When Worlds Collide

Teaching Comics

I have a running list for different column ideas. Recently, the list has been: Pim and Francie by Al Columbia--I want to revisit the roundtable we had about it years ago over at ComicsComicsTarpe Mills and how her comics were easily reconfigured from newspapers to comic books; Jackie Ormes and regional African-American newspaper syndication for comic strips; Dylan Williams and Gary Arlington and the Bay Area when I showed up there in the early '90s--and how I would be scared to go into Arlington's store and I'd wait for Dylan outside. Not a bad list. I make random notes and eventually the column builds itself up and I don't really force it. This week I was trying to force it because I've just been busy so I thought I'd write about what's going on.

I want to write about the curious feeling of growing up in a fucked-up economically depressed post-industrial wasteland and then watching that postage stamp of land become the hottest real estate market in the country. That's right, Pittsburgh PA is now the #1 real estate market in the USA. The most livable city. It's booming and I've watched some of my family and friends from here get priced out of their own fucked up economically depressed post-industrial wasteland postage stamp.

The rite of passage which is moving to a big city and "slumming it" is something we all have heard of or experienced. I did it. I moved to the big city thinking I'd never go back home to Pittsburgh. I never understood why the locals in the Tenderloin of SF or in NYC's Little Italy talked to me the way they talked to me. I was too dumb and young and naive to understand that I was just passing through and they knew it. That rite of passage was important to me because I realized that I didn't belong there. Trouble was, I didn't really belong here at home either. I'd moved away and so no one knew my face and I was treated like locals here treat the transient university population: we ignore them. It wasn't until people on my street saw me with my Mom that they put it together who I was and that I was back. It might sound corny, but it's like my Godfather said, "I had to go travel around for awhile to realize that where I liked it best was right here. But I didn't know it 'til I didn't have it."

Now what's crazy is that I have friends who also left and made a life in the big city and now they're trapped. They can't lose their toehold climbing the big city ladder and the dream of buying a cheap house in Pittsburgh is fading fast. It's kind of sad. Pittsburgh, like many other Rust Belt cities, operates like a safety net for those who are from here. Like if you go to the big city and fail you can always go back home and find a cheap place. Well, not so much anymore. Did I mention that Pittsburgh is currently the number one rental market in the country ? I know, I know, I did. I just can't believe it.

So I feel really lucky. Like I wanna cry lucky. Have you seen this TED Talk by LaToya Ruby Frazier? She's from the neighborhood down the river and won a MacArthur Grant for her work centered around Braddock, Pennsylvania. This video of her critique of Levi jeans using her hometown to represent a lost blue collar America floored me. I remember (in 2010 after moving away again) seeing these giant Levi billboards on Sunset Blvd in LA with pictures of my hometown and thinking, shit, I better get back home fast. I did and lucked the fuck out. I didn't get priced out of my own neighborhood. I bought the house next door to turn it into my schoolhouse with a lot of help from family, friends and strangers. My lawyer said, "I don't think I've ever had a client who owned a family house and bought the house next door--especially a rowhouse. It's a good story."

I think so. And one I'm ready to trumpet. So here goes:

For those of you still following along with the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency, we are a week away from actually taking possession of the house. It's been a long process with the lawyers and finally it looks like we'll have it February 1st. Most of my friends and family think that I already have the house and the school/residency is up and running at a full clip. We are doing workshops in my house and filming some lessons. And soon, we'll be hosting resident students in my house while we work on fixing up the school. The idea is to keep the momentum going as best we can.

One of the things we are most excited about is doing video content for the school. Our first dart at the dartboard is following the great Bill Boichel of Copacetic Comics around with a camera. So here's Remedial Comics with Bill. This episode, Bill talks about encountering Kevin Huizenga's masterpiece, Glorianna in 2002:

Bill's Remedial Comics #1 / Talkshow teaser from Frank Santoro on Vimeo.

