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Art and Comics: Not Such a Line Claire?

 I started a blog in 2009, with the stated intention of documenting my transition from working class day job to full time artist. I quickly discovered there were challenges to this- running up the credit cards on unprofitable shows, for example, with severely reduced cash flow as a result. Another consequence was trying to keep a steady presence on the web, with the distraction of the cash scramble. Part of the difficulty in keeping a steady schedule of posts, for me anyway, was the reluctance to write every post about me, it seemed monotonous. But many of the interesting related activities that informed my conversation with the day job- travel, important shows in other cities, even arthouse cinema- were out of my price range now.  The  low cost entertainment that I now enjoyed were trips to the library for classic novels, art books, dvd’s and alternative comics. At the same time, I picked up a copy of Nick Hornby’s collection of book blurbs, The Polysyllabic Spree. I enjoyed his casual, almost flippant approach to reading. I didn’t adopt his format- books bought, books read- but I did start a Reading List category on my own blog. 

Of the various categories, comics seemed the most promising, since they are a commercial form of printed graphics, but also not covered by many writers, relatively speaking. A good niche for me, though of course, I continue to write blurbs about novels and art books too. It offers a nice way to process what I’ve been reading, with the immediate notes I jot down when I finish a book placing my reactions in a more concrete form. 

But I haven’t really explored in any definitive way the relationship between art and comics, though it’s alway on my mind.   

Raw magazine took an approach to comics that was undoubtedly informed by the proto-punk avante garde art rock movement of Television and Patti Smith in downtown NYC during the mid-70’s. “Raw seems to confuse a lot of people. Is it a comic book? Is it an art magazine?”, Co-editor Art Spiegelman wrote in Read Yourself Raw, a compilation of the best of early Raw issues, in 1987.

“Raw: The Graphic Magazine That Lost its Faith in Nihilism” The subtitle to #3 teased. “The Graphix Magazine for Damned Intellectuals” collected from diverse sources: refugees from the Underground Comix, yes, but also people from The School of Visual Arts in NYC, such as the Hopper-esque Jerry Moriarty, punk expressionists like Gary Panter, and Eurocomics Ligne Claire revivalists such as Jooste Swarte, whom Spegelman perceptively identifies as inheritors of Deco/De Stijl sensibilities in the same intro to Read Yourself Raw. In short, the intention was always to meld comix with high art. 

Raw defined comics-as-art into the early 90’s, before co-editor Francoise Mouly moved on to the art editorship of the New Yorker, bringing the Raw sensibility, and many of the artists, now names in literary and illustration circles, with her. 

Other magazines ( Buzzbomb, Bad News, Exit, Nozone) tried to copy the format  and iconoclasm (don’t forget the witty tag lines!) but didn’t last.

By the turn of the century, however, another magazine was mining the intersect between narrative graphics and high art, which Phillip Guston and Raymond Pettibon, not to mention Adam Gopnik in the catalogue for High Art, Low Art at MOMA, were already exploring from the fine art side. Dan Nadel, often in collaboration with Tim Hodler, had started The Ganzfeld, like Raw, an infrequent anthology of comics, in this case mixed in with essays and graphic illustration from across the spectrum of illustration and gallery art. The art school influence was there as well, in this case with the Fort Thunder school of comics artists that came out of the Rhode Island School of Art and Design. 

While Raw celebrated comics’ outsiderness with ironic tag lines and by drawing parallels with newspaper comics’ rowdy past with reprints of Herriman, Boody Rogers and actual art outsiders such as Henry Darger,  Nadel emphasized the connectivity of comics with New York gallery art and the design world, and the shelving designation for Ganzfeld #3 reads: Art and Design. Lawrence Wechsler commented on Bruegel, The comics-adjacent pop art of the Hairy Who is examined. Nonetheless, many of the pioneering Raw artists, such as Mark Newgarden and Richard McGuire are here. Euro comics are less in evidence, though Blexbolex is an exception. 

Raw cheekily asserted comics’ otherness while advocating for their legitimacy as an art form, The Ganzfeld placed them side-by-side with other hard to categorize art forms to integrate them into the critical landscape. These are both interesting strategies, one growing out of a punk/DIY sensibility, the other leveraging design/publishing elites to elevate by association. 

A more recent anthology, Black Eye, makes the comics/art connection but more implicitly, focussing mostly on comics, perhaps because coming out of Detroit, they can’t really access the design/ illustration world as easily as Ganzfeld.  They sometimes feature comics criticism, and like The Ganzfeld, often feature printmakers, natural allies. Issue #2 features a strong underlying Posada theme, not only in the graphic styles presented, but also in its undeniable skew toward black humor, which pervades all three issues of Black Eye. Again, Raw alumni, as well as Fort Thunder artists are published frequently. 

