David O. Russell Films, from Worst to Best

I don't get to write about film nearly enough. American Hustle, the new film from director David O. Russell comes out this week, and I ranked his films from worst to best. In case you were wondering, Three Kings is the best. Feel free to read through and tell me I'm wrong.

Max Badger builds an Oak

Max Badger is a Xeric Award winning cartoonist whose first book is out now. Oak is a great all-ages graphic novel. It's a gorgeous book and I got to talk with recently about fantasy, storytelling, design and more. It's great work and the first project of what's likely a long and interesting career.

Paul Duffield debuts The Firelight Isle

I spoke with Paul Duffield recently about his new project, The Firelight Isle. Like everyone, I was blown away by his work on FreakAngels, the Warren Ellis-written webcomic. Duffield has been working since then writing and drawing a new project The Firelight Isle which recently debuted online.

Assembling The Art of Rube Goldberg

I love Rube Goldberg. I've loved Rube Goldberg long before I even knew who he was. That's because he's become an adjective (literally in Goldberg's case, as of the 1931 edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary). There's a new book with a large selection of his work - including a great many Rube Goldberg machines - that's edited by his granddaughter Jennifer George. I spoke with her recently about The Art of Rube Goldberg. It's worth checking out the interview just to see the selection of comics included.

Box Brown and the legend of Andre the Giant

Box Brown is one of the talent young cartoonists and he's about to be a lot bigger next year when his next big project comes out. Andre the Giant is a graphic novel coming out from First Second Books in the spring that looks at the life and times of the late wrestler/actor/personality.

I know I'm not alone in being excited about this.

Mark Tatulli on Desmond Puckett, Lio and more

I think Lio is one of the highlights of the newspaper page today. The man behind it, Mark Tatulli, is a busy guy. He's also responsible for another strip, Heart of the City, and now he's also writing/drawing a book series for kids, Desmond Puckett.

Besides just making my head spin a little at how he's able to be this productive, it's incredible just how good he is working in different tones and styles.

Desmond Puckett, the story of a young aspiring monster-maker, also happens to be a great holiday gift for young people interested in monsters, monster-making, horror, and aspiring creators of all stripes.


Richard Sala's Violenzia

I love reading Richard Sala. His strange atmospheric tales that combine humor and horror and monsters into something that's pulpy and inventive and with his new comic, Violenzia, the book has more of an old pulp feel with a violent avenger - who happens to be a woman. It's also a digital comic that's out now and you won't read a better self-contained single comic book this year. I mean it's beautifully drawn, violent, colorful and fun. What more could you want?

Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil's Bad Houses

Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil have created one of the best graphic novels of the year in Bad Houses.

It's the story of two teenagers in the small town of Failin, Oregon. It's about how we understand the past and how we chose to not let it define us. It is the story of a community, but more than that, it is the story of things: a city, a building, a storage unit, a photograph, a relationship -- the meanings we assign to them and how we live with that knowledge. Like its characters, it is a book that understands failure and loss, but it is also a romantic, triumphant and hopeful story.

It's out now form Dark Horse Comics and you won't be disappointed by it.

Richard Kern's Contact High

I got to speak with photographer Richard Kern recently. He's a great photographer and his new one, which I really enjoyed is Contact High, which is out now from Picturebox. Between this and Shot by Kern, the book that came out earlier this year form Taschen, in addition to his new series which he just completed, Kern demonstrates that he's not slowing down and he's just as inventive and interesting as ever.

Kevin Huizenga and Dan Zettwoch go "Beyond"

Kevin Huizenga and Dan Zettwoch are great cartoonists and together the two have been collaborating on a weekly comic strip for a number of years. Amazing Facts and Beyond which out from Uncivilized Press is a collection of the weekly strip where Leon Beyond presents a series of fake facts. I spoke with the duo at SPX, though the interview was lost for some unknown technical reason, so we ended up doing the interview over e-mail. The resulting interview, like the comic strips, blends truth and fiction in odd and funny ways.


Benjamen Walker: TMI is dead, Long Live TOE!

Monday night Benjamen Walker signed off from his radio show on WFMU. Too Much Information started in late 2009 and it was always a great strange show. There were a few bars of music, but no other sign that the show had begun, it would merely fade in on the sound of Walker's voice or someone else's. There were conspiracy theories, these odd stories where one was never quite sure where the line between fiction and nonfiction was–assuming there was a line. It was a strange sometimes dream-like hour of radio. It covered Walker's obsessions which ranged from photography to comics, there were great monologues and stories.

I'm sad to see the show end, but I know there's a reason for it. Walker said in the show that he plans to move to the web and focus more on his podcast The Theory of Everything, which PRX is distributing. It's a lot easier to come up with something as strange and often complicated as this at a much slower rate and Walker said he's shooting for two episodes of TOE each month, each episode around half an hour.

I do wonder if this is a sign of where audio is going. Right now some of the most inventive and dynamic work happening is happening in podcasting. The people making it are often trained in radio at places like Transom or Salt or Duke or elsewhere, a lot of them may get their start in radio, but they're thinking about audio differently.

For example Planet Money, which is a podcast and website which contributes to This American Life and NPR, but they're not bound by the constraints of TAL or any particular NPR program. The story can dictate the length and design and shape of the story.

Tiny Spark, which is a great podcast by Amy Costello that's some great investigative work has set up a relationship with PRI's The World. Lea Thau's great podcast The Strangers is a project that came out of KCRW's Independent Producers Project but lives online and not in a time slot on the station.

There are also a lot of great podcasts like 99% Invisible from Roman Mars, The Conversation by Aengus Anderson, The Truth by Jonathan Mitchell, The Longest Shortest Time by Hillary Frank, The Memory Palace by Nate DiMeo, Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and so many others (and it should go without saying that I am not mentioning the many credits of all the other people involved out of callousness, but out of space and time concerns) and they are originating from radio equipment but they're taking shape online.

I think there's a very serious question for public radio going forward. Public radio has managed to maintain a key role in journalism and in the public conversation, and not simply by having a loyal older audience, but by having a lot of young people (like myself). But what people like are programs like Radiolab or This American Life. We're not really listening to Morning Edition or All Things Considered or Here and Now.

How does NPR find a way to stay relevant and find a way to harness this energy and great work that independent producers are making? What does NPR have that they can offer such producers? It would have been interesting if after NPR ended Talk of the Nation, they had replaced it with a magazine style show with a host who could have responded to breaking news, but to actively seek out and play the work of producers from all over the country and all over the world


“I Was Convinced that Beirut Stopped at that Wall”: An interview with Zeina Abirached

I'm a huge fan of Zeina Abirached's graphic novel A Game for Swallows. It didn't catch on when it came out last year - and I was sad to see did not end up nominated for an Eisner Award. It's a great book. It's a wonderful child's view of the Lebanese Civil War as experienced in Beirut - but more than the story of that specific conflict, Abirached does a masterful job through the artwork of conveying a sense of being trapped in a city, of the violence happening around, that sense of claustrophobia and atmosphere of fear. It is a book that's a beautifully drawn as it is wonderfully written about a thoughtful, important topic.

I cannot recommend A Game for Swallows highly enough.

Reed Waller, James Vance and Denis Kitchen on "Omaha the Cat Dancer"

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to talk with Reed Waller for an hour. For people who don't know, he's the cartoonist responsible for creating Omaha the Cat Dancer, a famous (some might say infamous) comic book. I also spoke with James Vance and Denis Kitchen, whoc are two of the three other people responsible for the book over the years (the third, Kate Worley died a few years, an issue that was discussed in the article).

In the week before I spoke with Waller, I read the entirety of Omaha, which comes to just over one thousand pages and is available in seven volumes from NBM. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Read sequentially, in its entirety, it's an incredible work. There's plenty of melodrama, but at its heart it's about relationships. It's also a very political book. And though the book became known for the fake that it contains nudity and sex, it never felt salacious.

I'm already on record as saying how much I think about writer James Vance, but I was really happy to do this piece. Omaha is a book that deserves a lot more attention and should hopefully in the coming years be an example of what comics can do - and should do more of.


Colleen Coover unmasking Bandette and Batman '66

I'm a big fan of Colleen Coover's work from Small Favors to Banana Sunday to Gingerbread Girl to her short comics for Marvel Comics and elsewhere (she has some great ones in the recent release "Marvel Now What?!" She also drew a story for "Batman '66."

