Tag 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

 

 

‘EXTRACTION!’ Pre-Ordering is Now OPEN

Ad Astra Comix is pleased to announce that our crowdfunder for a classic work of Canadian comics journalism is now live. “EXTRACTION! Comix Reportage” is an anthology of journalistic comics about the damage caused by different sectors the Canadian mining industry around the world and within the nation state’s own borders. Using research, on-the-ground journalism and original comic art, the work features stories about the extraction of uranium, oil, aluminum and gold and their devastating impact on communities and the environment.

title image for press kit

The human and ecological cost of this industry is too often buried in the fine print of annual reports. ‘EXTRACTION!’ can help stories from India, Guatemala, Alberta and the Northwest Territories reach Canadians – the people best positioned to challenge these companies.

‘EXTRACTION!’ touches on a number of issues of interest to our readers including colonialism, indigenous rights, ecological devastation and corporate malfeasance. It also features work by a number of contributors who have gone on to do exciting things, including journalist Dawn Paley and artist Jeff Lemire.

Ad Astra Comix is an independent Ottawa-based comics publisher. We believe in the power of comics to share the stories of regular people and speak truth to power. We have no investors, stockholders or friends in high places – just an enthusiasm for comics and social justice.

Organizations, individuals and local book retailers are encouraged to participate in the crowdfunder. Funding rewards range from a copy of the book before it’s available in stores, to custom-made comics about the mining issue of your choice, to a lump of coal delivered to the Canadian Government, on your behalf.

lump of coal w text

EXTRACTION!’ has already been published once and has sold the entirety of its print run. By republishing it, we hope to share these stories and help Canadians understand the high cost of cheap commodities. By contributing to the project or simply sharing it with people you think may be interested, you can help us reach that goal.

If you’re interested in contributing to the publication of ‘EXTRACTION!’, or want to know more about the project, you can check out our crowdfunding campaign. For information about Ad Astra Comix, including other titles we carry, workshops we offer and critical coverage of political comics, check out the rest of this website. To get in touch, please e-mail adastracomix@gmail.com. You can also follow us on Twitter @AdAstraComics or like our page on Facebook.

If You Could See a Comic About Any Social Issue, What Would it Be?

This past May, at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (or TCAF), we joined 20,000 other comic and art fans at the Toronto Public Library. Dozens of publishers traded, hundreds of artists talked, and literally thousands of books changed hands… but how many of them were about social issues? Very few. And if that was the case, why? Do people not care about social issues? If they do, which ones to they care about?

What people told us, and how they responded revealed some interesting answers…

Continue reading If You Could See a Comic About Any Social Issue, What Would it Be?

Duck, Duck, Profundity: Kate Beaton’s Time in the Tar Sands

It is a simple thing for the analytical mind to pry open the panel of oppression and see the whizzing cogs and grumbling gears of race, class and gender working mechanically to produce social relations.  How neatly our familiar intellectual frameworks structure our understanding of human life!  There is a reassuring consistency with which these lenses are employed, reducing the world’s complexities to a comfortable, mechanical pattern. Useful as it is, the cold-blooded methodology that sees the operation of capitalism, patriarchy and racism in all things fails to capture the essential ambiguity of our humanity.

ducks
Cause they’re dead! DEAAAAAD!

It is this ambiguity of the human experience that Kate Beaton has captured in her recent series, Ducks.  Threaded beautifully into starkly political themes of environmental destruction, corporate recklessness and workplace safety are more explicitly human experiences: isolation, camaraderie and the moral complexity of survival in one of the world’s deepest wounds.  The essential humanity of surviving in such a profoundly dehumanizing environment defines this painfully nuanced piece.

hateithere1
The Red Shoe Pub, it ain’t.

Humanity is a dangerous concept, but an important one.  It is too often emphasized by exclusion, used to demonize some people to serve the ends of others.  Still, it is too important an idea to abandon. When the easy tautologies of political analysis fail us, it is the idea of our shared humanity that helps to explain what makes people hang together.  For students of struggle, insights into this frustratingly elusive element of history are precious.

Like generations of easterners, Kate Beaton left her home town of Mabou, Nova Scotia to make a living in the scabrous sprawl of the tar sands.  With few economic prospects at home and the promise of good pay, thousands have followed its siren call into the maw of destruction.  ‘Ducks’ recounts Beaton’s experiences working on one of these sites, centred around the deaths of hundreds of ducks in a tailings pond near Fort MacMurray, Alberta.

shitintheair
I think Stan Rogers covered this in “The Idiot”

There are no easy truths framed by these panels.  An action by Greenepeace that clogs a tailing pipe endangers the lives of workers on site.  A sex worker finds herself frightened and cornered in a work site bathroom.  Kate Beaton discovers that working in the tar sands comes with a persistent skin rash.  Her equipment is covered in dirt, even indoors.  Workers die on the job.

crane
There’s nothing funny to say about this.

