Rabbit Holes: a 24 hour comic

It’s been a while since I updated the old blog here, but I needed a place to share my latest 24 hour comic book. Although 24 hour comics day is officially on October 1 this year, I’ll be heading to the Alternative Press Expo and won’t be able to participate. So I decided to take up the challenge a week in advance.

The result is Rabbit Holes, a comic book about dancers, drug smuggling and the deconstruction of the ego. Or something like that. Technically, this is a 27 hour comic book. I was unable to complete my comic on deadline, but I was 20 pages in at hour twenty-four. So I ran with it.

Ink and gouache, no preparation beforehand.

Download the comic here.

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The Art of Journalism Comics: Info-comics

A panel from Scott McCloud's Google Chrome comicTo continue where I left off, here’s a little more on another (often neglected) form of journalism comics

Part Two: Instructional/Info-comics

At the core, comics are pictographs. Like all pictographs, the most effective comics are instantly understandably. Think of common pictographs in our culture – street signs, instruction manuals and warning iconography; they are innocuous, but they instantly help us engage with unexpected or unfamiliar external stimuli.

Good journalism, I would argue, often serves the same purpose. Journalists provide us with a public record, but often interpret the events that compose that record, too. To do this, journalists write. But words comprise letters, and really, letters themselves are just pictographs that require a lot of cognitive energy to convert into meaning.

So if you have to explain a topic – say, quantitative easing – to the public, why not save some breath and let pictures do the talking? Journalists have always relied on infographics, photography and, more recently, video for this very purpose. And similar to the way graphs and charts can help clarify complex statistical analysis, comics can be an effective way to communicate complex situations or organize concepts in an easy-to-digest visual manner.

One clever example I’ve seen is Nicole Buys a Hooptie, a three-part consumer guide to buying a used car. The joint effort between a St. Petersburg Times intern, consumer affairs reporter and staff cartoonist Steve Madden is simple, but fairly effective.

Comics also can serve as an eye-catching way to summarize a story. Case in point, see the recent graphic for a New York Times business article about DecorMyEyes.com and anti-salesmanship in Internet commerce. There’s a nice contrast between the lengthy, anecdotal article and the dramatized comic which succinctly summarizes the first page of the article and crux of the story in seven quick panels.

A graphic history of the 2009 Honduran CoupThere are also tons of comics – many of which are kind of corny – that explore meaty subjects like the Constitution and the 9/11 Report in graphic novel-length books. Journalistic applications are obvious here, too. Take for example this brief comic history of the Honduras coup, which happened just last year. At the time, Dan Archer and Nikil Saval created a nice visual guide that explains how Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted.

It’s fair to argue that info-comics often tackle dry subject matter and end up being fairly middling. But the goal here isn’t really narrative dynamite, it’s just the facts, ma’am. Then again, I would argue that there are no boring subjects, just boring storytellers. For a great example, look no further than the Scott McCloud Google Chrome comic.

Have no doubt, McCloud’s comic is Google PR, but it’s also an exceptional attempt to explain the reasoning behind Google’s web browser. It works as a nice piece of advertising, but it’s also a pretty engaging take on specialized subject matter.

Comic artists like McCloud, Chris Ware, Ivan Brunetti and Richard McGuire among others have openly embraced the raw pictography of their art form. At the same time, it seems like journalism is experiencing a sort of renaissance of visual journalism that could easily embrace some interesting variations of info-comics.

Next up: Interviews, Reviews and Opinion

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The Art of Journalism Comics: Narrative Storytelling

Journalism and comics!Journalism comics? Graphic journalism? Illustrated reporting?

Call it what you will, but it’s a burgeoning little genre within the field of comic art.

Recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about the application of comics as a medium for journalism. I’ve been hoping for a chance to turn thought into action, which may actually happen someday.

In the meanwhile, I wanted to dig around and find some good examples of comics and journalism in action for inspiration.

I found there are dozens of variations on the form. These examples vary in style, tone and intent, but they all have a common purpose: relating non-fiction subject matter in a visual, sequential manner.

Admittedly, that common ground creates a broad definition of journalistic content. But even if journalistic intent has a major role in guiding the artist toward credible reporting, I’m mostly just fascinated with this interesting (and effective) twist on telling the facts.

So for the next couple days, I’m going to try to post some examples of these variations of journalism comics. I figure it’s best to start with the most obvious marriage of journalism and comics, so…

Part One: Narratives

The most exemplary journalism involves the transformation of reporting into an engaging narrative. Similarly, the most memorable comics put storytelling at the forefront.

