REVIEW: Stamps speaker series Françoise Mouly

Françoise Mouly, current art director for the New Yorker, shares the story of how she became who she was today.  In an effort to make this a divergence from the wikipedia page, I will try my best to add as much of her charm to this as possible.

Mouly began her presentation at the beginning — with baby pictures.  First was a picture of herself in Catholic school next to a picture of her husband, Art Spiegelman, as a kid.  Mouly was born in Paris and growing up decided to pursue a degree in architecture.  But midway through her schooling she realized that a future in architecture did not appeal to her.  Alumni would come to the school and talk about their experiences and how much they remembered fondly the days of school better than their days at work.  She was not fond of this disconnect between the idealized structure put forth by the architect, who does not always have a direct hand in the realization of the work, and therefore who subject to change it was.

So for a change of pace, Françoise moved from Paris to New York.  Making the move does not sound like it would be an easy task – with job, housing, etc to consider – but when Françoise talked about it, she made it sound like it was a fond memory in her past, whether or not it was a difficult one.  It turned out to be a great turning point in her life, as she expected.  She came in contact with many different artists and filmmakers, and most specifically a comic artist named Art Speigelman.  Françoise would spend her time reading Art’s comics in MAD magazine to help learn English.  She invested a lot of time in studying the way comics were made and even took classes in print-making and bought her own press for home.  Along with developing a strong bond with Art, she also found a strong bond to the comics he made.  She loved the means of reproduction involved in executing the final product that is the comic.  She fond greater control in the process in that it bridged the gap between what you design and what gets built.  It offered a lot more control over production than she felt architecture ever did.

One of her first jobs was working as a colorist for Marvel magazine, and also started her own business publishing maps and guides of SOHO and Tribeca.  At the time she was living with Art and his parents were very keen on the two of them getting married.  So, in order to appease their wishes, she and Art had a “taudry wedding,” according to Françoise, which was really only done to make good with the in-laws.  Art and her decided to have another marriage ceremony in 1988, and that one was the real deal, she said.

In addition to meeting Art, she also started to take her printing press to another level.  She and Art founded RAW comics, an underground comic magazine.  Her and Art’s goal was to provide a striking comic magazine that would hopefully garner more attention for adults and aid in the reviving of the adult comic readership, which at the time was suffering.  The magazine feature friends and contributors from America and Europe mostly, but from all over the world really.   Because she wanted to put a handmade element in every piece, so in one issue she and Art placed hand designed gum wrappers from the gum factory Art worked at into each issue.  In another issue, she inserted a small flexi disc into the back cover of a copy of one of Reagan’s speeches.  This emphasis on doing things by hand makes it more thoughtful, Françoise believed.

The opportunity to work for the New Yorker came when Art was offered to do one of the covers himself.  A cover he suggested was considered too bold for the running style of the New Yorker, which had grown in recent years to feature landscapes and non-abrasive images.  The current editor reached out to Françoise, seeing the work she did with her comic magazine, and asked for her to assist in the cover design process.  Françoise knew what she wanted from comics – powerful images that made it hard to remember what you thought before having seen the images.  This is what the current New Yorker was lacking.  So she went through older covers from the 1940s and 50s issues of the New Yorker and used those as example for what a cover for the magazine should look like.  There was more story telling in those covers, and more of a human attitude in them, that was lacking in the current issues.

In 1993,  Mouly became art director of the New Yorker and also publisher of her new project, Toon Books, which specialized in hard cover comic books for young readers.  She lives a dream, and the way she talks about it is as if it were what happens to any other person in a lifetime.  Her humility and charm make her an exceptional story-teller and person.  In her final words, Françoise said the New Yorker magazine will not lose itself in the modern age because its’ images have no time.  People take the images out of context of any time period and make them something accessible to many generations and future generations to come.

REVIEW: Princess Mononoke

The story begins in ancient Japan, during a time of warring villages and samurai and monsters.  Prince Ashitaka of the Emishi people is defending his village from a demon boar when he becomes cursed by the demon, and as a result he is given super-human strength while also that same power threatens to kill him from the inside.  In an effort to find the source of the curse, Ashitaka follows the cause of the demon’s suffering, a ball of iron, to a mining town that is using the iron to build weapons.  Traveling far to the west, he meets the Princess Mononoke in the forests, riding on the back of a large white wolf.  In this time period, gods still exist amongst animals, they are larger than life forms of the animals we know today, and are intelligent and able to talk with humans.  But something in the world is changing this.  More and more animals are born unable to speak and the cause of this seems to lie with the humans.

Ashitaka takes up residence in the town that is creating the iron, but he is unable to convince them to stop their mining and manufacturing.  The manufacturing force is comprised largely of former prostitutes and men and women ostracized from society by diseases such as leprosy.  They have come to this town and found a better lifestyle which they are prepared to defend.  Their mining efforts continue and Ashitaka leaves the town to see if he can find the Princess Mononoke again.

