Book Review: THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer

THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK

Jonathan Santlofer is a successful artist and novelist. I had the privilege of hearing him read recently as he shared the stage with two other distinguished writers, Neal Thompson and Wendy C. Ortiz, at a panel on memoir writing at Hugo House in Seattle. Later, in person, I asked Mr. Santlofer if he ever considered doing a graphic novel, given his facility with words and images, and he said he’d love to do it! He’s on my radar right now. His book, The Widower’s Notebook, is quite a page-turner. I went to the Tin Table for a late dinner and couldn’t put it down. The waitress even said I could stay as long as I wanted. After making some time for the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings, I kept reading the next day and finished in another sitting. What I got from this book is a riveting narrative covering a heart-wrenching time in the author’s life.

Mr. Santlofer has an uncanny observational style: you believe you’re with him. His writing is vivid and carries you along even when he’s writing about not feeling up to doing anything at all. It’s the mark of not only a good writer but an excellent writer to allow you into a life without you being aware of any of the effort involved. This is a story of a most significant loss, the death of one’s life partner. Santlofer achieves a level of the sublime by simply being in the moment. He does with his writing what he does with his drawings: evoke a sense of the hyperreal. You are really there with the author as he finds his wife, Joy, dying before his eyes, the subsequent rush to the hospital, and the frenetic tripping through memories.

We follow along as Santlofer reflects upon a grand life beginning with a young bohemian couple, just married, in Brooklyn, circa 1967. We progress in a stream of consciousness fashion from the birth of Dorie, his beloved daughter, to the recent death of Joy to the building up of a new life. The act of drawing helps with the act of mourning–drawings work when words seem to fail or seem to be not enough. There’s a touch of magic to art-making and it seems most explicit when examining an intimate and intricately crafted drawing. The excerpt below speaks to this process:

“I am able to draw my wife because drawing is abstract, because you can’t really draw something until you stop identifying it. You can’t think: this is an eye, or a nose, or lips, or you will not be able to draw them; an eye, a nose, lips are all the same, simply marks on a page.

Drawing has made it possible for me to stay close to Joy when she in no longer here. It is a way to create a picture of her without feeling weird or maudlin. I am not sitting in a dark room crying over a photo of my dead wife; I am at my drawing table, working.

Grief is chaotic; art is order. Ironic, as most people think art is all about feeling and emotion, when in fact the artist needs to be ordered and conscious to create art that will, in turn, stir feelings and emotion in others.”

A drawing is a complicated thing.

Santlofer’s book is about dying and about living. It is as much about mourning as it is about relationships, family, and the creative process. Indeed, art can save your life and Santlofer’s book eloquently and passionately speaks to perseverance and purpose.

The Widower’s Notebook is a 272-page paperback with illustrations, published by Penguin Random House.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Death, Death and Dying, Hugo House, Jonathan Santlofer, Memoir, New York City, Penguin Random House, Seattle, writers, writing

Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau and the Infamous Rape Joke

“Bull Tales” comic strip by Garry Trudeau

The very idea of a comic strip like Doonesbury is in the best spirit of what comic strips have been capable of doing. Doonesbury, which launched October 26, 1970, lived up to its ambitious goals. Now, there’s been a seismic shift in reading habits, and comic strips are evolving and adapting to the new cultural landscape. In 2014, the siren song of Amazon compelled Garry Trudeau to shift his focus to writing a sitcom. On March 3, 2014, the “Classic Doonesbury” series began, featuring approximately four weeks of daily strips from each year of the strip’s run. Trudeau continues to produce new strips for Sundays. The times, they keep a changin’. That said, in the #MeToo era, with a focus on Brett Kavanaugh and rape culture, something can be learned from taking a look back at the early efforts of Garry Trudeau in his Yale college newspaper, specifically, the infamous “rape joke.”

And what exactly transpires within this particular comic strip? Our main character, arguably Trudeau’s alter ego, is annoyed by a female student and contemplates raping her. He wants to dance with her and she obliges but only after insulting him. He makes a self-deprecating observation in relation to the idea of raping her.

