The Left was baffled in 2016 to learn that Trump was taking a stance against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. As the new administration fires up for trade wars, perhaps it’s time to review what we know about the role of the American state in international trade.
In January 2017, Ad Astra Comix is teaming up with Toronto-based artist and activist Tings Chak to produce a new and improved 2nd edition of their work, “UNDOCUMENTED: The Architecture of Migrant Detention”.
What is Undocumented?
This 120 page book of illustrations, diagrams, and comics journalism-style interviews with former detainees explores the world of migrant detention from the intersection of architecture and migrant justice. The result is a unique and eye-opening argument for an end to migrant detention as we know it –or, in many cases, as we have only begun to discover it exists.
Pre-orders for the book’s 2nd edition will begin with a crowdfunder in January, and we’d like to use the crowdfunder as an opportunity to celebrate all art against migrant detention.
– End Migrant Detention
– Refugees Welcome Here
– No One Is Illegal
– Stop the Deportations
– Migration is Not a Crime
If you are an artist and would like to “donate” a digital file as a promotional perk, we will promote your art through the crowdfunder and compensate you for your work to the tune of a 20% royalty on all items sold. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Requirements & Deadline
Deadline for art submissions will be January 1, 2017. We request that files be 300 dpi, black and white or colour, and between the size dimensions of 5″ x 7″ – 18″ x 24″ (irregular dimensions may also be accepted). Any questions or concerns, please e-mail Ad Astra Comix at email@example.com.
Looking for Inspiration?
Check out some beautiful migrant justice artwork through the JustSeeds print collective and their collection, “Migration Now!” Have any other inspiring suggestions? Msg us and we’ll share it!
Ad Astra Comix is pleased to announce the second edition of ‘Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention“. First published by an academic architecture publisher in 2014 in a limited run, we are excited to bring ‘Undocumented’ to a wider audience.
Creator: Tings Chak
Published: Sections (The Architecture Observer), 2014
Dimensions: 23.4 x 17.3 x 1.5 cm
Shipping weight: 340 g
1st Edition Print Run: 750 copies
Buy a 1st Edition: In the Ad Astra Online Store
As with previous Ad Astra projects, a pre-order campaign will be held to raise awareness and cover the costs of printing. Stay tuned for details!
Last January, we spent time in Atlanta Georgia with our friend. Specifically, we spent time in Dekalb County, Georgia, with Andrew, the co-founder of On Our Own Authority Books and his daughter, Olivia. This comic is about them.
Anyone who has accidentally gotten their one theatre friend talking has heard of ‘RENT’, the 1993 musical about artists and activists living in Alphabet City, New York. But far fewer people have ever heard of Seth Tobocman’s ‘War in the Neighborhood’, a graphic novel published in 1999 that has more than a few similarities to ‘RENT’. How many? Let’s take a look.
1. Both take place in New York City’s Lower East Side
Sure, Alphabet City is a little bit more specific than ‘Lower East Side’, but it’s the same neighborhood, a stretch of blocks between Avenue 1 and A Street. Now one of the most expensive places to live in North America, the Lower East Side once had a reputation for being a haven to bohemians, radicals, immigrants and anyone else looking for a cheap place to live as they set out to build lives in the capital of the world. The perfect place to write a tragedy in the case of ‘RENT’, or watch one unfold, in the case of ‘War in the Neighborhood’.
2. They’re both set in the Bush years
No, not that Bush. From 1988-1992, George Bush Sr. was president of an America in transition. Eight years of Ronald Reagan had kick-started the “War on Drugs”, broken the back of the labor movement and set the stage for the disappearance of the middle class. Many of the themes the two works have in common: the AIDS crisis, gentrification, conscientious objection to said “War on Drugs,” and heavily politicized art. Romantic as life on the Lower East Side might seem in art, the lived reality was often one of hunger, cold and constant anxiety that today would be eviction day. Both ‘RENT’ and ‘War in the Neighborhood’ show that heady mix of insecurity and adventure.
3. Both stories involve the struggle between squatters and gentrifiers
At the root of that anxiety about displacement, of course, was gentrification. After decades of neglect and urban decay, developers in New York City saw an opportunity. Slowly, condos began springing up along with yuppie shops, gyms and coffee bars, pricing residents out of their own communities.
Both the squatters and gentrifiers look at the decaying urban infrastructure and see possibility: but where squatters see the potential for an inclusive, self-reliant community, gentrifiers saw an opportunity to turn a profit regardless of the human cost.
