Ted Rall vs the Los Angeles Times

To say that political cartoonist Ted Rall is provocative is much like saying the Empire State Building is a pretty tall building or Mount Everest is quite a big hill. Rall often is, simply and unabashedly, extreme and outrageous, caustic sarcasm oozing from every panel of his cartoons. I usually agree with him—although at somewhat fewer decibels per utterance. And when his ire is aroused, as it has been lately, he can exaggerate the situation that irks him—he is, after all, a cartoonist—and maybe even stretch the truth a tad. So when he first began claiming that he’d been “fired” by the Los Angeles Times for spurious reasons, I paused before climbing on his bandwagon. For one thing, he couldn’t be “fired”: he freelances with the Times, contributing both cartoons and opinion columns.
   
It soon developed that not only had the Times resolved not to use any of Rall’s submissions in future (effectively “firing” him), but the paper announced its decision to the world on its website, a suspicious act on its face: Why would a newspaper feel compelled to make a public proclamation that it was no longer going to use the contributions of a freelancer? When a writer makes factual errors as the Times says Rall did, isn’t the usual journalistic practice to issue a correction? But the Times went far beyond this, and the extreme to which the paper went is highly suspicious. Why make such a public big deal about it?
   
The Times announcement continued, justifying its decision to drop Rall by claiming that a recent Rall column played fast and loose with the facts, thereby smearing his professional integrity as a reporter and commentator. And that, like the announcement itself, seemed a little extreme. Not only was the Times “firing” Rall in public, but it was sabotaging his reputation so he wouldn’t be able to find work anywhere else.
   
This is serious stuff. Deadly serious. No wonder Rall was pissed.
   
Almost at once, Rall claimed he was able to demonstrate that the Times, in its effort to destroy him, had abandoned customary journalistic practices, accepting accusations as factual without questioning their provenance or examining their accuracy. If true, pretty high-handed behavior on the part of the paper. And then it emerged, Rall went on, that the people making the accusations against him—the Los Angeles Police Department and, in particular, the policemen’s union (the Los Angeles Police Protective League, LAPPL)—have invested substantial sums with an investment firm that is the largest stock holder in the Times’ parent company, a distant claim to ownership that the police may assume gives them the right to dictate staffing policies at the paper.
   
Rall has been a frequent critic of the LAPD—calling it inept, dishonest, overly militarized and often abusive of civilians— enough to be an annoyance worth getting rid of. So it would seem that the LAPD took steps. And got results.
   
Despite what the Times would have us think about how sacred preserving its journalistic integrity is, to the even mildly interested observer in possession of this array of facts and assertions, it looks like the Times compromised its integrity to please the cops.
   
That’s the short summary of a sinister situation. Sinister because it appears that Rall was not “fired” so much for misstating some facts as he was for expressing an opinion about the police. Reprehensible (even unnecessary) though it is for a newspaper to publicly fire and defame a contributor, the issue has wider ramifications. If Rall has been needlessly smeared, he’s still merely a contributing cartoonist. If the Los Angeles Times will forsake ordinary ethical behavior (not to mention good manners) and journalistic good practice in his case to please a stockholder, what might the paper do in the case of a larger public issue—say, one more directly connected to the balance sheet and regular revenues?
   
And the Times is not alone in this behavior in the newspaper business. The sainthood of American journalism has always been tainted by commercialism and political power.
   
Next, the damning details in the chronological order of the events as they unfolded. Some of the earliest speculations were later established as fact; some, not. Italicized passages I’ve borrowed from Rob Beschizza’s article at boingboing.net and from Sam Thielman at theguardian.com, Kevin Uhrich at the Pasadena Weekly and others, as noted.

IN HIS TIMES BLOG COLUMN for May 11, entitled “LAPD's Crosswalk Crackdown: Don't Police Have Something Better To Do?”, Rall ridiculed the current policy of ticketing pedestrians who enter crosswalks after the flashing red countdown starts. How can that be illegal?
   
“Because, you know, it’s a countdown,” Rall wrote, “—in seconds. If you are familiar with the space-time continuum, and you have crossed the particular street before, you’re probably able to judge with a fair degree of accuracy whether you will be able to make it across in time. Why show the countdown if we aren’t supposed to use that information?”
   
He goes on to speculate that probably “few Angelenos know that stepping into the crosswalk after the red flash of death starts is against the law.” Besides, the ticket fare, $197, “is wildly out of proportion to the scale of the so-called offense.
   
“At a certain point,” Rall continues, “it’s easy to conclude that this is less about pedestrian safety than it is about revenue enhancement.”
   
Next to the blog is Rall’s cartoon (posted herewith), strenuously suggesting that making people race across intersections is scarcely a way of enhancing safety.

Rall1

The cartoon is a fairly typical example of Rall’s editoonery. He’s taken a simple proposition—that once the flashing red countdown begins, a person needs to walk fast—and turned it into an actual race, with a woman assuming a racetrack starting stance and (just to make the circumstance even more outrageous and therefore ridiculous) a guy in a wheelchair poised to roll.
   
Rall began this essay by recalling a 14-year-old incident in which, caught jaywalking by a police officer, he says he was pushed against a wall and handcuffed in the street while onlookers complained about his treatment to the cop:
   

“Just over 10 years ago, I was ticketed—and handcuffed—for an alleged pedestrian violation while crossing Melrose Avenue. Ironically, this was one of the rare times that I was innocent of even jaywalking, something I do every day. Anyway, I had done everything right. I waited for the green ‘walking man’ signal before stepping off the curb. I walked between the crosswalk lines. I got across the street just as the flashing red signal began.
   
“All of a sudden, a motorcycle officer zoomed over, threw me up against the wall, slapped on the cuffs, roughed me up and wrote me a ticket. It was an ugly scene, and in broad daylight it must have looked like one, because within minutes there were a couple of dozen passersby shouting at the cop. Another motorcycle officer appeared, asked the colleague what the heck he was thinking and ordered him to let me go, which he did. But not before he threw my driver's license into the sewer [gutter; in some tellings of this incident, the cop threw Rall’s driver’s license ‘on the ground’].”
   

Said Beschizza (August 6): The LAPD, however, had a recording of the incident, and provided a transcript to the Times. Rall’s column was soon appended with a note from editorial page editor Nicholas Goldberg, saying that Rall's description was "inconsistent" [with the audiotape], insinuating that Rall had lied about the encounter, and announcing that he had been “fired.”
   
The LAPD (or someone closely affiliated with it) provided, in addition to a transcript, the actual audiotape (now digitized).
   
Here’s all of Goldberg:

A Note to Readers
—Nicholas Goldberg
Tuesday, July 28, 2015

    In a May 11 post on the Times' OpinionLA blog, Ted Rall — a freelance cartoonist whose work appears regularly in the Times — described an incident in which he was stopped for jaywalking on Melrose Avenue in 2001. Rall said he was thrown up against a wall, handcuffed and roughed up by an LAPD motorcycle policeman who also threw his driver's license into the sewer. Rall also wrote that dozens of onlookers shouted in protest at the officer's conduct.
    Since then, the Los Angeles Police Department has provided records about the incident, including a complaint Rall filed at the time. An audiotape of the encounter recorded by the police officer does not back up Rall's assertions; it gives no indication that there was physical violence of any sort by the policeman or that Rall's license was thrown into the sewer or that he was handcuffed. Nor is there any evidence on the recording of a crowd of shouting onlookers.
    In Rall's initial complaint to the LAPD, he describes the incident without mentioning any physical violence or handcuffing but says that the police officer was "belligerent and hostile" and that he threw Rall's license into the "gutter." The tape depicts a polite interaction.
    In addition, Rall wrote in his blog post that the LAPD dismissed his complaint without ever contacting him. Department records show that Internal Affairs investigators made repeated attempts to contact Rall, without success.
    Asked to explain these inconsistencies, Rall said he stands by his blog post.
    As to why he didn't mention any physical abuse in his letter to the LAPD in 2001, Rall said he didn't want to make an enemy of the department, in part because he hosted a local radio talk show at the time. After listening to the tape, Rall noted that it was of poor quality and contained inaudible segments.
    However, the recording and other evidence provided by the LAPD raise serious questions about the accuracy of Rall's blog post. Based on this, the piece should not have been published.
    Rall's future work will not appear in The Times.
    The Los Angeles Times is a trusted source of news because of the quality and integrity of the work its journalists do. This is a reminder of the need to remain vigilant about what we publish.
    —Nicholas Goldberg
    Editor of the Editorial Pages

ON THE PREVIOUS THURSDAY, July 23, as reported (in italics) by Sam Thielman at theguardian.com (on August 15), Rall said he received a call from the LA Times’ Paul Pringle, a Polk and Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter whose focus is institutional corruption. Rall said that Pringle questioned him aggressively about the incident and then told him:
   
“‘The LAPD says that none of this ever happened. There never was a crowd, there never was any shouting at the cop, you were never handcuffed, he never roughed you up, he never threw your driver’s license on the ground,’” Rall said Pringle told him.
   
When Rall protested, Pringle cited the audio tape, which [until then] Rall had not known existed.
   
“I started to wonder: ‘Oh my god, I’m almost 52, am I getting old? Am I losing my mind? What’s going on?’”
   
Rall asked Pringle for the tape and said hearing it jogged his memory. He said he remembered the officer speaking to him in a tone he described as “jaunty” while handling him roughly.
   
Since, in his words, “that tape isn’t exactly Industrial Light and Magic,” Rall paid to have the audio cleaned up and claims it is now possible to hear, among other things, an onlooker say, “Why’d you handcuff him?”
   
Rall has produced both the original and an enhanced version of the recording the Times told him it heard, claiming that dialogue on the cleaned-up tape exonerates him. He also questions why the mostly incomprehensible tape was used against him in the first place.

A TRANSCRIPT of the original tape is posted nearby; below is the transcript Rall later posted showing what he claims can be heard on the enhanced audiotape (the numbers are minute- and/or second-counts):

Rall2

3.364 – Police Officer to Ted Rall: “You have an ID?”
7.570 – Police Officer: “... the LA County Police Department, the reason I stopped you, you got a red light, and you just walked across just as free as you wanted to, so…”
15.654 – Rall: “I’m really sorry, I totally missed…”
16.902 – Police Officer: “That’s alright, you’re gonna get a ticket for it, I need you to take that out, of your wallet, please.”
30.585 – Police Officer: “Is this your current address? ‘kay…”
34.173 – CLICK CLICK
55.363 – Police officer whistles.
1:00.580 – Police officer hums.
1:03.186 – Unintelligible noise – possibly zipper.
1:26.700 – Voice, female .
2:05.207 – Voice, unclear if male or female .
2:13.000 – Voice, female .
3:00.314 – Police officer whistles.
3:07.426 – Voice, unclear if male or female .
3:13.662 – Voice, unclear if male or female .
3:17.756 – Woman 1: “Why’d you handcuff him?”
3:21.672 – Voice, male .
3:22.549 – Woman 1: “Why’d you…” .
3:26.706 – Rall to Woman 1: … “I’m from New York”… “Yeah!”…“So I can say that.”
3:33.351 – Woman 1 to Rall: “You just tell him…” DOG BARK.
3:35.000 – Police officer whistles. Woman 1 yells.
3:37.864 – Woman 2 to Police Officer: “Don’t think about his family.”
3:39.621 – Rall: “I have a right to a…” .
3:43.500 – Woman 1: “Yeah!”
3:46.442 – Woman 2: “So he’s really detaining him?”
3:47.000 – Woman 3: “He was just jaywalking… you need to take off.. no, take off his handcuffs!”
3:54.073 – Police Officer: “No no no no. First, I’m giving him a ticket.”
3:57.179 – Woman 3: “Then take off…”
4:01.305 –Woman 2: “He’s overdressed!”
4:04.845– Woman 2: “Let’s go murder some widows!”
4:06.730 – Woman 3: “Stop it!” (shouting)
4:07.063 – Police officer: “I’m doing the right thing.”
4:11.736 – Woman 2 to police officer: “You’re gonna make a big tip!”
4:14.054 – Woman 2 to police officer: “I’m just a big girly-boy, give or take.”
4:15.908 – Woman’s voice, possibly Woman 3: “He’s behind him, this makes it…”.
4:18.738 – Woman’s voice, possibly Woman 3 or Woman 4: “Don’t forget to ride his asshole!”
4:21.054 – Police officer to women: “Well, I appreciate it.”
4:22.209 – Woman 1 to police officer: “Here, fuck me and get over it!”
4:23.450 – Woman 2, to police officer: “I mean, don’t you got other problems going on in LA right now?”
4:27.114 – Police officer: “Not especially.”
4:28.192 – Woman 2: “Well go over there.”
4:31.198 – Police officer: “Oh I feel really scared.”
4:36.500 – Police officer hums.
4:51.452 – Police officer to Rall: “Alrighty, sir, you’ve been cited for 21456(B) of the vehicle code.”
4:58.224 – Police officer: “Here, I’ll take that until we’re done, there ya go.”
5:00.930 – Police officer: “You did a violation, so…”
5:04.436 – Police officer: “I need you to go ahead and sign at the X, you’re not admitting guilt …”
5:08.094 – Police officer: “It has the before the …you…”
5:11.948 – Rall: “’Okay, can you tell me how much it is?”
5:15.317 – Police officer: “Excuse me?”
5:16.000 – Rall: “Can you tell me how much it is, or…?”
5:17.352 – Police officer: “No, we don’t know how much it is. There, I’ll show you a number on the back of the ticket. You can call and find all that information out as well as where you can go if you want to fight the ticket, or any other options.”
5:36.719 – Police officer: “Here’s your license back…”
5:42.644 – CLICK. SCUFFLING sounds.
5:46.048 – Police officer: “…copy of your citation, like I said, there’s a lot of information on the back, you might wanna read it…”
5:50.766 – Rall: “Do what? Okay.”
5:53.400 – Police officer: “Thank you sir… what?”
5:58.158 – Rall: [according to Rall’s later statement, asks whether the cop knows any good places to eat nearby]
6:00.428 – Police officer: “You know what? This is my first month here, so I don’t know any of the local eateries, unfortunately… I don’t hang out down there. Alright, have a good day.”
6:16.276 – Police officer: “Contact complete.”

