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Review: ‘Suspension of Disbelief’ by Julia Wald

Suspension of Disbelief by Julia Wald

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

Suspension of Disbelief: Covid-19 Stories. By Julia Wald. Seattle. Available at Push/Pull. 77pp, $23.

Exercising a “suspension of disbelief.”

Oral history has itself a brief but interesting history in comics. As a former teacher and field worker in the field, as co-editor of an adaptation of Studs Terkel’s totemic Working, and as a collaborator of the late Harvey Pekar, himself a Studs Terkel type, I hope to claim a little authority on this matter.

But not too much.  Oral history is born and reborn regularly, as the voices are heard and  recorded, archived and used. Every interviewee and every interviewer has a unique experience. When the then-new field of oral history passed from the 1950s recording the lives of famous white men lacking memoirs to the civil rights and peace movements recorded by fellow participants, something changed in the nature of the field. Oral history eventually gained  a shaky presence in academia. Its participants are, as they had already become a few generations ago, a peaceful army of under-appreciated activist-scholars, some in the classroom, more of them outside.

We can hope for a better future.

Comics, the adaptation of oral history as comics, has added a new dimension. Stan Mack, in the Village Voice of the 1960s-70s, captured the language and ideas of random people on the street, and opened up a path to a popular audience. One could call Art Spiegelman’s Maus, his father’s harrowing story, the comic that raised the level of respect and even made comics an accepted “art.” Individual artists have  found human subjects and explored them through oral histories, disguised as fiction. Still, the straight story-telling mode, minus fiction, remains an art undeveloped.

Julia Wald, a young artist from Buffalo and a  graduate of degrees in art and chemistry there, moved to Seattle to become an artist and….works a day job, as nearly all young artists do and must. She responded instinctively, then determinedly, to the coming of the Virus. The men and women her age, working in restaurants and such, were suddenly underemployed if not unemployed, she wanted to tell their stories.

Thus Suspension of Disbelief. It is well drawn and extremely charming. Her subjects are young and youngish people,  a little more than half of them Latinx. They are working the kind of jobs, living the kind of lives that they would have chosen in the post-2000 world of the deteriorated middle class, except that the life they chose has become very difficult for rent, food and other necessities, not to mention the threat of Covid close at hand.

Grateful for the stability you have.

They are depressed but not totally depressed. “I hope that maybe this will change the way we look at capitalism and we will realize that certain social programs are important especially for fellow artists. As artists having the freedom to create work without the pressure of having to make a living from art could be a way of looking at the world.” That is, “it’s never going to be  like it used to be—so letting go is important.” So says Marcy, a videographer with a lot of charm, and no matter that her restaurant job and video gigs are gone. “Now we are all in this together.,” Or drag queen Butylene O’Kipple, “Do I have enough? how much do I need? What even are my actual needs What have I been brainwashed into thinking I couldn’t live without? What can I let go of?”

And many more, waitresses to sex workers, filmmakers to bus drivers. Each has a unique story to tell, and each fits into the mosaic of today’s Seattle scene.

Julia Wald’s first comic outing is a small triumph. I hope it will be widely seen.

Paul Buhle is the rare leftwing scholar of comics. He is coeditor of the Paul Robeson comic, out this year, and drawn by Sharon Rudahl.

Editor’s Note: Be sure to visit Exterminator City (Dec 10-13) where you can purchase Suspension of Disbelief as well as other notable works. And you can always visit Pull/Pull anytime!

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Filed under Comics, Comics Journalism, Comics Reviews, COVID-19, Julia Wald, Paul Buhle, Seattle

Review: A FIRE STORY by Brian Fies 

Many of you may recall a webcomic recounting the horrible 2017 wildfires through Northern California. Except for a smattering of bare essentials, cartoonist Brian Fies and his wife, Karen, lost everything in the fires. Mr. Fies chose to set his recollections down as soon as possible and posted them as a webcomic. His on-the-spot reportage struck a chord and it led San Francisco PBS TV station KQED to adapt A Fire Story into a five-minute animation, which was subsequently picked up by NPR. That animation went on to win an Emmy Award in 2018. Now, in 2019, that 18-page webcomic has been refined and transformed into a 154-page full color graphic novel, published by Abrams ComicArts, that includes an entire community of people.

