Hurricane Nancy presents a beautiful work of art on the subject of love. In her own words: “I was taught as a child only to love and kiss those in my body type and social group, then in the ’60s I became a hippie and could kiss anybody, then later realized I am a spirit, not the body, so kissing and love is unlimited.”
I will sometimes add a splash of color to Nany’s black & white art and this one gets a tint of pink!
Be sure to visit Hurricane Nancy’s website where you can purchase her art!
Smahtguy: The Life and Times of Barney Frank. Eric Orner. Henry Holt. New York. 2022. 222 pp. $25.99
Barney Frank was a tireless public servant. We need more of his kind of dedication: someone who gets things done. He was a man ahead of his time and, sadly, a little too much of his time too. Frank came of age in the 1950s, great for some bright kids with bright futures, but not all kids. And hardly an easy time for a bright gay kid. For much of his life, the guy who got things done for so many, lived life in the closet. Critically acclaimed cartoonist Eric Orner provides a unique perspective on one of the great legislators of our time with his debut graphic novel. Orner is a former congressional aide to Frank and that shows in the level of detail found on these pages. It was my pleasure a few years back to review a collection of Orner’s comic strip, The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green, which ran from 1989 to 2005. And it’s a honor to share with you this most impressive work.
Orner has that particular sensibility you find with the best cartoonists: an inquisitive mind; a compulsion to get to the essence of a subject; and the ability to express complexities in a concise and clear way. Barney Frank may not appear to be an obvious choice for the subject of an in-depth graphic novel but, oh, he most assuredly is! The big mistake made my some marketing folks is to have tunnel vision and think that a protagonist in a narrative needs to look and act a certain way. Well, Barney Frank fits that unconventional profile and that’s part of the beauty of his story. Here we have a guy who didn’t dress well, or eat well, or was careful about social niceties. He could be curt and rude. But he cared, heart and soul, about improving the lives of others as a public servant. His weakness was that he was afraid that, if he was outed, that would end his life in politics. But it didn’t and he learns that he can have a good life too. Orner deftly conveys this whole arc of a fascinating life filled with one battle after another, both personal and political.
For my money, I’m just captivated by all the accounts of political intrigue. If you’re a political junkie, that alone is reason enough to read this book. Born in New Jersey, and graduating from Harvard, Frank proved to be an exceptional student of government with a decidedly New Deal inspired fervor to do good in the world. Determined to see through his PhD thesis, those plans keep being derailed in favor of the public arena. Massachusetts politics keeps beckoning. Right out of the gate, Frank impresses the right people. After helping to run a successful Boston mayoral campaign for a local scion, Frank is promoted to a top level position in the Mayor’s office. Frank’s star just keeps rises as he himself enters politics and wins election as a state legislator and, ultimately, as a congressman. Of course, it should come as no surprise that he makes some political enemies along the way as he’s no slouch for a good fight. It’s Frank’s fight for gay rights that takes him closest to the edge as he fears his involvement will lead to his undoing.
Orner has set up a graphic novel with as quick and urgent a tempo as his subject. It is packed with so many assorted details, all neatly presented, sometimes even itemized within a panel. All the better to evoke the whirlwind of activity. Orner’s Barney Frank is a hero to relate with and to root for, all the more so given one of the greatest of challenges a politician can face, a sex scandal. The story begins with it in a brief prologue leaving you to wonder what exactly is supposed to have happened. And, believe it or not, it’s complicated. From that teaser, the narrative mostly keeps to a steady chronology all leading up to that fateful denouement. By then, the reader has come to believe in Frank from a multitude of vantage points: as he runs to catch that last train to an important meeting; or simply struggles to be likable; or pleads with a man to understand he’s not quite ready yet to come out. Barney Frank is the “smahtguy” who, through conviction and sheer will power, is ready and willing to do the work that others would rather avoid. Politics is not romantic and can kill idealists. But if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do the work, then there’s a chance to make a real difference. That’s the greatest lesson from Barney Frank and it adds up to a very compelling life story which Orner so vividly tells in this book.
Pixels of You. written by Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota, art by J.R. Doyle. Amulet/Abrams. New York. 2022. 176pp. $16.99
How many times do we experience a true inflection point in our lives, something that significantly changes our attitude and approach to life? This is a story of such a change: a story about two polar opposites who must confront the challenges posed by each other. Set in a future when AI androids are co-existing with humans, this graphic novel provides a delightful slice-of-life series of exchanges between Indira, a young human, and Fawn, a “young” robot. Both are creative types struggling to establish careers. It’s an intriguing premise that steadily builds and beautifully plays with coming-of-age tropes: uncertainty; a sense of adventure.
