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Not My Bag by Sina Grace

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Retail: many of us have been there, most of us survived, only few unscathed. Not My Bag is comic book artist Sina Grace’s autobiographical tale of clothing store misadventure, his brief stint in selling women’s apparel.

Grace begins his comic by asking, “What are we afraid of?” A cartoon image of him stands against a black background. He’s small, unsure. In the next panel there are two. The second Sina is wearing a suit and a smirk. In the following panel he admits, “I’m afraid of myself.” We soon learn the source of his anxiety, “What if being an artist isn’t in the cards for me?” This is a story of identity and what happens when our expectations don’t match our reality.

After a minor car accident that did more damage to his hybrid than anything else, Sina finds himself in debt to the insurance company. Shortly after he applies for a job at the local mall department store and is hired as a sales associate selling women’s clothes.

From the start we see that Sina is an overachiever; in the training session he offers the history of the company and within weeks spends hours studying the clothing line. Before too long he’s able to distinguish the different styles of stretch pants by sight alone. But, as with all ambitious types, this is not enough. He hopes to gain enough experience to “move over to a boutique, where [he] believed in the designer, where [he] saw the clothes as art pieces.”

Although it’s obvious that Sina likes clothes—he spends $800 on an Alexander McQueen wool fringe coat and takes pride in the accessories used to jazz up his work attire—retail is not where he’s supposed to be. It’s his art that is his true passion and both his boyfriend, only known to us as “The Lawyer,” and his friend, a fellow comic book artist, ask if he would rather not focus on his comics. The stress from juggling these two lives comes to a head when Comic-Con and a meeting with corporate headquarters collide.

Sina’s psychological decline becomes visible. In one scene we see him curled up on his boyfriend’s lap, lacking the energy to stay awake during a television show. Their “date nights” have gone from dinner and a movie to re-runs on the couch.

All the melodrama of working in retail is on display in Not My Bag, from an evil boss whose nature is depicted through grotesque facial renderings to the silent competition of fellow coworkers. More importantly, however, Not My Bag is a warning, it shows what happens when one forgoes their passion and, at best, chases after someone else’s dream.

::[Links]::
Buy Not My Bag at your local indie bookstore
See all of Sina Grace’s work at Image Comics
Sina Grace on Tumblr
Follow Sina on Twitter
Preview Not My Bag

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Written by Gabrielle

November 20, 2012 at 6:58 am

Posted in books, reviews

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New in Paperback for October

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I’d like to apologize now for increasing your To Be Read (TBR) pile but October’s paperback releases are astounding. I know I’ll have my eye out for these as they hit the stores. Some are already on display tables and shelves near you. Go out and find them. They are just asking to be devoured. Oh, and guys, don’t forget to drink water, eat, and talk to people. Happy October and happy reading!

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis intro by Keith Gessen (reissue)
Regarded by many as the finest, and funniest, comic novel of the twentieth century, Lucky Jim remains as trenchant, withering, and eloquently misanthropic as when it first scandalized readers in 1954. This is the story of Jim Dixon, a hapless lecturer in medieval history at a provincial university who knows better than most that “there was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones.” Kingsley Amis’s scabrous debut leads the reader through a gallery of emphatically English bores, cranks, frauds, and neurotics with whom Dixon must contend in one way or another in order to hold on to his cushy academic perch and win the girl of his fancy.

More than just a merciless satire of cloistered college life and stuffy postwar manners, Lucky Jim is an attack on the forces of boredom, whatever form they may take, and a work of art that at once distills and extends an entire tradition of English comic writing, from Fielding and Dickens through Wodehouse and Waugh.

The Canvas by Benjamin Stein
Loosely based on the true story of Binjamin Wilkomirski, whose fabricated 1995 Holocaust memoir transfixed the reading public, The Canvas has a singular construction—its two inter-related narratives begin at either end of the book and meet in the middle.

