Category Archives: Comics Journalism

From ‘It’s All Over’ to ‘Your Black Friend’: the anarcho-comix of Ben Passmore

dayglo ahole its all over

Hours before I met Ben Passmore for the first time, I’d been informed that it was the first night of Mardis Gras in New Orleans. My partner and I were on tour in the American South and had not made any definitive plans for the space on the map between Atlanta and Houston.  A friend of a friend put us in touch, and we gathered in a small group waiting for the Krewe du Vieux parade to start. The night’s theme: “politically incorrect”.

I could hear wooden chips and beads crunching under my shoes as I struggled to distribute the seven jell-o shots I’d just purchased from a nice old lady pushing a cooler through the crowd along the sidewalk. We stood, drinking, smoking, and watched the floats pass: a pair of queens with enormous falsies, an old white man from the ‘NOLA for Bernie Sanders campaign’ wearing a fake indigenous headdress and throwing candy. It was somewhat surreal, somewhat entirely foreseeable.

Mardis Gras continues like clockwork every year, but a lot of New Orleans has changed since Hurricane Katrina. The largest residential building in the city is abandoned. Entire neighbourhoods are boarded up, next to other neighborhoods peppered with colourful and chic low-income housing built with donations from celebrities like Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. In many ways, post-Katrina NOLA became the poster city for explaining concepts like disaster capitalism, neo-liberalism, and gentrification.

dayglo landscape

It’s hard not to notice elements of this un-done landscape in Passmore’s online comic, D A Y G L O A H O L E, which he worked on for years while living in the city. Characters wander around a mysterious post-civilization wasteland. There are semi-familiar objects everywhere, but ‘civil society’ and all that phrase entails is gone. Washed away. Each new comic extends further into this post-apocalyptic future, and deeper into Passmore’s mind we go.bens mind

“Daygloayhole has consistently been too ambitious for my level of talent, but I think that’s what makes it fun. I’m not a huge sci-fi nerd, but what little of it I’ve consumed and enjoyed consistently pairs the recognizable with the fantastically alien.”

Passmore spent several years working on daygloahole, living in New Orleans. Life was a mix of work, going to shows, and fostering a burgeoning indie comics scene through the NOLA zine and comics fair. Of course a city known for its history of parades and grassroots activism will attract its share of artists, hippies, road punks, and anarchists. When I suggested that New Orleans appeared to solve the age-old mystery of where crust punks go to die, he said it was “more to become undead… There’s a lot of lumbering soulessness [here].”

dayglo portland douche

And the anarchists were having a moment. Abandoned buildings were being squatted and used for political organizing or art projects.

The phrase ‘It’s all over’ appears again and again in daygloahole, which was funny because that’s all I could think when I was in New Orleans. And then, it doesn’t seem quite as funny anymore.

dayglo nightclub

“I think that’s something that I enjoyed at first, the culture of collapse in New Orleans, until I really realized the toll Katrina took on people’s minds and lives, and the disparity it underlined.”

food trucks for antigravity
“Food Truck” illustration for Antigravity Magazine

That disparity is one drawn clearly around race in New Orleans and Louisiana as a whole, whether we’re talking about segregation of schools and neighborhoods, police violence, or the state prison system. It was only in the last year that New Orleans removed several Confederate Monuments, which Passmore documented for the comics journalism website, The Nib.

The Confederate Monument fights became a flashpoint in the South for confronting fascist and white supremacist forces, who were being emboldened by Trump’s campaign to “Make America Great Again” (a perfect dog-whistle for the South’s “Lost Cause” sentiment, which sticks around like 100% humidity). From inside a jail cell for confronting the KKK at Stone Mountain, to the streets of New Orleans where a masked Mardis Gras parade took to a Confederate statue with paint and sledgehammers, Ben took names, covered it, drew it, and showed the rest of us what was going on.

ben passmore taken em down
“I’ve been really excited about doing pieces for the NIB,” Ben says. “It’s good to have to explain your ideas with pictures and words if you’re politically wing-nutty. I assume the majority of the NIB readership is liberal and prolly not very into most of my Anarchist politics.”

“New Orleans created a feeling of urgency about white supremacy as a societal poison that I didn’t feel as much before I moved there.”

“And it for sure burned me out on white people.”

your black friend

In 2017, Ben Passmore made international news for having his work, a short 16-page comic called “Your Black Friend,” nominated for an Eisner Award. For those of you not in the comics industry: that’s kind of like being nominated for an Academy Award. Needless to say, as an anarchist, but more as a political comic enthusiast, I was pretty stoked about the news.

‘Your Black Friend’ is a comic for that person who wants you to know they’re not a racist. It’s a comic about micro-aggressions, cultural appropriation, and lefty-progressive virtue-signalling. It is a short but poetically full-circle sampling of how annoying, depressing, terrifying, and frustrating it is to share space and community with white people (even those nice ones) in a white supremacist world.

