An aspiring writer does well to heed that famous Tolstoy quote about families: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Cartoonists, many of them and I include myself among these wonderfully wretched souls, gravitate more often than not to stories about outsiders, people dealing with deep issues. It leads to glorious work like The Nao of Brown, originally published in 2012 by SelfMadeHero/Abrams. A new edition, from SelfMadeHero and Abrams, just came out and it’s a good time to revisit what has become a classic tale of a young woman finding her way.
Welcome to the world of Nao Brown.
Nao Brown, at 28, is still teetering along on the precipice that takes one from childhood to adulthood. Nao comes to understand that one can remain dangling on that cliff forever. This is the year that Nao makes it to the other side. The Nao of Brown is in the same spirit as Ghost World, the Daniel Clowes tour de force graphic novel that seemed, with its major motion picture version, to bring geek culture out of the closet back in 2001. The Nao of Brown is also, just like Ghost World, a crisp combination of exquisite art and writing. Where Clowes is more hard-edged and sarcastic, Dillon is more dreamy and bathed in soft watercolor washes. Our main character, Nao, is struggling to find her place in the world with one foot in her Japanese ancestry and the other foot in her Anglo-British ancestry. And she sees the world in the black and white extremes of an obsessive-compulsive. Her dark thoughts terrify her. Pop culture, hip and ironic, is an island that she can escape to.
The life and times of Nao Brown.
Will one more mix tape be able to save Nao? She works in a pop culture boutique run by Steve, a hapless nerd if ever there was one who has a crush on Nao. She cringes at the thought of the pack of teenage boys who frequent the shop only to worship her. She knows she’s too old for them. She intellectually knows her youth is relative. But she still thinks like a little girl. For most of the book, she works out her feelings for a man she’s developed a relationship with recently. Her initial interest in Gregory was triggered by the fact he resembles a pop culture toy she adores.
Steve, trapped in the friend zone.
This is a fascinating read, no two ways about it, as immersive as any of your most beloved movies, music, novels…or graphic novels! And, as an added bonus, alternating throughout the main narrative is a “story within a story” that is simply icing on the cake! All that said, it’s a crowded field these days with one amazing graphic novel after another. The solution sometimes, just as with any other art form, is a revisit or reissue. And so that brings us to this recent reissue of The Nao of Brown. This new edition, with additional production art, is a totally well-deserved relaunch into the world and will undoubtedly enchant a whole new crop of readers.
Searching for Nao Brown.
The Nao of Brown is a 216-page hardcover. For more details, visit SelfMadeHero and Abrams.
An honest portrayal of youth can make for a revelatory and refreshing movie, which is exactly what Eighth Grade is. Written and directed by Bo Burnham, it follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher) during her last five days in middle school. It is easily the highlight to this year’s Seattle International Film Festival.
You have to let kids be kids, and then maybe some magic can happen. That is the approach Burnham takes while still being able to craft a finely-structured script beforehand. At the start, there is this jittery and spontaneous vibe as we see raw and pixelated footage of Kayla talking about herself and kids in general on her YouTube channel. She stammers, she seems to just speak in circles. But it’s all actually in the script, word for word–and wonderfully performed by Elsie Fisher. And then, as it was later revealed to the audience at SIFF, it was Fisher’s idea to add in her own trademark sign-off. She makes an O-kay sign and says, “Gucci.” 27-year-old Burnham claimed to not know the popular meme reference prior to 15-year-old Fischer offering it up.
To tap into vulnerable and awkward youth is one of those mighty artistic quests. As a celebrated multi-talent in his own right, Burnham is certainly up to that ambitious goal. For filmmakers and writers, it is a right of passage to answer the call to addressing the whole issue of coming of age. That has resulted in everything from George Lucas’s American Graffiti to Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Of course, the list goes on. Too often, such a teen flick is cast with older characters. You raise the bar higher when you have actors that are also actual teenagers, like in John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club.
Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton in Eighth Grade
You feel like you want to protect Kayla as she ventures out, looking for love, friends, and a purpose in life. At first, I was sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop and we find that Kayla is going to be setup and hurt along the lines of Stephen King and Brian De Palma’s Carrie. Well, for one thing, this movie definitely does not fall within the horror genre. Still, there’s that fear for Kayla along the lines of Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West, with a wickedly unstable Ingrid played by Aubrey Plaza. What will help Kayla stay safe? Part of the answer is her father, Mark, played by Josh Hamilton. He ends up getting a healthy amount of screen time which is greatly deserved. By providing this warm and sensitive parent as a counterbalance, there are clear signs of hope beyond the rabbit hole of social media.
After that first flickering image of young and desperate Kayla attempting to engage with the internet, there are various scenes that drive home the point that Kayla’s life is severely isolated. This begs the question of whether Kayla is closer to being an at-risk misfit or being a typical teen. What we come to find is that Kayla is indeed far more closer to what we are all like than we may care to admit. Kayla struggles to fit in with the “cool kids,” battles her painful shyness, and is mortified time and again on her journey of self-discovery. The coming-of-age theme is not the great Moby Dick prize for ambitious talent to harpoon for nothing. It IS the prize that can blind lesser aspirants. Burnham does well to let his young cast help him keep his clarity while he’s at the helm. In the end, we can all enjoy an authentic experience and give it an O-Kay sign and say, “Gucci.”
Eighth Grade goes into wide release in the U.S. on July 13, 2018.
“THERE ARE STORIES ABOUT KIDS AND GROWING UP, AND THERE ARE STORIES ABOUT THE LGBT EXPERIENCE; BUT THE TWO DON’T OFTEN INTERSECT IN A POSITIVE WAY. LGBT ISSUES AREN’T JUST ADULT ISSUES! MY STORIES ARE FOR ALL AGES: POSITIVE STORIES OF KIDS AND YOUNG ADULTS NAVIGATING LIFE AND HELPING EACH OTHER WHILE NOT IGNORING THEIR IDENTITIES AS TRANSGENDER, BISEXUAL, NON-BINARY, LESBIAN, AND MORE.” – GABI MENDEZ, AUTHOR
A Kickstarter campaign is running now and ending on April 7th in support of Lemonade Summer by Gabi Mendez. This is an all-ages graphic novel about queer children, adolescents, teens and young adults coming of age in positive environments and finding supportive communities. The book is 136 pages with full color covers and chapter covers. Each story is a monochromatic color scheme mirroring the sun from noon to dusk, reflecting the characters’ growth in the book. The stories feature young, queer characters who grapple with the conflicts of their own worlds.
Page From “Strays”
“In the summer of our dreams, young pirate runaways learn to accept each other regardless of gender presentation. The new girl in town finds solidarity in female friendship. A roller derby unexpectedly lights the spark of a first-time crush. Friends find confidence in their own voice, and teens face the uncertainty of growing up.”
— Gabi Mendez
Kickstarter Goal: $15,000 currently funded at 40%
Kickstarter Ends: April 7
Support this Kickstarter campaign right HERE.
“We chose to crowd-fund this project to allow us to donate copies to schools, libraries, youth centers and other organizations that would not normally be able to access this book. Currently, our backers will allow us to donate 65 copies.”
— Gabi Mendez
This book is part of Cow House Press. Visit them right here.
“Shake The Lake” is such an audacious work of comics with such an uninhibited and unflinching depiction of frenzied youth–it is truly a hell of a lot of fun and mesmerizing. These are a bunch of out-of-control kids, the sort you’ve seen in numerous teenploitation horror and summer movies. They all, at first, seem to lack any redeeming character but you get hooked into their little nefarious activities and you just can’t look away. But who ever heard of a graphic novel devoted to wakeboarding (think skateboarding on water)? Am I supposed to know about wakeboarding? That level of specificity is part of the subversive fun. You need to check out this wonderfully oddball badass series right here.
Cal in his element. It’s an endless summer, dude!
