My interest from comics stems from my French side, spending my childhood reading Tintin, Asterix and Lucky Luke, bought on trips to see my Mami and Papi in Nancy. These tall, thin, hardback albums, crammed with tiny frames and stories of adventure, were just great fun. Later, when I was about 11 or 12, I would receive copies of Spirou, a magazine with serialized stories from many different creators, some funny and childish, but others more mature, sometimes even with some violence, love, sex and nudity.
This was pretty eye opening stuff, so on return trips I would head to the supermarché, or seek out a Maison de la Presse or nowadays, a FNAC, and head straight to the Bandes Dessinees (BD) section. My reading quickly evolved from Gaston Lagaffe (a hapless editorial assistant at Spirou) Michel Vaillant (racing car driver), Arkel (an angel caught between worlds), to more mature fare, such as the dystopian, dark work of Enki Bilal, the crazed fantasies of Alejandro Jodorowsky, who also collaborated with my absolute favorite graphic novelist, Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius.
Around the time I left for university, I read Marvel and DC, spending time in Dave’s Comics in Brighton when I was home, or Forbidden Planet, on Shaftesbury Avenue. I’ve always enjoyed comics and graphic novels, it’s a way of reading that is strange, magical, at times incredibly connecting. Comics carry emotional, complex ideas, and tell stories in the most incredible ways. I’m rarely disappointed and often hooked.
Recently I’ve enjoyed Ducks by Kate Beaton, The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon (who also creates concept drawings for the Star Wars franchise - incl. Kylo Ren’s mask); and Square Eyes by Anna Mill and Luke Jones. There are elements of Moebius and Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) that I recognize in Square Eyes, especially in some of the architecture and crowd scenes.
So this is the comics issue, because this seemed to be the theme of the week.
100 years of Colombian Comics
All this to tell you that I lent a copy of Square Eyes to my friend and colleague Dr. Felipe Goméz, who next week is running 100 years of Colombian Comics, a two-day symposium celebrating the rich history and culture of Colombian graphic artists. We are proudly hosting the event in the Global Languages & Cultures Room on the 12 & 13th April (next week!), and talks will be simultaneously live-streamed.
I want to pause to mention that Felipe is a pioneer of research and scholarship in comics and graphic novels, and the winner of the Martin Schüwer Prize for Excellence in Comics Studies for his tireless work, great writing and founding of Latin American Comics Archive which curates and exhibits comic strips and comic books created in Latin America from the 1920’s to present day.
Felipe is being assisted in the running of the event by students in his courses, including Angelica Bonilla Fominaya, who is also Colombian, an artist working on a wide range of multimedia, from robotics, knitting, generative art, AR and experimental video. Wow!
The event is being crowdfunded through CMU, so please join me in making a small donation that will go to making this incredible event a reality!
Spaces to Connect
This week I was privileged to meet Felipe and his guest for a few days, the journalist, filmmaker, photographer, author and graphic novelist Andalusia Knoll Soloff. I was fascinated to meet her, we talked about her home in Mexico, where she wakes up to the peace and beauty of the forest canopy, to some of her projects, for instance, filming poppy producers in the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, to her passion for cycling and more. Andalucia is no stranger to CMU, having lived in Pittsburgh and enjoyed time as a DJ, and presenter on the university’s WRCT radio station. Andalusia’s work has taken her across the world, working on stories related to politics, exposing human rights abuses, the violence of disappearances, land struggles and gender-based murders in Latin America. More recently, she has authored a graphic novel, as a way to publish her stories.
You can see some of Andalusia’s work at the Intercept, and The Nib, where you can read the story Poppy Crash. She kindly gifted me the first part of Alive You Took Them, a graphic novel depicting the search for the Ayotzinapa 43. In September 2014, a group of students from the rural teachers’ college in Guerrero, Mexico, travelled to a nearby city to protest against discriminatory hiring practices and funding cuts, and were ambushed by police, opening fire and killing six people. Although some students were able to flee to safety, 43 vanished and although the remains of three bodies have since been found, the circumstances around the disappearances are still unclear, and the official investigation shrouded by state corruption and criminality. The families still searching for the truth, want to know the fate of their loved ones. They demand proof, and seek justice.
Chatting as you do, our conversation took an interesting diversion, first to the discovery that all three of us, Felipe, Andalusia and I were wearing interesting socks, and secondly as talked about the use of AI, in comics and writing, that we might originate a concept that melded the two. It’s probably safe to say, like all good coffee, that it needs a moment to brew, but I thought you’d enjoy the photos, and the outline that ChatGPT provided.
