What can be more opposite than a cookie and a broccoli? And yet these two are best friends in the world of Bob McMahon‘s imagination and the latest in his series, Cookie & Broccoli Play it Cool, published by Penguin Random House. Some of our best comics are for early readers and Bob is definitely onto something with this series geared to readers around 5 to 8-years-old. That said, the timing, humor and charm can be enjoyed by anyone. In this latest book, the subject of self-esteem is covered with great care and humor. No one said it would be easy to achieve being “cool.” This book gives young readers some essential insight without sounding preachy at all.
It’s not easy trying to be cool.
Bob McMahon has been in the illustration business for over 30 years and has the chops to provide the artistry, word play, and an overall sense of integrity needed to create something in the comics medium that can truly resonate with most readers. It’s an honor to get a chance to chat with him a bit about his career and this exciting ongoing series featuring a cookie and a broccoli just trying to figure it all out one step at a time.
Cookie & Broccoli Play it Cool is a perfect gift to pick up this holiday season! For more details and how to purchase, be sure to visit Penguin Random House.
Candy James is a husband-and-wife creative duo originally from Hong Kong and New Zealand, but now living on a thickly forested hill in Ballarat, Australia. They are toy, graphic, and garden designers who love to make funny books for children. You can learn more about all their fun creative activity on their Instagram and on their website. This is the perfect time to get to know Candy and James Robertson and their work since they have just launched two new books for early readers (ages 4-8), I Really Dig Pizza! and We Will Find Your Hat!, published by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Those are the first two titles of the Archie and Reddie series.
First two titles to the Archie and Reddie series.
Who is Archie and Reddie? Well, they’re a couple of foxes. A bit of an odd couple, you might say, with Reddie being small and outspoken; and Archie being big and unsure. Together, they make it work, sort of like Laurel & Hardy but different. These are two foxes we’re talking about after all. Maybe you’re familiar with the Elephant & Piggie books, by Mo Willems; or the Narwhal and Jelly books by Ben Clanton. Think quirky humor for kids and you’re on the right path.
A nimble use of comics to briefly explain a work of comics.
The first book in this series is all about pizza and…dirt. Archie stumbles upon a gift-wrapped pizza in the forest, and wonders who would possibly leave a perfectly good treat just lying around. So he does the only sensible thing and buries it so he can dig it up later for dinner! But with tummy rumbling, Archie discovers Reddie is trying to solve a mystery. It seems she’s found a pile of dirt and wants to get to the bottom of it! Mayhem ensues–along with funny word play, intriguing compositions and a heart-warming story to boot!
Both of these books will engage kids on many levels–not the least of which is hilarious good fun! This is outright uninhibited humor that resonates with young minds. Then add to that the Candy James magic touch, a multi-layered approach to design and storytelling. As you’ll discover during this video interview, both creators have numerous influences that they have masterfully distilled into their work, everything from Moomin to some of the great works of manga from their own childhood, like Dragon Ball. But, most essential to their vision in this series is all the fun they had telling bedtime stories to their daughter when she was an early reader herself. Fast forward to the present, and you’ll find that same child, Poppy, is now a teen and, in fact, loves to create her own comics. What both Candy and James wish to do is keep creating more stories and engaging with readers of all ages. “We hope,” says James, “that we’ve created characters that are strong enough to encourage readers to recite from the books and play as the characters themselves.”
I hope you enjoy the video interview. And for more on the Archie and Reddie series, be sure to visit Penguin Random House.
Peter Morey and Rebecca K. Jones are two very inventive cartoonists. I chatted with the couple via Zoom. I’m in Seattle and they are at their home in London. It was great to chat with two creatives who so neatly compliment each other’s work. It’s a fair observation given that they manage to do so well with similar subject matter that each tackles in a unique way. Both Peter and Rebecca explore social commentary and the human condition (Endswell, Boomerang). Both Peter and Rebecca let loose with wild and whimsical tales involving animals (Animal Spirits, Cat Disco). And, it’s clear to me that they enjoy what they do. I first stumbled upon their work on a visit to Orbital Comics back in 2019.
ENDSWELL by Peter Morey
I recently reviewed Peter Morey’s Animal Spirits and Endswell so you can definitely get a good sense of what he’s doing from that. I will say here that what propels the narrative of Endswell is a freewheeling play with the eccentric dynamics of a specific family. That requires storytelling freedom thus the fact it’s called a “loosely-based autobiographical work.” Thinking about Peter’s work, and then comparing it with Rebecca’s work, led me to ask them to chat a bit about British humor in general, how it runs the gamut from droll and dry to crazy and absurd. Part of the answer is that this tradition is just baked right into what they perceive as funny. They embrace the strange and so do I. Anyway, far be it from me to put anyone on the spot. I basically see all good work in comics as feeding off some touch of strange.