In ‘RENT’, Benny is an affable tech entrepreneur who promises his old bohemian buddies a home in his state-of-the art “cyber studio” – but only if they can stop a protest happening in the neighborhood—against what? Gentrification. Meanwhile, this process of urban transformation is illustrated as a gigantic serpent in ‘War in the Neighborhood’, coiling itself up the old apartment blocks and suffocating the life out of the people who live there. Backed by the power of local politicians, this force seemed unstoppable.
In both stories it is a group of squatters who form a front-line opposition to this community takeover. They occupy the abandoned buildings before the landlords get a chance to burn them down. While Roger and Mark may be living for free, courtesy of Benny, Mimi and the rest of the squatters seen in ‘RENT’ are very much taking their chances. Squatting is a major theme of ‘War in the Neighbourhood’, where the struggle to build a life that you could lose at any time appears again and again.
4. Anarchists play a prominent role in each title
Sure enough, wherever there are struggles against gentrification, anarchists probably aren’t far behind. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, anarchists party in Tompkins Square Park, fight the police, denounce Leninists, and insist on democratic process in the governance of the squats. As for ‘RENT’, Although almost the entire cast exudes a cheeky anti-authoritarianism, only former professor Collins is explicitly identified:
‘And Collins will recount his exploits as an anarchist – including the tale of the successful reprogramming of the M.I.T. virtual reality equipment to self-destruct, as it broadcasts the words: “Actual reality – ACT UP – Fight AIDS!”
5. Both show radical communities dealing with addiction
The Bush years marked a continuation of Ronald Reagan’s so-called “War on Drugs”, an effort that led to moral panic, militarization of police forces, and the criminalization of people living with addiction. In Rent, Roger is recovering from a heroin addiction, while Mimi is actively using. The question of addiction is portrayed sentimentally and feels a little bit borrowed for the sake of deepening tragedy. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, several characters are addicted to heroin, cocaine, or crack, and there is nothing romantic about it. Tobocman portrays drug use as a fact of life under capitalism—the baggage that we sometimes carry with us to deal with our pain. The question of whether or not to let people use drugs in the squat is a major source of conflict: how do we build a new world that is inclusive and supportive when we carry so much baggage from the world we want to leave behind?
6. Both take place at the height of the AIDS crisis
It’s impossible to write about New York City in the Bush Sr. years without addressing the AIDS crisis. Government silence and inaction allowed the disease to become an epidemic, devastating affected communities. In RENT, fully half of the main cast has AIDS, which claims the life of Angel, a drag queen and street performer. In the middle of ‘La Vie Boheme’, the cast leans on the fourth wall by referencing ACT UP, the direct action group organized by people living with AIDS.
ACT UP also appears in ‘War in the Neighborhood, where Scarlett is a squatter living with the virus, struggling to find a safe space in the middle of a virtual war zone. They struggle to find the physical energy, let alone the spirit, to continue the fight for housing. Another character, Tito, is bedridden due to complications but is able to keep watch for nearby squatters and help them stay safe.
7. Neither has an uncomplicated, happy ending
Anyone walking through the Lower East Side can see that gentrification has won. The bohemian utopia, always half-imaginary, exists only in works like Rent and ‘War in the Neighborhood’. It isn’t easy to tell the story of its life without touching on the death that was all around.
In ‘RENT’, the death of Mimi is the most visible impact of the AIDS epidemic, though people disappear steadily from her AIDS support group. Tension around Angel’s death fragments their circle of friends. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, the squats slowly dissolve in a mix of death, eviction and interpersonal conflict.
But neither one ends as a tragedy. Rent ends with Mimi pulling back from the brink of death, following Roger’s confession of love. ‘War in the Neighborhood’ ends with a thoughtful meditation on how hard we are on each other, and that if we can see the possibilities in what we might be, there’s no telling what we can do.
Maybe good tragedies need a moral lesson to soften the blow. I think both these stories end with a moral: ‘keep living; there is hope’. And hope, these days, is in short supply. We’ve got to take it where we can find it; to make the most of the time we have.
The struggles we find ourselves in –for justice, equality, and a democracy worthy of the name– are not new. Yet we’re endlessly forming new groups, writing new charters, experimenting with new tactics as though we were the first people ever to struggle against injustice.