THE TRANSCRIPT of the enhanced tape doesn’t record the presence of the second motorcycle cop that Rall mentioned; perhaps this cop’s comments have been removed, indicating that the tape may have been tampered with, as Rall asserts, backed (as he says) by audio experts he consulted after the tape had been enhanced (not the same experts as those who enhanced the tape).  
   
Quite apart from the iffiness of this circumstance, what about the taping itself? Is it against the law to record someone without his/her permission? And what about the LAPD (or someone) giving the tape to the Times? Given the present state of privacy laws in this country, is that illegal? The answer to both questions: probably not.
   
Beschizza continues his account (his words in italics):
   
Calling the initial audiotape a “mucky, noisy mess,” he notes that Rall hired audio engineers at Post Haste Digital to improve the quality of the audio recording and published the results on SoundCloud.
   
Greg Palast, famous investigative reporter and manager of a nonprofit foundation that backs Rall's work, writes that he was also about to fire him as well [for lying or misrepresenting the facts], but asked for the [enhanced] tape first to hear it for himself.
   
"To my surprise–—and Rall’s glee— the crowd that he had allegedly fantasized about suddenly came alive— with three women shouting, 'Why’d you handcuff him?' and 'Take off his handcuffs!,'" Palast wrote, adding:
   
"As an investigative reporter, I was astonished that the LA Times did not even bother to do an independent analysis of the tape."
   
In an interview with Matt Stromberg, Rall says he has "absolutely no idea what Nick Goldberg was thinking" firing him.
   
“I asked, ‘Did you listen to the tape? You can’t hear shit on that tape? It’s a fucking joke!’ Anyone who listens to it can hear the original version supplied by the LAPD — that appears to have been tampered with — has about 20 seconds of conversation, really almost all the cop. I’m not even sure that in the original version you could authenticate that I was even there, my voice is so hard to pick up. They said, ‘This tape doesn’t seem to support your point of view.’ I was like, ‘It doesn’t support any point of view! There’s nothing there!’ So, I don’t know why they did what they did. All I know is they took the cop’s word hook, line, and sinker and did not believe me.”
   
With background noise removed and voices sharpened, the [enhanced] tape—though still indistinct—appears to show bystanders mocking the officer for cuffing a jaywalker. Other sounds consistent with Rall's version of events can also be heard, such as a loud zipping noise that could be plastic handcuffs being applied.

   
Other evidence also supports Rall. The motorcycle cop (subsequently identified as Will Durr) disputed Rall’s story by telling Pringle (who interviewed him for the ombudsman investigation) that he never handcuffed people for jaywalking, but the Los Angeles Times itself had published a report on May 10 (the day before Rall’s column) describing the motorcycle copy having handcuffed someone during a traffic stop, making Durr’s assertion appear questionable. The Times chose to disregard this debatable inconsistency on the LAPD side of the question in favor of crucifying Rall for his.

I should note here that Durr is, at present, a 21-year veteran in the LAPD and, as we’ll see anon, a highly decorated officer.
   
Back to The Observer, where Ken Kurson, quoted by Beschizza, writes (in italics) that the Times set out to destroy Rall's reputation and that the enhanced audio is "very persuasive."
   
"Publications that fire employees for the slightest perceived infraction are turning journalists into cowering stenographers," Kurson wrote, "which is no better for journalism than if they were liars … I can’t help but wonder if this two-month-old column about a 14-year-old jaywalking ticket isn’t more about getting rid of a guy who can be a pain in the ass than about inviolable journalistic standards."

ON FRIDAY, July 24, Goldberg e-mailed Rall, saying that the Times would mull over the matter through the weekend. Meanwhile, Rall sent in his weekly cartoon and commentary blog. But the editorial page for Monday was formatted without Rall’s contributions. Rall was not informed. On Monday, Rall’s work did not appear in the Times. Later that day, Goldberg phoned Rall to tell him that he’s been “fired” due to discrepancies between his story and what can be heard in the 20 seconds of the tape that are audible. The next day, Tuesday, Goldberg ran his “Note to Readers,” explaining that Rall has been “fired” because of “serious questions about the accuracy of Rall’s blog post” on May 11.
   
Said Beschizza: “The LA Police Union was ready with a gloating press release praising the Times' decision”—:
   
“So many within the LAPD were pleasantly surprised at the recent firing of the Los Angeles Times opinion cartoonist Ted Rall, which we believe was justified based on evidence proving that he lied about his encounter with LAPD officers. We especially appreciate the Times’ reaction, as the media in general often seem eager to publish material portraying the law enforcement in a negative light.”
   
The press release, posted the day after Goldberg’s announcement, continues with what one observer, Kevin Uhrich at the Pasadena Weekly, deems a “not-so-subtle warning to other journalists who might be thinking of writing critical things about the cops”: “This serves as an example of how an accusation and subsequent negative story about the behavior of police officers may well be inaccurate and feed a negative narrative about law enforcement. We hope other news publications will take note of the Times’ willingness to hear and respond to the other side of the story and look at the facts. We believe this process more often than not will vindicate law enforcement officers. ... We commend the Los Angeles Times for getting this story right and for doing the right thing when presented with the facts.”
   
Beschizza’s reaction: “Rall's caustic writing and artwork often depict police hypocrisy and brutality, so it's easy to see why the police force would want him off the payroll of one of America's highest-circulation city newspapers.”

Rall3

The police union statement is no longer online; it has been removed. Rall speculates that the unfavorable coverage by The Guardian (in England!) on August 15 prompted the union to take down the statement.

RALL PROTESTED HIS “FIRING” to Goldberg by phone. Also on July 29, he described to a cartooning colleague what happened ten years ago:
   
“Since I was there, let me tell you what happened. I handed over my driver's license. He grabs me, shoves me to the wall, pulls my hands behind my back, and cuffs me. He stands a short distance away to write the ticket. During this time, people gather around, some berating the officer. When he's done, he walks behind me, uncuffs me and hands me the citation. He says that bit about here's your license back, and throws it on the ground.
   
“There was no scuffling because I never resisted,” Rall continued, “—as I said originally. There was no need for the cop to exert himself because I didn't struggle. I didn't curse. As for the whistling— doesn't that strike you as a tell? What cop does that? He's being a jerk. You can sort of hear people, particularly a woman, giving the cop a hard time, but that will require a better tape to be sure.”
   
The cop was whistling, Rall later speculated, in order to mask in the recording the comments people in the gathering crowd were making about his handcuffing a jaywalker. The cop, after all, knew he was being recorded: he was doing the recording. And so he was careful to say only things that the audiotape would show him being a polite and considerate police officer.
   
On Monday, August 3, having secured the enhanced version of the audiotape, Rall wrote Goldberg by e-mail (in italics):



Dear Nick,


On Tuesday of last week, you published "A Note to Readers" indicating that the Times had serious doubt about the veracity of my May 11, 2015 blog post and, as a result, would no longer be publishing my work. Those doubts, you wrote and told me on the phone, were based upon an audiotape of my 2001 jaywalking arrest given to you by someone at the LAPD.
   
As I informed you Thursday, new information has since come to light confirming my account. As I have maintained all along, I told the truth. Will Durr, the LAPD officer who ticketed me in 2001, lied when he told Internal Affairs that he did not handcuff me, that there was no angry crowd, etc.
   
I asked an L.A.-based company, Post Haste Digital, to analyze the LAPD-supplied audiotape. The enhanced version of the audiotape, which you can listen to here: http://anewdomain.net/2015/08/02/ted-rall-lapd-la-times-second-enhanced-tape-reveals-all/

—which proves beyond a reasonable doubt that your "doubts" were, as I told you repeatedly, completely unfounded and utterly without merit.
   
You did not allow me to defend myself to the members of the editorial board, or to allow them to ask me questions. You treated me as though I was guilty until proven innocent, as though the burden of proof was upon me to prove that my story was true, rather than for the police to prove that my version was not. Your logic and reasoning were bizarre and incomprehensible, as when you questioned why I did not angrily protest the arrest while I was in cuffs — although I clearly stated that I had been polite and compliant in my blog and in my complaint to Internal Affairs.
   
You believed the LAPD narrative based on a tape that appeared to be mostly noise.
   
You do not seem to have investigated the provenance of the tape, though it was provided by the LAPD, which has a long history of institutional violence, corruption and law-breaking. Despite the LAPD's poor reputation for truth-telling, you did not take the basic step of having it independently analyzed for authenticity, or to see if additional data could be found on it. It fell to me, after your editorial smear, to do what you should have done yourself, with your far greater resources than I, a freelance cartoonist earning $200 per cartoon plus $100 per blog.
   
As a result of your poor judgement, I have been defamed in the pages of a major American newspaper and on hundreds of websites on the Internet. You have deprived me and my family of an important source of income and a prominent position in the world of journalism. You have tarnished my reputation in a way that I will never be able to fully repair.
   
What you have done to me is shameful. The chilling effect you have had on American journalism, sending the message that a major newspaper will fire a journalist at the request of the police, without solid proof, and to attempt to destroy his reputation, is incalculable.
   
In light of this new information, Nick, I hereby request that you retain, and not destroy or modify, all communications, records and information currently in your possession and control pertaining to me and my work, and that you direct all employees of the Los Angeles Times to do the same.
   
In light of the new information on the audiotape, I further request that you issue a full retraction of greater or equal prominence, of your July 28 "Note to Readers." I request that you tag the original Note to indicate that it is incorrect.
   
In light of the new information, I request that you issue a formal apology in the pages of the Times, including your description of how you came into possession of the tape, who gave it to you or the Times, explain why you didn't bother to check the tape, and that you ask an ombudsman or independent journalistic investigator to look into this fiasco.
   
In light of the new information, I request that you restore my cartoons and blog to the pages of the Los Angeles Times.
   
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you.

RALL HEARD NOTHING IN RESPONSE from Goldberg. And no retractions, apologies or reinstatements materialized. An ombudsman, however, did look into the matter; and we’ll look at that briefly in a trice.
   
In the meantime, in the interest of as much accuracy as I can muster at this remove in time and place, I must note that Rall might have stated in his complaint to LAPD’s Internal Affairs that he had been “polite and compliant” during his encounter, but he made no such statement in his blog of May 11. In the heat of the disputation following his “firing,” his memory may have short-circuited. After all, we know that Rall is excitable when aroused and that, in the manner of cartoonists everywhere, he exaggerates.
   