So, Fawn is a robot caught in the same rat race as human Indira. For this story, we don’t need a deep dive explanation as to why that is. Part of the charm of this book is the natural and light approach it takes. You just accept the tech and go from there. It seems, for the purpose of this story, that robots and humans have reached a point of co-existence where they treat each other as equals. Thus, we have the evolving relationship between Fawn and Indira. They are rivals. They are friends. And maybe more.
The writing team of Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota provide a very tender exploration of what motivates these two characters: what may cause friction; and what may stimulate attraction between them. The artwork by J.R. Doyle is right in step with this easy-going vibe. The characters and settings are rendered in a loose semi-realistic style that evokes the spontaneity of a sketchbook. It all adds up to a pleasing glimpse into the lives of two complicated characters, one human, one android, sometime in the future.
Terry Blas and Claudia Aguirre are the creative team behind Lifetime Passes. This is a graphic novel that I reviewed recently and I encourage you to check it out for yourself as well as give as a great holiday gift. In this interview, you can see that Blas and Aguirre are totally in sync for the sake of a good story. And this is quite a tale revolving around a group of teenagers wrapped up in the theme park lifestyle. They hatch a plan to snag lifetime passes to their local theme park, Kingdom Adventure. The kids discover that if someone in their party dies in the theme park that, in order to avoid any legal entanglements, the theme park issues out lifetime passes to everyone in the group. Our main character, Jackie Chavez, works at a senior living facility. Jackie charms her way into putting together a new theme park activity program at Valley Care Living retirement home. With that in place, it’s just a matter of time, Jackie and her friends think, before one of the seniors in their care ends up dead at the theme park–and so the group gets lifetime passes! So, you’ve got at least three genres working here: coming-of-age, humor, and horror!
Growing up is always hard to do.
Growing up is never easy. This wonderful graphic novel weaves a tale we can all relate to. The main character of Jackie Chavez proves to be an engaging character with a lot to learn. Helping her along the way to seeing what really matters in life is Phyllis, one of the seniors that Jackie and her friends have ensnared in their diabolical little plot. Will Jackie gain a lifetime’s worth of wisdom before too much more time passes and it’s all too late?
Just click the link above to see the video interview. LIFETIME PASSES is available as of November 23, 2021. For more details, just go to Abrams Books.
Editor’s Note: This book is ready for pre-order purchases. Available as of 11/23/21.
How we treat each other, and ourselves, is at the core of wellness. We all have some connection to care-giving, whether on a personal level or a professional level. My past work as a caregiver still inspires me and informs me. Lifetime Passes, is a wonderful new graphic novel that explores the interconnections between those providing care and those receiving care. It’s not as simple as some may think.
Writer Terry Blas and artist Claudia Aguirre together weave a story that speaks to the shared responsibilities of caregivers and those cared for. First of all, no one wants to feel like they’re being “cared for” so a delicate balance must be struck. It’s during a journey of self-discovery that Jackie Chavez comes to appreciate the nuances of respect and self-respect. It’s a process that takes Jackie from being a kid who just wants to blend in with everyone else to someone willing to take a stand and to lead.
Jackie Chavez is in a predicament that is going to take time to figure out. It’s a problem liable to spin out of control. But, oddly enough, it also seems like Jackie is having the time of her life. Blas and Aguirre are sensitive to a young person’s perspective and life struggles. This is a portrait of a Mexican teenager who has been separated from her parents due to the immigration laws currently in place and so it’s just her and her aunt Gina. Jackie helps her aunt at work at the Valley Care Living retirement home. Over the years, Jackie has relied upon visits to the Kingdom Adventure theme park in order to cope with the stress of feeling like an outsider. What she never expected was to have an elder care facility and a theme park collide in her life. It’s a nicely-paced story told with wit and heart.
Claudia Aguirre’s artwork is soulful and touched with a whimsical spark. All the characters, whether noble or less than noble, come to life. The reader will be engaged and immersed in this coming-of-age tale. Jackie Chavez is someone who, at first, wants nothing more than to be alone but is willing to compromise in order to fit in. She is set upon a misadventure that will demand she think differently and show her a whole new way to live.
A Revolution in Three Acts: The Radical Vaudeville of Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay and Julian Eltinge. By David Hajdu and John Carey. Foreword by Michele Wallace. Columbia University Press, 2021. 166pp, $19.95
This is an extremely remarkable comic, at once a historical look at the great and hugely popular genre of vaudeville, and a treatment of the margins, racial and gender, that pushed closer to the surface than radio or films would reach before the 1950s. David Hajdu is a distinguished music critic and a professor at Columbia University. His artistic collaborator, John Carey, less well known, worked at Greater Media Newspapers for decades. Neither has produced a comic until now, but Hajdu wrote an insightful history of comics entitled The Ten Cent Plague, more than touching upon the condemned but lively elements of popular culture.
