Tag Archives: Books
‘Derborence: When the Mountain Fell’ GN Release in US from Helvetiq
Filed under Comics, Comics News
Harriet Tubman Demon Slayer Vol. 1 review: America’s Most Wanted
Harriet Tubman Demon Slayer. w. David Crownson. a. Courtland L. Ellis and others. Kingwood Comics. 252 pp. $59.99
The subject of slavery has been depicted and processed in many ways, from critical analysis to cathartic expression. This new comics series takes the reader on a mystical journey led by none other than Harriet Tubman (1823-1913), the famed leader of the Underground Railroad (1850-1860) which led enslaved people to freedom in America. Creator and writer David Crownson gives his story just the right bite, which makes sense for this mashup of genres.
Meet Harriet Tubman, Demon Slayer. Crownson goes all out casting Tubman in the role of a superhero ninja freedom fighter who must do battle with whatever monsters slave owners can throw at her: vampires, werewolves, demons, you name it. This trade paperback is a graphic novel collecting the previous six issues to this series. In this story, we follow Tubman as she is helping a family to freedom. Crownson has done a great job with character development. I was quickly engaged in the plight of the Edgefield family: the young girl Vanessa; her parents Caesar and Catherine; and her brother, Nathan. Tubman, like a mysterious angel, suddenly appears in their lives as they are attempting to flee from slavery. The right amount of action, humor, horror and fantasy ensues.
I was immediately intrigued by this book. The cover art got my attention and the artwork throughout, led by Courtland L. Ellis, kept me turning pages. The book begins with a photograph of Tubman and a quote from her: “Never wound a snake; kill it.” That sets the tone very nicely. From what I know, Tubman appears to have been a very driven, reserved and no-nonsense person. That’s the way that Crownson depicts her. She has a job to do and she does it with speed and precision. She knows exactly how to drop a vampire or werewolf in seconds flat. Out comes the magic sword or the wooden stake and that’s that. It’s cathartic to see how swiftly Tubman takes care of all the villains. In comics, we often find some righteous justice and this comic delivers on that promise.
To take a historical figure and then put that person into a fictionalized universe is one of the most satisfying things you can do as a writer. No doubt, Crownson is having a great time with his superhero version of Harriet Tubman. On the creative side, it’s great fun. And you can also call it a sacred privilege. Crownson celebrates and honors Tubman with respect and joyful energy, fully aware of the painful and sensitive subject; fully aware of hope and healing. There’s no record of this anywhere but Crownson includes a character, Chip, a young white man, as Tubman’s adopted son. It’s just part of the story, an uplifting use of creative license, and something that Tubman would probably give a wink to and approve of. I’m confident that she’d approve of this whole audacious comic book series and enjoy it.
Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews
Henry Chamberlain, George Clayton Johnson and Pop Culture, interview by Ray Carcases
It is my pleasure to present to you my conversation with Ray Carcases on his YouTube channel. Just click the link to the video right below this paragraph. This time around it’s me who is being interviewed. We discuss my new book, George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through The Twilight Zone, published by Rutgers University Press. Ray is a kindred spirit and I am so lucky to have gotten this opportunity to chat with him. I look forward to pursuing more of these sorts of conversations with him in the future since he’s a thinker and an excellent conversationalist.
I’ll tell you right now and I’ll bring it up more as we continue to spread the word about George’s Run. I said it in so many words but maybe I didn’t come right out and say it in this interview. I really feel that I’m the ideal spokesperson to guide the reader along as we pursue several pop culture backstories. It’s folks like Ray and myself, from Generation X, that have a certain perspective and so much to share with each other and younger generations. And that doesn’t make me feel “old” at all. It just makes me feel like, as Ray expressed so eloquently, I’m in that group that “know enough to know.” You just don’t get it until you finally reach that point!
Ray and I got into a groove and built upon one observation after another. We marveled together over the cinematic elements to The Twilight Zone and how you need to appreciate them, “know enough to know,” in order to understand this most celebrated yet misunderstood pop culture phenomenon. I like one moment when Ray observed the quality of Rod Serling’s epilogue to the George Clayton Johnson masterpiece, “Nothing in the Dark.” Just as the scene comes to a close, that one final thought summing up the tension between fear and reason: “There was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on.”