BOOMERANG by Rebecca K. Jones
I’ll segue over to Rebecca’s work and a moment which speaks so well to this quirky understated quality I’m talking about. It’s a moment in Boomerang (the first part to a longer work-in-progress) when the characters are enjoying a little fair at a local park filled with various random performers and the like. One such person is there lecturing about his peregrine falcon. And just as he begins his talk, the bird seems to take that as a cue to fly away, perhaps never to return again! It’s a splendid poetic pause referring back the main character’s own dilemma.
We turned to the subject of the performance artist Brother Theodore and that helped connect the dots to Martin Olson‘s new book, The Conquest of Heaven, which I’ve reviewed in my previous post. It’s an intriguing and hilarious exploration of the addled yet persistent mind of the Lord of Darkness himself. On one level, it’s a very funny book. On a deeper level, it’s every bit the satire on what we humans let ourselves believe and what can pass for reality. Serious followers of comedy will most likely already be familiar with Brother Theodore. I kick myself now, because I can’t say I knew about him until recently and that’s only because I found out about him from Martin.
My introduction to this comic is this clip from The Merv Griffin Show. I can’t say that I was ever a big fan of Merv Griffin. He seemed to be the sort of talk show host that was easily parodied by other comics, like Martin Short. But now I come to see that Merv Griffin was pretty hip to groundbreaking comedy as he was an early supporter of Brother Theodore. If you are new to him and you view this clip, you can’t help but think that Andy Kaufman was taking notes….
So, if you view the clip, this will make more sense. In a nutshell, here you have one of the early wave of nontraditional comic artists. Brother Theodore was weird but that was the whole point of his act, to express the utter absurdity of life. As Martin points out, it’s nihilistic material that you make your way through to a redeeming payoff. And so I see some of that going on in Martin’s new book with Satan as the main character, an outrageous creature saying the most offensive things, but alternating with some poetic whimsy. Anyway, I wish I’d taken my search a little further and viewed the more recent clips of Brother Theodore in the ’80s on Late Night with David Letterman. Ah, that would have been more recent material to talk to Martin about. The thing is, this was simply a potential question I had pinned to the back of my mind. As it is, I did get a wonderful response regarding the above clip which includes Martin recalling what it was like for him as an impressionable 10-year-old to see this crazy and weird humor.
For those who are fascinated by the writer’s craft, we also chatted about the great science fiction writer Robert Sheckley. In fact, that’s just before we dived into talking about Brother Theodore. In the case of Sheckley, this is another mad genius who loved quirky humor. There’s a nice moment during our talk when Martin recalls Sheckley’s guiding principle in keeping his stories rich and alive: “Sympathize with all things!” And so Martin finds a way to even sympathize with the Devil!
Okay, that seemed a perfect place to stop but I need to just add that, having read both books in the series thus far, I can confidently say that one compliments the other. To hear Martin confirm that there will indeed be another book to fulfill the trilogy is wonderful news. Martin has, by turns, found himself creating his own universe upon which to comment on the human condition and the like, essentially having endless material to play with on the less than stellar condition of the cosmos. All this brings to mind Douglas Adams, and he did pretty well for himself as I recall.
For more on Martin Olson and his work go right here.
Chickaloonies is an all-ages comic book that invites anyone, especially young readers, to explore cultures, ask questions, and get excited about all the diversity in the world. Here is a fun and informative interview with the creative team that have put together this ongoing series: Dimi Macheras and Casey Silver. This is a book packed with fun and adventure and you’ll also learn about indigenous art and culture along the way!
The power of storytelling!
During our interview, Dimi Macheras shares about his time growing up in the Chickaloon Village in Alaska and hearing these indigenous stories recited by his grandmother, the tribal elder. In time, Dimi would recreate the stories into comics. The storytelling tradition was passed down to Dimi’s mother and she created special slideshow presentations, which she did at local schools, that mixed together the tribal myths with artwork by Dimi. Fast forward to the present and you’ve got the Chickaloonies series of comic books.
Early mini-comic by Dimi Macheras based on the stories he grew up with passed down by his grandmother and his mother.
Casey Silver shared all kinds of process insights. Among them, Casey brought up some of the influences behind the book, especially the brightly colored and energetic ’90s style of Dragonball, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Samurai Jack. It’s all part of a tradition that Casey and Dimi incorporate into their comics. Dimi also mentioned how influential Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been to them, everything from the original black & white comics all the way down to the action figures. And Casey pointed out how important the French action thriller, Lastman, has been for that added crunchy goodness.
