What I Says: An autobiography about somebody unknown and done in the format of a comic, how could that work? Well it worked for me, I really enjoyed reading this, I can’t stand those autobiographies by famous people full of name dropping and desperately trying to make every aspect of their life interesting. Always Goodbye is the sort of book that could be about you, the reader, if you are a child of the 80’s then you’ll see similarities to your own life in this book, as Ray Hecht describes events you’ll be going “I remember that” and you’ll end up on your own journey down memory lane. And being born in the 80’s means a lot of big moments in your life would be defined by technology, getting that first email address, joining myspace and Facebook, games consoles and smart phones are all big points in Rays life and until reading this I have never thought of things like that before.
A huge part of Rays life has been spent reading and making comics, falling in love with Marvel and DC universes and because he has that huge knowledge about comics it has made this book much more special. Some clever little bits really bring this to life, describing his parents, birth, upbringing and how they met was cleverly done, drawn as a column with each event side by side worked well. Each chapter starts off with a year of Rays life and the first window shows a significant event from that year and I loved trying to figure out what they represented. There was the odd quirky bit thrown in too which gave me a chuckle, favourite bit was Ray sat at his desk at school and the writing about the scene takes up so much space that he has to have his head at an angle.
The comic has been hand drawn, which gives it a personal touch that would have been taken away by a piece of software, whenever Ray draws one of his girlfriends the amount of detail increases until they are almost glowing, it shows just how important they were in his life.
I have really enjoyed reading about Ray’s life and now wish I had a time machine to go and get my hands on the sequel in 30 years time 🙂
Always Goodbye by Ray Hecht
A review of the graphic novel
Ray Hecht’s autobiographical graphic novel starts with his birth in Israel, where his parents were immigrants, and ends up with him working in Asia. Moving to America as a small child he has an unstable upbringing, thanks to his Ukrainian mother and American father divorcing. The drawings and the layout here obviously took a lot of work and I dare say it may have been easier just to write the narrative, however, this was a more interesting way to tell his story. Each year is introduced with a picture of a key event and I laughed when I saw OJ’s Bronco being chased by police down the highway for 1994.
Things start out well for the family in America, but after a few years the cracks begin to show and his parents get divorced in the early nineties. His mother remarries a none-too trustworthy Israeli man and Ray stays with his Dad, who trains to be a nurse. Ray does recognise his father’s efforts to better himself. His sister is academic and as she grows up gets sucked into a conservative Israeli world that Hecht wants no part of. She learns Russian and presumably Hebrew too — as she moves to Israel and gets married there. Ray’s trips to Israel don’t work out well, it’s not a place he connects with. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that he prefers to study Japanese and later Chinese.
A self-confessed nerdy child, Hecht struggles socially and finds solace in comic books. (I was waiting for his reading to break out from the pure escapism of comics and this does eventually happen.) A convincing portrayal of how America can be a lonely place for a teenager, a lot of this must have been hard to bring to the surface again. One major problem for him is always moving from school to school, as the title indicates it is “Always Goodbye”. Probably the most painful incident is when he gets kicked out of school for something he says about a mass shooting. Despite being an introvert, he makes various efforts to improve his social life, investigating subcultures — punk, Goth, arty-type, straight edge, hippie — looking for something to hold onto. His friends do the same thing and he falls in and out with them depending on what phase they are in — a problem of a fractured society: you can join many different tribes but a sense of belonging is not guaranteed. He does some hallucinogenic drugs, but the answer doesn’t lie there.
In his early twenties Ray moves out of his Dad’s place and back again several times, in a non-linear surge towards independence common in his generation. He has a string of dead-end jobs in various States and then vaguely commits to life in California. Salvation comes in the form of China, recommended to him by a random character at the Burning Man Festival 2008. Like many young Westerners who go to work in Asia (me included), it’s the first time he has the luxury of living alone in a decent apartment. He begins teaching at a kindergarten in Shenzhen, the huge city over the border from Hong Kong where everything is new and exciting. He mentions the bootleg markets and this reminded me that one of the pleasures (and even social activities) of living in China back then was shopping for pirated DVDs; now of course we just download movies without leaving the house. He survives the kindergarten, moves onto a Korean owned school in Guangzhou, and escapes the English teaching world to become a copy editor.
Ray realises that a lot of the expat life is about drinking and tries to find meaning through writing and dating. The dating doesn’t go so well, but gives him material to write about. While many say it’s easy to get an Asian girlfriend, it doesn’t work out most of the time because of different expectations and, sure enough, Hecht takes us through a few awkward flings. The world of online dating also turns out to be a wash-out. Despite these romantic failures, he publishes a novel and eventually gets involved in a serious relationship with a creative South African woman— i.e. finally he has some good luck. I was interested to read that he initially went down to Hong Kong every six months to get visas, but later got a ten year China visa. Surely long term visas like this are not on the table anymore?
