Tag Archives: Journalism

White House Correspondents’ Dinner Unlikely Yet Reliable on Edgy Comedy

Aunt Lydia, Dear Lydia!

These White House Correspondents’ Dinners always seem to sneak up on me. It seems that this year’s crept up on me all the more-so given the absence of a president. There was Trump in Michigan doing another one of his weird rallies and that got me to thinking, Why is Trump in Michigan? Oh, wait up, is he avoiding the WHCD? Why, that rascal! Say what you will about dowdy ole C-Span and humorless inside the beltway elites, the WHCD proves each year to be good for some very good laughs. All you need is a sense of humor.

The White House has already had to deal with one Wolf (Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury) and now they’ve got Michelle Wolf. If you listen to her set with a healthy sense of humor, you would probably be hard put to dismiss her out of hand. Her material is not beyond the pale by contemporary comedy standards. And, if we focus on the roasting of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, nothing is particularly unreasonable within context. The art of great comedy is to synthesize down to the essentials a myriad of ideas. To compare SHS to Aunt Lydia, the villain in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is utterly hilarious on so many levels. Obama or Dubya would have taken a similar jab and laughed it off. But not Her Royal Highness of Deceit. Is there something wrong here? Well, it sure don’t look good.

C’mon Sarah, all you would have needed to do was chuckle!

There is a moment in Wolf’s monologue when she lets loose with a real zinger at former beleaguered chief of staff Reince Priebus. What did he do? He laughed! He even gave the joke a thumbs up! That displays a level of sophistication that is completely lost on Sarah. For her to look upset shows she still has much to learn.

Hmm, Sarah, it would be pretty awkward to chuckle, wouldn’t it?

Getting to the heart of the Aunt Lydia comparison, consider this excerpt from an excellent piece by Megan Wood at Rifinery 29:

Sanders is used as a mouthpiece to protect those in the Trump administration. Much like Aunt Lydia, she lies to Americans who are having their rights stripped away. For instance, Sanders falsely stated that immigrants coming to the U.S. through the diversity visa program aren’t vetted before their arrival. Meanwhile, Trump has been working to remove Dreamer’s rights to undocumented immigrants who were legally allowed to work and study in the country. She has tried to tell American woman that the Trump administration’s effort to remove birth control from mandated health coverage is all about religious freedom. Apparently that is more important, and more endangered, than having control over ones own body. Sanders has also protected those who are accused of crimes against women (much like Aunt Lydia). Recently, she came under fire for protecting former White House aide Rob Porter after accusations of disturbing alleged domestic abuse.

Finally, the myth about Trump is that he’s been this amazing disruptor. He doesn’t stand on ceremony and gets the job done. So, why can’t we also embrace the disruptive force of Michelle Wolf and let her not stand on ceremony and get the job done? Don’t worry. She got the job done.

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Filed under Comedy, Donald Trump, Humor, politics

Comics Industry Review: The MNT monthly comics newsletter

The MNT monthly comics newsletter

The MNT is making a monthly comics newsletter and I’m excited to tell you about it. This is a special place to keep up with the comics industry put together by some of the leading talent in comics journalism. For as little as a one dollar pledge on Patreon, you can read this highly informative and entertaining monthly magazine along with monthly news reports.

As a happy warrior myself, both as a comics creator and freelance writer, I am thrilled to see this particular comics vision realized. The MNT is made up of folks I’ve kept up with over the years. It’s smart of them to band together in this unique format. The team: News co-editor Christian Hoffer is a writer and editor who can currently be found writing extensively at ComicBook.com. News co-editor Vernieda Vergara is a freelance writer and manga critic. Her work can be found at Book Riot and Women Write About Comics. Features co-editor Steve Morris has written for a number of websites, including CBR, ComicsAlliance, and is a former Managing Editor for The Beat. Features co-editor Megan Purdy is a freelance writer and editor, and the publisher of Women Write About Comics and Bleating Heart Press. The Process editor and social media manager Kirsten Thompson is a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to The Frisky, Teen Vogue, Femsplain, Women Write About Comics on topics such as feminism, pop culture, and LGBTQIA issues.