Driving across North America in the past year, we were struck by the profound lack of institutional memory in radical communities wherever we went. People doing work that was important, even essential, could often tell us nothing about what their organization had been like 10 years ago, if it had existed at all.
The left leaves few records and most of these are hagiographies–saintly accounts of the lives of larger-than-life heroic figures that read more like myths than histories. It is a rare book that transcends this shallow style and speaks frankly about the painful difficulties encountered by social movements. That kind of book is full of important lessons for us. ”War in the Neighborhood’ is that kind of book.
1: You aren’t the first people to take public space
‘War in the Neighborhood’ is partially about the struggle to protect the public’s right to use Tompkins Square Park. One of those uses, dating to before the struggle, is as the site of a tent city for the homeless. In the course of the struggle to preserve the park as a place to drink and hang out, conflicts with the cops made it an unsafe place to sleep.
Confrontations between cops and activists would raise the emotional temperature of the park, but while the activists could go home, many of the people living in the tent city were home – and had nowhere to go when the cops came to work out their frustrations.
“Reclaiming” urban space is always more complicated than it looks. In North America particularly, that space is always colonized land. In a more immediate sense, the space is often being used by people who don’t want to see it ‘reclaimed’. During the era of the Occupy camps, we dropped into that park without any notion of this. We were bringing media and police attention to a space that homeless people had been living in quietly for years.
I wish we’d all known a little bit more about past struggles like ours, and known ahead of time that we needed to be mindful of the needs of the folks already living in the park. They are capable of doing their own very powerful organizing if they choose, organizing we could have supported if we had treated them with respect.
2: The police are not your friends
Alright, there are plenty of people who know this, and I can hear them into the peanut gallery rolling their eyes at the obvious point and congratulating themselves on how on-point their politics are. Good for you.
The trouble is, not everyone knows this, and vague denunciations of authority from angry punks do not always persuade the larger group. The police are tricky, and they know how to present a friendly face as well as their real one. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, we see the cops put pressure on squatters by offering them a deal. The squatters, divided by the proposal, eventually accept. Needless to say, they are betrayed by the police.
Some of the people at Occupy knew better than to waste time talking to the cops, but many did not. The police could make little demands about where we put our tents or how we hung our tarps, and sow division without working very hard– these petty demands caused us to turn against each other. They were going to evict us eventually either way but the conflict over whether or not to comply with these petty demands created real conflict between us.
The police are not all billy clubs and tear gas. They will make little helpful gestures to win your trust. At one Occupy march, I remember them sharing bottled water with us. But by then we were wise – “Ew, cop water,” was how one friend put it. Earlier we had not always been so savvy. The police’s polite request to ‘liaise’ (read: pump us for information) or offers to protect our marches (read: control and contain our protests) convinced some people that they were on our side. When they swept into the camp in the middle of the night, tore down our tents and brutalized one of our friends, they made it perfectly clear whose friends they were.
I wish we had all known well enough to be on the same page, and understood the role of the police in suppressing resistance.
3: Outside organizations will try to control your politics
The left is full of self-appointed leaders and self-anointed messiahs. Academics, vanguard parties, one-man black blocs and all kinds of people whose analysis is so pure that they get high on the fumes. These people will show up at your movement and tell you where it’s going, what path it’ll take to get there, and what kind of clothes you should wear for your media appearances. What they won’t do, generally, is the dishes – or anything else useful.
This isn’t so much a problem of ideology as of personality. Some people know how to be humble, pull together as a team and do their share of every kind of work. Some people are so convinced of their special genius that they think they are making the most important possible contributions by telling everyone else what to do and think.
‘War in the Neighborhood’ shows us both kinds of people. Luna, a member of the RCP, becomes one of the most persistent and dedicated squatters. An angry anarchist denounces her participation and the squat as a whole because they are, presumably, guilty by association. Eventually, Luna herself leaves the party over its homophobic views and controlling nature.
When Occupy enjoyed its brief historical moment, plenty of groups wanted to control it. They showed up with their critiques, their literature, sometimes even with printed t-shirts. They would try to change the way Occupy was governed, or how it framed its messaging. Some were a problem, but others weren’t. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter so much what group they were from. What mattered was how willing they were to set their personal politics aside and work for the collective good of the group, instead of trying to co-opt it to serve their own purposes.
It can be a lot to keep track of, especially for folks who are new to activism. But I wish I’d known then what I know now – people show you how much you can trust them based on how respectful and committed their participation is.