The editor, Ryan Standfest, draws explicit connections to Raw Magazine, i.e. taglines! But he also returns to the savage black humor that the undergrounds inherited from EC’s Mad and Panic. However, a knowing sophistication accompanies the gleeful savagery. Jeet Heer, for example, points out in #1 the divide in the Undergrounds between the narrative comix (Crumb, Shelton) and the very visual psychedelia of Griffin and Moscoso, who liberally adapt contemporaneous Op Art tropes. Black Eye, even more than Raw and The Ganzfeld, wants it both ways, and this dichotomy between the serious and mockery characterizes much of more recent comics as a whole. This places a lot of cutting edge comics into a high art/pop culture art form that dates back to Oscar Wilde and continues through Stonewall ( as Heer points out): the weaponization of irony, as camp. 

All of this would have been impossible in the repressive 50’s, when comics writers and artists sought to escape the low pay, grueling work conditions and censorship to find ‘respectable’ employment as illustrators or syndicated newspaper cartoonists. Comics deserve critical attention for their own unique aesthetic qualities, of course, but more and more the line between them and art and literature is blurring. This creates a healthy critical dialogue, and also expectations and opportunity. These anthologies offer all three.

Mention here is appropriate for the euro-centric Nobrow Magazine and the yearly Blab series, both of whom pair cartoonists with illustrators and graphic arts designers. Nobrow usually features work in both fields by artists who work in both. Even comics-exclusive anthologies such as the excellent Kramer’s Ergot make a case for comics as art, though by consistent quality, rather than by overt editorial agenda.The Comics Journal pursues essentially the same tack, but WITH the editorial agenda. Still, their inborn irreverence betrays their fanzine roots. It appears succinctly in the title of their own oral history, Comics as Art: the voices of Groth, Spiegelman and Heer proclaim. In the subtitle, comes the nose-thumbing rejoinder, seemingly straight from the mouths of Kurtzman, Feldstein and Crumb- We Told You So.

Raw, Blab and The Ganzfeld can still be found on the second hand back issues market, though Raw, like many of the alternative comics pioneers of the 80’s, is beginning to get quite pricey. Black Eye is still available from the publisher, Rotland Press, along with their many intriguing chapbooks, though print runs are small and probably dwindling. The same is true of Nobrow. 

Transforming an Idea

Or Being Transformed By It?

Ideas are far from static entities. I mentioned in another post that like the particles in Maxwell’s Demon, they will usually gain energy or significance only by colliding with other ideas, and thus are born of a process of synthesis or transformation anyway. But even an idea born whole -assuming that really exists- will benefit from different approaches to it. Transforming an idea puts you in the driver’s seat, even when you are not sure where you are going- especially when you are not sure. Taking ownership of an idea sometimes means taking it apart and putting it back together again. If you find you have parts left over, perhaps they didn’t belong there in the first place.

There are different strategies for transformation, and some are additive, and some are subtractive. It’s become a convention to speak of Picasso, for example, as a ‘creator/destroyer’ as Arrian Huffington once put it, and apart from the implications in an artist’s personal life, the famous time-lapse film of Picasso painting onto a clear panel, erasing whole areas and putting new elements in their place is an extreme (and possibly self-dramatized) example of the way process can be far from linear. A good book on Picasso’s  creative process that I’ve enjoyed recently is The Genesis of a Painting: Picasso’s Guernica, by Rudolf Arnheim.

It is a bit of a self-drama, for me, anyway. I’m sure other artists might agree. One gets one’s favorite studio soundtrack going- let’s see, Pixies, or Phillip Glass? A stimulant can be added; now, it’s usually coffee, though I admit that wine or beer was more common in the early days. There is a certain choreography that pertains: anything from organizing the studio, to a restless pacing back and forth from close-ups to long view, a sort of rhythmic dance might even break out.

And then the adding and subtracting. This has a real metaphoric weight- it’s not just a surface arrangement. Questions of positive and negative space, visual weight and color messaging impact the meaning of an idea, the way it blossoms from pure visual immanence to a more objective literal object. No artwork can escape this fluid dynamic. 

So what can be added? Especially in printmaking, which is subject to the technical limitations on effects and processes that can be changed after they are once applied, and a general bias toward simplified graphic forms? The short answer is: distance and movement. There are many ways to add depth to a print, which by nature and design, can sometimes be flat. These range from the traditional, such as perspective, to other more abstract strategies.

