PYONGYANG on my mind.

details from Pyongyang All art © 2001, Guy Delisle
details from Pyongyang All art © 2001, Guy Delisle

I’ve been to Seoul and Pusan in South Korea, but everything I know about Pyongyang I learned from a comic book. Guy Delisle drew a marvelous book, Pyongyang, a graphic memoir of working there in 2001.

socks

Few Americans ever visit Pyongyang. Delisle is Canadian from Quebec, He was hired by a French studio to direct animations being drawn in North Korea. Odd, how the global race to the bottom in wages means children’s cartoons are made in the least happy country on earth.

prodogiesPyongyang was a critical success. The Globe & Mail (U.K )said: “smart, sharply observed and funny, without downplaying the untold horrors (death camps, starvation) that lurk around every corner.” Canada’s National Post wrote: “Tinged with black humour, Pyongyang offers a perspective no straight-up print journalism could.”

Screenshot from the blog at www.guydelisle.com
Screenshot from the blog at http://www.guydelisle.com

The book was translated into a dozen languages and optioned for film. Until last week it was going to be a movie starring Steve Carell. I expect it would have been a far more interesting film than The Interview. On December 19, Guy Delisle announced on his blog that he learned Pyongyang, the film, was canceled, collateral damage to the SONY fiasco. Delisle wrote, “What saddens me the most are the reasons that lead to this. One would have imagined that a huge corporation would not bend so easily under the threats of a group of hackers from North Korea. Apparently they hit a sensitive nerve.” Delisle’s full statement in English and French can be found here.

lovemoviesSpeaking of film, part of Pyongyang deals with the movies. Delisle learns that Kim Jong-Il, (father to today’s supreme leader Kim Jong-Un) loved the movies. Believe it or not, Kim Jong-Il’s secret police kidnapped South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-ok and forced him to make films in Pyongyang.

PYONGYANG-01Get Pyongyang. Buy it, or ask for it at your library. It is a thoughtful book about an unthinkable place. You can read a free excerpt of Pyongyang at the website of Delisle’s Canadian Publisher, Drawn and Quarterly.

Citizen 13660: It happened in the U.S.A

 

minocover

I picked up a sad old book for 50¢ at the Kutztown Library sale. The cover reminded me of Jean Charlot’s art. The pages were yellowed, torn in places, many illustrations were defaced with crude blue pencil marks. Even in this sorry state I found the book quite moving. Citizen 13660 is a graphic documentary by an American woman put in a concentration camp near San Francisco. Citizen 13660 was first published in 1946, before the terms graphic novel or graphic memoir existed.

minoinBerne

Miné Okubo was born in Riverside, CA to Japanese parents. A top art student at U.C. Berkeley, she won a prestigious fellowship to study in Europe.  She studied with Leger in Paris, but 1939 was not a good time to live in Europe. When the Nazis took Paris she managed to get home to Berkeley, California with only the clothes on her back.

Berkeley

Okubo got some interesting art jobs for the Roosevelt’s WPA.  She worked with Diego Rivera for a time when he was doing his San Francisco murals. She got her own commission create a mural for a Soldier and Sailor’s Hall in Oakland. Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. She had to carry special authorization papers to allow her to travel more than 5 miles from her home in Berkeley to Oakland.

stables

Things quickly got worse for the Japanese-Americans. They were rounded up and put in internment camps. Miné and her family and 8,000 others were taken to Tanforan, a camp made from a run-down horse track in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco.

acmebeer

Her text is remarkable for its simplicity. She notes gambling was forbidden, yet they were living in stalls at a race track. She avoids pointing out the irony, letting the reader connect the dots.

caucasian

The “Japanese American Segregation Centers” were the result of racism. Over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were imprisoned, the majority were U.S citizens. The U.S. was waging war with Germany and Italy, too. German-Americans and Italian-Americans may have suffered wartime discrimination, but they were white Europeans, and so never herded into interment camps like the Japanese.

laziness

Her sketches document the daily indignities of six months at Tanforan. Then she and her brother were relocated inland to Topaz, a Japanese Relocation Center in Utah. Topaz was even less pleasant than Tanforan. After two years of confinement she was eventually released. She remained an artist until her death in 2001 in Greenwich Village, NYC.

photgraphed

Miné Okubo wrote  I am often asked, why am I not bitter and could this happen again? I am a realist with a creative mind, interested in people, so my thoughts are constructive. I am not bitter. I hope that things can be learned from this tragic episode, for I believe it could happen again.‎”

The pages of my first edition of Citizen 13660, (Columbia University Press, 1946) are falling apart as I turn them. I may be the last person to read this particular volume. Fortunately, the book has been reissued in paperback by the University of Washington Press. And nearly 200 of Okubo’s internment camp sketches can be found here on the web site of the Japanese American National Museum. Miné Okubo illustrated a life worth remembering.

