New Steps. No Sleep.

(Originally posted on January 20, 2016)

It is three minutes past midnight, and here I am, unsuccessfully falling asleep. Until today, I had forgotten to purchase new plastic sheeting for my bedroom windows, and the nightly cold blasted through the seams and directly into my bones. Hence, I have set up new sleeping quarters in the living room. It's not quite a fort, but it may as well be. I almost feel 5 again.

The less sleep I get, the more poetic I become. Odd.

In exactly 12 hours and 24 minutes, I will begin the next step of my career: teaching a college course on Motion Graphics. I realize many artists do this. Still, it's terrifying. There are actual human beings under my care; while I've managed high school classrooms, and freshman college students are basically still high schoolers, this feels different. These students are headed towards a career. It's strange to think that I was one of them not very long ago.

I didn't even drink tonight. Why am I so verbose?

I tried to sleep. The cat judged my efforts wanting, and proceeded to mew at me as loudly as she could from below the couch-bed, atop the couch-bed, on the couch-bed, and on whatever surface she could leap onto before I shooed her away. I shall try again.

Shall? Yeesh. I really do need to sleep.

I'll have a coffee in a few hours to try to fix whatever mood this is. Nervousness? Coffee might not help with that. I'll have a chai.

Away I slip into the cold embrace of adulthood...again.

Jaz, Where Have You Been?

I think I write a "Whoops, I haven't blogged in a while" post about twice a year. Where have I been? Well, Me (as I'm the only one who really reads this thing), I've been delving into the strangely addictive world of Instagram. After spending hours scrolling through artists' pages, and staring at that one hedgehog who somehow has his own handle, I curl up in a corner lamenting how little my work has grown over the past day. Rinse and repeat. 

I realize this is an entirely fixable problem. I can set a 10-minute limit for oo-ing and ah-ing over Mr. Hedgehog (sometimes, he wears a hat!). I can decide to avoid social media altogether. But as the weather cools down and the sun sets early, I find resisting the urge to curl up in a corner with a snack and a "like" button more and more difficult.

This leads me to my current condition: curled up in a corner in a café, updating my website. I still have tea here, and if I wish, I can hop over to Instagram and make googly eyes at my favorite artists' new character designs. But something about being out of my own house helps me focus. Maybe it's the lack of bed. More likely, it's the stigma attached to sleeping in public places. I've never been one to fall in line with public shaming, but the corners here don't have my favorite pillows in them. They simply will not do for a nap.

Anyway, I'm not dead, Me. I'm fighting a winter cold and prepping for the deathblow to my wallet that is Christmas, but alive I shall stay until Valhalla calls me home. Wish me luck.

Inktober Inspiration

All images (c) Matteo Scalera, y'all.

Inktober is upon us! I admit I've been slacking off, even this early in the month. Thankfully, my local comic shop came to inspirational rescue with a large-format copy of Black Science issue 1. Rob Remender can write his butt off, but i bought it for Matteo Scalera's gorgeous ink work.


To be fair, some of those blocks of grayscale are from the color version of the book. Still, the dude knows what he's doing. Those aren't pen liner outlines wih brush and ink to fill in. That's straight brush work. The way he works with darks and lights is fascinating. Its so moody.


I mean, my goodness. I normally spend my obsession energy on the Wonder Twins, but they'll have to forgive me. I still love them, but Scalera's got this game on lock right now.

Look at that contrasting layout. Look at it.

If you haven't read Black Science, you should start. It's beginning to get a little weird, but I have high hopes-- mainly based on my love of SciFi and how the story has been going so far.

Good stuff.

This Week's Read: Divinity


I realize I'm late starting this one, but that's OK. There are so many books in the world that reading them all as soon as they're released would be nigh impossible.

Divinity is written by Matt Kindt, and therefore, I'd like to read more issues to see where it goes. Mind MGMT held my attention, and I can be picky about art styles. Kindt puts out imaginative stories in interesting worlds. Divinity begins in the Soviet Union, with a young man named Abram Adams scheduled for a secret mission. He'll be sent into space for 30 years in order to reach the edge of the galaxy. The scientists working on the mission have instructed him to rethink time and space as he knows it, because time's flexibility is the key to the mission.

It could be just like Interstellar, but thankfully, it's quite different. Kindt writes a strange and intriguing tale of a man who just wants to experience something new, and encounters consequences stranger and stronger than anything which he could dream.

I'm going to pick up the subsequent issues of Divinity, just to see where Kindt takes this.

Writer: Matt Kindt
Artist: Trevor Hairsine
Inker: Ryan Winn
Colorist: David Baron
Publisher: Valiant

Go read.

This Week's Read: Chicken With Plums


Marjane Satrapi's Chicken With Plums is much shorter than her more well-known Persepolis. Even so, her narrative style is obvious.

CWP follows Nasser Ali Khan, a man who wishes to lay in bed until he dies. The process takes 8 days. During those 8 days, Nasser recalls the life experiences that led him to his decision.

It sounds horribly morbid -- and I suppose it is -- but it's an interesting look into what different people feel are insurmountable issues. If nothing else, it's always good to read more Marjane Satrapi.

Go read.

Pay The Artist.

In case you didn't know, most artists have bills to pay. Besides rent, internet, groceries, gas, water, and electric, there are also supply purchases and student loan payments. In short, artists have to pay as much as anyone else in order to keep living.

