I’ve been thinking about Kris Marshall lately

Not much reason for a random American to think about the British actor except that I’ve been watching Murder in Paradise, the British mystery series he’s been starring in for the past few seasons. He took over as the lead after the original star Ben Miller left the show at the beginning of the third season. To be honest, I still prefer Miller and his character. I think that he’s funnier than Marshall in general and I think that his character–who walked around the Caribbean island in a dark suit and without sunglasses, complaining about how hot and bright it was–was just more entertaining.

Having said that, the show’s sixth season airs next year and Marshall has been on the show for longer than Miller has. The truth is that Marshall has grown on me and though I still will find myself occasionally thinking that the show would be funnier and more entertaining if Miller had stayed, it’s a relaxing and enjoyable show in the cozy mystery tradition.

Also I hope that it’s helped tourism to Guadalupe, where the show is filmed, because it’s a beautiful place.

Now I know form a cursory internet search that Marshall has acted in a lot of things over the years but like most Americans I would guess, I know him for one role: Colin in Love Actually.

For those of you who have forgotten (or just blocked it out) is a twenty-something British jackass in the beginning of the film. Because he’s crude asshole who acts like god’s gift to women, he doesn’t get a lot of dates. In fact women tend to be repulsed by how he acts.

Now in another movie, he would hire someone or meet someone who would take him under their wing and Colin would learn to not be such a jackass and become a little suave, get a little style, change his behavior, learn not to be crude in the workplace, and he would eventually met a woman and blah blah blah. You know how it goes, you’ve seen that movie. Probably a few different times with a few different actors, let’s be honest.

But that’s not what happens in Love, Actually–which for the record I found a loathsome and unfunny movie long before Lindy West’s excellent takedown of the movie was published by Jezebel in 2013. (Though I will admit that I enjoy rereading the article in the same way that some people like re-watching the movie). You see, writer-director Richard Curtis doesn’t see Colin as a vile manchild with toxic ideas and behavior. No, Colin, you see, is one of the heroes of the movie.

According to Colin, the problem is English women. If he goes to America, women there will get him. They’ll find him charming because of his accent, you see. So he gets on a plane to Wisconsin. At a bar he meets her and her roommates who are so charmed by his accent that the three women it is implied have an orgy with him.

Then at the end of the movie he returns to England, with a hot chick for him and her sister in tow for his friend. Because men like Colin don’t need to grow up or smarten up, no, they just need to find stupid American girls and all is well.

I was reminded of this watching the fifth season of Death in Paradise as the divorced Humphrey Goodman, played by Marshall, is trying to date again and his awkward interactions with women. There is an honesty to those interactions, which may be funny and sometimes played for laughs, but there is an actual truth to those interactions which is completely missing from the adolescent sex fantasy that is Love Actually. And I’m not saying that I think that the plot in Death in Paradise is brilliant, but there is a reality to it.

Reality seems like such a small thing to ask for sometimes, but there we are.

Articles Published the Week of December 18th

Benjamin Frisch's Fun Family is more than a Family Circus parody

Frisch is a cartoonist and radio producer and his first full length book Fun Family is much more than parody, it's a dark look at family and illusion, about the distance between art and life, it's about how we get through the day. It looks very cute (and Frisch talks about how he changed his style to make the book) but it's not a cute book. It's thoughtful and haunting and I can't wait to see what Frisch does next.

Riad Sattouf on growing up between the lines of France in Syria in The Arab of the Future

Sattouf's graphic memoirs are extraordinary and fascinating books. His father was Syrian and his mother French and Sattouf grew up in Libya and Syria, with trips to France throughout. Throughout his career Sattouf has been interested in children, in their inner lives and how they see the world and these books show life in a small rural village and we spoke about this new volume.

Tom Gauld discusses nostalgia and science fiction in Mooncop

Gauld is perhaps best known for his short funny comics but in this book, his second full length graphic novel, he tells the story of the last policeman on the moon, which is both a dry funny story about loneliness, and a look at nostalgia and our relationship with the past (and the past's idea of the future).

Glen Weldon examines Batman and Fandom in The Caped Crusade

I love NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour (I mean, really, who doesn't?) and that's how I first got to know Glen Weldon, who has written a book about Batman that also traces the rise of fandom and how the two went hand in hand. He makes a number of controversial statements - Joel Schumacher's films weren't THAT bad, Frederic Wertham had a few good points - and I argue, is nicer to Bob Kane that a lot of writers are. (And nicer than I would be). It also diagnoses very thoughtfully how fandom can be toxic and problematic. He also does a very thoughtful reading of the Batman comics of the past 10-15 years. A really fabulous book.

Dave McKean: Black Dog

To my mind, Dave McKean is one of the world's great artists and he can do just about anything. His new book - a beautiful oversize volume - is a series of dreams about the British painter Paul Nash and it is a fascinating and thoughtful and incredible book that I keep coming back to and looking at this book again and again because it's some of McKean's best compositions and as complex and thoughtful as anything as McKean has ever made.


I guest produced an episode of The Colin McEnroe Show on WNPR

As I sometimes do, I produced an hour long show for the NPR affiliate here in Hartford, CT, WNPR. Which to my mind is one of the best and most interesting local stations around. (And no, I'm not just saying that). We spent an hour talking about the boy scouts with a historian, with the leader of the scout-like (scout-esque?) group Navigators USA, and two local scoutmasters from different troops who started talking and making plans to work together during the breaks.


Articles Published the Week of December 11th

For Mutts' Patrick McDonnell, it's always the Year of Yesh!

Patrick McDonnell is one of the best cartoonists and he's also one of my favorites. His strip Mutts is brilliant and his children's books are really amazing. I interviewed him a few years ago, and we spoke again recently to talk about his strip, the two new collections that are out, his children's book, writing a Mutts movie, the upcoming musical based on one of his books. One of the nicest, most talented people you'll meet. And reading his new collection, the 21st annual collection of the strip, it's obvious why.


