Tag Archives: Writers

Review: THE TANKIES by Garth Ennis

Corporal Stiles, a rough and rowdy fella who is nobody’s fool.

The Tankies. writer: Garth Ennis. artist: Carlos Ezquerra. Dead Reckoning. 2021. 248pp. $24.95

All good writing provides a hook, a way into a story. War stories might seem challenging for unfamiliar readers since they might seem remote–but not if you have characters as alive as the action. Garth Ennis knows this well and it has resulted in numerous thrilling and engaging war stories. In the case of The Tankies, Ennis opens with a panorama of activity evoking the intensity and chaos during the Normandy invasion. After a good amount of blood spill, a leading figure emerges: Corporal Stiles. He’s a rough and rowdy fella who is nobody’s fool. Of course, some folks need convincing, like gunner Robinson who has Stiles pegged for a Geordie from New Castle. And what’s a “Geordie” supposed to be? Robinson is from the East End of London, a Cockney. And, as far as he’s concerned, Stiles is a lowly Geordie from the Tyneside area of North East England. Ah, the petty conflict amid the vast hell of conflict! And there you’ve got the bits and pieces that add up to a good hook!

Enter Corporal Stiles!

This collection of war stories features Stiles, who assumes the rank of sergeant throughout the rest of the book. And, of course, it’s the Tankies (nickname for the Royal Tank Regiment) that remain constant too. In the course of this series, Stiles leads his men from the battle for Normandy to the Nazi heartland; from the end of World War II to the killing fields of Korea. Did you ever read Sgt. Rock comics? Sgt. Rock was a DC Comics staple, created by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert. I think there’s a bit of that vibe here. Of course, Ennis is well steeped in all sorts of military comics from across the pond, namely, Battle Picture Weekly and War Picture Library. This has led to many fine war comics stories from Ennis with The Tankies as a prime example.

THE TANKIES!

These stories will also appeal to you if you enjoy learning about world history. Ah, yes, through the marvel that is comics, you will quickly pick up numerous nuggets of insight all thanks to the tireless research done by Ennis. It is through the comics medium that you can absorb facts by the fistful. The Tankies provides the reader will a gripping narrative while all the time giving the reader a remarkable sense of time and place. The Brits, or “Tommy,” as the Germans mockingly called them, were at a major disadvantage with relatively inferior tanks compared to the sleek and virtually impenetrable Nazi counterparts. Within these pages, the reader will come to fully appreciate what an act of courage it was to climb into a relatively subpar Sherman or Churchill tank to do battle with such Nazi dragons as the Panther and the Tiger. It will send shivers down the spine. And it will have the reader rooting for Stiles and his men.

Boys will be boys.

A good war story, just like a good Western, is dependent upon a sense of authenticity and flesh and blood characters you can believe in. Without a doubt, Ennis delivers on both counts. Couple this stirring narrative with the exquisite art by Carlos Ezquerra (1947–2018) and you have an all-out winning combination of amazing storytelling. War comics, in general, are beloved by fans not only for their grit but just as equally for their humanity. Ezquerra literally puts a face to the action. If you are new to the genre or a seasoned aficionado, you find there is much to love in this collection. You will gain a better sense for World War II and the Korean War as well as the old adage that “war is hell.” So, take the journey with Stiles and his honorable men.

War comics at their best.

Be sure to visit Dead Reckoning, publisher of The Tankies as well as other Garth Ennis titles: The Stringbags and The Night Witches. All three of these titles add up to an outstanding showcase of war comics by Garth Ennis. As any comics and pop culture fan already knows, Garth Ennis is known for such titles as Preacher and The Boys. Well, it will delight fans of these titles to dig deeper, if they haven’t gotten the chance already, and learn the sort of history that you probably were not exposed to in high school and maybe not even in college. As for The Night Witches, this is an in-depth exploration of World War II from the Russian perspective and the view from the female Russian aviator at that! Also featuring bi-planes is the gripping story of The Stingbags. You will find out how antique planes do battle in a new generation’s war. This is war comics at its best.

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Filed under Comics, Dead Reckoning, Garth Ennis, Graphic Novel Reviews, World War II

Interview: Ted Rall and THE STRINGER

War journalism ain’t what it used to be.

