Mo’ Activity

March 19, 2018

My haul of delicious prints from Saturday’s #MoPrint2018 Open Portfolio event at Redline Gallery. Clockwise from top left, prints by Jeff Russell (etching w/ Chine Colle’) Greg Santos (silkscreen), Michael Keyes, Michael Keyes (both woodcuts), Sasha Thackeray (aquatint etching), Holly White (linocut), Javier Flores (woodcut reduction), and Sasha Thackeray(etching w/ Chine Colle’).

My interview with Westword’s Susan Froyd is up on the site today. It’s in association with Month of Printmaking Colorado, along with several other printmakers: Jennifer Ghormley, Taiko Chandler, Sue Oehme. It’s a privilege to be included in this series, and it’s a joy to be involved in the burgeoning Denver printmaking community, which for reasons mentioned below, is very supportive and friendly. This includes Westword itself, really. Mo’Print has an all volunteer organizing committee; we try hard to market and publicize professionally, but over the last five years, Susan Froyd, Michael Paglia, and Patty Calhoun have never failed to give it the attention I feel it deserves. This has really helped prevent it from slipping through the cracks during its early stages. I try to return the favor to the community in the interview, and in other ways, as printmaking really enriches my life.

It’s been a busy month owing to #MoPrint2018, and I’m pretty happy with most of the shows and events I’ve been involved with. I had a blast Saturday at the Open Portfolio event at Redline, selling and trading prints in a relaxed setting.

I have two more events upcoming, one of which is the Studio + Print Tour, which I’ll do at the Art Students League Print Room from 10-4 with two or three other artists from the League. Mami Yamamoto and Taiko Chandler will be there too. We’ll probably have snacks and prints there, but later that evening, there will be the Ink Mixer at Ink Lounge, where you can get beer and snacks and see their silk screen set-up and mix with artists and printmakers.

The diversity is incredible. When I joined the 12-15 member Month of Printmaking Colorado organizing committee in early 2013, I think we felt that we knew, or knew of- all the major players in Colorado printmaking. Wrong. Silkscreeners, lithography artists, bookmakers, letterpress artists and more came out of the wood work. Not students or dabblers, mind, though there are plenty of those as well, but career printmakers, small business people, educators. Accomplished creatives, in other words.

One of the few perks of being an artist is the ability to trade for an art collection. For me, lately that has meant prints. Here’s a photo of my haul from Saturday. It’s worth noting that several of these are from artists I had just met that day. I think because printmaking is regarded traditionally as a fairly humble corner of the art market, and because we often need to congregate in groups to utilize public presses, that printmaking has a social component that some media don’t have. One of these community presses, Mark Lunning’s Open Press is moving out of town owing to the real estate inflation. I’ll miss Mark and Open Press, and I’ll write a post about them soon.

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Don’t Get Short With Me

February 14, 2018

Garden, Monotype, Joe Higgins, 2017

Trace monotype is a very simple form of printmaking imagery. This image features trace monotype in combination with acetate collage elements.

As I write this, it is apparently both Fat Tuesday and Valentine’s Day eve. This is super apropos, since most of my valentines have ended in smoke and ash. I‘ll have many girlfriends ( and others) between the covers. Book covers. I’ll try not to get chocolate on the naughty bits.

A current home project is to clear shelf space. A way to do that is to read, or re-read, a bunch of things that have been on my list.  Many of them can then be carted down to the bookstore for store credit. A never finished George Saunders collection; a Denis Johnson skyped from the advanced reading copies pile at work; another from the pile, a re-release of Fitzgerald’s bread-and-butter stories for Saturday Evening Post and other popular magazines; my David Foster Wallace Reader, and of course, my teetering stack of McSweeney’s Quarterlies and a related 2017 Non Required Reading Anthology. I’m thus surveying about 100 years of short stories, after exploring the history of American essays. No short jokes here.

Along with my brief return to Hemingway in the late Fall, I’m moving from the buoyant though disillusioned charm of Fitzgerald’s O.Henry-influenced magazine pieces, filled with the sort of froth and banter soon to become a staple of radio and Hollywood movies which later supplanted them, past the vacated emotional landscapes of Hemingway, to the dark obsessive humor of Wallace, Saunders and Johnson, and the casual magic realism of the not-quite quarterlies to which the short story has retreated (McSweeney’s, in case you are wondering, adds a bit of balance to this mostly male list with favorites like Judy Budnitz, Rebecca Curtis and Kelly Link).

Long story “short”, there are practical considerations, for this. It’s actually a very busy time for me, with the Month of Printmaking Colorado fast approaching, and many shows and events to supply or organize. Short stories and essays provide absorbing escape without the novelistic distraction of keeping a narrative thread alive in my head. And there’s the underlying shame of a large stack of books collected ‘for later’ and not read. It’s sort of like mental housecleaning: read some stories, then check them off your list, then take them to the book shop and trade them in for more. A ‘peace’ of paper, so to speak.

A sidelight: always on the lookout for linkages, I’ve discovered that short fiction and short non-fiction have a semi secret meeting place: the ‘letters’ section of McSweeney’s, where odd bits and half-ideas ‘come through the letter box thick and fast’.

To Show and To Tell, Phillip Lopate: I’m dipping into this collection of essays on essays gradually, especially at times when my own writing is likely to happen. One I recently read is an opinion piece on why showing AND telling are important. Lopate is conversational and didactic,  which makes a nice, if fairly conservative read on why students often indulge a current prejudice against objective explication (telling) in favor of narrative (showing) to their detriment. Examples given include George Elliot, who certainly uses the omniscient voice in The Mill on the Floss in effective and humorous way; and Virginia Woolf, whose essay on going to buy a pencil in LoPate’s excellent collection of great essays certainly leaves a very powerful impression.

In Our Time, Hemingway: Target of opportunity when I was looking for The Sun Also Rises at DPL. Against a background of Hemingway youth as presented in Everybody Behaves Badly, about the writing of this book and Sun;  and Hemingway’s Boat, which has informative background on his Michigan summers, the stories have renewed intrigue, and still carry their lean intensity of feeling.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other of Jazz Age Stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald: This obviously goes along with my Hemingway binge, and is certainly a target of opportunity, plucked from the advance reading pile, as it’s a newly issued compilation of two early Fitzgerald collections, rereleased to take advantage of a movie. Not sure I would have picked this up intentionally, but glad I did. I won’t read all of them, but I’ve read several, and they are clearly much more than ‘Lost Generation’ nostalgia. In fact, they seem to link the ironic innocence of O. Henry and Thurber with the offhand magic realism of the McSweeney’s ilk, making them pretty darn readable.

Tenth of December, George Saunders: I have not found anything yet to match the shattering, ‘funny-animal’ fantasia of “Fox 8”, but nor have I been disappointed by any of these.

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, Denis Johnson: Again, from the advance pile, but I’d already been hipped to it by critics. I told a young Johnson acolyte on the bus who saw me reading it, that he should check out Tom McGuane, and I do not so far regret the comparison, but there’s no doubt that the cool emotional reserve that McGuane inherited by way of Hemingway is now a distant echo in these tortured, obsessed, and very circular characters with their recidivist voices.

David Foster Wallace Reader: “My Appearance”, about a Late Night with Letterman Show gig, is the only actual short story I’ve read here, along with some chapters from Broom of the System, and of course a couple of the essays, including “Authority and American Usage”, my second time through this track-jumpingly uproarious grammar-Nazi screed-slash-footnote rondel. DFW transcends any Post Modernist labelling and is indispensable.

