That's right, plenty of news from California!
First is Comic-Con. I'm pleased to note that Andy Warner, author of Issue 3's "The Man Who Built Beirut," will be representing The Cartoon Picayune on the Publishers Weekly panel concerning comics as journalism this Sunday. Thanks to Calvin Reid for moderating and putting it together, there are some great people on it.
Also, copies of The Cartoon Picayune are now in three shops over there, including two new ones. Pick up a copy at...
Mission: Comics & Art in San Francisco
Fantastic Comics in Berkeley
and Secret Headquarters in Los Angeles.
That's it for now! Always feel free to tell me which shops you'd like to carry the CP and I'll do my best to get it there.
Andy Warner's The Man Who Built Beirut is a long, complicated story. Here are the companion notes and book/article sources to provide some additional context and information.
Page 4, Panel 4: A vital aspect of the Taif Accord not mentioned here is the disarmament of all militias, save one. Hezbollah was allowed to retain its arms to continue to fight Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon. They were widely expected to disarm following Israeli withdrawal in 2000, but refused to do so.
Page 5, Panel 5: While Solidere is technically a private company, it was granted the power of eminent domain by the Lebanese government, making it an odd hybrid of public-private.
Page 5, Panel 6: In some cases property compensation was worth as little as 15% of market value. The “Stop Solidere” image is from the St. Georges Hotel campaign, which began in 2004.
Page 6, Panels 3-5 (above): The main bone of contention was a plan, backed by Syria, to extend Lahoud’s constitutionally mandated single six-year term. Although the previous president, Elias Hrawi had done the same thing, Lahoud was Hariri’s political enemy, and Hariri objected. His opposition to Syrian rule in Lebanon has been vastly overblown in many media accounts.
Page 7: Panels 4-7: These bombings, all in Christian neighborhoods were generally taken to be attempts to stoke sectarian tensions in a time of crisis. Their perpetrators remain unknown.
Page 9, Panel 1: Saad Hariri’s ascension to Prime Minister took place in 2009. Fouad Siniora had held the position from 2005 to 2009, heading the first government after the Syrian withdrawal.
Page 9, Panel 3: The shift from suspicion of Syria to accusation of Hezbollah was sudden and based on Captain Wissam Eid’s analysis of the cell phone networks active at the time of Hariri’s assassination. Captain Eid (as detailed on page 10, panel 12) was himself killed on January 25th, 2008.
Page 10, Panels 1-12: Many of these politicians and journalists were vocally anti-Syrian, but by no means all of them. George Hawi had a complex and changing relationship with Damascus, Elias Murr was staunchly pro-Assad, and Francois Elias Hajj was a supporter of Michel Aoun’s currently pro-Syrian Free Patriotic Movement.
Page 10: Panel 7: Bound by narrative considerations, I gave the July War much less space in this story than it deserved. It is as much responsible for the political and social climate of Lebanon today as Hariri’s assassination was.
Page 11: Panel 3 (above): The crisis was brought about by the government attempt to shut down Hezbollah’s communications network. The ensuing fighting was heavy, resulting in 66 deaths. The Doha agreement guaranteed Hezbollah veto-wielding power, and cemented their dominance in the Lebanese political sphere.
Page 11: Panel 5: I was back in Beirut to work as a guest editor on the excellent Lebanese comics magazine, Samandal. They’re well worth a look.
Page 13, Panels 1-6: This dialogue is a combination of a reconstructed conversation and an email exchange with Fadi. It is not verbatim.
Page 15, Panel 4 (below, right): (L to R) Walid Jumblatt, Samir Geagea, Amin Gemayel, Nabih Berri, Michel Aoun
Blanford, Nicholas. Killing Mr. Lebanon. I.B. Taurus, 2006.
Blanford, Nicholas. “Behind Lebanon’s New Political Crisis.” Time Magazine. 13 January, 2011.
Fisk, Robert. “Who killed Mr Lebanon?: The hunt for Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's assassins.” The Independent. 11 January, 2011.
Fisk, Robert. “Lebanon in limbo: a nation haunted by the murder of Rafiq Hariri.” The Independent. 14 January, 2011.
Fisk, Robert. "How Lebanon can't escape the shadow of Hariri's murder.” The Independent. 12 November, 2010.
Fisk, Robert. “The Arab awakening began not in Tunisia this year, but in Lebanon in 2005.” The Independent. 15 April, 2011.