The other big news is that the school finally has a website. I've operated the correspondence course for years with no website for some reason. Luckily, my good pal Pablo Selin stepped up to the plate and hit a homer for the squad. Please check out our Idiocracy-inspired website for the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency. In theory, this will serve as a portal for the school and an archive for students and the CW Tumblr which is tough to archive on Tumblr--if not impossible. We have thousands of pages of work now if you consider all the contest entries for our annual composition competition and the work of grads and others who have done stuff for Comics Workbook.

Juan Fernandez has been running the Pittsburgh Comics Salon and now we're up to two different free meetings a month in different locations. We have a nice steady group now and soon we'll be able to do even more regular hangouts at my house and the schoolhouse when it is up and running at full capacity. It's fun seeing all the different ages of people hanging out together making comics. We had this awesome pap-pap (Pittsburgh slang for Granddad) stop by a couple weeks ago and sit next to some high school kids and somehow it all felt really natural which was cool.

People who had done their own crowdfund told me that it would be a full-time job and they were right. All the backers have been really patient and we are finally getting all the stuff that needed to get printed back from the various printers. So if you haven't gotten your thing just hold on one more minute, please. It's simply a slooooow process. I think the bummer about the crowdfund model for publishing is the amount of time the paying readers have to wait for the books. They are cool with paying upfront and waiting however it's sort of new to me--even different than ye olde pre-order system so I'm a little wobbly from the process. I think it's a workable model. I would do most of it different next time. I think everyone who does a crowdfund gives the same post-game interview. "We'll review the tape and make adjustments for next time."

Everything else has been going well. Just slow. It's winter. And it's driving me a little bit crazy, I must admit. So much of the process is simply out of my control and there's not much I can do about it. I'm like the Hulk yelling at the rain. If I would have known last summer that I was going to be buying the vacant house next door, I would have started clearing out the 30 years of stuff in there. That's what the wait is. They are clearing out the house. It was Christmas and then New Year's and now it's winter and so even when I get the house there isn't much we can do because we gotta start with the roof and there's a few inches of snow up there. "I'm not complaining. I'm just saying." Classic Pittsburgh preemptive strike commentary when anyone complains. I'm saying it to myself.

Anyways, that's all I got for now. Thanks for tuning in. See you in class.


15 comments on “When Worlds Collide

  1. vollsticks on

    Great news Frank. Really happy for you! Also I’m really liking the website, having the archive for your blog posts is a wicked idea. The Pim & Francie roundtable wasn’t that long ago, surely?! Heh making me feel old…a handy repository for all (or maybe just the “best” of?) your comicscomics pieces is sorely needed–I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to trawl through the old site to link people to your Steve Oliff piece or that great Neal Adams interview with Dave Sim. I find it fairly surprising how many “young ‘uns” who’re really passionate about the medium have no idea how comics were coloured in the pre-digital days and that article is a good précis. I miss the comicscomics blog SO MUCH…

  2. darfus macdorfus on

    I haven’t heard of anyone heading out to Pittsburgh yet, but I’ll take your word for it. a quick glance at zillow seems to confirm it. it’s an interesting time for rust belt cities. I have to appreciate that these days there is a need to bust asses to boost populations. for decades these cities ran on auto autopilot simply waiting for a small % of prodigal or wayward sons & daughters to return and become homeowners once they were ready for kids. those cities now need home owners and property tax payers of any variety today. they’ve seen Detroit, state and federal governments aren’t going to rescue a dying metropolis. the big blue collar employers of the rust belt have been gone, so many Northern cities now know that if the state’s population of rural voters out paces a bleeding urban population, it can trigger a Gov Scott Walker or Rick Snyder scenario those cities will find themselves at the mercy of people extremely eager to put the urban areas of a state on the chopping block just to entertain fantasies of lower taxes.