Amnon Zichroni, a psychoanalyst in Zurich, encourages Minsky to write a book about his traumatic childhood experience in a Nazi death camp, a memoir which the journalist Jan Wechsler claims is a fiction. Ten years later, a suitcase arrives on Wechsler’s doorstep. Allegedly, he lost the suitcase an a trip to Israel, but Wechsler has no memory of the suitcase, nor the trip, and he travels to Israel to investigate the mystery. But it turns out he has been to Israel before, and his host on the trip, Amnon Zichroni, has been missing ever since.

Not My Bag by Sina Grace
From the artist of The Li’l Depressed Boy and Amber Benson’s Among The Ghosts, comes a retail hell story like you’ve never encountered before! A young artist takes a job at a department store in order to make ends meet… little does he know that he may meet his end! In this gothic story for fans of Persepolis, Blankets, and The Devil Wears Prada, can the artist withstand competitive pressure, treachery, and high fashion while still keeping his soul?

2017 by Olga Slavnikova
In the year 2017 in Russia– exactly 100 years after the revolution– poets and writers are obsolete, class distinctions are stingingly clear, and mischievous spirits intervene in the lives of humans from their home high in the mythical Riphean Mountains. Professor Anfilogov, a wealthy and emotionless man, sets out on an expedition to unearth priceless rubies that no one else has been able to locate. His expedition reveals ugly truths about man’s disregard for nature and the disasters created by insatiable greed.

The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem
In The Ecstasy of Influence, the incomparable Jonathan Lethem has compiled a career-spanning collection of occasional pieces—essays, memoir, liner notes, fiction, and criticism—which also doubles as a novelist’s manifesto, self-portrait, and confession. The result is an insightful, charming, and entertaining grab bag that covers everything from great novels to old films to graffiti to cyberculture.

Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood (reissue)
First published in 1934, Goodbye to Berlin has been popularized on stage and screen by Julie Harris in I Am a Camera and Liza Minelli in Cabaret. Isherwood magnificently captures 1931 Berlin: charming, with its avenues and caf s; marvelously grotesque, with its nightlife and dreamers; dangerous, with its vice and intrigue; powerful and seedy, with its mobs and millionaires — this was the period when Hitler was beginning his move to power. Goodbye to Berlin is inhabited by a wealth of characters: the unforgettable and “divinely decadent”Sally Bowles; plump Frau lein Schroeder, who considers reducing her Bu steto relieve her heart palpitations; Peter and Otto, a gay couple struggling to come to terms with their relationship; and the distinguished and doomed Jewish family, the Landauers.

That’s Not a Feeling by Dan Josefson
Benjamin arrives with his parents for a tour of Roaring Orchards, a therapeutic boarding school tucked away in upstate New York. Suddenly, his parents are gone and Benjamin learns that he is there to stay. Sixteen years old, a two-time failed suicide, Benjamin must navigate his way through a new world of morning meds, popped privileges, candor meetings and cartoon brunches–all run by adults who themselves have yet to really come of age.

The only person who comprehends the school’s many rules and rituals is Aubrey, the founder and headmaster. Fragile, brilliant, and prone to rage, he is as likely to use his authority to reward students as to punish them. But when Aubrey falls ill, life at the school begins to unravel. Benjamin has no one to rely on but the other students, especially Tidbit, an intriguing but untrustworthy girl with a “self-afflicting personality.” More and more, Benjamin thinks about running away from Roaring Orchards–but he feels an equal need to know just what it is he would be leaving behind.

Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi
A single mother takes her two sons on a trip to the seaside. They stay in a hotel, drink hot chocolate, and go to the funfair. She wants to protect them from an uncaring and uncomprehending world. She knows that it will be the last trip for her boys.

Beside the Sea is a haunting and thought-provoking story about how a mother’s love for her children can be more dangerous than the dark world she is seeking to keep at bay. It’s a hypnotizing look at an unhinged mind and the cold society that produced it. With language as captivating as the story that unfolds, Véronique Olmi creates an intimate portrait of madness and despair that won’t soon be forgotten.

The Thursday Night Men by Tonino Benacquista
Every Thursday night at 7 o’clock a group of three men meet in Paris. Each man’s life, his story, his situation, is as different from the others’ as can be. What unites them is heartache. Trouble, that is, with women. The meetings are held in a spirit of openness and tolerance.