What made that joke possible? What made young Garry think that was funny and okay? It’s a joke that left me disappointed when I read it. I had purchased a collection of Trudeau’s Yale comic strips many years ago. In fact, I was a teenager, with ambitions related to comics, when I bought the collection of Yale comic strips. It has been said (and this could be internet trolling) that Trudeau admits to cringing whenever he sees the “rape joke” or hears of it and has even had it removed from later editions of this collection of his Yale strips.

What bothered me way back in the early ’80s, when I first read this comic strip was that I immediately knew it was wrong and yet there it was. Trudeau knew it was wrong too. It’s possible to imagine Trudeau, a Baby Boomer with a pre-internet mindset, mistakenly thinking that he could keep that comic strip under wraps. In all fairness to him, I can’t seem to find any response directly from him about the “rape joke.” There’s this recent Trudeau piece, no mention of the infamous joke, from Comic Riffs at The Washington Post.

He should talk about the “rape joke” now, all these years later. I know, not very likely. It is the stuff of legend how Trudeau has avoided the press. I always found that ironic given how outspoken he has been in his celebrated comic strip satirizing society, politics, and the media.

Is it too much to ask of Garry Trudeau to speak about that “rape joke” within the context of our current state? It’s a fair, even intriguing, question for him and it might just inspire Mr. Trudeau on what lies ahead for him. In fact, if he really wants an invigorating project, why not dissect that “rape joke” and come up with some answers. It could be a graphic novel. I’m not kidding.

Garry Trudeau’s new collection of comic strips, #SAD!: Doonesbury in the Time of Trump.

Garry Trudeau will be in Washington DC on Oct. 1 to speak in support of his latest collection of comics strips, #SAD!: Doonesbury in the Time of Trump, at Politics & Prose.

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Filed under #MeToo, Comic Strips, Comics, Donald Trump, Doonesbury, Garry Trudeau, Political Cartoons, politics, Politics & Prose, Washington DC

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) this weekend 9/29-30

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC)

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) is one of the newest comics art festivals, founded in 2015 by Bone cartoonist Jeff Smith and comics journalist Tom Spurgeon. If you are in the Columbus area and your passion is comics and graphic novels, then CXC is for you. The “backbone” of the four-day CXC is this weekend’s Expo and Book Fair which brings together 135 comics-makers on the second floor of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Main Library.

Comic books. Mini-comics. Graphic Novels. That is the main focus. Cartoon Crossroads Columbus is free to the public. It is a distinguished event featuring impeccable talent like Katie Skelly, Derf Backderf, Nate Powell, Zack Soto, Gemma Correll and publishers like Fantagraphics and Silver Sprocket.

The festival takes place at various locations in the University and Discovery Districts, including buildings on the Ohio State University campus, the Main Library, the Columbus College of Art & Design and the Columbus Museum of Art.

“For Better or For Worse” cartoonist Lynn Johnston (Ron Bull/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

This year’s main speaker is “For Better or For Worse” cartoonist Lynn Johnston, appearing at 7:30 p.m. Friday, September 28th, at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Also on the docket is a jammed-packed schedule of talks and panels, screenings, exhibitions and networking. Make sure to hit up the after-parties on Friday at Brewcadia (467 N. High St.) and Sunday at Pins Mechanical Company (141 N. 4th St.)

For more details, visit Cartoon Crossroads Columbus right here.

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Filed under Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, Comics, CXC, Jeff Smith, mini-comics, Tom Spurgeon

TRUMPWORLD: Brett Kavanaugh Loves Beer!

Brett Kavanaugh Loves Beer!

From his opening statement today, one thing is for sure, Brett Kavanaugh Loves Beer! For such a supposedly sophisticated legal mind, Kavanaugh has stumbled and simply come across as upset. “If everyone who loves beer was accused of sexual assault, that would be a very sad world,” stated Kavanaugh today. He proceeded with repeatedly stating how much he still loves beer. Is this a great legal mind? Is this a person of good character? Clearly there is absolutely no moral equivalence between Kavanaugh’s testimony and Dr. Ford’s testimony.

The three accusers of Kavanaugh have welcomed FBI investigations. Kavanaugh talks circles around it when asked if he would welcome an FBI investigation.

Even Senator Lindsey Graham’s histrionic defense of Kavanaugh rings hollow.