Visual and metaphoric distancing strategies affect our reactions to a picture emotionally and analytically. This often takes place in terms of creating eye movement, which is the physical manifestation of ‘interest’ in looking at an artwork. Something detailed, heavily textured or just very hard-edged often gets our most immediate attention because of how the eye works. Something fuzzier, and less distinct feels ‘farther away’, less of an immediate question or challenge. Distance is the essence of ‘depth’ in an artwork. It also creates musicality when we consider that distance=rate x time. Similar objects, varied in size, and placed at regular intervals, create a rhythm and depth that becomes harmonizing. We follow the ‘beat’, moving into the space and time of a picture.

Textures can add energy and attract the eye, things such as “noise”, a word I  use to refer to ‘accidental’ by-products of ink manipulation- debris, extruded strokes, distressed color forms, and scratched-in forms, such as in clouds or dark areas. Textures impart important cues into an artist’s attitudes toward the basic shapes in a composition, and are not to be ignored. Texture sounds like a decorative detail, but two shapes, treated in a soft, fuzzy, mystery suggesting way; or in a hard-edged, definite, foregrounding way, can say different things about meaning. Literally and figuratively,  texture provides definition.

Edges and contours work the same way. A hard edge will physically ‘foreground’ an element, owing to the way the eye works; and in combination with a darker color can also create a sort of silhouette, a neat trick of adding both proximity and mystery to an object, a very basic and challenging question to the viewer’s eye: Do I stay here, or move around this, into what has by implication become a distance. Thus movement is created.

Contours bring softer, more reticent shapes forward. Contours can be textured to add intrigue or expressive notes, or faded to add mystery and metaphoric movement. Contours can be found in shapes that already exist in the image, or imposed on top of textures or patterns beneath. They can be somewhat arbitrary or even contrary, or harmonious and integral.

Textures can be stylized (semi-abstract), or realistic and sort of gritty or tonal. In monoprints, texture can also include different printmaking techniques such as relief, dry point, and collograph, among others; each offering a new ‘window’ into a separate reality, upping the way meta narrative can be incorporated. Whatever one’s opinion of Andy Warhol, his genius was to prove finally, conclusively, that art can never be wholly a matter of physical gesture. Ideas are born, live, and die in the mind. While his art is obviously about much more than printmaking, the surrealist juxtapositions of process color and deliberate mis-registrations inject the ultimate distancing effect of all- irony.  Viewed in these lights, texture and color, especially in printmaking, is anything but decorative.

“Treehouse”, 2019, 21×15″, Monotype. In every monotype, there are things one might wish to change, or that one hadn’t changed.

Color’s transformative qualities are magnified in printmaking. Transparency can form newly surprising or intriguing colors, change mood overall or in parts of the picture, or unify disparate elements. Transparency is a measure of color’s willingness to engage with other elements in a print.

Bright, warm colors bring the underlying elements forward; dark, subdued colors can make the overlapped elements recede. In printmaking, where color schemes are often simplified, accents can attract the eye to important areas, add irony or balance, or a visual counterpoint. When complementary colors are used, they can demonstrate visually the adage that “opposites attract”.

Positive/negative elements can foreground detail, or create visual reversals, which are energizing and add intrigue. As in famous optical illusions such as Necker Cubes, positive/negative elements in art can be both additive and subtractive, foregrounding and backgrounding, at the same time. A splash of textures or small shapes can lead from positive (dark) areas, in color on light areas and segue immediately into negative (light) shapes in a dark area. This is a cubist trick that leads the eye and breaks visual planes. Again, eye movement trumps surface illusion. 

As for the subtractive side of the creative process, As an idea becomes more developed it often becomes more complex. Other ideas and nuances accrete, leading to a signal to noise disjunct that can obscure a simple first idea. It can be liberating and freeing, in a creative sense, to simply take something out. Let the idea suggest itself, rather than spelling it out. If an idea isn’t strong enough to survive this at least you know that now.

And white space is well known, in printmaking’s cousin, advertising, to create places for the eye to enter a picture, or to rest briefly while considering a next move. Monotypes or prints without sufficient white space can sometimes feel heavy, or busy. With an often limited color palette, and no way to reclaim the resplendent whites once they’ve been printed over, this is not surprising. But balance in darks and lights doesn’t necessarily mean a 50/50 mix. A small, very bright white area of the original sheet showing through a mass of black ink can be very compelling.

