COVID Chronicles. edited by Kendra Boileau and Rich Johnson. Graphic Mundi. 2021. 296pp. $21.95
COVID Chronicles is a unique comics anthology, a testament to the collective response to COVID-19. The comics medium is exceptionally well-suited to convey, evoke and process the massive tangle of information and expression involved. We often say that comics is known for superheroes. However, on an even grander scale, comics is known for being a communication and educational tool able to make it possible to see the forest for the trees. This remarkable anthology was put together during the first half of 2020. We were lost amid the trees then and we’re still finding our way today. As a comics creator, I fully appreciate the challenges for a book like this to stay on point. I have seen countless comics anthologies and the biggest stumbling block for such an endeavor is a lack of consistency and vision. And then we have those gems that prosper because of a clear and compelling purpose. This is such a collection.
On Wednesday, 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Life as we’d known it had changed forever. We are all still in this together with renewed hope and resilience. Many of us became creative. And for many of us who are already creative, we’ve found ways to explore further, and seek out joy, humor and grace. I spent 2020 completing a special graphic novel project as well as this whimsical tribute to the New York Egg Cream. You can get the book in print and on digital. Sometimes You Just Want an Egg Cream adds up to a neat showcase of artwork as well as a guidebook tour involving New York history, culture, and egg creams. It is a long time coming and it feels like the perfect time is now to share this with you.
Sometimes You Just Want an Egg Cream!
Briefly, an egg cream is an amazing soda drink, preferably chocolate. But within that simple mix of milk, seltzer and syrup, all kinds of dreams and memories are made. It was back in the ’80s, during that young lean time, that I made my first visit to New York City. I was coming from Houston, which is a hell of a big city but with a small town character if that makes any sense. I was looking forward to roughing it for a couple of weeks and staying in the no-frills yet intellectually lively 92nd Street Y. What I was not expecting was to have the airline lose my luggage! So, there I was nearly naked except for the clothes on my back for two weeks with the mean streets right along with the cultured streets ahead of me.
A book devoted to the egg cream!
Well, I was young and full of energy and imagination. I gorged on all kinds of sights and sounds. I had my list of things to see and do based upon all kinds of reading I’d done: Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Met, Broadway, the Strand, Coney Island, St. Marks Place! And, moving along at a quick pace, I invited it all in: high and low; bright and dull; big and small; euphoric, melancholic, erudite and electronic. Brash youth that I was, I went for the people’s food, not fancy-schmancy. I was still many years away from taking any notice of Michelin ratings. I delighted in street vendor hot dogs and pizza by the slice. In fact, I still love that grub! And, in my young dewy-eyed state, my mind was first blown to the charms of the knish at Yonah Schimmel Knish right along with the awesome experience of pastrami at Katz’s Deli, and the delectable high of the egg cream at Gem Spa–as well as at Lexington Candy Shop! I was as much in love with the Upper East Side as I was with the Lower East Side! Ever since, whenever I visit NYC, I stop by somewhere and have an egg cream, which is what led me to create this book. Recently, I even connected with Gem Spa and they have some of my art on sale at their site. So, one thing leads to another!
Gem Spa, an East Village legend!
I also have related items, like cool prints and t-shirts, which you can buy right here. And I will keep playing around with this. I foresee more books and related events. If you get the book, you’ll see what I mean. I should also add here that I fully encourage you to buy one of my New York Egg Cream t-shirts and then post a photo of you wearing it, preferably while having an egg cream at one of my favorite spots in NYC. Who knows, it could happen! You might be reading this right now and thinking that would be a pretty rad thing to do! And so the egg cream revolution is on!
Lexington Candy Shop, an Upper West Side classic!
I will definitely post again items from the book and hopefully start a whole big wonderful New York Egg Cream conversation! What is your egg cream memory? I’d love to know. You can comment here or contact me directly. And join the egg cream club!