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Passmore’s first 20 years were in and around Great Barrington, Massachusetts. “My mom was/is an artist and she encouraged me to draw a lot. I think she would’ve liked me to draw trees… I drew a lot of muscle guys in spandex covered in spikes.”

Ben would eventually go on to art school and major in comics with a minor in illustration.

Passmore seems somewhat surprised that younger people are inspired by his work.

“I get messages from other weird black cartoonists and people that get stuff out of my comics. A couple times people have told me that they’ve been “reading my comics for years” and they’re in their early twenties which is such a crazy thing to be a part of someone’s cultural scenery when they’re turning into an adult.”

There’s a lot being processed in Passmore’s comics, from the low-key racism of his friends, to his Mom voting for Trump, to his own relationships with addiction, depression and impulses to self-harm. Ben has made space for it all, while never taking himself too seriously.

dayglo whatever hippie

A current project of Passmore’s –not yet released– deals with identity, inspired by the pronounced dysphoria he experienced during the last two years’ living in NOLA. I’m looking forward to seeing that, given the nuance he gives to subjects like blackness and queerness. “I’ve never subscribed to the ‘destroy everything/destroy my body’ that characterizes some queer nihilism. Not because I don’t think that strain has validity, it’s just it feels complicated to be black and to desire physical deconstruction.”

black people have been gaslighted
From “Fighting For a Better History” about the call to remove Confederate monuments in New Orleans

Leftist comics – much like “the Left” in general– have a tendency to forget the nuance in their attempt to promote a cause. And that’s a fine strategy, if you’re designing lawn signs for an election.

Passmore’s work shows us that a comic is capable of something infinitely more sophisticated.

His advice to folks who want to make political comics: “Don’t be preachy… if peeps don’t at least recognize your point of view, it’s cause you didn’t make your case well enough.”

Your Black Friend‘ is available now from Silver Sprocket. Follow Ben’s adventures on Twitter and Tumblr, and if you want to show Ben some support, throw some pocket change at his patreon page.

antifa chasing richard spencer

 

 

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#2: The Poor People’s Campaign (Savannah, GA)

The events depicted in this comic are as recent as last Friday (January 15, 2016). We wrote, drew, inked, and did layout within 48 hours, in time for Savannah’s Martin Luther King parade, in which the Poor People’s Campaign participated.

This comic and others are viewable on our Patreon Page, where we are collecting pledges to continue doing this work.

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An Up-to-Date Listing of Comics on Israel & Palestine

Ad Astra Comix is pleased to provide an up-to-date listing of comics, graphic novels, and “bandes desinees” about Israel and Palestine. As a part of our growing interest in political comics education, we offer this information as a useful resource, and do not necessarily condone or support all the various viewpoints expressed in the following books. 

by José Gonzalez and NM Burton

palestineTitle: Palestine
Author: Joe Sacco
Published: 1993 (First Edition). Single volume edition published in 2001 by Fantagraphics, currently on its 14th or 15th printing.As a comics journalist, Joe Sacco visually documented his travels through the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a first-hand account of the people of Palestine. Over the past 20 years it has become, hands-down, the most lauded example of a comic depicting the reality of Israel-Palestine tensions. Sacco’s travels in between late 1991 and early 1992, mixed with comic-rendered flashes of significant historical moments, serves as a great primer to a history and conflict often misunderstood in the West.

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footnotes in gaza

Title: Footnotes in Gaza
Author: Joe Sacco
Published: 2009 by Metropolitan BooksA follow-up to Palestine, this work was released in 2009 documents Joe Sacco’s quest to discover the truth behind the events in Khan Younis and Rafah in November 1956, when Israeli forces were responsible for the deaths of nearly 400 Palestinians. Using largely first-hand Palestinian oral testimony, the comic chronicles the people met and interviewed during his travels, which gives shape to a dark history some 5 decades old. History and its revisions are explored as Sacco’s depictions of the stories told by each interviewee sometimes conflict and circle around the truth of why those Palestinian people were killed.

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sarahglidden_howtounderstandisrael

Title: How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less
Author: Sarah Glidden
Published: Vertigo (2011)What started off as a Birthright tour to Israel, special tours to help nurture a personal relationship with Judaism, became a challenging journey of personal discovery for Sarah Glidden. She traveled through many popular destinations like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, though the most striking voyage is her unescorted trip to the West Bank, forcing her to ask serious questions of herself and her identity.Glidden has explained that she found herself discarding many pre-conceived notions that she had about Israel/Palestine before leaving North America.

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jerusalemTitle: Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
Author: Guy Delisle
Published: Drawn & Quarterly (2012)Another travelogue, this one situated entirely in Jerusalem as comics journalist Guy Delisle documents the life of his family who have travelled there as part of his partner Nadège’s work with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). Situated in the eastern part of Jerusalem, Delisle finds himself situated on the precise ground of conflict detailing the lives of people on land with a disputed border and what it means to revere a sacred city.

