occupy sunday

the people’s reference librarian, and other occupiers

you’re looking at the people’s reference librarian. one of them, anyway.

within minutes of my initial descent into liberty square, where the much-heralded occupation of wall street is now in its fifty-first day, i realized i’d been woefully misled. this was not so much a matter of bias, which, as an oft-obsessive consumer of news, i feel capable of identifying and accounting for. clarinet player in a pop-up jazz trio at occupy wall street it was instead an utter lack of understanding among the vast majority of those assigned to report on the protest of what it was they were looking at (it doesn’t help that many didn’t bother to show up before settling in to pontificate). this haziness on the part of our media intermediaries has been widely perceived as a lack of purpose or organization among the occupiers themselves, but the absurdity of this appraisal reveals itself to physical visitors almost immediately.

[ the clarinetist in a pop-up jazz trio (which quickly morphed into a quartet, and then a quintet, as strangers joined in the jamboree. ]

i found myself back on the india street pier waiting for the ferry to wall street the next morning, and the morning after that, and many of the mornings to follow, with my sketchbook and my long-dormant political intensity in tow. i brought books (with and without pictures) to the people’s library. i attended general assemblies and meditated in (and on) the plaza’s sacred space. i received non-violent(ish) direct action training from some of the most formidable anarchists i have ever encountered. sam, my direct action training facilitator i arrived before dawn with the national lawyers’ guild’s hotline sharpied on my leg when the encampment’s eviction seemed imminent, to help prevent it if possible, and document it if not.

[ my direct action training facilitator. ]

i became quietly obsessed with the ambition to correct the record, to grant occupy wall street a fair hearing in the court of public opinion, to explain to the less proximate world that it is not a rally or a march or a clash with the authorities or a set of demands or even a steady procession of the above, but a place wherein such things have room to occur, like a campus on which everyone majors in revolutionary whimsy. i came home and posted a couple sketches beside my initial impressions of the people’s mic, in what i intended to be the first in a series of illustrated dispatches.

the people’s reference librarian

but the bulk of my thoughts ended up in a photographically-illustrated article over at act now examining the culture and community of this unexpected place. within a day it became my most widely read essay (not so tremendous a feat, but still), and has since multiplied its audience several times over. if you’ve been wondering what exactly the protestors are doing, or what it is they want, or why they’re camping about it, you may find it instructive. or a fun read, at least.

i draw slowly, as those of you waiting on my promised new comics have on occasion pointed out to me. because zuccotti park is an unusually vibrant place these days, occupy wall street general assembly consensus and the revolution does not stop to pose, i was forced to capture some of the encampment’s more ephemeral sights with my camera. all non-crappy photos from my visits to the occupation can be found, and used freely for non-commercial purposes (under this creative commons license), on the boykenan flickr page.

the aforementioned act now blog, where members and friends of one of new york’s largest progressive mobilization organizations air grievances and hatch schemes, is looking for people who draw less slowly than i (as noted, an easy bar to clear) to contribute political cartoons (comics, animation, collage, what-have-you). bass player in a pop-up jazz trio at occupy wall street because we are an all-volunteer organization (unlike, say the huffington post), there is sadly no money to be distributed to deserving contributors. but artists and authors retain all rights to their work and gain access to a wide audience of politically active new yorkers. holler at kenan [at] actnowny [dot] org with submissions.

[ the bassist of the aforementioned trio, quartet, and quintet. ]

midnight OccupyLap

of course, i am not the only activist in the family. inspired by the fearless displays of solidarity emerging across the nation and the world, midnight has begun an occupation of her own. you can follow her revolutionary whims and political wisdom on twitter at @occupylap. it’s activism at its sexiest and most sedentary.

the occupation’s drum major

[ it would probably be both too hierarchical and too militarily-coded to call this man the occupation’s drum major, but it would probably not be inaccurate. ]

mic check

faces of the occupation

[ a young man reads naomi klein to his friends on the east steps ]

have you heard about this?

despite the prohibition of amplified sound, the residents of zuccotti park have devised a way to be heard over the drum circles, jazz bands, political debates, and ambient city soundscapes that compete for the plaza’s dense sonic space. it works like this: somebody (who can be anybody, because it’s that kind of scene) shouts “mic check!”

to which more or less everyone within her sphere of audibility replies, “MIC CHECK!” in something usually very nearly approximating unison.

satisfied that “the people’s mic” is functioning properly, the speaker continues with her announcement:

“in five minutes…”


“…we’re going to have a meeting…”


“…about strategies for achieving environmental justice…”


“…through indigenous rights activism!”


