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.
Hugo House reopens its doors in Seattle at 1634 Eleventh Avenue.
It was as if nothing had ever changed as a casual group of writers gathered outside for the reopening of the Hugo House literary arts center in Seattle on September 22, 2018. When someone would go up and ask if this was the line to get in, those already gathered would not even acknowledge something so conventional as a line. Such was the irreverent spirit of the evening. People were just there like they’d been many times over the years. Many recalled the original home for this arts center, a former funeral parlor, and had very happy memories of free-wheeling creativity.
Typewriters abound at Hugo House, a symbol of the creative spirit.
The new 10,000 square feet home for Hugo House is different from the old home in fundamental ways. I can tell you from my own experience with Hugo House that much has changed but, despite that, the old spirit is still there. If you know where to look, you can even find remnants of the old. Some of the original floorboards decorate a section behind a little bar area. It’s like anything else that once was, you retain some keepsake that many new folks won’t notice but that can trigger a whole other world for old-timers.
Many onlookers and participants at the grand opening.
That older world began with the founding of Hugo House in 1997 by Linda Jaech, Frances McCue, and Andrea Lewis. It was shortly after the opening of the original that I began to visit, make friends, and take classes. I fondly recall the passion of such beacons of light as Kirsten Atik and Charles Mudede. It was a different time and place. Anyone could literally walk right in, in the spirit of a community center, and wander through an art gallery, enjoy a spacious cafe, and perhaps contemplate taking in a show in one of two fully-euipped theaters. If they knew their way around, they could walk upstairs and use one of the open spaces to read, work, and just think.
A typical classroom space at Hugo House.
The new Hugo House must deal with the plight of overdevelopment and outrageously high prices for housing in Seattle. It has become fortified for the new times and is housed within a condominium. Long gone are the days when you could maintain such a a non-profit community writing center within a quaint but lovely and spacious ole Victorian with a long inviting series of steps. Architecture firm NBBJ created the new structure that houses the new Hugo House. The structure is made up of condos with the lower level used by Hugo House. With a million dollar grant and the help of plenty of donors, Hugo House declares this a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” and, most reassuring, Hugo House has managed to secure the space in perpetuity.
It was quite a gathering to come out and see what’s new. The festivities began with an open mic, the first one in the new Hugo House. One highlight of the night, undoubtedly, was a presentation by celebrated writer Maria Semple. She took the opportunity to speak about what Hugo House has meant to her over the years. The sense of good cheer was palpable. Many times over the place reached capacity and required crowd control. All in all, a good time was had by everyone. You could talk, drink, dance, and participate as much as you wanted.
Last night’s reception gives all of us in Seattle who cherish the literary arts much to be hopeful for. While the actual writing classes don’t come cheap, the selection is very impressive and worth every penny. There is still work to be done in the actual physical space. The area for the 150-seat auditorium remains an open space as of now. And, as I say, the actual structure looks like any other condo you will come across in Seattle, a bit imposing, but in this case, a lot of pure hearts are doing their very best to inspire and educate writers from all walks of life.
Jennifer Daydreamer has been published by Top Shelf Productions and regularly contributed illustrations to the Seattle alt-weekly, The Stranger, in the late ’90s. In the course of a creative life, Daydreamer has seen her path take an interesting trajectory. I share with you now a conversation with artist and writer Jennifer Daydreamer on her new project, “Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe.” A Kickstarter campaign in support of a print run to the book is going on now thru August 28th. You can find it right here. She is the author. Full disclosure, I’m the illustrator for the book, and I contributed to the story. And she’s my partner.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Let’s begin, Jen. We can jump in to the very beginning of the Mack Stuckey project.
JENNIFER DAYDREAMER: You certainly did contribute to the prose. There are details in Mack, plot points, character names and so forth, that you came up with. We are both illustrators but you were the instant choice of illustrator. Although I can draw fast, I don’t normally paint in quick thick brush strokes, the kind you do, and so I was excited about a real artistic collaboration with you. Probably our first. I think after you’ve been blogging for ten years, this has been the first time you have interviewed me. So, thanks!
What was the impetus to writing Mack Stuckey?
Well, before 2008, I could score a job pretty easily. I’m a creative type but I have a detailed part of my brain that does well with accounting. I actually enjoy accounting because I find it meditative and so for most of my career I have been able to do accounting work for my jobs. I was in a series of job layoffs. One, the company went out of business, the next, the company transferred my position out of state, another one I was a new hire and when they do layoffs, the new hires usually get cut first. In a nutshell, the book is about the economy and expressing my frustration about it, in a creative way. I just don’t want to spend my time venting at this point. I have expressed my employment dilemmas to my friends over the years. At this point, I’d rather be joking.
Illustration for “Mack Stuckey” by Henry Chamberlain
Where does it take place?
It takes place in Seattle. Poor Seattle. The inspiration to write the book is my need to express myself in regards to the economy and state of housing and living in our city with a disappearing middle class. The story takes place in 2014, by the way, and so, any uptick of the economy happening today, I hope is really happening. I digress. Seattle happens to be the fall guy, the theatrical back drop of the story and so, we make fun of Seattle. Specifically, Fremont. We venture into Ballard, Downtown, and the U District.