4: But you never know who your best comrades will turn out to be…
…but you can find out, easily enough! People vote with their time and energy. Look to see who’s putting in the work and who’s standing around talking shit. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, we see a variety of people, including communists, ex-cons, teenage anarchists, people with active addictions and the homeless prove to be the best of comrades.
That is not always intuitive. It is easy to be drawn to the most articulate people, or the ones who seem to have the most support in the group. You can be taken in by people’s charms or by the appearance of experience. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter how articulate someone is, how experienced they are, or how great their analysis is, if they can’t put their own agenda aside and work as part of a team.
At Occupy I definitely had a preference for people who shared my politics and cultural values most closely. But I learned in time that I valued the friendships of all kinds of people – liberals, social democrats, other anarchists and even 9/11 truthers (thanfully, those guys came around).
Of course, we were working inside an anarchist framework, with a set of anarchist assumptions. Over time, I watched a lot of those folks evolve into the best anarchists I know. But I think this point holds true no matter what the ideology of your group. If people focus on the work, it doesn’t matter where they’re coming from. You’re headed the same way.
5: Holding space may be the only thing you agree on
Rules are a recurring theme for ‘War in the Neighborhood’. Should this squat be drug free? Should we negotiate with the cops? Are we prepared to tolerate sexism? In different ways these questions are all part of the bigger question: “How will we make this space our own?” and “What is this space for?” But while everyone agrees with ‘making this space our own’, they can’t even agree what that looks like.
At my Occupy camp, and I suspect at many others, the problem was worse, if anything. Should we march? Should we build the camp? Should we make signs? Should we make dinner? Again, holding the park was just about the one thing we all agreed was necessary.
This was a real shock to me. I arrived thinking that people would more or less be there for the same reason I was – tired of the growing power of the rich and ready to hold them to account. The reality was not so simple. I wish I had been able to better anticipate that.
6: People whose help you might hope for will sit on the sidelines and criticize
There were some people who were not so ready to accept the riot of ideas and ideology on display at Occupy. I couldn’t believe them. I was putting aside a lot of my own ideas about how the world should work out of some abstracted sense of the common good. Why couldn’t they do the same?
People have agendas. They look at social movements and they ask themselves if these social movements serve those agendas. Then they decide if they are going to participate, criticize, or both. If your revolution doesn’t look like it’s going to serve their purposes, don’t expect to see them frying tofu in the kitchen tent.
“War in the Neighborhood” shows us that people have different reasons for wanting you to fail. Maybe they don’t like some of your members. Perhaps they disagree with your group’s tactics. Maybe they didn’t get their way in your group and so they left.
7: There are no easy answers
Maybe I should have known this one before Occupy started. I thought I knew it, really. I thought I knew that things were so close to hopeless that it would take a change in world conditions to create an opportunity for change. But then in Occupy I saw that opportunity.
In a way, all social struggles have the potential to make us feel like everything has changed. ‘War in the Neighborhood’ shows impossible victories – people taking over abandoned buildings, neighborhood people fighting back against police violence, homeless people winning the right to maintain a tent city in Tompkins Square Park.
But even when all the rules of normal life seem to be inverted, there are no easy answers. You can fight like hell and do everything right only to watch it all fall apart because of some unhappy accident. We are still learning, all of us struggling to build a better world. I don’t think anyone has all the answers. But if we could get better at telling stories about what went right – and what went disastrously wrong – we might not be quite so completely doomed to repeat our history forever.
As we run our most recent crowdfunding project, we have taken a dive into the history of squatting as a practice of anti-capitalist resistance. In many parts of North America, it’s difficult to conceive of squatting as anything other than a romantic ideal – except for the fact that settler societies are squatter societies by nature, albeit of an objectionable variety. Meanwhile in Europe there are vibrant squatters’ movements in the Netherlands, Greece, Germany and many other countries. What’s the secret to their success? You might find a few clues in the books below.
1. Hannah Dobbz – editor of “Nine-Tenths of the Law: Property and Resistance”
From AK Press, the publisher: “How does “property” fit into designs for an equitable society? Nine-Tenths of the Law examines the history of squatting and property struggles in the US, from colonialism to 20th-century urban squatting and the foreclosure crisis of the late 2000s, and how such resistance movements shape the law. Squatting is defined by Dobbz as “occupying an otherwise abandoned structure without exchanging money or engaging in a formal permissive agreement.” Stories from our most hard-hit American cities show that property is truly in crisis.”