In an almost religious silence each man confesses while the others listen.

In The Thursday Night Men, Benacquista gives his readers a variety of unexpected and amusing perspectives on romance, the relationship between the sexes, and friendship between men.

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye
Shirley Jackson meets The Twilight Zone in this riveting novel of supernatural horror.
A village on the Devil‘s Moor: a place untouched by time and shrouded in superstition. There is the grand manor house whose occupants despise the villagers, the small pub whose regulars talk of revenants, the old mill no one dares to mention. This is where four young friends come of age—in an atmosphere thick with fear and suspicion. Their innocent games soon bring them face-to-face with the village‘s darkest secrets in this eerily dispassionate, astonishingly assured novel, infused with the spirit of the Brothers Grimm and evocative of Stephen King‘s classic short story “Children of the Corn” and the films The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke andVillage of the Damned by Wolf Rilla.

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks
I Want My MTV tells the story of the first decade of MTV, the golden era when MTV’s programming was all videos, all the time, and kids watched religiously to see their favorite bands, learn about new music, and have something to talk about at parties. From its start in 1981 with a small cache of videos by mostly unknown British new wave acts to the launch of the reality-television craze with The Real World in 1992, MTV grew into a tastemaker, a career maker, and a mammoth business.

Featuring interviews with nearly four hundred artists, directors, VJs, and television and music executives, I Want My MTV is a testament to the channel that changed popular culture forever.

What paperbacks are you looking forward to this month? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

October 2, 2012 at 6:38 am

New in Paperback for May

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Whether they debuted in hardcover last year or are paperback originals now, here are some inexpensive reads for May. We have our work cut out for us.

Long Island Noir
Edited by Kaylie Jones

Original stories by: Jules Feiffer, Matthew McGevna, Nick Mamatas, Kaylie Jones, Qanta Ahmed, Charles Salzberg, Reed Farrel Coleman, Tim McLoughlin, Sarah Weinman, JZ Holden, Richie Narvaez, Sheila Kohler, Jane Ciabattari, Steven Wishnia, Kenneth Wishnia, Amani Scipio, and Tim Tomlinson.

This new addition to Akashic’s noir series reveal how Long Island has always been a playground for the rich and famous–and while it used to be that only a select few could afford it, now everyone wants a piece of the pie. The McMansions pop up like mushrooms, limiting resources and destroying an already taxed environment. It feels a little like Rome in its last days–a kind of collective amnesia and blindness to the outside world has taken over. Everyone knows this, but no one wants to do anything about it, because big money is being spent–and made. And as the rich grow richer, the poor grow poorer and more disenfranchised; and greed only breeds more greed and violence. These stories cover the range of Long Island’s extremes, from the comfortably rich, to the horribly poor–people pushed to desperate acts in order to protect what they already have, or to try to take what they don’t from those who do.

A write up of Long Island Noir in The New York Times

Nom de Plume
By Carmela Ciuraru

Exploring the fascinating stories of more than a dozen authorial impostors across several centuries and cultures, Carmela Ciuraru plumbs the creative process and the darker, often crippling aspects of fame.

Only through the protective guise of Lewis Carroll could a shy, half-deaf Victorian mathematician at Oxford feel free to let his imagination run wild. The “three weird sisters” from Yorkshire—the Brontës—produced instant bestsellers that transformed them into literary icons, yet they wrote under the cloak of male authorship. Bored by her aristocratic milieu, a cigar-smoking, cross-dressing baroness rejected the rules of propriety by having sexual liaisons with men and women alike, publishing novels and plays under the name George Sand. Highly accessible and engaging, these provocative stories reveal the complex motives of writers who harbored secret identities—sometimes playfully, sometimes with terrible anguish and tragic consequences. Part detective story, part exposé, part literary history, Nom de Plume is an absorbing psychological meditation on identity and creativity.