The MNT kicked off its first issue in February, 2017. That first issue included: guest essayist Rosie Knight on her experiences within the direct market pointing out the distribution system’s pros and failings; Steve Morris interviews retailer Ariell Johnson about her first year in the industry and her plans for Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse; Megan Purdy reviews Adam Rapp and Mike Cavallaro’s Decelerate Blue; analysis on Donald Trump’s unexpected impact on comics; analysis on Marvel and DC’s recent changes in price and digital strategy; and a tribute to the career of John Watkiss.

The MNT team has created a highly consistent publication. And that is saying quite a lot. This is a seasoned group of committed comics journalists who dig deep and know how to deliver professional and compelling content. Each monthly edition features news, interviews, reviews, and guest essays written by some of the best critics and creators in the business. The MNT mid-month News Report delivers breaking news and bite-sized features. Your Patreon subscription goes directly into the pockets of MNT guest essays and staff, ensuring that the MNT can continue to break news and offer critical industry commentary. I’ve become hooked and consider the MNT a reliable source for superior comics commentary and journalism. You will too. Go visit them and see for yourself right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Journalism, Comics News, Patreon, The MNT

Book Review: ‘Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House’ by Michael Wolff

FIRE AND FURY!

Michael Wolff’s political bombshell, “Fire and Fury,” is like a “Harry Potter” book event: mana for political junkies as well as a breakout book for a much wider audience. It has certainly proven to be an excellent go-to book on my nightstand these past couple of weeks. I felt it in my gut, from the start of the media campaign, that here was something that would hold up to a full reading. Wolff is not Carl Bernstein but he proves to be the right man in the right place and time. Some of the book’s juiciest bits that were placed under the media spotlight helped to distort the narrative. However, it’s not farfetched at all to find that Wolff has compiled something credible. Just don’t tell that to Sarah Huckabee since she swears the whole thing is a “fantasy,” not worthy of the American people.

January 17, 2018: Trump with communications director Hope Hicks and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

What I find most useful is that, by and large, Wolff has neatly organized and presented the machinations of all the oddball characters running amok: the mighty Steve Bannon; the royal duo, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, or Jarvanka; assorted misfits and minions such as Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer; and especially both Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller, highly unqualified special assistants to the president. The important blocks of activity add up for the big picture: Jared Kushner’s highly suspicious dealings around the globe; the inept advice of Jarvanka to POTUS taking its toll; how all things Trump cannot help but inevitably fall like a house of cards. Time will tell just how much Wolff got right. It is in his best interest that the book holds up as it would make for a great movie. In his favor, he has a credible and lengthy acknowledgements list at the back of the book.

One day prior to FIRE AND FURY book release, Jan 4, 2018: Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was flanked by two large television screens as President Donald Trump delivered a video message on stock market increases and economic gains.

This is much more than just about Trump sneaking a cheeseburger into bed or Steve Bannon’s pontificating. It is about a White House in crisis, even before it started, one stoking an international crisis. It is definitely about an accidental presidency, one that repeatedly abuses power, and is illegitimate. While that may sound too harsh for some hardcore Trump supporters, this book lays out the case for why the whole Trump phenomena is a shell game with players who shamelessly want to hang on to power. And it’s surprising how often Steve Bannon comes out sounding like the more sensible one in the bunch–but not for the reasons his supporters might think. The main reason he seems to have any sense is because he knew what a mistake it would be for Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey.