Her big project now is Bandette, the digital comic from Monkeybrain that won the Eisner Award for best digital comic this year. There's now a print edition of the book out from Dark Horse Comics in a very nice hardcover. (Also funny enough the interview runs just a few days after I met Ms Coover in person for the first time)

Bob Bolling on "Little Archie" and more

Bob Bolling is one of the most talented and beloved artists in the history of comics, and certainly at Archie (a company which has no shortage of great cartoonists in its past). Bolling worked at the company for decades but he's best known for creating "Little Archie" and writing and drawing the series for eight years. It's hard to describe many of the stories that he made because the emotional stories sound as if they might be annoyingly sentimental (because that's how so much work created "for children" is) but Bolling managed to infuse his stories with emotion and affection for childhood, but they were also layered and thoughtful stories that worked on many levels.

Bolling has been retired for many years, though he remains an influence on the many cartoonists who have followed him at Archie and across the medium. "Love and Rockets" creators Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez have repeatedly cited him as one of the great cartoonists and a major influence on their work. Archie has announced plans for an animated project, "It's Archie," which features the kids in middle school and draws heavily on Bolling's work and designs. On November 15, Archie is releasing a book-length digital exclusive collection of Bolling's "Little Archie" stories from throughout his career.

There are few interviews with a man this influential and I'm proud to have had the chance.

Stefano Gaudiano joins "The Walking Dead" to ink "All Out War"

I spoke recently with Stefano Gaudiano, a comics artist who's best known as an inker. He's worked on a lot of projects. There's Gotham Central, a long run on Daredevil, he's played a major role in the new Valiant Comics and now he's inking over Charlie Adlard's work on The Walking Dead. He's a fan of the series so he didn't spill much but we talked a lot about art and what an inker does and it was a great conversation I'm glad we could have.

"The Cute Girl Network" goes live

I had the chance to talk with the trio behind the new graphic novel out from First Second Books, The Cute Girl Network. MK Reed (who wrote the recent 01 book "Americus" which I know has many fans), Greg Means (who runs Tugboat Press based in Portland) and Joe Flood (who i spoke with when his previous books Orcs came out) collaborated on this romantic comedy between two people who aren't the types who usually star in romantic comedies, which was a very nice touch I enjoyed.


Women in Comics Criticism

There's been a kerfluffle of sorts this week about a comment made in an article on The Comics Journal website. (When I type out that phrase, it makes any concern or any comment made seem very minor). In a conversation between Frank Santoro and Sean T. Collins (disclosure: I've met both, don't claim to know either well and to my knowledge we've never shared a meal). Collins made a remark, which in the context of the article I felt was more offhand and less a thoughtful considered analysis (which he has written in the past for various publications) about what he perceives a lack of female critics in comics.

I'm not sure I would have phrased it as such, but I have to admit that I know more men who write about comics than women. At the same time I would hesitate to say that there is a shortage of women who write about such a topic. Moreover I think that part of the problem with this comment is that Sean and Frank are writing from a certain perspective, men who write about comics, not exclusively but that is a primarily interest of their work.

Of course I disagree with or am indifferent to many of Santoro's comments as well. For example his argument that many of the younger cartoonists are not properly covered, I think has some truth but at the same time I disagree.

Regardless this comment that Sean made about a lack of women has been taken up by some - including most prominently Heidi Macdonald who wrote a lengthy post titled "So What Does a Gal Have To Do To Get Into The Comics Journal Anyway?" In the spirit of the internet, it's a hyperbolic title.

I find a few problems with her article. First, she condemns the print edition of The Comics Journal which is edited by Gary Groth and has excluded coverage of female cartoonists and female writers, which I think is bizarre and odd and I have defense for. Second, she condemns the online edition of The Comics Journal (which is edited by Dan Nadel and Tim Hodler) and argues that they share the ideas and values she reads into Sean and Frank based on that conversation. That's unfair. Ms. Macdonald knows that the editor does not share the opinions of everyone published by a site - at least I would pray that an editor of Publishers Weekly knows that. Also there is a difference between the print and online editions of the magazine, having different editors and similar but different approaches.

I do think there is an argument that the print TCJ - being a more formal exploration of "canon" comics and graphic literature - particularly considering the last annual featured a lengthy interview with Maurice Sendak conducted shortly before he died and by excluding women creators and cartoonists is deeply troubling.

I think there are a number of female creators who have not gotten their due - Diane Noomin, Joyce Farmer, Trina Robbins, Lee Marrs, Dale Messick, Louise Simonson, Marie Severin, Lynda Barry, Roberta Gregory, Carol Tyler, Carol Lay, Mary Fleener, Kate Worley, Jennifer Camper, Sarah Dyer, Elaine Lee. I think Rutu Modan has made one of if not the best comic of the year. I think Alison Bechdel is an immensely important creator both within and without comics. I think Phoebe Gloeckner and Debbie Dreschler are giants. I think Tove Jansson needs much greater attention (and I'm hoping someone will let me write a lengthy piece on her work next year for her centennial).

I think that if we list the best cartoonists working today the list has many many women - if not dominated by women. Looking at my own writing at Comic Book Resources, which I'll argue is one of–if not the best–website about comics online., I've written longer profiles of many women for the site in 2013 including  Anya Davidson, Kate Leth, Dylan Meconis, Rutu Modan, Ramona Fradon, Fiona Staples, Emma Vieceli, Lucy Bellwood, C. Spike Trotman, Maris Wicks, Lisa Hanawalt, Miriam Katin, Joelle Jones, Genevieve Castree.

This doesn't include women I've mentioned or included in conventions reports from MoCCA, NYCC, SPX and such. This doesn't include people I've written about for other publications including TCJ and Suicidegirls. This isn't because I make an effort to find female creators. I make an effort to keep an eye out for new books, new creators, work that pops up on tumblr and twitter. Some of those happen to be women. In that list I just had are veteran artists (Ms. Fradon), webcartoonists, people starting out in their careers, people releasing books. Regardless of whether or not I personally spoke with them, these are among the people that any website that sought to comprehensively cover the comics industry would have to talk with.

In short, I think that Ms. Macdonald is mostly right. Gary Groth needs to take off his blinders and there needs to be an awareness that The Comics Journal and he have blinders on as far as the canon, as far as personal taste, and that it can be problematic as far as the rest of us in terms of trying to think about a canon of graphic literature. Mr. Groth doesn't seem to be awareness of his own flaws, so we need to point them out. We need to find a way to work around them. If he won't let female writers work for the print edition or let female cartoonists be covered, then we need to find a way to write about such people and enshrine a canon outside of TCJ.

In one sense, Ms Macdonald and I are on the same page but I think we're going about it in very different ways. Our goal is the same, though. we know that there have been many great female cartoonists and that they deserve attention.  We want to make sure that not being a CIS-gendered white male doesn't keep anyone from reading or making comics.

There are a few ways I'd like to see that, besides more articles about many of the women I mentioned above. Those include collections of some of them. I know that Trina Robbins is assembling a collection of Lily Renee's comics work, which should make a nice companion to the two volume Miss Fury collection that Robbins has edited. I'd love to see some nice collections of Brenda Starr by Dale Messick. Also of the Dale Messick-Ramona Fradon years of the strip (shouldn't those two names be able to guarantee some sales).

I have a few other ideas and suggestions that I won't get into, but I think it's important to note that Gary Groth has hired some great women who work at Fantagraphics and he publishes a lot of great cartoonists there. That in such a context, he doesn't think there are any women cartoonists of the past worth discussing or women today to write about well says something. I don't know what, honestly, but it's something to consider.

Rob Thomas developing an "iZombie" television show

I'm a fan of Rob Thomas, whose the man responsible for "Veronica Mars" and "Party Down" and "Cupid" and other television shows. He's also making the new movie "Veronica Mars." It was announced yesterday that he's developing the Vertigo comic series "iZombie" from writer Chris Roberson and artist Mike Allred into a television series. I was a big fan of comic, which ended far too soon.

I think it's a great concept and Roberson and Allred did great work on the series. It also happens to be a great idea for a television series. After all it does concern a young woman protagonist, zombies, various supernatural creatures. That makes it a good choice for a tv show and a good one that Rob Thomas good kick some serious ass with. Her's to hoping something happens with it.

