Lock your doors! Close the blinds! Bar your windows!
Hide your children and especially your pets!!
The little grey men from Proxima Centauri are coming for you, if they haven’t already taken you for a ride through the galaxy!
And while watching out for little grey or green men, look for Dark Matter, the fourth book in The Silent Invasion series coming this October from NBM. And, remember, if you see mysterious glowing lights in your back yard during the middle of the night — run and hide!
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Following Jacques Genin for a year, Franckie Alarcon hobnobbed with one of the biggest chefs of Chocolate.
Former chef and pastry chef for prestigious restaurants, this super-talented autodidact shares all his passion and knowledge of chocolate and his process for creating recipes. In this docu-comic, we travel with the starry-eyed author, satisfying many a craving from the chef’s amazing atelier above his store, trying his hand as an assistant, all the way to the Peruvian cocoa plantations where the chef shows how he carefully chooses his beans, starting from scratch. 8 ½ x 11”, 112pp., full color HC, $19.99; HC ISBN 978168112278651999; DIAMOND CODE: APR211819 Pub Date: June 16th, 2021
After Glacial Period and The Sky Over the Louvre comes another completely original story with stunning art by a leading mangaka, bestselling author of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
Rohan, a young mangaka, meets a beautiful mysterious young woman with a dramatic story. Seeing him draw, she tells him of a cursed 200 year old painting using the blackest ink ever known from a 1000 year old tree the painter had brought down without approval from the Emperor who had him executed for doing so. The painting meanwhile had been saved from destruction by a curator of the Louvre.
Rohan forgets this story as he becomes famous but ten years later, visiting Paris, he takes the occasion to try and locate the painting. Little does he know how violently powerful the curse of it is until he has the museum unearth it from deep within its archival bowels
7 ¼” x 10 3/8” , 128pp. Full color Hardcover, US $19.99; HC ISBN: 978156163615051999; DIAMOND CODE: APR211820
Let’s show a new “making of” for a page of “The Stringer”. As I said in a previous entry, I start by doing a fast schematic scketch directly on the margins of the script sent by Ted.
As you can see, there were initially only 4 panels, but I added three more in order to feel more confortable and give the reader all the information. Lucky me, Ted is a very detailed writer, but also very flexible and open to change if it makes my life easier. So you can see the final 7-panels structure under the text.
Ok, first drawing on the new panel structure:
For the central panel background, supposedly showing a street in Amsterdam, I mixed two photos from a trip I made some time ago. It’s actually not Amsterdam, or even Holland, but Ghent and (I think) Bruges, in Belgium.
And voilà, a beautiful fake view of Amsterdam!
Now let’s move to the inking, adding some extra details: the beard for the first character, the 500-Euro banknotes and the bank statement:
Then I add the plain colors:
Some shadows, the only text balloon, and it’s done! Ready to receive one of those wads of cash in payment for all the hard work! 😁
I hope you liked it! More interesting stuff to come!!
Haunted by loss and made resentful by years of under-appreciation, a once-idealistic journalist dedicated to finding and telling the truth turns against his ethical basis. Shunning the quest for objectivity and reportorial remove, veteran print and broadcast war correspondent Mark Scribner, lead character of my new graphic novel THE STRINGER, yields to his darkest temptations in exchange for fame and fortune.
That’s what the book, with illustrations by Pablo Callejo, is about. But is it possible? It’s one thing for a journalist to make a mistake. That’s inevitable. But can they throw out basic morality altogether? Absolutely.
Journalism does its best to circle the wagons when one of its own goes rogue, which is why the reading and watching public isn’t always aware that the reason that what they see on the news isn’t always true is sometimes due to personal corruption. Journalists keep each other’s secrets.
Scribner doesn’t succumb, at least I don’t think he does, and I probably should know since I invented him, to drug or alcohol abuse. But drugs were and are a big part of the coping mechanism for some conflict reporters. One very well-known television war correspondent – if you watch the news, I guarantee you have seen him — is widely known in the business as a junkie. His beat takes him to countries where heroin is cheap and widely available, and he partakes regularly. And he’s hardly alone.
One correspondent assigned to the Middle East found that she couldn’t handle the stress of traveling to exceptionally dangerous areas without getting her fix first. “I would never get into that car to go to a place like that unless I was zonked out of my mind,” she told me. I’m not a particularly judgemental person, but even if I were, I have to concede that she had a point.