Filed under Comics, George Clayton Johnson, Interviews, Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone
Visions of Taiwan comics review
Visions of Taiwan. Ray Hecht, editor. Lei Press. 2023 51pp. $4.99
I’ve been following the work of Ray Hecht for years now and it has been fascinating to see him develop as a writer, artist, and now as the leading force behind this collection of short works in comics. Hecht is a devoted and creative explorer trying to make sense of the world. The goal for this book is to make some sense of Taiwan, a country many of us know very little about other than it being forever threatened by China. The main service this book provides is to offer up some slice-of-life vignettes from a variety of artists at various stages in their careers.
Every comics anthology is a delicate ecosystem that is cared for and nurtured into existence by its editor. I’m happy to say that Ray Hecht has delivered a charming and enlightening book. This is a mellow and easygoing journey, seven stories in all, written and drawn by eight contributors. Instead of dramatic epiphanies, you’ll find more of a contemplative vibe: observations on the struggles to fit in and to simply survive. There is plenty of common ground to be found here among life and work issues. In many ways, it’s the very act of dislocation that seems most compelling and the overriding theme. And sometimes that’s really all we need: some signs of life and shared humanity.
In the case of Ray Hecht’s contribution, the theme is dealing with the tensions of isolation during lockdown. Hecht’s solution was to finally get his scooter license so that he could drive around within the allowed perimeters where he lives in Taiwan. It’s a very honest and funny story and another fine example of Hecht’s sharing of his expat experiences.
Among other contributions, Fabienne Good offers up some lively illustrations for her piece, “An Island of Inspiration,” which is just the sort of clean and idiosyncratic style that buoys the whole discussion. Well done work by all involved! Seek this book out. It can be your new travel companion and guide whether or not you might be thinking about your own visit to Taiwan.
Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Taiwan
Donuts n Dontnuts
My new favorite place is the Duck Donuts in Virginia Beach I’ve been visiting lately. It’s a very friendly spot and these are first-class treats. It inspired me to write this poem. I might start posting more of these depending upon my mood . . .
There are donuts and then there are dontnuts.
One group will Do and the other will Dont.
Funny thing is that, either way, neither will stay.
You can Do or Dont, glazed or plain.
In the end, you are only crumbs swept away.
So, better to Do while you can.
Push away reasons to Dont.
There’s nothing to lose.
And Donts, given a chance, would rather be Dos.
Indie Bookstores and Comic Book Shops Unite!
There are so many wonderful independent bookstores and comic book shops and, with your support, they will survive and thrive. I have had some of my best memories in bookstores and in comic book shops. So, can we include both of these outlets in the same discussion? Do comics and books mix? Well, I should hope so after all these years. A bookstore and a comic book shop are two very different scenes with a good amount of common ground. It’s even possible to blur the distinctions. Any opportunity to work together is a good thing: the promotion of literacy; crossover business; nurturing community.
The market demands that all retail business adapt or die. The internet taught us that long ago and Covid has brought home the point in ways that we’re still dealing with. But, no doubt, business is picking up with in-person activity having made a resounding comeback. Over the years, bookstores and comic book shops have borrowed from each other in order to remain attractive and relevant to customers and that just needs to continue. Even full-on cooperation is possible! For instance, it’s not totally uncommon for one shop owner to refer a customer to a competitor, be it bookstore or comics shop, when a shop owner does not carry a title but knows of some other place that could. And conversations between local business are always a good idea.
Let’s break this down a bit. I can better describe to you what is going on with a prime example of how you can combine it in one venue, the boutique comics bookstore! We can compare two Seattle landmarks here. First, let’s look at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery. Fantagraphics Books has been a publisher of alternative comics, zines, books, and graphic novels since 1976. In 2006 they opened their first retail space, Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in the heart of Georgetown. Stop in and pick up the latest offerings from comic heroes like Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, and Chris Ware and peruse their impressive collection of old, new, weird, rare and out-of-print publications. This retail space takes it all to a high level of excellence with a very tidy and inviting atmosphere, truly a world-class selection, and consistently high caliber art shows. Any indie bookstore would love to try to emulate this amazing store. Yes, it is a comics shop but it’s just as much a bookstore. What you won’t find here is your latest issues of comics singles as you would in a traditional comics shop. Nor will you find a big stash of vintage comic books. At least not what your typical comic book collector is hunting for. As I say, this is a boutique comics bookstore–and one of the best!