Though I hope that they'll change the title to "I, Zombie" or something similar. The small i in front of things is annoying the hell out of me...

John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell on Rachel Maddow

I don't watch Rachel Maddow much - I don't have a television, but she's one of those handful of people on tv news who I respect the hell out of because of the work she's done. She's also something of a geek. She's talked about comics in the past, but last night she had Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell on to talk about the book "March". Admittedly I think it's the second best interview with the three that you'll ever see (this is what you get form an opinionated writer who has interviewed them before, so I admit that I may be biased)

All that aside, it's a great book – important and well-written and beautifully made. Also right now (and I hate sounding like an ad or a paid shill) but Top Shelf is offering a digital bundle where you can buy both March and the great old comic book "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story" with the proceeds going to the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which continues to promote pacifism in the world today.

John Lewis is one of the great American heroes and he and his work and life deserve all the attention they get and then some.


The end of "Fables"

Bill Willingham announced that he'll be ending his long running series "Fables" with issue #150 in early 2015. The companion series "Fairest" will also be wrapping up just before then.

According to Willingham:

"I’ve decided to retire from a great deal of my comics work.

"Retirement in the storytelling trade means, still working and writing every day, but being a bit more selective in what projects I take on. Pushing 60, I thought it would be a good time to start making concrete plans for those remaining good writing years."

I'm sad that the series will be coming to a close. I've loved many of the stories that have been told and liked just about all of them and it's no exaggeration to say that the book has been one of the best comics of the 21st Century. But I do understand Willingham's thinking. Hell, I'm half his age and I'm thinking in such terms recently.

When I interviewed him earlier this year, Willingham mentioned that he and Matt Sturges were hoping to collaborate again on a project - and possibly a Babe the Blue Ox comic. He's also working on a few other novels, which sound very cool. Plus we'll hopefully see a collection of Beowulf stories he wrote. I hope that we'll see Willingham write and draw a comic again.

I think a great deal of Willingham as a creator for many reasons and he's a great person to talk to. He consistently runs one of the most entertaining and fun panels you'll ever attend - if you're at a convention, make a point of going to a Bill Willingham panel. And I'm excited that there will plenty of new Willingham stories - maybe not Fables, maybe not comics - but plenty of stories in the years to come.

Person of Interest Cast and Showrunner

While I was at New York Comic Con last month I got to sit down and talk with the cast and showrunner of the show Person of Interest. I'm a fan of the show for many reasons and was thrilled to sit down with the cast and showrunner Greg Plageman to talk about the show and their characters and it was a great thrill.

They're arguably the most talented (not to mention best looking) casts on television. They're also a lot of fun to talk to and I could've spent the afternoon chatting with them.

Some Reflections: Or, Moving

I moved recently, which is always a complicated experience. It's always a tiring experience. The fact that I've moved and am still missing things. I don't have some furniture because I need to pick some things up. I'm sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I don't write any of this to complain, but it leaves one weary.

It comes on the heels on a very long October which included a week in New York including a few days at the New York Comic Con, which was both fun and exhausting. This also came a month after SPX.

All of that plus the move, the sense of starting over in some small way, adjusting one's life trajectory or however one wants to describe such a thing. Plus November is my birthday. I dislike birthdays. I have said, more than once over the years, that I'm happy to celebrate when I do something worth commemorating, but I don't think there's a point to celebrating getting a year older. Now admittedly, I don't take compliments well, so I likely would not be willing to celebrate something, but that's a separate issue.

Still, it all makes one thing about work and what I do and how I spend my days and what I want to do in the days to come. When I was at NYCC I had the chance to sit down with Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton separately. The reason they were there - and why I was there - was to talk about the show The League on FXX. I'm a fan of the show, but more than that I'm a fan of both of them and their more personal work that they do. Duplass in particular has been a real inspiration with his films including The Puffy Chair.

I spend much of my day writing nonfiction and writing about other people and events that are going on and I've been thinking more about what I want to do next. What I want to do more of. Where I want to be a few years from now. What I want to spend my days doing. And I know the answer to that question. I just need to make it happen.

R.I.P. Nick Cardy

Like everyone else, I was saddened to hear that Nick Cardy passed away yesterday at the age of 93. Cardy was one of the great comics artists of the 1950s-1970s, primarily at DC Comics where he was one of the great cover artists in that period and of all time in the comics field. Cardy went onto become a major movie poster artist before mostly retiring. Cardy was a largely self-taught artist who began working in comics and illustration while still a teenager before being drafted. He was a decorated World War II veteran and for decades has been known as one of the nicest people you'll meet.

Born in 1920, Cardy began working in comics at the age of 18 for the Eisner/Iger Studio (founded by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger). He worked on a variety of projects but most notably "Lady Luck" which he drew as a backup for Eisner's "The Spirit" section. After about a year, Cardy left Eisner's studio for Fiction House.

Cardy was later drafted and fought in World War II. He was originally assigned to the 66th Infantry Division - The Black Panther Division - and Cardy designed the unit's insignia. Cardy later became an Assistant Tank Driver in the Third Armored Division and served in the European Theater. While there he kept a sketchpad and his sketches were collected in the book "Nick Cardy: The Artist at War" which was originally published by Eva Ink Publishing and this year was printed in a new edition from Titan Books.

After the war he worked in illustration, comic strips and other fields before he ended up in comic books. He began a long association with DC Comics initially working on series like "Tomahawk" and "Congo Bill."

His greatest success in comics was in the sixties. Cardy took over drawing "Aquaman" and odds are that for many comics readers they know Cardy's version of the character. Cardy went onto draw "Teen Titans" for the publisher before moving onto the short-lived (but much loved by many people including myself) Western series "Bat Lash." There was also a long run on "The Brave and the Bold" where Batman teamed up with various others from the DC Universe. Cardy was also a major cover artist at DC, drawing hundreds of covers for the company.

Cardy was a skilled artist and many have commented on his great skill at drawing women. Reading comics he drew it's easy to see why. Of course many others have mentioned that Cardy was no slouch in drawing men, either. In this sense Cardy was perhaps the aesthetic ideal for many comics fans, with attractive men and women populating a world of fantastic derring-do.

It was Cardy's covers though that perhaps attracted the most attention and should still be examined by artists today. Cardy played with design and style, he often drew cover images that were more interesting and had more story in that single image than the comic itself had. Moreover he was able to attract the reader's attention.

Cardy went on to focus on movie posters, something that he admitted was much more lucrative and drew posters for movies including "The Streetfighter" with Sonny Chiba, "Movie Movie" with George C. Scott, "California Suite," "Meatballs 2," "Apocalypse Now."

I had the opportunity to talk with Cardy two years ago and at the beginning he joked about his age and apologized for whatever I would ask him that he couldn't remember, but even in his nineties, he was a funny, engaging man who was happy to spend an hour talking with a writer a third of his age about events that for the most part happened long before I was born.

He was a fine artist, a kind man, and he'll be missed.


Anya Davidson has "School Spirits"

I didn't know Anya Davidson's work that well when I read her book "School Spirits." I read her short comic in the last volume of "Kramers Ergot," but that was it. I did love her debut graphic novel, though. It's a great book that reminded me about being a teenager in the best sense. That way we thought, the way we daydreamed, the intense emotions which take over our lives, our friendships which define our lives. It's a beautiful book, a great read, though it's also hard to explain. Just check it out.

The Cast and Creators of "The League"

I'm a fan of the show "The League." It's funny, it's weird. It manages to capture the craziness and inventiveness of improv, but it's also a well-written, well-structured show. One of the creators, Jeff Schaeffer, is a veteran comedy writer who worked on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and it has a great cast. Of course the best known person (and the guy in the cast I honestly admire the hell out of) is Mark Duplass, but then there's also Katie Aselton, Paul Scheer, Nick Kroll, Jon Lajoie, Stephen Rannazzisi and Jason Mantzoukas. It was great to sit down with the cast and a lot of fun.

Kate Leth on "Kate or Die," "Adventure Time" and more

I'm a big fan of Kate Leth. I think her cartoons are good and in the past year they've only gotten better as she's experimented more with her art, but still been just as funny and inventive. She's had a great year with appearances in various anthologies including "Anything That Loves," her contributions to "Adventure Time" and her own work on her blog.

She's also done some work for "Welcome to Night Vale," she's in the midst of a few other things and I know that Kate is going to do some amazing things in the next few years. I can't wait to see what she has in store for us.