The text isn’t that polished and there are still a few mistakes to be ironed out, or perhaps they were left in the on purpose to emphasize the DIY nature of this work? His analysis of society is usually spot on and you can see a narrow view of the world broadening as he travels more — this gives the story a nice arc. As a thirty-something he ends up in Taiwan, looking at current events it was probably a wise decision to leave China and move there.
In this midst of this worldwide pandemic, I’ve found myself passing on those dystopian novels I used to adore and instead seeking out a little more “comfort food” in the books I’ve read this year. Lighthearted, humorous and even self-deprecating stories of people grappling with everyday problems that you wouldn’t find in a disaster film have offered me much-needed refuge in these unusual and challenging times for all. Bonus if they touch on experiences I’ve had living here in China and Asia, including cross-cultural dating and relationships.
Thank goodness Ray Hecht sent me his new graphic novel Always Goodbye, which really hit the spot on all fronts.
The graphic novel spans Ray’s life from birth up to 2019, and it makes for a pleasant read, thanks to its honesty. As much as it charts the highs in his life, the novel also delves into those lows and failures too as he pursues a variety of different careers, not always with success. Ray approaches even difficult topics and moments with a refreshing sense of humor, and we could all use a laugh these days. And Ray’s experiences in moving to China and dating locals will resonate with those of us who have visited or lived here.
I’m honored to feature this interview with Ray Hecht about Always Goodbye.
Here’s Ray’s bio from Amazon:
Author Ray Hecht was born in Israel and raised in the American Midwest. He currently lives in Taiwan.
Why did you decide to create this graphic novel?
I’ve always loved the comics medium. I worry I”m not quite good enough at drawing, and that’s why I’ve been focusing on prose writing for most of my creative career, but after a bit of a dry spell in book publishing I decided to return to my first love…
The decision was partly due to me just trying to practice the art of cartooning again. Focusing on myself has worked well with my writing before, so why not? Autobiography/memoir has been an indie comics tradition for many years, and it simply felt right for me to share my perspective that way. When I sat down and thought about the whole of my life, with the second half focused on being an expat in China until in the “climax” finale I moved to Taiwan, it seemed like a story worth telling.
What’s the story behind the title?
To be honest, I struggled to come up with a title. At last, it came to me.
Perhaps it’s a somewhat dark interpretation, but the one constant in my life seems to be that I always move. I moved from Israel to Indiana to Ohio to California to Ohio again to California again to China to Taiwan.
That’s a lot of goodbyes. So what else could I call this, other than “Always Goodbye”?
In your graphic novel, you chose to organize it chronologically, through your entire life. Why did you choose this approach?
Good question. Indeed, such a narrative doesn’t necessarily need to be chronological. Nor must it start at the beginning. Authors more clever than me may have taken a non-linear approach, but I went with being direct.
Back when I first thought about how to explain my life in a way that made sense, taking notes and interviewing my mom, I realized I didn’t just need to start with my birth; I actually needed to start with my parents. So the first years covered were 1954 and 1956, in Chicago and in the Ukraine of the former Soviet Union. From there, naturally it led to the year that I was born, and so on.
Plus, it was fun to map out a pop cultural or technological marker. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. 1982 to 2019, every year needed at least it’s own little chapter.
What was your favorite year to detail and why?
That would probably be 2008. A seminal year for me.
It was of course the year I risked it all and moved to Shenzhen, China to do the expat thing. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be in the China blog scene at all! But even before I moved, over in Southern California, a lot changed in my life. Maybe in a way that was the year I finally grew up. The crazy Burning Man festival part of that story was pretty interesting as well.
Your graphic novel gets very personal, including in how it portrays people close to you, such as family and friends. How have family and friends responded to your book?
I’ve been very fortunate to so far have almost no negative criticism from anyone portrayed in the book. I feel extremely lucky and grateful for that, otherwise it could have gone awkward.
Even if someone did respond negatively: My philosophy is that they were my experiences and I have a right to express what happened as long as I was involved (so long as I don’t literally libel someone, or expose some deep dark secret or anything). There was a common sense balance to the portrayals. I also didn’t include any last names for obvious reasons.
I needn’t have worried. For the most part, I have found that a lot of people are flattered to be caricatured in a graphic novel by me!
What do you hope people come away with from reading your graphic novel?
I suppose the main hope is to increase readers’ empathy.
