Local Artist/Writer Duo Document 2021 and Beyond

For many artists and illustrators, working on a new project can often serve as therapy, a way of escaping or even coping with the stresses and microaggressions of everyday life. However, take that stress away and it can be just as disconcerting.

Like many, local illustrator Morgan Miller III found himself both isolated and distressed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He attempted to make sense of it in his own way, creating slightly satirical cartoon-style illustrations that served as a sort of diary, but also helped him cope with the new normal of quarantine and pandemic-related politicization.

“It started out as sort of a way to process what was going on by drawing in my sketchbook, and then it morphed into a way to document what was going on,” says Miller, a fifth-generation San Diegan.

“In my life, I often struggled to understand the subject and everything that happened was just perfect to draw,” continues Miller. “I just felt powerless over these major issues – the pandemic, everything Trump was doing, the authoritarian leanings of Republicans and the Black Lives Matter movement – ​​so it felt like a good way to participate and personally understand what was going on. on. The best way to understand it was to do what I do best, which is to draw.

Before the pandemic, Miller helped run the print studio at the Athenaeum Art Center in Logan Heights, where he taught classes and helped maintain the presses. With classes canceled but still having access to the space, Miller says he’s started creating zine-style issues of his 2020 artwork and publishing them. The responses were positive, but he says the writing part of the project didn’t come as easy to him as the drawing.

“Yeah, it got too much for me to handle on my own,” Miller says. “I was kind of stepping on it. I prefer to spend my time on drawing.

Morgan Miller III (left) and James Call

(Courtesy of Iran Arellano)

Enter James Call. The local musician, music writer and radio DJ had known Miller for years, with the two bonding over art and music after meeting at the Krakatoa cafe in Golden Hill.

“I was immediately impressed by his works,” Call recalls. “The intelligence and detail in his renderings, but it was mostly intelligence. He was also doing all these interesting things, like making and printing his own books, and making these unique bindings.

So when Miller asked him if he’d like to collaborate on what he now considers an ongoing project, Call said he immediately said yes. Little did they know that 2021 was going to be, in many ways, an even stranger year than the last. This is clearly displayed in “2021: January-June,” their new graphic novel that chronicles everything from the Georgia Senate races and the January Capitol bombings to the end of mask terms around the middle of the year.

“We wanted to capture the feel of that year, how we felt when these things were happening,” says Call, who immediately wrote the accompanying text as soon as Miller finished a new drawing. “It is certainly the chronicle of a unique era, but it is also a lament and an indictment.”

The “2021” book was sort of a continuation and extension of the blog-style website where Miller and Call would post new content (morganthe3rd.com). The initial printing of 50 copies sold out almost immediately, and Miller says that was extremely encouraging, further letting him know that people were responding to the work. He had it reprinted and made it available on the website, as well as in local stores like Verbatim Books in North Park and Folk Arts Rare Records in City Heights.

“You go into a kind of bubble when it comes to Facebook and social media, so it was great when people bought it,” Miller says. “It let me know there was a large audience for it.”

Still, the book is not without opinions and is decidedly rich in writing and satirical renderings. Yes, it’s a highly original, indeed magnificent, documentation of the zeitgeist of the times – serving as a Robert Crumb-style visual and editorial snapshot of one of the strangest periods in American history – but it can also be very polarizing for those who cannot agree, for example, that Senator Ted Cruz is a seditionist or that universal health care is a good thing.

“Some people were put off by the politics involved,” Call says, referring to his own sister as someone who didn’t like what his self-proclaimed “Bernie Sanders Democrat” brother had to say about Trump or the way they described people. who believed in conspiracy theories like QAnon. “She didn’t say anything at all at first, but eventually she came back and said, ‘I don’t agree with everything you had to say about Trump.'”

However, Miller and Call have no plans to stop and regularly post new comics on the website with plans for new collections in the future. Whereas before, Miller produced artwork and Call added text after the fact, they both say the process is much more collaborative. The two seem to want to keep going as long as they have something to say on the news and, judging by the news cycle, there’s no reason to suspect that fresh inspiration will slow down anytime soon.

“We’ll be texting each other and asking ‘should we do this? and ‘does it matter?’ says Miller. “And more often than not, it is.”

Combs is a freelance writer.