The other great Seattle landmark is Elliott Bay Book Company, which is more of a big deal sort of thing you include when strolling along on an urban jaunt. This is a wondrous bookstore experience. From this bookstore, we could compare it to Powell’s Books in Portland or The Strand in New York City, or Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi–well, we could go on and on. These type of bookstores tend to be extreme in scale, either tiny and esoteric or monumental and gregarious–more often the latter. I’ll focus back to Elliott Bay as I have a long history with them as a customer and admirer going back to their days in the heart of Pioneer Square. One thing that they’ve always been great about, among so much, is a dedication to the comics medium. This store made it a top priority to be an expert on as many subjects as possible. Early on, before the book industry as a whole created a “graphic novel” category, Elliott Bay was hip to it. Fast forward to the present, at their new location on Capitol Hill, this bookstore can easily lay claim to being a prime location for readers to get in on the best in graphic novels at close to the same level of a dedicated boutique comics shop. Add to that a first-rate lecture space in the basement level with some of the best readings you will find in the city.
Finally, we can consider what it all means. Consider Local Heroes, in Norfolk, Virginia. Here is a shop that has many of the qualities of a higher end boutique comics shop while also very much a traditional shop with an impressive line-up of the latest single issues and its finger on the pulse of what is most current across a broad spectrum of options: everything from manga to superheroes to more niche graphic novels. It’s not easy to get this right and Local Heroes is, by far, one of the best examples of this you will find. From here, we could venture off to other exceptional venues, amazing spots like Isotope in San Francisco or Million Year Picnic off of Harvard Square or Quimby’s in Chicago. Back to focusing on Local Heroes, I can tell you that the staff are truly exceptional with their customer service and knowledge. It’s a pleasure to browse the finely-curated shelves. Nestled within the hip Ghent neighborhood, this comics shop offers something for everyone, mindful of a wide variety of potential readers. This is a store that appreciates the endless possibilities that comics and graphic novels have to offer. This is a store engaged with the reader, no matter who it is or what the subject or genre. Because, in the end, a good story can come from anywhere. That’s definitely something any bookstore or comic book shop can take to heart. No doubt about it, comics and books do mix–there is really no other way for the continued survival of independent bookstores and comic book shops. Go visit one today!
Filed under Books, Booksellers, Bookstores, Comics
Artist Scott Finch: TRAVEL DIARY
Travel Diary. Scott Finch. Domino Books. 40 pp. $25.
I reviewed Scott Finch‘s amazing graphic novel, The Domesticated Afterlife, (here and here) last year and it’s time to update you with my take on his latest book, Travel Diary.
Travel Diary runs weekly at the Solrad comics criticism site similar to the installments it did of The Domesticated Afterlife. These books are available at Domino Books. In fact, Finch’s Travel Diary, The Domesticated Afterlife, A Little World Made Cunningly, and Form and Deed can all be found at Domino Books. And you can purchase archival prints of artwork from Travel Diary over here. @scott_finch_art on Instagram.
Travel Diary is a very different format from The Domesticated Afterlife and yet they both share common ground, a similar vibe. As Finch related to me: “Beyond the punch of color, there’s a layering, complexity, and narrative abstraction that this project has in common with all my stuff. I think you could also relate this to how Form and Deed followed A Little World Made Cunningly: a slim abstract volume leaning from comics into ‘fine art’ that follows a lengthy dense graphic novel.”