Ted Rall is a journalist, cartoonist, and columnist. Ted Rall’s new graphic novel, THE STRINGER, is a political thriller that will appeal to readers who enjoy a full-bodied story with twists and turns. Bringing in his own experience as a war correspondent, Rall’s book has a gripping authentic voice that takes the reader on a wild ride with food for thought.

After so much hard luck, Mark Scribner could really use a lucky break. Be careful what you wish for.

A movie version of The Stringer would be something like George Clooney in Three Kings or Jeremy Renner in Kill the Messenger. It’s a gritty vibe; a fable for our overly-disruptive times. Here is an interview with Ted Rall where we cover the creative process and discuss Rall’s collaboration with artist Pablo Callejo as well as tackle the media and political landscape. Today was a particularly interesting news day with President Biden’s first formal press conference. Rall has some observations on that too. This is a guy who takes on the left with as much gusto as he does the right. It depends upon the issue and who is in power. One way or another, you may disagree with him but you can’t say his thinking is sloppy and he’s just phoning it in.

Forget the old tropes. A younger woman and an older man who are just friends.

There’s a friendship that Mark strikes up with Margreet, a female reporter half his age. Running counter to the old romance tropes, they remain just friends. It’s not something that’s emphasized. It just is. And it’s nice to see. Rall is highly opinionated but that doesn’t mean his work is heavy-handed. Often, what I see in Rall is someone who is simply daring to talk about a better world–and that can run against various interests; and a lot of people’s tendency to leave well enough alone. Rall’s attitude is “don’t settle for the lesser of two evils.” Don’t settle on corporate lies. Just don’t settle. That approach is what fuels the best of Rall’s work and that’s what you’ll find in The Stringer.

Visit Ted Rall at his website. For more information on The Stringer, visit NBM Publishing.

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Interview: John T. Reynolds and Understanding Comedy

Writer and actor John T. Reynolds

John T. Reynolds is a writer and actor, who draws comics and writes for television including The President Show on Comedy Central and “six pants-busting years” on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS. You can find his comics at A Fistful of Babies. We cover a lot in this conversation and there was definitely more we could have chatted about! For this one, I focused on the art of comedy and I think it was a good glue to keep things together.

Craig Ferguson, at the top of his game.

This is a conversation about understanding comedy. Now, to begin with, does comedy need to be understood? Wasn’t E.B. White who said that comedy was like a frog? Once you begin to dissect it, it’s dead, right? Comedy writer Scott Dikkers refers to that in his book, How to Write Funny, and concludes it’s a small price to pay in order to learn comedy! Indeed, that is what this interview is all about: understanding comedy. We run a class act here at Comics Grinder so I opened by interview referring back to a book that Reynolds mentioned in a comedy writing class I took that he was leading. Reynolds referred to a recent collection of writer workshop essays by George Saunders and commented that it’s interesting to note that the mechanics of creative writing considered to be at the highest levels are just as relevant to the mechanics of comedy writing for the general public. Ah, so we began on a classy high note. There was nowhere else to go but down from there–or so it seemed. Because, in fact, the point here is that there’s an art to everything, even a seemingly goofy show like The President Show, about one of the goofiest creatures to ever roam the earth.

Anthony Atamanuik mercilessly channels Donald Trump on The President Show.

Reynolds trained with the Upright Citizens Brigade. It’s from there that he teamed up with Aubrey Plaza and other comedic talent. My connection to all this is a course that Reynolds leads, The Writers Room at Laughing Buddha Comedy in New York. I did an open mic a while back, pre-Covid, and I recently took his course, Late Night Writers Room available via Zoom, among an array of awesome comedy workshop courses. We discuss that and many other things, including Mr. Reynold’s own cartooning adventures that you can find at A Fistful of Babies.

cartoon by John T. Reynolds

And here is some more data in a different configuration via the UCBT site: John wrote and performed on the Peabody Award-winning The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS for six years before the host quit. Now John writes full time for DreamWorks Television. He has been in many shows at the UCBT in both NY and LA, most notably in ASSSSCAT, Reuben Williams: As Seen On TV, as Joe Eszterhas in Showgirls: The Best Movie Ever Made and on Harold Night. He has also performed in many roles on television, radio and film and has written for many other TV shows like MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch and Comedy Central’s little seen, but greatly loved, Window Seat.