The cast and showrunner of "Person of Interest" at NYCC

I'm a big fan of the television show "Person of Interest." I think that the writers and directors, led by creator Jonathan Nolan, have done something really interesting. I think it's possible to look at the show on many levels. It's an old fashioned action show, it's a science fiction show, it's a meditation of human behavior and meaning and purpose, it's a meditation on rights, it's a parable of the 21st century, it's about privacy and what it means. It has a very old school approach to heroism and redemption and the fight to do the right thing. It's also a very subversive show. The cops aren't necessarily good guys. Corruption isn't about one bad egg, it's endemic.

I got to spend some time at NYCC sitting in as Showrunner and Executive Producer Greg Plageman and cast members Jim Caviezel, Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Chapman, Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker sat and answered questions before an audience.

Ted Naifeh announces "Princess Ugg"

I'm a huge fan of Ted Naifeh. He's one of those people I've met a few times, interviewed a few times, and before that I was reading him and it's been exciting to watch him get bigger over time, because I certainly believe that he deserves it. Anyway I was thrilled to get to talk to him again and that he's announcing his brand new project, an ongoing series that launches next year from Oni Press.

Princess Ugg sounds interesting and has a lot of potential to be something different. I'm excited.

Covering New York Comic Con

New York Comic Con is always an exhausting experience but I had the chance to sit in on some interesting panels when I was there.

I covered Kieron Gillen, Canaan White and William Christensen talking about "Uber," the big new series from Avatar Press. I'm a big fan of Kieron Gillen and honestly I would have liked to have a longer conversation about World War II and recent historical revision and rethinking, but that's a very different conversation for another time.

I sat in on Kate Beaton, Ryan North and Chris Hastings talking about webcomics and their work outside of webcomics. Hell, that's a great conversation right there. Also, Ms Beaton talked about (and signed) her contract with Scholastic for a picture book starring the fat pony

Buddy Scalera talked with Jimmy Palmiotti for an hour and a half reviewing his life and work and it was a great conversation. If you've ever met Palmiotti you know he's a great conversationalist and it was a fun time.

One of the last panels of the con was about graphic noir with Jules Feiffer and Darwyn Cooke, moderated by Paul Levitz. What more can I say?

Dylan Meconis: From "Family Man" to "PVP"

I'm a huge fan of Dylan Meconis. I liked her first major webcomic, "Bite Me!" which was set in the French revolution and involved - yes, you guessed it - vampires. She's made a number of other short comics and different projects including the Eisner nominated short comic "Outfoxed" but the work that's really made me and many others sit up an take notice of her immense talent as a cartoonist is "Family Man." The comic, which is being serialized online at is an incredibly story that I think is coming out far too slowly. I kid, but Dylan knows what I mean (I hope). It's a great story and I can't wait to see where she's going with it.

Dylan is also co-writing and occasionally contributing to "PVP," Scott Kurtz's long-running webcomic. It is about as far from "Family Man" as one could imagine. We also had the chance to meet briefly at SPX last year and she was as charming as she is talented. Go read her!


If I could interview Patrick Stewart, I’d ask about this...

Despite many efforts on multiple fronts, I have yet to hear back from his people, so I think that it’s safe to assume I will not be interviewing Sir Patrick Stewart, who is the news because he and Ian McKellan are starring in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land on Broadway. It makes me sad, but I’m not a very big deal, and well, he is. So here are some thoughts on what I would ask the man if I could. (And it should go without saying that if we did the interview, I’d prefer we did it over cups of earl grey tea).

First, his one man A Christmas Carol, which I had the chance to see in the early nineties. I say without hyperbole, that it is one of my favorite theatrical experiences and that the show changed my life. I saw the production at that stage of life where the right piece of art can shatter your brain and reassemble it in new ways, and that’s exactly what Stewart did. I still remember the theater, sitting in the second to last row in the mezzanine, and Stewart came out and with his voice and just a few props, managed to tell a story and capture the pathos and darkness of a story that I so often–before and since–have found a bit twee. He did it with language and the skill of a master thespian and that ability to conjure a world in an empty theater is something that doesn’t always happen and it was incredible. How he thought about that production and what went into thinking about a production where there are no crutches and it’s solely about him.

Stewart grew up in Northern England in the forties and fifties and I’m curious about what it was about the theater that made such an influence on him. The books and plays and films and radio shows that played a role in shaping his own aesthetic and ideas when he was growing up. What the theater meant to him as a young man.

Stewart has said that he saw a production of Godot when he was 17 which starred a then-unknown actor named Peter O’Toole which made a huge impression on him. I’m curious what he made of the play as a young man and how his understanding of the play has changed over time.

Stewart was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company for many years and he worked with Sir Peter Brook a few times, including Brook’s legendary production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (which in the minds of some is one of the most important and influential theatrical productions of the Twentieth Century). I’m curious because I can’t help but think of Brooks’ thinking about theater as being key to Stewart’s A Christmas Carol and the way that Brook worked and how Brook has shaped his work going forward.

After all, Brook tried to get away from realism and naturalism and find a new way to get at the heart of the material–and dressing up in awkward uncomfortable costumes, working with green screens and speaking a lot of meaningless technobabble–as happened all too often in Star Trek, having been taught by and worked with Brook sounds like great preparation.

The theatrical roles he has yet to perform. He’s doing Beckett and Pinter in repertory this fall, but what else is he interested in exploring. I’d love to see him perform more Beckett, but I’d love to see him tackle Anton Chekhov (he'd make a great Vanya) and Eugene O’Neill (Long Day's Journey Into Night?) as well. I’m also curious what Stewart would make of Sam Shepard, who we think of as such a quintessentially American playwright. I’d also love to see him tackle comedy–maybe The Man Who Came to Dinner? But more than just listing great plays, what is it about a play and a role that makes him interested in spending months with it.

Working with Ian McKellan and how different it is working together on these plays than the previous time they co-starred in a play, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and how it differs from working together on a film.

Last question: how does it feel to have done more for educating Americans about tea than probably anyone since 1776? “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”


Jeff Smith and RASL

Like just about everyone who reads comics, I like Jeff Smith. Between Bone, Rasl, his Shazam book, it's hard not to like his work. He's also a great person to interview simply because he's a great talker. If you've ever seen him at an event he's great at presenting his work and the ideas behind in a way that not everyone can do, but he makes it look easy.

I had the chance to talk with Jeff recently about RASL, which is out in a new hardcover collection (and is a gorgeous book) and his webcomic "Tüki Saves the Humans," which launches next month online (more on that in the article). We also talked about Nikola Tesla, physics (though I couldn't keep up my end of that part of the conversation) and the desert.

"The Property" of Rutu Modan

Cards on the table, I think Rutu Modan's "The Property" is one of the best graphic novels of 2013. I know, the year isn't over yet, but honestly the book hit me like nothing else so far this year. It's an incredible piece of work from a gifted cartoonist.

The book is about the relationship between a young woman and her grandmother (which, as I mentioned in the interview, I found a lot like my own relationship with my grandmother). It's about Poland. It's about Israel. It's about property and memory, the past and the present, and about family.

It's a book that I keep thinking, have read more than once, and it's a beautiful book that I cannot recommend enough. (The interview isn't too shabby, either)

Exploring "The Thicket" with Joe R. Lansdale

I'm a huge fan of Joe Lansdale and have been for many years. He's a great writer of horror short stories and mystery novels, wrote the beloved Hap and Leonard series of thrillers, is responsible (along with Tim Truman) for what I think are the best Jonah Hex comics ever made, wrote for "Batman: The Animated Series" (one of the best cartoon shows ever). There's "Bubba Ho-Tep," which was based on his short story and "Incident Off and On a Mountain Road" which based on another story. His long list of award-winning novels include "The Bottoms," "Edge of Dark Water," "A Fine Dark Line."

His new book is "The Thicket," which is a departure for him, but it's also a book that is clearly a Joe Lansdale book. It's a Western set in East Texas at the turn of the century and there are similarities to "True Grit" and "The Searchers" but Lansdale points out that the plot of getting revenge on a gang who killed someone or going after someone who kidnapped a relative is a trope of the genre. As he rightly points out in the interview, it's what the writer does with this is what matters and what distinguishes the book. In Lansdale's case, he crafts a book that's funny and strange and bloody and romantic. It's a book where the good guys win, although there's a cost, and which refuses to sugarcoat the past.