An interview with Carmela Ciuraru on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show
Carmela Ciuraru on the rise and fall of the pseudonym, an essay

Silver Sparrow
By Tayari Jones

With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the two teenage girls caught in the middle.

Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two families—the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode. This is the third stunning novel from an author deemed “one of the most important writers of her generation” (the Atlanta Journal Constitution).

An interview with Tayari Jones on the Other People podcast
Tayari Jones’s Book Notes piece on Largehearted Boy
Alexander Chee and Tayari Jones discuss writing on the Algonquin Books blog

State of Wonder
By Ann Patchett

In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, State of Wonder presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity.

As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness. Stirring and luminous, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest’s jeweled canopy.

A profile of Ann Patchett at The Guardian
NPR reviews State of Wonder
An interview with Ann Patchett on KCRW’s Bookworm

Groove Interrupted
By Keith Spera

The recent history of New Orleans is fraught with tragedy and triumph. Both are reflected in the city’s vibrant, idiosyncratic music community. In Keith Spera’s intimately reported Groove Interrupted, Aaron Neville returns to New Orleans for the first time after Hurricane Katrina to bury his wife. Fats Domino improbably rambles around Manhattan to promote a post-Katrina tribute CD. Alex Chilton lives anonymously in a battered cottage in the Treme neighborhood. Platinum-selling rapper Mystikal rekindles his career after six years in prison. Jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard struggles to translate Katrina into music. The spotlight also shines on Allen Toussaint, Pete Fountain, Gatemouth Brown, the Rebirth Brass Band, Phil Anselmo, Juvenile, Jeremy Davenport and the 2006 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. With heartache, hope, humor and resolve, each of these contemporary narratives stands on its own. Together, they convey that the funky, syncopated spirit of New Orleans music is unbreakable, in spite of Katrina’s interruption.Keith Spera writes about music for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.  In 2006, he was a member of the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina coverage team.

An interview with Keith Spera on NPR

The Angry Buddhist
by Seth Greenland

Seth Greenland’s timely new novel is set in the high California desert between the trailer parks and amphetamine labs of Desert Hot Springs and the classic mid-century architecture of Palm Springs. In this sun-blasted territory, with its equally arid social culture, a fiercely contested congressional election is in progress. The wily incumbent, Randall Duke, is unburdened by ethical considerations. His opponent, Mary Swain, a sexy, well-financed newcomer, does not have a firm grip on American history or elemental economics.

The Angry Buddhist reviewed in the Los Angeles Times

Store of the Worlds: The Stories of Robert Sheckley
By Robert Sheckley, edited and with an introduction by Jonathan Lethem and Alex Abramovich

Robert Sheckley was an eccentric master of the American short story, and his tales, whether set in dystopic city­scapes, ultramodern advertising agencies, or aboard spaceships lighting out for hostile planets, are among the most startlingly original of the twentieth century. Today, as the new worlds, alternate universes, and synthetic pleasures Sheckley foretold become our reality, his vision begins to look less absurdist and more prophetic. This retrospective selection, chosen by Jonathan Lethem and Alex Abramovich, brings together the best of Sheckley’s deadpan farces, proving once again that he belongs beside such mordant critics of contemporary mores as Bruce Jay Friedman, Terry Southern, and Thomas Pynchon.

From his New York Times obituary, December 10, 2005:

Like Ray Bradbury, he was interested in the scientific apparatus of science fiction – space travel, time travel, extrapolated futures – only so far as it served his purpose. While Mr. Bradbury poetically mourns the failure to live up to our dreams of the future, Mr. Sheckley mocked the self-delusions that lead to dreams in the first place.

He reveled in the freedom the genre afforded him to dramatize the fears and anxieties of everyday life. When he wrote about the war between the sexes, he conjured a future in which disappointed lovers had the legal option of using real bullets to express their anger. When he wrote about alienation as a state of mind, he sealed the reader in an endless loop of disaffection that reduced the outside world to a hallucination wrapped in an illusion.

