Grant Snider is an artist working in the grand American tradition of the comic strip. Many years ago, let’s say a whole century ago, if you asked someone what amused them, they would likely say the funnies in the newspaper as a first answer or very close to it. Today, that essential comic strip format, a neat and concise words ‘n’ picture presentation, remains as vibrant and relevant as ever. The general public today might not use the word, “funnies” or even “comic strip” but they consume it all the same and, more often than not, they recognize the concept right away. So, the past, present, and future of comics is as secure as a bug in a rug. Here to stay. Like jazz, it came into its own in America and retains a unique American tradition. One of today’s great practitioners is Grant Snider. His latest book is The Art of Living, published by Abrams, available now for pre-order, release date: April 5, 2022.
It is a great pleasure to chat with Grant. We got into a nice informal conversation and I believe we ended up covering a lot ground, particularly some interesting observations on the nature of comic strips. Is the ambitious cartoonist today thinking about pushing limits and breaking new ground? Grant looks at it more as working within a tradition. And that certainly makes sense. Contemporary cartoonists can definitely still add their own unique contribution. But they’re also part of something bigger. I set it up during our Zoom interview so that I could display any page from the new book and one page prompted Grant to mention that the snow scene was a homage to the great cartoonist Frank O. King (1883 – 1969), known for his comic strip, Gasoline Alley. That turned out to be a great example of what he was referring to, the continuous chain of progress.
So, I welcome you to check out the video interview. There’s some good shop talk and some fun insights into how the book came together. If you like the image above, we specifically focus upon it, part of a two-page meditation on the qualities of light.
As always, your comments, shares, and likes are very much appreciated. Let’s keep spreading the word about this little oasis for discussion on comics, culture and related issues.
John Cei Douglas has a nice light whimsical style that serves him well with themes of mental health and relationships that he explores in picture books, comics and editorial pieces. In his latest book, All the Places in Between, he brings together all he knows to create quite a wondrous work. An “auteur cartoonist” is your best definition of this unique hybrid of artist-writer. And it is best to let that creative run wild and pursue their vision. While I was in London, my first stop was the House of Illustration where I gazed upon the works of such visionaries as Posy Simmonds. Her work follows a more traditional comic strip format but nonetheless is uniquely her own. Douglas has all the great vision and skill at his disposal and I absolutely look forward to seeing more of his work.
Douglas published a first collection of stories in conjunction with Great Beast Comics and completed his MA in Illustration from the prestigious University of the Arts London in 2013. This long form work of comics is wordless and the narrative is open to interpretation. It is not so much a story, per se, as a visual essay on the struggles one can face in processing reality and expressing one’s own reality. You are more following a feeling, a dream, than a storyline. Notice the simple set of lines separating the “panels,” as opposed to framing each moment within its own individual square as you usually find in mainstream comic books. It’s a relatively minor consideration but it could be a sticking point with some publishers who feel obligated to keeping to a set pattern. All it does is hem in the artist.
Douglas has a very light and graceful style that is endearing and inviting. Essentially, this narrative of sorts involves two girls. We never learn their names or much of anything about their background. They might be living in two separate worlds–or they might live right next door to each other. The blonde character appears to be pulled into the world of the brunette character. And this new place, seems to be, or feels like it is, set in some post-Apocalypse dystopian nightmare.
The characters find each other, become splendid companions, then they lose each other and ultimately find their own unique paths. It’s a weird and offbeat journey filled with a lyrical and haunting quality. In the end, it’s more about the journey, finding your way, and keeping your feet steadily upon the ground meeting challenges along the way.
Douglas’s work will intrigue and lift the reader’s spirits. His spare and clean line work is deceptively simple. As I have pointed out, Douglas forgoes the traditional panels you often find in comics in favor of basic dividing lines. Douglas strives to pare down. In general, comics is about paring down. It is a sensibility that you find among the best work in the comics medium whether indie/art house or more traditional comics. And in Douglas’s case, overall, it is this simplicity that affords his work with a more zen-like vibe that transports the reader. If you enjoy those quirky cartoonists, like Quentin Blake or Jean-Jacques Sempé, who always manage to pull a rabbit out of a hat when you least expect it, then you’ll certainly enjoy the work of John Cei Douglas.
Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life, by Ellen Forney, is a unique guidebook to mental health. Anyone can find something insightful and useful here. This is cartoonist Ellen Forney’s latest book in a long line of outstanding work. Among that special group of artist-writers, Ellen Forney has done it all: a remarkable comic strip, illustrations, and various other distinguished work in the comics medium. I’ve known Ellen for many years. I was the curator for her first solo art show. With all that in mind, if you’re going to this weekend’s Small Press Expo in Bethesda, then be sure to see Ellen Forney, and one of the most original voices in comics. Here is a bio from Small Press Expo:
Ellen Forney is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Seattle, WA, with her partner. Forney illustrated Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007) and authored her 2012 graphic memoir, Marbles. She was the 2012 recipient of The Stranger Genius Award for Literature as well as the winner of the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis 2013 Gradiva Award.
Ellen Forney will take part in the following SPX panel:
Writing About Bipolar
September 15, 2018
3:30 pm – 4:30 pm
White Flint Auditorium
As mental health is becoming a subject that’s more openly discussed than ever, comics narratives are emerging about personal experiences with mental illness. Moderator Rob Clough will discuss with Lawrence Lindell (Couldn’t Afford Therapy, So I Made This), Ellen Forney (Rock Steady), and Keiler Roberts (Chlorine Gardens) their struggles with Bipolar Disorder, the choices they make in writing about it, and how this process affects how they think about it.
And you can always visit Ellen Forney’s website right here.
Do you like to write lists of goals you’ve set for yourself or give yourself little private pep talks? Of course, you do! We have plenty of bad energy out there to navigate through. A lot of us out there have already picked up on the benefits of self-help, particularly meditation. Yumi Sakugawa has a new book, “There is No Right Way to Meditate and Other Lessons,” published by Adams Media. Here, she provides a highly accessible, and quite invigorating, look at a peaceful world full of peaceful people.
It all began with an epiphany that Yumi had when she was 23-years-old and feeling very blue. She came to the realization that she was NOT her thoughts. She certainly wasn’t her negative thoughts. It is a simple enough concept and yet it is also a very powerful concept. This is a book that gently, and soothingly, offers observations on how to avoid negativity and gain a better sense of balance.
Yumi maintains a lighthearted tone throughout with her prose and whimsical artwork. For instance, she suggests that you get lost in the woods so your bad mood doesn’t know where to find you. It’s not too lighthearted. It’s just right. These are mind over mind exercises. So, the humor needs to ring true. The inner world won’t respond to a mere joke.
There’s such a genuine expression of joy and reassurance here that you’ll find it irresistible. No right nor wrong. No irony. Just a goal of self-love. Perchance to dream. Ah, dreams are a serious business. The mind demands convincing. Yumi will do this by presenting the reader with a rock. The rock is heavy. Anxiety is heavy. However, once you start to feel the rock’s ridges, it begins to feel less heavy. Yumi invites you to desire a better life without thinking too hard about it. Enjoy the now. That is exactly where you need to be.
“There is No Right Way to Meditate and Other Lessons” is a 160-page hardcover and is published by Adams Media. You can also find it at Amazon right here.
John Porcellino has a remarkable thing with his ongoing self-published zine, “King-Cat Comics and Stories.” This is a zine, and mini-comic, that has been around for 25 years. King-Cat dates back to 1989 and, in all that time, John P has shared his life with his readers. For his new book, “The Hospital Suite,” published by Drawn and Quarterly, he focuses on one aspect of his life and turns his personal journey into a universal one.
Comics Grinder is a place for creativity and wellness. Comics Grinder is all about Creative Living! In that spirit, we present to you someone who is a great supporter of that mindset, Kathy J. and SHIFT: WHERE HEAD MEETS HEART.
Kathy J. is a good friend. She has provided some essential craniosacral therapy for me and has proven to be an inspiration, a fabulous morale booster. I am thrilled to have her as a backer of my recent Kickstarter campagin for my collection of comics, A NIGHT AT THE SORRENTO AND OTHER STORIES. That Kickstarter campaign was a success! Kathy chose as her reward, a video interview, which I am happy to share with you at Comics Grinder.