The Thinking Man’s Guide to the World Cup, edited by Sean Willsey : It’s from 2006, back when Americans were actually capable of thinking rationally about the World Cup, partially because there was no real expectation of competing for it. Now, the lack of progress toward that end, and the profusion of millennial fan boys who, being young, do not understand the simple, immutable, and somehow poetic truth that football IS life not despite, but BECAUSE of the fact that it is mostly about disappointment, makes me sometimes wish for the days when no one paid attention to it, though only a little bit.

This is a brilliant travelogue, in the form of essays about then-participating countries for people who DON’T think you get to call yourselves ‘World Champions’ when you haven’t actually played the World. At least Millennials, bless ‘em, are the first American generation that GETS that.

The one comics album that sticks out this time around is Anti-Gone, by Connor Willumsen: a brilliant bit of creepiness about a post-apocalyptic slacker and his disaffected girl friend, searching for ‘mindless pleasures’ in a world of casual fascism.  It’s the sort of dystopian tale that would have seemed exotic before November 8, 2016.

I have some speculations on developing ideas in monotypes which I’ll post soon, in the spirit of Month of Printmaking, which actually runs a couple of months, through late April. So we lied. “Art is a lie that tells the truth,” said Picasso, and who am I to argue?


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Month of Printmaking 2018 and Other Doings

February 05, 2018

“Conceptual Studio”, Monotype. Actually an impression of a very real studio where I worked during a residency in Sheridan, WY. It is up for auction to benefit the Art Students League of Colorado during their “Art and Soul” gala, February 10.

I’m Preparing art for a number of different shows and events this Spring. Most are related to the MoPrint (Month of Printmaking) festival of events and I’m organizing one event myself. It makes for a busy schedule.

“Master Printer and Print Educators of Colorado”, McNichols Building 3rd Floor, January 13-April 8 : This one has already opened, though viewing hours are limited, and the venue is often closed for private parties. The best way to see it may be the MoPrint Kick Off event on February 23 at 6-9 PM. I will be there. I have 3 pieces in the show ( I fall into the second category in the title), but I did not have any large work ready for the show.

“Hand Pulled: Mark Lunning’s Open Press”, PACE Center, Parker, Co, March 2-April 30: This is a show honoring the Open Press artists. The printmaking facility on Bayaud Ave run by Master Printer Mark Lunning is soon to close and move to Sterling, Colorado owing to the rapidly dwindling affordable space for arts orgs during the recent development boom. I haven’t worked there in a couple of years, since I now do most of my work at the Arts Students League, so this show will feature 3-5 large pieces from my past work there. It will be a mini retrospective of sorts. Opens March 2, 5:30-8 PM

Open Portfolio, Redline Gallery, March 17, 2-5 PM: This will probably be the most affordable show I’ve done in a long time. It was a fun show during the last MoPrint (2016) so I’ve decided to join it this year. Every artist has more art than they can sell, and this will be for printmakers, a chance to clean out the flat files at bargain prices, and that’s just what I’m doing. You’ll also see a lot of young artists trying to launch a name for themselves, I’m sure. Starting a print collection, and on a budget?

Art and Soul, Art Students League, February 10: This is the major fundraiser for the League, a big party with food and art auctions to benefit the school, and I always donate a piece. Tickets here.

artma, February 8: A fairly glitzy event that benefits The Morgan Adams This year it will be in the Evans School at 11th and Acoma, an opportunity in itself to see this historic building.

I’ll mention here that many of us artists are approached by charity auctions on a regular basis. Any auction is risky to begin with, as it can be damaging to your ‘market value’, especially if poorly organized and callous about their donating artists’ career needs, as many appallingly are.

This is not one of those, however. artma is the creme de la creme of charity auctions, with artists on the board of the event, professional treatment for donating artists, and an overall spirit of gratitude for artists’ generosity. I’ve been donating for several years because of this.

Meininger Art Supply, Broadway, March 3, 11-1 PM: I’ll be doing a monotype demo here. It’s a fun place to do one, and well equipped for the large groups they usually get. It’s about an hour, but you get a coupon at the end. Come early for a good seat, though they have mirrors and PA, so it works in the cheap seats, too.

Monotype-aThon, Art Students League, March 3, 9-5 PM: Same day! I’ll rush over there to join eight other artists doing 2-3 hour shifts, with the public invited to watch and kibbitz. There will be prints donated for sale to benefit the League and MoPrint, light snacks and lots of different approaches to monotype making.

A Moxie U class at the Art Students League, March 15, provides a more ‘hands-on’ intro to monotypes, with materials provided and all the ink mixing and prep done for you. It’s less than $35, so it’s a great way to celebrate Moprint 2018!

I’ll have a complete list of all Spring workshops soon.

I’ll look for some of you at these events. Feel free to come say hello and chat.

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Dangerous Conversations

January 14, 2018

America is a Puritan country, it is often said, though we very rarely talk about the implications. It’s kind of assumed there are implications, in a piecemeal way, but we really tend to talk around it. The reason is; we don’t like to talk about Puritanism, because that would require us to talk about sex.

This is true of both sides of the polarized political spectrum. Not talking about sex corrupts our conversation about a wide range of subjects, including art and culture, smut and politics and feminism as well. A recent upsurge in reports of sexual misconduct in public life makes this timely. Though calling out politicians and entertainers for past misdeeds may clear the air for real conversation about women’s opportunity or lack thereof, it may also harden attitudes and postpone real dialog indefinitely. It may do both at once, creating further polarization. In these repressive times, outrage can be weaponized to the detriment of thoughtful dialogue.

All social change entails risk of course, and it’s no reason to postpone an accounting of these deplorable attitudes toward women and girls. It’s always necessary to point out that much of what happens to women and girls does not fall into the category of healthy sex at all. But prudery and squeamishness about sex allows Trumpists  to eviscerate logic and stifle activism by stifling real conversation. Our attitudes about women and girls are unhealthy because our attitude about sex is unhealthy. America is not a well country, and won’t be until this conversation happens. Yet these are fraught conversations, which demand subtlety and restraint, which is difficult to master in the press of public pressure. There are many women writers, such as Rebecca Solnit, Laura Kipnis, and Hannah Rosin who have written forthrightly and with subtlety about sexual-social matters. There has been a real surge of women using the medium of comics for this purpose. This is one of them:

Sex Fantasy, Sophia Foster-Dimino: Not really about sex, so much as the attitudes surrounding sex. I ran across this randomly at the library and picked it up mostly for its very transparent stylistic blend of Manga and clear line cartoon brut; but also for its testimonial blurb from Gabrielle Bell, one of the most restrained, inventive and intelligent of the memoir-style of comics artists that grew out of the zine/mini comics sub culture. Sex Fantasy is formatted like a mini comic; small, square pages, short segments numbered 1-10, though no previous publication data is seen in the indicia. It has recently popped up in several “Best Of” lists, along with recent works by Jillian Tamaki, Bell, and Eleanor Davis.

Actual sex fantasies are rare in the early segments, which favor a sort of vaguely sexual, synaptic word/image association that in light of the provocative title, seems a bit arbitrary, even deflective. Beginning with #4, however, Sex Fantasy begins to grow into its title’s complex implications. Sex fantasies (and narrative) do appear, though often as subtext behind all the emotional and spiritual complications they entail. Foster-Dimino thus begins to parse the title phrase- sexfantasy; sex,fantasy; sex:fantasy- and as she does, the small surreal details she assigns to characters and situations become less arbitrary and more meaningful, though still quite open-ended. The dialog becomes richer- we’re talking about sex! Or at least, the things that keep us from talking about sex.