The latest dumpster fire no one can take their eyes off of.

As you will find, the world of late night comedy writing is all about topical humor. You can create masterful “evergreen” pieces, that are timeless and have their place. But you also have to keep on your toes and be hip to whatever the latest thing has gone viral and is the latest dumpster fire no one can take their eyes off of.

Be sure to keep up with John T. Reynolds and Laughing Buddha Comedy. And one more place you need to check out, which we should have talked about is a show that John does with his partner, Carmen Lynch, that is pretty hilarious. Check out The Human Centipod.

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Filed under Cartoonists, Comedy, Interviews

New Book: ‘Sometimes You Just Want an Egg Cream’ by Henry Chamberlain

Sometimes You Just Want an Egg Cream

On Wednesday, 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Life as we’d known it had changed forever. We are all still in this together with renewed hope and resilience. Many of us became creative. And for many of us who are already creative, we’ve found ways to explore further, and seek out joy, humor and grace. I spent 2020 completing a special graphic novel project as well as this whimsical tribute to the New York Egg Cream. You can get the book in print and on digital. Sometimes You Just Want an Egg Cream adds up to a neat showcase of artwork as well as a guidebook tour involving New York history, culture, and egg creams. It is a long time coming and it feels like the perfect time is now to share this with you.

Sometimes You Just Want an Egg Cream!

Briefly, an egg cream is an amazing soda drink, preferably chocolate. But within that simple mix of milk, seltzer and syrup, all kinds of dreams and memories are made. It was back in the ’80s, during that young lean time, that I made my first visit to New York City. I was coming from Houston, which is a hell of a big city but with a small town character if that makes any sense. I was looking forward to roughing it for a couple of weeks and staying in the no-frills yet intellectually lively 92nd Street Y. What I was not expecting was to have the airline lose my luggage! So, there I was nearly naked except for the clothes on my back for two weeks with the mean streets right along with the cultured streets ahead of me.

A book devoted to the egg cream!

Well, I was young and full of energy and imagination. I gorged on all kinds of sights and sounds. I had my list of things to see and do based upon all kinds of reading I’d done: Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Met, Broadway, the Strand, Coney Island, St. Marks Place! And, moving along at a quick pace, I invited it all in: high and low; bright and dull; big and small; euphoric, melancholic, erudite and electronic. Brash youth that I was, I went for the people’s food, not fancy-schmancy. I was still many years away from taking any notice of Michelin ratings. I delighted in street vendor hot dogs and pizza by the slice. In fact, I still love that grub! And, in my young dewy-eyed state, my mind was first blown to the charms of the knish at Yonah Schimmel Knish right along with the awesome experience of pastrami at Katz’s Deli, and the delectable high of the egg cream at Gem Spa–as well as at Lexington Candy Shop! I was as much in love with the Upper East Side as I was with the Lower East Side! Ever since, whenever I visit NYC, I stop by somewhere and have an egg cream, which is what led me to create this book. Recently, I even connected with Gem Spa and they have some of my art on sale at their site. So, one thing leads to another!

Gem Spa, an East Village legend!

I also have related items, like cool prints and t-shirts, which you can buy right here. And I will keep playing around with this. I foresee more books and related events. If you get the book, you’ll see what I  mean. I should also add here that I fully encourage you to buy one of my New York Egg Cream t-shirts and then post a photo of you wearing it, preferably while having an egg cream at one of my favorite spots in NYC. Who knows, it could happen! You might be reading this right now and thinking that would be a pretty rad thing to do! And so the egg cream revolution is on!

Lexington Candy Shop, an Upper West Side classic!

I will definitely post again items from the book and hopefully start a whole big wonderful New York Egg Cream conversation! What is your egg cream memory? I’d love to know. You can comment here or contact me directly. And join the egg cream club!

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Filed under Books, COVID-19, Henry Chamberlain, New York City

Review: THE STRINGER by Ted Rall and Pablo Callejo

War journalism ain’t what it used to be.