Because he leavened his darkest visions with wit and absurdist plotting, he is considered one of science fiction’s seminal humorists, and a precursor to Douglas Adams, whose “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (1979) seems to take place in a Sheckleyan universe. But Mr. Sheckley’s work is darker than Mr. Adams’s; the smiles he evokes leave a bitter taste on the lips. A better comparison might be to Kafka, a fabulist who never understood why his friends didn’t laugh when he read his stories to them.

What new paperbacks are you looking forward to this month? Comments are open. 

Written by Gabrielle

May 1, 2012 at 6:56 am

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

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In anticipation of Alison Bechdel’s forthcoming graphic novel, Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama, I recently read her award-winning 2006 release, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. In Fun Home Alison looks back on her relationship with her father, often juxtaposing her identity with his. Writing after his sudden death, the exact definition of which is inconclusive, Alison uses a non-linear narrative to weave his biography through time.

The book, compiled using memories, childhood journals, and second-hand accounts, opens with a young Alison playing “airplane” with her father. Balanced on his legs she holds her hands parallel to his. This touching moment, known to so many of us from our own childhoods, is cut short by her father’s obsessive maintenance of their Gothic Revival home. After just a few panels, he’s ordering Alison to get the vacuum and tack hammer. The rug is “filthy” and the strip of molding “loose”.

He was a moody man, capable of putting the household on edge. “The constant tension was heightened by the fact that some encounters could be quite pleasant. His bursts of kindness were as incandescent as his tantrums were dark,” Alison writes. Approaching her father’s life as one haunted by inner torment allows room for empathy and a desire to understand.

Although better known for Fun Home, Alison is the writer and illustrator of the longest running queer comic, Dykes to Watch Out For, a project she ended in 2008 after 25 years. Comparing her own experience as a lesbian — her self-discovery and coming out — she creates a bridge to her father’s homosexual tendencies.

In college, after mailing home a letter that read “I am a lesbian,” just four months before her father’s death, she learned about the life he tried to keep secret. On the phone with her mother, listening to stories of her father’s affairs, her childhood memories were given context: the young men who helped out around the house, her father’s arrest for giving beer to a teenage boy, and their trip to Greenwich Village for the Bicentennial. “This abrupt wholesale revision of my history . . . left me stupefied,” she writes.

Sharing her father’s love of literature, and its function as a window into the self, Alison analyzes the books most prominent in her father’s collection. The highlighted and underlined passages in Camus, his binge on Proust the year before (“Was that a sign of desperation?”), and his seeming identification with Fitzgerald characters.

Alongside the words, the artwork is an equal partner in Alison’s mind-blowing storytelling skills. According to Wikipedia’s sources, “She used extensive photo reference and, for many panels, posed for each human figure herself, using a digital camera to record her poses,” a process that would take her 7 years to complete. Her attention to detail extends to the handwriting in the letters her father wrote while in the army, the carefully placed cultural references, and the maps of her hometown.

It’s been 6 years since Fun Home’s publication and in April we’ll see the life of Alison’s mom through the same astute and questioning eyes. Falling neatly into the category of personal anthropology — an unsentimental, analytical view of one’s life with a focus on its wider cultural significance — Alison’s style should reveal a fascinating portrait of a woman who shared her husband’s burden.

::[Links]::
Buy Fun Home at IndieBound or your nearest indie bookstore
Pre-Order Are You My Mother? from IndieBound or your local indie
AV Club Interview
Bookslut interview
Guardian Interview
Graphic Novel Reporter Interview
NPR interview

Written by Gabrielle

February 28, 2012 at 7:17 am

The Silence of Our Friends, a Graphic Novel Takes On Civil Rights

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You know how it seems like once you’ve heard about something — a new word, a film, an author — it starts to pop up everywhere? When I picked up The Silence of Our Friends, the graphic novel written by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos and illustrated by Nate Powell, I had the same feeling. I’d just seen ‘Black Power Mixtape 1967 – 1975,’ the documentary about the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and found that without the background the film provided, I wouldn’t have appreciated the book nearly as much. I should note that prior information about these historical events is not at all necessary but knowing about them will make the story more familiar.

