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.