In perhaps the same manner, after he had listened to the enhanced audiotape and heard women in the crowd refer to his being handcuffed, Rall announced that he had been “100 % vindicated.” But even such a poor mathematician as I can tell it's closer to only 50%. The tape proves he was handcuffed. It does not prove his ID was thrown in the gutter—or that he was roughed up (just being thrown up against a wall in order to be handcuffed from behind may qualify as being “roughed up”; but the tape doesn’t establish that).
   
Rall is clearly his own worst enemy. His intemperate letter to Goldberg brims with hostile scorn for the recipient: repeatedly, he insults Goldberg’s judgment and his reasoning ability. How, after the vehemence of this outburst, Rall expects to be reinstated, I dunno.
   
Still, it’s clear to me that Rall has the moral high ground. Not, maybe, all the facts, but enough to establish credibility and with that, a claim to righteous frustration and anger.
   
Justifying his “firing” of Rall in his “Note to Readers,” Goldberg strenuously questions Rall’s accuracy in reporting in his blog an incident that took place fourteen years ago. In impugning Rall’s journalistic integrity, Goldberg reveals his own shortcomings in journalistic practice, just as Rall asserts.
   
Goldberg accepts the Los Angeles Police Department’s audiotape of the 14-year-old incident without divulging its precise source or the circumstances of its materializing at the newspaper offices. Nor did he grant an adequate hearing to Rall, an award-winning cartoonist whose work has appeared in the Times for 6 years. The fact that the Police Department could come up with an audiotape of this trivial incident fourteen years after the fact might have alerted Goldberg to the likelihood that there is more going on here than simple fact-finding.
   
The principles of good journalistic practice suggest that when in receipt of such questionable material (an audiotape of a minor incident discovered in files fourteen years after being filed), a reporter should carefully examine the tape (looking, say, for evidence of tampering) and should question the reason that the LAPD (or whoever) took the trouble to dig it up after fourteen years. In short, Goldberg should wonder why the tape was sent. But he apparently didn’t. (And when Greg Palast, who has known Goldberg for years, asked him about this incident, Goldberg said “he was not authorized to go on record to defend his paper.” To which Palast responded—to readers of his report at gregpalast.com—“The smell of panic in the Times’ executive suite is getting stronger.”) Goldberg did not respond to The Comics Journal's request for comment.
   
Rall has suggested, with some justification (as we’ll soon see), that it was the police union, the Los Angeles Polices Protective League (LAPPL) that delivered the tape. But whether it was the LAPPL or the LAPD itself is immaterial: the source is the police.
   
What, then, could have motivated the LAPPL or LAPD to devote the time and energy to locating a 14-year-old tape? It would appear, on its face, that the police are not simply correcting the record but are pursuing a vendetta against Rall, a frequent critic of police practices. And in refusing to publish any more of Rall’s work, Goldberg has become complicit in the police’s presumed campaign to destroy a critic.
   
Moreover, given Rall’s tenure as a cartoonist/columnist that the Times has published for 6 years, Goldberg should have extended to him the professional courtesy of an opportunity to make his case to the Times editorial board before smearing his reputation in public—particularly because of the poor quality of the audiotape (to which several of Rall’s colleagues who’ve listened to it can attest). And while the enhanced version of the tape is scarcely definitive for either of the parties involved, it at least suggests as many inconsistencies in the LAPD side of the dispute as it does on Rall’s side.
   
Had Goldberg performed his due diligence as a journalist—an obligation due to any person involved in the news but certainly due to a freelancer whose work you have been publishing for years—the Times might not have been so quick to defame Rall in public. Or so we imagine, giving the paper the benefit of the doubt (which, as should be obvious by now, the Times didn’t extend to Rall).
   

THE AAEC, of which Rall was president in 2009, issued a statement calling for an independent investigation of the audiotape (in italics)—:
   
The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists board calls for an independent investigation of the Los Angeles Police Department’s tape of former AAEC president and member Ted Rall's jaywalking stop in 2001. An impartial review of the tape of this incident is badly needed in this case.
   
Determining the truth in this matter is important to Mr. Rall's personal and professional reputation, and to the rights of journalists to freely express themselves. Furthermore, the Los Angeles Times should have demanded a higher standard of proof in this matter, and it is clear that Mr. Rall is owed a full and complete analysis of the 14 year old tape used to make a judgment about his actions.
   
Should an independent investigation determine that Mr. Rall’s version of the events is accurate, we call upon the Los Angeles Times to publicly apologize, and make restitution. If it is also determined that the Los Angeles Police Department or a member of the police union manipulated the tape, as Mr. Rall alleges, they also owe Mr. Rall an apology and restitution.

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RALL SPECULATED at aNewDomain.net on August 19 that it was probably the police union that “complained to the Times and walked the 2001 police tape over as proof” that Rall’s version of events was wrong. The LAPPL may have had a copy of the tape because Will Durr would have had his union rep with him when the LAPD conducted some sort of hearing or inquiry about Rall’s complaint in 2001.
   
Rall then constructed a damning scenario, showing that the police union probably dictated that the Times can him because the LAPPL is, in effect, part owner of the paper. The chain of circumstances, Rall outlined, begins with the LAPPL’s pension fund:
   
“In 2009, the LAPPL (which then represented firefighters as well as cops) pension fund invested $30 million in Platinum Equity, a private Beverly Hills equity firm that owned the San Diego Union-Tribune. On May 21, 2009, the Los Angeles Times reported: ‘As LAPPL president Paul M. Weber views it, that makes the LAPPL part owner in the flagging Tribune and LAPPL officials are none too happy with the paper’s consistent position that San Diego lawmakers should cut back on salaries and benefits for public employees in order to help close gaping budget deficits.’”
   
On March 26 that year, Weber had made his belief in such matters pretty clear, Rall noted, quoting from a letter Weber had written to Platinum CEO Tom Gores: “Since the very public employees they continually criticize are now their owners, we strongly believe that those who currently run the editorial pages should be replaced.”
   
At the Pasadena Weekly, Kevin Uhrich comments on the same attitude, adding a little bit more information about Weber: “Virtually the first thing Weber wanted as a new shareholder was to have the editorial writers who criticized public employees and their pensions fired. The Union-Tribune’s editorial page ‘is one of the most virulently anti-public safety employee pages of any newspapers in California, if not the country,’ wrote Weber, whose union represents 9,900 Los Angeles police officers. The paper, he wrote, ‘was certainly free to express its hatred of public employees when it was under different ownership. However, since the very public employees they continually criticize are now their owners, we strongly believe that those who currently run the editorial pages should be replaced.’”
   
Rall then quotes more from the Times May 21 article: “Weber, in an interview, emphasized that the LAPPL is not demanding changes in the paper’s news coverage of the issue or in its staff of reporters. ‘It’s just these people on the opinion side. There is not even an attempt to be even-handed. They’re one step away from saying, “these public employees are parasites...”’”
   
Then Rall delivers his clincher:
   
“Nowadays the $18.4 billion LAPPL pension fund is managed by Oaktree Capital. Oatree is the single largest stockholder of Tribune Publishing, parent company of the Los Angeles Times.”
   
He concludes: “Does the LAPPL still believe its pension fund ‘ownership’ of newspapers entitles it to change out ‘these people on the opinion side’?”
   
One of whom, we needn’t doubt, is Rall, who adds: “I’m not surprised the cops don’t like me.”
   
At the Pasadena Weekly, which once published a Rall cartoon, Left Coast, focusing on Pasadena, Uhrich would not be surprised, he wrote on August 20, if police officials told the Los Angeles Times to fire Rall. Said he: “That same request was made of me many times by Pasadena police and other city officials. If the cops in LA despised Rall half as much as did Pasadena’s Blue Crew, it is certainly believable that they would set him up for some sort of fall, just as it would probably be just a matter of time before some ‘lucky’ LAPD officer would run into him on the street.”

AT THE LOS ANGELES TIMES WEBSITE, JUST THE DAY BEFORE Uhrich’s article in the PW, a report on Rall’s case by the Times ombudsman, Deirdre Edgar, declared: “Times Affirms Decision That Ted Rall’s Blog Post Did Not Meet Its Standards.” No surprise there. Edgar rehearses the circumstances of Rall’s being “fired” (introducing little new information), and then makes her report.
   
At the DailyCartoonist.com, Alan Gardner reports that the Times piece “is lengthy and reads like a ‘he said, she said’ piece.” He then summarizes the “important points” (to which summary, below in italics, I’ve added comments of my own, unitalicized in brackets):
    ■ The LA Times hired two independent “forensic audio experts,” who both have experience testifying in court cases regarding audio, to analyze the audio recordings. They allegedly refute Ted’s allegations that the audio was spliced or edited by the LAPD and both experts state they can hear no indication that anyone mentioned the word “handcuffs” —something that Ted’s independent audio experts, who produced enhanced audio recordings, say is audible. [And several other listeners, some of whom I’ve quoted herein, claim to have heard what appears in the transcript I’ve posted above—several mentions of “handcuffs.”]
    ■ [Rall has written repeatedly that the LAPD ignored his original complaint. Department records show that investigators looked into his allegations, questioned the officer who ticketed Rall, listened to the recording and tried repeatedly to reach Rall. Then-Police Chief Bernard C. Parks sent Rall a letter informing him that an investigation had determined his allegations were unfounded.] The LA Times released evidence (audio recordings of an officer leaving voice mail) that the LAPD did on several occasions attempt to contact Ted to get his side of the complaint that he filed shortly after the 2001 citation as well as the letter that was sent to him stating they had closed the investigation. Ted told the Times that the LAPD never contacted him. [More about this below.]
    ■ The LA Times researched several other accounts where Ted has written about this 2001 citation. The accounts are consistent with an accusation of being handcuffed and roughed up. Only the account that he wrote for the LA Times includes mention of a second officer showing up or the angry crowd. Earlier accounts specify that Ted’s wallet was thrown in the gutter, his Times piece he states it was his drivers license. [And in these other accounts there are other instances of minor inconsistencies (in one, he identifies Durr as African American but not in any others), all of which I attribute to Rall’s understandable—to me—anger and frustration over the incident. Given the injustice that Rall perceives that he's been a victim of (and I agree), I can understand his irritation —and I can understand that this mental state could result in his embellishing accounts of the incident with details that he either subsequently forgot or that merely added drama to his rehearsing the event all over again. Wrong, doubtless. But the details that Edgar points to as incriminating inconsistencies do not change in any substantial way the essential nature of the encounter.]
    ■ The LA Times interviewed the officer who cited Rall for jaywalking, who says he remembers the citation because the “encounter was free of rancor and he was surprised when Rall filed a complaint.” The LAPD paints the officer as ‘a non-problem officer,’ ‘a nice guy’ and ‘a hard worker.’
    [In fact, as Uhrich points out at some length, officer Will Durr “is a highly decorated police veteran, serving 10 years in the Army before joining the LAPD in in 1994. According to the LAPD website, Durr, who is African American, was nominated for the American Legion-24th District Officer of the Year in 2006. ‘Durr was unanimously selected for this award not for one single event, but for his never-ending dedication to his profession and the public’s safety. He has been singled out and recognized on numerous occasions for his outstanding work ethic, dedication to duty, quick response, and placing himself in harm’s way in the pursuit of public safety,’ according to the site. ‘During the past year, Officer Durr has received no less than six commendations commenting on such areas as dedication to duty, outstanding work ethics, attention to duty, and embracing the mission of the Los Angeles Police Department and WTD (West Traffic Division).’”
   