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exit wounds

Title: Exit Wounds
Author: Rutu Modan
Published: Drawn & Quarterly

Exit Wounds is Rutu Modan’s first full-length graphic novel, and tells an intricate story of a cab driver living in Tel Aviv who is suddenly faced with the possibility that his father has been killed by a suicide bomber.

Joe Sacco has helped open North American readers up to Modan’s complex and beautiful work by describing Exit Wounds as  “a profound, richly textured, humane, and unsentimental look at societal malaise and human relationships and that uneasy place where they sometimes intersect.”

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thin red lines

The works of Mohammad Saba’aneh

Though perhaps most known for being imprisoned for five months in Israel from February 2013, Mohammed Saba’aneh’s cartoons have been featured in newspapers throughout the Arab world and he’s had exhibitions in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Jordan. His most recent exhibition, Cell 28, centres on his time in that Israeli prison. Much of his work describes a deep cynicism towards offers of peace coupled with a generally critical view of Israel.

"Arresting Mohammad Saba'aneh" - cartoon by Sherif Arafa. Photo courtesy of Cartoon Movement - click to visit site for a larger image view.
“Arresting Mohammad Saba’aneh” – cartoon by Sherif Arafa. Photo courtesy of Cartoon Movement – click to visit site for a larger image view.

hamas in comicsTitle: Hamas in Comics: Terror and Tyranny in Gaza
Author: Israeli Defense Force (IDF)
Published: 2013

Produced by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), this comic book introduces young readers to Hamas through the eyes of the Israeli military.  A prominent example of a comic being used as political tool to shape the mindset of children, it also provides a unique glimpse into how the Israeli military envisions its own role in the conflict. Hamas in Comics draws striking parallels with comics you would be more likely to see in WW2-era North America (a time period not often considered to be the most enlightened when it came to representing non-American cultures).

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Moussa et David

Title: Moussa et David: Duex enfants d’un meme pays (two children of the same country)
Author: Maurice Rajsfus and Jacques Demiguel
Published: 2007 by Les Edicions Tartamudo (France)

A slightly different approach to a comic book aimed specifically towards children, this work by French Jewish historian Maurice Rajsfus tells the story of two boys who learn they have far more in common than their different religions might suggest. It serves as a lesson that those who are most innocent in this conflict may be able to show the rest how to solve the region’s problems.

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histoires

Title: Histoires d’une Région Enragée (Stories from a Raging Region)
Author: Ouri Fink
Published: 2008 by Gabriel Etinzon

Best known for his long running series Zbeng!, Ouri Fink’s collection of short stories targets political and religious extremists and satirizes them with a number of colourful comparisons. Some of the stories include “Hamas – the world’s mightiest moron versus the Rabbi ben Death” and “Humaus,” which borrows a device from Art Spiegelman comic Maus, but instead casts the Israeli settlers as the cats and the Palestinians as the mice. Fink’s refreshing use of humour sets his work apart from most other somber additions to this category of comics.

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Farm 54Title: Farm 54
Author: Galit and Gilad Seliktar
Published: 2011 by Ponent Mon S.L

This semi-autobiographical collection of short stories follow a young Israeli girl, and eventually a woman grown, named Noga. The conflict between and Israel and Palestine is muted to Noga during her childhood, but gradually as the stories move forward to Noga’s mandatory military service where she is most directly confronted with the reality of the conflict when she is compelled to take part in a forcible evacuation of Palestinian houses. Created by the brother and sister team of Galit and Gilad Seliktar, it provides a counter-narrative from within Israel that humanizes their closest neighbours.

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Signals from Gaza and other Webcomics by Samir Harb
Source: http://www.c-left.blogspot.ca/

This webcomic is one of the few examples of a comic from a Palestinian, due to the scarcity of jobs for comic artist in Palestine. Based on a true story, it follows an American Palestinian family trying to build a home in the West Bank. The challenges of maps is brought into focus as the very lines on each map make placing a home so difficult, with the slightest breach in a line being seen as a form of aggression. Considering the story is literally about lines drawn on paper, it makes a comic the perfect medium to explore this, and other disputes on where Israel ends and Palestine begins.

First panel of "Signals from Gaza" - click to be taken to Samir Harb's website.
First panel of “Signals from Gaza” – click to be taken to Samir Harb’s website.

najiThe Political Cartoons of Naji al-Ali

Of all Palestinian political cartoonists, the most influential is arguably Naji al-Ali, not only for the impact of more than 40,000 cartoons that he drew in his lifetime, but for the creation of the Palestinian characature and icon known as “Handhala”. Handhala has had a life and history for decades, depicting a 10-year old Palestinian boy, shoeless and in shabby clothes, with his hands behind his back. Al-Ali has explained that he symbolizes both himself (he was ten when he was forced to leave his homeland), as well as a number of general principles, including an allegiance with the poor and an unwillingness to have problems solved by external forces. Like any who saw it first-hand, Handhala became the iconic witness of the Israeli occupation. And like Handhala, al-Ali insisted he would forever remain a child until he was able to return home to Palestine.