The comic is shot through with death: the ducks, a man falling from a construction crane, others killed in an accident on the highway.  In the last case, Beaton hears the dead men were Cape Bretoners and seeks out another islander to see if she knew them.  Even halfway across the country, the threat to home is real.

Beaton exposes a vein of callous indifference in her subjects.  Men grumble about traffic on the highway on the day of the accident.  Workers joke through an announcement on the death of the crane operator.  The corporate response to the duck deaths is a scarecrow and some noisemakers.  But for every example of inhuman indifference there is a counterpoint of dignity or sorrow.

newfs
Delicious

There is the memory of home, too, in gentle jibes about Newfie Roundsteaks – a teasing nickname for baloney.  A man shares photos of his children at home.  The lethal crash is framed in terms of the phone call to the families.  When Beaton confesses she hates it there, her coworker response captures the essential truth of the situation, and the strip.  No one wants to be in the tar sands, watching the planet die.  But they don’t have much of a choice.

hateithere2
In response to “hating it here”

Kate Beaton is not always a political artist – she is not even always serious.  But in framing a part of her own experience, she has given expression to an often difficult truth.  We survive in the little acts of kindness, in shared experiences and frustrations that complicate our day.  Though we may grow numb or compromised, at the end of it all we are bound together by our common humanity and our ability to find beauty – and absurdity – in even the most trying situations.  That is a political lesson than captures an intangible truth outside the reach of cold analysis.  How we apply the lesson is up to us.

It isn't an article about KB without this little bastard stuck in somewhere.
It isn’t an article about KB without this little bastard stuck in somewhere.

Gender, Race, Forgotten Pasts and Hopeful Futures: The Best of Political Comics in 2013

Who Were the Movers and Shakers in Comics for 2013?

In and out of the comics world, it’s been quite a year! For Ad Astra Comix, it was a year that we came to be. But how was our own growth reflective of the rise of political comics elsewhere? Listed below are the people, projects and titles that our contributors believe made the absolute best of the past twelve months, in many different ways. Follow the links to find out where you can purchase their work and learn more about them!

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The Ladydrawers Comics Collective

sexmoneyracegenderTwo Thousand and Thirteen was a big year for comics introspection. At the forefront of alternative comics, comics activism, and raising awareness about some of the deficiencies of the industry is the Ladydrawers Collective, who have gained a wider audience from their contributions to the progressive website Truthout.org.

“We are not just readers and fans of comics; we are also creators and active participants in comic book culture,” they explain in their Kickstarter project last summer, which successfully raised over $15,000 for a documentary film about diversity in the industry. “…[A]s a medium as well as a mass cultural instrument, comics should not only represent our society by mirroring genuine aspects of human thought of emotion, but also nurture critical thinking and creativity.”

In addition to creating original works on topics as wide-ranging as feminism and unfair labour practices, the collective has curated comic art exhibitions, interviews with others in the comic industry around these issues, and given much-needed fuel to the fire calling for nothing short of a revolution in comics and the way we use them.cartoon-ladydrawers


Black Mask Banner
Black Mask Studios

Although founded in 2012, Black Mask Studios really heated up this year with a full slate release of titles from this new indie/political/punk publisher. Primary titles of interest: Occupy Comics and Liberator.

Occupy Comics (with 3 issue releases this year) has done much more than just tell the story of Occupy Wall Street. The series captures the feel of the movement. By reaching out to artists and writers from around the genre (Frank Miller need not apply). Occupy Comics offered powerful stories of struggle from early labour history, to OWS, Occupy Sandy, and other elements of the world wide movement for economic and social justice.
Liberator, written by Matt Miner in New York City, has taken an often marginalized sector of the activist community, the animal rights movement, and brought it into a powerful story that can be appreciated by both supporters of animal rights and everyday fans of good storytelling. This story from the political margins earned 4 out of 5 stars from Comicvine, and was described on the website Bleeding Cool is “A fiercely strong book that refuses to preach”. Speaking to the busy year he’s had in comics, (he and his family were still recovering from Hurricane Sandy when he launched his Kickstarter campaign for Liberator–since then, he’s released a first volume of four issues, and is collaborating on a project in the new year with the hardcore band Earth Crisis):

“The launch of Black Mask Studios has certainly helped bring political issues into comics in a bigger way.  I feel that as comics continue to grow and expand we’ll continue to see new and different types of stories that are relevant to the society we live in.”
“…I mean, Liberator isn’t Batman but it’s out there being read and enjoyed by a bunch of people who read Batman.  10 years ago the idea of an animal vigilante justice book never woulda happened.”