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT
In a time of perpetual darkness, two Alaskan Native kids go on a quest to become the greatest storytellers the world has ever seen! Using the teachings of their grandmother, the language of their tribe, and their imaginations, Mister Yelly and Sasquatch E. Moji will journey to foreign lands to learn from other cultures, share the knowledge of their own and maybe even save the village!
An all-ages, Alaskan tribal adventure about legends, language, magic and the journey of discovering one’s own story in our ever-changing world.
The magic of storytelling!
UPCOMING LIVE EVENTS
There will be a book signing for Free Comic Book Day on August 14th at Bosco’s Comics Cards & Games in Anchorage, Alaska. And, on August 21st, join Dimi Macheras and Casey Silver at the Loussac Public Library, in Anchorage, for the official CHICKALOONIES graphic novel release party!! This one-day-only event will see the debut of a new interactive storytelling experience that 80% Studios has been developing for the past few months! They will also have live drawing, a Q&A, book signing and more! Fun for the whole family!!
Chickaloonies is a full color 100-page graphic novel by Dimi Macheras and Casey Silver, better known as 80% Studios! Our goal is to bring awareness of the rich, Ahtna/Athabascan culture to the forefront of popular media through the magical power of comic books! This is the first of many volumes chronicling the misadventures of Mister Yelly and Sasquatch E. Moji, so don’t miss out on your chance to join the adventure!
Sharon Rudahl was at the forefront of underground comix as a founder of Wimmen’s Comix, the first on-going comic drawn exclusively by women, beginning in the 1970s. Since then, she has created a range of fascinating underground comix including Crystal Night, which was reprinted in full in Dan Nadel’s Art In Time collection. Rudahl has created two graphic novels, A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman and A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson: Ballad of an American. Read my review here. It is a pleasure to get a chance to share this conversation with you.
Ballad of an American: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson
I began our talk by mentioning that Sharon marched with Martin Luther King Jr. as a teenager. I said that it appears that she has always been an activist. To that Sharon said that she’s found herself speaking out as often as possible. In fact, Sharon began her career as a cartoonist with anti-Vietnam War underground newspapers. She’s been active ever since and has participated in numerous publications and exhibitions in dozens of countries over the last 50 years. Always a fighter, she proved to be just the right person to take on a graphic biography of another social justice warrior, Emma Goldman.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The New York Post headline says it all, Sex Abuse Rituals at NJ Boarding School Exposed — in Cartoons by Survivor. The newspaper does an admirable job of describing the nuances of graphic novels and Glenn Head’s new book, Chartwell Manor. And The New York Post has no qualms about laying it out as it is: “Don’t let that whimsical cover art throw you: Head’s unflinching book recounts his two years at the now-defunct Mendham, NJ, boarding school run by headmaster “Sir” Terence Michael Lynch — a serial sexual abuser who manipulated young boys into “cuddling sessions” after fondling and beating their nude bodies.” The New York Post also provides an outstanding public service by underscoring the fact that survivors of Chartwell Manor still have time to file a suit against the Chartwell administration of aiding and abetting Lynch, and others, in the abuse of children. Time is running out for Chartwell Manor victims to join those who’ve already filed claims against surviving Chartwell administrators accused of letting Lynch — and other accused faculty — cultivate a culture of abuse. The deadline to file is November 30, 2021. Contact Jeff Anderson & Advocates law firm today.
I’ve been writing about comics and creating comics for many years now–and loving it. In the very near future, I hope to have some news about a book of my own. For now, I want to keep my nose to the grindstone and this is one very special reason to do so. This is an interview with master cartoonist Glenn Head. For those of you familiar with comix, especially those chock full of underground comix DNA as I just talked about in my last post, then this will be a welcome treat. Maybe you’ve gotten a chance to check out Head’s new book, Chartwell Manor, about the abuse that Head experienced at the boarding school, but just as important, the aftermath. Well, this interview helps to put things into further context from the standpoint of Glenn’s previous graphic novel, Chicago, as well as his career as a whole.
Francois Vigneault is an accomplished illustrator and cartoonist. For his latest project, he teams up with a stellar creative team, including Rick and Morty co-creator, Justin Roiland, to create ORCS IN SPACE, a delightful outer space adventure for all ages, published by Oni Press. What follows is a fun and informative chat with a lot of food for thought for those trying to break into the middle grade market–or just looking for a good read for the kids in your life.
ORCS IN SPACE kicks off with a special double issue as of July 7, 2021 and then continues as a monthly series. The first collected volume comes out in October and I’ll remind you guys around that time–just in time for the holidays!