 

NEW SVA MFA in Visual Narrative

Art by Nathan Fox © 2011 detail from GQ  essay on the hunt for Bin Laden
Art by Nathan Fox © 2011 detail from GQ essay on the hunt for Bin Laden.

Nathan Fox will direct the new Visual Narrative MFA program at NY’s School of Visual Arts. Nathan is a comic book artist and illustrator. Like me, he is a grad of SVA’s MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program.

Nathan Fox's covers for Pigeons From Hell, Dark Horse Comics.
Nathan Fox’s covers for Pigeons From Hell, Dark Horse Comics.

Nathan is juiced about what he calls “the future of storytelling.” I asked him how this new MFA is different. For one thing, it is low-residency with an emphasis on the concept of “Artist as Author.” In fact, writing will account for a full 50% of the program. Every student must create a digital version of their narrative. A narrative created for this MFA program might be a graphic novel, but it might also be an interactive game, an animation, or a mix of time-based and traditional media.

SVAdiagram

Visiting lecturers naturally include stellar comics artists and graphic novelists. Animators J.J. Sedelmaier and John Canemaker are on board. The program promises some unusual perspectives from game developers, typographers, copyright lawyers, and a neurologist.

Students will work in the studio in Manhattan for three intensive eight-week summer residencies. Nathan tells me the Chelsea area studios will have magnetic walls for slapping up storyboards of work in progress. There will be smart classrooms and pop-up studios and where each artist gets an individual workspace.

mfacard008

Between summer sessions students go home, but continue their projects online. Nathan envisions eight to ten hours work days, six days a week during the summer sessions.

How Much? If my math is right, the tuition will be near $70,000 for the three summers and two “winters.” I asked my junior level illustration class what they thought of this tuition. Several gasped, our instate undergrad tuition is about $8,500 a year. Hannah Stephey was the exception, she said, “Hey, it is a very specialized and really cool degree! It’s like -You want to be an astronaut?  -You have to go to astronaut school! It’s very specialized; and that’s going to be expensive!”

Tit for Tat © Jennifer Daniel
Tit for Tat © Jennifer Daniel (detail) from Latina Magazine

Jennifer Daniel, known for her witty iconic illustrations and infographics will be on the faculty. “Tit for Tat” piece above is a part of a page of slang terms for women’s breasts appeared that in Latina Magazine. Ross McDonald, whose humorous illustration appears below, is also a faculty member.

Art by Ross McDonald, Faculty member.
Art by Ross McDonald, SVA MFA Visual Narrative Faculty member.

Stellar faculty. Presuming he gets similarly stellar students, Nathan Fox may well be onto something as he races towards the future of storytelling with the MFA Visual Narrative. Apply here if you want in.

For God and Country (detail) drawn by Nathan Fox, ©2010
For God and Country (detail) drawn by Nathan Fox ©2011

By the way, the full visual narrative “For God and Country” on the death of Osama Bin Laden (detail above) can be found at GQ.com. Give it a minute to load. The writing is by Matt Fraction, ably illustrated by Nathan Fox, and superbly colored by Jeromy Fox.

By the Books: How to Make Comics

dwwpcoverThere are a handful of good books that will help the motivated student succeed at becoming a cartoonist. Drawing Words and Writing Pictures may be the best of the lot. This is an ideal text for a 15-week class in comics. It also has guidance for starting an informal collective class. It includes DIY suggestions for the stereotypical solitary artist, who the authors are gracious enough to refer to as ronin. There is a wealth of info on the narrative process, page design, lettering, pens, and even Photoshop scanning advice.

