Tag Archives: Books

GE Retro Comics Come Back to Life as New Stories on Wattpad

Cover from General Electric educational comic book from 1957

Cover from General Electric educational comic book from 1957

In the 1950-60s, General Electric published Adventures in Science, a series of comic books that ignited a love of science and engineering in a new generation. Now, GE is bringing this spirit back to life on, Wattpad, the social network for stories. Wattpad has invited six of the app’s most popular writers to author a science-fiction story inspired by the six old-school comic book covers GE dug up from decades ago. The stories will be released exclusively on Wattpad this October and are based on the real work of GE scientists.

This is such a goofy, cool, and intriguing idea. It will definitely be interesting to see what stories result from this project. Take a look at Wattpad and you’ll see how you can also take part in a wide variety of writing contests and connect to a most compelling community of people just like you, seeking to express their creativity and celebrate imagination: the world of readers and writers.


Filed under Comics, Community, General Electric, Social Media, Wattpad, writers, writing

Interview: Jonathan Lethem and THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2015

Jonathan Lethem self-portrait in introduction to The Best American Comics 2015

Jonathan Lethem self-portrait in Introduction to The Best American Comics 2015

Jonathan Lethem is the author of nine novels, including “Gun, with Occasional Music,” “Motherless Brooklyn,” “The Fortress of Solitude,” and most recently, “Dissident Gardens.” He is this year’s editor for the annual, “Best American Comics.” Lethem’s 2003 novel, “The Fortress of Solitude,” famously references superhero comics. In 2007-2008, Marvel Comics published a ten-issue comic book collaboration between Lethem and artist Farel Dalrymple. It was a revisiting of one of the most unlikely of superheroes from the 1970s, “Omega the Unknown.” In 2013, Lethem collaborated with artist Raymond Pettibon as part of a collection of the artist’s work.

In my review of Best American Comics 2015, I speak to this year’s focus on comics as art. Series editor Bill Kartalopoulos brought in the idea of including Raymond Pettibon and it’s an exciting move toward further establishing comics as an art form in its own right. It would seem to many of us that such an assertion is no longer necessary. But every bit helps to make known to all readers the endless possibilities for comics. In my interview, we talk about Pettibon and his place in both the art world and the comics world. And we take a closer look at what comics are all about in the first place.

Cover art for Best American Comics 2015 by Raymond Pettibon

Cover art for Best American Comics 2015 by Raymond Pettibon

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: I was reading over an interview you gave in 2008 and I wanted to quote a little from it. You said: “What I do in book after book after book is smash together — as urgently and as adamantly as I can — things that feel verifiably real everyday: textures, stuff of the prosaic and dreamlike material.” Is that the spirit in which you took on your editorship of this year’s Best American Comics?

JONATHAN LETHEM: That’s a great question. I like that quote. I don’t always love hearing myself read back to me but that one stands up. It sounds like what I feel that I do. Of course, I didn’t think of the editorship as having to reflect my aesthetic as though this were like a novel I was writing. You know, it extends from my position as a member of the audience, as a fan, as a responder, of other people’s work.

I’ve always seen a lot of continuity between the reader and the writer. There’s something in between like a member of the bookstore staff putting together a display, or a deejay setting up a set, or that overused term, “curator.” Helplessly, I’m grabbing at things that interest me and pushing them up against each other to make interesting vibrations between them. So, I guess it is like that quote. It is similar. The book ended up including things that are surreal, or magical, or fantastical, along with stuff of grubby ordinary life.

HC: This is your own personal journey through comics. I’m thinking of what Bill Kartalopoulos, the series editor, had said about this year’s edition being less of a survey than last year’s. I suppose each editor is going to bring different things to the next volume. This is your own take on the current scene in comics.

JL: Bill was tremendous about handing me a lot of rope. Obviously, he’s immersed in a field in a way, on a year to year basis, that I could never dream of being. He was brilliant in getting me up to speed and informing me of context. He was a pair of super-binoculars. He also wanted the book to be mine and not lead the horse to water too often. He said he wasn’t passing along anything he wasn’t interested in but that it was going to be too much and that I would need to carve out a vision from all this stuff. He was a great sounding board. He helped guide me to my decisions. For a while, I was floundering around. It’s overwhelming. The field is so huge and so hyper-kinetic in the kinds of energy and ambition being expressed.

HC: So, going through that mountain of books, impressed upon you the enormity of possibilities for comics.

JL: Yeah, I really did feel that. I guess that my selections reflect a kind of a sense of wanting to force the reader to experience, in some ways, the same exciting calamity of possibilities that I experienced. I wanted to reproduce the sensation of “What the hell is this?” Comics are so many different things right now: so vibrant, so many chances are being taken, so many fantastic experiments are being conducted. I started to think that this wasn’t just one thing. It’s a gigantic art form with brilliant juxtapositions and perplexities encompassed within.

