I love drawing comics. I like sitting at my desk and figuring out how to lay out a page. I like the smell of india ink. Last Friday I decided to stay in and draw instead of going out for drinks. I love drawing comics. That being said, there are some drawbacks to comics. Sometimes I really wish sound could be gotten into a comic. There’s just something so immediate and powerful about sound. It would be such a wonderful tool to have in my toolbox. I get so envious of movies. If only I could plug in an AC/DC when I need that extra kick. But sadly, there’s no sound in comics.

While working on my new book Joe and Azat I found another drawback to comics, but this is a drawback that I think all media have. No heat. The book takes place in Turkmenistan which is ninety percent desert and hot, hot, hot. There was a two week stretch in the summer where the temperature just hovered around fifty degrees Celsius (which is something like 130 Fahrenheit). I’d open the front door to go outside and it would just be like opening an oven. I wouldn’t even bother stepping outside in the middle of the day. I always had to wear a hat because if I didn’t it felt like my head was about to burst into flames. 

I was constantly sweating. I’d be sitting in my room reading a book at my desk and I’d feel sweat drops rolling down my chest and back. There was one time when I had been working at a summer camp and I was walking home and I realized that I wasn’t sweating. I thought, “Finally, my Vermont raised body has adapted to this heat.” Then I went into a store and bought a bottle of water. Shortly after finishing the bottle I began to sweat again, which means that my Vermont body hadn’t adapted at all. Instead I’d just been so dehydrated there was no sweat left.

It was hot.

Words and pictures just can’t do it justice (and a scene of a guy reading a book and sweating is hardly entertainment). What I really wish I could do is attach some sort of heating unit to the book so people could really get a feeling of what it was like being in Turkmenistan. Sadly, just like sound it can’t be done in comics.

Anyway, when my book comes out in September you should find a really hot place to read it.

And check out my blog for non-Turkmenistan related stuff.

I Miss Bush

The Poor Get Poorer, Presidents Get Worse

SEATTLE—I miss Bush.

Stop the presses and shut off the RSS feeds: the bashiest of the Bush-bashers is starting to appreciate the Exile of Crawford.

I haven’t forgiven George W. Bush for stealing two elections, starting two wars, bankrupting the treasury and doing his damnedest to turn the U.S. into a fascist state. He deserves one of hell’s hottest picnic spots for refusing to lift a finger to bring the 9/11 murderers to justice. Bush was stupid. He was vicious. He should be in prison.

He was the worst president the U.S. had ever had. Until this one.

On major issues and a lot of minor ones, Obama is the same as or worse than Bush. But Bush had an opposition to contend with. Obama has a compliant Democratic Congress. Lulled to somnolent apathy by Obama’s charming manners, mastery of English (and yes, the color of his skin), leftist activists and journalists have been reduced to quiet disappointment, mild grumbling and unaccountable patience.

I don’t care about window dressing. Sure, it’s nice that Obama is intelligent. But policies matter—not charm. And Obama’s policies are at least as bad as Bush’s.

Guantánamo was but the beginning of Obama’s betrayals. First he ordered the camp closed—not immediately but in a year. Now he’s expanding the U.S. concentration camp at Bagram—where 600 innocent men and children are being tortured—so he can send the 245 Gitmo prisoners there. In the Bush era, Gitmo POWs received legal representation. Obama has ordered that the POWs sent to Bagram not be allowed to see a lawyer.

You saw the headline: “OBAMA BANS TORTURE.” But it was a lie. Obama’s CIA director told Congress that there’s a “review process that’s built into [Obama’s] executive order” that allows torture to continue. Leon Panetta said the Obama Administration will keep using at least 19 torture techniques against detainees. In addition, Team Obama will “look at those kinds of enhanced techniques to determine how effective they were or weren’t and whether any appropriate revisions need to be made as a result of that.”

As editorial boards of liberal newspaper tut-tut and the feds convene committees, the screams of the victims pierce the night.

Bush was the biggest spender in history, running up a $1.8 trillion deficit with wasteful wars and tax cuts. But next to Obama, Bush was a tightwad. Glamour Prez hasn’t been around six months, yet the Congressional Budget Office reports that he already has quadrupled the deficit by an extra $8.1 trillion. “The total debt held by the public [will] rise from 57 percent of GDP in 2009 to 82 percent (!) of GDP in 2019,” reports U.S. News & World Report.