  3. Dave Dugan on

    For all you folks not on Tumblr, I had an interesting discussion with Frank the past week, and to make it easy on you, I’ll just copy and paste the discussion. It all started when I reblogged some woodblock prints of foreclosed houses, with an artist statement,

    “Artist Nina Jordan’s “Homes for Under $50,000” is a collection of large-scale reduction woodcut prints of foreclosed houses across the United States. The artist explains her unusual choice of subject matter: “After the mortgage crisis, I was still looking, as I always had, and seeing incredible deals [in real estate ads]. I started noticing everything was foreclosed. It just struck me how devastating this was in places like Detroit and Miami. I found these amazing jewels of houses. It was a weird contrast for me, the thought of bankers being able to play games with these people’s mortgages and lives. To them it was just property. To people who lived in them it was everything. So I saw these compelling little images of houses that were real homes. They were really alluring little gems, but they were in such depressed and devastated neighborhoods. I try to capture that mood in print.””

    Frank reblogged it, adding an ad hominem attack against the artist— “for all you carpetbaggers”

    And then he reblogged his own reblog, adding another ad hominem attack against the artist— “just so we’re clear being a carpetbagger is not a good thing – maybe go back to where you grew up and buy a house there – dont come to my poor neighborhood and make an art project of your commodified slumming ”

    After the first ad hominem attack, I was just going to ignore it, but he piled the 2nd one on like he was chomping at the bit for an argument, so I gave him one by responding–“From what little information I could find online about the artist, she appears to be from New York City. Maybe she can’t afford to live in New York City anymore as a woodblock print artist, and “go back to where you grew up and buy a house there” isn’t an option, so she began searching for a place a woodblock print artist could afford. Maybe she typed “Homes for Under $50,000″ into a search engine, and this is what she found, and she found it so staggering, the extent that banks were treating people’s homes as commodities, she decided to respond to what she was witnessing by making some art. She’s marking a point in history, much like the woman giving the TED talk on Braddock.

    I hardly think that qualifies her as a “carpetbagger”. The carpetbagger will be the real estate management company that’s the wholly owned subsidiary of Mitt Romney Industries, Inc, that goes in and buys up all the property, not the woodblock print artist.”

    Frank responded –“I dont fucking care Dave – it’s the attitude I’m talking about – its rich white ppl making art about poor people”

    I responded –“Are you sure she’s white?, because I’m not. Also, too… “rich” woodblock print artists, LOL!”

    Frank responded — “just keep digging that hole dave”, and then he abandoned the discussion. I’m not sure what hole I was digging, but I responded–“Well, art being open to interpretation, and all that jazz, you see a rich, carpetbagging white person making art about poor people, and I see a woodblock artist making art about rich people, commenting on the bailout of “Too Big To Fail” bankers who could have refinanced all those houses and let people stay in their homes, but chose to foreclose and sell property instead.

    I’ll start tunneling over from the hole I’m digging to the hole you’re digging, and I’ll meet you half way and maybe we agree that woodblock artists aren’t commonly known for their riches.”

    And then this column appeared.

    I responded –“Well, it was an interesting discussion, too bad it couldn’t be an honest one. And it began because you leveled the ad hominem attack of carpetbaggery not once, but twice against the artist, piling the “proof by assertion” logical fallacy onto the ad hominem fallacy. You don’t make her a carpetbagger by repeating the claim.

    When you were called out on the fallacy, your response was that you didn’t care, it was the attitude of rich white people making art about poor people that you didn’t care for, and she should go back where she came from to buy a house. When you were challenged about her being a rich white person, you faded away with a weak tea response that I was digging a hole. If she’s a rich white lady making ads for her boutique real estate that caters to a secret cabal of wealthy woodblock artists, please, show us where you came up with that characterization, otherwise you look like a jackass who, in a knee jerk reaction to a piece of art, is attaching a label to a stranger on the internet in an effort to push your carpetbaggery/gentrification narrative. Maybe she is a rich white lady, I don’t know. But you’re making the assertion, how did you ascertain that?

