Here's what's inside. First is "Sex Workers of the World, Unite!" by Andy Warner. (This issue is for mature readers.) It's our first story supported by advertising, and I helped Andy shape it more directly as a hands-on editor. I think it's a great example of why Andy is becoming one of the best comics journalists working today. Here's a page:
The other longer story in this issue by Emi Gennis. Her commitment to research and documentation in her historical pieces is impressive. "Radium Girls" is a tragic and deftly told story about women poisoned by their own workplace. Take a look:
This issue also has a new section with shorter stories called Briefs. The first is mine and it's another piece about Kirk Francis, mobile cookie entrepreneur. "Feeding the Meter" is a quick look at Kirk's business and the proposed regulations that he worries may change it. Finally, newcomer Erik Thurman guides us through the challenges of owning South Korean coffee shops in "Seoul Grind."
Don't forget that the next issue's theme is Small Worlds, and that the deadline for pitches is August 1st. Email me with any questions or ideas you might have.
The new summer issue, themed Hard Work, is almost done! Here's a sneak peak at Andy Warner's story "Sex Workers of the World, Unite!" Needless to say, this issue is only for mature readers.
Here are four awesome free events in June and July that I'm extremely excited about:
6/4 Hothouse Happy Hour: DC’s Independent Print Scene (SW Washington, DC)
Presented by Washington Project for the Arts. A chance to meet and learn about some of DC's zines, including The Cartoon Picayune!
6/15-16 Chicago Alternative Comics Expo or CAKE (Chicago, IL)
Last year was a blast, and this year is chockablock with comics journalists. The Hard Work issue debuts at this show, and will be available starting this weekend. More details to come soon.
6/21 The Hard Work Issue Release Party (Downtown Washington, DC)
Our first ever release party! Please join me and the rest of the Studio on F (923 F St NW) in celebrating the new issue, the summer solstice, and my birthday! 6-9 pm, free drinks and snacks. Original art on display and comics available for purchase.
7/20 DC Zinefest (Columbia Heights, Washington, DC)
This was a blast last year and I'm thrilled to be invited back for their 3rd show. The organizers do a great job and it's a fun little show at St. Stephen's church.
Matt Diffee is an exceptionally funny editorial cartoonist for The New Yorker. I was so happy to have him in the last issue with his story, "Rattled! How One Man Faced Death In a Field in Southeast Texas and Lived to Draw About It." We corresponded by email after the issue came out, and he retains the rights to these images.
Josh Kramer for The Cartoon Picayune: What about nonfiction comics appeals to you specifically?
Matt Diffee: First, it’s just fun to look into new things. I enjoy researching a topic that I’ve never thought much about before. There’s usually a lot more there than you ever realized and it’s fascinating and fun to share those findings. The second thing is that nonfiction suits my style of humor, which I’m told is dry. I’ve always been a comedy guy and I like a straight-faced delivery more than a louder, over the top kind of thing. My favorite comedian is still probably Steven Wright. He has brilliant jokes and tells them in an almost monotone voice. I think my single panel gag cartoons aspire to that kind of tone. That’s why I draw things realistically rather than cartoony. I’m going for the visual equivalent of a straight-faced, dry, monotone voice. It just makes the funny part funnier to me. I got a lot of that from Monty Python too. They hit that same note with their formal, even serious delivery of absurdity and one of my favorite Woody Allen films, Take the Money and Run, is exactly that, a straight-faced documentary, but with jokes. The cello bit is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen and the fish-slapping dance by Monty Python. Sorry to get so specific, but some folks out there will know what I‘m talking about and the rest should get on the google.
Your piece was originally published in Texas Monthly, on larger, glossy pages and in full color. Now it has been republished in a small, self-published comics zine read by mostly non-Texans. Any thoughts on how the change of venue might affect how the story is read and perceived?
Well I actually love seeing it in black and white. It holds up pretty well and maybe it even strengthens the serious/silly dynamic that I was talking about earlier. As far as it working for non-Texans, I think it should still work. I tried to write it in a way that would appeal to anyone, whether they’re lucky enough to be from Texas or not. (See what I did there) It may even work better in a way, because just as it gives you a glimpse into the little-known world of rattlesnake racing, it also sheds some light on Texas and Texanness that might make it doubly exotic for the uninitiated. I hope so at least.
I really like the idea of the metaphor of Texans as rattlesnakes. Is that something that you thought about earlier or later in the process?
It occurred to me pretty early on and that was the insight that made me think the story might be worth doing. It provided an ending of sorts and the potential for it to be at least a tiny bit more than just a wacky anecdote. It enabled me to use the story of the rattlesnake race as a jumping off point to talk about Texas and Texans and maybe America in general.