I make sure to discuss payment before starting any work. It's not the first thing I mention, but it's a necessary part of the conversation. Sometimes, that discussion is met with confusion, irritation, or anger. Here are some excuses for this strange behavior:


1. The Myth of The "Starving Artist" As A Glamorous Condition  

Not being able to afford food isn't fun, and it certainly isn't glamorous, but many people have a romanticized view of The Artist. In their minds, The Artist lives in an expensive, high ceiling loft in SoHo with french doors that open onto a large balcony. The Artist breathes in the fresh air every morning whilst holding a cup of organic Peruvian coffee through the sleeves of an imported fair trade Ukrainian tunic, and the inspiration of the city charges them with all the energy needed to paint piles and piles of gorgeous canvas work without even trying. They don't get paid to create. They do it only because they love it.

Yea, OK. No.

Well, the coffee part is right. We tend to need lots of caffeine. But the rest of it? Nah. Most artists create their own work half of the time, and the other half is spent at a day job. The day job might be art-related, but it'll be for someone else, and since it's a job, they're getting paid for it. 

That loft, probably not in SoHo, is shared with several roommates. Even in Philly, where rent is much lower than in New York (low enough to live alone if need be), the struggle to keep afloat is serious business. Art is hard work - and clearly, because you're asking someone to do it, you don't have the skills to do it yourself. I don't need your romantic idealizing. I need something I can use. Please and thank you.


2. Bartering Is For The Birds

This is a weird one. Personally, I love to barter. You need animation? I need soundtrack design? Let's trade! It usually works out just fine, but some people seem a little put off by it. Perhaps it's because they don't want to have to "owe" anyone anything...but that's what they signed up for, so...

Luckily, I haven't run into many people who both don't want to pay a full fee and also don't see bartering as a viable option. When I have, I side-shuffled away.


3. Familial/Amiable Bonds

I get it. As an 8 year old, I drew a cute picture for you and didn't ask for anything in return. It's super cute that there are adults in the world who still draw instead of getting a "real job," so if one of them is related to you, you shouldn't have to pay for it, right?

Wrong.

Let's iterate: artists have bills to pay. Just because I decided to pursue a different career path than you did, doesn't mean I shouldn't get paid for being able to paint an 8.5" x 11" portrait of your buddy's veterinarian's sister's dog for his 5th birthday. The work, not to mention expenses, I put into my craft are high, which is why you're asking me to paint that picture in the first place. If you can make salary for sitting around in an office for the first 5 hours of the day, making spreadsheets for the next hour, and then scrolling through Facebook until you get to go home, then you can pay me a fee for my work.

Now if I offer to do a job for free, then that's different. But don't assume that because I know you personally, I'm not going to want some form of payment. Again, bartering is great! Just don't offer me a big fat nothing.


4. Personal Woes

I'm more lenient on this one. If you're about to have a kid, or you're having serious money troubles, we can probably work something out. It will most likely mean that you will receive less work from me than in different circumstances, or we set up a contract wherein you pay me in installments, but I understand that sometimes, people legitimately need work done, but legitimately don't have all the funds for it.

This is where bartering comes in handy! People have all kinds of skills, and networking through the bartering of said skills can build a great reputation.

However, please don't call me at the very end of the project, after having agreed to all the details, and give me a sob story about how your grandmother's pet snake just gave birth to 10 little baby snakes that all need food and water and you simply can't spare the cash. First of all, snakes lay eggs, so I'll know you're lying. Secondly, and here's the most important part: you already agreed to the fee. There's even a contract saying as much. I've gotten my first deposit, and a possible second if we're working off of a 3-segment payment plan, but don't lie and try to skip out on the full fee because you don't feel the artists you employ don't really deserve it. It's not only rude, it's unprofessional. A client once told me he could just Google how to animate in After Effects, and do a 4-day job himself in a day, instead of paying me what he thought was an exorbitant (but actually super low) fee for my help. Good luck to him.


Basically, unless I tell you we're good, assume you need to give something in return for my hard work. I didn't hurl myself into the cold embrace of lifelong student loan debt just so I could doodle on notebooks for funsies. I'd doodle for funsies regardless. If you're doing business with me, then you'd better mean business.

My life guru, Malcolm Reynolds, put it best:


This Week's Read: Essex County


For a multitude of unimportant reasons (laziness), I'd put off reading Jeff Lemire's collection of tales dedicated to his hometown. I'm all about his other works, like Underwater Welder and Descender, but when I saw EC at my local library, I figured it was time to round out my Jeff Lemire knowledge.

Essex County is quite lovely. The art style is simple - black ink on white pages - but perfectly fits the stories told. The tales are snippets of life among the young and the old living in a small town. One man, a former hockey star, now works at a gas station due to a head injury that ruined his career. One boy dreams of being a superhero, while his father dreams that one day his son will want to spend time with him. A nurse does her best to care for the elderly in a home, as they are the closest relationships she has.

I'm a big fan of nostalgia. I repeat that a lot, but I do love it. Even though I didn't grow up on a farm, the book's setting feels familiar.

It's a big collection, but a quick read. I knocked it out in several hours, in between snacks. You'll want to stop and look at the artwork, and details put in and left out. I definitely recommend taking a day to fully enjoy Lemire's signature work.

Go read.

Work Like Diego, Sleep When It's Done

Video (c) Ford Motor Company, National Archives

Diego Rivera's murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts were one of the main staples of my frequent museum visits as a kid. They were massive. I could stand in front of them 3 times a week, and still not notice all the details.

Rivera is an incredible example of what it means to truly put in work. If you've ever worked on a mural, you know it takes hours on hours of sweat, sometimes teetering on high ledges, sometimes bent low to the ground, trying to keep balance while keeping your lines clean. It's tons of fun, mind you, but it's definitely work.