    Meanwhile, the carpetbaggery/gentrification narrative is interesting. You characterize you and your friends moving to the big city to try and make it there as a “rite of passage”, completely ignoring the cumulative effect all these rites of passages have had on the escalation of rents in New York City. Your rite of passage is a contributing factor to gentrification in NYC, or San Francisco,, and people who have now been effectively squeezed out of the market there will look elsewhere for a city to make it in. And if they show up in Pittsburgh in droves because it’s a viable place for their “rite of passage’, what, they should go back where they came from and buy a house there? They can’t, because The Rent Is Too Damn High. And now the rents will escalate in Pittsburgh because you’re victims of your own success. If people go on and on about what a cool place Pittsburgh is, young people might go looking for their rite of passge there, Housing demands will increase, and rents go up, and that’s how the machine works.

    Do you get paid to write the column in TCJ? Does that make you a rich white guy doing some commodified slumming by making a woodblock print writing a column about poor people? (you own two house in the hottest real estate market in the country? You’re a rich guy!)”

    You see what I did there, Frank? With limited knowledge about your financial condition, a stranger on the internet attached a label to you. I learned that trick from you.

    To pretend that you are entitled to a rite of passage by moving to place X, and denying the rite to others if they choose to move to “your” neighborhood is hypocrisy. Should nobody move anywhere? Maybe you should build a wall along the Texas Pittsburgh borders to keep all the Mexican Abortion Doctors Raping White Women New York City Woodblock Artists out.

    Best of luck with your school, Frank.

    Dave Dugan

  4. Dave Dugan on

    When you can’t really address an issue or question without resorting to logical fallacies, you offer up nonsense like “Just keep digging that hole” or “Go jump in a cornfield.”

  5. Frank Santoro on

    Dave, the point of all this is that art is supposed to describe a human condition in intimate detail. Carpetbaggers can’t do that, because carpetbaggers don’t know anything about the situation they’re presenting. And while my initial guess as to Ms. Jordan’s race and class was a guess, the evidence on her own website states that she went to a prestigious and expensive college for undergrad, then went IMMEDIATELY to an MFA painting program in NYC, and now lives on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. Hardly the kind of person who came from scraping-by upbringings. What I see in her art is something uniquely New York: real estate envy. She Googles “houses under $50,000” and then imagines how cute they are from the photos. She has no idea of the life or economic condition of the neighborhood, no idea what the house’s condition is, she just has wishful thinking about how much cheaper and easier everything would be if she had a house that only cost $50,000! These are the type of people that see a cheap storefront, and decide that what this ramshackle neighborhood really needs is a nice cafe. Then they get a loan and open up a single-bean hand ground pour-over coffee shop that costs $7/cup. No one who is actually FROM that neighborhood can afford it, but likeminded carpetbaggers see that there’s “culture” in the little neighborhood, so they move in. Prices go up, poor people get swept off to some other place. But she’s not describing any of that, because she doesn’t live any of that. She represents an unthinking class of people who think that poor neighborhoods are simply run-down because no one is there. It’s “abandoned”. But they’re not. They’re run down because the people are run down and they don’t have money to spend on things other than just getting by. Then their lives get upended because someone googled houses for under $50,000 and thought the neighborhood was cute. Plus her photo shows she’s white.

  6. Juan Fernandez on

    Why yes, you too can go sightseeing in a Pittsburgh neighborhood that has been gutted from the inside by urban planning, racist zoning and white flight! https://vacanthometour.wordpress.com/

    This event happened last year. This is in Pittsburgh. In the borough of Wilkinsburg. 66% Black. 6.3% unemployment rate. 20% unemployment rate. The national rate is 14.9% for reference.

    From the event:
    We need to change the perceived value of these properties, which is currently defined as “problematic” and “blighted” to “valuable” and “desirable.” Can blight be “bright”; can vacant be “vibrant?”

    At each stop, there are tools to help them visualize what the house once looked like in full vibrancy, and what the house might look like again in the near future. The event also includes a resource workshop for those interested in learning more about how they might be able to shape the future of these properties. The workshop includes a look at “next steps,” the process, tools available, and the risks, challenges, and rewards of such an endeavor.
    “Next Steps” = “How to buy this house” not, “how to focus on bettering the lives of the people whose lives have been ravaged by classist, racist public policy”. Who gains from the change in perceived value of these properties?

