Berlin is a monumental work in comics. Few cartoonists will come close to such an achievement–and it couldn’t have been created by a nicer guy. What came across, over and over, during this talk is the fact that Lutes is very accessible and down to earth. That open approach plays into part of what makes his landmark work so special. It all began when teenager Jason Lutes wanted to make sense of a documentary about the holocaust he was suddenly exposed to in a high school history class. The teacher for that class was an alcoholic who made no effort to hide his struggles. He literally set up the movie for his class and left to get a drink. That abrupt and careless action ultimately triggered an in depth exploration of Weimar Germany through a creation of an expansive work in comics that would take 22 years to complete.
#ProtectMueller march in Seattle on 8 Nov. 2018
It was not lost on anyone during Lutes’s talk related to the dismantling of the German government of the 1920s that concerned citizens, just outside on the streets of Seattle, were protesting Trump’s own inroads into dismantling the U.S. government. Timing is everything. That Thursday night book talk directly coincided with protests across the country in support of protecting the Robert Mueller investigation after Trump installed a loyalist as acting Attorney General of the United States. Details are everything. If you follow the characters and the rich narrative of Berlin, you can’t help but get an eerie sense of having a mirror held up to the past and to the present.
Cartoonists holding each other’s works: Jason Lutes with David Lasky
Authenticity is everything. What is so appealing about comics by Jason Lutes is the solid storytelling. That involves a dynamic use of the comics medium: a crisp consistency in step with strategically placed visual elements that are pleasing to the eye and move the story forward. A quick example: I was standing in line to get my copy of Berlin signed and I made a point of poring over each page as I flipped my way through. Right around the midpoint, there is a page made up of wordless panels showing a mysterious figure in a row boat. He reaches the shore to find what looks like a vicious snake. He picks it up by its jaws and overpowers it. That same character reappears in the book as does the snake, both providing just the right doses of symbolism as well as pure entertainment. It’s important to note that, while Lutes referred to vast amounts of research and reading, he also fondly recalled the influence of key works in pop culture. Berlin Alexanderplatz, a novel about Weimar Germany, by Alfred Döblin, holds as much importance to Lutes as his viewing of the original Star Wars movie as a kid. Altogether, what you have in Berlin is an honest look from an individual processing and distilling at a meticulous level.
Cartoonists Revisit: Jason Lutes with Jennifer Daydreamer
For many in the audience that night, it was an opportunity to revisit a respected work and commiserate with a friend and colleague. Seattle is a lightning rod for countless creative people and that includes a high number of independent cartoonists. There’s a certain sensibility to the alt-comics artist with Jason Lutes being a prime example. As he discussed in his lecture, it was Seattle that he gravitated to in the 1990s. After attending the Rhode Island School of Design, Lutes moved to Seattle and worked for the comics publisher, Fantagraphics. He subsequently worked for the alt-weekly, The Stranger, just as it began publication in 1991. During this era, Lutes became part of a group of cartoonists that went on to form an integral part of the Seattle comix scene. That group included some members that were in attendance that night: Megan Kelso, David Lasky and Jennifer Daydreamer. It was a treat to have part of the gang together again on such a special occasion.
Has a major American city ever commissioned a graphic novel as a public art piece before? Seattle is on board! Cartoonist David Lasky and writer Mairead Case have been selected (from 71 applicants) by the City of Seattle to create a fictional graphic novel centered around the historic Georgetown Steam Plant. The goal is to increase awareness of this unique landmark with a graphic novel geared toward young adults.
Panel from “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song”
David Lasky is the co-author (with Frank Young) of the Eisner-Award-winning graphic novel biography, “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.” Chicago writer Mairead Case is the author of the acclaimed prose novel, “See You in the Morning.” A story by Lasky and Case, “Soixante Neuf,” was featured in Best American Comics 2011.