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Filed under Brett Kavanaugh, Comics, Donald Trump, Political Cartoons, politics, Trump, Trumpworld

TV Review: GHOST SQUAD

Desperado Miller (Abby McEnany) rallies the troops.

I love quirky stuff and this hits the spot: a comedy about inept ghost hunters. Ghost Squad is a new project by Andy Kushnir, a staff writer for the popular game, Cards Against Humanity. Kushnir recently directed and co-wrote with his writing partner, Carley Moseley, this mockumentary pilot which releases to the public on October 1st.

Our story begins with a lead-in narration by head paranormal investigator, Desperado Miller (Abby McEnany). You can think of her as Michael Scott, the manager from The Office, played by Steve Carell. McEnany is hilarious as the ill-tempered and insecure psychic detective. Her ragtag team of misfits are either out for themselves or too self-absorbed to be of much help.

Zorba Dinkel (Jo Feldman) in search of chips and salsa.

One scene, to give you a taste, has one of our misfit investigators, Zorba Dinkel, (Jo Feldman) entranced by a vibe that leads her to a cupboard. She is transfixed by a pulsing energy that leads her to a bag of chips and, ultimately, to a jar of salsa! She has made quite a tasty connection with the other side. Very funny stuff.

This series gets to juggle a variety of tropes: office sitcom, reality-tv, and a touch of horror. The results are pleasing. Ghost Squad is definitely something to watch this October which, of course, is the kickoff to our cavalcade of holiday season entertainment.

GHOST SQUAD

Ghost Squad is the creation of Andy Kushnir and Carley Moseley. I look forward to more of their collaborative work.

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Filed under Comedy, Ghosts, Reality TV, Satire, Television, TV Reviews, Web, Web series, Webisodes

Seattle Focus: New Hugo House Opening Celebration

Hugo House reopens its doors in Seattle at 1634 Eleventh Avenue.

It was as if nothing had ever changed as a casual group of writers gathered outside for the reopening of the Hugo House literary arts center in Seattle on September 22, 2018. When someone would go up and ask if this was the line to get in, those already gathered would not even acknowledge something so conventional as a line. Such was the irreverent spirit of the evening. People were just there like they’d been many times over the years. Many recalled the original home for this arts center, a former funeral parlor, and had very happy memories of free-wheeling creativity.

Typewriters abound at Hugo House, a symbol of the creative spirit.

The new 10,000 square feet home for Hugo House is different from the old home in fundamental ways. I can tell you from my own experience with Hugo House that much has changed but, despite that, the old spirit is still there. If you know where to look, you can even find remnants of the old. Some of the original floorboards decorate a section behind a little bar area. It’s like anything else that once was, you retain some keepsake that many new folks won’t notice but that can trigger a whole other world for old-timers.

Many onlookers and participants at the grand opening.

That older world began with the founding of Hugo House in 1997 by Linda Jaech, Frances McCue, and Andrea Lewis. It was shortly after the opening of the original that I began to visit, make friends, and take classes. I fondly recall the passion of such beacons of light as Kirsten Atik and Charles Mudede. It was a different time and place. Anyone could literally walk right in, in the spirit of a community center, and wander through an art gallery, enjoy a spacious cafe, and perhaps contemplate taking in a show in one of two fully-euipped theaters. If they knew their way around, they could walk upstairs and use one of the open spaces to read, work, and just think.

A typical classroom space at Hugo House.

The new Hugo House must deal with the plight of overdevelopment and outrageously high prices for housing in Seattle. It has become fortified for the new times and is housed within a condominium. Long gone are the days when you could maintain such a a non-profit community writing center within a quaint but lovely and spacious ole Victorian with a long inviting series of steps. Architecture firm NBBJ created the new structure that houses the new Hugo House. The structure is made up of condos with the lower level used by Hugo House. With a million dollar grant and the help of plenty of donors, Hugo House declares this a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” and, most reassuring, Hugo House has managed to secure the space in perpetuity.

It was quite a gathering to come out and see what’s new. The festivities began with an open mic, the first one in the new Hugo House. One highlight of the night, undoubtedly, was a presentation by celebrated writer Maria Semple. She took the opportunity to speak about what Hugo House has meant to her over the years. The sense of good cheer was palpable. Many times over the place reached capacity and required crowd control. All in all, a good time was had by everyone. You could talk, drink, dance, and participate as much as you wanted.