Excerpt from "No Tears, No Sorrow," by Eleanor Davis

Excerpt from “No Tears, No Sorrow,” by Eleanor Davis

HC: Looking at this year’s Best American Comics selections that you made, it runs the gamut from a more straightforward approach, like Eleanor Davis, to a more unconventional approach, like Henrietta Valium. And it’s all comics. I think you did something very significant this year by, in a natural way, bringing forward the understanding that comics is an art form. Now, one of my pet peeves, and you may agree, is when a gallery or museum labels something as only “comics-related” when, in fact, it is a work of comics, pure and simple.

JL: Yeah.

HC: And here you have Raymond Pettibon’s work on the cover of this year’s Best American Comics.

JL: Somehow, I got in there very early and that was a piece of good luck. A little feeler that series editor Bill Kartalopoulos put forward was that he had spotted this recent work of Pettibon’s and he sort of dared me to agree with him that it really was comics, just like you say. I was the right recipient for that little piece of provocation. I was already a big Pettibon fan. I wrote something for him, so we had collaborated on that a few years ago. The results were published in The Believer. And that was a comic. I thought of it explicitly as four panels. I wrote for him a four-panel really bizarre and over-loaded comic to do. Raymond being Raymond, took that into even stranger directions. When Bill asked what I would think of Pettibon’s work in a comics context, I was absolutely on board. As an opening exchange, I think it set the ground for how the rest of the book was going to feel to us, that we’d agreed to this slightly audacious definition of comics. And then it comes first circle with the invitation to Raymond to be the cover artist and his agreeing to do it.

Excerpt from Raymond Pettibon's "The Credits Rolled," 2013.

Excerpt from Raymond Pettibon’s “The Credits Rolled,” 2013.

HC: When I was reading this year’s Best American Comics in a cafe the other day, a barista made that “What the hell is this?” comment. And it was in a very supportive tone as he was very familiar with Pettibon’s work. This would be interesting: What can you tell us about Raymond Pettibon? How does he see himself within a comics context?

JL: I have met him a handful of times. And I would say that he is dodgy in the extreme, with a great disinterest in facing questions like that directly. But his work is eloquent. His work incorporates giant chunks of response to comics as one of the key American vernacular visual languages. Along with film, the covers of pulp paperbacks, and tabloid photography, his work devours comics as a source. You have images of Superman, you have hints of Krazy Kat. There’s that Vavoom character from Little Lulu. I think, to him, it’s a question that is too obvious for him to engage in. And here is where I’d feel a lot of native sympathy myself in terms of my own writing and how it engages with comics as a zone of vitality and American language all its own. Comics just begs to be responded to by other art forms. So, what the Pop artists did, by grabbing onto that comics energy, is akin to other artists, like Philip Guston, or Raymond Pettibon. What I’ve humbly tried to do a couple of times in my writing is that, somehow make literary prose just to the tune to the energy that you find in a comic book or a comic strip panel. I think it’s a natural response. You see that today among artists, an understanding that comics are crucial, alive, and part of the American cultural stratum.

HC: You see all sorts of creative people fascinated by comics narrative. You teach creative writing. Do you suggest comics to your students?

JL: I have done that and I also have dealt with some independent study students or thesis writers working on the subject of graphic novels. I haven’t yet assigned a comic as a text in a seminar class but you’re making me think that I ought to do that. It doesn’t seem out of reach to me. My seminars have included film assignments in the past so it would be completely of a piece with that.

HC: I want to reassure everyone that this is not simply a survey, although it is in some sense. It’s definitely a wonderful guide to what’s been going on in comics in the last year or so.

JL: I hope so.

HC: I love how you keep an irreverent tone. It’s respectful but fun. I mean, your introduction is a comic and it’s hilarious. I love the character you created, even though you say it’s derivative.

JL: Well, most good characters are derivative. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

HC: One thing I recall from creative writing class is to avoid being portentous. And I believe that most good comics have a lightness to them. They can be anything but they need to strike a good balance, and avoid being portentous.

JL: I’m with you on that. Ironically, the portentousness that I mostly shied away from was largely found in the mainstream superhero comics–which I couldn’t quite relate to. For the present crop, I wasn’t clicking with it. Often, this is because there is a slightly artificial heaviness to them. It’s sort of a role reversal from grown-up stuff being found among the underground and graphic novels and the funny books being there for kids. But, actually, the mainstream comic book companies are producing a lot of very jacked-up grim stuff. And, as you say, some of the most sophisticated or beguiling suggestive work that you can come across includes a certain levity or a sense of the absurd. Some frivolity is in the mix.

