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Review: ‘Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours’ by Alex Nall

“Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours” by Alex Nall

Comics is uniquely suited for any form of biography and to quite a fascinating degree. I’ve said that before and, to prove my point, I have all sorts of new things I can say about this theme in regards to Alex Nall‘s graphic novella, “Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours.” This is a look at the life and times of Fred Rogers (1928-2003), the host of the landmark PBS children’s program, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Intertwined in this biography is a look at Nall’s own life as a grade school art teacher. As often is the case, the comics creator has created a mashup of bio and auto-bio. It’s a natural occurance among cartoonists to include themselves into the narrative. When done right, the results can feel like a smooth dreamy story.

A mashup of bio and autobio.

Nall’s artwork has a primitive child-like quality about it. He depicts himsself with a cumbersome bulbous pink nose. It is all hand-drawn, down to the lettering and color washes. This is a style that falls right in line with a lot of alt-comics: keep it simple; keep it slapdash. In this case, that look fits in. Nall evokes the frenetic energy of children: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Kids, the little angels we’d wish them to be, usually are far from saints. Time and again, Nall shares with the reader the reality of the daily grind of interacting with these wee people. Ah, big segue: Nall comes to find inspiration in his nightly revisits on his laptop to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” This triggers an exploration by Nall thus leading to confronting more than he bargained for.

A young and feisty Fred Rogers.

First, some words on Fred Rogers and his monumental achievement. Keep in mind, the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” program ran from 1968 to 2001. There was nothing like it before and there will probably never be anything like it again. This is a show that speaks to kids on their own terms — and in a distinctive format that defies duplication. The viewership is mostly meant for 2 to 5 year-olds, but it appeals to any age. Fred Rogers became sort of a surrogate parent for countless children, spanning generations, simply by being there with kind and gentle entertainment mixed in with thoughtful observation and guidance. Everyone seems to fondly remember Fred Rogers and have a favorable opinion of him. You may have seen footage of a young and feisty Rogers testifying before Congress in support of PBS funding. Rogers was able to melt the heart of at least one tough and jaded senator.

Nall highlights a particular aspect in his story and provides an excellent example of how one element can affect the balance of the whole. Comics, with their panels and unique narrative structure, are inherently tricky balancing acts. You can include a scene in one panel and the ripple effect is under way. Refer back to it and the overriding subject behind it, and you’ve underscored it, boosted its significance. Return to the subject again, and the whole story points back to it, in a way, as if in service to that one aspect. These sort of shifts in focus happen all the time in big prose works. For example, a book on current events will have its most newsworthy items plucked for greater scrutiny by all the news outlets.

The Washing of Feet.

Nall makes a strategic choice to focus upon the relationship between Mister Rogers and Police Officer Clemmons. The scenes are from the point of view of Francois Clemmons. Rogers hired Clemmons to play the role of a police officer on the show. This was the late 1960s and police brutality was a hot news topic. In one particular panel, we see what looks like Mister Rogers washing the feet of Officer Clemmons. The unique nature of comics allows the reader to linger on a panel. The panel is already a highlighted moment, suspended in time, radiating beyond its borders. The actual moment that occurred on the show was held together by a very different medium. In the course of that scene with Clemmons, he and Rogers are indeed enjoying a moment of peace and quiet. As they are about to complete the scene, they both begin to get their feet out of the water. For a split second, Rogers takes a towel and passes it over Clemmons’s feet. It occurred so fast as to be subliminal. Certainly, it was packed with Christian symbolism.

Francois Clemmons speaks out.

That moment, both subliminal and highly symbolic, is what Nall sort of plucked and focused upon to keep the reader wondering. It is unusual. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Sure, it is benign. You could see it as ideal too. But it is also unusual. It was Rogers’s way of gently and kindly getting a message across, specifically of racial tolerance but transcendent as well. A moment of kindness. Done. We move on. However, Nall has tapped into something that he pursues further and which he would be hard pressed to avoid. His research consisted of four articles and two books. It is really the one book, 2015’s “Peaceful Neighbor,” by Michael Long, that is at the crux of this. In the book, Francois Clemmons claims that he was told by Rogers that, while Rogers supported Clemmons coming out as gay, the program was not ready for an openly gay character. If he came out, he would have to be let go. To further complicate matters, Clemmons claims that Rogers advised him to marry a woman and Clemmons did just that. Considering the era, Clemmons would certainly not be alone among closeted gays. Even today, there is no openly gay character on a children’s program.

