Monday, February 12, 2018


An Airing of Grievances: Last week I had a piece at Slate talking about tokenism and Franรงoise Mouly's hiring practices at the New Yorker, which I've been complaining about now for, oh let's see, two years? Three? Feels like forever. Now you know.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

let's fix your promotional photos: a special guide for men in comics

Yes, I know you could care less about self-promotion. You are an artist! An artist, and moreover a man (a white man) (a straight white man) who imagines that not caring about your appearance is a virtue rather than the inevitable product of the way in which you were socialized. You bristle at the very notion that anyone expects you to put any effort or thought whatsoever into selling this thing that you spent an absolutely obscene amount of your time putting together. When no one buys into your new project, why point fingers at your "promotions" (one broken link in a tweet and an instagram stacked with actual pictures of someone's puke) when you could blame "the system," like a real artist. Like a man

Probably the idea of taking more than one terrible selfie in the deadening glare of your computer’s camera for the profile that website will be running next week strikes you as absurd. Insulting, even. (Let me guess: you're fundamentally opposed to the very idea of selfies anyway.) You're incapable of comprehending why anyone wouldn't just repurpose some random photo of himself at a con, seated behind a table, staring like a glassy-eyed criminal awaiting his sentence in a courtroom, as his promotional photograph. Well, I'm not here to change your mind. Nor am I here to teach you photography. I'm just here to tell you how bad you look, and give you a few tips on looking better.

First I suggest you take a look around. Have you ever noticed how the women of comics look incredible in their promotional photos? Their most tossed-off selfies on twitter are old skool mall-grade glamour shots, and you would do well to study them. (Every time I see Katie Skelly’s perfectly manicured nails I wonder where it all went wrong for me.) Honestly, most of the time, you can do whatever you want with your twitter—but when you’re promoting a new comic, doing a Kickstarter, inviting the public to visit your table or your panel at a show, or sending an author photo to a website, you really owe it to yourself and to your work to put in a little bit of effort.

OK. So generally speaking, the men of comics favor promotional photos that fall into five or six main categories. Your first task is to assess your type, which should be very easy.  

Type 1: The Serial Killer

There’s a real epidemic of men in comics whose photos give the distinct impression that, if the opportunity arose, they would choose to eat human flesh. I assume you guys are just trying too hard to look serious? But I can’t discount the possibility that at least some of you are actual murderers. Either way, it would behoove you to try to look more normal. Here are some things you can try:

           Smize. To smize is to smile with your eyes, and you're probably going to have to practice. Look, I'm not sure exactly what's wrong with you, but I do know your regular eyes are cold and dead and weird. One strategy you might try is to talk to whoever’s taking the photo so you appear a little more animated. Think about something exciting (e.g., cookies). Look alive, son.
           Do not gaze into the middle distance. Unfocused staring is not attractive, and it definitely doesn’t make you look smart. It is creepy or, perhaps worse, ridiculous. Try looking into the camera, or just a little bit off to the side.
           Ask at least two human women who care about you to vet your photo. This is good advice for everyone, but it is particularly important if you choose not to smile. 

Type 2: The Cool Dude

When my nephew was a baby, he didn’t know the word for sunglasses. To compensate, whenever he wanted to wear them, he said he “want[ed] to be a cool dude.” It was so stinking cute! But the thing you have to understand is that he was under two years old. You’re a grown-ass man so it should go without saying: You are not a cool dude. Take your sunglasses off. You look fucking stupid.

           Pretending not to care is not a personality. You do care about this thing you’re promoting, right? 
           Are you making a little joke? OK, we can work with this, but you are probably overconfident. Tread carefully. Workshop this photo.
           Do not stand in front of some dumb building or sign. You look like an amateur. In a wedding photo. On a road trip. From a 10-year-old Facebook post.
           Try harder. I can see that you’re already trying very hard! You’re just doing it wrong. Redirect that energy into making an actual effort.

Type 3: The Comics Bro

A Comics Bro is a sentient energy drink with a hair situation who insists on some variation on jazz hands or double guns in all photos. 

These people cannot be helped. I’m very sorry.

Type 4: Mr. Tough Guy
This is complicated, because Tough Guys are really a subtype, and they can skew Serial Killer, Cool Dude, or even Comics Bro. Serial killer-type tough guys, let me reiterate that no one’s saying you have to smile.  But you really must try not to glower, even if you’re doing the irony. Literally the only person in comics who can pull off glowering in his promotional materials is Alan Moore. You are not Alan Moore.

