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.
Max in America: Into the Land of Trump by Henry Chamberlain
There’s not a moment to lose. I’m getting fired up and ready to go sell some books. Hey there, friends, consider getting a copy of Max in America: Into the Land of Trump, available at Amazon or ask me directly or go to my blog’s store. I’d love to know what you think and don’t be shy about reviewing it at Amazon too! But don’t just take my word for it. Check out what author Stacey E. Bryan has to say over at her blog…
The biggest fear for many, apart from death, is a fear of rejection! Well, I say, Fugetaboutit! In fact, if you’re in New York City, I encourage you to consider doing what I did: go up and do an open mic at a comedy club! Yes, that is what I did as part of an Airbnb experience, “Learn Stand-up with a Comedian,” hosted by Rishi and John, both NYC-based comedians there to show you around the NYC comedy scene. You can certainly just observe but I felt I was ready to jump in and go on stage.
New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world–and that definitely includes comedy. Within the closely knit area of Greenwich Village, are a number of comedy clubs all with their own energy and history. And, at the epicenter is the Comedy Cellar where on any given night you might get to see such legends as Amy Schumer and Jerry Seinfeld. With the help of my mentor for the evening, comedian John Kim, I got quite an immersive experience. I learned a lot and was fueled with plenty of inspiration which made going up on stage for open mic all the easier. And what a stage! I couldn’t have asked for a better venue for a first-timer, The Lantern Comedy Club!
The Lantern Comedy Club
The great challenge is in confronting any doubts: Is the material good enough? Am I good enough? Yes, trust me, you’re more than worthy to go up on stage and just give it a try. More than likely, or let’s say it’s just about a guarantee, any misgivings will melt away once you start. Something will trigger in your brain: Go! Okay, here’s the next hook! Stop, try to pause. Go! Add this. Don’t say that just yet..okay, say it now.
As in anything, you get what you bring to something. I’ve been working on a particular character and his story arc for quite some time. I decided to put together a comedy bit and featured Maximo Viaje, a guy form Mexico City who has somehow stumbled upon a journey of self-discovery in the U.S. even though he entered the country illegally. For Max, that’s just a small problem in a much bigger picture. Okay, so this is a fictional character that I’m bringing to life on stage. Now, for all you fellow writers, tell me: Wouldn’t this be a very useful exercise for you? Check it out:
You get into a frame a mind and, yes, your mind is a beautiful thing and it’s in it to win it. Thanks to my beautiful mind and to such an insightful and inspirational guidance from John Kim, I did more than just get through my set. I really learned and grew from the experience. And, just like hitting the gym, you know when you’re in the zone and you know you want to get back to it again and again.
Peter Kuper is one of the great cartoonists and any book by him is a treat. In this case, you have a highly creative individual out and about for two years in a most stimulating environment, Mexico, specifically in Oaxaca. What could be better than his sketchbook journal of his two years there? The paperback version of his “Diario de Oaxaca” recently came out from PM Press.
Pages from “Diario de Oaxaca” by Peter Kuper
Kuper follows his heart and stream of thought to deliver page after page of enchanting work. He has a special multi-colored pencil that he uses. The lead in the pencil is made up of various colors. That allows much greater spontaneity as he can instantly shift the pencil to get a different color and then another and so on. He seems to have most fun with creating work that has that look of being on the fly–but can also be a mix of a long day, or night, of contemplation.
The sense of excitement and discovery is palpable. In a similar quick manner, he jots down numerous observations in prose as well. The joie de vivre takes a decidedly sober tone as Kuper finds himself covering a fight between strikers and government troops that left more than 20 people dead, including American journalist Brad Will. The end result is that Kuper manages to capture both the light and the dark of Oaxaca in an extarordinary collection of dispatches.
“Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico” is a 208-page paperback with full color artwork throughout. For more details, visit PM Press right here.
Book Giveaway: Be sure to visit tomorrow when the Comics Grinder Winter Giveaway kicks off. Among the items that will be available will be a copy of “Diario de Oaxaca.”
A war zone that may not be on your radar: the border state of Chihuahua and its city of Juarez. It is the site of more murders than war-torn Afghanistan. And ninety-seven percent of these killings remain unsolved. This is thanks to the inextricable link between drug cartels and official corruption. But thanks to human rights activists, these crimes will not fade away. Leaders like Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro won’t allow that to happen. “La Lucha,” published by Verso Books, is their story.
Edited by Adam Shapiro, head of campaigns at the human rights organization Front Line Defenders, the goal of the book is to put a face to a crisis. Written and drawn by Jon Sack, you have here a series of profiles and reportage that have the urgency of dispatches from the scene. And the art adds to the immediacy of each story.
Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro
There are all compelling stories to be found here. One example is the story of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz and her daughter, Rubi Marisol. Rubi was murdered by her boyfriend, Sergio Barraza. It was a clear-cut case. However, Sergio Barraza would never be found guilty simply for the fact that he was a member of the Zetas drug ring and that made him instantly untouchable. Rubi’s mother, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, led a fight to bring Sergio Barraza to justice. She was able to repeatedly track him down when authorities were not. Sergio Barraza was eventually slain in a shoot-out in 2012 with the Mexican Army. But during Marisela’s struggle for justice, the Mexican authorities, from the local level to the federal level, would not get involved. In the end, Marisela was killed for her efforts. This is quite an involved story. An excellent examination of it from Borderland Beat is right here.
If Americans are sensitive to Iraq and Afghanistan, then they should surely take notice of Mexico. Yes, if you’re looking for the most bloody war zone, all you have to do is look south of the U.S. border. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz’s murder was captured on video (starts at 1:05). Trust me, you don’t need to know a word of Spanish to appreciate the above video. “Él le disparó en la cabeza.” translates to “He shot her in the head.” Just in case, you need that clarity. Cultural and language barriers should never be an excuse for not understanding. That is what this book breaks free from in a very compelling read.
In memory of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz
“La Lucha” is an exemplary example of the comics medium. A book like this one proves how complex issues can be presented in a clear and concise manner that can benefit people in a myriad of ways. It can jump start conversations that require a number of facts that are not always easy to follow. It can make a difference. It can even save lives.
“La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico” is published by Verso Books and is available as of March 31, 2015. You can find it here, here, here, and here.
There are all sorts of horror to consume and a Mike Mignola horror comic book is one of the best across any form. And then you bring to that one the horror canon’s greatest, Frankenstein, and it sets up something worthy of taking notice. This is not, say Frankenstein vs. Superman or Spider-Man, as much fun as that can be. No, this runs much deeper as you have two distinct visions in horror coming together that have exceptional qualities that naturally fit together. It’s more akin to Boris Karloff bringing his unique sensibility to the character of Frankenstein’s monster. But let’s jump in and check this out.
First of all, I love the fact that this Frankenstein is not just about long stares and grunts. The guy can actually hold a conversation. And I’m intrigued by the additional bolts. He has two big bolts where his nipples should be. Is this for when he needs a really special electrical jolt? I’m just saying. So, this Frankenstein fits right into the quirky, dark, deadpan, and offbeat humor that is the universe of Mike Mignola. And what does the big buy have to say for himself? Basically, he’s not too happy. He’s feeling very regretful for what might have been as he wanders in search of greater meaning. Yeow, that’s more Mignola-speak coming out of the iconic monster than any fan has a right to hope for. So, for you newcomers, this is what to expect: a Frankenstein who is more freaky, intellectual, and downright moody.
This first issue, written by Mignola, drawn by Ben Stenbeck, and colored by Dave Stewart is a knock-out. Now, your hardcore Mignola fans can tell you about the roots to this story. They’ll direct you to that time when Mike Mignola’s celebrated character, Hellboy, got into the ring and actually fought Frankenstein in Mexico in 1956. Yes, Mexico in 1956! Mexico! 1956! You see, another wonderful trait in any Mignola story is the seemingly random pairing of an exotic locale with an obscure date. Why Mexico? Why 1956? It just is what it is. And it’s fun. Here’s the deal, way back when Hellboy fought Frankenstein, nobody knew for sure that it was indeed Frankenstein. But now we know that, yes, it is.
So, again, I ask you, why Mexico in 1956? Well, it’s actually a pretty cool backdrop. Not only do you have the pairing of Mignola and Frankenstein but you can also add to the mix all the magical and spooky Aztec tradition and, to top it off, you have the overall crazy that was the ’50s. Imagine a Day of the Dead celebration times one hundred. Because that’s what it would have been like in Mexico in 1956. So, all this is very geeky fun and yet another fitting tribute to one of the greatest characters in horror for all time, our pal, Frankenstein.
Frankenstein Underground #1 will be published by Dark Horse Comics on March 18, 2015. For more details, visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics right here.
“Giant” is not quite as spectacular as “Gone with the Wind,” but it certainly holds its own. Both are colossal movies in star power, production, and size. “Giant,” however, is in a class all its own as it addresses head-on the curious relationship between the United States and Mexico and beyond. It is a powerful indictment on intolerance, expressed boldly and with audacity. And in 1956!
YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE.
The whole movie can be boiled down to one scene. In fact, the movie could very well have been made simply for the sake of this one scene. You may know it, or know of it. It’s easy to do a quick search and watch the clip on YouTube. But, like most things in life, we gain from digging deeper. You simply must see the whole movie to appreciate its significance. Like I say, this movie came out in 1956. We Americans still have much to learn, as a whole country, don’t we? Some people think all we need to do is build a wall.