Bert Williams, “the son of laughter” in contemporary advertising of Vaudeville, was almost certainly the first native of the little island of Antigua, then still in the British West Indies, to make himself a major star in the US. He sang, danced, told jokes, charmed (white) audiences far and wide, and became himself a producer of shows starring himself. He exhausted himself and died young, just as he reached his apex of success.
Eva Tanguay is remembered for one phrase, “I Don’t Care!” hailed by Andre Breton and the surrealists as capturing the spirit and radical possibilities embedded within popular culture. Flagrantly transgressive, she challenged every limitation of the lingering Victorian culture, dressing outlandishly, for instance, wearing pennies glued to a revealing body suit at the moment when the Lincoln Penny was introduced and fleeing when the police arrived to arrest her. She joined Williams on stage and drove audiences wild.
Cross-dressing Julian Eltinge completes this narrative. By way of Harvard and Hasty Pudding, he starred as a female performer, singing and dancing up a storm. Holding nothing back, he openly proclaimed his sexual passion for a black man (doublng the provocation), with himsef as “The Sambo Girl,” on stage and in the sheet music of the day. The very idea that Eltinge could publish a magazine under his own name offers a transgressive moment in time and in the rising pulp magazine craze.
The genius of the comic intertwines the stories, sharing the threats of the cops and other thuggish males. Tanguay and Williams were widely rumored to be lovers, but the rumor that she was to marry Eltinge inspired no limit of mean-spirited satire (“who will wear the breeches?”) and some good spirited as well. But movies, even without the severe restrictions to come later, were just too limited for this leap out of propriety. (Bert Williams was also in several film shorts, but these are lost.)
The Art of Revolution in Three Acts finds John Carey perfectly suited with a greyish, sketch-like style, offering a kind of fluidity suitable to the subject. He aspires neither to realism, in the ordinary sense, nor to the altogether imaginative comic-art style adopted or adapted in modern “art” comics. Rather, it is his own.
The high spirits of these three characters, the visions they had of themselves and the crushing reality of a world unsuited for them, comes home collectively as we follow their lives. Eltinge, an entrepreneur in his own mind, bought a large chunk of land in California’s Imperial Valley, with a vision of a resort and a theatrical complex. He was quickly overextended, when a film showed his female impersonation at a disadvantge: society was not ready, although in failure, he inspired other stage female impersonators across the US and Europe. Tanguay, perhaps the luckiest, had a series of prominent affairs, passing before she could complete a tell-all memoir.
I have interviewed Steve Lafler and I’m letting that sink in. The man is a walking encyclopedia of experiences and knowledge. I do hope we can chat again sometime. For a first interview, we covered a lot of ground. I was intrigued and delighted and I’m sure you will be too with this most provocative cartoonist.
Steve Lafler is a very cool cat–and, as promised, we’re about to take a deep dive into all things Lafler. Long before Zoom interviews, I’ve been taking notes and chatting with a good many talented folks. I think we cartoonists, at least a certain subgroup, are compelled to express ourselves in numerous ways. You’ll find, for instance, that comics and journalism have been entwined since the American colonies. In Mr. Lafler’s case, he has devoted a lot of energy in two directions, the love of comics and the love of music. In my interview, I try to focus on how Lafler has lovingly included music, especially jazz, into his comics.
1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona is Lafler’s latest title and we enjoy talking about it. The subtext is pretty much in the forefront: our main character, Ramon, seems to be most happy when he gets to be Ramona. Or, if not most happy, then it’s definitely a sweet joy to dress up and be a woman for the night. That said, the comics pretty much speak for themselves. Lafler, himself, has provided a few clues over the years that he enjoys indulging in some gender-bending dressing up. One must follow their muse! I think, with 1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona, Lafler beautifully expresses that most basic and primal human need to be true to one’s self.
1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona. by Steve Lafler. Cat-Head Comics. 2020, 56pp. $9.95
Adorable Ramona is sweet down to her toes. She also happens to be a guy. But, hey, no problem there say the fellas from the Garment District. Ramon, as Ramona, is just so delightful. So, no problem. Nobody’s perfect! That’s the punchline to 1959’s Some Like it Hot, by the way. The artist and writer Steve Lafler doesn’t actually use that line. In fact, his graphic novel is completely different from what goes on in the Billy Wilder classic. That said, there are definitely some similar elements at play. And perhaps the biggest theme is one recurring in just about every Lalfer book, that of music, specifically jazz, hot jazz! Since, after all, some do indeed like it hot!
