No Slowing Down: Ann Arbor cartoonist Dave Coverly celebrates the 25th anniversary of "Speed Bump"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Davy Coverly, Speed Bump

The easy part of compiling a book that celebrates a comic strip’s silver anniversary is, well, you’ve got lots of options.

“I’ll get reviews and comments that say, ‘Not a clunker in the bunch!’—but, you know, I had 10,000 to choose from,” said Ann Arbor-based cartoon artist Dave Coverly, whose book Speed Bump: A 25th Anniversary Collection debuted in September. “If anyone wants to visit my house, you could see a big plastic tub of cartoons that are terrible.” 

Perhaps that’s inevitable when your job’s required you to hatch and execute seven new ideas every week throughout two and a half decades. “You can’t wait for the muse to strike when you’re on deadline,” Coverly noted.

But having the National Cartoonists Society award your work with Best in Newspaper Panels (’95, ’03, ’14) in addition to its highest honor, the Reuben Award (’09), might suggest that you’re getting it right far more often than not.

And for Coverly, one of the most appealing things about a single-panel cartoon is its unfettered flexibility.

“I do a lot of cartoons that use aliens and animals, but they’re always really about people and the things we all have in common,” said Coverly. “My daughter, who’s a painter, had a professor who told her, ‘Don’t ask yourself what you’re going to paint. Ask yourself why you’re going to paint it.’ And I love that quote because I’m someone who—I don’t like jokes for the sake of jokes. … I’d rather try for something that’s driven by an idea. Something that’s more subtle.”

Alison Swan's poetry collection "A Fine Canopy" celebrates the natural world

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Poet Alison Swan and her book A Fine Canopy

The natural world and the built environment sometimes seem so enmeshed that the borders between them blur. We walk into the fluorescent lighting of a store and then back out into the day’s weather. We go to the beach and some sand trails, then back inside vehicles and homes. 

Poet Alison Swan explores this complexity in the lives that we live both with nature and in our manmade world in her new collection, A Fine Canopy (Wayne State University Press). One poem called “Lake Effect” considers how the environment coexists and contends with human life: 

[…] We don’t ask,

where’s the sea? We can walk to it,

 

and to acres of scrub, pasture, crop,

asphalt draining to it, and the reactor

it cools. 

Signs of human change to the environment appear to be inescapable. 

Yet, the splendor of the natural world heartily persists in Swan’s poems, and many lines admire this place where we reside, as the poem “Aubade” declares near the end of the collection:

It is good to […] 

[…] 

look out into 

the lemon light of morning and

call it beautiful […]

Swan will read and be in conversation with poet and teaching artist Holly Wren Spaulding in a virtual event Tuesday, October 6, at 7 pm through Literati Bookstore. I interviewed Swan, a teacher at Western Michigan University, about ecopoetry, the Bentley Historical Library, and what she's reading.

Burnout Society Film Club's 8 Ball Movie Night and Introvert Movie Night offer group viewings of cult flicks

FILM & VIDEO INTERVIEW

Burnout Society Film Club

Burnout Society Film Club's Samir Asfahani (left) and Colum Slevin (right) flank Spencer Nuzum, a member of the project's FB group.

One day in 2017, Samir Asfahani was surfing Facebook during his lunch break. The guitarist in Ann Arbor stoner-metal band Wizard Union, Asfahani belonged to a music enthusiasts’ group and a member started a thread about peoples’ favorite cult movies.

“I was immediately interested because I've always been fond of those types of films, so I started name dropping all of the movies I liked,” he said. 

A fellow member of the Facebook group suggested they start another group for cult movies, from old psychotronic stuff to modern horror films.

“Right away, I said ‘I’m on that!’ and within 10 minutes I came up with the name," Asfahani said of the Burnout Society Film Club (BSFC). "The joke is that it would read as BS Film Club without actually calling ourselves the Bullshit Film Club.” 

What began as a place for chatting about movies blossomed into a Facebook page in addition to the group, a blog with movie reviews, Instagram live chats and streaming, and shared movie experiences including 8 Ball Movie Night and the Introvert Movie Night.

Athletic Mic League returns after a 15-year hiatus to confirm its status as Ann Arbor's "Playground Legends"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Athletic Mic League

The Ann Arbor hip-hop collective Athletic Mic League was on hiatus for more than 15 years as its members pursued solo projects—and life.

The group formed in 1995 at Huron High School and released three albums during its 10-year run—The Thrill of Victory...The Agony of Defeat (1998), Sweats and Kicks (2002), Jungle Gym Jungle (2004)—and two EPs: Feel Good (2001) and Isolation (2005).