Fake Alan Moore

Let me put it another way. An old friend of mine from high school had this amazing family portrait where his mom, dad, and sister were all smiling and happy and wholesome and he was wearing a metal tee and the most profound scowl you’ve ever seen in your life. It is possibly the best picture I’ve ever seen, and it perfectly captures the exact flavor of ridiculousness that is roughly 30-40% of men’s promotional photographs at Fantagraphics. The main difference is that my friend was like 15.

A more difficult subset to address is the Cool Dude type tough guy. (These are basically all the other guys at Fantagraphics.) To be clear, these are not actually tough guys. These are men who wear hoodies and have read Fight Club four times. They insist upon black and white photographs, and they’ve been working on a comic about William Burroughs and/or sex murder for a minimum of six years. 

Here's a few things you can try:

           Ask yourself if your photo could be mistaken for a mug shot. Be really, really honest with yourself. If the answer is yes, start over.
           Try flexing that face you're pulling into an actual smile. You don't have to smile in the photo itself. But hopefully this will help relax your facial muscles into a more becoming expression.
           You're probably dressing about 10 years too young. I'm not asking you to wear a costume. Simple adjustments can be effective. Launder your t-shirt, for instance.

Type 5: Literally a Bunch of Paint Splatters

Does your promotional photo vaguely resemble a screensaver? Unfortunately, I can only draw one conclusion, and that is that you are catastrophically ugly. Here’s the good news: there's no way you look as bad as I'm thinking. Quit being so hard on yourself! There’s a decent chance you’re “comics hot.” Suck it up and do the photo.

           Or…consider using a portrait. It’s perfectly acceptable for you to draw yourself, or even use someone else’s drawing of you (though in certain situations the latter might be awkward or misleading). The portrait doesn’t have to be realistic, but it should be human-ish and recognizably you.

Ivan Brunetti drew Hillary Chute's "author photo" for Outside the Box.

  • Create a distraction. Do you have a puppy, or a shirt with a crazy pattern? Are your surroundings super interesting? You might feel more comfortable if you feel like you’re sharing the attention with (but not completely shifting the focus to) something else. Please note, however, that your photograph should not feature any other people.
  • People are not shallow for wanting to put a face with a name. Unless you feel that it compromises your safety or something like that, it’s just best practice to honor this basic facet of human nature. Show your face, particularly if the photo is for a festival type situation. 
  •  Know that your art, however awesome it looks in real life, will look like dentist office art as a thumbnail. If you want to use something you've made, again, consider a self-portrait. Or, bare minimum, something with a face.

Special Challenges: You Are Bald

Are you a bald guy? Cool, nothing wrong with that. It’s just that sometimes bald guys - and especially pale 50+ bald guys - need to take special care to avoid looking terminally ill in their promotional photographs. You have one job, and that’s to convince people that you’re not a warlock.
  • Pay special attention to lighting. This is good advice for everyone, but it’s especially important for you. Consider going outside, maybe near some plants. Good vibes! Warm tones. That’s what we’re going for. Avoid black and white at all costs.
  • Do not indulge in the temptation to wear a hat, particularly any sort of period hat. Please take my word on this.
  • Try to look 20% more put together than usual. You know who always looks nice? Daniel Clowes. His shirts look pressed; he has interesting glasses. His pants fit. We aren’t talking about his style, which is sort of nondescript. We’re talking about a feeling: Daniel Clowes is ready. He's just a really sharp version of his somewhat boring personal style. Whatever your thing is, up your game by 20%.

Clowes can get it

  • Engage with the camera. Bald people need to be extra careful about gazing into the distance, for nerd reasons. Work the camera. Patrick Stewart is the absolute master of this. (Just look at that smize, my god.) Compare and contrast:

In conclusion, staging a decent promotional photo is not rocket science. Your photo doesn't even have to be that good, is the thing. It just shouldn't be off-putting.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

ware week

I wrote about Monograph, Chris Ware's strange and fascinating new memoir, for a UK magazine, Prospect. It was a weird commission in that I was asked to more or less triangulate it with two other recent titles, Dave Gibbons' latest how-to book (dumb, but still a little cool) and The Cambridge Companion to the Graphic Novel (for clowns, by clowns - mostly). The editor originally wanted something about the whole comics vs. graphic novels terminology debate, but very kindly let me steer the argument in a different direction because I literally can't even imagine caring about that. Even if you find that debate fascinating (??), Ware and Gibbons aren't figures who readily map onto it for reasons that I think you must already understand given that you've read this far. You beautiful fucking genius, you.

