison Square Park in Manhattan, where her train unknowingly passed under the World Trade Center right as the first plane hit the North Tower. By the time Sari made it to work, the second tower had also been hit. I called her at work to relay the news, and the South tower fell as we were talking, which cut us off.

Though I was able to reconnect with Sari a short time later, I spent much of the morning freaking out, watching the second tower fall from the roof of my building, and meeting up in Park Slope with my good buddy Dean Haspiel (aka man_size). It was all too stunning, surreal, and horrific to truly understand.

Sari left work shortly after the second tower fell and watched TV, and the smoking craters, from the balcony of her sister-in-law's house. She finally decided to walk home over the Manhattan Bridge, where I met her later in the afternoon.

Song for September 11I tell the rest of the story in my three-page comic "Song for September 11," which you can read on ACT-I-VATE. Shortly after 9/11, Alternative Comics publisher Jeff Mason suggested doing a benefit anthology for the Red Cross, and I was invited to contribute. I wrote and drew the piece in November 2001 and it was published in the anthology 9/11: Emergency Relief in January 2002. You can read a little background about the piece on Comic Book Resources. The Library of Congress asked me for the original art for "Song for September 11;" the pages are now in their archives in Washington, D.C.

In 2006, on the 5th anniversary of 9/11, I did another 9/11-related piece, the one-page "Post-Traumatic Skyscraper Anxiety," which you can also read on ACT-I-VATE. The piece was recently published in print in Cousin Corrinne's Reminder #3. There's a video of me reading the piece here.

In many ways the experience of 9/11 led me to volunteering for the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina. Both catastrophes led me to make art. I muse on the connection in the paper, "Filtering Catastrophe Through Comics," which I wrote for a panel I was on earlier this year.

As I listen to the roll-call of names of those lost on September 11 at the World Trade Center, I devoutly hope to never witness such tragedy again.
a.d. paperback

Katrina, Year 6. Irene, Year 1?

In late August 2005 I was at Sari's parents' house in the Berkshires as Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the U.S. Gulf Coast. It was a frustrating, heart-wrenching time, made worse by our being so far "off the grid." As I wrote at the time, "We've got spotty radio reception, no TV, only the occasional New York Times, and a slow dial-up connection, so my ability to comprehend the enormity of the Katrina disaster is severely curtailed."

Last Sunday, Sari, Phoebe, and I came up to Sari's parents' place in Austerlitz, NY, or a two-week working vacation. Summer camp is out, Phoebe starts pre-K after Labor Day, and we've been enjoying the end of summer here in the "country." And now, with a new hurricane forming — ironically heading to my neck of the woods — it all comes around again.

The house still has no TV, but they've upgraded to DSL, which helps us stay abreast of things. Like the residents of the Gulf Coast back in '05, we're tuning into the latest developments, doing our own storm-tracking, and preparing for things like power outtages, flooding, and the like. But here in the Berkshires, Irene shouldn't be too bad, nothing how it could impact coastal areas from the Carolinas all the way to New York City. Our whole lives — our home, our friends, most of our family — are back there, and once again I'm absent — not there to experience the event for myself, to prepare, to help do what I can. And if the storm is bad enough here to knock out our electricity, I'll be just as in the dark (literally) as I was six years ago. Actually, more so!

As you know, the events of Katrina prompted me to volunteer with the Red Cross; which led me to getting trained in disaster relief; which led to me being deployed to Biloxi, MS; which led to Katrina Came Calling; which led (iindirectly) to A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. I'm glad New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, as they continue to rebuild from Katrina (and Hurricane Rita), have mostly escaped nature's fury since 2005; the fact is we on the East Coast are far less prepared than they were. And all we can do here is watch, wait, and hope for the best.

By the way, the upcoming anniversary has instigated a few journals to cite A.D. Here are a few recent mentions:

CrowdSourcing Experiment: Please Help me Identify a 1970s Western

Hey, so I got this idea from a Tumblr post by actor James Urbaniak from some months back. Basically, someone sent an email around asking for help identifying an obscure movie they had seen when they were a kid. The poor person had tried Amazon, cult film fan sites, and even the guy who ran the famous L.A. video store, Jerry’s Video, with no luck. Well, Urbaniak posted it and within minutes someone identified the film: Psychomania.

I have a similar dilemma. Some time in the mid-1970s (I would say 1976 or 1977), I saw a Western movie that left an impression on me. One character I distinctly remember is a young gunslinger everyone called "the Punk." He had a bad attitude and even shot a few guys during the film. I remember a scene where the streets of a town were inundated with mud, the only reprieve being a series of shoddy wooden "sidewalks."

What makes this dilemma tougher is that I saw the film in San Diego in a revival house that sometimes showed first-run films but mostly older movies. So the film could've been from anytime in the previous five or ten years. (It was in color and had a very distinct, post-Watergate, Vietnam-era vibe to it, though...)

Like the other memory-impaired film buff, I've had no luck tracking down what movie this was. For a while I thought it was Robert Altman's 1971 anti-Western, McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Some of the scenes seemed familiar, and there's a young outlaw called the Kid in it. But I saw the film again recently, and it doesn't feel to me like it was the movie I'm thinking of. On the other hand, I'm quite to prepared to be told I imagined the whole thing. After all, I was only about ten years old at the time.

