The MacArthur Genius Grants

First of all, the number of cartoonists/graphic novelists who have ever won a MacArthur doubled the other day. Lauren Redniss and Gene Luen Yang joined previous recipients Ben Katchor and Alison Bechdel.

Redniss got this award for work that really stands outside of the comics world. I remember when her book Thunder and Lightning came out last year and I loved this book but I remember coming up again and again against editors who didn't know who she was and weren't interested. Of course her publicist also never replied to my multiple emails... Still reading her work and others, I do see a future path for illustrated books for graphic narratives which try to throw out the language of comics and assemble their own artistic vocabulary. And that's something that I really hope this award and the attention she and her work gets will help push forward.

Yang on the other hand came out of comics, but what might be considered a more traditional route for a lot of artists but his career has really been one that was made possible in the shift in recent years and the emergence of book publishers. He's been published by :01 Books and has been one of the most talented and most important voices they've published from the beginning of the imprint. In the past decade he went from a minor figure in comics to the immense success that he really deserves.

I do wonder what this means going forward. I do hope that the MacArthur Foundation tries to encourage more visual arts and more narrative comics work. It's also notable that by naming Redniss and Yang it shows that do seem to be paying more attention to comics work in its many forms, which can only be a good thing.

Because there are still a number of geniuses in comics that have yet to be recognized. Like Lynda Barry. The MacArthur Foundation may be the only people in this country who don't describe her as a genius. (Yet!) There's also Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Carol Tyler...well, I have a list. They know where I am and should just e-mail me. I'll suggest a few possible names.

The other people who won this year are amazing. Just to read over the people is to blown away by the work that they've done over the years.

My love for poet Claudia Rankine knows few bounds. Her book Citizen is one of the great books of poetry of recent years.

Maggie Nelson is an amazing writer and her book the Argonuats who this incredible work about love and language, relationships, motherhood and the complexity of life in a way that pushes past memoir to that arer space where it becomes as much about herself as it about issues beyond herself.

Sarah Stillman is a nonfiction writer whose New Yorker article Taken from a few years ago about civil asset forfeiture should be required reading for all Americans. She's written a series of great longform pieces.

There's composer Julia Wolfe who's written some incredible music. Josh Kun who's done some great work as a cultural historian. Anne Basting who's an artist and educator whose work with people suffering from dementia has been really amazing. There's Ahilan Arulanantham, whose work as a human rights lawyer has been so important.

Happy Bi Visibility Day!

And to those who claim that September 23rd doesn't exist...go to hell.


I Guest Produced an episode of the Colin McEnroe Show about Mr. Robot and Our Cyberpunk Reality

The Future is Now: Mr. Robot and Our Cyberpunk Reality

I guest-produced an episode of WNPR's Colin McEnroe Show this week with Jonathan McNicol. We had writers John Shirley and Paul Di Filippo join editor and teacher Leigh Grossman and Slate's Willa Paskin to talk about cyberpunk and the TV show Mr. Robot. We could have kept going for another hour, but we managed to cover a lot of ground, the good, the bad, the influences, the unintended consequences of the genre.

I really appreciate Colin, Jonathan and the rest of the WNPR team letting me have some fun on the air.


Articles Published the Week of September 4th

Melissa Mendes on the family history at the heart Lou and The Weight

Melissa Mendes serialized Lou through Oily Comics and now Alternative Comics has published a collected edition of the book. We spoke about that and her ongoing webcomic The Weight, the influence of family stories on her work, how she uses silence to great effect

Alexis Fajardo on adapting myths for modernity in Kid Beowulf

By day Alexis Fajardo works at Charles M Schulz Associates overseeing Peanuts projects around ther world, and by night he writes and draws Kid Beowulf, a prequel to and rethinking of the great epic poem. We spoke about the influence of Asterix, what makes epic poetry different form superhero stories, and what he has planned for future volumes of the series.

The Rumpus Interview with Connie Wanek

Connie Wanek grew up attending school in a one room schoolhouse, studied visual art, didn't start publishing poetry until her late thirties, but her new book Rival Gardens, a new and selected volume of her work is a really striking book of poetry. There are those moments when you discover a new poet who isn't beginning, but has established a voice and a body of work. There were poems that reminded me of Jane Kenyon, and I hope that this book brings Wanek the wider readership that she deserves.


Articles Published the Week of August 28th

Ted McKeever walks away from comics, looks back at his career

When I first started reading comics seriously in the 1990's, there were a handful of creators whose work fascinated me. McKeever was one of those people and I've been a fan of his for over two decades. This year he announced that he was quitting comics and I took the chance to talk with him. He outlined the whys of his decision elsewhere so we went on a tour through his career and talked a few different projects and people, which was a joy to be honest.

Leslie Stein explains why she's punching her Time Clock

I loved Leslie Stein's first book Eye of the Majestic Creature when it came out a few years back and since we've talked pretty regularly as she comes out with a new book at least every other year. Her new book - her fourth - is Time Clock. In each book, Stein tries a new approach and this one is no different. It's dark and emotionally complex and beautiful to read.


Review: Because You Asked: A Book of Answers on the Art and Craft of Writing edited by Katrina Roberts

Like a lot of people, when I was young, I was always on the look out for a book that would explain what it meant to be a writer or how to be a writer. Of course as an adult, I know that's absurd,that there is no such book or answer, but the book Because You Asked I think answers this need as well if not better than any other book I've come across.

It consists of the comments, thoughts and observations of dozens of writers - Sherman Alexie, Lydia Davis, Mark Doty, Donald Hall, Joy Harjo, Mat Johnson, Barry Lopez, Naomi Shihab Nye, Richard Wilbur, and Terry Tempest Williams to name just a few. Roberts has been curating a reading series at Whitman College in Washington. If this is a selection, it's been an impressive run of visiting writers over the years.

The book features comments and observations, some long some short, some philosophical some funny, some contradictory - as you'd expect when the thoughts of more than one writer are assembled. The result though manages to be thoughtful and engaging. If I was a teenager and looking for a resource, some combination of instruction and inspiration, this is an ideal book.


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.