I ask that you keep going on this journey with me. I have been carving this niche for years and I feel like I’ve got it at quite a cozy level with just the right content and pacing. That said, it’s time for another thoughtful interview. For my video interviews, I add here a few notes and observations. Traditional journalism, like hard news reportage, will take an interview and create a concise summation. Some magazines are known for their long sprawling interviews where everything is transcribed. Of course, we also have a long tradition of various talk show formats, some thoughtful and some that are so casual as to blur right in with a dance segment on Tik Tok. Hey, I have nothing against fun and entertainment and I’ll engage in that when it makes sense. But, for interviews, I take them seriously, prepare for them, take off my Joe Cool hat and don’t engage in any dancing. Although, in a metaphorical sense, a good interview is sort of like a dance. The person conducting the interview leads while the person who is the subject of the interview goes about picking up one cue after another and making something out of it.
A bus driver finds solace through the suspension of disbelief.
Anyway, I say all this because it’s particularly relevant to this interview. Essentially, this is an interview about interviews: how to conduct one, what it means, what you attempt to get out of it. I interviewed Julia Wald about her new book, The Suspension of Disbelief (review), an illustrated collection of interviews she conducted about life and work during Covid-19. In the course of the interview, we ended up talking about what it means when you’re working at a restaurant during a world-wide pandemic and suddenly it’s like all the lights are out and then, just as suddenly, you are out of a job, your source of income. We discuss who might have stepped in to help and who didn’t.
A disadvantaged man finds hope through knowledge.
And, finally, once an artistic and talented person is inspired to create a book about Covid-19, what responsibility, if any, does she have to the vulnerable people she has interviewed? Well, part of the answer goes back to the dance. If the dance partners have established a sense of trust, then there’s a very good chance that something worthwhile will result that everyone can be proud of. We focus in a bit on American journalist Studs Terkel (1912-2008), the icon of what came to be known as “literary journalism.” Terkel was most active from the 1950s to 1990s, creating his seminal collection of interviews, Working, in 1974. He was part of that old-fashioned gumshoe journalist/creative tradition: loyal to his readers and listeners, to his Chicago, and to the art and craft of journalism. Julia says that Terkel inspired her on her Covid-19 project and it shows and, ultimately, it demonstrates that she did right by all who she interviewed. Julia did it the right way, the old-fashioned way that involves hard work and integrity. It’s the best way. And it’s what inspires me to keep going on this journey.
It seems ages ago that I posted a drawing early last year about the developing “new normal” living conditions during this pandemic. Well, as much as things have changed with vaccines on the way, we still have a journey ahead of us. Perhaps it’s safe to say we’re at the halfway point, or better. Let us hope so! For now, we keep doing all the safe things we’ve been doing and, when it’s our turn, we get vaccinated. 2021 is now here. Let’s all make the most of it as best we can.
Suspension of Disbelief: Covid-19 Stories. By Julia Wald. Seattle. Available at Push/Pull. 77pp, $23.
Exercising a “suspension of disbelief.”
Oral history has itself a brief but interesting history in comics. As a former teacher and field worker in the field, as co-editor of an adaptation of Studs Terkel’s totemic Working, and as a collaborator of the late Harvey Pekar, himself a Studs Terkel type, I hope to claim a little authority on this matter.
But not too much. Oral history is born and reborn regularly, as the voices are heard and recorded, archived and used. Every interviewee and every interviewer has a unique experience. When the then-new field of oral history passed from the 1950s recording the lives of famous white men lacking memoirs to the civil rights and peace movements recorded by fellow participants, something changed in the nature of the field. Oral history eventually gained a shaky presence in academia. Its participants are, as they had already become a few generations ago, a peaceful army of under-appreciated activist-scholars, some in the classroom, more of them outside.
We can hope for a better future.