Sex Fantasy is about the conversations, fantasies and deflections that surround our fantasies. A woman goes to visit an internet lover for the first time, seeming to shrink and to require help from strangers as obstacles to communion proliferate. It is vaguely reminiscent of “Sex Coven”, Jillian Tamaki’s recent story where internet fantasy and “IRL” realities intersect.

Another character must contend with her own ambivalence as a married friend confesses a long time attraction. The watery cave and the subsequent dinner party where the action takes place calls to mind Virginia Woolf, and a restaurant meeting between two women in another story makes us wonder if we’ve witnessed a seduction or a counseling session. Confusion, control, style and power all vie for predominance in this conversation, just as they do in Hollywood. These are the complexities of sexual relationships that cannot be codified in Rules of Conduct, though of course, we must try, especially in the business place. Bell’s blurb: “Sophia Foster-Dimino has a masterful command of the language of comics.” And, I would add: the American Puritan pidgin English of sex. Foster-Dimino is someone whose continued growth in this visual/verbal dialog on sex I look forward to.

This brings us back to the current trend of women speaking out bravely about sexual harrassment. Though in a way, I dread it, because its long suppression lends itself to extremes of thought and action on both sides, I also welcome it, and intelligent voices  in comics such as Foster-Dimino, Davis, Bell and Jillian Tamaki are there to lend a thoughtful tone to a conversation that increasingly, tends toward blind anger.

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Notes From the Comics Underground

December 10, 2017

While The Comics Journal did not lead to mass suicide in the mainstream comics corporate offices, it certainly did question the way comics were created, marketed and critically evaluated. Image from Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware, published by Fantagraphics beginning in 1993.

I picked up a used copy of We Told You, So Comics as Art, a massive self-celebration of Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books’ 40 years as alt-comics publishers and industry provocateurs. At 630 pages, this 40th anniversary brick is a hefty read, especially for those unfamiliar with the alt comics/zine/ punk DIY subculture of the 80’s. But for those who’ve caught themselves wondering how the scruffy pamphlets collecting dust on the squeaking drugstore spinner racks of their youth became the cinema multiplex/Netflix and library/mainstream book publishing phenomenon they are now,  it’s an essential read.

We Told You So is an oral history-style chronicle of the (sometimes literal) trials and tribulations of this pioneering publisher of many alternative comics landmarks. Anyone familiar with their signature publication, The Comics Journal, knows that “interview” and “Fantagraphics”  (and this book is essentially Fantagraphics, interviewing itself) is not a recipe for concision. Gary Groth, spiritual leader, is not really an editor, so much as publisher/advocate. I think there is way more info about the early days of alternative comics than most people who weren’t fans from the beginning, like me- really want. But Fanta was a leader in transforming the grassroots energies of the fanzine subculture into a real renaissance for comics, and if the process of pop cultural subversion is interesting for you, no book explicates it more.

Comics fanzines actually predate the punk rock music fanzines/DIY movement of the late 70’s-early 80’s, going back to the 50’s, where they were an outgrowth of sci-fi fan culture. By the late 70’s there was quite a bit of overlap. Groth, a zine publisher since his teen years, and Fantagraphics, the small publishing company he took over as a young adult, soon began to rather stridently question the entire structure of the entrenched mainstream comics business in ways that the undergrounds of the 60’s and 70’s never did. It’s not really a coincidence that FB’s history encompasses the move toward more creator’s rights, less censorship and a general flowering of comics’ more literary qualities in the last four decades. When Groth and co-founders Kim Thompson and Mike Catron decided to publish their own books, artistic milestones like Love and Rockets, Jimmy Corrigan and Ghost World followed, and are still coming (see below). Movies, television and New York Times book supplement coverage came next.

This book’s design mirrors those roots, deliberately expressing a fanzine aesthetic,  with the oral history format an obvious nod to Punk Rock: An Oral History by John Robb.  A chapter in this book also explores FBI’s somewhat tenuous relationship to the concurrent Grunge scene of early 90’s Seattle.

There are major differences in style, tone and attitude between Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly, a slightly later alt- and Euro-comics publisher. Their self-published histories are both essential to understanding the growth of the medium from spandex youth fantasy through mature sci-fi fantasy, then punk/fanzine ravings, and on into auto-bio memoir, literary art and the experimental comics that share cultural space with fine art today. These are the people who finally rescued comics from the imposed infantilization of the 50’s, and brought them back to the creative vibrancy seen in the turn of the 20th Century period, when they rivaled another new medium, movies, for cultural relevancy. We Told  almost miraculously, given Groth’s exhaustive editorial ‘style’, somehow comes in under Drawn and Quarterly’s recent 730-page 25th anniversary doorstop, though in fairness, D&Q’s self-homage is in a slightly smaller format, and features quite a lot of actual comics.

How well I remember the day, spotting my first issue of Love and Rockets in a grungy little shop on East Colfax. It fit right in with my then lifestyle of grinding, oppressive day job, followed by loud punk rock show or raucous art opening at night. We Told You So gives voice to others who experienced the same epiphany, many of whom went on to become published creators themselves, and their stories are surprisingly moving.

Fantagraphics gradually lost its seat-of-the-pants DIY aesthetic.  Its seminal publication, the Journal, is a (still very useful) shadow of its former self, an online-only show case for critique of comics from the margins and reconsiderations of classic comics and their creators, stripped of its confrontational New Journalism-style news function under editors Dan Nadel and Tim Hodler. A 26 volume Complete Peanuts project seems to have finally erased their continual money woes. Its history of frat-rat type hijinks mellowed with time and growing respect and the loss of one of its co-founders, Kim Thompson, to cancer. I didn’t really need a 4-page account of Fanta’s early shooting parties, complete with a two page photo spread of people shooting things, and the things they’d shot. But comics, from their beginnings in the yellow journalism period of the 1890’s, to their reimagining as comic books in the rapacious publishing world between the wars, to the 60’s undergrounds, have always been characterized by a boisterous approach to business, and they are currently in the midst of another such creative explosion. Fantagraphics’ rollicking history is inseparable from the comics’ growth as a mature medium.

Book of Hope, Tommi Musturi: Fantagraphics found these unusual comics in Finland. Lovely, lyrical and existential, these contemplatively paced 2-paged segments are formatted like gag strips, but inevitably the punchline is death or at least loneliness. Nonetheless the uplift promised in the title does arrive, if belatedly and in surprising ways.
In tidy, luscious clear line style and hallucinogenic, somewhat ironic colors we follow a middle aged man through peregrinations both mundane and fantastical in a lush landscape of quotidian wonder and dreamlike dread. The narrative pacing is exquisitely slow, allowing subtle sight gags to bubble up and themes to simmer. Spanish artist Max is an influence, though Musturi is less given to the psychologically surreal; as is Chris Ware, though Musturi is not as emotionally bereft. Musturi reminds us that in game of cards against death, the only winning card is the Joker.
Thus, mortality coexists with pratfall, the existential with the trivial, the end seems near, whether in the form of spaghetti western desert, or nature’s slow seasonal decay. The book starts with autumn’s existential emptying and ends in winter’s deathlike peace, but is redeemed with the slow relentless nagging of love, in the form of our hero’s companion who opines: “So what do you do? You live”. They go to pick Lingonberries.
It’s a sublime synthesis of comedy and contemplation, alternately silly and poetic, that Musturi arranges in 5 subtly themed yet fantastical chapters, as if Mr Hulot was taking a holiday in Valhalla, or a John Ford film had been shot in Oz. And it can only be done in comics.

Hellboy’s World, Scott Bukatman: A fairly recent book which the author touts as the first full length critical study of the horror comics character Hellboy.