The Stringer. written by Ted Rall. art by Pablo Callejo. NBM Plublishing. 2021. 152 pp, $24.99

Ted Rall has certainly done his homework, and then some, with his latest graphic novel, The Stringer, published by NBM: the story of a gritty hard-working newsman who turns to the dark side. Many general observers recognize the name of Ted Rall and recall him for his audacious muckraking political cartoons. What you may not be familiar with is Rall’s own experience in the field as an  independent war correspondent. Check out these titles, also published by NBM: To Afghanistan and Back, from 2003, and Silk Road to Ruin, from 2014. Rall has twice won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. So, when someone with the stature of Rall writes a satirical graphic novel, it’s going to be a page-turner.

D-Day: remembering honest war reporting on the front lines.

This is not the first time that Rall has teamed up with Pablo Callejo doing the artwork. Check out the bohemian memoir, The Year of Loving Dangerously, from 2009. Between Rall’s rollicking narrative and Pablo Callejo’s spare and measured style, the reader gets an immersive and truly engaging story. Rall is an idealist at heart with a passionate drive to seek the truth. This graphic novel, at its core, has an overwhelming nihilistic force at play. Rall navigates the narrative through a variety of high and low points. Like Walter White, in Breaking Bad, this is a character study about an essentially good man, in the family business of revering the Truth, only to find himself later in life striking a devil’s bargain that becomes more complicated as he must continue to feed the beast.

At the twilight of when we could still believe.

This graphic novel gets its title from what has been known in journalism as “stringers,” the cub reporters sent out into the field to gather up facts and quotes that they phone back to reporters in the newsroom to turn into final stories. The reader follows young Mark Scribner as a boy reporter dutifully being a stringer. As the narrative unfolds, Scribner must face the fact he’s been sort of spinning his wheels, not much more than a glorified stringer for decades. What he does next lifts us off into a full-bodied story: full of intrigue, like the murky zone between Ukraine and Moldova; and finely-etched drama, focusing on Scribner’s personal journey.

“More people follow Twitter than read The New York Times and every other newspaper combined.”

Ted Rall has always had a zealous approach, compelled to speak truth to power. The story of newsman Mark Scribner is a metaphor for what has happened to media in the last forty some years. In a sense, it’s a metaphor for what has happened to all of us: distracted, disrupted, disconnected. Print media has been on the decline for generations, much longer than we may care to admit. The internet and social media gobble up our time; slice and dice our information. The role of the professional gumshoe reporter has been virtually squeezed out of existence. So, when we now demand those voices “speaking truth to power,” we often simply resort to gorging on opinions we feel most comfortable with, often originating from corporations more than happy to keep us stoned on infotainment.

All bets are off.

Alright then, someone like Mark Scribner can’t afford to be the good guy anymore. Scribner is a highly-trained media animal. If he can no longer play by the rules, then he knows of ways to manipulate and exploit news and world events–and become wealthy and famous in the bargain. It all adds up to a delicious read. This is a story fueled by zeal and tempered by two seasoned storytellers. Ted Rall’s writing and Pablo Callejo’s art brilliantly provide the reader with a brash and authentic political thriller. Highly recommended. Seek this out.

For more details, visit NBM right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, Ted Rall

Interview: Jerome Charyn on J.D. Salinger, History and Heartbreak

Jerome and Henry discuss writing, history, and J.D. Salinger.

Just about any reader has an opinion about J.D. Salinger. In his latest novel, Sergeant Salinger, Jerome Charyn takes that most celebrated and enigmatic of writers and crafts a story about history and heartbreak. It is about history nearly lost. It is about history relived. It is about heartbreak of the most sorrowful. In the end, this is a dazzling work that will take you on trip that will give you a more vivid sense of World War II and the journey that led J.D. Salinger right to the precipice. Was J.D. Salinger a great writer. Yes, he had that magic touch, that artistic vision. What does Jerome Charyn do with this story? As Jerome was adamant to tell me, this is not a story seeking to find out who J.D. Salinger was in any conventional sense. This is, after all, a work of art, a work of fiction.

Slapton Sands was a debacle that was almost covered up and lost to history.