I totally agree that, once familiar with the work of Scott Finch, a reader is going to pick up on recurring patterns and motifs. In other words, if you dig Finch’s art, you know it when you see it! Yeah, baby! Let’s never get too precious about comics, art, or, brace yourself, art-comics! Seriously, I totally respect the comics medium, as you already know. What I try to do here is find the right mix of respect and irreverence in order to keep things interesting. For those still new to art, I just ask that you make a leap of faith and know that art is many things: enlightening, entertaining, redeeming.
So, what is going on within the Scott Finch universe, pray tell? It has to do with the perpetual need for all of us to appease our own existential struggles. It has to do with the search for the uncanny because we know this world is not exactly all there is. And that, dear friend, means being ever open to the magical, the transcendent, the stuff that dreams are made up, the stuff that you may find just around the corner from one world into the next. The stuff of art! Finch does this with a real bravura vision that often involves stacking of various elements. Notice all the stacking going on in the above example: all those vehicles piled up. It makes you wonder if it’s ever really going to be any kind of vehicle, self-driving or not, that is finally going to make you feel that you’ve arrived.
When in doubt, refer back to the title. Travel Diary. Any clue there? Anything to hang your hat on? I go through each piece, page by page, and it all looks like contemporary hieroglyphics, a secret language that you don’t need to ever literally understand. I get a sense of a struggle dealing with the rules, the limitations, all the way down to our persistent mortal coil. If only we had wings! If only we let go and blended with our environment. We keep running towards something, if only our legs won’t give out! Finch packs a punch with each drawing; sort of letting you know we’re all in this together. There’s a heady mix of spirituality and playful experimentation on every page.
And speaking of running, and legs running, here’s the kicker: the whole thing is a bit of joke on us. Well, in an artful way, since you were never meant to take anything literally, or too seriously. At the end of the book, Finch reveals that this is a series of exercises made up of recontextualizing various bits of flotsam and jetsam from old sketchbooks! To add to the complexity, this is also the result of a mail art correspondence with fellow artist D.W., @kidclampdown. Finally, for the amazing color work, Finch collaborated with fellow artist Fazila Nasoordeen of Bahrain, @Z_neow. And, despite these nicely played artistic hat tricks, something of an exquisite corpse and then some, a narrative manages to push its way into existence. Ah, the power of story and persistent sense-making. I read a story of struggle to seek something better in life. Your mileage may vary or perhaps we can all embrace a certain level of common ground. Whatever the case, let your feet touch the ground.
Filed under Art, Comics, Scott Finch
Zebadiah Keneally Interview: The New Face of Weird Comix Talks About ‘All The Things I Know’
From Apartamento comes All The Things I Know, by New York City artist Zebadiah Keneally. This is a most audacious 380-page epic of a graphic novel that explores what it means to be human, especially when the world is on the brink of collapse.
I’ll say here that this book is a big deal. It is both a whimsical and serious work which tackles profound issues while also being fun and highly accessible. As you will learn from this interview, it’s a long process that requires dedication to do right. Zebadiah Keneally is coming to it from a fine arts background which is a distinct plus since it just means more tools to work with. There are many more layers of things going on, including video and performance. In fact, Keneally’s performing as the characters in the book is a whole thing all to itself.
There’s so much to be said about this monumental work. It was provided to me in a PDF preview and, I must say, it’s even better when you get your hands on the actual book! Keneally has tackled the great graphic novel with all he’s got as an artist and writer. It is a mashup of a quirky shaggy dog kind of story and a great epic fable. Anything is possible when you have gods and humans at odds with each other. And, at the center of it all (or at least he’d like to think so), Hamburger Vampire, a mad villain of monstrous proportions, both tragic and comical. This is a new generation’s weird comics, a new voice calling out to anyone who will listen that it’s time to wake up and live your best life.
So, yeah, I highly recommend that you get this book. Just go over to Apartamento for the details. It’s a big book but I’m working off this theory that people love a big book with big ideas. This is one of those monumental graphic novels, with lots going on, and it definitely benefits from taking the time to get to know it better. Take it with you to a cafe, or to the beach. Really, this worked for me.