Of course, wakeboarding is important–especially for those in the wakeboarding scene, which all of these kids are totally into. And some people are fully aware of wakeboarding but to the other extreme like Zeke and Dalton, these two highly obnoxious park rangers hot on the trail of all fun-loving youth. Leave it to them and they will spoil everyone’s fun, particularly anything remotely hedonistic. Hey, it’s the summer and a bunch of young rebels are determined to make their mark. Cal is the lead instigator. He’s already 23, but it is still a life of beautiful teen summers for him and his fellow dreamers. If they could just stir things up at the ole marina, put on a wakeboarding festival to be remembered in their collective old age, then all this arrested development will have been worth it!
Brothers Zach and Machi Block’s script rings true. The Block brothers invest in their ragtag characters a level of integrity that lures you into wanting to know more about this subculture. The artwork by brother and sister team Diego and Andrea Lopez Mata are true to the Block vision bringing out all the crude and raw beauty of this motley crew of wakeboarding fanatics. If you go in not knowing a thing about wakeboarding, after reading this work, you’ll be glad to leave it to the experts and just enjoy the ride. Visit the “Shake The Lake” site right here.
“My Roommate, The Internet” is a very good title. If it were a play, I’d go to the theater to see it. If it were a game, I’d play it. For now, perhaps forever, it is a webomic and it does a fine job of it. A lot of us out there have created, or attempted comic strips. Some of us, like myself, did a comic strip in college. I peg this one as that sort of thing and done well. Back in the day, home-grown college comic strips were a big thing. I suppose they still are. Writer Andy Nordvall and artist Alexander Neish have climbed on the shoulders of many a comic about young people just hanging out. “My Roommate, The Internet” succeeds in having a distinctive irreverence and tapping into the zeitgeist.
Young people, in many respects, have not changed all that much in the last few decades. Attitudes have changed dramatically. Styles have changed dramatically. And so on. But a sad sack slacker from fifty years ago could pretty easily navigate the same couch and bag of potato chips as his brethren of today. Okay, the big difference would be…the internet! Nice segue back to our review. The premise of this webcomic is dealing with a roommate who is “as annoying as the internet.” That already sounds so goofy that I can’t help but want to check it out. It makes me think of a bad suggestion thrown out to an improv comedy troupe. But that’s okay. That’s totally okay.
It’s what Nordvall and Neish do with their oddball premise that matters, right? I’m thinking a nice mix of jokes and character-driven narrative. It’s a weekly comic. It’s just a question of developing both the jokes and characters. In general, that’s a tough slog so I’m not looking for a home run every single time. I’m looking for passion and consistency–and I see that. Do I see more? I think so. The gags have a good offbeat timing. Neish is having fun with facial expression. Both of these guys are having fun and that carries over to the reader. All in all, nice work.
In general, a comic strip, dealing with regular deadlines, is vulnerable to burn out. It happens to the best of them. Jokes repeat themselves. Material can feel like just filler. My recommendation to these guys is to play up the internet theme for all its worth. If, for example, you have a problem with trolls on Reddit, then bang that drum as loud as you can! If you become frustrated by social media etiquette, then let everyone know just how frustrated you are! So, if I have a gripe or criticism to express about this comic strip, it would just be a very general disdain for holding back and being relatively too nice. I think these two guys are on the right track. Just keep exercising those creative muscles and you’ll keep getting more and more awesome.
One last word, I only do some ranting because I care. I am holding you guys to a very high standard and I’m confident in your work. I’m told that Nordvall and Neish welcome followers. I think these guys are on the right track and you should follow them. You can find them, and follow them, at these fine locations: Instagram, Twitter, Patreon, Tumblr, and Facebook.
A wretched staleness in the air. Lost souls strewn about. And it’s all played up for laughs! Welcome to the wonderful world of cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. I really admire Tom’s style, in person and in his comics. Tom is a very likable and professional gent. So, it’s a unique treat to then read his comics featuring Tom’s vile and hateful alter ego. I reviewed a couple of issues of his Scorched Earth comics. You can read that here. This new collection, published by Kilgore Books, that came out this year simply goes by the same running title and contains a fine mix of old and new material. You will want to seek this out.
