They say true stories are stranger than fiction, and Josh Neufeld draws them everyday.
Cartoonist Josh Neufeld has made a name for himself with as a journalist using comics to tell his stories, from the Hurricane Katrina story A.D.: After The Deluge to the recent Terms of Service. In many ways however, he got his start self-publishing his own indepedent comic series in the early 2000s called The Vagabonds.
And well, this comics journalist vagabond is back.
Neufeld is debuting a new issue, The Vagabonds #4, this weekend at New York City's MoCCA at table 314, Third Floor (Yellow Zone) . And after doing graphic novels for major companies and corporations, Neufeld is doing The Vagabonds decidely different -- hand-selling it with his friends at Hang Dai Editions. With a unique philosophy that aims for direct relationships between cartoonists and their readers, Neufeld will be touring around the country to sell his new issue.
Newsarama: Josh, this is your second issue into a return to your independent comic series The Vagabonds after several years away doing graphic novels and webcomics. What's that like to be back in this format?
Josh Neufeld: After spending about six years on books -- A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, followed immediately by The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media -- I was a bit burnt-out. Fortunately I was awarded the Knight-Wallace Fellowship in Journalism, so that was a welcome year-long break in Ann Arbor, Michigan, without the pressure of work. But on my return from the fellowship I decided that instead of returning to years-long book projects I would pursue so-called "comics journalism" full-time. There are so many more mainstream venues now (most of them online) that are interested in this relatively new form of journalism -- and that actually pay money to publish it!
So, to answer your question, the nice thing about doing "floppy" comics again is the ability to collect the material I've been producing for various online publishers. I've found that there's not a ton of overlap between people who read comics online and those who buy actual comics/books, so the material feels fresh in the comics format.
And of course I loved reviving The Vagabonds, which originally ran for two issues in the mid-2000s.
Nrama: So you did one issue before this one, #4 – how was that?
Neufeld: I give all credit to my old buddy Dean Haspiel -- as well as fellow Hang Dai Editions (HDE) members Greg Benton and Seth Kushner -- for inviting me to join their exclusive club! That invite is what sparked me to revive The Vagabonds and to get back to the comics festival circuit. (I was also inspired by my buddy Nick Bertozzi, who revived his solo series Rubbernecker after an equally long hiatus.) Even though I treasure the role of a book "author" that I've enjoyed since A.D., I also love the DIY milieu of festivals like MoCCA, SPX, TCAF, and the like.
And with the Hang Dai guys, there's always someone to share the expenses, burdens, and fun of the various shows. We split all promotional duties of HDE, from display materials to the website and Twitter feeds. I've known each of the guys for years, and we work well as a team.
The part I like most about what we're doing at Hang Dai is that we're not interested in distributing our comics in the traditional ways, through comic stores and the like. We're all about the direct relationship between the artist and the reader. The only way to get a copy of The Vagabonds is from me -- no middle-man -- and you get a free sketch in the process!
Nrama: In this new issue, you've got a mix of new and old stories by you and also some written by your spouse, Sari Wilson. Did you pick them out with a theme in mind?
Neufeld: The previous issue of The Vagabonds was an all-journalism issue, and this issue features a journalism piece to start things off. But as my readers know, I do other work as well, from auto-bio to offbeat stories taken from real life. And I've collaborated with a lot of writers over the years -- including Sari. So this issue collects a bunch of pieces Sari & I have created over the last few years; it's exciting for me to share her unique sensibility with the world! She's got her debut novel coming out next year, by the way: Girl Through Glass, from Harper...
Nrama: The lead story in The Vagabonds #4 is "Crossing The Line," documenting one family's plight in crossing the U.S./Canadian border and seemingly being racially profiled. Can you tell us about discovering this story, and doing your own reporting on it?
Neufeld: I first got wind of the story via journalist Sarah Abdurrahman’s radio piece about her own detainment, which was broadcast on the National Public Radio show On the Media. Abdurrahman’s piece screamed to be told in comics form: the freezing cold rooms, the heartless treatment of families with small children, and most appallingly, the endless, repetitive interrogations. After speaking with Khaled A., one of the subjects of Abdurrahman’s piece, I was determined to focus my story on his particular experiences. "Crossing the Line" is the result.
The story is one of my more personal -- you might say, “subjective” -- piece of comics journalism. As the creator, I am also a "character," the interlocutor who responds to Khaled in sympathy and outrage. In this historical moment, American law enforcement's treatment of people of color bears scrutiny (cf. Michael Brown, Eric Garner). “Crossing the Line” may stray into editorializing, but my hope is that it resonates broadly.
Nrama:You've also got several of your “Travel Tips” which are quite useful. How do you luck upon an idea for these travel tips? Do you try to think up things you do as travel tips, or does the idea for doing a comic come out of simply doing them?
Neufeld: Heh heh, good question! The first bunch of "Travel Tips" -- which were published in my travel comics memoir A Few Perfect Hours -- did emerged organically from the experience of backpacking around the world and figuring out stuff along the way. And one of the "Travel Tips" in this issue came about the same way -- when I was packing my bag to be a disaster response worker after Hurricane Katrina. A good friend suggested rolling my clothes to fit more in the backpack, and voila -- it worked! The other "Travel Tip" was a commission from a magazine editor who knew of the previous tips from A Few Perfect Hours. The result is a collection of ideas on how to have the perfect "stay-cation."
Nrama: You'll be debuting this new issue at MoCCA this weekend. Can you tell us your thoughts on MoCCA after doing comics so long and being in and out of the comic festival circuit?
Neufeld: I've been to every MoCCA since it started way back in 2002, and I love it -- it's like an old friend that I get to spend a weekend with every year. One of the best things about it, of course, is that it's right here in my hometown of New York City -- no travel or hotel costs! But I also love the crowds -- it's a mix of old friends, colleagues, and of course comics fans of all stripes and colors. And people who just wander in -- usually with big wondering smiles on their faces!
Nrama: I read that as part of promoting The Vagabonds you're doing more comic festivals and comic cons in addition to MoCCA. How is that working, especially in regards to travel tips?
Neufeld: I've really enjoyed rejoining the festival circuit. Last year, the Hang Dai gang and I "did" MoCCA, Comics Art Brooklyn, SPX, a Free Comic Book Day event at a local store, and the the Westchester Comic Con. This year we have a similarly full slate. I really enjoy the hurly-burly of conventions, meeting my readers, getting feedback, and just the general aura of creativity!
What with the various upcoming shows, and my continued outside travel (just this month I'll be attending a journalism conference in Amsterdam, and presenting A.D. to college students in Boston) I'm sure to gather material for future "Travel Tips."