Gambill, Gary C. "Lebanon’s Constitution and the Current Political Crisis." Mideast Monitor. 11 January, 2011
Hirst, David. Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East. Nation Books, 2010.
Issue #3, the Spring 2012 Cartoon Picayune, has just arrived back from the printers and orders are now available for sale in the site shop. Isn't it a beaut?! Also Issue #1 has been reprinted locally and all three comics are looking real nice these days. Each issue is now available for $4, with shipping for only one dollar more.
Here's what Rob Walker, of The New York Times Magazine and Design Observer, had this to say for the back of this issue:
"A growing number of artists and writers are creating reported, researched, factual work these days, and a doing brilliant, memorable job of it. They're also finding an audience, and that audience wants more! So Josh Kramer has tapped into something significant by making The Cartoon Picayune a new home for this vibrant subgenre, and he keeps proving it with each issue."
Here are a few preview pages from Darryl and Erik's story, about marriage in a Chicago jail:
Here's a sample of Ethan's story about a fellow artist in the making:
And finally, two pages from Andy's 16-page comic featured in this issue:
The Spring issue officially goes on sale this weekend at the Toronto Comics Art Festival, and I'll start mailing out orders when I get home next week. Subscriber copies are already in the mail. Just a reminder, subscriptions are available for two or four issues, with extra goodies thrown in.
You can expect complete notes and bibliography from Andy's piece here soon, plus a Q+A interview with artist Ethan Leners soon as well.
Andy Warner is a cartoonist's cartoonist. His drawing chops are impressive, and he approaches his own work with a curious mind that takes him in many different directions. Look around his site, and you'll see horror comics, beautiful screen prints, and large, expertly crafted puppets. Lucky for us, he found himself back in Beirut last summer, and ready to create a fascinating narrative about one of the regions larger-than-life figures. The Man Who Built Beirut is a non-fiction comic, and it has already earned him an Expozine Award nomination and a chance to do work like this for Slate. I'm happy to have the story in Issue 3 and to talk to Andy about it here.
Josh Kramer for The Cartoon Picayune: First of all, congratulations for making it through your second winter in Vermont. I hope you're enjoying mud season. You're preparing to graduate from the Center for Cartoon Studies. How do you feel about your comics now versus when you started in 2010?
Andy Warner: I'm much better now than I was in 2010. Creating almost nothing but comics for two years surrounded by other people creating nothing but comics had a great effect on my art.
CP: This piece is a little different from what I've published before in the Cartoon Picayune, and it's not like the majority of the stories that you do as a cartoonist. What lead you to go for this kind of explanatory first-person story and why was it important for you to get the facts right?
A: I was trying to tell the story of my relationship with a place by telling the story of the place. I did this by telling the story of a figure whose death marked both my experience in Beirut and Beirut itself. It was really written to try to come to terms with my own feelings towards the city, so the first-person framing of it felt right. But the events that had an impact on me were political events, and so the story is political by its very nature. I think it's necessary to be as truthful as possible if you're writing about a subject like that.
CP: What kinds of research did you do to prepare for this story, and how long did it take you from start to finish?
A: I did a lot of research, especially in the beginning. I started trying to write it in the summer of 2011, while I was still in Beirut for the second time. I didn't get past the first page, though. I kept hitting road blocks. Lebanese politics are notoriously complex, and there are a lot of competing narratives. So I put it away, and came back to it in the fall. After starting it again, I finished it in about a month and a half, I think.
CP: You ask in your story: "Is Lebanon a lesson, a warning, or an inescapable fate?" So much has changed in the Middle East recently. How would you answer that question now?
A: This is the hardest kind of question, I think. The regional politics are still so heavily in flux that I don't think I'd be able to answer that now, if ever. The forces that have driven the changes you're talking about are still playing out. What will a self-styled moderate Muslim Brotherhood mean in Egyptian politics? How will powerful military establishments deal with an erosion of power? I think Lebanon is really an example of an older political order managing to preserve itself in a moment of real national crisis, but probably to the detriment of the country.
CP: What did you want to leave the reader with on that last page?
A: It's easy to get lost in these things. To go down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out who actually assassinated who, and what it means. But my relationship with Lebanon is more complex than that. More than my relationship, the country itself is more complex than that. I wanted to try to explore those feelings. What the reader gets out of that is their own.
CP: This seems like a pivotal moment... what's next for you after you graduate?
