In 2009 NBM published my first and only collaboration with another creator, THE YEAR OF LOVING DANGEROUSLY. I wrote the story—my story—and Pablo G. Callejo, the Spanish genius behind BLUESMAN, drew the artwork. I was really happy with the way it turned out. Despite never having visited New York before, much less during the 1980s, Pablo managed to channel what NYC felt like during the bad old days of the Reagan era.
YEAR OF LOVING is about my year (really a year and a half, closer to two) that followed my expulsion from Columbia University for both academic and disciplinary reasons. In short order I lost my girlfriend, a place to live and my job. With only a few buck in my pocket I got ready to face the reality of homelessness in Manhattan.
Until I lucked into a place to stay with a woman who picked me up.
YEAR OF LOVING did OK. But it was, I think, ahead of its time. Besides, the economy was terrible. With 500,000+ Americans losing their job every month, not a lot of consumers were picking up graphic novels. Personally, I think the 6×9 trim size of the hardback didn’t do Pablo’s artwork justice.
The new paperback coming out in April 2019 fixes the size problem: at 8.5×11 the artwork really shines and you can easily read it. The #MeToo movement puts this story into a textured context (I’ll blog about that next time); here’s a story about a man relying on the kindness of women rather than the clichéed opposite scenario in which men wield their power over women. And of course the paperback is more affordable and the economy doesn’t suck as badly.
More on the book.
Benjamin Melendez with his family at the opening of Julian Voloj’s photo exhibition “If you live in New York…”, 2011
December 8 marks the anniversary of the Hoe Avenue Peace Meeting, the iconic gathering that not only inspired the movie “The Warriors” but also ended for a period of time a spiral of violence in the Bronx. When I met Benjy Melendez back in 2010, the events were widely forgotten.
Initially I was only planning to include Benjy’s portrait in a photography series on Jewish diversity. We became friends and he continued to tell me his story. I knew I wanted to tell it, and one thing let to another. Claudia and I started working on the graphic novel in early 2011. The year marked the 40th anniversary of the Hoe Avenue Peace Meeting, but no events were planned. So I approached Benjy with the idea to organize a reunion. Claudia and I had maybe 10 pages ready and were not sure where our journey would lead to. That December, dozens of former activists came together re-telling stories from back-in-the-day. It was the first time in decades that many of these people had seen each other.
Five years later, “Ghetto Brother” has not only been published with NBM, but also in France, Germany, and Spain (a Brazilian edition is planned for next spring), the Ghetto Brothers album “Fuerza” has been re-released and the documentary “Rubble Kings” brought the events to a wider audience. No doubt that the 40th anniversary reunion played a small part in bringing Benjy’s story to a wider audience.
Next week, we’ll mark the anniversary of the Hoe Avenue Peace Meeting with two special events, and you can be part of it. The first one is in the Manhattan’s Lower East Side: On Wednesday, December 9th, I will discuss “Ghetto Brother” with Tamid’s Jewish Book Club The following day, Benjy and I will be on the Upper West Side, speaking at Barnes and Noble at 82nd Street and Broadway at 7 PM.
If you are in New York, don’t miss this opportunity!
On Saturday, the Edgar Allan Poe Visitors Center will host “Women in Comics”, a group exhibition curated by Ray Felix (Bronx Heroes) and Regine Sawyer (Lockett Down Productions). The exhibition will also feature artwork from “Ghetto Brother” illustrated by Claudia Ahlering (see photo).
When? Saturday, August 1, 2015, 1 PM
Where? Poe Park Visitor Center, 2640 Grand Concourse, The Bronx
Who? The Women in Comics Collective began in May, 2012. It’s mission is to educate about the role and merit of women working in the comic book industries by highlighting their artistic endeavors. The collective has over 50 members and organizes art exhibitions and a panel series that has been hosted at venues such as the Schomburg Center for Black Culture and Research, the Bronx Museum, the Bronx Library Center, and most recently at Comic Con in San Diego.
For more information about the exhibition and related events, please visit their Facebook page.