New Cottonelle Advertisement?

Cottonelle has been running ads challenging people to "go commando" because of their great toilet paper.

Now as someone who has gone commando and honestly is not a huge fan of it - I mean I understand for the purposes of the commercial why that's a great approach to take and great evidence of it working well, but I'll be perfectly blunt, not a fan. Let's be honest, pants are designed to be worn with underwear or boxer shorts and are much more comfortable that way – at least for those of us with hair down there and with external genitals.

Two words: zipper fly.

So while I find the commercials both amusing and clever, I'd like to suggest a slightly different approach for their next round of commercials promoting a clean bum.

(I am, by the way, all for entertaining British personalities asking about people's "bums")

Scene 1:

Our intrepid interviewer appears naked except for a smile. Naked but pixelated, that is. Get your mind out of the gutter. This is television, after all. Not HBO.

"I'm here at the Beautiful Bare Buns Naturist Park to talk with people who really care about a clean bum."

A young woman, pixelated below the neck. "The first time I came here I was worried that people who stare at me. Then I was worried that I wouldn't be able to stop staring at other people. The truth is that everyone is really nice and after a while you almost forget that everyone is naked."

"Why almost?" our host asks

"I'm still a little's my bum."

"You need some Clean Confidence," our host tells her. "Try Cottonelle's flushable cleansing cloths."

She leaves and then returns.

"Oh my god. It's totally different. With the texture you can really feel it working."

"Are you worried people will be staring at your bum?" our host asks.

"Not anymore. I feel extra clean."

Scene 2:

A couple with their two children are sitting lake front on the beach, all pixelated.

"Have you tried Cottonelle cleansing cloths?"

Both adults try them and then send their kids to the bathroom with them.

"I love the the clean ripple texture," mom says.

"It definitely leaves you feeling extra clean," dad says.

"And believe me, it's bad enough when your kids have dirty bums normally. But it's especially embarrassing here!" mom says

"I don't think we'll be able to use anything else again," dad says.

Scene 3:

"Do you mind?" she asks the yoga instructor, who steps to the side so that our intrepid host can address the nude yoga class, which is meeting in a meadow in the early morning. "Have you tried Cottonelle? Do you have clean confidence? Because if I'm doing this class, I'm definitely going to want clean confidence. Does anyone want to try?" She holds out a box with flushable cleansing cloths.

About half of the men and women in the room walk over and take a package before briefly exiting the room, including the instructor. She turns to the people who are still in the room.

"Show of hands. Who used Cottonelle today?"

Everyone's hands shoots up.

"I already use them," one man says.

"I may not be wearing clothes but I always keep a package of those in my bag," one woman says.

"I never go anywhere without Cottonelle," one man says.

"I wouldn't be in the front row if I didn't feel extra clean," one woman sayes laughing.

People filter back into the room including the instructor. Our intrepid heroine asks the instructor, "do you feel extra clean?"

"I do now!" she says.

Our host takes her place among the other class members and the instructor tells them, "Okay I want you to stretch and show your clean confidence, everyone."

CleanRipple Texture for an Extra Clean Bum.
No Matter What You're Wearing
(Or Not Wearing!)


Articles Published the Week of November 27th

Aimee de Jongh Prepares The Return of the Honey Buzzard

The Dutch cartoonist and Animator Aimee de Jongh makes her North America debut with the translation of her first full-length graphic novel The Return of the Honey Buzzard. The book is beautifully drawn, thoughtfully written and really just a stunning book in every way. In the two years since it was released in Holland, de Jongh (who also has a daily comic strip) has animated an hour long project and made another graphic novel. Also this book was turned into a movie for Dutch TV.

An Interview with Kerascoet

I've been amazed by Kerascoet for years. The married couple are the artists behind Miss Don't Touch Me and Beauty and Beautiful Darkness and the just-released picture book Paul and Antoinette. They're also drawing the upcoming picture book written by Malala Yousafzai. We had the chance to sit down while they were in New York recently and we spoke about their many projects


From the Locker Room: A Poem

Here's what locker room talk is really like among guys.

We talk about women and their looks.
The curves of the bodies
How we like them slender or thick
big boobs or small, tight butt or bouncy,
dark skinned or light skinned,
blonde or brunette, red or black,
straight or curly, kinky or relaxed,
thick lips or thin, tall or short.

We talk about who we're sleeping with
Who we want to sleep with
We talk about what we do
What we want to do
Which may or may not
have any basis in reality

And yes we use language like
a-, b-, c-, d-, f-, j-, k-, l-, m-, o-, p-, s-, t-

We can because we know we're catnip to women
One part James Bond, one part Hugh Hefner
and one part Idris Elba
And if we say it the right way, in the right outfit
they'll giggle at the words
where lesser men would get slapped

We're good looking, well dressed,
wealthy, put-together and you can't see
because we're growers not showers
(except for that one guy)
but it's a monster

We're like wolves
except the sheep come to us
We don't have to do anything
the ladies want it as much as we do
they have their needs
just can't show it
but we make them
put in a little effort
we can smell the need on them

That's what real men do
Not only do we not put in any effort
We don't need to

You see Brock Turner didn't brag
that he got a girl drunk
and raped her when she passed out
He did
Guys do
Rapists and sociopaths do
Small, insecure men do
But they don't brag about it

That would be admitting
that women don't come on to them
That they're not so hot
not so sexy
not slick or good looking
not well dressed and sophisticated
Not a smooth talker
With a great head of hair
He'd be saying the ladies don't like me
I have no redeeming qualities
I'm just some pathetic loser
who can't get laid

No, because that's our superpower
in that locker room we're the kings
and everybody wants us
because we're rich and good looking
with great hair and a great build
Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac
Henry Kissinger said
or was it Napoleon?

