Victory Parade. by Leela Corman. Schocken. 2024 (Pre-order) 177 pp. hardcover. $29.
Leela Corman is a force of nature within the comics community and so it is no surprise that her latest book is quite impressive. We go back to Brooklyn, New York, 1943. Corman takes the reader back in time with her comics that are immersed in the ethos of New Objectivity, an art movement begun in the 1920s in response to the more popular German Expressionism (and ending in 1933 with the Nazi party in power) which brought to the fore such artists as Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and George Grosz. This is art stripped of idealism, concerned with gritty reality, and known for an “expressive” and often cartoon-like quality, a sensibility in tune with many contemporary artist-cartoonists. This particular influence is exemplified in the work of Leela Corman. It is from this darker, beyond world-weary, palette that Corman presents a set of misfits trapped within the gears of a giant meat grinder, caught somewhere between a near death in Brooklyn and a sure death in a concentration camp. Even when the Allies win the war, no one feels like celebrating. In a sense, Corman’s work functions more as painting than a narrative as it is essentially a powerful device with which to evoke this overwhelming despair. There are stories to be told here too, for sure, but I’m just saying that much of this graphic novel’s power comes from its unflinching stare into the abyss.
Don’t expect conventional storytelling here, especially any familiar and reassuring resolution. This is a masterwork by Corman and it is confidently laid out as such. Characters come and go, in precise order. They may not acknowledge how purposeful their steps are and yet seem to know what they must ultimately do with the limited time and resources they have. Rose is going to pursue her affair, while her abusive husband is away at war and even after he’s back. Ruth, the Jew who has found a home with Rose, is going to focus her aggression on a new career as a lady wrestler even if it means she has to be branded as a Kraut monster. And Eleanor, Rose’s daughter, must try to cope amid the dysfunction. Darkness upon darkness. Despair upon despair. And yet beautifully rendered as art and nuanced observation.
If you want to pin this down a bit, you can say that this is graphic novel framed within a family: Rose, the matriarch who works as a riveter; Ruth, who explicitly functions as the Other; and Eleanor who provides the trope of the child’s point of view. And then you have to let in the supernatural because much of this book is about the never-ending conflict between the living and the dead. The dead are always present, either attempting to understand events that led them to the other side or welcoming a constant stream of new arrivals. Death is never too far away. Death turns out to be as real and relevant as anything passing for alive. It is an artist-writer-cartoonist of the caliber of Leela Corman who can conjure upon the stage all of these dancing skeletons and turn it into compelling art.
Dean Haspiel is one of the great cartoonists, both as an artist and writer. You may know him from Billy Dogma or The Red Hook on Webtoon. We enjoyed a spirited comix talk and got to connect the dots on his intriguing new comic book series, Covid Cop. If you’re familiar with Dean’s work, then you know he leans into surreal and satirical work. Please refer to my recent review. We discuss the exciting and evolving ecosystem of independent cartoonists and how Dean is bringing his comics to you, the reader. You can always find him at his Substack and he’ll connect directly with you on purchasing his work.
Once you dive in, you’ll see that this is a fully-realized dystopian world, one that allows us to entertain some distance from a pandemic we are still processing. When we go through such a big event crisis, we turn to great storytelling. Thusly, we can rely upon Dean Haspiel to provide an intoxicating mix of levity and pathos. And there’s even a romance to be found embedded within this work!
What is Covid Cop about? In Haspiel’s dystopian story, Covid is beyond being unstoppable and the government concludes the only solution is to eliminate humans. We follow one lone police officer, Lincoln Bio, as he resists his marching orders and seeks another path out of hell. That is the cut-and-dry description. There’s plenty going on, including how Lincoln manages to survive and what motivates him to somehow rise above all the muck and mire. Did you know that the pandemic is officially over with? Well, until it returns in some other noteworthy variant. Alright kids, there is no chance that Covid Cop is going to go gentle into the night.