For one thing, I create a feud between Ballard and Fremont, either real or imagined. I examine the tension that I think exists between the two locales because when you want to buy something practical in Fremont, like pens and a pad of paper there is only one or two small places to go. There are no standard drug stores allowed in Fremont (I think from building codes) so you have to take your car or the bus or your bike and dip into Ballard for practical needs.
What else is the book about?
Well, we describe the book succinctly on our Kickstarter page! Basically, I created a love triangle between a woman and two men, representing the upper, middle, and lower classes. I don’t come right out and say that in the book, because that would be too explicit, but that is one of the themes. I think there is something for everyone in the book, if you like humor, a sexy romance, or interest in the local icons. I try my hand at what I call comedic erotica.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to in the last few years.
After drawing comics, I was inspired to write a screenplay because that imprint, what was it called?
Yes, Minx, from DC Comics, asked me for some ideas. They cancelled the imprint. One of my ideas was for a dystopian novel about the separation between a guy and a girl and killing in the army, that someday I should write. They really did not like it, too macabre, and then Hunger Games comes out later. I remember believing them at the time that the story pitch is not good, so its a reminder to believe in myself. I wrote the screenplay for the humor submission that they did like. Then Minx was cancelled. I never had a contract, just a “that’s funny, I like that one.” So, I spent about a year studying how to write a screenplay and it took me about 1.8 to finish it, because it was my first screenplay.
Where did that leave you?
With one foot halfway in the door! It left me with one manager who switched companies and his job position and so he could not represent it. Then I found an agent who read it, she is known in the industry and so I felt lucky. She was encouraging. She said I needed edits and she gave me her manager contact and said to try and do edits with him and then resubmit it to her. But her manager nixed it. By the way, I respected how he communicated with me, as he got to it, read the script promptly and let me know his opinion. Everyone I submitted it to over a year’s time or so, was very nice, frankly. I know there is crap that happens in Hollywood, but, somehow, I felt encouraged by people in the business I was in contact with. Most did not have room or time to read it and some commented that my pitch was great and so to keep at it. So, I got my foot in the Hollywood door about an eigth of the way. A toe.
Interesting visual, one toe clinging to a door. But, seriously, it put you in an interesting situation. You were in the thick of transitioning from comics, moving beyond comics.
It was fun to try. I felt a cartoonist could get a foot in the door because comic book movies were taking off. I had an agent/lawyer to make some pathway, also, when I submitted, so I was not completely unprofessional and just cold called everyone. I think the writing contributed to writing Mack – the more you create the better you get. Mack has taken 2.5 years to write and I still have some details I want to round it out with. Its basically done. Besides those projects, I have spent a lot of time writing and sketching out a four book Young Adult Fantasy Series which I am eager to launch on social media. For this YA series, I really think a book agent, editor or editors and publishing company is necessary. You need help to keep detail accurate when you are world building.
After Mack, I have one very odd book, I have to get off my chest, then I will launch my YA series. I have spent a year on it. Its not complicated like writing a story but I am scared of publishing it, and so, I have to publish it. I’m scared as I have to dip into some religious and societal explanations. I had an out of body experience or an altered state from drawing my mini comics long ago and it was not until recently when I studied Jung in detail and some Jungian psychologists that I realized there is a biological explanation or a science explanation for it.
Lots of room to dig deeper.
Usually the explanation in our society, is something spiritual or “occult” and so I am eager to lay out my idea to disprove the occult notions, that there may be a more reasonable or logic based explanation. I have not completely ruled out a spiritual component. I think there is a spiritual component, I understand the shamanic explanation for something like that, but I think there is a middle ground, because the explanations from psychologists are so clear and sound. There’s compelling commentary by Oliver Sacks on YouTube (13.45). Maybe you can link the video for our cartoonist friends because it’s interesting if you draw comics.
Yes, consider it done. It will run right below these comments.
What Oliver Sacks has to say I am relating to my experience in the book. I think the brain is activated because of the archetypal nature of comics. What archetypal nature is, should be explained more but there is not room in this intervew to go into that kind of detail.
“There is another part of the brain which is especially activated when one sees cartoons. It’s activated when one recognizes cartoons when one draws cartoons and when one hallucinates them. It’s very interesting that that should be (so) specific.”
Are you still drawing comics? Where would you say you are today in relation to comics?
I love comics. I am following my heart and my heart wants my YA series to be prose – just words – and my illustrations. And so, no, its not comics. I would like to draw comics and be in anthologies, but there is no time at the moment. I am really focused on the projects listed above. I have the door open on comics, the door is not closed. Same with, you know, doing another humor book like Mack. When I was in high school I was the kid that made fun of all the teachers and drew riffs on them and passed them to my friends in class. I have a humor side and I have the side that loves to create long fantasy.
Anything else you’d like to add?
One last word. We make fun of some drug usage in Mack but I don’t do drugs. I am a very very square cat when it comes to things like that. It’s important for me to be clear on this because I don’t like my out of body experiences nor my illustrations to be accused of being “drug influenced.” Because I think fantasy story and art is related to healing and I want to contribute to that. I want to explore more in the future on the connection to drawing comics and naturally based hallucinations.
