Can I Take My Books to Heaven?

Comics go to the Art Gallery- with very Katzenjammer Kid-like results
Comics go to the Art Gallery- with very Katzenjammer Kid-like results

I’ve spent the last few weeks either working long hours at my temp job at DU, or on the couch reading under a blanket in the frigid, dark days. I got a lot of reading done, so I’m posting more mini-reviews today. Now it’s getting noticeably brighter, the job is done, and I’m getting back into a creative routine.

Free Workshops at Denver Public Library

I’m catching up on the blog and posting my next few free DPL workshops, including the first, this week at Ross-Barnum Branch, 3570 W. 1st Ave from 6-7:30 PM. These are open to the public, with children above 8 yo to adult probably getting the most benefit. They are drop-in style, so don’t worry if you are not there at the start, though that’s when I demo the process. The schedule confirmed so far is posted here.

8-Week full Workshop at the Art Students League

Still haven’t found a part time job, but will push on with the workshops and making larger work. My regular Spring 8-week workshop begins February 24, so don’t miss out. This is a far more comprehensive class, intended to walk you through not only basic technical processes, but the creative process as well. You can avoid dead ends and find fresh ideas through the use of multiple variations of “ghost” prints, second impressions of the remaining ink on a monotype plate- it’s like getting a free print and another shot at your original idea.  You can get a small preview and ask me questions at one of the free DPL sessions. Or register here.

On to the books:

You’ll notice quite a few comics in here. First, the DPL has really upped its game on carrying interesting, literary comics, so one can catch up on intriguing titles without busting one’s budget. Browse when you come to the monotype workshop! There’s been a lot of publishing activity in this category, and it’s hard to find cash for anything but my absolute must-haves. When I do buy, I find Kilgore’s Books on 13th Avenue to be my go-to stop (at the risk of ruining my ‘favorit fishin’ hole’, but they really do deserve credit for knowing and buying the best publishers and authors!) Some of my thoughts on comics history in general are here, and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of Richard McGuire’s Here, which looks to be another breakthrough for comics into the publishing mainstream. I’ll review it next month along with some other items which didn’t fit here.

New School by Dash Shaw

Few artists in any visual medium are pushing boundaries like Shaw. His raw brush work is often superimposed on acidic, free-range color fields, untethered to any specific imagery; or even photos of clouds, flowers, etc. This has the effect of creating unexpected emotional vistas in a story that hovers surreally between sci-fi thriller and teen sexual awakening drama. If this one just looks too odd for your taste, try the earlier BodyWorld.

Golazo!
by Andreas Campomar

This book, like “The Ball is Round”, seeks to explicate a cultural history of a people ( in this case, South Americans) through the story of their football. To a lover of both football and cultural histories, this story is meat and potatoes, and well told here. To casual footy fans, there may be a bit too much of the various tournament summaries, though the tale of tiny Uruguay’s supremacy in early World Cups and before that, in Olympics, which then served as football’s world championship, is essential.

Nor can these stylish triumphs be separated, Campomar argues convincingly, from Uruguay’s prosperous democracy of the time. Similarly, the advent of brutal military dictatorships in Latin America often went hand in hand with the continent’s dark turn toward cynical, negative “anti-football”.

Read it before the Centenario tournament ( celebrating the 100th year of South American championship), to be held in the US in 2016. At some point, the two Americas may merge, in a football sense; and this is yet another book to explain why football is really the only game that matters in the world.

V for Vendetta
by Alan Moore, David Lloyd

Hacker collective Anonymous’ appropriation of the Guy Fawkes imagery, plus Alan Moore’s complex legacy as comics’ greatest auteur, made this early 80’s graphic novel essential reading for me. I had waited far too long to pick it up, and wondered how coherently it dovetailed with Anonymous’ libertarian/anarchist representation, and how well it fit in with Moore’s own very original, often metafictional ouevre. It does not disappoint, in the same way that “Watchmen”, “From Hell” and “Promethea” do not disappoint: they are all brilliant, though eccentric, examinations of the relationship of man/woman to the State.

The difference in this early effort is in the pacing. It was mostly completed in Britain before Moore arrived on these shores to begin his ground breaking Swamp Thing run at DC, and prior to “Watchmen”, where a fascination with metafictional storytelling (i.e, “Superheroes as government-regulated vigilantes”, “Super heroine as goddess of storytelling”, etc) set in. This sometimes has lead to overwrought, didactic story lines, and over-designed illustration. Here, though, the story is direct and driving, with David Lloyd’s stark, stripped down panels, awash in blacks and crepuscular violets giving the whole thing a noir-ish Golden Age Batman sort of air. Moore’s crank-ish comic book libertarianism is here too, but tidily contained in a near-future fascist England, though an Orwellian computer system has jumped the pages and can definitely be seen as an inspiration for real world Anonymous.

Convoluted politics aside, it’s a great read.

Why Read Moby-Dick?
by Nathaniel Philbrick

A nice little book of short ruminations on various aspects of Moby-Dick. There are nuggets about Melville’s career, including a running discussion of his friendship with Hawthorne. Themes of the book are raised, and though not an exhaustive examination in the manner of a critical essay, they are thought provoking enough, and free of the academic/critical jargon that sometimes clots discussion of literary landmarks such as this. It’s hard to resist a book like this.

White Cube by Brecht Vandenbroucke

I had completely missed this early 2014 release and was glad I spied it on the coldest night of the year when no one (wisely) attended a workshop I was hosting at Ross-Barnum Library. These faux-primitive 1- and 2-page cartoons concern two guys coming to terms with, or sometimes cleverly modifying, even hilariously destroying, the modern art they encounter at the White Cube, a typical modernist gallery. Very witty, even conceptual gags about the art, but also about social media. The pair are seen running from the security guard after painting a Facebook-style thumb’s up ‘Like’ sign on a critically-approved White Cube acquisition.

The General and the Jaguar: Pershing’s Hunt for Pancho Villa: A True Story of Revolution & Revenge
by Eileen Welsome

A book that gets to the heart of the long-running enmity between Mexico and the USA. It is all here- the violence and savagery that seems to plague the Mexican people, and the prejudice and high-handedness of Americans and their government. The story is grippingly told. Pancho Villa’s campaign against Mexico’s military government found favor in US circles until pre WWI exigencies compelled Woodrow Wilson to recognize Carranza, the dictator. Betrayed, Villa vowed to take his forces against US citizens. The result was a brutal attack on Columbus, NM, and a punitive expedition into Mexico led by John Pershing, later to lead US forces in WWI Europe.

Conceived as a face-saving gesture by Wilson, but as a prelude to US expansion into Northern Mexico by Pershing and the Manifest Destiny adherents, the invasion into Chihuahua quickly turned into a misadventure. Porfirio Diaz, whom the revolution supplanted as Mexico’s leader, once said “Poor Mexico- so far from God, so close to the USA.” Pancho Villa seemed to embody this tragic irony, though it was not Pershing or the US that finally defeated him.

 

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