One threat to journalistic integrity is laziness. Jayson Blair, The New York Times reporter who infamously made up quotes and stories from his apartment in Brooklyn, seems simple enough to have had the drive to get off his ass and report. I knew another reporter from the same newspaper who had every opportunity to legitimately go out into the field and collect quotes, but unlike young Mark Scribner at the fire in Cincinnati, he preferred to fabricate them and kick off for beers early. As far as I know, he’s still there.
You might ask, since I knew about such rascals, did I speak up? The answer is no, typically because I’m not a rat and also because I knew nothing would really change as a result. When the Times published a long article shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks about the strategic importance of the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, I was drawn to a detailed description of the strategic border between the country and neighboring Afghanistan, then governed by the Taliban. I called a friend who was an editor there about it to point out the fact that the countries don’t have a border. A couple of days later, the paper ran a brief retraction about the absentee border, but the reporter remained even though he had clearly made up the story wholesale and had never been to this fictional place.
Then there was the colorful account of riding the new train line between Turkmenistan and Iran that appeared in a travel magazine. I was really interested in the story because I wanted to take that train myself the next time I went to Central Asia. Problem was, it didn’t exist yet. According to the authorities, it should’ve been finished years earlier. But it wasn’t.
Journalists sometimes succumb to the grandiose desire to break a big story even though they haven’t actually come across one. Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize for her obviously ridiculous 1980 portrait of an eight year old heroin addict. Sabrina Erdeley‘s 2014 “A Rape on Campus” in Rolling Stone had to be retracted after it turned out that her sourcing was a mess and that the horrific events described within may not have happened at all.
Then there’s the oldest motivation of all: money. In 2005 the George W. Bush administration used public funds to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to three conservative commentators in order to promote White House policy.
Probably the closest any reporter has come to Mark’s rock-bottom morality was Judith Miller of The New York Times. Miller broke one rule after another during the Bush administration’s propaganda campaign to gin up support for invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, completely subverting the most basic ethical guidelines regarding objectivity and conflicts of interest, to hobnob with the right wing proponents of invading Iraq and run their lives as fact in the Paper of Record. It is true, as she has since argued, that we didn’t invade the country because of her. But she played a large role in the murder of over 1 million people, serving as a brazen propagandist in the nation’s most influential newspaper for a completely baseless military attack on a country that had done nothing wrong to the United States and had no intention or ability to do so.
While Mark goes further than these examples, even than Judith Miller, it’s not such a radical stretch. After all, journalists are only human. And humans sometimes do awful things.
Dark Matter, Book Four of The Silent Invasion will be released this coming October. This tale of shadowy, out of control, international cabals weaving byzantine webs of deep state conspiracies, fear, and paranoia in an America that may be controlled by mysterious space aliens “continues” in an alternate-world 1970—five years after the “conclusion” of Abductions, the previous book in the series.
The jury is still out on whether The Silent Invasion is a documentary or just the addled ravings of a couple of comic book geeks from southern Ontario.
Here are a couple of finished pages from Chapter Two…
Until next time, stay safe and watch out for those little green men!
Mark Scribner, the antihero protagonist of my graphic novel THE STRINGER, “employs his battle-zone-honed knowledge to stir up trouble by faking a Twitter fight between two Afghan warlords that sends the rockets flying,” as the book critic for the Publishers Weekly trade magazine put it.
That’s the moment when the grizzled washed-up war reporter breaks bad. It happens after a conversation with a young, hipper, Millennial colleague sparks a moment of bleak inspiration that sets everything that follows into motion. In a world of online anonymity, the dark web, bitcoin, no one really knows who anyone else really is. That is, as an arbitrage expert on Wall Street once told me, an inefficiency in the marketplace that someone will figure out how to exploit.
THE STRINGER relies on a host of technologies to unleash mayhem around the world. Here’s a look at some of them, all of them real, all of them around right now.
Fake Email Generators are marketed as a way to protect your precious email account from nefarious spammers, and who can argue with that? But it doesn’t take a genius – although Mark Scribner is a genius — to fathom the potential downside for society. If I can send you an email that looks in every way shape and form as though it came from someone legitimate, I can really mess you up. I can certainly mess them up.
