Friday, August 26, 2016

D&Q: Gilbert Hernandez

The only person who is Gilbert Hernandez's equal in accurately representing the ways in which children think, speak and act is his brother Jaime. The feeling that Gilbert creates is different from his brother's; it's more Charles Schulz than Hank Ketcham at times. The characters are a little sadder and a little meaner, and the world makes a bit less sense. His semi-autobiographical Marble Season depicted a sort of Kingdom of Summer ruled by the experiences of kids, for good and ill. The sense of wonder and awe with regard to small details was mixed with dread and pain regarding other areas of life, but the mythos of childhood was intact all along, with the numbing realities of adulthood not yet creeping in. His character design is magnificent, with the use of gesture and body language at the center of his storytelling. Keeping certain poses, like the lead character with his hands in his pockets, shoulders slumped, provides not only continuity but a key to understanding the true emotional states of his characters.

His second book for D&Q, Bumperhead, starts once again with the wonder and weirdness of childhood but this time keeps going all the way into old age, following a boy name Bobby and his friends through the prism of music and the ways in which identities tend to become wrapped up in scenes. Once again, this book has autobiographical elements, as Bobby is approximately the same age as Gilbert and listened to the same kind of music, but Hernandez throws in a number of quirks. Never afraid to throw in a bit of magical realism, there's a running gag in the story that warps the reader's perception as to when the story is set. That's because when we meet young Bobby, his friend has an iPad and promises to show him dirty images of the Pope. When the reader suddenly understands that the book shifts to the sixties and seventies, the iPad is suddenly referred to as the "magical predicting machine" and eventually dismissed as merely a child's toy. It's a great gag designed to unsettle the reader out of certain assumptions as well as subverting certain children's lit tropes that set stories in Anytime, Anytown, USA.

Bobby, cruelly nicknamed "Bumperhead" by some bullies who later become his friends because of his huge forehead, is a child not unlike his mother in that he's one extreme or other. He's either grimly pensive with a flatness of affect and energy or else finds ways to crank himself up to extremes. His father doesn't speak English all that well and pretty much runs out on his son the minute he's old enough to take care of himself on the pretext of having business to take care of in Mexico, leading to a life of isolation and disconnection alternating with a desperate desire to find a scene to fit into. That search leads to him identifying with various musical scenes, as he devours rock, pop and glam before settling into early punk. Punk rock was obviously very important to Hernandez himself and one can see how the punk ethos invigorated Bobby in the comic. There is an amazing page with four horizontal panels as Bobby is watching a punk band play and his eyes are wide as saucers with an expression that's beyond joy, beyond excited. It's like he's been electrified with so much juice he can barely control himself, and the dialog reads "I am alive again. No, I am fucking alive again."

The book does not end on that high point, however. It's more of a temporary jolt for a character whose detached nature leads him to ignore his own health throughout the book, as his weight see-saws thanks to habits like speed and alcohol. Bobby gets in a relationship but doesn't find it nearly as simple as his high school relationships, and it in fact comes to a head in paranoia and anger on her part. The joy of the creative possibilities of punk are muted by his lack of ambition and creative outlets; he's a walking example of the dangers of being part of a scene and then finding the scene changing into something one doesn't recognize. When his father returns from Mexico and reveals that he started a second family, it becomes a focal point for Bobby's incoherent rage. It's a rage that's as self-directed and existential as it as against his father. It's a rage against life.