Set in 1960s Houston and based on Mark’s childhood, The Silence  of Our Friends is a snapshot of Long’s life in the notoriously racist town. The story focuses on his father, Jim, the local television station’s “race reporter” who may have also been the town’s only white person with sympathy for the black community’s struggle for equality. One of the first scenes, the one that makes more sense having seen the documentary, takes place on the campus of Texas Southern University, one of the nation’s largest Historically Black Universities. The dean of the school has just denied approval for the Friends of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to form a committee on campus. About this time, Stokely Carmichael, the leader of the organization, having lost patience with lack of progress, was moving the group away from its nonviolent roots in favor of the Black Power ideology.

Alex’s father, camera in hand, the only white person on campus, was there to film the reaction of the students. With tension and distrust in the air, especially for the media (“He’s just another liar with a camera”), the students attempt to chase him off campus. However, to Jim’s good fortune, Larry, one of the respected organizers at the school, having met Jim through a mutual friend, stopped the crowd and escorted him to his car (“He got a God damn white car too!,” noted one of the students).

The story doesn’t lock itself into a retelling of the historical facts of the day, instead it pivots around the personal experiences of both men living in the same town, trying to raise children and provide for their family, under very different circumstances. Larry is refused service in restaurants and his daughter is thrown from her bicycle by a bunch of white thugs in a pickup truck; Jim is threatened at the station by his superior in an attempt to get him to skew the reports in favor of the status quo. In one scene he’s forced to throw an old army buddy out of his house after the down-on-his-luck friend unleashes a stream of racial epitaphs in front of the kids.

The racial conflict comes to a head in The Silence of Our Friends with a student-organized protest that turns chaotic when the police start to shoot. Jim is on the scene and witnesses a cop’s bullet ricochet off a wall. One officer is killed and another wounded. In an attempt to frame the the black students, five men are arrested and put on trial for manslaughter, a charge that carries the death penalty. Their fate hinges on Jim’s testimony but for some reason, he wavers on the stand, much to the frustration of the reader who’s rooting for his heroism.

There are moments of humor to break up the dark reality of this story. When the two families get together in Jim’s home — a radical and potentially dangerous move at the time — their children, all of whom are around the same age, express a mutual interest in the texture of each others hair. Before rolling your eyes, this scene, which could have been trite at best and offensive at worst, is actually quite sweet — probably because, as the book is a partial autobiography, it rings true to Long’s own experience and therefore feels sincere. Meanwhile, as the parents sit around in the living room thinking of what to say next, Jim’s wife puts on Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” and Larry asks, “is this for us?”

Nate Powell’s artwork truly makes this graphic novel come to life. Nate, whose 2008 graphic novel Swallow Me Whole won both the Eisner and Ignatz awards, uses his intricate drawings to bring the story places where words aren’t enough. In a near wordless scene, Larry and his son head out on a fishing trip. First they stop for food at a kitchen counter where Larry is told by the white owner to go elsewhere. Unknowingly, the son, having waited in the car, asks for his lunch. The powerful exchange between the two — Larry, filled with shame, loses his temper and hauls off and smacks the kid — is heartbreaking. The intensity of the moment is pulled off by the close cropping of the father’s face as he realizes what he’s done: the loosening of the facial muscles and pensive furrowing of the brow. Ultimately, the two come together, reconciled by soda and an embrace. The mutual pain and confusion is made palpable often as it is in real life, without the need for speech.

Sometimes it takes looking back on the horrors of yesterday to make one want to be a better person today. The Silence of Our Friends is a needed reminder of where this country once was and where it still needs to go.

::[Links]::
Buy The Silence of Our Friends at IndieBound or find it at a store near you
Nate Powell’s website

Written by Gabrielle

January 31, 2012 at 7:14 am

An Interview with Keshni Kashyap and Mari Araki, Author and Illustrator of Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary

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Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary is the story of 15-year-old Tina M., an Indian-American girl attending a posh private high school in California, and, like so many her age, trying to find her place in the world. A natural for self-reflection, Tina’s ripe for existentialism when her hippie English teacher introduces the subject to the class. The assignment for the year is for each student to find “true and authentic meaning and purpose” in their existence. What follows is Tina’s project. As the subtitle suggests, her search is in the form of an existential comic diary.