I have some experience with that. Back in 1999 a man I didn’t know decided he didn’t like my politics, my writing, the general cut of my jib, I don’t really know what his real problem was. He used a primitive listserv to send emails under my name to a bunch of my colleagues and editors. It could’ve been worse, though it was pretty bad. The emails were pompous and self-congratulatory and annoying, or seemingly so since they weren’t really sent from me, and it annoyed my editor at the New York Times enough for him to fire me. He seems to have stopped, which is a good thing because fake email generators would have made him even more dangerous.
Misleading Social Media Accounts are as easy as pie to create. Many people, famous and not famous, don’t have Twitter or Facebook or other social media account at all. It’s incredibly easy to go online, as Mark does, and create real-sounding accounts for them. It’s slightly more challenging to spoof someone with a well-established online presence, but hardly impossible. Because Silicon Valley doesn’t bother to check the identities of people who create these accounts, you can create an alternative account under someone else’s name that sounds legitimate.
While I was finalizing the script, and Pablo was drawing his amazing illustrations, I read an article about Deep Fakes, in which existing video and audio archives are mined and fed into AI algorithms in order to build a vocabulary of gestures and speech and verbal tics so that a subject target can be made to appear to be saying anything you want. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that these are an important part of the plot line.
And there’s no end in sight. For example, it is already possible to create fake three-dimensional representations of you and me that have nothing to do with you and me. It all happens inside the VR/AR virtual world.
It’s my nature to dwell on the downside risk of new technologies, but as my father, a notable aeronautical engineer told me once, technology is neutral. There are plus sides and downsides. Splitting the atom led to the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; nuclear power keeps the lights on all over the world. Whether technology is a net positive or a negative depends on how it is applied in the aggregate. In the dark world of THE STRINGER, fakery becomes a tool for the most nefarious possible actors. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I always loved drawing cars, motorcycles and anything with wheels.
My sister-in-law Helena keeps some of my first drawings that I made (aged 3-4 years) in the letters my older brother sent her when they were still sweethearts . Those drawings were invariably of cars, crazy racing stories, influenced by the cartoons “Wacky Races” and “Mach GoGoGo” (she jealously guards those letters in the absurd hope that someday they will have some value, poor little thing!).
Therefore, for someone like me it is a pleasure to illustrate a story written by Ted Rall, in which his characters are always running from one side to the other using all kinds of means of transportation, which he often describes in detail.
If we add that the story takes place in different countries and at different times, as in “The Stringer”, the pleasure of researching, documenting and drawing the appropriate vehicles, borders on lust for me, a maniac of documentation and accuracy.
So, let’s take a look at what we can find in “The Stringer” (in order of appearance in the book):
In the cover, I draw a Land Rover Defender with a lot of life behind it and certainly more than one interesting story to tell. Choosing this model is poetic license, because the quintessential all-terrain vehicle of the Middle East foreign reporters is the Toyota, as we will see later. But I find the Land Rover more beautiful, and it is a kind of tribute to its end of production after 67 years of faithful service.
Let’s go into the story: back in the early 70’s, Mark’s father drives a beautiful, massive, stylish Pontiac Grand Prix.
I would like to think it was the 455 cu in (7.5 L) rated at 310 HP, but I don’t see Mark senior as the wheel-burning type, more of a quiet cruiser. It must have been a pleasure to drive that liner with the V8 purring like a cat.
Fast forward in time: it’s the late 70s – early 80s. Mark enters the paradise of citizens allowed to drive. His girlfriend Patricia drives a white Camaro Z28 with red stripes to break hearts of everyone she comes across (at least mine, if I had crossed paths with her at that time). Mark, meanwhile, rides a fabulous badass Chevy Nova SS.
Anecdote: the Nova was Ted Rall’s first car, as you can see in this photo from his youth, in which Ted tries to convert a sports coupe into a station wagon.
Second anecdote: my first car was my father’s Simca 1200, a French shell rated at astounding 52 hp. It’s certainly not the same…
Patricia’s Camaro did not have a very good life; here it is a few years later, showing its scars, limping through heavy traffic on the freeway.
Ok, cut to the 21st century. In the middle East countries, modern Toyota Hilux from news agencies and NGOs and old Soviet UAZ trucks coexist seamlessly.