Gardner continues: As you can imagine, Ted isn’t pleased with the Times’s response and has attacked it on his blog [Rall.com]. He posts 14 counter-points which are harder to summarize because they’re scattered – most of them are tit-for-tat responses to various pieces of the Times article. Regarding the points I summarized above, here are Ted’s responses:
    ■ Ted questions the credentials of the two audio forensic experts. Ed Primeau is a “a media guy who does audio forensics on the side” and Catalin Grigoras “has some impressive credentials, but having a PhD doesn’t make you correct.” The Times has not tried to enhance the audio files like Ted has. [But the Times’ experts apparently listened to an enhancement provided by the LAPD as well as the original, unenhanced version. In any case, as I mentioned before, several other listeners have reported hearing references to handcuffs. This, presumably, is the “he said, she said” part.]
    ■ Ted maintains that he never received a message from the LAPD [about his complaint] but when he contacted them, “they told me nothing.” [The LAPD supplied recordings of telephone calls it claims it made to Rall—fourteen years ago!— one of which included a recorded voice answer, a jokey nonsense utterance, to which a friend of Rall, J.P. Trostle, listened. Trostle, who worked with Rall on some of the latter’s books, spoke with Rall often on the phone. Said Trostle in a comment section at DailyCartoonist.com: “As someone who has frequently worked with Ted Rall in the past, and was calling him on a regular basis during this time period, I can assure you that that is NOT Ted Rall’s voice on the answering machine, or the greeting message he was using at time — which means the LAPD was calling the wrong number. So, while the police can maintain that they made ‘every effort’ to reach Rall, he never received any of the alleged six phone calls they made. I’m not even going to bother to speculate how or why this happened, just that it doesn’t clear the police of responsibility for following up. (To wit, if I sent a check off in the mail for a parking ticket and got the address wrong, I seriously doubt they would let that late fee penalty slide. It goes both ways.)” Rall also says “the guy doesn’t even sound like me”; see below.]
    ■ Ted admits earlier accounts mentioned his wallet being tossed in the gutter instead of his driver’s license, but he maintains he had that detail correct in the LA Times piece.
    ■ Officer Will Durr, who issued the citation, maintains that he’s never handcuffed anyone while issuing a jaywalking citation. Ted points out that he has handcuffed someone during a ticketing for illegal street racing [which I’ve mentioned above—admittedly, far above; the distinction here, in Durr’s mind, is presumably between ticketing for illegal street racing and ticketing for jaywalking, the latter being the sort of ticketing he’s never done before].
   
In his critique of the ombudsman’s conduct of the review of the case (at Rall.com), Rall says to Ms. Edgar: “How the heck did you graduate from ombudsman school? You didn’t even call me for comment. I know that’s the Times’ way, but as an ombudsman, you’re supposed to sort of pretend to be kind of independent.”
   
Rall also points out that in the ombudsman’s report “neither of the Times’ experts [examining the tape] disputes the presence of other people at the scene—only that they can’t hear the word ‘handcuffs.’”
       

IN HIS POST-OMBUDSMAN ARTICLE, Kevin Uhrich reviews other aspects of the report and a seemingly inexplicable aspect of Rall’s behavior (in italics):
   
Asked to explain his apparently friendly exchange with Durr after the citation was issued, in which he asked the officer to recommend a restaurant in the area, Rall said he had been “traumatized” by the incident and likened his behavior to that of “rape victims calling their rapist back, and — you know, like, days later — and wanting to get back together.
   
“It’s called normalizing behavior when you are under stress,” Rall added elsewhere in explaining his attempts to de-escalate a tense situation. “It’s amazing how many people don’t believe that.” ...

   
In his response to Edgar’s report (posted at aNewDomain.net), Rall said the Times piece “reads like lawyers wrote it,” containing a “a blizzard of misdirection, trivialities and distractions meant to convince us, somehow, that: (a) there’s nothing weird about the police still having a secret audiotape of a jaywalking arrest from 14 years ago; (b) it’s totally normal for the police to walk said tape over to a newspaper in an attempt to get a cartoonist known for not liking cops fired; (c) said newspaper has no reason to question the veracity or motivation of the cops against said cop-disliking cartoonist; and (d) said newspaper shouldn’t seek an independent review of the inaudible LAPD tape and faulty evidence the Times used against me, especially after the enhanced version aNewDomain commissioned backed up my story so well.”
   
Rall continued, presumably addressing his remark to Edgar: “It reads like you are readying an argument to have the enhanced tape I’ve published prevented from being heard by a jury, in the favor of your static-filled one. And you say those audio engineers enhanced the tape? I posted mine here for all to hear. You posted a lot of audio, including an answering machine where a policeman leaves a message for a guy who doesn’t even sound like me, saying it is me. But you don’t post your enhanced audio. As before, this latest communiqué raises more questions than it answers.”
   
Elsewhere in his article, Uhrich reports that Rall says “he didn’t report being handcuffed and roughed up [in his complaint] because he believed Durr probably had the right to cuff him, as a number of friends had theorized immediately after the incident, and it probably wasn’t that big of a deal. He also didn’t want to make too many waves, given he was working as a program host at KFI AM radio in those days.”
   
Uhrich continues (in italics), quoting Rall: “He didn’t abuse me. He didn’t hurt me, certainly. If he had hurt me, I would have put it in the complaint,” Rall said of Durr.
   
“I never thought he didn’t have the right to cuff me. I said in my blog that he cuffed me and people read into that an implication that he shouldn’t have. I was trying to make more of a broader point—that it was kind of ridiculous that he cuffed me for jaywalkng. But the complaint was about wrongdoing, and what really incensed me was that he gave me a ticket for an offense I did not commit. And it was a serious offense. I was told it was a misdemeanor. For someone to write you up falsely for something that would give you a criminal record for the rest of your life is just appalling. And that’s what really motivated me.
   
“I was also told that if I laid it on too thick, putting in all the stuff about being pushed around, it would just cause complications,” he said.

   
In the ombudsman report, Rall explains to Pringle why he didn’t make a fuss at the time of his arrest or make mention of being roughed up in his letter of complaint: “I did not want that officer, I did not want the LAPD in general, to feel that I was declaring war against them.”
   
The report continues: “Rall was asked why he didn’t complain to Durr during the encounter about being mistreated. Rall said he would never complain to a policeman in such circumstances for fear that the officer might arrest him, ‘disappear’ him in a jail cell for several days without filing charges, or even kill him.”
   
Rall goes on to Uhrich: “I hope people see the big picture here. This isn’t about whether you like my comics or if you like my politics. That’s irrelevant. This is about a police state; the nation as a police state. In a democracy, cops can’t be allowed to hire and fire journalists.”
   
Rall says he would take a polygraph test to prove he’s not lying. But establishing his veracity is not necessary to validate the sinister truth of the big picture. The big picture is painted in full by Goldberg’s “Note to Readers,” an astonishing revelation of journalism so arrogant as to be irresponsible, and by Weber's apparent assumption that partial ownership of a newspaper brings along with it the right to dictate editorial page staffing decisions.

Despite what the Times would have us think about how sacred preserving its journalistic integrity is, to the even mildly interested observer in possession of this array of facts, it looks like the Times sold out its integrity to please the cops. “Police state” may be a little too strong a term for this situation, but that’s Rall; and he’s not far off, it seems like.
   
The sinister truth is that it appears that Rall was not “fired” so much for misstating some facts as he was for expressing an opinion about the police. Reprehensible (even unnecessary) though it is for a newspaper to publicly fire and defame a contributor, the issue has wider ramifications. If Rall has been needlessly smeared, he’s still merely a contributing cartoonist. If the Los Angeles Times will forsake ordinary ethics and journalistic good practice in his case to please a stockholder, what might the paper do in the case of a larger public issue—say, one more directly connected to the balance sheet and regular revenues?
   
And the Times is not alone in this behavior in the newspaper business. The sainthood of American journalism has always been tarnished by commercialism and political power, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort to purge itself of those unjournalistic influences in the higher interest of reporting the facts so readers can be informed citizens. Only by focusing on good journalism can newspapers redeem themselves from their occasional lapses and justify the license that the First Amendment grants them.

Feetnoot. Rall’s latest book, a graphic biography entitled Snowden, covers the notorious whistle-blower’s leaking NASA data to the press and his subsequent escape to Russia, supplying new details. At Entertainment Weekly’s website, ew.com, the magazine presented some of these revelations “exclusively” in advance of the book’s August 25 release date, accompanied by commentary from Rall.

 

THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (9/30/15 – It Takes All Kinds)

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"Let's go in."

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PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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Black Rat: This is looking like the week when a lot of SPX show debuts mosey on over to comic book stores, and while I felt this year's show was more minicomics-focused than usual, there were a few prominent bookshelf releases. This 160-page Koyama Press collection of short works by Cole Closser was maybe the most-discussed such book I observed from the floor; the Center for Cartoon Studies grad previously released Little Tommy Lost through Koyama in 2013, and here continues to work through a variety of styles reminiscent of early 20th century animation and newspaper comics, many set to surreal and sinister ends. Preview; $15.00.

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Invisible Ink: My Mother's Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist!!: Also at the show was this all-new 208-page autobiographical work from offbeat comics fixture Bill Griffith, drawn entirely on weekends to accommodate his Zippy schedule. Darting in and out of present-tense experiences, past-tense suppositions and various pertinent works of fiction by the parties involved, Griffith tells of his 'shadow father' - a cartoonist of some now-obscure renown with whom his mother carried on a longtime clandestine relationship, nourishing the appreciation for art she could not adequately explore at home. The publisher is Fantagraphics, which also released 2011's Bill Griffith: Lost and Found - Comics 1969-2003, a rewarding collection of the artist's comic book pieces which should stoke interest in this yet-more longform project. Preview; $29.99.

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PLUS!

Palefire: Secret Acres had a very busy table at SPX, and among their offerings was this 68-page collaboration between MK Reed & Farel Dalrymple - specifically, it's drawn by Dalrymple, and based on or expanded from an earlier solo minicomic by Reed. The story is one of teenage emotions, concerning a girl's attraction to a boy of some notoriety. Lots of cars and trees and small town sights; $11.95.

Lose #7 (&) Dressing: Two from busy Michael DeForge, SPX debuts again from Koyama Press. As much as the scattered nature of comics access online and in print renders the concept tenuous, Lose still approximates to DeForge's 'main' series, insofar as I am an aging comics reader whose preconceptions are best flattered by an solo comic book anthology series in which an artist explores a variety of stories under a common banner. This one is 52 pages, notably "exploring the eccentricities of a woman who befriends her dad's doppelgänger, and the realities of a flightless bird/boy hybrid." I was on a podcast the other day where I argued that the heart of DeForge's body of work is in the struggle of his characters/creatures to evolve -- physically, mentally, mystically, metaphorically -- into something better positioned to survive the consumptive and uncaring character of nature. Dressing is a 120-page hardcover, trim at 5.5" x 9", collecting a variety of short pieces and stray minicomics by which this reduction can be tested and likely found wanting; $10.00 (Lose), $19.95 (Dressing).

From Under Mountains #1: But enough! Let us divorce ourselves from the convention circuit (for at least one entry) with the familiar sight of an Image comic book debut. This one's a companion series to 8House, the shared-universe venue for fantasy stories by the likes of Brandon Graham, Emma Ríos, and, most pertinently, Marian Churchland, co-writer here with Claire Gibson for artist Sloane Leong, who's produced some gruesome self-released horror comics in the past. Obviously *I* hope she brings some of that sensibility here! Preview; $3.99.

Schmuck (&) Smoke: These are works from Hang Dai editions, distributed through Diamond via Alternative Comics. Schmuck was backed by a Kickstarter campaign; written by the late Seth Kushner, the book employs numerous artists to illustrate coming-of-age comics in the vein of American Splendor and Real Stuff. Contributors include Nick Bertozzi, Noah Van Sciver, Gregory Benton, Josh Neufeld, Dean Haspiel and others. Smoke is a Gregory Benton solo work, following AdHouse's 2013 release of his B+F. It's a wordless 80-page book, depicting travels from an industrial farm to a mystic world. $19.95 (Schmuck), $14.99 (Smoke).

Castro: Your Eurocomics choice for the week, a 2010 biography from German artist Reinhard Kleist, with some textual contributions from Castro scholar Volker Skierka. Apparently, this new English edition -- published by Arsenal Pulp Press, and supplanting a 2011 edition from SelfMadeHero, which released Kleist's The Boxer last year -- will contain a bit of new content concerning recent developments in Cuban/U.S. relations. Preview; $22.95.

