Praise for BLUE

I just finished a supremely busy stretch of teaching-related business by coming down with the flu. But it's not all bad. Bedridden is a great way to watch the whole first season of "Downton Abbey." Boy, that is some brilliant television. It's made for today's enlightened anglophile who can't stomach Merchant-Ivory films anymore but is kinda sad about it. You still get the Edwardian fashion and obligatory marriage plot but with a nod to what goes on with the blind cook, the upwardly mobile housemaid and the socialist chauffeur. I haven't seen any of Season 2 yet so don't tell me anything more!

The other, even better, upside to being sick is having time to enjoy my friend Pat Grant's new graphic novel, BLUE. It's a comic about immigration, localism, racism, and the Australian landscape - both literal and sociopolitical. I could describe it more but he's already done a fabulous job in this "shameless publicity document."

Folks who follow me know that I teach recent immigrants, am an immigrant, and am working on a graphic novel about immigrants. I believe in underdogs telling their own stories and advocating for themselves. It's all serious business and I'm afraid sometimes of boring or scaring off people who just aren't into that sort of thing. I want to have conversations with people who aren't already on my side of the political fence.

Problem is, we're all with the exception of Rush Limbaugh pretty well-conditioned to use careful words around hot button issues like immigration and race. It's hard to have an honest conversation - the kind that moves us forward - when everyone's holding back. It was surprising how many times in college and grad school I found myself in a room full of white people, being the only person who would admit that I had ever been racist. (I mean, really?)

But now there's BLUE, which doesn't pretend at all to be politically correct. It's narrated by a crotchety old white fella in a fictional seaside town in Australia that has been changed by the influx of immigrants, whom Pat draws as aliens with blue skin and tentacles, which is what immigrants look like to the younger version of the narrator when he sees them for the first time.

Pat doesn't try to speak for the aliens. Instead, his story centers on the white narrator and his two white schoolmates. They're thirteen year olds who are not very nice; in fact the story opens with them stomping on their own sandcastle just so an out-of-town kid can't play with it. They react to the blue aliens with racist jokes, hostility, and eventually resentment. I told Pat on a beach a few years ago that if he could make these kids endearing to someone like me (read: left-leaning, easily offended immigrant), he'd be onto something. And he did it. He's made them so real, with the way they talk and the things they say, and that special blend of cruelty and vulnerability that thirteen year olds are made of, that I care about them and want to understand where they are coming from. And that is a powerful way to open up a conversation about anything, but especially about how we deal with people we perceive to be our cultural other. Though BLUE is inspired by racial tensions in Australia, its themes are relevant everywhere - and of course here in the U.S., where even though everyone is so politically correct and no one admits to being racist anymore, we pass new anti-immigrant laws and clamor behind angry pundits every time the economy is bad.

You can read BLUE for free online, but trust me when I say you'll have to buy the printed book to fully enjoy the beauty and craftsmanship with which Pat has lovingly put this story to paper. It's an amazing first book, and I hope there will be many more to come.