On July 22, 1987 Naji al-Ali was shot in the face outside the London offices of al-Qabas, a Kuwaiti newspaper he worked for. He died of his wounds 5 weeks later.

His is one of the truest examples of the power of political comics to move, inspire, shake up, and frighten those who see them.

Further Reading:

Panels for Peace: Contributions of Israeli and Palestinian Comics to Peace-Building. Chantal Catherine Michel.
http://www.quest-cdecjournal.it/focus.php?id=332

“Oil and Water” by Steve Duin and Shannon Wheeler

 

Title: Oil and Water
Written by: Steve Duin
Illustrated by: Shannon Wheeler
Introduction by: Bill McKibben
Published by: Fantagraphics (2011)

cover

Oil and Water is a work of comics journalism exploring the impact of the 2011 BP oil spill on the coastal communities and ecosystems of Louisiana, through the eyes of a delegation of activists from Oregon.

Most of us probably know some about the disaster that led to the largest oil spill in human history. The deaths of 11 BP workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon and the following 87 days of petroleum gushing unabated into the Gulf was, to a group of progressives from Oregan, the calling they needed to visit Louisiana and bear witness–to the spill, yes, but perhaps moreso the larger and deeply troubling questions it posed: What are the real effects of ecological disasters? Are these disasters avoidable? Ultimately, in a world that is quickly running out of fossil fuels, is the disaster even the root problem?

deepwater horizonEven those of us who have looked at the greater implications may find it hard to fully understand the impact of the BP oil spill without a visit to the Gulf coast. This was, at least in part, the viewpoint of the Oregon delegation, which included writer Steve Duin and artist Shannon Wheeler.

Profiles are drawn of the different personalities, from their flight into Louisiana until their last day, which certainly gives Oil and Water a ‘documentary’ feel. Scenes are intermissioned by small, 4-paragraph pages detailing some of the many troubling aspects of the spill, including BP’s record of cutting corners to save costs, or the devastation of the Gulf’s sea turtle populations.

The artwork is black and white, with sketches filled in with a patchy, dark watercolour stain, certainly intended to mimic the appearance of oil. For Shannon Wheeler, an artist who is arguably known more around the world for his series Too Much Coffee Man, it struck me a bit by surprise. The art overall has a sense of haste, giving me the impression that they were rendered not from photographs but from on-the-scene sketching–something that may or may not be true.

I am impressed with the changing of perspectives throughout the book. Duin seems to have really captured the thoughts and expressions of a number of trip participants and Louisiana locals, who voice their fair share of cynicism towards activists and outsiders parachuting into their neighborhood–seemingly a deja vu of the Katrina aftermath. In these sequences, we see members of the delegation change their way of seeing the world–and change their minds as to how they will act.Half_full

 

“Oil and Water” is a masterful collage of stories that, none to its detriment, only begins to scratch the surface of this tragedy. It would be a useful map of topics for someone looking for a starting point to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

brown pelican

Symbolia Magazine Showcases Comics Journalism

At the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this year, I posed a question to a number of comics creators: Why has Comics Journalism taken hold so well in comics, but so poorly as a quote-unquote “legitimate” form of journalism?

The response of many was that, to the contrary, no one has said that comics journalism isn’t legit.
My response in turn, was that we still can’t open up 99% of our printed media in North America to find an example of this incredible genre. 99% is probably generous. 99.9%.

Symbolia Magazine had a rebuttal for me.

symbolia logo

Here is a magazine that is entirely devoted to Comics Journalism, or Cartoon Journalism. The publication is a pay-per-issue or by annual subscription, available for online viewing through interactive PDF’s. Another term for interactive is best thing ever.

symbolia_guantanamo bay

There is such a huge variety of work available here, from artistic style to focus of journalistic investigation. Whereas most of the work (that I’ve read thus-far) does not include the journalist in the story, there is a strong sense of personalization nonetheless through the images that depict the subject of the accompanying words. Subjects range from war to the story of an artist who wanted to build the world’s first museum devoted to insect genitalia. 

The focus isn’t politics or making stories personal. The focus is simply comics journalism, which lends itself to exploring a wide variety of topics from the beginning to the end of each issue.

Definitely check out Symbolia, if you haven’t already. I plan on continuing my subscription and reviewing individual pieces as they come up.

Their website is: http://www.symboliamag.com

Follow on Twitter: @SymboliaMag
Or on Facebook

Whistle-Blowers and War Resisters: Phase 1

Destination this weekend: Ft. Meade, Maryland, where hundreds/thousands are gathering to protest the continued imprisonment of whistle-blower Bradley Manning. June 1st marks the beginning of his 4th year in prison- over a year of which has been in solitary confinement–and his trial has only just begun.