Showa 1953-1989: A History of Japan Vol. 4 (of 4): Being the closeout installment of Shigeru Mizuki's 1988-89 personal account of struggle, pain and recovery in the 20th century, blowing across nearly half a century of politics and culture in 552 pages, and ending on a top-of-the-lungs admonition against the crimes of militarism. It also covers Mizuki's then-entire career as a manga artist, including bleakly funny vignettes with a spectral Yoshiharu Tsuge and sensitive boy communist Ryōichi Ikegami, both Mizuki studio assistants. With a special gallery of color images from the original Japanese printings, and a new foreword by Frederik L. Schodt; $24.95.

Naruto Vol. 72: Speaking of an era's passage! This is technically the final volume of Naruto, the Masashi Kishimoto-created ninja drama which once defined shōnen manga in North America, and still commands an enormous, now multi-generational following via its anime incarnation in particular. I say 'technically' because a new and profitable anime movie involving children of the former main characters opened last month in Japan, and with it came a Kishimoto-fronted comics miniseries, Naruto: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring, which VIZ will be releasing as a print book in January. You can offer your thanks/regrets to the creator in person the weekend after next when he appears as a spotlight guest at the New York Comic Con; $9.99.

All the Wrong Questions Vol. 4 (of 4): Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights? (&) The Sandman: Overture #6 (of 6): Also coming to a close, if probably not anticipating theatrical anime, are two serials involving famous writers of prose. All the Wrong Questions is a YA collaboration between writer Lemony Snicket and artist Seth, a work of illustrated prose set in the world of Snicket's popular novels, A Series of Unfortunate Events. Little, Brown publishes the 304-page hardcover. The Sandman, of course, is the signature comic of Neil Gaiman (who, of course, was a successful comics writer before he was a famous writer of prose), and Overture teams him with J.H. Williams III, Dave Stewart & Todd Klein -- as deluxe a crew of fantasy professionals as Vertigo can presently manage -- for a maximum-pomp cosmic adventure which I personally feel is Gaiman's best comic in at least a decade, though appetites will vary; $16.00 (Questions), $3.99 (Overture).

Vinland Saga Vol. 6: But not all endings are happy, friends. It wasn't long ago that Kodansha suspended the English translation for this ongoing Makoto Yukimura viking adventure drama, with suspicions mounting over its sales performance. It's back now though, once again combining two Japanese volumes into a mighty 400-page hardcover, with vol. 7 already set for December. That's good; Yukimura is a disarming straight-shot storyteller, previously of the SF series Planetes, whose handsome genre works deserve consideration. Given that vol. 16 of the Japanese releases just dropped a few months ago -- and that serial chapters run in a monthly magazine -- a pronounced wait for vol. 8 could be in the cards for less alarming reasons; $22.99.

Secret Coders Vol. 1: How about another beginning? This is a new First Second series from Gene Luen Yang (whose debut storyline as writer on Superman concludes this week), working with artist Mike Holmes on a series about kids plowing through the hidden mysteries of their school, with "logic puzzles and basic programming instruction" kneaded into the action. Preview; $9.99.

MAD's Original Idiots: The Complete Collection (&) King of the Comics: 100 Years of King Features: And now some classics in big, heavy packages. MAD's Original Idiots is a slipcased collection of three books -- 528 pages in total -- each devoted to collecting the works of individual artists from the 1952-55 pre-magazine EC issues of the humor forum: Will Elder; Jack Davis; and Wally Wood. The books will also be available separately, if Will Elder ruined your family or something. King of the Comics takes a more pointillist approach... or, so I presume. I'm still not entirely sure what's *in* this 308-page, 9.25" x 12" IDW hardcover, save for "600 fantastic images" taken from the history of the King Features Syndicate, which hopefully means a big suite of whole strips; it'd be particularly good to see seminal or premature examples of strips that have been around forever. Edited by Dean Mullaney, with additional participation by Bruce Canwell, Jared Gardner, Ron Goulart, Paul Tumey and Brian Walker; $45.00 (Idiots), $49.99 (King).

Cartoons for Victory (&) Gag on This: Cartoons By Charles Rodrigues: Finally - well, I'd tried to run from SPX, but you can't get far when the show's executive director, Warren Bernard, has his own book out this week. Cartoons for Victory is a 240-page Fantagraphics hardcover, in which editor Bernard gathers rare cartoons from the likes of Harvey Kurtzman, Charles Addams, Will Eisner and Harold Gray, in which marketable characters and patriotic exhortations urge a nation through World War II. Foreword by Bob Dole, whom I believe was the pseudonymous artist behind Wendy Whitebread, Undercover Slut. Speaking of dirty jokes, Gag on This collects provocations of a different kind - 432 pages' worth of one-panel gags from National Lampoon contributor Rodrigues, previously the subject of Fantagraphics' 2013 collection Ray and Joe: The Story of a Man and His Dead Friend, and a man with a bad reputation to posthumously uphold; $34.99 (each).

 

Dealing with Hair

Today Joe brings us the week in and the week out.

Elsewhere:

Goodbye to Bergen Street Comics. 

Local news dept: This cracked me up.

Finally, here I am this past summer talking Hairy Who with most of the HW themselves...

 

Recent Reading

I am long overdue for writing of any kind, really, for this here site. So here goes… a journey through the piles of books and mini comics and sites that have accumulated for a while now. In no real order, here goes.

Lagon

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I was one of the lucky 400 who got this limited edition risograph comics anthology. I was excited. It is ironic then, that it would appear at same time as Mould Map 4, which makes Lagon irrelevant. For all its bluster (from the intro: “In the depths of the ocean, under the blue Lagon, an island was waiting to rise to the surface.” Guess what’s on the island guys? Comics!) and preciousness the book is basically a rehash of Mould Map #3 and various issues of Kramer’s Ergot, right down to the obligatory historical piece (Fletcher Hanks, guys!). What’s odd about this lavish production is that it’s filled with imitators of other people in the actual book. CF, Negron, Yokoyama — their influences dominate to an almost hysterical degree. Like, what the fuck? Or as Jeff the Drunk would say, Chelllllllo?! I guess what I’m looking for now in a comic (since you asked) is strangeness or authenticity. Give me one or the other or both (Koch, Benjamin, Davidson, Marra, Chandler below all have it in spades). In any case, Lagon is not strange or even unusual. It feels like a luxury good and thus like the end of something. It’s co-sponsored by by Agnes B., whose other offenses include Harmony Korine’s career. I don’t want art that has been digested already. Obviously I’m not being fair to it. Everyone worked hard, etc. But if you’re gonna do it, don’t fuck around with bullshit. On the other hand, man, this one contributor, Alexis Beauclair, is really excellent. He or she has taken the lessons of Yokoyama and Schrauwen and made a lot of fascinating comics in which you kind of activate them by touch. It’s hard to explain. Check it out. Better than you think.

Heather Benjamin: Romantic Story

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Heather Benjamin had a show up for the weekend and released a new book, too. Both mark a departure for her. For the last few years she’s been powerfully drawing sex and sexuality. Her work is direct drawing. Now, after looking at the raw physical and experiential stuff of sex, we are looking with her into strange spaces that contain the conventions of sex (1950s romance images) before she or I were ever born, and yet a man-woman convention that only now is deteriorating. Benjamin's brick walls and windows into those scenarios seem to envelope and bombard the convention.  Are we also looking at what pop art has done? The spaces where these images are enacted are open and fairly deep, nodding at metaphysical spaces a la De Chirico, without ever becoming “fantastical”.

11875591_175327622802062_1133343929_nWhat she does that’s believable is transpose it into her world, which is so much about drawing. Familiar objects become new again through her lines. Like Dorothy Iannone and Carol Rama before her, possessed of a graceful, indelibly alive line. Yet with the precision of the tattoo or sign painter. The grotesqueries of it all can be exhausting, but it’s deeply felt.

tumblr_nolpx9CI9v1qzrqero1_500The relationship to comics is tangential — more about the company she keeps and certain distribution outlets than anything else. Also, drawing is somehow distrusted in the world of artists books, which until recently has been trapped in a conceptual art whirlpool of self-regard. Anyhow, she’s an important artist and like Ben Marra, someone who somehow seems to be channeling America right now. Important.

Aidan Koch: Glass Surfaces and Still Pools

Glass_coverAh, this one really got me. As we know, Aidan’s been releasing a steady stream of work these last few years. This book, along with her recent work in The Paris Review, really chrysalises her narrative approach. A woman finds herself in a place. Asks questions about it. Attempts to talk to it. She plays. And Aidan plays. Her lines have thickened here, and the compositions are less ethereal, more grounded and more bold, too. I do love the use of color blocks to advance narrative, and the sub-panels imply both deeper space and time. She treads a line… this work could be precious, but it’s not. I like what I feel when I read these comics. I want to feel these feelings. So in a way, reading these comics is an aspirational act — wanting to feel the flow.

Aidan-Koch-images-web

Jon Chandler: Another Blue World and John’s Worth

another-blue-worldI like Jon’s savage comics very much. They are unlikely. They are British like Ballard — the poetry and spaciousness around brutality. Human relations, the transitive property. Another Blue World nicely collects Jon’s very best work starring “Primitive Man”, “Rival Man”, “Animal”, et al. Each plays their respective roles in a series of interconnected vignettes.

chandler1 No panel borders here, just figures in space rendered in Jon’s scratchy hand. The new book, John’s Worth, is the first installment of a longer story about an alien spore of some kind. There’s some very nice business about carrying boxes and bosses — like a diversion into a Kinks song. Jon’s comics just have character is all. They have gravity.

Anya Davidson: Head Shrinka

HScover_400wDid I write about this already? Lord I love Anya’s work. Hers is the best frantic cartooning this side of Harvey Kurtzman and her writing is funny, daffy, touching. And it all often takes place in perfectly drawn SF or fantasy environments. It’s also gloriously external — like every character in an Anya comic is just running around trying to deal. This risograph masterpiece is about a young woman, accompanied by a pet robot, who decides to build herself a therapist. Hilarity ensues. Anya is the contemporary cartoonist who I most look forward to laughing with.

Julien Ceccaldi: Less Than Dust

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This contains one story with a loaded title: Silence Equals Death. This is up there with my favorite comic books of the last year or so. Using the languages of Yayoi manga and, uh, the Internet, Ceccaldi crafted a torrid melodrama with fully formed characters that enact a body-image drama of epic and brutal proportions. There is a deeper level of gender and sexuality-based concern here that is foregrounded by the non-traditional male/female roles and uncertain gender of certain characters. The cartooning is sure and confident. I was very, very affected by this work — it’s moving as the best melodramas are. Alert the Sirk fans. Also, Ceccaldi was the cover artist of the otherwise execrable Artforum comics issue. So, that's something.

Demons and Angels: The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson vol. 2

sclay2My respect for Wilson and for his biographer, Patrick Rosenkranz, is immense. Wilson was a great and important artist. A master of what he did. Rosenkranz, aside from Bob Levin, is literally our only serious chronicler of underground comics. Has been since before I was born.

That said, this book suffers from some confusion. It is filled with great art, much of it from Wilson’s finest venue, Zap. And Rosencranz’s text, in which he has assiduously (he’s stated that as an intention) avoided critical evaluation and speculation, is filled with important stories and deep level facts about Wilson’s life. But there is no context. It’s just the facts. We get a long anecdote about the process of Wilson signing up to illustrate a book by William S. Burroughs but very little about the work itself, and about how that job might’ve fit with Burroughs’ activities at the time. In 2015 we just need more — the work needs to be understood, not just published.

There’s a lot of verbiage from the author and various commenters about Wilson’s taboo-busting, which is true in the comics world, but not so true when compared to his contemporaries Peter Saul and Jim Nutt, not to mention the long tradition of Tijuana Bibles and, later, Robert Mapplethorpe and the gay underground. And there’s something unsaid about Wilson’s primary existence in the comics world. He was, after all, shown at The Whitney Museum of American Art in 1967 and later was offered a show at Allan Frumkin Gallery in 1969 or 1970, which he blew off in a drunken fit. Robert Williams and R. Crumb took the art world on their terms — Wilson could’ve done the same, but didn’t, and that goes unexplored. Was he just too alcoholic? Rosenkranz loves the man too much to challenge him at his word and to probe deeper. Wilson was a great artist. But his is also a sad story. Something went wrong, no matter how much we may love his work.

Maybe the largest problem is that this series of books wants to be both biography and monograph. It’s structured thematically like a monograph but the images rarely actually coincide with the text, and entire bodies of work are written about but not illustrated (his show at Psychedelic Solution, for instance). Moreover, like the previous volume, there are far too many pixelated images — nearly 10 by count. That just shouldn’t happen.