HOLD ON THERE!
By the time we get to that momentous confrontation in a modest roadside diner, the main character of Jordan “Bick” Benedict (played by Rock Hudson) has grown by leaps and bounds as a human being. The suggestion is that so could America, as a whole, and anywhere else there is ignorance and hatred. It was there then. It is here now. We just pretend it doesn’t exist, at least too many of us do. That’s what Bick did. He never acknowledged, let alone cared about, all the Mexican people around him. He was the patriarch of a cattle empire in Texas. That’s all that mattered. Even if Mexicans worked on his ranch and cared for his children, as far as he was concerned, they didn’t really exist. So, if any harm came to them, that wasn’t his problem.
WE HAVE US A FIGHT!
Some people assume all is well with the world as long as they are doing well. They cannot, will not, see beyond what they consider to be important. Maybe it’s a sewing circle, or collecting recipes, or a family pet. In the case of Bick, all that mattered was the family estate of Reata. In Edna Ferber’s novel, faithfully brought to the screen by George Stevens, we find in “Giant” the sweeping epic story of Texas. We follow the Benedict family from about 1930 to 1950 and see how Bick reacts to the great transition from a focus on cattle to a focus on oil. The fate of the Mexican population seems lost in the shuffle but it is always referred to, demanding some kind of answer.
THE FACE OF A NEW AMERICA.
By the time we reach that moment of truth in that diner, Bick must act instead of just react. The precision drumbeat has begun to the rousing tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” on the jukebox just as Bick and his family walk in. The signal is clear, we have something big that’s about to happen. Bick’s eyes have been opened to the world. He can empathize. His own son is married to a Mexican. And they have a beautiful child, Bick’s grandson. When the family arrives at the diner, the diner’s owner is prepared to throw them out but hesitates. He barks an insult and cowardly walks away. A few minutes later, a serious confrontation is inevitable.
In just a few moments, Bick witnesses the diner’s owner manhandle a Mexican family that had just arrived. Bick is now in a position, in his mind and heart, to take a stand. As the music on the jukebox swells, Bick and the owner engage in a fight. First words, then fists, and then total mayhem. It’s the most direct and honest thing that Bick has ever done in his whole life and, to think it possible, in the defense of the Mexicans. While in may seem amazingly sophisticated and enlightened for such a major motion picture to have been made at that time, it really is not too much to ask. The tide was slowly turning towards social change. The general public, whether or not they admit so in public, know right from wrong. In fact, “Giant,” is a widely acknowledged icon. Like its name implies, it is too big to ignore and too big to dismiss.
Whatever your interest or background, there is something for you in Christopher McDougall’s book, “Born to Run.” Forget about whether you even like sports, this is one of those books that encompasses more than its subject and is simply a pleasure to read. This 2009 New York Times Best Seller has reached many readers. But there’s still a legion of couch potatoes who would benefit from reading this book. I know I did!
McDougall is a former war correspondent and brings a no-nonsense approach to his work. This is one sharp and vigorous guy. So, when he turned 40 and his body began to ache and stumble, he set out, like a guy, to fix the problem. He wanted to run. But his doctor told him that his large frame was not suitable for running. Instinctively, McDougall knew the doctor was wrong. As if by chance, McDougall discovered the story of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. This is a tireless group of runners, of all ages, who run 150-plus miles at a time, cheerfully in bright colored robes and sandals. If there could be a more whimsical scene, McDougall had probably not come across it before.
To find the free-spirited Tarahumara would require entering an area just as fearsome as any war zone. The Copper Canyons have everything going against you: wild animals, intense heat, narrow gorges, rocky mountainous terrain, and a crazy maze-like environment sure to swallow you up. If a snake or a coyote doesn’t get you, then maybe a drug warlord will. But what if McDougall could find himself the ideal guide? Sure that was easy enough. He just had to find Caballo Blanco.
Caballo Blanco is painted to be somewhere between legend and ghost. He could be a fright to the unaccustomed and was so elusive as to cast doubt on his very existence. McDougall plays with the mystery and serves up a slice of detective story narrative as he relentlessly tracks down his only hope of true contact with the Tarahumara. Caballo Blanco featues prominently in this book. McDougall spends a great deal of effort in unveiling this mystery. But, even after countless attempts, Caballo remains an enigma. This makes sense as you continue to read. Caballo had been out in the Copper Canyons for far too long to ever be fully understood, labeled, and set on a shelf. What McDougall does find out, however, is exactly what he needs to know. McDougall does justice to the man in this book. Caballo Blanco passed away last year.