Private FirstClass Bradley Manning pictured left, alongside a video clip of the now-notorious military footage that he released to the world -"Collateral Murder" - which shows U.S. soldiers firing on civilians, including journalists, in Iraq.
Private FirstClass Bradley Manning pictured left, alongside a video clip of the now-notorious military footage that he released to the world -“Collateral Murder” – which shows U.S. soldiers firing on civilians, including journalists, in Iraq.

My plan: to cover the rally and the case of whistle-blowers and war resisters from a comics journalism perspective. Who are whistle blowers and war resisters within the current framework of the Global War On Terror? What are the historical precedents? What compels them to face jail time, potentially life sentences for standing up / speaking out / leaking classified information?

Obviously, I will be biased in my investigation. My husband is a former U.S. 82nd Airborne Paratrooper who served a 15 month tour of duty in Afghanistan–and would be arrested the minute he stepped back into the United States on grounds of desertion, as his contract was being extended to include a second tour. As his partner and someone who has heard intimately on his time in the military, I feel confident in saying that the injustices he witnessed were first-hand; stuff not of a “necessary evil” or “duality of man” that resigns one to complacence. I believe he and Bradley Manning share a story–a story shared, in one way or another, by all whistle-blowers, war resisters, and veterans who have decided to make a stand, and I’d like to share that story with all of you.

I bring with me the 5 P’s:

Pencils
Pens
Paper
Paints
Phone (Voice recording / camera / Internet)

Wish me luck.

For more information on the Ft. Meade rally and the case of Bradley Manning, check out http://www.bradleymanning.org

“Life Begins At Incorporation: Cartoons and Essays” by Matt Bors

mattbors_lifebeginsatincorporationMatt Bors prides himself (perhaps reluctantly) on being “The Last” nationally-syndicated editorial cartoonist in the United States of America. While the rest of the “sequential arts” are in the midst of their own Comic Renaissance, political and editorial cartoons are withering away with printed newspapers—now used with more satisfaction for fireplace starter and nesting material for gerbils than reading.

Despite this, Matt has built a decent following through cartoons and commentary that are consistently present and politically poignant. What do I mean by “present”? Outside of his regular publishing in regional newspapers near his home in the Pacific Northwest, his website archives all of his comics—which, from the perspective of social media (which have been steadily replacing print as our chief news sources for the past decade) are all very “share-friendly”. The first piece I ever saw of Matt’s got passed along in my Facebook feed, I believe, by the The Occupy Wall Street Page:

steve jobs

Web comic celebrity Matt Inman once put it a few years back, “With The Oatmeal, I wanted to create something where the viral marketing itself was the product, rather than trying to put it on something else.” I would argue that, er, Matt B. essentially does the same thing except with politicians instead of cats wearing ties (which does hurt his stats a little bit). In the realm of politics, though, Bors’ drawn conclusions are successfully competing with mainstream news media, (and they downright Haretsukan others in the domain of editorial cartooning). While the medium of the comic panels is almost defined by its accessibility, as Matt Inman hints at, the content of said panels remains a refreshing escape hatch from the suffocation usually associated with mainstream political discourse. It’s a pretty impressive balance.

For how long have you waited for an editorial cartoon–with mainstream accessibility–to point out the following:

(Check all that apply)

[ ] Most high-profile homophobes are probably gay (Matt keeps a list that’s about 2-score long)

[ ] The path to the Middle Class in America is arguably longer and harder than the path to citizenship

[ ] Despite being elected as the “anti-war candidate” against the GOP, Obama has continued the War on Terror, surged the troops in Afghanistan, NOT closed Guantanamo, and fully ushered in the era of drone-based warfare, currently occupying half a dozen countries in the Middle East / Central Asia.

[ ] Millenials, as a generation, aren’t “lazy”: they’re fucked (link goes to this gem of an essay, included in Matt’s book, posted on Matt’s website).

[ ]  Occupy wasn’t a bunch of hippies sitting in a drum circle, and “I am the 99%” wasn’t just an incredibly meaningful slogan thought up in between bong hits.

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At this point you may be thinking, “Isn’t this supposed to be a book review?”

The book is Matt in 200 pages. It’s everything that he offers as a political cartoonist in both form and content. It’s editorial cartoons and comics journalism, satire and commentary, covering women’s rights, marriage equality, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, gun control, elections, debates and popular [mis]conceptions about all of these things. It’s a powerful and enjoyable showcase that makes you wonder why NO ONE else is doing it like Matt is doing it. Matt made fun of me, more or less, when I described him like that before–I guess I just don’t know how else to say it.

Is there anything I disagree with Matt on?

His cartoon about Julian Assange, which focuses on the allegations of rape against the Wikileaks founder, to me, is like looking at Obama’s foreign policy today and trying to focus on the 2012 Benghazi Attack. My point? That’s it’s sooooo not the point. And yea, I’m a woman and I know all about non-consensual sexual encounters; and yea, there’s an American diplomat to Libya out there, listening to Steve King or Lindsay Graham, going, “Give me a fuckin’ break!”

