Archive for the ‘independent media’ Category
Caroline Picard, my friend and publisher (of Hip Hop Apsara), has been working on a novel for a while called Death of An Animatronic Band, which you can read about (and see video based on!) in her Next Big Thing interview here. The Next Big Thing is an ever-unfolding series of self-interviews (Caroline had been tapped by Mairead Case, and you can follow the chain backwards to discover a pretty diverse and amazing wealth of upcoming books and projects), so I’ve used the opportunity to clarify some things about my pending book New Girl Law, and asked MariNaomi and Melissa Gira Grant to write about their upcoming projects next.
The book’s called New Girl Law: Drafting a Future for Cambodia. It’s probably too late to change it, since the book comes out at the end of the month (March 31!), and it’s already been printed, so I expect this title will stay. If I wanted to change it at this point I’d probably have to do a mass recall from the distributor and buy a shit-ton of Sharpies, which is the kind of thing I would have been willing to do twenty years ago and now couldn’t possibly make time for.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I spent several years travelling to and doing work in Cambodia around women’s issues—freedom of expression, labor—it’s a very intense place. I’ve talked about it in interviews quite a bit here, here, here, here, and here. I kept a blog while I was there called Camblogdia, and it was quite popular. Then sometime during these years I published a short-run print version of some of the blog posts that together formed a cohesive narrative. This was on a press I started, Pressing Concern, that very very occasionally publishes material relevant to global women’s issues. That little booklet got some attention, and Cantankerous Titles offered to published a more fleshed out version called Cambodian Grrrl: Self-Publishing in Phnom Penh, and I agreed to a four-book series, only the first two of which were under immediate contract. So New Girl Law is the second in this series. The first one talked about the zines we all made together, and what it was like to teach zines in a culture that doesn’t really value women’s public participation, or literacy, or media. This one is about some deeper issues that impact traditional American notions of freedom, and how truly difficult transnational gender issues can be. That’s an incredibly hard thing to write about, but when you stumble across a good way to address it, I think you owe it to folks to try.
What genre does your book fall under?
It’s creative non-fiction, in the memoir/journalistic mode. I don’t really do any writing that isn’t, basically, creative non-fiction. But it is interesting, with this book, that I had to lean more toward “creative” than “non-fiction” for a couple reasons: first, to protect the young Khmer women I wrote about. And second, to more accurately tell a story that hinges on various acts of censorship and self-censorship. Because—and this will make more sense if you’ve read the book—there’s information I just didn’t have access to, like why censorship happens, so I had to find creative ways of presenting options for why it happens to the reader. The truth is that folks who aim to silence rarely articulate why. That is what real censorship is about: not needing to explain silence, just to enforce it. A book, however, requires a why, or at least a series of maybe becauses. It was a challenge to do, as someone who values the tenets of journalism and the notion of truth quite a bit.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh man, I know a lot of people are tired of this question, but for me it’s a really exciting prospect, because there’s only one white American in the story, and obviously that would be played by Anne Hathaway, or Anne Heche, or Ann Magnuson, or Anne Bancroft, because of realism. Or, to get conceptual on you, maybe Quvenzhane Wallis, who by the time this film would be cast, is likely to really have gotten her young mind around the concept of playing people named Anne, plus is awesome, and only an idiot would not put her on the short list to play them in a movie, even if the skin tones and ages and heights don’t match up. Anyway, it’s acting. She could do it. But everyone else—32 young Cambodian women—that’s a wide-open field. So we’d go to Cambodia, do an open casting call, bring in a couple seasoned actresses there maybe, but really provide young women who have few job options besides the garment and sex industries an interesting opportunity. For the most part we’d be starting from scratch, but Cambodia used to have a really thriving film industry before the Khmer Rouge. What a great excuse to help foster and strengthen a revival: a film about a group of young women just getting comfortable but still meeting barriers while making their own media in an emerging democracy. Probably the biggest question, really, would be which emerging female Cambodian director would I hire to run the thing? I’m happy to start looking at CVs now, in case the funding gets dropped in my lap.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A group of young women in Cambodia create an imaginary set of policy for a country they love, while grappling with the very real conditions of uneven economic and social development. Plus giggling. Two sentences, sorry; I am pretty good at math.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
On this series, I’ve been working with Cantankerous Titles, an independent publisher in the Pacific Northwest, so I don’t have to go either route. They’re a small enough team and we go back far enough in history that we have a flexibility usually only available to self-publishers, but don’t have to bring an agent in to siphon off dollars from a budget. I like agents, for sure, and am bummed that modern publishing seems more and more to leave them out of the publishing equation, but this work is really intersectional—gender and race and international politics and economic factors and and and and and—and in a publishing world dominated by BS like Lean In, what I do takes more than the easy sales pitch. I find agents make projects with the easy sales pitch work better. Self publishing is great when you want to test out ideas or communicate directly to an established group of people—especially those without economic means. And small-press publishing has historically been best suited to teasing out complex political issues.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Well the very first draft took a year, because it was kept as a journal during the year-long course of events that I describe in the book. But then I transcribed interviews with some of the young women I worked with, to allow them to tell heir own stories, and that took some time. And shaping it all into the structure it eventually became took a few months as well.