Because we don't have to try
Trying is for poor people and fat people
for slobs and losers

To admit that they don't come onto you
That you have to work hard to get some
You have to grab and take
Because that's the only way
You can get any
Means you're a failure

Anyone can grope a woman
We're don't because we don't need to
In that locker room, we're not
just anyone

Your wife is pregnant so you're not
getting any
is a universal complaint
Saying she set you up with some model friends
to handle your needs
or you have some models on the side
that she doesn't need to know about
foreign outsourcing of her wifely duties
That's a brag

Saying your wife is knocked up
and you're not getting any
so you grope strangers
like some trenchcoat perv in the park
getting off on flashing kids
or lick your lips at 10 year olds
is disgusting and disturbing, sick and creepy

To admit that, to other men
would be saying
I'm fat I'm ugly
with fake hair
and a bad personality
so bad
even my money doesn't outweigh
my toxic personality.
Or else it means I'm sick
that the only thing that gets me off
is to rape women
to assault them
to hurt them

Because you see, the locker room
is not a safe space for men
We are afraid to be ourselves
and so we act our best selves
our aspirational selves
pretending to be more
than we really are
and sometimes, that's just not
very impressive at all
But we don't brag about being
a creep, a criminal or a loser

They say the way a man does one thing
is the way he does everything
If he thinks bragging about assault
and being a rapist is impressive
that must mean that's how he is.

Unless he's worse.


Articles Published the Week of November 20th

Daniel Alarcon discusses his fascination with the City of Clowns 

Alarcon is one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation, he's the host and executive producer of the radio show Radio Ambulante, which is back with a new relationship with NPR, which I think should be a great boost for NPR. I spoke with him recently about the graphic novel City of Clowns, which he scripted, based on his short story of the same name. It was originally published in Peru in 2010 in a Spanish language edition and I spoke with about the English language edition of the book and his work.


Articles Published the Week of November 13th

The Rumpus Mini-Interview with Jesse Ball

I'm a great admirer of Jesse Ball's novels and poetry and we spoke recently about his novel How To Set a Fire and Why, which is perhaps my favorite of all his novels to date and we spoke about how he works, the odd kind of fiction he writes and loves, and the minimalist approach which readers either love or loathe.

Edward Sorel on Mary Astor, Hollywood and Operatic Gestures

I've loved Edward Sorel's work for years. The man is a master cartoonist, illustrator and muralist. Like him I also love old Hollywood and so his new book, Mary Astor's Purple Diary, is right up my alley. It's a heavily illustrated book that is a great look at the actor Mary Astor, who started her career in the silent era and remains perhaps known for The Maltese Falcon. We spoke about her, old films, and Sorel's awe-inspiring career along with his next book project.

Articles Published the Week of November 6th

Ben Katchor Reflects on 25 Years of Cheap Novelties

Katchor is one of our great cartoonist. His work isn't quite like anyone else's.I've had the opportunity to talk with him a few times over the years to discuss his work and his career. This fall is the 25th anniversary of the publication of his first book Cheap Novelties. Drawn and Quarterly has published a hardcover  reprint of the book to mark the occasion.

I'm still tired and angry and raw from this election. I do believe that despite everything that separates us, one of the things we long for is a different kind of community than that which we have throughout much of this country. We want things built and designed and organized on a more human scale.We have this annoyance and disdain and exhaustion for the monoculture which is taking over everywhere. That idea is at the heart of Kacthor's work. More than 25 years ago he was writing about an earlier time when things were not better or easier, but they were different and more colorful and more unique and stranger. And, most of us believe, a little better. It's not nostalgic, but it does try to imagine an alternative to the way we live now. That's something I believe that we need more of. Now more than ever.


Some Stories for Veteran's Day

I know why we call this holiday Veteran's Day, but the truth is that I've always preferred "Remembrance Day." I wanted to remember a few books and people that others might find interesting.

The late Nick Cardy was a superstar in comics in the 1960s, but before he was a cartoonist he was an aspiring artist who fought in WWII. He was the kind of guy who brought a couple sketchbooks, pencils and a watercolor package in his pack when he shipped off to Europe. A few years ago a collection of his sketchbooks from the war was published. I had the great privilege of talking to him about his work, which was later published as the introduction to the book.

The late Joe Kubert is an icon for people in comics. He's the man behind Sgt Rock and a lot of other comics. I spoke with him about his many projects and his work before he died. I can only hope that if I end up in my 80s, I'm as creative and active and skilled as he was right up until the time he died.

Sam Glanzman is fortunately still with us and his book the U.S.S. Stevens, which collects his series of short comics about life aboard ship during WWII, some of which were autobiographical and some of which were fictionalized, but the result is something really amazing. I talked to him a couple years back on the release of another of his book about life in the navy.

One reason why I like the term Remembrance Day is that I think how we remember events and what we take away from them is ultimately as important (if not more so) than the actual events in our lives. Carol Tyler has been making some amazing comics in recent years looking at her father, his time in WWII and the live of their family and the way that events and trauma can effect us and influence people across generations. I spoke with her twice about the project in recent years.


Articles Published the Week of October 30th

Paul Reiser Wants to Take You Back to the Glory Days of The Tonight Show

I'm a big fan of Reiser and was thrilled when his people reached out on his new press tour. We spoke about Red Oaks, the second season of which premieres this month on amazon, and There's Johnny, which premieres next year on Seeso.

Hieronymous and Bosch Cartoonist Paul Kirchner on Leaving Comics for Advertising and Coming Home Again

Paul Kirchner has had a fascinating career as an artist, from High Times to advertising, Heavy Metal to the Go-Bots, Murder by Remote Control to Adult Swim, he knows almost everyone has done almost everything. His book Murder by Remote Control is an amazing graphic novel, which I hope will receive some of the attention it never got in the 1980's, and his new comic will be appearing on the adultswim website this month.

Annie Goetzinger Reveals the Haunting Truths (and Fables) of Marie Antoinette

Goetzinger is one of those cartoonists who in France is a huge deal, with a long career as a writer and artist, though it's only recently that she's been getting published here in the US. I had the opportunity to speak with her about her book Marie Antoinette, Phantom Queen.

