Category Archives: Autobiographical

Review of “MARCH: Book One”

March_cover

Title: MARCH: Book One
Creators: John Lewis, Andrew Aykin, and Nate Powell
Published: August 2013 by Top Shelf Press

March: Book One is the first part in a trilogy graphic memoir detailing the life and times of Civil Rights activist and Congressman John Lewis.

Growing up in the United States, you’re led to believe that you learn all there is to know about the Civil Rights Movement in school. You learn about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts; you learn about the most famous American speech of the 20th Century: “I Have a Dream”.

In a recent article shared through the Zinn Education Project, historian and black activist Bill Fletcher Jr. describes the method by which certain moments and people in the Civil Rights movement have been “mythologized” and “sanitized“. And boy, has our understanding of this history been manipulated! We would be led to believe that forces of the status quo in the 1950s and 1960s–from local police departments up to the President’s office–supported non-violent forms of protest; that racism and racists were isolated to the masses of simple folk in the South.

Of course, the result of this is that students are not understanding the context of these important pieces of history. That is why I’m hopeful of a book like March making its way into classrooms… students deserve a broader view of these issues than what will be allocated to them in 2 or 3 paragraphs of a standard-issue textbook.

As John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell so eloquently show us in March, this was not the case. The Civil Rights movement was a bloody, uphill battle. The struggle and its gains were not the results of a few actions by those now famous historical figures: the movement moved by way of thousands of committed activists, many of whom were students.

This is a truly beautiful comic book that paints a portrait not just of a man (John Lewis was one of the leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and is now a Congressman; he is also the last living person to have given a speech alongside Martin Luther King on Aug 28, 1963). It paints a vivid portrait of a movement that you think you know, but maybe, possibly, probably don’t. Why was non-violent civil disobedience so radical at the time? Why were there rifts between the younger activists and the older black leadership–figures like Thurgood Marshall? How was the Civil Rights movement connected to religious groups? To the labor movement?

Nate Powell has a way of making every picture personable–crisp, yet dreamy, with solid black ink brush strokes complimented by dabbles of watercolor staining. And Andrew Aydin, who works on Congressman John Lewis’ staff, has obviously been instrumental in taking the vast treasure trove of information that is John Lewis’ life experience, and organizing it into an epic memoir. I particularly like the stories that attest to his core character, like growing up on an old sharecropper farm, wanting to be a preacher and practicing his talks on his chickens. These are wonderful stories that bring out the humanity behind the political battles.

These are the stories from the Civil Rights Movement that, I believe, reclaim the history and restore its heart and soul. You can’t learn about a protest movement from a government-sanctioned textbook.. they’ll make you think the whole thing was their idea. And although Congressman Lewis is now a part of that system, well… how he got there will be explained in the next two books of the trilogy.

I’m excited about what I’ve seen so far–this is an often raw, ugly–yet true history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. To get a glimpse of this, I’ve asked the kind folks at Top Shelf to show you the first five pages of March. I hope you see what I mean–and be sure to pick up a copy when you get the chance!

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“Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me” by Harvey Pekar and JT Waldman

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“Every ethnic group thinks they are the chosen ones. … ”
–Harvey Pekar

Title: Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me
Author: Harvey Pekar and JT Waldman
Epilogue: Joyce Brabner
Published: in 2012 by Hill and Wang (Novel Graphics)

Learning about Israel and Palestine can be intimidating. It seems that anyone with any time vested in research of the subject  has an extremely confident opinion that their view is the correct one. But what is the controversy, anyway? What is the historical basis of the conflict with Palestine—and exactly when did it begin? Harvey Pekar’s Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me delves into that history (which many argue began anywhere between 46 and 2000 years ago…) and provides the reader with a glimpse of multiple perspectives by way of an “insider’s” criticism.

Perhaps one of the ways this otherwise dry narrative can get away with being a bit boring (it does cover 2000 years, more or less, in 165 pages) is its feel of exclusivity. Not only is it an interview with a man born and raised through the founding and early years of the Jewish state; it’s an interview with one of the comic book world’s most celebrated writers.