La Perdida © Jessica Abel, a thriller set in Mexico City.
La Perdida © Jessica Abel, a thriller set in Mexico City.

The book contains the perspectives from two remarkable artists, a gifted husband and wife team.  Matt Madden is into “formalist” styles, working within Houdini-like constraints. Jessica Abel‘s La Perdida is one of the great masterpieces of the long-form graphic novel. From George Herriman to Robert Crumb, Charles Burns, to Kaz and John Porcillino, the book is crammed with a diversity of styles. Wide-ranging and inclusive, no matter what one’s preferred comics style, from manga to superhero to alternative, you will find something to like here.

mastering-comics

In 2012 Abel and Madden created a second book: Mastering Comics. It has more info on color and web comics and up-to-date information about publishing and professional practices. The authors, who have both taught at SVA, have created a super web site: dw-wp.com, that serves as a resource for teachers and students. The site is especially valuable if you live in a part of world where can’t get your hands on their books. For an example of its riches, check out their instructions on how to make the mini-mini-comic they call a “foldy.”

mc-bookScott McCloud’s Making Comics  came before the above books. McCloud’s 1994 Understanding Comics was  groundbreaking, a thoughtful overview of the field. McCloud’s books are also useful texts for serious students who have some background in thinking critically about the art form. Right now (Jan. 2013) Amazon has special deal, you can get both of the Drawing Words/ Writing Picture books plus a copy of McCloud’s Making Comics for $61.49. The set would make a good core for any comics creator’s library. That’s 3 books for less than I paid for my used Spanish textbook. There are a few more good books on comics that I will get to next week.

Comics MFA? There is an alternative… No Joke.

Back in the ’80’s, when I told my pal Putka I was getting an MFA in illustration, he laughed, “What’s next?  -a Phd in Wallpaper Hanging?” What’s Next? Looks like the answer is Advanced Comics…

The SAW campus © SAW 2012
The SAW campus © SAW 2012

Stanford is a great university with one respected graphic novel class. But suddenly, universities across the country are offering complete advanced degrees in comics. CCS, the Center for Cartoon Studies, in Vermont has offered a Comics MFA for several years. CCS is not to be confused with CCA, California College of the Arts in San Francisco which is launching a new low-residency MFA in Comics in 2013.

A curious new educational option has sprung up in Florida. It is called SAW for Sequential Art Workshop. Cartoonist Tom Hart who taught for a decade at SVA in NYC has relocated to a storefront on So. Main St. in Gainesville. There, with a group of dedicated faculty and students, he has begun an intensive comics course. SAW’s one-year intensive program is not an accredited MFA, but it cost far less, $3600.

Student show at Saw, August, 2012, used with permission.
Student show at Saw, August, 2012, used with permission.

A student told me this, “Another reason I chose SAW over a degree program is that SAW is very inexpensive, but provides the opportunity to work with really amazing faculty. And though there’s no degree, I believe that in the art world your portfolio is more important than having a degree. So the quality of the education is more important than the diploma.”

Any advice for young artists interested in making zines and comics?
Same student, who now wishes to be anonymous: “Do just that – make zines and comics! Make them and get them out into the world. Trade them with other creators, go to conventions, put them online – get your work out there. And, even more importantly, keep making work. It can get discouraging when it feels like no one is listening, but you just have to keep on going. Don’t get too hung up on your early work, either – your first comics probably won’t be great, so finish them and move on. Set goals by the project. If you make a mistake or don’t like the way it’s turning out, finish the project and then try not to make that mistake in your next one – but don’t get discouraged. Also, even if you think you are going to draw in the most flat, cartoony style, still take the time to learn traditional art skills because your drawing can always benefit from them. If you don’t want to go to a traditional art school, look for local figure drawing sessions or evening classes taught by local artists. Or, better yet, apply to SAW! “

Indie alternatives to institutional higher education in the arts deserve support. Non-credit, off-the-grid, DIY art education centers are popping up all over. Tom Huck’s Woodcut Bootcamp in St. Louis, Maine’s Beehive Design Collective and Pittsburgh’s Cyberpunk Apocalypse are a few examples I’ve seen. I hope to see more. SAW has a fundraising Etsy page with original art by Vanessa DavisDash Shaw, John Porcellino and other important comics artists. Check it out.