    FYI – These tours were put together by the elite private university Carnegie Mellon, the MFA granting school in town with students focusing on woodblock prints, stone litho and the like.

    Just sayin’.

    (To be clear, this kind of thing was a PR event disguised for moneyed people to invest in these properties and imagine living there. This isn’t the historical society. People en masse find that shit boring. You don’t see people tweeting and fb posting about going to the archives to learn about East Liberty or the Hill District at the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. People were scouting out properties that they could buy or rent on the cheap so as to live la vie boheme/ become land owners to rent out to make easy money.)

  7. Dave Dugan on

    Thank you for the explanation of your opinion, Frank.

    Everybody brings their own experiences to interpreting a piece of artwork, particularly when the art is a political piece, like the woodblocks in question. You are certainly free to attach whatever motives you think she might have about opening overpriced coffee shops in your neighborhood, but when your judgment of the validity of a piece of artwork, or the political message it wants to convey hinges on the color of their skin or how much money you think they have in their bank account, you open your self up to being asked questions, like “What’s the income threshold for your being offended kick in? What if it appears like she’s wealthy because of her zip code, but she’s actually deep in debt because of an extended hospital stay because of complications due to an appendix operation, and the insurance didn’t cover it? Let’s say the threshold is $50,000, and she’s white. If she’s African American, is there a threshold? Let’s say the African American threshold is $100,000. If she’s Bi-Racial, is the threshold $75,000, or do you have a One Drop Rule, and the Bi-racial threshold is also $50,000?”

    So, yeah, she’s probably white. I only saw one photo on the associated sites, a woman holding a piece of art in front of a wall, maybe hanging it, maybe taking it down, maybe in a gallery, maybe in somebody’s home. That’s probably her, although it doesn’t explicitly state that it is, but it doesn’t really matter to me. I hope for your sake she is, because if that one photo is just her friend helping her hang a show, and she’s actually African American, and she went to the expensive college on a scholarship, you’re going to look like an idiot. But yeah, judge a piece of art based on a guess of what you think the race and class of the artist is, construct a narrative about what you think “These Types Of People” might do in your neighborhood to feed your indignation, then apply that narrative about “These Types of People” to an individual, get challenged on your assumptions, and research the artist after the fact to try and confirm your suspicions. Good luck with that approach!

    Meanwhile, I’d love to go jump in the cornfield, but it is currently occupied. Sarah Palin is out there giving Donald Trump a blowjob, and Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Jeb Bush are all standing around with their hands in their pockets, jingling their change and watching. The poor dears only get this kind of excitement once every 4 years, and I don’t want to disturb them.

  8. Dave Dugan on

    I have no doubt that things are getting gentrified and carpetbaggers exist, however it is problematic when the generalities of the situation are applied to a specific person.

  9. Briany Najar on

    Well, I don’t know about current trends in the USA’s real estate market, but…
    (once again, I’m commenting on a marginal point)
    I really would like to read something from Frank’s accumulated ruminations on Pim & Francie. In general, there could be more writing about such works that take a bit of time to digest and come to terms with. I remember that idea being discussed, either here or back over there, and there was a good bit of chat about The Death Ray (some time after its initial reception) on this site. I guess, in particular, the more sui generis/oblique books could stand a few months/years of re-reading and re-thinking. McGuire’s Here, for instance, or Brecht Even’s The Making Of.
    Also, the roundtable format has its unique appeal, especially if it’s rolling & open-ended like a forum thread, but with an editorially assembled/invited panel.

  10. Dave Dugan on

    Frank says “the point of all this is that art is supposed to describe a human condition in intimate detail.” OK. But it not the only thing art is supposed to do, particularly if it is political art. Political art typically has a message. Maybe it’s a call to action for a particular event, maybe it’s just a generality about a specific aspect of society, like racism.

