AMAZONA

 AMAZONA- a graphic novel, by Canizales

Review by Kevin McCloskey 1/23/22

Translation to English by Sofía Huitrón Martínez
U.S edition, Graphic Universe, Lerner, pub date: April, 2022

The graphic novel Amazona, like Disney’s animated musical Encanto, takes place in Colombia. Two stories of refugee families forced off their land by violence could not be more different. Encanto‘s giddy Madrigal family sings about their refuge calling it a ‘casita,’ or little house. Their house is more like a casona, a mansion, so saturated in Disney-color the rainbow seems redundant.

The “casita’ from Encanto ©Disney

On the other hand, Amazona is a starkly drawn graphic novel. It is mostly black graphite pencil on rough white paper. Ink washes and spots of color are used sparingly to reflect a very different take on the refugee experience.

Amazona, detail. © Canizales

The artist Canizales was born in Cali, Colombia. In his story an indigenous refugee family is relocated to a dilapidated casita in a Cali slum. Andrea, the young heroine, describes her new surroundings: “In the place where we live now, and forgive me if I don’t call it home, you’ll find: my sisters and brothers . . .My cousins and aunts and uncles . . .My neighbors, grandmothers, and grandfathers . . .And boys and girls who lost their own families. A total of thirty-eight people sharing a 600-square-foot space. The place is divided into two rooms with no windows, a bathroom with no door, a kitchen, and a patio.

© Canizales

Canizales now lives in Majorca, Spain where he is a professor of illustration and an award-winning author/illustrator. Most of his artistic output consists of early reader picture books and bright bubbly board books. While his board books would not look out of place in a Disney store, Amazona is clearly a passion project. It is fiction, but based on real people and places. Canizales pledges a portion of the book’s profit to aid indigenous people via Resguardo Indígena Nasa de Cerro Tijeras.

The storytelling has tremendous momentum. I intended to simply glance at the review pdf that came my way, but I read it in one sitting. Canizales’s tale is an important story, not a pretty one. There is racism and violence, including an attempted rape. While the vocabulary is deceptively simple, Amazona is not a children’s book. It is a graphic novella for adults, including mature young adults.

detail from Amazona © Canizales

I admit there were plot twists in Amazona that I found hard to believe. – Latin American magic realism? However, Amazona undoubtedly delivers more insight to the Colombian refugee crisis than Encanto. Hundreds of talented artists, writers and colorists are credited at the end of Encanto. Don’t get me wrong, Encanto is a great entertainment product and I appreciate full employment for artists, but it is not food for thought. Encanto was never intended to build empathy with the poorest of poor.

Amazona detail © Canizales

In contrast, one artist, Canizales, born in Cali, Colombia, created Amazona. Sure, he had editors, art directors, and in the case of the U.S. edition, a wonderful translator. Yet, Amazona is basically the act of a single focused imagination, a single hand. Amazona is an extraordinary achievement, worth the journey.

Albert & Lots of Other Things

Albert and the Whale: Albrecht Dürer and How Art Imagines Our World

by Philip Hoare Pegasus Books, NY, 2021, 304 pages.


There is some achingly beautiful writing here. I will read anything about Durer and the sections about Durer’s life and work are wonderful. Other parts seem to be very personal digressions. On several occasions the narrative stops so that the author can take a swim in a harbor, river, pond, or fountain. David Bowie is referenced obliquely several times as the starmen. I have no clue what the starmen has to do with Durer.

Greyhound by Albrecht Durer Wikimedia public domain image


There are wonderful descriptions of dogs. O.K., Durer did love dogs. Musings on the poet Marianne Moore’s bed partners and her move from Greenwich Village to Brooklyn struck me as odd. After several pages we learn Moore wrote poetry about Durer and whales. Durer’s face is described as a face on a train, though there were no trains in Durer’s time. My loss, but I have never seen anyone who looked remotely like Durer on a train, even been on a train in Nuremberg.

Self Portrait Albrecht Durer, oil, 1500

Speaking of dogs, there is a legend that Durer’s dog saw his master’s self-portrait and licked the face on the canvas.

Hoare declines to use quotation marks. It is hard to tell if he is paraphrasing or musing on what he imagines an individual might have said. I know Durer loved typography, but the typography here is peculiar. The text changes fonts when referring to the city of LA. “LA” is several points smaller than the words in the sentence leading up to it.

