ALPHA: Abidjan to Paris, -a graphic novel

The landscape of graphic novels is as vast as the Sahara. ALPHA follows an African refugee on a tortuous journey across that very desert. The story is by Bessora, a French author of African and European ancestry. French illustrator Barroux’s  lush ink wash drawings bring an immediacy to the journey.


Alpha, a carpenter, is compelled to migrate North. He leaves his home in Cote D’Ivoire. There is nothing there for him. His wife and child have already gone ahead. He holds out hope that he may find them en route or in Paris.

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I read Alpha in an hour. The images flew by, – close-ups, followed by stark landscapes. I’ve traveled a bit with a sketchbook in Africa. The mark making in this book sometimes feels raw, but the details ring true, as if we are looking over Alpha’s shoulder into his personal sketchbook.

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Simple declarative sentences glide like subtitles below the art. The handwritten text takes a bit longer to read than a text font might, but it fits Alpha’s determined voice. He muses, “I never imagined Africa could be so vast. People always say ‘Africa’ as if it is a tiny country. They’ve got no idea.”walk.jpg

The journey of this publication is nearly as remarkable as the journey in the book. Alpha was first published in French by Gallimard, Paris, 2014. It won recognition from Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International. In 2016 it was translated into English by Sarah Ardizonne, published by The Bucket List, Edinburgh, Scotland. Bellevue Literary Press, NYC, has now published the U.S edition with help from NEH and the NY State Council on the Arts. Scan7.jpeg

The French Comics Association gave me a review copy of Alpha at the American Library Association Convention in New Orleans. The French Comics Association is a cultural enterprise supported by the French Embassy and a consortium of French and Belgian publishers. Someone once told me the organization was created in response to the growing influence of manga comics in the U.S. and Europe. That is surely an oversimplification of their mission, but they are doing important work.

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The character Alpha, may be fictional, or perhaps a composite of many individuals. Nevertheless, his tale of smugglers, fake passports, wasted bribes, and desperate migration is happening today. Alpha is a story worth sharing. I will gift my review copy to Dr. Steve Schnell, a Kutztown University geography prof who is writing a college course, “Exploring Place through Comics and Graphic Novels.”  – Imagine that! And I will ask my university’s Rohrbach Library to order a  copy. Great graphic novels, like great novels, can spread the gift of empathy.


The Last Unicorn in Kutztown

The Last Unicorn in Kutztown
Kutztown’s Strand Theater is 100 years old. They are kicking off a series of classic films with a screening of the animated classic, The Last Unicorn. Peter S. Beagle, author of the tale will be there, Monday, Sept 23 for two shows, screenings at 5 and 7:30. Details here.


Jason of the Strand tells me The Last Unicorn is remarkable because even though was a U.S production, it animated by Japanese animators who went on to form Studio Ghibli and create animation masterpieces including My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke. The cast of voice actors includes Jeff Bridges, Angela Lansbury, Alan Arkin and Christopher Lee. The sound track features the one-hit wonders, America, best known for A Horse with No Name.

last_unicorn From what I’ve gleaned from Wikipedia, Peter S Beagle was none too happy about the way The Last Unicorn profits were divvied up and felt the home DVD versions were sub par prints. So he is touring the country with the authoritative digitally remastered hi-def Last Unicorn. He is happy to autograph books and loves if the audiences dresses in medieval garb.
1186167_573687542689281_782710734_n Beagle’s tour is reminiscent of the early days of animation, when cartoonist Winsor McCay personally introduced his animated Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) to vaudeville audiences. McCay would begin his act with a chalk talk. Then the screen would open and Gertie would appear. McCay tossed a ball to Gertie.  Through the magic of animation she caught it every time. Happy Birthday to the Strand! It is wonderful to have some old-fashioned magic, in the form of a unicorn, come to town.


Straight from Kutztown to NY, NY.

Cat Party © 2013 Aubry Cohen
Cat Party © 2013 Aubry Cohen

In Aubry Cohen’s Cat Party a cat decides to have a little fun when his owner goes out for the night. This 14-pager will be ready for MOCCAfest at the historic Armory in NYC, April 6-7.

In Dreams © 2103 Ryan Bittle
In Dreams © 2103 Ryan Bittle

In Dreams is by Ryan Bittle.  “When in dreams, the world is yours. But you can never tell when the dream will descend into nightmare.” says Ryan. In his 8-page mini-comic, drawn with ballpoint pen, a little girl learns her imagination may be too powerful for her own good.