    Ms. Jordan’s woodblocks are political pieces of art with what appears to be a goal if informing people about a housing crisis by marking a point in history when specific pieces of property were foreclosed by banks that were themselves bailed out by the government. Now, an honest debate or critique about the artwork could deal with the aesthetic, how pretty the colors are, how well the registration is, etc. and it could deal with the the politics of the piece (you agree with the message, you don’t agree with the message) and it could deal with how effectively it achieved its goal. It could be about the manner in which the message was being conveyed. Chris Jones remarked on tumblr about her artist statement “Maybe the language of describing the neighborhoods as “depressed and devastated” is sort of condescending”, and that’s a valid criticism. Somebody else might read the same artist statement and feel like she is empathizing with people who have lost their homes.

    The discussion could be that the political artwork failed in its message because it didn’t clearly convey the responsibility of the banks, or the politicians that wrote policy. It failed because instead of directing your anger towards the people and policies that precipitated the problems, the roots of the problems, your anger is directed at the symptoms of the problems, the gentrification and the carpetbaggery. Maybe the goal of the artwork was simply to spark discussion about what is going on in places like Pittsburgh, in which case somebody could point to this discussion and say, look, the artwork succeeded, they’re talking about the housing issues. That would be a healthy debate. It becomes an unhealthy debate the minute you start indulging in character assassination/ scapegoating by accusing somebody you don’t really know much about of stuff you think they might do based on guesses about who you think she is. Maybe she truly is a carpetbagger, maybe she bought up 6 houses real cheap and jacked up the rent. Real estate transactions/tax roles are public records, does the record show she’s doing that? If you can show me that she is, I’ll say “I’m wrong and you are right, she’s a carpetbagger.”

  11. Kurt Ankeny on

    Dave, if you bothered to go and check Nina Jordan’s website, you’d see a full-face selfie of her. She’s white, so you can stop hiding behind what ifs and hypotheticals. Here’s the link, since you obviously can’t be bothered to go look for yourself. http://ninajordan.com/551247/contact/

    By the way, your argument about not applying these scenarios to individuals is such bunkum. Individuals do these things, and if we don’t call out the individuals on their actions, then these actions continue. Ok, so Frank is making an example of this woman, since her work triggered his thinking about the whole screwed-up situation, but as much as you want to give her the benefit of the doubt, that does not mean she’s innocent. And even if we leave her aside, Frank’s points are still valid. Nothing in her discussion of her own art points to any deep realization about the effects of gentrification, and that’s the fault that Frank is pointing out.

  12. Dave Dugan on

    Thanks for the link Kurt. I had been looking at the about pages, the home pages, and didn’t go to the contact page because typically when I click on those, I get a pop up window to the email program on my computer, so I skipped that. So, great, you established that she’s white. So what? And yeah, great, individuals do carpetbaggery things so call out individuals on their carpetbaggery actions, but “making an example” of Ms. Jordan based on a profile you’ve created in your mind about what you think her actions might be based on what you believe her race and class is, that isn’t calling out an individual for their actions, and yes, I am giving her the benefit of the doubt. Why wouldn’t I?

    And yes, PLEASE, leave the woman aside, that’s my whole point. When you have a valid point to make about the shallowness of the ideas being expressed in a piece of artwork, express them. That would be an honest discussion. Hiding behind logical fallacies in an effort to point out the evils of carpetbaggery and gentrification by “making an example” of someone you don’t really know much about and has done nothing more than make art that you don’t care for, that’s just crappy.

  13. Dave Dugan on

    I think that artists are generally good people, so yeah, I’m inclined to give Ms. Jordan the benefit of the doubt. I think she meant well by making her artwork, trying to bring awareness to a problem. I agree with you that there are shortcomings in her artwork and her artist statement regarding any deep realizations about the effects of gentrification. But instead of reflexively tarring her with the carpetbagger brush based on the color of her skin and how rich you think she is, I would suggest you reach out to her. Her understanding falls short? educate her on where it falls short, and maybe next time she makes better art. I read somewhere on her site she’s traveling to different places that are exhibiting the prints and giving talks . Invite her to your comics salon to discuss the issues. You might be surprised to find that instead of the evil carpetbagging enemy, you have an ally interested in raising awareness about problems in your community.

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