But right before the pandemic started, Athletic Mic League reunited for a four-day studio retreat and recorded the majority of Playground Legends there, a seven-song mini-album that will come out soon. But the group has released three singles from the sessions: "Hold My Hand," "Finish Line," and "Complications." The current lineup of the collective includes Grand Cee, Buff1, Trés Styles, 14KT, Wes Taylor, VaughanTego, and Mayer Hawthorne (not shown in the photo above). 

Athletic Mic League (AML) takes inspiration from Outkast, Wu-Tang Clan, and Hieroglyphics Crew, as well as soul and jazz music. AML's songs showcase sharp lyrical content and instrumentals decorated with soul-music loops. "Hold My Hand" and "Complications" feature retro-soul vocals over laid-back beats. In contrast, "Finish Line" is a nice uptempo track that opens and closes with a sample from motivational speaking guru Eric Thomas.

Below, AML dishes on the stories behind its new singles, the reunion, and what’s next for them. 

Publisher Michelle Dotter details upcoming works from Ann Arbor's Dzanc Books

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Michelle Dotter

Dzanc Books publisher and editor in chief Michelle Dotter. 

“If you had told me when I started in this business, that one day I would be working for a non-profit that published books based on their merit and not profit, I would not have believed it,” says Michelle Dotter, who serves as publisher and editor in chief of Dzanc Books (pronounced Duh-ZANK).

The nonprofit was co-founded in 2006 by Ann Arbor lawyer turned novelist and 826Michigan creator Steven Gillis and Emerging Writers Network creator Dan Wickett. They had an uncompromising vision for Dzanc.

“The biggest thing for Steve," Dotter says, "was that nothing be constrained by shareholder interest, so we would never sacrifice artistic quality or only support books that could make money … or end up like some presses, where commercial potential is such a factor they send book covers to retailers like Walmart or Costco, giving them the power to reject a cover if they think it won’t sell.”

Dotter took over as publisher and editor in chief of Dzanc in 2017 after working there since 2014.

“I loved what they were doing as far as experimental literature," she says, "taking chances on amazing authors and books that might have been rejected for commercial reasons at other publishers.”

One such book is In Our Midst by Nancy Jensen. Dotter will be in conversation with Jensen at a virtual event hosted by Literati on Monday, September 28 at 7 pm. 

Astronomy at the Beach moves the sky (and sand) online for its 2020 edition

PULP LIFE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Photo by Adrian Bradley

Dark Sky Preserve at Lake Hudson State Recreation Area. Photo by Adrian Bradley.

Astronomy at the Beach (AATB) is the Great Lakes Association of Astronomy Clubs (GLAAC)'s signature annual event. Held each year at Island Lake State Park near Brighton, Michigan, and attended by thousands, this year’s two-day event on Friday and Saturday, September 25-26 has been moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adrian Bradley is president of GLAAC and an avid amateur astronomer and photographer who especially loves nightscape photography. He is also a member of the University Lowbrow Astronomers, the local astronomy club partnering with AADL to provide and maintain the library's circulating telescope collection.

We chatted with Bradley about this year's Astronomy at the Beach lineup.

Rasa Festival shifts online but still offers a full month of arts and culture from India

PULP LIFE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

It looked bleak in March and April for the fourth edition of Ann Arbor's Rasa Festival. Everything was being canceled, and the annual September celebration of arts and culture from India looked like it was not going to happen either.

"We canceled all our venue bookings at that time, although with a heavy heart," wrote Sreyashi Dey, the president and artistic director of Rasa, in an email to Pulp. "We had some fabulous concerts planned this year, with world-renowned touring artists from India, but had to cancel that as well. It was very depressing."

But as the months dragged on, Dey, who is also a dancer, couldn't contain her desire to create new works, and that spurred her on to reconsidering Rasa.

"As an artist/dancer myself, I was beginning to feel disheartened about my own creative impulses and motivation to create new work," Dey wrote. "So I started thinking about making some new dance works while still in lockdown, but with no real plan for what to do with it. Then I started thinking of doing a video recording to share. And that's how the idea of the festival going virtual was born, and once I started talking to the other artists, everyone was very eager and enthusiastic."

The performance part of the month-long virtual Rasa Festival runs October 3-25, with streams starting at 11 am each Saturday and Sunday throughout the month. The Mandali: India and the World art exhibition, presented in partnership with the Ann Arbor District Library, runs October1-November 12.