It's a great read.


Matt Phelan brings Buster Keaton to "Bluffton"

I've been a fan of Matt Phelan ever since his first graphic "The Storm in the Barn." It was a masterful fable about a young boy growing up in the Dust Bowl. It was his first comic, though he'd been illustrating children's books for many years by that point, but he understood comics. I ended up giving the book to my mother, where it became a favorite of her fourth graders, and won a number of awards including the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. We spoke when it came out and it's one of those interviews that I'm immensely proud of.

I was thrilled to talk with him about his new book, "Bluffton." It opens in 1908 and tells the story of Henry Harrison, a young boy growing up in Michigan who befriends another boy his age. Harry's friend turns out to be a gifted vaudevillian named Buster Keaton, who would go on to be one of the great actors and directors in the history of film.

Like Phelan, I'm a huge fan of Buster Keaton, but it's a great story for many reasons (not just because of Buster).

Liniers and "The Big Wet Balloon"

Liniers is a great Argentinian cartoonist so while "The Big Wet Balloon" (out now from Toon Books in both English and Spanish language editions) is his first book to come out in the U.S., there's a reason why a quick glance at the book makes it clear that the man is a great cartoonist. I had the chance to talk with him at SPX recently and he was a great guy in addition to being a great artist and we had a fabulous conversation.

Carlos Batts and April Flores: Fat Girl

I always love it when I get to talk to artists and photographers over at SG and recently I had the chance to talk with Carlos Batts and April Flores. Batts is a great photographer and filmmaker and Flores is a well-known model and porn star. The couple has been working together, since, well since before they were a couple, and the work that they create together is different from the work they do separately in interesting ways. Their new project is a photography book, Fat Girl. The photographs are of Flores, taken over the length of their working relationship and done in a variety of styles and approaches.

I made the point that the book is not political, but the title is, and we talked about that, pornography, body image, the key to an open relationship and more. I've been a fan of both for years and had a great time talking with them.

Ramona Fradon and her long career, from Aquaman to Brenda Starr to "Fairy Tale Comics"

Ramona Fradon started working as an artist in 1951 at DC Comics. In the Silver Age she was perhaps best known for drawing Aquaman, but she was always interested more in humor comics and in characters like Plastic Man and Metamorpho–who she co-created with writer Bob Haney. (If Metamorpho sounds vaguely familiar, Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred did a story with the character for the acclaimed Wednesday Comics anthology a few years ago). Ms. Fradon took a few years off to raise her daughter and later she retired from comic books in 1980 to take over the long-running comic strip "Brenda Starr" from creator Dale Messick.

Ms. Fradon drew the comic strip until 1995, but like her earlier retirement, she's continued to draw. Her new comic is a contribution to the anthology "Fairy Tale Comics" which comes out this week from First Second Books. It's a beautifully drawn adaptation of "The Prince and the Tortoise" and Ms. Fradon will be at New York Comic Con next month.


Arun Rath and All Things Considered Weekend

Arun Rath has taken over the weekend edition of NPR's All Things Considered, overseeing the hour long show on Saturday and Sunday.

It's also great because the show is being broadcast from NPR West. One because they have a studio in LA so why not use it. But also it's nice to see NPR actively try to get some geographic diversity and

On Sunday's show, they covered the standoff in Kenya, the electoral victory of Angela Merkel, had a piece about Common Core standards, but there was also an interview with David Cross and Bob Odenkirk (which Rath was clearly excited by) and a nice piece about the new album from ?uestlove and Elvis Costello. On Saturday, Rath walked Sunset Boulevard and talked with Patton Oswalt about Moby Dick. It's that combination of news and quirky entertainment that I really enjoyed and I think with the right host and right sensibility, the show can really be a winner.

Of course on the opening show, there were dispatches from a few people across the Western U.S., which was, well, less than exciting. Having said that, I would like to see the show incorporate dispatches from across the Western U.S. (and Western Canada and the West Coast of Mexico as well). It would be nice to hear regular reports of what's happening - the art scenes, the economy, the ongoing water concerns, the changing environmental landscape. I'll be honest, I'm constantly frustrating living in New England at how little people know and care about the rest of the U.S. Of course that's because they're willfully ignorant (Some here really do think that everything west of the Mississippi consists of: Hollywood, Portlandia, ski resorts, with the rest consisting of places and people they don't care about and don't want to care about).

So hopefully they'll take advantage of being in Los Angeles and telling a few more stories from different places. There are plenty of great people they could hire to do commentary (Rebecca Solnit, Timothy Egan, Rick Bass, Terry Tempest Williams, Walter Kirn to name just a few). Looking forward to hearing what they come up with next.

Ghost Projekt in development at NBC

I was excited to see that Ghost Projekt is in development at NBC. Even better, the pilot is being co-written and directed by the writer/director of Troll Hunter, André Øvredal. I spoke with writer Joe Harris and artist Steve Rolston back when the book first came out a few years ago and read it again last year and it's a great read. Curious to see what the plan is to turn this book into an ongoing series, but there's a lot of material there and plenty of potential.

The story concerns an American weapons inspector and a Russian detective who team up after an incident that has supernatural implications and involves events that took place decades before. 

It's also the second time that NBC and Oni Press have worked together. NBC made a pilot of The Sixth Gun, a series that Oni publishes, though it ended up not going to series. The publisher has plenty of books that NBC should be looking at if they aren't already.


Charles Forsman and "The End..."

I got to talk with Charles Forsman, whose first major book "TEOTFW" is out now from Fantagraphics, who is also publishing another book by Forsman later this year. In addition to that, Forsman, who runs the publishing company Oily Comics, is serializing a new story in minicomics, "Teen Creeps,"the first two issues of which are out now.

We also talked about the planned adaptation of "TEOTFW" and the influence of the Center for Cartoon Studies on his life and work. When his name was announced at the Ignatz Awards last weekend–he won for outstanding minicomic–the applause from the audience was thunderous.

I'm Neither Important, Nor Very: SPX 2013

This was my first time at SPX and it was a good convention. It was also completely exhausting. The convention only lasts two days, and open at 11 am on Saturday and noon on Sunday, which is a good starting time. When I arrived the doors were already open and there was a line of people queued up to buy their passes.

I’m neither important, nor very, I’m just running a panel, I said to the staff member, almost apologetically. You'd think I'd have a better line when meeting women for the first time...but no.

The show takes place at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Convention Center, which is conveniently across from the Metro station. Despite being packed with people the hall was comfortable–though some people under the vents complained of being cold–and at times the aisles were packed, but for the most part people were polite and apologized when bumping into each other. There were girl scouts, people in costume, elderly, children, people with their infants in tow. It was a great cross-section of people. The room was set up so that there are many doors and after a few hours, all the doors were opened on three sides of the room and at many of the entrances and outside in the halls were water coolers, many with tins of mint next to them. (Just so you know, there are no water coolers or tins of mint at the San Diego Comic-Con)

(R to L): Jen Vaughn and Jacq Cohen behind the Fantagraphics booth. One of the small touches I liked about SPX was that the show gives balloons to those who have been nominated for the Ignatz Awards, which are handed out Saturday night.

The Ignatz Awards are also determined by ballot and anyone who attend the festival can vote. Here one of the show's employees walked the show floor encouraging people to complete and hand in their ballots.

The reason I was a VIP (deservedly, or not) is because I ran a panel, “March Spotlight with Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell.” It was the third panel on Saturday afternoon and the three had been signing at the Top Shelf booth earlier and after a short break were in front of a mostly packed room. I prepared a few slides, but they were more for the audience as none of the three needed any prodding to talk. We had a great audience. I’m told it was packed, but honestly I didn’t really look around the room much.

While I was asking questions and keeping an eye on the clock, Nate Powell was answering questions and drawing a sketch of the Congressman in profile, which he gave to me after the panel. It was a kind gift and I need to find a good place to put it.

We talked about A. Philip Randolph, Malcolm X, and so many other things. I’m thrilled that I could be a part of it. Heidi Macdonald wrote the show up for Publishers Weekly ( and she mentioned the panel in very kind terms. People kept coming up to me all weekend saying how great the panel was or how they heard great things about it, which was really gratifying.