Certainly there are “non-political” titles that Black Mask is investing in, such as Ghostface Killah’s and RZA’s Hip-hop crime drama 12 Ways to Die, or Ballistic, a futuristic adventure about a man and his pet gun. But perhaps one of the most innovative and notable actions of the studio is its distribution strategy. Actively seeking out an alternative audience as well as traditional comic fans, Black Mask has placement in record stores, alternative book stores and uses an online subscription model to reach their audience. Black Mask has brought a slate of avant guard and openly political offerings into the wider marketplace.
Imagine: any average kid walking in to pick up the latest X-men or Batman (let’s face it: Superman fans probably weren’t interested) could see titles that made no bone about their politics of Animal Liberation, punk rock anarchists or the 99% sitting proudly beside old favourites. The times, they are a-changin’!

But the evolution of political comics is certainly not limited to North America, or to the new issues rack at the local comic shop.


so close faraway

So Close, Faraway!

If you live homeless in 2013 Brazil, you face extreme risks. The country has an incredibly high murder rate for its most vulnerable citizens, and they aren’t getting a lot of help. A true case in point: last year, eight homeless people were poisoned when a passerby gave them a bottle of water spiked with rat poison.

Shedding light on this dark and treacherous life, Brazilian creators Augusto Paim, Bruno Ortiz & Maurício Piccini created an interactive webcomic that–for a day–puts you next to Jorge, a 43-year old homeless man from Porto Alegre, Brazil.  So Close, Faraway! a self-described “interactive piece of comics journalism,” is a pioneering effort that stretches the capabilities of the comic medium while forcing us to look at a social issue we often ignore.
Vigorously researched by Paim, the SCF! combines the story of Jorge’s life with real statistics about homelessness in Brazil, like those mentioned above. Ortiz’s art reminds us of the tropics in that it seems almost two bright, yet startlingly accurate, even in the blur of the final page. There are also multiple photos that demonstrate that the artwork rarely takes any liberties, and the harsh conditions on each page accurately reflect the harsh reality of homeless life in Brazil.
Bringing the story of Jorge to the online space is computer science graduate Piccini, who creates each page in layers that let you add or remove statistical or story dialogue boxes to give you some freedom as to how you read the comic. There’s something empowering about having control over the text on a comic page, allowing you to appreciate the art, and giving you the chance to read as deeply into the details of the story as you like.


From left to right: Nate Powell, Congressman John Lewis, and Andrew Aikin standing on the bridge where police had beaten Lewis and his comrades decades before. The scene is depicted in March: Book One.
From left to right: Nate Powell, Congressman John Lewis, and Andrew Aikin standing on the bridge where police had beaten Lewis and his comrades decades before. The scene is depicted in March: Book One.

MARCH: Book One

John Lewis is perhaps one of the few members of American Congress who deserves to be there. As a leader of the Civil Rights Movement and the only person still alive to have spoken alongside Martin Luther King at the Washington Monument rally in 1963.

march__mlk_600px_lgAnd so kudos to him, Andrew Aikin, and the rest of their team for recognizing that the way to pass on this important chapter of American history—a history so often white-washed and told to have a happy ending—is to tell it as children and young adults like to learn it: with comics (electronic orders of this title, available through Top Shelf Productions, even include an electronic copy of vintage comic Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a 1950’s-era title that inspired Lewis to re-visit the medium). March: Book One shows us that our history is beautiful, terrifying, and can be powerfully relevant to our own lives. And who else could illustrate this with more grace than comic artist and illustrator Nate Powell?

If a comparison is acceptable, Powell is also another hard-working person who uniquely deserves every ounce of credit for what he has achieved in his life. After self-publishing comics since he was 14, Powell completed a few critically acclaimed and award-winning works like Swallow Me Whole, The Sounds of Your Name, and recently more politically-charged work like The Silence of Their Friends, and Any Empire. In 2011, he appeared at the United Nations alongside the world’s foremost writers of young adult fiction, to present on his contribution to the anthology What You Wish For: A Book For Darfur.

As John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell so eloquently show us in MARCH, the Civil Rights Movement was a bloody, uphill battle, and should be remembered that way. The struggle and its gains were not the results of a few actions by those now famous historical figures; the movement moved and shaped by thousands of committed activists, many of whom were students, and many of whom lost their lives.


