A young American journalist had the time of his life chronicling the Yeltsin years in Russia. A heady, disruptive and chaotic time to say the least. There was Jose Alaniz, the first to plant his cartoonist flag: Moscow Calling, was the first daily English-language comic strip to be published in Russia. It ran in the Moscow Tribune for nine months beginning in the fall of 1993. Over the years, Alaniz kept adding to the initial story and that has led to this collection published by Amatl Comix, an imprint of San Diego State University Press.
If you’re a fan of Richard Linklater’s 1990 cult classic film, Slacker, then this could be for you. Imagine Austin, or Seattle, back in the grungy free-wheeling early ’90s and then drop that absurd hype and mayhem into the cauldron of dysfunction that was post-Soviet Russia under the less than steady leadership of Boris Yeltsin. Yes, anything goes until it all goes up in smoke.
That is the scene that a young Alaniz was privy to and navigated within as a newly-minted college graduate overstaying his last semester abroad in Moscow by a few years, with a spirit for adventure and a burning desire to avoid a daily grind back in the States. The comic strip that held these misadventures together is dutifully archived in this collection, given a deluxe treatment with added material and even an excerpt from a novella. Essentially, it’s a treasure trove of material to enhance the experience of reading the comic strip in question. All lots of fun for the academically inclined as well as the free spirit with a hopeless case of wanderlust.
As Jose points out during our interview, the main character of Pepe serves as a bit of an alter ego, at least in the sense that his story loosely follows Jose’s own progress: going from an expat hanging out with other expats to making new friends among the natives. Of course, Pepe’s progress is spiked with larger-than-life mishaps most befitting the comic strip world. But there is that nagging feeling that both Pepe and Jose are privileged, finding ways to be plucked out of harm and discomfort. In the end, it is Jose’s insight and humility that adds another layer of charm to this engaging and inventive comic strip.
Jose Alaniz is in a wonderful position to continue what he’s begun with Moscow Calling–and he has every intention of doing so. I know, for a fact, that the comics medium attracts all kinds of people for a multitude of reasons. The ones who stick around, I mean a lifetime of working at this craft, of genuinely exploring and growing, are people attracted to the uncanny power of words and pictures. The strongest connection tends to create auteur-cartoonists. I’m one of them. Jose is one of them. It’s not a boast. Some may say it’s a curse!
If you are a writer-cartoonist, then you will find yourself forever being tugged by the demands of prose and visual mastery. That said, I know it’s a gift too. It doesn’t come easily, all tied in a bow at your front door one crisp and bright morning–although many may think that will magically happen. No, it’s a balancing act and a juggling act. Ultimately, you need to figure it out on your own, work at it alone, but that’s how it needs to be. I know that Jose has the ability and the passion to pursue his comics narrative adventures. This collection is an exciting portal into one person’s creative journey byway of accepting the challenge of being a stranger in a strange land.
I hope you enjoy my interview with Jose Alaniz. I ask that you consider dropping by and leaving a Like and Comment. Likes and Comments are the lifeblood of any YouTube Channel and are always very much appreciated. Subscribe to my YouTube Channel too and I’ll be most grateful. Be sure to order your copy of The Compleat Moscow Calling by visiting Amatl Comix.