People who know me personally, from this blog, or from my comics, know that I enjoy offbeat humor and exploring a topic down to as fine a distillation as possible. That’s not idle crowing at all. It’s just part of what I do. Anyway, Dean and I engage in a bit of that in this conversation. I think we really hit our stride discussing the phrase, “knows where the bodies are buried.” The phrase is what I used to describe Dean to a friend. And, oddly enough, the phrase appears on the first panel of his new comic, Covid Cop!
So, who “knows where the bodies are buried?” The art of conversation is such that it’s easy to lose the thread unless you’re willing to make adjustments along the way. I had meant to segue into something else when I brought up this curious phrase but we proceeded down an interesting, and entertaining, line of thought. What makes for a good conversation? Keep to an agile and nimble mind. Work at it and just be a good egg. A confluence of factors leads to becoming a good cartoonist or cook or conversationalist. You don’t even need to be a “talker,” per se, but it helps. So, I invite you to check out our conversation.
Dean Haspiel’s THE RED HOOK
Dean Haspiel’s BILLY DOGMA
The main point is that we had a good talk. We discuss the creative process at length and that alone is worthwhile. If you’re an indie creator, I’m sure there will be some food for thought. We cover such topics as how to jump start a project and regain your creative flow as well as share some tips and tricks on what it’s like to get your work out into the world.
Seek out Dean Haspiel:
Find him at various events, including the upcoming Awesome Con in DC (June 16-18, 2023). Awesome Con’s Film Festival will include Dean’s short film, THERE IS NO TRY as well as a short film by Dean creative cohort Whitney Matheson, CONTINUITY ERRORS. Great to see these films in a theater!
THERE IS NO TRY by Dean Haspiel
Connect directly with Dean here. Keep up with him on Instagram here. And keep up with him on Twitter here.
Wren McDonald is a cartoonist and illustrator. His illustrations appear in The New York Times, The New Yorker, GQ, The Washington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, and many other places. His first full-length graphic novel, a quirky cyberpunk thriller, “SP4RX,” was recently published by Nobrow Press.
If you are in the New York City metro area this weekend, you can see Wren at Comic Arts Brooklyn. CAB is taking place this weekend with the main event this Saturday, November 5th, at Mt. Carmel Gymnasium, 12 Havemeyer Street, from 11am to 7pm, in beautiful Brooklyn! You can find Wren at CAB, downstairs at Table D31.
Wren McDonald has shot like a rocket since graduating from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2013. Wren has a refreshing take on both comics and illustrations: a rare set of skills, talent, passion, and drive. So, without further ado, here is my interview with Wren McDonald, recorded this Wednesday, as he prepares for Comic Arts Brooklyn.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Wren, if we were to do a virtual tour of your studio, what would we find there?
WREN McDONALD: Well, my studio is my bedroom. So, here’s my bed and here’s my desk. That’s my studio! (Laughter)
That’s the set of circumstances for a lot of cartoonists and illustrators, isn’t it?
Yeah, especially living in New York. It just doesn’t make much financial sense to have a separate studio. But I have plenty of room here. It’s pretty spacious. I can spread out and get my work done. I have a super big desk and an iMac. And I actually have (laughs) the extended studio in the living room! There I have a Lasergraph copier where I print out my mini-comics and zines.
That’s for serious cartoonists.
“Did Trump and Clinton Get a Pass on Education?” illustration for The New Yorker by Wren McDonald
I direct folks who are new to your work to go to your website, wrenmcdonald.com. There you will find a cornucopia of stuff. I’m focusing on one of your current illustrations of Trump and Clinton and they are both sitting in a classroom. These two are hyperreal, larger-than-life, cartoonish. You can’t make them up. Could you give us a window into how you created that illustration?
That illustration was funny because I got the assignment the day before it was due, which was also the day before I was traveling to MICE Expo in Boston, a comics show that I was just at this last weekend. That was like a super rush job which was really intense. The art director at The New Yorker, Rina Kushnir, who is super great, I work with her a lot, she emailed me the article. She said it was last minute but she asked if I could do it. And I said, yes, of course.
