The ProsenPeople


Wednesday, May 26, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

It’s been a long (but wonderful) few days for the JBC team. From the Jewish Book Network conference (Rhoda was there!) to BEA, we have lots of updates and new authors to share once we resettle in the office. In the meantime, a few images from BEA…

Matthue Roth's book (see it??) meets Paul Auster's book (and Paul Auster)

Egged Bus Life

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 | Permalink
In her last post, Miriam Libicki blogged on her process for creating the comic series jobnik. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

People have remarked that there’s a whole lotta bus ridin’ in jobnik. Even in the issue where Miriam is on furlough in the US and Canada, she spends a page riding a bus. Why?

Firstly, there was a whole lot of bus riding in my life at that time. I specifically asked for and got a permanent assignation “far from home,” meaning where you don’t go home every day. I was further from home than most; I lived in Jerusalem and served on a base about 30 minutes from Eilat, the southernmost tip of Israel. Each Sunday and Thursday, I spent 6 hours in transit, not counting local Jerusalem buses.

You may know that a soldier in uniform with proper ID can ride any bus or train for free in Israel. This is true, with the exception of the entire southern triangle of Israel, between Be’er Sheva and Eilat. Apparently, this area is too remote, too sparse, or in the case of Eilat, too touristy for a soldier to have a reason to go there without paying. Soldiers who serve or live in this area need to carry a special “Arava card” to be able to travel free on southern buses (Arava is the desert south of the Negev). This is just to illustrate that my service was bus-filled even by IDF standards.

One challenge of cartooning about my army service is that most of it was really, really boring. Somehow I need to depict tedium without being tedious; hopefully having a bus scene a couple times an issue gives you the feeling that that was indeed how a big chunk of my life was spent.

But Egged buses are also symbolic. To me, buses are a limbo state between identities. You aren’t anybody when you travel alone on a bus. If you’re listening to music and staring out the window, as I prefer, you’re practically disembodied. One of my favorite things to do was to get off at my layover in Be’er Sheva, walk across to the street to the mall, buy a magazine and order a fancy salad at a cafe. I relished that in my uniform, reading a magazine and eating a salad alone, I could be anybody. (Being from a large family, and growing up Orthodox in Columbus, Ohio where there weren’t any kosher restaurants, means I still feel like a woman of mystery when I eat at a restaurant alone.)

jobnik, as a proper bildungsroman, is about identity, trying to find identity, trying on and discarding identities. Israelis join the army at 18 after graduating high school, so almost everyone still lives with their parents whenever they’re not on base or in combat. I think this is an even more extreme condition of toggling between adulthood and childhood than the traditional American one of going away to college (I lived with my sister who was close to me both in age and emotionally, but there was a lot of my army life I kept hidden).

I noticed that not just I, but every soldier I knew, was a different person at home and on base. One of my favorite illustrations of this was when I visited my friend Yossi for Shabbat. He was a flamboyant, in-your-face gay man on base, while at home with his Orthodox Sephardic family, he was a twice as aggressively flamboyant gay man. Then out at gay clubs, he was practically demure. Clearly, the transformations had to take place on the public transportation between these spaces.

When I had that two-week furlough six months into my service, I spent it in Columbus, Toronto and NYC. I planned it that way because I had stuff to do in all three places, and bus-riding was so thoroughly entrenched in my identity, maybe I thought I couldn’t go two weeks without it. The bus rides from Toronto to New York, and then Manhattan to Poughkeepsie, were also significant for me at the time. In the first case, I spent twelve hours on a bus, and then learned when I disembarked that my parents had been frantically phoning and emailing people on both sides, because they had expected me in New York a day earlier. This reinforced my belief that when I was out of sight of people who knew me, I ceased to exist. Which was comforting, given how painful existing often is.

Going to Poughkeepsie in the middle of the night wasn’t an adventure; it was exile from the proper Orthodox world of my sister and her new boyfriend. I thought that after my longest bus trip ever, I would be able to stay still somewhere. But I barely had time to unshoulder my giant backpack before I found out my slutty girl cooties had to sleep several counties away, to preserve tzniut.

That’s the drawback of having a transitional identity, not properly belonging anyplace; sometimes people call you on it, and make you leave.

Then, of course, there’s terrorism. Blown up and upended like a whale skeleton is how most non-Israelis think of Egged Buses, the ones who do think of Egged buses. The second intifada started in jobnik! issue 2, here at jobnik! issue 8, it’s the following March. Suicide bombings haven’t really begun in earnest yet, but they’re coming.

