2021 in Reading: The Big List

Trying not to be precious about year-end stuff right now because I’m feeling stuck, but here’s a big list of things I read in 2021! Reading was hard this year for…well, you know. All the reasons. I needed a lot of comfort food to get through the upheaval of moving home, and for huge swaths of time I felt as if I’d lost access to the part of my brain that thrilled to Alberto Manguel or Le Guin in the first part of the year. I’m still sort of there.

Read a lot of comics (thanks, Danielle’s studio library and also The Actual Library) because I started drawing a graphic novel and it turns out reading more comics helps your brain think in comics??? Who knew. I still feel like I’m scratching my way towards figuring out what really makes a comic work for me. It takes a lot to get me excited about them, which feels somewhat icky as a person who knows first-hand how much fucking time they take. But there it is!

Started trying to track rough start/end dates towards the second half of the year because I got curious. I’ll probably stick with that into 2022.

Bubble and The Liar’s Dictionary both made me laugh out loud. The Creative Habit and Always Coming Home reminded me how I got to be the way I am. I’m sure there are other books I felt feelings about but I’m just going to HIT PUBLISH.

See previously: 2020’s Big List

LegendRough Guide to Ratings
🎭 – Plays
📝 – Poetry
📖 – Books (Fiction)
📓 – Books (Nonfiction)
💬 – Graphic Novels
❤︎ = Yes
❤︎❤︎ = Oh Yes
❤︎❤︎❤︎ = Oh Hell Yes
  1. 📝 An Ocean of Static – J.R. Carpenter
  2. 📓 The Book of Delights – Ross Gay ❤︎
  3. 💬 Oksi – Mari Ahokoivu
  4. 📖 The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories – Ed. Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin
  5. 📖 Solaris — Stanisław Lem
  6. 📖 The Liar’s Dictionary – Elly Williams ❤︎❤︎
  7. 📖 There but for the – Ali Smith ❤︎❤︎
  8. 📓/📝 Bluets – Maggie Nelson ❤︎
  9. 📖/🎭/📝/📓 Always Coming Home – Ursula K. Le Guin ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  10. 📖 Never Mind – Edward St. Aubyn
  11. 📖 Bad News – Edward St. Aubyn
  12. 📖 Some Hope – Edward St. Aubyn
  13. 📓 A Reader on Reading – Alberto Manguel ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  14. 📖 Mother’s Milk – Edward St. Aubyn
  15. 📖 At Last – Edward St. Aubyn
  16. 🔄 📖 Guards! Guards! – Terry Pratchett ❤︎
  17. 📓 The Mother of All Questions – Rebecca Solnit
  18. 🔄 💬 Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules – Tony Cliff ❤︎
  19. 📖 The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
  20. 📖 The Mezzanine – Nicholson Baker ❤︎
  21. 📓 Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert ❤︎
  22. 📖 The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien
  23. 📖 The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien (Finished April 20th)
  24. 📖 Wonder Tales of Seas and Ships – Frances Carpenter (April 22nd – April 27)
  25. 🔄📖 The Raw Shark Texts – Steven Hall (July 20th – July 27th) ❤︎❤︎
  26. 💬 Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut, Ryan North, Albert Monteys (August 4th) ❤︎
  27. 💬 Lucky Penny – Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota  (August 4th)
  28. 💬 Kodi – Jared Cullum (August 6th)
  29. 💬 The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist – Adrian Tomine (August 8th)
  30. 💬 Girl Town – Casey Nowak (August 9th)
  31. 💬 My Life in Transition – Julia Kaye (August 9th)
  32. 💬 Bubble – Jordan Morris, Sarah Morgan, Tony Cliff, Natalie Riess (August 12th) ❤︎❤︎
  33. 📖 The Accidental – Ali Smith (August 23rd)
  34. 💬 Don’t Go Without Me – Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (August 24th) ❤︎❤︎❤︎ 
  35. 🔄 📖 The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil – George Saunders
  36. 📖 Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen (Finished Sept. 8th)
  37. 📖 All Systems Red – Martha Wells (Sept. 10th)
  38. 📖 Artificial Condition – Martha Wells (Sept. 10th)
  39. 📖 Rogue Protocol – Martha Wells (Sept. 10th-11th)
  40. 📖 Exit Strategy – Martha Wells (Sept. 11th)
  41. 📖 The Absolute Book – Elizabeth Knox (Sept. 30th? – Oct 17th)
  42. 📓 The Library at Night – Alberto Manguel (April 22nd – October 19th)
  43. 📖 Sphinx – Anne Garréta (Oct 28-30)
  44. 💬 Draw Stronger – Kriota Willberg (Oct 30)
  45. 📓 Goodbye Again – Jonny Sun
  46. 📖 The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton (Nov. 18th-20th) ❤︎
  47. 📖 Milk Blood Heat – Dantiel W. Moniz (Nov. 20th-22nd) ❤︎
  48. 📖 The Devil and the Dark Water – Stuart Turton (Nov. 27th-Dec 2nd) 
  49. 💬 Piece by Piece: the Story of Nisrin’s Hijab – Priya Huq (Dec. 6th)
  50. 💬 The Legend of Auntie Po – Shing Yin Khor (Dec. 7th) ❤︎❤︎
  51. 💬 Treasure in the Lake – Jason Pamment (Dec. 9th)
  52. 📖 The Glass Hotel – Emily St. John Mandel (Dec. 15th-17th) ❤︎
  53. 📓 The Collected Schizophrenias – Esmé Weijun Wang (Dec. 18th)
  54. 💬 Tell No Tales – Sam Maggs and Kendra Wells (Dec. 15th-21st)
  55. 📓 The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp (Dec. 22nd) ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  56. 📓 Intimations – Zadie Smith (Dec. 28th) ❤︎
  57. 📓 I Shock Myself – Beatrice Wood (Dec. 25th – Dec. 31st) ❤︎

