TidalWave Comics has an amazing track record of delivering concise and compelling comic book profiles and you have probably come across some of them. This latest 22-page comic book on the legendary punk band, The Misfits, is part of its popular “Orbit” comic book series focusing on personalities who impact the world. And, if you know anything about this series, then you know that it can masterfully get down to granular details while always mindful of the big picture. As I read through, I was blown away by the fly-on-the-wall perspective and steady pace.
Straight outta Jersey!
The story opens on a living room scene, circa 1977, in Lodi, New Jersey, as told by the second bass player, Jerry Caifa. The LP pressings have just arrived and Jerry is none too pleased to see that the order has printed his last name when he expressly stated to only use his first name. And the narrative just keeps moving. The guys painfully realize, as they catch a Ramones show, how much they need a dedicated frontman on guitar. They find one. More players follow. More adjustments follow. They discover how well they’re doing leaning into horror.
Intrigue in the studio.
And then, one day while browsing a thrift store, they stumble upon the idea for the band’s mascot, that world-famous skull. Bigger shows right around the corner, just before a few more detours and going down rabbit holes. But this kind of rise to the top is always one step away from burning down in flames. Writer Joe Paradise smoothly covers all the drama, particularly how songwriter Danzig managed to pretty much hijack the whole Misfits brand along with the credit and profits, at least for a while. A court case finally decides in favor of the rest of the band to continue as The Misfits. But it hardly ends there as our story proceeds. Artist Martin Gimenez perfectly evokes all the ups and downs with an urgent vibe running through his artwork. This is a great comics tribute for hardcore fans and newbies alike.
From Apartamento comes All The Things I Know, by New York City artist Zebadiah Keneally. This is a most audacious 380-page epic of a graphic novel that explores what it means to be human, especially when the world is on the brink of collapse.
I’ll say here that this book is a big deal. It is both a whimsical and serious work which tackles profound issues while also being fun and highly accessible. As you will learn from this interview, it’s a long process that requires dedication to do right. Zebadiah Keneally is coming to it from a fine arts background which is a distinct plus since it just means more tools to work with. There are many more layers of things going on, including video and performance. In fact, Keneally’s performing as the characters in the book is a whole thing all to itself.
There’s so much to be said about this monumental work. It was provided to me in a PDF preview and, I must say, it’s even better when you get your hands on the actual book! Keneally has tackled the great graphic novel with all he’s got as an artist and writer. It is a mashup of a quirky shaggy dog kind of story and a great epic fable. Anything is possible when you have gods and humans at odds with each other. And, at the center of it all (or at least he’d like to think so), Hamburger Vampire, a mad villain of monstrous proportions, both tragic and comical. This is a new generation’s weird comics, a new voice calling out to anyone who will listen that it’s time to wake up and live your best life.
So, yeah, I highly recommend that you get this book. Just go over to Apartamento for the details. It’s a big book but I’m working off this theory that people love a big book with big ideas. This is one of those monumental graphic novels, with lots going on, and it definitely benefits from taking the time to get to know it better. Take it with you to a cafe, or to the beach. Really, this worked for me.
We discuss pages from the book.
Once I took the time and leisurely read this on the beach, I began to connect the dots, and felt equally enlightened and entertained. And then, to top it off, I got the chance to interview the creator. There’s a lot of things that go into a good interview: lots of prep work; and even a bit of luck as things come together during a conversation. That said, I hope you enjoy this chat, conducted on Zoom and email follow-up, and welcome a new rising star in the world of art-comics.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Thank you for joining me for this interview.
ZEBADIAH KENEALLY: It’s a honor that you’d want to talk about my book. It’s really cool.
I want to start with a question from out of left field. Tell us about Detective Lovebeard. I swear to you, I seem to have zoned out that heart-shaped beard when I first read your book as a PDF. Of course, I saw it but I didn’t read it for all its worth. If that makes sense. Can you chat about this character?
Interesting! Well, I studied printmaking as an undergraduate and I got involved with a community print studio. I was playing around with the chine collé technique and came up with this image of two heart-shaped beards with sunglasses. For some reason, that really stuck with me. I was mashing things together for my characters. Part of what propels my graphic novel is a murder committed by the character Pittsburgh Cat. Lovebeard pursues him. He becomes this symbol of logic and reason. I wanted to explore that kind of thinking being taken to the extreme and reaching a breaking point.
Imagine that you’re at the grand opening of an art show presenting pages from your book. How would you describe it to a passersby audience?
My elevator pitch goes something like this: All The Things I Know is the story of an evil villain bent on world domination and mind control who goes by the name of Hamburger Vampire. He is a snake oil salesman and capitalist par excellence. His attempts to control the world are foiled by none other than God. He gets resentful and hires Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, out of retirement in Hades, to help him kidnap God so that he can control the world.