Miriam Libicki has been writing and drawing the self-published comic book, jobnik!, since 2003. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Call for Papers: “The Loudest Voice: Jewish American Women’s Literature”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Thanks to Erika Dreifus for bringing this one to our attention:

Call for Papers

The Loudest Voice: Jewish American Women’s Literature

42nd Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
April 7-10, 2011
New Brunswick, NY – Hyatt New Brunswick
Host Institution: Rutgers University

Is there a common, traceable voice in the writing of Jewish American women writers? This panel seeks papers that explore Jewish American women’s writing from the early 20th century to now and may include poets, fiction and non-fiction authors, and comic writers/artists. Papers can address individual authors, comparisons of works by several women, or comparisons across generations. What does this writing tell us about how Jewish identity has been conceived over the past century? Send 250-500 word abstracts to Tahneer Oksman, toksman(at)hotmail(dot)com.

Deadline: September 30, 2010

Find more information about submissions and about the conference here and here.

The Evolution of a Page: jobnik! 8, Page 11

Monday, May 24, 2010 | Permalink

Miriam Libicki, an American Jewish girl from a religious home, enlists in the Israeli Army one summer against everyone’s better judgment. Many qualities seem to make her unsuited for IDF life: her Hebrew isn’t great, she is shy and passive, and she has a tendency to fall in love with anything that moves. If that weren’t enough, the Al Aqsa uprising, a.k.a the second Palestinian Intifada, erupts a few weeks after she is stationed as a secretary in a remote Negev base. Will Miriam survive threats of terrorism, the rough IDF culture, and not least, her horrible taste in men?

Miriam has been writing and drawing the self-published comic book, jobnik!, since 2003. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

I chose this page more or less because it was the page I was working on when I was offered to blog about my process, so I was able to un-tape it from my drawing board and scan it several times before I finished it. Below, find more detail on my process than anyone could possibly want!

I script a whole issue and break it down into pages before I start drawing, though I will sketch out the amount and configuration of panels as I am scripting. After a few years of writing comics, I have figured out how much text/dialogue I can fit in a panel and how many panels/scenes I can fit on a page (the answer to both is: a lot less than you’d think) without shortchanging the drawings.

Then I will make thumbnail drawings in an 8.5”x5.5” sketchbook. I try to lay out the pages facing each other the way they will be when printed, so that I can design a two-page spread in a harmonious manner if possible.

This page has three scenes on it. I originally had each scene occupying one row of panels (I think in proper comix speak they’re called “tiers”), but when I got to my thumbnails, I thought the second scene wouldn’t be well served by really skinny panels, and the third scene wasn’t important enough to get a whole tier to itself.

So I’ve got the last panel of scene two occupying the same tier as scene three. My solution for visually differentiating the two was to shrink the final panel, and surround it by a lot more white space (“gutter” in proper comix speech). This also serves to reinforce how minor it is as a scene. Also, because Miriam is a limited first-person narrator, the very look of each panel is influenced by her mental state. Here, she feels small. Get it?

This sounds so dumb when I have to explain it. I really love how the comix medium allows one to show instead of tell in a more literal manner than text literature.

Note that some figures in a thumbnail are extremely rudimentary, and some of them are a lot more worked through, as I try to practice the facial expressions I want, as well as tricky poses, like how your hands look when you’re opening a tub of cottage cheese. Also note that I add speech balloons but not text. This is to give me a basic idea of where and how much space I need to give for the text. Since I already have the script, it wouldn’t do me any good to actually write the words in.

Computer layouts is something I only started doing when I started hand-lettering. I don’t have enough of a sense of how to form aesthetically pleasing text-shapes or good enough printing to letter completely freehand, so instead I trace printed text. I print the layouts of the panels along with the text because it saves me some time. If I’m using direct photo reference (*cough* tracing), I’ll also paste it into this document. I format this all in Illustrator, referring to my script and thumbnails. Then I print it out the size of my Bristol boards, and trace it using graphite transfer paper.

As it happens, I felt like I needed more help with Adi M.’s pose in scene two, so I posed in front of my computer’s camera, once for each panel. My characters’ anatomy is, uh, stylized enough that it wouldn’t have done me any good to trace these photos, but having them to look at next to my page was very helpful.

This is my final page, after I had traced the text and layouts and roughed in the figures. I said earlier that my printing isn’t neat enough to letter freehand but you’ll see that’s not exactly true; after I’d traced this page I realized I left out some crucial text, namely, the date and the translation of a Hebrew term I used in panel 1. So I did write these in freehand, using rulers to ensure a minimum of regularity. It turns out, through sheer repetition of my tracing process, I actually have developed some handlettering skills. But I guess I still need my crutch.

I didn’t trace the panel borders straight, because this issue is mostly an extended flashback. Wavy and not-as-thick panel borders is a way I am hoping to make the flashback pages visually distinct from the “present time” pages. I don’t yet know if readers will pick up on this, cause the issue isn’t published yet.

I added a lane behind the formation of soldiers with another division marching through. I did it cause the composition seemed unbalanced, and I like having the reminder that these twelve girls are just one of dozens of divisions going through exactly the same thing at the same time on this base.