When do the transformations end? It’s a question I get a lot in classes- when is it finished? Do I keep going and risk irreversible change, or stop and risk Superficiality and incompleteness? Transformations have consequences. Do I dare to eat a peach? is T.S. Eliot’s sublime, elegant and wholly understated version of this existential dilemma.

And it is very much existential. Change will happen anyway. Embracing change places you in the very engine room of the creative process. What to do there? I wish I had a simple answer for that in my own studio work. Be present. Open yourself to the movement and the music. 

My next workshop for adults with at least some printmaking experience is Mad Science Monoprint, beginning July 23. Register this week. The thoughts from this post will be on my mind then, and you are welcome to join the conversation.

Play It Again, SAM: How To Win Friends and Get Good Art At the Summer Art Market

I’m not sure how many Summer Art Markets I’ve done, but this year’s must be close to 25, if not there. I’m in booth #100. I’m entering the final week of preparations, and I think it’s going pretty well. Some years- especially the earlier ones- were frantic. There have been a few like this year where I had a good start, and though it’s always work, it’s been pretty calm the whole way.

The Art Students League #SummerArtMarket2019 is one of the better shows for artists, and many long time shoppers believe, for art buyers. It combines experienced artists, many of them, like me, on the faculty at the school; with newer artists doing their first festival show, many of whom are students at the school. It has a real community feel, and tends to emphasize the art, rather than the food vendor and sponsor booths, and it is the school’s biggest fundraiser. Only media taught at the school can be exhibited in this show, so various ‘craft-ish’ items are not allowed, giving the show a real focus that true collectors have learned to love.

A nice feature of the Summer Art Market for buyers- Giclees and other reproductions that represent themselves as ‘fine art prints’ are not allowed, so one can shop for original art with confidence. At some shows, you might see these offered in “limited editions” at inflated prices, as if they themselves were art. At SAM, you can buy actual handmade art, often for prices as friendly as others charge for their Giclees. It’s worth pointing out that at any of the many printmaking booths at this show, only true, hand-pulled fine art prints are for sale.

“Ladder at Moonrise”, Monotype, 15×11″. An original fine art print differs from a Giclee, or other commercial reproductions, in that it is hand-pulled by the artist ( in my case) or Master Printmaker under the artist’s supervision. Etchings and woodblock prints can have larger edition numbers ( 1/10; 1/25; etc, meaning: 25 total prints from the same plate or block), but in the special case of a monotype or a monoprint, only one unique print can be created: thus, 1/1

You’ll probably find art bargains there. The beginning artists, many of them quite good, tend to keep their prices very low, whereas the more well known need to protect themselves from the competition in this large show, and many probably also try to keep prices as low as they can, or offer smaller more affordable pieces as I do. Many of us are trying to maintain a consistent, gallery price level, so higher prices from established artists are not a surprise, either, though Denver in general has low prices for art, so it can be hard for a full time artist to generate sustainable sales in a year. Great for buyers, though. This is the balance an aspiring art community must attain.

Haggling is a personal issue with artists, though a show of this type, especially on Sunday afternoon, would probably be as good as any a place to try it . Some artists seem to see it as an insult. I personally don’t mind it, though it should be reasonable, for the issues of consistent and sustainable prices mentioned above. Even galleries offer discounts, especially when a multiple, or larger sale is being considered. Repeat buyers also get nice prices. Be respectful, is my advice. Again, if you’re shopping for art in Denver, you’re probably getting a deal, anyway.

If you’re just looking, that’s fine, too. Questions about process and philosophy are fun for me, anyway- they break up a long day; and questions about my classes are certainly encouraged (you can register there too!). But be mindful of monopolizing an artist’s time for too long, as this may be a major source of income for their year, so they must make sure they don’t miss the opportunity to speak with any potential buyer. If you are a buyer, monopolize all you want. Enjoy being a hero. Not only have you paid some nagging, distracting artist bills, or even launched a career, but you’ve put money into the creative economy, money proven to be beneficial to a region’s economy and quality of life, especially as it tends to be returned to the economy quite quickly!

Other situations call for common sense: Solicitations for donations for your group’s charity auction, or for your new framing business or whatever are not that welcome if they’re going to take up valuable time. I certainly don’t mind if you leave your card or a flyer. No artist is going to make room in their crowded booth for your ad flyers for CFE’s, shows, etc.

The real value of the show is interaction and feedback from peeps you wouldn’t normally meet in a gallery, so don’t be shy. I certainly enjoy it- all conversations about art are more welcome than say, any conversation about the Broncos. Stop by and introduce yourself, make a comment about the art, get to know the community.