Sounds like a simple marriage, right? To be sure, there’s a little more to it than that. After all, there’s a lot of non-fiction writing out there that wouldn’t be classified as journalism. And there are many non-fiction comics that don’t pretend to be journalism.

And that’s the trouble. One of the biggest obstacles journalism comics face are the distinctions about objectivity that occur when we gauge the credibility of reporting. Professional journalists stress their objectivity by avoiding conflicts of interest, vetting facts, sourcing opinion and so on. It’s not hard for a cartoonist to follow a similar code of ethics, but due to the representative nature of visual arts, a certain amount of filtering occurs naturally.

At this point, like anybody writing about this topic, I feel the need to mention Joe Sacco. His graphic novels Palestine, The Fixer and Safe Area Gorazde are masterworks of long form journalism comics. His work tends to be the standard for finding that balance between sequential art storytelling and traditional journalism.

I think even Sacco struggles with objectivity at times, though. There’s even a point in Palestine where he admits that he’s too close to the subject matter and concedes that the Israeli perspective would require a whole other book. Even if the self-awareness and admission don’t absolve, they do confirm Sacco’s intent in the mind of the reader.

For a less stylized take on journalism comics, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is a strong example. Josh Neufeld’s gripping account of Hurricane Katrina survivors excels thanks to inventive visual flourishes and a strong collection of perspectives that flesh out that scope of the disaster. In addition, the stripped down art helps emphasize a sort of distance, even if it does seem overly cinematic at times.

As a whole, Europe holds comic art in a higher regard, so it’s not surprising that some of the best works of this genre come from the Old World.

Patrick Chappette has a nice body of work, much of it published by the International Herald Tribune, Le Temps and Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Emmanuel Guibert’s The Photographer is another strong effort. Like Chappette, Guibert’s graphic novel is a wonderful blend of cartooning and photography. But unfortunately for English-speakers, some of finest comics reporters from Europe like Jans Herder have not been widely translated.

It’s worth mentioning that a journalism comic narrative doesn’t need to be graphic novel-length. For a while, Art Spiegelman brought some fantastic “reality comics” to the magazine Details. Of those, “Ready to Die” by Kim Deitch, a story that recalls the last days of a death row convict, is particularly effective.

But like the great works of long form New Journalism pioneered by Gay Talese, Joan Didion and Tom Wolfe, giving a story room to unfurl really makes the narrative sing. This is true of comics as much as any medium. .

Additionally, creating comics is a time-intensive job,which means they can be difficult to adapt when it comes to newsroom deadlines. So naturally, it makes sense to use narrative comics to approach larger stories that aren’t tied to the grind of the news cycle.

Spot reporting certainly isn’t out of the question, though. You just need an cartoonist who can work fast enough. I would argue that for deadline pieces, there may be more effective uses for comics as info-graphics and summary pieces. And so that brings us to another style of comics…

Coming next: Instructional comics and Info-comics!

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Tintin the Movie: Not Feelin’ It

Tintin cover of upcoming issue of EmpireI have to admit, I’m kind of wary of the upcoming Tintin movie. As much as I love Hergé, the early stills just don’t look right.

Empire is already running some of these stills online as a teaser for a cover story in the next print issue. But outside of Pixar films, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a CGI movie of this type that was really good. And I know I’ve seen a handful of awful comics-based movies. More often than not, copious amounts of CGI makes them even worse.

Then again, I’ve been surprised by comic book movies that I didn’t expect to translate into film very well. Persepolis is a good example. While I knew the subject matter would be compelling regardless of medium, I wasn’t sure how well Marjane Satrapi’s minimalistic cartooning style would translate visually.

But the animators on that film exceeded my expectations because they drew on that minimalism. If the film was geared for a commercial audience, they might have made the mistake of adding color or otherwise deviating from Satrapi’s signature style. Instead, they keep the film in black and white and let the narrative perform flourishes.

The same could be said about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I’m not really a Bryan Lee O’Malley fan, but Egdar Wright did a great job translating his comic quirks into film. And while it probably doesn’t aspire to high art, it is incredibly endearing, off-beat and true to the source material, which probably cost it some commercial success. But it works.

Which brings me back to Tintin. Although these stills look pleasant, they don’t particularly evoke Hergé’s aesthetic to me.  I mean, here is a cartoonist who developed one of the most iconic comic styles of the past decade and you’ve watered it down to this  Zemeckis-level dreck?

It better have a lot going for it in other areas.

In any case, I’ll probably still check it out. And if it’s really bad, maybe I’ll rectify the slight against the Belgian comics master by visiting the Hergé museum in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. The place looks absolutely amazing.