Hellboy is a guilty pleasure of mine since the early 90’s, when it began as a short black and white feature in a Dark Horse Comics anthology. A formally sophisticated comic about an exiled demon from Hell who appears on Earth to hunt down paranormal and occult evil doers, Hellboy blends seminal pulp horror tropes with folk tales, Nazis, zombies and vampires; not to mention Nazi vampire zombies, to present a unique mythos. The comic features expressionist cartooning by creator Mike Mignola (and his associates) and moody earth tones by colorist Dave Stewart along with quite a bit of blacker-than-black humor. In Hellboy, we see an expansive pastiche of pulp fiction tropes woven with symphonic richness into a cohesive visual/linguistic language that transforms genre. Mignola’s is a very unique and synthetic approach to genre- Hellboy is part wise cracking superhero, part monster, but done in an engaging and simple style that sets it apart from over wrought mainstream books.

Thus, Hellboy became one of the titles that changed comics, and helped usher in the creative renaissance for the medium. It’s also a book that is owned by its creator, changing the economics of comics, even as auteur Mignola has taken on other artists and writers to expand the franchise to other titles set in other decades. It was, for example, one of the first titles to move into bookstore collections in tpb form, now a surging market niche. Though eschewing the bombast and self seriousness of the mainstream superhero books, Hellboy is a comic that has become serious business indeed.

Bukatman is obviously a fan, though it doesn’t cloud his judgement. He approaches Hellboy in seven thematic sections, and his book is well researched. He cites sources ranging from iconic early 20th Century critic/essayist Walter Benjamin on reading and children’s literature to experts on illuminated manuscripts to the new wave of comics literary criticism that has grown up around the recent resurgnce in the medium. The examples he cites are often recognized critical darlings in literary comics, such as Chris Ware and Jerry Moriarty- rather than the many genre comics still crowding the comic shop racks. This is in keeping with Bukatman’s thesis: Hellboy comics are effective and significant not so much because of their roots in genre escapism, as with their approach to how we read. Large parts of Bukatman’s book are about that: the diegetics of how comic artists tell a story, and the phenomenology of how we read it.

Bukatman is conversant with academic criticism and a related thesis, that Hellboy’s world of monsters and liminal meanings is analogous to the marginal world that readers of children’s books, comics and monster lit as well as genre collectors themselves occupy, is interesting enough to contribute to pop culture study, but not so esoteric as to put off the fan.

I pulled out my old Hellboys. I came to them late, having left mainstream genre behind in the alt comics boom. In many cases, having assembled them in a monthly frequency, I’d not read them as a unified tale. It’s a frequent problem with ‘floppies’ (pamphlet comics), and one of the reasons that I, and I assume many others, are transitioning to collections (so-called ”graphic novels”).

Hellboy has recently returned to his roots (in Hell).  There are collections of both short stories and longer story arcs, most of which feel self contained enough to reward casual reading. But in the back of each volume can be found a chronological list of Hellboy publications, if you want to follow from his first appearance in a blast of light in wartime England to his final, epic, and apocalyptic return to the circles of Hell. With Hellboy, we find a story that retains its consistency and narrative progression over a long period of time (since the mid-90’s). “Is anybody else doing this?” Mignola asks in an interview (The answer is yes, actually. The Hernandez brothers have kept Love and Rockets, with their amazingly consistent narrative world-building, going since the mid-80’s. This is not even to bring Frank King’s Gasoline Alley into the mix).

As Bukatman points out, it also utilizes the unique qualities of comics- their interplay between often poetic- or folkloric word and picture, their simplified colors and Mignola’s preternaturally dramatic sense of pace to craft an atmospheric narrative that really gets at the heart of what horror is. Mainly, a desexualized expression of floating anxiety, a place where puritan America gets under the covers with its issues about things that go bump- if not horizontally “bop”, in the night. All this, in color, for a dime. Okay, $17 for five episodes, actually. In the midst of our nation-wide Drumpf-dread, this qualifies, in my book as real art.

Hellboy contains pulp vigilantes (The Lobster, a Shadow-like avenger); aliens and Kriegsaffen (Nazi war monkeys!) -a spectacular anachronism, really. Why does one need a secret Alpine redoubt and a Wehrmacht general’s head preserved in a robot’s body to revive fascism, when a few Citizens United billionaires and a minority of low-information racist voters can install it in the White House?

In the best of pop culture, we often find both truth, and a place to escape from it.




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Islands in the Scream

November 16, 2017

A relatively short reading list. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading; in fact I’ve got a ton of others I’m working on. But these were sort of a breather after my summer of dense Victorian and Edwardian Impressionist novels. This lead, for reasons set forth below to a Hemingway mini-binge. Even the comics I read tended toward an early 20th C. European theme.

The Good Soldier, Ford Madox FordThe book is very odd and compelling. It advances the concept, taken from James, of very subjective narrative voice, sometimes categorized as Literary Impressionism, while anticipating the dissipation and moral rootlessness of the Lost Generation. Thus, my subsequent and somewhat accidental Hemingway binge.

Good Soldier  is a story of unfaithfulness and emotional alienation. It reads quickly enough, but its deliberately disorienting plotting and somewhat dated language and syntax mark it as transitional between the Victorian and the Modern, especially in comparison to The Sun Also Rises, similar in spirit but leaner and more direct, a few years later. Soldier inspired critical inquiry for its use of the ‘unreliable narrator’ as the years went by; Sun, a distinctly un-critical craze for trying to turn hangovers into art, which still held when friends and I hit our college years after Hemingway’s death.

Everybody Behaves Badly, Lesley Blume: A spur of the moment pick-up and a natural one after reading Edwardians. Hemingway’s then extreme life- and writing- styles still  generate exposes that read like long Vanity Fair pieces. Imagine my shock to read the author’s blurb and discover that she’s a Vanity Fair regular. But he epitomizes Literary Impressionism, and the “Lost Generation” ethos of dissipation as art. This book attempts to examine the process by which Hemingway turned his life into the groundbreaking novel The Sun Also Rises, but as with most EH bios, often reads like a high-toned gossip rag.

The Sun Also Rises was the birth of the modern literary tendency to romanticize the self, indulged in by many of us in sophomoric ways during our actual sophomore years. We glamorized the self-glamorized heroic drunks in the book to justify  drinking and boorish behavior. Around us, some did not move on, and the same is true with the real life models of characters in the book. Donald Ogden Stewart (Bill) had a good career, until blacklisted by Hollywood, but came to revile Hemingway and his work. Pat Guthrie (Mike) died of a drug overdose, and the real-life “Lady Brett” also died young having spent her life drinking. The Cohn character’s real life model enjoyed a fairly successful life by most standards, but remained obsessed with Hemingway’s venomous portrayal of him.

It gets to the heart of what makes a successful life- and novel- and its author’s eventual suicide, only a few years after having won the Nobel Prize, poses some of the toughest questions of all. Now I have to re-read the original again, not an onerous or lengthy task, so bring on the cheap cabernet.

Hemingway’s Boat, Paul HendricksonThe stated purpose of this book, which had the full cooperation of much of the author’s family, with whatever was expressed or implied in that arrangement, is to step away from the studies by ‘psychologizers’ so popular in literary criticism and provide a more “benevolent” view of this troubled author. It covers a specific part of his life and career from 1935 when he acquired the Pilar, a 38 foot cabin cruiser, to his death by suicide in 1961.