West elevation exterior of engine room. The Georgetown Steam Turbine Station, built in 1906 is now a National Historic Landmark. The plant is owned by Seattle City Light and has been working to restore the plant. It is open for tours the second Saturday of each month and is occasionally used as a teaching facility for steam power engineers and hobbyists.
Here is a brief email interview I did with Mairead Case today:
What went through your head when you got the news about being chosen for this special graphic novel project?
Well I was, am, sincerely grateful: to be from a city that celebrates public monuments with comics, and to have visibility and support for the creative relationship David and I have pretty much always had, even when nobody else was looking. Grateful to have work that includes time for oral histories and site-specific research (no screens!). And aware of the responsibility to accurately represent Georgetown’s diverse history—we want to use this platform to amplify and illuminate the stories that are already here, not co-opt them. For real. (Also, I was really happy to have news that would make my mom proud.)
Are you already envisioning what your routine will be like with the project?
David and I are both pretty focused, detailed nightowls so I expect we’ll have a focused, detailed, nightowl routine. That said, it’s amazing to have financial support for this project so it’s really exciting to think about how we might work in new ways with that gift. (We might even work in the daytime, ha!) But no matter what we’ll be collaborating closely. And we will probably listen to Bowie at some point.
Did you ever think you’d be creating a graphic novel about a steam plant?
I feel like I’m supposed to say no here, but why not? When I was a kid I wanted to be a tightrope walker so maybe this is not that far off.
What do you think this project might say about the role of graphic novels in America?
Ah, I think our role is to make the book and then other people can tell us! But it is terrific terrific terrific that Seattle is supporting a project like this—it’s really wonderful that an American city in 2017 is using art to build community, as defined and remembered by that community. I’m used to telling (maybe yelling a little too) at the government about that, and am still gobsmacked that this time the government was all “we know. Go.” I hope that other cities say “Go” too. The talent is here! American cities, if you want me to send you lists about the talented storytellers I know in your neighborhoods, just send a flare.
You can keep up with this intriguing project right here.
And, if you’re in Seattle this weekend, be sure to stop by and see David Lasky at the annual comic arts festival, Short Run.
Our friends at Short Run are known for their comic arts festival but they have other wonderful events going on year-round. Consider their summer school schedule. I just took Megan Kelso‘s seminar on graphic novels. And I found that to be a very special treat. I like how she equates working on a graphic novel to playing with a big ball of yarn. How true. Even for an experienced cartoonist like myself, there is always something new to learn. I may end up taking some more of these classes if my schedule allows and, if you’re in Seattle, I highly recommend that you do the same. You can take a look at the remaining schedule right below starting with an essential Photoshop workshop led by James Stanton for cartoonists looking for tips on how to color their comics:
Noel Franklin explores various Gen X concerns, with a Seattle sensibility, in her ongoing comics series, GONE GIRL. It will grab you right away with its distinctive use of chiaroscuro. Franklin’s artwork comes from a printmaking background and that is what you’ll find here, printmaking turned into comics.
What will charm you is Franklin’s recollections of such things as Seattle during the grunge era. Looking back on it, it was a fleeting time but perhaps no more fleeting than any other scene. Things happen. Time marches on. Fortunately, we have such keepsakes as GONE GIRL.
From GONE GIRL COMICS #1
This is a comic on a slow boil. Take a careful look and every bit of it has been patiently put together. That owes, in no small measure, to the Gen X ethos which I proudly share with Franklin. Yes, we are Gen Xers. Baby Boomers still hold their own. Millennials shine in their own way. And Generation X still informs discussion at-large in spite of ourselves. In our youth, many of us often adopted a spacey belligerence mixed with pre-snark weird humor. In the end, we always demand authenticity.
GONE GIRL COMICS #2 by Noel Franklin
Each 24-page issue of GONE GIRL collects an assortment of stories. For the first issue, Franklin features recollections that take us all over Seattle in the ’90s. There is a moving tribute to the OK Hotel which hosted some of the greatest alt-rock acts of the era. She recounts that in 1991 Nirvana first performed “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at the OK Hotel. In 2001, the Nisqually earthquake left the venerable music venue structurally unsound and had to be closed down.