With great care and enthusiasm, McDougall metes out facts to make his case which involves a leap of faith back to nature. With the sensibility of a novelist, McDougall dove tails from one scene and character to another. He switches back in time and focuses on one subplot and makes his way back to advance the main plot. What he seeks is nothing less than the truth and that runs the gamut from running shoes to all of humanity. He starts out with the idea that he, along with the rest of us, have settled for less. Once he has made contact with the mystical Tarahumara, he is convinced that their joie de vivre is the key to getting his own joy of life back on track.
It’s a question of finding patterns and confirming facts. As he gets to know more ultrarunners, including legends like Scott Jurek, one thing is clear. The best runners are the happiest runners. They run because they love to run. And what is it about running? It seems to be something so basic, primal. More investigating, and McDougall finds compelling information to back up the case that we humans evolved from hunters running in packs. And when did our naked feet lose their capacity to run? Again, the facts bare out a case for bare feet. We are at our best when we run and when we are not impeded by added padding and support. It appears to be a fairly simple truth. But sometimes the easiest truth is the hardest to expose. McDougall knows that.
Simple myths can be hard to overcome. Like the myth that you reach a point when you’re too old to run. The fact is that the human body regains its peak running performance over time. By age 64, you will be back to your peak of age 19. And, thanks to Nike, we can still be swayed by our fear of injury. Nike is always ready to provide pseudo-scientific remedies of added padding and support. But there is absolutely no need to be swayed by all the hype. A simple shoe is more than adequate. The pros train barefoot and some even run barefoot. The essential takeaway from this book is that we never needed running shoes before Nike “invented” them. All that padding and support keeps your feet from landing properly and, ironically, leads to the very injuries you are trying to avoid. Here is a quote in the book by Olympic coach Arthur Lydiard:
“Those sideways flexings of the ankles begin only when people lace themselves into these running shoes because the construction of many of the shoes immediately alters the natural movement of the feet. We ran in canvas shoes. We didn’t get plantar fascia, we didn’t pronate or supinate, we might have lost a bit of skin from the rough canvas when we were running marathons, but, generally speaking, we didn’t have foot problems. Paying several hundred dollars for the latest in high-tech running shoes is no guarantee you’ll avoid any of these injuries and can even guarantee that you will suffer from them in one form or another.”
Perhaps Caballo Blanco will just have to remain an enigma. But McDougall learned what he needed to know. Despite the fact that Caballo’s choice of actually living in the Copper Canyons was far more poetic than practical, McDougall can understand why that would have been enough for Caballo. Along the way, McDougall learned to trust himself and develop a light running technique. In the process of writing his book, he got his life back. He can run. He can run as much as he wants and not have to answer to anyone. That seems to have been all that Caballo Blanco ever wanted.
You can visit Christopher McDougall at his website here.
What does the Mexican Revolution mean to you? It began in 1910 and raged for well over a decade. In the end, the great social experiment of the 20th Century wrought very mixed results. But it clearly had its heroes and at the top was Pancho Villa.
Here in the United States, we have gotten a lot of American Civil War books, graphic novels, movies, television programs, and re-enactments, observing the 150th anniversary of various milestones. Mexico is doing the same with milestones related to the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. One distinguished graphic novel you will want to consider is “Pancho Villa Toma Zacatecas,” written by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, drawn by Héctor de la Garza “Eko,” and published by Sexto Piso. This will appeal to readers interested in graphic and fine arts, history, and Mexican history in particular.
On June 23, 1914, the Battle of Zacatecas, the bloodiest battle of the Mexican Revolution, saw Mexico’s most iconic hero, Pancho Villa, and his rebel forces, defeat the Federalist General Barron. This graphic novel provides an inside look at Villa and his men. It is a story told in stark black and white which is becoming of the dark and gritty theme. The dialogue sounds authentic and is peppered with salty language which would not make it suitable for younger readers. This is something more appropriate for young adults and up. The artwork and the narrative are what adults would expect from any high quality graphic novel.
Eko’s woodcut style evokes a feeling of blunt urgency. Taibo breaks up the narrative with informative passages alternating with extended scenes such as Pancho Villa with his men on the battlefield. If you don’t happen to speak Spanish, don’t let that stop you. It never stopped me from buying comics by Tardi before Fantagraphics Books translated the French. There’s an idea. Perhaps Fantagraphics would be interested in translating this book. It would definitely be well worth it.
For the convenience of some our readers, you can purchase “Pancho Villa Toma Zacatecas” through Amazon here.
Comics Grinder welcomes all our Hispanic readers to provide any feedback, if you’ve already had a chance to read this book, or anticipate reading this book. You can learn more at the Sexto Piso website here.