Dash Shaw Celebrates his Cosplayers

Dash is one of the best cartoonists of our generation. I interviewed a few years back for his book New School and we've run into each other ever since an I was thrilled that we had the chance to talk about his new book, about his next book, about his debut feature film.

Articles Published the Week of October 23rd

Big Nate's Lincoln Peirce Gives Advice to His Younger Self

The comic strip Big Nate celebrates 25 years in the comics pages. Andrews McMeel is marking the occasion by publishing The Epic Big Nate collection, and I marked the occasion by talking with Lincoln Peirce about the strip, his novels, being a luddite, and what he'd tell his younger self

Sarah Glidden Explores Rolling Blackouts

I liked Sarah Glidden's first book, but like just about everyone, her new book is something else. An account of a trip she took through the Middle East in 2010, a look at the nature of journalism, the book is also very interested in letting people speak, with page after page devoted to people retelling their experiences.

Articles Published the Week of October 16th

Late Happiness: An Interview with W.S. Merwin

Box Brown's Tetris Pieces Together the Story behind the Game

Genndy Tartakovsky on Cage, Samurai Jack and Hand-drawn Artwork

Matt Phelan Talks About the Challenges of Reimagining Snow White

Gregg Taylor's Motion Comics Are Your New Saturday Morning Cartoons

The Comics Journal Interview with Sophie Campbell

Late Happiness: An interview with W.S. Merwin

One of the great privileges of doing what I do is getting to talk with fascinating people. I've had the opportunity to talk with some of our great living poets and recently I spoke with W.S. Merwin just after his 89th birthday and the publication of his new book, Garden Time. Merwin was the son of a minister who grew up in New Jersey and he went to get to know T.S. Eliot and Robert Graves, he was mentored by W.H. Auden, friends with Sylvia Plath. He also represents something I think is important–and which we didn't even have a chance to talk about–which is the politics of his career. He was opposed to the Vietnam War, was part of the anti-nuclear movement, has been a part of the conservation movement for decades. It's not just talk. He bought 18 acres decades ago that has been ruined, nothing growing on it, and now hundreds of varieties of palm trees grow there on land that's now being preserved. He is also, as he tells it, happy. We spoke about his life and career and what that means.


The Discovery of a Lost Georges Melies film!

A lot of people aren't into silent film. I love it, though, and the discovery that a lost film of Georges Melies has been discovered is the kind of cultural event that should be shouted form the rooftops. (Admittedly that sounds like something that might happen in a silent film as opposed to reality here in the 21st century, but still...)

Another short film of Melies was discovered a few years ago. There was the lost Sherlock Holmes film of William Gillette a few years back. So many silent films have been lost and it's exciting to see that a few have been found.

I can't wait to see this.

French Comics Framed: French Comics on Screen

On Thursday, I was at the School of Visual Arts in New York where I interviewed a five amazing French creators as part of the French Comics Festival. The creators (and who publishes them in the US):

Etienne Davodeau  (Lulu Anew and The Intimates from NBM)
Matz  (Triggerman from Hard Case/Titan, The Killer from Archaia, Cyclops from Boom)
Jean-Claude Mezieres  (Valerian and Laureline from Cinebook)
Arthur de Pins (Zombillennium from NBM, March of the Crabs from Boom)
Jean-Marc Rochette  (Snowpiercer from Titan)

We were discussing French Comics on Screen, and ecah of them has a very unique and different relationship with the film industry. Davodeau's book Lulu Anew was adapted into a film, though not by him, and he spoke about the changes that were made and why. Matz had a book adapted to film, which was released as Bullet to the Head starring Stallone, and that started a relationship with the film's director, the legendary Walter Hill. Rochette's Snowpiercer which he drew was of course turned into the film. (And he has a strange entertaining story behind it at various stages). Mezieres is a legend in French comics for his Valerian series which he's been drawing since 1967. He's also a notable designer for film, including most famously on The Fifth Element. And now Luc Besson is working on the film Valerian which comes out next summer.

Mezieres also revelaed that he's 20-something pages into a new Valerian comic!

de Pins started out as an animator and turned his short film into the graphic novel March of the Crabs. Now he's turning his series Zombillennium (3 volumes have been released of a planned six books) into an animated film that he's directing and writing. He showed off some design work and a scene from the film.

I've interviewed Davodeau, Matz and de Pins in the past. And was nervous to be interviewing Mezieres, who is a legend. Overall it was an amazing evening and I was thrilled to be asked to be a part of this.


TV Review: Some thoughts on the new MacGyver

I watched the first episode of the new MacGyver TV show. I was a fan of the original series starring the fabulous Richard Dean Anderson. I was not a fan of this new show. For a few reasons.

1. If I was going to send someone to be a spy and hide in plain sight in the 21st Century, I wouldn't have them wear a haircut from the 80s. You can't be a spy if you stand out like a sore thumb. As an un-stylish guy with a meh haircut, all I can say is, get a new barber.

2. He's arrogant as hell and it's annoying and grating. To write this I was looking at the wikipedia page for MacGyver and I came across this quotation: "According to Rich, every auditioning actor "hulked" his way through his audition. When Anderson eventually auditioned for the role, Winkler and Rich felt that he gave the character a human touch which the other actors could not." I think this is important. One of the things that the character and the actor Richard Dean Anderson so good is that he came off like an ordinary guy. He didn't act like he was the smartest, most talented person in the room, and throw his weight around constantly.This new MacGyver comes off as five times as arrogant and half as smart.

3. It's funny that a show where the premise is that he doesn't use a gun and uses science and gadgets to solve problems is kinda dumb. There's so little science and so little ingenuity.

4. Even stranger than that, the computer hacker character manages to do that magic thing that people on TV with computer access do which is that with a few simple keystrokes, they can do literally anything. In this case, in a matter of seconds she manages to locate a person. It's like a magic ball and means that no one TV has to investigate anything, they just banter and then jump to an action scene.