Meanwhile, a failed artist and down-and-out drug addict, Pittsburgh Cat, bottoms out on the beach in Miami. After accidentally killing a motel proprietor, he’s pursued by Miami’s most revered detective, Lovebeard. Pittsburgh Cat meets God on the beach. God takes him through a wormhole, right in front of the detective’s eyes. His world-view begins to crumble as he pursues Pittsburgh Cat through mystic circumstances. They end up meeting Lara, the librarian. And together, they team up to save the world from Hamburger Vampire.
It sounds to me like you had more fun answering the first question!
Well, that’s marketing for you. It’s essential. You need to support your book.
I was performing a bit with that last answer.
Let’s explore the book, get lost in the pages. If a reader relaxes with it, all sorts of treats are revealed. How long does it take you to create a typical page?
About four to five hours. Especially the right page you’re on now depicting a pharmaceutical factory and that hand of a doctor writing a prescription. That was a very involved drawing. The timeline on the creation of this book is nonlinear. And these pages you’re looking at were drawn in 2016. At the time I was drawing a lot on the commute to and from work. These pages were drawn on the New York City subway.
Wow. I love knowing that! I’m trying to imagine you on the train. How big are these pages?
Not much bigger than what they look like in the book. 19 by 28 centimeters, or 7 by 10 inches.
What sort of pen do you use?
I drew these with a Micron #8.
A lot of artists will relate to that. I marvel over the busy energy to these pages, like Pittsburgh Cat rolling through the landscape. Or here’s an example that depicts an absurdly cluttered room but the actual style of drawing is very clean and precise.
Even though I went to art school, in a lot of ways, I taught myself to draw. I threw out a lot of the rules for figure/ground relationship. Everything is in focus. I don’t draw in a way that will lower the contrast in the middleground or background. Everything is crystal clear. When I imagine one of these scenes, I imagine every single little detail, which can make my drawings feel a little overwhelming to surrender to. But it feels honest in how this stuff exists within me.
I wanted to add something about Pittsburgh Cat that you’d mentioned about him rolling. There’s that intervention he has with God on that cliff that begins this rolling process. This scene came to me in a dream. It was a technicolor cartoon dream. One of the only ones I’ve ever had. I woke up in the middle of the night kind of stunned. This was how Pittsburgh Cat was introduced to me. These panels happened. This is the recording of my dream. And, at the end of the dream, when he lands on the beach in Miami, this logo screen came up and it said, “Pittsburgh Cat,” and it showed his face, in these pulsating bubble letters. I asked myself, Who is this? What’s happening here? And I actively began to imagine where the story went from there.
That’s wonderful, so genuine. There’s patterns running throughout the book, whether it’s eyeballs or other repeated imagery, like here, with a hand pointing. You’ve got Hamburger Vampire in the forefront. His right hand is pointing at Corporate Woman. And his left hand is agitated, pointing with a hand repeated three times at the elevator button. Can you tell us something about composing a panel like this?
I grew up watching Looney Toons and Tom & Jerry, those kind of classic cartoons. There are emphasized moments when, for example, a character’s eyes will jump out of their head or they’ll take off running and their first few steps will be moving in place before they move through space. I always loved that effect. Honestly, I don’t think I’m good enough a draftsman to render that stuff the way other artists have done but I still wanted to try to capture that essence. The page you’re referring to, it was an essential plot point but visually it was missing some motion and energy. So, I’ll often employ that technique of repeated imagery.
Of course, I love all the things you do with the dope vape motif. It’s not just the hipsters, even the mayor is hooked on dope vape!
And it just keeps building. Finally, you’ve got a mob of people, dancing in step, like a scene from Thriller, all hooked on dope vape.
Some years ago, in Brooklyn, this street drug, Bath Salts, got really popular. There’s this notoriously hectic subway transfer point, Myrtle/Broadway. At the peak of the Bath Salts epidemic, there were addict zombies lining the streets. Bath Salts had the effect of paralyzing people, similar to heroin. It was a pretty horrific sight. It’s one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moments. It captured my imagination and pointed out to me the kind of desperation that is prevalent in the culture, the need to escape from all the pressures that exist at this moment in time. That subtext was a way to underscore conceptually what I wanted Dope Vape to represent in the story.
Zebadiah Keneally as Hamburger Vampire
What I’ve observed from a lot of comics critics, is that they embrace a certain kind of weird. Everyone will bow down to Gary Panter, for example. But for the new kids on the block, they’ll be harder on them. How are you handling this as your book goes out into the world?