There is a theme of growth and change in the movie, not just in the changing of the humans relationship between themselves and the environment, but also the change from a feudal society to one that is contemplating contemporary problems in an ancient civilization.  Though the town is creating problem with its iron production, it is also making significant changes in societal norms.  Women and men’s roles are divided such that men do the fighting and women stay home and make the iron.  The disabled are in charge of design and innovation of new technologies, and each person contributes equally to the society so no one group is considered higher above the other.

As the human society seems to be propelling towards the future that we know today, the animals and the spirits of the natural world are heading towards their respective future in contemporary society.  As mining destroys mountain homes and humans support deforestation, the animals are being pushed further and further away from their homes and from their roles as intelligent beings.  The role of animal gods and forest spirits is changing from one that exists in parallel to the human world to one that will only belong in fables and story-telling.  The wolf goddess, the mother to the wolf-girl Princess Mononoke, knows that the world is growing larger than the animals, and that the existence of spirits will soon become a memory to the humans.  But Princess Mononoke, who sees herself as a wolf born in the body of a human, chooses to fight for her place in the world.  She does not fit with the humans, but through the fighting she learns that she does not fit completely in the world of the animals either.  Prince Ashitaka inevitably falls in love with the Princess, for he dreams of a society where humans and animals live in harmony, or the embodiment of what the Princess represents.  He and the princess work together to stop the humans and animals from fighting, but the war culminates in the death of two great animal gods, as well as the cutting off of the head of the forest spirit.  There is death on both sides, as it goes with war.  The humans, now displaced and their iron works destroyed, have a post-apocalypse hopefulness and plan to move on and build a better town founded on better values.  The forest spirit no longer takes the physical form it used to, but Ashitaka emphasizes at the end that the forest spirit is not dead, he exists instead in a form invisible to humans.

PREVIEW: Stamps speaker series Françoise Mouly

Penny Stamps Speaker series presents: Françoise Mouly
In Love with Art …and Comics

Who:  Françoise Mouly, art director for the New Yorker since 1993, will be giving a talk as a part of the Stamps speaker series

What:  Come listen to someone speak about comics and art and the intersection they played in her life as well as the role they play in her current occupation.

Where:  Michigan Theater

When: 5:10pm

Admission is free.

More info HERE

REVIEW: Buccaneers, Robots, Yetis and Other Agents of Social Change

In a typical week, Robot Supply and Repair in Ann Arbor, receives a number of people with Rumbas (robot vacuums) looking to have them repaired.  Robot Supply and Repair is no robot repair shop but actually an extension of 826 National, a writing support group co-founded by Dave Eggers.  Dave Eggers is the author of What is the What and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.  The first is an autobiographical work about one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.  The second is a memoir based off his own life and dealing with the passing of both his parents while he was in college, and the responsibility of raising his younger brother.

Dave Eggers is not only a good writer, but he is an eloquent speaker.  He doesn’t speak with too many words, but he is eloquent and precise all the same.  The story he told tonight is about the beginnings of 826 National.  Dave Eggers and educator Ninive Calegari saw there was a need for a support system for teachers in San Francisco with the overwhelming number of students needing help with writing, so they decided to begin a writing tutoring group.  The puzzle was that the space they were looking at was a retail space, so the logical reaction was that they needed to sell something.  Initially they thought about selling hot dogs in the store front, and offering a writing lab space in the back.  This idea was exchanged for a pirate supplies store, inspired by the ship like outer facade of the store.  So 826 Valencia was born, its address in San Francisco giving it it’s namesake.  They became the one and only pirate supplies store in the area.  At first it was slow running, but today the nonprofit serves 6,000 students each year thanks to the help of 1,700 volunteers.

Other cities have wanted to share in the success of the idea, and now 826 has expanded to have locations across the country, each with a unique store front idea.  For example, the Boston location operates under the store front ‘Boston’s Bigfoot Research Institute.’  And the local 826 Michigan in Ann Arbor features robot supplies.  It is a clever idea which eliminates any stigma a student might associate with an after school writing tutoring center.  The space hides the tables and tutoring in the back, clearly separated from the store.  The space is meant a new community conduit, where educational workshops take place, poetry readings, publishing, along with writing tutoring.  826 also offers traveling tutoring services where schools can request a certain number of tutors to assist in the classroom.  School tour groups are also are invited and given a very special opportunity to tell their own stories and get their work published.  Kids write a story in the store, illustrate it themselves, and have it formally published all in the course of one event.  It reminded me of when I was in kindergarten they published our first stories in a bound book.  I felt proud bringing my book home to show my parents and dedicating the book to them.  It is a validating experience for a young person to have their work published and is an innovative tool of encouragement.