Jesse

The first funeral I ever attended wasn’t for a family member; it was for a cartoonist.

Three illustrated comics panels done in ink with a grey-blue watercolor wash. Panel one: a woman rides up a hill on a bike. Panel two: she takes off her helmet, looking sad and worried. Panel 3: a wide shot of mourners at a funeral, all looking back at her.

Dylan Williams passed away in 2011, shortly after I’d spent a formative semester as his student in the IPRC’s Comics Certificate Program. He’d battled leukemia for many years, but I didn’t know him as someone struggling with a disease. I knew him as a generous teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure and unsung cartoonists, a champion of small press creators, and a source of quiet humor and encouragement.

I’m almost certain that the first time I met Jesse Hamm—or maybe only saw him—was at Dylan’s funeral.

I realize, looking back, that Steve was there, too. And Greg. And probably countless other Portland comics people who would come to feel like a patchwork family in the years that followed. I was just a newcomer to that crowd at the time, still trying to find my place within the medium, but the funeral left a huge impression on me. I ended up drawing my thesis comic about that year in the IPRC program, and my first convention experience, and Dylan’s death, which led to my first Kickstarter, which led to my becoming an intern at Helioscope (then Periscope Studio), which led to the career I have now, ten years later.

A graphite portrait of Dylan Williams, a middle aged white man with short buzzed hair and a pencil behind his ear. He's smiling gently.
Dylan Williams, by Jesse Hamm

I remember using this portrait Jesse drew for his memorial post about Dylan as reference when working on True Believer. It was uncannily accurate and tender, as were his recollections of Dylan as a publisher and community member.

Toward the end of his post Jesse wrote:

Dylan understood that comics are really for and about people — that people are what give comics value. Like he said elsewhere in that interview:  “Encouraging people is like the greatest feeling in the world.” And he did encourage people. One blogger recalls: “He was able to say …the things I needed to hear in a way that I actually heard them. [H]is support and encouragement changed my life.”

It felt so true to what I knew of this man, even if I’d only known him for a short while.

Three comics panels in ink with a grey-blue watercolor wash. Panel one: the exterior of a building with the words "Individual voice is something to be treasured and respected" coming from a window. Panel two: the words "You've gotta make comics your own way. Every time." over a classroom full of students. Panel three: Dylan saying "Don't forget that" from his seat at the head of the table. Lucy enters the room panel left saying "Hey guys" and clutching a notebook. She's rushed.

I was in the middle of writing a difficult email yesterday morning when I opened the Studio’s Discord page and saw that Jesse was dead. A blood clot in his lung. Sudden and unexpected and impossible and awful and so far away from me at this laptop in California. Far away from my studiomates. Far away from the cemetery where we had buried Dylan a decade ago—the same one where another dear friend buried his mother late last year.

Seeing the outpouring of love and grief on Twitter from cartoonists who’d known Jesse through his threads of advice and educational PDFs, I found myself reaching for that old post about Dylan.

Rereading it this morning wrecked me all over again, because so much of what Jesse wrote about Dylan echoes what people have been saying about him: that he was impossibly knowledgeable, and fucking funny, and deeply opinionated in a quiet sort of way. That he wanted to encourage people. To help us see and appreciate all the thoughtfulness and knowledge that goes into practicing this craft.