The Hilux was also, unfortunately, the preferred car of ISIS, to the point that in 2015 the U.S. government opened an investigation (with the collaboration of Toyota) to discover the origin of the hundreds of Hilux that ISIS used for its movements and attacks. Different explanations: jumps to dealerships in countries in conflict, “disappearances” of shipments in Australian ports, unscrupulous intermediaries…
Further north, bus travel in the former Soviet republics is a catalog of jalopies with millions of kilometers on their backs. Here we can see a LIAZ on a road in the middle of nowhere in Kazakhstan.
Roads where you can have the most unexpected encounters: for example, a MAZ 537, a prodigious monster from the heyday of Soviet military engineering, towing an old nuclear missile on its way to dismantling.
But it’s not all transportation hardship for Mark. Sometimes he gets around in style, for example in this Mercedes S500, with which he visits a business partner at a former Soviet factory. His partner still drives around in an old UAZ van that we can see parked in the alley.
Mark’s other partners have more budget and move around in better vehicles. And nothing better for a picnic in the dunes than a huge, massive Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6×6. And if it´s two of them, much better!!
A Lincoln Navigator is not bad either, and is somewhat more discreet, although it requires certain security precautions depending on the country you are in.
But luxury goes out the window when you have to resort to public transport in northern Pakistan. Although the cheerful and extravagant decoration of its buses is quite a spectacle
Anyway, when things get serious nothing like an old and reliable Toyota Land Cruiser, the king of the tough off-roaders ex-aequo with the Land Rover.
A brief parenthesis to better-known places: a Fiat 500, Vespas… which city could it be?
Too bad the Dolce Vita does not last long. Back to the rough roads of northern Afghanistan, where the ditches are overflowing with reminders that the situation is complicated. The ubiquitous Toyota also dominates the cab market in the Middle East, in this case we see a Hiace minivan.
The bandits in these parts have changed the horses for motorcycles. In the foreground, we have a Kawasaki KLE 500 from the first half of the 1990s.
The second one could be a Honda from about the same era. In any case, tough as nails, virtually indestructible and with minimal maintenance, ideal for ISIS blitzkrieg actions.
And this is the end of the automotive review of “The Stringer”, I hope you liked it!
My new graphic novel THE STRINGER drops next month in April. A tale of journalistic corruption in an age of high-tech warfare, THE STRINGER is a collaboration between me, as writer, and the Spanish artist Pablo Callejo. I couldn’t possibly be more excited that I’m about to hold the book, printed on old-fashioned paper, in my hands any day now.
Probably the first question that comes to mind is: I’m a cartoonist. Why not draw it myself? The answer is the same as when I worked with Pablo on “The Year of Loving Dangerously” (2009), a gorgeous, unconventional book that came out ahead of its time in the middle of the Great Recession. (Don’t tell anyone, but Important People in Hollywood are trying to figure out how to turn it into a movie.) I have a highly stylized, economic drawing style. Some people might even call it primitive. Some stories call for a lot more detail, and THE STRINGER’s globetrotting narrative with settings and flashbacks and heavy characterization certainly was one of those.
I knew from working with Pablo before that he could pretty much read my mind and put on the page exactly what I was thinking based on my scripts. For “Year” this guy, who had never been to New York, stunningly evoked the wild and crazy New York City of the 1980s. So I was incredibly grateful when he agreed to work on THE STRINGER despite our disappointment with the original sales of YEAR. (Fortunately, NBM later graced us with an expanded edition in paperback that really does the artwork justice.)
In a future blog post here I will describe my collaboration process with Pablo. He has already posted about that here as well.
99% of the work that I do, whether it’s editorial cartoons or essays for the Wall Street Journal or graphic biographies, by necessity are required to work within formatic and editorial constraints. Editorial cartoons have to run fairly small. Anything that runs in a “family newspaper” can’t include cursing or obscenity. There are a number of conventions in working within the political longform format. And of course that’s true about this graphic novel as well.
But, like a lot of artists, I’m sensitive to criticism and I often think that my most “Ted Rall” work is least popular with readers, and vice versa. I’m sure this is something that I should work out with a psychologist, but in the meantime, I struggle with self-censorship, with trying to tone down my internal voice and my real personality when I write scripts for a story.
