Monday, February 22, 2016

Our Comics, Mockingbirds, and Rollerblades, Ourselves


Gavin Grindon and I wrote a description for the book block we made for the December 16, \
2013 rally, to be displayed in the Disobedient Objects show and tour.  This is the 1962 cover of To Kill a Mockingbird. In the novel, Atticus, after his friend passes, explains to his son, “I wanted you to see what real courage is.” His friend kept on, even when she knew her illness became terminal. “Instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. Its when you know that you are licked before you begin but you begin anyway. And you see it through no matter what. You rarely win but sometimes you do.” The struggle to save New
York’s libraries may be such a fight. Benjamin Heim Sheppard.

Book Bloc placard, Books Not Billionaires, New York, 2013, cardboard,

Walking home from school, we stopped into the Interference Archive for their show about comic books. 

The last time I was in the space, we were painting books for our book bloc protest at the NYPL.  I was painting the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favorite stories of all time.

The next week we’d take the book blocs to the NYPL for a flash mob of kids dressed like their favorite books, battling the billionaires calling for library to be turned into condos.  The kids helped turn the tide.

Word about the flash mob spread around the world.  A few days later my friend Gavin asked if he could use my book bloc for his upcoming show on book blocs and social movements around the world.

The week after the demo, the books would find their way into the Disobedient Objects show at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  

To Kill a Mockingbird inspired the project more than anything. Harper Lee’s iconic story of a small town offered an image of a world where my grandmother grew up after the depression in South Georgia, just across the state lines from Alabama where the story took place.  I had always loved the story, reading it for the first time in seventh grade.  I read it with my kids, who loved Scout and saw a little bit of themselves in her.  It was an image of the south we all saw ourselves in.  I hoped to be a decent dad and advocate like Atticus, a good brother like Jem.  We all loved Scout, who thought the world was going crazy the first time she saw snow.  I always saw Scout in Harper Lee, the little girl in the ageless writer of perhaps the perfect southern novel.  I always thought she was ageless, until Saturday when she finally shuffled off, on her way to something else.  Showing this story to the kids was one of the high points of watching these kids grow up.  

Simultaneously supporting aesthetics and social movements, the To Kill a Mockingbird book bloc was part of what makes Interference Archive so dynamic. 

The kids and I walked there Friday to see their show Our Comics, Ourselves: Identity, Expression, and Representation in Comic Art.

We perused the political posters of campaigns, such as the people's climate march, they were involved with, and the Black Panthers, we read about, wondering why people get so amped up about a group that provided food and services for the poor.

 As kids who’ve loved graphic novels, I knew they’d love the show.   Over the last few years, we’re watched the kids grow, channeling a voracious appetite for classic stories, Greek mythology, and personal struggles translated into comics, pointing to the visual drama of life and love.  These are stories which extend far beyond the “heroic aspirations of a monolithic American” childhood, write Jan, Ethan and Monica in the Introduction to the Our Comics, Ourselves. They know the marvel comics their uncle makes movies about. But these comics tell a different story.

We toured through the space, looking at Love and Rockets and World War III comics, offering a fusion of pop, high culture, low and movement narratives.

These comics trace people finding new stories in which to connect their lives and find meaning, each opening up a new storylines for urban living and thriving.

Of course, the name of the show, refers to Our Bodies, Our Selves, the manual/ manifesto of the women’s health movement. 

Watching the show with my kids,  strolling around the city with them all weekend, going to roller derby, I am profoundly aware they are growing and finding their own space,  their own right to the city, with dreams ambitions, hopes, and causes.  They are finding their own heros. Number two decorated her knee pads for derby with the word Queen, for her favorite band.  Number one has a ‘feel the bern’ pin on her school bag.  They are both crusaders like their Aunt Judy, illustrators like Jamie Hernández, and  brawlers like Scout. 

Watching the Suffragettes movie the other, we talked about the barriers that have been broken down and those that still present themselves.   On most days, they are more concerned with the climate changing and ice caps melting.  But there is more to it.

Riding on the subway, they wonders why more people don’t open their wallets up to help the homeless get a bite, and why there are so many tall buildings going up around us in Brooklyn, why the city is so much about shopping these days.

They hope to fashion their own worlds, even as the city is changing around them, the first black presidency of our country is winding down and activists debate about whether a socialist, a women, or a fascist should replace him.

Sunday after sonic youth and Judson we walked  through Washington Square Park to café ASEAN in the village, for lunch, where we’ve eaten many times. It had closed. The city around us is changing. The climate is evolving. Icons are fading and they are building something new for themselves.  Strolling, a woman was doing YOGA outside in the street, remaking the city anew. 

number two and aunt judy last summer. photo by caroline shepard

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