Melancolia, copperplate print by Durer 1514


This book will be released in paperback this year. The hardcover edition has many welcome illustrations throughout. The illustrations help to explain details in the text. The black and white printing is fuzzy, even as Hoare rightly praises the extraordinary precision of Durer’s prints. The 8 pages of color plates at the end of the book are nicely printed. They are referenced in the text by plate numbers, yet are printed without captions or numbers.

Dog From Durer’s Netherlands Sketchbook


Despite my misgivings about the digressions, I look forward to reading more by Philip Hoare. To give an idea of his writing style – here he is describing his aged and beloved pet dog, Tangle: “That summer he struggled to keep up with the young dog inside of him, the dog he knew, the dog beneath my skin. He led us through the woods hung with moss to a shallow pool and gently lowered his body. We heard him sigh.”

It is true pleasure to read such evocative prose. I just wish more of the prose had evoked Albrecht Durer.
View all my reviews

Omair Ali Makes His Marks

Omair, You landed a job as an illustrator. Congrats!

Q: What exactly is is your job description?

Little Red Riding Hood drawn from a Muslim perspective ©2020 Omair Ali

I’m an illustrator/designer with the in-house publishing department at American Reading Company. We create literacy curriculums for K-12 readers. I design and illustrate books about various subjects ranging from non-fiction (science and history) to fiction (fairytales and fantasy). I really enjoy working here because it combines my passion for art and education.  Also, so much of my work revolves around social justice through educational equity. I get to create books that highlight diversity, and I also get to learn really weird science facts which is a fun bonus.

Personal work, Omair Ali

I started working here around the time the Corona Virus pandemic hit the states hard, so I’ve been working remotely for almost a year at this point. In fact, I worked for about a week in office before our company decided that it was time to go remote. 

Q: Are there images you can share? 

Science book illustrations by Omair Ali for The American Reading Company

Q: How did you feel about Kutztown University’s Communication Design Program?

I think KUCD was overall a beneficial experience, and I look back at it fondly. At first, the program felt very demanding, especially as a student coming from community college. But after a semester or so of adjusting, I began to develop relationships with my classmates and instructors. My coursework wasn’t any less labor-intensive, but the community of students and instructors in the program provided a lot of resources to encourage me.

Omair Ali and fellow students pitching design at KU Designathon ,2019. photo; K. McCloskey

At KU I finally felt like I was among my tribe, working alongside other talented artists, gaining insight and feedback from professionals. It all felt right to me. I felt confident in my choice to be a graphic artist, and KU helped me feel like I belonged.

I returned to school in my late twenties after spending my early adult years working hourly jobs and living paycheck to paycheck, and battling my share of personal demons. I had to address why I wasn’t living up to my full potential. Part of the negative feelings I had toward myself came from my history with education. I was a terrible student when I was younger, and very self-destructive. So, one of the steps toward beginning the journey to self-love was pursuing something I have always been passionate about. So, when I finally made the decision to return to school I was determined to make the best of it. 

Meat-Flavored Cereal, Packaging Design Project by Omair Ali.


I tried to take something of value from every class I took, from foundation courses all the way to the senior seminars. I believe in having an open mind, especially in an academic environment. I mean, if you’re gonna pay for school, you may as well take it all in. 

I think school is not for everyone, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee that you’ll land the job of your dreams. But for me, it was important, because I needed the structure and the discipline to build confidence in myself. I walked out of Kutztown with a great portfolio, thanks in large part to KUCD. But, I also credit the curveballs life threw me; they allowed me to adjust my perspective about self-improvement. 

Q: I wonder if you felt discrimination at KU?


I wasn’t ever really overtly racially discriminated against while attending Kutztown. There’s a level of soft racism you sort of come to expect in areas that are predominantly white. By the time I had entered KU I had a pretty strong sense of situations to avoid, and I was used to often being one of the few people of color in spaces that lacked diversity. So, things like being asked to model for added diversity were typical, for instance, which I was usually fine with (depending on the person asking of course). 