Once I took the time and leisurely read this on the beach, I began to connect the dots, and felt equally enlightened and entertained. And then, to top it off, I got the chance to interview the creator. There’s a lot of things that go into a good interview: lots of prep work; and even a bit of luck as things come together during a conversation. That said, I hope you enjoy this chat, conducted on Zoom and email follow-up, and welcome a new rising star in the world of art-comics.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Thank you for joining me for this interview.
ZEBADIAH KENEALLY: It’s a honor that you’d want to talk about my book. It’s really cool.
I want to start with a question from out of left field. Tell us about Detective Lovebeard. I swear to you, I seem to have zoned out that heart-shaped beard when I first read your book as a PDF. Of course, I saw it but I didn’t read it for all its worth. If that makes sense. Can you chat about this character?
Interesting! Well, I studied printmaking as an undergraduate and I got involved with a community print studio. I was playing around with the chine collé technique and came up with this image of two heart-shaped beards with sunglasses. For some reason, that really stuck with me. I was mashing things together for my characters. Part of what propels my graphic novel is a murder committed by the character Pittsburgh Cat. Lovebeard pursues him. He becomes this symbol of logic and reason. I wanted to explore that kind of thinking being taken to the extreme and reaching a breaking point.
Imagine that you’re at the grand opening of an art show presenting pages from your book. How would you describe it to a passersby audience?
My elevator pitch goes something like this: All The Things I Know is the story of an evil villain bent on world domination and mind control who goes by the name of Hamburger Vampire. He is a snake oil salesman and capitalist par excellence. His attempts to control the world are foiled by none other than God. He gets resentful and hires Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, out of retirement in Hades, to help him kidnap God so that he can control the world.
Meanwhile, a failed artist and down-and-out drug addict, Pittsburgh Cat, bottoms out on the beach in Miami. After accidentally killing a motel proprietor, he’s pursued by Miami’s most revered detective, Lovebeard. Pittsburgh Cat meets God on the beach. God takes him through a wormhole, right in front of the detective’s eyes. His world-view begins to crumble as he pursues Pittsburgh Cat through mystic circumstances. They end up meeting Lara, the librarian. And together, they team up to save the world from Hamburger Vampire.
It sounds to me like you had more fun answering the first question!
Well, that’s marketing for you. It’s essential. You need to support your book.
I was performing a bit with that last answer.
Let’s explore the book, get lost in the pages. If a reader relaxes with it, all sorts of treats are revealed. How long does it take you to create a typical page?
About four to five hours. Especially the right page you’re on now depicting a pharmaceutical factory and that hand of a doctor writing a prescription. That was a very involved drawing. The timeline on the creation of this book is nonlinear. And these pages you’re looking at were drawn in 2016. At the time I was drawing a lot on the commute to and from work. These pages were drawn on the New York City subway.
Wow. I love knowing that! I’m trying to imagine you on the train. How big are these pages?
Not much bigger than what they look like in the book. 19 by 28 centimeters, or 7 by 10 inches.
What sort of pen do you use?
I drew these with a Micron #8.
A lot of artists will relate to that. I marvel over the busy energy to these pages, like Pittsburgh Cat rolling through the landscape. Or here’s an example that depicts an absurdly cluttered room but the actual style of drawing is very clean and precise.
Even though I went to art school, in a lot of ways, I taught myself to draw. I threw out a lot of the rules for figure/ground relationship. Everything is in focus. I don’t draw in a way that will lower the contrast in the middleground or background. Everything is crystal clear. When I imagine one of these scenes, I imagine every single little detail, which can make my drawings feel a little overwhelming to surrender to. But it feels honest in how this stuff exists within me.
I wanted to add something about Pittsburgh Cat that you’d mentioned about him rolling. There’s that intervention he has with God on that cliff that begins this rolling process. This scene came to me in a dream. It was a technicolor cartoon dream. One of the only ones I’ve ever had. I woke up in the middle of the night kind of stunned. This was how Pittsburgh Cat was introduced to me. These panels happened. This is the recording of my dream. And, at the end of the dream, when he lands on the beach in Miami, this logo screen came up and it said, “Pittsburgh Cat,” and it showed his face, in these pulsating bubble letters. I asked myself, Who is this? What’s happening here? And I actively began to imagine where the story went from there.