Overall, Nall has done a good job in conveying some compelling facts. He is not bringing to light anything that was not already covered in “Peaceful Neighbor” but he has presented these facts in a different format and reached a number of new readers. Nall’s book is an achievement in the sense that any book of this kind put together by one individual is a small miracle in itself. So, yes, of course, I wholeheartedly congratulate Nall. It would be very interesting to chat with him on what parts of his book are style choices and what parts are simply the result of his current skill set. Personally, I am a strong believer in cartoonists perpetually pushing themselves to make the smoothest and most readable content.

I look forward to what Nall does next as he considers his next project. Nall has demonstrated that he’s not afraid to tackle as ambitious a project as the life and times of Fred Rogers. And, as I say, he has a good grasp of how the comics medium works. It can be a deceptively simple affair but, in fact, it has quite a built-in complexity. Once the process is set in motion, just like any other creative endeavor, it takes on a life of its own.

“Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours” is the latest installment of Nall’s “Teaching Comics” series. Visit him right here.

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Filed under Alex Nall, Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Independent Comics, Indie, Mister Rogers, PBS

SIFF Review: ‘The Fabulous Allan Carr’

“The Fabulous Allan Carr,” directed by Jeffrey Schwarz

Warren Beatty announcing the wrong winner at this year’s Oscars was a disaster but the all-time biggest disaster is so bad that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would rather not discuss it and there is nothing on Youtube to document it, except for a verbal description by comedy writer Bruce Vilanch. The story is about how legendary Hollywood producer Allan Carr ended up creating the strangest opening number ever for the Oscars. That infamous moment, truly mind-bending surreal camp, is the linchpin to a new documentary on a fascinating life and career, “The Fabulous Allan Carr,” directed by Jeffrey Schwarz.

If you were a kid growing up in the ’70s, as one snarky person interviewed in the doc says, there were two big movie events: for straights it was “Star Wars” and, for gays, it was “Grease.” Be that as it may, “Grease,” back in 1978, was a very big deal at my high school, whatever your sexual orientation. I was in the marching band and, as a last-minute prank, many of the boys decided to drop their pants and moon the crowds in the stadium. This was directly inspired by “Grease,” which was as far away from an Oscar opening number flop as you could get. “Grease” was a bonafide hit and it put the movie’s producer, Allan Carr, on the map.

Steve Rubell losing patience escorting Olivia Newton-John and Producer Alan Carr into the “Grease” Party at Studio 54.

How Allan Carr gained the confidence and sense of purpose to become a Hollywood legend is thoroughly explored here. We follow Carr from insecure boy to insecure man, finally losing his virginity in his 30s. Where he was on firm ground was his steadfast desire to put on a show. If you loved “La La Land,” you will relate to Carr’s great love for the grandeur of Old Hollywood, particularly the heyday of movie musicals. After Carr’s success with “Grease,” there would be various ups and downs. One undisputed high point was his producing the Oscar-winning “The Deer Hunter.” And Carr reached his greatest heights producing “La Cage aux Folles” on Broadway.

And then came that incredibly over-the-top opener for the 1989 Oscars. The clip below is not from the documentary but gives you an understanding of what all the fuss was about. This is Bruce Vilanch who, by the way, does provide some wonderful segments exclusively made for the documentary:

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Okay, it turns out that the “infamous” 1989 Oscars opening segment is currently available on YouTube. And, like many a legend, there is more to this story. Basically, it helps to view the above segment with Bruce Vilanch along with seeing the actual footage. Vilanch makes a big mistake by adding to the legend with his hyperbolic description of the show. Despite that, he provides the necessary context. Most importantly, Vilanch explains that this was a case of “manufactured outrage” by Disney president Frank Wells, who lodged a complaint against the Academy even though Snow White is in the public domain. The truth is, Disney was hypersensitive about advertising concerns. Here is the clip. You will likely find this to be charming, entertaining, and heartfelt:

After “Grease” would come Carr’s first big misstep: 1980’s “Can’t Stop the Music,” the musical showcasing The Village People. Carr had hoped to bring abroad Olivia Newton-John for a lead role but, after reading the script, she rejected it. So did Cher and Raquel Welch. However, Carr was able to secure Valerie Perrine. Carr also enlisted a rising star, Steve Guttenberg. The whole affair was directed by veteran funny lady Nancy Walker who was not much of a director. In the end, this was a classic Carr flop: over-sexed camp too far out on a limb. And so he moved on to the next project, and the next.