Just as Hernandez doesn't end the book on the climax of discovering punk rock, he doesn't end it on that note either. Instead, Bobby simply gets older and finds it harder and harder to tap into that kind of anger. Walking with a cane after having a couple of heart attacks, old age is simply about acceptance. Even when he confronts his father on a daily basis, it's almost a routine by this point. He knows what answers he will get and isn't prepared for anything else. Music, Bobby's identity nexus in the other chapters, is hardly mentioned in the final chapter. Music for Bobby was a way of expressing things he couldn't say, giving himself a voice he couldn't otherwise articulate. In old age, he found himself needing to express himself and his anger less and less, and so did music fall by the wayside--with the sole exception of hating on the jazz music of someone he'd known and despised for years. Though unspoken, that conflict said a lot about Bobby. He hated his rival's garage music and later jazz stylings, in part because he saw them as technique unattached to real expression. His rival hated punk because he saw it as posing without talent and saw non-musician Bobby purely as a scenester. It points directly to the difference between Bobby and Hernandez himself, as Gilbert was part of a scene but was inspired by its DIY ethos to actually put in the effort to create something. Punk is not about not working hard, but rather it's about working hard on something you care about and finding ways to get it out there as directly as possible. Bumperhead is a meditation on a number of roads not taken and a number of paths that Hernandez no doubt so arrayed ahead of him. With the benefit of hindsight, Hernandez is not too cruel to Bobby, because he could have been a version of Bobby. Bobby made a lot of bad choices (when he wasn't drifting along), which Hernandez emphasizes doesn't make him a bad person. In the end, it makes him a human being, no better or worse than those people he grew up with.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Announcing The AAEC and Satire Festival in Durham!

I will be attending and covering many of these events. Come on out!

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DURHAM, N.C. — Duke University and the Association of American Editorial 
Cartoonists (AAEC) will jointly host a political satire festival on 
Duke’s campus Sept. 22-24.

The three-day festival will feature panel discussions, screenings, 
student-cartoonist improv and sketch comedy performances, art 
exhibitions and more. Several of these events are free and open to the 

One topical issue to be explored is "Bathroom Humor: National 
Cartoonists Take on HB2." This will include a collection of visual 
commentary on sexual identity, gender stereotyping, the right to privacy 
and the appropriateness and practicality of government intervention in 
such matters. The collections will be shown at Horse & Buggy Press in 
downtown Durham from Aug. 19-Sep. 25 and in Duke’s Bryan Center from 
Sept. 20-25. There will also be an HB2 panel discussion with editorial 
cartoonists at 2 p.m. Sept. 23 in Reynolds Theater in Duke’s Bryan Center.

There will also be live cartooning on the Bryan Center Plaza from 
12:30-2 p.m. Sept. 22 and 23.

Two featured evening performances will take place in Page Auditorium and 
tickets are required. They are:

— Sketchy Comedy!, Thursday, Sept. 22, 8-9:30 p.m. Live sketch comedy 
and cartooning performances at Duke’s Page Auditorium. Hosted by Duke 
improv group “The Inside Joke,” the show will feature editorial 
cartoonists performing on stage while meeting deadlines. Cost: $10.

— An Evening with The Simpsons, Friday, Sept. 23, 7:30-9 p.m. Writers, 
directors and producers of the long-running TV show will share their 
stories and insights from their special contribution to American humor. 
Cost: $15.

Visit the Duke Box Office at or call (919) 684-4444 to 
purchase tickets.

The Duke Political Cartoon and Satire Festival is jointly sponsored by 
the AAEC; POLIS: The Center for Political Leadership, Innovation and 
Service; the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy; and the 
Sanford School of Public Policy.

A complete schedule can be found at Here are the 


Unless otherwise noted, all events will take place in Reynolds 
Auditorium in the Bryan University Center. All panels and presentations 
on campus during the day are free and open to the public.

Panel: “Making Satire Great Again”
—Discussing the challenges, joys, and oddities of covering the first 
celebrity billionaire nominee and the first female nominee. Featuring 
Pulitzer winners Jack Ohman, David Horsey and friends.

Panel: “Likes, Loves and Lynch Mobs: Cartooning in the digital world of 
social media”
—Ann Telnaes and Joel Pett, among others, will share their experiences 
of viral cartoon controversies and death threats from the past year.

Live cartooning on the Bryan Center Plaza.
—Join Kevin "Kal" Kallaugher and other cartoonists as they draw in the wild.

Panel: “Cartoons and Cops”
—Cartooning on the #blacklivesmatter movement and the issues of police 
brutality, race and social justice. Featuring provocative cartoonists 
Keith Knight and Darrin Bell, and other guests.