THE STRINGER is a rare exception to that.
Mark Scribner, a classic antihero protagonist if there ever was one, is basically me as all Id, no ego or superego. He’s an experiment. What if I drowned myself in my deepest moments of cynicism? What if bitterness and ambition became my personal religions?
Like Mark, I’m disgusted and angry at what has happened to old-fashioned journalism, and I don’t mean the disruption caused by the Internet but rather the atrocious short-term profit orientation and mismanagement that has destroyed the newspaper industry responsible for generating over 90% of news. Also like Mark, I have done some war correspondency. NBM published my most well received example, TO AFGHANISTAN AND BACK (2002), which was the first book about the US invasion of Afghanistan published in any form.
I was sitting at a journalist guest house in Kabul, Afghanistan, a compound once owned by Osama bin Laden himself, in 2010 when the germ of THE STRINGER occurred to me. In addition to reporters from all over the world, guests included NGO workers and what were euphemistically called “contractors” — mercenary soldiers employed by the US and its allies in the war zone to do the dirty business countries pretended that they weren’t responsible for. As I watched the contractors pick up the NGO do-gooders, I thought to myself, what a bizarre mix of people. They have unique skill sets. And when I ventured out into the countryside, it all came together. I was meeting local commanders, warlords and arms runners. A war reporter, I realized, knows everyone. Obviously, they know members of the press. They know people who fight wars, often on multiple sides. They know who supplies them. And they know all the intermediaries, like those mercenaries. It’s kind of like Malcolm Gladwell’s theory about connectors on speed: a war reporter knows everyone and everything needed to start and maintain and grow a war.
Anyone who has that much knowledge is dangerous. Take away everything that they love and care about, and who knows what they might do? That was the theoretical construct behind Mark Scribner.
There was never any doubt in my mind about what kind of voice he would have. I love film noir. One of my favorite films, one that AMC described as the most cynical film ever released in the United States, is Billy Wilder’s 1951 “Ace in the Hole” (also sometimes called “The Big Carnival”), starring Kirk Douglas and Jan Sterling at the peak of their formidable powers. Douglas plays a washed-up Manhattan reporter who finds and exploits the story of a lifetime in New Mexico, to viciously cynical ends. I knew that Mark had to have the most noir, utterly hard-boiled, unapologetically masculine verbiage of any fictional character in any form ever. And that’s exactly how I wrote him, although there were many times when I questioned myself, tempted by the desire to make him more likable.
Yet I resisted. Mark is as close to irredeemable any character I can think of ever, and that’s just the way I like him. Because after all, that’s the way the system made him. He wasn’t always like that. As you’ll see when you read it. For better and for worse, mostly, he’s a totally Ted Rall character.
The grand theory of THE STRINGER is that you can’t destroy one of the most fundamental societal needs, the documentation of history in real time by journalism and the retroactive analysis of what it means, without grave implications both personally and structurally on the world stage.
Since I was a reader in my childhood -One Million Years B.C.- I was curious about how the cartoonists worked. In the age before the Internet, it was hard for a small-town-boy to get this information. So, I searched here and there, digging into magazines and books.
Not too successfully, I must say. The first story I sent to a fanzine -two pages- was drawn in just one paper sheet. I mean, I draw page 1 in the front side, and page 2 in the reverse, just as I see them printed in the magazines.
Ok, enough about embarrassing moments. Just in case you’re curious about the creative process, here you’ve got how I make a page starting from the script sent by Ted Rall.
As you can see, my first sketch is on the same page of the script. Almost illegible. It is just a reference; the page is already in my head.
Then, let’s start with the real page (I work mainly digitally, trying to advance a bit faster than my usual slow pace): don´t forget to put the texts on a separate layer before drawing, you will save a lot of time and headaches.
Here I clean the preliminary drawing, without text:
Then inking, again on a separate layer:
Here is the ink layer after hiding the underlying scketch:
Then I add the plain color. The middle panels are in grayscale and with diffuse borders, we´re supposedly into Mark´s thoughts:
… and ready for texts and balloons.
Ok, page finished. I send it to Ted (what patience you have!!) to try to look as if I am making some progress and to disguise the fact that there are still 120 more like this one to go. Yay!