For me, I just want to share with you a marvelous novel. There’s so much to enjoy in the way of masterful writing. I cite one example here where J.D. Salinger finds himself levitating up and flying over Central Park on his way to Belvedere Castle. He is transformed back into a boy along with his sister, Doris, becoming a young girl again. They confront a sinister figure, a witch, who is actually Salinger’s estranged wife, Sylvia. Doris is puzzled when the witch invites Doris to a lesson she can’t learn in any school. What could that be? asks Doris. “What can you teach me?” The witch looks at Doris and replies, “How not to exist.” I know this is out of context but I trust you feel a chill from this.

J.D. Salinger was there for D-Day on Utah Beach.

Another reason you may enjoy my conversation with Jerome Charyn is the historic ground that we cover. We do talk some about literary theory and such. But, I think, a lot of you will find more than just interesting a brief overview of World War II. Yeah, in short order, we end up covering a lot of ground. But it couldn’t be helped. J.D. Salinger covered an enormous amount of ground during his service in the war. Salinger witnessed more combat than some of our most celebrated writers on World War II. Salinger was there to observe the calamitous Exercise Tiger, the D-Day landing at Utah Beach, and the liberation of the first Nazi concentration camp. Salinger saw so much, too much. And it sort of broke him. But not so much as to keep him from going on the complete a small but significant body of work, which includes, of course, The Catcher in the Rye.

J.D. Salinger was also there for Hitler’s last stand at the Battle of the Bulge.

Given our conversation, and my continuous searching to understand, Charyn summed it up nicely towards the end of our talk. “As for meaning, I don’t know what the ‘meaning’ is. I know what the music is. The music becomes the meaning. I’m not a philosopher.” Yeah! Kick-ass writing without apologies. For Jerome, the war, J.D. Salinger, New York City from a certain era, all of this Jerome lived and breathed himself. So, creating fiction from it came easy to him. “History is a very strange kiss that lands on you and invigorates and destroys. It is the past that I’m most interested in. It is the past that I try to summon up in my own way.” J.D. Salinger wasn’t a person to dissect and create a profile from. For Jerome Charyn, J.D. Salinger was a haunted house which he moved into and built some solid fiction from. Bring your A-game reading to this one!

And J.D. Salinger was among the first Americans to witness the liberation of the first Nazi concentration camp, Dachau.

Be sure to view is conversation. I kid you not, you’ll be glad to did. And, if you have a moment, your comments are always welcome.

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Book Review: SERGEANT SALINGER by Jerome Charyn

Sergeant Salinger by Jerome Charyn

Sergeant Salinger. by Jerome Charyn. Bellevue Literary Press. 2021, 286 pp. $28.99

Early in this latest Jerome Charyn novel there’s quite an evocative scene of a bohemian living room which includes a framed print of Paul Robeson. It is a telling detail that gives a taste of how a character lives and breathes in their world. In this case, we’re being made privy to the inner world of the estranged wife of playwright Eugene O’Neill. As a creature of the theater, and as a free thinker, it makes sense that she’d enjoy a portrait of a trailblazer of racial equality. All the more so given this was one of her husband’s greatest plays! It’s just a quick little reference but a tick of information that the reader makes note of. It is these ticks of information that accumulate and bring a picture into focus. It is these ticks of information that add up in this novel to give us an in depth look at one of our most celebrated of writers, J.D. Salinger, one who preferred not to be looked at in any close measure.

Oona O’Neill

But Charyn dares to make “Sonny” Salinger the prime focus. To start with, Charyn brings the reader front and center into Salinger’s relationship with Oona O’Neill, the infamous daughter of Eugene O’Neil. Oona was only 18 years-old when she married Charlie Chaplin, who was 53. Truth being stranger than fiction, Salinger and Oona did actually date for a while. Charyn gives us a charming look into what that might have been like: more a frenzied exchange of hormonal excess than raw passion but, something to write home about, nonetheless. The whole affair is capped off by a masterful scene which involves Sonny and Oona obligingly having dinner with Walter Winchell as he holds court at his reserved table at the Stork Club. There’s much talk about Winchell’s chicken burgers. Mostly, there’s much talk about what’s the talk of the town, given Winchell’s prized roost as the leading gossip monger and media kingmaker. Winchell has everyone eating practically right out of his hand, except for the most stubborn like Ernest Hemingway, who makes a delicious cameo at Winchell’s table.

Utah Beach, D-Day Normandy Landings, June 6, 1944.