That’s a tough question for me to answer. I immediately thought about your comment (in your review in The Comics Journal) about the scatological God. That particular scene had been inspired by a portion of Carl Jung’s autobiography where he relays this, hardly offensive, dream of God defecating on a cathedral, and how that began his trajectory as an eminent psychologist. His thinking has influenced me a lot so it was important for me to make a nod there. In that sense, I believe I’ve experienced more of that tougher eye.
On the other hand, I feel very much like an outsider in the comics world because I’ve come into it from a fine arts background. When I took on this graphic novel project, it challenged me as to who I was for a bit. Aside from your review in The Comics Journal, I feel that it hasn’t been noticed at all in the comics community at large. I don’t feel like I’m a part of that community at this point.
I’m happy to be taken to task on my review. I think I might be on to something when I say that it can be hard for people to accept the new weird, not that your work is only “weird,” but it’s something new, the new kid on the block.
I’m grateful for getting a chance to see your work in the first place. Of course, a PDF is a completely legitimate way to read something but not ideal in many ways. Not to overstate this, but I’m so happy to have gotten to experience your book in print. Reading an actual book helped me catch all the details and truly appreciate what you’ve accomplished.
Well, I’m happy to hear that, Henry.
I wanted to say something about how you handle the human figure. It’s all very artfully done, very beautifully done, gorgeously clean work. Were you ever at a crossroads when you had to confront drawing the gods nude?
Honestly, it really wasn’t a question for me.
There you go.
(Laughter) I wrote a script for this first and it’s more pages than the graphic novel and the gods figured large into that script. At one point, before I started drawing, I thought, I’m going to have to draw these guys naked a lot. I’ve always been taken by the human form and loved figure drawing when I was in my twenties and obsessed over rendering bodies and strong lines. There’s something primal and unabashed about how the gods behave and conduct themselves that their full frontal nudity corroborates.
Yes! I wholeheartedly agree. I think more cartoonists should embrace the human form. I think you just draw so well. It reminds me at times of Mary Fleener. You could say you’re a new generation’s Mary Fleener. Well, you’re doing your own thing and so well. I can’t emphasize that enough.
We’ll go through some more pages. Here’s one with Lovebeard in the library. It’s so gorgeous. You’ve drawn every single book there.
It’s so nice to hear you point that out. I look at the work of other artists and admire the way they edit and leave out details. I’ve tried to embrace the less-is-more approach but it never feels right to me. At heart, I’m a maximalist!
You’re not overthinking it. That’s just your natural way of tackling things. Did you ever worry if it was all going to come together, through the years of work, or did a certain rhythm sustain you?
Sometimes I wondered if it would all come together. I began working on the first draft around 2009-2010 and it was a slow process and I didn’t get very far. By 2012, I really started working on this story. I drew in a much looser and gestural way, about 450 pages. I was trying to tell the whole story only through drawings. But it seemed like I’d weaved something together that wasn’t working.
I began drawing another version in 2016. I was doing these very detailed time-consuming drawings, without a script. I found that the pace I was at was preventing me from telling my story. I set it aside but it wouldn’t leave me alone. When the pandemic hit and lock down began, I knew this was the time to write the script and that would guide the drawings. I began that process. I had enough drawings from the 2016 version to make a pitch to Apartamento and they, to my surprise, picked it up.
This provided the opportunity to work from the script and translate it into drawings. That was a total task. At many points, I was uncertain about getting everything into the drawings based on the groundwork I’d created in words. I had to do a lot of editing and get rid of a lot of favorite plot lines. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it and stunned when I’d completed it!
Is there something you could tell us about Hamburger Vampire, since the character goes so far back into work?
I moved to New York City in 2009 and I got a job delivering mail to Goldman Sachs. I’d graduated college just before the recession had hit. Work was hard to come by. And suddenly I’d found myself working for this bank that had a huge role in this financial crisis. I felt like I was working in the gates of hell to some extent.
I would hide out in a janitor’s closet on the 26th floor and draw when it was slow in the mail room. And, all of a sudden, as I was reassociating, there before me was a hamburger with a lettuce mustache and vampire fangs. I looked at it and said, “Oh, that’s Hamburger Vampire.” He immediately became an evil entrepreneur: just that kind of greed; that self-serving desire to the max. I really wanted to look at what that would look like for an individual who had no compunction about running roughshod over anyone to get their way. That must have been around 2009-2010 that he was served up to me on a platter. His characteristics, I imagined, were always related to Donald Trump: so that kind of gregarious/mafioso con man–with a lot of power.
Can you describe your relationship with Apartamento. They hadn’t done a graphic novel before your book. How did that come about?
