SAM and Summer Doings

June 08, 2018

Poster designed by Michelle Messenger

Again, SAM! The Art Students League Summer Art Market posters are out, and guess who’s the poster child? It’s a reward for winning “Best of Show” in 2017. I’ll be there again this year in booth, number 97, on Grant St. between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.  

I’ll have new work, as well as some older stuff from the flat files, at older prices. And I’m giving signed SAM posters, while they last, with every purchase of $150 or more. I have enough for a typical show, though I’ve had shows where they wouldn’t have made it to Sunday afternoon, so get there early, as I’m not sure if I can get more.  The League will also have them available for a donation in their booth. 

In addition, I’ll have a few copies of the beautiful catalog for the now dearly departed Open Press’ 2014 25th Anniversary show. 9×12”, 64 pgs, with over 50 of the best printmakers from Denver and beyond, including moi ( Really, Nick Cave is in there, along with Dale Chisman and Joellyn Duesbury). These are signed and free with any purchase of $400 or more. 

SAM is a classic, and a real social scene, featuring 180 artists and the first blast of summer. I hope you’ll come down!

Classes: I’ll have three this summer, and the first, Monotype Starter, June 19- July 10 is already full. You can call the League to get on a waiting list in case of last minute drop outs, which are common. 

The other two, Monotype Portfolio, July 24-August 21, for experienced printmakers, and Monotype Blast, an all day Saturday sampler on August 4, are filling, but if you have questions, you should be able to stop down at SAM and ask me, then register at the ASLD booth. Fair warning: Blast is half full already, so it will eventually fill. 

Other news: For those who missed it, I was featured in Westword’s 100 Colorado Creatives 4.0 Blog in March. It’s a nice article by Susan Froyd, along with an interview, lots of pictures and a video. 

I’m hoping to debut a new workshop in Fall. It’s called Monoprint Mad Science, for intermediate and advanced artists. Monoprints are monotypes with repeating elements, such as drypoint, Chine Colle’, and polymer etching, etc. It’s starting as a 4-week workshop, which will keep it affordable. I’ll get confirmation sometime soon.  

It’s been a very fun year, and people taking my classes and buying work make that possible. Thank you so much for your continued interest.

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Between the World and We

May 10, 2018

I’m working on new work for the Summer Art Market, June 9th and 10th. I’ll finish in studio in a couple of weeks, then shift to framing and prepping for it. A couple of days after the show the World Cup starts. In theory, I’ll have lots of money from the show, and I’ll spend many afternoons in downtown bars, starting my day with eggs and beer and football. That’s the theory.

The USA isn’t in the Finals this year. Since making a relatively strong run in Brazil 2014, they’d sputtered under two coaches, Juergen Klinsman and Bruce Arena, before an unlikely but mostly well deserved combination of results eliminated them on the last day of qualification. The team had a certain amount of talent, but never any real consistency in play.

There was a real howl from the fans, many of whom were 20-somethings who’d bought their first USA shirts in June, 2014. It’s heartening to see such a failure evoke  an indignant reaction to those of us who remember decades when not reaching the World Cup Finals meant…crickets. But youth is not given to reflection,  and many of the reactions were simplistic and not very well informed:

The US should NEVER fail to qualify, they howled, ignoring the fact that some far more consistent performers, e.g. Italy, Netherlands, Chile, had failed to qualify, and the quality of play in the US’ confederation has been rapidly improving. Getting into the World Cup is hard, no matter who you are.

The US Soccer Association leadership is corrupt and only interested in selling rights fees, they wailed, ignoring the fact that the leadership has been actively campaigning against FIFA corruption for years now, and the rights fees they’re selling are World Cup rights fees, which went down in value by millions when the US did not qualify. There is corruption in football, yes, but applying a blanket stereotype to an organization working for reform is ignorant.

Other, even more preposterous pronouncements followed: The USA will never challenge for the World Cup unless a laundry list of “reforms” meant to mimic the structure of their favorite ‘proper’ football league, the British Premier League, were immediately instituted in our own domestic league, MLS, they screeched. These include promotion and relegation, and a 20-team ‘balanced schedule.’