2. Squatting Europe Kollective – “The Squatters’ Movement in Europe: Commons and Autonomy as Alternatives to Capitalism”
From Pluto Press, the publisher: “The Squatters’ Movement in Europe is the first definitive guide to squatting as an alternative to capitalism. It offers a unique insider’s view on the movement – its ideals, actions and ways of life. At a time of growing crisis in Europe with high unemployment, dwindling social housing and declining living standards, squatting has become an increasingly popular option.
The book is written by an activist-scholar collective, whose members have direct experience of squatting: many are still squatters today. There are contributions from the Netherlands, Spain, the USA, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the UK.”
3. Nazima Kadir – “The Autonomous Life? Paradoxes of Hierarchy and Authority in the Squatters Movement in Amsterdam”
From Manchester University Press, the publisher: “ ‘The Autonomous Life?’ is an ethnography of the squatters’ movement in Amsterdam written by an anthropologist who lived and worked in a squatters’ community for over three years. During that time she resided as a squatter in four different houses, worked on two successful anti-gentrification campaigns, was evicted from two houses and jailed once. With this unique perspective, Kadir systematically examines the contradiction between what people say and what they practice in a highly ideological radicalleftcommunity. The squatters’ movement defines itself primarily as anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian, and yet is perpetually plagued by the contradiction between this public disavowal and the maintenance of hierarchy and authority within the movement. This study analyses how this contradiction is then reproduced in different micro-social interactions, examining the methods by which people negotiate minute details of their daily lives as squatter activists in the face of a fun house mirror of ideological expectations reflecting values from within the squatter community, that, in turn, often refract mainstream, middle-class norms.”
4. Pierpaolo Mudu and Sutapa Chattopadhyay – “Migration, Squatting, and Radical Autonomy” Edited by P.M. and S.C. on behalf of the Squatting Europe Collective
From Routledge, the publisher: “This book offers a unique contribution, exploring how the intersections among migrants and radical squatter’s movements have evolved over past decades. The complexity and importance of squatting practices are analyzed from a bottom-up perspective, to demonstrate how the spaces of squatting can be transformed by migrants. With contributions from scholars, scholar-activists, and activists, this book provides unique insights into how squatting has offered an alternative to dominant anti-immigrant policies, and the implications of squatting on the social acceptance of migrants.”
5. Lynn Owens – “Cracking Under Pressure: Narrating the Decline of the Amsterdam Squatters’ Movement”
From Penn State University Press, the publisher: “Social movements excite and energize their participants in their early phases, with expectations high and ambitions yet unchecked by reality. Consequently, the academic study of social movements has focused primarily on the stages of mobilization and growth. But all movements eventually decline, and it is important to understand why they do, when they do, and what the effects of decline are.
Lynn Owens aims to broaden and enrich social movement theory by focusing on this phase of decline. He does so through a close investigation of the fate of the squatters’ movement in Amsterdam, which emerged in the late 1970s as a reaction to the housing shortage of the 1960s, peaked in the early 1980s at some 10,000 participants, and then fell into a period of prolonged decline. As a movement significant for its influence on radical movements elsewhere in Europe and for its contribution to Amsterdam’s reputation as a center of countercultural activity, this case study affords an opportunity to examine not only why movements decline but also how—how activists respond to decline first by downplaying it, then by debating it, and finally by adjusting to it.”
5. Bart van de Steen – “The City is Ours: Squatting and Autonomous Movements in Europe from the 1970s to the Present”
From PM Press, the publisher: “Squatters and autonomous movements have been in the forefront of radical politics in Europe for nearly a half-century—from struggles against urban renewal and gentrification, to large-scale peace and environmental campaigns, to spearheading the antiausterity protests sweeping the continent.
Through the compilation of the local movement histories of eight different cities—including Amsterdam, Berlin, and other famous centers of autonomous insurgence along with underdocumented cities such as Poznan and Athens—The City Is Ours paints a broad and complex picture of Europe’s squatting and autonomous movements.”