Panel: “Finding the Elephant’s Funny Bone”
—Busting the myth that there is a humor gap among Republicans. Featuring 
some of the nation’s funniest conservative cartoonists.

Sketchy Comedy!
—Come to Duke’s Page Auditorium to see an exciting night of live sketch 
comedy and cartooning performances. Hosted by Duke University’s comedy 
troupe Inside Joke and improv group DUI, the show will feature your 
cartooning colleagues performing on stage meeting deadlines! Ticketed event.


Panel: “Small Hands and Big Hair”
—Dive into the art of political illustration and caricature in this 
crazy election year. Come and get inspired by a panel of nationally 
renowned illustrators and artists Victor Juhasz, Steve Brodner and Tom 

Live cartooning on the Bryan Center Plaza.
—Join Kevin "Kal" Kallaugher and other cartoonists as they draw in the wild.

Panel: “Bathroom Banter”
—A hard look at both sides of North Carolina’s House Bill 2 controversy, 
co-sponsored by the NC Humanities Council. Featuring the Charlotte 
Observers' Kevin Siers, with coordinating HB2 cartoon show in the lobby 
of the Bryan University Center.

Panel: “International Ink”
—Cartoonists GADO of Kenya, MK Perker of Turkey and Rod Emmerson of New 
Zealand discuss the challenges of being a visual satirist in today’s 
uncertain world.

Night of The Simpsons: A Celebration of Satire
— A team of directors, producers and writers from The Simpsons come to 
Page Auditorium. Caroline Omine, Jeff Westbrook, and Stewart Burns will 
share clips, discuss stories and provide insights from the longest 
running show on TV. Ticketed event.


Panel: “Facts and Comedy”
—Moderator Bill Adair will guide an engaging talk in White Lecture Hall 
with Adam Chodikoff, Senior Producer of The Daily Show; Naureen Kahn, 
Lead Researcher at Full Frontal with Samantha Bee; and Ishan Thakore, 
Fact-Checker, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Free and open to the public.

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In addition, the following exhibits are part of the 2016 Political 
Cartoon & Satire Festival, from August until October. All are free and 
open to the public.

"Dwane Powell: The Art of Politics
40 Years of Editorial Cartoons & Then Some"
Power Plant Gallery, American Tobacco Campus, Durham
September 13 – October 8

Cartoonist Dwane Powell has been a stalwart presence in the pages of The 
News & Observer from the late 1970s until today. This career 
retrospective encompasses the high (and low) points of a changing North 
Carolina, and takes a snarky, ink-stained look at the Tarheel state and 
beyond. From Jesse Helms to Pat McCrory, gun control to HB2, this 
exhibit is a perfect run up to this year's Presidential Election. "Dwane 
Powell: The Art of Politics" is part of the 2016 Political Cartoon and 
Satire Festival at Duke University, Sept. 22-24, and includes an 
artist's talk on Friday, Sept. 16.

Third Friday reception with Artist Talk at 6:30pm.

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Bathroom Humor: National Cartoonists Take on HB2 [2 locations!]
Horse & Buggy Press, Durham
August 19 – September 25

When Gov. McCrory signed House Bill 2 into law in March 2016, North 
Carolina was plunged into a swirling political and social maelstrom. The 
legal and economic effects of the so-called “bathroom bill” have 
reverberated across the state and nation ever since, and the controversy 
has provided ripe material for the country’s editorial cartoonists. The 
Association of American Editorial Cartoonists presents "Bathroom Humor," 
a collection of visual commentary on sexual identity, gender 
stereotyping, the right to privacy, women’s safety, and the practicality 
of government intervention in personal matters. The show, curated by 
Indy Week cartoonist Cullum Rogers, will be on display at two locations: 
Horse & Buggy Press in downtown Durham, Aug. 19-Sept. 25, and also on 
the campus of Duke University at the Bryan Center, Sept. 20-25.