Rivera wouldn't be Rivera if he didn't put in the work.

I try to remember that when I'm getting out of my side job late at night and I still have illustrations to finish and emails to write.

Vive l'artiste.

This Week's Read: Welcome Back


I picked up the first of this 4-issue series for the cover art, and the story was pleasantly surprising. It follows Mali, a 20-something woman drifting through Kansas City, Missouri after college with no real plans for her career. Meanwhile, reincarnated assassins hunt down their nemeses in every life cycle. Yep. I dig it. I also dug the main assassin's style. I am definitely putting her on my "to-cosplay" list.


It's a fun story with great artwork, and I'm curious to see how the plot plays out in the remaining 3 issues.

Writer: Christopher Sebela
Illustrator: Jonathan Brandon Sawyer
Colors: Carlos Zamudio
Letters: Shawn Aldridge

Publisher: Boom! Studios

Go read.

This Week's Read: RASL


You might remember Jeff Smith from his award-winning masterpiece, Bone. RASL is another great story, but it's geared toward an adult audience.

The tale revolves around Dr. Rob Johnson, or "RASL." A scientist in our universe and an art thief in all others, he lives on the run after stopping a government-funded energy experiment based on notes found in Nikola Tesla's stolen journals. Jumping from universe to universe, he evades capture while working to stop his old lab partner from rebuilding a machine that would destroy entire states at a time. It's pretty wild. If you're into historical science fiction, cool guys with tattoos, damsels in distress, and inter-dimensional noir shootouts, this is probably your speed.

Go read.

Week in New York

My job was on summer break, so I spent most of last week in New York. Besides eating all the food and getting swindled by a very pretty man (was bound to happen sometime), I spent my time drawing. I'd posted some of my sketches on my Tumblr and Instagram, but I just yesterday finished painting the weekly Street People:

 Sassy McSasserstein

 UFO-hair was one of my favorites.

 Almost-FKA-Twigs. Thanks to the guy on the right for letting me take a picture of his outfit. It was a big help.

 The third guy here is the one who swindled me. Eh, he had a nice smile and books for sale. I'm a sucker for books. At least he let me take a picture of him to document the occasion. Lastly, there's Rich! We worked together back in Detroit, and I hadn't seen him in a couple years. Naturally, when I did get to see what he was up to, I put him in my weekly sketches. Go check out his work; dude is a design beast.


I also found a drop-in figure drawing session in SoHo at Spring Studio:





All in all, it was a good week. New Yorkers are an interesting group. Big thanks to Peter Redmond and Manny Harris for letting me crash for the week. You guys are the best! Peter just got his site, Carry On Eats, up and running; COE aims to be the intersection between food and travel. Peter finds all the best things to eat in different cities, so you don't get stuck on Yelp in the airport terminal trying to figure out what's for dinner. The guy has a real knack for finding amazing food wherever he goes. I don't know how he does it. Many thanks as well to Laurie Berenhaus for helping me out immensely. If you ever need 3D design or printing work, she's your gal.

Next Week's Read hasn't been read yet, but it's most likely gonna be good. I'm thinking Rasl by Jeff Smith, but we'll see.

This Week's Read: Chew

Last Week's Read was put on hold, as I was running around New York like a crazy person. More on that later.

This Week's Read is a good'n: Chew!

Image (c) John Layman and Rob Guillory

Detective Tony Chu of Philadelphia is a cibopath: he can psychically "see" an object's past through taste. This leads to some darkly humorous situations in which he must take nibbles out of corpses, lick unknown fruits, and generally disgust himself and those around him in order to solve cases. His main diet consists of canned beets, because naturally, beets have no interesting past.

John Layman (writer) and Rob Guillory (artist) make a great pair. The series has been ongoing since 2009, with nonsensical adventure after nonsensical adventure. They continually find new ways to gross me out and make me laugh at the same time. Chew is probably best suited for ages 13 and up. There are some violent situations...I mean, the story is about taking bites out of things, after all.

Go read.

This Week's Read: A Drifting Life


Yoshihiro Tatsumi coined the term "Gekiga" - "Dramatic pictures." As a young man, he wanted to distinguish the types of drawn stories he and his friends created from regular manga, which at the time (1950s-60s) was mostly marketed for children. In A Drifting Life, Yoshihiro weaves his life story through several decades, several cities in Japan, and the several manga groups he worked through in order to find his artistic style.

It's a long read - 834 pages, not including the appendix -- but not tiring. The book starts and ends with his love of Osamu Tesuka's work. He got into manga through Tezuka and other greats of the era, and continually strove to be on that level. Yoshihiro also gives regular updates on the state of Japan, with news stories intermingled with the main content. He talks about films that came out, actors and actresses he loved, the aftermath of WWII, the introduction of the television, local tragedies and nationwide fads. All of these affected his work development.

The story left me feeling that I need to work harder on everything. This guy and his friends would knock out 2 or 3 30-page stories in a month for several different publishing companies. The stories weren't all the best the of the best, and it eventually left the artists physically and mentally exhausted, but they pushed themselves. Not only that, but they started figure drawing as an afterthought. Their first mission was to put the work out; technical skills were developed along the way. I think what stops me from doing certain projects is not believing I can pull them off with my skill level. But skills are developed through practice. Procrastination is a killer.

I picked this up at my local library, but if yours doesn't have it, you should be able to find it on Amazon or your local comic shop. It's a great kick in the pants if you've been putting off work.


Go read.

