Tag Archives: Books

Seattle Focus: Jason Lutes and BERLIN

Megan Kelso with Jason Lutes

Cartoonist Jason Lutes was in Seattle to talk about the new book that collects his comics series, Berlin. It took place at The Elliott Bay Book Company, November 8, 2018. This event included a conversation with cartoonist Megan Kelso. It was co-presented by Short Run.

Berlin is a monumental work in comics. Few cartoonists will come close to such an achievement–and it couldn’t have been created by a  nicer guy. What came across, over and over, during this talk is the fact that Lutes is very accessible and down to earth. That open approach plays into part of what makes his landmark work so special. It all began when teenager Jason Lutes wanted to make sense of a documentary about the holocaust he was suddenly exposed to in a high school history class. The teacher for that class was an alcoholic who made no effort to hide his struggles. He literally set up the movie for his class and left to get a drink. That abrupt and careless action ultimately triggered an in depth exploration of Weimar Germany through a creation of an expansive work in comics that would take 22 years to complete.

#ProtectMueller march in Seattle on 8 Nov. 2018

It was not lost on anyone during Lutes’s talk related to the dismantling of the German government of the 1920s that concerned citizens, just outside on the streets of Seattle, were protesting Trump’s own inroads into dismantling the U.S. government. Timing is everything. That Thursday night book talk directly coincided with protests across the country in support of protecting the Robert Mueller investigation after Trump installed a loyalist as acting Attorney General of the United States. Details are everything. If you follow the characters and the rich narrative of Berlin, you can’t help but get an eerie sense of having a mirror held up to the past and to the present.

Cartoonists holding each other’s works: Jason Lutes with David Lasky

Authenticity is everything. What is so appealing about comics by Jason Lutes is the solid storytelling. That involves a dynamic use of the comics medium: a crisp consistency in step with strategically placed visual elements that are pleasing to the eye and move the story forward. A quick example: I was standing in line to get my copy of Berlin signed and I made a point of poring over each page as I flipped my way through. Right around the midpoint, there is a page made up of wordless panels showing a mysterious figure in a row boat. He reaches the shore to find what looks like a vicious snake. He picks it up by its jaws and overpowers it. That same character reappears in the book as does the snake, both providing just the right doses of symbolism as well as pure entertainment. It’s important to note that, while Lutes referred to vast amounts of research and reading, he also fondly recalled the influence of key works in pop culture. Berlin Alexanderplatz, a novel about Weimar Germany, by Alfred Döblin, holds as much importance to Lutes as his viewing of the original Star Wars movie as a kid. Altogether, what you have in Berlin is an honest look from an individual processing and distilling at a meticulous level.

Cartoonists Revisit: Jason Lutes with Jennifer Daydreamer

For many in the audience that night, it was an opportunity to revisit a respected work and commiserate with a friend and colleague. Seattle is a lightning rod for countless creative people and that includes a high number of independent cartoonists. There’s a certain sensibility to the alt-comics artist with Jason Lutes being a prime example. As he discussed in his lecture, it was Seattle that he gravitated to in the 1990s. After attending the Rhode Island School of Design, Lutes moved to Seattle and worked for the comics publisher, Fantagraphics. He subsequently worked for the alt-weekly, The Stranger, just as it began publication in 1991. During this era, Lutes became part of a group of cartoonists that went on to form an integral part of the Seattle comix scene. That group included some members that were in attendance that night: Megan Kelso, David Lasky and Jennifer Daydreamer. It was a treat to have part of the gang together again on such a special occasion.