HC: Let’s consider some of the work included here. One that quickly comes to mind is Megan Kelso.

JL: Yeah, Megan Kelso was a great discovery. She’s so sly. It appears to be very straightforward work but the degree of compression, the way she can do so much with such a small number of pages, is very, very literary in fact.

From Julia Gfrörer's "Palm Ash"

From Julia Gfrörer’s “Palm Ash”

HC: Another intriguing selection is Julia Gfrörer.

JL: That’s another intricate and evocative piece. That was a total discovery for me. I hadn’t come across her work anywhere before.

HC: I’m familiar with her work. She’s definitely on the rise.

JL: Well, she should be.

HC: It’s nice that it was printed in the book on green paper.

JL: Yes, it was a pamphlet on green paper. One of the interesting things about work like this is that it has the quality of being an artifact. Some other works in the book were either bigger or smaller than the anthology pages. Or would be silkscreened or some other printing process. It’s only an approximation to the original when we fit it into the anthology format.

HC: What would you say about your readership?

JL: More than usual, I’m on the edge of my seat to meet my readership. I know the sense of being stakeholders the comics audience has. I wonder about how they will respond and probably argue with this book in certain ways. I’m really interested in what will come out of that and what I’ll learn. I think it was crucial to feel that I was being dropped into a universe and trying to do justice to this last year. It was like a flashbulb strobe image of the landscape. My volume was one in a conversation. It was instructive to study the last few years of the volumes and see the different kind of statements that people are making with the editor’s position and the different senses you get of what the competition in the field feels like at any given moment.

HC: I wonder if cartoonists see it as a contest. I tend to think that they’ll appreciate that this volume is, like you say, part of a conversation.

JL: Well, you know, everyone who makes things is waiting for that gold star. It’s a neat job to be able to give out the gold stars once in a while. You also want to let people know that there were hundreds of submissions that were clamoring and knocking on the door to be included. In some cases, the selections were determined upon what went together in making a book out of it all, making it all flow, and making it all interesting in context. There are some pieces that I fell in love with that didn’t make it into the book.

HC: It must be great when you make these connections while putting the book together, like the two pieces with a Wonder Woman theme, one by R. Sikoryak and the other by Diane Obomsawin.

JL: There was going to be a third Wonder Woman piece, by Ron Regé Jr., but lawyers stepped in and squelched it. I was trying to give as much of a glimpse into Wonder Woman as possible especially since there had been a couple of nonfiction books on Wonder Woman in that same year.

HC: And you ran into difficulty with getting a work in by Steve Ditko.

JL: That one went down to the wire. And it led us nowhere. So, somewhere, out there, there’s a compendium worthy of Steve Ditko.

HC: Well, God bless him. Thank you for your time, Jonathan.

JL: Thank you, Henry.

You can listen to the podcast interview by clicking below:

“The Best American Comics 2015” is a 400-page hardcover, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and is available as of October 6, 2015. You can find it at Amazon right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Anthologies, Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Interviews, Jonathan Lethem, Raymond Pettibon, The Best American Comics

Review: ‘The Best American Comics 2015,’ Editor, Jonathan Lethem; Series Editor, Bill Kartalopoulos

Henriette Valium's "Lâcher de Chiens" from Descant 164. Is it comics?? Yes, it is!!

Henriette Valium’s “Lâcher de Chiens” from Descant 164. Is it comics?? Yes, it is!!

For this year’s BEST AMERICAN COMICS, with guest editor Jonathan Lethem, the speakers were turned up to eleven, all the windows were smashed, and the ceiling collapsed as the comics medium made a pretty nice step forward. I am talking about this imaginary line that’s been dividing comics from fine art. In the past (or still present), if I saw some compelling comics on display in an art gallery or museum, I would need to second-guess on how to describe it. The gallery or museum, the authority figures, had decreed that the work on the walls was “comics-related,” not simply “comics.” That’s always bothered me when I read “comics-related” on a label attached to a work that could simply be identified as, embraced as, “comics.”

Consider, for example Lethem’s inclusion of Henriette Valium, generally described as “a comic book artist and painter.” Valium is something of a hybrid, not easily pegged. In the right context, you can call him a cartoonist. You could also just call him an artist. His work is out there, way out there. It simply does not neatly fit into the conventional comics world or the traditional art world. And yet it belongs in both. The sample that Lethem has chosen demonstrates a masterful uninhibited expression. It’s powerfully visual and, while not a traditional or coherent narrative, the words carry weight. So, then the question becomes is this a comic that is “art-related” or just comics. Let’s embrace it as comics!