By the time I was at KU, I had a lot of experience navigating social awareness and how to deal with bigotry. I had also developed a much stronger sense of duty to speak out against discrimination of any kind simply by merit of dealing with it so much as a kid. I was in middle school around the time of the 9/11 terror attacks and it pretty drastically impacted me.

© Omair Ali

I’ve struggled for years being afraid of coming across as a monster, or some kind of extremist because of all of the negative connotations with being Muslim. As I mentioned, I was used to being one of the few minorities among large groups of white people, often feeling like I didn’t fit in. But, I also largely did not feel like I belonged within the Pakistani or Muslim communities, either. My passion for art didn’t fit into the mold of the model minority and I was a deeply emotional, chubby, introverted nerd, and that sense of isolation molded my perspective. A lot of my artwork while in school revolved around addressing the relationship I had with my identity because it seems so intimately linked to my journey through school.


Q: What are you working on currently?


One of the illustrations I provided is from a book I’m working on called “Sleepy Yet?” about a kid who visits his grandpa’s farm and tries to trick him into letting him stay up past bedtime.

Q: What is your dream illustration project?

My dream project would be to do a graphic novel in the style that weaves between my stories of growing up, and the videogames, movies, comics, and other media coinciding with those different periods of my adolescence.

Last Question: Where can people find more of your work? 

Instagram. I share artwork regularly on my primary instagram @owair and my ongoing personal project @breathe.owair.

JOEY STRAIN, Illustrator, still in College.

I bought a copy a new kid’s book illustrated by Kutztown University student Joey Strain. The Little Wolf Who Howled at the Moon is written by Dr. Curtis Herr of the KU English Dept. Not every college student can illustrate a high-quality hardcover children’s book, but Joey pulled it off with distinction.

Art © Joey Strain, detail from The Little Wolf Who Crooned at the Moon

I wrote to Joey to ask about the project. Below is our lightly edited Q and A.

Q. What drives you to keep making art outside the classroom?
A. Everything. Experiences, people, thoughts, feelings. It’s what is most important to me in my life. I have to make art outside of the classroom because if I did not I would not be happy.

The Garden Party © Joey Strain

Q. How many zines did you make before making a this book?

A. Well, I actually did not really make any narrative-based zines before my first children’s book job. I, of course, created a lot of illustrations that told a story in the broad sense, but no actual well thought out stories. I always played around with creating characters and jokes since I was a kid, and even used to make small comics about a dinosaur named Yogurt back in 5th grade, but never really made zines in the pure sense of what they are even to this day. I have made some art book zines that are really just illustrations with no words, but that is it.

Fishy © Joey Strain


Q. How did the “The Little Wolf who Crooned to the Moon” come to be?


A. The book came to be in a pretty unexpected way, I think. In my English Comp class during freshman year, my professor, Dr. Curt Herr, asked me what I was interested in doing in life during a review of one of my essay drafts. I said I wanted to illustrate children’s books. He asked me to send him some of my artwork and told me he was working on a book at the time with an illustrator already, but might be interested in doing another children’s book. He ended up loving my work and eventually bringing me in to illustrate the book he was working on – “The Little Wolf Who Crooned to the Moon.” After almost 2 years of book-related meetings in his office and then over FaceTime during the pandemic, the book finally came into fruition after lots of collaboration . It was a long process being my first book and I made a ton of mistakes along the way from start to finish, but I learned an absolute ton of information in the process.

Joey Strain at Kutztown University, 2019, foreground, with Josh Larkin.


Q.Why did you choose Kutztown U?

Self-portrait at the Creek © Joey Strain


A. I ended up at Kutztown after taking a year off from education after graduating high school. Originally, I planned on attending University of the Arts in Philadelphia, but due to financial issues I had to take a year off and work full time. Kutztown University sounded like it had a pretty neato program and I really dug the classes that were offered in the Communication Design program. It was not my first or second choice, but in the end it was where I belonged. I have met amazing folks along the way that have really impacted my art and thoughts. A fella like me wouldn’t have made it in the big city anyway. I truly enjoy being in a town that’s mostly fields and farms, and being able to take a short walk or drive and being able to experience nature and calmness.