That’s wonderful, so genuine. There’s patterns running throughout the book, whether it’s eyeballs or other repeated imagery, like here, with a hand pointing. You’ve got Hamburger Vampire in the forefront. His right hand is pointing at Corporate Woman. And his left hand is agitated, pointing with a hand repeated three times at the elevator button. Can you tell us something about composing a panel like this?
I grew up watching Looney Toons and Tom & Jerry, those kind of classic cartoons. There are emphasized moments when, for example, a character’s eyes will jump out of their head or they’ll take off running and their first few steps will be moving in place before they move through space. I always loved that effect. Honestly, I don’t think I’m good enough a draftsman to render that stuff the way other artists have done but I still wanted to try to capture that essence. The page you’re referring to, it was an essential plot point but visually it was missing some motion and energy. So, I’ll often employ that technique of repeated imagery.
Of course, I love all the things you do with the dope vape motif. It’s not just the hipsters, even the mayor is hooked on dope vape!
And it just keeps building. Finally, you’ve got a mob of people, dancing in step, like a scene from Thriller, all hooked on dope vape.
Some years ago, in Brooklyn, this street drug, Bath Salts, got really popular. There’s this notoriously hectic subway transfer point, Myrtle/Broadway. At the peak of the Bath Salts epidemic, there were addict zombies lining the streets. Bath Salts had the effect of paralyzing people, similar to heroin. It was a pretty horrific sight. It’s one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moments. It captured my imagination and pointed out to me the kind of desperation that is prevalent in the culture, the need to escape from all the pressures that exist at this moment in time. That subtext was a way to underscore conceptually what I wanted Dope Vape to represent in the story.
What I’ve observed from a lot of comics critics, is that they embrace a certain kind of weird. Everyone will bow down to Gary Panter, for example. But for the new kids on the block, they’ll be harder on them. How are you handling this as your book goes out into the world?
That’s a tough question for me to answer. I immediately thought about your comment (in your review in The Comics Journal) about the scatological God. That particular scene had been inspired by a portion of Carl Jung’s autobiography where he relays this, hardly offensive, dream of God defecating on a cathedral, and how that began his trajectory as an eminent psychologist. His thinking has influenced me a lot so it was important for me to make a nod there. In that sense, I believe I’ve experienced more of that tougher eye.
On the other hand, I feel very much like an outsider in the comics world because I’ve come into it from a fine arts background. When I took on this graphic novel project, it challenged me as to who I was for a bit. Aside from your review in The Comics Journal, I feel that it hasn’t been noticed at all in the comics community at large. I don’t feel like I’m a part of that community at this point.
I’m happy to be taken to task on my review. I think I might be on to something when I say that it can be hard for people to accept the new weird, not that your work is only “weird,” but it’s something new, the new kid on the block.
I’m grateful for getting a chance to see your work in the first place. Of course, a PDF is a completely legitimate way to read something but not ideal in many ways. Not to overstate this, but I’m so happy to have gotten to experience your book in print. Reading an actual book helped me catch all the details and truly appreciate what you’ve accomplished.
Well, I’m happy to hear that, Henry.
I wanted to say something about how you handle the human figure. It’s all very artfully done, very beautifully done, gorgeously clean work. Were you ever at a crossroads when you had to confront drawing the gods nude?
Honestly, it really wasn’t a question for me.
There you go.
(Laughter) I wrote a script for this first and it’s more pages than the graphic novel and the gods figured large into that script. At one point, before I started drawing, I thought, I’m going to have to draw these guys naked a lot. I’ve always been taken by the human form and loved figure drawing when I was in my twenties and obsessed over rendering bodies and strong lines. There’s something primal and unabashed about how the gods behave and conduct themselves that their full frontal nudity corroborates.
Yes! I wholeheartedly agree. I think more cartoonists should embrace the human form. I think you just draw so well. It reminds me at times of Mary Fleener. You could say you’re a new generation’s Mary Fleener. Well, you’re doing your own thing and so well. I can’t emphasize that enough.
We’ll go through some more pages. Here’s one with Lovebeard in the library. It’s so gorgeous. You’ve drawn every single book there.