“the meeting will be held…”


“…over there!” she points.

…OVER THERE!” many pointings.

the format serves a number of practical purposes, including the making of announcements, the public reading of mind-expanding texts, the issuing of reminders about collecting recycling, and the conducting of the twice daily “general assembly,” as well as the smaller, more narrowly focused meetings happening in five minutes over there.

but because everyone has a voice, and every voice, the right to be heard, there are also those happy occasions when a rotund man with a beard that seems not to have been cut since well before woodstock tumbles into your vicinity, clutching a hand-scrawled cardboard poster for the event he is organizing.

“mic check!” he will call out in a supremely confident voice. he is excited, you theorize, to be reprising his life’s most compelling movement, the last time he really felt like he knew what he was doing, and why.

and so you join in the reply of “MIC CHECK!

“four-thirty p.m.!” the man proclaims.


“nassau and pine!”


“levitate wall street!”


“we’re gonna show all the bankers…”


“…that all their lobbyists…”


“…are no match for the people, united!”


“and shake them around a little bit!”


“levitate wall street!”


like the rest of your fellow resonators, you won’t actually attend this event. you may appreciate the sentiment, but fear you’d never recover from the disappointment if it didn’t work out.

regardless, it’s an impressive display of amplitude.

a vietnam vet with his nikon

[ a vietnam veteran decides where to point his nikon ]

today’s article about the occupation that doesn’t totally suck: it’s a protest. it’s not woodstock by teddy wayne.

why can’t i get gay married?

i make this look good

i did this illustration for an article about marriage equality in new york state on the act now blog. i also wrote the article. and then i had myself illustrate it. (i pretty much always get me to do my illustrations, primarily because of my extremely reasonable rates.)

truth be told


[ print available below the post. ]

at the age of ten, madison was still drawing.

in and of itself, the fact is oddly significant. by her age, most kids seem already to have identified the visual arts as something they do or don’t “do.” or perhaps something they do or can’t do.

it’s a perplexing phenomenon. most of us are pretty mediocre writers, and yet i’ve never heard somebody say, “oh no, i don’t write,” or “i only do tweets.” to be fair, drawing is less closely associated than writing with one’s appeal to potential employers, and so we are permitted, well before the age of employment, not to pursue it.

but i was among that endless stream of heretofore tone-deaf ninth-graders who decided to pick up the guitar, which remains, sixteen years later, one of the great unprofitable pleasures of my little life. once sedentary college friends found devotion to intramural sports or modern dance. who’s ever started drawing in her early twenties? “i only do stick figures,” people will assure you.

madison, in her age-inappropriate wisdom, doesn’t seem to harbor any particular artistic ambitions. and yet my sweet little cousin hadn’t yet given up her attempts to communicate her thoughts in pictures. it was nice to see, and unusual.

madison and patches

the daughter of two former coast guardsmen, one a teacher with a background in marine biology, madison was crafting detailed and impressively accurate renderings of aquatic life when she was still counting out her age on a single hand (although the drawings were not devoid of youthful fancy; often their anatomically approximate squids and jellyfish would mingle on the ocean floor with spongebob and patrick). her portraits, though less faithful to their subjects, still exuded the appealing confidence of an artist benefiting from regular encouragement. at restaurants we would draw each other pictures on napkins, she to escape the intolerable tedium of waiting to eat in the company of grown-ups, and i, to escape the intolerable tedium of waiting to eat in the company of grown-ups.

seagull by the sea

as she rounded out her first decade, self-consciousness began to seep, as is its custom, into both her work and the vocabulary she used to describe it. where once she might have announced a newly rendered likeness of her younger brother by saying “this is daniel,” she now hedged any number of bets once taken for granted: “do you want to see my drawing of daniel? it’s really terrible.” suddenly some subjects were beyond the scope of her ambition, which, like most of us, she self-exoneratingly misidentified as her capability: “i can’t even draw that shirley temple. i don’t know how.”

so when she wondered, aloud and for my benefit, with her signature blend of precociousness and melodramatic grandiosity, what she would do with her rapidly approaching eleventh year, it got me thinking. (at the time, all i said was “you’re technically living your eleventh year, now. your age is the number of years you’ve completed,” because i knew a thing, and she didn’t, which is surely one of the great joys of keeping company with ten-year-olds.)

before long i had devised the following promotional offer: i would procure her a proper sketchbook as a birthday present. and every day, she would decorate a page with a drawing (from observation, i specified in vocal italics). if she did this for one year, i assured, nay, promised, her drawings would improve exponentially. she’d flip between the first and final pages unable to fathom that they were filled by the same artist, and that said artist was she.