Harvey Pekar is probably best known for American Splendor. It was through this and other work, in a career that would span more than 3 decades, that Pekar pushed the envelope of comics, driving the idea of the medium’s abilities in the realm of autobiography and literature (enter: the graphic novel). Keep in mind that this trail-blazing began in the 1970s (American Splendor the series was first illustrated by Robert Crumb) and was almost unheard of for its time. He had said a motivation for making comics was that they “could do anything that a movie could.” How ironic that American Splendor became a movie in 2003.

Harvey Pekar was, as much as anyone else, given plenty of reasons to love Israel (his father, a Talmudic scholar, gave him the religious reasons; his mother, a communist, the political arguments). While the title demonstrates a certain sense of faith lost, this book is half historical intrigue; half autobiographical narrative of a man’s awakening to a world outside of his community, culture, and its decidedly unwavering ethos.

Certainly, it’s not the only way to talk about Israel (not even close to being the only comic about the subject), but it is unique. It’s history and autobiography; boilerplate language and the spontaneity of an interview (JT Waldman co-authors the book by way of interviewing Harvey). In this way, a comic book about this highly polarized topic finds balance, and a fresh perspective.

EXHIBITION: Gender Through Comic Books (#SuperMOOC) Student Work

The following is a little exhibition of the top student comics of the “Gender Through Comic Books” Massive Open Online Course (Codename: #SuperMOOC), which ran on Canvas.Net from the beginning of April to Mid-May of 2013. In a class of 7200, there were over 800 comic submissions, and these were the finalists. The top three are listed in order of the student body’s popular vote, beginning with #1 – Girls Don’t Like Dinosaurs…. ! Enjoy!

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Girls Don’t Like Dinosaurs!


Girls Don’t Like Dinosaurs

by Natasha Alterici
For my story I blended together a few real-life anecdotes from my childhood; my mother trying futilely to make me dress like a young lady, the neighbor boy who told me “Girls don’t like dinosaurs!”, the exploration, and of course the dinosaur role playing. As a kid I was completely fascinated by dinosaurs, but I was also completely aware that this was not “normal” for girls. Looking back I think this is because dinosaurs are gendered toward boys and this is probably because they’re essentially a science-based play. Dinosaur-play involves lots of learning, about biology, natural history, geology, forensics, etc. If a girl is interested in animals or science they can play Barbie Veterinarian, but this isn’t a science-based toy, it’s just another form of dress up. You aren’t given opportunities to learn about how to care for animals, you’re given an outfit (sexy lab coat) and accessories (sickly baby animals).

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Small and Waiting

Small and Waiting
by Nicole Marie Guiniling
In grade school I was told that a good essay was like a hamburger. You had a beginning and an end that reflected each other, with a meaty middle. (I even had a teacher go so far as to say that your thesis should be a “crisp, green line towards the top.”)  Then I went to college, where another, arguably better Literature Professor threw that out the window and said that none of that mattered. A decent essay, he said, should look like Beyonce—an hourglass shape with a “KA-POW!” ending, so to speak. This definitely got some gasps and laughs when I first heard it in class 6 years ago. I thought it would be a little ironic to apply that method (if I can call it a method) to an assignment in a class on gender.
“Small and Waiting” is about me growing up, learning about gender roles, coping with the trauma of the worst aspects of that role (including eating disorders, body image issues, and assaults by men), and overcoming those challenges with a higher understanding of gender and systemic oppression in our society.

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Working in Games

Working in Games
By Shivaun Robinson
This is my comic. There are many like it but this one is mine. It was also my first attempt to make a comic after many decades of only reading them. I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to find me on Twitter @shivaundingo or support my latest effort as I play video games for 24 hours for charity at: http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.participant&participantID=46567

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Child’s Play

Child’s Play
by Jacinda Contrerras
This is my brother and me when we were kids. He always wanted to hang out with his older sister and be like her, as he told me years later. Getting to wear a dress with a black towel wrapped around his head while poppin’ wheelies in our neighborhood was just a bonus.