Due to the nature of that piece I didn't really get to talk about Monograph or Ware as much as I would've liked. Some stuff was abbreviated, some was cut, and some stuff I never got around to in the first place because it didn't fit the contours of my argument, which is about identity and authority and various parties' weird proprietary comics ~feelings~. To make up for it, and to just generally cheer myself up, I've decided I'm doing a Ware Week here on the blog. Nothing fancy: just a week of talking about Chris Ware (who I love to make fun of - and whose work I really enjoy, if you can even believe it) in what I imagine will be posts of wildly varying length and quality. Unless they are uniformly short and terrible, which is also a real possibility.

If you like talking about Ware and you're interested in joining in for a dialogue or roundtable or something like that, let me know and maybe we can work something out. (I haven't really seen that much out there around Monograph, which seems odd?) On one hand, I feel like a whole week of me spouting my personal Ware takes might be a bit much? But on the other I reckon most people love themselves enough that sitting around and talking into the void about Chris Ware isn't their idea of "fun," so I'm prepared to do it on my own. In any case below is a list of some of the topics I'm likely to touch on at some point. For most of them you probably need to have at least read part of Monograph? A couple maybe not. Whatever, I don't actually care. This is an open call, though I reserve the right to flake out. Hit me up if there's anything here that catches your eye:
  • Chris Ware's Charlie Brown Misery Persona (and the weird way in which he controls his public image)
  • Ware's riffs on autobio
  • The many ways in which Ware plays with scale
  • Ware as a historian (of himself, and of comics more generally)
  • How bad was that intro by Art Spiegelman?
  • The Chris Ware ~Conversation~ (how he gets talked about in different circles)
  • Did no one care about Monograph? What's that about?
  • Does Ware need an editor (yes or yes)
  • Fussy formal qualities and sheer volume of ephemera/variation in the Ware archives: charming? overrated? insane??
  • The Worst Chris Ware New Yorker Cover of All Time 
Other suggestions are also welcome. Ware week will be in two weeks, depending on how this goes. Three weeks? Seven hundred weeks. In my lifetime, hopefully. Start practicing your frowny face.

Amended to add that I forgot to include an email for anyone who doesn't know where to find me: 


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

three good things

Ursula K. Le Guin has died. (Not one of the three good things, to be clear.) Famous people dying always makes me ponderous and annoying like a teenager who's smoked too much pot, but for the last few years I've had this slow-building realization that what has felt like an epidemic--these titans of culture dropping like flies--is in fact just me getting older. When you're younger there's this bright line between dusty gray history and the realness of the vibrant present, and aging is in some ways watching the color drain from the world around you as pieces of it recede into the past.

For a while there I was doing a "one good thing" series, where I just talked about one good thing that had happened, but I deleted it back when someone gave me the creeps. (Comics, man!) But I thought I'd try again, make it less personal, and up the ante. So now there's three. The first good thing is Paddington 2, which I saw on Sunday. I'd heard it's good, of course, but I had no intention of seeing it because...I don't know. I thought the way they'd drawn the bear was sort of ugly. But a friend wanted to see it, and I got a MoviePass, so why not. And it was perfect? Hugh Grant is Tim Curry-level bananas and it looks like Wes Anderson without all the...Wes Anderson baggage. I love Wes Anderson, but you know what I mean. Seriously, go see Paddington 2.

The second thing is this little story about Celine Dion taking Elliott Smith under her wing before his performance at the 1998 Oscars. You know those little children's books about unlikely animal friends? I want a book like that about Celine Dion and Elliott Smith.

I'm old enough to have seen that performance in real time, and it's something I'll never forget. That suit, oh my god. Comparisons have been flying fast and furious between Smith and Sufjan Stevens (who's up for Best Song this year), and that is just so fundamentally incorrect. I mean, I get it, sonically. But Elliott Smith came up from punk, and he was one of the rawest performers I've ever seen, for both better and worse. Sufjan has a similar awkwardness I guess, but he's a very polished performer who does very stylized shows. Very, very different. Anyway I guess I could link to that Oscar performance, but I don't think watching it now begins to convey how surreal it was at the time. It was just...really something.