One cartoon not doing it for me, out of a thousand, is acceptable.

Matt’s book, Life Begins at Incorporation, can be purchased online through Matt’s website.

If you’re like me and live in Toronto, you can find it through the Ad Astra Comix Distro, The Beguiling, The Comic Book Lounge, Hairy Tarantula, and The Silver Snail.

Political Comics at #TCAF 2013

It’s safe to say that this past week was one of the busiest for me in recent memory. On top of working a 40 hour week at my day job (in 4 days), the Toronto Comic Arts Festival was in full swing and I was pulling together what I’d hope would be two kick-ass events for the weekend.phone photos 058
TCAF breaks records every year–has since I’ve been attending at least. If this year didn’t reach fire-code-breaking capacity at the Toronto Reference Library (in addition to several off-site satellite locations), and to be sure, they’re still still waiting on the official numbers, then it was awfully close. More notably there was an insane amount of talent at the show: Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly of RAW Magazine / MAUS / New Yorker fame. Jaime + Gilbert Hernandez, Tagame, Matsumoto, Chester Brown, Seth, David B… the list goes on.
Unlike my previous years at the festival, I saw a notable rise in interest (as well as work available) pertaining to political comic books. This is despite the skiddishness that remains around the term “political”. But whatever people want to call it, I found much more to chew on over the weekend than in years past.
Before I go into some books, a note on Comics Journalism.
If there’s one way to get people to talk comfortably about political comics and their viability, it’s Comics Journalism. I think it’s seen as a happy medium for a lot of  different interest groups, whether it’s non-comic folk looking for some different non-fiction, or comic fans looking for a different type of page to turn. In turn, the sub genre doesn’t effect the topic. Joe Sacco really birthed the term, from his thumb-to-index-finger loins, with work like Palestine and Safe Area Goražde, using comics to take on some pretty acceptable topics of intrigue in the journalism community… but since, really, you could do a comics journalism piece on just about anything and it would have the potential to be amazing. I look forward to seeing more and more come to maturity in this genre over the coming years.
…And secondly, a brief note about Art Spiegelman’s MAUS. I did not include MAUS in this list, because 1) I think it’s deserving of a little more commentary than one paragraph, for all it has done to influence the world of political comics… and comics in general. 2) It was put out 20 years ago. I feel like it’s a bit silly to put it among a list of up-and-comers with newly released works. (In other words, there will be more on MAUS as a specific work to come soon on Ad Astra!)
OK. To the books.

mattbors_lifebeginsatincorporation
LIFE BEGINS AT INCORPORATION by Matt Bors – I’ve never considered myself a fan of editorial cartoons, so when I decided to back Matt’s Kickstarter campaign, that really just meant that I liked his work more than I cared to admit. After a bit of discussion and a lot of planning on both ends, Matt was able to make it up to Toronto to promote his book at TCAF, in the midst of some type of Eastern-Time-Zone-only book tour.
The book is a collection of political cartoons and essays spanning years of wonderful American political drama- from the gay marriage debate that is still somehow being discussed, to the continuing occupation of Afghanistan and the reality that war-time simply seems to be the perpetual reality for Americans, post-9/11. I have plenty to say about this book and have already uttered plenty of niceties here. My recommendation over reading my book-length review is just to buy the book. It’s better.
From left to right: Rutu Modan (Jerusalem), Matt Bors (Portland), Sarah Glidden (vagabond drifter), Josh Neufeld (New York City)
From left to right: Rutu Modan (Jerusalem), Matt Bors (Portland), Sarah Glidden (vagabond drifter), Josh Neufeld (New York City)

I will add, however, that Matt gave a great presentation to an engaged crowd at the Comic Book Lounge on May 10, the night before TCAF–despite monsoon thunderstorms and a competing 10th Anniversary TCAF party down the road (we had this shit scheduled MONTHS ago. We’re not the splinter group. THEY’RE the splinter group!). Attendees included at least one other fellow Kickstarter backer, which was great to see.
On Saturday evening, Matt and I shared a table with comic creators Josh Neufeld, Sarah Glidden, and Rutu Modan to discuss “Comics & Politics” at TCAF to a great crowd who asked lots of questions–from comics journalism to comics activism, free speech and “to draw or not to draw” (discussing the Mohammed cartoon), stereotypes, backlash for work done… it was great. And what’s more, it shows a genuine interest in political comics from a variety of entry points.
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HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS by Sarah Glidden – Right in there on the topic of Comics Journalism. Sarah Glidden went to Israel on a Birthright trip and came out of it with How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less. Not only is it a journalistic piece about the country, it is journalism of herself experiencing it. The artwork is very much a European comic book style, with simple, expressive line work and really nice coloring (these are pretty much the first two things I think about when someone says European Comics). It’s packed with a thousand little stories that maybe tell us more about an American’s viewpoint on Israel than Israel itself, in all its historical and political turmoil. But I like the frankness that Glidden gave when describing the outcome of the book while at the TCAF panel (at the risk of seeming “wishy-washy”), when she said that this place became real when she traveled there, and the people in it became human beings. While I may not agree with Sarah on her political conclusions (and I’ve yet to see, as I’ve yet to finish the book!), it hardly seems relevant when we’re talking about a work of art that is depicting a personal experience.joshneufeld_ADNewOrleans