” The Pajama Goblin’s Nightly Parade” a Kutztown U Illustration class project © Joey Strain


Q. Do you still work at an art store?  Does the job help you stay creative in any way?


I do still work at an art store, Michael’s Arts & Crafts in the Reading area. Been there over three years now. The job absolutely makes me stay creative because I do not want to be there forever. It’s a lovely gig for the most part, but it definitely drives me to keep making art so I can eventually build that passion into a viable enough career that I don’t depend on my Michael’s paychecks to live. Being a Custom Framer/Personal Designer there is great and I love framing art for a living, but by the end of the night there when I am cleaning up after customer’s messes in the store on my knees scrubbing dirty toilets, I know I need to push myself to get this illustrator career to work out.

“Huzzah, The Tree Festival Cometh” Illustration class project © Joey Strain

Q: One of your classmates at Gov. Mifflin High School was the artist Amos Lemon Burkhart, who tragically died in 2018. Was he an influence on your work?


Yes! Here is an image of one of Amos’s pieces I bought from him back in high school.

Art by Amos Lemon Burkhart

Amos was a great friend and the only other person I knew who was as interested in being an artist. He was always my biggest inspiration and I was always pushing myself to keep up with his seemingly endless talent and skill. 

………………………………………………………………..

More of Joey Strain’s colorful work can be found on his website. Also find him on instagram. The Little Wolf Who Crooned at the Moon can be ordered at your local indy bookshop. I got mine through Firefly Books, Kutztown. You can get the hardcover or Kindle edition at Amazon. Joey has an Etsy shop where you can buy prints and books.

More about the life and art of Joey’s friend Amos Lemon Burkhart can be found at: amoslemon.org

Queen’s Gambit : Season II

Totally bogus Photoshop image by Kevin McCloskey

Walter Tevis, the author of the novel, The Queen’s Gambit, was my creative writing teacher at Ohio University in 1970. I don’t know anything about the origin of the Beth Harmon character, alas. I do recall Prof. Tevis spoke about his earlier novel, The Hustler. He insisted that he created the character of Minnesota Fats from many characters he met playing pool. He was angry when a pool player assumed the Fats name after the success of the book and then film.

Walter Tevis, 1970. Drawn from memory, Kevin McCloskey

I have one memory of Walter Tevis from 1970. He invited the class to his house near campus at the end of the semester. It was lovely old Victorian house. We were met by a woman at the door who told us to sit in the living room. Tevis came down the stairs with a six-pack of bottled beer. Back then Ohio had beer with lower alcohol content that teenagers, 18 and up, were permitted to drink. It was called 3.2 beer.

Prof Tevis asked, “Who wants a beer?” Stunned silence from the class. Then Tevis said, “You have to drink it. I’m an alcoholic. Can’t have this in the house. ” So I had a beer or two to help him out. We read our stories. I ‘d written one about a pinball machine made in China called the Red Lantern. When the ball hit a precise number of bumpers and flippers a chimed sequence unlocked a hypnotic trigger in the player turning him into an assassin. Prof. Tevis said really enjoyed the story.

He had an amazing life, hanging out in poolhalls from Kentucky to Okinawa. He made me wish my life was more interesting. After I left college I read his sci-fi novels Mockingbird and also The Man who Fell to Earth, which became the cult David Bowie movie. I loved Mockingbird. I think I wrote him a letter and sent it to Ohio University. I now see he had left Ohio University by then to move to New York City.

Title page, Queens Gambit, 1983

I’m reading the The Queen’s Gambit now. The writing is sharp and differs in some ways from the Netflix series. No spoilers here. The first edition author bio notes: “In 1978 he left his teaching position- with some trepidation- to start writing again… The Queens’ Gambit derives from an obsession similar to that which produced The Hustler, but deeper and older. Tevis learned to play chess as a seven-year-old in San Francisco and still plays as a class C player- in his fifties in New York, when not writing.”

Tevis would have been 49 years old when he left his teaching job Ohio University for NYC. He died of lung cancer at 57.

Like fictional Beth Harmon, Walter Tevis appeared on the cover of Chess Life.

Seniors Shop at 6 a.m.

I was lucky enough to do The Cartoonist’s Diary column for a week (June 15-19) for The Comics Journal., TCJ. com. I call the series “The Wide World of Kutztown.” It’s all about my take on the pandemic in the tiny college town of Kutztown, PA. It has been going viral by my standards. 300 plus people liked Tuesday’s strip. Maybe so many people are at home and online.