the cate in the hat

having never had or really given much thought to children, i can’t say for certain just what persuades people to create them. we’re told biology is a great motivator, and i don’t doubt the expectant nagging of aunts and grandparents-to-be does its part. but on my periodic breeding-positive days, what really gets my sperms swimming is the opportunity to correct the slight imperfections of my own childhood (imperfections which would not, at any other time, in any other place, even register as such, i know, but seeing as we’re all here now, indulge me).

i suppose my friends, when considering parenthood, imagine wheeling their miniature selves through the farmers’ market or introducing them to the arcade fire. i am certain that some envision teaching their young to set prices at their lemonade stands high enough to communicate the premium, small-batch, artisinal nature of their product. i like to picture myself walking with my kid, telling her the truth.

madison and patches

i tell her the truth about all sorts of things. i tell her the actual origin of her christmas presents, and explain that they appear not because she’s any more deserving than anyone else, but because she’s lucky, and loved. i tell her that curse words have never once done any harm to anyone, but like diamonds, their value derives from an artificial scarcity. i tell her that diamonds are bullshit. i tell her that no one has a fucking clue what god is, or if god is, or what god wants, and anyone that claims otherwise is lying or crazy or running for office. when she’s older, i tell her that sex is healthy so long as you are cautious, and fun so long as you actually want to be having it. i explain that drugs aren’t wrong, just stupid. i pour her her first glass of wine, and expound upon the art of savoring.

i’m aware of the best intentions that motivate us to deceive our children. i know we’re “only trying to protect them,” to ensure they “stay kids for as long as possible” in a corrupt and corrupting world. but i also hold the unpopular belief that the purpose of childhood is to end itself, to replace itself with knowledge and experience and wisdom. (as a.s. neill taught us, kids want to become adults, even if the rest of us wish not to have done so.) kids are for growing up, and our attempts to retard the process are, at best, counterproductive, and maybe a little fetishistic. we catch our children lying back to us and manage to be shocked, not so much by their undeveloped morality as by their skill at deception. against all reason, we expect otherwise.

and so i spend hour after hypothetical hour correcting for every little bit of nonsense with which i was benevolently injected, every feeble inoculation against the world as it is. some of these talks go better than others, because honesty isn’t easy, and i’m a novice. and the hardest one, i know, will be the most important, the falsehood i am most determined not to repeat, and about which i seem still to be bitter: that i was good at things.

umbrellas at the shore

my parents, like most, repeated this well-meant absurdity at every possible opportunity: upon the presentation of every new scribbling, every smiley-face-adorned math test, every basic comprehension of an adult’s emotional complexity. i don’t doubt they were legitimately surprised to see vaguely recognizable renditions of he-man produced by a four-year-old. and they wanted to encourage me, and to support my burgeoning talent. and my drawings were impressive, in context. but they were by no means good.

when we tell kids they’re good at drawing, or at soccer, or that they’re smart, we mean it the way we mean that our dogs are “smart.” it’s an abbreviation for “you’re smarter than you look with your tongue lolling out of your mouth and your nose up someone else’s hindquarters.” if the qualifying context is lost on the complimented party, it seems harmless enough. we love our kids, and want to believe they are great, and want them to believe it. so we say ridiculous things, like “he’s so good at drawing. he’ll sit there with his crayons all day. i don’t know where he gets it from; i only do stick figures.” and we pretend we didn’t just solve our own mystery.

were we to admit that our kids are better at things than their peers because they spend more time at them, we’d concede the credit is not ours to take. but if, instead, it is some congenital gift, then it is surely a gift of our giving, somehow or other. “look how awesome we are,” we demand, convolutedly, holding up their latest scribbles.

and so, like most every kid, i believed that good was something i was, rather than something i did. i thought it was a superpower. i didn’t know why i had the ability to draw, and i was constantly afraid that it would abandon me. i didn’t understand why some drawings turned out better than others, and developed elaborate superstitions and rituals to try to will quality out of my pencils. i tried everything short of working harder or practicing more. and when, in mid-adolescence, some of my peers’ talents began clearly to surpass my own, i didn’t understand that either.

umbrella sketch

in the weeks before wildwood, i bought madison at least six sketchbooks. one looked elegant on the shelf but too serious in my hands, and no artist, old or young, needs such formality weighing down her first impressions. one was filled with paper deeply textured enough to interfere with a well-sharpened pencil point, and we hardly need obstructions beyond our own limitations. one was too delicate to withstand adolescent frustration. one was bright and playful, like madison, but maybe too young, or maybe not, and how old is eleven anyway? i called cousin jen for advice.