It came about quite naturally. I had made a zine with a publisher out of Zurich, called Nieves Books. And through that I got introduced to the executive editor at Apartamento, Robbie Whitehead. Robbie asked me to illustrate their annual cookbook which they do as fundraiser for a cancer foundation in Barcelona. I was so excited about that opportunity and brought everything I had to that project. We did a Zoom interview to discuss that cookbook and they had seen all the things I’d been doing and wanted to know more about me as an artist. There was no way to talk about that without talking about Hamburger Vampire, who is a character that I’ve done a number of videos and performances as over the years. I discussed my graphic novel and Robbie was interested. It took a while to get everyone on board but it all worked out.
Toxicus Masculinum, Sweet Lorraine, Brooklyn, NY with Elliot Purse. Curated by Katie Hector, 2020
Can you give us a little taste of your experience working with art galleries?
What is essential is getting involved with communities of artists. For example, when I was younger, it was being part of a group of artists at the Robert Blackburn printmaking workshop in Manhattan. From there, I met artists working on independent risograph publishing and I got to collaborate with them. They would put on exhibitions and I would perform at a bunch of those. I would go to a lot of gallery openings of people that I knew from the print shop, from college or who I had met a party.
So, I’d just meet people, make friends, invite them to my studio. You build connections with people who are doing creative things. The opportunities to show in galleries grow from those friendships and connections. Jacqueline, who runs Good Naked, is really wonderful. She saw my work on Instagram. She had made a decision to start a gallery at that point and she DM’d me and asked if she could come visit the studio. I showed her some drawings that ended up in this book, among other things. We had a conversation and discovered we had similar values in things in regards to art: being genuine and playful with a certain entertainment bent to it. She invite me to paint a mural in her gallery. That gave me an opportunity to scale up; most of my drawings are pretty intimate, you know, 8.5 by 11 or 10 by 7. It was really exciting to go big–and have a wall!
As we wrap up, let me ask you about the title of the book, All The Things I Know. That begs the question as to what this book means to you. What does the title mean and what are “all the things” that you know now, after all these years, from having created this book?
It’s a funny title, All The Things I Know. It gives the impression of being a memoir which this book isn’t in any practical sense. Around the time I started working on this story, I had had an idea about a performance that went like this: I lock myself in a studio for an unspecified period of time, cover the walls with paper and endeavor to write all the things I know, not leaving until I had completed my task. I didn’t have the gall to actually do that, and I got obsessed with the characters in the story so I threw myself into that. I had no idea what to call this book I found myself working on, so I decided to call it All The Things I Know, after this zany performance art idea I thought I wanted to do. Fast forward a year into working on the first draft and I realized that all the characters were me – or aspects of my psyche. I did the long division and saw that they represented my desires: for the material, for the intellectual, for the spiritual (Hamburger Vampire, Lovebeard and Pittsburg Cat respectively). With them, I was imagining what the collision of these drives might look like; I began to understand the book as a psychic memoir. When it came time to finalize the title 10 years later, I’d been calling the book All The Things I Know for so long that I could not imagine titling it anything else, despite my worries about misleading readers. Wanting to ground the title in the story, I wrote it into a scene where Pittsburgh Cat bemoans the rapidly shifting tides of his life, saying to God, “Listen dude, I don’t know what I know anymore. All the things I know … or thought I knew have been eviscerated–” That’s more or less how I feel, after all these years, having created this book.
Thank you so much, Zebadiah.
Thank you, Henry.
All The Things I Know is published by Apartamento. And you can also find it at various other outlets, including Amazon.
You can find Zebadiah Keneally here. And make sure to see the zany promo video at Apartamento!
Somebody Feed Phil the Book. by Phil Rosenthal and Jenn Garbee. Simon & Schuster. New York. 2022. 352 pp. $32.50
What is not to like about Somebody Feed Phil the Book? It’s the series come to life! If you are a fan of the food and travel show, created and hosted by Phil Rosenthal, well, this is the essential companion piece. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve viewed all the episodes on Netflix and occasionally still go back to some of your favorites. Totally fine. I’m not judging. I’ll go you one better and confess that I was an early adopter to the series and got my better half hooked on it. After that, we went back and picked clean the original PBS series, also created by Phil. Finally, we went back to other stuff related to Phil, chiefly the comedy classic sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, the show that Phil Rosenthal created and wrote for and firmly established him in the first place. I wonder, does this not ring any bells for anyone? I sense there was a time when Phil was more under the radar and now it really seems that, dare I say, Everybody Loves Phil!
The wonders of Bangkok.
