My autobiographical comic 2020: A Year in Taiwan is now available for the Kindle app on Amazon:
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, […]
Presentation on the subject of how to use mythological themes and other archetype systems in character design. Covers the Jewish experience, Greek mythology, historical allegories, and more. Subjects include Superman, the Justice League, Spider-man, Jack Kirby’s Marvel work, the X-Men, and also Japanese manga.
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…
Has enough time passed to post a Joker review? Or, is it too late?
In any case, I shall share some spoilers. Note that this review shall be divided into three parts below: on the subject of problematic issues, the actual content, and of the more comic book-ish implications.
On the *problematic* issues:
Firstly, there hasn’t been a real-life shooting inspired by this film. Looks like that criticism so much in the media brought up was extremely overblown. And to fair, there have always been violent movies about criminals with various degrees of controversy. Is 2019 really such a different time that society can’t handle a movie with such overtones?
There’s nothing wrong with criticizing a film or any work of art, for any reason at all. But to say that bad movies should be banned, because it may inspire violence, still feels like a stretch to me. If you just find the movie immoral and whatnot, then don’t pay for it or give it a low rating and move on.
It is interesting that Joker specifically says “I’m not political” in the infamous De Niro talk show scene. It’s a bit of a cop out, but I do appreciate that the themes are all over the place enough to be interpretable. One could just as much say that there’s a leftist moral lesson is about austerity–that Gotham shouldn’t have cut civil services and then all the tragedies could have been avoided.
(And as for the whole incel thing, while the character did fantasize about a girlfriend and couldn’t get any action, ultimately there never seemed to be a strong hating women theme.)
Last point with the controversies here. Director Todd Phillips has shown himself to be a douche with some of his “anti-woke” statements as a comedy director, which is very disappointing. If only he would let the work speak for itself, instead of lazily complaining about he resents that audiences don’t finding him funny anymore.
As for the actual content:
I happen to think the Joker is a vastly overused character. He’s supposed to be mysterious, not such a mainstream nemesis. There are of course many classic Joker storylines, but just because Batman is the most popular DC hero and he’s the main villain doesn’t mean they keep having to go back to Joker trying to top himself again and again and again. It’s an overplayed gimmick, at least in the comics.
I do appreciate Warner Bros-DC doing something different with the superhero film genre. A rated R villain film is certainly a different style than that Marvel Cinematic Universe formula.
Still, a definitive origin for the Joker is paretly of missing the point. The Dark Knight and The Last Laugh were simply smarter in exploring ambiguity. The Joker of the film is an unreliable narrator at times, but perhaps not unreliable enough.
Another valid criticism is how derivative of Scorsese this is. Both Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy? There is such a thing as too much homage. And Arthur Fleck living with his mother, that is pretty cliched.
However, I watched the movie and I’m still thinking about it weeks later. That is saying something. The arc of Fleck’s descent into madness powerfully told, I have to admit. From the beginning it can’t be denied Joaquin Phoenix is an absolutely brilliant actor, carrying every scene and pushing himself to the limit. As he descends into violence, first by killing in self defense and then immediately after by killing someone running away, the audience is sucked into his disturbing world until the body count rises enough to take down the whole city.
Damn, what an ending. Incredibly pessimistic as Gotham is on fire, his minions in clown masks burning it all down in anti-1%er riots. It may or may not be happening in the titular character’s mind to some degree, but either way, geez what an effect as he dances to the tune! Finally, the world pays attention to one Arthur Fleck.
One leaves the theater affected for sure, and in some sense that means it is a successful work.
Overall, after giving it maybe too much thought, I conclude it’s a good movie. The Joker is well-crafted and leaves a deep impression. Very much worth watching as long, assuming you’re already into gruesome crime dramas.
Comic book implications:
Lastly, here’s my take as a fanboy. It was an entertaining twist to speculate on Joker maybe-or-maybe-not being Bruce Wayne’s illegitimate brother. (Glad it’s left open; those ambiguous factors are always the strongest.) Thomas Wayne as an out of touch rich asshole, who is partly responsible for the iconic orphaning of his son, now that sure is an original version.
Continuity-wise the age difference is too wide to have this be the same villain who will one day fight Batman. Bruce was only a child right, so it would have to be twenty years later at least. It is fun to see some of the Batman origin, however overdone, even if it doesn’t quite fit.
Plus, the Joker should be a genius. I don’t see this guy inventing chemical compounds or even planning any intricate crime sprees. His only ‘power’ really is that he acquired a gun, and that some his murders are big deals. Also, he’s not funny. There are several dark humor scenes to be sure, but Arthur Fleck’s tragedy is that he’s not even good at being a comedian which just isn’t really the Joker in my view.
Hence… the only way this could work in any DC universe is if Fleck isn’t so much *the* Joker as much as he is *the first* Joker. The comics do say there were three. Like there have been a series of Jokers, and Arthur Fleck inspired them. Maybe that’s the point?
Even if so, let’s still repeat that it’s just a movie and please don’t be inspired to be super-villain in the real world. So long as that’s clear, enjoy 🙂
Previous: 2014 – 2015: Love and Publishing
2016 – 2019: Terrible politics, book tour, leaving China and coming to Taiwan! Various family trips from Israel to South Africa and California. Art and comics and Burning herein. At last, we catch up to now (so meta) and I reflect… Thus, an ending.
Thanks so much to you all for reading this, my humble life story!
2011 and 2012, beginning with my Guangzhou year. Didn’t work out well, so I returned to Shenzhen. Meanwhile so much travel, all over Southeast Asia and returns to Israel and Japan. Plus foreshadowing in Taiwan, and Hipster Pacific Northwest too. And I go to both my sister’s wedding and my best friend’s wedding. Growing up!
2009 and 2010, the beginnings of a new decade, as I become acclimated to life in Shenzhen/Hong Kong and have fun traveling in Southeast Asia (and America), and family stuff… plus I start dating somewhat regularly. Crazy, right?