Excerpt from Raymond Pettibon's "The Credits Rolled," 2013.

Excerpt from Raymond Pettibon’s “The Credits Rolled,” 2013.

And then there’s Raymond Pettibon. If there is anyone who stands out as having their work labeled as “comics-related” by the art world gatekeepers, it would be him. Pettibon began his art career as an in-your-face punk. Pettibon created some of the most awesome, creepy, and wonderfully enigmatic art that was chiefly used to promote bands. Over time, his art went from the streets to the gallery walls. It was cool matter-of-fact images of all sorts of sordid things. I never thought of it as exactly being comics and yet, as a cartoonist-painter, I totally related to it. If it was “comics,” then it was of a more experimental stripe–without even trying to be or fully aware that it was! It was just great. Today, I believe, it would be accepted as some form of comics. So, the timing is perfect to see this move forward.

Excerpt from "No Tears, No Sorrow," by Eleanor Davis

Excerpt from “No Tears, No Sorrow,” by Eleanor Davis

To be sure, the bulk of the work here adheres more closely to the principles of sequential art. For example, Eleanor Davis provides a more straightforward narrative. Her piece in this book, “No Tears, No Sorrow,” follows a group of participants in a workshop to learn how to cry. It is a beautifully paced comic with a nice spare look. While the characters and setting are very concise and minimal, it speaks volumes to our conflicted notions of expressing emotion.

Excerpt from "The Good Witch, 1947," by Megan Kelso

Excerpt from “The Good Witch, 1947,” by Megan Kelso

Another piece that knocks it right out of the park is “The Good Witch, 1947,” by Megan Kelso. Like characters from a novel by Carson McCullers, these are mysterious, sad characters that we deeply want to know but will only be allowed in after thoughtful consideration. Megan Kelso is not “old school” or “traditional.” She just knows how to weave a good story. And that’s what you’ll find here, a tidy number of immersive and compelling comics.

Cover art for Best American Comics 2015 by Raymond Pettibon

Cover art for Best American Comics 2015 by Raymond Pettibon

As series editor Bill Kartalopoulos explained in an interview with Publishers Weekly, this latest BAC is not meant to be a straightforward survey of the best comics of the last year. Although, if it’s not a survey in some sense, then what is it? Well, it’s the guest editor’s take on the currents of comics. Fair enough. And, as long as we’re getting a collection that is being faithful to some notion of a survey, I’m all for that. Basically, it comes down to the series editor providing the guest editor with a mountain of books and, from that mountain, a collection emerges. This is Lethem’s take on comics. We see that, yes, comics come in many varieties. And with such an esteemed and thoughtful guide as Lethem, you are in good hands to make some wonderful discoveries and connections.

“The Best American Comics 2015” is a 400-page hardcover, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and is available as of October 6, 2015. You can find it at Amazon right here.

1 Comment

Filed under Anthologies, Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Jonathan Lethem, Megan Kelso, Raymond Pettibon, The Best American Comics

Review: SNOWDEN by Ted Rall


How important is the truth to you? In the new graphic biography, SNOWDEN, published by Seven Stories Press, Ted Rall presents to us not only the story of a whistleblower but an American intelligence system gone haywire. In Orwellian fashion, your laptop, home computer, smartphone, or television screen are being used as monitoring devices. As Rall states, “The National Security Agency’s goal is to gather every fact, every communication, about everybody on Earth.” And despite the best efforts of Edward Snowden to expose the abuse of power, the NSA continues to pretty much do as it pleases. Unlike the media’s personality-driven story, this story is only partly about a whistleblower.


Ted Rall is known for his provocative political cartoons. For this book, he aims for clarity and a step-by-step approach. He does not draw horns and a tail on each of the bad guys. He tones it down for the sake of better conveying the facts. It’s a delicate balancing act as he goes about describing the enormity of the abuse, impressing upon the reader the large number of people who knew about it but remained quiet, and attempting to paint a portrait of the ideal personality to blow the whistle.


Given the number of key facts that need to be presented in an organized, and accessible fashion, Rall does a supreme job of giving the reader a primer on how their privacy is being violated and why a young man named Edward Snowden deserves to be given a chance to make his case.


The pace of the narrative is just right. It amounts to a panel per page. You feel a serious urgency tempered by a steady hand. It seems like each page has boiled down what it has to say to a very compelling level. Many pages can easily act as memes. One excellent example focuses on the duplicitous testimony before Congress by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He makes the ridiculous distinction that it’s alright to store an innocent person’s data as long as it’s not read.