Last night’s reception gives all of us in Seattle who cherish the literary arts much to be hopeful for. While the actual writing classes don’t come cheap, the selection is very impressive and worth every penny. There is still work to be done in the actual physical space. The area for the 150-seat auditorium remains an open space as of now. And, as I say, the actual structure looks like any other condo you will come across in Seattle, a bit imposing, but in this case, a lot of pure hearts are doing their very best to inspire and educate writers from all walks of life.

Visit Hugo House right here.

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Filed under Hugo House, Jennifer Daydreamer, Maria Semple, Richard Hugo House, Seattle, writers, writing

SPX 2018: Observations & Recollections

SPX 2018: “Three tickets, please.”

Whenever I go to anything creative, be it a play or a reading or a comics art festival, I do a lot of processing: What have I learned? How does this fit into the world? So, Small Press Expo is no different in that regard. Once you drop into SPX, it is like being inside a giant pinball machine as you’re being thrown in one direction after another. For me, with many years of experience in creating comics and writing about them, I rely on my internal database to make sense of it all.

For this post, I will introduce some pieces of the puzzle that I will discuss further in upcoming posts. I’m as much cartoonist as journalist in the sense that I feel most alive when I’m tackling a project that requires a good bit of deciphering.

It is my strong belief that you can’t study the art of comics inside a comics bubble. I mean, you run a high risk of doing yourself and the reader a disservice if you come to the subject of comics only as a comics enthusiast. I’m digressing here a bit but I’m just trying to say that comics fit into a much bigger picture. You can, as the saying goes, lose the forest for the trees. Where do you begin with such a colossal subject as comics? You look at it, walk away for a while, then refocus–and always keep in mind those outside of comics or just entering the world of comics.

One thing I do know is that people still read. And I’m always pleased when some folks make their way over to my posts. I do my best to provide concise text with a decent sampling of images as needed. Here I will post some creators I will spotlight in some upcoming posts. I think this will result in giving a sense of the wide range of activity and talent at Small Press Expo. Here are some representative talent: Kati Lacker, Luke Foster, and Sophie Goldstein:

Kati Lacker

Luke Foster

Sophie Goldstein

Let’s make a quick detour. I want to share with you a little taste of the comics workshops at SPX put together by Comics Workbook. I had the honor of participating in one led by Dash Shaw. We covered quite a lot of work in one hour! I include a sample in this below video. I even got a chance to participate in the informal Q&A. I wasn’t planning to but then I did.

I put a question to Dash Shaw: “This may sound silly but is the only true work in comics created by one person?” His response was interesting: “It’s great that a work in comics can be created by one person. Not all things can be created by one person. You can’t make a baby with just one person.”

Dash Shaw leading a Comics Workbook session at SPX

I enjoyed that response very much. But it was only the next morning that I thought of a much better way to frame the question–or my own answer back: “It can hold true that, just like the lone painter creating a painting, and we see painting as the act of a singular vision, so too can we see that in the creation of comics, there is a singular vision by one creator.” That is exactly what each student was doing in that session with Shaw: creating one work by one person. So, anyway, that for me was good to think about. Of course, there can be other factors that come in, like hiring a colorist. In the end, comics are about a driving force and that usually means one very determined creator started the ball rolling or kept the ball to themselves.

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Filed under Comics, Illustration, Illustrators, Kati Lacker, Luke Foster, mini comics, mini-comics, Minicomics, Small Press, Small Press Expo, Sophie Goldstein

SPX Spotlight: INK BRICK #9

INK BRICK #9

If you’re a dreamy cartoonist with a poetic bent, then you may already know about the comics anthology, INK BRICK. This is a journal dedicated to comics poetry. Issue 9, which debuts at Small Press Expo, features work by 26 creators using the visual language of comics to make poetry. But what is “poetry comics” within a community of alt-comics? Isn’t everything “poetic” at a gathering like Small Press Expo? Yes, it is! I suppose you could say that we’re talking about work at the farther reaches.

