Apr
24

FBB Events – G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker at NYU

Posted by on Thursday, April 24th, 2008 at 11:24:00 AM

Ever since I started grad school, I haven’t been able to go to many events in the city. But with school out this week, I had some spare time and noticed a posting on G. Willow Wilson’s blog about a talk she was giving and decided to check it out. I’m glad I did, because I had a blast. The panel was held in one of NYU’s swanky meeting rooms, and while they had free pizza and drinks, I had to go to dinner right afterwards, so I passed.

I took a seat on the left side of the room, which would apparently turn out to be the comics side of the audience, as the talk was sponsored by the Muslim Student Association, which was what brought in most of the attendees.

Someone from the MSA briefly introduced Wilson and her art partner on Cairo, M.K. Perker. Wilson talked about the experience of writing her first graphic novel and why she wrote it. The first thing she did was let the people there because of comics and the people there because of the MSA’s promotion of the event get to know each other. One point she brought up was how people on both sides of the Muhammad cartoon discussion were not playing fairly. Wilson mentioned free speech advocates asking, “How can you react this way? It’s just a cartoon.” This reminded me of a situation described in David Hadju’s The Ten-Cent Plague, where Bill Gaines gives flawed testified during a committee over the effect of horror comics on America’s youth. He described the work his company printed as harmless but later contradicted himself when he defended an EC book which used racist perjoratives term to show how bad racism was. He talked up recieving letters from different readers who talked about how the story changed their lives.

A question and answer portion followed, and there were some great things said on both sides. I really liked how Wilson described herself as not a “comics outsider” from the world of journalism, but a person who was a fan of the format who went into journalism.  I now want to look up her journalism work and read them with that point of view in mind. She also spoke about not approaching her work as just a Muslim piece or a political piece. They had strong important aspects of both but its part of the settings and characters, not the only defining characteristics of it.

Perker told an excellent story from his childhood about genies influenced the handsome genie character in Cairo, and also did a nice little performance piece with a piece of crumpled up paper that described perfectly the process of how he turned Willow’s words into the images on the page.

In between discussing Cairo, Wilson and Perker took questions from Muslim students about the book’s use of Muslim and Egyptian mythology. Each question reminded me of how little I know about Muslim traditions, let alone of cultures outside of my personal experience.  Wilson said she wanted this book to be a safe space for both Muslim culture and comics culture to meet so they could get to know each other better. It’s similar in some ways to what Junot Diaz goes about doing in Oscar Wao. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Big ups on the Pulitzer, Junot!)

A member of the audience asked Wilson why homegrown comics have not caught on in Muslim cultures. She brought up two examples of these comics, one that leaned towards propaganda and another that was standard superhero fare. She felt that both pandered on some levels to their audience and didn’t really have anything to say. Muslim readers knew that they weren’t being taken seriously by these attempts and treated the comics accordingly. This is not to say that there weren’t comics around: Perker talked about growing up in Turkey and being influenced by French BD and other European comics, especially the cowboy stuff.

After the Q&A and a food break, there was a prayer session. Hearing the call to prayer brought me back to my childhood; I have always lived within shouting distance of a mosque in NYC, and now in Bay Ridge people ask me if I am going to mosque with them if they see me while it’s playing. Watching the Salatu’I Maghrib live and in person is always amazing. It’s something I wished every American did at least once so they would understand more about the world around them.

After the prayer everyone mingled, and I talked with Perker about “the cowboy stuff”, especially Blueberry, the comic that most makes me want to learn French. There were several other people on the panel who shared my love of European Comics as well. I got to talk about Yves Chaland’s Freddy Lombard book that Chris recently lent me and Arvid Nelson gave me a little more reference on the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 that is the backdrop for the collection’s first story.

During these discussions I was able to look over to the swarm of Muslim students in the group who went up and spoke to both Wilson and Perker, getting sketches and having the same great time I was. It was really enjoyable to see groups of people who are perceived as “The Other” enjoying comics and talking with creators. Wilson touched upon this when she mentioned her introduction how a good chunk of the positive feedback on Cairo was from the Muslim community who were outside of the “comics culture” but found and enjoyed her work. It was a great confirmation of something Cheryl said on her blog, and something we saw this past weekend at the NYC Con. There was a great presence of diverse representation this past weekend and to see it again just a few days later was fantastic.

Even if some of the MSA students just came for the pizza (something I did all the time back in college), most of them stuck around and met the creators. You got the feeling that many walked out a little bit more open about picking up a graphic novel and I especially walked away wanting to know more about my Muslim neighbors within my own community. It was one of those great “Yeah Team Comics” moments that make you love the form.

If there was something I didn’t like about the night, it was that Joe has my copy of Cairo, so I couldn’t get any signatures. Thanks a lot, Joe!

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