As Bannon explains it, it was Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner (he nicknamed them, “Jarvanka”) who pushed Trump into firing Comey. This Jarvanka push was triggered by the fact Kushner was part of Comey’s investigation into Russian meddling. And it just gets worse from there. Forget about Russian meddling for a moment. It’s all this Jarvanka meddling that’s pretty scary in and of itself. As the following excerpt demonstrates, despite the tabloid style to this book, Wolff puts together a narrative that most likely will be confirmed over and over again, especially by special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation:

“Most problematic of all, Hicks and Miller, along with everyone on the Jarvanka side, were now directly connected to actions involved in the Russian investigation or efforts to spin it, deflect it, or, indeed, cover it up. Miller and Hicks had drafted–or at least typed–Kushner’s version of the first letter written at Bedminster to fire Comey. Hicks had joined with Kushner and his wife to draft on Air Force One the Trump-directed press release about Don Jr. and Kushner’s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower.”

From left to right: White House counselor Kellyanne Conway; Hope Hicks, White House director of strategic communications; and Omarosa Manigault, director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, listen during a daily press briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room, at the White House, on February 14, 2017. White House press secretary Sean Spicer discussed various topics, including the resignation of Michael Flynn from his position as National Security Adviser. Hicks is now one of six past and current Trump administration aides whom Robert Mueller reportedly wants to question. ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

A key player in the Jarvanka faction is Hope Hicks who provides some good grist for this book. A former model and aspiring actress, Hicks finds herself in the improbable position of being an essential link between the press and the leader of the free world. Hicks regularly provides digestible pits of information to Trump. She was responsible, for instance, in giving Trump a recap on the famous piece in The New Yorker that first connected the dots on Michael Flynn and Russia–except she failed to mention Michael Flynn. Hicks has no qualms over sending out disparaging leaks to the press about anyone deemed a problem, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and members of Trumps legal team, Mark Corallo and Mark Kasowitz. It is no surprise that Robert Mueller is interested in questioning her.

And it all goes on, getting worse and worse. Just as one scandalous scene plays out, another rears its head to fill an endless news cycle. So, plenty of opportunity to deflect, distract, confuse, and alarm. It was just that strategy that led Trump to threaten to unleash “fire and fury” upon North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It is a well-documented fact that Trump said this since we can clearly view it on numerous news feeds. Unlike some other comments and activities by Trump & Co., there is no hiding behind the trickery of the Trump White House in this case. Wolff does an admirable job of exposing this spin doctor trickery. Sorry, Sarah, this book is significant and so far removed from your claim that it is mere “fantasy.”

If you’ve seen any of the segments Wolff has done during his book tour, he makes a compelling case: after being embedded in the White House for most of 2017, an informative book results, one that makes sense out of the political crisis of our time. Now, I will be the first to admit that Wolff seems just a little bit out of his depth. It’s like a fisherman going out to make a catch and snagging Moby Dick. And I did see his appearance with Bill Maher where he suggests Trump is currently having an affair with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. He doesn’t come right out and say that and only hints that he would only say as much if he had absolute proof. It’s that whiff of the salacious than can take away from an otherwise even-tempered book. Ultimately, it doesn’t take away much of anything.

“Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” is a 336-page hardcover published by Henry Holt and Company. For more details, visit Henry Holt and Company right here. And you can get this book at Amazon by just clicking the image below:

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Filed under Book Reviews, Donald Trump, Journalism, politics, Russia, Russiagate

SIFF Review: ‘The Reagan Show’

All Hail, the Gipper!

We’ve heard plenty about how the media helped to construct Donald Trump. We see how another White House and the media interacted in, “The Reagan Show,” a new documentary by filmmakers Pacho Velez (Manakamana) and Sierra Pettengill (Town Hall). Pacho Velez was on hand this weekend for a Q&A after the film’s showing at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Ronald Reagan is as much icon as enigma. He managed a life and career treading upon the surface. In their documentary, Velez and Pettengill work mostly from archival footage, made up of official White House video and network news segments, to revisit a man who was at his best as a flickering image just beyond reach. The Reagan administration made the big switch from documenting the president in video instead of the traditional, costly, and confining 16mm film. Video allowed for continuous unencumbered recording. It became known as White House TV, perfect for a former Hollywood actor. The documentary perfectly mines all the irony attached to our first reality TV president. What we get is not so much bloopers, or even anything substantial behind the scenes, but a better sense of a president who was painfully too old and woefully disengaged.