Graphic novels, I can tell you from firsthand experience, are a glorious beast to tame with their myriad of details to tackle. So, it is quite remarkable and commendable that Fies stuck it out and built a full length graphic novel upon a small scale webcomic. The reader will immediately sense the urgency of a determined storyteller within these pages. Fies is not only telling his story but involving thousands upon thousands of individuals affected by this disaster. In honest words and pictures, Fies shares his loss: “I used to have five redwood trees in my front yard. I saw a refrigerator and the rough shape of a car I used to have in my garage. I didn’t recognize anything else. A two-story house full of our lives was a two-foot  heap of dead, smoking ash.” And Fies shares the loss of others, like Dottie, an 81-year-old woman displaced from her mobile home: “My niece called me. She said, ‘Auntie, if you’re on any kind of medication, grab your medications and come up to my house.’ She didn’t say ‘fire,’ she just said, ‘Get up to my house.’ I could tell by the tone of her voice to listen to her.”

Fie’s artwork has a nice clean, crisp and spare quality to it which lines up well with the urgency of the narrative. Fies still prefers to draw by hand and that added human touch is apparent. The same can be said for the coloring, direct and resourceful with just the right amount of flourish. In fact, the coloring might be made with markers, or at least it has that look to it. So, you get the best of both worlds: hand-drawn ink on paper artwork married to digital components. When Fies chose to document this disaster in real time, he managed to cobble together a purchase of some basic art supplies and it worked out just fine. Someone told him that he must have been compelled to “bear witness” and that is exactly what Fies did in the best way he could, through comics. That need to bear witness is palpable on every page.

A Fire Story is a 154-page hardcover, in full color available as of March 5th. For more details and how to purchase, visit Abrams ComicArts.

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Filed under Brian Fies, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Journalism

Seattle Tattoo Expo 2013: A Weekend of Ink, Mystery, and the Unspoken Energy that Emerges

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A tattoo artist deals with people’s desires and dreams. So do bartenders and cab drivers and let’s not forget therapists, agents, and attorneys and all manner of other good souls servicing a wide spectrum of humanity. People have needs, wishes, and frustrations. People seek answers, release, and resolution. Often they seek out the tattoo artist for more than any form of body art could ever fully satisfy. The seeker and the tattoo artist, in unspoken agreement, realize this and still they meet and arrange together a new portal toward that most elusive of goals, pure happiness. It’s at an event like the Seattle Tattoo Expo, held this last weekend at the Seattle Center, where all that unspoken energy comes to the fore and gains finer articulation by the very fact there is so much of it gathered in one spot.

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If I were to compare a tattoo convention with a comics convention, I’d say there is a certain amount of a fish-out-of-water sensation that both vendors must contend with. You’re not at your home base anymore whether it’s a tattoo parlor or a comics shop. And both of those environments have their own special vibes that are not going to be totally recreated on a convention floor. What you get instead is the next best thing. That is what you get from this tattoo expo, the next best thing to actually being at the parlor. The Seattle Tattoo Expo was created by world famous tattoo artist Damon Conklin. His shop, Super Genius, leads the way in hospitality at the expo. Tattoos are a very personal thing but Damon Conklin and his crew of talented tattoo artists will break the ice. I got to chat a bit with Colin, who is an apprentice at Super Genius, and he was very friendly and in the moment which is great since, truth be told, tattoos are a personal thing.

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What’s great about being at the expo is the opportunity to immerse yourself in the tattoo culture. You can walk in with your whole body tatted up or with no tattoo and it’s all good. But you can feel that special bond that is shared by those that are fully into tats. It can’t be made up. Either you’re really into tattoos and show them off proudly or you’re not–or you fall somewhere in between. If you’ve long admired tattoos but only from a distance, then actually coming down to the expo could be very rewarding. There’s a benefit for everyone, for those who are new to the scene as well as for all the attendees who have years of experience.

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Many people aren’t going to ponder over the mysterious world of tattoos. A fair amount of people are just going to dive in and get one. That would be a mistake. That’s where bad tattoos come from. It’s a fevered form of thinking when all those impulses suddenly rise to the surface and you act way before you’ve fully thought it through. Did you really mean to get a star tattoo? Well, nothing wrong with that but is that really what you meant to do? That particular star, on that particular place, instead of stepping back, maybe concluding that this could wait? All is not lost. These days, tattoo removal is within reach. In fact, there was a tattoo removal booth at the expo. It’s not a perfect process. Mistakes will be made along the way but it’s sure nice when you can avoid them. But mistakes are human and there are plenty of humans. It just makes those who get it right look that much better.

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What does it take to get it right? You get to see a lot of that at the expo. Whatever it is you are seeking, it doesn’t matter if it’s a tattoo or going to college or whatever your goal, you will find that you need to take the time to get it right.

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Filed under Damon Conklin, Lowbrow Art, pop culture, Seattle, Seattle Tattoo Expo, Super Genius Tattoo Parlor, Tattoos