This story is obviously different from your usual work with the New Yorker. Can you talk about any differences you noticed while working on it?
I’d never tackled anything like this before, meaning I’d never done multiple panels really. I’d done a few full-page things but they were more like a single concept with examples, not a full-on sequential narrative where the reader moves from one box to the next. I had to figure out how to do that - when to show things, when to say things, how to pace the story and move the reader from one box to the next. But the biggest difference, of course is that I had to do reporting. I do a lot of that now, but at the time I had never really done it before - at least not since I wrote papers for school. My New Yorker cartoons are never based on any sort of research. I just sit down and dream up goofy stuff.
I think the layout and structure of this piece are really strong, can you talk a little about process?
Well the narrative structure was pretty simple. I knew I had the race to use as a spine. It had a built-in beginning middle and end and to some small degree, suspense. I figured if I did it right, readers would keep reading just to see how the race turned out, but as I said earlier, I was just as interested in getting into the tangential stuff about rattlesnakes and Texas and what have you, so it was just a question of finding the moments in the race narrative where I could step back for a page or so and have some fun with the other stuff without risking losing the reader.
I don’t really know what to say about the visual layout except that I thought about it a lot and wanted to compose all the visuals so that they worked with each other or at least didn’t fight with each other. I was conscious of the angles of the images and how they lead the eye into the text and how each text bubble would lead into the next one. I also spent a lot of time thinking about box size. I had a defined space to work in, six pages, and it was a task to cram it all in. I didn’t want it to be super packed all the time, so I decided which images I wanted to have a little bit bigger and then that forced me to make some others smaller to make room and I wanted to keep a nice variety going through so that it wouldn’t get boring. I worked on that a lot, because each tweak affected everything else.
While I was editing, we talked about whether or not the rattler taste conversation (above) actually happened. I added a note that the dialogue was comedic fiction based on your reporting. I do really enjoy the gonzo tone you take in this story, but I have strong feelings about speech bubbles and sourcing quotes. What do you think?
Yeah, that’s a tricky thing. I’m doing facts and jokes together - often in the same sentence. In the end I just trust that the reader will know when I’m joking and when I’m not, but you’re right about that particular bit. I think it’s the only part where people might not know for sure, at least for the first few bubbles. I’d expect most would figure it out by the time they got through the whole thing because it gets progressively more and more ridiculous. I’m not really sure though. But then the stakes are pretty low for what I’m doing. I’m going for comedy and I’m not writing about subjects that are direly serious. If I were covering serious topics, my motives and feelings about it would be different. Maybe I’ll do that some day, but probably not. Other people do that better than I would and I love reading that sort of thing, but I just feel more comfortable with humor. Always have. I’d feel like a phony if I ever got too earnest about anything. The truth is I don’t worry too much about journalistic integrity. I know I’m telling the truth where it matters and at the other moments, I’m being ridiculous and I think I set a tone that gives me that leeway. However, I can also appreciate the fact that comics journalism needs to constantly fight for respect. There are still people out there who will see a comics-style presentation and immediately assume it’s childish, artsy-fartsy, or has lower standards than other journalism. Maybe some comics artists think I’m not helping in that cause, but those folks might have less respect for comedy than I do. I think it’s very difficult to do well and I have big respect for anyone that can pull it off.
Do you have any plans for future stories?
Yep, big plans. I want to write about rodeo clowns, one man bands, competitive chili cook-offs, the invention of the corndog, the history of the plastic dog poop industry and lot’s of other important things. It’s just a question of finding the time.
Perhaps you've noticed that this blog tends to be sparsely populated by new entries in the slow season between issues. For more recent posts that might not be necessarily Cartoon Picayune information but are still written by me and skew to my interests, take a look at my tumblr. I like the faster pace and more whimsical style, but I think The CP still deserves longer, more thought out posts, even if it takes a month a more.
Anyways, there's plenty of spring and summertime news to report.
The fifth issue of The Cartoon Picayune is well underway. There's a theme of Hard Work and there is plenty of it happening in production of the issue. For 2013, I'm shifting the schedule a little so that Issue 5 will be the first Summer issue. You can look forward to at least two excellent, longer stories as the main focus:
Andy Warner, who brought us "The Man Who Built Beirut" in the third issue, is back with our first advertiser-supported feature, ever! His piece examines the political fight around the legal status of sex workers in the city of San Francisco. I've been working closely with Andy on this one, and I'm very excited about it.
