The Future of The City of Hartford

You can see the future of The City of Hartford from this past weekend.

One is the opening of the Sea Tea Improv Theater.

Two is the opening of Hanging Hills Brewery.

Hartford has a lot of problems. Many of them are structural. Through it all, people keep starting new projects and businesses and launching careers and making new things because this is what happens. Hartford is not the apocalyptic wasteland overrun by poverty-stricken hordes that so many suburbanites in Connecticut claim. It is a vibrant place that has so much going for it and it has so much going for it because of the people.

The state likes to launch ambitious projects to help save the city - Constitution Plaza, Adriaen's Landing, the Yard Goats stadium - and in the end they amount to very little.

Ordinary people coming together and starting new businesses with their work and labor and ideas are what will make this city come alive, what will make this city prosper.

I believe in Hartford because I believe in the people of Hartford.

This is why.

Coming out as Bi in the 21st Century

Maybe this makes me sound old, but when I see someone come out as bisexual like this, it makes me smile. Like it's simple. It's a beautiful thing.

Flame Con 2

I'm not a big fan of most comics conventions. I find them loud crowded affairs that are more about selling stuff than anything else. (And considering how much some conventions charge creators for a table...they have to sell a lot not to lose their shirts over a weekend.)

I liked Flame Con, though.

I liked the energy of the place, I liked the people I met, I liked the fact that I ran across so many people and the show felt welcoming of so many kinds of people.

I liked that there were so many cosplayers and I had no idea who a lot of them were. That's the thing, I don't think I should know who people are portraying. I think that fandom should be bigger than me - or any single person.

To put it another way, I think that the healthiest and most vibrant artistic community is one that offers something for everyone and produces a lot of material that not only doesn't interest me, but makes plenty of work I don't like. Being at Flame Con was a reminder that fandom doesn't have to be nasty and toxic, it can be open and inviting and full of possibilities.

The truth is that I'm often lukewarm towards cosplay and fan art and fan fic. That's my own preference. I don't feel the need to bend the stories, I'm happy to go make other similar stories. But there is something about watching people take stories and characters - some of which are not open or inclusive or even kind - and making them their own. Making them into something more. Making them into something better.

Articles Published the Week of August 21st

Roger Langridge on the Homemade Aesthetic of Betty Boop

I'm a big fan of cartoonist Langridge. He always has a number of projects in the works. In coming months he has two collections of all-ages books, one he wrote (The Baker Street Peculiars) and one he wrote and drew (Abigail and the Snowman), another book that he wrote and drew (The Iron Duchess) featuring Fred the Clown, and if that weren't enough he's writing a Betty Boop miniseries coming out this fall. We spoke about his approach, the character and its aesthetic, and how people today respond to older characters and concepts.

How Mad About You Perfected the Network Multi-Camera Sitcom

It's interesting to watch a television show again years after it aired. Mad About You started airing in 1992! And I remember watching it when I was young. I liked Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt, the show has a GREAT supporting cast and an amazing lineup of guest stars. Re-watching it today though I was stunned to see just how smart and how inventive the show was. My final line probably sums up the article best:

"The people behind Mad About You accepted the guidelines for what a network sitcom was, and then it managed to tweak, play with, and subvert every single rule except one — to be funny."


Review: Hammett by Joe Gores

The novel is about Dashiell Hammett in 1928. At the time, Hammett was living in San Francisco and trying to make his way as a writer. He had quit being a detective and was now trying to write about detectives. The late Joe Gores also worked as a detective and he uses the novel to illuminate Hammett and his work in a way that few have really been able to do. Here we see a man in his thirties, not quite old but old enough to joke about it. Old enough to have a past and be moving away from it. The book also deals with something that Gores, himself a crime writer who worked as a detective, understood, which is that a detective and a writer require very different mindsets. The book also manages to do something that few novels try, and fewer succeed, which is to show Hammett writing and thinking things out as he is reacting to what he's seeing around him. Of course the degree to which this is 100% accurate is another story. I'm willing to bet good money I could read a biography that would take issue with some of Goes' choices, but what makes it so good is the way that he does it and makes it come alive in really interesting ways. Hammett is one of the great writers of the century and this moment in time is vital to so much art and literature that follows. And if Gores never quite manages to craft prose that pops the way that Hammett did, well, who was able to do that?