Rina needed sketches in the morning and then the final that evening, around 5pm or 6pm. So, that morning, I sent in like four sketches. They were sort of goofy and funny. Like you say, these candidates are already cartoony so it’s easy to characterize them. Rina chose the one she liked. That was at noon. From that point, I got to work on the final and sent it over in the evening.
Those jobs are always pretty stressful but I enjoy doing them a lot because I feel that I work really hard and get a real day’s work in and have something to show for it.
It’s a beautiful illustration.
I wanted to ask you about your evolving into the illustrator you are today. Your work is appearing everywhere. Only a few years ago you were in Florida just starting out. Could you give us the cook’s tour of how you got where you are today.
Sure, I graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design, which is in Sarasota, Florida, in 2013. When I was in school, I had a website and was posting things on social media, like Tumblr, and I think that helped me get my feet off the ground in terms of people seeing my work.
From that point, I started going to comics shows like TCAF in Toronto, Comic Arts Brooklyn, and MoCCA. I tabled at TCAF and other shows I would just go to. I’d have mini-comics to give out to help make people aware of me. It’s two different paths, comics and illustration, so I’ll talk about them separately.
The illustration stuff is, like I say, social media and tracking down email contacts and networking. And a lot of promotional stuff. You want to create a portfolio that really looks like editorial illustration. Editorial work has a snowball effect. You start to get jobs and you’re seen as a professional.
CYBER REALM by Wren McDonald
The comics stuff is going to shows and socializing. I was approached by Peow! Studio, based in Sweden, about publishing one of my short stories in of one of their anthologies, “Time Capsule.” I thought that was super cool since I was familiar with their work. I was super excited. I think that was the first comics story that I had published out in the world besides my own stuff online, on Tumblr. Soon after that, I talked to Nobrow about doing a short story (CYBER REALM) for their 17×23 series which is a platform to try out new talent. That’s a small format, just 24 pages. We did that and enjoyed working together. So, Nobrow said they wanted to try something longer. That’s what I wanted to do so it worked out that way.
It’s amazing how quickly things came together. Did you already have an idea of what SP4RX was going to be like while you were working on CYBER REALM or did one work just follow the other?
I didn’t have one story cocked and loaded beforehand. I always hear other cartoonists, or writers, when they talk about their work, saying they had this story they’d been working on since they were 10 years-old and it’s part of an epic world they’ve created. I’m not one of those people. When I sit down to write a story it’s about brainstorming and anything that peaks my interest.
For SP4RX, I’ve always been interested in the cyberpunk genre, especially movies and comics. I wanted to work in that genre. I was already creating work dealing with technology, robots, and dystopian settings. I think it just made a lot of sense to me.
We’re always hearing about the digital versus the physical. I direct people to the comic you did for The Comics Journal. How did that come about?
I’m not sure if Nobrow contacted The Comics Journal, or the other way around, but The Comics Journal approached me about doing one of their A Cartoonist Diary columns. I was all for it since I have the attitude of wanting to try something out and make it work. I had not done diary comics before so I had to think about how to do this. Mine is not a traditional diary comic since it has these fantastical elements to it. Despite it being involved with things I was experiencing, the more apt title to it turned out to be “Not A Cartoonist Diary.” That was a fun project.
Over the years, illustration is deemed dead and then it comes right back. It all runs in cycles. You’re firmly in both the world of comics and illustrations. Some cartoonists, I know, have never printed mini-comics nor done the comic fest circuit. But you love that.
Right! I love making comics, reading comics, and telling stories. I am passionate about my comics work because I am able to draw what I want to draw. Illustration is a fun back and forth since it involves work that I would not necessarily choose to draw: it’s more like a puzzle. Okay, how do I use these images to convey a specific idea, very concisely, to pair with the article? It’s a fun back and forth. Maybe I’ve been working on comics for two weeks straight, and then I get an editorial assignment. That’s great, I can take a break from comics and do an illustration, take a break from having my face too close to the page and switch my train of thought–and vice versa.