Art That Should Never Be Made

It's early in the morning (or late at night, depending on your view), and I'm irritated. I get like that sometimes. Today/night, I'm irritated because I can't stop thinking about something I read a week ago on the interwebs: "This should never have been made." This referred to a comic book which the writer of the quote thought was too offensive for the universe to handle. More specifically, they wrote that, "[the comic] could literally have been comics’ Second Coming of the Messiah and I would still think it shouldn’t have been made."

I have a serious problem with that.

Part of my research -- what I call diving into the rabbit hole of books and websites, looking for interesting things that have nothing to do with what I should actually be studying -- took me to an article on the aftereffects of the Charlie Hebdo massacre that took place early this year. If you're not familiar, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical French newsletter known for its political cartoons. Twice, they published a comical drawing of the prophet Muhammad, which naturally set a lot of people on edge. Unfortunately, in January, two gunmen decided enough was enough, and slaughtered 12 journalists in the Charlie Hebdo office. The incident sparked a movement called "Je Suis Charlie," or "I Am Charlie," in which sales of the CH issue featuring the controversial cartoon shot up an unthinkable amount, with the first run sold out before the day after had ended. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest censorship, hashtags were slung, and conversations on the future and nature of journalism had.

Then, there are artists like Ai Wei Wei and Atena Farghadani. Farghadani is currently facing a 12 year, 9 month prison sentence in Iran for drawing a cartoon featuring Iranian politicians with animal heads. Ai Wei Wei is forever in trouble with Chinese law, and recently, the UK, for his politically charged artwork and activism.

These people, whether doing something they believe in, making a light joke, or just "poking the bear," so to speak, raise an important question: Is there art that should never be made?

There certainly exists artwork that I find distasteful, crude, pointless, horribly uncouth, and downright terrible. I'm pretty sure I feel all those feelings, in order, when I look through one of my own sketchbooks after it's done. Does that mean it shouldn't be made? I find it difficult to stomach certain works, like Sambo figurines. In the age of Photoshopped-everything, the most crude among us create horrific images, and lash out further when called out on it. Should they be banned from creating anything that could rub a decent person the wrong way?

One girl recently tried to ban a good portion of artwork from her college campus. Tara Shultz of Crafton Hills College in California was appalled when one of her class reading lists included graphic novel titles like Persepolis and Y: The Last Man. Along with The Sandman, Fun Home, and The Doll's House, Shultz wants the books gone, noting that when learning the class involved the study of fiction through comics, “I didn’t expect to open the book and see that graphic material within. I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography.” Bypassing my bad-pun-o-meter's alarm from not expecting "graphic" material in a graphic novel, the "pornography" she's referring to is probably in relation to the search of the main character's sexual orientation in Fun Home, which is a Broadway musical now. Shultz apparently had a few friends willing to protest with her, as well as her parents. College officials have promised to warn incoming students of the nature of the graphic novels in hopes they might avoid a similar incident. I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. I was required to read Maus in college, and loved it. It takes some serious chops to weave a heartbreaking tale of the holocaust using animals as characters. Maybe that'll be next week's Read. We'll see. But back to the main point.

On one hand, the world would be a better place if we all acted in truth, trust and integrity. On the other hand, artists like those at Charlie Hebdo truly believe in what they're doing, and many of them died for it. Were they being offensive to a large population of people? Sure. But that doesn't matter. They didn't deserve to die because of one drawing. Farghadani doesn't deserve to go to prison because some government official never learned how to take a critique. Art is powerful. It has this way of bringing out the best and worst emotions in people, making them do things they would never do otherwise, or giving them courage to do things they were just waiting to try out, both good and bad. When we see art that offends us, we tend to speak out about it. We take to the internet and proclaim our fury to anyone and everyone who would listen, and when they agree with us, we feel like a warrior inside. When they don't, it angers us more. We put up posters and we hold meetings, and discuss why the art is offensive and how to remove it from society. And what does the offensive artist do? He or she walks over to our posters, snickers, and draws penises all over them.

We don't get the final say in what other people create. It sucks sometimes, but we just don't. We can shout and write blogs about it, but artists will keep producing. Even if it's the most horrific image we've ever seen without immediately vomiting, someone somewhere will frame it on their wall. Artists aren't all the best people. Yea, we make cool stuff with our hands and feet -- and in some cases, other body parts -- but we aren't all the tortured, otherworldly beings everyone else likes to think we are. Just like there are people with good and bad intentions working in finance, the variation exists in the art world, too. There are people who want to make a huge social change, or create the most beautiful work anyone's ever seen. There are people whose sole happiness in life is whipping out a marker and drawing penises all over everything.

And they sure as hell don't deserve to die over it.

We have the right to be offended and to speak out about that offense. Others have the right to keep being offensive. Art that should never be made doesn't exist.

Now let's all take a moment and think about the definition of "hyperbole."

This Week's Read: Strange Fruit #1

All artwork presented in this post is property of J.G. Jones and Mark Waid

We live in a nation where police officers can kill unarmed Black men and women and not be prosecuted for it. News media can defame a Black child after his murder, claiming that his use of marijuana at one point in his past somehow rectifies his death, while White serial killers are called "mentally unstable." In the past few years, it has become more and more difficult for many people to take a middle class White male point of view seriously, as it is so distant from their reality. Videos like that of Eric Garner made me sick to my stomach for weeks. I found myself thanking the universe my father wasn't alive to see them, lest I'd have to be as worried about his safety as I am about my brother, uncles, cousins, friends and neighbors. In this world, we arrive at the ongoing issue of diversity in comics. The comic world operates much like the real one, with characters of color often written as stereotypes, and their voices altered to reflect a mentality more comfortable for White readers to digest. Only recently has the comic world begun to open up to writers and real characters of color. For a long time, our stories were written by people who look nothing like us, nor experience the things we do. Gene Luen Yang, one of my favorite graphic novel creators, said,

“I would never tell a white writer not to write an Asian American character, but when you are venturing outside your own experience, you ought to do it with humility and hesitancy. You need to gather the right resources. So for a comic book writer, that might mean adding someone to your team who knows more about the experience you’re writing about. It might mean co-writing with somebody, or hiring a freelance editor who has the experiences you need. It means research, and talking to people who are insiders of the culture you’re talking about.”