My family consisted of one set of grandparents, my mom, 2 aunts, and 3 uncles.  They grew up as migrant workers and believed that teaching children survival skills and street smarts outweighed raising proper little ladies and gentlemen.  These hardworking adults were more concerned with the cost of clothes than whether they were buying pink for girls or blue for boys. So, I didn’t think of my toys as being girls’ toys or his as boys’. I owned the books, Hot Wheels & Tonkas that I allowed him to play with when he wasn’t annoying me, my brother owned the Atari and Star Wars action figures that he allowed me to play with when we were on good terms.
Eddie Blake did a great job with the art and inks, this story comes alive because of that.

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Daughter

Daughter
by Anthony Sweet

w: www.handwrittengames.com
e: anthony@handwrittengames.com
fb: Handwritten Games
tw: @handwrittengame

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Walkin’ After Midnight – NOTE: This file is a Microsoft Word .docx file!

Walkin’ After  Midnight
By Angela Staiger

E-mail: angela.staiger@gmail.com
Twitter: @anjuhluh

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Sexy Legs

Sexy Legs
Written by Ross O’Dell
Drawn by Raylene Winkel

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“Insert Title Here”


Insert Title Here

By Greg Marcus
In high school (class of 1995) I was the staff cartoonist for the newspaper. In that time I managed to pick up some awards for my work. This strip in particular is a complete reworking of a strip that won an award from the Palm Beach Post. I rewrote it updating outdated ideas and things that are not accurate for my current age (Teacher crushes, mentions of things that were understood in 1995 but not today) I then redrew the entire strip using Adobe Illustrator.
All of the things mentioned in the strip are accurate, just not necessarily to the person saying them. I did test androgynous and have been known to loofah, but most of the things my friend said should be attributed to my wife. Although, I do enjoy a good mud mask from time to time.

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Gosplay Genius

Cosplay Genius
By Shawn Proctor

Website: http://shawnproctor.com/

Shawn Proctor’s writing has been nominated for Best New American Voices and published in several literary journals and anthologies, including Storyglossia, Think Journal, and Our Haunted World: Ghost Stories from Around the Globe.

He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College, and earns geek cred by blogging on Nerd Caliber, Geekadelphia, and CultureMob.

He recently completed a superhero novel, featuring former college classmates who must fight for their lives when the world’s only superhero is murdered.

Three Decades of Art in the City: A Review of Peter Kuper’s “Drawn To New York”

DRAWN TO NYfrontcover“Clearly New York was a dangerous place where terrible things could happen, but also a place that could turn ordinary people into superheroes.”

Kuper’s recently published work is building on the available literature making an argument for “graphic biographies” – not for people, but for places. Cities. Something attracts us to these massive collections of social activity that take on a life and personality all their own, and actually change us in the process. Radical artist (and former New Yorker) Eric Drooker postulates in the beginning of the book that people move to NYC as much to find careers and connections as they come to find themselves. Drawn to New York is a dedication to that power.

The book is a mash-up of a few different categories of work. There’s an intimacy in the quick sketches that are clearly drawn in the moment, on the subway, in cafes, (which conversely make you feel as close as you can be to that original scene, while also conveying that this book is really allowing you to peruse someone’s private journal/sketchbook –which is just the best thing in the world). As you peruse these pages, your eyes taking in a mesmerizing quantity of geometric shapes (so many right angles, so many windows!), a section of sketches will be punctuated with a longer piece of sequential art that tells a short story. As you read, the work more or less gets better and better; I can only assume this is because it is ordered chronologically, but I’m not sure.

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The power of Kuper as a “New York artist” really shines in his highly-detailed stencil comics (made with multiple layers of stencils and spray paint), like the collection of New Yorker facial expressions, or his 2am trip to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge, or his commentaries on gentrification and crime.

Beyond the actual aesthetic of his work, the variety of perspective here is pretty broad, and is perhaps a part of Kuper himself being a New Yorker and an outsider (he’s originally from Cleveland–which oddly enough, has its own amazing graphic biography by Harvey Pekar.) His work goes from feeling like a love letter to an observation by an anthropologist of a place that is completely his “other”.