This ignores the fact that though Major League Soccer, formed in 1996 as a condition of having the World Cup here in ’94, is making solid growth, with four well established major leagues ahead of it, it is unlikely to match the BPL’s position in Britain very soon. It’s likely that BPL is more popular in THIS country, in fact, if we are to judge by TV ratings and the expensive English kits collected by adoring twenty-somethings. Because of that, MLS has had to find its own formula.

MLS has stretched the level of corporatism already rampant in world football with a single entity league structure and salary caps. This has made investment in the still fragile league attractive to the types of oligarchs that tend to own big teams around the world, but those billionaires are unlikely to welcome relegation to a lower league, especially as infrastructure in the lower leagues remains spotty. And TV networks see no profit in imposing the 20-team footprint of a country of 50 million onto this vast land of 300 million. Euro-snobbery is when you unreflectively expect all leagues to operate exactly like the Premier League. This is textbook euro-snobbery.

Nonetheless, some reforms are definitely needed, particularly in youth development, which tends to serve suburban white kids while ignoring Hispanic and African kids. Soccer is now ranked number two (behind NFL) in popularity in certain prized demographic groups, and the fact that the new fans see it as something worth agitating about, however magical their thinking, is a great sign.  Football, and the World Cup, are kind of about magical thinking, anyway. After the USA crashed out, many fatuously vowed to not watch the Cup this year, or to become permanent fans of other nations. Fat chance. But millennials are not the only football fans who lack logic.

A Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup, Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, editors: As in the 2006 World Cup. This is a book about how football affects entire nations in ways that defy common sense. I got this during the run up to the highly anticipated, but ultimately disappointing, USA run in the Germany World Cup. The US was ranked number five in the world that year, in complete defiance of common sense, as was proven on the pitch.

It was to go in the bag of culled books to take to the used book store for trade and for shelf space. But as sometimes happens, in scanning it, I got hooked again. Though it sounds outdated, the editors’ approach, much like Franklin Foer’s in How Soccer Explains the World, (highly recommended) is not to concentrate on what the world says about football, but on what football says about the countries who play it. In this case, many of the national teams are the same ones back for the current World Cup, and the observations here are still quite relevant to the cultural landscape, as football tends to be.  

As great change and the frustrations of progressives shakes the country, we acknowledge  that American exceptionalism in sports and in other areas is a real obstacle to American progress, but even liberals might not realize how steeped in it we are. After all, even liberals wear shirts that proudly proclaim their home city’s league team “World Champions”, when the only teams they’ve beaten come from suburbs outside of Boston or Atlanta. The essays here form a travelogue of footballing nations and bring their own failures and triumphs, baked into their cultures, into relief. The millennials who howl do value the power of travel and football to bring nations together. They distrust the spread of global corporatism. Their complaints about Team USA are simplistic, but they are not xenophobic. In them, we hear hope for real change.

There is a weird sort of justice in football. Thomas Jones talks about the justice of Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal vs. England in Mexico ’86 (One of the first WC games I can remember watching on American TV) in the context of the fall of the Argentinian junta after the Falklands War of 1982. He is not the only one to mention that war, with the posturing of a conservative government in England that the dispossessed hooligans in England instinctively lashed out against.

Tom Vanderbilt and Eric Schlosser write about exceptionalism in other white, progressive societies, Netherlands and Sweden, respectively. And Sayid Sayrafezadeh and Binyavanga Wainaina wrestle with the complexities and culture shock of leaving more anglicized societies to visit ancestral nations (Iran and Togo). Strong men, ayatollahs, and juntas use football no less than corporate oligarchs. Supporter culture often stands in opposition to these forces, and that’s why, in the world, football is the only game that matters.

Other favorites: Robert Coover in post-Franco Spain, watching the 1982 WC in an immigrant neighborhood, in the stadium of the OTHER Barcelona football club, and Wendell Steavenson on the political currents surrounding football in Tunisia under Ben Ali, later deposed in the Arab Spring, along with James Surowiecki, who writes about disillusionment in Poland after the fall of the Iron Curtain. 

Dave Eggers writes the USA segment (surplus to requirements this year!) with an exaggerated humor that manages to both highlight and embody American sports exceptionalism. Foer himself contributes an afterword on which political system is more likely to win the Cup. Fascist dictatorships and military juntas have gotten a large share, but social democracy is still the best system. Proto-fascist, post-truth oligarchies are not mentioned, and perhaps we can get a more winning approach at the voting booth soon; by relegating the oligarchs, and promoting someone less a buffoon. Here is the real corruption.