If you’ve met me in person, please read to get a better understanding of who I am and where I come from. If you haven’t met me in person, I do hope that my life stories around the world are interesting and entertaining, and can also give some sort of deeper window into a different person’s perspective.
After all, isn’t that ultimately what all art is all about?
Many thanks to Ray Hecht for this interview! You can learn more about Always Goodbye on Ray’s website. The graphic novel Always Goodbye is available on Amazon, where your purchase helps support this blog.
Always Goodbye by Ray Hecht. 88 pages. TWG Press, 2019, paperback, $5.99. With great insight and humor, Ray Hecht shares his life with the reader in his autobiographical graphic novel, Always Goodbye. This is an ambitious work as Hecht takes stock of his whole life thus far. Hecht sums up his life, year by year, […]
Always Goodbye is an excellent title for your book. It really captures the bitter-sweet emotions of constantly moving on, whether that be leaving relationships or physical locations. I could relate to the semi-nomadic upbringing you describe as I’m a first-generation Kiwi with few roots in my home country. On balance do you find that rootlessness liberating?
Why thank you. It’s different for everybody, but I guess I’m just used to being rootless and that helped me to first move to California and then to China. It’s the way I happened to be raised. Not recommended for everyone. Perhaps people who still visit the childhood home they grew up in aren’t my best audience, who knows.
In this increasingly globalist world that we now find ourselves in, more and more might relate to my lack of a homeland…
I know I’m old-fashioned but I find it remarkable that an adult has such an interest in superhero comic books. Aren’t they just for kids?
Ha, this is an old take. Weren’t comics pretty much proven to be a valid literary medium in the 1980s when Watchmen won a Hugo award? Even last year the graphic novel Sabrina was a contender to win the Booker prize.
By that logic Bob Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature would make pop songs a literary medium.
There was controversy about that wasn’t there, but I think an argument can be made that some songwriting is literary for sure. Well, maybe I can’t convince everybody. To me it seems self-evident to me that comics have writers and it is a medium of literature. They do have graphic novels at bookstores, right?
The superhero genre is as big as it’s ever been due to the phenomenal success of Marvel movies, although they are worthy of criticism. However, that criticism – as Scorsese might say – is about the corporate vs. art argument. There’s certainly nothing wrong with adults being entertaining by Superman or whatever.
That said, those black & white indie comics tend to be more literary. Superheroes are just a pop culture fun thing for me, serious or not. And yes, childhood nostalgia is a factor.
While superheroes (or fantasy, or science fiction) may not be for everyone, and that’s fine. My point is I’d passionately argue that everyone should give comics a chance as a broader medium.
Any kind of story can be told with both words and pictures.
You’re only 37 years old. Isn’t it rather a young age to be writing an autobiography?
Perhaps I am too young and haven’t accomplished enough to be able to write a valid memoir. But it is what it is. I start Always Goodbye with an immediate admission that I was creatively spent at the time, and just wanted to practice the comic medium. Perhaps my personal experiment makes for a good read, perhaps it doesn’t.
There is a long tradition of autobiographical comics which can work very well in a slice-of-life type way, and I hope at best I tap into those sorts of stories in my work. If I can be 1% of Harvey Pekar, I’ll take it.
And I’m not claiming that my humble travels through Asia are that terribly special, but still some people may enjoy a window into my personal experiences.
I’m still not sure what to make of your book. It’s different from anything I’ve ever read. However, a friend whose judgment on literary matters I greatly respect was raving about it to me the other day. He said it was a work of historical importance, that it was “a Diary of Samuel Pepys for our times.” What kind of response have you had to Always Goodbye?
I’m honored to have such a comparison! I’ve been lucky to have a lot of positive reviews, even though some people certainly don’t know what to make of my book. Usually, those already into comics more “get it.” I’m still very pleased that others who are new to to the medium have found some things to enjoy about Always Goodbye.
Of course, I’ve had some fair criticism as well from both comics aficionados and novices. Usually concerning the work being overly wordy and rushed. The whole thing is an experiment, and those don’t always work.
The drawings work really well, and are consistent throughout the book. Over what period of time did you draw them (I have vague memories of reading a blog post from years back about you working on the memoir)?
The entire word took me a bit less than a year, about ten months. I did post early drafts of the pages online. For anyone on a budget who doesn’t want to buy a book, check out my blog!
Basically, from mid-2018 to 2019 I drew two pages a week. I interviewed my parents for the early portions, I sorted old photos, I reread my journals, dug through ancient social media. Then day after day I wrote a script, penciled, inked, and lettered.
It was honestly the hardest I’ve ever worked on anything in my life.