Comics, the adaptation of oral history as comics, has added a new dimension. Stan Mack, in the Village Voice of the 1960s-70s, captured the language and ideas of random people on the street, and opened up a path to a popular audience. One could call Art Spiegelman’s Maus, his father’s harrowing story, the comic that raised the level of respect and even made comics an accepted “art.” Individual artists have found human subjects and explored them through oral histories, disguised as fiction. Still, the straight story-telling mode, minus fiction, remains an art undeveloped.
Julia Wald, a young artist from Buffalo and a graduate of degrees in art and chemistry there, moved to Seattle to become an artist and….works a day job, as nearly all young artists do and must. She responded instinctively, then determinedly, to the coming of the Virus. The men and women her age, working in restaurants and such, were suddenly underemployed if not unemployed, she wanted to tell their stories.
Thus Suspension of Disbelief. It is well drawn and extremely charming. Her subjects are young and youngish people, a little more than half of them Latinx. They are working the kind of jobs, living the kind of lives that they would have chosen in the post-2000 world of the deteriorated middle class, except that the life they chose has become very difficult for rent, food and other necessities, not to mention the threat of Covid close at hand.
Grateful for the stability you have.
They are depressed but not totally depressed. “I hope that maybe this will change the way we look at capitalism and we will realize that certain social programs are important especially for fellow artists. As artists having the freedom to create work without the pressure of having to make a living from art could be a way of looking at the world.” That is, “it’s never going to be like it used to be—so letting go is important.” So says Marcy, a videographer with a lot of charm, and no matter that her restaurant job and video gigs are gone. “Now we are all in this together.,” Or drag queen Butylene O’Kipple, “Do I have enough? how much do I need? What even are my actual needs What have I been brainwashed into thinking I couldn’t live without? What can I let go of?”
And many more, waitresses to sex workers, filmmakers to bus drivers. Each has a unique story to tell, and each fits into the mosaic of today’s Seattle scene.
Julia Wald’s first comic outing is a small triumph. I hope it will be widely seen.
Paul Buhle is the rare leftwing scholar of comics. He is coeditor of the Paul Robeson comic, out this year, and drawn by Sharon Rudahl.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to visit Exterminator City (Dec 10-13) where you can purchase Suspension of Disbelief as well as other notable works. And you can always visit Pull/Pull anytime!
If comics collectors could consider looking over their collections and donating five items or more with a value of $100 to GIVE COMICS HOPE, the proceeds will be distributed to comic book shops around the world struggling during COVID-19. It’s as simple, and powerful, and idea as that. Of course, there are other ways to donate as well. Just visit the GIVE COMICS HOPE website right here. This is one of the best things we can be doing now regarding comics and all the hard-working comics retailers!
GIVE COMICS HOPE is a new charitable initiative founded by Bill Schanes, the teenage founder of Pacific Comics, the comic store that became a chain, a creator-owned publisher and a comic book distributor before it was bought up by Diamond Comic Distributors in the eighties. So, Bill Schanes knows the comics industry like the back of his hand–and he’s the perfect person to lead the way in supporting comic book shops. A press release follows:
PANDEMIX is a new benefit comics anthology featuring timely and personal work from award-winning cartoonists. Curated by Dean Haspiel, contributors include Josh Neufeld, Ellen Lindner, Kristen Radtke, Mike Cavallaro, Marguerite Dabaie, Christa Cassano, George O’Connor, N. Steven Harris, Owen Brozman, Joan Reilly, Peter Rostovsky, Jeffrey Burandt, Jen Ferguson, Morgan Pielli, Whitney Matheson, Dave Proch, Frank Reynoso and J.J. Colagrande.
All proceeds from this 56-page digital release go directly to The Hero Initiative, a not-for-profit organization that helps comic book creators in need of emergency medical aid and/or essential financial support.
In addition to purchasing the anthology, keep an eye on the Pandemix Patreon for previews and news of upcoming PANDEMIX events. Everyone at PANDEMIX thanks you for supporting this project and the comics industry! Donate $5 and the PDF is all yours! Find it HERE.