Speakin’a’ Brooklyn – Martin Lemelman Update

Sketch & Final Art, "Reading the Forward," from Two Cents Plain ©2010 Martin Lemelman

Martin Lemelman stopped by Kutztown to share his new book, Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood. His graphic memoir published by Bloomsbury, is finally available in bookstores and at Amazon. Like any new parent Martin wants this book to start life on the right foot.

Young Martin as a Katzenjammer Kid.

He talked about the tremendous amount of follow-through an artist or writer needs to do when a new project is birthed. He is doing web interviews, pod-casts, and book fairs in Brooklyn, Montreal, and beyond. Locally, he will be at the Lehigh Valley Barnes & Noble, Oct. 17.  He’ll give a free lecture at the Tenement Museum on N.Y’s Lower East Side, Sept. 28th. The book’s website, designed by Prof. Todd McFeely, includes many preliminary sketches and sample pages for illustration students to consider. Martin is framing the book’s original artwork for exhibition. He is ready for any sort of presentation with Powerpoint slides and posters on foam core.

He sent advance copies to famous writers he admires to get jacket blurbs. One wrote back she didn’t do blurbs, but she liked getting free books, so please keep her on the list. The New York Daily News wanted an interview to run in a special Brooklyn edition in July, weeks before the book would be available in bookstores. He persuaded them to hold off and they recently featured Two Cents Plain with a story. The headline is catchy, Illustrator Documents Nabe’s Transformation.

Early reviews have been splendid: “Memory comes alive in this compelling amalgam of drawing, narrative and archival photography. A prolific illustrator of children’s books and an artist whose work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review …made a major leap into memoir with Mendel’s Daughter (2006), his debut in the genre. Where that well-reviewed volume focused on the Holocaust from the perspective of his mother, this follow-up continues the story of Lemelman’s family through the author’s Brooklyn boyhood. Though there’s an innocence to his tales of working at his father’s candy store—squashing cockroaches, playing pranks and exploring the worlds of the streets… —this was not an idyllic childhood, nor is it rendered sentimentally.” from a starred Kirkus review.

Zara Raab writes in The San Francisco Book Review the story is told “even-handedly, without an ounce of self-pity.”

Now that I’ve had the pleasure of reading Two Cents Plain, I gotta’ say, I feel like I have an advantage over some readers; I can hear Martin Lemelman’s voice on every page. It’s funny, I’m the same age as Martin, more or less, and spent much of my childhood in Elizabeth, NJ, not 20 miles away from Brooklyn. There are phrases in the book like, lime rickey, that I forgot I ever knew. But there are also deeply moving and memorable experiences unlike any I ever had.

Turn on the T.V.— Cartoon, sitcom, war movie, or police story, and you’ll hear stagey Brooklyn accents. These voices don’t always ring true, on the other hand, Martin Lemelman’s voice is authentic.

– K. McCloskey

Video Update: Hear Martin Lemelman’s distinctive voice, in a short video interview from the Georgetown University series, Faith Complex.

2 Cents Plain by Martin Lemelman

Martin Lemelman, recently retired and irreplaceable KU illustration faculty member, has a new book, Two Cents Plain. Published by Bloomsbury USA, and soon to be available wherever books are sold, Two Cents Plain can be pre-ordered at Amazon. The book already has a You-Tube trailer and a Facebook presence. The reviews are glowing; Kirkus reviews calls it  “both a celebration and an affirmation of life.”

Martin Lemelman has written and/or illustrated over 30 books, notably Mendel’s Daughter, the moving graphic memoir of his mother’s Holocaust experience. In Two Cents Plain he continues the family saga and tells of his own Brooklyn childhood in the form of a graphic memoir. As his former students can attest, he is a master storyteller. Growing up in the back of a Brooklyn candy store he experienced the 1950’s and 60’s from a unique vantage point.  Thanks to this new book and his artistry we will get to share that remarkable experience.

Famed Brooklyn-born attorney Alan Dershowitz writes, “I’ve read many books, even written a couple, about growing up in Brooklyn, but this graphic coming of age memoir brought back memories like none other. Reading it while viewing the pictures took me home, produced tears of nostalgia and let me see, feel, even smell the old neighborhood. I loved it, roaches and all.”