Towards the end his work has gotten pretty sophisticated, with pieces of comics journalism coming in about major NYC events, like his strip, “The Wall”. This piece, and every other, seems set in its conveyance that this great city is great for the same reasons it is so unstable: it is constantly in movement.

Or in Kuper’s words:

“This city is change. That’s its glory – it’s a perpetually unfinished canvas, offering up possibility to each successive wave of artists.”

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A showcase of city and artist, with an interesting interplay between the two. That is, Peter Kuper is now, undeniably, a “New York artist”… the city shaped him. And in return, Kuper continues to pay tribute by making art that adds to the city’s ever-evolving mythos.

For more information about Peter Kuper, check out Peter’s book page in the PM Press store site.

Full Book Information:

Title: “Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City”
Artist: Peter Kuper
Introduction: Eric Drooker
Published: May 2013 by PM Press
Format: Hardcover only at this time
Size: 10.5 by 8
Page count: 208 Pages
Subjects: Art-Illustration, History-New York City, Regional-New York City
List Price: $29.95

World War 3 – #44 – The Other Issue

coverWorld War 3 is America’s longest-running radical comics anthology. While I’ve never reviewed an issue for Ad Astra, a lot of radical comic artists (including those I’ve featured here) have graced their pages. This issue took on the idea of “the other” – when ideas and people are perceived as alien, even opposite or in conflict with the given norm.

Issue #44 includes:

“Alien Europe” by Ganzeer – An exploration of cultural differences across time and space. This appears to be based on a lecture, or perhaps just a thought process of the author, but he shows how all culture is, in short, a homogenization of converging cultures.

“Single Lens Reflex” by Sandy Jimenez – Autobiographical piece about gentrification, photography, and class dynamics in artistic interpretation. That description makes it sound stuffy and academic, but it is extremely personal and heartfelt. I think this is an amazing story that is told very well. Sandy Jimenez has a great understanding of memoir narrative–looking back on a feeling that he had over a period of years and identifying how it developed, how he came to understand and overcome it, and what remains. A gem – one of my favourite contributions to the issue.

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“Kemba Smith” by Sabrina Jones and Marc Mauer – part of a larger book called Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling about the U.S. prison system (available as of April 2013 from The New Press). “Kemba Smith” tells the story of a 24 year old college student with no previous record, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison for her connection to her drug-dealing boyfriend.

“Charest, Dehors! Inside Quebec, Out in the Streets” – by Jesse Staniforth and Dan Buller. Great personal account of the massive student protests in Quebec – a story that we’ve yet to fully unravel and appreciate in the rest of Canada/North America in general. Great illustrations from Dan Buller, mostly from photographs from the protests, accompanied with reproductions of some of the protest/street art that appeared over the course of the action.

“Baddawi” – A comic memoir by Palestinian American comic artist Leila Abdul Razzaq, who has illustrated her family history from Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing campaign, to her father living as a child in a refugee camp, to her own modern-day self. Making her debut in this issue of WW3, Razzaq focuses on her family, showing  how her grandmother survived Al Naqba at the age of 17, and how her father became the most successful marble tycoon of their family’s refugee camp.

Further notes: Razzaq’s style is very simple. My first impression was that it reminded me of Satrapi’s Persepolis for its simple line work and good use of contrast. But on further inspection I see some interesting and original details–garments with designs that are distinctly Palestinian, imagery of invading soldiers coming out of the ocean. I think Razzaq probably faced/faces the challenge of having content in her stories that is so powerful, it can overshadow or overpower her artwork. It’s a good challenge, and I can’t wait to see how her work develops and evolves with her storytelling.

“A Real Hero” by Tom Keough –  A personal memory of the artist and two friends sticking up for a man who was getting beaten to death by a group of men in the street.

“One Rainy Night” – Peter Kuper’s enactment of a conversation with a once-rich and beautiful woman. This one-page piece is part of a larger body of work entitled, Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City.

“One City, One People, One Planet” – The legendary Seth Tobocman makes some inspiring observations about the human response to Hurricane Sandy.

“Nap Before Noon” by Barrack Rima – translated from Arabic and read right-to-left, tells the story of the authors first trek into Europe as an immigrant.