A.D. NEW ORLEANS by Josh Neufeld – This book has been on my list to pick up for some time, and it was a pleasure to share a stage with Josh and talk to him about this project. I’ve yet to fully pinpoint my thoughts on this, but there is something to be said about  a writer’s perception of an experience, and a visualist’s perception of the same thing. Neufeld seems to pick up on details of the Hurricane Katrina disaster that go missing in other accounts–and it’s not just a matter of mainstream vs. independent media. The wreckage, the crowds, the sweat, the loss of cherished items… all pulls at you differently when you are immediately able to absorb the information through a drawn depiction, without the filter or process of language. I particularly like the variety of people interviewed and their respective color palettes in the book’s pages. This will be a great one to finally read cover to cover.

I also got two other books that were illustrated by Josh Neufeld – The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media, and Stowaway, written by Tori Marlan. Both works of comic journalism, although entirely different.


davidB_bestofenemiesBEST OF ENEMIES by Jean-Pierre Filiu et David – When I first eyed this book at TCAF last year, I’d already spent all my money. Good thing I have a better job this year. Best of Enemies explores the long and complex history of U.S.-Middle East relations. It is part 1 of 3: 1783-1953, and so incredibly fascinating. David B.’s illustrations are absolutely addictive; despite history typically being considered a dry subject matter, he ads enough art and style to the panels to keep even the subject’s most un-enthused reading on. In my limited French comprehension, David had to tell me in English that he and Jean-Pierre, an historian and former diplomat, are busy working on the next book, despite their own crazy schedules traveling around the world. I look forward to reading this one, as well as the coming two.


vendittihuddleston_homelanddirectiveTHE HOMELAND DIRECTIVE by Robert Venditti and Mike Huddleston – One of the few works of fiction that I picked up over the weekend, this self-described ‘political thriller’ is available through Top Shelf Productions, one of my favorite publishers. I always worry about books that look like this one… I don’t want to read a comic book version of the Bourne Identity, although the plot to this one sounds a bit more like the BBC TV show, Utopia. What pushed me over the fence with this one was the attention to detail that I can see–the stylistic and color scheme differences in the artwork as the pages change scenes, the elaborate plot that all ties together at the end (according to the dude from Top Shelf…. who I believe, cause they’re usually believable). Great cover art, too. I will get to this one, albeit a little later than some of the others. Suspicion ensues….


harveypekar_clevelandHARVEY PEKAR’S CLEVELAND with art by Joseph Remnant – In hindsight I’m trying to remember the reason I purchased this comic. It may have been the incredibly detailed pen and ink cross-hatch artwork, or the wonderfully vivid content of working class history in the Midwest, or the introduction by Alan Moore. All are good takers; combined, they won me over. It looks like a great read that most people would greatly under estimate.


7SbooksSEVEN STORIES PRESS at TCAF
Was so psyched to see Seven Stories Press –traditionally not a comics publisher–at TCAF this year. What a great addition to the exhibitors list. Tons of historical and political comics to choose from. I would place them as pretty much the only contenders to have stocked radical comics at the festival. Kudos to them coming and to TCAF for welcoming change and getting them on-board!

THE BEGINNING OF THE AMERICAN FALL by Stephanie McMillan – Yet another work of comics journalism, documenting the nature and relevance of the Occupy Movement in the U.S. This book was the 2012 winner of the RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights Journalism Award – not an award that I’m familiar with, but impressive nonetheless for a type of journalism not yet fully grasped. I am particularly interested in this because it is a political comic that isn’t afraid to take a side- it clearly sees its prerogative as educating a broader audience about the Occupy Movement and inciting a greater level of political participation in the world around us. Can’t wait to read.

AS THE WORLD BURNS by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan – Also at the Seven Stories Press table was this title, also one that I’d never heard of. This book teams McMillan up with notorious deep ecology activist Derrick Jensen to make satirical play on the impending environmental and ecological crises of out time. While it is fictional (perhaps allegorical?) it is undeniably meant to shock people at just how close we’re getting to a great collapse. Looking forward to the read.

PARECOMIC by Sean Michael Wilson and Carl Thompson – Also by Seven Stories Press, about Michael Albert and his development of Participatory Economics. I will probably pair this one up with another comic I plan to review about capitalist economics and see how many of you are still awake at the end. Introduction by Noam Chomsky. See, now you have to buy it.