5. Does MacGyver need to have a roommate who's clueless about what he really does for a living? Whose stupid idea was this?

6. Exactly what does their boss do? She's introduced as this badass spy but ultimately does...essentially nothing. MacGyver and Dalton and the hacker make demands and she frowns and then says, okay. That's about it.

7. I do like actor Sandrine Holt, who I remember from Once a Thief and other things, but come on, you have to give her something to do and a character to play.

8. There's some sort of government conspiracy? I guess. The government wants the weapon for some reason and she's now part of some conspiracy to help or not or...I mean look, the US government is not going to turn out to be evil in this. I have no idea where this is going but honestly it doesn't seem to make much sense.

9. The character picks the handcuffs lock and then vanishes from the back of the car. Like magic. Really? We're making a show about science but there's also magic? Give me a freaking break

10. The episode ends with him and his teammates and their boss hanging out in his house drinking beer? It felt like a scene that gets added in because you need to fill a couple minutes. There is literally nothing in that scene that defines any of those characters and nothing vital to the plot.

11. Because someone will yell about #8, yes I know that MacGyver gets to name the new front organization for the secret government organization and he calls it The Phoenix Foundation, which is where Mac worked in the 80s show. But the writer could have just had the group called the Phoenix Foundation from the beginning. There was no reason for the scene.

12. I like George Eads. I really only know him as one of the supporting characters on CSI, who was there and honestly never gave him much thought. I do like him here. Maybe it's because I dislike all the other actors. I'm sure that's partly it, but he manages to take an underwritten character and add something to it (like a good actor does) and makes him interesting and entertaining. Jack Dalton on the original show was played by the great character actor Bruce McGill and I think Eads stands alongside McGill as an entertaining, fabulous character and a great character turn.

13. Honestly I think the show would have been better with Eads as MacGyver. He's the only character on this show who seems to possess a sense of humor. Because our lead characters and heroes should never smile or laugh, they must always be serious because they do serious work. Eads would have a good MacGyver. He might have been able to save this horrible script. Maybe.

14. I don't understand why shows hire Vinnie Jones to play a bland villain. It's a waste of an actor. Though they wasted every other actor on the show, so why not!

15. This was the second pilot of MacGyver. This cast made a previous pilot which the network didn't like so they wrote and filmed this pilot. Which means that while I watch this show and see poor writing and a lot of questionable choices, this was judged to be superior to the first pilot. I'm not sure if that means the first one was truly unwatchable, or if I would like it immensely more than this and I'm just out of step with what TV executives and viewers like.


Articles Published the Week of September 25th

Teri S. Wood discusses the grim toll of war in Wandering Star

I never read Wandering Star when it came out in the 1990's, but I was blown away when I read the collection of the series. At the beginning it's the story of a young woman who's the first human attending the Galactic Academy, which sounds like a various of Star Trek, where humans are at the bottom of the galactic pecking order. Then the war begins, though, and Wood pulls no punches. It's dark and brutal, but also hopeful and a really amazing book.

Alexis Deacon talks Celtic myths and "inescapable fates" in Geis

I really loved Geis, the debut graphic novel from writer/artist Alexis Deacon, which is out now from Nobrow. The book has its origins in Celtic mythology and folktales, but Deacon really takes these stories and concepts his own and transforms them into a really fun, unique and thoughtful book.

Lionel Shriver is Wrong

Will Lionel Shriver please stop.

I'm tired of hearing about how oppressed she is and how it's offensive to criticize her work.

Let's step back for a moment.

Joyce Carol Oates published a novel in 2015 titled "The Sacrifice". Now Oates is one of the most acclaimed writers of her generation, she's an immense figure with dozens of books in all different genres. This is a novel that has a lot of black characters, it's about racism as it plays out in the investigation and aftermath of a crime. She has every right to write such a book. No one has ever argued against that. No one did argue against it.

Here's the thing, though. When the book was reviewed, more than one person called her out for being so clueless and lacking in empathy and understanding, that the book is racist. Or that it's just racist, depending on how much sympathy they grant her.

In Roxane Gay's review in the New York Times Book Review, Gay argued that "To write difference well demands empathy, an ability to respect the humanity of those you mean to represent." Gay cites instances in the novel where Oates was very perceptive, for example the thought process of a black person being pulled over by the cops. Now some of Gay's criticisms could be described as simply a dislike of the style and approach that Oates used, and I think that Gay would agree, but her issues with the novel go far beyond that.

For example Gay points out that "Some of the black characters speak in a dialect vaguely resembling African-­American Vernacular English, but inconsistently and seemingly without syntactic rules." There are plenty of other issues Gay points to including the n-word being used "flagrantly, as if this were a Quentin Tarantino screenplay, often without plausible context." She argues that the word "nigra" was not something either white or blacks would have used in 1980's New Jersey and "Then there are the physical descriptions; this novel contains a lot of dark skin and nappy hair."

(As an aside, I've never quite understood the strange ways that mostly white writers will describe their black characters skin color. Sometimes it's weird and sometimes it's just creepy. Also they so rarely - if ever - talk about white people's skin color.)

But I digress...

None of those critics said, you cannot write this, but they all said, this is racist crap. Joyce Carol Oates can write and publish what she wishes, but she is not immune from criticism. Writing something and having a good heart doesn't mean that it's not ignorant or even racist.

Hell, Joyce Carol Oates wrote into the Book Review to protest the review. The book, as far as I know, is still in print and available. Plenty of people have reviewed it form various racial and cultural backgrounds and some liked it and some loved it and some hated it and some went meh.

Interestingly enough, Shriver in her recent series of talks and interviews has complained about the review of her recent book in the Washington Post, which she claimed “groundlessly accused her book of being ‘racist’ because it doesn’t toe a strict Democratic Party line.”  Ken Kalfus, who wrote that review, has some issues with that argument.