But then something happened.
The publisher of Cambodian Grrrl (and now, New Girl Law) started getting some flak from some self-proclaimed young feminists in the field of independent publishing who adopted what they called the riot grrrl tradition. Working from a long-ago rumor that I haven’t been able to verify—so I’m not sure how anyone else would—they decided to ban him from an event in supposed support of freedom of expression where I was a featured speaker, leaving me in a very awkward position. I was told at various times that I didn’t understand, that these people knew riot grrrl, and I didn’t—all sorts of weird, dumb stuff that didn’t address the basic problem, that an organization supposedly in support of independent publishing and diverse participation and freedom of expression had just banned someone from participating. And not just any participant, but the publisher of a book on fostering diverse voices and freedom of expression in a hostile environment, the writer of which was being asked to talk about that work at the event.
Aside from the short-sightedness of such a decision, the denigration of my work, and the personal attacks that emerged from it, the incident came at a really bad moment for me, when I was trying to write a book that offered a fair and even-handed look at other incidents of censorship and self-censorship of young Cambodian women’s voices. I think people who strive to shut others up don’t realize how truly and totally damaging their actions are—a problem worsened significantly by the belief that such parties are being protective. It turns out, when you believe yourself to be right, you stop listening. And not listening, I have come to believe, is the root of all evil.
Anyway, I couldn’t do it. It was another nine months before I could look at the manuscript again. And what made me pick it up again, actually, was maybe even more significant. I met one of my heroes, May Summer Farnsworth, who is probably the person that had the most impact on the way that I thought about gender and social and media justice when I was actually doing riot grrrl-stuff in the 1990s. Now, I have no stock in the riot grrrl mythos and for perhaps obvious reasons am apt to distrust anyone who tries to get me to conform to it, but the conversation I had with May about how she navigated and experienced the end of a movement that she had helped foster, and the kinds of silencing that occurred within it—it became really important to me to find a way to articulate my own silence in the face of so many acts of silencing.
What other books would you compare this story to in its genre?
Three Cups of Tea and Reading Lolita in Tehran have both been comparative titles to this series, and people often come to it when, for example, they want to find a work that describes the global economic condition of women that’s actually by and about women to replace Half the Sky in a college curriculum. But those books all advocate for something; a course of action, an organization, Half the Sky: The Movement. I actually don’t want folks to do what I did in Cambodia, as I’ve made clear in other interviews. Don’t follow my path. Let curiosity and engagement and listening forge one for you.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The amazing young women of Cambodia. Why anyone would write about anyone else, ever, is beyond me.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
My publisher has placed one gazillion dollar bill in each physical copy of the book, so there’s a really big financial incentive to buy it at only $9.95. You make, like, whatever a gazillion minus 9.95 is, not to mention that gazillion dollar bills are very rare. Of course, it might have fallen out, or a bookstore browser or disreputable distributor or bookseller may have pocketed it, so we can’t guarantee you that money. But it’s a pretty nice gesture, you gotta admit.
My pals over at CAKE are holding a fundraiser. I’d like you to pitch in and help them meet their goal. No, wait: I’d like you to actually give them an extra thousand bucks. New goal: $4K. You have 6 days.
Why is this important? Well, I personally like these people. They’re bright, fun, and incredibly talented. And they’re putting together one of the smartest projects Chicago has seen in years.
Maybe to you it’s just another place to shop. (If so, thanks!) But for people who make comics, conventions are both professional gathering spaces and one of the only means by which to cobble together a working economic infrastructure, especially for those who want to retain control over their work.
But because of this, the way you set up your comics convention really matters. Who you invite, what resources you offer participants, what you put on the front page of your website, how much you charge. Each of these elements, and so many others, either let a different kind of person get excited about what you want to do, or makes them feel unwelcome, unaddressed, or uninterested. And although they seem small at the time, these sometimes quick decisions can have enormous, lasting impact. As we’ve seen elsewhere in the comics industry, tiny unacknowledged barriers can easily become accidental policy, which not only has an impact on who gets to work in a field, but what that field produces.
Another comics convention held annually in Chicago, C2E2, this year featured only 13% women tablers in artist’s alley, according to Dylan Sells’ research in my Ladydrawers class at SAIC; I only counted 16 women on the featured guests lists of 157 total names, making a total of a little over 10% featured women guests, which is a little better than the rates at which your average independent comic-book publisher publishes women artists (although not quite as good as your average corporate comics publisher does).