Growing up in the ’80s, I don’t recall that era as particularly quaint but the footage in this doc proves otherwise. One such moment could have come right out of the Eisenhower White House. To illustrate how in command the president was, Chief of Staff Howard Baker recites what is supposed to be a decisive moment between Reagan and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev. Just prior to a tough round of negotiation, Reagan asked Gorbachev if he would autograph his World Series baseball. This gesture supposedly disarmed Gorbachev and left Reagan with the advantage. It’s a nonsensical anecdote but it apparently disarmed the media just enough to look away and move on.

Pres. Ronald Reagan and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev

There is plenty of obliging on the part of the media to be found here. Some hard-hitting questioning too, especially by ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson. But the president’s charm is ever present. The only tarnish comes with the complex Iran Contra scandal. It is complex enough to allow Reagan something of a pass. For the most part, this doc focuses on the work between Reagan and Gorbachev. As Velez pointed out during the Q&A, Reagan is credited with ending the Cold War, whether or not that’s true. Overall, he achieved the status of an icon. In reality, as this doc makes clear, the Reagan administration did a lot of stumbling and had the unbelievably good luck of having Mikhail Gorbachev running the Kremlin.

Under certain circumstances, the press, and various other power brokers, will always look away. There will always be exceptional circumstances (FDR, for example, was never photographed in a wheelchair). But when a president so flagrantly abuses his power, then that gentleman’s agreement is forced off the table. Ronald Reagan remained a gentleman. And, for that, he was saved by the establishment. The media asked tough questions but they were always open to being charmed. And Ronald Reagan could be relied upon to charm with the best of them.

While this documentary has its share of irony and self-awareness (Reagan’s plea to “Make America Great Again” is included), it cannot help but get caught up in the murk of Reagan “charm.” As Velez stated in the Q&A, he aimed for this documentary to follow a narrative of success with a happy ending. Sure, Velez did not want to demonize Reagan. Fair enough. But to allow Reagan off the hook with a story that closes with him achieving a nuclear arms treaty with the Soviets is pretty generous. You may as well end a story about Nixon with him opening relations between the US and China. To Reagan’s credit, Velez pointed out in the Q&A, he always seemed sincere. In comparison to today, that does count for a lot.

You can follow “The Reagan Show” on its Facebook page right here. The documentary will air this Labor Day on CNN. You can still catch it at SIFF this Wednesday, June 7th. Go to SIFF for details right here.

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Filed under Documentaries, Movie Reviews, movies, politics, Ronald Reagan, Russia, Seattle, Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF, Soviet Union

Review: ‘Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D’

‘Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D’

Creating a biographical work in comics is a very distinct venture. It requires a fine agility as you’re balancing a myriad of facts, more than you will be able to neatly fit into one graphic novel. Any number of factors can add to the complexity, such as the writer figuring what to use if he has personally conducted interviews. David Kushner was one of the last journalists to interview D&D co-creator Gary Gygax prior to his death. He has now teamed up with award-winning illustrator Koren Shadmi on a nonfiction comic book chronicling Gary Gygax’s life and the creation of D&D: RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D, recently published by Nation Books. It is an ambitious undertaking, the first of its kind, and well worth a read.

Dave Arneson, a true dreamer.

Kushner and Shadmi do a wonderful job of laying down a behind-the-scenes narrative to Dungeons & Dragons, a pop culture phenomena that we all know to some degree. You may have never seen yourself as a role-playing game enthusiast, but you can’t help but get caught up in the details and history of a bona fide subculture. This book succeeds in putting a face to what has become known the world over as Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, there are two prominent faces involved here: Gary Gygax, the original guy to tinker with new ideas for role-playing games (instead of always military themes, why not include wizards?); and Dave Arneson, the guy next in line who refined what Gygax set in motion (don’t get lost in the rules and keep it fun!). Gygax was a middle-aged man with a family and Arneson was a young security guard working his way through college.

For the love of the game.