BERLIN by Jason Lutes

Berlin, the complete collection, is out now. It is a 580-page hardcover published by Drawn & Quarterly. Jason Lutes teaches comics at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Berlin, Comics, Comix, David Lasky, Donald Trump, Drawn and Quarterly, Elliot Bay Book Company, Germany, graphic novels, Independent Comics, Indie, Jennifer Daydreamer, Nazi Germany, Nazis, Seattle, Trump, Weimar Germany

Comics Review: FAB4 MANIA by Carol Tyler

FAB4 MANIA by Carol Tyler

Graphic novels that explore a particular passion can prove to be the most relatable for a wide audience. Consider the new graphic memoir by cartoonist Carol Tyler (Soldier’s Heart). Her new book is entitled, Fab4 Mania, published by Fantagrahics Books. Who doesn’t love the Beatles? Tyler’s book looks back at the Fab Four from her own point of view. The full title of this work is Fab4 Mania: A Beatles Obsession and the Concert of a Lifetime and therein lies our premise and plot.

Tyler’s experience is essentially the same thing that happened to countless young people, circa 1965, up to a point. Where it diverges is exceptional. One big distinction is that this kid got to go to a famous ’65 Beatles concert in Chicago. The greater distinction is that the reader is following Tyler’s journey full of personal recollections and idiosyncratic appeal. This is an 8th grade girl revealing her innermost thoughts. It all adds up to a wonderful coming-of-age read.

If you enjoy young adult themes, this book is definitely for you. Filled with over a hundred warm and inviting drawings in full color, this is a true tale that will sweep the reader away with its authentic flavor. Tyler has meticulously recreated the diary that she kept throughout that pivotal Beatles year of 1965 to create a treasure trove of insights and humor.

For more details, visit Fantagrpahics right here.

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Filed under Carol Tyler, Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, The Beatles

Seattle Focus: Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, Nov. 3, 2018

SHORT RUN 2018

Short Run Comix & Arts Festival is this Saturday, November 3, 2018 in Seattle, WA.

Short Run is a free all-ages event showcasing the best in new and local comics, zines, and more!

If you’re in Seattle, be sure to take in this wonderful event from 11am-6pm at Fisher Pavilion and The Vera Project at Seattle Center.

For more details, visit Short Run right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, mini-comics, Minicomics, Seattle, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival

Interview: Bill Kartalopoulos on The Best American Comics

BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2018

Here is a discussion of what makes for the best comics within the United States with Bill Kartalopoulos, the series editor of the prestigious annual collection, The Best American Comics, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. What does it take to be considered the best? Well, mind you, everyone has their own set of ideas but, essentially, it boils down to compelling work. One way or another, things add up. The work commands your attention and it checks off a number of boxes like being original, structurally sound, and maybe even groundbreaking.

One thing that makes this particular interview special is very good timing. I happen to have been in New York for a combination of business and pleasure. The latest collection of Best American Comics had just come out. In fact, I’d recently reviewed it here. So, one thing led to another. I asked Bill what he thought about getting together in person for an interview and so we did. For me, meeting Bill at Parsons The New School for Design was a nice treat. He teaches there on the subject of comics. Currently in his class, he’s covering Art Spiegelman’s landmark work, Maus. Bill was Associate Editor and Production Assistant on MetaMaus, Spiegelman’s 2011 book and multimedia DVD set examining the production of Maus.

Parsons The New School for Design

My goal in this interview was simply to have a pleasant, perhaps even lively, conversation. I am a fan of Best American Comics but I was setting that aside, so to speak, in order to go through a relatively objective set of questions. I wanted to dig around and see what we might uncover and Bill was certainly up for it. What I come away with  is the fact that this annual best-of collection has gone through a rigorous process. First, we have Mr. Kartalopoulos dutifully gathering up around 120 or so works that he deems worthy. Then, he hands them off to the guest editor. This year, that honor goes to cartoonist Phoebe Gloeckner. Finally, a shaking and mixing and final rinse. The editor, after paring down the final cut of titles, may end up adding some of her own, and will ultimately preside over a presentation all her own. Okay, lots going on. So, here we discuss all that and more.

“Yazar and Arkadaş” by Lale Westvind

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Bill, I thought we could take as our jumping off point the last work in this year’s Best American Comics. This is by Lale Westvind. It is quite a surreal sci-fi tale entitled, “Yazar and Arkadaş.” I think it would be good fun to linger over this loopy and wonderful work, an ideal example of what comics are all about. It kicks off with an urgent search for a book and, along the way, the main characters are compelled to continue their journey naked. What can you tell us?