In keeping with the novel’s title, much of the action sees young J.D. Salinger doing his duty as an American WWII draftee assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps, a band of secret soldiers who trained with the British. If that sounds complex and full of intrigue, well, it is. We find Salinger is witness to the whole Slapton Sands debacle where American soldiers, training for the D-Day Normandy invasion, become human targets, shot by British “friendly fire.” While that is being covered up, nearly lost to history in every real sense, Salinger moves on to the real thing and lands with a second wave on Utah Beach on D-Day all the way to Paris. There, he meets Ernest Hemingway who encouraged his writing. All the while, Salinger goes from one incident after another interrogating Nazis and collaborators. Ultimately, Sonny Salinger witnesses firsthand the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps, where corpses are piled high one upon the other.

J.D. Salinger

No one can blame J.D. Salinger for going through one existential crisis after another. Talk about someone too close to a subject to be able to get some perspective and see the full picture! Here is a man who made his wildest dreams come true and then went on to live a life of the deepest regret. What if Sonny Salinger had managed to convince Oona O’Neill to run off with him and somehow he’d also found a way to avoid the draft? That was never going to happen! Each of them had stars in their eyes and were in mad pursuit of something greater than themselves. And Salinger would never have avoided the draft, it just wasn’t an option. It was definitely not a foregone conclusion that The Catcher in the Rye would ever be published either. But so it was. J.D. Salinger did not invent the contemporary teenager but his book caught on like wildfire as an emblematic work about quirky, neurotic, youthful rebellion. There it was–and still is. The great American novel at its most popular! Since it publication in 1951, it remains a bestseller at astronomically high numbers for book sales. Since it was first published in 1951, more than 65 million copies of The Catcher in the Rye have been sold. Around 250,000 copies of the book are sold each year, almost 685 per day. This is not what Salinger wanted. And yet it was profits from just this one book alone that allowed him to brood in seclusion for decades. The book that should never have been published–but was. To this, Charyn has an answer.

The Catcher in the Rye

If there is one thing that makes a case for the inevitable nature of Salinger’s celebrated novel it is his war experiences. This makes up the bulk of Charyn’s novel which places Salinger in numerous trials and challenges. Charyn is a master at creating haunting moments. He lays one upon the other and deftly makes his case. In so doing here, Charyn answers the question of how it was meant to be for Salinger to write that novel that unwittingly summoned the world. One such moment finds Sonny confronting a special Nazi bicycle brigade. One night, he spots one of these killers, in his rain cape and in his hunter’s cap. The reader can’t help but picture that strange image of a young man wandering the city in a hunter’s cap in Salinger’s novel. That same image is on the original paperback version of The Catcher in the Rye. Sonny witnesses the killer in his hunter’s cap shoot two of his friends at close range, execution style. Sonny, more an interrogator than a marksman, immediately responds and shoots the killer dead.

Back on Park Avenue…

Ultimately, Sonny Salinger must return to civilian life, to where he left off before going off to war in the first place. It means creating some distance to all things related to war, except for the greater truths that make sense for his version of the great American novel. At least that seemed to be what mattered most for a time and he would see it through. Sonny would pick himself up. He was back on Park Avenue, back on track to pursue his literary dreams, at least for a while. And so Charyn brings the reader up to this point. Sonny now has time to observe something other than horror. Sonny now can ponder, with his sister, Doris, the mysteries of a basement floor walker at Bloomingdale’s. Sonny now can ponder the mysteries of bananafish. And, in time, as if inevitable in more ways than one, Sonny can preside upon the unleashing of a literary and pop culture phenomenon, the story of a troubled teenager in a hunter’s cap.

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Interview: Julia Wald and the Art of the Interview

The Suspension of Disbelief by Julia Wald

I ask that you keep going on this journey with me. I have been carving this niche for years and I feel like I’ve got it at quite a cozy level with just the right content and pacing. That said, it’s time for another thoughtful interview. For my video interviews, I add here a few notes and observations. Traditional journalism, like hard news reportage, will take an interview and create a concise summation. Some magazines are known for their long sprawling interviews where everything is transcribed. Of course, we also have a long tradition of various talk show formats, some thoughtful and some that are so casual as to blur right in with a dance segment on Tik Tok. Hey, I have nothing against fun and entertainment and I’ll engage in that when it makes sense. But, for interviews, I take them seriously, prepare for them, take off my Joe Cool hat and don’t engage in any dancing. Although, in a metaphorical sense, a good interview is sort of like a dance. The person conducting the interview leads while the person who is the subject of the interview goes about picking up one cue after another and making something out of it.