Hendrickson set out to avoid the sort of literary psychoanalysis that has been a hallmark of Hemingway bios for decades. That’s hard to do. The tough questions remain. Beyond the simple fact that five of the eight immediate Oak Park Hemingway family ended their own lives, sometimes violently, Hemingway’s pattern of rejecting old friends and marriages, seen in Everybody Behaves, along with drinking and gunplay, invite theories. And his son Gregory’s gender identity travails invite comparisons to the author’s own transexual themes as seen in the posthumously published Garden of Eden. So Boat drifts sometimes, especially in the last half, where Gregory’s story takes over, despite the fact that it has little to do with the boat.

Hemingway’s life is undeniably interesting, and Hendrickson often writes lyrically about it. But one wonders how relevant is the question of who or what was up ‘Papa’s’ ass, compared to the fact that increasingly, he’d crawled up it himself.

“Something bad happens when Hemingway writes in the first person” Hendrickson quotes Edmund Wilson, formerly a defender, in a review after the publication of Green Hills of Africa. Hemingway never reacted well to these sorts of reviews, and it seemed to set the tone for the rage and alcoholism that dogged much of his later work. Though For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea were still to come, and the Nobel prize, so also, the not well received Across the River and Into the Trees and the first shock therapy sessions. An idiosyncratic career makes for a very idiosyncratic book that often digresses into accounts of people fairly tangential to Hemingway’s writing, possibly in search of “benevolence”.

Arnold Samuelson is one, a North Dakota journalist, novelist wannabe who shows up at Hemingway’s Key West door. Hendrickson makes the very useful point that Hemingway, having already abandoned or betrayed his Parisian literary friends, was starting to welcome more sycophants and hangers on into his daily life, even as his closed world gave itself to somewhat self reflexive themes of sportsman against nature, as opposed to emotionally disaffected lost generations. The psychologizers  began to theorize Hemingway macho behavior as hypercompensation for being dressed as a girl in childhood.

Hendrickson says he set out to distance his book from this, but then speculates- benevolently? on more recently revealed incidents and writings as a possible sign of support for his troubled son. How are we to judge any of this?

The boat winds up on blocks in Hemingway’s tennis court. It’s a fairly confused tale, and almost impossible to put down.

Boundless: These are very experimental stories from Jillian Tamaki, who is apparently trying to break out of the YA category she has often brilliantly claimed, with cousin Mariko Tamaki, in clean, sharp, but quiescent rite-of-passage stories  Skim and This One Summer.

Changing direction can be much harder than a youngish artist may think. A solid first step was Superhuman Mutant Magic Academy, a hilarious web comic sequence of short one-a-day gags which nevertheless added up to a different sort of rite-of-passage tale that still hit all of her concerns dead center. That book is honestly, better than this one in several ways, but the formal innovations she is trying to incorporate in Boundless may serve her well in future books.  A couple of stories were published in smaller magazines. Most deal with self and many with media iterations of self. I’m reminded of the vaguely futuristic short stories of Eleanor Davis, another cartoonist who may be casting about after initial success.

There are formal experiments, such as the placement of images on the page; shifts in narrative voice and tone, for example, from the omniscient and reportorial to the personal biographical in “Sex Coven”, but in other stories the art and story are a bit self conscious. It smacks of an artist trying to break out of what she may see as too constraining a success and she seems determined to see it through. Brava. But I’ll be rereading Super Mutant.

Fog on Tolbiac Bridge, Jacques Tardi: Gorgeous black and white noir murder mystery based on a novel by Leo Malet. One of the first euro comics that Fantagraphics published, in serial form, in the mid 80’s. I’d encountered Tardi’s work previously in Raw Magazine and possibly even before, in Heavy Metal. It sticks with you, and I was glad to see it in album form, as I’d missed some chapters the first time, so this was my first time reading the whole thing in one sitting. A fairly standard genre piece about a between-the-wars anarchist found murdered in 50‘s Paris, but it is worth it for the ambience alone. Tardi captures in drizzled ink lines the appealing wet gloom of Parisian backstreets in winter, and is so specific about researching his locations that he includes a map. At a time when American comics were lost in fan boy minutia, this jazz age elegy was a glimmer of hope for lovers of the medium’s potential.

Berlin City of Smoke, Jason Lutes: Long-running, slow building tale of the Weimar Republic’s slow dissolve into Nazism. It really is in a very traditional form, espousing a relatively sedate, slightly claustrophobic clear line style as opposed to Tardi’s more dynamic homage. It’s a masterpiece of comics in that it tells a complex cultural and historical tale using both visual and narrative information, avoiding the wooden characterization and creeping didacticism of some historical fiction. It is the first fiction I’ve read that treats the degradation of liberty and the rise of social control under fascism as an epic societal tragedy, and it seems to spare no person or faction. I haven’t read Isherwood, but Berlin seems to take up where the movie Cabaret left off.



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October 04, 2017

Gun ownership is inevitably in the news again. For most who defend its increase in the wake of the carnage it creates, it is a power fantasy. In a country where the long term trend is downward in crime, and where terrorism hasn’t gotten the foothold it has in Europe and other places, the actual need for firearms is quite low, and the fetish of gun ownership is mostly about a male cowboy/crime fiction fantasy scenario where problems (including psychotic rage) are easily solved with the correct ordnance.

The proven fact that the opposite is the actual result of unlimited ownership of weaponry- the society becomes less secure, more regimented, less just- hasn’t intruded in any meaningful way into the NRA-sponsored fantasy. Where did it come from?

“Westering”, 2009, Monotype, 32×44″

Westering: When I got the invitation to show with other ASL instructors at the state capitol, I thought immediately of this piece, which is older, but has been seen only in a couple of small shows. It is ostensibly a landscape, one of many, I’m sure, that have hung under Colorado’s golden dome, but its theme is much more complex, as it alludes to the American push westward. Though the print hasn’t been a centerpiece in my exhibition history, I’d like to explicate the thinking behind it which holds a very central place in my landscape years, roughly 1999-2009.

The association in the American spirit/mind of heading west with individual freedom and opportunity dates back to the Puritans. It is now expressed in xenophobic ultra right wing politics of survivalists and gun fetishists, but other subcultures, such as environmentalists have also  drawn inspiration from the American move westward. Artists such as Moran, Twain and Bierstadt have made both poetry and cash from selling this vision back to the populace. And the Arcadian/Rousseau myth of humans at peace in nature’s solitude relates in a complex way with the gun totin’ loner.These Right and Left fantasies are inextricably linked. I myself left my decaying Great Lakes region rust belt childhood home to escape the decay and drug fueled lassitude there as a teen, and spent time in transcendently beautiful and stubbornly racist Wyoming,

I’m quite vocal about my politics elsewhere, but in my artwork, this is about as political as it often gets. One of the last elements added to the print was the small enclosure next to the windowless structure, symbolizing isolation, aggressive aquisitiveness and the closed mind of the typical “home on the range”, now a fortified compound in many minds. This bunker mentality has had a big effect on American politics of late, and certainly is intrinsic to the gun fantasy.

This isn’t a criticism of rural living per se, or even gun ownership. We could all use a little dialogue with our neighbors, and our poisonous politics proves how the urge to ‘head west’, rather than learn to live with each other, is one of the country’s greatest threats. It derives from the Puritan notion of the individual’s right to ‘treat with God’ in his own way. It reaches horrifying apotheosis in the ‘lone wolf’- style shooting spree, one against the hordes.

In an age where ‘compromise’ is a dirty word (sometimes on both sides of the aisle), an understanding of this complex psychological, and very American impulse can get lost. I was always very satisfied with what I was able to say in this picture, and now through December, I’ll have my ‘say’ in the halls of government. If only the majority wishing for an end to carnage had theirs.

This image relates to memory and the way we move through it.

