Have you ever wanted to just go all Jack Kerouac and do an extended road trip? You’d yell out, “Nothing behind me! Everything ahead of me!” Well, what if you’re also caught up in trying to grapple with America under Trump? Then consider this new graphic novel, Amongst the Liberal Elite, written by Elly Lonon and illustrated by Joan Reilly, published by powerHouse Books. It is based upon Ms. Lonon’s hilarious McSweeney’s column. More on that later. If you also happen to enjoy a regular intake of NPR, MSNBC, and lean left in your politics, you’ll especially appreciate the ongoing quips exchanged by the story’s two main characters, Alex and Michael, a couple of upwardly mobile middle-aged lefties.
The humor is of the razor-sharp rapid-fire Jon Stewart variety. It can sometimes feel like too much of a good thing so everything depends upon the timing and delivery. The characters let loose a bon mot, hold back a bit to engage in self-deprecation, and then repeat. That’s basically the pace of this narrative. If you like the characters, then all is golden–and these two characters are very likeable even if you never really get past their walls of witty retorts. And, hey, maybe you know people like that. What you get here is a very lean, crisp, extra-dry and droll, gluten-free set of misadventures. This sort of political humor tends to be built this way and for good reason. There is only enough character development to serve the jokes and plot. There’s no deep connection nor would you need or care for that. Think Seinfeld. These are fictional constructs here to tickle your funny bone and offer up some finely-tuned political satire. Bravo! It works exceedingly well.
Amongst the Liberal Elite by Elly Lonon and Joan Reilly
To be able to take a popular column made up of clever repartee and turn it into a graphic novel is quite remarkable. I can’t stress enough what an ambitious task that is. Joan Reilly’s artwork successfully sustains this very special blend of political humor. Ms. Reilly is a masterful political cartoonist in her own right so she proves to be the perfect creative teammate to Ms. Lonon. Together, Elly Lonon and Joan Reilly bring to life two super quirky characters with much to say and reveal about our current political state.
The full title is Amongst the Liberal Elite: The Road Trip Exploring Societal Inequities Solidified by Trump (RESIST) and it is a 156-page hardcover published by powerHouse Books.
I’ve recently been taking a look at some work by artist/writer Ariel Schrag. I’m becoming more familiar with her comics and I decided to read her prose novel, Adam. While reading it, I also became aware of the controversy surrounding this novel which will debut in 2019 at Sundance. I’d just gotten a quarter of the way into the novel and wondered just where these snarky kids were heading. The book depicted the author’s take on callow youth and gay culture and so I pressed on. I do understand why some people will find the book problematic. Still, it’s useful to stick with it to the end to study one writer’s process.
I’ll cut to the chase and say that Ms. Schrag’s book aims to be in the tradition of provocative novels. The characters do and say a number of nasty and questionable things and then there are also moments when Schrag dials down the snark. Here is an example, a scene that finds the main characters at a predominantly transgender gathering:
“Clarification on gender was indeed necessary. Looking around at the group, it was as if a hatful of pronouns written on scraps of paper had been thrown into the air, each group, sometimes two, landing randomly on a person, regardless of what he or she looked like. Adam had gotten used to boyish girls turning out to be trans, the general rule that masculine = he and feminine = she, but here at Camp Trans it was a free-for-all. You couldn’t be sure of anything, except that you were most likely wrong.”
So, yeah, the book has a cocky snarky vibe, an attempt to channel the great Holden Caulfield tradition of snark. It’s when an ambitious young writer feels compelled to be provocative that things will heat up for sure. The big controversy revolves around the premise of the main character, Adam, a 17-year-old straight man becoming involved with Gillian, a 22-year-old gay woman, by both lying about his age and, far more significantly, lying that he’s a female-to-male trans person. That premise is rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. You have people in the trans community saying the book is exploitive. You have the author saying the book is meant to open up a discussion. Ms. Schrag has gained notoriety over the years for her memoir comics. She is an openly gay woman who has focused on young adult themes. She has written for television, including writing for Showtime’s The L Word.
The big point of contention against this novel comes down to the idea that the main character, Adam, is essentially getting away with rape as he’s in a sexual relationship through deception. For most of the novel, Adam isn’t getting away with much as he’s depicted as being fairly creepy. Towards the end that changes when Schrag drives her novel over a cliff with an abrupt shift. Adam begins his journey as a stand-in for just an average guy, yet another typical banal young person, while Schrag steadily turns up the heat. He easily falls into fantasy. He’s so selfish that, despite all the warning signs, he continues to deceive his lover in the hopes that his fantasy will come true and she will ultimately overlook his gross betrayal.
