What I’ve Been Writing and Reading: May 2021

To be totally honest, I hate promoting my own writing. Sometimes I literally cringe when I hit the retweet button on a tweet promoting a piece of mine. I’ve always had a hard time reconciling my love of writing with my discomfort with the idea of having been read. Don’t get me wrong—I’m incredibly grateful to be lucky enough to have readers, and I feel great satisfaction when I hear from someone who really thoughtfully engages with my work.

But there are plenty of awkward experiences, too. One time I was waiting in line for a movie and the guy standing next to me, who had no idea who I was—because why should he—read a movie review blurb that I wrote for a local paper out loud to his girlfriend. Hearing all the flaws in my writing echoed back to me in a stranger’s voice was the most uncomfortable minute-and-a-half of my life.

The best thing about writing for comics is that it’s collaborative. I have never in my life taken a drug that is as powerful, fast-acting, and fun as the dopamine rush I feel when I see a new page of art based on a script that I wrote. And that act of collaboration also means that I’m not just promoting my writing when I talk about my work—I get to promote the amazing work of my collaborators, which I am genuinely, unabashedly enthusiastic about.

The other day on social media, someone wrote in a very nice post that they were excited to read Snelson: Comedy Is Dying, the comic I wrote for AHOY Comics, when it’s published in August. And this person was wonderful for doing this, and I am absolutely not mad at them for this or trying to call them out, but they referred to it as “Paul Constant’s Snelson: Comedy Is Dying.” And that just couldn’t be further from the truth.

There are so many hands on this book. I wrote the script, but Fred Harper is the one who had to draw every panel on every page in his impossibly beautiful style. Fred blew life into the characters—made them real people. He added an uncountable number of jokes and details to the story. It’s impossible to quantify authorship, but trust me when I say the artist is doing the heavy lifting on this book. And Lee Loughridge‘s colors bring dimensions to the art—adding an increased sense of reality (or fantasy or nausea) to every scene. Rob Steen’s lettering effortlessly guides the reader’s eye around the page. (Great comics lettering is an invisible art. When it’s bad, you can barely notice anything else. When it’s brilliant—as Rob’s is—you barely notice it.) And editor Tom Peyer and publisher Hart Seely and the rest of the team at AHOY helped guide and shape the story, and supported all of us as we did our thing.

So believe me when I say that I am enthusiastic about sharing the code you need to order Snelson‘s first issue from your local comics shop. It comes out in the first week of August, but for various distributional reasons you have to preorder the comic in the next couple weeks if you want a copy. If you’d prefer the same comic with a special cover drawn by Seattle area comics legend Peter Bagge, use this code instead. Team work makes the dream work!

I’ve been writing

With all that said, there’s no easy way to segue into an overview of what I’ve been writing this month.

For Crosscut, I wrote about one of my favorite Seattle institutions, the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. The 10th annual Short Run has been delayed twice now due to the pandemic, so I thought I’d check in with Short Run cofounder Kelly Froh and Board Chair Mita Mahato to find out how they’ve dealt with the delays and to see what they have planned instead of the 2021 festival. They’ve got a ton going on: a permanent Short Run gallery space in Georgetown, video profiles of local cartoonists, and no less than three books, including a ten-year retrospective of the festival and “a newsprint catalog showcasing comics, zines and handmade books created by Washington makers since Jan. 1, 2020. The goal, Froh says, is to make the catalog look like the Scholastic book order forms many kids adored in elementary school.” I don’t know about you, but I was sold right there.

This month in Insider, I wrote about what happens when businesses make the very political decision to become apolitical (using Ben & Jerry’s and Basecamp as two opposing examples,) the “mother of all economic booms,” what it might look like if the federal government directed the economy toward solutions and not just growth for growth’s sake, and why it’s lunacy for businesses to force janitors and baristas to sign noncompete agreements.

My bookstore profile column at the Seattle Times heads to Burien this month, where I visit Three Trees Books—possibly the smallest bookstore in the region. Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to bookstores, and Three Trees’ owners have put a lot of thought into what they’re doing with the space, from the free lending library on the shop’s front porch to the deeply personal self-help section. Their little corner of Burien—just fifteen minutes’ walk from the excellent restaurants and bakeries of Old Burien—feels a million miles away from Seattle, and it’s well worth a day trip.