Obama is sinking us into financial oblivion 72 times faster than Bush.

Where’d the money go? Mostly to insurance companies. Banks. Brokerage firms. Who used it to redecorate their offices and give themselves raises.

Against logic and history Obama claimed his bailout package would create jobs. Instead, unemployment has risen by 1.3 million. Has Obama’s plan saved a single homeowner from foreclosure? Reporters can’t any.

I liked Bush better. He wasted our money when the economy wasn’t quite as sucky. And he didn’t insult us by pretending to care. Come on, Barack, smirk! Truth in advertising!

I know: he’s a politician. Politicians break promises. As the presidential scholar Stephen Hess says: “There are some pledges that a candidate reverses when he becomes president because things look different. He knows things that he didn’t know then.”

“Some”? Obama hasn’t even tried to keep a single major promise. He hasn’t gotten rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” His ballyhooed “cap and trade” law on emissions is toothless. Remember Obama’s pledge to renegotiate NAFTA to strengthen environmental regulations? Forgotten.

In Obama’s case, “things look[ing] different” has meant giving in to entrenched dirtbags, like the spooks who read your emails and the entrenched Pentagon torturers who don’t want us to see photos that make Abu Ghraib look like child’s play.

(An official familiar with the photos in question tells me they include, among other atrocities, U.S. personnel sodomizing a child.)

Obama has done more damage than Bush. And no one’s stopping him. Which makes him worse.

Sorry, Mr. Bush. If I’d known what was coming, I would’ve been nicer.

(Ted Rall, President of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, is author of the books “To Afghanistan and Back” and “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?”)


Staying on Model

A must have item for any project.
A must have item for any project.

Oftentimes I have trouble drawing consistently from panel to panel and page to page. It’s more apparent when I draw realistically. I wish I had the skills of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, but I don’t. What I found for me is creating model sheets helps, especially when the characters are really shape-based and have strong silhouettes. Things Undone was a way for me to experiment with shapes and to get better at consistency.

Though the next time I do a realistic project I think I’ll probably find actors and actresses to create the characters from. At least there’ll be more reference and lighting conditions to choose from. I’m sure everyone already does this…even to the point of just tracing off photos. Still, I’d rather do the character sheets based off of the reference I’ve gathered and my initial designs.


Fact and Fiction

It seems that a lot of people think that my comics are one hundred percent true. I remember being shocked when one of my friends said she assumed that all the stories in my comics actually happened to me. A number of people after reading my first book Flower and Fade asked me if I was still in touch with Erika, the main female character in the book. 

When I first heard these comments I got annoyed. I wanted to say all of it was fiction and that I made all of it up, but that really isn’t true. There are an awful lot of things that have actually happened to me in my comics. For example, In my new book Joe and Azat, the events shown above actually happened. I was riding in a taxi through the desert when the taxi driver stepped out of the car, popped the hood and opened the radiator cap to have boiling coolant explode in his face. That happened. The driver’s name was Dowlet. The car was a brand new BMW. 

But I can’t say that the book is one hundred percent true either. There are many real incidents in the book, but the plot is entirely fictional. I take pieces of my life, little memories, anecdotes, people, and events and then I throw them into a blender and they get all mixed up and twisted around. Real events get bent around, warped and reshaped. Fictional endings and beginnings get added. Facts that are irrelevant to the story get cut. Three real people get mashed together into one character. Events get reordered for the sake of the story. New events are made up because narratively they should have happened.

It’s all a jumbled mess by the end, and sometimes when I’m looking at a comic I’ve done I’m not sure if what I wrote is factual or not. It all feels true by the end.

Hopefully, people don’t get too hung up on the reality of the book and they just enjoy the story.

Anyway, Joe and Azat should be coming out in September before SPX. Check it out. And check out my blog for more comics that I’m not sure actually happened or not.

Teacher Librarian on Bluesman and Geary’s Lindbergh

Teacher Librarian magazine reviewed a couple historically based graphic novels of ours saying for Bluesman:

“A moody masterpiece of fiction that is all the more compelling because every word of it could be true. [Uses] a broad visual palette that matches its dramatic variety of emotions.”

And on Rick Geary’s “The Lindbergh Child“:
“The master of historical nonfiction in graphic novels contributes one of his best efforts. Simultaneously factual and poignant.”