Ted Rall has never drawn a convincing portrait of anyone. His depictions don’t really resemble Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or George W. Bush as much as look like a bunch of generic meat puppets. That helps create enough of a distance when dealing with these political fixtures. Maybe this story was a little different as it sees a former boy scout and defender of country turn into the most wanted man on the planet. Rall seems to have been moved by that fact.


We mostly see Snowden depicted pretty much like any other Rall character but, at times, there is a less rushed, more careful, depiction. And, without a doubt, there is a certain specificity, and even warmth, for his cover art portrait of Edward Snowden. I think that was essential and will help draw readers into a most compelling read.

SNOWDEN is a 224-page trade paperback, published by Seven Stories Press, and available now. You can find it at Amazon right here.


Filed under Comics, graphic novels, Graphic Novel Reviews, Seven Stories Press, Edward Snowden, Ted Rall

Kickstarter: BAREFOOT GEN for Schools and Libraries Campaign Ends 9/10/2015


Our friends at Last Gasp need that last big push to get them over the top for such a worthy goal: a new hardcover edition of a landmark in manga, “Barefoot Gen,” for schools and libraries. This is the story of the bombing of Hiroshima told from the perspective of a young boy. It has moved Art Spiegelman, creator of the masterpiece in comix, “Maus,” to call “Barefoot Gen” a prime example of how the comics medium can bring ideas to life.


All you Kickstarter supporters know that thrill of making it to the finish line. Let’s all do what we can, spread the word, donate to the campaign, and visit often (the campaign ends this Thursday, Sept 10th!) right here.


Last Gasp estimates that $36,000 is the minimum needed to create and distribute 4000 copies (1000 each of four volumes). The cost would cover the following:

Redesigning the books for hardcover
Printing hardcover books
Mailing rewards to backers
Kickstarter and credit card processing fees


Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen in the original Japanese) is a semi-autobiographical story about wartime Japan and the bombing of Hiroshima. For many years, Last Gasp has published the English edition of this classic manga story.

Visit the BAREFOOT GEN for Schools and Libraries Campaign right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Barefoot Gen, Comics, Japan, Keiji Nakazawa, Manga

Interview: Jessie Hartland and Telling the Story of Steve Jobs


Steve Jobs, we feel we know him and yet he is something of a mystery and there is an enormous amount to cover. Jessie Hartland has created an illustrated work, a “graphic biography,” that brings the public figure down to a human scale: “Steve Jobs: Insanely Great,” published by Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Read my review here.

Jessie Hartland is the author of the highly acclaimed graphic biography, “Bon Appetit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child,” described by the New York Times as “bursting with exuberant urban-naif gouache paintings and a hand-lettered text that somehow manages to recount every second of Child’s life.”

For her book on Steve Jobs, Ms. Hartland provides us with an engaging and comprehensive look at one of the great technology trailblazers of our time. “Steve Jobs: Insanely Great” is another wonderful example of an all-ages book providing a significant amount of information in a concise and entertaining way. While Jobs is a problematic role model at best, he remains a most intriguing individual.

The full interview with Jessie Hartland follows and includes the podcast at the end.

Jessie-Hartland-Steve-Jobs-Schwartz-Wade-BooksHenry Chamberlain: Do you believe that your book has brought Steve Jobs down to a human scale and made him accessible to readers? What would you say is your purpose in bringing this book out?

Jessie Hartland: I think more people are reading my book than would normally sit down with a 600-page biography. So, more people are learning about him. He’s such a fascinating guy. I had just turned in the book on Julia Child, which was also a graphic biography, this one was in color. And I was searching for who to write about next. I was considering a scientist or an artist. And then Steve Jobs dies. He seemed like just the right person to write about. It had begun as a picture book, more like the Julia Child book I’d done, for younger kids. The more I read about him, the more I wanted to write about his whole life. My editors had originally envisioned the book ending with the Apple I computer. Only 200 of those computers were sold and that’s not what he’s known for. So, I went back to my editors and said I really wanted to cover his whole life, I want to do it in black and white, and just run with it. I didn’t want to limit the page count and I wanted it to be more for middle grade or teenagers.

HC: What was your thinking with going with black and white? Was that to instantly signal the reader that this is more serious content?

JH: I think a lot of the graphic novels out there are black and white. I like the stark quality of black and white. I like Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis.” I could have used color. It wasn’t really discussed. I think I wanted it to be more about the drawings, the lines, and the words rather than these gauche paintings. If I had done gauche paintings for this one, I probably would still be working on it.

HC: This must be quite pleasing to have these two major films coming out coinciding with your book. That didn’t turn out that way with your book on Julia Child.