Eggers idea for a nonprofit is something that crosses boundaries between tutoring spaces for young people and opening up to a unique form of community engagement through spatial appearances.  The last half of the talk was dedicated to Eggers acting as moderator to a group of three panelists, each involved in starting their own nonprofits in Detroit.  One was the founder of an elementary school, another was a founder of a jewelry-making business that employed women who have been in abusive relationships.  The talk was very encouraging to hear not only because of all the current social change and engagement going around in the community and the successes they have, but also the new ways people are looking at social engagement and education.  The audience’s resounding support made me excited for the ideas that are coming from future generations and the impacts they will have.

PREVIEW: Dave Eggers presents…

Buccaneers, Robots, Yetis and Other Agents of Social Change.

What:  Dave Eggers, acclaimed author, founder of McSweeney’s literary website, cofounder of 826 National.  He is coming to give a talk about social change and civic engagement are taking on new shapes.  Eggers will be accompanied by a group of local Detroit urban leaders.  Refreshments afterwards.

Where: Wayne State University’s Community Arts Auditorium
450 Reuther Mall, Detroit

When: Tuesday, Nov. 4 6pm (doors at 5:30pm)

Link to Dave Eggers in the Detroit Free Press.

REVIEW: Literati presents Short Flight/Long Drive Book tour

It’s Monday night and I’m walking towards Literati bookstore.  It’s been raining and the night is bizarrely warm and humid.  I’m reminded of the name of the book tour:  Marry, F*ck, Kill, (Cuddle) Tour.  The night feels like it is in the cuddling mood.
The basement of the Literati bookstore is small but filled.  Books surround rows and rows of people.  It feels like the ceiling is too low and the space too narrow to fit the excitement held for these authors.  Or perhaps it’s perfect and cozy this way.
There are four young published authors who will be reading tonight.  Each has been published by local press, Short Flight/Long Drive Books:
SHORT FLIGHT/LONG DRIVE BOOKS is an independent, non-profit small press specializing in the publication of fiction. A division of Hobart, Short Flight/Long Drive Book was founded in 2006 with Elizabeth Ellen as editor. SF/LD has published Chelsea Martin’s Even Though I Don’t Miss You (2013), Chloe Caldwell’s Women (2014) and working on Mira Gonzalez’s forthcoming untitled book w/ Tao Lin.
The first author to step up is Chelsea Martin.  She has written Even Though I Don’t Miss You (SF/LD 2013) and today she read a short story about meeting her father for the first time.  She detailed the pleasant experiences of a colonic and how a father’s seemingly good intentions at starting a relationship with his teenage daughter could cause unspoken stress and physical pain.  While the father lacked in communication with his daughter, the story did not lack in visceral detail.  Chelsea is also creative director of Universal Error art collective and has received a BFA in illustration and writing from California College of the Arts and currently lives in Oakland, California.  More about Chelsea can be found at her website.
The experience of the second author, Mira Gonzales, is noticeably different.  In her poem, dick pics first are announced first and foremost as extremely relevant for contemporary culture as large amounts of snickering and agreement is made by audience members during her reading.  She has a lot to say about the prevalence of dick pics in her life and it’s hard to come away with any other interpretation of the experience except to conclude that she was fed up with it.  Mira will be publishing a yet untitled book through SF/LD in March 2015.  She is from Los Angeles, California and her first collection, I will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together, was published by Spencer Madsen of Sorry House press in January 2013.  Mira’s blog.
The third author, Elizabeth Ellen, tells a story pertinent to the season.  She read two shorts on Halloween, haunting and filled with sexual tensions.  She has published a collection, Fast Machine (SF/LD Books).  She also won the Pushcart Prize for her story “Teen Culture”.  She is based in Ann Arbor and co-edits the web journal, Hobart.  Elizabeth’s website.
The fourth author was Chloe Caldwell, author of Women (SF/LD, 2014).  Her reading was by far the longest as she reads from her recently published novella, Women.  She tells the story of falling in love with an older woman, and begins by admitting to the destined failure of the relationship.  The reading is only an introduction to the book but already is an expression of raw feelings of love and the rotten things that can result.  Her excitement while reading her book complemented the no-nonsense style of her writing, the scenes of fucking and pining and resulting heartache.  It is one of those reads that makes you say ‘goodbye drama, I’ve had more than my fill. maybe next year.’  You can check out Chloe’s website here.
The four authors were all smiles and by the end of it, the audience was pushing to get to the front of the room to have a word with them.  Overall, it was a really great atmosphere and exchange of stories, and what I found most interesting was the camaraderie between the four authors.  They were all genuinely joking around, poking fun at each other, and game for karaoke afterwards.  I hope you check out these great ladies!