A: I'll be moving back to the Bay Area. Before that, I'll be at MoCCA Fest in the Spring. Hopefully I'll be at APE in the Fall, too. I'm looking forward to it. It's been a few years since I've tabled there, and it's a great show.
Thanks Andy! He retains all rights to all of images in this post. The complete notes and bibliography that accompany the story will be posted here closer to publication.
If you're interested in the intersection of comics and journalism, two guys you're going to want to learn about immediately are Darryl Holliday (pictured left) and Erik Nelson Rodriguez. These guys live in Chicago, where they are pounding both pavement and drawing board, respectively, at illuspress.com. They have a piece called "Wedlock: Love and Marriage at the Cook County Jail" that starts the next issue of The Cartoon Picayune, Spring 2012, out in May. Help them raise money for their new book over here.
Josh Kramer for The Cartoon Picayune: You guys collaborate in the traditional sense in that you, Darryl, write the words, and you, Erik, draw the pictures. Can you talk a little about how you started doing this and how you do it now?
Darryl: We started while I was interning at the Chicago Sun-Times. A few lines in one of the paper’s stories mentioned the county jail weddings, and I was pretty much hooked. I’ve been reading/collecting comics since middle school and eventually realized they were the answer to my problem of how to cover the story effectively. I can’t draw to save my life, but I knew that Erik (we were former co-workers at our school paper) could, and that he also liked comics. It sort of just went from there.
Erik: Collaboration begins right off the bat; we go out and cover stories together. Darryl usually plays his role as reporter—asking questions and finding people that seem to play key roles in the story—while I document everything using a camera and sketching out what we decide might be important later. Once we have a script down, we get started on story boarding and sketching out general profiles.
Darryl: The script gets whittled down and shifted as the panels are laid out. The whole process really hasn’t changed. We both have an influence over the other’s input. So, I guess it started off organic and it’s basically the same now.
CP: I know you guys are doing some freelance, both with comics and traditional news. How would you describe your experience freelancing your comics work? Do editors know what to do with it?
Erik: I think because the medium is so new, editors don't really know what they want out of it yet, the best we can do is try to cover a great story so that it’s understood as journalism and art.
Darryl: I agree, but I’d also say that it’s gotten a good reception. People, including most editors that we’ve worked with, seem to respond well to accurate journalism with a new media approach.
CP: Your story takes place in a correctional facility. What initially attracted you to this story? Was the idea of shining the spotlight inside jail appealing, or just the idea of this unusual story?
Darryl: I actually thought it was interesting for both of those reasons. When I first learned about the ceremonies the idea of it became a sort of odd curiosity. I had done a few metro news stories about the jail; more along the lines of the inherent problems that come out of imprisoning whole segments of people. The idea of weddings taking place in those same courthouse rooms seemed like a nice mix of good and evil…figuratively.
CP: I think my favorite party of your piece is that I'm left with an uneasy empathy for the main male character. I don't want to like him but I can't help but feel happy for him. Did you have some idea of this before you wrote the story and was it important for you?
Darryl: I guess there was definitely some idea of it, but I think it was more that we knew that the subject matter was fascinating all on its on. I think when I saw Jamie seeming to contrast with the entire moment in her pink wedding dress was what made the connection really click for me.
Erik: I like that the story evokes emotion for people that would usually fall into a stereotyped class. That we got to portray those empathetic feelings in such a short comic showed what graphic journalism can do that traditional journalism can’t.
CP: This was an early piece for you guys, and you've done a lot of work since. Are you still able to look at this and not wince? Anything you would have done differently or if you had more space?
Erik: We were still working with lettering at that point. We couldn't decide if we wanted to create a font or find a letterer. Darryl did the lettering for that story, but we didn’t get size right. We later found out that fitting a lot of story into small spaces required shrinking the text or being more intentional about space. But by then it was too late and we had to stick with small text. That’s really the only regret I have with this story.
Darryl: Same here.
CP: You guys are great, I wish I could pay you for this excellent story. I'm working on it. How do you guys support yourselves and still have time to make such laborious art/journalism?
Erik: I do art and design work for various publications to pay the bills.
Darryl: And I write for news outlets around Chicago. We both pretty much take what we each do with comics journalism and use it to try and avoid poverty. My student loans aren’t going away any time soon, but being 25 in a big city helps; we’ve still got some time to do experiments and, hopefully, turn the things we already like into jobs.
CP: I understand that you guys have an exciting project coming up?