Now, Steve Lafler turns out to be a very cool cat–and we’re about to take a deep dive into all things Lafler. Well, as much as I see fit to shoe-horn into this review. We’ll save some more for an interview with Steve Lafler next week. That sounds good, no? Lafler’s latest book, 1956, features a whole tableaux of goodfella types, all of them working various middle management jobs in the Garment biz, an industry with just enough of a glimmer of glamour to be suitable for these big city gentlemen. Lafler mixes the whimsical with the gritty. His style is clean lines in the service of a loose and street smart sensibility that brings to mind such greats as the Hernandez brothers and Kim Deitch. It’s quirky, idiosyncratic, and very much alt-comics. But that only makes sense since alternative comics are very much a part of Lafler’s scene. 1956 proves to be an utter delight.
The one thing I have come to understand from reading Lafler comics is that this is one devil-may-care dude who knows how to dish it out a la bohemian. I envy the ease with which he seems to glide through life. Maybe it takes one to know one. I know it’s not all peaches and cream. That’s part of the point. It’s about making the most of what you’ve got, living by your wits, and not taking anything so seriously that it hurts– except for family. You look out for your loved ones, right? Why do I digress so? I think Lafler just puts me in a very irreverent mood.
Now, take some of his other work and you’ll start to see some patterns. You’ll see that jazz motif bebop around. You’ll see some hard luck hound dogs–or bugs. And you’ll definitely see a lot of that joie de vivre thing we all want some of. You find it all wrapped in a bow in Lafler’s BugHouse, albeit tinged with the harsh realities of life in the big city. Yes, these bugs play a lot of jazz but they’re also prone to drug addiction. Sad bittersweet bugs.
Death Plays a Mean Harmonica
A more recent Lafler work is Death Plays a Mean Harmonica. I find this to be quite a masterpiece incorporating a healthy dose of auto-bio mixed in with everything that Lafler has learned about the uncanny world of comics. Lafler takes his own family’s decade living abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico, and turns it into the misadventures of Rex and Gertie and their two young children. Lafler let’s the good times roll with plenty of magical realism which includes a skeleton who regulars meets with Lafler while he’s asleep. They philosophize and, of course, enjoy playing music together. This serves as background for the main event. It turns out that Gertie is a secret superhero by night! Lots of fun! Bravo!
For more information, including comics, illustrations, paintings, and various merchandise, be sure to visit Steve Lafler.
Graphic memoir is my speciality and I completely embrace the new graphic memoir, Spellbound, by Bishakh Som. What a wonderful book. It’s fun, inspiring and insightful in so many ways. This is the kind of work that I enjoy creating and the kind of work that gains my attention the most. This is work by an auteur cartoonist who welcomes the reader into an inner life, ultimately dropping the veil: engaging, revealing, and sharing. This is an intricate act of self-expression which the reader follows usually without any expectations on how it all turns out. What the cartoonist has to say and how the story is told becomes as important as anything else. In this case, Bishakh Som has a theme we’ve all been reading more and more about, issues of gender fluidity; and this story is inextricably linked to a personal journey, a celebration of the self and self-expression.
Anjali became a way of sorting through issues and showing the world one’s true self.
But before one stands before the world naked, a veil of sorts can help with the process. This is part of what I believe led Som to create an alter ego. As Som proceeded upon his transition from male to female, I can see where he found it a source of comfort and insight to have his female alter ego grace the page. Thus, Som created comics that feature the character of Anjali who became a way of sorting through issues but, even more important, a way of showing the world the true self.
“I’ve always been this way.”
Our story begins with Anjali quitting her job and setting off on a new adventure. This is much like Som’s own story of quitting a focused career in architecture in order to make room for a life in the graphic arts, specifically creating graphic novels. Anjali has embarked upon uncharted waters but doesn’t seem too phased. At first, the biggest challenge seems to be just keeping her cat, Ampersand, at bay. The artwork is very crisp and engaging and certainly meets the biggest demands placed upon comics: clarity and entertainment. Anjali is the perfect metaphor for the determined soul who will not be beaten down by challenging circumstances.
Anjali relaxing and having fun.
When Anjali stumbles upon a family photo album, this triggers countless memories which take her back to growing up in Ethiopia. Anjali’s parents were born in India, both of them intellectuals working for the UN. Over the course of Anjali’s first six years, she grew as fond of Ethiopian culture as she did of American pop culture. When revolution broke out, Anjali’s parents resettled in New York. This led to Anjali going to the United Nations International School and destined to a most urban and erudite life.