“Man With Torch”, Monotype, 30×42″, 2004.

Carrying a Torch: While I’m glorying in the exhibition, I’ll mention that I’ve had work hanging in both the state and nation’s capitol complexes. This print, entitled “Man with Torch” hung in Senator Bennet’s office in DC for a year as part of a juried program to showcase Colorado’s artists. Many also consider this one pretty political, and while I don’t argue with the obvious ecological interpretation, it was actually concieved of as a commentary upon memory and our human urge to destroy and remake the past constantly, in the process endangering our future relations. I quickly realized how apropos it was to the environment, but that’s not how my mind was working as I made it, as a reaction to an earlier smaller piece, “Woman With Torch”, which really isn’t political or even existential commentary at all, but as often happens with early, smaller pieces of mine, made simply as a compelling image. But a picture’s allusive qualities often creates great appeal for the viewer, I’ve learned, through many conversations in my booth at the Summer Art Market.

There’s always more than the surface intention to the story of a work’s creation of course, but I try to honestly convey what I was thinking at the time, for what it’s worth. The viewer often gives me a -valuable- different story. John Lennon always maintained that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was inspired by the innocent words of his five year old son, but most of us who lived through its  popularity always considered it a song about hallucinogens. It’s disingenuous to believe Lennon was unaware of this, and art creates a meaning of its own. The artist is often not in control of this process.

Please comment with your own take if you have seen “Westering”.

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A Real Lulu

September 18, 2017

I’m starting to feel the time squeeze of a busy fall schedule. The books are backing up. I’m under a lot of pressure right now as I am on my final auto-renewal of many of these books. I will update with further developments on this important breaking story as they become available. For now, please remain calm. Note to self: has anyone written a thriller novel about reading novels?

The Mill on the Floss, George Elliot: I don’t know what made Henry James and George Elliot attractive to me when discussed in The Novel, A Biography by Schmidt, and not Dickens or Thackeray, but so far I haven’t regretted a page of either.

Elliot has a real feel for regional culture and the class dynamics of the early Industrial Revolution, though it’s much slower reading than James thanks to the rural Midlands patois, which then and even now, constitutes almost a foreign language to middle American eyes and ears. It’s a fascinating tale, being a portrait of English attitudes on class and gender as the Industrial Revolution gathers full steam, and the patriarchal economy we still see today constrains women’s lives. It’s only 20 years or so before James, and worlds apart in class dynamics, but the heroines fight the same existential battle. It has a compelling autobiographical edge to it, giving a universality to Elliot’s own struggles to publish and find happiness as a woman in the arts.

Giving Life to Little Lulu, Bill Schelly: I’m very excited about this one, as there’s not much Lulu scholarship. The Library did not disappoint on this as they ordered two copies as soon as it came out. I’ll be returning to it often, I’m sure. There actually isn’t a ton of info and documentation on John Stanley’s life and art (see below), but the author does a good job with what there is. The discussion of key issues was useful, though a more detailed close reading of one or two stand outs could really have added not only bulk, but critical heft.

Still, it’s far from a superficial  survey. The illustrations in the coffee table-sized book were great, too. Aside: I was soon digging in the closet for my small collection of Lulu comics, and when I found a few of the later collections at the comics shop for cover price, I snapped them up. They’re going on the web for at least twice that, I discovered. Expect a screed eventually about the lack of a proper, literary bookstore-style comic book store in this city, but the traditional direct market comic book “megastore” here  is so superhero fan-boy obsessed that everything else is an afterthought to them. When you do find something interesting, they often don’t realize that there is an actual demand for it.  I wound up with a bargain.

Schelley follows Stanley’s career after Lulu, too, when with varying degrees of success, he sought new challenges and took on teen comics and even horror, and even a hybrid called Melvin the Monster. I discovered Stanley’s Lulu in reprints on a family summer vacation years after he’d left the title. We were given quarters to spend at the comics rack at the state park store when they wanted to keep us quiet and couldn’t take us on hikes or canoe rides. Magical stories for those long magical summer weeks that I, like many kids always remembered and returned to as an adult. Only this time, the return was not as disappointing as other nostalgic memories. Stanley, a comic genius, labored most of his life in obscurity, and died just as his unique talent was finally being discovered, which often happens in the under-appreciated art form of comics.This is a beautiful, though limited book, but it’s the only game in town for Lulu devotees.

Marge’s Little Lulu, John Stanley: Dell Comics licensed the character from her creator, Marge Buell, and immediately assigned it to young Disney Studios vet Stanley. They are so different in quality from the mindless pap that comics were already shoveling out for kids, that Stanley, though uncredited, became legendary when the kids (who eventually know when you are feeding them pap! Stop feeding them pap.) grew up and formed the beginnings of the comic-con fan culture in the 70’s. By then he was embittered, like most comics artists of the era, and had left the industry.

The earliest ones (1946-1949) are the most uproarious, with laugh-out-loud visual slapstick that derived not from an adult’s simplistic, unconsidered idea of what children should read, but from simple situations based on how children really are. Thus, the comedy builds in a very realistic way that speaks as much to adults as it does to kids. Stanley’s comic pacing rarely fails him, once he gets the set-up right.

It helps that Lulu as Stanley writes her is a real firecracker. This is the age of Rosie the Riveter, before the xenophobic, conservative retrenchment of the conformist 50’s, though even in the context of Barbara Stanwick and other self reliant female icons of the era, Lulu stands out.

In her first story, we meet Lulu, clearly not happy with a pretty angel costume her mother has made her for a children’s party. When her pal Tubby shows up and begins to laugh at her in it, she literally “leans in” nose to nose with him and asks, “How’d you like a poke in the snoot”? Lulu tends to get not bitter, but even. Her solution? She takes Tubby’s beard from his pirate costume and adds it to her own. From there, the clever gags escalate. The kids play spin the bottle, and Lulu insists on claiming a kiss, beard and all, from a balking boy. Eventually she triumphs her way, winning at “Pin-the Tail-on-the-Donkey” after a blindfolded gallivant through downtown traffic.

By the 50’s  Stanley was relying less on clever sight gags and slapstick humor and more on situations and character; he almost never resorts to formula and hack work, and explores the variations on an idea to the fullest. Lulu’s sense of what boys, especially the exquisitely self-involved Tubby, can be expected to do helps her to triumph in many unexpected ways, and her recurring triumphs against the “no girls allowed” fellers club are not only satisfying as metaphor, but classic comic turn abouts. She’s not afraid to take a back seat in the narrative, sometimes, as when Tubby becomes The Spider, a detective who always suspects Lulu’s dad, and is almost always right, though he seldom knows why, and creates chaos proving it. Many women will recognize his overbearing, entitled incompetence from their own work spaces.

Stanley quit while still at peak after 135 or so Lulus. It’s enough to keep one busy reading and laughing out loud for years, though one wonders what might have been had his talent been recognized and rewarded. Many women will be familiar with this question, as well.

I’ve joked before that Little Lulu must be the most widely read feminist writing of the ultra conformist 50’s, but I suspect I’m actually right. Stanley was no activist. He was a simple family man, and struggled with alcohol and depression, but his sense of fairness and perhaps his life as an obscure underdog gave him the empathy to create a great character that happened to be a clever, assertive female. Do yourself a favor and grab some of Dark Horse Comics’ collected Little Lulu trade PBs.

Ganzfeld 5, Dan Nadel. Spectacular anthology of early Manga and later Ft. Thunder school Canadian artists (“Japanada!” is this issue’s theme), with again (like issue 6) a disappointingly hands-off approach to critical interpretation, compared to earlier issues. But a fun ‘get’, especially as a local buy ( Kilgore’s, I like to support the locals when I can, and am trying to avoid Amazon whenever possible)) and especially at slightly cheaper than online. It doesn’t take much to make me happy these days.