Steps are being taken, and progress is being made. In comes Strange Fruit, a story by J. G. Jones and Mark Waid, two White men. While much of the knee-jerk reaction online has been outrage that two White men created a narrative about racial division in the Southern states of the US in 1927, I thought it was best to take a step back, read the issue myself, and respond to the concerns brought up by reviewers. I believe in the power of knowledge, and my goal when reading Strange Fruit was to fully digest it, then go back and take it apart piece by piece in order to completely understand what Jones and Waid have presented. Keep in mind that this is based only off of the first issue, as the others haven't come out yet. I recommend picking up a copy of the comic to follow along. Or do what you want; it's your life. This post will be more clear if you've read the story first. This is gonna be a long article, so settle in.

Concern #1: Strange Fruit employs use of the N-word.

I would be far more offended if the creators chose to white-wash this part of history. This story is set in Mississippi in 1927. Everyone in America knows that term was thrown around like Christmas carols in November during that time period -- heck, it's thrown around now. I've been called it on several occasions (and not lovingly). My father's been called that word, my mother, my brother, the Black men and women in my life; and, I've been called it several times outside of the United States. Yes, the word is vitriolic when spit out by some ignoramus out to catch a reaction. Yes, it's hurtful when absentmindedly dropped by a White colleague who thinks because one Black person told them they could use it, all Black people should be OK with it. The word has a long history of pain behind it. But people, we're talking about Mississippi in 1927. The creators should not have omitted the use of that word, simply on the basis that they're White. After all, one of the other major complaints about this story was:

Concern #2: Not all White characters that appear are as obviously racist as the Ku Klux Klan

Yep, that's right. Not all the White people are shown to be spiteful and violent in their racism, and some readers had a problem with it. J.A. Micheline says in one of her two scathing reviews of Strange Fruit,

"I was hardly surprised to find that for every white person who says something racist, there is always either (a) a white person to tell the other white person that they’re wrong or (b) a black person to say nothing and show no resistance. (b) happens only once, while (a) happens pretty much throughout the work. It’s a perspective common to stories of racism written by whites — in order to make white audiences comfortable, white creators (of any medium) frequently show that “not all whites” were pro-slavery or racist. It is simply inconceivable to write a story in which every white person is racist, because, in their minds, how could that possibly be true? You set the Klan up, the obvious racists, just to knock them down with white saviors, to remind readers/audiences that whites are still good people and knew better and wanted to help."

-from "The White Privilege, White Audacity, and White Priorities of STRANGE FRUIT #1

It's an understandable sentiment, but is it true? In this case, the worry that the portrayal of the majority of Whites as heroes ready to step in and fight for equal rights whenever a wayward White person says something even remotely racist, a narrative I agree is often employed in stories about Blacks in order to comfort White readers, is unneeded.

"...while (a) happens pretty much throughout the work."

I've counted the instances of racism by White characters in this first issue, minus the Confederate flag imagery, which I'll talk about later. For clarity, I've documented these instances in order below, and will note when another White character steps in to stop them and why:

Page 1) White Person (WP) #1 says, "It will if we keep ever'body properly motivated," as he and his group pull up in a truck to the "Colored Cafe." We soon find out that he means threatening Black men to get to work fixing the river levees.

Page 2) WP#1 (same man) tells his son, "This ain't no place I ever wanna see you in," again, referring to the Colored Cafe. He and his group enter the cafe.

Page 3)

 a) Black Engineer catches himself when speaking to a White man, and adds "sir" to the end. This is a historically accurate portrayal of certain interactions between Blacks and Whites of the 1920s South. Is it demeaning? Heck yes. By today's standards, it would be over the top, but considering the time and place where the story is set, it makes sense.

b) WP #2 calls the engineer, "Boy."

Page 4)

a) WP #2 calls the engineer, "Boy," again.

b) WP#2 says, "Our problem is that we got too many niggers 'round here wearin' suits..."

Page 5) Group of White men tries to force all the Black people in the cafe to stop having fun and get to work.

Page 6) 

a) Another use of the word, "boy."

b) Pickens, a White man, tries to attack Sonny, a Black man.

Another White man stops him. This is the first instance of this happening.

Using context clues, the reader can deduce that this man isn't stopping Pickens out of care or love for Black men. He was clearly also racist (see his actions as part of the group in pages 1-3), but his motivation was to get the Black men to fill the rising levees with sandbags, not to start a brawl. His main goal is to save his White community, which can't happen if the group of Black men he wants to work for him are fighting in a cafe with a handful of his White friends. This is a far cry from being the hero; I'd wager that in any other situation, he'd let Pickens pick a fight (P.S. to Jones, nice name choice), but as a flood was coming, he had better things to do.

c) Pickens tells Sonny that "good White folks" shouldn't work when there are "bucks," around to do the work for them. He then pulls a gun.