Panel 1: The comic opens to a restaurant, where we see three people sitting at a table. They are all wearing different academic socks - Avocado socks, British Summer Sky socks, and Peach-colored Random Numbers socks. One of them, let's call him Tom, says, "I can't believe we're finally having lunch together, and all wearing our academic socks!"
Panel 2: The scene cuts to a close-up of the table, which is covered in greasy plates and cutlery. We see a hand reaching for a slice of pizza, and Tom continues speaking, "I know, right? And speaking of academics, I've been experimenting with AI algorithms to stitch together a photo of our socks!"
Panel 3: In this panel, we see a puzzled expression on the face of the person wearing the Avocado socks, let's call her Sarah. She responds, "How does that even work? Can AI really stitch photos of socks together?"
Panel 4: Tom responds enthusiastically, "Absolutely! All you need is a good dataset of sock images, and an AI algorithm that can recognize patterns and stitch them together! It's actually quite fascinating!"
Panel 5: In this panel, we see the person wearing the British Summer Sky socks, let's call him Jack, taking a sip of his drink. He says, "But where are we going to get a dataset of sock images?"
Panel 6: Tom responds confidently, "I've already got that covered! I've been collecting images of academic socks for the past few months! We just need to feed them into the algorithm and watch the magic happen!"
Panel 7: In this panel, we see the three of them looking down at their socks, admiring them. Sarah says, "I never thought academic socks could be so interesting!"
Panel 8: Tom responds with a smile, "Well, that's the beauty of academia! You never know where your curiosity will take you! Now, let's enjoy our lunch and plan our next project!"
Panel 9: The comic ends with the three of them enjoying their Mediterranean lunch, surrounded by greasy plates and cutlery, and discussing their next academic endeavor.
I know that you’re on tenterhooks, waiting for the actual comic but you’ll just have to be patient, these things can’t be rushed. I feel quite inspired after our conversation to create a zine or one-pager. I don’t think I’ve ever drawn a comic, but it might be fun. To be continued…
Lost and Found
Here are a few other comics and graphic novel links for you.
This list of must-read Manga and Graphic Novels, has a few good recommendations, especially if you’re new to the genre, including Marjane Satrapi’s seminal work Persepolis (affiliate link), reviewed here in the NYT (subscription req).
I came across one of my favorite comics, Jimmy Corrigan - The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware through McSweeney’s, which had an incredible comics issue no.13 featuring an amazing fold-out dust jacket. McSweeney’s has a 25% sale on until Monday if you want anything from the store.
Did you know you can read comics for free through hoopla, which connects your library card to e-books, films, graphic novels etc. You need to check out all the free stuff you can access from your library, seriously.
I mentioned in a previous newsletter that my wonderful colleagues Gabi Meyer, Candace Skibba and Heather Kelley, published How Well? an anthology of comics centered around the notion of wellness and our corporate culture’s sometimes toxic obsession with lifestyle and health. It can be purchased at Radiator Comics.
Besides Felipe’s courses, you could also take 82-279 Anime - Visual Interplay between Japan and the World.
The University of Iowa has been running a year long seminar series on Racial Reckoning through Comics, and holding their closing event, with “the Hernandez Bros” at Iowa City Public Library on Saturday April 15. (via Felipe!)
I had a email from Fumio Obata, kindly introduced to me by a Kim Hall. Fumio is working on a story that is based in Pittsburgh, and we’ve been enjoying some correspondence about living here and some of the details of houses and streets. Fumio quickly reminded me that there’s a great deal of artistic license in the setting, and the focus is on the main character and his story, but it’s been fun chatting and sharing a few photos and links.
Well, I hope all that gets you reading and hopefully linger in the comics aisle just a little longer until you find something to take home with you. My local library has an amazing comic, graphic novel and zine section located in the teens area, which I think probably puts off a few people who might not read them, but I can sort of understand it, and I’m pleased when I see a few graphic novels featured on the selection tables as you walk in.
I’m pleased to report that the boys like reading comics and graphic novels, mostly manga, some that I bought in San Francisco, including a bilingual edition of Astro Boy. I also know that they like perusing the collection of comics that I have in a box under the bed, all sealed in plastic pockets, you’ll be glad to hear. There’s a Moebius Silver Surfer, lots of Green Arrow and Daredevil, and various other classics, Dark Knight, Watchman etc.
I’m traveling next week, so look forward on telling you about that, I’ll by on a plane next Friday, so you might have to wait. Otherwise, take care, look after yourselves and read more comics.