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100 Favorite Songs of All Time (Part 15)

Crazy Rhythms by The FeeliesThis post is part of a series counting down my favorite songs of all time. Follow the links at the bottom of this post to read related posts.

30. The Mountain Goats – Golden Boy

Let’s get the gushing out of the way first: I think John Darnielle is the best lyricist of the last 20 years. Straight up, the dude can spin a phrase like none other. At his best, he blends humor, drama and raw humanity with an effortless flair. Some might be turned off by his nasal vocal delivery. His early songs – including this one – also reveal a penchant for lo-fi stylings that might not appeal to some. Still, I can’t think of any other contemporary songwriter capable of transforming banal topics into profound glimpses of the hidden brilliance of life. Name another artist who has tackled the poetics of divorce, death metal bands, high school football players, sexual abuse, Morrissey and specialty peanuts.

29. Caetano Veloso – You Don’t Know Me

Hearing Caetano Veloso for the first time was a revelation. You know that moment when you hear an artist and feel an instant kinship with his perspective? That was my initial reaction his music. I arrived at his sound during a time in the early 00s when Tropicalia, a unique mixture of Anglo-American psychedelia and Bahian rhythm, experienced a new-found popularity. Even though I don’t speak a lick of Portuguese, this collision of sounds provoked a response in me that forced me to investigate Veloso and his contemporaries closely. But Veloso’s discography alone is a trip in and of itself. This song is the opening track of my favorite Veloso album, Transa, one of several bilingual albums Veloso released throughout his career.

28. Stevie Wonder – I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)

The 1970s are the best decade in the history of pop music and Stevie Wonder is a major reason why. In the 70s, Wonder hit the apex of his career, releasing album after album of absolute pop genius. It’s kind of baffling how he was able to keep the quality and inventiveness of his tunes so consistent. But if I had to pick one song from this era to take with me to a desert island, it might be this one. For about five minutes, Wonder washes away the cynicism with a swig of hope so potent it could drown the most jaded misanthrope. And then the tune goes into a clavinet funk collapse that will annihilate you.

27. The Feelies – The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness

The Feelies are one of those legendary 80s bands that usually only get the appreciation they deserve from critics. They’re one of the original college rock bands, a key reference point of the American Underground that helped establish a way forward for many of the big alternative acts that rose to prominence in that decade. If I could describe the band’s first album in a single word, it would be “wiry.” The rhythms are slightly off-beat, the guitars jangle and chirp and the vocals endearingly nerdy. Before indie rock had a name, it was this.

26. The Beach Boys – I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times

It’s comforting to know that every generation feels a complete disconnect with their times. I think that’s why I like this Beach Boy song above all others. Many Beach Boys tunes came across my mind for this list, but I think few resonate with me as much as this one. Who hasn’t felt like they were out of place in some way or another? This feeling tends to manifest in our tastes. Myself, I tend to gravitate to old things: music from decades past, old books, classic clothing and so on. Still, it’s an immature inclination to imagine things would have been better if you lived in a different decade. The fact of the matter is that you probably would feel the same in any decade, really. Moreover, if artists like Brian Wilson felt like they fit in, they probably wouldn’t have produced such singular music in their own time. His arrangements on this song are so cozy you can just disappear into the folds of sound and, for a moment, pretend you are at some other time or place.

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The Art of the Self-Portrait

A portrait of John Updike from the Britton collection.Self-portraits are a staple of every artist’s repertoire, and in that sense, they’re kind of boring.  It’s a great exercise, but if you’ve ever created a self-portrait, you know there’s always a little ego-stroking involved.

That said, I really like the collection of self-portraits amassed by Burt Britton, though. A large portion of Britton’s self-portraits are done by celebrities and artists who don’t work in the visual arts. Naturally, many have a wonderfully amateurish quality to them.

The list of artists represented is pretty great and represent diverse fields of the arts: Don DeLillo, Rem Koolhaus, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Milton Glaser, the list goes on and on. Britton even brought sports stars like Muhammad Ali in on the act.

You can download a PDF catalog of the Britton collection from the Bloomsbury Auction website. The website also has all the portraits listed on their website, so you can see which ones are in your price range.

There’s a lot to like with these portraits. On the one hand, it’s interesting to see how some of these artists represent themselves. John Updike, pictured above, has a very flowing, confident line. Cartoonist and children’s book author Tomi Ungerer drew not one, but two cocks. And Dennis Hopper seems to reflect a nihilistic perception of self that matches my perception of the Easy Rider star.

But it’s also great to see these artists just indulging themselves in drawing. I think everybody should draw, and these portraits seem like great encouragement to anyone who is afraid to draw. Here are some of the greatest artists of a generation, summed up in their own child-like doodles.