I hope you enjoy this video interview and, if you can, be sure to do all those good things: LIKE, SUBCRIBE, and COMMENT at the YouTube Channel! Thank you.
John Cei Douglas is a freelance illustrator based in London who got on my radar with his new book, All the Places in Between, which I recently reviewed. We exchanged some email and arranged to do a conversation. To prepare for it, I read a good bit of the comics that Douglas has done since completing his MA in Illustration from Camberwell College of Arts in 2013–including his Masters thesis, Show Me the Map to Your Heart.
All the Places in Between
One striking thing about the comics and illustration of John Cei Douglas is how fluid and effortless he makes it all look. There’s a certain calm and thoughtful quality to his work that is very appealing. There’s also plenty of action and frenetic energy to be found. It’s all part of a distinctive quirky universe.
The distinctive and quirky universe of John Cei Douglas
Another striking fact to keep in mind is that, even once you reach a point of success in a career in illustration, you can never take anything for granted. That is a point that Douglas can’t stress enough. He is in it for the long term and, from what I see, he’s found a niche from where he can continue to grow and prosper.
English Summer. illustration by John Cei Douglas.
I hope you enjoy this conversation where Douglas provides insights into his creative process. For the creation of his new book, All the Places in Between, Douglas relished in giving himself space to explore where the story was going. There was no set blueprint he was working from and I think readers will appreciate those unexpected twists and turns. As I stated in my review, this is a story as much about evoking a certain feeling as it is anything else–definitely a journey worth taking.
Visit John Cei Douglas at his site here. All the Places in Between is published by Liminal 11.
Dr. Charles Johnson, UW professor emeritus of English, is a distinguished novelist, as well as a professional cartoonist. It is a pleasure to get to chat with him and consider a thing or two about the somewhat enigmatic comics medium and the creative process in general. In our conversation, we talk about the interconnections between comics, journalism, and creative writing. It is a subject I keep coming back to as it speaks to who I am, someone compelled to create with words and pictures. What is it that compels others to pursue both the comics medium and prose writing? It has to do with a desire to express one’s self. It is inextricably linked to journalism, an in depth reporting of one’s observations. And where does this all lead? It all depends upon the person, their temperament, and a number of other factors of luck and opportunity. In other words, it’s a fascinating topic for a good talk.
IT’S LIFE AS I SEE IT, cover designed by Kerry James Marshall
We spent a good amount of the interview discussing humor. We go over some samples from Johnson’s 1970 cartoon collection, Black Humor. This is a set of nearly 90 single panel gag cartoons. They are the kind you still find in a few magazines today, notably The New Yorker. But, back then, The New Yorker was not seeking to publish Black cartoonists. It was on one rainy night, after listening to a fiery talk given by Black activist poet Amiri Baraka, that Johnson set out on a mission to draw a whole book’s worth of gag panels, about and for the Black community. Johnson conjured up one joke after another. Over fifty years later, the gags retain a certain bite, perhaps more earthy than for today’s tastes. Some seem downright surreal. But Johnson dropped a key word into our conversation, a word that hinted at a far more expansive view. He spoke of the cartoon’s incongruity.
From the pages of Black Humor by Charles Johnson
This interview is in connection with Dr. Johnson’s work included in the show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the book published by New York Review Comics. In partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, New York Review Comics presents IT’S LIFE AS I SEE IT: Black Cartoonists in Chicago, 1940-1980, edited by Dan Nadel. Read my review here. This book focuses on nine Black cartoonists from the show at MCA: Chicago Comics: 1960s to Now, Jun 19–Oct 3, 2021, which includes over 40 artists.
Excerpt from Black Humor
A special note: Washington University in St. Louis recently acquired the Charles Johnson Papers, an archival collection of materials related to Johnson’s work as an author and illustrator. “Spanning nearly six decades, the collection brings together manuscripts, drafts, correspondence, artwork and ephemera, and serves as a testament to Johnson’s wide-ranging career as a public intellectual.”
Middle Passage by Charles Johnson
Also, of note is Johnson’s recent role as guest-editor and contributor to a special edition of Chicago Quarterly Review, “An Anthology of Black American Literature.” Johnson wrote the introduction and contributed a story to the anthology — the journal’s volume #33 — called “Night Shift,” which he penned for the 2020 Bedtime Story fundraiser for Humanities Washington. The volume contains work by more than two dozen Black writers. An earlier special edition of the journal was dedicated to South Asian American writers, and an upcoming issue will focus on Native American literature.
Be sure to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and view the Chicago Comics show!