He argued that the book does contain some troubling racial characterizations but also that one of the two African-American characters speaks is the only character who speaks in what he called "sub-standard English." Shriver doesn't try to capture the ways that we all speak in detail, not pronouncing letters and skipping words and colloquial expressions, but does for a character explicitly described as black.

One could of course argue that Shriver is not going after people of color, she's just making this single character dumb and ignorant and she happens to be black while every other character speaks in grammatically perfect, enunciated English. But that's odd and it does require why this one character in the novel speaks differently than everyone else in the novel. Okay, let's say that it is obvious and somewhat unfair to say that it must be racism. It's not an unreasonable assumption, though.

And if this does make white writers or writers from other backgrounds to stop and look at how their characters speak and think about it, well, I'm not going to say that's bad. It's one thing for everyone to speak with an accent, with the dialogue rendered in the vernacular, but if only some characters are, then it is something that the writer should look at and think about why they did that and consider if they are assigning less intelligence, less humanity to those characters and what that might mean. A novel contains thousands of little choices and this is one people should probe.

Of course there are cases where people went overboard with trying to be "politically correct" which are obnoxious and over the top and laughable and offensive. People go too far. I think that's human nature. But if your response is, well, to avoid going too far we just shouldn't try at all. We should just allow racism and sexism to flourish because it's a slippery slope.

This is like the argument where white people say, being called a racist is horrible and offensive and the worst thing. And people of color say, um, actually there are plenty worse things being called racist...we can give you a list.

Hell, if you really believe that everyone is wrong and the characters are not racist and your work isn't racist, well, okay. Guess what, maybe next year or next century people will read it and reconsider it. People today read Conrad's Heart of Darkness differently than they did when it was first published. Sometimes writers end up distancing themselves from their older work because they see that it contains stereotypes and racist attitudes.

Lionel Shriver is making an obnoxious argument.James Patterson and Dan Brown don't give whiny interviews where they claim to be great important figures who are oppressed because critics fault their prose style. Some people have said that Lionel Shriver isn't a great writer and she's angry about it. I don't really see how this is about anything more than that.

Articles Published the Week of September 18th

Stephen Murphy Opens Up About Fear and Slivers of Hope in The Puma Blues

When I had the chance to read The Puma Blues, I have to admit that I was completely and utterly blown away by the book and I decided to talk with both artist Michael Zulli (in an interview that ran in The Comics Journal earlier in the summer) and writer Stephen Murphy, about the book. My conversation with Murphy was amazing as we spoke about the book on a lot of different levels, I through reading for pleasure happened upon a quotation that so affected me and echoed the ending of the book. The Puma Blues is not the easiest graphic novel, it's certainly not the most hopeful, but it is an amazing and moving book that really hit me on so many levels, and I'm so glad that Stephen and I had the opportunity to talk.


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.


Review: Delicious by Mark Haskell Smith

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

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

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

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

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

Articles Published the Week of August 7th

A Conversation with Zack Davisson

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

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

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

Articles Published the Week of July 31st

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

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

Leigh Stein: Land of Enchantment

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

Articles Published the Week of July 24th

The Michael Zulli Interview

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


R.I.P. James Alan McPherson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, sir.


R.I.P. Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson died.

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

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

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

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

And in 2014:

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


Articles Published the Week of July 17th

You Are On Display: An Interview with Morgan Parker
I spoke with the poet (and editor and teacher) Morgan Parker recently for The Paris Review about her work. She had a great poem in the last issue of the Paris Review magazine and we spoke about that poem, her work, her love of crafting lengthy and colorful titles, her next book, and other topics. She's an immense talent and I was thrilled to chat with her.

Caring for the Underdog: An interview with Jerome Charyn

Jerome Charyn has had a pretty amazing career as a writer.I don't have the time to even list all the books he's written, but he's an immensely gifted man who has crafted historical fiction and contemporary stories, crime fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, short stories, novels. Dover is currently publishing his graphic novels in beautiful new editions and his most recent book is A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century, which is a nonfiction looking at the great American poet, and how his perspective on Dickinson has changed in the decade since his novel The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.

Bryan Lee O'Malley: Snotgirl

Bryan Lee O'Malley will always be the man behind Scott Pilgrim for some people but besides working on a new graphic novel trilogy, he's also writing a new ongoing series from Image Comics. Snotgirl is about a fashion blogger and internet star with really bad allergies who decides that she wants to change her life. We spoke about writing for another artist, ongoing projects and more.

Gina Wynbrandt Requests Someone Please Have Sex with Me?

I was really blown away by Gina Wynbrandt's debut collection of comics, which was recently published by 2d Cloud. It's funny and profane and weird in all the best ways. Wynbrandt is funny, smart, a good cartoonist and she is going to have an amazing career. I was thrilled to talk with her at the beginning of it. 


Audio Review: The Memory Palace

Nate DiMeo's podcast The Memory Palace is just flat out brilliant.

It's a history podcast, though that doesn't really get at why it's so good. Let's be honest just saying suggests something dry. That's how we were taught history in school after all, and you can hear this dull, bored tone of a teacher repeating names and dates. That's not the history that interests DiMeo, though.

Episode 91, Natural Habitat, is about Ruth Harkness, who traveled to China and brought a panda to the United States in 1936. The basic outline of Harkness' life is pretty awe-inspiring. Also the episode does what Dimeo does so well which is to bring us these historical figures who are in so many ways larger than life, and yet also portray them as these very human and understandable people. Harkness did things that most of us can't even imagine doing and then she kept doing it, going off on one expedition after another. She wasn't born into high society or wealth.

That sense of adventure is what drove her, but DiMeo also makes clear that Harkness kept going on one expedition after another to get that spark that she found on her first trip.