The first thing I did was go through the table of contents and see which cities made the cut. I was surprised not to see Paris or Florence. But I was happy to see that New York and London, among others, did make the cut. Here’s the thing, for fans of the show, this is really special and that sense of the special should carry over quite well to just about anyone. What you get is a genuinely delightful host, who cherishes and features his loved ones on the show, provides numerous heart-felt and useful bits of insights on travel and, last but not least, pays tribute to a favorite subject of mine, food. It’s like the whole show in your pocket, or your kitchen table. And you get all these recipes! I keep rediscovering my love for good cookbooks when I am presented with a book such as this that is following a theme (in this case, it is predominantly a theme of adventure and appreciation). Thanks to this book, I can honestly say, I’m seriously looking at traveling to Thailand. The first city featured in the series, and the book, is Bangkok and it’s Phil’s unbridled love for the food and culture that has completely won me over.
Yes, the recipes are solid. You could live off the recipes in this book.
And so I dove in and went for it. No, not the travel part yet. I dove in and followed the recipe for Khao Soi, which Phil admitted to being his favorite dish, or pretty darn close to it. So, yeah, I fired up the test kitchen and we had ourselves quite a feast. I learned so much from that experience. I think it comes down to always being mindful of how much you get back when you make that extra effort. Now, this dish did seem to require some patience but, overall, it’s so much fun to make, relatively easy and lends itself to so many variations. Basically, you need meat, noodles, some chili paste, coconut milk and the rest of the ingredients just fall into place. Yes, the recipes are solid. You could live off the recipes in this book.
A fantastic tribute to New York City.
Again, the ability to enjoy the series in a different format is priceless. Of course, it was inevitable that I’d go to my favorite episode, the one devoted to New York City. Hands down, this is a city made up of restaurant customers of one kind or another, whether nondescript or celebrated, from the most humble to the most fancy. Pizza, of course, gets a lot of attention. And then there is one quintessential delight in particular, the noble Egg Cream, an utterly simple drink made up of chocolate syrup, seltzer and milk. But there are essential details. Aim for about equal parts to each ingredient and serve in a chilled glass. The syrup needs to be Fox’s U-Bet. And the way the drink is mixed can cause great debate. It’s Phil’s intense interest in culture and food that inspired me to create my own tribute to the egg cream. Perhaps I digress a bit but it’s all worth noting and, from what I’ve seen, this is definitely Phil’s favorite treat.
A taste of New Orleans. It’s all about the food and the culture.
The whole point of the show is to celebrate your favorite foods but then go beyond your comfort zone. Travel! See the world. That’s what life is all about: mixing and mingling with folks from different cultures. Phil has proven time and time again to be an excellent host, an all-time great evangelist on adventurous eating and traveling. In many ways, this book is his life’s work. He’d laugh–but he’d also nod and give you one of his goofy, and worldly-wise, smiles.
Somebody Feed Phil the Book is available as of October 18, 2022. Find it at Simon & Schuster. For information on the book tour, go here.
Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Art of the Street and Smith Universe. Neil McGinness. Abrams. New York. 2022. Fully illustrated, hardcover. 352pp. $58.50
Walter Gibson was the writer behind the masked hero, The Shadow. Writing under the pen name, Maxwell Grant, he developed a character that seemed to emerge on its own, out of the confluence of pop culture media, circa 1930: pulp fiction and radio. The character was a strange mix of mystery and daring, part of something bigger, and a sign of things to come. The strangeness begins with the eerie voice warning that it sees all: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” followed by a shrill cackle. Such an otherworldly introduction to adventure was like mana from heaven for the millions of beleaguered radio listeners across the country confronting the dire reality of the Great Depression. Stranger still, at that point, there was only the weird voice to introduce the mystery hour–but the voice had become the star! Overnight, people wanted more. Who is The Shadow? Where do I get The Shadow magazine? This would lead to perhaps the greatest scramble ever to flesh out a popular character that did not yet exist!
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”
The Shadow went on to become the leading product of the famous Fiction Factory, founded by Francis Street, a bookkeeper, and Francis Smith, an aspiring writer in the 1850s. Street and Smith bought the New York Dispatch, a newspaper focused on news, and turned it into the New York Weekly (1858–1910), a newspaper focused on fiction, the foundation of what was to become the Street and Smith publishing empire. It was when this publishing house decided to step into creating radio shows that The Shadow emerged out of the ether. Pulp Power covers this phenomenal enterprise providing the reader with an in depth look at the origins of America’s first pop culture icons: The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger, Justice Inc., the trailblazers that would inspire Batman, Superman, The Fantastic Four, even the whole ball of wax at Marvel and DC Comics. Thanks to this generously illustrated book, with engaging writing by Neil McGinness, the original glory days of American pop culture come to life for the reader in this unique collection showcasing dazzling covers from pulp fiction, comics and movies, along with assorted ephemera.