JH: Yes, that’s a funny story. I came up with the idea for the Julia Child book years ago, probably two or three years before the film, “Julie and Julia.” I had different editors then and they were saying that no one cared about Julia Child anymore. And so the book ended up without a home. Only later, with my editors at Random House, did the book find a home. The 100th anniversary of Julia Child birth was coming up and there would be press for that. But, had we moved forward earlier, my book would have coincided with the film.

HC: But now you’ve got two major films. The new Alex Gibney documentary, “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” comes out this week, September 4th.

JH: Oh, really?

HC: And then you have what I can only imagine will be a very important film, with an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, simply entitled, “Steve Jobs,” coming out next month, October 9th. There have been all the books, these two major films. I can’t think, in recent memory, of so much notable work springing forth from one public figure.

JH: He’s such an interesting character. Here’s this guy, this rebel, this iconoclast. He dropped out of college after only one semester. And then he takes a calligraphy class. He starts a little company in his parent’s garage with Woz and it grew to become the world’s most powerful company. It’s just amazing. Who wouldn’t want to know more about him?

HC: We’re at a very interesting turning point with graphic novels. More and more people are understanding that they aren’t just for kids, if they ever were, really.

JH: Yes, that’s right.

HC: You create a perfect all-ages book with issues that can be discussed between a parent and child. You bring in the issue of his experimenting with drugs. You bring in the issue of his not ready to be a dad the first time around. These are big issues but kids can appreciate the realities of life and these are things that are fair game to include.

JH: I didn’t want to leave out the low points in his life. His denying the paternity to his first child with his high school girlfriend. And, of course, the drug use. He said so much about how important that was. He really liked these psychedelic drugs and they gave him a different viewpoint of the world. For him, it was like looking down from another planet and seeing the big picture. It helped him with his intuition and imagining what kind of products people would want in the future before they knew what they wanted. He didn’t like to do market research. He liked to quote Henry Ford, another great businessman. Ford would say that, if he left it up to the public to decide what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.

HC: I wanted to ask you about your process. You do a variation on storyboarding. I imagine that you work larger than print size and then reduce your pages to fit inside your binder where you can then shuffle them around as you need.

JH: Yeah, I work a little bit bigger than print but not by too much. Those binders are really important. This book took up two of them since it was so long. The pages let me shift things around. It’s really important to organizing the material. It took two years to siphon through that quantity of material, to winnow it down, and get everything in order. It took a while to wrap my mind around the fact that iTunes came around before the iPod. And then the events involved with Pixar were complicated to sort out.

HC: Where did his catch phrase, “Insanely Great,” originate from?

JH: Oh, I think that goes way back to when he was a teenager. Yes, I love using that in the book. Woz had the idea for a home computer and his employer, Hewlett Packard, wasn’t interested in developing it at that point. And then Woz showed the circuit board to Steve and Steve says, “Insanely great! Let’s start a company!” Jobs was the great salesman with the big picture. Woz was this engineering genius.

HC: Steve Jobs was at the right place and at the right time in so many ways.

JH: Yes, he grew up in and spent his whole life in Silicon Valley. It used to be known simply as Santa Clara Valley. His father was a machinist. He was adopted. His biological parents were graduate students at the time. One of the parents objected to the marriage on religious grounds. Steve was adopted, grew up in the suburbs of Santa Clara. His father worked in the tech industry. He didn’t go to college but he was a tinkerer and he and Steve would go to the local junkyard, fill up the truck with things, and do projects together. They’d put things together. There were tools all around. And the neighborhood was just swarming with engineers. Steve got to know a lot of the neighbors and how things work and what was going on. It was a very exciting time in what was to be known as Silicon Valley.

HC: Steve could just pick up the phone and start talking to the founder of Hewlett Packard.

JH: Yes! That’s right. He needed some parts for his frequency counter, a device that measure the pulses per second in an electronic signal. He had some of the pieces he needed but he was missing some. He knew that the head of Hewlett Packard lived nearby. So, he looked up Bill Hewlett in the phone book and called him up. Bill was so impressed with the young Steve Jobs that he offered him a summer job.

HC: I am looking at a page from your binders. And I was thinking last night, what if Steve Jobs was standing beside you and looking at your process. He might say to you that he had an “insanely great” way to speed up your work flow. However, I am not sure that I would classify your system so much as “low tech” as “hands on.” I don’t believe that there would be a satisfactory alternative for how you work.

JH: I like having little bits of paper around. I like sketching in a cafe and then slip that work into a binder. It is so hands on. And I love painting, working in gouache. This whole book was done in pen and ink. I went through six bottle of India ink and 24 Prismacolor pencils. It’s all hand-drawn. And people will snicker that I didn’t use a computer. But I did. With the gray tones, I had an assistant help me prepare all those files.