Terror Assaulter (O.M.W.O.T.) by Benjamin Marra

9781606998830My fondest wish for this comic is that it somehow tilts into the wider culture and remains undigestable. Like Ed Piskor, he’s drawing his authentic interests, and those interests are seamlessly intermingled with a subculture that he addresses without any irony or distance. It’s a beautiful thing. This book details a super-agent’s journey through a culture in which everyone just says only what is about to happen or happening. Just factual declarations. I’m waiting for the layers to pile up, a la Tarantino, but right now it’s damn weird art he’s making — ripe for misinterpretation. And yet the work is getting more popular. Weirder and more popular. Something is afoot here.  I like it.

Bravo for Adventure by Alex Toth

936344eb-6e64-4a8c-9635-c3da6eaa2f55A friend asked me to write this so “we can stop thinking about him and move on”, but I don’t think we should stop thinking about Toth — maybe just keep him in perspective. This book collects Toth’s 1970s and '80s “personal” work, Bravo for Adventure. Personal for Toth meant writing his own swashbuckling stories, rather than drawing someone else’s. That’s fine by me. What’s interesting here is that Toth has very little to say on his own. He is one of the best panel designers to ever work in comic books — each one is a mid-century modern (no matter when it was drawn) snapshot — as though Alvin Lustig drew comics. But his pages in this book are impossibly busy — basically unreadable due to the overwhelming amount of text. Like Steve Canyon on mescaline. Toth is so enamored of the panel space and of cinema that each panel is like a film still, but seemingly unconnected to the next one, and without a sense of the overall page design.

rook0328His finest work is the last complete story in the book — a 1982 dream sequence that let’s him use shape associations to flow from one panel to the next. No story to weigh him down. Here it’s all flashing images, and those images never move past, oh, 1960 or so: here a Calder triangle, there an expressionist ladder, cocktail napkin stars; A Steinberg squiggle. It’s a flashbulb encapsulation of 1950s graphic culture, drawn in 1982. How odd. Whatever, anyway, I still think Toth was great. But his greatness is limited. Whose isn’t?

Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn

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Ironically, what Toth was after (a personal approach to Caniff-ian genre tales) was perfectly achieved by Hugo Pratt in Corto Maltese. Pratt knew that comics are not the same as film, and composed his panels, like good comics. Airy, spacious, minimal backgrounds. Everything on the page is obviously a pen-mark — there’s no illusion. In his use of both air and ennui, Pratt reminds me most of Charles Schulz. It’s all consistency and real cartoon-drawing. No realism here. Anyhow, I haven’t seen much written about these reissues from IDW, and this is to say they’re superb. Ignore the blurbs on the back (separate it from Frank Miller, at least) and go into it cold. Relax into the work and it’ll show you around.Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 5.49.58 PM

 

Foxy Grandpa

Today, Dan writes about a slew of comics he's read recently, including work by Aidan Koch, Anya Davidson, Benjamin Marra, Heather Benjamin, S. Clay Wilson, and Hugo Pratt, among others. Here's an excerpt, in which he reviews the new anthology, Lagon:

I was one of the lucky 400 who got this limited edition risograph comics anthology. I was excited. It is ironic then, that it would appear at same time as Mould Map 4, which makes Lagon irrelevant. For all its bluster (from the intro: “In the depths of the ocean, under the blue Lagon, an island was waiting to rise to the surface.” Guess what’s on the island guys? Comics!) and preciousness the book is basically a rehash of Mould Map #3 and various issues of Kramer’s Ergot, right down to the obligatory historical piece (Fletcher Hanks, guys!). What’s odd about this lavish production is that it’s filled with imitators of other people in the actual book. CF, Negron, Yokoyama — their influences dominate to an almost hysterical degree. Like, what the fuck? Or as Jeff the Drunk would say, Chelllllllo?! I guess what I’m looking for now in a comic (since you asked) is strangeness or authenticity. Give me one or the other or both (Koch, Benjamin, Davidson, Marra, Chandler below all have it in spades). In any case, Lagon is not strange or even unusual. It feels like a luxury good and thus like the end of something. It’s co-sponsored by by Agnes B., whose other offenses include Harmony Korine’s career. I don’t want art that has been digested already. Obviously I’m not being fair to it. Everyone worked hard, etc. But if you’re gonna do it, don’t fuck around with bullshit. On the other hand, man, this one contributor, Alexis Beauclair, is really excellent. He or she has taken the lessons of Yokoyama and Schrauwen and made a lot of fascinating comics in which you kind of activate them by touch. It’s hard to explain. Check it out. Better than you think.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

The Harvey Awards were given out at the Baltimore Comic-Con.

Michael Lorah at CBR talks to Adrian Tomine about his upcoming collection.

Mark Medley at the Toronto Globe & Mail profiles Kate Beaton.

—Comics Enriched Their Lives! #135:
In this lost and only recently published book review of Alfed North Whitehead, T.S. Eliot takes his title metaphor from the funny pages.

 

The Dream

Frank Santoro announced the winners of Comics Workbook Composition Competition 2015 Winners. A truly astounding comic by John Brodowski got a special mention.

Well, Mothers News, the great newsprint periodical out of Providence, home to some excellent writing and some fine comic strips, is closing its doors after half a decade. Celebrate it by stocking up on back issues while you can.

Another venerable institution of the underground, Tomato House, is now distributing hand-painted Caroliner posters, which is pretty exciting.

 

Visible Ink

Today Annie Mok returns with another interview. This time, she talks to Jane Mai, whose latest book is Sunday in the Park with Boys:

MOK: I talked to Corinne Mucha once when she was developing her book [Get Over It!], the one about the breakup, and she said that autobio comics are a weird thing, because you’re deciding what to keep hidden. It’s this illusion of revealing all.

MAI: It’s true. I also have this weird thing, where—there’s two Jane Mais, there’s the blond one—well, there’s three, there’s too many to keep track of. And even though they’re based on me, I don’t consider them representative of me. They’re like these side characters that do stupid things.

MOK: In the beginning you make a main character list, the main characters being you and your friends: you, Greasy, Paril, and your best friend Evelyn. There’s Jane Mai who’s blond, Jane Mai with dyed black hair, Jane Mai with an eyepatch, and “Nurse Janey, a fictional character.” Aside from Nurse Janey, who seems to be used in more fantastical situations—or maybe not. There’s the one where Nurse Janey’s working with the vet to take care of the guinea pig’s terrible poop sickness, and it feels in fantastical because you’re not a nurse in real life. But then in some way, it’s “Well, this doesn’t seem like a very outlandish problem. Maybe Jane dealt with this IRL.” Can you talk about these different characters, and how they maybe have an intuitive separation for you between the four of them?

MAI: Nurse Janey is supposed to be more fantastical, even though I did do the guinea pig thing, and it was horrible.

MOK: It seemed based on real life.

MAI: Yes… I had some mini comics that I had done that were more fantastical, monsters and weird stuff, about Nurse Janey and Dr. Paril. They were these stupid little things I was doing for fun, and no one liked them! [laughs] So I stopped doing them, even though I’d like to get back into it. She’s a really fringe character for more exploratory, monster stuff. I feel like nurses and doctors are respectable positions to have, and I’m not [laughs] a really respectable person, so I made her a nurse. She’s not idealized, but she’s supposed to be almost a regular person. Except that she lives in a fantasy world with monsters and stuff.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary.
As you've no doubt heard, Marvel has announced that the next writer of Black Panther will be Ta-Nehisi Coates. At The New Republic, Jeet Heer writes about how this relates to the superhero industry's various diversity problems.

Ace comics reviewer Sean Rogers writes about new books from Jessica Abel, Cole Closser, and Michael DeForge.

Inkstuds has posted a critics' roundtable episode, with guests Joe McCulloch, Zainab Akhtar, and Tom Spurgeon.

—News.
Via the CRNI comes reports that Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan likely died in government custody two years ago, possibly after being tortured.

—Interviews & Profiles. Laura Hudson interviewed Kate Beaton for Wired.

Davey Nieves talks to Glenn Head for The Beat.

—Misc. Entertainment Weekly has a preview excerpt from Bill Griffith's first comics memoir, Invisible Ink.

Forbes ran an SPX report(!), focusing primarily on diversity.

Michael Dooley at Print shares images and brief excerpts from the Comic Book Apocalypse Jacky Kirby catalog.

 

Funny Angry: An Interview with Jane Mai

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I first heard of Jane Mai through her memoir-based book for Koyama Press, Sunday in the Park with Boys. Sunday explored anxiety and depression at home and working at a library, most memorably through the magical realist device of a centipede growing larger and following Jane’s character throughout the story. She followed up with a minicomic for Koyama, Sorry I Can’t Come in on Monday I’m Really Really Sick, further investigating the crossroads of mental health and day jobs; and Pond Smelt, based on the Animal Crossing games, for the Stockholm-based Peow! Studio. Jane returns with See You Next Tuesday from Koyama, a raucous bunch of short comics and scraps. This third book in what appears to be a loose trilogy is lighter and funnier, but allows itself to go deeper and darker as a result. As a reader, you cut into a charming loligoth cake, only to find ants swarming inside.

I spoke with Jane by Skype, where she called from her extravagantly collaged Brooklyn bedroom.

ANNIE MOK: Whoa. Your room is so intense.

JANE MAI: Yes, I know! It was kind of… a mistake.

MOK: [laughs] Because it’s so much all the time?

MAI: Yeah, now I don’t even look at anything because it’s always up there.

MOK: Speaking of big collages, I’m interested in how you put together this big group of disparate work [in See You Next Tuesday], from what seems like a sketchbook.

MAI: This sounds bad, but I currently don’t have a sketchbook. Something about it being in a book… I just draw on loose paper.

MOK: Is it stressful to keep it?

MAI: I think so. Even though it’s a sketchbook, it’s still like, an object, and it should be niiice. But if you use shitty computer paper, which is what I did for all my journal comics, it’s low commitment. It’s okay if it’s shitty. That’s my reasoning.

MOK: Lynda Barry’s talked about how she has nice paper she hasn’t touched since the 1970’s, and so she started drawing on legal pads… I felt a little nervous about this interview because your work is so incredibly personal, so I wanted to be careful about boundaries.

MAI: I think if it’s already in the book, I’m okay talking with it, because there’s stuff that was taken out. It became too much of a pity party.

MOK: I talked to Corinne Mucha once when she was developing her book [Get Over It!], the one about the breakup, and she said that autobio comics are a weird thing, because you’re deciding what to keep hidden. It’s this illusion of revealing all.

MAI: It’s true. I also have this weird thing, where—there’s two Jane Mais, there’s the blond one—well, there’s three, there’s too many to keep track of. And even though they’re based on me, I don’t consider them representative of me. They’re like these side characters that do stupid things.

MOK: In the beginning you make a main character list, the main characters being you and your friends: you, Greasy, Paril, and your best friend Evelyn. There’s Jane Mai who’s blond, Jane Mai with dyed black hair, Jane Mai with an eyepatch, and “Nurse Janey, a fictional character.” Aside from Nurse Janey, who seems to be used in more fantastical situations—or maybe not. There’s the one where Nurse Janey’s working with the vet to take care of the guinea pig’s terrible poop sickness, and it feels in fantastical because you’re not a nurse in real life. But then in some way, it’s “Well, this doesn’t seem like a very outlandish problem. Maybe Jane dealt with this IRL.” Can you talk about these different characters, and how they maybe have an intuitive separation for you between the four of them?

Koyama_Press_See_You_Next_Tuesday_2

 

MAI: Nurse Janey is supposed to be more fantastical, even though I did do the guinea pig thing, and it was horrible.

MOK: It seemed based on real life.

MAI: Yes… I had some mini comics that I had done that were more fantastical, monsters and weird stuff, about Nurse Janey and Dr. Paril. They were these stupid little things I was doing for fun, and no one liked them! [laughs] So I stopped doing them, even though I’d like to get back into it. She’s a really fringe character for more exploratory, monster stuff. I feel like nurses and doctors are respectable positions to have, and I’m not [laughs] a really respectable person, so I made her a nurse. She’s not idealized, but she’s supposed to be almost a regular person. Except that she lives in a fantasy world with monsters and stuff.