The third thing is this recipe for garlic rice, which is my new favorite thing.

The recipe is from Melissa Clark's new cookbook (which is for Instant Pots, in case that's not obvious), but you could adapt it to regular rice cooking pretty easily. The trick is drape a clean dishtowel over the top of the pot after you fluff the rice, replace the lid loosely, and wait for 10 mins before you eat it. That cookbook has some nice tricks.

Monday, January 8, 2018

2018 can already fuck itself

I welcomed the new year with a roaring case of norovirus. Whether that unholy purge was meant to be some symbol of 2017, of the year yet to come, or just my body's instinctive urge to self-destruct in the most unpleasant way possible remains, as of this writing, unclear. Probably all three.

Uncharacteristically, I have a planned week of #content coming up (more on this soon), but in the meantime I wanted to link to a few posts from 2017. Why? I do not know. I did one of those Twitter threads where I linked to some of this stuff and it just really deeply amused me, the idea of all the journalists I follow being like 'here's all my thoughtful investigative reporting about poverty and some thinkpieces on sexual assault' and me being like 'here's multiple links to Whore Feud." It's 2018 and I'm still laughing about Whore Feud, seriously. I wonder what those wacky guys are going to get up to this year.

Anyway, here are some of my favorite posts from last year:

Black History Month Profile in Courage: Chris Ware

All Time Comics: Crime Destroyer #1 - a review

In Appreciation of the Chester Brown/Dave Sim Whore Feud 

In Continued Appreciation of the Chester Brown/Dave Sim Whore Feud 

Other People's Stories - a personal essay

Another Fake Conversation - on upsetting comics

An Extremely Funny Chris Ware video - Chris Ware locates other people's inner Chris Wares

Portrait, a comic by Simon Hanselmann - a review

I also wrote about Nick Spencer and R. Crumb. Not my faves but without a doubt the ones that seemed to resonate with people.

Happy new year? "Happy new year." Happy new year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

gawker crowdfunding cabal

What's the deal with this doomed Gawker kickstarter, a story in three parts:

OK, let me make sure I have this straight. A tiny number of former Gawker employees and "friends" have formed a crowdfunding cabal to raise $500k to either:

  • buy Gawker (for less than 0.4% of what the Gawker family of sites sold for in 2016)
  • reanimate Gawker (impossible, but whatever)
  • create some sort of...Gawker wayback machine...?
  • start a Gawker-inspired website? maybe?
  • or some combination thereof?

Also, despite the fact this Zombie Gawker cabal has been toiling behind the scene for months (lol), no one thought to give a heads up to (much less invite the participation of) Puja Patel, the EIC of Spin Magazine? Or the alum who's the Style editor of the New York Times...the two staff writers at the New Yorker...that one reporter for the Intercept...a senior writer at WIRED...deputy editor at the Hairpin...features writer at GQ...a senior editor at New York Magazine, and like seriously this list goes on and on forever? Seems like a small oversight, there.

An insane nightmare cabal just bought LA Weekly, and it makes perfect sense those people would try to be anonymous. What they're doing is nefarious. Peter Thiel bankrupted Gawker in the first place by funding an entirely different nightmare cabal, and that made sense because he's an actual villain. Why does Gawker need a cabal? Why does their Kickstarter have zero details about who they are and what they're doing? And how come no one associated with Gawker in the history of ever, except for literally one guy and Elizabeth Spiers, want to touch this thing with a 10-foot pole?

The smart money says the answers to those questions aren't very interesting. It's probably a ragtag crew that has no idea what they're doing, though I'd be happy to be proven wrong. It's all just sort of sad. Like the complete lack of media savvy on display here doesn't lend any faith to the idea that these people have put any thought into this plan whatsoever, were it to work. Which it won't. And even if they'd gone about it properly, kickstarting the purchase of Gawker seems sort of farfetched. I guess if Gofundme is basically funding the American health care system at this point, maybe anything's possible? Dare to dream? Maybe Zombie Gawker will "hire" some "interns," haha. Ha. :(

Monday, December 11, 2017

in a future where all the crabs are dead

The insomnia's back, fuck my life. My clock runs late on a good day (always has), but every few years I cycle through a few months or more where I have extra terrible trouble getting to sleep. Sometimes I wonder: what is this alien frequency I've tuned into, and what else is happening on this channel? Sometimes it's boring old depression, I guess, but other times I can't really attribute it to anything. The last time must've been around 2013 because I remember the constant dejection of trying to fall asleep to the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeting about whatever he'd already overachieved at the International Space Station in what was, for him, late morning in outer space. Like for each of these insomnia jags there's always some marker that lets me know when I've crossed over from being up horribly late to being up egregiously, painfully late, and at that time it was these astronaut tweets. Prior to 2013 the point of no return would've been some TV-related thing, but at some point I started working on "sleep hygiene." Now instead of watching TV, which I love with my whole heart, I stare at my phone and feel unhappy. Yes, I know better, but also there was a period in my life where I read the Economist to put myself to sleep and that was maybe worse. It worked, but it just wasn't worth it.