One of the things that comes through Always Goodbye is the importance of pop culture in your life. What do you think provides the backdrop to one’s life – is it the big moments of history, the likes of Operation Desert Storm, 9/11, the Olympics, or is it the television, music and movies we consume?
I find that these images of the big thing of each year are a good way to anchor a moment in time. It can be personal, like when Jurassic Park came out. Or tragic, like 9/11. Sometimes they didn’t have much to do with me, like say the fall of the Berlin Wall. I suppose everything indirectly affects us all if it was sufficiently impactful, especially the political ones or even the technologies of the ages. Both are valid, but the music and movie portions do tend to have more of a personal spark even if it’s more arbitrary objectively-speaking.
As you’re flying to China to take up a teaching position in Shenzhen, you reflect on how it all started: “I’d been interested in China ever since I saw Farewell My Concubines. Anime –> Kurosawa –>Fifth-Generation Chinese cinema, that was my journey.” Can you say more about the attraction to East Asian culture and also why you chose China over Japan?
Well, obviously Japanese popular culture has been more open to the West for a longer time. And with regards to my nerdy youth, I did love me some manga and anime. But as I got older I was also more interested in “serious” film as well and then Chinese cinema was my entry-point.
And I’m not even into martial arts.
Maybe the real reason I liked Asia was because it was as far from my homelands as possible. I always did want to get away.
Japan is a great place I love to visit, by the way, but how Rising China is both developed and undeveloped suited me better. It’s been quite the adventure learning about this massive part of the world, even considering the negative factors of living in a communist dictatorship. I was lucky I happened to end up with a job in China after that momentous Burning Man conversation…
You went to China in 2008 to teach English. Those days were pretty good going for a young Westerner. What’s it like now?
From what I understand, the standards are much higher today. More expenses, less breaking of the rules. Not quite as worth it.
To be frank China isn’t so desperate for random white teachers anymore, and a lot of unqualified people are getting kicked out. Fair enough on that. I wouldn’t recommend others to movie the mainland anymore, at least not to teach, but for a real professional it’s not a bad deal to live in places like Shanghai or Shenzhen. I do still like visiting on occasion, even if it is less wild.
As well as teaching English you also worked for the Shenzhen Daily, first writing articles part-time and then full-time as a copy editor. How were those experiences?
I enjoy a bit of journalism, writing little restaurant reviews and the like. I still do full-on film and book reviews all the time basically for free. Overall it wasn’t my particular dream or anything.
As for working as a copy editor in the office, I absolutely loathed it. Eight hours a day drained me of all my creativity. It was a good day job for a while, and I gained valuable experience (I still work as a freelance editor on occasion), but most of all that time in my life taught me that office jobs are not for me. Chinese offices in particular are so boring.
How are enjoying Taiwan so far?
Taiwan is perfect for me! A mix of Japan and China, but not crowded and very chill – in particular, the literary scene in Taiwan has been good. Most of all, I’m happy to live in a free country that speaks Mandarin. No more VPNs for this guy.
Yep, a mix of Japan and China – that’s the short-hand I often use for describing Taiwan to people back home. Hopefully, you’ll stay here a while and write something about the country.
I hope so. My current goal is to stay here for at least five more years and then get a permanent residency status. After that, shall see what’s next.
Indeed, one day I hope to write something important about Taiwan and it’s precarious position in the world…
Always Goodbye is published by TWG Press and is available from Amazon.com for a very reasonable $5.99 for the paperback and half that for the ebook.
You can find out more about the Ray Hecht and his writing at rayhecht.com.
About the Author: John Grant Ross
I am proud to announce that my graphic novel Always Goodbye has now been published by TWG Press, and for a special promotion this week it is free to download for the Kindle app!
Please enjoy, and of course if you like you can share and review and just plain tell me what you think ~
Life can take a man many places.
Born in disputed Israel, fostered in Middle America, and then finally driven into Rising China—Ray Hecht takes journey after journey as he tries to figure it all out. He goes down many paths from the years 1982 to 2019, attempting and failing at new identities with each passing decade: artist, filmmaker, journalist, and author.
Told in simple lines and crude forms, Ray’s graphic memoir Always Goodbye rushes through the milestones of a person’s life with harsh sincerity. Follow along these memories of a man’s travels across the globe as he tries to find himself, always saying goodbye but then reconnecting all over again, as many times as it takes…
This here is my autobiographical comic, Always Goodbye. Just a humble lo-fi take on my life, year-by-year…
Read them first at Webtoons.com: https://www.webtoons.com/en/challenge/always-goodbye/list?title_no=224697
Prologue, my parents meet in the middle of the world, I am born, and the family grows and goes. Suffice to say, to be continued–