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Boxers and Saints

Gene Luen Yan’s Boxers and Saints is a hugely innovative and visionary dual graphic narrative for all ages, from First Second Books. Using cutting-edge creative technique, we can now begin to think about history (and comics) in a very different way.

They are in fact, two separate but complementary graphic novels, Boxers, and Saints, that challenge a traditional black & white world-view.  They are also available together as a boxed set and share trade-dress (including connecting imagery on covers/spines), and the reading of both is highly recommended to fully appreciate the richness of the larger world and the historical backdrop of China’s Boxer Rebellion.

Even though Boxers is the heftier of the two physical volumes, both are balanced in substance. Yang has tackled the problem facing anyone trying to fairly depict two sides of a conflict, and finds a rather eloquent solution: each is given it’s own stand-alone (albeit interrelated) story, and it’s own protagonist.

Boxers tells the story of Little Bao, an ignorant farm boy turned rebel leader, while Saints follows a young Christian girl, whose lowly status does not merit a proper given name until she chooses her vocation.  The two meet only briefly, but with significant repercussions on the lives and ultimate fates of both.

In addition to being a critically acclaimed and award winning Graphic Novelist (American Born Chinese won an Eisner and other honours in 2007), Yang is a high school teacher. He shows deftness and ease at breaking complex concepts and events into accessible, yet entertaining, ways for his primary audience of children and youth.

He crafts fictionalized version of very real events, using what we as adults might liken to “Magic Realism”.  It’s not surprising that Yang also writes the graphic novel adventures of Avatar: The Last Airbender. He has essentially turned his protagonists into superheroes, while the very human reactions of his adolescent characters remain easily relatable to young readers.

Yang’s work pushes the boundaries and demonstrates the potential of the medium. Boxers and Saints highlights the complexities and ambiguities of political/social/economic conflicts, and illustrates to his readers that the world isn’t cleanly divided into “good guys” and “bad guys”.


symbolia logo

Symbolia – A Periodical of Comics Journalism

Symbolia Magazine started out this year doing something that seemed very logical: an electronic periodical composed entirely of comics journalism. In fact, it seemed so logical that many of us forgot that this had never been done before. Celebrating the genre in and of itself and not merely as decoration for other more “legitimate” pieces of print journalism, the periodical format reminds us that this category of work is alive, kicking, and packs a healthy dose of diversity (and punch, in case anyone’s wondering). The latest instalment just came out on December 24. and the electronic-only format means that the editorial board can focus on quality content and not pinching pennies to make the next full-colour print run (electronic comics also mean interactive comics, of which the magazine takes full advantage!)


femalesuperheroesTom Humberstone and Female Superheroes

For those unfamiliar, Tom Humberstone is an award-winning comic artist and illustrator based in London. This year, he launched the platform Female Superheroes on femalesuperheroes.nl (with access in English and Dutch), featuring inspiring stories about ordinary women from around the world, who face great adversity and overcame it to do extraordinary things with their lives. The platform is unique because, “it showcases how Comics Journalism can be combined with a game-like interface, 360-degree photography and video to create an immersive experience”. Pretty awesome.


Screenshot of the interactive Female Superheroes website, available in English and Dutch.
Screenshot of the interactive Female Superheroes website, available in English and Dutch.


Tess Fowler, Mari Naomi, and the “Open Letters” to the Comics Community of 2013

Similar to this last project was some of the initial work released by Tess Fowler, who gained recognition for her modern remix of Disney heroines, called “Apocalypse Princesses.”

For better and for worse, Fowler arguably made less waves with her incredible artwork this year than for her calling sexist foul on Brian Wood, a leader in the mainstream comics industry for sexually harassing her during a comic convention social. Open letters such as hers and other women in comics (most recently comic artist Mari Naomi re-lived, in comic form, how she was repeatedly sexually harassed during a panel at a comic convention) are pointing to a deep and powerful undercurrent of male chauvinism in comics.

Certainly, these talented women would like to focus on what they love doing most, which is telling stories and drawing comics. But for the purpose of this post talking about who has had the most significant impact on comics from a political perspective, their public positions against harassment in the industry have been huge. The ripple effect of these public-yet-very-much-“inter-community” criticism is going to be felt for years to come, and has very likely changed the titanic course of the comics industry as we know it. The letters, each as they pop up, have obviously been constructed with great caution and forethought, but ultimately released for the betterment of the comics community, and are therefore courageous and worthy, more than any other buzz news or gossip, of our time to read.

Contributing Writers:
Zachary Dunlop-Johnson
José Gonzalez
Raisha Karnani
Sam Noir
Nicole Marie Guiniling

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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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