It’s so nice to hear you point that out. I look at the work of other artists and admire the way they edit and leave out details. I’ve tried to embrace the less-is-more approach but it never feels right to me. At heart, I’m a maximalist!
You’re not overthinking it. That’s just your natural way of tackling things. Did you ever worry if it was all going to come together, through the years of work, or did a certain rhythm sustain you?
Sometimes I wondered if it would all come together. I began working on the first draft around 2009-2010 and it was a slow process and I didn’t get very far. By 2012, I really started working on this story. I drew in a much looser and gestural way, about 450 pages. I was trying to tell the whole story only through drawings. But it seemed like I’d weaved something together that wasn’t working.
I began drawing another version in 2016. I was doing these very detailed time-consuming drawings, without a script. I found that the pace I was at was preventing me from telling my story. I set it aside but it wouldn’t leave me alone. When the pandemic hit and lock down began, I knew this was the time to write the script and that would guide the drawings. I began that process. I had enough drawings from the 2016 version to make a pitch to Apartamento and they, to my surprise, picked it up.
This provided the opportunity to work from the script and translate it into drawings. That was a total task. At many points, I was uncertain about getting everything into the drawings based on the groundwork I’d created in words. I had to do a lot of editing and get rid of a lot of favorite plot lines. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it and stunned when I’d completed it!
Is there something you could tell us about Hamburger Vampire, since the character goes so far back into work?
I moved to New York City in 2009 and I got a job delivering mail to Goldman Sachs. I’d graduated college just before the recession had hit. Work was hard to come by. And suddenly I’d found myself working for this bank that had a huge role in this financial crisis. I felt like I was working in the gates of hell to some extent.
I would hide out in a janitor’s closet on the 26th floor and draw when it was slow in the mail room. And, all of a sudden, as I was reassociating, there before me was a hamburger with a lettuce mustache and vampire fangs. I looked at it and said, “Oh, that’s Hamburger Vampire.” He immediately became an evil entrepreneur: just that kind of greed; that self-serving desire to the max. I really wanted to look at what that would look like for an individual who had no compunction about running roughshod over anyone to get their way. That must have been around 2009-2010 that he was served up to me on a platter. His characteristics, I imagined, were always related to Donald Trump: so that kind of gregarious/mafioso con man–with a lot of power.
Can you describe your relationship with Apartamento. They hadn’t done a graphic novel before your book. How did that come about?
It came about quite naturally. I had made a zine with a publisher out of Zurich, called Nieves Books. And through that I got introduced to the executive editor at Apartamento, Robbie Whitehead. Robbie asked me to illustrate their annual cookbook which they do as fundraiser for a cancer foundation in Barcelona. I was so excited about that opportunity and brought everything I had to that project. We did a Zoom interview to discuss that cookbook and they had seen all the things I’d been doing and wanted to know more about me as an artist. There was no way to talk about that without talking about Hamburger Vampire, who is a character that I’ve done a number of videos and performances as over the years. I discussed my graphic novel and Robbie was interested. It took a while to get everyone on board but it all worked out.
Can you give us a little taste of your experience working with art galleries?
What is essential is getting involved with communities of artists. For example, when I was younger, it was being part of a group of artists at the Robert Blackburn printmaking workshop in Manhattan. From there, I met artists working on independent risograph publishing and I got to collaborate with them. They would put on exhibitions and I would perform at a bunch of those. I would go to a lot of gallery openings of people that I knew from the print shop, from college or who I had met a party.
So, I’d just meet people, make friends, invite them to my studio. You build connections with people who are doing creative things. The opportunities to show in galleries grow from those friendships and connections. Jacqueline, who runs Good Naked, is really wonderful. She saw my work on Instagram. She had made a decision to start a gallery at that point and she DM’d me and asked if she could come visit the studio. I showed her some drawings that ended up in this book, among other things. We had a conversation and discovered we had similar values in things in regards to art: being genuine and playful with a certain entertainment bent to it. She invite me to paint a mural in her gallery. That gave me an opportunity to scale up; most of my drawings are pretty intimate, you know, 8.5 by 11 or 10 by 7. It was really exciting to go big–and have a wall!