Emi Gennis, Editor of a Hic & Hoc anthology about unsolved mysteries and a tremendous cartoonist herself, brings us a tragic and richly rendered tale about the so-called "Radium Girls," female factory workers in the early twentieth century poisoned by unsafe working conditions. Emi's process on this is fascinating, and she has generously explained it on her blog, in addition to creating this GIF showing the evolution of a page:
I'm happy to report that I'll once again be tabling at TCAF in Toronto, May 11 and 12, with comics wunderkind Pat Barrett. Then, in June, I'll debut Issue 5, the Hard Work issue, at CAKE in Chicago on the 15 and 16. I'll be joined at that table with Chicago's finest in comics journalism: Erin Polgreen and Joyce Rice of Symbolia and Darryl Holliday and Erik Rodriguez of The Illustrated Press (and the last two issues of The CP).
I would be remiss to not mention that you can now buy Symbolia's first Issue, "We Don't Belong" on iPad or as a PDF. Also, if you are in Chicago, you must check out The Illustrated Press exhibit at the Harold Washington Library.(I can't wait to see it!) Here also is a great interview with CP contributor Jess Ruliffson about her ongoing projects.
Finally, since this is the first year with a Summer issue, it is only fitting to be the first year with a Winter issue also. Issue 6 will be out in November. The theme is Small Worlds, and the deadline is August 1st.
More soon. If you've been paying attention, you know that I owe you one more Q+A, which I hope to post shortly.
Colin Tedford has been making comics in New England and helping run the Trees & Hills comics collective for years, but he has only recently started creating more comics journalism. His comics come from a different place, and "The Story of Jake Tuesday" from the most recent issue is a great example. He retains the rights to these images.
Josh Kramer for The Cartoon Picayune: Your story is one of most unusual and naturally dramatic I've published so far. How did you hear about it and what made you think that it would be a good subject as a comic?
Colin Tedford: On my way to visit a friend in Brattleboro one night I saw people morris dancing in Pliny Park (a little paved area with some shrubs on the corner of Main and High Streets) and wondered why on earth that was happening there at 10 PM. After parking I walked back to have a look; apparently I wasn't the only one wondering, because I overheard one of the dancers on the sidelines (almost certainly Geoff Rogers) telling the story of Jake Tuesday. I thought it would make a good comic mainly because, as you say, it's unusual and naturally dramatic. It also has good visual components, not to mention it involves a DIY holiday and people forming and maintaining community ties, which are things that particularly interest me.
What does Morris dancing mean to these men? To the community? Do you have different ideas about it now versus before you started the story?
I'm sure the meaning varies for each person and it only came up directly with a few people, but it's a fun physical and social activity and a way to connect with tradition and the seasons. There's also a rowdy aspect that didn't come up as much in the final story, of drinking and singing and flirting afterwards (this side of things was not so much Jake's thing, though). For some it has a spiritual dimension as well. For the wider community of non-morris folk I can only speculate; I imagine it's a fun thing to watch and a bit of a curiosity. Their public dancing usually happens as part of fairs and festivals. I didn't have many ideas about morris prior to this story -- I'd seen it before and knew it as an old English folk tradition -- so the main change is just knowing more about it in general.
This is one of your first efforts making comics that are journalistic. What is attractive to you about comics journalism, and how does the process compare to making other kinds of comics?
I'm fairly new to journalism but I've been making comics about real-world topics for about five years. This partly reflects my reading interests -- since college most of my non-comics reading has been nonfiction -- and partly reflects my desire to use comics as a tool to improve the world. What drew me to journalism specifically was stumbling upon Graphic Journos and Susie Cagle's website. Their rah-rah attitude made me think that pursuing journalistic outlets might get my work in front of more eyes and maybe even generate some income while allowing me to pursue my interests. The income has yet to show up (surprise), but already new people are seeing my comics. Nonfiction comics are definitely more work than fiction, though, because of the added research, which is why it's taken me so long to follow through on my interest in doing more of them -- and journalistic restrictions just add to the workload.
How did you find doing the reporting? Were there unexpected challenges?
Doing the reporting was basically enjoyable despite the expected challenge of having to push past my shyness. Probably the biggest unexpected challenge was the way the story expanded. I interviewed Geoff first and thought I basically had the story. I interviewed Jake pretty close to the event, expecting to just fill in some details, but his telling of the story and his thoughts about it were so much richer than I expected that I scrapped the outline I had. That made my deadline even tighter. I'd hoped to handle the color myself but finished so late that I had to accept the newspaper's original offer to have a staffer color it. Other unexpected challenges were mostly technical. My phone's speakerphone feature went on the fritz when I interviewed Geoff, so I had to awkwardly hold both phone and recorder to my ear. The person I was going to borrow a camera from took a spontaneous vacation, so I had to use my not-so-great-for-motion-or-low-light phone camera at the event instead.