Page 7)

Pickens threatens to lynch anyone who doesn't do what he says. T

he same White man who stopped him before steps in and tells him to put the gun down.

It is imperative to note the reasons he gives behind his own actions, because he does explain them himself: "Put that thing away and get your priorities straight! We got more important matters t'worry about right now'n one buck!" Again, he's not at all worried about Black lives. He's worried about the White lives that will be saved by stopping the incoming flood.

Page 12) The KKK appears. Everything the Klan does is terrible, so this needs no explanation. HOWEVER! I will provide a short history of the Klan after this segment, just to further clarify the story.

Pages 13+14) The KKK has an altercation with the Senator and his guest Widow Landry, a woman wielding a rifle. Both are White.

The Senator and Landry refuse to let the Klan into their home, calling them "The Chickenshit Brigade."

While Landry seems to care about keeping her Black workers unharmed -- "My boys do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay." -- she still calls them "boys," as she sees them as lesser beings. Meanwhile, the Senator's problem isn't with the Klan's racism, it's with their interference with the system in place: "You keep drivin' the coloreds away, we ain't got no labor force, we ain't got nothin' t'sell and no pot t'piss in!" His life as Senator depends on the status quo. In his mind, the Klan is a bad element not because of their racism against Blacks, but because of the financial inconvenience they cause Whites.

Page 15) A Klan member says his hood "scares the piss out of" Blacks.

Page 17) The Klan attempts to lynch Sonny and the man who arrived in the spaceship.

Splash pages 18-19): Klan attempts to shoot Sonny and the other man.

Page 21) Klan member calls the second Black man a "thing." At this point in the story, no one is aware the strange Black man has arrived in a space ship, so the Klan believes him to be a just that -- a Black man, not an alien.

Page 22) Use of the N-word.

So, in 18 instances of racism by White characters in this first issue, only 4 times does a secondary White person say anything (positive or negative) in response. 3 of those times, the White person stepping in was doing it out of concern for Whites, not Blacks. A White person plays the "hero" only once, and only to make sure she doesn't lose any of her house workers.

"...while (a) happens pretty much throughout the work,"

is just plain incorrect.

Now, if the concern boils down to historical accuracy (which it seems it does as other readers have questioned when the Confederate flag came into popular use), then let's review what events occurred surrounding 1927. Better yet, let's talk about the history of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Klan was founded in 1866 by a group of six White Confederate War veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee. It quickly gained momentum from other Southerners who were upset over Reconstruction and the loss of White supremacy. It is important to note that the KKK was not one large group at the time, but a handful of small factions that sprung up in different states. Many Whites kept their mouths shut about the violence and intimidation perpetuated by the Klan, but some spoke out about it - not because they felt love and admiration for all the freed slaves, but because of the disorder. The burning crosses, lynchings, massacres, and general violent nature of the KKK did nothing to restore the financial stability of the South. It still hasn't, as is obvious today by the many poverty-stricken towns still around. The Klan used their hoods to act as vigilantes; the worst of society now had a mask to hide behind while committing these acts. Angry, fed up and stripped of racial power, they sought to restore the life they had before the Union took away their voting rights for fighting against them (but honestly, it makes sense to strip a defeated group of voting power for a while. I still don't understand why they were allowed to keep the Confederate flag up for so long). They killed both Blacks and White Republicans, but they went after Blacks far more often and with far more cruelty than Whites. They were unmerciful and unflinching in their quest for the absolute destruction of the Black community. They believed Black people were the reason their lives had gone downhill. When attacking Black leaders, they went after those with political pull at first, and then devolved further into a violent free-for-all. By 1870, the KKK was listed by the federal government as a terrorist organization (which did nothing to stop racist brutality, but it happened). In 1915, we got the film "The Birth of A Nation" by D.W. Griffith, which glorified the Klan's efforts. If you've seen this unfortunate film, you know it's a topic for another day. If you haven't, then while it's a cinematographic masterpiece, it's possibly the most racially offensive material ever made. It also stirred a new order of the Ku Klux Klan, as if the original wasn't bad enough. This new entity, with a far-reaching spread over the Southern and Northern states, Republicans and Democrats, sought not only to destroy Blacks, but Jews, Catholics, immigrants (*coughcough the first klan members were second generation immigrants *cough) homosexuals, or anyone else who wasn't a White Protestant. I find it interesting that they felt they were the morality police, and yet lynched and massacred so many. How high does one's level of cognitive dissonance have to be to ignore a glaring inconsistency like that? But I digress. Klan members were poor, middle class and rich. They were Supreme Court Justices (Hugo Black, anyone?), judges, and just plain terrible human beings. By 1927, the Klan had accomplished two things:

1) Scare a lot of Black men, women and children from doing pretty much anything out of reasonable fear of getting brutally murdered, and

2) Annoy a lot of White people who wanted racial supremacy and financial stability but weren't seeing the results the Klan promised. Klan membership dropped as public mask-wearing became illegal in several states, and citizens began to resent the Klan for not accomplishing anything besides murder and mayhem. The phrase, "White Silence Is Violence" comes to mind; we could have resolved the problem of the Ku Klux Klan much earlier if White citizens had spoken up more about it. But that's not what happened, and now we're here. We can discuss the long-term effects of racial subordination and the portrayal of Blacks in the public eye another time, as that topic is worth several articles and a few books of information. The topic at hand is whether Strange Fruit's backdrop is as historically accurate as it could be, and it is (minus the alien sub-plot).