All of the essays are interesting, even the second time through; some barely touch on soccer at all. All in all, this is a hard book to put in the trade bag, and I would welcome something like this for each World Cup, but sales were probably never impressive. The millennials, who are way ahead of most Americans in their understanding of why the world is so passionate about ‘proper’ football, will change that, and sooner than we think.

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Summer Class Update

May 08, 2018

We rearranged the ASLD print room for a more open feel and to add storage and more work areas.

Here’s a heads up that my June Monotype Starter workshop is nearly filled, so if you’d like to take it, you’ll need to move fast. There are often last minute drop-outs, so request to be on the waiting list if all the spots are filled.

There are normally plenty of spots left during the Summer Art Market, and I tell people to come down and see my booth ( 97 this year) and ask questions if they like, but that may not work this year. There are still plenty of spots for Monotype Portfolio, a second class in the series, for people wanting to pursue the medium.

My one-day Monotype Blast is in early August this year, and I’m planning to add a class or two in Fall. Watch for the new catalog in late August.

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My Favorite Mistakes

April 30, 2018

“Did you know when you go

It’s the perfect ending”

Sheryl Crow, My Favorite Mistake 

 

“My Favorite Mistake” is the title of my list of books I thought would be great, but couldn’t finish, or even start.

I’m not bored with writing blurbs and reviews, but do they really tell as much about my reading life as the couch potato drama that is my Coffee Table Stack or the labor of love between the covers of my Nightstand Stack? Aren’t the eye-crossingly soporific failures just as revelatory of my intellectual struggles as the PMBs (Post Modern Bricks) and Victorian classics I’ve triumphantly crossed off my bucket list? Sure, it’s a bit of an obscure question, but that’s why we have obscure blogs. Onward-

Reasons for not finishing, or not starting, a book:

Readability: An ex-girlfriend once got me an academic critical study of Thomas Pynchon’s novels, because she knew I loved ( and repeatedly read) them. Though I’d read many Pynchon exegeses before, I put it down quickly as it was clotted with post modern jargon and elliptical syntax.

By the same token, I admit I recently put down a book on post modernism’s misuse of higher mathematical principles because I really didn’t understand academic postmodernism’s basic concepts, not to mention those of higher mathematics. That was the point of the book, of course, I GET THAT, but obviously didn’t get it.  I was not well read enough to understand why PoMo philosophy is often unreadable.  I got a few sentences into the first, struggled through a chapter of the second.

I kept the first book, though, because she wrote a nice note in it. I occasionally pull it out, in case something clicks, but inevitably the first sentence I pick out to read is a clotted mess. Although challenging oneself is clearly a good thing sometimes, I think  it’s very healthy to read stuff that appeals to us, for whatever reason.

Shove me in the shallow water: The Enlightenment and the Book, by Richard B. Sher seemed, despite its fussy academic aspirations, to offer perspective on the Age of Reason. Cultural histories are an exciting genre, and getting my history of ideas through a history of publishing excites my nerdy, bookish little mind to no end, at least in the abstract. But I probably needed a bit more basic explication on the Scottish Enlightenment itself and a little less on the effects of quarto and octavo editions on the marketing of Locke’s ideas. Got through a chapter, I think.

This differs from The Novel: A Biography, whose oblique evaluations of ancient books I (mostly) hadn’t read I loved so much I snatched up a used copy to keep at home and refer to, and have actually referred to. I finally got through Part One of Don Quixote, and read all of Mill on the Floss (rather than Dickens), because of Novel.

Book not what was expected:

A Traveler’s Guide to the Restoration, I’ve forgotten the bloody author’s name: This just happens to be the tome I was reading when the idea for this post occurred to me. It looked like one of those day-to-day, street-level cultural histories that can breathe air into heavily historicized and romanticized eras (in this case, England’s return to monarchy after the beheading of Charles I, and the ensuing Puritan Interregnum).

But it could have used a bit more historicization. We get precious little on Charles II and James II and VII (really, isn’t a king with TWO succession numbers worth a bit of historicization!?), and quite a lot on the prices paid for each of the 17 or so meat dishes included in the typical upper middle class Sunday meal.

