Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cats and Comics

Salt and pepper. Shoes and socks. Comics and cats. See the pattern? These things go together. Cats and comics are inexorably linked. Diego and Laura have a cat, Lucas Varela wants one, and Rodrigo Díaz (from Moebius) and I talked about cats for a while after our interview. Cats can be inspirational as well as good companions. Jeffrey Brown wrote two books about his cats and I’m sure the writers of Garfield and Get Fuzzy have cats at home.

Now that the connection between cats and comics has been firmly established, I’m going to make a plug for “¡Hacé feliz a un gato!” (Make a cat happy!), an organization that helps the cats that have been abandoned in Buenos Aires’ Jardín Botánico (Botanic Garden). The first time I lived here, went to the Botanic Garden frequently to feed and pet the cats. When I returned to Buenos Aires in March, I knew I wanted to become part of an organization that would care for the cats on a regular basis. So I looked online and found “¡Hacé feliz a un gato!” I began volunteering, learning the cats’ names, and nodes where they gather. Some cats are affectionate, desiring contact with humans more than the food we bring; others need wet food because their bad teeth make it hard to chew the dry pellets; some cats are so shy we have to leave food that they will eat only when we walk away. Each cat has a distinct personality. Panchita, black and white with dainty paws, is shy, but still follows me around the park. Trapito, or “dishrag” in English, is called so because he always looks like he won’t survive another day, but is miraculously alive every time we bring food. Ismael, a big orange cat, guards the Plaza Italia entrance with the seriousness of a gargoyle.

Cats eating by a greenhouse

So, what exactly does “¡Hacé feliz a un gato!” do? They take care of the cats that have been abandoned in the Botanic Garden and help them get adopted. Volunteers feed cats daily and participate in monthly spay and neuter operations. (In Spanish, “castración” is the word used for “spay and neuter.” Terrifying.) Although at first glance, the Botanic Garden seems like a sanctuary, most cats get sick from the constant stress, cold, and rain. When the cats get sick, volunteers bring them to the vet. As you might imagine, resources are extremely limited (I’ve run out of food two times) and the organization is funded only by volunteer donations.

So what can you do, dear readers of this blog? Well, if you want to become a super important person in the comics world and the savior of an animal, you can adopt a cat! These cats are super sweet and might end up inspiring you to write a cat comic and become a millionaire. You can also contact the organization at adopciones.botanico@gmail.com and ask for information about donations or volunteering. While you’re at it, join their Facebook page: “¡Hacé feliz a un gato!” If you are thinking about adopting a cat or would just like to meet some of them, you can help me feed them. Just leave me a message!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chain of Command

I’ve completed thirteen interviews since beginning in April. Maybe that number doesn’t seem like a lot, but combined, I’ve probably done about 18 hours of talking, listening, and eating pastries. I’ve only posted two interviews on my blog, one with Lucas Varela and another with Andrés Accorsi. So, who have I been interviewing? I’ve interviewed comics creators (Lucas Varela, Diego Agrimbau, Ricardo de Luca, Fran López, Dante Ginevra), specialists (Andrés Accorsi, Oscar Steimberg, Andrés Valenzuela), students (Guillermo, from my workshop with Diego), publishing companies (Moebius, Común, Historieteca), and comics organizations (La Banda Dibujada). It’s a comprehensive list, no doubt, but in terms of my project about the lives of comics creators, five creators doesn’t seem like enough. But as I’ve been talking to artists and writers, I’ve come to realize that I need to understand the entire Argentine comics production system. I can’t understand the lives of creators if I don’t understand the context in which they are working.*

When creators mentioned the need for more publishing opportunities and specialists lamented the lack of advertising new comics, I decided to interview the owners of the publishing companies to better understand their point of view. Although I have not finished transcribing these interviews, Moebius, Común, and Historieteca all told me similar stories. Driven by a love of comics and seeing some sort of niche in the market, these companies began to publish. Común promotes the idea of the graphic novel, publishing books that emphasize the idea of the comic as a form of literature to be placed with literature in the bookstore. Historieteca publishes works by Argentine artists only available abroad. Moebius uses it’s connections to the graphic design community to create high-quality comics with a designer’s touch. While interviewing these publishing companies, the owners told me about their challenges: distribution and mismanaged display of comics in bookstores. So that’s sent me on a new quest to figure out the complexities of distribution and the hierarchy of bookstore space. Of course, the main focus of my project will still be on artists and their lives, but I want to understand their lives in the context of comics in Argentina.

