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Restricted Frequency #194
A Day with Art Spiegelman (but actually not about that at all)
Yes, I did in fact find myself spending a day with Art Spiegelman somehow, and I’ve been meaning to write about it since April, but much has happened since then and I have only now managed to carve out the time to sit and write this thing from Berlin, but not actually, because I couldn’t finish it in time and have continued to draft the thing from Cairo, so as you can probably imagine I’m in a completely different headspace from where I was on that blessed day two months ago.
It was a strange time, because I had just returned from Beirut where I was presented with the Kahil Award for Best Comics!
This was for a short work of comix I made called MOUTHFAIL, originally created as a kind of essay for an exhibition catalogue, AND I MUST SCREAM, produced by the Carlos Museum in Atlanta (and later serialized right here in RESTRICTED FREQUENCY).
I have since put together an irregular comix series titled THE CURSE OF I, specifically for the purpose of publishing my weird autobio-ish works. Issue #1 and #2 are both available for pre-order as we speak.
Issue #1 features SELECTIVE MYOPIA, a short I had originally created for the Nib back in 2016 about a heated encounter I once had in Cairo (where it feels very weird to be back right now). The comix is paired with my 2011 essay, SEVEN THINGS I LEARNED FROM THE MASK OF FREEDOM, which is in many ways thematically related despite being penned multiple years prior. Issue #2 reprints MOUTHFAIL where I appear wearing the aforementioned “Mask of Freedom” and meditate on different notions of freedom and how it relates to art and the act of making it. This is aptly paired with OH ART, WHERE ART THOU?, a 2017 essay I wrote for ALTERNATIVE FACTS, a publication that was issued as part of the exhibition MAGIC CITY: THE ART OF THE STREET. All pre-ordered copies arrive signed.
How I first discovered Spiegelman’s work is a little funny. It was the early aughts and I was maybe 20 years old. Up until then my only understanding of what a comicbook entailed was the corporate superhero stuff (which in hindsight, the vast majority of was far from good), and even then very little of it. I lived in Cairo, where the only way to get my fix of American comics was by harassing my local newstand until they managed to precure a title or two. The early 2000’s internet was a blessing, not because it made scoring comics any easier really (unless you’re cool with the digitally pirated stuff), but because there was an abundance of forums where other passionate comics readers around the world could discuss comics and that is where I learned. Every once in a while, a BEST COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE sort of thread would always appear and a common title on pretty much all such lists was a thing called MAUS. I recall running an image search on MAUS and being really confused that what was turning up would ever end up on a best-of list! It was no Alan Davis or Jim Lee for crying out loud! I was clearly an idiot and didn’t at all realize it. The more I saw this crudely drawn black and white thing with mousey protagonists turn up on these lists, my need to track it down was elevated. I needed to understand what the big fucking deal was. It took me a couple years, but get my hands on it I did, and my life was changed forever.
The thing that is always cited when talking about MAUS is the subject matter, and of course the subject matter is king, but what is often ignored as a result is the craft that went into the work and many of the very smart cartooning choices that were made along the way. I remember approaching the work with skepticism, but its brilliance took hold of me and allowed me to, henceforth, see the medium through an entirely different lens.
A few years later, a friend lent me Steven' Heller’s extremely essential DESIGN LITERACY, which contained an entry on Spiegelman and Mouly’s RAW magazine. And thus I was introduced to not only Spiegelman the artist/author, but also the editor/publisher, possibly my first introduction to the very notion of DIY publishing. I learned a lot of things late, some things too late, but it’s partially why I’ve adopted the attitude of the eternal learner and continue to have an unshakeable book problem.
So, you can see why getting to spend a full day with Art Spiegelman some 20 years later is a big fucking deal! I mean, no offense but Pulitzer schmulitzer. Make me choose between spending a day with a dozen Pulitzer-prize winning authors and Art Spiegelman? I’d choose Art every time.
Art is exactly as old as my dad now, but has way more energy. Being witness to my old man’s limitations these days, I am even more impressed now by Art’s drive and vitality. He’s also kind, funny, quick-witted, and so terribly generous. Art Spiegelman is a great man, and that’s putting it mildly.
Watch Sim Kern “unbox” their first comp copy of THE FREE PEOPLE’S VILLAGE, for which I provided the cover art/design. Their reaction means everything to me.
Wrapped up the final draft on PROJECT SNOOZE the other day, a 5k-ish word short. Science Fiction, because that seems to be my shit. I’m reluctant to put a label on the type of writer I am because I’m pretty sure once I’m pigeonholed into a form or genre, I’m likely to get resentful. Only thing left is line edits. It’s quite different from my other works I think, thanks in no small part to my editor on this one who is an accomplished author in his own right. More on this when it is permissible. Also brought the latest THE SOLAR GRID down for a landing (#7 digital, #8 for print), which leaves me with just two chapters to go before I finally climb out of the [wonderful] 8+ year hole I dug myself in :-)
Working on this chapter mid-breakup and studio relocation near destroyed me. Eager to keep the momentum going and slide right into the next one, but crashing at my brother’s place in Cairo puts limitations on what I can do. Which is why I am presently hard at work trying to set up a suitable space I know I can continue working from whenever I come sans interruption, because it looks like I’ll be coming through quite often. I do, after all, have friends and family here. All this to say: I seem to be eternally plagued with the setting up of workspaces.
Ten days in Cairo so far and already losing my mind. Hectic, difficult to find a moment’s peace. Three more weeks to go, and highly doubting my ability to survive. Looking forward to my ten-day stop in Berlin (again) right after, which may prove to be my only chance to unwind this summer. Recommendations welcome.