Horse & Buggy Press, 401–B Foster St., Durham • • 

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"How I Learned to Draw: Cartoons from Five Decades by V.C. Rogers"
Horse & Buggy Press, Durham
August 27 – September 30

Long-time readers of various Triangle newspapers are familiar with the 
loose style and dry wit of cartoonist Cullum Rogers. Under the signature 
V.C. Rogers, he has been skewering politicians since the mid-1970s. The 
retrospective at Horse & Buggy Press traces Rogers' artistic growth from 
rank amateurism to near-competence through a selection of political 
cartoons from the Durham Morning Herald, the Spectator, the Independent 
Weekly and other publications. Rogers, a two-time winner of the 
Association of Alternative Newsmedia's award for cartooning, is also the 
co-host of the upcoming 2016 Political Cartoon and Satire Festival at 
Duke University, September 21-24.

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"THIS CAMPAIGN IS YUUUGE!: Cartoonists Tackle the 2016 Presidential Race"
Rubenstein Hall, Duke University
September – October 2016

On loan from the Tooneum in Pittsburgh, PA, "THIS CAMPAIGN IS YUUUGE!: 
Cartoonists Tackle the 2016 Presidential Race" is a collection of the 
best election year cartoons by American political cartoonists whose work 
regularly appears in major daily newspapers and online. The show 
features more than 50 original cartoons, prints and sketches on this 
year’s race for president, including work by Jack Ohman, Signe 
Wilkinson, Joel Pett, Matt Wuerker, Ann Telnaes, Matt Davies, Steve Sack 
and many more. The exhibit will be on display on the ground floor of 
Rubenstein Hall during office hours during the Political Cartoon and 
Satire Festival, and will remain up until sometime before election day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

D&Q: Nick Drnaso

Beverly, by Nick Drnaso. Reading a Nick Drnaso story is the comics equivalent of watching a Todd Solondz film. There's an almost crude flatness of design and affect that belie the heart-rending, soul-destroying events. Drnaso's art takes some of its cues from the same influences that Dan Clowes drew from, only he takes that bland aesthetic a step further, making his figures like not unlike the sort of stiff characters one might see in a promotional pamphlet. This is not to say that Drnaso doesn't smartly include a number of clever and pointed storytelling cues; indeed, his skill in that regard is a key in getting across subtle plot points without beating the reader over the head with supporting narrative text. It's just that Drnaso has a way of lulling the reader with a series of repetitive, visually bland images and then suddenly inserting a surprising, disturbing and altogether game-changing image that snaps the reader out of that expected rhythm.

The book is a loosely-connected series of stories that take place over the course of about twenty-five years. For the most part, it focuses on the secret and inner lives of children and teenagers and the disconnect between children and their parents. It's also about social awkwardness, as the first story (originally published as a mini by Oily Comics), "The Grassy Knoll", illustrates. A quite and polite teen named Tim is paired up with Sal on a park-cleaning job, mostly because no one else can deal with Sal's social weirdness. The way Drnaso portrays him as someone missing an understanding of social cues makes him a clear Asperger's case, right down to detailing the minutiae of his interests. For his part, Tim just wants to work, not cause a fuss and hang out with the cute girls he meets on the job. A guileless request to transfer over to be with them is inferred as yet another complaint about Sal, who is then fired. The inscrutably sad and strange expression on his face after he's fired is remarkably subtle, revealing confusion as much as anything. Drnaso early on nails the banal language of teens with regard to surface interactions, especially with regard to peer pressure activities like drinking and partying.

"The Saddest Story Ever Told" is a remarkably masterful and understated story about the mother of one of the girls from the first story (a blond named Cara) who silently sits and watches a screener of a new sitcom's pilot for evaluation purposes. The show is a scathing satire of typical broadcast pabulum, but Cara's mom is excited by it and critiques it, taking notes, because it gives her a sense of purpose. When it becomes obvious by the questions they have to answer afterward that the network is only interested in their reaction to the commercials that were part of the show, Cara's mom, a perfectly-designed character (all blocky and big) sits silently and dejectedly on the coach. Cara doesn't say a word throughout but weeps into her pillow afterwards: is she crying in empathy for her mom or crying because she doesn't want to become her mother?

