Tag Archives: Writers

Review: ‘Part of It: Comics and Confessions’ by Ariel Schrag

PART OF IT by Ariel Schrag

The comics medium can be as clear and as ambiguous as the work requires. One of the great things about comics is its unlimited and distinct potential to alternate between clarity and mystery. When you feature yourself in your own work, you seek the right balance. Someone quite capable of playing with those modulations is writer/artist Ariel Schrag. Her recent collection of comics is entitled, Part of It: Comics and Confessions, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Ms. Schrag is known for a number of brilliant memoir comics that feature her growing up, struggling through high school, and finding her way. While her work can neatly fit within the categories of YA and LGBTQ, it certainly transcends any label or genre. And don’t let anyone tell you different: a good coming-of-age story will always be welcome and never go out of style. We’re human and we all have our own unique tales to tell. This new collection of comics provides compelling proof of that.

Page from Part of It

Part of It is a collection that culls through some of Schrag’s best work over the years. Probably the best piece is one from a 2004 anthology with an eyeglasses theme. In this one, we find Schrag having been sucked into a vortex of vacillation over just what constitutes the perfect pair of eyewear. Is it promoting the best experience possible? Does it look right? Does it fit right? Is it dated? Is it…sass? Just one meaningless derisive utterance from her little sister triggers heartbreaking regret. Schrag tentatively enters a room with her latest choice in glasses. All it takes is one negative comment, “Sass,” from her sibling, and it’s all over.

Just wanting to be “part of it.”

Ms. Schrag has proven to be quite a funny and adroit writer. As an openly gay woman, she has shared excellent insights and observations. That said, whatever a writer’s background, it’s the work that speaks for itself in the end. Sexuality is not the key element, for instance, in the eyeglasses piece just mentioned above. In fact, sexuality is often part of a bigger picture in a typical auto-bio comic. You simply share things about yourself in the process of telling a story, in the service of the narrative. If all goes well, your tale combines the universal and the specific in a satisfying way. While all these pieces come from different places and times, Schrag finds common ground and eloquently returns again and again to a theme of wanting to be accepted, wanting to be “part of it.” This is a great collection of comics. Wonderfully wicked good fun!

Part of It: Comics and Confessions is a 176-page trade paperback, published by Mariner Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Filed under Ariel Schrag, Books, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, LGBTQ, Young Adult

Seattle Focus: Bob Woodward and FEAR

Bob Woodward in Seattle, 28 November 2018

Bob Woodward has a book out on Trump. You may have heard of it. It’s entitled, Fear, published by Simon & Schuster. Mr. Woodward, a legend in journalism, was in Seattle for a Q&A at the Paramount Theatre this Wednesday night. Local pundit Knute “Mossback” Berger was the moderator. Mr. Berger asked a series of mellow questions. He asked, for instance, about the book’s title. The great thing about interviewing someone like Bob Woodward is that half the battle is just to show up. No matter the question, Mr. Woodward will proceed to paint a vivid picture. Regarding the book title, that took him back to Candidate Trump, long before his campaign was considered substantial. It was the job of Woodward to still pose serious questions, the same sort he’d posed to Candidate Obama and others. That day, the pivotal question was asked: What does power mean to you? The scene that played out was something close to Shakespearean. Trump seemed to turn his attention out toward a confidant in his mind’s eye. Power, and holding on to power, Trump said, is achieved through striking fear.

It is during an audience Q&A that things can get quite interesting. For Woodward, this was a time to riff, to explain, to clarify, in any way he pleased. Each response turned out to be a gem. It meant he took his time and didn’t get around to everyone who dutifully lined up with a question. Each answer took on a life of its own. One question might begin a discussion on a related subject. One answer would emerge prompted from a question asked earlier. It would result in such gifts as Woodward recollecting the day that he finally got former President Gerald Ford to reveal the details of the Nixon pardon. The common assumption had been that a deal had been struck. And, indeed, a deal had been offered by White House chief-of-staff Alexander Haig. Ford refused a quid pro quo. There was no reason for it since he was to replace Nixon anyway. It was only later, with the prospect of Nixon continuing to damage the country, that Ford chose to pardon him. It wasn’t an easy decision and it was clear that this decision would seal Ford’s fate. It was a decision that he would never be able to recover from as a candidate for president in his own right. In retrospect, it was to be acknowledged as a courageous decision. Ford went on to be the recipient of the Profile in Courage award in 2001. It was presented to him, at age 87, by Caroline Kennedy, President Kennedy’s daughter. A lesson in not be too quick to judge.