Interspersed with letters, as if they were written to the movement’s leading figure, Jean Paul-Sartre, Tina explores her life’s ups-and-downs — failed and newly forged friendships, tumultuous crushes, quirky family members — and her own identity. Moments of melodrama punctuate the pages: “Yes, my dear dead grandfather of French philosophical thought, the highs have swung to lows and I have fallen into something I am going to term CEM or Chronic Existential Malaise.”

Also familiar are those moments of introspection that meander into to the unknown: “I am east, west, happy, sad, normal, freakish, plain, pretty, Indian, American, and quite possibly a touch of Greek due to Alexander the Great’s invasion of the Punjab Province in 327 B.C. I live in California, but someday it might be Zanzibar or the Left Bank of Paris. Maybe the right. I have no idea. Do you see how complicated it gets?”

For anyone who was the slightest bit broody in high school, Tina is a relatable character, and, without question, a likable one. She’s everyone who has ever felt out of place, who has ever wondered if they’ll ever feel normal, and, of course, if they’ll ever find someone who understands them — friend or otherwise.

Keshni Kashyap, author and filmmaker, and illustrator Mari Araki met through a mutual acquaintance and formed an admiration for each other’s work. Together they worked long hours and, as some of the story has autobiographical elements, Mari was introduced to the Kashyap family and shown around the high school that served as a model for Tina’s.

The two were kind enough to answer a few questions about philosophy, storytelling, and the collaborative process. You can find out more about them and their work at keshnikashyap.com and mariaraki.com and you can order Tina’s Mouth through the site Tinasmouth.com.

Did you always know Tina’s Mouth would be a graphic novel?
Keshni: Yes. I started working on it as a side project, and it was always meant to be a graphic novel. I have a filmmaking background, so this distinction is important to me.

How did the storytelling process differ from filmmaking?
Keshni: Because I had a ‘diary,’ I was able to do some different sorts of things. Use the images to make certain ideas bigger or more effective (the mouth, for example) or funny or contrapuntal. I could also make a visual story feel more novelistic.  I’m not sure if I succeeded, but that was my intention.  In filmmaking, you really have to be careful. Voiceovers are very hard to pull off. There are also a variety of other reasons that make being experimental tricky. Producers, for example. And crews of people. With Tina’s Mouth, it was always just me and Mari.

I found the illustrations and text well balanced and the art to be a nice fit with the tone of the story. Mari, how would you describe your style?
Mari: While developing my style, I never really thought about what genre or label of artwork I was creating, but some curators have said I fit into the “pop-surrealist” category so I suppose that’s how most will identify my artwork. However, I prefer just to be thought of as an artist. This way I have no unnecessary, self-imposed boundaries to my work.

Read the rest at The Nervous Breakdown

Written by Gabrielle

January 19, 2012 at 6:04 am

On the Shelf: My New York Diary by Julie Doucet

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Grabbing the copy of the 1991 graphic novel My New York Diary as it sat on the St. Marks Bookshop discount shelf was a no-brainer. This slim comic by Canadian-born artist Julie Doucet, reissued in 2010 after being out of print, appealed to my younger, angstier self, the one who coveted zines and a punk rock ethos.

My New York Diary is made up of three autobiographical stories. The first is the awkward loss of her virginity—a cringe-worthy event involving a near-homeless, possibly inappropriately older man. The second is of her time at junior college studying fine art where she lives with a conspiracy theorist and attracts unstable men, one of whom attempts suicide in her room the night before her final project is due. The third, and meatiest, is the story of when she left her native Montreal for New York City. In the spring of 1991 she moved into the Washington Heights apartment of her pen pal, a guy who had become her boyfriend after one visit the month prior.

Following the book’s leitmotif, the guy turns out to be a bit unhinged, controlling her friendships, feeding her drugs, and distracting her from cartooning with games of Candy Land and bottles of alcohol.