The Comic Journal notes “A new Cartoonist’s Diary begins, with Kutztown’s own Kevin McCloskey clocking in for a look at his mailbox, his fertilizer, and his missing mailman!”

Here is an earlier version of a segment of a one of the diary strips. I will be posting some more comics here when I can.

Artwork © Kevin McCloskey 2020

NEW NORMAL SCHOOL -the Sequel!

As promised, here are more Kutztown University illustration student responses to the New Normal School. These students are working from home with what they have. Many don’t have scanners, or printers, or the fonts they had at college. Considering the circumstances, the work is remarkable and captures the moment.

Nicole Iuzzolino, below, is back home in central New Jersey and found solace in her favorite Elvis tune. Nicole says her passions include illustration and jamming out to Elvis Presley songs.

art © Nicole Iuzzolino
self -portrait ©Alana Hernandez

Comic below is by an aspiring animator, Alana Hernandez. She writes, “I am currently a senior at Kutztown University studying to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Digital Arts. Here’s how my life has changed from living on campus to taking classes digitally from home.” Her Instagram – @alamallana

Andrew Ferreira moved from The Edge, his off-campus Kutztown apartment, back home to Chalfont, PA. He takes some solace in long walks.

art © Andrew Ferreira
art @ Casey Dohner

Casey Dohner, above, brought her many houseplants home to Mechanicsburg, PA. She is studying communication design with concentrations in illustration and graphic design. She also received her minor in music. She enjoys staying at home and being creative, no matter the media. She hopes to work for a design firm out of school and aspires to illustrate a children’s book. 

Jacquline Uhler, below, has a new normal task of minding tots so that their mom can work at a hospital.

Lindsey Brown writes, “My name is Lindsey and I live alongside the Amish in Lancaster, PA. Currently I’m a junior at Kutztown University pursuing a degree in Communication Design. When I’m not creating logos or magazines I really enjoy sculpting with ceramics, check out my work 🙂” Lindsey’s drawing shows the superhuman effort Professor Gwendolyn Yoppolo went to in order to save her ceramics course.

Page below is by Sydney Studley. She writes, “I am from Philadelphia. I’m currently studying at Kutztown University majoring in Communication Design. My other hobbies I enjoy doing besides art is cooking and running, “

© Sydney Studley

Here is Madison Xander’s sketches for her New Normal.

Sketch © Madison Xander

I appreciate the student’s resourcefulness. I do apologize for my shortcomings using ZOOM to communicate. We had no idea how the semester would be upended. I have learned a thing or two in The New Normal School.

NEW NORMAL SCHOOL

Kutztown University of PA was founded in 1866 as Keystone Normal School. Throughout the U.S. colleges that educated teachers were known as “normal schools.” When KU shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic we had to abruptly adjust to a New Normal.

CDE 253, Illustration 2: The class is making zines this semester. We got a table at MoCCAfest, the giant indy comic book festival in New York City. We were going to hop on the bus and show our stuff, but the Society of Illustrators postponed MoCCAfest. These students were doing extraordinary work so the change of plans was disappointing. The class meets via ZOOM now. We came up with a new assignment: Here are some reflections on the New Normal.

Art © Christopher Weaver

The simple pleasure of finishing a puzzle is the theme of Chris Weaver’s piece. He writes, “My name is Christopher Weaver and I’m from Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. I love illustrating characters that make me and others laugh.” Website: www.behance.net/christoweaver

Cole Winters is a Communication Design major at Kutztown, concentrating in Illustration. He cannot get enough of giant robots, monsters, and loves horror to death. He drew a story about his last meal at a restaurant before quarantine. He went for the DA-BOMB hot wings.

Art © Cole Winters

Gisela Rivera is currently studying Graphic Design at Kutztown. She is an avid reader of comic books and literature, she aspires to publish her own comics in the near future. Her page appears below.

Art © Gisela Rivera

Maxwell Jackson is an illustrator from a little place called York, PA. He is known for his freestyle sketchbook drawings and being a product of his environment. He is drawing on sneakers at home.

Art @ Maxwell Jackson

‘Apologies to J. Roiland and Dan Harmon for using their characters, Rick and Morty.’ – Maxwell Jackson.