Dear You, Love, Me © 2013 Michelle Foster
Dear You, Love, Me © 2013 Michelle Foster

Dear You, Love, Me is a feel-good story about love and friendship by Michelle Foster. A girl down on her luck and muddling through some recent heartbreak tries to get back on her feet (with the help of a new friend). The story is told from the perspective of a guy, her friend, via letters from him to her, in which he encourages her and helps her out with her struggles.

Page © 2013 by Lauren Walling
Page © 2013 by Lauren Walling

Lauren Walling tells the story of a  ballerina in a tale tentatively titled Musicbox. Lauren explains the theme with this quotation from singer- songwriter Regina Spektor: “Life inside a musicbox ain’t easy, the mallets and the gears are always turning. And everyone inside the mechanism is yearning to get out”

Panel © 2013 by Bobby Stank
Panel © 2013 by Bobby Stank

The panel above is from Bobby Stank’s mini-comic, She Thinks She’s Super. Rob is having girlfriend problems. She’s acting weird and has run off in the middle of the night. Is she cheating on him, or is she really a superhero?!

© 2013 Janelle Remphrey
© 2013 Janelle Remphrey

In Janelle Remphrey’s Feverish Happenings strange things happen when a girl stays home from school with a fever. Janelle has more of her art on view online here.

Echoes of the Past © 2013 Tessa Posts
Echoes of the Past © 2013 Tessa Posts

Most of the students involved in this project are Communication Design majors. Tessa Ports is the exception; she is a Fine Arts major. Her zine is called Echoes of the Past, and the panel above is about dragons, lamenting the fact they are fading away from legend and being forgotten.

mocca_logoThese zines will be on view at MOCCAfest in NY, April 6 & 7. This is a great opportunity for our students to participate in what the Village Voice calls “The Best Small-Press Comics Nexus Anywhere.”  We are grateful to Kutztown University’s Office of Assessment for the grant funding our exhibitor’s table. There are a few other college exhibitors including Maryland Institute College of Art, and NY’s School of Visual Arts. This is a first for Kutztown and we are delighted to be in such good company.


More Comics for MOCCA

Comic panel © 2013 by Hannah Stephey
Comic panel © 2013 by Hannah Stephey

Zish & Mala is a mini-comic from the zine Minty Circus by Hannah Stephey that follows two alien military officers in their bumbling ordeal of intergalactic mishaps and monster fights.” Since we wrote about Hannah in 2011 she’s drawn a lot more comics and has taught a short course in comics at the Chambersburg Arts Council.

Mellen is nearly finished with her MOCCA bound book, Bediquette. Mellen says, “Bediquette is a zine for anyone who’s ever had to share a bed, with a partner or otherwise. Observational humor, bad puns, and suggestions about ways to share a bed …And not go crazy!'”

Bediquette cover art © 2013 Mellen (Melissa Reinbold)
Bediquette cover art © 2013 Mellen (Melissa Reinbold)
From Bediquette © 2013 Mellen, Melissa Reinbold
From Bediquette © 2013 Mellen, Melissa Reinbold

Ryan Gaylets is a US Navy veteran and a fan of odd TV shows like the Twilight zone. His comic is a bit more serious and mysterious. In his story, panels below, a young man has a few too many drinks, but is still able to drive his girlfriend home in his pick-up. Well, he thinks he can.

panels © Ryan Gaylets
Panels  from “Let Me Go” © Ryan Gaylets 2013

Jen Zweiger has an ambitious fantasy comic in progress. Fight or Flight begins with a girl waking up in a world of darkness with no memories. Not long after, a monster appears out of nowhere and chases her relentlessly. As she flees she encounters a mysterious being, the “Priestess,” who may be the only hope she has of discovering her past. In this panel, after a futile cry for help is seemingly ignored, the girl sees the Priestess for the first time.

© 2013 Jen Zweiger
© 2013 Jen Zweiger

T.J. Walston is a somewhat oppositional character in real life. I had some suggestions for his project, he declined to make any changes. He explains,  “My comic is descriptively named “No. And why.” – this comic being about everything I hate in life, including day-to-day events… and people. This specific page (below) is about my girlfriend, I hate her, don’t get me wrong I love her, but sometimes she’s a bit like a monkey.”