MOK: That makes me think of this trend in video games being popular, a game about being a lawyer or a farmer...

MAI: Really normal simulator games! [laughs]

MOK: Simulator games where people—“millennials”—are having an actual job and connecting with other people outside in the world. Like Animal Crossing, looking at bugs and trees.

MAI: Oh, I love Animal Crossing.

MOK: I liked how your comic about Animal Crossing, Pond Smelt, played with the strange relationships in that game. The character relationships in that game can be bullying or codependent.

MAI: They’re bizarre.

MOK: I sometimes wonder about what that imparts to young kids playing that game. Can you talk about that comic in relation to playing that game, which is such an enveloping experience?

MAI: When [the comic] first came out, it was a limited run. I don’t know what happened, but it sold out, and people kept emailing me asking if I would ever reprint it. I was like, “No.” At that point I wasn’t into it anymore. We did the digital version with extra stuff in the back as a bonus. At the time that I was playing [Animal Crossing:] Wild World, I was super depressed, and that was the birth of black-haired Jane Mai.

MOK: That’s Sunday in the Park with Boys-era Jane Mai.

MAI: Yes. So I was super depressed, I wasn’t going out much, I was isolated and I didn’t want to do anything. An ex of mine was into it, I never got into it when we were together. And then I got dumped, and then I finally got into it. And it was really helpful, ‘cause even though they’re dumb, fake relationships that you have with weird animals, it was nice to write to them everyday. That’s what I did, which sounds really sad [laughs]. I didn’t want to deal with my real world problems, so I wrote to my fake animal friends every day and thanked them for being good neighbors. It helped me a lot to deal with my stuff. It’s a good game for that, if you’re sad and lonely, and you can replace everything with your animal friends.

MOK: I’ve read about gratitude being a powerful force, that if you’re depressed and you feel thankful for something, it can be an energy shift.

MAI: I think so.

Koyama_Press_See_You_Next_Tuesday_1

MOK: In See You Next Tuesday, that you had [the comics] on separate sheets of paper makes sense, because it seems intuitive in how you organized it. There are all these jumps that are kind of fun, even when the subject matter is difficult. You’ll have comics, and then you’ll have a page of all handwritten notes about depression, and you say, “Let a bitch have some gravitas, okay?” Can you talk about this idea of feeling that you’re not entitled to be sad or depressed, and a feeling that you have to have some anger or pride in it to be allowed your basic emotions?

MAI: I know now that every once in awhile I’ll just have to cry for awhile and let it out. It comes and goes, and obviously I’m not going to be very sad all the time. I’ve been told before that I like to wallow in my misery, which made me very angry. Sometimes you just have to do it, and then you get over it, and it’s fine. It’s not going to affect your life that much if you’re crying a little bit now and then. It’s much better to let that sort of stuff go than to bottle it up and pretend to be happy for other people’s sake anyway. Which is why I put that in there [laughs].

MOK: There’s a defiance that I enjoy and identify with this book. There’s that scene where you’re at a concert and you’re, almost randomly, punching at people, even your friends. Your friend Diego comes up to hug you, and you just punch him in the stomach.

MAI: I know, it’s so bad! [laughs]

MOK: [laughs] But in a world where that kind of behavior is tolerated and maybe even celebrated for white men, and not a lot for anyone but white men, there’s a gleeful element to that, even if it’s shitty. And reading that is vicariously pretty awesome. Can you talk about spurts of rage, and dealing with that in comics?

MAI: I think… I normally don’t like to put down rage in a comic unless it has a funny punchline. I’m still afraid of being angry, and allowing myself to be angry. I do get angry from time to time, over almost irrational stuff, or even if I’m justified, I don’t like to put that down. I’ll tweet about it—I’ll complain, a lot. But for some reason, in comic form… Which doesn’t make any sense, it can go super sad, but I like to keep it light and not so angry. I don’t know why that is.

Koyama_Press_See_You_Next_Tuesday_3

MOK: It’s still funny, but there’s reactions [in the stories] that have anger underneath them, even though they’re light. There’s this part that says, “Somebody called me a cunt once on the internet. Isn’t that weird? You don’t even know me. That’s when I started making t-shirts that said CUNT IS SUCH AN UGLY WORD. I’M SO PRETTY THOUGH and it was a bestseller.” So to me, that’s an angry gesture, but it’s also funny, and a middle finger.

MAI: I try to deal with things in a funny way. It’s kind of scary to deal with them any other way. I didn’t try to touch on this in the book, and it’s not something I ever actually thought about, but I think it has a lot to do with growing up. Sometimes my mom would get really angry, randomly, extremely scarily, and I don’t want to be like that. Except for when, like, the punching thing happens, which is funny but shitty of me to think it’s funny. [laughs] I try to shy away from overtly just angry instead of funny angry, like the “cunt” t-shirts. Which are ridiculous! I don’t know who that person is, or if they ever came back and saw that I made those t-shirts.

MOK: That makes a lot of sense to me because I know from my experience, my mom would get rageful for terrifyingly no reason or very little reason, out of the blue. Growing up, I think people take in their models for emotions from their caretakers, or people around them. And if your model for rage or love or any kind of emotion or basic sensation is fucked up, then I think it’s natural to wanna distance yourself from it.

MAI: Yeah.

MOK: ‘Cause what you have to do then is basically parent yourself and teach yourself a new way to do anything.

MAI: Yeah, that’s true. And until I put the book together, which is fairly recently, even though some of the comics in there are three years old… It’s weird, putting together a snapshot of your life at a certain amount of time, and then realizing things about yourself, and how you grew up, and how it affected you, and that’s why this book came out the way it was. I love my mom very much, and she’s chill now because she’s menopausal. But growing up, it was kind of a nightmare. It’s not anything I’d explored before because I always felt bad, thinking, “She’s my mom, she loves me, I shouldn’t badmouth her,” which is doing her a disservice. But this is stuff I’m dealing with now, slowly, because I’m such a late bloomer.

MOK: For me, having a weird and kind of unsafe childhood will definitely make anybody into a late bloomer. ‘Cause you can’t bloom! [laughs] You have to be in a safe space to bloom, or a relatively safe space. Speaking of putting the book together, I love books that are assemblages of different moments and modes. Vanessa Davis’s early Spaniel Rage book is one of my favorite comics, and I love that [See You Next Tuesday] jumps from straightforwardly laid-out comics, to strips, to open-layout things, to weird—I don’t mean this in a pejorative way—big, internet-y, weird pages. There’s this page where you say, “I am not a team player!!! I am a princess” and there’s a bunch of horrific distorted yelling and frowning faces scribbled at the bottom. Did you have an organizing principle, either explicit or intuitive, for putting the book together? Having them on single sheets is interesting, ‘cause it gives you freedom.

MAI: I do like to have everything on single sheets because it’s easy to re-organize if I need to. For this book it was kind of a nightmare because there were so many pages and I don’t have the physical room or attention span to deal with it. So I had a very long PDF. I tried to put it together in a way that wasn’t boring to read or super repetitive. It gets tiring if it’s a lot of text over and over with no breaks, so I tried to break that up. It was more of a pacing thing. Every once in awhile I thought it needed some breaks, and I tried to keep the sad comics spread out so you wouldn’t get too bogged down. ‘Cause it’s supposed to be “the fun, light book,” compared to the other ones I’ve done for Koyama Press, which were well-received, but still very sad. [laughs]

Koyama_Press_See_You_Next_Tuesday_4

MOK: For being the “fun, light book,” while it’s funny and breezy at times—and Sunday in the Park with Boys and Sorry I Can’t Come in on Monday I’m Really Really Sick are of course heavier—but by the same token, you’re taking threads from the earlier comics and by dealing with things in a funny way, getting a lot deeper. And continuing working through this iconography you’re developing. I love these little flowers on the eyes when you’re worried. And also bugs. Bugs have been coming up in your work for a few years now, since Sunday in the Park with Boys from 2012-2013, where your character is tormented by this centipede that grows larger throughout the book, and represents growing anxiety and depression. Then in this book, the centipede is back sometimes. There’s also ants, that you imagine, with great pleasure, swarming your body while you say “Yes, come to your queen” [Jane laughs]. Then there’s this part where you’re talking about exploring gender identity, and you say that your ideal form is of an insect, and you show a [praying mantis]. Insects don’t have defined characteristics that we as humans in a fucked up socialized world define as “male” or “female.” Can you talk about what insects mean to you?

MAI: It’s broad and some of it comes from fascination with gross stuff. When I was younger, I was terrified of insects. I did not like them at all. Ants I could deal with because they’re so tiny that they don’t actually pose a threat to you, but if there’s tons of them...

MOK: Bigger bugs, you also see the individual horror of their eyes and stuff, but ants it’s, “Oh, you’re a little dot.”

MAI: Big bugs are like horrible monsters, they’re so detailed. Bleh. But just thinking about them gives me this sense of horror and pleasure [laughs]. And something about them, that they have this hard little shell, and I imagine that they don’t have feelings. It’s very nice to me. I would like to have a hard shell and not have feelings and be terrifying all the time. Which I don’t think I am, but it’s nice to think about. And that whole centipede thing is, I have always hated centipedes. They’re super creepy, they have too many legs! But all the time when Sunday came out, or sometime before, there were so many in my house, and I felt like they were taunting me. I was finding them everywhere on the walls and on the floor. And one day I found one resting on my pillow. I decided I was just gonna leave it alone, and that it would go away and not hurt me. And it did! Now, every once in awhile, I see them, and I’m like, “I’m okay with you. We are okay with each other.” [laughs] It was this weird shift where I decided they were okay with me. I still would not want them anywhere near me or my body, but looking at them wasn’t frightening and I didn’t want to kill them. I think they’re pretty cool! They do amazing things, things that I can’t do. They have cool bodies, even if they’re disgusting, and they’re really fascinating. Sometimes once in awhile I like to Google them and read about them, but I get too grossed out by the pictures and I have to stop. That’s why I draw them kind of unrealistically. But praying mantises I think are really cool. Someone I work with had one as a pet and brought it in, this little baby guy. It was so cute! So tiny. I think they’re adorable, with the little... thing that they do!

MOK: Then of course there’s how [the females] eat the head of the men [after mating]. Talk about that.

MAI: I like that too. [laughs]

MOK: [laughs] In the book, your character is dating men and having sex with men, but there’s a lot of shaming men, or using them or destroying them. You have this comic about the “bumpkin spice latté,” where your character drinks a pumpkin spice latté and accidentally sprays this incredibly hot latté all over this guy’s dick [while blowing him]. You talk about having a sugar daddy-type relationship at one point. There’s one with Paril where he says, “No one tells me I’m cute” and you say “People tell me I’m cute every day. Hundreds of them. Buy me things” and then at the bottom it says, “Update: he did.” [laughs] So many people who I know, myself included, date men but have such an ambivalent relationship [to dating men]. Where it’s, “They are these people who are stronger than you, and some of them are nice, but even the ones who are nice are still affected by patriarchy.” It’s kind of terrifying. I love the ways that you get revenge, or use it to your advantage in this book.

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MAI: I didn’t specifically think of it as revenge. I don’t actively revenge myself [laughs] in that way. It’s this weird area where I’m kind of a bad person who does bad things. I have a weird relationship with dating men. A lot of it comes from being a late bloomer. I never dated in high school and people thought I was weird. I was called a lesbian a lot of times. It never really bothered me, because it’s not a thing to be bothered by, and I didn’t think about it until later, when I was like, [affecting a worried voice] “Maybe, maybe I am a lesbian.” It’s weird thinking about this stuff when a lot of your friends are straight and they’ve been straight, and they’ve had regular, normal sexual relationships, and you haven’t. Like, [they’d] talk about things they find attractive in men. I don’t generally find men attractive, but I keep dating them for some reason [nervous laughter] and it makes me feel really weird. It’s something I sort of touched on in this book, but I don’t really because it’s still something I’m figuring out.

MOK: There’s that scene where you’re talking with your mom and she says, “Why can’t you keep a man?” and you say, “I don’t know mom, I just want to look at naked ladies.”