A bus driver finds solace through the suspension of disbelief.

Anyway, I say all this because it’s particularly relevant to this interview. Essentially, this is an interview about interviews: how to conduct one, what it means, what you attempt to get out of it. I interviewed Julia Wald about her new book, The Suspension of Disbelief (review), an illustrated collection of interviews she conducted about life and work during Covid-19. In the course of the interview, we ended up talking about what it means when you’re working at a restaurant during a world-wide pandemic and suddenly it’s like all the lights are out and then, just as suddenly, you are out of a job, your source of income. We discuss who might have stepped in to help and who didn’t.

A disadvantaged man finds hope through knowledge.

And, finally, once an artistic and talented person is inspired to create a book about Covid-19, what responsibility, if any, does she have to the vulnerable people she has interviewed? Well, part of the answer goes back to the dance. If the dance partners have established a sense of trust, then there’s a very good chance that something worthwhile will result that everyone can be proud of. We focus in a bit on American journalist Studs Terkel (1912-2008), the icon of what came to be known as “literary journalism.” Terkel was most active from the 1950s to 1990s, creating his seminal collection of interviews, Working, in 1974. He was part of that old-fashioned gumshoe journalist/creative tradition: loyal to his readers and listeners, to his Chicago, and to the art and craft of journalism. Julia says that Terkel inspired her on her Covid-19 project and it shows and, ultimately, it demonstrates that she did right by all who she interviewed. Julia did it the right way, the old-fashioned way that involves hard work and integrity. It’s the best way. And it’s what inspires me to keep going on this journey.

Visit Julia Wald right here.

The Suspension of Disbelief is available at Push/Pull.

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Filed under Comics, COVID-19, Illustration, Interviews

Review: MONGREL by Sayra Begum, published by Knockabout Comics

Mongrel by Sayra Begum

Mongrel. by Sayra Begum. Knockabout Comics. London. 2020, 264pp, $21.99

In Mongrel, Sayra Begum presents the reader an honest and in-depth look at a Muslim family from Bangladesh. Begum takes a very straightforward, blunt, and fresh approach to issues of race, gender, class, and religion. At the heart of her story is the conflict that the protagonist must navigate as she straddles two worlds coming from her mixed-heritage background: Bengal Muslim on her mother’s side; British-Anglo on her father’s side. In Islam, it is understood that a Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman. However, it is forbidden for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man. And yet this is exactly what happens in Begum’s story. Shuna is the daughter of such a forbidden union. When history is set to repeat itself with Shuna determined to marry David, a non-Muslim man, it is Shuna’s mother who is at the center of the conflict, making unfair and impossible demands upon her daughter.

Drawn is a style that evokes a dream-like sketchbook come to life, the reader is swept up into the immersive world of Mongrel. What strikes me about this graphic novel, what makes it remarkable, is its authenticity, commitment, and vision. It is not often that we, as general readers, have an opportunity to become privy to the everyday life of a Muslim family in such an accessible format as a graphic novel–even though there are well over a billion followers of Islam. With all the heated talk about diversity and inclusion on the table, it’s ironic. That said, we can all be grateful for this insightful work.

Now, let’s allow the book to speak for itself with some samples and quotes from the pages of Mongrel

“The front door of Shuna’s family home acted as a gateway to Bangladesh. Nothing haram passed through this door, this was a devout house. When Shuna walked through this door, she switched her rebellious face to her pious face, which eagerly absorbed the teaching of the Prophet, striving to be a good Muslim girl. The switching between these two faces became increasingly difficult as they grew further and further apart.”

“‘Yes, yes, yes I’ll marry you!’ I said to David. Although, after the celestial shock wore off and dull reality set in, I realised there was a slight problem. I would have to tell my very traditional parents that I was going to marry a non-Muslim and confess my secret life.”