Rasa will present its usual assortment of dance, music, written word, film, fashion, travel, social change, and visual art, but there will be no culinary component this year, for obvious reasons—but we got you covered. I talked with Dey over email about the challenges—and opportunities—of presenting the Rasa Festival online and what she food she'd recommend for us to make or buy at home to accompany the 2020 virtual edition of the Rasa Festival.

Ken Fischer makes the case for collaboration and connectivity in his book "Everybody In, Nobody Out"

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW INTERVIEW

Ken Fischer by Dominic Valente

Ken Fischer photo by Dominic Valente

This post contains two sections: a book review and a brief interview with Ken Fischer.

On June 1, 1987, Ken Fischer became the sixth president of the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan. 

That date marks the beginning of 30 years of transformation, innovation, and collaboration. 

Fischer’s Everybody In, Nobody Out: Inspiring Community at Michigan’s University Musical Society written with Robin Lea Pyle is a book of many parts. It is a memoir, an insider’s view of some of the leading performance artists who come each year to Ann Arbor and, perhaps most important, a guide on how to operate a non-profit by reaching out to and connecting with the community at large.

The title comes from Patrick Hayes, a mentor to Fischer and former head of the Washington Performing Arts Society. Hayes had developed a policy for art presentation that emphasized inclusion at every level. His policy was "Everybody In, Nobody Out" and it became Ken Fischer’s mantra.

“It was about making connections and forming partnerships for everyone’s enrichment,” Fischer writes. “The great thing about collaboration was that it could be the foundation of everything we needed to do as an organization: secure outside sources of funding, raise our visibility in the community, expand our audience, gain new insights, and build enthusiasm for working on new projects.”

Fischer’s book is a short history of those collaborations with the university, with world-class performers, with other local arts groups, and with local and national businesses and philanthropists.

But first a prelude. 

Two local theater festivals are coming to a living room near you

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Photo by Adrien Olichon from Pexels

Photo by Adrien Olichon from Pexels

Area stages have gone dim to protect audiences, actors, and theater workers during these uncertain times.

But that doesn’t mean the show can’t go on.

Ann Arbor's Theatre NOVA and Ypsilanti’s Neighborhood Theatre Group are Zooming theater festivals to audiences online in October, but each is taking a different approach.

Author and A2 Pioneer Instructor Jeff Kass Contemplates the Working Life in "Teacher/Pizza Guy"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jeff Kass, Teacher/Pizza Guy

This story originally ran September 3, 2019. Kass is also author of the Fifth Avenue Press book "Takedown," a murder mystery. AADL cardholders can download the novel in PDF format here.

What do you do?

It’s what people ask when they first meet as a way to identify each other, yet our jobs do not have to define us.

When I asked Jeff Kass this question, he answered with three jobs: a full-time English teacher at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, part-time pizza delivery person, and part-time director of literary programs at the Neutral Zone for a year in 2016-2017. During that time, he also worked on drafting the autobiographical poems about this experience that form his new collection, Teacher/Pizza Guy (Wayne State University Press).

Teacher/Pizza Guy reveals Kass’ experiences in the classroom and pizza place, including issues with service industry jobs, challenges of aging, and relationships with colleagues, youth, and family. Despite the possible mundanity of work, Kass offers poetic insights on the situations. The first poem in the collection, “Oh, Splotch of Blue Paint,” not only addresses the paint on the sidewalk outside of the school where Kass teaches but also ruminates about its origins:

…were you trying to paint the sea? A place 

for you to float in? The breeze a lovely, reassuring

friend who brings you cookies and iced tea

and listens to you without judging…? 

This speculative question, in turn, raises a question for me: Isn’t that what we’d all like, a pleasant place, a friend who shares treats, and good conversation? Another poem depicts colleagues crossing paths in the night as Kass returns to home from his pizza-slinging job to see a fellow pizza slinger working his other job of delivering newspapers.

Amidst dishwashing, disastrous delivery runs, and the grind of teaching students in class after class how to write essays, Kass pulls out moments of clarity that describe the working life. One poem describes a break during which he makes a pizza for himself, one that’s not on the menu, and writes, “Believe / for a moment / your time / belongs / to you. / Savor. / Chew.”

Within the drudgery of going from job to job, Kass is not all work; he observes and shows parallels between his jobs and life, recognizing and taking ownership of those moments rather than letting work consume him, almost as if he is both living his life and watching it from the outside. Kass finds meaning in those fleeting moments of entering and exiting customers’ lives to bring them pizza and also seeks respect as he makes ends meet.

Kass, who lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, Karen Smyte, and their children, Sam and Julius, will read from his collection at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, September 10, at 7 pm. I interviewed him about his poetry and work.