From GONE GIRL COMICS #2
The second issue features stories ranging from childhood recollections of Chicago to a fantasy piece about anachrophobia. They are all held together by a fiercely independent vision which brings me back to the idea of a Gen X spirit running through these pages. It seems to me that we were creative trail-blazers without fully realizing it or making a particularly big show about it. All this was pre-internet. We didn’t just draw something and then post it on Tumblr. No, instead, it was like the recollections Franklin shares here about doing an odd day job to get through art school. In her case, she was working as a welder to pay her way through a degree in Photography. Back then, it seems that the art-making process was more far-ranging and we deliberately took the road less travelled. However you want to look at it, this leads to compelling art and remarkable work like this series.
For more details, visit Noel Franklin right here. Visit her on Patreon right here.
Especially in uncertain times, we seek escape in such genre as post-apocalyptic fiction. For her ongoing graphic novel, “The Age,” Katie Wheeler turns genre on its head by giving it a decidedly alternative comics sensibility. Her artwork has that crunchy, bold, and inky look to it, very expressive and direct. This 78-page first installment is one of my favorites from this year’s Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle. The story thus far has a nice self-contained feel to it while prompting you to look forward to more.
I believe that both Wheeler’s art and writing have a distinctively raw and authentic quality. So, when she goes in and tackles genre, it is handled in a meaningful way. When you reach that inevitable confrontation, and violence, it’s not empty entertainment, per se, but something to think about. We begin with ten-year-old Emma searching through a neglected home. The theme of searching runs throughout as Emma, and a lot of other kids, find themselves in a crisis with an aggressive airborne disease. Worse yet, it is the children themselves who may be the cause of this strange disease. No one seems to really know for sure. The only thing that is for certain is that it has led to a definite split between children and adults.
THE AGE is one of those works in comics that achieves what it sets out to do with flying colors: it holds your attention. Like I say, this has everything to do with a genuine interest in the characters and that’s a hallmark of alternative comics. Wheeler has the patience, and dedication, to spin her yarn with care. And, keep in mind, this is actually how folks like Robert Kirkman began. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but The Walking Dead began as an indie comic all those years ago. While there are no zombies to be found in Wheeler’s comic, it is going to appeal to readers looking for something different, offbeat, and with some bite.
“The Secret Life of Plants,” by Sarah Romano Diehl
In the 1932 short story, “Green Thoughts,” by John Collier, we are treated to some dazzling horror but we are also invited inside the mind of a giant orchid. This unique plant’s point of view is what we find in this recent mini-comic, “The Secret Life of Plants,” by Sarah Romano Diehl.
Collier’s work most likely inspired the cult classic movie, “Little Shop of Horrors.” Diehl’s work takes a more mellow approach. In fact, her inspiration was a song by Stevie Wonder, “Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants.” You can listen to it right here.
This is a beautifully rendered little book in the true spirit of mini-comics. It’s like a little calling card for a new cartoonist. You present yourself at the party, you do a little dance, and finally you leave and go on about your business. And then maybe you wait. Someone like me might pick it up, set it down, and then return to it.
What’s interesting here is a sense of determination and an adventurous artistic spirit. This comic is alive, like a bee making its way into a flower! There’s a good deal of interesting ambiguous imagery. I really have no idea what the colorful flames represent at the end but I don’t believe you’re supposed to know. From what I see, Diehl is an accomplished artist and this little book is a fun and open-ended work that is very enchanting.
From the first page of Kara Queen’s new comic, “A Wind From Nowhere,” I felt as if I had been invited into a quiet space where secrets were revealed through whispers. There is 11-year-old Madelyn sitting on the rooftop of her apartment building talking to Ichabod, a one-legged crow. Then, one day at school, her world is rocked by a boy named, Harper.