Walking upstairs after the panel, a line just shorter than the one to get into the show in the morning, was wrapped around the outside of the ballroom as people lined up to get books signed by the three. Nate and Andrew are both great guys and deserve all the attention and success their getting because of the book, and it was a pleasure to get to see the Congressman again and have another chance to talk with him.

SPX will be posting video of the panel soon, but photographer Bruce Guthrie was there and has some great pictures of the panel on his website. He has also has pictures of other panels (Jeff Smith, Gary Panter) and a lot of pictures from the show floor as well.

I was there that weekend to do work. After the panel wrapped up, I did a few interviews over the weekend, but spent most of the time walking the convention floor

I like talking to people at conventions. I’m not part of a group or clique, so I don’t have any good stories of hanging out with X, dining with Y, getting drunk with Z. I've heard and read a few people throw around the phrase "Adventure Time Mafia" and I'll be honest, I really don't know what that means. So I don't have a good or insightful insider take on the show.

Of course I did spend most of the show talking to people. My favorite part of any show is seeing people who I do know in comics – and tend to see a few times a year, usually at shows. Other times it’s meeting people I’ve interviewed, seeing publicists I e-mail regularly. Or I’m just meeting people for the first time. We discuss the work we’re doing, books other people have put out, thoughts on various creators, dissecting different books. We discuss our lives and share stories. And in a pinch, well, we can always talk about how we’re introverts and being a crowd like this and talking all day just starts to drive us a little nuts.

An incomplete list of the incredible people I got to talk with over the course of the weekend:  Alec Longstreth, Allie Kleber, Andrew Aydin, Brendan Leach, C. Spike Trotman, Carla Speed McNeil, Cate Hall, Charles Forsman, Chris Mautner, Chris Pitzer, Chris Staros, CJ Joughin, Cody Pickrodt, Colleen AF Venable, Dan Nadel, Dan Zettwoch, Dave Roman, Dash Shaw, Dylan Edwards, Dylan Meconis, Elizabeth Staley, Elle Skinner, Gene Yang, Gina Gagliano, Glynnis Fawkes, Isaac Cates, Jacq Cohen, Jason Viola, Jeff Smith, Jen Vaughn, Joe List, Joe McCulloch, Joseph Remnant, Josh Shalek, Julia Phillips, Julia Pohl-Miranda, Justin Hall, Kathleen Glosan, Kenan Rubenstein, Kevin Huizenga, Laura Knetzger, Lena Chandhok, Leslie Stein, Marguerite Dabaie, Nate Powell, Nathan Marsh, Neil Brideau, Noah Van Sciver, Pete Wartman, Renee Lott, Rutu Modan, Sam Spina, Sara Turner, Terry Nantier, Tom Kaczynski, Tracy Hurran, Veronica Mautner, Whit Taylor, Zach Smith, Zan Christiansen.

I’m sure I’m missing plenty of people because it was an exhausting weekend–plus I’m not always great at names. I did get to meet Kate Beaton. We’ve crossed paths at different shows, but I dislike approaching people when they’re just walking around. Hell I felt awkward enough bothering her when she was hanging out drinking coffee behind the D&Q booth. She was as gracious as one might expect from reading her work.

Because it’s life, I also never got to talk with a lot of people I wished I could have. I saw Leslie Stein briefly, but sadly we didn’t get to talk. I spoke with Tom Spurgeon for a few minutes late on Sunday. I didn’t end up talking to Matt Bors or Seth. Would have liked to chat with Danielle Corsetto, Rebecca Mock, Kate Leth, Nick Abadzis and plenty of other people. I never saw Heidi Macdonald, but I never see Heidi Macdonald.

I managed to pick up a large number of books that piled together comes to almost two feet high (all the more impressive–or troubling–since most of them are minicomics). I should have them all read by next SPX. Fantagraphics and D&Q both sold out of some of the titles they brought and had just a few piles of books by the end of Sunday. Cartoon Books had a great weekend, selling out of not just the many boxes of Rasl they brought to the show, but boxes they got from a nearby bookstore as well, plus copies of Bone, Little Mouse and stuffed animals. Others didn’t do quite so well, and many said that the year wasn’t quite as profitable as last year had been for them, and others described it as a good show for sales, but not a great one, but even they didn’t complain much about the show.

People have often spoken of SPX in evangelical terms and I didn't have that response. Which is fine. Even in a show this size, there should be the opportunity for lots of people to have very different experiences and have very different shows. I have nothing bad to say about SPX. I liked the size and the tone. I liked the people. A lot of good comics debuted at the show. I have nothing bad to say, but it still feels as though I'm damning the show with faint praise. It was a good show.

Fiona Staples' ongoing "Saga"

I've loved Fiona Staples' artwork since I first came across it in the pages of "North 40" years back. She went onto draw "Mystery Society" a miniseries she made with Steve Niles, various fill-in projects, some great covers. The reason why everyone knows her name - and why she had to buy a new shelf for all her awards - is because of "Saga." I had the chance to talk with her recently about how she works, thinking about coloring, and Image Comics has shared a preview of next week's issue #14

Arthur de Pins welcomes us to Zombillenium

I had the chance to talk with French cartoonist and animator Arthur de Pins about Zombillenium. The new book is the first in a series and his first book published in North America. It's a comedy and a monster story. Monsters are walking around in the modern world and most of them work at the theme park Zombillenium. Of course no one finds the monsters - including zombies - scary anymore.

It's funny, inventive, dark - and the second one comes out next year and I can't wait.

Kazu Kibuishi redraws Harry Potter

It's hard not to love Kazu Kibuishi. I've been a fan of his work since I first came across it in the very first "Flight" anthology many years ago. We've spoken and run into each other over the years and it was great to talk with him again. He's been working on "Amulet," which is a great graphic novel series, but his new project, designing new covers for the Harry Potter series for the books' 15th anniversary (which, and people will start to attack me once I say this, I think are better than the originals).

Emma Vieceli on the move

I spoke with Emma Vieceli, who is an artist you've probably come across if for no other reason than she's incredibly prolific, drawing different books for different companies in different genres and doing so with an an enviable ease.

This summer, the second volume of "The Avalon Chronicles" was published by Oni Press, with two more in the works. In December, the third volume of the "Vampire Academy" comes out, the graphic novel series adapted from Richelle Mead's bestselling novels. In addition Vieceli is in the midst of working on the first of two "Alex Rider" books adapting the Anthony Horowitz series. She's also contributing to "Young Avengers" over at Marvel. Oh yes, she's also developing a historically accurate series detailing the life of Richard III, still plans to complete her "Dragon Heir" series, and is developing a webcomic.

In short, if you don't know who Emma is now, you will soon.

Andrew Sullivan reblogged Me!

I'm a longtime fan and reader of Andrew Sullivan and his blog The Dish is essential reading (though admittedly one I skip in the days I really need to get work done...) so I was a little thrilled that he mentioned and re-blogged (and read) the interview I did with Gregory Orr in the Paris Review.

Gregory Orr on poetry, myth and more

I've been a fan of the poet Gregory Orr for a few years now, and recently had the opportunity to talk with the man for the Paris Review. I mean it's exciting enough to write an article for the Paris Review – I've been reading Paris Review since I was a teen and getting to write even a short interview for them is a thrill. We covered a lot of ground in the interview, talking about his recent work and how it's changed over time, on the enduring power of myth and more.

His comments about myth have gotten a lot of attention:

"The beautiful thing about myths is that you’re never telling a myth, you’re retelling it. People already know the story. You don’t have to create a narrative structure, and you don’t have to figure out where it ends. As a lyric poet, you can take the moments of greatest intensity in the myth, or the moments that interest you most, or the ways of looking at the story that you think would be most fun to rethink—you don’t have to do the whole story. You want to know what human mystery can be revealed by retelling it. D. H. Lawrence said that myths are symbols of inexhaustible human mysteries. You can tell them a hundred, a thousand times, and you’ll never exhaust the mystery that’s coded into that story. That may be a little hyperbolic, but I believe it."

Rich Stevens is a Rocker

Rich Stevens has been one of the major figures in webcomics since...well, since there's been a webcomics scene. "Diesel Sweeties" was and is one of the funniest strips on the internet and I know that the pixel artwork isn't for everyone

The new collection of the strip is "Diesel Sweeties: I'm a Rocker, I Rock Out" available now from Oni Press. I'll let the book description speak for itself: "boils down hundreds of strips of music elitist snobbery into an intensely potent jam of cheerful disdain and will heap minute upon extended minute of enjoyment into your life."