Art by Dean Haspiel
So many creative people are suffering right now, trying to figure out how to pay their bills in the middle of an economic shutdown. If you, like me, are looking for ways to help alleviate this suffering directly, maybe consider making the very modest investment of five dollars (or choose the $20 donation level if you’re feeling generous) to purchase this collection of comics inspired by the pandemic, edited by Dean Haspiel and Whitney Matheson: PANDEMIX: Quarantine Comics in the Age of ‘Rona
ALL proceeds go to The Hero Initiative, a not-for-profit organization that helps comic book creators with emergency medical aid and/or essential financial support.
Included in the collection are contributions from:
I’m excited to share a new comics piece that’s just been published in a benefit anthology. It’s about New York City and the COVID-19 pandemic, and it features my very own brother, Jake Neufeld.
We’ve all seen a lot of stories about the medical professionals on the front lines of this crisis. But the doctors and nurses aren’t the only ones in the hospital.
Jake, my bro, is the assistant director of emergency management at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK), NYC’s cancer hospital. The story covers the way he and his team responded to one of the worst days of the crisis. The story sheds light on what challenges the “behind-the-scenes” people at hospitals (now in other parts of the country) are facing during the pandemic.
I’m proud of Jake, and I’m proud of how the story came out. And I’m triply proud to have the story featured in the benefit anthology PANDEMIX: Quarantine Comics in the Age of ‘Rona.
Put together by Dean Haspiel and Whitney Matheson, PANDEMIX has 56 pages of comics related to these crazy times, by 18 creators, most of them based in New York. It’s a fabulous collection, with a variety of different takes on what we’re all going through.
PANDEMIX is available for PDF download on Patreon, with all proceeds going to The Hero Initiative, a nonprofit organization that helps comics creators with emergency medical aid and/or essential financial support. All you need to do is donate $5 and it’s all yours!
L.A. Zine Fest took place this year as a virtual series of events in May, an exciting alternative to connect zinesters, attendees, and other people who usually go to the fest. Let this serve as a friendly and helpful model for similar events that might still be grappling with what to do in 2020 and beyond. COVID-19 isn’t going to just disappear but we can remain vigilant and creative. From the comfort of my home in Seattle, I got to check out L.A. Zine Fest and I have some items to share with you from my connecting remotely with LAZF.
CDMX by Chynna Monforte
Here is a zine by Chynna Monforte which shares with the reader a recent visit to Mexico City. Chynna put on an excellent workshop as part of the schedule of events during LAZF this year. During her workshop, Chynna shared her techniques for putting together a zine which included a look at her own vast collection as well as some tips on laying out your zine in inDesign. Be sure to visit Chynna for all your design needs, particularly with print and web design.
Pages from CDMX
The robust colors just blow my mind. With her zine, CDMX, Chynna Monoforte demonstrates that there are no limits to what you can do with a zine. You can really put together a zine that is just as vibrant and professional as anything you’d find in a mainstream magazine.
Zines by Stainperfect
And here is a zine from Haruka Tanabe, an artist that goes by the name, Stainperfect, based in Tokyo and Osaka. This is an amazing artist and I am curious to learn more. Her work is very much in the autobio tradition of indie comics and it appears that autobio work comes naturally to her. For a long time, she had misgivings about her art but she finally took the plunge after finally gaining just the right support from a friend. Her earliest effort was the little zine, It’s Okay, which is an affirmation she makes to herself and shares with the reader. This led to deeper exploration, as in Midnight Drumbeat, a poetic look at a trip to Mozambique where she was a volunteer. More recent work includes, Loving More Freely: Exploring Polyamory, which explores relationships within polyamory and provides essential insight.
Page from Loving More Freely: Exploring Polyamory
L.A. Zine Fest curated readings, workshops, and discussion panels via Zoom that connected zinesters, creators, comix artists, and illustrators with each other and the general public. Workshops and panels included everything from how to draw people who are different than you are to an exercise in making comics and “stream-of-consciousness sketching” in quarantine times.