BILL KARTALOPOULOS: Lale Westvind did the cover for this year’s Best American Comics. This piece was one that she published during the twelve month cycle that we cover for each volume. Our excerpt doesn’t contain the story in full but it gives the reader a good sense of it. The original work was published on a risograph. We attempted to evoke that same look and feel, including the pink paper used in the original.

CHAMBERLAIN: That unique look that you get from a risograph is part of what defines independent comics.

KARTALOPOULOS: I think a lot of Lale’s work speaks to science fiction. Although a lot of her work is very different, it does bring to mind Jack Kirby and how he played with mythology with his New Gods.  Something else that I think is really nice and speaks to the selection process is what happened when it came time for Phoebe to pick what to excerpt from Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters. She chose a conversation that refers to Medusa. That moment would end up resonating at the end of the book, with the last work by Lale Westvind and her disembodied head of Medusa with the tendrils of hair acting as arms grabbing at things.

 

Emil Ferris

 

Lale Westvind

CHAMBERLAIN: It happens every year. I recall us talking about interconnections between the selected works during our phone interview a few years back.

KARTALOPOULOS: It’s  not a heavy-handed thing.

CHAMBERLAIN: Oh, of course not.

KARTALOPOULOS: It’s something you can’t force. It’s natural and organic.

CHAMBERLAIN: I think of how iconic My Favorite Things is Monsters is for readers. To present it in this collection, the challenge was to find an interesting way to revisit. Maybe you could give us another look behind the scenes. What is the significance of having Gabrielle Bell’s piece as the opener?

Gabrielle Bell

KARTALOPOULOS: That’s an interesting question particularly with how it relates to the creation of this collection. Each new guest editor handles the job a bit differently. For example, Scott McCloud created categories and wrote short introductions for each. Jonatahn Lethem, the next year, aware of what McCloud had done, followed suit in his own idiosyncratic way.This year, with Phoebe Gloeckner, she decided to see what it might look like with  alphabetizing the titles–which is exactly what she ended up doing for the book!

CHAMBERLAIN: You can’t be any more fair than having the book alphabetized! That’s a good tip for aspiring cartoonists. Get a pseudonym that places you towards the front. I’m looking at Tara Booth’s work now. It’s a very raw and powerful style. And then you’ve got, after that, the very lean and clean work of J. D. Bryant. Some of the elements in Tara’s work are very challenging for the viewer. While, with Bryant, it’s very cool and detached. Maybe we can do a bit of comparing and contrasting with these two. 

Tara Booth

 

D. J. Bryant

KARTALOPOULOS: Sure, these are two very different ways of working.  I certainly hope that it demonstrates the wide variety of work on display in these pages. Tara Booth shares with the reader the more private aspects of life, things you wouldn’t typically share, like popping a zit. She works mostly, if not exclusively, in gouache for this piece. Bryant works in the tradition of alt-comics from the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a naturalistic style with pop appeal, very dense, with a surreal narrative that loops back on itself. The types of brushes and pens and inks he uses go back further to the ’30s and ’40s. Booth has a very different approach, wordless little moments. Both are extremely effective styles.

Geof Darrow

 

Max Clotfelter

CHAMBERLAIN: It does take a lot for a major comic book publisher to appear in Best American Comics, doesn’t it? It happens from time to time. This year we have a piece by Geof Darrow that appeared in Dark Horse Comics. I understand why that is. A lot of the work is market-driven and would seem out of context in Best American Comics. That said, I see a lot of interesting work coming out of Image Comics, for example. Is it a case of stepping back from the major comic book publishers in order to secure room for the independent cartoonists?