Michael Fry's "Odd Squad"

I've long been a fan of "Over the Hedge" the daily comic strip from Michael Fry and T Lewis that looks at wild animals surviving - and thriving - in suburbia. It was turned into an animated film a few years ago, which was successful but didn't warrant a sequel for some reason. Fry is also one of the people behind Ringtails, which did great short animations of various comic strips and New Yorker cartoons.

Fry continues to write "Over the Hedge" but he's also an artist and his new project is the book series "Odd Squad" about a group of middle school kids and their realistic, funny, bizarre and over the top adventures. (Of course I was an odd kid in middle school, so admittedly, not everyone may agree). The book are great fun and as I pointed out, unlike a lot of middle grade, I never felt like anything was being oversimplified or talked down to.


Happy 90th birthday, Mort Walker!

Cartoonist Mort Walker turned 90 today. Just as amazing, his strip "Beetle Bailey" celebrates his 63rd year in the newspapers. Michael Cavna spent some time with Walker recently:

I spoke with Walker three years ago when "Beetle Bailey" was celebrating sixty years. I got to visit him at his home in Stamford, CT. What's notable is that Walker is still writing and drawing every day. I saw Walker last year at a public event, and he was still doing well. 90 years young and still going strong, every day. That's something we can all aspire to.

Happy birthday, Mr. Walker!


R.I.P. Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 when I was in high school, writing poetry all the time, obsessed by writing, and there was something about his work that I really responded to. He wrote about nature and rural life, but it wasn’t pastoral. He dealt with politics but he wasn’t a political poet. He quickly became one of my favorites.

A few years later, he visited Vassar College, where I was studying, and gave a read reading to a crowd that couldn’t fit, with people standing along the walls and listening in the halls outside the open doors as he read. Professors let classes out early or cancelled them so students could attend. It was one of those wonderful, extraordinary events to see .

Mr. Heaney was also my first big interview. In retrospect, I should have made a point of doing a few more interviews before trying to talk with a Nobel Prize winning author I admired the hell out of–but of course, life doesn’t always work out so neatly. I knew, slightly, the poet Eamon Grennan, who taught at Vassar before he retired a few years ago and asked him if it might be possible to talk with Mr. Heaney for a few minutes after or before the reading.

I remember sitting there with a cassette recorder and when I transcribed the interview a day or two later, it was obvious that I was nervous, stuttering a little, but I had prepared a few questions and for those five minutes Mr. Heaney was thoughtful and funny and the truth is that even though I no longer have a copy of that interview, I remember some of what he said to this day.

My cassettes are gone–thrown out long ago. There was a good chance that I had recorded over it before I switched to working digitally. The word processing document that it was transcribed and edited onto was lost many computers ago. I don’t have a physical copy of the magazine and sadly, when I hunted for the interview online, I couldn’t find it. I may have to return to Vassar one of these days and hunt through the library for a physical copy and make a photocopy.

What I remember of the interview is my final two questions. Well, it was really my final questions but but I was nervous and so did a poor job of phrasing it initially and so he jumped in and answered what he thought I was asking. It was very kind of him, but he was a very kind man.

In his Paris Review interview, which was published in 1997, he was asked about his Nobel lecture and he joked about how in conversation with one of his friends they talked about whether he should mention Yeats in the speech and talked about just the other Irish writers who have won the prize. I started to ask him about it and he said that it was just a bit of fun, but my question was about how he thinks about and locates his own work in the context of those writers and Irish poets.

And he responded by saying that he thought that he and Grennan and he proceeded to name a few other writers were part of the same moment and that their accomplishments and the awards they had received were a recognition of what they had all accomplished.

Here’s a guy at the top of his craft. He’s a bestselling writer who’s a poet and translator, more awards than most of could count from many countries, cultural, literary, academic. If he had talked about what he’s interested in compared to what Yeats was interested in, that would have been a perfectly reasonable answer. But instead he talked about his peers and said that they had accomplished something important and that they were all being recognized for it.

That stood out for two reasons. One because it showed what kind of person he was. He was a kind and humble man who was willing to sit down with a student and answer nervous poorly-phrased questions. He understood that it wasn’t just about him. Part of that is the result of having such a kinship with others with the same goals and ambitions and concerns, but it’s just that he was a good guy.

It was a moment that I didn’t really understand until later when I transcribed it out and thought about it, but it’s a feeling that I’ve come to know after doing many interviews. It’s that moment when you ask a question and the interview subject gives an answer that offers you–and theoretically others–something new to think about, another way to perceive their work, different avenues to explores. Sometimes these moments surprise the person speaking and sometimes not, but they are the moments that I love about interviewing people.

Rest in peace, Mr. Heaney. He was an excellent poet, a brilliant mind and a kind person. I continue to read– and love–his work to this day. And in some small way, he played a role in setting me on this path that I walk down.

Before he died, he sent his wife a text message: Noli timere. Latin for "don't be afraid." Just minutes before he died.

Don't be afraid...

Teddy Kristiansen's "Genius"

Teddy Kristiansen is one of those people who has such a unique vision of the world, it's an incredible and all too rare occasion when the artist has a new book out. This year though is a great one for fans of his work. At the beginning of the year, Vertigo released a massive omnibus of "House of Secrets" the series that he did with writer Steven Seagle. In the spring DC released "Solo" collecting twelve issues drawn by twelve different artists - one of them Kristiansen - one of the company's best recent attempts at something new and exciting and innovative. Kristiansen was up for an Eisner Award for his book which came out last year, "The Red Diary / The Re[a]d Diary" (though he didn't win). He also has a new book out with writer Seagle, "Genius."

I had the chance to meet Kristiansen last year in New York and he was a very nice guy and I had a great time talking with him. I'm still a little stunned by how few interviews I've seen with him and how little attention has been paid to his work, especially in light of how much of his work has been released or re-released in the past twelve months. Fortunately I had the opportunity to have a brief conversation with Kristiansen over e-mail. I think he's one of the inventive and interesting and most talented artists working in comics today. I don't think the interview does justice to his own genius, but it should give a sense of who he is, what the new book is like and how he works and thinks.

Being a Freelance Writer

I had a lot of thoughts run through my head while reading a recent article by Noah Davis on The Awl:

I would love to make 12.50 an hour with my writing. Hell I would love to make 250 for every article I write. I don't see either of those things happening soon, sadly.

Admittedly I may be slightly bitter about this. I recently wrote what I think is one of the best articles I've ever written []. I wrote many, many drafts. I did about two hours of interviews, which I of course transcribed myself. To prepare for this, I read seven books on top of web research. I was working on other projects all this time, but I always thought of the John Lewis as my major project.

I won't say how little I made but it was a lot less than 250.

Of course it was a great experience. I got to meet and spend some time with Congressman John Lewis, a great man. I spent time reading and looking into the Civil Rights Movement. I had the chance to write about something substantive and meaningful and important. The result was something that was pretty good. Even though it wasn't a good money-making endeavor, I should just chalk it up as an experience – like my summer in Europe, the time in the Middle East, road trip across the United States, etc. – and move on.

Of course it would be nice to get some recognition. I don't necessarily mean that I want people to pat me on the back or pay me extra. I just would like to get some reaction from people that this is good, this is something. I'm improving as a writer.


Most of what I get as a writer is rejection. I pitch publications and never hear back. I pitch publications and get a no. I get articles published and for the most part I don't get a response from anyone about them. Or if I do, the concerns are about formatting or procedure. In the Awl article, writer David Samuels makes the point that writing is a craft and craft is learned through work and apprenticeship. I'd like to be an apprentice.

I read the article with no small amount of sadness and frustration when Davis wrote what he's been paid to write features at various publications – many of which I've pitched, many of which have never responded to me.

What's frustrating in the end is that I don't have answer. I would like to know the whys. That's one reason I'm a writer, I want to know why and how and the process. Do I get rejected because I'm pitching cold and ignore all those? Did did not go to the right school? Is it a crappy idea? Am I mediocre writer? The answer is always dead silence.

This week I know that I'll pitch some more editors. Some I've worked with before, others I've pitched before, some I don't know. I'll cross my fingers and hope for the best.The thing is, you can only hop for the best and keep making a bad living for so long before it starts to wear you down. Before you start to feel old. Before you just start dreading the process of pitching and not hearing back and trying again and trying other people.