Like spoken word, I think there’s more poetry comics being made than some may realize. Essentially, you are already playing with words and images in one form or another if you’re an alt-cartoonist. But, one could say, if you focus on the poetry, then the results can potentially be even more interesting.

The important thing is to relax and not take yourself too seriously. That said, I like what I see in this collection. In that spirit of irreverence and thoughtful searching is work by Johnny Damm. I like his “Weird Comics” presented here. There are panels, word balloons, even superheros, all shifting around looking for something to do, or a way out.

INK BRICK contributors this year are:

Jenna Andersen, Jimmy Comey, Johnny Damm, Clotilde Deschamps-Prince, Zoe Drew, Jamaica Dyer, Oliver East, Kate Farquhar, Sophia Wiedeman Glock, Lauren Haldeman, John Hexer, Daria Komleva-Litvinova, David Lasky, Laurel Lynn Leake, Urbano Mata, Vernon Meidlinger-Chin, Josh O’neill, Lorenz Ohrmer, Alexander Rothman, Kawai Shen, Alexey Sokolin, Chaille Stovall, Deshan Tennekoon, Maria Tetzlaff, Noemi Charlotte Thieves, and Paul K. Tunis.

INK BRICK #9 will debut at Small Press Expo and it is well worth picking up. If you can’t make it out to SPX, be sure to visit Ink Brick right here.

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Filed under Comics, Poetry, Small Press Expo

SPX Spotlight: MY FRIEND DAHMER

A troubled person who grows up to become a monster. That could be the pitch for another superhero movie but this movie is dead serious. My Friend Dahmer is the story of Jeffrey Dahmer, one of the most infamous of serial killers. When other boys are out exploring and playing, young Jeffrey is out collecting dead bodies. Not yet human bodies. That will come later. In the same spirit as the graphic novel it is based on, the viewer is asked to observe an awkward teen growing up who, bit by bit, loses his humanity.

Cartoonist John Beckderf, aka Derf, will be at Small Press Expo to participate in a Q&A following a screening of the 2017 movie.

DERF PRESENTS MY FRIEND DAHMER SCREENING AND Q&A
White Oak Room September 15, 2018 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Join creator Derf in a showing of the critically acclaimed film made from his international best-selling graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer. Derf will talk about the process of getting the graphic novel made into a film, as well as take questions after the screening. The graphic novel has been translated into over a dozen languages and won the prestigious Angouléme Prize in 2014. Comics historian and SPX Executive Director Warren Bernard will host Derf and the screening.

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Filed under graphic novels, Small Press Expo

SPX Spotlight: Ellen Forney and ROCK STEADY

ROCK STEADY by Ellen Forney

Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life, by Ellen Forney, is a unique guidebook to mental health. Anyone can find something insightful and useful here. This is cartoonist Ellen Forney’s latest book in a long line of outstanding work. Among that special group of artist-writers, Ellen Forney has done it all: a remarkable comic strip, illustrations, and various other distinguished work in the comics medium. I’ve known Ellen for many years. I was the curator for her first solo art show. With all that in mind, if you’re going to this weekend’s Small Press Expo in Bethesda, then be sure to see Ellen Forney, and one of the most original voices in comics. Here is a bio from Small Press Expo:

Ellen Forney is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Seattle, WA, with her partner. Forney illustrated Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007) and authored her 2012 graphic memoir, Marbles. She was the 2012 recipient of The Stranger Genius Award for Literature as well as the winner of the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis 2013 Gradiva Award.

Ellen Forney will take part in the following SPX panel:

Writing About Bipolar
September 15, 2018
3:30 pm – 4:30 pm
White Flint Auditorium

As mental health is becoming a subject that’s more openly discussed than ever, comics narratives are emerging about personal experiences with mental illness. Moderator Rob Clough will discuss with Lawrence Lindell (Couldn’t Afford Therapy, So I Made This), Ellen Forney (Rock Steady), and Keiler Roberts (Chlorine Gardens) their struggles with Bipolar Disorder, the choices they make in writing about it, and how this process affects how they think about it.

And you can always visit Ellen Forney’s website right here.

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Filed under Comics, Ellen Forney, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, graphic novels, Seattle, Small Press Expo, SPX