One generation gives way to the next.
Over the course of this graphic novel, the reader is immersed in Anjali’s journey: a life rich in exploration and searching, one that beautifully mirrors the life of Bishakh Som. It is a life we see from various vantage points, from the banal and quotidian to moments of insight and epiphany. For instance, Anjali must come to terms with her demanding and conservative parents. In the end, she is witness to their decline and, from that, she gains some wisdom. And she continues to grow with the help of some friends. For someone who prefers to avoid people, Anjali seems to find her best moments when she is around someone else. It is a lesson that Bishakh Som learned from well.
Spellbound is published by Street Noise Books. For more details, visit here.
This is a perfect time to post my interview with artist Henry Hate. There have been a number of delays along the way but, perhaps some experiences need to stew and process. It was near October of last year that I visited the Prick! tattoo shop, a home base for Henry Hate in the Shoreditch neighborhood of London. Autumn was creeping in on the streets that Jack the Ripper once lurked; now made up of boutiques and fine eateries co-existing with taverns and other mysterious structures dating back centuries. Prick! tattoo parlor fit right in.
Amy Winehouse by Henry Hate
Just as Henry Hate was rising in prominence as a tattoo artist, Amy Winehouse, early in her career, walked into Henry’s tattoo parlor and became a regular client. Well, that’s the stuff of legend. It was that sort of serendipity that can lift an artist’s life and launch them on a path to a bright future.
Trouble by Henry Hate
Henry Hate, without question, has developed into an excellent artist. That’s not the issue. I love how we both get to the heart of the matter in the video segment of our conversation. For me, I’ve always aspired to great creative heights and that’s usually some mix of journalism and art. When the opportunity arises, I want to go deep with an interview. There is absolutely an art to a good interview. It is sort of like a dance or a courtship. You need to engage the subject. A dynamic emerges. Everything going on behind the scenes culminates. In this case, I was pairing us as both artists and human beings on a journey. The result was Henry Hate speaking to a lifetime commitment to art. It’s as if being an artist is not enough. You can accept yourself but will others follow? That will remain in the background but, first and foremost, you need to give yourself over to your art.
A Work Created Under Extreme Duress by Henry Hate
Into each life, a little death must enter and a lot of self-discovery. As a youth, Henry Hate discovered, despite his family’s resistance, that he was gay and he had no one to apologize to about it.
Prick tattoo parlor.
Henry Martinez evolved into Henry Hate. Sure, the name is part illusion, facade, and brand. It is part of what you do, even if you never really change your name. You need to build up some armor when you go from art to business. “It’s a machine. Success. You’ve achieved a goal. Okay, now what? Sometimes, I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to just paint pretty clouds.”
Prick! tattoo shop, East London.
“In Los Angeles, when you say you’re a writer, you’re probably a waiter. But, here in London, someone says they’re a painter or a screenwriter, they are actually doing that,” said Hate, at one point, as we chatted about the realities of fame and fortune. Our talk turned to Amy Winehouse and how she dealt with stardom. “Amy was this London girl who suddenly had to deal with fame. It’s a machine. Success is a goal. Now, you have to keep the wheels moving. It’s a lot of pressure to put on someone when art becomes a business. It’s work now, not a love or a passion.”
“Lee McQueen and Amy both had that genuine quality about them, a shyness, unsure about their work. When you stand up and present your work, you need to wear that mask. Both of them had that vulnerability. Great artists, you don’t really know that much about them. Amy would have been happy just singing in a bar and have that pay her bills.”
Mother’s Tongue, mixed media on canvas, by Henry Hate
Informed as much by Tom of Finland as by Andy Warhol, the work of Henry Hate has charted its own path. It is bold, audacious, sly and thoughtful. It is worldly and fanciful. And, without a doubt, it is genuine.
This is work that proudly stands before you, naked or wearing a mask with sexy panache. It’s about art and it’s about life, living large while also maybe on the margins. Maybe there’s still something to prove. Or maybe it’s just time to face the world without flinching. I love the sense of play, like “Let’s Riot,” a punk young Queen Elizabeth echoing Jamie Reid’s art for the Sex Pistols 1977 single, “God Save the Queen.” Or the life-affirming “Mother’s Tongue,” with the subject defiantly showing off her stud.
As Hate says, his work is about sin and redemption. You see each character reveling and unapologetic. Why can’t a little more life fall into one’s life? Why can’t vice and salvation find a way to co-exist? These are questions that can take a lifetime to confront, let alone answer–and Henry Hate is up to the task.