Thank you, Henry!
Be sure to visit Mack Stuckey right here. To go directly to the Kickstarter campaign on thru 8/28, go right here.
Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe
A Kickstarter campaign has been launched (ends 8/28) for the illustrated novel, “Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe,” a dark satire set in Seattle. This isn’t your “Sleepless in Seattle” or “Singles.” Join the campaign right here.
MACK STUCKEY’S GUIDE TO THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
MACK STUCKEY’S GUIDE TO THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE is a new project that I want to share with you. It is an illustrated novel by Jennifer Daydreamer and Henry Chamberlain. This is a dark comedy about Seattle that will be coming out later this year. More details to follow. Here is a synopsis along with an excerpt.
What It’s About:
Seattle, 2014. Mack Stuckey is stuck in a rut. He’s twenty-three-years-old, still lives at home, hates his job and has no girlfriend.
Mack is a blue collar type with a penchant for books. He’s from a family of fishermen and lives in a neighborhood called Ballard. He has to work in Fremont, a tech hub, where he’s a lowly security guard at the giant game conglomerate, Game Needle.
Mack stumbles into a friendship with the suave Devon Rush, one of the high-powered suits at Game Needle. Things are looking up in his life until he realizes Devon’s new romantic conquest is the girl he’s falling for, none other than the beautiful Jupiter Fellows.
Jupiter is one of Fremont’s most alluring hippies. As the two guys compete for her, Mack’s life becomes a roller coaster. Before they know it, Jupiter cajoles Mack and Devon to partake in a threesome.
Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe is a dark comedy exploring the new realities in our economic times. There’s plenty of sex and foul language, therefore, FOR MATURE READERS ONLY.
Mack Stuckey stuck in a rut.
The siren sounds. I stare at the bridge. The skies, the mountains, the waters, are all a thick painted grey. I run, head down, as if the clouds are pressing against me. Shadows descend. My vision darkens. I know a storm will hit.
Washington State is a tease. The truth is it does not rain much here; we are just taunted with pregnant skies for months on end. And, yes, you will hear this fact about the weather in every Tom and Dick book out there about Seattle. But most of you don’t read, so I’m filling you in.
It’s grey most of the year and when the rain decides to happen it happens in annoying spurts as its usually polite fucking rain. Like it will start to rain in the evening when most people are lucky enough to be home from work. Or it will rain like hell in the middle of the night, where you are warm and dry and can hear the motherfucker lighting and all, from the safety of your home.
If you’re lucky and your roof doesn’t leak, you can enjoy thinking of all the greenery and how the rain is, you know, a supernatural phenomenon, because the pounding on your rooftop and on the ground, is FUCK YEAH UNBELIVABLE.
It gets your mind spinning at night, a rain to meet head on with in a forest, like you’re Indiana Jones. But you’re not Indiana Jones. You’re a fat lazy twenty-three-year-old fuck, a bear, lying in bed, in your mom’s old faded blue home, fantasizing about Indiana fucking Jones, running and slipping and jumping in the jungle and the rain and all. You’re wide awake from drinking too much coffee that day and therefore you’re an irresponsible lazy ass northern bear not getting enough sleep for the job you gotta go to tomorrow.
But, right here, right now, on top of the Aurora Bridge while I frantically blow my whistle as uncaring cars drive by puffing exhaust into my face, the rain turns the oil on the road into nasty slick circles which makes me slip.
I go down.
The cops descend on me, lift me up off the ground, chide me that I’m not one of them and then nudge me along back to my job. I’m not one of them alright.
I’m a lousy security guard. Deflated, I walk back to work in a downpour.
It’s good and natural to have well known writers spend some time with total strangers. It’s all about context. The writer, whether a giant in a niche market or an all-around best-selling star, knows that life is a bit absurd, fame is fickle, and that the vast majority of people have no idea who he or she is. That stranger, and that stranger over there, and that one too, all gather at a meetup, and at least they know something about the writer. Most likely they’ve read some of his work. Most likely they aspire to be writers themselves. Ah, much common ground to work from. And so that’s what I got to partake in for a little a while, a special moment. Hugh Howey was in town. He had delivered a lecture at Amazon earlier in the day. That night, a meetup was organized at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, which made for an excellent venue. It was a big group that became a smaller intimate group of new friends gathered to share a few ideas with a great writer.
24-Hour Comics Day is an internationally observed marathon for cartoonists, on the first weekend in October, with the goal of creating a full length 24-page comic narrative within 24 hours. I have been a happy participant in this event, followed by thousands of like-minded souls, for a few years now. This year, I set my sights on the neighborhood of Ballard, a vibrant part of Seattle with plenty to write and draw about.
Now, here’s the deal, I will be all over Ballard during the 24-Hour Comics Day, October 5-6. If you spot me, stop by and say hello. One of the advantages of including my mug on my site’s banner is that you actually might recognize me from it. So, yeah, I welcome a hearty hello. And, if you happen to be a cartoonist, maybe hang out for a bit and draw along. Or just relax and feel free to share any thoughts. It will be a special night.