KARTALOPOULOS: We don’t really think about the scale of the publisher necessarily. We’re just looking for good work, something that is unique that expresses a personal vision, not necessarily an autobiographical vision. Dark Horse does publish a good amount of creator-owned work. This piece by Geof Darrow is very much an auteurial work: it is his vision; he is doing the work just the way he sees it. This is a personal vision regardless of the means of production. It is a personal vision as much as the work just before it, a self-published piece by Max Clotfelter.

CHAMBERLAIN: I agree. This brings us back to our theme of different approaches. One piece is technically crisp and another is stripped down. I want to ask you to share with us something about your intimate connection with comics. I know you spend quite a lot time on comics in various ways. Would you give us a window into your day or whatever you might like to share.

KARTALOPOULOS: I teach at Parsons about comics so at least once a week I’m teaching. Then I’m either preparing for a class or grading papers. I just finished reading for Best American Comics 2019. Each book has a time lag. For example, the current volume covers work created from September 2016 to August 2017. It goes from Autumn to Autumn. Then it takes a full year to create a volume. I’m at a place right now where I’m about to hand off work to our next guest editor. At the same time, I’m working on a book on North American comics for Princeton University Press. It’s pretty far along but I still have a number of chapters to complete.

CHAMBERLAIN: How do you gauge the reception that the book gets. With each year, do you sense that you’ve got a locked-in audience?

KARTALOPOULOS: The print run is somewhere around 20,000 copies so that’s a lot of copies out in the world. One thing that I think is very helpful is that the series tends to fairly automatically enter libraries. I think this series has a pretty useful life as an entry point into comics for many readers. We put as much information as we can about the sources of each title. We have bios and websites. So, for example, if there’s a self-contained work among the selections, maybe readers will seek out that creator and read more. In this way, we can make a quite impact well beyond the initial release of a volume.

CHAMBERLAIN: You’re talking about a quiet impact. You’re not exactly thinking in terms of setting a standard–or maybe you are, to some degree?

KARTALOPOULOS: I think we’re seeking out good comics. I’m putting together a larger pool of material, over a hundred pieces, for the guest editor. I select work worth considering…really give the guest editor a lot of options. Really select pieces that are meaningful to them. I try to give them a broad palette. The guest editor is applying their own sense of critical judgement of what they consider a good comic. If you look at the series from multiple volumes, you’ll see a consistency, a pretty high level of quality.

A mark of success for the series is how each guest editor leaves their personal mark.  This year’s volume, edited by Phoebe Gloeckner, feels different to me to the volume edited by Ben Katchor, which feels different to me to the volume edited by Roz Chast, and so on. There’s consistency, a high level of quality, and each guest editor brings in their own point of view.

CHAMBERLAIN: That’s a wonderful place to end. Thanks for your time, Bill.

KARTALOPOULOS: Thank you.

*****

We had a really good, insightful, and fun conversation. You can listen to the interview by just clicking the video link below:

You can visit Bill Kartalopoulos right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Art, Best American Comics, Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Comix, Independent Comics, Interviews, mini-comics, Minicomics

Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) this weekend 10/20-21

MICE 2018

The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) is this weekend October 20-21, 2018 in Cambridge, MA.

The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo is a free weekend event showcasing the best in new and local comics!

For more details, visit MICE right here.

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Filed under Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Jim Woodring, MICE

Review: THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2018

THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2018

The Best American Comics 2018, with series editor Bill Kartalopoulos, and editor Phoebe Gloeckner, is another impressive collection of comics that are offered to the reader as among the best of the last year. Think of it as a comics art festival all in one book. Don’t expect much in the way of mainstream comics: no big publishers, let alone superheroes. What you will find a great deal of is a treasure trove of activity on the fringes.

While comics can be created in a myriad of ways, some patterns hold true. The most distinctive common trait is that work in the alt-comics scene is usually the work of one original voice that knows the work best and is compelled to shout it from the mountain tops with little or not additional assistance. Here are some examples for this year’s BAC anthology:

Kevin Hooyman

Kevin Hooyman fits more into the heroic mold of the hermit cartoonist. There are any number of glorious examples of this type of commitment. It leads to some of the most idiosyncratic, and compelling, work around. People can take sides and claim this is the only kind of comics that really matter. The truth is that including Hooyman’s work in this alt-comics anthology helps to set the tone and continue to build on what is possible in this medium.