No. And why? © 2013 TJWalston
No. And why? © 2013 T.J. Walston

Hate to leave on a negative note, so we conclude with Erica Slough’s cheerful story of a night in the life of a vampire who works at a call center. Erica is planning on creating this 9-page zine in the shape of a coffin. She says it will be about an “average joe” vampire.

Nosefaratu © Erica Slough
A Night in the Life © 2013 Erica Slough

We’ve got an impressive array of talent and story lines headed to the MOCCAfest. Stay tuned for more amazing stories next time!

Rare Birds of Lore

Out of the blue I got a note about Ryan and Audrey Durney’s Birds of Lore” Kickstarter project. I was impressed enough by this couple’s fantasy illustration project to become a low-level backer. I emailed them a few questions and asked to share some of their art here. 

Q. Other than Leo and Diane Dillon I can’t think of many husband/wife illustration teams.  What are the rewards of this creative partnership?

Ryan: My favorite thing about it, is that we speak the same language, even if we don’t always agree on things about the field. And, we sit right beside each other, sipping coffee and sketching and riffing off of each other’s direction and discovered influences. Sometimes, critiques get precarious-they can be given too early, or too late! But, it’s really rewarding to be in the same boat.  …we’ve rarely ever gotten to work on a complete idea together, which is one reason for the Kickstarter.

Mexican CU bird sketch © 2012 Audrey Durney

Q: Where did you two meet, the Kickstarter video says art school, but what art school?

Ryan: We met and fell in love at Columbus College of Art & Design. Back then CCAD  was like “military art school” they purposely overloaded you-so I don’t know how we even had time to date!? CCAD did a lot to prepare me for a career as an illustrator. However, at the time about half of the staff was anti-digital art, and I have a lot of bitter memories of instructors knocking my grade down just because I did assignments on the computer-meanwhile, I had been up all night at KINKOS trying to get one stupid final to print correctly!

Q: Can you tell me something about the CCAD illustration program, maybe a favorite prof, or most important class?

Ryan: Mr. Stewart McKissick was probably the most influential instructor for me. He really cared about preparing us for the real world, and he even forged a class where we competed against each other for real, paying assignments. I remember winning 2 of the 3. That was the kind of confidence boost I sorely needed so near to graduation. Audrey’s favorite was Ms. Tam Peterson for her energy and enthusiasm.

Q. Have you had some success freelancing illustration?

Ryan: Both Audry and I have won some awards and earned some respectable commissions. I make a modest living, with some good years -feast and famine, I suppose, but I’ve been happy doing it for over a decade. It’s really true that you just keep getting better and evolving. Audrey has taken a more stable road, working as a technical illustrator by day and freelancing via an agency at night, -tough but way more practical. My one complaint about making a living this way is the level at which freelancers are taxed. Also, illustration agents take the highest % of any creative endeavor, including music, acting, etc. at 25%, and art is one of the lowest in compensation. 

Q. Why Kickstarter vs. traditional publishing?

We can keep and manage the rights to our own work, and we get to finish a creative endeavor without corporate edits. I believe this brings the book much closer to an actual work of art. It’s being written and illustrated by unfettered artists, from start to finish. This is what the storytellers of olde did.

The Wila, or Vila, or Veela of Polish folklore. © 2012 Ryan Durney

Q. Who drew the Harpy (top image) and the Wila?

Ryan:  I did both the “Captive Harpy” and the “Wila.” I’m pleased with both. The Harpy is the more popular of those two (based on viewer feedback.) With the Wila, I tried to integrate pen-and-ink within the 3D. Sometimes that meant actually sculpting “ink-like” lines into the mesh, and sometimes that meant adding ink touches. That’s why you can see me using pens in the video. I’m 3D, but definitely experimental. I love mixing hand and digital media. The other thing about the Wila is that I was completely taken by an old etching. The Wila is homage to a very old engraving by Anton Eisenhoit (see below). Before anyone thinks it, yes-I agree that his original is better!

Q. Who did the little yellow bird blowing the horn, the Hercina?

Ryan: Audrey did the “Hercinia” bird, which is equally enjoyed by all. She  is a master of vector work and using Painter with vectors. Audrey and I are tilting our illustration styles in a few different directions, depending on what there is to say about each bird. The Hercinia is a direct homage to medieval bestiary art.

Note: As always: all art © the original artists. See a more Birds of Lore on the Kickstarter site. I have a hunch this project will fly.