The best moments in the book are once we get to observe Gygax and Arneson just being themselves, warts and all. Gygax turns out to be more motivated towards turning his innovations into a profitable business. Arneson is far more the dreamer, only interested in refining the game. Arneson is so caught up in his own D&D world that he is left out of the burgeoning D&D business venture by Gygax and his associates.

“One day, you catch a break that will change your life.”

Kushner’s script places the story in various first-person points of views. At times, the narrative boxes are quoting Gygax or Arneson or simply become omniscient. While this narrative shift can be disconcerting at times, it’s understandable given the many segments to cover. You have a broad canvas to fill with this person saying this and that other person doing that. And, given the interview source material, there are times that you want to do a flashback scene and other times that you want the person to speak in the present moment. Overall, Kushner and Shadmi do a commendable job of bringing this tale to life. One thing is for sure, you will never look at Dungeons & Dragons the same way again.

RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D, published by Nation Books, is a 144-page black & white trade paperback. For more details, visit Nation Books. You can also purchase the book directly from Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, D&D, Dungeons & Dragons, Games, Geeks, Journalism, Koren Shadmi

Book Review: ‘How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High’ by David Bienenstock

The Finer Points of Cannabis. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

The Finer Points of Cannabis. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

As a Seattle native, I have had a front row seat to the recent sea change we have seen with cannabis. But, even in this fabled region, you can experience two steps forward and one step back. All you need to do is see how the current state regulations have forced medical marijuana dispensaries out in favor of the more tax revenue to be had from retail marijuana shops. But these are still exciting times for an extraordinarily beneficial plant that has been so terribly maligned. A perfect guide for the times is the newly released book, “How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High,” by David Bienenstock, published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

"How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High" by David Bienenstock

“How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High” by David Bienenstock

David Bienenstock is your uniquely qualified host. He is the former West Coast editor of High Times magazine and now a journalist and video host/producer at VICE, where he writes the Weed Eater column and produces a video series called Bong Appetit. He is the guy who will share a joint with you and, as the conversation rolls along, will segue into some history, some science, and some sage advice. The idea here is to show some respect for the plant and yourself. Bienenstock does a great job of balancing his content so it is not too light and yet easy to digest. A book like this can’t help but be a call to action moving along at a good, steady, and stirring pace.

What all the cannabis shops have done is not only bring a plant out from the cold. The shops have welcomed back numerous people who had given up ever again having reliable and trusted access. Many people are coming back who have not gotten high in many years, or who never did in the first place. So, a book like this truly serves any age. Bienenstock, like a good journalist, makes no assumptions on your experience or level or knowledge while, at the same, keeps advancing. If you don’t know the difference between indica and sativa, Bienenstock has got you covered. If you’d like a handy overview of cannabis chemistry, well, keep on reading.

The beauty of the book is that Bienenstock’s good sense for storytelling wins out every time. In tune with his reader, Bienenstock presents a dazzling array of facts, heart-felt observations, and a humanity that should melt the heart of many a naysayer. Mostly, it’s a book there to provide a helping hand in appreciating cannabis. But, as Bienenstock joyfully sings to us, it’s also about a state of mind, dude! The goal is not to necessarily smoke each and every day. The goal is to savor those times when you do. And strive to tap into that bliss the rest of the time. That’s about as highbrow and proper as it gets.

“How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High” is a 288-page paperback, also available as an e-book. For more details, visit Penguin Random House right here.

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Filed under Cannabis, David Bienenstock, High Times, Journalism, Marijuana, Penguin Random House, VICE

Open Letter to George Stephanopoulos: Time to Push Harder on Donald Trump, Don’t You Think?

(Why did the above train wreck of an answer from Donald Trump not derail the Trump campaign? The nuclear triad is basic knowledge but Trump had no clue.)

Dear George,

I write to you because you are in a unique position as someone a whole lot of people admire and trust. You’re a smart and capable person. Otherwise, why should I even bother? Alright, that said, I would like you to seriously consider pushing harder on Donald Trump as he edges closer and closer to a viable occupant of the White House. What do you think?