Harkness may be largely forgotten today, but that idea - Natural Habitat, is the title of the episode - lets DiMeo bring it back around to this idea that live pandas captured the nation and forced zoos to rethink what they did and how they did it. No longer were taxidermied animals enough, they needed real animals to capture people's imagination. And that required a habitat. It required a place where they could live, where the could be themselves. That was a very, very long process that is obviously still going. But this idea, that in that first expedition, Harkness discovered herself, and spent the rest of her life trying to recapture that feeling, that place, and ever since we saw a panda, ever since we saw animals in the flesh, we had to find a way to allow them to be themselves, the way that it manages to be both thoughtful and in the context of Harkness' relatively short life, heartbreaking, is what DiMeo does so well.

There's that oft-quoted line about how great men are rarely good men. DiMeo's great skill is that he wants us to see the people behind events like this. It would be very easy to make Harkness' story into a grand adventure tale - and it is - but DiMeo wants more. He wants us to feel for her, he wants to break our hearts at her loss, he wants us to feel something when she dies.

This isn't what he always does. Sometimes as in episode 92 about Cleveland, he wants to use what we know about the city - the Cuyahoga river caught on fire - and take a deeper dive into why that happened and what it meant and how it is that this became something Cleveland is known for - when after all, lots of rivers caught on fire back in the days before the Clean Water Act.

Many people might also know episode 73, which has been one of the highlights of the program - "Notes on an Imagined Plaque to be Added to the Statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Upon Hearing that the Memphis City Council has Voted to Move it and the Exhumed Remains of General Forrest and his Wife Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest, from their Current Location in a Park Downtown, to the Nearby Elmwood Cemetery" - which as is obvious form the title is both about history and about how we choose to remember historical events.

Of course that is his point. When we talk about history, when we remember it, study it, write about it, we involved in it. This is a personal thing. To act as though it's abstract and meaningless is to miss the point. "The past is never dead. It's not even past," as William Faulkner put it. DiMeo I think would agree wholeheartedly.

If this weren't enough, DiMeo is a MetLiveArts Artist in Residence  at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and he's making work for and about the museum. And if you haven't been, it is an amusing museum with a lot of possibilities and a lot of stories about and around the work on display. I can't wait to hear more of what he has in store for us.

As a warning for those who are about to dive into the show for the first time, each episode has a title, but there's not much in the way of a description of what you're about to hear. Go with it. The point isn't really to learn about a certain topic. The purpose is to experience it. You'll be surprised. Just go with it. It's like life, that way.


The Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines

I know that a lot of people are angry about the guidelines. Hell, angry is possibly the biggest understatement that I've made on this blog. Now I don't have a dog in this fight so to speak. I don't write fan fiction or make fan films, though I have seen some. But I just remember reading the guidelines and it seemed obvious what they were doing. Paramount/CBS is making it clear what a fan film can be and it  has to be completely different from what they do.

They want a wall (god in this election season I feel horrible using that metaphor) between their Star Trek projects and fan projects with no overlap.

Now anytime that copyright or rights or credit gets discussed online someone chimes in and says, copyright shouldn't exist! I'm not going to get into that. I think corporations have extended copyright and that's absurd but that's not what we're discussing. The point is though that they're saying, do what you want, but it can't be mistaken for what we do on any level.

Now there are two reasons for this. One is simply that a couple people behind Axanar forced their hand as has been discussed elsewhere. Once lawsuits get involved, well, hammers are going fall somewhere somehow.

But the truth is that years ago (hell, not even that long ago) technology was such that a fan project was obvious. There was no way in the 1970's that a fan film would be anything close to what we saw on screen. Today, though, you can create something of broadcast level quality using tools you bought at a big box store

Of course it's still possible to make different things. Go make your 29 minute fan episode of Star Trek. (and as a writer, believe me, shorter is better 99% of the time) Go perform it in the park as a theater show. Go write up a story and post it online. But the rule has always been, you can't make money off it.

The people behind Axanar forced Paramount's hand on this. They wanted to make a film and make money and this is where they got in trouble. This is why most of the people who worked on the project including Christian Gossett and others have said that they were lied to, and have distanced themselves from the project.

Ultimately the thing about fan fiction is: you can not make money off it.

Hell, you can change the names and a few details and publish it as an original work. You can make a parody and publish it and make money. But you cannot write fan fiction of copyrighted material and make money.

Look at 50 Shades of Gray which was Twilight fan fiction where the author changed names and some details. It's huge. That is what's possible.

So either work with these guidelines or make your own thing.

Either watch them or don't.

Maybe this is a sign of how far removed I am from the fan fiction community or maybe it's just a sign of how much of a curmudgeon I am, but I don't get why people are so up at arms over it.


R.I.P. Carolyn See

The writer Carolyn See has died.

I didn't think that such a death would hit me hard. I'm not a huge fan of See's work, I never knew her, though I did meet her once. I think that one reason is because it feels like the passing of an era.

If there a California school of fiction that has emerged in recent decades, See would epitomize it. Along with people like TC Boyle, Aimee Bender, Steve Erickson, and so many others have written work that could be described in some ways as magical realist, but they're doing different things with it than what Marquez and Borges were doing. It has a certain multicultural flavor, as one would expect from a place that is so shaped by a confluence of cultures, there is often a self consciously intellectual and literary aspect to it.There are a number of books that inspired this, but there are so many people producing work in this vein now that it feel like a school of its own.

See lived in California for much of her life and more than just living there she wrote about and was interested in the place and the culture. She worked to encourage people in Los Angeles and deflated obnoxious East coast types who didn't think LA had a culture.

I was living in California when See's last novel There Will Never Be Another You was released and I got a crash course in who she was and what she meant. Having moved to LA I didn't appreciate her initially but it was through reading that book and her earlier novel Golden Days that I came to regard her with awe. She was able to write domestic, interior stories that also opened up onto global events and larger ideas. They were about things. They were able to bridge decades and changing times, they were fantastic and wild and yet about the present.