Everything I learn about early Manga brings home how innovative and original it can be. Shigeru Sugiura is one of the standouts in the Japan side of Japanada. His early 80’s 3 pagers here evoke the psychedelic surrealism of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. A graphic artist, Keiichi Tanaami, is also an eye opener, possibly from the same era, though undated in the Ganzfeld’s slack editing. Amy Lockhart’s cartoon-brut “Dizzler”, from Canada’s Fort Thunder-inspired Nog a Dod anthology is a highlight as well. This is a great anthology that often highlights ways comics and art intersect. My disappointment in the lack of consistent comics criticism aside, each issue is a revelation.

Wonder Woman, A Celebration of 75 Years: Obligatory DC tribute/ movie tie-in, with samplings from each heavily ret-conned era in the character’s very mercurial career. Marston, her originator whose fondness for both female supremacy and bondage subsequent creators, whether feminist or retrograde, have tip-toed gingerly around, and Perez are standouts, but so, surprisingly, is Denny O’Neill’s much-reviled iChing period, criticized for taking away WW’s powers at the dawn of Second Wave feminism by Gloria Steinem (she is said to have influenced then-boyfriend and DC Comics owner Steve Ross to restore them).

Nonetheless, they do often hold up well as simple comics stories, as opposed to those assigned the task of “scrubbing” the character later. Robert Kanigher contributes an absurd Comics Code era ‘marriage scheme’ story, a typically bizarre alternate universe Wonder Girl story in which WW coexists as mother figure to her own younger selves, and an utterly shambolic mess in his return after O’Neill in the 70’s. After Perez revives Marston’s classicism, comes the “Bad Girl” era of the 90’s, with Wonder Woman falling prey to its emblematic “brokeback” style, featuring mannerist drawings in impossibly static poses meant to display both tits ‘n’ ass for the fan boys. Most of these later stories are unreadable, and I didn’t.

Zonzo, Joan Cornella: Horribly funny in the cartoon-brut style of cute characters doing vaguely offensive things, but without the multi-layered absurdist wit of a Bret VandeBroucke or Benedikt Kaltenborn. Thus it lacks real depth, but is an artist to watch.

The Roses of Berlin, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill: McNeill’s gorgeous, dark Steampunk world building cannot rescue Moore’s Victorian retro-futurist adventure heroes from these dreary plots. Why all the carnage?

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Monotype Workshops for Fall

September 11, 2017

Christina recently took my Monotype Starter workshop. She explored transparency with secondary color, a simple arrangement of leaf forms in a slightly asymmetrical composition, and arrived at a very elegant result. She was inspired by a print by Mami Yamamoto (R), another former student, who has had quite a bit of success since.

I’ve tried to explore composition in my workshops. I’ve talked about the importance of color in prints, but it can actually be ignored, at least at first, as black and white prints are not unusual, and to some quite distinctive and attractive. But basic composition skills are hard to do without. I’m reading a book by Molly Bang called Picture This. It’s been around awhile, though this is the first I’ve encountered it. The 25th Anniversary edition’s cover blurb calls it “The Strunk and White of visual literacy.”

Never mind that Strunk and White has been often challenged as too rigid for some writers. I’m enjoying Picture This, which in some ways mirrors things I’ve emphasized in classes, and which in others mirrors only its author’s favored methods. I’m sure I’ll add parts of it to my own discussions. Her simple cut-paper illustrations seem tailor made for graphics, where much is accomplished with little in the way of detail. Her emphasis is on the emotional content of a composition, which I think beginners are often unaware of.

I’ve finalized all the fall workshops and it’s a busy autumn. I start with Monotype Portfolio, my newly renamed intermediate class, on September 11, and go to Schlessman Family Library for my first DPL drop-in workshop two days later. The session continues through mid-December.

I’ve got two Monotype Starter ( my intro class) sessions, a day version starting October 17, and a night session of the same material beginning Thursday, November 9. My all-day Saturday session, now named Mountain Dewishly, Monotype Blast, is November 11.

All are built around conversation and creative growth. All have spaces left, but some are filling fast. You can go online to register here.

Art Students League Workshops:

Monotype Portfolio: Intended for those who’ve had a previous printmaking class, or perhaps some art school experience, and who need to work out a series or new idea, or just a print room refresher. Next one starts Sept 11 and is filling rather quickly.

Monotype Starter: Intended as a step-by-step tutorial on the basics of printing and print room protocol. You will be certified to use the room independently upon completion. Two sessions, a Tuesday morning, 9-12:30, beginning October 9; and a Thursday evening, 6-9:30 that runs for 4 weeks bookended around Thanksgiving and is filling quite quickly), beginning November 9. It ends in time for the busy holidays.

My Monotype Blast workshop, November 11, 9-4 PM,  comes just in time for Denver Arts Week, as well as holiday giving: it’s possible for some to get 6-8 small prints done for use as creative stocking stuffers.

I also have a very affordable three-hour Moxie U sampler on November 2 that’ll help you decide if the whole squishin’-ink-onto-paper-with-a-press-thing is right for you; it’s light on technical procedures as I do most of that ahead, so you can just make monotypes. Register by Election Day.

Denver Public Library Workshops

Library workshops are drop-in style, kept very simple because I get a lot of kids-I encourage family participation, as the kids really do well when Mom or Dad is there. Again, this is a good sampler event, especially if you are curious about water-based inks, which we use. They are free and open to the public, so c’mon down and say hello.


A full schedule of the Fall dates is here, on my workshop page. They’ll continue in Winter/Spring 2018. I’ll post more info on these and other events, such as demos and talks, as soon as they get scheduled. Feel free to email, or comment here, if you have questions about any of them.




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Tales of the Unexpected: a Frighteningly Random Reading List

September 10, 2017

I’ve posted a full list of my Fall workshops on my Monotype Workshops page. I’ll summarize those here tomorrow. In the meantime, another reading list:

I read a short appreciation of cultural studies pioneer Stuart Hall in the New Yorker. His thesis, during a series of lectures in Chicago, at least, was that pop culture is a sort of place of negotiation where new, or outsider attitudes can be tried out and a “common sense” emerge. I think this is right. It certainly makes my hodgepodge reading lists seem constructive, even directed, rather than arbitrary.

I actually started this list during the spring, but it’s taken on a life of its own. And it was assembled from different, seemingly accidental encounters. Later it doesn’t seem so arbitrary. In moments stolen from my busy schedule I see a book; I grab it. Later, it winds up here, in these posts, and sometimes in my artwork, though I can’t always tell you how.

I take notes while I’m reading, usually in the mornings and on weekends,  jotting down first impressions of new books and when it’s time to post, I cut and paste all of my reading list notes from my diary. This time, it came to 2400 words. Time to start chopping! And in editing, linkages can often be discovered.

My personal diary of readings has generally replaced my studio notes, which were often quite trivial.  Reading is a great way to get inside other heads, and writing about it forces me to make connections between ideas encountered.  The original inspiration for it is Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree, originally a monthly column in the Believer mag, but then collected in a couple of different volumes, one subtitled “A hilarious account of one man’s struggle with the monthly tide of the books he’s bought and the books he’s been meaning to read.”