Plus, he really does sporadically attempt t0 maintain its awkward conceit of being an actual travel guide, thus killing its potential appeal as traditional history/cultural history hybrid, which is what I wanted. I cherry picked a few of the more interesting chapters, then sort of slid it into my bag of returned books one Sunday afternoon. So I can’t really tell you why I didn’t finish this book, because I never really finished not finishing it.

Book Duplicative: The Best Non Required Reading, 2017, Sarah Vowell editor: It’s an impeccable anthology, and I think most would agree there’s no shame in not reading every morsel of an anthology, even one edited by the irrepressible Sarah Vowell.  It includes short fiction and essays, and I impulsively grabbed it during a binge of short fiction and essay reading from a stack I’d squirreled away against those dreaded, and mostly imaginary, moments when I tell myself there is NOTHING TO READ.

Currently, those include  a stack of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concerns I scoop up for $5 everytime one appears at my favorite used bookstore, a George Saunders collection, Denis Johnson’s newest and a Fitzgerald collection. There are a couple of essay collections, too, and I pretty sure I’ll die alone.

Secondly, the non-fiction in the collection mostly concerns, unsurprisingly, Trump, and I regulate my intake carefully. ‘Read rage’ is painful and counter productive, however worthy. Trump will be hammered by any and all thoughtful writers in the next two decades, then relegated to the end of the presidential shelf, with Millard Fillmore and Warren G. Harding. It’s an irony how many trees will die for this anti-environmentalist thug.

I did read Ta-Nahesi Coates’ My President Was Black, and a couple of great stories. It’s recommended, if you don’t mind recommendations from anthology-grazers.

Bus/train reading, not on bus/train: Superficial perhaps, but a book of a certain size, optimal chapter length and expendability, I will often put in my kit bag for the ride to work.  I really loved Adam Gopnik’s essay on comics and high art in High Low, where he bravely and convincingly documented R.Crumb’s influence on Phillip Guston,  so when I saw At the Strangers Gate on the freebie advance reading pile at work I speculatively picked it up.

I soon happened across a review in the NYT somewhat dismissive of this memoir of life in 80‘s and 90‘s New York because nothing bad ever really happens to him. It’s true that Stranger reads like a history of white liberal entitlement at times, but it turns out that Gopnik can make almost anything, including copyediting fashion magazines, seem interesting and culturally significant. But the book never really left my book bag when I got home.

I actually began the ‘Reading List’ portion of this blog in homage to Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree, published originally in Believer Magazine then collected into a tidy little (kit bag-sized) paperback that yo-yo’ed up and down the E-Line with me and was titteringly ingested in perfect little DU-to-Union Station’-sized bites. Part of the appeal of Hornby’s blurbs are his admissions of when a book just isn’t for him, like losing a lover: some one had to make that call, but you’ll always wonder what might have been in the next chapter.

Call of Duty: I had long ago read a euro comics version of DeSade’s Justine, and when I saw a thick Collected Works at the library it seemed superficial to base my whole impression of this very influential writer on that, so I read a couple of introductory essays and some Dialogues and Philosophy in The Bedroom.

Then I was done. I’m pretty sure I’ve read more DeSade than most who presume to judge him, and I understand why he’s influential- doesn’t Raskolnikov later pose the same moral questions, albeit with his ax, as DeSade does with his dick? And what does that say about us that we avoid such an influential writer because of anal sex?

But how much lecturing on the libertarian fantasy should we have to subject ourselves to before we decide that its absolutist seductions are not morally defensible and thus not possible? And shouldn’t fantasy, whether sexual or political, contain some small kernel of possibility? Or philosophy, less self indulgence and more rigor? I’ve crossed it off my bucket list and installed it on my ‘rhymes-with-bucket list’. When I need to get up someone’s ass, reading-wise, it’ll probably be some actual porn, rather than bedroom philosophy.

Finishing books is a positive character trait, I believe. But so is admitting when you’ve made a mistake. Life is short and procrastination is the mind’s way of telling you there are better things to be done with your time.  I’m certain that my list of mistakes will grow. But I should stop here and try to finish a book, or at least start one.

 

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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 Foundation.org. 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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