So this is the context behind this first chapter of Strange Fruit. It explains why the Senator was upset with Klan members (loss of money), and why the earlier supposed White "hero" wasn't really a hero at all. He was incredibly racist, but tempered himself in order to achieve his own goal.

It's important to look at context when reviewing anything. Knee-jerk reactions help no one. I can feel the backlash coming. Shoot me a text before it happens, so I can eat a good breakfast first.

Concern #3: The strange man/alien at the end is a stereotype of the strong Black man.

"Of course, there’s the argument that, in this case, the character in question is genuinely superhuman. The alien isn’t a stereotype because it’s actually true, right? But here’s the problem: He does not speak. He does not show any capability of speaking. He has not shown any level of intelligence beyond sentience, any goals, any desires, any anything. For all intents and purposes, he could have been an animal. Sure, maybe he’s going to speak in the next issue, but I have no reason to think that he will given the way the character has been presented in this first issue. So, instead of presenting a subversion of a stereotype, the creators have managed to create the ultrastereotype by making the physicality of incredibly strong (and nameless) black man who cannot or does not speak the push of this splash page, and ultimately, his current identity."

- Micheline

The character Micheline describes in the above quote appears toward the end of the issue. No, he doesn't speak. He wields an aura of mystery. You know what that's called? Good writing. In a visual medium like comics, it's bad form to tell, not show. Every other character has a clear goal. This new guy, though? What's his deal? Who is he? Why did he arrive in a spaceship? I don't know, but I want to know. Now, it's fair to think that the character can't be proven to be an alien, because he doesn't speak. What's not fair is assuming that because he doesn't speak, he's nothing more than a stereotype of a Black man. He's clearly strong and muscly, and entirely unafraid of the lynch mob who sees him in the field. Two characters in SF use the term "buck" to describe Black men. Buck is a racial slur, encompassing several stereotypes: violence, lechery, uncontrollable desire for White women, stupidity, and defiance of White supremacy. If Micheline is trying to say that this man fits the "buck" profile, I'd say she's gone from being offended to being horribly offensive. We have to be careful when equating any portrayal of a strong Black man as racist sentiment. He is neither a subtle nor an overt misappropriation of a Black male character. Here's what this man

doesn't do:

This man has no circular pink lips, no sambo personality; he doesn't taunt anyone - he barely acknowledges the lynch mob's existence. He doesn't leer at women, and as far as readers can tell through the limited information given, he's not stupid. He's not a respectful, knee-bending Black male, hoping to appease Massa. He doesn't yell. He doesn't do a typical, "Look at this fine Black man beating back the White supremacists!" war cry typical of Blacksplotation, with broken English and a flag of black, red and green tied around his arm.

He does:

uproot a tree and throw it at Klan members, but that's self-defense, not outright violence. Not to mention, badass. He sends the Klan members off limping and whining, and he does it without striking a pose or beating his chest. He sees oppressors, deals with them, and moves on.

Even if he did go after the Klansmen when they left his presence, I wouldn't begrudge him that. Dudes just tried to lynch the brother. Beating them all to a pulp wouldn't make him a stereotype, either, so I'm not sure what Micheline wants, besides for the exact same comic to have been written by two Black men rather than two White men. I've been quoting her in this post, as I feel she's put out the most opinionated views about Strange Fruit. She also put out the most knee-jerk arguments as to why she doesn't like it. There are many things in this world that should cause outrage, least of which is the treatment of the Black male in American society. But this isn't a part of that.

Concern #4: The Confederate Flag didn't come into popular use until the later in the 1900s, and shouldn't be here.

Ok, now we're just grasping at straws, but I'll tackle this one. The first Confederate flag was created in 1861. The design was of three stripes (two red, one white), next to a blue square with thirteen white stars in it. The Confederate flag most people recognize, the "stars and bars," was created in 1863. It was made official as a symbol of the South, with its own salute separate from the American salute, in 1933. As I said above, context is important. In 1927, the "stars and bars" flag hadn't been in popular use. However, most people associate that particular Confederate flag with racism in the South, and Jones and Waid needed a symbol to represent that. And besides, let's remember that it's a comic about a space alien fighting the KKK...historical accuracy isn't really the biggest concern, here (although, as I've noted, they did a pretty good job with it).

Concern #5: Everyone who worked on Strange Fruit is a White male/ the White men whose names are on the cover called this story, "A deeply personal passion project."

Do you see the Black man featured on page 3? How about the character, "Sonny," introduced on page 5? Those aren't just random images of Black men pulled out of Jones' head. Those men are...wait for it...people he actually knows. People he's spoken to and has befriended in real life. Better still, they're people I know. I don't know the alien (but let's be real - if I did, I wouldn't be nerding out about comics on my computer right now, I'd be buying the man a steak dinner), but I can guarantee Jones used reference for him, as well. It's what good artists do. The title, Strange Fruit, is taken from Billie Holiday's song of the same name, which addresses lynching. The "strange fruit" are the Black bodies hanging from trees. It's visceral imagery, and fitting of a story that pulls no punches about the nature of Mississippi in the 1920s. I'm going to give Yang's same quote from above:

“I would never tell a white writer not to write an Asian American character, but when you are venturing outside your own experience, you ought to do it with humility and hesitancy. You need to gather the right resources. So for a comic book writer, that might mean adding someone to your team who knows more about the experience you’re writing about. It might mean co-writing with somebody, or hiring a freelance editor who has the experiences you need. It means research, and talking to people who are insiders of the culture you’re talking about.”