Tom Van Deusen’s aim is to satirize the oily underbelly of hipsterdom with a neo-underground sensibility. His characters traffic in a Robert Crumb-like netherworld where hedonism and arrogance commingle. Like Crumb, Van Deusen is both fascinated and repulsed by the hipster zeitgeist. Van Deusen’s alter ego, Tom, struggles to connect with a woman who is willing to sleep with anyone…except him. She’ll even sleep with his doppelgänger but not the original. Tom can’t even get a handle on the e-cigarette craze that all the “cool kids” have latched onto. For Tom, vaping does not involve a slim little gadget delivering dramatic puffs of vapor. No, for Tom, it involves a monstrous contraption that looks like an iron lung.
Hanging out at Glo’s Diner
One of the best bits in the book takes place at Glo’s Diner, located in what is the Capitol Hill district of Seattle, a densely populated area and a counterculture mecca. I curated art shows at Glo’s Diner for five years and presented work from local cartoonists including David Lasky, Ellen Forney, Jennifer Daydreamer, Farel Dalrymple, and myself. It is a small space. The food is okay. But there is something about that peculiar little oily spoon that reads authentic. It’s great to see a cartoonist of Van Deusen’s caliber pick up on that. He takes his time to capture the place’s true dimensions and spirit.
Full page excerpt from SCORCHED EARTH
The not so sweet young things remain out of reach for sad sack Tom. He remains on the fringes of the fashionable fringe element. The beauty of it all is that Van Deusen dares to keep vigil, take notes, and then pile it all into a blender and create some very funny comics.
Visit Tom here, find his comics at Poochie Press right here and find this recent collection of SCORCHED EARTH at Kilgore Books & Comics right here.
You’ve seen TED talks on YouTube, right? You can always go right to the source at TED.com. If you’re unfamiliar, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. TED began in 1984 as a conference that today covers just about any topic. These are powerful short form talks in more than 100 languages.
Considering the “Greater Than” theme
Have you ever gone to a TED event? Well, there are a number of these around the world. I went to an independently run TEDx event here in Seattle. You can discover more about TEDx Seattle right here. With a zeal to learn and a trusty notepad, Jen and I took in a day of TED talks. For fans of TED talks, you can imagine how cool that is!
KCTS, a proud sponsor of TEDx Seattle
This is the first year for TEDx Seattle, formerly known at TEDx Rainier. This last Saturday, we settled into our seats at McCaw Hall at Seattle Center and were utterly delighted with each presentation: from Ranae Holland, a biologist-turned-reality TV star on the hunt for Bigfoot all the way to Suzanne Simard, a forestry expert advocating for all us to address climate change.
The theme for this event was “Greater Than,” an umbrella concept that reinforces our sense of community which is greater than the sum of its parts. The talks were further divided into sessions: curiosity > assumptions; future > today; together > alone; and > sum of the parts.
We had stopped by Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Pine and overheard a couple of young women. One said to the other: “And you can spend your whole life in public service, like Hillary, and still lose to a man!” That’s a good sense of what clings to the air and will remain in the air for years to come. So, heading to our TEDx event seemed like quite a fitting place to be: a place to try to make sense of the rifts and the shifts we are currently experiencing.
I was curious about how each talk would act as a thread to a larger conversation. Can we answer the big question, How do we all come together? Celeste Headlee, a longtime host at National Public Radio, made the case in her talk that we are far more isolated than we may realize. The healing won’t take root, said Headlee, until we respect each other and form authentic bonds. That struck a positive and constructive chord that reverberated throughout the conference.
Scott Wyatt talks about urban density.