The Shadow magazine
Getting back to The Shadow, if there is just one character to represent the exuberant creative force at play in the early years, it has got to be this strange, yet beloved, fellow. It’s fascinating to consider how much this character is so much of its time, and defies being easily bounced around various media until it finally settles into what works. Ultimately, a lot is working; it’s just a matter of doing justice to the material. You won’t be seeing a major motion picture anytime soon, until maybe you do. What you can count on is The Shadow thriving in prose and in audio. Perhaps that’s simply because The Shadow is so much a creature of the night, a mysterious force not to be observed too closely. He also has his specificity. He’s a New Yorker, and don’t you forget it. Thankfully, Neil McGinness does take a close look for the sake of better understanding the attraction. Essentially, it comes down to quality storytelling, which can’t be faked; it involves so many factors coming into place; and runs best with one determined author.
The Shadow comics
The Shadow’s original author, Walter Gibson, followed a tried and true formula, a five-point plan that never failed: a main crime; a problem arising from the main crime; a secondary crime that serves to complicate matters; an attempted third crime to thwart the investigation which is foiled by the hero; and the climax which reveals the villain, the trick, the true nature of the crime. It is a ticket to endless variations and served Gibson well as he went on to write nearly 300 Shadow novels. Not only that, Gibson was sensitive to literary refinements. In fact, The Shadow is closely based upon Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is a hero but a dark hero. A crime fighter as grim and merciless as the worst criminal. This is a complicated character shrouded under layer upon layer of ambiguity. . .while, at the same time, just a fun thrill.
Orson Welles portrait by Irving Penn, for Vogue, 1945
The Shadow radio show ran for 17 years, from 1937 to 1954. Orson Welles, then only 22 years-old, served as the first voice of the character in 1937. Welles was quite busy with his own Mercury Theater and would do the show with no rehearsals. He just did it and he proved to be one of the best of the actors to take on the role. This was around the time that Welles was at his hottest: a year later, he would make history with his War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938. It’s a nice touch to see included here in this book a photo of Welles at the height of his success, a portrait by Irving Penn, for Vogue in 1945. It’s a masterwork of a photograph, complete with all of Penn’s still life magic–and a fitting companion piece to the magic and mystery that is The Shadow.
A Charles Ray sculpture on the rooftop of the Whitney.
I want to talk about the Whitney Biennial with you. Let’s talk Whitney and let’s see why you should make it over there if at all possible. Have you gone? Do you plan to go? The last day is September 5th! I recently got a chance to see it and I’m still processing! This is just a quick teaser. In a forthcoming post, I’ll cover some of the history behind this New York treasure, a must-see showcase of contemporary art, and then we’ll just take a casual and straightforward look: some art will seem to defy easy access; and some will invite immediate engagement. Take a look at the above sculpture by Charles Ray, for example, it’s all there right away while holding back some secrets. Who is the figure lounging upon a block? It seems that a piece like this is about being transparent as well as being ambiguous, inspiring all sorts of questions.
Titled Quiet as It’s Kept, the 2022 Biennial features an intergenerational and interdisciplinary group of sixty-three artists and collectives whose dynamic works reflect the challenges, complexities, and possibilities of the American experience today. The Whitney Biennial 2022 runs from April 6, 2022 to September 5, 2022.
It’s a long way through from The Elm to The Big Apple, and it’s not only the title to a collection of artwork by Raheem Nelson but a landmark in an exciting art career. As a kid, Nelson took a long commute from his home in New Haven, Connecticut, nicknamed, “The Elm City,” to the School of Visual Arts in New York City. In order to save money on the expensive room & board on campus, Nelson had to take a long and arduous commute, leaving him with little room for sleep. But grit and determination have a way of paying off if you’re persistent. Raheem Nelson is such a person. Take a look at his art and you see what he sees: a urban landscape that can, despite the odds and the rough times, sustain a sense of wonder. Yes, wonder. And, I have news for you, style too! You gotta have plenty of style. I don’t care if it involves basic stick figures. If it lacks a sense of purpose, then why bother, right? Nelson has stuck it through and has excelled in carving out a niche for himself as an artist with a specialty for paintings rendered on the iPad. And his work, by the way, definitely has style.
Raheem Nelson is a hard-working artist. He teaches high school, elementary and middle school students, as well as conducts adult workshops. I was introduced to his inspiring iPad Painting workshop through the online courses offered by Arts Alliance of Stratford. Nelson has proven to be a favorite son of the community not only for his teaching but for his vibrant artwork that has lifted up locals. Recently, some of his portraits were turned into a mural to honor the Arts For Labor program for the International Festival of Arts and Ideas.
