Undercover: 'The Rustbelt Almanac: Vol. 1'
In this work, the theme of return echoes throughout the work as members of a younger generation move back to the communities where their parents or grandparents grew up.
Here in Pittsburgh, we know the term Rust Belt is a deprecatory appellation at best. Referring to the post-industrial centers of manufacturing clustered mostly in the Northeast from Buffalo down to Philadelphia and spilling slightly westward to Detroit and St. Louis, the moniker Rust Belt became popular around the same time Ronald Reagan was opening his first bag of jellybeans in the Oval Office. Pittsburgh was a poster child for a rapidly changing American economy. The shuttering of the mills and the massive layoffs that followed left our communities in a deep, dirty hole.
The editors of "The Rust Belt Rising Almanac" are admirably engaged in a campaign to document the scars of the past and celebrate the hard-won victories of these neighborhoods while they emerge in the 21st century as vibrant areas of renewed purpose.
The theme of return echoes throughout the work as members of a younger generation move back to the communities where their parents or grandparents grew up. In her short story “Radium Girls,” Liz Kerr observes, “As they drove through the neighborhood, her parents would point out all that had disappeared — stores and gas stations and neighbors. It seemed to Veronica the only things left were churches and bars, and the former didn’t get nearly as much business as the latter.” In Christopher Wink’s brief bit of flash fiction, “Radiator Heat,” this generational observation bubbles back with a bullish spin, “The neighborhood your grandfather found in the beginning of the 20th century is the one your father ran away from and the one you’re currently seeking an investment property in.”
Not surprisingly, because the "Rust Belt" publisher is based in Philadelphia (aka the “City of Brotherly Love”), that city has a strong showing herein, particularly in the stunning photo essay “Nowhere But Here” by Jeffrey Stockbridge and Liz Moore.
A little closer to home, Cheswick native Sarah Grey writes movingly of growing up in the Allegheny Valley, starting her “Under This Cloud: Life and Death in the Shadow of a Coal-Fired Power Plant” by admitting, “My friends who aren’t from the Rust Belt think it’s weird that I grew up playing in industrial waste, but my friends from home understand.” What follows is an honest account of the (often-made) tradeoff of present-day economic boom for a future of serious health issues, particularly a staggeringly high incidence of cancer.
"The Rust Belt Rising Almanac" is not all doom and gloom. Although the writers and artists look at their surroundings with a critical eye, what the reader comes away with most is the feeling that those working toward a brighter future steadfastly love these communities.
Though it's composed of short narrative strips, posters, cover artwork and sketchbook pages, cartoonist Jim Rugg’s "Supermag" never feels disjointed. Rather, the reading experience is much like a late-night tour through the cable channels at the deep end of the deluxe package, where every click of the remote results in another unexpected surprise showing up on the screen.
For Rugg devotees, favorite characters such as Street Angel, USApe and Afrodisiac all make appearances, along with strips that pay homage to indie visionaries such as Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes. Even Tex Avery gets a nod. If you’ve never experienced Rugg’s off-kilter world, "Supermag" is the perfect place to start.
The Rust Belt Almanac: Vol. 1, The Head and the Hand Press; $17
- Supermag, No. 1, by Jim Rugg; Adhouse Books; $9.95