In time, Carr would find himself. One key personal moment was when he discovered caftans. The spacious velvety robe allowed Carr’s undisciplined body to run free. With a caftan, he could relax and be more open about himself and his sexuality. The ups and downs of his projects would settle into perspective. There would be the undisputed triumphs. And, in the end, he could say he lived his life to the fullest.

The Fabulous Allan Carr,” directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, was a standout at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival. The documentary is based upon the book, “Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr” by Robert Hofler. As the story about a gay chubby insecure boy who grows up to live out his wildest dreams, it provides another compelling view of the hopes and dreams of La La Land.

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Filed under Gay, Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, Musicals, Seattle, Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF

Review: DARK PANTS #3

DARK PANTS #3 by Matt MacFarland

DARK PANTS #3 by Matt MacFarland

I am a big fan of Matt MacFarland’s DARK PANTS series. You can read my review on the previous two issues right here. The third issue is now out and it follows Phil, a teenager in Silver Lake, California, circa 1988. As Matt described to me in an interview, each new issue focuses on a different time and place in the Los Angeles area. The motif is a mysterious pair of black jeans and the sexual awakening they trigger in whoever wears them.

Page from DARK PANTS #3

Page from DARK PANTS #3

For our hero, Phil, life has been hell as he struggles with his sexuality. Phil is navigating in a very oppressive environment. The last thing he wants to consider is being gay. But, once his fate crosses paths with those alluring dark pants, he gains enough confidence to explore his options a little bit. MacFarland is relentless in his depiction of Phil’s inability to be true to himself. It seems as if his embracing his truth is filled with nothing but pain. Gradually, MacFarland hints that Phil may ultimately find pleasure but it sure won’t come easy.

Reading DARK PANTS #3

Reading DARK PANTS #3

The easiest thing that Phil can rely upon is his imagining having sex with teen heartthrob John Stamos. It’s a pretty funny and sobering fact. Phil thinks about it and he knows he likes it. But he’d rather hide. Things come to a head, so to speak, when Lisa, his supposed dream girl, lures him away to a bedroom. It’s his big chance to prove he’s not gay to his confused and frustrated self but all he can think about is…John Stamos. As for Lisa, she will have her day. It looks like she is the subject of the fourth issue set in Eagle Rock, California, circa 2016.

No matter how empowering those dark pants are, they are no match for an awkward teen. Phil is simply ill-equipped to harness his new raw power. He makes some progress but not quite what he might have expected. MacFarland’s drawing and writing is highly accessible. He immerses the reader in the inner turmoil that his characters are going through. With just the right touch of humor, MacFarland offers us stories of missteps of the heart that will stay with us.

Matt MacFarland Los Angeles

If you are in the L.A. area this weekend, be sure to see Matt MacFarland on Saturday, July 16th, from 5-7pm at the Los Angeles County Store in Silver Lake. Find out more right here.

Find Matt MacFarland and DARK PANTS right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Gay, Independent Comics, LGBTQ, Los Angeles, Matt MacFarland, Sex

Interview: David Schmader on Literacy, Neighborhoods, LGBTQ, and Cannabis

David Schmader

David Schmader

David Schmader is an American writer known for his solo plays, his writing for the Seattle newsweekly The Stranger, and his annotated screenings of Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls.” He is the author of the 2016 book “Weed: The User’s Guide.” And he is the Creative Director of the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a literary arts center offering free programs for youth ages 6 to 18. I had the opportunity to interview David and discuss better approaches to community and seeking common ground. Locally, for those of us who are a part of the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, we have been undergoing a recharge, a rallying around, after a gas leak explosion that tore into the fabric of everyday life. With BFI preparing to return to its original Greenwood site this month, it seemed to me a good time to check in with a thoughtful leader in our community. I begin our interview going back to that March 9th gas leak explosion in the middle of the night. Fueled with cups of coffee, we settled in at Couth Buzzard Books for this interview.