This is why people leave journalism. It's exhausting and there's no money in it. And it's hard to be rejected all day at work – or hear nothing – and then go out at night and put on a happy face, be confident and positive.

I wonder what it's like to have a job as a journalist. You know, with a desk and an office and a workplace. A salary and vacation days and health benefits. Where you don't stress out constantly about trying to make ends meet and maybe this week people won't respond to your pitches.

I wonder...


Data plans and "smart" phones and am I missing something?

I own a smart phone. When I tried to buy a phone plan from a company, I tried to buy a plan without a data plan. I do use the phone for such things, but I have wifi at home and elsewhere, so in the interests of cutting costs I said that I wanted just a phone plan. I was told by a sales person that just wasn't possible. Of course I couldn't get an answer as to why that was impossible. I suppose that the short answer is that they simply refused to sell me such a plan.

After all, I can turn off the cellular data on the phone - as far as I know one can do that with any "smart" phone - and the phone still works. I can make and receive calls, send and receive text messages, check my voicemail, add and edit contacts, use some of the applications.

Shouldn't I be able to simply buy a phone plan with data and have the phone work fine? Or am I missing something?


I open Firefox to find a small box with the message:

Security and privacy are not optional. Stand with a broad coalition to demand that the NSA stop watching us:

I believe that security and privacy are important. Of course I laughed like a crazy person because this message is located immediately below a google search box – a corporation that doesn't believe in privacy.

The question of privacy is one of the great issues of the 21st century and it has yet to be decided in any fashion, though it seems pretty clear that privacy is losing. Governments don't think we should have privacy and neither do corporations and for the most part people go along with it. It's interesting because a number of key decisions made by the US Supreme Court in the Post-WW II era were predicated on the belief that there is a right to privacy. Of course one of the cornerstones of many conservative legal scholars has been the idea that there is no right to privacy.

What does it mean if we give up on privacy? Or have we already passed that point?


June 18's Ear Cave in Hartford

It was a bittersweet affair when dozens of us gathered at La Paloma Sabanera for the Ear Cave. With the coffee house closing at the end of the month, it's the last ear cave that will be held there and it's reminder of how much Hartford will be losing when La Paloma closes.

WNPR's Catie Talarski introduced the evening's host/presenter, Bradley Campbell, who works at Rhode Island Public Radio. Previously he worked at WGBH, the Takeaway, Morning Edition and WCAI. He's also a graduate a Salt Institute and a native Oregonian. Campbell played four stories for us, which is most of the upcoming season of stories of a new series that he's produced with Muck Rock.

Muck Rock is a website designed to help people obtained documents through Freedom of Information requests. The radio show, which is being launched soon through the Public Radio Exchange, really has its own voice and approach - in part helped by the multiple reporters who are in the stories. It's also a very lively and interesting series. I feel that should be said since let's be honest, I think very few people think of FOIA as exciting.

(And those are just the people who know about FOIA...)

What's interesting is how they manage to use the documents and the process of obtaining the information as part of the story. It never comes out as feeling meta or behind the scenes, but rather a step by step process of beginning with some information and then trying to uncover more. It's a structure that works well for what they're doing and in part by having a different approach, by telling these stories in a new and different way – especially considering that some or a lot of the information is already out there and known to people – it really adds something to the experience.

The stories he played ran the gamut. There were aerial drones and the effort by Muck Rock to get documents about drones from all fifty states – in Seattle they found that the police department had obtained two drones through a Department of Homeland Security grant and that the police department failed to notify the City government about this fact for two years, which led to some very angry people.

There were also stories about the well known Hmong leader Vang Pao and an entertaining story about Beyonce and her lip syncing of the National Anthem at President Obama's second inaugural.

Can't wait to hear the rest.

Congressman John Lewis and remembering "March"

I have to admit that I am not a dispassionate person when it comes to Congressman John Lewis. Whatever one might think about this vote that he's cast or that stand he's taken, the Congressman has spent his life working for social change and put his life on the line for a better world. Starting as a teenager he worked to end segregation, to make it possible for people to register to vote – and the vast scope of what he was able to accomplish is such that within his own lifetime, it's puzzling for most of us to conceive of what America must have been like then.

So I made it clear that I wanted to write this story and I pitched lots of places arguing that it's hard to find someone who knows as much about comics and the Civil Rights Movement and nonviolence as I do. One of the other people who fits that bill is Andrew Aydin, one of Congressman Lewis' aides who co-wrote the book. Along with artist Nate Powell, who I've spoken to in the past and is an immesnsely talented artist, they've told the story of Congressman Lewis' life in the first of three volumes.

The article's long enough so I'll spare anyone reading this except to say that I get to meet and talk with a lot of amazing people in my job, but very rarely in life, does one get to me a truly great person. There's that old saying about how you should never meet your heroes, but I've never been disappointed meeting my heroes. It was a pleasure and an honor to talk with John Lewis.

This is why:

Congratulations to Ghassan Zaqtan and Fady Joudah!

I was thrilled to read that the poet Ghassan Zaqtan and his translator Fady Joudah received the Griffin Prize this year for the book Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me And Other Poems, which Yale University Press published the other year. It is a great book of poetry and I hope that it encourages more people to read it and discover Zaqtan, as I did when the book was first released. I also hope that, as Fady said when I interviewed him, it expands people's thinking about Arabic poetry and Palestinian poetry more specifically. If English language readers know Arabic poetry they know Darwish and Adonis and Zaqtan is a very different poet from them. It's a great book and I'm eager to read more of Zaqtan's work. 


Paul Roman Martinez and The Adventures of 19XX

I like steampunk but dislike most steampunk works. There are a number of reasons for that, including the fact that so many people seem to think of it as less a genre and more a formula. One work I do enjoy is the comic The Adventures of 19XX. Paul Roman Martinez has been posting it online for years and it has everything one would want from steampunk - or dieselpunk, for those who prefer to get technical about subgenres.

It's a 1930's adventure tale  with Nazis and secret societies, magicians and steampunk technology, dinosaurs and Lovecraftian creatures. There are also dirigibles, cameos by Nikola Tesla and Howard Hughes, the ghosts of Harry Houdini and Isambard Kingdom Brunnel, dogfights between airplanes and dinosaurs and the world's smartest rabbit. It's a great looking comic and a lot of fun.

Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks Monkey around with "Primates"

Apologies for the pun-ny title. Jim Ottaviani is one of the great unheralded writers in comics today. I was a huge fan of his last book, Feynman, a biography of the great physicist and educator. His new book Primates is a different book aimed a younger audience than Feynman - those who thought there was too much physics in Feynman will likely be relieved by this. The book tells the linked stories of the Twentieth Century's three great primatologists - Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas.
The three were each helped in their quest by Lewis Leakey, a fascinating and important character in his own right.

I am admittedly not a disinterested figure. I know Ottaviani's work and though I loved the book less than many of his others, mostly because it was written for a younger audience so I enjoyed it but it's not written for me. I also know Maris Wicks who I've met at conventions and events and I think she's fabulously talented. Highly recommended and a great book for young budding scientists.

Patrick McDonnell ("Mutts"), who I've spoken with in the past, created a picture book a few years back, Me...Jane, about Jane Goodall. It's a great title for young kids and animal lovers and a fabulous story about following one's dreams. Primates is the book to give to those kids a few years later. 

Austin Grossman and "You"

I had the chance recently to speak with Austin Grossman, the novelist and video game writer about his new project, "You." The novel is about a group of people who work in the video game industry, and I'm sure for people who are in the world or deeply familiar with it, there will be plenty to think about in the book, but it's much more than that. It's about games and fantasy more generally, about why we need escape from our lives and how they can enrich us.

It's not a book for everyone, and I don't think it has the built-in audience that his first novel "Soon I Will Be Invincible" had, but it's a thoughtful, rewarding book and a fun read.


My interview with Fady Joudah

I'm a great admirer of the Palestinian-American poet and translator Fady Joudah and I had the opportunity to talk with him for the Poetry Foundation for a profile that went up this week. We had a great conversation - the interview was edited for length because we spoke for more than an hour. I'm a big fan of both of his new books, Alight and Textu, and we spoke at length about poetry, translation, technology and more.