Several journalists and documentarians I've admired have said something to the effect of needing to like the subject that they write about. You bring a lot more to your depiction of Jake besides simply sympathy. How long did you spend with these guys? What other kinds of things would you have said about them in a longer story?
I interviewed Geoff for about a half hour on the phone and Jake for about an hour in person, then attended the entirety of Jake Tuesday (about three hours). In a longer story it might have been nice to bring in more people's views. That would have required more interviews, though; I managed to talk with some people at the event but with all the activity and socializing and background noise it wasn't a great environment for interviewing.
The first thing that I want you know about Jess Ruliffson is that she's a really, really nice person. It was a real pleasure getting to know Jess as she worked on her story, "Bethesda," for the most recent issue of The Cartoon Picayune. The second thing is that she's a really talented cartoonist, and that if you care about our emerging field of comics journalism, you're going to keep up with her. She retains the rights to these images. Here we are talking about her story:
Josh Kramer for The Cartoon Picayune: Your story mostly takes place inside the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The first page (above) is all exterior shots approaching the door. Were you struck by the building itself? It's an interesting choice, can you talk about why you wanted to begin that way?
Jess Ruliffson: The current Walter Reed Medical Center was recently moved to the preexisting Bethesda Naval Medical Hospital, which was built in 1940--that's the hospital tower building that you see on the first page. [Ed. Note: Interested readers can learn more about Walter Reed from this Pulitzer Prize winning series that was in the Washington Post in 2008.] The old Naval Hospital is one of the only tall buildings in that area of Bethesda, and has a commanding presence up close. I was also pretty nervous on my first visit there. The trip documented in the comic was my second trip there, and that towering building became iconic to me. In looking back on the piece, I think maybe three panels of the same subject is potentially boring, but I can see why I did it.
Talk a little about your experience with the Joe Bonham project in general, and then maybe why you decided to focus this piece on Michael.
Mike D. Fay is an
Vietnam vet and incredibly talented combat artist, and the founding member of the Joe Bonham Project. I met him and another illustrator, Victor Juhasz, though the Society of Illustrators in New York. Every year they have a juried exhibition, and the sequential category is relatively new and provides an outlet for really interesting work to be seen. Anelle Miller, who is currently the director there, introduced me to the both of them after my first veteran comic was accepted into the show. They told me that they were going to the military hospital at Bethesda and drawing portraits of the wounded, and I thought it would be a great way to hear more from veterans and potentially make a comic about the experience. The project was started about two years ago, with the intention of bringing awareness to veterans, specifically those wounded in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've just had a second public exhibition of these documentary drawings in Washington, D.C.
I focused on Michael's story because I knew it the best, compared to the other stories I'd heard. We (Ray Alma and I) were allowed to sit with him for maybe only twenty minutes and he was so patient and nice. His parents were very gracious, too. I was permitted to make an audio recording of his recollection of his injury and took some photos and was able to piece it together. I really liked showing how Ray and I reacted to hearing how recently he had been injured--we were so surprised to hear he'd been shot in Afghanistan about ten days before we met him.
I love the page where Michael describes his injury (below). The light switch and growing black circle are fairly abstract, but it's an interesting solution to the problem of you not having been there for the most action-packed part of the story. Where you trying to convey a specific feeling?
I was stumped on how to draw the scenario he's describing, when he described how he was injured during patrol. I think I was inspired by David Mazzuchelli's more abstract storytelling in the Paul Auster adaptation, City of Glass, he often would draw sort of non sequitur images. I also had my doubts on being able to get all the equipment and poses right in a part of the story I didn't have much else but a verbal reference on. I was trying to imagine what it would like to be in that situation, and my usual reaction to physical pain is panic. So the idea was to represent that panic and maybe time passing.
I think your piece is really effective at conveying two ideas about modern warfare: many soldiers may be seriously wounded but don't appear to be on the outside, and that transportation to and from the battlefield is so, so quick now. What else did you learn that surprised you, and what would you want to tell people who haven't met a veteran?
I was surprised to hear that Michael wanted to go back to war as soon as possible. If I were critically injured, I might want to stay home. He has a real bond with the other people in his platoon and really wanted to go back and be with them again as soon as he could. I was so shocked that he was recovering so quickly. Michael had a really selfless attitude. When he mentioned they guys in his platoon called him after 'the operation,' I assumed he meant the life-saving surgery he received at the field hospital or in Germany. But he was actually speaking about the guys coming back safely after the mission he was on. That really blew me away.