HC: Thanks so much for this chat. I know you want to pursue more graphic biographies. You have the one about pioneering computer programmer Ada Lovelace.

JH: That one, the Ada Lovelace book, is written by someone else and will be a picture book for younger readers. Currently, I am working on some art for a local show here on Long Island. The art will resemble totem poles. These will be called, “floatem poles.” They’re made from the flotsam and jetsam that washes up on the beach. And I’m working on some other books. I’m working with an entomologist on a book about insects. And I’m working on a book that features Tartufo, a truffle hound and that will be set in either Italy or France. I am going to Europe in a week to research that.

HC: I wish you a great trip. And thank you for your time.

JH: Thank you.

The podcast is below:

You can find “Steve Jobs: Insanely Great” at Amazon right here. You can visit Jessie Hartland right here.


Filed under Biography, Comics, History, Interviews, Steve Jobs, Technology

Review: STEVE JOBS: Insanely Great


Steve Jobs is a person who had a lot of great days, so many of which directly impacted the great days of countless others. By that measure alone, Jobs led a remarkable life, a life quite worthy of remarking upon at length. To do this through the comics medium is a worthy endeavor. To do it right, the way Jessie Hartland did, is an inspiration. Her graphic novel, or “graphic biography,” tells the story of a man who, by luck and pluck, ends up going down in history as one of the great technological trailblazers. He was a really nice guy and a bit of a stink but, all told, a person to look up to and to learn from. “Steve Jobs: Insanely Great,” give us an accessible, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining biography.


Jessie Hartland’s style is quite light and breezy, disarmingly so. She packs quite a lot of information in this book, all neatly assembled in a seemingly effortless way. The life of Steve Jobs seems like that of a never-ending race. Just before the starting gun, Jobs is all flexed and ready and then he’s off and never ever really stops until the very, very end. What a life!


There’s all these things he’s supposed to have said like, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” It sends a chill down my spine. I need to get up for a moment and pace around. This day. This time. This life. Study this above page for a moment. It would make a great poster, wouldn’t it? Very simple yet powerful. That is what Hartland has tapped into, Job’s pursuit of something powerful through simplicity. It wouldn’t be the money that would make him happy, although he was happy to use the money to pursue his dreams. Throughout the book, you can’t help but get swept up by the sense of urgency as one bright kid becomes one even brighter man.


Who is this book meant for? Everyone, quite literally. You could say grades 8 and up. It’s definitely something younger readers will appreciate and it seems that Hartland has an ideal reader of say, thirteen, in mind as she is careful to include various details that older readers might take for granted. I especially like her two-page spreads explaining such things as “What’s New! Late 1990s.” Along with a rapidly growing internet and digital cameras, Hartland depicts a rogue’s gallery of portable music players. This, of course, is a sly reference to what lies ahead. Much in the same spirit as her biography of Julia Child, Hartland does her best to balance a myriad of facts. She does a great job, for instance, in lightly touching on the drug use of a young Steve Jobs. It is filed away with an assortment of other exploration and soul-searching, like traveling to India. Idle time is balanced with driven work. Ultimately, this book depicts a life well lived, conscious of the moment.


“Steve Jobs: Insanely Great,” by Jessie Hartland is published by Schwartz Wade Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Visit our friends at Penguin Random House right here.


Filed under Biography, Comics, Computers, Steve Jobs

Book Review: WE INSTALL and Other Stories by Harry Turtledove

Miss Murple astride a caitnop.

Miss Murple astride a caitnop. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

“We Install and Other Stories” offers up an impressive showcase of the work of Harry Turtledove, known for his virtuoso writing of alternate history novels. Among all the gems in this 282-page collection of fiction and essays, the one that stole my heart is “Hoxbomb” for its quirky storytelling. It grabbed me right from the start like a cross between “The Wizard of Oz” and “Blade Runner.”

“Hoxbomb” is a sci-fi police procedural and a study in race relations: the Humans and the Snarre’t. We find ourselves a hundred or so years in the future with two competing species who must make nice for the sake of their own survival. Humans and Snarre’t must work together as they colonize Lacanth C, a new planet and a new lease on life for both races. Much like “In the Heat of the Night,” tensions run high but differences must be set aside for the greater good of solving the case of a heinous crime.

That’s really easier said than done since the Snarre’t are so different from Humans. Of course, that begs the question, Are they really That different? Well, yeah, they are. For one thing, there’s a huge difference in technology: Humans favor machines; Snarre’t favor biotech. There’s also a war of the senses: Humans rely upon sight and sound; Snarre’t rely upon smell. And Snarre’t ride strange animals instead of motorized vehicles and enjoy eating the excrement from these animals.