Articles Published the Week of August 14th

How Neal Adams Changed The Face of Comics - And Why He's Not Done Yet

Some people don't like Neal Adams - which he's fine with. He just keeps doing his thing. The man is 75 and he's not slowing down. But what I've always loved about the man - besides his work, which I loved before I ever met him and got to know him - is his passion and energy. In our conversation, he said "This is the greatest time in the history of art" and he spoke about cosplay about artistic possibilities, about so many things. He loves the state of comics today, he things that things are better than ever, and he loves being a part of it.

Trina Robbins Opens up about Dope and her lost Wonder Woman Tales

It's no secret that I'm a great admirer of Trina Robbins and I've had the chance to talk with her a few times over the years. We spoke recently about her upcoming book Dope, which she originally wrote and drew in the early 1980s, how she adapted her father's short story collection to comics, what Wonder Woman has meant to her, and more.

How Hard Case Will Bring a Seedy Underbelly to Comics

I'm a big fan of Charles Ardai, Christa Faust and Gary Philips. I've read most (maybe all?) of the books each has written over the years and I got to talk with them about the new line of Hard Case Crime Comics.

Nancy Burton: The Comics Journal Interview

Nancy Burton aka Nancy Kalish aka Hurricane Nancy aka Panzika was one of the first women in the underground comics movement of the 1960s and more than that, was one of the first people in New York's underground comics scene. She was drawing comics for The East Village Other starting in 1965. She stopped making art in the early 70s, though she started again a few years ago. I was thrilled that she was willing to talk with me about her work and her life. I think that she's making the best work that she's ever done right now and people should know her and her work.


Review: Delicious by Mark Haskell Smith

There's a certain flavor of crime novel that I like. I know I'm not alone in liking it, but it's one that's funny and a little absurd (or maybe very absurd) but it's never an all out comedy. It can be dark, there are actual stakes and consequences and it's not taking place in a vacuum. Carl Hiaasen is great at these books, Elmore Leonard could do this, and Mark Haskell Smith can do this as well.

The book is set in Hawaii and involves a chef who works for his uncle's catering company. His uncle has a monopoly on the catering business for local film and TV productions. Or he did, until a mobbed-up Las Vegas based company moves in. Now the business is in trouble, and it's happening at a time as our hero's relationship is uneasy and he's debating whether to take a job in New York City.

I don't want to say more than that to be honest because the surprise and the odd twists and turns in the book's plots are part of what makes the book so much fun. This is a story that involves gangsters and hit men and food and union battles and relationships. It can be very dark and also be laugh out loud funny at different points.

And the consequences and the weight of these actions are what makes it funny and what makes it dark. Because these are not cartoons, they're treated as real people dealing with serious issues. The questions of culture and identity that our hero ponder are treated seriously, just as much as the moral decisions everyone faces–and just as seriously as food.

I enjoyed but had mixed feelings about Smith's first novel, Moist. It was amusing but had problems, but with Delicious he made a big leap forward as a writer. The result is, well...delicious.

Articles Published the Week of August 7th

A Conversation with Zack Davisson

Drawn and Quarterly has done all of comics a huge favor by bringing the work of Shigeru Mizuki to English language reader. I spoke with translator and scholar Zack Davisson about the new series of Kitaro that D&Q is publishing starting this year. Davisson spoke about the character, who described as a Japanese Hellboy, and why the character has been huge in Japan for decades.

The Best Mystery Comic You Haven't Read Yet, Last Fair Deal Gone Down

I'm a huge fan of mystery writer Ace Atkins. Right now the man is writing two series, the Quinn Colson novels which are set in Mississippi about an Army Ranger who returns home, and he's continuing the Spenser novels after the death of Robert B. Parker. They're very different books, written in a different style with different characters and settings. And if writing two novels a year wasn't enough, now he's working in comics. With artist Marco Finnegan, Atkins is adapting the Nick Travers stories to comics and the first book is out. I spoke with the two about the project.

