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.

Articles Published the Week of July 10th


It's not fault. I've been interviewing, transcribing, writing and editing as much as ever. But for multiple reasons at multiple publications, nothing I wrote was published last week.

The truth is that I don't have much of a life. I work and that's really about it. I'm alone, don't date much, go out on occasion, see my grandmother, but the truth is that I'm alone and working most of the time. Or I'm reading for work. Or I'm thinking about work.

So what does it mean that nothing was published? Should I take this as a sign of failure. Should I think about wanting something to my life other than work? Supposedly that is the point after all, of life–doing something besides work. Maybe that makes the week a double failure - by exposing the one thing by which I do judge my life and coming up short I'm showing that my entire life is empty and worthless.

Or maybe it just means that I have 15 completed interviews that haven't run for a dozen different reasons and this is the flipside of having 5-6 articles in a week...


R.I.P. Geneviève Castrée

Geneviève Castrée Elverum died over the weekend of pancreatic cancer. She was an artist and illustrator and musician. Comics readers know her book Susceptible which was published by Drawn and Quarterly in 2013 and I got to talk with her when the book came out. It was a lovely book, which may not be the right word for a book that is so emotionally raw, but it was beautifully drawn, so sharply emotionally rendered and precise even as at times it felt a little like a fable. It's a really beautiful portrait of youth and what that means.

Her husband Phil Elverum posted a short statement. What makes it so heartbreaking is that last year she gave birth to a baby and a few months later was diagnosed with inoperable stage 4 cancer. It all seems so horribly unfair.


Articles Published the Week of July 3rd

Neal Adams Explains his Return to Comics and why he left in the First Place

I'm a huge fan of Neal Adams. Besides being a great artist though is all the other things he's done in comics. Whether some of those issues are about paying creators royalties, returning artwork to creators, making sure that Siegel and Schuster got credit and compensation, he helped change the business in a lot of ways. He turned 75 in June and I spent a few hours with him at Continuity Studios. In this first of a two part interview he talks about what comics were like when he started out, pays tribute to some of the greats he knew, talks about Continuity Studios, motion comics, Bucky O'Hare, and his love of the one, true Captain Marvel.

Frank Viva on Narrative Experimentation and Graphic Design in Sea Change

I've long been a fan of Frank Viva's covers for the New Yorker magazine - he drew "Love" which appeared the other week - but we spoke mostly about his new book Sea Change, which is a different kind of project from Toon Books. We talked about how he integrated the artwork and the text, about trying to think about the book's design differently and related topics.


Articles Published the Week of June 26th

Alan Brennert recalls the origins of his fan favorite Tales of the Batman

I've been a fan of Alan Brennert for a long time. Today he's best known for his historical novels like Moloka'i, Honolulu and others. He's also an Emmy winning writer/producer who worked on LA Law, Wonder Woman, China Beach, The Twilight Zone, and many other shows. He's a Nebula award winning speculative fiction writer. I'm a great admirer of his short stories like Ma Qui and His Pilgrim Soul. He's also a comic book writer. He's written few comics over the years but most of them are collected in the new book, Tale of the Batman: Alan Brennert, and I was thrilled to speak with him about the project and his career.