Kara Queen has a solid way of evoking the vulnerability of youth. She takes her two main characters, inevitably lacking in self-awareness, and places them on a treacherous journey that both are unlikely to survive. This is a study of a crisis that just keeps getting further out of control. Perhaps Madelyn and Harper should never have met but, despite the cloud that hangs over them, they seem to be meant for each other.
A WIND FROM NOWHERE by Kara Queen
The ill-fated relationship has everything to do with their instability. Neither one has much of a foothold on reality. At least Madelyn’s offbeat perspective leans to the whimsical. Harper’s view of the world veers towards homicidal.
Madelyn, Harper, and the crows
There’s a lot of heart to this comic. You really believe in the characters and their struggles. Queen has an energetic and compassionate drawing style. As you might have suspected, there isn’t much in the way of healthy parental support for these kids. But Queen is careful not to paint them as monsters. Instead, she manages to evoke that murky world of dysfunction where things just aren’t working the way they should be.
“A Wind from Nowhere” is a 50-page full-color comic, priced at $12, and available right here. And be sure to visit Kara Queen right here.
The Short Run comics haul compiled by Henry Chamberlain and Jennifer Daydreamer
I am going to do a quick recap for you of the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival that took place this Halloween at Seattle Center. We had such a great time. Jen and I are so happy. This year I was an exhibitor and got to debut a couple of comics. One was the printed result to my annual 24-Hour Comics Day marathon, entitled, “Hello Hello Hotel Hotel,” and the other is the first part of what will be full-length graphic novel and this one is entitled, “George’s Run.” I want folks to know me as the “George’s Run” guy. Yes, this one is significant. And for many reasons. As I was saying in my review of Bill Griffith’s “Invisible Ink,” the past has a way of slipping away and that’s mostly because few people are working to gain it back. I’m working here to gain back a lot of stuff and celebrate it, explore it, and just be inspired from it.
Here I am debuting George’s Run at Short Run!
Anyway, back to the show. There is nothing quite like Short Run in Seattle. It is truly a treasure to be grateful for. Here you have gathered in one place such a wide and varied assembling of great talent in comics and zines coupled with the zesty and substantial accompanying events that Short Run puts together in October, and throughout the year. I’m just honored to be part of it. And I don’t take it lightly at all. Every participant at Short Run is vital and I know that each and every contributor takes the role quite seriously. We’re all sharing in some awesome mutual respect and love.
Short Run at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center, 31 October 2015
We all want to see underground comics make it more above ground and Short Run is leading the way. I found Short Run to have more of a broad audience as opposed to a niche audience that you would see at the Small Press Expo. This is just a general observation but I base it upon what I was observing and conversations I had at my table. I had folks who had never heard of “Logan’s Run,” or never seen an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” or never heard of “Adventure Time,” or never heard of 24-Hour Comics. That just tells me that we were seeing a pretty good amount of the general audience mixed in with the core audience–and that’s great.
A ghost from a Peanuts Halloween special checks out Short Run
You go to the Short Run main event at Seattle Center to make new discoveries. For someone like myself, it’s something of a reunion party as I get to catch up with a lot of old and new friends in the comics community. There is always something new, something just around the corner. I began with my tablemates for the day representing Section 8 magazine to the right of me and a compilation of the classic zine, Desperate Times, to the left of me. Here is a fun video just to give you a sense of the camaraderie that grows during an event like this. Here you will find Maire M. Masco, author of the zine compilation, “Desperate Times: The Summer of 1981,” and Tony Harris, owner/CEO, and Mike Peters, marketing/social media manager of Section 8 magazine:
Well, I have my haul of comics to go through. I see over twenty options for reviews. I will get to all of them one by one in the days, and weeks, ahead. There is much to cover as we make our way to end of the year. So, I will be reviewing a ton of stuff and keep coming back to titles that I picked up from Short Run.
Short Run pumpkins welcome visitors
Again, I cannot say enough how inspiring and joyful Short Run is for us creators and, surely, for everyone who stepped out and took in this jewel in the comics community. Visit our friends at Short Run right here.