An ink and watercolor comics panel showing a classroom full of students seen from outside the window. Dylan sits at the head of the classroom saying "Whatever the project, we have to think about the stakes. We have to ask ourselves: why am I doing this?"

I’ve felt distant from the idea of the Comics Community for a while now, trying to figure out my place in an industry that’s changing so rapidly, caught between different generations and genres of creators.

But this loss, like Dylan’s loss, feels like a smack in the face; a radical recalibration toward what brings us to this practice. What binds us to each other as a wider community. How lucky we are. What a wealth of information and knowledge there is out there. And of course, as with any death, the question of who we are. What we’re doing. How we’re impacting the people around us.

I kept thinking about how much Jesse knew, and what a staggering loss that is, but then yesterday a studiomate told me she’d just drawn a page earlier this week with a piece of his advice in mind. “I literally think of him every time I use it.”

That’s how this works, if we choose it. We share our knowledge and our enthusiasm and we welcome people to the fucking table so they can make the things they came here to make.

Dylan couldn’t have said it better. And now we have to keep saying it for both of them.

Thank you for everything, Jesse. We love you.

Q&A: Comics for Social Good

Over on Patreon:

When I shared some process images from my voting rights comic for Oregon Humanities over the weekend, Katie left a comment saying “I really want to get into comics as activism, because it’s kind of the only skill I have to offer, but I’m not sure where to start”. I’m sure this is a common concern, especially among folks who are part of Patreon because Patrons tend to be oriented toward both creative practices and social good, which is why you’re some of my favorite people.

The post I wrote in reply to Katie’s questions covers pitching, payment, research, and interviews, plus links to folks doing great work at the intersection of art and activism. Hopefully it’ll be useful to any of you thinking about this stuff.

Also relevant: fellow contributor Sarah Mirk’s comic on how Multnomah County passed universal preschool last November is now live on the Oregon Humanities website! She’s such a wonderful visual reporter. Go give it a read.

A horizontal spread of illustrated people from Sarah Mirk's comic. There's a woman wearing a mask holding a sign that says "Tax the rich, people over profit!" and a man in a yellow shirt that says "Universal Preschool Now!" holding a coffee. He's saying "This is how a democracy has to work. If we have a good idea people are passionate about, the only thing we can do is organize ourselves."

Antlers

There’s a list I began in a notebook a while ago that I thought would be short, but it turned out to be long. It’s full of people I know who’ve decided to move, or who’ve made the shift to building shared lives with their relatives, or who are able to support themselves in a creative career somewhere relatively rural.

Looking over it, I realize I’ve been tracking this for a long while. Not interrogating people, mind you, but nosing around. Peering through windows. That kind of thing.

Isabella’s on that list.

We met at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo in 2014. I still have the copy of her thesis project that I bought there—a gorgeous, oversized accordion book full of fluid aquatic illustrations set to the text of a sea shanty.1 We were clearly destined to be friends, but we lived in different places, so we stuck to garden variety mutual cartoonist admiration—the kind that simmers over social media and receives the occasional top-up from tabling at the same shows. She’s got a magnificent eye for production and packaging design, makes lovely, unusual things, and every so often comes out with something that just wraps up everything hiding in my heart and makes it visible and known.

Do you need to know all of that? Probably not. The important thing is that she just released a new comic and I think it’s glorious.

1. Turns out she originally exhibited it as a series of hanging tapestries and I think that’s just so fucking cool.

Hourly Comic Day 2021

Hooray hooray it’s Hourly Comic Day! (Or rather, it was on February 1st.)

I feel so relieved to have gotten back on the wagon after kind of falling off last year. This is my tenth year participating, and the completionist in me is slightly miffed that I don’t have a full run to collect and publish, but whatevvvver. It’s the practice that counts! And I’ll do it again next year.

Going into this round, I gave myself permission to work under whatever constraints I needed to in order to finish and still retain some semblance of sanity while packing and prepping to move four days later. That ended up looking like just putting down pencils every hour, and leaving inking and toning for my week of post-arrival quarantine in Ojai. I also logged out of every social media platform on the 1st, because I’ve found that I often spend the day sucked into staring at everyone else’s work and feeling inadequate and I just didn’t have time! It helped a lot, but it also meant not seeing a bunch of people’s work. If you had favorite hourlies, please feel free to tweet them at me. (I have already seen and loved Danielle Corsetto’s, Katie Wheeler’s, Abby Howard’s, Vera Brosgol’s, and Lissa Treiman’s.)