Richie Pope

Richie Pope is an excellent example of an indie-pro hybrid. It happens and more often that you might think: a rebel/eccentric who, when he is assigned a client, will naturally keep to deadlines and go to meetings. Consider Pope’s work to have that extra professional snap and polish.

Lale Westvind

Lale Westvind is another hybrid. This time: cartoonist-animator. This is always an intriguing combination of skill sets. Westvind can bring to bear her rigorous animation background in the service of art comics–giving it that added lift.

Tara Booth

Tara Booth is another example of a cartoonist identifying as an outsider and challenging the reader, whether mainstream or not. That said, she’s also a masterful artist with a deceptively simple style.

Max Clotfelter

Max Clotfelter is high on the list of cartoonists who aim to provoke. He is a guerilla artist who defies the general reader’s expectations. It’s an ethos rooted in punk and DIY: the more raw and simple the better. A more raw approach is something cartoonists like Art Spiegelman advocated and yet, as underground cartoonists progressed in what became actual art careers, refinement was never far behind raw. So, the balancing between the raw and the cooked will go on.

Geof Darrow

Geof Darrow is another independent cartoonist who is also at home with big publishers like Dark Horse Comics from which Darrow’s piece in the book originally appeared. Darrow is a shining example that technical skill and masterful creation within the traditional structures of comics is something to celebrate and not distance one’s self from in favor of seeking out the most experimental of creators.

Bill Kartalopoulos has much to be proud of in all his efforts to support and to better understand the ever-shifting world of contemporary comics as an art form. He makes choices as to what may end up in the book. Then an esteemed guest editor makes the final calls. After that, well, it’s up to the selected creators to take it from there. Some may find themselves relatively rising and some may find themselves relatively coming up short. And others may just slip out the back door and never be heard from again.

The Best American Comics 2018 is a 416-page hardcover, in b&W & color, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Visit HMH right here.

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Filed under Anthologies, Best American Comics, Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Phoebe Gloeckner

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

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

Book Review: ‘In the Shadow of King Saul: Essays on Silence and Song’ by Jerome Charyn

‘In the Shadow of King Saul: Essays on Silence and Song’ by Jerome Charyn

Editor’s Note: For those equally attracted to prose and to comics, Jerome Charyn has quite a significant connection with the comics medium. He has collaborated with some of the best artists in Europe. For instance, you’ll want to check out titles written by Jerome Charyn and illustrated by Francois Boucq. A new title is in the works too. For additional posts, including those featuring comics, go right here.

Saul was the first king in the Bible but, as writer Jerome Charyn points out, he took a backseat to the celebrated David. It was David who gained all the glory and Saul who was left in the shadow. That’s not to say Saul wasn’t worthy. He simply wasn’t favored by God. It’s a tough place to be and a lot of people can relate to that. In his distinctive and vivid way, Charyn collects in his new book some of his best work on the theme of the underdog, the one deserving yet less embraced. In the new book, Charyn also provides a look back at a writer’s influences. In the Shadow of King Saul is a 272-page paperback, available as of August 28th, published by Bellevue Literary Press.

It matters little if you’re famous or unknown when it comes to being an underdog. New York mayor Ed Koch, for instance, shares a similar spot with Saul too. In one piece, Ellis: An Autobiography, the reader follows Charyn down the mean streets of the Bronx in the ’40s to an unfolding immigrant’s tale. The featured guest in this narrative is the famously accessible yet often maligned Ed Koch. In the process, it seems that everything is revealed all at once in a kaleidoscope of rich detailed observations. New York City, a city of ups and downs, had reached the brink in 1975 and was nearly bankrupt. Enter Ed Koch. He turned the Big Apple into a boomtown again. But the featured guest ultimately takes a backseat to his city since it’s New York City that’s the real star.