Yes, Comics Grinder is obviously more than one thing as it covers a wide range of topics, none the least being wellness and creativity. You can’t get very far without your health!
If you’re in the Seattle area, please do stop by and visit Kathy. She has got you covered regarding your health and beyond. Stop by and check out her site here.
The following provides news on Kathy’s latest workshop plus more:
If you’re heading out to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend, May 11-12, be sure to stop by and purchase a copy of LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD by Elaine M. Will. This is truly an outstanding work and, as you know, I don’t make comments like that lightly. It takes something to motivate me to strongly like, or dislike, something. This one I really like. LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD brings to mind Nate Powell’s SWALLOW ME WHOLE. It has its own distinctive style and voice with that same quality that Nate brings to the game. You can check it out at Elaine’s website HERE.
LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD makes its official debut at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Elaine M. Will has the distinction of being in the last group of Xeric Grant recipients. Keep an eye out, the plan is to see this graphic novel in comics shops by this October.
Meet Jeremy Knowles. He is a fine young man, trying to survive high school and struggling with manic depression. His friend, Lee, is there for him, despite the fact he has to endure taunts by another fellow student, Jen. If only things could work out for him. If only Erin, that most beautiful and intellectual girl, would notice him. If only he trusted himself, his own artwork. He has his dreams but they, in an odd twist, could consume him.
The art and writing here is spot on. I look forward to seeing this webcomic make its way to print. And, certainly, I look forward to seeing more of Elaine’s work. Make sure to stop by and visit her website HERE.
Eating disorders are not often the subject of comics. This comic by Khale McHurst is quite compelling. “I Do Not Have An Eating Disorder,” which you can read here, follows the author on her journey of dealing with her eating disorder. There is the denial. And there are the facts. Ms. McHurst does a beautiful job of expressing how difficult it is to reconcile the two. But she knows that the truth shall set you free and she depicts how she goes about finding the truth.
Khale McHurst knows that she has an eating disorder and she also knows that she can convince herself otherwise. It is a very tricky place to be. You can be educated about nutrition in theory but then you need to follow through in practice. What McHurst really gets is that each eating disorder is unique and there is common ground as well. Words can sometimes feel like they are inadequate somehow to fully describe what’s going on and yet words must be found and spoken. With comics, there’s also pictures. This is one of those instances where comics prove their mettle. With McHurst’s comics, you gain a unique insight and find a successful way to relate and it happens bit by bit. Each installment is a new revelation, a message in a bottle, an attempt to connect with others and with oneself. Like an ongoing conversation that you have with someone close, that is picked up and expanded upon with each new visit, so her comics take this or that thought and build upon them as you read page after page.
What is an eating disorder? Essentially, it is someone who is engaging in disordered thinking when it comes to food. Instead of thinking of food in terms of nutrition and appetite, a person is thinking of food in terms of how that person thinks of themselves and how they look. That would be it, in general, with a multitude of personal distinctions. It’s a very personal thing but also a thing that wants to be shared. No one wants to hold on to such a secret if they can find a way out. For Ms. McHurst, part of that way out is her comics.
Ms. McHurst’s drawing style is very inviting. With her gentle and caring approach, it is easy to relate to. This is a subject that really needs different vantage points. She does very well with her depiction of the metaphorical eating disorder voice, or voices, that lure one down the wrong path. It may prove helpful for someone with an eating disorder who was looking for another way to consider that concept. And, then, just the journal style approach itself is very engaging and informative. As we keep reading, we find other perspectives such as McHurts’s lover, who is not afraid to tell the truth; and McHurst’s nutritionist, who is always helpful and supportive. What McHurst makes clear is that we all need to speak our mind, when we’re ready, and we all value and cherish support. This is a very worthwhile comic that will educate and inspire.