Art © Jake Woods

Jake Woods is riffing on working in underwear in this new normal. Jake is slated to graduate in December and the professor handing out the diploma is meant to be me. Jake writes, “I’m a traveling illustrator and graphic designer from Upper Black Eddy, PA. I spend my days in quarantine with my roommates and cat, keeping me as entertained as a person stuck indoors could be! My work and info can be found at jacobwoods610.myportfolio.com

Art @ Malina Quarry

Malina Quarry is a Communication Design student whose illustrated works consist mostly of traditional media and vector-based drawings. She is minoring in art history and hopes to develop and expand her visual style. Find her on instagram @ ma.lime.

Brittany Clauss writes, “Hello! I’m Brittany and I live in Bushkill PA. I am currently studying Communication Design, with concentrations in Illustration and Graphic Design. A lot of my work is illustrative, however I am working on branching out into graphic design.”

Art © Brittany Clauss

Jason Padilla writes, “As a double major in Communication Design and Applied Digital Arts I thought I would be in more of a panic during this covid-19 pandemic. While I still am, to a degree, I find myself calm as not much has changed besides working from home. I look at this situation perhaps selfishly with optimism and a hint of pessimism. Thankful for still having my pen, paper and family’s health. In full understanding that things can change for the worse. Until that happens, I will make the most of what I can in this situation.”

Art © Jason Padilla

We’ll share more Kutztown “New Normal School” pages next week. We plan to make them into a zine and print as many as we can. Hope to bring it to the rescheduled MoCCA fest.

Professional illustrators are responding to this crisis with autobiographical comics. Aron Nels Steinke, author of “Mr. Wolf’s Class” did a great one last week for The New York Times. I’ve swiped a panel below, and the whole thing can be found here.

Below is another by children’s book author Meghan McCarthy. It popped up on my computer screen, made me laugh and I asked if I could share it. There is more to see on her web page, meghan-mccarthy.com. Her speciality is nonfiction for kids and her latest book is Firefighters’ Handbook.

This is from her project called “TRYING TO CONVINCE MY PARENTS TO TAKE COVID-19 SERIOUSLY.”

art © Meghan McCarthy

LETTER BETTER

I once handed a comic book by a student to a professional cartoonist. He opened it and then closed it instantly saying, “It’s computer lettered. I only read hand-lettered comics. Lettering is big part of the art of comics.” He has a point. On the other hand, he is not very prolific and computer lettering can help us get work done.

Personally, I don’t like my own Sharpie lettering above. I don’t like to hear my own voice much either, so my wife does our answering machine. It may seem like a cheat, but I use the computer to print text in Comic Sans. Then I loosely trace that type at a light table. Sometimes I do a tracing of a tracing to get a bit more of my individual style. The balloon below was made by tracing Comic Sans.

We should all do what we can to practice our lettering. And if we cannot master it, there are affordable options like Blambot.

From Blambot.com © Nete Piekos

Blambot is a great resource for a beginning cartoonist. Master letterer Nate Piekos offers free typefaces like Badaboom (above), and reasonably- priced fonts in the $20-$30 range for independent creators. From the website: “If you are an independent/small press comic creator, you may use Blambot indie fonts, free of charge … even if you are making money with your project …This is Blambot’s way of supporting the independent comic community.” The entire agreement can be read here.

© Ivan Brunetti 2019

Ivan Brunetti has great advice on title lettering and sound effects lettering in his book, Comics Easy as ABC, TOON Books, 2019.

© Ivan Brunetti 2019
Salem Hyde © Frank Cammuso

Frank Cammuso is a professional cartoonist and a prof at Syracuse University. He told me one of his publishers arranged to have a font made from his hand lettering. The digital font is so much more efficient than white-out when the editors want to change text.

If you do want to make a font from your handwriting there are a number of sites that can do just that. One that looks good is CALLIGRAPHR.COM. Fonts made at this site ask you to write the alphabet several times. They use character randomization, so every ‘T’, for example, doesn’t look the same. Digitizing your hand lettering is something to consider if you, unlike me, love your lettering.

Below is my new HeyMcCloskey.com personal web page with info on my books and school visits. Say Hey!

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