“From Rowman and Littlefield, the publisher: Barcelonan Okupas: Squatter Power! is the first book to combine close-readings of the representations of Spanish squatters known as okupas with the study of everyday life, built environment, and city planning in Barcelona. Vilaseca broadens the scope of Spanish cultural studies by integrating into it notions of embodied cognition and affect that respond to the city before and against the fixed relations of capitalism. Social transformation, as demonstrated by the okupas, is possible when city and art interrelate, not through capital or the urbanization of consciousness but through bodily thought. The okupas reconfigure the way thoughts, words, images and bodily responses are linked by evoking and communicating the idea of free exchange and openness through art (poetry, music, performance art, the plastic arts, graffiti, urban art and cinema); and by acting out and rehearsing these ideas in the practice of squatting. The okupas challenge society to differentiate the images and representations instituted by state domination or capitalist exploitation from the subversive potential of imagination. The okupas unify theory and practice, word and body, in pursuit of a positive, social vision that might serve humanity and lead the way out of the current problems caused by capitalism.”
Learn more here
7. Agnes Gagyi – “Hungary: The Constitution of the ‘political’ in Squatting”
From Baltic Worlds, the publisher:
“The idea of political squatting has been codified in the practice and self-reflection of Western European radicalizing movements, which turned, following the downturn of the 1968 movement cycle, to conflictual strategies in urban settings, to voice problems of housing, youth unemployment, and various countercultural values. In defining political squatting, researchers rely on these historical backgrounds to grasp the political dimension that makes squatting more than simple occupation. In doing so, they tend to raise elements of the Western European historical context as evident corollaries of the phenomenon. For example, in a new comparative study on Western European squatters’ movements in 52 large cities, Guzman1 summarizes the literature on political squatting, identifying typical elements of the political context of squatting in phenomena such as support by the New Left and the Greens, squats serving as platforms for the extra-parliamentary left, involving Marxists, autonomists, anarchists, and a left-libertarian subculture, and being part of campaigns for affordable housing or minority rights, or against war, neo-Nazis, unemployment, precariousness, urban speculation and regeneration projects, gentrification, and displacement”
From the Goteborg University website: “In 1971, a group of young people broke into a closed down military area in Copenhagen. It was located not more than a mile from the Royal Danish Palace and the Danish parliament. Soon, the media published images and reports from the proclamation of the Freetown Christiania, and people travelled from all over Europe to be part of the foundation of a new community. A ‘Christiania Act’ passed by a broad parliamentary majority in 1989 legalised the squat and made it possible to grant Christiania the rigth to collective use of the area. However, this was reversed under the Liberal-Conservative government in 2004 when the parliament decided on changes in the 1989 Christiania law. The Freetown has refused to give up its claims on the property so it remains highly contested. Around 900 people live in Christiania today. It is governed through a decentralised democratic structure, whose autonomy is strongly contingent on the Freetown’s external relations with the Danish government, the Copenhagen Municipality, the Copenhagen Police and to the organised crime in connection with the cannabis trade. This book brings together ten researchers from various disciplines; Sociology, Anthropology, History, Geography, Art, Urban planning, Landscape architecture and Political science to bring thier own reflections on the unique community that is Christiania. In the introductory chapter, the editors provide an overview of the research that has been done on the settlement from the early 1970s to the 2000s.”
Interested in learning about the history of squatting here in North America? Check out our pre-order campaign for Seth Tobocman’s ‘War in the Neighborhood’, a 300 pg account of squatting and the fight against gentrification on New York’s Lower East Side.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – PLEASE SHARE WIDELY
After more than a decade out of print, readers around the world are getting ready for “War in the Neighborhood”.
War in the Neighborhood is 320 pages of largely unheard history. First published in 1999, WITN is a story about smashing cinderblocks, filling in the cracks and finding our future in the rubble. It tells the story of New York City’s Lower East Side in the late 1980s, when it came under attack by wealthy developers, cynical politicians and that special kind of daring yuppie who thinks that gunshots in the night are a sure sign of a hip ‘hood. The panels may be black and white, but the moral questions raised in the comic are anything but.
It may be hard to imagine that a story set at the end of the Cold War is relevant to struggle today. The history of social struggle, however, repeats itself. The lessons contained in ‘War in the Neighborhood’ have echoes in Occupy, Black Lives Matter and other 21st century social movements.
‘War in the Neighborhood’ is the longest book we’ve ever published. Our printer tells us that it will cost about $11,000 to print 3,000 copies. In order to ensure that our publishing projects are sustainable, we make sure that pre-order campaigns like this one cover the full cost of printing. Our funding levels reflect the cost of laying out, printing and shipping these titles. That’s why we’re asking for 15 big ones in order to cover costs.