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Filed under Cannabis, Education, Gay, LGBTQ, Literacy, Marijuana, Seattle, The Stranger, Youth

Review: ‘The Chronicles of Era: Book I’ by Scott B. Henderson

The Chronicles of Era: Whispers of Redemption (Book 1) by Scott B Henderson

The Chronicles of Era: Whispers of Redemption (Book 1)
by Scott B Henderson

The first thing that will impress you about this comic is the beautifully rendered work, finely detailed and full of energy. “The Chronicles of Era” is Scott B. Henderson‘s visionary epic, the work he’s likely most proud of, I would imagine, and he should be. Whether or not you’re a fan of sci-fi/fantasy, there’s much to enjoy here. We have a striking hero, Seth, a young guy with a distinctive swagger. When your main character comes across as alive and interesting, you’re off to a very good start.

A dream within a dream?

A dream within a dream?

Henderson has a relatively rigid style that actually works well here to convey a sense of urgency. This is a harsh brave new world, a fantasy akin to the work of George R. R. Martin. Gods from a different time and place seem to be lurking in the background. You know, that sort of thing. That said, I was intrigued by the fact that Henderson’s characters, while depicted in a tight manner, have a lot of life to them. And I was impressed with Henderson’s use of some gay subtext. It is one of those blink-and-you-miss-it things. Our hero, Seth, having gotten to know Sid a little better, takes his hand and leads them off to bed.

Let's Go To Bed...

Let’s Go To Bed…

A blink-and-you-miss-it moment. That makes total sense given that Seth is of a low station with limited freedom in a hostile environment. It mirrors real life and what other art forms can do with revealing only certain bits of information. Seth’s elastic sexuality is in clear view as well as sort of a secret within this book. Besides that one moment, there is nothing else quite like it, although Seth does enjoy wandering about in just a pear of jeans and leather sandals like a teen heartthrob. And the stage does seem to be set for him to become involved with, Caitleth, a beautiful aristocratic young woman. So, while Henderson gives ample time to war games and fantasy worldbuilding, he is also quite capable of evoking the oozing sexuality of youth. Henderson proves to be an interesting and insightful storyteller.

Reading "The Chronicles of Era"

Reading “The Chronicles of Era”

Book I covers the first three chapters to this epic fantasy graphic novel under the story arc, “Whispers of Redemption.” For more details, visit Scott B. Henderson right here.

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Filed under Comics, fantasy, George R.R. Martin, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Sex

Review: THIS IS BACON, published by Laurence King Publishing

This-is-Francis-Bacon

Francis Bacon is a little bit less well known to the general public than Warhol and Pollock but every bit as powerful. Bacon was the product of the vibrant and gritty London Soho scene of the ’50s and ’60s. It was a world of rough trade and intellectuals. It was a bubbling cauldron of sexual liberation and creative abandon. Bacon quite naturally exemplified the zeitgeist. Having been caught by his father as he was reveling in wearing his mother’s underwear, he was summarily kicked out of the home at age 16, left to fend for himself. He wasn’t involved with art at the time, never had formal training, but art became his outlet, and he mastered it.

Francis-Bacon-Laurence-King

The British contemporary art scene was more introverted than the American. It really wasn’t pop as much as personal. Its answer to Abstract Expressionism was a return to the figure and to the self. Along with various other artists exploring the inner life, like David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, it was Bacon who took this soulful approach to some of its greatest heights.

Laurence-King-Francis-Bacon

Funny how some people mistake Francis Bacon with the great philosopher. And how ironic that this artist, by the name of Bacon, would come to paint on, in part, the theme of meat.