Most of the people I've had the opportunity to speak with at the hospital have been making incredible strides in healing and recovery. I was also struck by Michael's gentleness and calm way of speaking. He was very peaceful. I think before I got interested in veterans' stories, I assumed most people in the military were really reckless and aggressive. I think that each soldier is very different, and they have more qualities to them than just being tough. They're highly intelligent and hilarious, something which doesn't get a lot of press. I think when the media talks about soldiers, the focus is on their superhuman strength, endurance and bravery, all good things, but there's a difference in how that bravery and resilience is expressed in a hospital room and in combat.
This may not be directly related to your piece in The Cartoon Picayune, but you recently returned from your fellowship at The Atlantic Center for the Arts, where you studied with Dean Haspiel. What was that like, and have you made any changes to your process because of it?
The residency was definitely life-changing. It's so difficult to describe. I've been hanging out with several of the resident artists that are based in New York, and we can't stop talking about it, because the experience is so hard to communicate to other people. I learned a lot of practical stuff to last a lifetime, we got the chance to see Joe Rivera (of Daredevil fame) give an inking demo. He didn't go to art school but spent years doing caricatures, airbrushing, and motorcycle detailing. His technique was really incredible, he'd rest his drawing hand on top of his other wrist and use that arm to guide his marks. He's just brilliant. I learned so much from Dean Haspiel and Megan Kelso (another master artist at the residency) about storytelling and not getting discouraged and staying interested and not giving up. I also learned a lot from the other cartoonists studying at the residency. Everyone was so kind and really curious about other people's work and exploring everything. It's like we were a bunch of kids on a playground. It was a very high-energy scenario, no one seemed to sleep very much, everyone was always noodling away at a drawing at their desks. I've made friendships that I feel will be around for the rest of my creative career, I've never met such a devoted bunch of people. I definitely recommend the program to other comics artists, they're having another comics residency in 2014.
It's already time to get together the Spring 2012 issue! The next issue has a theme of Hard Work. I want your true stories about real effort. It's that sweat-on-the-brow intensity that I think is going to really make this issue come alive. You have one month to tell me about your story. By January 1st, 2013, I want to know what's coming in. Once I know it's coming, together we can determine an individual deadline for when the finished comic is due. For more information, see the submissions page.
Just a reminder, this is the first issue where advertising has provided me with a comics budget. To pitch me, send me a paragraph or two describing the comic and why you think it would work in The Cartoon Picayune Hard Work issue. Then I can work with you as an editor (with a light touch) and we can make something really special. Plus you get paid!
In short, you have one month to a) pitch me on story you want me to edit and for you to get paid for, or b) tell me about your awesome story that you want to send to me already completed.
Have a piece in mind for The Cartoon Picayune that doesn't fit the theme? Email me, I'd love to hear about it and consider publication for a future issue.
Also, we're looking for more advertisers! Our rates are extremely reasonable, and as noted above, directly finance the creation of original comics journalism.
Two other short notes: I have a tumblr. It's a fun place for me to short and quippy.
Also, Symbolia, a tablet magazine that also focuses on comics journalism launches today. Spend some time with it (on iPad, ebook, or pdf) and you'll see that Erin and Joyce and doing something really cool. It definitely has it's own own personality, and I can't wait to see where they go with it.
That's it for now, stay tuned for three exciting Q+A interviews and maybe too many new comics projects.
Saturday night I attended the opening reception for the Joe Bonham Project at the Pepco Gallery here in D.C. The group visits with wounded veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and they draw while the servicemen tell their stories. The show features works of illustration in different media from professional artists including The Cartoon Picayune's own Jess Ruliffson (seated, center).
Her story, Bethesda, in the current issue, is the direct result of her visits to Walter Reed and the only work in the exhibit in the form of comics. It was great to see the whole breadth of the exhibit, and the take in the diversity of styles and experiences.
Here, for example, is a drawing by Ray Alma, who visited with Michael at the same time Jess did. It was so interesting to see the same people portrayed by different artists, and the little bits of information scrawled on the page often added a lot of emotion and narrative to the portraits.
If you'll be in D.C. through the 30th, the gallery is open to the public from 12-4 Tuesday through Friday, at 702 Eighth Street NW, between G and H. Seriously, it's quick and not too overwhelming. Instead, it's powerful and engaging. I'm really proud of Jess' contribution, and pleased with the work the Project is doing and the broader conversation it is encouraging. You can support them here as well.