Alex Robinson, a very well respected cartoonist, known for his graphic novel, “Box Office Poison,” published by Top Shelf Productions, recently contributed a moving four-page comic to the comics anthology, “Digestate,” edited by J.T. Yost, and published by Birdcage Bottom Books. The theme in that book is food and eating. Mr. Robinson’s piece is about his eating disorder. He describes it and explains how he deals with it. He uses the comics medium to great effect to discuss a complex issue. It’s not often enough that we, as a society, discuss eating disorders but we’re making progress. Add Mr. Robinson’s, “That Peanut Butter Kid!” to a healthy opening up on this subject.
I had the honor to interview Alex Robinson regarding his comic about his eating disorder through e-mail. Here is that interview:
Henry Chamberlain: You recently contributed a piece entitled, “That Peanut Butter Kid!” to the comics anthology, “Digestate,” edited by J.T. Yost, where you are publicly candid about having an eating disorder for the first time. What motivated you to participate and create such a personal work?
Alex Robinson: It’s funny because I told J.T. I was going to contribute but it was only afterwards that I reread the e-mail more closely and realized it was about food. When I look back I remember that a friend of mine did a Facebook post where he talked about being the victim of sexual abuse and the honesty of that really hit me, since I never knew that about him. I think that bravery inspired me to talk about some of my own issues.
It’s also interesting to me because it’s only recently that I started framing my own problem as an “eating disorder” since I think that makes most people think of anorexia or bulimia.
HC: Eating disorders are mentioned more in the media but the actual condition remains something of a mystery for the general public, and even for those dealing with it firsthand.
Do you think the media can play a helpful role in gaining a better understanding of eating disorders?
AR: I would think so. I remember being a kid and there was a made-for-TV movie about a girl with anorexia—which at the time was just coming into the public eye, I think—and the commercial showed a father angrily begging his daughter to just eat something. For a moment I was struck because this was as close as I’d ever seen to someone on TV talking about a problem that, as far as I knew, I was the only one who had. When I watched the movie I was very disappointed that it was about girls worried they were too fat, which didn’t seem at all connected to my own problem, so I still felt alone.
It’s tough because eating disorders are one of those problems where unless you or someone you love is suffering through them it seems dumb—“Just eat something.” George Carlin had that joke about only in America could people develop a mental disorder where they refuse to eat. It’s tough to make sympathetic if you haven’t experienced it first hand. For all of our claims otherwise, we’re generally not sympathetic to mental illness in America.
HC: Of course, eating disorders manifest in different ways. From your viewpoint, what do you see as healthy steps towards recovery?
AR: I can only speak for myself and for me it was years of therapy. I was lucky to find a woman who was and continues to be patient and prod me along.
I think just doing the story was also surprisingly therapeutic. It’s kind of a cliché but exposing your shameful secrets really does lift a burden off of you, if only because it’s one thing you don’t have to worry about anymore. I think it was within a month or two of completing the story that I stopped eating peanut butter altogether. I haven’t had peanut butter in six months, which is amazing considering that I probably never went more than a few days without it before.
HC: In “That Peanut Butter Kid!” you say that you’re concerned that you may come across as glib but the piece is truly nicely balanced. I’m sure you would agree that humor can be very good medicine.
AR: Since it was the first time I’d talked about it publicly I couldn’t trust my own judgment as to the tone. I’m inclined to be funny, especially when I’m nervous, and I also didn’t want to bring people down. I was trying to just explain what life was like for me and not be self-pitying about it.
HC: Would you consider turning “That Peanut Butter Kid!” into a graphic novel? It certainly has all the elements that would make for one.
AR: When I completed the story I found it very therapeutic and the thought crossed my mind to just keep going—a sort of stream-of-conscious rumination about different aspects of my life—but I was also very nervous about the story going public. I figured an alternative comics anthology was enough “under the radar” that it was like going public without going too public.
I also don’t think my life is all that interesting, otherwise.
HC: Any final thoughts or new projects that you are working on?
AR: I’m about halfway done with a new graphic novel that I still don’t have a title for. It’s about a group of guys in their late 30s who are sort of dealing with the issues of midlife—marriage, kids, career, etc. Fun stuff! I’ve been talking with Top Shelf about digitally serializing it so hopefully that might begin later this year.