As we wrap up, let me ask you about the title of the book, All The Things I Know. That begs the question as to what this book means to you. What does the title mean and what are “all the things” that you know now, after all these years, from having created this book?
It’s a funny title, All The Things I Know. It gives the impression of being a memoir which this book isn’t in any practical sense. Around the time I started working on this story, I had had an idea about a performance that went like this: I lock myself in a studio for an unspecified period of time, cover the walls with paper and endeavor to write all the things I know, not leaving until I had completed my task. I didn’t have the gall to actually do that, and I got obsessed with the characters in the story so I threw myself into that. I had no idea what to call this book I found myself working on, so I decided to call it All The Things I Know, after this zany performance art idea I thought I wanted to do. Fast forward a year into working on the first draft and I realized that all the characters were me – or aspects of my psyche. I did the long division and saw that they represented my desires: for the material, for the intellectual, for the spiritual (Hamburger Vampire, Lovebeard and Pittsburg Cat respectively). With them, I was imagining what the collision of these drives might look like; I began to understand the book as a psychic memoir. When it came time to finalize the title 10 years later, I’d been calling the book All The Things I Know for so long that I could not imagine titling it anything else, despite my worries about misleading readers. Wanting to ground the title in the story, I wrote it into a scene where Pittsburgh Cat bemoans the rapidly shifting tides of his life, saying to God, “Listen dude, I don’t know what I know anymore. All the things I know … or thought I knew have been eviscerated–” That’s more or less how I feel, after all these years, having created this book.
Thank you so much, Zebadiah.
Thank you, Henry.
All The Things I Know is published by Apartamento. And you can also find it at various other outlets, including Amazon.
You can find Zebadiah Keneally here. And make sure to see the zany promo video at Apartamento!
Filed under Comics, Comix, graphic novels, Interviews, New York City
Paul Buhle on Comics: The Cargo Rebellion: Those Who Chose Freedom
The Cargo Rebellion: Those Who Chose Freedom. By Jason Chang, Benjamin Barson, Alexis Dudden and (artist) Kim Inthavong. PM Press, 2022, $16.95.
Guest Review by Paul Buhle
This is a good-looking experiment in a kind of collective art-and-text. So much has now been written about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade—no full blown comic yet—that the subject of the “Coolie Trade” can now seem to have been somewhat neglected. Actually, Asian-American scholars, among others, have been working long and hard on documenting this story. But we have here a effort to bring the story to light for young readers in particular.
Legitimized by the Opium War of the 1840s, the forced opening of Hong Kong to British domination also opened wide labor contracts for impoverished Chinese workers from Hawaii to California and parts South, China to Peru. The artist and writers treat this passage as a slavery-equivalent and they have a point. Like the transport of workers from India to the Caribbean later in the century, it was coercion-or-starvation, albeit one that, for some, would bring integration into economies in post-slavery times, with possibilities of collective struggle emerging sooner in their trajectory.
The comic art helps to propose a different way of viewing struggle on the high seas. The American government wanted the struggle to be seen as piracy, on the basis of a dubious “law of the sea” passed in 1836. The Chinese Quing courts insisted that Americans had deceived and kidnapped the victims. Abraham Lincoln ended the “coolie trade” formally in 1862, although the book asserts on good authority that racial stigma rather than something like Black emancipation prompted the “great emancipator” to take this step.
The traffiking in human lives, Chinese lives, continued in the American West as railroads were built and assorted industries, notably cigar-making, opened the way for underpaid servile labor. Sam Gompers himself, outspokenly racist leader of the newly-created American Federation of Labor (AFL), testified to Congress against the presence and not merely the continuation of Chinese immigration and immigrants.
The Cargo Rebellion closes with a short scholarly essay on the “Robert Boone Mutiny” of 1852 and a commentary on “Teaching Asian Indenture” by Jason Oliver Chang. One could lament that the comics themselves do not take up enough of the pages in this book. But that the larger subject could be tackled with such energy and effort dulls this complaint. It’s a good book.
Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, Paul Buhle