we made it down the shore just in time for the first dinner. the cousins were already wrapped around four conjoined tables at a terrible restaurant to which we vow annually never to return, despite its unparalleled view of the sunset over the marshes. madison reopened her eyes on the colorful new sketchbook i’d placed in her expectant outstretched hands. she looked up at me with excitement, but a distinct lack of surprise. “i wasn’t really asleep when my mom was talking to you,” she explained.

i had kept one of the unsuitable sketchbooks for myself. “we’ll each do a drawing every day this week,” i offered. “at the end of the day, we can show each other what we drew.” when she protested that i had the unfair advantage of being good at drawing, i assured her i was not half as good as i would like to be.

down on the beach the next morning, we picked a common subject for our first sketch. having barely begun, madison attempted to obscure her work with her usual cloud of caveats. “it’s terrible,” she pre-empted. “i don’t even know how to draw an umbrella. i can’t do it, i don’t know how.” i told her to look, and draw what she saw, and then look again to figure out why what she’d just seen and drawn was wrong. “this isn’t going to work,” she assured me despite developing evidence to the contrary. “i can’t do it.”

“it’s the same thing i’m doing over here,” i insisted. “it works.” she peeked over my forearms to appraise my windswept umbrella. “that’s so good,” she complained. “how do you even do that?”

“i practiced. for thirty years,” i added, considering the cliche i’d just heard myself utter. “but not enough,” i confessed. “if you practice for thirty years, you’ll be much better than i.”

it was the truth, at least, but who knew i could be such a didactic bore? i felt all grown up, but for once i didn’t much mind the feeling. if you have to be an adult, this seemed like a palatable enough way of going about it. maybe that’s what having kids is for.

view from the balcony

signed 11" x 17" cardstock print • $15.00 + $4.50 s&h

s.p.x.tra, read all about it.

matthew ocasio and neil brideau sell some zines

[ matthew and neil man the fort. ]

it was my first year attending s.p.x. as a civilian (rather than exhibiting), and i quickly remembered how much i enjoyed festivals, how much more i wanted to be there, back when they were play, before the time was spent worrying about my “career” and the many ways in which i was failing to advance it, before the whole enterprise seemed like something i was doing wrong. to be sure, i missed having a home base, and trading affectionate barbs with my tablemates, and the sense of being part of what all the fuss was about. but i finally had time to roam the floor, to pick up unfamiliar minis and chat with their creators, to be surprised by and excited about comics.

and comics are pretty exciting. if you didn’t make it down to bethesda this year, or weren’t similarly liberated to wander about, here’s a few things you might have missed:

SPX 2011 haul

the plot no. 1: a monster in the forbidden forest, the first installment of the first long-form serialized story by my friend and editor and role model neil brideau. i had the privilege of watching this story germinate from a stack of feverishly scribbled thumbnails to the delicately inked, lovingly assembled minicomic neil debuted (and sold out of) at the show, and still i was surprised by the final product. the story concerns an enigmatic race of adorable humanoids which owes its prosperity and unusual abilities to an even more enigmatic race of aliens, and their children, growing up, whether they want to or not, in a secluded village buried within a vast and dangerous forest. this comic is so much fun that the reader can be forgiven if he fails to notice how thoughtful it is, and how well it represents those oft-forgotten instants before the onset of adolescence, and how honestly it remembers the uncertain excitements of that time.

anxiolytic: neil and kenan

( neil was also passing out his second true-dream comic anxiolytic #2, which he drew on the train ride down from chicago, and assembled in a 24-hour print shop at 3:30 on sunday morning with precious little help from me, and wherein i am egregiously slandered, depicted as unkempt and barely comprehensible and an unrepentant pedant, which is to say, neil’s dreams are disappointingly similar to actual life. even still, they make for a compelling read. )

papercutter seventeen attempts something different from any previous installment of tugboat press‘ stellar anthology series: it is a single, coherent volume comprising seven autobiographical stories from a single writer, each executed by a different artist. what results is both an engrossing read and a fascinating meta-exploration of artistic collaboration, the act(s) of reading and retelling and interpretation, and what it means to make another’s story one’s own.