MAI: It’s… a problem. It’s not a problem, it’s just something that I don’t even know what to do with right now. It’s a lot of stuff I’ve purposely not thought about for a long time, because in high school, when everyone starts dating boys and I didn’t, I was like, “Well, I don’t want to. That’s fine, that’s normal.” And I didn’t in college, and it became a thing I didn’t want to think about. I was just so depressed, I had other sad things to deal with. Around that time, my cat died and it set off this whole depression that I couldn’t get out of for a long time. It was this symbol of my childhood dying. It’s just now that I’m thinking about this stuff in terms of my own sexual identity and my own gender. I have friends that are supportive, and I have a good, tight-knit circle right now that I feel comfortable with. It’s not something I had growing up. I had some good friends, but I wasn’t comfortable expressing my thoughts on things, or even talking about being depressed, because I was depressed for a long time and no one knew. I think the internet helps, because there’s visibility in terms of people that are out to be themselves, and I don’t think I ever was. It’s something I never explored, and hopefully I can explore it in a healthy way and not ignore, like I have. And sometimes, it would come out, in weird things. Like every once in awhile, I would do these bad minicomics. People liked them, I don’t know why, they were really shitty. And I don’t think it’s just that—you know how you do work, and down the road you think it’s not good anymore? I don’t think it’s that, I think they’re just straight-up bad. From my very early comics career, where I played around with the name-calling, where I was called a lesbian all the time. It’s not something I was critically thinking about, I just put it out there, as… I wouldn’t say “clickbait,” ‘cause it’s just a shitty thing on the internet. Just to test the waters to see if someone would ask me about it. Only one person did, an anonymous tumblr person, and they asked me about all the lesbian stuff, if I was dating men. I was too shy to talk about all this stuff, so I just decided to tell them I was straight, and that was that. That was [laughs] the furthest I got with it. I don’t know... It’s very difficult.

MOK: Can I ask what pronouns you’re using currently?

MAI: Just “her.” I like the sound of “her.”

MOK: Yeah. And obviously, it’s cool to use whatever pronouns no matter how you’re identifying. When I read some of the comics, I felt a little uncomfortable with parts of it. I didn’t think that you shouldn’t have drawn it, but it was weird for me to read the parts where you’re like, “Wouldn’t it be fun or funny to have a dick” ‘cause just for me, my stuff [laughs] is like that, and it’s not fun or funny. But I don’t think that other people who don’t have the experience that I do shouldn’t play with that, because that’s their experience, but it’s just uncomfortable for me to read.

MAI: I’m sorry.

MOK: That’s okay. Or thanks, I guess. I like this part where you talk about Dorothy Gale [the main character in The Wizard of Oz]. At the beginning you have this quote from her, where she says, “‘Cause I’ve been lost before, and always got found again.” Which makes me think of this thing you say about depression, about how it comes in waves and cycles. Then you talk at the end about how “Once you read all of [L. Frank] Baum’s work, you realize the girl power he was in favor of only applied to white girls.” That’s such a constant thing, that anyone who’s engaging in culture who doesn’t have the lens of max privilege has to deal with, engaging in culture that’s not made for them, and sometimes aggressively not made for them. Can you talk about that?

MAI: I tend to not look for these things because it’s really sad but it’s not a thing I can help. It just naturally comes up. Especially now with the whole thing of Taylor Swift being thrown in the spotlight with her own little brand of feminism.

MOK: [laughs] Yeah, always fun. I love her music, but oh my god, what a shitshow.

MAI: She’s something. She’s just a businesswoman, she doesn’t care. But the whole L. Frank Baum thing I was actually really sad about because growing up I really liked the Wizard of Oz books, but I didn’t read all of them.

MOK: There’s so many.

MAI: Yeah, I just read a couple because they were at the library. I always had positive memories of them because they’re about this little girl that had adventures, and she was a powerful figure in this giant fantasy world. Recently I read all of the Oz books over, and although they are all about white people, it’s something I sort of ignored because it’s not as if it’s something that relevant in terms of the story. I could just imagine them being other characters and it was fine. But it was when I reached the thirteenth book, and it was actually published posthumously, where it got super racist and I just had to stop and I had to reevaluate my whole nostalgia for these things, and how fucked up it is that they teach this to children. [Note: Jane later realized that it was the fifteenth book she read, The Royal Book of Oz, actually written under Baum’s name by Ruth Plumly Thompson. However, in case you were wondering, Baum himself was super racist.—A.M.] In a lot of pop culture, you see it often, no one wants to say a word when there is casual racism which is still pretty bad. Everyone has something to say when it’s violent, overt racism, but passing comments that are still hurtful to black women or any women of color, no one really has anything to say about that, and they sweep it under the rug. People that are white feminists decide that it’s not apparently important enough to deal with right now. Which is really weird, because it’s still bad. You remember when Girls came out? There was a hubbub over Girls ‘cause the main cast was all white. This was before I actually saw Girls ‘cause I don’t have HBO, but I was annoyed by [the whiteness] because it’s set in Brooklyn, where I grew up, and I grew up with tons of other kids my age who were not white! And the show is really, really white. This woman, who’s supposed to be a feminist and progressive and whatever, makes a show that’s all white and she’s kind of a racist but people are celebrating her for doing this minimal amount of work. I was talking to someone about it, and they were like, “Maybe it’s this thing where white women get this, and then it trickles down,” and I got really mad, and I was like, “Why would you say that?” That doesn’t work in any other sort of circumstance.

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MOK: I think the phrase “trickle down” was started by Reagan, or around the time of Reagan, with this idea of “trickle down economics.” [Note: the term was coined in the Great Depression, and then used by Reagan’s critics to describe his financial policies of tax breaks for the wealthy.—A.M.]

MAI: It doesn’t work!

MOK: I think people raised the point at the time of, “You’re talking about peeing on us… So, great.” That’s the argument that’s been used for gay marriage, [to try to placate] trans people, homeless queer and trans people of color, incarcerated queer and trans people of color, and the idea that [rights and legal protections] will trickle down. “This is where we’ll start, then we’ll get to this other stuff once we’re completely satisfied.”

MAI: And of course, no one is ever satisfied. Growing up, I didn’t like to think about social issues very much, ‘cause I was in a bubble and just angry and sad for no reason. I was a brat. But now these things, I find them really glaring. I’m revisiting stuff that I looked at when I was a child, and my own shit that I’ve done when I was younger that were problematic, or transphobic, or racist. Examining this through a lens of pop culture, which I’m really into—too into, like I shouldn’t be, but I love celebrity gossip. It’s the worst habit ever. I don’t recommend it. I know everything about the Kardashians. It’s sickening to think about how you grew up and they were super shitty, and you thought they were funny at the time but now it’s, “Why did I ever think this was funny? It’s horrible.” That’s a product of growing up on the internet as well. It’s thinking about how I can be a better person and not just like… Comedians that just use shock value? I feel like I used to be, and I try not to anymore, and people get mad, like “Why don’t you do this anymore?” “Because I’m not... stupid anymore…” I’m still stupid, I try not to be. That’s why I get so Debbie Downer about these things sometimes. And every once in awhile I complain on the internet, and ten people unfollow me. It’s frustrating because I don’t really know what I can do to make it better.

MOK: Personally, I would recommend not keeping track of who unfollows you [laughs]. If I kept track of who unfollowed me...

MAI: I usually don’t, but it’s such a visible disparity. [laughs]

MOK: Oh, so you don’t even use a [tracker app]?

MAI: No, every once in awhile I notice that the number is different.

MOK: That is fucking wild. This gets back to this thing that you talk about in the book. You say, “What’s the deal with Jane Mai? Well. I dunno. She was a product I made and sold. People loved her, I don’t know why. And the sadder she got the more popular she was. It’s weird. My most popular creation to date is that there even is a Jane Mai. Did you know I sell something called a ‘Jane Mai girlfriend experience box’? It’s a box full of mystery garbage. Curated by Jane Mai. People go nuts over this shit.” This gets back to this idea of internet culture and internet celebrity, and people projecting onto people or artists on the internet what they want. And when they reveal themselves to be a real person, with ideas, who aren’t gonna do what they want—especially for white men following people on the internet—then they get pissed off. And it’s so frustrating because it’s like, what were you following me for in the first place?

MAI: Yeah, it’s weird. Like I said before, I don’t consider the Jane Mai character a true representation of myself. A lot of the time, with the blond Jane Mai, who I consider to be the dumbest, that’s the worst stuff. She’s this exaggerated jester kind of thing that you’re supposed to laugh at and not really supposed to like because she’s so horrible. But people I guess really like those kinds of characters.

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MOK: It’s fun to identify with because art does this service. There’s this book, Letters to a Young Novelist by [Peruvian novelist] Mario Vargas Llosa. He talks about art being this escape valve, and people who make art are aggressively escaping the real world. That’s a wonderful service about art that has gross characters, especially characters that are not men. It lets off this pressure valve. It relates to this thing I’m interested in [in See You Next Tuesday], this thing about princess vibes. You’re like, “Buy me things,” and all these moments, like “I dressed up to have tea and champagne like a bourgeois shit, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t take a selfie.” A lot of victory lap stuff. Can you talk about that kind of tone?

MAI: I like the term “princess vibes.” Like a lot of people growing up watching Disney princess movies, I wish I was a princess. I’m actually working on something with my friend [the cartoonist Saicoink] about lolita fashion. We’re doing a book of sorts. It’s not directly about the fashion, but there are stories and illustrations in it that are inspired by the aesthetic. This also ties into that. I would like to be a princess because growing up I didn’t have a lot of things. And obviously when you don’t, you just want things, and the first minute you get some kind of income, you spend it on stuff you don’t need because you grow up thinking that you want everything. And, “All this stuff is really cool and nice and it makes you super special,” and it obviously doesn’t, and I’m still struggling with that because I’ve become kind of a hoarder. But a lot of that comes from just being poor.

MOK: There’s this moment when your character is huddled in the corner, and you say, “If I’m gonna die alone, I might as well be surrounded by nice things.” [laughs] I struggle with spending a lot, and I struggle with wanting a lot of things I don’t need. Especially if you get a mania for it, which I know I can, those two things can go hand in hand. I always call it “the void.” You can throw things in the void, but as long as there’s a void, you can’t fill it up.

MAI: It’s so true!

MOK: It’s not like, a hole that has a bottom, that you can fill up and then walk over.

MAI: No!

MOK: You just gotta live with it.

MAI: And sometimes the void just gets bigger and bigger. ‘Cause once you have this stuff, then you need this other stuff. It’s endless.

MOK: It can be a way to distract yourself.

MAI: It is. There’s also this nice feeling that comes with getting mail, a box. ‘Cause it’s a present for you, for no reason! It’s a present, ‘cause you’re you! It just gets so addictive.

MOK: There’s a lot of identification but also stress in this book about childlike desires, free desires. There’s this spread where your character is drawn in a more cutesy style than in the rest of the book. There’s a moon with an eye, the character’s whistling to herself and looking at a hill, and then she says, “That’s a sexy-ass hill.” She pulls down her collar and sweats, and she says, “I wanna roll the fuck down that hill!” And she doesn’t do it. And unrelated, I have always loved the way you draw yourself naked. [You draw the character] with a flat chest, and as a fairly-flat chested woman, I’m relieved by that, to see that depiction.

MAI: I’m glad someone likes or appreciates the flat chest thing. I’m not particularly well-endowed, but I would always draw myself with a flat chest just because that’s ideally what I would like. Some people have asked me, “Why don’t you draw yourself more womanly looking?” Because I don’t really want to and I don’t have to. It’s not like it adds anything to the story. It’s just easier to draw the flat chest. I guess for some people when they see it, it’s creepy if I’m a grown-ass adult person and I draw myself as a child, as a precocious child thing that does horrible sex things.

MOK: But it’s different if it’s you making it.

MAI: That has to do with how I think of myself. I generally feel childlike. I try to do adult things. Right now, I have two day jobs and I have to juggle all this stuff and make money. I think I do okay with all those things, but every once in awhile I think I’m a child dressing up, playing pretend and doing my pretend jobs. I feel like I have a sense, a childlike curiosity or wonder, and that’s why I think fart jokes and poop jokes are so funny. It does come out in the way I draw myself. I almost never draw myself grown-up because I don’t feel grown-up. I guess I don’t really want to be. The flat-chested thing has to do with my idea of being neutral.