FEAR by Bob Woodward

The final answer, again originating from one question and yet seeming to answer them all, was a true showstopper. This last gem found Woodward looking back to some of his earliest memories. He was playing with two previous questions: the idea of what in his life caused him the greatest shock; and summing up the crisis we live with today with a dangerously incompetent commander-in-chief. Woodward had already painted a picture of an easily distracted Trump. And that got him to thinking of how some things should be fundamentally understood, like the difference between right and wrong. As a young Naval officer, Woodward served aboard the USS Wright, and was one of two officers assigned to move or handle nuclear launch codes. This was circa 1965. It was seared into Woodward’s psyche that the fundamental responsibility of an American president is to stay out of a nuclear war. But Trump was oblivious to the most basic facts. He openly questioned the existence of NATO. He did not understand the most basic facts of global interconnection. So, in order to best answer that question asked a while ago regarding what shocked him the most, Woodward just had to refer back to Trump, a president so brazenly ignorant that he compels his Secretary of Defense to have to answer, “Mr. President, we do these things in order to avoid World War III.” That’s enough to make anyone lose their lunch.

Fear is surely required reading. It is definitely a worthwhile book and measures up with Mr. Woodward’s best.

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Filed under Bob Woodward, Books, Donald Trump, politics, Richard Nixon, Washington DC, Watergate

New York Focus: Airbnb Learn Stand-up with a Comedian

Comedian John Kim and me.

The biggest fear for many, apart from death, is a fear of rejection! Well, I say, Fugetaboutit! In fact, if you’re in New York City, I encourage you to consider doing what I did: go up and do an open mic at a comedy club! Yes, that is what I did as part of an Airbnb experience, “Learn Stand-up with a Comedian,” hosted by Rishi and John, both NYC-based comedians there to show you around the NYC comedy scene. You can certainly just observe but I felt I was ready to jump in and go on stage.

New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world–and that definitely includes comedy. Within the closely knit area of Greenwich Village, are a number of comedy clubs all with their own energy and history. And, at the epicenter is the Comedy Cellar where on any given night you might get to see such legends as Amy Schumer and Jerry Seinfeld. With the help of my mentor for the evening, comedian John Kim, I got quite an immersive experience. I learned a lot and was fueled with plenty of inspiration which made going up on stage for open mic all the easier. And what a stage! I couldn’t have asked for a better venue for a first-timer, The Lantern Comedy Club!

The Lantern Comedy Club

The great challenge is in confronting any doubts: Is the material good enough? Am I good enough? Yes, trust me, you’re more than worthy to go up on stage and just give it a try. More than likely, or let’s say it’s just about a guarantee, any misgivings will melt away once you start. Something will trigger in your brain: Go! Okay, here’s the next hook! Stop, try to pause. Go! Add this. Don’t say that just yet..okay, say it now.

As in anything, you get what you bring to something. I’ve been working on a particular character and his story arc for quite some time. I decided to put together a comedy bit and featured Maximo Viaje, a guy form Mexico City who has somehow stumbled upon a journey of self-discovery in the U.S. even though he entered the country illegally. For Max, that’s just a small problem in a much bigger picture. Okay, so this is a fictional character that I’m bringing to life on stage. Now, for all you fellow writers, tell me: Wouldn’t this be a very useful exercise for you? Check it out:

You get into a frame a mind and, yes, your mind is a beautiful thing and it’s in it to win it. Thanks to my beautiful mind and to such an insightful and inspirational guidance from John Kim, I did more than just get through my set. I really learned and grew from the experience. And, just like hitting the gym, you know when you’re in the zone and you know you want to get back to it again and again.

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Filed under Airbnb, Comedy, Greenwich Village, New York City

Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) this weekend 10/20-21

MICE 2018

The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) is this weekend October 20-21, 2018 in Cambridge, MA.

The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo is a free weekend event showcasing the best in new and local comics!

For more details, visit MICE right here.

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Filed under Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Jim Woodring, MICE

Open Letter to Media: Help Seattle and Win Pulitzer!

Live from New York: a Seattle punchline!

Commentary by Jennifer Daydreamer

On October 6th, 2018, during the Weekend Edition of Saturday Night Live, Michael Che riffed on our City: “Starbucks baristas in Seattle are saying that they are being forced to dispose of hypodermic needles left behind in the stores everyday by drug users. Meanwhile, over at 7-11, they’re using them as stirrers.”

Not a great joke but point well taken.

SNL is our modern day court jester. It’s live and communal and mirrors our society in a humorous manner. In another era, it was the court jester who gave the King the very bad news that nobody else dared to deliver.

The news SNL delivers is that baristas across the U.S. are not in contact with hypodermic needles en masse. It’s a Seattle phenomenon. Not a general big city problem. Not even a New York problem. A Seattle problem.

Seattle has a drug crisis and a homeless crisis resulting in a patently predictable Civics 101 crisis: when you allow lawlessness, criminals take advantage and hurt people and property.