Now, compare this to our recent as-yet unpublished research (you gotta wait for it!), that found female-identified creators make up over 40% of the field, and you can start to understand why c2E2′s stats aren’t good enough. They’re just not trying! But Dylan found that CAKE’s featured guest list is 46% female, and tablers are 43% female. Which means that CAKE is one of the only comics conventions interested in presenting a full range of comics being made today. Through sheer force of math, that means that most of what you see there will be new, a lot of it will be good, and a healthy chunk of it will blow your head pure off.
So if you don’t contribute to CAKE financially, here are your options: find someone who will, or start a convention, distributor, publishing house, storefront, anthology, or educational program that opens up the field of comics in the same smart way. Six days and counting.
Angee Lennard of Spudnik Press has been making this crazy cover for my upcoming Green Lantern Press book, which you can read a little bit more about here, and which features images from Phnom Penh’s emerging middle class first previewed here and here, as well as a brand-new essay. Perhaps the most exciting part is that we had to invent a font—rather, Danielle Chenette did—which is awkward and crazy and cool. I’m working on a book trailer for it, and will post when that’s ready.
I know I have already told you about the Adventure School for Ladies Comics Intensive but there is a new, awesome, amazing, cool comic up by Nicole Boyett that explains what it is, and I thought you might like to read it, here.
Hey! I made a new book, mostly as an excercise to teach myself to silkscreen, but also because of my love of working really hard on pointless projects that end up being very frustrating involving pants! Speaking of which, I also have a new piece up on Truthout:
About a year ago, record numbers of garment laborers in factories across Cambodia—which exports 70 percent of the garments manufactured there to the US—were reported to be suddenly and mysteriously falling to the ground, unconscious. Hundreds at a time – sometimes less, although sometimes more. Workers at many scenes reported foul smells, difficulty breathing. Halting investigations took place at select plants by various parties involved: government officials; labor unions; human rights groups; business associations; monitoring organizations; and, weirdly, the international big-name brands that sell the clothes being made. A consortium of factors was considered: hypoglycemia, the direct result of workers not eating enough; minor factory infractions that managers promised to address immediately; a common cold outbreak emanating from Canada; overwork; mass hysteria; workers partying too hard over the weekend; and spiritual possession. In the end, no single cause was named for the nationwide epidemic. Besides a 5$ “health bonus” for qualifying workers, no sweeping policy changes were offered to keep the incidents from continuing.
It seemed to be just more bad luck for Cambodia… [but] the real bad luck for Cambodia … is that thousands of workers falling ill on the job isn’t enough to catch the fashion industry’s attention.
Read “The Fashion Industry’s Perfect Storm” here. (You will probably wish to know in advance that the story, which lists 3,000 faintings over the last year, is no longer accurate, as 500 more occurred within five days of publication.) Buy the limited edition red-white-and-blue silkscreened book, Capitalism and Its Discontents, here.
Ah! Do you people even know about this crazy thing we are doing over at ChezEM this summer, called the Adventure School for Ladies: Comics Intensive? For reals, it will rock your world—and there are only a few weeks left to apply! QZAP has generously agreed to create a scholarship, funding a student to attend our innovative programming. We’re still in negotiations on the name of the scholarship, but it will probably be really funny.
(If you you have money upwards of ten dollars, we will also name a scholarship fund after you. But it better have a good name.)
It looks like this:
Until you remove the underpants, when it looks like this:
If you haven’t already died of cleverness, you can download it here: Unladylike!
There have been some delays, but How To Make This Very Zine is again available for download in German, Arabic, English, Khmer, Spanish, Greek, Russian and Georgian, on my “real” internet web-page, here. If you would like to translate this document into Swedish, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Mandarin, Lakota, Thai, Swahili or Latin, please let me know! Just not French. I’m not into that.
… has forwarded me this comic since it first appeared on BoingBoing, which gets at/comments on/attracts more of the same BS as the comments on the Ladydrawers column at Truthout (which, because it isn’t quit linked together properly on the original site yet, I’ll attach in order at the base of this post.)
I’m using it as an excuse to post the bingo cards made by one of the amaze-balls Ladydrawers Research Team, Nicole Boyett, who did, yes, read through thousands of shitty Internet responses to make this and another equally hilarious game, proving once and for all that if you spend enough time thinking about it, institutionalized sexism is an effing kick in the pants, man.
- Ladydrawers 1: Introducing Ladydrawers
- Ladydrawers 2: In Comics World, Women Are Invisible
- Ladydrawers 3: No Great Women Comics Artists?