Quite frankly in some ways she was one of those writers I had been searching for my entire life. That was what I felt upon reading her. Work that seemed to take place, 20 minutes into the future.

Perhaps one reason that her death has hit me is that it's not simply the death of a writer and critic, but it feels like the end of an era. See was born in Pasadena in 1934, and I've seen the photos, but I can barely conceive of what the region must have looked like then. She went onto get a PhD, she married and got divorced. She taught. She was a book critic - back in the days when newspapers had book critics and paid for such work. She watched Los Angeles change, bridging the prewar era to the postwar boom, the sixties which quickly morphed into the Manson-caused fear, the eighties and the recession following the end of the cold war that collapsed the aerospace industry.

See saw this and she managed to turn it into some amazing work. She seemed to be able to craft in her fiction an understanding of the ways the world had changed, the ways society had changed. Most importantly, I felt that she was pointing towards a way to live and work as a writer.

It's so easy to be overwhelmed by what's going on in the world, but See in her fiction managed to write about topical issues, write about characters who were dealing with these issues, who were at the mercy of these larger forces. I felt as though she was showing a way for writers to function, to carve out a private room of our own where we could work, while at the same time paying attention, to see closely, to write about it with the same nuance and consideration that we give to people and their interactions.

There may have been an autobiographical origin of this. See has written about how when she was a child her father left her mother in August 1945, and she has always linked the bombing of Hiroshima with that personal betrayal, that human bombing. Regardless of where this perspective originated, See had a unique voice and wrote some great work. Even sadder than her death is the fact that we have no more Carolyn See books to look forward to.

Rest in peace.

If you've never read Carolyn See:
  • Her novels. Start with either Golden Days or There Will Never Be Another You.
  • Her memoir, Dreaming, is a great piece of work.
  • Her book, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers.

On Frank Cho quitting

Frank Cho quit his current gig drawing the covers to Wonder Woman for DC Comics.

It feels like in recent years Cho had become more known for his commissioned artwork which pisses people off, his talking public stances and getting into arguments than for his artwork. That's a shame because Cho is a very good artist, has been from the start of his career. I first came across his work in the late 1990's when he was writing and drawing Liberty Meadows. He went to work on a bunch of comics at Marvel and Image and Dynamite. He published an art book from Flesk a while back.

The thing is, Cho needs to shut up and draw.

I interviewed Cho in 2014 and he said this:

"I'm pulling back and transitioning to more personal projects, all of these creator-owned projects that I've been writing for years. They've been gestating and I never had the time to devote any attention to them. I decided, I'm 42 years old, and I've got to pull the trigger on these" 

Cho had lots of projects lined up. He was going to draw World of Payne, which was a book series he was going to do with writer Tom Sniegoski, who had a number of books plotted out. Cho was going to write and draw a series of books including Skybourne at Boom, Guns and Dinos, which he was doing for Image in the US and Delcourt in France. Then Cho was going to return to Liberty Meadows and wrap up the series.

When I spoke with him, 2015 was going to be the year of creator owned projects. Then he gave an interview to someone else a couple months ago in which he stated that 2016 would be the year of creator owned projects for him. Skybourne is finally coming out this fall from Boom. I haven't heard anything on the other projects.

Look, I know how life can derail all your plans and throw everything into a tail spin. It's entirely possible that's what happened and I wish him the best.

And really, Cho can do whatever he wants. He's a talented artist and he's earned the right to do what he wants. If he wants to keep working at big companies, running up against walls, getting frustrated, lash out–go for it. They pay him and he's free to go that route. The problem is that he doesn't own any of these characters. His exclusive deal at Marvel runs out and he announces he's drawing covers at DC.

Cho can rant all he wants about how Greg Rucka is awful and shouldn't get to dictate the covers. Well, Rucka doesn't dictate the covers. Rucka doesn't own those characters. Rucka does have the right to complain to his editor if he thinks that the covers and the what he and the artist are doing in the book clash. The editors and the publisher can make a decision depending on whether they agree.  In other words, if Rucka was the "only" person who felt this way - as Cho claims - then nothing would have happened. Anyone who knows anything about comics knows that.

Anyone who knows anything about large corporations knows that with a Wonder Woman movie coming out next year and her being a key figure in a Justice League pair of films that hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line and the company is paying a lot of attention to WW right now.

Cho is not the first person to work at DC or Marvel who has been asked to change something for a million different reasons.

Cho will not be the last person to work at DC or Marvel who will be asked to change something for a million different reasons.

Also Cho wasn't fired. He chose to quit rather than be edited or art directed.

Anyone who thinks that working for a large corporation does not involve editing, oversight or having to re-do work ever is deluded. Quitting over this is not a moral stance.

Cho's obituary can read that he had a syndicated strip after he got out of college and then wrote and drew some miniseries for Marvel Comics and drew the Avengers. He drew a lot of variant covers and was very popular at conventions. He was perhaps best known for getting into fights with people on the internet.

Based on everything he's said, that's not what he want. He wants to be known as a creator. That when he finally dies, he will have left a shelf of books from different genres behind him. He doen't want to be remembered for working on the IP of large corporations, but to create his own characters and his own stories.

I've always liked Cho and have been reading his work for years. I thought he had the potential to be great. I still do. What is holding him back from greatness though isn't Greg Rucka. It's not editors at Marvel and DC. They are not holding him back. They are not keeping him from greatness.

He is.

What's holding him back is not finishing projects, not publishing miniseries and graphic novels, not producing work where you can do what you want.  

Maybe those books won't succeed. Maybe they won't sell. Maybe they'll fail. I don't know. No one does. We won't know until he does it. His covers on Wonder Woman were never going to define whether he - or anyone - is great. They pay bills. But doing your own work is terrifying and intimidating. It's hard work. I don't think people recognize just how hard it can be.

If Cho is serious that that is what he wants to do, then he should turn off the internet and go pick up a pencil. That's what he says he wants to do. That's what we want him to do.

We're waiting.