Jones and Waid didn't just wake up one morning and decide to write something they hadn't experienced without attempting to understand it first. They did research and they spoke to people who were affected by these issues. They even put some of them into their book! They could have missed the mark by a long shot, but they didn't. It's not the best comic I've ever read, and I get super nit-picky about hyperrealistic artwork in fictional worlds, but I'm intrigued. I'm certainly not offended.

This project was personal. White people are told they shouldn't ever speak about racism towards Blacks because they simply can't understand it, and in the same breath, that they should speak up when they see it happening. We don't need White heroes to swoop in and save the Black community, but we do need to sit down, hash all this out, and come to an understanding. If we truly want to have conversations about being a minority in America, then it needs to be a conversation. Not, "This didn't happen to me, so it must not happen at all," from the White community, and not, "This didn't happen to you, so you're never allowed to speak on it," from the Black community. Should we be heard? Absolutely. But railing against anything and everything White creators do isn't helping. If Black men had made this exact same book, I sincerely doubt it would have as many White readers as it does. I'll be happier when Black writers and artists get the same amount of press as their White counterparts (Jeremy Love's "Bayou" and Andre Batt's "Dreadlocks" are two out of hundreds that should be more popular), but the fact the White men who wrote this tried their best to do a decent job of talking about racism without coddling their readers should be praised, not protested.

Conclusion

Basing my opinions on this book off of knee-jerk emotions, without actually looking at the book itself, would probably get me a ton of views and lots of comments from people who didn't read the book but are happy to jump on the "everything made by White people is racist" train. But then I wouldn't be a thinking Black woman. I'd let people like J.D. Micheline speak for me,  and get behind their rage without looking into the issues myself, and I'm not about to do that. I understand the hostility she and other Black comic readers feel towards the comic community. We've been fighting to tell our own stories so long that it's more than off-putting when suddenly a story involving mostly Black characters gets famous when it's written as a "personal" piece by two White guys. That shouldn't keep them from telling the story, though. Jones and Waid didn't fail with this one - yet. After all, this is just the first issue. Strange Fruit doesn't deserve the unbridled hate it gets based on this alone. If I were to dislike it, it would be because, again, I'm iffy about visual styles (said the super-amateur artist). Maybe readers were looking for something more subtle, something that doesn't outright say, "these particular characters are racist." Maybe they want to be able to point to a sequence and say, "Hey, I caught that! You didn't think I'd catch that racist thing that just happened, but I did!" I don't know. I do know that with all the Black people currently dying at the hands of police, the terrible portrayal of our race in the media, and the insane hate President Barack Obama gets because of his Kenyan heritage, that there is enough racism to talk about and rage over for decades. Is this comic the underhanded, good-intentions-gone-awry, bastion of racism some people think it is? Whole-heartedly: no.

Digital Progress! Featuring Snow White!

One of my mini-goals this year was to make progress in my digital drawing skills. It's been over 6 months, and I can proudly say that I have made progress.


My linework is better (use of different brushes, steadier strokes), my figure drawing is better (thanks, drawing every day!), and I think Snow White's overall design is a lot more fun.

SUBTLETIES!:

1) Crown-shaped brass knuckles (cause she's the Queen, whether the Queen thinks so or not)
2) Magical dwarf head ring -- I wanted to give her seven, but that seemed like a bit much
3) Dwarf pinup tattoo
4) Apple boobs! Maybe not so subtle, but I thought they were fun...maybe I should have made them green...hmmmm...

The new gal could use work, but right now I'm too excited about how much better she looks than the old version to care about all the little details that need fixing.

I've also decided she has a "7" tattooed behind her ear. You know, for funsies.

This Week's Read: Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Art of The Animated Series


This week's read isn't a comic or a graphic novel (gasp!), but I think it's necessary.

If for some insane reason you haven't watched the show Avatar: The Last Airbender, GO WATCH IT. The massive cult following exists for good reason. For the rest of you, this book is a fantastic companion. The book takes the reader through Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko's entire process (as much as they can fit into 183 pages, anyway). With early to late stage character designs, background sketches, storyboards, fight sequence layouts from the martial arts masters who choreographed them, and a plethora of other goodies, this book kept my nose stuck in the pages for a full day and a half.

It's beautiful! Beautiful, and inspiring.

Go read.

This Week's Read: Punk Rock Jesus


In the future, the world goes on an American Idol-type quest to find the perfect young woman to represent a modern version of Jesus Christ's mother, Mary. She will then be impregnated with a clone of Jesus, whose DNA was lifted off the Shroud of Turin. All of this will be turned into a reality show.

If all that sounds insane, you haven't read Punk Rock Jesus. Sean Murphy (Joe The Barbarian, Hellblazer) somehow makes this story seem plausible. From the search for "Mary," to altering Jesus' DNA slightly so he has blonde hair and blue eyes (because a traditionally Jewish-looking Jesus would kill ratings, apparently), to the moment when "Chris" - Jesus 2 - discovers punk rock music as a teenager and rebels against his brainwashed upbringing, Punk Rock Jesus never fully steps into the bounds of the outrageous.

It does get pretty sacrilegious at a certain point, so if you're extremely offended by that sort of thing, I'd pass on this one. Murphy is very clearly an atheist, and it shines through. He doesn't denounce faith with this GN as much as he denounces organized religion, but he doesn't seem to have a very open view on faith, either. Even "Chris" himself denounces his followers. Christian groups in the book form new denominations; some hail Chris as the second coming of Christ, and others call him a charlatan. Meanwhile, all Chris wants to do is be the angsty teenager that he is and rock out.

PRJ is fun, interesting, and a little nuts. It's "suggested for mature readers," so use your own discretion.


Go read.