What dangers have been happening? Well, in the past month, a Wallingford condominium under construction was burned down by drug addicts. In the SoDo area, a woman was mauled by a homeless pit bull and other dogs. Recently, I saw addicts threatening customers in a business, one man was particularly violent, and gave witness to the police.

As well-meaning as the local news outlets have been, the facts reported have been conflicting. We could use an outsider, a very thorough and ambitious investigative reporter(s) to get to the crux of it. I’m not kidding when I say I see Pulitzer Prize worthy material because there’s a lot to uncover. Hopefully, an expose can help keep everyone, including the homeless, safer.

Shawn Telford describes a harrowing and out of control homeless crisis.

This video of Seattle native Shawn Telford describes how homeless encampment and car prowl problems turned his life upside down. All because the homeless issue is out of control. This is just one of so many compelling stories. There’s a new story each day. Some stories manage to get on people’s radars for a while, like the hypodermic needles in Starbucks.

We got a joke coming out of a big network studio in New York City. We’re going to need far more than just a joke to get people’s attention and make serious progress. The City of Seattle government is not responding in a serious and competent manner. We need outside resources to examine what is going on. Seattle seriously needs help. We need a TIME magazine cover story, not an SNL gag.

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Filed under Homeless, Journalism, Seattle

24-Hour Comics 2018: Observations & Recollections

Oliver’s Upper Bar. Mayflower Park Hotel is gorgeous and charming!

I have much to say and little time. This is true in the big picture and in the current timeframe for all of us, right? Okay, right. Right on! So, let’s do here a recap of this whole 24-hour comics thing that I just did. I want to follow that up with a separate review of the wonderful place I stayed at, Mayflower Park Hotel. Then, full speed ahead with some full-on comics reviews including this year’s Best American Comics. Later on, I’ll have a surprise or two as the month unfolds and son on. Almighty then, first up, a movie that I put together: My 24-Hour Comics Stay: Mayflower Park Hotel in Seattle…

There’s a bunch of comics theory swimming in my head that I want to pour over into select spots such as this post. One thing: Comics are very weird and wonderful and, if you let process take over, you can achieve great things. I see comics in the same light as any serious fine art: there is room for the raw and the ragged, work that comes off as out of place; but, at the end of the day, it is up to the creator to suss out and to be honest. Does this work rise to the level of being “art,” if that is what you are seriously, and sincerely, aiming for? Some hipster sentiment might see things differently. Well, time will tell because sometimes it takes time for certain work to come into focus.

Emily, my sweet main character.

Drawing. Writing. Both are essential for the independent cartoonist who chooses to create a comic alone, as opposed to being part of a team. In the old tradition, the alt-comics creator is a lone wolf. Packing a bunch of lone wolves together can sometimes work but they then become a pack and that has its pluses and minuses. You can also just pack a whole room with people of varying degrees of talent or simply enthusiasm. That can be good. That’s what you usually call a “drink and draw” gathering. If you place it in a formal setting and have one lone wolf as leader, you might call that a workshop. Ultimately, that lone wolf would prefer to be left alone to grapple with word and image. Thus, we come full circle.

It’s important to pace myself, considering the material I want to get through in the days ahead, so I will wrap things up by simply thanking all my readers and just reiterate what I’ve said many times: whatever you do, keep a sense of humor.

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Filed under 24 Hour Comics Day, 24HCD, Comics, Hotels, Mayflower Park Hotel Seattle, Seattle, Travel

24-Hour Comics Day 2018: Character and Narrative Development

Emily is haapy, right?

The unique character of Emily emerged in the mist of the night. Who is she? Well, if I could talk with Emily, I would tell her that she’s intriguing and deserves everything wonderful in life. It looks like I’ve found my main character. It is a very natural discovery.

When you’re building up a story, you do a lot of things on the fly and juggle as best you can until it’s time to settle down. What I started with was a whole bunch of background stuff.

Not so happy.

And then, as I wandered along, a character fell into place that could carry along and support the background. We see her smiling. Next panel, we already see her not smiling. Okay, what’s up?

Radio silence.

By the third panel, everything has gone quiet.

The plot thickens.

And on the last panel, we’ve got some conflict. The plot thickens. So, suffice it to say, I am intrigued with Emily and I wish her well on her journey.

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Filed under 24 Hour Comics, 24HCD, Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Henry Chamberlain, Independent Comics, Indie

24-Hour Comics Day 2018: First Steps in Process

Creating Characters.

I have gotten situated. I have lots of books and various reference material. I’ve got the whole frick’in internet! And, with the Mayflower Park Hotel, I’ve got a wonderful and stimulating environment.

I try to include a bit of everything during these precious hours of creativity. Brett Kavanaugh is certainly fair game as he dominates the news. You’ll find him in the background music to the above video.