I should have probably ruled all of panel 1 out using three-point perspective. But I decided to just eyeball it instead. I think if you have practiced drawing in perspective enough, you can fake it in a pinch, especially since the only thing in this pane is people, who are lumpy and squishy and irregular anyway. At least jobnik people are. I used 1-point perspective in the last panel, because it has more straight lines in it.

These are pretty much the “final pencils,” before I start “inking” with, in my case, softer pencils. If you care, my penciling pencils are 2H and H, and my “inking” pencils go from B (for flashbacky panel borders, and the smallest or most distant objects) to 3B, then I shade in tones with 3Bs-5Bs.

This is where I put in faces, clothes and any other details. At first I thought I could get away without drawing the endless rows of mess hall tables behind the characters, but then my husband pointed out that even though there are previous scenes in the mess hall, people cant be expected to assume that anytime characters are at a long table, they’re in the mess hall. So I got out my rulers and vanishing points and added in the tables and windows.

I didn’t add any people though, mostly out of laziness, but also because one of the biggest things I still struggle with in comix drawing is how much background to put in, so that there is atmosphere and context to a scene without muddying it up and taking focus away from the main action.

This is after the “inks” and tones, scanned in, but before more fixes in Photoshop. I use different softnesses of pencil when I “ink.” The softer the pencil, the darker and usually thicker the line it produces. So like in panels 2-4, the girls’ bodies are drawn with a 3B, while the distant tables are drawn with a B. most of the lettering is done with a 2B, while the emphasized words are done with a 3B.

In Photoshop, I darken up my page more so that the darkest pencil lines are black, and it’s a fuller tonal range for printing. It also wasn’t ‘til I scanned it in that I realized I left out an asterisk in the footnote of panel one, so I was able to fix that with cut’n’pasting (not shown).

Um. Any questions?

Miriam Libicki has been writing and drawing the self-published comic book, jobnik!, since 2003. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Shavuot Link Round-Up

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 | Permalink

Dear Readers-

Happy Shavuot from the Jewish Book Council!

Shavuot coverage and FAQs from Tablet

What Shavuot Teaches Us About Women on MyJewishLearning

Jewcy’s Guide to Getting Amped for Shavuot

If Shavuot Was a Marx Brother from the Forward

It’s a Book!

Monday, May 17, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Very cute book trailer for Lane Smith’s forthcoming It’s a Book (Palgrave, August 2010)

Fiction from The New Yorker: Nathan Englander

Friday, May 14, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

This coming week’s New Yorker features fiction by Nathan Englander: “Free Fruit for Young Widows”

When the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser took control of the Suez Canal, threatening Western access to that vital route, an agitated France shifted allegiances, joining forces with Britain and Israel against Egypt. This is a fact neither here nor there, except that during the 1956 Sinai Campaign there were soldiers in the Israeli Army and soldiers in the Egyptian Army who ended up wearing identical French-supplied uniforms to battle.

Not long into the fighting, an Israeli platoon came to rest at a captured Egyptian camp to the east of Bir Gafgafa, in the Sinai Desert. There Private Shimmy Gezer (formerly Shimon Bibberblat, of Warsaw, Poland) sat down to eat at a makeshift outdoor mess. Four armed commandos sat down with him. He grunted. They grunted. Shimmy dug into his lunch.

Keep reading here.

Ah yes, the Jewish Question…

Friday, May 14, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Last week’s NYTimes Book Review section examined  the “Jewish Question” in the following works:

Stray Questions for…Joshua Cohen

Friday, May 14, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Joshua Cohen at The Candlestick Readings in Brooklyn

Joshua Cohen (Witz) on The New York Times Paper Cuts Blog, where he answers:

What are you working on now?

Describe a typical day in your writing life.

What have you been reading or recommending lately?

Read his answers here.

Gary Shteyngart: Before He Made It

Friday, May 14, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Gary Shteyngart (photo by Mark Coggins from San Francisco)

Gary Shteyngart (Super Sad True Love Story) interview with “The Days of Yore,” a blog that interviews artists about the years before they had money, fame, or road maps to success…

What were those five years of work like between graduating from Oberlin College and getting a book contract?

I always tell my students to find a non-profit job because non-profit means that there is no bottom line! Or some kind of municipal job. You want to work 9-5, so that when the day is over it’s over and the weekends are yours. And the best thing, which I had at a couple of jobs, is when you can lock yourself in your office and write. People would say, “Oh Shteyngart is not a team player, he is always locked in his office, God knows what he is doing in there!” I used to work at this non-profit that dealt with immigrant resettlement and I would help write directions for new Russian immigrants, like how to not get drunk, how to avoid AIDS, stuff like that. That took max a couple of days a month, really. And the rest of the time I would lock myself in my office and work on the draft of my first novel. Half of it was finished by my senior year in college and the other half was finished working that job. It wasn’t the kind of service job where I would come home exhausted. I would come home ready to write or would have accomplished the writing at the office. It was brilliant.

Read the full interview here.