Darryl: We plan to keep working with other journalistic outlets and posting at our site, but all of this really started as an idea for a comics journalism book. So, we’ll be printing our first compilation, “The Illustrated Press: Chicago” in July/August, partially funded through a completion grant from the Albert P. Weisman foundation and a Kickstarter campaign.
Thanks to both Darryl and Erik. They retain all rights to all images, including the panel from the black and white version of "Wedlock" set to appear in The Cartoon Picayune.
Back again, and with plenty of exciting news. I'm doing a spring cleaning of sorts here at the site. There's a new color on the background (no, this isn't for awareness of anything, we have this thing here about our cherry blossoms) as well as severe edits to the text on a few of the pages.
Most importantly, I've gotten most of my own busyness out of the way and I'm now putting together Issue 3 of The Cartoon Picayune: the Spring 2012 issue. Check out the cover, why don't you:
I know, right? This cover is by Andy Warner, who is also contributing the main story of this issue. It's an incredible insight into the part of the world that we tend to know the least about as Americans — the Middle East. His grasp of the issues at play are possibly only outdone by his skills as a cartoonist.
I'm also excited to have a piece from Chicago duo Darryl "Lee" Holliday and Erik "Kirby" Nelson Rodriguez. Their commitment to the journalism is impressive and inspiring, and they know how to tell a pretty good story. You can find more about them and their and forthcoming book here.
Finally, I have some work from a student also in Chicago named Ethan Leners. He eloquently presents an interesting angle on a familiar story, and the resulting comics look unlike anything else I've published so far.
I'm also in this issue, but only for two pages! I'm thrilled to mostly backseat drive on this one, and watch this thing actually turn into a vibrant anthology. I think this issue is a nice mix, and the next one is shaping up nicely as well.
Just to get it out there, I'll be selling The Cartoon Picayune, issues 1, 2, and 3 at three conventions so far:
More info on each to come!
My story about the bag law in Washington D.C., is now available on the website of the City Paper. Above is Emily Rice, Environmental Protection Specialist and focus of the piece. Here’s some additional information I gathered in my reporting that I couldn’t fit into the piece. I hope it helps place the comic in context.
I talked to Emily in early November and she was very forthcoming and eager to set the record straight on what is commonly referred to as “the bag tax.”
Much of the confusion about the law seems to stem from inconsistency in businesses charging the required five-cent fee. According to Rice, many stores initially did not know whether or not the law applied to them. “A hardware store maybe has food at the check-out counters,” Rice offers as an example. Indeed, every "retail establishment” that sells food or alcohol in the District of Columbia is affected under the law, passed in 2009.
Rice admitted that although the law went into effect on January 1st, 2010, no one began enforcing it on behalf of the city until December of that year. Part of the reason, she says, was to allow time for businesses to adjust to the law. Another reason was that the city needed time to be ready. “I went to a three day EPA inspector training,” she says. “I have a master’s degree in urban planning.”
This delay in enforcement may account for some of the confusion, as well as the fact that the law itself is confusing. There are different rules for different kinds of businesses. “A retail location with seating doesn’t have to charge for paper bags,” notes Rice.
Many businesses also wrongly believed that the law had instituted a flat bag tax on every transaction that could be passed along to every customer. Rice was quick to point out that law mandates a choice and a fee for choosing a bag. “I know there’s cashier discretion, so that’s a big problem,” says Rice.
Finally, the confusion may stem from the fact that Rice is just one inspector, and that there are nearly 5,000 business affected by the law. “I’m the only person working full time on this,” she says.
Part of Rice’s job involves inspecting businesses, either because she believes they are violating the law,or as part of a random check. “I just go in and act like I’m a real person,” says Rice. “The difference is that when I’m doing the transaction, I ask for a bag, in advance.” If Rice finds the business to be operating in violation of the law, she sends a warning letter on behalf of the District Department of the Environment.
After the warning letter is sent and the business still takes no action, there’s a civil penalty. The first one is $100, then $200, and then finally $500. Only one business has been fined up to $500.
I also asked Rice about Safeway’s allegation that they have seen a rise in theft since the law took effect. “My personal view is ‘thieves are gonna be thieves, I don’t think that’s a good argument against the law,’” Rice says. She also noted that she had not seen security guards checking receipts while on her inspections.
Thanks to Emily Rice and the District Department of the Environment as well as Tim Lake, Sophia Kruszewski, Shani Hilton, Mike Madden, and the Washington City Paper.