If there is a theme, accidental or not, of any sort to my reading, I guess it would be that I’d like to understand the roots of pop culture in 19th century Romantic thought. Victorian lit, along with the growth of advertising and industrial presses, seems to have enabled quite a bit of experimentation in cultural narrative, and by the late 19th  Century had already given rise to fantasy and genre, in the form of infant manifestations of romance, western and sci fi popular fiction. These gave rise to pulps, then comics. A lot of these low culture tropes then appeared in the expanding paper back industry, along with an increased interest in the classics. This merging of high and low is well rendered in Adam Gopnik’s and Keith Varnedoe’s catalog essays for the High and Low exhibition in the 90’s. It’s a great read that really draws thematic parallels between museum art, such as Phillip Guston’s, and popular culture, such as the comics of R. Crumb, to name just one example.

Gopnik makes a convincing argument, through timing and imagery, of Crumb’s influence on Guston’s turn away from abstraction in the 60’s, as Crumb was starting his ground breaking career in underground comix. Crumb was, in turn, influenced by EC comics’ early Mad magazine, itself a product of the Jewish humor that informed early newspaper comics and later, the invention of the comic book. Daily newspapers and pulp publishers needed content to reach immigrant populations and keep massive industrial presses busy. Later, it winds up in the cathedrals of high art. To an artist, and lover of comics, it’s an irresistible thread to follow.

Undercover: an Illustrated History of American Mass Market Paperbacks, Thomas Bonn: In a box of free books at the school where I work, I found this coffee table-ish tribute (published by Penguin, one of the pioneers of paperbacks)  on the history of the paperback book industry, especially during the 50’s when American cultural provincialism was being challenged by the growth of new opportunities in the industry, including comics and pulp, and by social and lifestyle changes. Pulp publishers influenced pop culture such as comics early on, and paperbacks are still playing a major role in the transformation of the comics industry today, with the upsurge in bookstore sales of the “graphic novel” or album format. The paperback, aside from its role in horror, sci fi and other genres, has made comics a more vibrant medium. Not to mention its role in transforming social mores about sex and fantasy. Would we have as much access to European literature, especially fringe forms, such as comics, without paperbacks? Doubtful.

TinTin in America, Herge: Tintin was one of my first experiences of Euro-stlye clear-line comics in college, so when I saw this, one of the few I’d never read, in a used bookstore I snatched it up. Herge, a Catholic boy scout with, early on in his career, all of the right wing implications that entails, began his cartooning career in a Catholic children’s newspaper in colonialist Belgium, and his first stories, which have been suppressed, are set in the Belgian Congo and Soviet Russia. They are replete with stereotypical characters. This one came later, and is easier to find as it’s apparently considered not so overtly offensive. That may be a function of its subject matter: Native Americans are referred to as “Redskins” a term that even today, NFL fans apparently have no problem with. The patois assigned to them is straight out of Hollywood’s worst years. Or maybe the book is still published because it manages to stereotype almost everyone in America, making it fairly hilarious for all the wrong reasons.

It’s certainly not one of Herge’s better tales, which were to come later, after he’d suppressed his parochialism, and concentrated on character-based humor.

Spanish Fever, ed. Santiago Garcia: A real case is made here for Spain as a haven for innovative cartooning. An outgrowth of my interest in the Spanish cartoonist Max, I suppose, but there are many flavors of comics here, and the light shone on current quality reflects on past glories, such as Marti, Daniel Torres and Mariscal. Here, the artists separate into neo-clear line cartoonists, such as Max and Micharmut; Charleroix-style looser graphics; and others exploring edgier, Fort Thunder style cartoon-brut graphics. Subject matter also varies widely, as one would expect, with socialist or libertarian political or cultural commentary a strong element, along with surrealist pranking, ala Max. Spain should be ranked right along France and Belgium as a center of European comics innovation.

Paperback books also opened up access to classic literature. I read, or revisited several Victorian, Edwardian and early Modern novels during the  spring and summer’s slower moments, most of them in paperback: I had promised myself I would overcome my sophomoric aversion to Victorian, or pre-modern fiction, so I picked up the only Henry James currently on display at my neighborhood library, Portrait of a Lady. I’d often opened James’ novels, only to sample passages of his orotund syntax, but I’m pleasantly surprised by how engaging reading Portrait is. It’s a page-turning tale of a young American upper class woman in Europe, and on the battlefield of the sexes. My longtime prejudice to Victorian, or pre-modern lit is confirmed by the archaic language and attitudes, but challenged by the strength of the characters and their direct dialogue. Had I spent more time with James, I’d have realized that he has a very modern sense of driving the action with interior monologue. He is seen as a sort of precursor to modernists like Woolf, and his dialog-  sharp, direct, pacy, offsets the Victorian circumlocution in his expository passages.

Yes, his narrative style and general approach is just as rotund as I had always feared it would be. Are the attenuated double negatives and gratuitous metaphors his own, or integral to his characters and their times? Sometimes it’s hard to tell whose voice is speaking, and often the author emerges to comment clumsily on character, a very un-modernist phenomenon. But there is far more to James than transitional style. His narrative presence ( Schmidt, in The Novel A Biography, calls it “indirect oblique”) implies both omniscience and a guy hiding behind the brocaded drapes.  There is a real similarity between James’ romantic paranoia and Pynchon’s corporate/fascist conspiracies; a real sense of interior conscious as reality, and the outside world as untrustworthy, or an impression.

This is an odd book. It never leaves its cozy upper class world ( the servants are as invisible as any book I’ve ever read), but its heroine never ceases to assert her individuality. Decoding its complex themes is probably more than my limited experience with 19th C. literature allows, but in its investigation of class and longstanding feminist concerns, and its its head-on address of Victorian mores and strictures, it certainly resonates today.

James’ subjective voice definitely contributed to Modernism, and his sense of transcending class- or of psychological “placing” of self certainly alludes to late Romanticism; Whitman, for example, or Melville, who goes to sea in the “Dark November” of his soul. Their distancing subjectivity anticipates Modernism. He also published serially, like Dickens, in paperback, an industrial revolution phenomenon which expanded audiences and created space for pulp fantasy in fiction.

Later, I happened on The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford, which I’d read long ago for a friend’s choice in a book club. It is considered an exemplar of literary impressionism, and is of course a direct precursor to Hemingway. I enjoy making these sorts of connections. This was in a critical edition, fattened with essays on various aspects of Ford’s novel and stye. Book nerds, Ho!

 Virginia Woolf, an Inner Life, Julia Briggs: I laid this aside when I’d gotten through the chapters on her central trilogy (To the Lighthouse, Orlando, A Room of One’s Own), which I’ve read and/or re-read recently. I’ll go back to it again when I’ve read Mrs Dalloway and The Waves, etc. It’s the kind of book one returns to. Woolf’s themes are highly nuanced and this analysis really added background and texture to my experience with these three works, some of them first read back in post-college days.

Hedging my bets against all this Victorian and Edwardian prose, I brought home PG Wodehouse, a classic of light comic reading. Wodehouse was an Englishman turned American, and it shows in his writing. Here, in Sam the Sudden, the classes in both America and Europe have been codified and each have their heroes and villains, and not so very different from Tintin, stereotypes are no less prevalent. Wodehouse depicts a London as a massive door-slam farce, thus leading to hijinks.

If my reading list seems call to mind a literary ghoulash, perhaps we can remember  that what the suburban lower middle class cooks of my 60’s upbringing called “ghoulash”- a sort of bland melange of canned tomato soup, macaroni and ground beef, which I later discovered bore no resemblance to any sort of authentic culinary dish. I discovered this in Red Lodge, Montana, of all places. I had the real thing at a family owned Hungarian restaurant. This would be one of my first encounters with ethnic foods, if you don’t count the Italian-American pizza-place canards of my upstate New York youth. Authentic flavor can be found in unexpected places.

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