L.A. Zine Fest 2019
LAZF teamed up with some of its 2020 exhibitors to create a select number of digital events and fun stuff for 2020. I look forward to what LAZF does for 2021, whether in person or virtual. Let’s all keep doing great work supporting the arts through the pandemic. Keep in touch with LAZF!
If you haven’t done an Atlas Obscura event, I highly recommend them. Now, with virtual tours the new normal, it is easier than ever to hop right on a cultural tour. A wonderful example was a tour with Letterform Archive, a non-profit museum and special collections library in San Francisco, California dedicated to collecting materials on the history of lettering, typography, printing, and graphic design. I am a huge fan of Atlas Obscura and urge you to get to know them. There’s a wonderful book on Atlas Obscura you will want to check out: Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. The latest edition is available here. Getting back a bit to Letterform Archive, if you missed today’s tour, there will be more. Typically, the sort of workshops that Letterform Archive do involve an intimate gathering around a table as various items from the collection are compared and contrasted. I took some quick notes, so just to give you a taste, the first photo at the top is a nice snapshot of what was discussed. Going from the top left corner clockwise is a book created to commemorate the Arab Spring of 2012; the back of a newspaper by The Black Panthers, circa 1967; and a children’s book that replaces all the characters with dots.
Page from If Apples Had Teeth by Milton Glaser, 1960
Basically, this event all added up to a thoughtful discussion with a freewheeling zest to it. A wondrous way to spend an hour, all in the privacy of your own home. In fact, this is a clear case of a feast for the eyes. Much to see indeed. My favorite moment was a look at a children’s book by Milton Glaser, If Apples Had Teeth, from 1960. Milton Glaser recently passed away so this was a most fitting tribute. The boook evokes the uninhibited spirit of young imaginative minds so perfectly well. What kid doesn’t wonder what it would be like if apples had teeth? Well, apples would bite back, right? So, if you seek some culture and adventure during quarantine, then go look over your experience options at Atlas Obscura.
BRAVE NEW WORLDS, your local comics shop in Philadelphia, has reopened, following all COVID-19 protocols, as of June 5th. At Comics Grinder, we salute all of the amazing local comics shops keeping it real. Henry Chamberlain, your host and fearless leader, has taken it upon himself to ask this basic question: “What do you recommend these days, especially with Covid in mind?” Of course, folks can get creative and take the opportunity to answer that however they choose. It’s understood that it can depend upon who you ask and when you ask. Here is what BRAVE NEW WORLDS has to say:
Once & Future by Keiron Gillen and Dan Mora
Recently we’ve been really enjoying “Once & Future” by Keiron Gillen and Dan Mora, “Something is Killing the Children” by James TynionIV and Werther Dell’Edera “Wonder Woman Dead Earth” by Daniel Warren Johnson Jeff Lemire and Kevin Walta’s “Sentient” from TKO “Strange Adventures” by Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Evan Shaner,….
Low, Low, Woods by Carmen Maria Machadoand Dani
Low, Low, Woods by Carmen Maria Machadoand Dani, Thor by Donny Cates and Nic Klein,…
Silver Surfer Black by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore
Silver Surfer Black by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore, Doomsday Clock vols 1 & 2 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank,…
House Of X/Powers Of X (Hardcover)
House of X/Powers of X by Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, and R. B. Silva, Hellboy Omnibus by Mike Mignola et al, Box Brown’s titles. Anything Junji Ito.
BRAVE NEW WORLDS carry a wide variety of comics, game cards, graphic novels, children’s books, Gundam model kits, action figures, Hot Toys figures, Sideshow statues, back issues, t-shirts, posters, board/card games, and many collecting supplies. BRAVD NEW WORLDS have been selling comics, games and toys in the Philadelphia area (Philly and Willow Grove) for over 30 years!