But, there are some incredible perks in this crowdfunder: workshops, original poster art, super-rare political comics… even some special offers for retailers and distros! So check out the crowdfunder and spread the word!
As part of our crowdfunder for ‘Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back’, Ad Astra Comix agreed to do a workshop in Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of the attendees was Jay Aaron Roy, who runs Cape and Cowl, a comics shop in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia. We visited C&C on our way back to Ontario and were so impressed that we decided we wanted to do an interview featuring Jay’s work there. The results are below.
Q: First off, let’s have the basics: How long has Cape and Cowl been open? Where is it located? What’s the neighbourhood like?
A: Cape & Cowl has been open since September 28th, 2014, and we are located at 536 Sackville Drive, in beautiful Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, Canada! The neighborhood here is warm and welcoming. I am from this town (well, Fall River, which is about ten minutes away), so many community members here have known me, or who I am, for a long time.
Q: So when we visited, you told us about the role the shop plays as a community space. Could you tell us a little more about that?
Q: So you’ve got signs up making it clear that Cape and Cowl is a safe community space. What does that mean in practice? What moved you to do it?
Q: This is an interesting time for nerd culture, with the ugly underbelly of toxic masculinity being dragged out into the light for all to see. Comic book shops are probably the primary physical gathering spaces for people interested in comics, gaming and this kind of stuff – Cape and Cowl is definitely set up like that. But there’s a tension for store owners who have to be careful not to alienate any part of their clientele, while also being pressed to pick sides in an increasingly polarized battle. How do you negotiate that tension at C&C?
Q: So you used to work at Strange Adventures in Halifax, right? What kind of lessons did you learn there about running a comic shop? Has Callum (the owner of Strange Adventures) been supportive of Cape and Cowl?
A: I did used to work at Strange Adventures, and even a few other comic shops as well before that! I learned so much from my time at Strange Adventures, though, for sure. Calum Johnston runs an amazing business, at all three of his shops. I learned a lot about the comic industry from him and Dave Howlett, the manager of his Halifax location. Cal was an awesome boss, and has been super supportive of Cape & Cowl. I am always lead to quote him when he said many years ago to me, “a rising tide floats all boats”. In other words, more people reading comics is a good thing. Also, I’m way out in the rural area, so I don’t hurt his business too much, I imagine. 😉 I still talk to him all the time about lots of different aspects of the business, he has given me some great advice, and brought me gifts of shelving to the shop.
Q: What’s your favourite part of running a comic shop?
A: What a tough one! First of all, I love being the boss! Haha! I am a pretty creative fellow, so being able to concoct my own sales, events, ideas, etc. has pretty much been a dream come true. I love having the freedom to run my own business the exact way I want to. The most rewarding part of my work is seeing people enjoy the shop, and the space. I also just plain LOVE comics! So, it’s always fun being in the comic industry and seeing what is coming out, the day it comes out!
Q: (You can skip this one if you don’t wanna make trouble with your landlord) You mentioned something about the landlord jacking up the rent massively. I think the price you mentioned was comparable to commercial rents in Toronto, and you live in rural Nova Scotia! What the hell are they thinking?
For anyone who wants to get in touch with Jay’s landlord about his outrageous rent, he pays $3345.70 a month for 1610 sq. ft. You can reach them at
1 Craigmore Drive, Suite 201
Halifax, NS B3N 0C6
P (902) 832-8930
Q: What’s the hardest part of running Cape and Cowl?
A: The hardest part of running Cape & Cowl, is doing it all by myself. Although, it makes me quite proud to see all I have done. I certainly couldn’t have done it at all without the incredible amount of help I get from local community members, and volunteers for parties and events, but the daily grind can certainly wear on me from time to time. I am good at practicing self care, though, so I make sure to get the rest I need. When the shop closes up at 6:00, I go home. I don’t let anyone make me feel guilty for not being open past that. If they want to shop comics in the evening, they can do that in the city, or wait a few years until I have a staff to allow me to do so. The only other part that was difficult, was dealing with ALL the companies that call you to set up debit/credit payments with them. Boy, those companies are all headache-inducing, but only were so in my first year of business. I can tell them where to go pretty fast, these days, haha.
Q:Do you have any big plans for the future?
Q: What advice do you have for folks around North America interested in starting their own comic shops?