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Filed under 24 Hour Comics, 24 Hour Comics Day, 24HCD, Comics, Henry Chamberlain, Mayflower Park Hotel Seattle, Seattle

Book Review: THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer

THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK

Jonathan Santlofer is a successful artist and novelist. I had the privilege of hearing him read recently as he shared the stage with two other distinguished writers, Neal Thompson and Wendy C. Ortiz, at a panel on memoir writing at Hugo House in Seattle. Later, in person, I asked Mr. Santlofer if he ever considered doing a graphic novel, given his facility with words and images, and he said he’d love to do it! He’s on my radar right now. His book, The Widower’s Notebook, is quite a page-turner. I went to the Tin Table for a late dinner and couldn’t put it down. The waitress even said I could stay as long as I wanted. After making some time for the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings, I kept reading the next day and finished in another sitting. What I got from this book is a riveting narrative covering a heart-wrenching time in the author’s life.

Mr. Santlofer has an uncanny observational style: you believe you’re with him. His writing is vivid and carries you along even when he’s writing about not feeling up to doing anything at all. It’s the mark of not only a good writer but an excellent writer to allow you into a life without you being aware of any of the effort involved. This is a story of a most significant loss, the death of one’s life partner. Santlofer achieves a level of the sublime by simply being in the moment. He does with his writing what he does with his drawings: evoke a sense of the hyperreal. You are really there with the author as he finds his wife, Joy, dying before his eyes, the subsequent rush to the hospital, and the frenetic tripping through memories.

We follow along as Santlofer reflects upon a grand life beginning with a young bohemian couple, just married, in Brooklyn, circa 1967. We progress in a stream of consciousness fashion from the birth of Dorie, his beloved daughter, to the recent death of Joy to the building up of a new life. The act of drawing helps with the act of mourning–drawings work when words seem to fail or seem to be not enough. There’s a touch of magic to art-making and it seems most explicit when examining an intimate and intricately crafted drawing. The excerpt below speaks to this process:

“I am able to draw my wife because drawing is abstract, because you can’t really draw something until you stop identifying it. You can’t think: this is an eye, or a nose, or lips, or you will not be able to draw them; an eye, a nose, lips are all the same, simply marks on a page.

Drawing has made it possible for me to stay close to Joy when she in no longer here. It is a way to create a picture of her without feeling weird or maudlin. I am not sitting in a dark room crying over a photo of my dead wife; I am at my drawing table, working.

Grief is chaotic; art is order. Ironic, as most people think art is all about feeling and emotion, when in fact the artist needs to be ordered and conscious to create art that will, in turn, stir feelings and emotion in others.”

A drawing is a complicated thing.

Santlofer’s book is about dying and about living. It is as much about mourning as it is about relationships, family, and the creative process. Indeed, art can save your life and Santlofer’s book eloquently and passionately speaks to perseverance and purpose.

The Widower’s Notebook is a 272-page paperback with illustrations, published by Penguin Random House.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Death, Death and Dying, Hugo House, Jonathan Santlofer, Memoir, New York City, Penguin Random House, Seattle, writers, writing

TV Review: GHOST SQUAD

Desperado Miller (Abby McEnany) rallies the troops.

I love quirky stuff and this hits the spot: a comedy about inept ghost hunters. Ghost Squad is a new project by Andy Kushnir, a staff writer for the popular game, Cards Against Humanity. Kushnir recently directed and co-wrote with his writing partner, Carley Moseley, this mockumentary pilot which releases to the public on October 1st.

Our story begins with a lead-in narration by head paranormal investigator, Desperado Miller (Abby McEnany). You can think of her as Michael Scott, the manager from The Office, played by Steve Carell. McEnany is hilarious as the ill-tempered and insecure psychic detective. Her ragtag team of misfits are either out for themselves or too self-absorbed to be of much help.

Zorba Dinkel (Jo Feldman) in search of chips and salsa.

One scene, to give you a taste, has one of our misfit investigators, Zorba Dinkel, (Jo Feldman) entranced by a vibe that leads her to a cupboard. She is transfixed by a pulsing energy that leads her to a bag of chips and, ultimately, to a jar of salsa! She has made quite a tasty connection with the other side. Very funny stuff.

This series gets to juggle a variety of tropes: office sitcom, reality-tv, and a touch of horror. The results are pleasing. Ghost Squad is definitely something to watch this October which, of course, is the kickoff to our cavalcade of holiday season entertainment.

GHOST SQUAD

Ghost Squad is the creation of Andy Kushnir and Carley Moseley. I look forward to more of their collaborative work.

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Filed under Comedy, Ghosts, Reality TV, Satire, Television, TV Reviews, Web, Web series, Webisodes