Doucet first published her mini-comic Dirty Plotte by way of a Xerox machine but her year in New York coincides with the time she spent working on a book for Drawn and Quarterly, an independent comic book publisher in Canada. Her style is dark and detailed with thin lines, cross-hatching, shadowing, and other textural techniques. Her characters look ragged, half-starved, and drug-addled, which might have more to do with the company she kept rather than the manner in which she chooses to draw. Throughout the book she’s surrounded by depressed, struggling artist types who work odd jobs, if at all, and drink and take drugs to excess. No one appears to have enough money for a vacuum cleaner— including Doucet herself.

From a quick glance, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that she was published in Robert Crumb’s magazine Weirdo. This inclusion in a 1981 issue earned her critical attention and future offers from The Village Voice and New York Press.

Having grown up in Montreal, English is not Julie’s first language and it shows in the writing for My New York Diary. There are minor grammatical errors and sometimes strange language usage, however it’s never confusing and only adds to the quirkiness of the book and the artist.

In bitch magazine, once co-editor and publisher of Punk Planet and current-day media activist, Anne Elizabeth Moore, said of Doucet’s work, “if I really think about something I read that made me gack with identification—that spoke to me in a pretty deep way about being a girl in the kind of world I was living in—it would have to be Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte comic books.” If you’re feeling particularly nostalgic for your DIY-loving days or are craving some unabashed, punk rock memoir writing, My New York Diary is for you.

::[Links]::
My New York Diary at IndieBound
Special edition with DVD
Julie Doucet’s website (in French)

On the Shelf: Here are a few things that will go well with My New York Diary:

13 Songs by Fugazi (1989)
One of the greatest punk (or “post-hardcore”) albums ever. Here’s an interview with lead singer, Ian MacKaye, in Pitchfork about the recent release of the band’s archives.

LP by Minor Threat
This was MacKaye’s first band before forming Fugazi. They’re mostly known for coining the term “straight edge”. This album is fast, loud, and angry. In short: awesome.

Despite Everything: A Cometbus Omnibus by Aaron “Cometbus”
In 1981, Aaron Cometbus, as he’s known, began this hand-written, photocopied zine in Berkeley, California. Most of his material is about living in punk houses, touring with bands, and living on the bare minimum with emotionally unstable friends. He’s still writing and co-owns an independent bookstore in Brooklyn.

BUST magazine founded by Debbie Stoller, Laurie Henzel, and Marcell Karp
BUST began in 1993 as a photocopied zine. I know because as an intern in the 90s I had to scan the early copies so they could be archived online. It’s a women’s magazine for indie-minded women: women who give the finger to convention but wear makeup and dresses, women who know how to change the oil in their car but who can also knit a mean scarf. Still going strong, and in a bi-monthly glossy format, BUST is core reading material for women who think Vogue cover stories could just as easily be written for The Onion.

Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
“In this engaging and provocative volume, bell hooks introduces a popular theory of feminism rooted in common sense and the wisdom of experience. Hers is a vision of a beloved community that appeals to all those committed to equality, mutual respect, and justice.

hooks applies her critical analysis to the most contentious and challenging issues facing feminists today, including reproductive rights, violence, race, class, and work. With her customary insight and unsparing honesty, hooks calls for a feminism free from divisive barriers but rich with rigorous debate. In language both eye-opening and optimistic, hooks encourages us to demand alternatives to patriarchal, racist, and homophobic culture, and to imagine a different future.” [ via IndieBound]

Gardenburger Veggie Medley burger
“A farmers’ market blend of delicious vegetables and grains with broccoli, rolled oats, savory onions, red and yellow bell peppers, crisp carrots, brown rice, and water chesnuts.” Gardenburger is my favorite veggie burger maker. They use the least number of processed ingredients and their patties are never dry—even when you toss them in the oven. You really can’t go wrong with any of the different varieties but I usually grab the straight-forward Veggie Medley.

Written by Gabrielle

December 30, 2011 at 6:08 am

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