Let me tell you, it’s nice to scrape off some of the child residue that remains like sludge glued the walls of our innards and just draw.

On a related note, my favorite portrait of myself was drawn by a 7-year-old. It reminds me of all the things I’ve lost.

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Finders Keepers: Pelts, Prints and a Qing Vase

Bill Warren and his Tasmanian tiger peltSometimes I’m pretty blown away by the neat things you can find at a thrift store, yard sale or even in some dusty attic.

I already told my story about finding a signed copy of Atlas Shrugged at a Goodwill. And personally, I’ve found plenty of other things that I think are neat, but probably have very little monetary value.

Some people, however, have found some real rarities.

For example, there’s Bill Warren, a guy down in Southern California who may have found a Tasmanian tiger pelt. Warren came across the pelt at a yard sale and snagged it for $5. Previously, pelts have gone for over $68,000, which is a pretty good ROI, even if this guy has to have expensive testing to verify the authenticity.

But then there’s the story about the family who found an 18th century Chinese vase in their parents’ attic. That vase, a delicate artifact from the period of the Qing dynasty, was sold at auction for $69.5 million.

On the comics-related side, earlier this year cartoonist Rina Piccolo told a story about a friend who found an original William Steig New Yorker cartoon in a junk shop. That’s my idea of a priceless find, and frankly, I’d take it over a Qing vase any day of the week.

Of course, with all the gushing over the riches hidden in junk shops, thrift stores and garage sales, our imaginations might run away with us. So you have to wonder if the Salvador Dali print found at a Goodwill in Colorado is legit. The print was sold for $1,500 though, so I guess somebody believed enough.

Everything has some perceived value, I guess. Real or not, if you can convince somebody of value, you can make some money. That’s half of the whole ethos behind collecting. The other half is the pursuit of human artifacts, remnants of things lost or at the very least, a obsessive manifestation of nostalgia for a thing or things that were. A need to capture inanimate objects that hold real value, as opposed to the vast landfills of disposable things that crowd our existence. And then there’s a desire to archive and preserve things, too, I suppose.

As a self-avowed packrat, I avoid collecting for gain. I collect out of that obsessive need to gather. Most of us have that urge, and resist it appropriately. Others sit on fancy things, which gradually crowd tiny apartments or attic spaces and gather dust. Case in point, I still have my copy of Atlas Shrugged.

I don’t anticipate selling it off anytime soon.  It fits snug on my shelf next to a bunch of shitty paperbacks. Really ties the room together.

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November: Sketch Blog Image Dump

Watercolor wormsBack at the beginning of the year, I started a new Tumblr account called Paper + Ink. I planned on posting a doodle each day for the rest of the year.

Since it was a spontaneous idea that came to me a couple days before New Year’s Day, I figured I’d peter out a couple months in and forget about it.

Turns out, up until September I was doing pretty good. I was ahead of pace toward my modest goal. Sure, most of the doodles were half-assed, but I’m not trying to recreate Las Meninas here.

After September though, I got kind of busy,  then my scanner broke and I let things slide. Fast-forward to today and I’m about 87 doodles behind.

With a little more than a month and a half left, I’ve decided to play catch up. So for the next couple weeks, I plan on doing a pretty big image dump on the blog. There will probably be a mishmosh of newer doodles and older doodles, but I assure you, the quality will continue to be… relatively mediocre.

Anyway, go take a look at the new stuff and maybe peek at the archives. Sometimes, I’m kind of pleased with the results. But most of the time, I’m pretty embarrassed by what I put up. It’s all in good fun. And on the off-chance that one of these doodles catches your eye, get in touch with me and I’ll give it to you. For reals.

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100 Favorite Songs of All Time (Part 14)

Young Americans-era David Bowie, photo via flickr user Hunter-DesportesThis post is part of a series counting down my favorite songs of all time. Follow the links at the bottom of this post to read related posts.

35. Neil Young – Tell Me Why

Like Otis Redding, this list should be filled with Neil Young songs. Instead, I trimmed the list down to this succinct acoustic number. As evidenced by tunes like “Cortez the Killer,” “Ambulance Blues” or “Cowgirl in the Sand,” Young is a sprawling sort of songwriter. His guitar solos are like impressionist swipes across the vast steam-of-conscious landscape of his lyricism. Often, he moseys from one idea to the next. In general, I prefer that side of Young. But he could write pristine folk pop, too. This song is just so fragile, you want to touch it. But you mustn’t touch.