Looking at this from a creative point of view, it is very interesting to see a cartoonist like Schrag developing into a full-on prose writer. Any number of cartoonists find themselves juggling/struggling with two distinct disciplines (writing and drawing) that are supposed to meld into one (comics). Well, the comics-making process is a whole world onto itself with many potential variations, detours and pitfalls. It’s a delicate balancing act. And, if a creator favors writing a little more than drawing, that can tip the balance. For Ms. Schrag, it seems that more often than not, when she puts pen to paper, it is only words she seeks. Deep into making a novel all out of words, those words can take on a life of their own a little more easily than within the framework of a well planned out graphic novel with storyboards and various anchors. You choose your words that much more carefully when you create a graphic novel in comparison to commanding a ship of words in a novel. You set sail for vast ports unknown. You can lose yourself in your discourse and take your mighty vessel way off course.
You get away with less in comics. You can be instantly held accountable. Stuff can get buried in a prose novel. All those words! Ms. Schrag can engage in some anti-Semitic rhetoric and no one will call her on it since the focus is on her depiction of the trans community. Around the middle of the novel, Schrag builds up to what she deems a joke involving her inept and money-grubbing Jewish landlords. Analyzed as a joke, the mechanics and execution fall flat. It’s inappropriate and serves no purpose other than to underscore the fact that the characters are prone to being intolerant and hurtful and that has already been well established. It’s a joke that would make the legendary cartoonist provocateur Robert Crumb blush mostly because it’s so not funny. You just can’t get away with stuff like that in comics. In contrast to this novel, Ms. Schrag’s recent collection of comics, Part of It, indicates a more restrained, and even polite, approach.
Ms. Schrag has said about all the controversy attached to this novel: “People are really angry specifically about appropriating an oppressed identity. I just think that’s fascinating to think about because what is so terrible about appropriating an oppressed identity?” That’s a gutsy remark with consequences attached to it. Writers can choose to provoke but then it’s fair game to listen carefully to the response. Just because you belong to a group doesn’t mean you need to shake it to its core. But for those writers who can’t resist shaking things up, they will need to be open to criticism. In this case, there’s a movie version coming out and that will undoubtedly provide another opportunity for more discussion and more controversy.
Charles Forsman is a wonderful independent cartoonist. I have had the privilege to review his work. Mr. Forsman creates work that is usually intended for a relatively small audience. That is the nature of comics, especially niche comics. But things can get turned on their heads. Just imagine, a highly obscure copy of an underground comic is sitting in a trash bin when it’s picked up by a movie director and he’s so thrilled by it that he’s compelled to move heaven and earth to turn it into a hit television series. That’s what happened with Forsman’s The End of the F***kingWorld, now available on Netflix. And it’s happened again. This time without any trash bin. The news it out that Forsman’s I Am Not Okay With This is coming to Netflix.
‘I Am Not Okay With This’ by Charles Forsman
There’s something about the fresh and quirky goodness of independent alt-comics that can catapult them from obscurity to crazy full-on stardom. It won’t happen to most of the self-published comix out there but it happens. So, don’t try this at home unless this is a labor of love first and foremost. Otherwise, it won’t work. Painfully honest stories have a greater than average chance of getting attention. That’s part of it. The rest is just the right mix of hard work and a bit of good luck. While you wait to enjoy I Am Not Okay With This, check out The End of the F***king World now on Netflix:
I Am Not Okay With This follows the misadventures of Sydney, an unassuming 15-year-old freshman with telekinetic powers. Be sure to visit Charles Forsman right here. I Am Not Okay With This is a 160-page graphic novel published by Fantagraphics Books.
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.
Stan Lee (1922-2018). News today that comics legend Stan Lee has passed away. There will only ever be one Stan Lee in the comics industry. You will hear that today and in the days and years to come. As a kid in the ’70s, I have fond memories of the iconic figure of Stan Lee. He was the guy leading the Marvel Comics Bullpen. He was the guy who was always yelling out, “Excelsior!” He was part salesman and part creative genius. This, in no way, takes away from the collaborative work he did with such greats as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. At the end of the day, Stan Lee was Stan Lee, a force of nature and an integral part of Marvel Comics and comics in general. May he rest in peace.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.