Part of Laurence King Publishing’s This is Art series, this little book packs a lot of valuable information. It is quite a compelling narrative, written by Kitty Hauser with illustrations by Christina Christoforou. It will prove inspiring to any artist working today. Here’s a little taste of the text:

Bacon’s training took place not at art school but through the voraciousness of his eye, and the extremity of his experiences. He liked to observe human behaviour, especially when it was governed by instinct rather than convention. His relative lack of a formal education meant he did not make the usual kinds of distinctions between life and art, or between high culture and low. His mind and his studio were well stocked with images from a multitude of sources – cinema, medical literature, art galleries, everyday life – and some of these images inevitably found their way, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, into his paintings. ‘Don’t forget that I look at everything’, he said. ‘And everything I see gets ground up very fine. In the end one never knows, certainly I myself never know, what the images in my paintings are made up of.’

Francis-Bacon-art

Learn more about this fun and informative new artist series by visiting our friends at Laurence King Publishing right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Francis Bacon, Laurence King Publishing

HOW WE CONNECT: A Review of ‘Welcome To Nursing HELLo’ by Joel Craig

Welcome-To-Nursing-Hello-Joel-Craig

How do we connect? We do it, or try to do it, in a variety a ways. It’s not always easy but it’s far better than its opposite, to disconnect. I aspire to connect with you. I make this preface because I am genuinely inspired by my latest subject for review, Joel Craig’s graphic memoir, WELCOME TO NURSING HELLo.

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Filed under Autobio Comics, Autobiography, Comics, Comics Reviews, Gay, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, LGBT, mini-comics, Zines

Review: THE LENGTHS by Howard Hardiman, published by Soaring Penguin Press

The-Lengths-Howard-Hardiman-2013

“The Lengths” is a graphic novel about addiction, published by Soaring Penguin Press. The title refers to the lenghts to which a young man, Eddie, will go to feed his desire. Howard Hardiman has written and drawn a graphic novel about a youth out of control and in conflict. It is a very rough story about a rough subject that Hardiman navigates quite well. His character, Eddie, is a 24-year-old art school drop out who is gay and unsure about what he wants. He may want a relationship but he is also attracted to what he gets from his role as Ford, an escort. It’s a pretty lurid and gritty premise. Something like this could easily fall apart, as can happen with any story that deals with sex. But sex is only part of what Hardiman has to talk about. And to create some distance to better address and understand the content, he represents all his characters as dogs. It may seem odd at first, but it turns out to be a wonderful narrative device.

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Filed under British Comics, Comics, European Comics, Gay, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, LGBT, Soaring Penguin, Soaring Penguin Press

Interview: Charles “Zan” Christensen and Looking Beyond Gay and Straight

A draft for the cover to ANYTHING THAT LOVES

A draft for the cover to ANYTHING THAT LOVES

Gay is a powerful term, particularly in its use in a political movement. However, as Charles “Zan” Christensen points out, it is not as useful when describing the complexities of an individual. The categories of “gay” and “straight” just aren’t enough. What about everything in between? Christensen, publisher of Northwest Press, which specializes in comics with LGBT themes, is preparing to launch a new comics anthology that explores these issues of sexuality. “Anything That Loves,” brings together a roster of excellent cartoonists creating works that explore their unique observations on the sexual spectrum.

It was a pleasure to get a chance to interview Zan. He’s very passionate and articulate about what he believes in, as is evident in our conversation.

“Anything That Loves” has achieved phenomenal success as a Kickstarter project. And the party isn’t over yet. This campaign runs through April 28. It has already reached over twice its funding goal. Additional funds mean more money reaching the creators of the anthology. You can view the campaign here. Since I have launched my own Kickstarter project, which you can view here, I have come to more fully appreciate the work and dedication behind such projects.

From the Northwest Press website:

The Northwest Press anthology Anything That Loves will be released this July, just in time for Comic-Con in San Diego, and features a variety of wonderful artists exploring the seldom-seen world between “gay” and “straight”. The anthology features work from artists Erika Moen, Ellen Forney, Randall Kirby, Jason Thompson, Kate Leth, Leia Weathington, MariNaomi and lots more, and is currently the subject of a Kickstarter fundraising drive.

Visit Northwest Press here.

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Filed under Anthologies, Books, Charles Zan Christensen, comic books, Comic-Con, Comics, graphic novels, LGBT, Northwest Press, Publishing, Sex, Sexual Studies