No one person, after all, is so much a star as part of something bigger. As Charyn makes clear in his enchanting writing, the glory is in the details. In another piece, Faces on the Wall, Charyn reflects on the power of film–and Hollywood in particular. MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer ran a tight ship but, in the end, the flickering screen held its own sway:

“The simplest screen was much bigger (and darker) than any of the movie moguls. The studios could tyrannize the content of a film, declare a land of happy endings, but they weren’t sitting with you in the dark. They could control Joan Crawford, but not the hysteria hidden behind those big eyes, or the ruby mouth that could almost suck you into the screen.”

Charyn takes pleasure in sharing the lesser known achievements. His admiration for such literary greats as Saul Bellow and Isaac Babel is infectious. But, with the same gusto, he champions less known writers like Samuel Ornitz and Anzia Yezierska. It is in doing so that he honors his offbeat choice for a hero, the much maligned and misunderstood King Saul.

In the Shadow of King Saul is a 272-page paperback, available as of August 28th, published by Bellevue Literary Press.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Essays, Jerome Charyn, New York City, Nonfiction, writers, writing

Book Review: ALPHA: ABIDJAN TO PARIS by Bessora and Barroux

Our hero: Alpha, an Everyman for Today’s Immigrant.

The plight of the immigrant has never been easy and, currently, their fate could not be more dangerous. Many, fighting to leave threatening circumstances, stand no chance of finding the freedom they seek. This brings me to another unique work in comics that defies our expectations of the more traditional graphic novel format. The artwork here is not exactly in panels and there are no word balloons for the characters to speak from. Alpha: Abidjan to Paris is published by Bellevue Literary Press and written by Bessora, illustrated by Barroux, and translated from the French by Sarah Abizzone. Alpha, our main character, while symbolic of all immigrants struggling against the odds, readily engages the reader with his own set of specifics. In this way, the creative team truly gives a face to a problem demanding our attention.

Page excerpt from ALPHA

It was never an easy dream to fulfill but our hero, Alpha, finds he has no choice. Like so many others before him, Alpha is compelled to flee his homeland in search of a better life. In his particular case, he is leaving his home in Côte d’Ivoire to reunite with his wife and son who fled ahead of him and are supposed to be living in Paris with his sister-in-law. Alpha joins a vast number of Africans from varied regions united in plans to outwit ever-tighter border security, and find the right port of exit along the northern coast.

There are a number of detours that Alpha must take on his journey. Each side trip suggests the end of the road. But Alpha is quite persistent and his hopes never dampen even when he ends up in the role of the much despised human smuggler. At least, he fully appreciates that he is part of an necessary evil. That said, whenever he confronts a dilemma in his work, he can’t help but side with the migrant. He simply lacks that killer instinct to make that maximum or, in some cases, only profit. Many of his clients have been accepted on credit that he is unlikely to ever collect on.

ALPHA: ABIDJAN TO PARIS by Bessora and Barroux

Thanks to Barroux’s highly emotive artwork, the reader is quickly hooked in to what reads as a series of diary entries. The frenetic quality of the art is matched by the conversational tone in Bessora’s writing. Adding another layer is Sarah Ardizzone’s translation from the French which further unites the sensibilities of illustrator and writer. All in all, the results, with their raw sense of urgency, are quite captivating. Alpha has gone on to become an international award–winning graphic novel supported by Amnesty International and Le Korsa, a nonprofit organization devoted to improving human lives in Senegal.

A migrant once stood a much better chance of crossing a border to safer ground but not now. Once, a migrant could have a reasonable chance at mercy but not now. The fate of the immigrant is in crisis across the globe, including in the United States of America. Books like Alpha help to educate the public and help to build toward a safer and more merciful world.

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris is a 128-page, full color, hardcover now available. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Bellevue Literary Press.

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Filed under Africa, Amnesty International, Bellevue Literary Press, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Human Rights, Human trafficking, Immigration