As the day progressed, Jen and I got really caught up in the talks. In fact, there were so many ideas presented that it is a bit overwhelming to attempt to recap everything and do it justice. I will focus on just a few with some brief comments. Scott Wyatt, a partner at architecture firm NBBJ, hit the nail on the head regarding the critical mass we have reached as a crowded city. Part of the solution is to adapt and that is what Wyatt covered. With more and more of us shoulder to shoulder, it compels us to find ways to live in harmony.
Another compelling talk was on artificial intelligence presented by Oren Etzioni, an entrepreneur and AI researcher. His main point was that the robots are not coming for us and never will. No, it’s quite the other way around. It is up to us to embrace the new tech as it is ultimately there for us and to help us come together.
Eliaichi Kimaro. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.
Eliaichi Kimaro presented an outstanding talk on her journey of self-discovery. Given the opportunity and the motivation, Kimaro found herself making her first documentary without any prior filmmaking experience. She set out to tell the stories of her ancestors in Tanzania. What she came back with were stories that would summon deep reserves for healing and transformation. Her wish for all of us is that we flood the world with our stories. You can visit the website for Kimaro’s film, “A Lot Like You,” right here.
We also greatly enjoyed the talk by Judge Wesley Saint Clair who has some impressive ideas on providing options for youth who find themselves in criminal court. No, he said, this is not a Hug a Thug program. Instead, it is a no-nonsense program that provides these youth with an opportunity to become part of the community. It was a moving talk and the judge deserves all the support he can get.
We ended the day on a high note with Suzanne Simard, a professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia. Her talk covered the intricate and complex nature of ecosystems. Simard made clear that climate change is very real. Ultimately, we all must come together, as Simard stated, not only for our sake but for the sake of our planet Earth.
In these uncertain times, we can always count on brave and thoughtful people to speak the truth.
David Schmader is an American writer known for his solo plays, his writing for the Seattle newsweekly The Stranger, and his annotated screenings of Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls.” He is the author of the 2016 book “Weed: The User’s Guide.” And he is the Creative Director of the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a literary arts center offering free programs for youth ages 6 to 18. I had the opportunity to interview David and discuss better approaches to community and seeking common ground. Locally, for those of us who are a part of the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, we have been undergoing a recharge, a rallying around, after a gas leak explosion that tore into the fabric of everyday life. With BFI preparing to return to its original Greenwood site this month, it seemed to me a good time to check in with a thoughtful leader in our community. I begin our interview going back to that March 9th gas leak explosion in the middle of the night. Fueled with cups of coffee, we settled in at Couth Buzzard Books for this interview.
Wendy Darling gets the jitters about attending a new high school.
There is plenty to like about NVRLND, an exciting new comic involving wild teens and magic, published by 451 MEDIA GROUP. I’ve always said that a comic with a sexy element to it does best if it does not leave its brains at the door. This is a whipsmart sexy comic plus a lot more. It’s easy enough for a new publisher to fall into churning out exploitation content. 451 takes a different approach. Here goes: NVRLND is the sort of comic that promises and delivers a wild and interesting ride. It has a priceless scenario to kick off with: Set amid the underground music scene, kids are dropping like flies when they get hooked on the new designer drug, Pixie Dust, which makes them think they can fly.
Even if you really believe you can fly, is that enough to save you from sure death when you jump off a building? No, most likely you are going to die. That is exactly what is happening to kids in present-day Hollywood. Alexis, the mayor’s daughter, jumped to her death high on Pixie Dust. And so our story begins. Alexis had hooked up with Peter, the handsome young owner to the nightclub, Neverland. Peter had just taken the stage to perform in his band, The Lost Boys, when Alexis jumped from high above. Pixie Dust. Peter knows it is Hook, this mysterious tattoo artist, who is behind the Pixie Dust epidemic. It’s only a matter of time before the two have it out.