I’ve been reading

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good is a tiny collection of short stories by Swedish author Helene Tursten about an 88-year-old woman named Maud who becomes a serial killer. The author’s light approach to Maud’s very specific killing spree — she only targets rude young people who underestimate their elders — gives the book a surprising Wodehouse-writes-The-Talented-Mr.-Ripley kind of vibe. It’s a fun, dark, amusing trifle of a book.

I listened to Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes because I finally felt enough distance from the 2020 election to reinvestigate it. And this is a pretty good quickie blow-by-blow account of what happened, with lots of good insider gossip. (I lost a bit of respect for Barack Obama, for instance, when I found out he was originally in the tank for Beto, and I was shocked and appalled to find out how close both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry came to jumping in the 2020 Democratic primary.) It doesn’t feel like a full accounting of the whole race—the Georgia Senate runoffs and, uh, that whole insurrection thing are both barely mentioned, due to deadline issues—but it serves as a bracing reminder of how desperate everything felt last year, and how far we’ve come since then. I’m not saying we should be complacent now, and I’m not saying that the Biden presidency is perfect, but we came really close to basically just flushing the whole American experiment down the toilet last year.

The owners of Three Trees Books explained in my Times column that they were big supporters of an Oregon writer named Brian Doyle for very personal reasons—Doyle, who passed away a few years ago, is the uncle of Three Trees co-founder Tim Miller. I picked up a couple of Doyle’s books during my visit, and I just read The Wet Engine, which is a book-length lyric essay about the science and poetry of the heart. Doyle was inspired to write the book after his son was born with a valve missing from his heart, and it’s really a loving, awestruck tribute to the heart surgeon who saved his son. Doyle writes prose with the heart of a poet, and his sentences are giddy perambulations that take you on a wild ride and drop you off in a place that you never expected to see. He was a fabulous talent, and I’m so excited that I now get to dig deeper into his body of work.

It’s no secret that Barry Windsor-Smith’s new tome Monsters got its start decades ago as a Hulk comic for Marvel. I remember reading about this book as a superhero fanboy back in the 1980s, and at the time, an investigation of The Hulk as a product of childhood abuse felt like as potent and Seriously Adult a reimagining of the character as Frank Miller’s take on Batman. I couldn’t wait to read the damn thing.

Welp!

Some 30 years later, I’ve finally read the damn thing, although the Hulk serial numbers have been stripped off the book and Seattle’s own Fantagraphics has published it in a gorgeous, hefty edition. And for what it’s worth, this book would have knocked my socks off if I read it back in the 1980s or 1990s. Smith’s artwork, with its paranoid curlycue lines and elegantly appointed figure work, is just as beautiful as I remembered it to be—moreso, in fact, thanks to Fantagraphics’ deluxe black-and-white treatment. The story, though, does feel pretty old-fashioned. I don’t know if I can recommend this to a new or aspiring comics fan who’s just dipping into the medium, but for an old-timer like me who’s followed this project since the days when it was nothing more than a rumor and a dream, it’s a must-read. It’s not often that one of the old masters of the medium gets a chance to see their work published in a beautiful edition like this, with no expense spared and no compromises made. As a piece of comics history, it’s unparalleled.

That’s it for this month

I’m pleased to report that this post is being published two weeks to the day after my second Moderna shot, which means that I am now fully vaccinated. In the interest of transparency, that 36 hours following the shot was pretty rough. The aches and pains kicked in about 11 hours after the morning jab and persisted, in the form of a fever and persistent body aches, for a full day.

But after I got a good night’s sleep, I awoke feeling entirely better. It reminded me of those amazing, superhuman childhood times when a cold or flu passes overnight and leaves you feeling one hundred percent recovered. In my adulthood, I’ve found that colds tend to linger and then gradually fade away, so the wall between illness and wellness is blurred. Waking two days after my Moderna shot completely whole and hearty felt like nothing short of a miracle.

I hope you have some miracles of your own in the next month. Thanks for reading.

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