Tom Van Deusen is a cartoonist based in Seattle who, along with several other cartoonists, started up the quarterly comics newspaper, Intruder. His work includes the comics, “Eat Eat Eat,” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” He was instrumental in bringing back the comics anthology work associated with writer Dennis Eichhorn and “Real Stuff.” Tom’s Poochie Press brought out two issues of “Real Good Stuff.” Subsequently, Last Gasp published, “Extra Good Stuff.” This was an opportunity to revisit previous collaborations as well as new ones between Mr. Eichborn and cartoonists.
Real Good Stuff #2
Dennis P. Eichhorn died October 8, 2015. He was one of the autobio genre’s best-known luminaries. Once nominated for three Eisner Awards for his work in Real Stuff comix, Eichhorn also authored the Real Smut comix series, and self-published The Amazing Adventures of Ace International, Real Schmuck, and Northwest Cartoon Cookery in collaboration with Starhead Comix. A former senior editor of Seattle’s now-defunct Rocket Magazine, Eichhorn distingished himself as the creator of one of America’s most notable art tabloids, the Northwest EXTRA!, by editing and publishing 16 issues in the late 1980s.
Tom Van Deusen’s art on the cover of Seattle Weekly
Tom Van Deusen loves to create art: words, pictures, and words & pictures. He dose it quite well and seemingly effortlessly. That is part of the appeal, for me, as I see him as someone who simply loves what he does.
Tom Van Deusen’s “Space Duck”
The image above is a good example. I was looking through items he’s posted and thought I’d ask him about the duck on the moon. Tom laughed and, almost apologetically but not quite, said that it goes back to his just drawing for the sake of drawing.
Tom has taken the comics bull by the horns and accomplished a lot in these last four years that he’s focused on comics. Although, truth be told, he’s been creating art for longer than that. Most notable for him has been his work with writer Dennis Eichborn. We talk about Eichhorn, the world of comics, and the world of an indie cartoonist. Aspiring cartoonists will often ask cartoonist vets about how to break into comics, if there’s some secret handshake involved, and Tom is a shining example of what’s really involved: a simple love for the work.
Henry Chamberlain: Tell us about your connection with Dennis Eichborn.
Tom Van Deusen: I met Dennis Eichhorn through Pat Moriarity, who is a great cartoonist and worked with Eichhorn on the original run of Real Stuff. I’m a big fan of his work as is my friend and fellow cartoonist, Max Clotfelter, and a whole lot of other cartoonists. Max had been keeping up with a sort of football blog that Dennis was doing. Actually, it was more of a newsletter that he’d email to friends. It was mostly about college football but it also included a fair amount of autobio work. And Max contacted Denny about maybe working together on creating comics. At that point, Eichhorn hadn’t formally published anything in about twenty years.
He had these great new stories and, from that, we asked him he’d be interested in working with a new generation of cartoonists. And Kaz knew him and wanted to work with him again as well. And he agreed. I had these ideas at the time of doing some small scale publishing work. I had self-published for a few years my own comics. So, we decided to do a Kickstarter. We drove over to Bremerton and met with Dennis. I think I only met with him four or five times. We had a very successful Kickstarter, almost doubled our goal.
We got to put out a 64-page double issue and worked with a lot of great cartoonists. Noah Van Sciver wanted to do one. We got cartoonist from the original Real Stuff, like John Hurley and Mary Fleener.
And from there, Dennis had all these other stories he hadn’t published and that led to a second collection that was picked up by Last Gasp. Distribution is really tough. And, for me with a full-time job and trying to create my own comics, getting this book published has been the hardest thing I’ve done so far. It was really lucky to get Last Gasp on board to publish the second volume.
HC: I loved that I got to pick up my copy of that second book at the Seattle ferry terminal, of all places.
TVD: Ha, what was it doing there?