Leila Leiz’s artwork is quite stunning, full of life. The script by Dylan Mulick and Stephanie Salyers is genuinely clever and authentic. The whole creative team paints you an intriguing picture of the dark side of Hollywood! Yes, if this sounds oddly familiar, this is a brash and original “retelling” of the Peter Pan tale. As this first issue demonstrates, Hollywood, the land where you never have to grow up, is the perfect setting for this engaging story. For those who enjoy a narrative that faithfully uses local flavor, readers will enjoy the strong Hollywood connection. Overall, a fun and smart ride. It will be fun to see how things develop in this four-issue series.
An emissary from the Queen of England (played by Alex Macqueen) has been tasked to persuade Fred Ballinger (played by Michael Caine) to come out of retirement and conduct his most popular work, “The Simple Songs,” one last time. Ballinger refuses due to personal reasons. He would much rather make music by manipulating a candy wrapper between his fingers. His skill and ability is still alive, albeit at a supernatural level, as we later see when he literally conducts a pasture full of cows. Well, he must have some pretty compelling personal reasons to refuse Her Majesty. And so begins writer/director Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth.”
Amid the backdrop of an otherworldly resort away from everything, we find a number of people, young and old, confronting or avoiding their lives. Fred Ballinger has made a friend there upon whom he relies for good company. This is the famed film director Mick Boyle (played by Harvey Keitel). If Ballinger is having difficulty with one pivotal time in his career, then Boyle is struggling to sustain his legend. He’s hired out and brought with him to stay at the resort, a coterie of young and hapless would-be writers to help him complete his next cinematic masterpiece. Instead, Boyle spends most of the time lecturing them on life. In one brilliant scene, he demonstrates the difference between youth and old age with a telescope. Look through it and things seem close, like in youth. Look through the other end, and things seem far away, like in old age. His staff can only nod and agree with him.
And then there’s Jimmy Tree (played by Paul Dano) who fears he will never live down his role as “Q” in a popular sci-fi television program. Dano seems to be playing a man at least twenty years older than himself and he’s great at it. This is the sort of thing that Peter Sellers would have done to perfection in his prime. Tree is sympathetic to Ballinger’s plight. In another spot on scene, Tree empathizes with Ballinger having to wear his most popular work like an Albatross around his neck. “A moment of frivolity can be dangerous,” responds Ballinger.
It’s not just growing old that is a bone of contention. Those who are in the midst of youth can also find it bewildering and frustrating too. One young and nubile masseuse in particular, (played by Luna Zimic Mijovic) steals the screen whenever she appears. Mijovic’s uninhibited sexuality is irresistible and mesmerizing. She has established an understanding with Ballinger which gives her some control, at least over someone else. In contrast to that character’s powerful but unsteady position is Madalina Diana Ghenea as Miss Universe. Apparently, she’s at the resort just for a little R & R. She is, no doubt, gorgeous and manages to project an elegance and intellect even while simply gliding nude into a pool. If she has any problems, it is in having to convince others that she is smart and far from vulnerable.
Madalina Diana Ghenea
The one person in the role of a bridge between the past and present is Ballinger’s daughter, Lena (played by Rachel Weisz). It is her unenviable position to have her life abruptly unravel when her husband runs off with another woman during her visit with her father. Her wayward husband, Julian (played by Ed Stoppard) happens to be the son of Harvey Keitel’s character, Boyle. In an amusing scene, Boyle and Ballinger not only interrogate Julian but also his new love, a pop star (Paloma Faith, playing herself!) Of course, Julian is a grown man and in no need of lecturing. Both Balliner and Boyle realize this but they welcome the distraction nonetheless.
Finally, there’s that special scene with Jane Fonda as Brenda Morel, who starred in Boyle’s best work. She lets Boyle have it by letting him know how far off the mark he’s gotten. In a film that evokes a Fellini sense of wonderment, this is an all-time great cameo.
“Youth” speaks to the common desire to be young forever, and fear of growing old, by seeing youth not as something fleeting but as something sempiternal. In old age, we can return to youth, if we’re open and brave to confronting our ambitions and missteps. To see each main character grapple with the folly and substance of youth makes for some of the most memorable moments you will find in contemporary cinema.