Anyway, I thought if I put it out there, maybe someone on the interwebs will know the film and identify it for me.



I strongly encourage you to get a copy of Hurricane Story, the beautiful cloth-bound art book by New Orleans-based photographer Jennifer Shaw. Just out this month from Broken Levee Books (an imprint of Chin Music Press), the slim 7" x 7" volume boasts an eloquent foreword by my old buddy/collaborator Rob Walker.

Here's the book jacket description, which of course doesn't do justice to the photos themselves:

Jennifer Shaw was nine months pregnant when Hurricane Katrina blew into the Gulf. In the early hours of August 28, 2005, she and her husband loaded up their truck with their two dogs, two cats, photo negatives, important papers, and a few changes of clothes. They evacuated to a motel in southern Alabama and tried to avoid watching the news. Monday, August 29, brought two life-changing events: the destruction of New Orleans and the birth of a son.

Using a simple Holga camera, Shaw narrates her six thousand-mile journey with dreamy and haunting photographs of toys that illustrate her emotional state during a time of exile, waiting, and eventual homecoming.

Hurricane Story is a fairytale of birth and death, joy and sadness, innocence and infinite despair. Through the unexpected device of the Holga camera and the toy dioramas, all the familiar images of the Katrina story are brought back to vivid life, reminding even the most jaded reader of what it felt like to live through those dark days.

The book's beautifully staged tableaux are alternately sweet and menacing, filled with emotion but never spilling over into sentimentality. The book is highly personal yet somehow universal, mournful yet playful, striking a balance which to me seems perfectly New Orleanian.

The poetic marriage of words and photos makes Hurricane Story a children's book — or, if you will, a "graphic novel" — for grown-ups.

For links to purchasing a copy, click here.


Seth Kushner's HARVEY PEKAR Tribute

Today is the one-year anniversary of Harvey Pekar's death. One of the more extraordinary homages appearing today is Seth Kushner's photo comic, "Harvey Pekar: Tribute to 'Our Man.'" (It's #25 of Seth's CulturePop series on ACT-I-VATE.) Weaving wonderful photos of Harvey with Pekar's own words, it takes the reader through his remarkable life and career. People like Harvey's wife Joyce Brabner, the filmmakers behind the American Splendor movie, and collaborators like Dean (man_size ) Haspiel, Jeff (jahfurry) Newelt, and Joseph Remnant make appearances as well. (Oh, and I'm in there too.) It's memoir, it's photography, it's comics — it's Seth's unique form of creative expression. Please check it out: http://act-i-vate.com/104-25-1.comic.

P.S. Another nice tribute is KCRW's re-broadcast of a 2003 conversation between Harvey and Elvis Mitchell: http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/tt/tt030813harvey_pekar

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

Off to Lyon with Les Subsistances

So I'm flying to Lyon, France, tonight, for a week. I've been invited by the "international creative research laboratory" Les Subsistances to take part in "Points de vue, nouvelles du monde." For three days, me and a group of other creative spirits will create “on the spot” evening news bulletins in response to the events of the day (as reported by Agence France Press). 

As Les Subsistances explains: "We know about and react to world news more and more quickly. What should we do with this overload of information? Distance ourselves from it? What if artists could transform news into ideas, into a vision? Les Subsistances asked four artists, two writers, and one web-radio producer to create "on the spot" reactions to news topics. Every morning, each of them will select a news story and they will have all day to develop a performance or a short story around it. Every night, the audience will be able to see world news through the eyes of the artists and watch the evening news in the shape of performances and readings."

I'll be doing this public experiment with the Congolese dancer Faustin Linyekula, French theatre director Joris Mathieu, the Italian theatre troupe Compagny Motus, American radio producer Benjamen Walker, French anthropologist & writer Eric Chauvier, and Haitian-Candian writer Dany Laferrière.

I really have no idea how this is all going to transpire. All I know is that the group of us will commune for four days at Les Subsistances — on the grounds of an old monastery — maybe coming up with a plan of attack once the official performances begin. Yes: performances. Every evening from June 23–25, four times a night, we'll be presenting our "on the spot" creations to live audiences. This'll be like doing editorial work for a daily paper, having to pick a topic and create something from it in a super-tight deadline. Oh, and with the little added detail of having to "perform" the work. 

I sure hope my new collaborators have a plan! Because I sure don't. I'm petrified! Fortunately, I have an ace in the hole: Sari, who's coming along on the trip (along with darling Phoebe). Sari's been my traveling companion and creative partner for going on twenty years now, so it increases my intestinal fortitude a hundrefold to know that Sari will be there for me in a pinch. 

Oh, and, yeah, I did the art for the event. I've been named the "official" Les Subsistances illustrator for the 2011–2012 performance season.

Points du vue

THE INFLUENCING MACHINE is a New York Times bestseller

Just got word that The Influencing Machine is debuting at #8 on the New York Times Graphic Books — Harcover Best Seller list. (Try saying that five times fast.) And we're the only book not published by DC Comics — and the only one not featuring Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, or vampires (though Spider-Brooke does make an appearance in our book)

New York Times Graphic Books Best Sellers List