SP4RX by Wren McDonald
If we were just chatting, we’d end up talking about books and movies, especially science fiction and cyberpunk. I imagine that “Videodrome” must be a favorite for you.
I do love “Videodrome.” David Cronenberg is amazing but I don’t think that “Videodrome” had a specific influence on SP4RX. Instead, concerning SP4RX, I had just read William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” which I thought was like the coolest book ever. It is considered “cool.” I wanted to make something “super cool” like that! I’d always been into “Akira” by Katsuhiro Otomo. And “Ghost in the Shell” by Masamune Shirow and his Appleseed series. And movies like Paul Verhoeven’s “Total Recall” or “Robocop.” Or James Cameron’s “Terminator II.” “The Matrix.” “Aliens.” Stuff like that. I wanted to do something in the vein of that genre.
Let’s focus back on SP4RX: a super hacker going up against corporate enslavement. How close are we today to corporate enslavement?
There’s a lot of parallels that I was drawing from. Basic stuff that I’d see on the news. Even just going about my day-to-day, going shopping or whatever, that would end up in SP4RX. It’s a world with hover cars and sci-fi elements but there are plenty of parallels to our real world throughout. For example, I’d be watching some crazy video on YouTube with one newscaster harassing another newscaster and I would basically copy and paste that into the book. Within a sci-fi setting, you can focus on the human element. You don’t get caught up in a specific nation or political agenda. It’s just people in this science fiction world.
Everyone may not get a hover car but we’ve got plenty of the weird and nefarious stuff already. What do you think about Edward Snowden and us being monitored? The future is here.
Yeah, it makes me think that the cyberpunk genre and movement is more relevant than ever. When the internet was first coming about, that genre seemed so cheesy. It’s fun to laugh about it but there’s so much of it that’s relevant. Like you say, that NSA stuff is really happening. It’s important to pay attention to that and be aware.
Panel excerpt from SP4RX
Is there anything you’d like folks to know about that you are currently doing?
It depends upon when you think this post will go up. There’s Comic Arts Brooklyn this weekend.
I can push things up and get this out by Friday. I’d love to go to CAB. I have my own book I’m working on that is very much science fiction oriented. It’s about the science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. His career and life’s journey has a very intriguing arc. He began with writing the story for the Rat Pack classic, “Ocean’s Eleven” and crescendoed with co-writing the novel that was the basis for the cult classic, “Logan’s Run.”
Oh, yeah, that movie has a nice sci-fi cheesy quality.
Well, the thing with George was that he kept to his set of values and the integrity of his storytelling. “Logan’s Run” is an example of a big studio having its own ideas on what the story should be. It’s totally fun though and I think a remake would be great. The original novel is very different. I think you’d enjoy it.
I will check it out.
Comic Arts Brooklyn
But getting back to CAB.
Yes, I will be at Comic Arts Brooklyn this Saturday, November 5th. You can find me downstairs at Table D31. So, come by and say hello! And I have a new mini-comic that will debut at CAB and then be available on my site which is called, “Dirt Dart,” a 12-page story about a soldier lost on another planet.
Well, it’s been fun talking with you, Wren. I know that you’re having the time of your life.
Yes, staying busy!
Thanks so much, Wren.
Thank you, Henry. When you’re in New York, stop by and we can have a drink.
You can listen to the interview by clicking the link below. I did not make any edits so you’ll pick up on some slight differences from the transcription which is a smoother read. One thing to mention here is that I was not aware of the title, SP4RX, being pronounced “Sparks.” I must have been firmly in the mindset of George Lucas and his 1971 classic, THX 1138:
SP4RX is out now. Find it at Nobrow Press right here. Visit Wren McDonald right here. And, if you are in the New York City metro area, be sure to visit Comic Arts Brooklyn this weekend. Visit CAB right here.