So anyway I'd still be trying to get to sleep and Commander Chris Hadfield would've orbited Jupiter twice, performed his strenuous exercises for the day, eaten several pouches of healthful space gruel, etc., and I'd just be lying in bed staring at my phone, every cell exuding the literal opposite of whatever that is. Extremely dark, tired energy. I'm not sure why I'm even thinking about this so much except that recently I had to read an astronaut's memoir for work that was largely about some guy (not Chris Hadfield, mercifully) who lived at the International Space Station for a year, and it was wild how much of his life there was hideously banal. Like literally 75 percent of this book was just him watching CNN while he fixes the space toilet. I just have to wonder how little you respect life's mysteries, to write a book like that.

A few nights ago I was going through my pre-dawn ritual of staring at my phone for 4.5 hours before going to sleep I encountered the most incredible thing I've seen in a while. It's two guys at AV Club talking about Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding, which is, if I understand them correctly, a series of 15-minute art films...released over a period of years as...trailers?...for a video game?...starring Hannibal and Daryl from Walking Dead? It's sort of unclear. Despite my affection for both Daryl and this utterly unhinged synopsis, I don't want to learn anything more about this project, ever, much less watch the actual trailers, if that's what they even are. I just don't see how they could live up to (much less surpass) this synopsis, which I have already read at least half a dozen times:

If I had to pick my favorite part, I guess I'd go with "in a future where all the crabs are dead" OR the baby metaphorically lodging itself in someone's throat OR Daryl's metaphorical C-section (what is going on with these metaphors??) OR the Guillermo del Toro cameo, which was just unexpected. Tough call.

Another curious thing the last few days has been watching people argue about "Cat Person." Like, oh right, this is the sort of thing we used to argue about on the Internet before 2016 happened. A viral short story. How quaint! A day or so ago the Cat Person "backlash" began, or so I hear. (Everyone on my twitter loves it, anyway.) One thing I legitimately don't understand: since when is not liking a short story a "backlash?" Usually that's how it works: some people like a thing, and then some people don't. But maybe we don't have that anymore.

It's a queasy little piece of work. Sort of artless, in my opinion, though that isn't what makes it bad. Like...the achievement of this short story so far as I can tell is in making something totally plausible have the artificial sheen of a short story. The symmetry with the characters' fantasy lives--where her fantasies are about him being secretly vulnerable and better than he seems, and his fantasies about her are all weird and crazy and jealous--all of that, and the banality with which she considers getting murdered, the sort of fluctuating between feeling afraid and ridiculous, the way that even pathetic men can have a certain menace, and then the ending--emotionally, it rings true. The characters are really believable, I'll give it that. But as a piece of writing, it largely just seems like bad craft. I feel very aware of it as a story that has been constructed. In fact I've maybe never read anything that seems so naturalistic and so fake at the same time, particularly with the fantasy stuff and with the ending. The ending is just beyond hacky even though I find it totally believable? So that's weird, but I think it comes down to on a technical level there is a real clumsiness in the story's construction. Even the detail about the cats felt like artifice, very In the Writer's Workshop 101.

I've seen a lot of really defensive reactions around Cat Person, a lot of "if you don't like this story, you've clearly never been on a bad date"-type takes. I don't get that at all, this idea that identifying with someone in a story means you have to love it. People are all messed up about art and identity now, but most of the time this gets discussed in really unintelligent ways. I totally understand that people love stories because they identify with characters or plots--and whatever, that's valid. You can love something for any reason you want. Me, I guess I need something more than that. Some sort of insight, some beautiful prose, an interesting question, an entertaining story. Maybe at least one of those things? "People are hard to know, and sex can be bad"--I don't know, I guess that strikes me as the literary equivalent of living in space and writing about watching CNN and fixing the toilet.