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CANADIAN POLITICAL COMICS at TCAF

If political comics can be construed as typical, then it is assumed that the great bulk of them at the festival would be from the U.S. Despite TCAF being a Canadian event, there’s just more of everything coming from the U.S. in comics. But to my delight I was able to find some great work available through Conundrum Press, a publisher based out of Nova Scotia.

THE HERO BOOK by Scott Waters – Not so much a graphic novel or comic as an illustrated memoir (it says that right on the cover), The Hero Book is an artistic yet journalistic look at the culture and psychology of Canadian soldiers. At least, that’s as far as I can tell. Sorry, I was too busy looking at the ABSOLUTELY JAW-DROPPING artwork to read any more than a couple of sentences. Holy shit, this book is beautiful. And from what I can tell, the content is right up my alley. Looking forward to the read.

CHIMO by David Collier – While dealing with the topic of Canadian soldiers like the work above, Chimo appears to be much more comic book-y. As a part of the Canadian Forces Artists Program (seriously, I was surprised as well to hear that such a thing existed), Collier actually went through basic training to be able to write this book. As far as I know, he was in his early 40’s at the time. Impressive, David! It makes drawing out 100 pages sound pretty damn easy!

PAUL JOINS THE SCOUTS by Michel Rabagliati – This book fascinates me. The folks at Conundrum described it to me as something from their ‘Young Adult’ section, but pointed out that it covers a lot of the FLQ crisis in Quebec during the 1970s. What an interesting combination! I love the idea of mixing political and non-political plot lines (isn’t that more like real life?). Paul is the author’s semi-autobiographical character, so it would appear that the work draws from a lot of first-hand experience. Looks like a great piece – can’t wait to pick it up.

Incredible Talent to Discuss Political Comics at #TCAF 2013

Hey Y’all – It’s official. I will be moderating a panel of incredible artists on at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) – this next weekend. The panel is a presentation and discussion on Political Comics, and features Matt Bors, Josh Neufeld, Sarah Glidden, and Rutu Modan. Here are the deets:

Political Comics Panel
Saturday, May 11
at the Marriott Hotel
90 Bloor St. East
(Around the corner from the Toronto Reference Library)
5pm – 6pm

Let’s Meet the Panelists!

profile picMATT BORS  is a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist and editor based in Portland, OR. He was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for his political cartoons, which appear regularly in The Sacramento Bee, Portland Mercury, Pittsburgh City Paper, and on Daily Kos.

In the summer of 2010, Bors traveled to Afghanistan to draw comics and serves as the comics journalism editor for Cartoon Movement where he is currently editing a project on reconstruction efforts in Haiti.

In 2012, Bors was the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for his editorial cartooning. His first graphic novel, War Is Boring, a collaboration with journalist David Axe, was published in 2010. His latest book is a collection of cartoons and essays title Life Begins At Incorporation.

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SARAH GLIDDEN’s first full-length book, a graphic-memoir was How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, based on a Birthright trip she took and was published in 2010 by DC Vertigo.

She is currently working on her second book, a work of graphic journalism following reporters into Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon and Syria. Her short pieces of graphic journalism have been published on Cartoon Movement, Ha’aretz, and the Jewish Quarterly. You can find more of her work at sarahglidden.com.

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JOSH NEUFELD is a comics journalist known for his graphic narratives of political and social upheaval, told through the voices of witnesses. He is the writer/artist of the best-selling non-fiction graphic novel A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (Pantheon). In addition, he is the illustrator of the best-selling graphic non-fiction book The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media (W.W. Norton). He is currently a 2013 Knight-Wallace fellow in journalism at the University of Michigan. Neufeld is a Xeric Award winner, and his work has been nominated for a number of other awards, including the Eisner and the Harvey. Usually based in Brooklyn, N.Y., he currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with his wife and daughter.

portrait_modanRUTU MODAN was born in Tel-Aviv in 1966 and is now one of Israel’s best known cartoonists. She graduated from art school in 1992 and quickly established herself drawing strips for Israeli daily newspapers. In 1994 she was offered to job of editing an Israeli edition of MAD magazine with her classmate, Yirmi Pinkus, featuring reprints of US material supplemented with local originated material. The magazine shut down after 14 issues, but undeterred, Rutu and Yirmi founded Actus Tragicus in 1995, an internationally acclaimed collective and independent publishing house for alternative comic artists, including Batia Kolton, Mira Friedmann and Itzik Rennert. Rutu has worked as an illustrator for magazines and books in Israel and abroad, and has taught comics courses in Israel. She currently lives in Sheffield, England.

Modan’s newest work, The Property, is debuting from Drawn & Quarterly at TCAF this year.

For more information about TCAF 2013 – including a full list of all the kick-ass artists coming to town – head on over to http://www.TorontoComics.com

See you this weekend!