You played a hard-hitting journalist on “House of Cards.” Let’s do this in real life, “for reals,” as the kids say. You were interviewed on your own show, “Good Morning America,” about what was real on “House of Cards” and you responded that nothing on that show is real. Nothing? Not even being a hard-hitting journalist? Oh, the irony! Say it ain’t so, George!

Do you want to be like most of the American media and keep throwing softballs to Donald Trump? Why, George, why? Would you like to say that I am being naïve about this? Don’t worry, George, I know about your very special connection to the Clintons. That is hardly a secret, am I right? Nudge, nudge, your secret is good with me. Actually, just go for it, no need to be loyal to anyone. Be hard-hitting with your questions to Hillary too.

Here are some great examples to consider:

4 November 1979: Roger Mudd, CBS News, presses Edward Kennedy on why he is running for president and Kennedy, while eloquent, does not seem to warm up to his answer:

11 September 2008: Charles Gibson, ABC News, asks Sarah Palin about the Bush Doctrine, keeps his focus, and it quickly becomes apparent she does not know what the Bush Doctrine is:

30 March 2016: Chris Matthews, MSNBC, engages Donald Trump in conversation to reveal that Trump believes women should be punished for having an abortion:

Each of these interviews became a news story in its own right.

Focus every ounce of journalistic integrity you may have and help to steadily bring down Trump. He is such an easy target. Why not do this, show Trump for what he is, an ignorant irresponsible demagogue. Worth a try, don’t you think?

If you are scratching your head and wondering how to do this, which is highly doubtful, just press him the next time he gives a messy, uneven, and thoroughly unacceptable answer to a question. Yes, Trump has given some really odd responses comparable to Sarah Palin at her worst. (See the above video displaying Trump’s utter ignorance of the U.S. nuclear triad and his attempt to cover himself.) So, just keep that in mind. Trump can easily be toppled. Are you game? Surely, you have nothing to lose except perhaps some rating points but that is really Trump’s biggest bluff of all. It worked out alright for NBC when it fired him.

Here is what you do when you start to lose your nerve, just repeat to yourself this refrain, “Trump is not the boss of me! Trump is not the boss of me!” That may seem silly but I think it could work and you will help save our country from a Trump administration. Look, Katie Couric decided she just wasn’t going to go all warm and fuzzy on Sarah Palin and, well, you know, the rest is history. Check out the video below: here is a typical interview between you and Trump. You’ll note that when Trump feels the heat, he’ll deflect with a vague, “We’ll see what happens.” Or if called out on a fact, he’ll double down on his answer and just move on. Next time, don’t let him just move on. Act like you did when you played a hard-hitting journalist on “House of Cards.” And, by the way, Trump should never have been allowed to phone in his interviews.

Lastly, put out of your mind any blowback from Trump. Oh sure, it will sting, whatever he does, whether in person or later on Twitter. But it is only a brief and temporary sting. Stay focused. Be friendly and respectful going into an interview. But at some point, George, pivot to the tough questions. Once you’ve caught him, don’t let him off the hook. Go to it, George!

Your friend,
Henry

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Filed under Donald Trump, George Stephanopoulos, Hillary Clinton, Humor, Journalism, news, pop culture

Seattle Focus: Joshua Boulet illustration for Seattle Weekly Homeless Cover Story

Joshua Boulet illustration for Seattle Weekly

Joshua Boulet illustration for Seattle Weekly

There are those times when everything seems to fall into place. I sat down to a cup of coffee at Zeitgeist Coffee in Pioneer Square when a friend handed me a copy of Seattle Weekly with a cover illustration by Joshua Boulet. “You’re the dude that reviews comics on Comics Grinder. You gotta give Joshua Boulet a shout-out!” Yes, indeed. Happy to do it. In fact, the cover story is a very compelling piece that offers our city a viable plan to address our evergrowing homeless population. I enjoyed my cup of coffee, a first-rate cover story, and a pitch perfect illustration from our local hero, Joshua Boulet.