HC: There’s a great story behind that. Dennis Eichhorn’s wife, Jane, let me know that she arranged to have it available at the newsstand there since that was her regular spot to pick up the Sunday New York Times for Dennis on her way back to Bremerton.
TVD: Oh, that’s great!
HC: I wanted to ask your take on underground comix.
TVD: Well, from the ’60s or ’70s, or more recent?
HC: Yes, it is era-based. Take your pick. How would you define it, overall, for people totally unfamiliar with this?
TVD: Anything that’s not mainstream. And mainstream usually means genre work. That’s work that’s never really interested me. Even growing up, I never read superhero comics. I was more into “Ren & Stimpy” and a bunch of other crazy cartoons coming out when I was a kid. When I finally started getting into alternative comics in college, I picked up Crumb and Chris Ware. I think that goes hand in hand. It’s work that isn’t genre…which is sort of a sad description since most things aren’t genre. Most things aren’t “superhero” and “action” outside of comics. But, for some reason, comics are so dominated by things that are more suitable for children. Underground comix are more suited for adults, although they don’t necessarily have to be.
Alternative comics can be anything. And, once I found that work, I was really excited that I’d found my calling. It took a long time. They’re kind of hard to find. Distribution is crumby. Unless you know about it, it’s kind of hard for people to stumble across. It deserves a wider audience. It shouldn’t have to be “underground.” In France, this is major media. It’s not something just for enthusiasts. In Japan, everyone reads comics.
HC: It’s good to hear you use the term “alternative comics,” which I find very useful. It’s “alternative” to market-driven mainstream comics.
HC: How would you describe the scene today? I mean, from your vantage point. You’ve got The Intruder.
TVD: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff coming out. It’s amazing. It seems that I meet a new cartoonist every day. With the internet, cartoonists are coming out of the woodwork quicker than ever. And there’s all these festivals. That’s what brought about The Intruder. We’d been reading Smoke Signal, which came out of Brooklyn’s Desert Island Comics. We want to create something for Seattle. There’s a great comics community in Seattle and always has been. I met Max Clotfelter, Marc Palm, Ian Fitzgerald, and other cartoonists. We hung out a lot. We all drew comics. From there, we did a lot of jam comics. We did a lot of silly, usually scatalogical, comics. We started out with a free newspaper and people seemed to like it.
The only problem is that there’s no money in doing any of this. The problem is distribution. There’s only one distributor, Diamond. They are pretty much closed doors for the sort of comics I enjoy. It’s a bottleneck for small publishers. They exist because of Marvel and DC Comics.
HC: Well, we won’t put too fine point on it. They do have a small press section in their catalog.
TVD: They do have that.
HC: You had mentioned a graphic novel that you really enjoyed in another interview you gave. That was last year’s sleeper hit, “Arsene Schrauwen,” by Olivier Schrauwen, published by Fantagraphics Books. I can see you doing something like that down the road.
TVD: For now, I am focusing on short works. “EAT EAT EAT,” is my longest work at 25 pages and that took four years.
HC: And you enjoy doing comedy.
TVD: That’s how I got into comics, from doing these PowerPoint presentations.
HC: There was a group that did a lot of that some years back called, Slide Rule.
TVD: Oh, really, are they local?
HC: Yes, it was a group of cartoonists in Seattle. I was part of that scene. David Lasky was part of that scene. He could tell you about it.
TVD: I gravitate to that. I enjoy writing up skits. There’s a great comedy scene where I’m from, Buffalo, New York. Great friends of mine there: Matt Thompson, Pat Kewley, and Sarah Jane Barry.
HC: Well, I am impressed with all the things you’re doing. You may end up focusing on writing in the future. Who Knows. I wish you well. Thanks so much for your time.
TVD: Thank you, Henry
You can listen to the podcast below:
Be sure to visit Tom Van Deusen right here. And you can find Poochie Press Publications right here.
If you happen to be reading this on the same day it was posted, Halloween, and you’re in Seattle, go see Tom at Short Run.