So, I invite you to check out the video interview. For those who have read this far, let me encourage you now to stick around for a special art demonstration. Nelson provides a wonderful sample here of the insights he has to share from his experience with not only the iPad but also from his background in traditional painting.
Ah, but there’s more. For loyal and curious readers, you have just unlocked one more door to art goodness. Check out Nelson’s website and you’ll find a treasure trove of art print options along with NFT art too. In this interview, Nelson provides in-depth profiles on some of his most popular works being sold as NFTs.
Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation. Liana Finck. Random House (April 12, 2022). New York. 352pp. $28.99
Cartoonist Liana Finck (born 1986) is the Millennial generation’s answer to James Thurber (1894 – 1961). It’s not an exact match but close enough for the purposes of this review. The two main points of comparison are first, that Finck is, like Thurber was in his day, a superstar cartoonist at The New Yorker; and second, the fact that she draws in a very spare manner. Thurber’s own artwork is similar in sensibility. He was primarily a writer and it seems he was content with a relatively basic cartooning style. So, these are two very different people but both are equally beloved all-time favorites at The New Yorker, and that says plenty about each cartoonist’s respective zeitgeist. For Thurber, his writing, and cartoons, featuring the battle between the sexes, were reliable sources of amusement, beginning in the 1930s. During a time that saw the ascendance of the American male, Thurber was well equipped as a writer to question that position; and, as a cartoonist, to poke fun at less than infallible man. Finck does something similar with her cartoons as they confront current societal conflicts. Both Thurber and Finck represent The New Yorker at the highest level. Recently, the magazine devoted numerous pages to promote Finck’s latest book. This is all to say that Finck’s book, on the subject of The Bible no less, is one of those books, a big deal kind of book, set up for heavy scrutiny. As for me, I can see what Finck is doing as following her own quirky creative path. Maybe she’d prefer not be the voice of her generation but, at the same time, I see where she can genuinely embrace that. In the end, it makes sense for her to tackle Adam and Eve and Old Testament dogma and put a whimsical stamp on it, one that gently comments on gender roles.
God making a world.
The biggest comment on gender in Finck’s biblical retelling is having a female God. Of course, that doesn’t have any of the shock value that it might have had in Thurber’s day. In fact, it’s possible that Thurber would have been just the cartoonist who could have gotten away with having a female God. Think of all the god-like women in his cartoons! Today, maybe the shock value might be found, for those looking, in Finck maintaining distinctive male and female roles as opposed to today’s focus on gender fluidity. If Finck had wanted to break new ground, or be a provocative voice of her generation, she could have gone down that route. But she doesn’t do that. Instead, I think she holds true to a more fundamental view of her generation and that is of attempting to be more humble and modest. What you get in this book is a bunch of very gentle low-key humor.
Asking the big questions.
It seems that Finck is taking her cue from a quote she provides at the beginning of her book by Jamaica Kincaid that she found the King James version of the first book of the Bible to be a book for children. That quote sets the tone for what follows. Keep in mind that it has often been pointed out that children can be far more perceptive than adults. In an excellent cartoon or comic, however light, irreverant and spare, you can find some of the deepest meaning. For instance, upon realizing she’s naked and should feel shame, Eve is worried about whether she looks fat. That’s funny and quite poignant. It certainly keeps with Finck’s sense of humor.
Once you’re settled in, this book has the ability to charm you if you let it. Finck’s God is definitely a hoot. We all know about that famous temper but Finck’s God also happens to be rather neurotic, prone to worry. In short, she can be a softie too. When she sees that Adam is having a hard time, she reaches out to him. Indulging the fact that Adam mistakenly sees God as a stern old male authority figure, she tells him he was right to name her, Jehovah. Again, very funny stuff and pure Finck.
Like a grand painting that has been cleaned from numerous layers of restorations, Finck lays bare the main players in this drama. Finck lays out a simple narrative with vulnerable characters, pared down to their most basic forms as cartoons, observed simply and directly. When Lilith offers Eve an apple and Eve resists, Lilith leans in for some sympathy and says, “Listen. God never liked me.” But then she goes one better and reveals to Eve that God doesn’t like her either and confides, “But if you have knowledge, then you don’t need to be liked. Here. Take it.” Funny and with a bit of a subversive touch.