“It’s my wedding day. My parents are absent.  I’m not surprised. Why would my parents want to celebrate their daughter being damned to an eternity in hell fire?”

Ultimately, Begum keeps it real. People are not saints. They can be very contradictory and self-destructive. They can also find a way out and to a healthy place for self-reflection. We are embarking upon a new cycle of calling out authority and demanding all sorts of change. What we mustn’t forget is to dig deeper and calmly remove the obstacles that lead to someone being seen as the Other or as the mongrel. Sayra Begum’s graphic novel is a step in the right direction. As I stated earlier, we don’t often have such a window specifically into the Muslim world. But you can also say that these kind of gems only come around every so often. I think of such landmark works as Blankets, by Craig Thompson, which dissects a Christian upbringing; and I think of Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, the last great work to take an idiosyncratic look at any religion in a significant graphic format. These gems take time and they come along it their due time. Now is a perfect time for Mongrel.

A note, especially to readers in the United States: you can find Mongrel at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, Islam

Use My Voice | The Revolution of Cassandra | Eric D. Howell

Cassandra is on the rise. Viva la Revolution!

The Revolution of Cassandra

Go check out The Revolution of Cassandra for an unusual new work in comics. Here is a quirky story covering some serious subject matter. It reminds you of the fundamental need of making your voice heard. We can take that too much for granted in the United States. Just imagine what it’s like in parts of the world where the government is actively involved in keeping its citizens docile. Filmmaker Eric D. Howell is a fascinating storyteller dude–just the sort of creative person to lead the way with this audacious graphic novel, with Hollywood flair. Howell got into the entertainment business as a stuntman and, through determination, has risen up the ranks to movie director. You may know him from the 2017 Emilia Clarke movie, Voice from the Stone. By any measure, Howell’s career path is an impressive one.

USE MY VOICE by Amy Lee of Evanescence

Enter The Revolution of Cassandra, Howell’s new tale of adventure and idealism about two very different sisters, Moira and Cassie, and how they stumble into a civil war and perhaps lead a revolution. As I say, Howell’s new graphic novel has a very cool Hollywood connection. For starters, Howell is a well-liked and well-connected person. One of his friends is a very cool musician you may know. The Revolution of Cassandra served as an inspiration for Howell’s friend and Grammy Award-winning musician, Amy Lee of Evanescence, as she was writing her band’s new song, “Use My Voice.” The song’s video, directed by Howell, has been viewed more than two million times on YouTube since its premiere in late August.

Cassandra’s toes know the earth.

A few more words about this graphic novel. If you’re looking for an immersive work with a true cinematic look and feel, then The Revolution of Cassandra is for you. It is a mature work in the sense that adults will enjoy it for its more adult and sophisticated sensibility. It’s not for kids, per se. Let’s go with teens and up. This is set, after all, in a very gritty backdrop. There are rough men wandering about who are prone to pushing around women, if they can. That is, unless they’re confronting Moira and Cassie. Overall, there’s an earthy and authentic vibe running through. Moira is more reckless. Cassie is more the Earth Mother with her bare feet, or in Birkenstocks, solemnly gauging the environment.

The Revolution of Cassandra

Now, imagine attempting to stand out at a truly significant comics convention, like Comic Con in San Diego. Well, this is where brand sharing helps. Howell has partnered with Republic Restoratives Distillery and Craft Cocktail Bar in Washington, D.C. to introduce Purpose Rye. Purpose is the first single barrel expression from Republic Restoratives Distillery and is a limited run of only 100 barrels. This 95% rye mash bill has been aged in American oak for nearly five years, imparting rich notes of caramel, spice, hints of smoke and cocoa nibs. Every bottle of Purpose Rye sends a donation directly to Fair Fight Action which protects free and fair elections around the country. Purpose Rye is available for order online via Schneider’s of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Twin Cities bartenders will be mixing Cassandra inspired cocktails this month to inspire customers to use their voice” to support the social causes that matter to them. For Cassandra cocktail recipes, follow @revolutionofcassandra on Instagram.

Under the right circumstances, and responsibly, alcohol and comics do mix.

It was a lot of fun chatting with Howell and you can check out our conversation by clicking below:

The first chapter of The Revolution of Cassandra is available now for you to view for free.

Eric D. Howell, storyteller

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, Interviews