"The Lil' King" is an excruciating account of a family vacation that centers around Cara's family; her parents are taking the kids to the same place they went for their honeymoon. Once again, the chunky character design is stunningly ideal, and the cheerfulness of the parents contrasted against their sullen and quiet children creates non-stop awkwardness. Drnaso is not content with simply awkwardness, however; when the children are alone, the older Cara asks her ten year old brother Tyler why he's so quiet (ironic, since neither said a word to their parents the whole time) as she goes off with a boy she met at the pool. Drnaso then reveals a moment of sexual obsession in Tyler who is discovered by his sister, pushing the awkwardness level to new levels. One clever thing that Drnaso does in the story is have the reader not hear Tyler's thoughts but instead see things through his eyes: he imagines killing and torturing virtually everyone he sees. A scene at the end where his father is lovingly trying to get through to him is incredibly creepy as Tyler's still in his wish-fulfillment mode, seeing himself as a grown man with an S&M hood over his head.

"Pudding" is about broken friendships and the ways in which abuse and trauma lead people to great lengths in order to seek comfort and fulfillment. After growing up with a girl that she once fooled around with as a child, Tina is invited to her friend's birthday party. The story features the conflicts that arise between three desperate people. Tina brings a friend/sort of romantic interest to the party and then promptly ditches him. Charlotte clearly has no friends and is ashamed of her past with Tina. The guy is sullen and angry, and one questions why he's even around someone as clearly as flaky as Tina. Things get awkward, weird and angry in a hurry in this story, but all of that self-generated angst is quickly chilled when Tina and her friend see a fatal accident on the side of the road. (It's Cara, which is never explicitly stated but it's obvious and a plot point for later in the book.)

"Virgin Mary" ups the creep and sleaze factor in the story, as a young woman is kidnapped from her job at a pizza joint, sexually assaulted and then is found to be pregnant. When she tells the story and says that her attacker was of Arab descent, that only politicizes an already-tense situation in the small town and turns things even uglier. Drnaso keeps the reader off-balance by constantly shifting the point of view in the story, diverting and deflecting attention before throwing in a huge twist. The twist, which revolves around the real identity and motive of the attacker, is revealed over the course of several pages of a chat transcript juxtaposed against the blandly pretty features of their Anywhere, USA suburb. Once again, Drnaso wrings horror from the banal, as the dumb chat transcripts turn chilling and the girl's desperation is palpable.

The final story, "King Me", sees Tyler as an adult, creepily going to an apparently legitimate massage parlor once a week because of his obsession with the woman who works there. It's a story set during winter, so it's chilling to see him wear a mask not unlike the one he imagined himself wearing earlier in the story. As the story unfolds, we learn that virtually everything he says is a lie, concocted either to make himself look good or at least get him out of talking about something awkward like the death of his sister. The twist here is that he meets a woman at a subway stop who turns to him for help because she's dealing with her own stalker. There's genuine anxiety in the story as they try to lose him, and when Tyler finally finishes his good deed and walks her home per her request, he turns to look at her when she goes back in. The next page has a single, tiny panel in the upper left hand corner as he continues to stare at the house; the implication is that this possibly sociopathic person has now found a new target, even if that obsession is entirely one-sided and theoretical.

Tyler represents something fundamentally broken, someone who wants to connect and create meaning but has no idea how. In that sense, he's representative of so many characters in the book who are looking for something resembling authentic experience but instead find themselves mired in prefabricated lives with predictable outcomes. It's no wonder someone like Sal, an aneurotypical outlier, should cause so much distress; his theories may be delusional but they at at least recognize that life has patterns that he doesn't understand or one to relate to. It's no wonder why Tina reached out to Charlotte, in hopes that they could recreate the one relationship in her life that felt pure and right, even if they had both long moved on from the frame of mind that allowed them to share that moment. Beverly is all about the dyspepsia that can result after a lifetime of being force-fed lies and promises about the rewards that hewing to the social order can bring.