Articles Published the Week of July 31st

March Co-writer hopes John Lewis' story instills a sense of power in young readers

One of the great privileges of my life has been to spend some time with Congressman Lewis, and to spend with and get to know Andrew Aydin. Aydin co-wrote March, the third volume of which is out now and it brings this trilogy to a conclusion. We spoke earlier in the summer when he was in Hartford at the Stowe Center, and in so many ways, it was the perfect setting for us to talk.

Leigh Stein: Land of Enchantment

I remember reading an essay of Leigh Stein's a couple years back in Buzzfeed and I liked it just as I liked her novel The Fallback Plan. I spoke with her about her new book, which is just out, Land of Enchantment. The memoir is about her first boyfriend, her first love, and their very complicated relationship, and dealing with the aftermath of his death and trying to understand it. I'm not the biggest memoir fan, but there's so much in this book that moved and we talked at length about the book, about depression, about trying to understand and make sense of our lives, and mourning.

Articles Published the Week of July 24th

The Michael Zulli Interview

Michael Zulli is an amazing artist. I've been astounding by his skill for years in work like Sandman: The Wake, The Last Temptation and other books. I was truly blown away last year when the book The Puma Blues was collected by Dover. This was the first comic that Zulli drew (also the first comic that writer Stephen Murphy wrote) and the two produced an amazing piece of work. It's now collected for the first time with a new coda created for this book. I was blown away by the book, and after years away from comics, was reminded of just how good Zulli is. I was thrilled that I could sit down and talk with him about his work and career.


R.I.P. James Alan McPherson

I never met James Alan McPherson. I read all his books, though.

He was a writer I discovered in my twenties after I graduated from college and adrift, wanting to be a writer, and I stumbled onto his work by accident and made my way through his small but brilliant body of work.

His story collection Hue and Cry and Elbow Room, which are just amazing and deserve more attention. Hopefully in the years to come there will be a collection of those and whatever other stories he's written over the years because it will be an essential book for anyone who loves literature.

There was his memoir Crabcakes and his essay collection A Region Not Home, and it wasn't just that they were brilliant and thoughtful examinations of his own life and his thinking, but in his book of essays he spoke about his own philosophy of life, his philosophical take on the world and how that translated into his fiction.

Coming to his work in the early 21st century I only knew from a historical rear view mirror just what he had really accomplished. McPherson was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

McPherson received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, a MacArthur Genius Grant (he was in fact in the first class of grant winners along with people like Josef Brodsky, Derek Walcott, Leslie Marmon Silko, Elaine Pagels, Robert Penn Warren), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a long list of other awards. For many years he's taught at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop.

When I was younger I applied to study at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, back when I was young and thought that I could be a writer. I knew Iowa because everyone knows that Iowa has the most famous MFA program there is. And I'm not going to lie, the status was a reason to apply, but the real reason I applied was that McPherson and Marilynne Robinson taught there.

It wasn't that I wanted to write like them, but I saw in their work an intelligence, a spirituality, a way of thinking about writing and life which could be meaningful. I wanted that. Of course I never got accepted, never attended graduate school, but I still have those books, and I know that I did learn something from them. I know that this goal to which I have been striving. It's a model I still look towards for guidance, for an example of what's possible in work.

I wonder if he knew what he and his work meant to people.

Rest in peace, sir.


R.I.P. Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson died.

I didn't really know him at all. I interviewed him a couple times, I have been a huge fan of his for years. Until yesterday I would have said that he was one of the greatest living cartoonists. He was an immense talent - a funny writer, a gifted artist, and he had this perspective this strange way of looking at the world which is so relateable, so understandable, and yet is such a strange unique experience that is unlike anything else. Reading Cul de Sac, I am torn between remembering my own childhood and this sense that I am experiencing in the strip something that has never existed before but which I can understand.

When Thompson retired years ago, so many of us felt it was unfair. The truth is that Cul de Sac should have been a huge success, published in papers across the country and around the world. Thompson should have been a household name. If there was justice, Cul de Sac would have been around for decades, and people would speak of the strip the way that many of us have talked about Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes. It was that genius. It deserves to be mentioned in the company of those strips.

Richard Thompson was a funny man, a brilliant artist, and a really nice, kind person. The world is a little poorer without him.

I spoke with Thompson twice over the years, in 2011:

And in 2014:

Neither are the best interviews I ever did. I wish I could have spent more time with him. Rest in peace.