Day 3 of Lockdown, after a full 7 hours remote teaching in my garage classroom. Read with Cake’s Going the Distance cranked up to 11!
There’s nothing like a pandemic to bring folks out of the house.
BC (Before Cornavirus), I ran 20 miles a week, and our lovely bay trail had some walkers, maybe a runner or two, and I recognized most of them. We waved, and went on our way. But really, it was mostly an empty run — which is the way I like it, especially after a long day teaching. Running is an integral part of my self-care — it’s not just about physical fitness, but spiritual balance, a practice especially vital during the last year, dealing with a recurrence of the brain tumor I’ve lived with for 11 years, along with 8 months of oral chemo (which is now complete, thankfully).
Read more on my relationship with exercise and the culture of the “Perfect Cancer Patient” here, in a graphic essay from a few years ago.
Indeed, running is my meditation, my daily spiritual ritual, one I turn to during hard times — like now. And now, more than ever, as a person with a chronic condition, trying to keep myself and family safe while teaching online for hours in a musty garage, I need that practice more than ever — that time alone, to run in nature, to regain balance, composure.
AC (After Corna), during lockdown, the whole community seems to be out walking — whole families, couples, little kids on bikes. On the one hand, it’s beautiful to finally see our community out enjoying nature together, away from the lure of the screen, holding hands, smiling, playing, taking advantage of the joys of the Great Outdoors.
On the other hand (which has been throughly sanitized), it’s a flippin’ pandemic!
Thankfully, it’s not nearly as packed in my neighborhood as this cartoon jests — and, folks are generally very respectful, great with social distancing. It’s nothing like the absurd outing on Stinson Beach last weekend, which got all of Marin trails closed. And in truth, if an area was as packed as this toon, I wouldn’t go there at all — and if I happened upon that crowd, I’d just turn around, rather than play Virus AvoiderTM.
And while the cartoon shows my perspective as a runner, trying to maintain 6 feet the whole way, it’s not just about me. I’m a big, hairy dude, and while speeding along the trail, sweating and heaving as I do, I imagine else on the path is performing the same calculation —
How the hell do I get away from that Bigfoot?
As a runner, I think it’s my responsibility to watch out for others — not the other way around. We are the faster traffic, and more likely to come up quickly on folks who don’t have a chance to react, or prepare mentally. Thus, now I map out my runs in advance to make sure I’m in empty areas, and ones without “choke points,” where we are less than six-feet apart. I try to find the widest paths possible, especially ones without any blind corners. Further, if I see people that are on a path I want to take, I’ll just wait for them to go by, or find another path, rather than having to rush past their social distance bubble.
Overall, I work to be a good citizen of the trail — including waving and smiling! — so that the new folks enjoying the outdoors feel safe, and after this is all over, while maybe want to stay outside!
The below image is from “The Perfect Cancer Patient” with illustrator Marc Parenteau (co-written with Gayle Sulik)
All my comics are here: https://adambessie.com/2019/06/30/collected-comix/
Journalism will again become what it was more than a century ago – a form of art. –Chris Hedges
The teens did not bring Hedges’ words to fruition — mainstream journalism did not return to a golden age of revolutionary truth-telling, but quite the reverse, with our “post-truth” world, full of filter bubbles flowing with “fake news.” Yet, despite the grim state of contemporary journalism in general, Hedges prophecy has come true in the teens — for graphic journalism.
Hedges words also opened my 2011 Truthout report “Warning: This Article Contains Graphic Journalism“, a time when I found myself writing solely prose essays (the title is inspired by Rocco Versaci’s ground-breaking work of comics scholarship This Book Contains Graphic Language: Comics As Literature). Then, also, I was still making the case that comics are literature, an appropriate medium for study in college classroom. I interviewed the some of the key figures in the “new” wave of comics journalism: Sarah Glidden, who had just published the fantastic graphic memoir How to Understand Israel in 60 Days, Matt Bors (who had just published a remarkable comic on his travels in Afghanistan in a series “Afghan Life“, and hadn’t yet gone on to create The Nib), Ted Rall (who had already a long-track record of hard-hitting comics journalism), and Dan Archer who effectively defined the field in a comic and speech (click here). Indeed, graphic journalism was already heeding Hedges’ call — it was art, in every sense of the word.
And I wanted in.
A decade ago, I was a comics scholar, educator, and journalist — but what I really wanted to do was to make comics. And after meeting Dan Archer at San Francisco Zinefest, I got that first break, with our series for Truthout The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum (2012), a three part series exploring the privatization and standardization of education in the United States. I knew that as a pure-text essay, as I’d been writing for years, it would get a narrow audience of folks who already knew the issues and generally agreed. However, with this report, I hoped to broaden and diversify the audience involved in the education reform conversation.
At that time, few mainstream outlets seem to understand comics as a form of serious journalism — not only did I have to make the pitch for the story, but provide an explanation of comics as a legitimate medium (it was the same kind of argument I had made countless times in the academic setting). Truthout got it right out — thanks in large part to Anne Elizabeth Moore, co-editor of the first Best American Comics (with Harvey Pekar). Anne was also producing a fantastic series for Truthout “Ladydrawers,” and so Truthout understood comics as journalism. Thus, when we pitched the project, I didn’t have to explain why Dan and I were using comics — they were excited by the opportunity, and immediately grasped how such a project could drive active engagement over a wider and more diverse population.
Now, in 2020, you can find comics journalism in most major outlets — indeed, Wendy Macnaugthon found her “drawn journalism” (as she dubs it) on the cover of the New York Times recently. This rising tide of interest in non-fiction comics is also reflected by the popularity of graphic memoir — such as Raina Telgemeier’s immensely popular series, including most recently Guts. Further, and most personally as a cancer survivor, the emergence of Graphic Medicine has created space for patients like me to tell their stories in a vivid and humanizing form.
This comics movement of the teens — built by incredible, and often ill-compensated work by countless creators, editors and publishers, some of whom I’ve shouted out here — created the space that allowed me to not just write, but actually get a number of scripts produced and published in a wide variety of outlets, including The New Yorker, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, and The Nib (Matt Bors‘ outlet truly created a platform to usher in this new era of comics journalism). I feel immensely grateful to have been able to join the field during this exciting time, and be surrounded by such incredibly talented and hard-working artists, writers, and editors, who continue be driven to illustrate the truth in a dark time — and do so artfully.
As we move into the 20s, I’m optimistic about the state of non-fiction visual storytelling. I plan to continue my work with comics journalism. However, I’m focused on my memoir It’s All In Your Head, a book-length hybrid comics/prose story of my journey living with a brain tumor while balancing being a parent, partner, and professor.