*Okay. That sentence sort of makes me sound like an idiot. Of course I understand both the economic and historical elements that have had an impact on comics in the last 20 years. But I am ignorant about the creation-production-dissemination process. What exactly happens at every step of the process? What are the responsibilities and challenges at each level of production?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Marv and Me: Encounters and Translation in the Feria del Libro Infantil y Juvenil

During one of my posts in May, I described the Feria del Libro as being a sort of hell that was hot and crowded with sloth-like browsers. If I remember my Dante, there are distinct levels of hell, and The Feria del Libro Infantil y Juvenil was on another, deeper level.* The waves of children reaching up to my ribs moved faster than the elderly at the Feria del Libro, but were more unpredictable, stopping dead in the middle of the passage way without warning. So, after navigating the crowds on the first day, I was looking forward to sitting in a dark room and listening to the Marv Wolfman chat. But, no such luck. Just as I arrived and was about to go wait in the line, Andrés Accorsi, the director for the comics section of the Feria del Libro Infantil y Juvenil (see previous posts), approached me and said, “I’m glad you’re here. You can help with the translation.” Seeing my wide-eyed, horror-stricken face, he reminded me that I had offered to help him with the fair numerous times. Realizing that not only I had offered to help, but that he had previously warned me that it was a dangerous offer, I really had no one to blame but my overzealous self.

Too shocked to be scared, I went up to the stage and met Marv Wolfman, an amiable guy with a big smile and an amazing 1980’s sweater. (I later found out that he owns many of these sweaters in different colors.) Wolfman has created comics in the United States since the 1960’s and some of his contributions have laid the foundation for the modern comic book industry. He’s written comics (The Teen Titans and Tomb of Dracula) as well as scripts for animation and video games. Andrés explained that I would be translating his and the audience’s questions from Spanish to English for Marv. Essentially, it was a timesaving measure.

The only picture where I don't look terrified, taken from the El Blogazo del Comic blog

The doors were opened and the die-hard fans rushed to get seats in the front. I went up on the stage to sit next to Wolfman. Translating the questions that Andrés posed was pretty easy. I’ve seen his translation style before in Crack Bang Boom and he made eye contact with me when he was asking a question. I wouldn’t translate every word of the question, but synthesize it and come up with the essence of the question. Problems arose when the audience asked questions. First of all, I couldn’t hear anything because an infernal children’s performance across the hall played music at a heavy metal concert’s volume. Second of all, the crowd was filled with fanatics of American comics with very specific questions. Sometimes I could translate the question, but I gave Andrés the “I-have-no-idea-what-they-just-said” look more than once when I didn’t understand a specific reference. Even the next day, after reading about Wolfman’s career for a few hours, I was unable to make sense of some of the meticulous questions. I guess the man’s been in business for about half a century, so naturally I wouldn’t know everything he’s done after only a few hours of research. I probably should have been more embarrassed by my lack of comics knowledge, but anyone that has met me knows that I don’t read many superhero comics.

On the first day of the lecture series, Wolfman talked about his work in videogames and animation, and movies based on his comics. The second day, he talked about comics. Some of the most interesting topics he discussed were the role of comics shops and the format of the comic book. Comics shops, he suggested, should de-specialize to include games and toys and should also provide a place for people to gather for events. This would draw people in and make them stay, instead of just entering to pick up their comics. I recently interviewed Rodrigo Díaz from the publishing company/store Mobius and he talked about a similar idea—the comic store as a space for diverse groups of people. Moebius (located at Bulnes 658) has jewelry, stuffed animals, posters and diaries as well as comics. Because of this diversity, the store is attractive to different groups of people, not only those interested in comics.

Wolfman also criticized the current “pamphlet” format of the comic, suggesting a future online format to be viewed on the computer or ipad. Collector’s editions would be the only printed comics. In a continued conversation later that night (Marv and his wife took Andrés and me out to eat to thank us) he mentioned his intentional use of the word “pamphlet” to insult, marking his negative feelings about the flimsy nature of the 26 page books.

It was fascinating to be able to meet with someone who has lived through comics history in the United States from the Comics Code to the comics bubble and burst in the 1990’s. His experiences spans decades and the many ups and downs the industry has faced. After having learned so much about Argentine comics history through oral interviews and classes, it was interesting to hear the similar experiences of an American creator.

*Note: I love and support book fairs! I just get really stressed in large, hot spaces with many people. Book fairs should exist, I should just never go to them.

Marv, answering a question.
Me, unable to keep my face still for .05 seconds.
Video taken by El Blogazo del Comic.