However, Snarre’t prove to be just as capable of being star-struck as Humans. They are also as gullible and prone to being manipulated by the media. When you really think about it, the Snarre’t aren’t that different from their Human counterparts. It’s something that becomes more apparent to the two detectives from opposing races during the course of this story: The Humans’ John Paul King and the Snarre’t’s Miss Murple make for very entertaining frenemies. This fiction is very much at home with other works in this book. There’s a jokey and sentimental quality tempered with just the right amount of thoughtful contemplation.

“We Install” proves to be a great introduction to Harry Turtledove, full of humor and rich in historical and philosophical musing. “We Install” is available as of August 25th and is published by Open Road Integrated Media where you’ll want to check out their Hugo Award Collection right here. You can also find “We Install” at Amazon right here.


Filed under Amazon, Book Reviews, Books, Harry Turtledove, Hugo Award, Open Road Integrated Media, science fiction

Review: ‘Locomotive / IDEOLO,’ published by Centrala

"Locomotive / IDEOLO," published by Centrala

“Locomotive / IDEOLO,” published by Centrala

“Locomotive / IDEOLO,” published by Centrala, is one beautiful and simple idea brought to life for all its worth: take a beloved famous Polish poem for children and then adapt it for adults. The poem is “The Locomotive,” by Julian Tuwim (September 13, 1894 – December 27, 1953) who is remembered for his satirical and subversive poetry. Listen to “The Locomotive” in Polish and, even if you don’t speak the language, it evokes the strains and struggles of the mighty steam-powered monster. What designer Małgorzata Gurowska and journalist Joanna Ruszczyk have done with this book is provide a unique format upon which to meditate on Tuwim’s poem.


I found this book to be a great form of therapy as I lingered upon each page. Gurowska and Ruszczyk provide an intoxicating mix of light and dark content. We have animals that appear to be undergoing an organized exodus while other animals have been neatly packed as surplus. And the same goes for humans. On the train cars, as we begin, it seems that we have everything we would ever need for anything: a celebration, a riot, the next all-out war. As we proceed from train car to train car, the stakes grow higher, the urgency more crushing. Countless suitcases are stored away never to be reunited with their owners. Troops are deployed. War is imminent or already unleashed.

And amid all the mounting tension, there is a cry for change. The political commentary is sly and well-placed challenging the reader to face difficult questions about national identity, racism, anti-Semitism, and attitudes towards ecology and animals. The design is impeccable and does a great job of evoking a highly regimented state of alert. The clean and sharp silhouettes of rabbits, soccer players, and suitcases will hit you with their significance. Contemplate each page and then spread out the entire book, just like an accordion, to fully appreciate it.

From Julian Tuwim’s THE LOCOMOTIVE:

A big locomotive has pulled into town,
Heavy, humungus, with sweat rolling down,
A plump jumbo olive.
Huffing and puffing and panting and smelly.
Fire belches forth from her fat cast iron belly

“Locomotive / IDEOLO” is a 188-page hardcover and is appropriate for ages 9 and up. Visit our friends at Centrala right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Centrala, Comics, Design, Graphic Design, Illustration, Poetry

Review: ‘The Sunderland Volume One: Schism’ by Jon Renzella and Eric Weiss


The Sunderland Volume One: Schism” is the first in an epic trilogy of graphic novels set in a dystopian world. It will be followed by “Solitude” and “Thermidor.” This is quite an ambitious work and I salute, artist Jon Renzella and writer Eric Weiss, the talent behind this 450-page book of black and white woodcuts and text.

From the introduction:

Society is fractured. Life for most is a desperate struggle. Natural Resources are scarce and the discovery of a miracle source of new, clean energy only serves to deepen the cracks. As the planet reaches breaking point, the sudden appearance of two mysterious pillars…


It’s a very intense and vivid world that Renzella and Weiss have created. If you enjoy comics with a social commentary bite to them, then this is something you’ll want to check out. The creators of this book live and work in Taiwan and so it is interesting to keep that in mind as a subtext.


The Green movement is in disarray. The average citizen doesn’t stand a chance. And the Petrolol corporation just keeps chugging along. The narrative can be rather dense at times and so can the artwork, but it grows on you. This is a byzantine journey crowded with numerous characters confronting chaotic and enigmatic challenges. There is no hero. There is no clear resolution in sight. The story just is. But out of that jungle we find numerous graceful and poetic moments.


“Schism: The Sunderland, Volume One” is published by Lei Press and printed in Taiwan. It is available through Jon Renzella’s website. You can find it right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alternative Comics, China, Comics, Comix, Dystopian Fiction, Dystopias, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Self-Published, Taiwan