Also, RE: the FOMO bit, I saw someone lamenting that they’d posted theirs a couple days late because it meant fewer people would see them—they’d missed the zeitgeist bandwagon. And I get that frustration! I do! I feel it! But it’s also been helpful for me to consider what (and who) this practice is for. I do this because I love having a time capsule of the same day every year. I also do it to remind myself that I can Make Comics without it being a huge, stressful deal. I already have everything I need. Why not make comics that bring me pleasure? Even though I’m perpetually nagging myself to loosen up and go straight to ink or get more expressive, I still love the way these came out. My Hourlies from the last few years feel like I’m finally hitting my stride.

Anyway, here’s some comics! I am still deeply dissatisfied with my options for posting artwork on my own website! I’m working on it! (Case in point: this gallery plugin doesn’t have an option to include alt text that doesn’t totally eclipse the image by default. If you need alt text with any of these, the versions posted to Twitter and Instagram are, ironically, more accessible.)

You can read previous Hourly Comic Day installments at the following links: 2019, 20182017201620152014201320122011.

New Comic: Federated Learning for Google

Hello, blog friends!

I know things have been pretty quiet around here lately, but that’s mostly because I’ve been tied up making this new comic for Google!

A header image titled “Federated Learning: Building better products with on-device data and privacy by default. An online comic from Google AI” A smiling woman and an excited corgi flank a row of smart phones.

Federated Learning is a new field of machine learning research that just hit the big-time at Google’s developer conference this week. I landed a gig working with Scott McCloud and an internal team to translate the basics of the field into an explainer comic.

Most importantly: it’s got a Moby-Dick joke in it.

You can read the whole thing here.

There’s a lot to talk about with this gig, and I’m going to be diving into what I learned from my first major corporate client experience over on Patreon. This job is the most lucrative freelance contract I’ve ever taken, and I want to talk about how that’s felt (Complicated! Emotional! Empowering!) and what other folks can do to pursue similar gigs. I’m really proud of what we produced, and I think it does a good job of explaining something I would’ve never otherwise learned about.

I also took lessons learned from building the accessible edition of 100 Demon Dialogues and made sure we had functional alt-text throughout the comic. If you use a screen reader to browse the web, do let me know how it works for you. I’m still trying to get better at making this site and other projects I work on accessible for folks who traditionally get left out of the digital comic-reading experience.

Hourly Comic Day 2019

It’s here it’s here! My very favorite comics holiday! February 1st AKA Hourly Comic Day is a group activity where creators around the world illustrate the minutiae of their lives in hasty panels and sketches. Head to Instagram or Twitter and you’ll be bound to see some lovely entries under the #hourlycomicday tag.

I participated for the first time in 2011, which makes this my ninth contribution to the series! (I’m going to do a little print collection next year for #10.) In the meantime, you can read on for a brief window into my life right now:

You can check out my previous entries for Hourly Comic Day at the following links: 20182017201620152014201320122011.

Thanks to my stalwart crew on Patreon for making this work possible!

Rage, Liberation, & the Adventurous Life with Tessa Hulls

I love being on Patreon for many, many reasons, but chief among them is the platform it’s given me to record more conversations with creators I admire. I already keep an extensive archive of panels, talks, and classes on my SoundCloud page, but the support and enthusiasm of my Patrons has allowed me to add candid monthly interviews to the mix. Typically these conversations go up for Patrons first, and then (if the artists are comfortable with it) on the public feed a few weeks later.

Back in September I spoke to Tessa Hulls—a dream interviewee of mine for some time. Tessa’s work defies categorization, but it often encompasses notions of heritage, independence, wilderness, and community—all things I am endlessly fascinated by. She did a staggering number of residencies in 2018, all while juggling enough concurrent projects to make my head spin. I am deeply in awe of her energy and dedication.

In this 90-minute conversation, we discuss merging identities to create powerful new selves, balancing finances as a traveling artist, the transformative power of alternative community gatherings, coming into one’s own as a vulnerable communicator, navigating fine art spaces, “pathological independence,” and the current cultural crucible of female rage. Notes on our conversation below:

If you want to see more of Tessa’s work, I’d highly recommend starting with…

• This essay about bike touring, weddings, and personal freedom

• This glorious series of paper cut paintings

• This comic about rage

• And, really, everything on Tessa’s website and Instagram. Her graphic memoir, Hungry Ghosts, is definitely a project to keep an eye on over the next few years.

If you liked this conversation and want to help support more things like it, you might also like supporting me on Patreon! I am deeply indebted to the folks there for making these talks possible.

Thanks for listening!