Stranded in Strange Waters

stranded in strange waters is one of my favorite idiots’ books to date (which, those of you familiar with these festival round-ups will know, is no small compliment). it includes twenty-five one-paragraph stories by matthew, each printed opposite one of robbi’s illustrations. the pair took turns creating the prompt to which the other responded, and the images interact with their associated texts in different ways, sometimes illuminating, sometimes continuing, sometimes retelling the enigmatic little story. each gives the reader just enough information to get her theorizing as to what has transpired before it, and after, and between its sentences, but not quite enough to ever determine if she’s right. it’s like a feast for the imagination, but one so delectable as to leave the appetite unsated.

jay’s brain! shoulders all the blame for jason viola’s troubles, and, if their relationship is anything like that of kenan and kenan’s brain (which it very much appears to be), it deserves it. that said, jason’s brain comes up with a lot more funny, familiar, and touching-if-gently-cringe-inducing ideas than mine, or anybody else’s, i think. i like this book so much.

clutch 23

invincible summer 20 / clutch 23 is just as intimate and engrossing as we’ve come to expect greg and nicole‘s series of split-zine diary comics to be. the vastly divergent styles and narratives still complement each other to build a portrait of life in a scene in a city as broad as it is deep. but every page-turn was, for me, laced with something bittersweet, the sense that what we’re reading is just a generous epilogue to the long, sweet melancholy that was clutch.

little garden may have a plot. it may have a discernible sequence of events, a broader narrative project, an overarching arc. it may be going somewhere, although most of darryl ayo‘s odd, sweet little stories seem perfectly content where they are. these things are really beside the point. what i can say for certain is that i want to read a million more tales of this enigmatic, progressive, mutually supportive and vaguely occult community of extra-human creatures. also, i want to sleep with pretty much every character.

blackstar #5 collects a handful of short stories jeff zwirek made for various anthologies. taken together, they reveal an artist obsessed with formal invention. in this short minicomic, we see experiments with color, visual styles and degrees of abstraction, non-linear narratives, and, as always, book design. (speaking of which, let’s take a moment to be excited about jeff’s successfully kickstarted burning building comix collection.)

chester 5000 xyv by jess fink

chester 5000 xyv is the kind of comic i wish i were brave enough and honest enough to make. it is deeply pornographic and also funny and troubling and touching, which really shouldn’t be all that uncommon a combination, as sex is generally all of those things. nonetheless, this is rare and truly superior smut, elegant and legitimately erotic. unlike most of what we call porn, it doesn’t seek to shame its audience, to call its consumer names and beat her into the sort of submission that makes for a loyal customer. it’s the kind of thing parents should pray their children happen upon when they go digging for answers in the inter-dirt.

sugar baby was, i’m told, nomi kane‘s thesis at the center for cartoon studies, which elevates the work from impressive to downright humbling. it recounts a childhood which would be typical but for the persistent intrusions of type-one diabetes, a condition which assumes more of the dramatic duties of a nagging younger sibling than the author’s actual baby brother. it’s sweet and funny and a little heartbreaking and really very lovely.

bar scrawl volume 2 is the perfect guidebook for those of us with perfectly rational if not entirely practical fears of everyone and places that aren’t my apartment. sure, you can consult yelp to see if some entitled priss felt she was attended with due diligence by the poor waiter subjected to her self-importance, but bill roundy gives you the information you really need before you ever set foot in the bar: how much you’ll be charged for what, what particular subset of douchebag is going to fill the place up by 11:15, where the bathrooms and exits are. my only complaint is the lack of coverage of greenpoint (which, let’s face it, is as far as i’m going to go for a glass of wine that’s been open for two days); this issue includes only spritzenhaus, which is really glorified williamsburg.

okay, enough fun. the next time i see you i’ll be back behind the table where i belong, cowering before the crowds and wishing i had time to get out and see all the stuff. and i’ll probably be trying to sell you something that looks like this:

old town color preview

but last things first:

i didn’t know dylan. like everyone in our little universe, i was aware of him, and enjoyed the brilliant and unusual comics he helped introduce into the world (of which i seem to have collected a small mountain), and understood that i was a beneficiary of his dedication to the medium, not just because i got to read the hitherto unheralded artists whose work he supported and disseminated, but also in a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats sort of way; indie comics is clearly a more exciting place to be because he was here. i will leave the eulogizing to those with concrete-er and more intimate points to make, but i do want specifically to direct your attention to neil’s thoughts, which struck me as a deeply touching and appropriate tribute.

after the festival, i headed into the district with neil and matthew “the matter” ocasio, where i had a few days of movie work, dotted with the seeing of sights i had somehow never gotten around to seeing before. and then i curled up in the back of the production van for the long drive back to brooklyn, trying not to have to pee. i shouldered my bags and staggered up the steps and through the door and into bed, where i’m always welcome, and i didn’t get up in the morning.

At the end of the tour

[ photo: girlcate ]