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Filed under Illustration, Joshua Boulet, Seattle, Seattle Weekly

Tom Spurgeon Takes The Comics Reporter to Higher Level

Tom-Spurgeon-The-Comics-Reporter

Tom Spurgeon is one of our cherished chroniclers of the comics scene. The Comics Reporter is one of the go-to places for all things comics. There’s only a handful of us out there and I’m very happy to call him a friend and colleague. Right now is an exciting time for him, and all of us in the comics industry, as he takes things to a higher level. In August, he will launch a PDF monthly version of his daily blog which will showcase in depth exploration of the contemporary comics scene. This new magazine will be available to those who join his Patreon portal to help sustain all the good things he does at The Comics Reporter. Be sure to visit The Comics Reporter and become one of Tom’s Pateron patrons, for as little as $2 per month, right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Journalism, Journalism, news, Pateron, The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon

Review: MIKE’S PLACE, published by First Second

Mikes-Place-First-Second

Jack is a journalist in search of a story. It’s 2003 and Iraq is grabbing all the headlines. However, a set of circumstances finds him considering a story set in the Middle East that does not involve conflict. Enter Mike’s Place, a haven for the young and young-at-heart to unwind and enjoy good spirits and great rhythm and blues right off the beach in Tel Aviv. It will be a decidedly odd twist of fate that places Jack in what proves a most compelling story of conflict, and unbridled optimism.

Building upon their work on the documentary, “Blues by the Beach,” Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem have taken what they placed on the screen and reworked it for the comics medium. Along with the thoughtful and energetic art of Koren Shadmi, you have a narrative that naturally flows with a life of its own. Shadmi has carefully developed believable characters that the reader hooks into. This is a story, as the cover makes clear, about a bombing. But not only about a bombing.

Mikes-Place-First-Second-2015

With countless acts of violence and terror in the world, it can all seem a blur. As the characters in this story often say, you have to create your own way of coping amid terror. Throughout, the regulars at Mike’s Place are being interviewed for a documentary exploring the real Israel. One standout is Dominique, a beautiful and lively waitress. Her story, on and off camera, is pivotal. When asked about how she copes with bombings, she says that you need short-term memory as an “immune system.” You deal with it at the time and then move on. She proudly states, “That’s the Israeli way.”

But, how then do you make sense of it all if you’re constantly moving on? Well, you don’t completely forget. It seems that a story like the one about Mike’s Place becomes more powerful with each revisit. It seems that Baxter and Faudem had to process what they experienced and recorded into two separate mediums, as a documentary and then as a graphic novel. You sift through the details and sharpen the focus. What happens, once you have a graphic novel of this caliber, is that you find a greater truth.

You have here a straightforward cadence as the story is presented in comics. The layout foundation on the page is two panels on three rows with variations as needed. This is classic comics storytelling and it works quite well. You don’t need much else in many cases. For this story, this framework sort of mimics the camera in a documentary and evokes reportage in general. In fact, you don’t really notice the panel structure as you are immersed into action. Again, Shadmi does a remarkable job with bringing to life these characters. And, as you’ll see yourself, this graphic novel does a remarkable job of clearing away the clutter and getting to the heart of the matter.

You see here Mike’s Place become the center of conflict. A happy-go-lucky gathering spot, seemingly existing out of time and place, comes crashing down. This is the story of such a place. And how people come together once the unthinkable has happened.

“Mikes’ Place” is a 192-page hardcover published by First Second Books. For more details, visit our friends at First Second right here. You can also find this book here, here, and here.

If you are in the Seattle area, be sure to stop by Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery this Saturday, June 13, and meet the book’s cartoonist, Koren Shadmi. This will be a fun event which includes the debut of a new book by local cartoonist, Greg Stump, “Disillusioned Illusions,” published by Fantagraphics. For more details, go right here.

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Filed under Comics, Documentaries, First Second, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Israel, Middle East