The bigger question is whether or not Finck has a bigger vision to pursue beyond a gentle rapping over the knuckles of King James and his lot of biblical scribes. First off, Finck is compelled to make the Bible relatable to younger readers and does a wonderful job of inserting insights connecting it to the Torah. To be sure, Finck has plenty to say about the patriarchy, beginning with Adam, then Cain, and steadily progressing through a laundry list of male culprits. By midway through the book, Finck makes some big creative leaps, like superimposing biblical scenes onto contemporary settings. The results can be quite moving as when she follows Abraham’s pursuit of an art career in New York City only to discover that his success leaves God utterly unimpressed. Ultimately, Finck is at her best in the quieter moments as when God falls in love with Noah and it leaves Noah pretty stressed out. It’s in these strange little moments that Finck is fully in her groove. And then she’ll take things one step further as in a beautiful passage where she depicts how God created the world only to gradually make herself recede into the background, although not completely. Perhaps a gentle poking fun of less than infallible man is the spark to going further. It is not only in keeping with a long tradition of mellow and subtle New Yorker humor but actually hits just the right notes for a wearily self-conscious and sensitive younger generation. So, let there be light, and it doesn’t have to be overwrought or blinding. In the process, you can end up saying just what you need to say. In the end, Finck knows, and demonstrates in this book, how to reach those high points and make the work transcendent.
Casey Neistat in his element, a camera in the Big Apple.
Here’s a deep dive into what led to my latest short film. This one is ostensibly about urban sketching. I’m going to share with you a few things about a workshop that I just completed led by all-time great YouTuber Casey Neistat thru a filmmaking class on the platform, Monthly. I’ve been wanting to level up my moviemaking and this really helped me appreciate the beauty of editing. I came to a deeper understanding of the artistry behind a finely executed work. Just like any other art form, you get back as much as you’re willing to put into the process. It takes time to make connections and to see what to cut out and what to add in.
Lady Yum, Macarons & Mischief
When I began this particular video, I never thought I would end up discovering Lady Yum, the best spot outside of Paris for macarons! But that is the case. When in Seattle, you’ll want to make time to stroll around the Amazon section of downtown and then make your way to the main Amazon building. At street level, you’ll find Lady Yum. And you can always order online since they’ll ship anywhere in the U.S. But I would never have discovered any of this if I hadn’t been open to the process. One of the great bits of advice from Casey Neistat is to continuously seek out “interestingness.” Seek out the best and then, once in the editing process, really dig deeper. Be efficient! Be quick! Don’t be redundant! Don’t be dull!
Casey Neistat in his studio.
I did learn a lot and I still have a lot to practice. Casey compared the filmmaking process to writing. For instance, you don’t need a magic pen in order to write. And that’s very true. You can make awesome videos just from using your smartphone. But, more to the point, the metaphor holds most true in regards to creating order out of chaos. Bit by bit, you mold various random elements into a compelling whole. It is fascinating to see Casey speak to his art in more and more refined details, from one module to the next. By the last segment, he admits that it was enlightening for him to articulate, to “intellectualize” for an audience, the stuff he’s been doing for the last twenty some years, since he was a free-spirited teenager. Add to that the fact that he actually shows you all the nuts and bolts by going out and creating two videos from scratch. Casey has a long history of scrambling to create the next compelling viral-worthy video. He can now pick and choose his projects. It’s just a lot of fun to see him back in the ring and fighting the good fit for artistic excellence and integrity.
The Amazon Spheres
You can “learn” the process but then you need to do it for yourself. In a friendly aside, Casey asks, “You have been taking notes, right?” Assuming that no one has probably bothered to do that. He gives everyone a cheerful nod, “I hope you take as much as you can of what you’ve remembered!” To the very end, at all times, Casey Neistat knows how important it is to engage, relate, and get to the point!
So, I set out to leave the confines of the studio and go outside and make some plein air painting. That led me to the Amazon section of downtown Seattle, specifically the Amazon Spheres, erected in 2018, the two formidable globes housing more than 40,000 plants from the cloud forest regions of over 30 countries. This is a habitat for Amazon employees to go to in order to recharge and remain inspired. It’s quite a sight and easily makes one think of any number of other iconic landmarks, from the Space Needle to the Eiffel Tower. The Spheres are not exactly meant for the general public. There was some limited access inside, two Saturdays out of the month, but that’s been paused. That said, most people would just be happy enough to view it from outside. I was content to complete my mission and then I lingered because I knew I had really just begun. Only much later did I sort of stumble upon Lady Yum and that finally provided a way to hook into something far more interesting with a crunchy goodness.
Jeremy Dauber offers the reader an expansive and fascinating read with his new book, American Comics: A History, published by W.W. Norton & Co. I recently reviewed it and now I present to you this interview with the book’s author. Jeremy Dauber is a professor of Jewish literature and American studies at Columbia University. He is the author of Jewish Comedy and The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem, both finalists for the National Jewish Book Award. We navigate our way through quite a lot of material and have a great time chatting about a subject we all seem to have something to say about.