34. Mission of Burma – Academy Fight Song

Sometimes I wish I heard this song when I was younger. Like around the age 14 or so. That would be the perfect age to hear this song for the first time. Instead, I can only imagine what it would be like to be a snotty, unctuous brat and come across this burst of self-involved anti-conformist rhetoric. It reeks of a certain kind of irony that would appeal to my 14-year-old self. If I ever have kids, I’d be sure to subject them to this song often and early. And really, that’s the dream of every parent: to provide his children with all of things denied in his own youth.

33. David Bowie – Station to Station

For the longest time, I was pretty ambivalent about Bowie. I’d heard Ziggy Stardust, found Low in a second-hand record shop in Walla Walla and enjoyed a smattering of other songs. But his stuff never really resonated with me until I heard Station to Station. Between that album and Young Americans, I really started to find a side of Bowie that appealed to me. During this time, he’s obviously in a transition period between his vision of plastic soul pop and Teutonic-inspired experimentation. So you get this blend of downbeat drone, syncopated drumming and angular guitar riffs that coalesces into something pretty epic. Admittedly, funky Bowie can be pretty cornball, but I dig it pretty well.

32. OutKast – B.O.B.

I am of the opinion that OutKast is the best pop group of my youth. If such things can be quantified, I’d also call them the most important. But that’s just fancy talk for saying they could write some pretty infectious pop tunes. For me, their major pop hits define a period that spans the late 90s through to the early 00s, peaking with the release of Stankonia. Even though “B.O.B.” didn’t chart as well as other singles from Stankonia, it still stands out to me. I don’t think I’d heard much like it at the time: it was blippy, there were guitar solos and it was fucking anthemic. In many ways that whole album opened my ears to different sounds, effectively laying the ramparts for the likes of George Clinton, the gorgeous cacophony of Sun Ra and the legendary big beat and boom-bap practitioners of yesteryear. Needless to say, this song played a large part in the development of my musical tastes.

31. Fela Kuti – Zombie

Some songs just blow you away the first time you hear them. “Zombie” is one of those songs. If you’ve never heard it before, you owe to yourself to buy it, steal it, find it somehow. I recommend stripping down to your skivvies and laying it on at full blast. Dance like you have a fever, flit about like possessed by some demon of rhythm. You won’t be able to help it. At least that’s what I’ve found. I bought this album on CD from a beachside record store in Laguna Beach run by this hippy surfer dude. When I brought it up to the register, the dude just gave me this knowing nod. I’m pretty sure I ended up playing this song on repeat for about a month. As an aside, my biggest regret: not buying this album on vinyl from Tonevendor, the fantastic independent record store that used to exist just down the street from The Beat on J Street in Sacramento.

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The Why and Whom of Writing

Photo by Flickr user fotologicAt this time, I’d like to remind the class that this month is National Novel Writing Month. Even though we’re three days into the month, I’m sure it’s not too late to get on board and squeeze out the next great American novel.

Oh, and if you’re not feeling ambitious, maybe you can move to the South Pacific and write the next great Tongan novel.

Personally, I’ll be using the month to complete a new comic. And while I intend to scrawl together 24 pages of nonsense this month, I also do plan on writing more. It would be a shame to let this space go fallow for too long.

Admittedly, it takes ego to write these days. With all the distractions and diversions offered today, the gall involved when you demand that people read your words is pretty self-evident. And if you’re dabbling in those depths of ego, you’ve probably arrived a couple rather self-conscious questions: “Why do I write and for whom?”

Writers think about this a lot. They question each other on these topics and pen essays concerning issues of audience and intention. For example, take a recent New York Times piece by Michael Cunningham where the author devotes several paragraphs to these topics.

I’m glad that Cunningham, as an educator, chastises his students for responding, “I write for myself.” Only madmen talk to to be heard by themselves. Likewise for writing. The rest of sane society communicate to express ideas, beliefs, facts and emotions to other people.

But who are those other people? Cunningham imagines pleasing some sort of ideal reader, which I guess is one approach. Compare to the poet Philip Larkin who takes a more mercenary approach. In an interview with the Paris Review, Larkin says he writes for anyone willing to listen.

If you’re a poet, that’s generally the best you can hope for, I think. And I would probably lean towards Larkin’s inclusive approach. But Larkin agrees with Cunningham at least on some principle. Larkin says:

“If you rationalize it, it seems as if you’ve seen this sight, felt this feeling, had this vision, and have got to find a combination of words that will preserve it by setting it off in other people.”

I think that nails it. I suppose some bad writers are out there for sex, money and fame. Frankly, those folks are idiots. I mean, surely there are easier ways to achieve those goals.

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