Search: #sam2019, summerartmarket2019, #asld, #artstudentsleague, and my personal favorite, #sambooth100.

Summer School Daze

The process of updating the blog has turned into a tragicomedy with two stubbornly unfinished drafts awaiting liberation. I’m posting an update on my Workshops page to get the ball rolling again.

The school features Kids Art Camp classes during many of the days, so most of my adult classes will be at night, when the breezes run cool through the print room windows. However, I am offering a Teen workshop, Monoprint Mad Science, during the camps. Monoprint Mad Science is also available for adults on Tuesday Evenings.

A fun way to have your questions answered about workshops is to come down to my Summer Art Market booth, #100, during the show. You can also register with a friendly human in the ASLD booth, only a few feet away.

Though it’s no excuse for not posting, I have been quite busy in the studio. The best way to stay updated on new work is through my Instagram account, @JoeHigginsMonotypes. I’m also still active on Twitter, @hggns; and I’ve been trying to revive my Facebook page, honest.

( Detail of large monotype) No title for this one as yet, it is only a day old. It is a elaboration on a ghost from a different monotype. I enjoy bugs, mostly, especially when they stick to their gardens and pollination bailiwicks.

Library Drop-in Workshops Added

I’ve updated my Workshops page to reflect two additional dates, January 22 at Gonzales Library; and March 5 at Montbello. These are free and open to the public. Yes, they’re very basic, as there are often kids there, but the main interest for artists might be the chance to try the non-toxic Akua inks. Not to mention, you can actually let your kids try etching without fearing for their health.

I’ll be teaching full 4 week classes in non toxic methods twice this year, doing workshops in both etching and photo-etching techniques. Approach 18

Above is a photo etching with top roll I did using non-toxic techniques this fall after taking a workshop with non-toxic etching expert Henrik Boegh. It’s a drawn image on transparent film, exposed to a polymer film, then etched with a soda solution. I hand pulled the print using the Akua water soluble inks, Black for the hand-wiped image, then a top roll of blue. Please excuse the iPhone snap shot.

Happy Hopeful Holidays!

I think most Americans feel that the 2018 election greatly increased the chances for democracy to survive in this country, and for justice to be served to those who would profit from corruption. So it’s a hopeful end to the year. I’m taking a week to relax and recharge after a very up-and-down professional year that also came to a hopeful end. We’ll see if optimism is justified in either case, but one thing is certain: we must press on.

While I don’t have a full post ready, I may have one soon, as I have several unfinished drafts to work with, and I find writing blog posts with morning coffee very relaxing. In the meantime, I’ve updated my Workshops Page with all the Winter/Spring workshops I currently have scheduled. It’s a light schedule. My first one begins January 20, and it’s my Monotype Starter workshop, the one most likely to fill quickly. It’s also the only session of this one scheduled this Spring. The next one won’t be till Summer.

I do have two new workshops debuting, Modern Intaglio: Etching; and Modern Intaglio: PhotoPolymer Etching. These are a result of a workshop I took in September with Henrik Boegh, a Danish printmaker recognized as an authority in safe, earth-friendly etching techniques.

There are descriptions and links for all of my workshops, as well as my schedule of free DPL workshops. I’ll also be giving a series of professional development workshops through Colorado Art Educators Association. If you are involved with that organization and need professional development credit, watch for them! The first one is January 7.

A happy holiday season to all, however you may celebrate. I wish you prosperity and hope in 2019, and I thank everyone who supported me through art sales, classes, or a friendly word.

Gathering Hopes

This rather contented looking feller is from a nice thank you note I received from artists and staff of The Gathering Place, a day shelter for homeless women where I taught a series of monotype and relief printing workshops this summer. Card by JVO

I’ve got a brief break for writing and studio work after finishing up two workshops. One was my Monotype Portfolio summer evening class, which went well; I’ll post a nice image from that soon. The other was my Wednesday morning workshop with the women of The Gathering Place, a day shelter for homeless women. It was a wake-up but a joy, for several reasons.

I love a morning class anyway. You get to start off the day with conversations on creativity, it really puts a hopeful spin on things. The perspective of the whole day changes to one of possibility. Also, the women there, despite their many struggles, are talented. All of us need to see reminders of the humanity in everyone, whether fortunate ( Yes, I’m grateful) or not, and art provides that.

And I felt welcomed there- The staff and clients made me feel valued- a contributor for hope. At some point, I really began to buy into that hope. I began to ask myself how I might help advance the hopes of others. TGP is not surprisingly situated at the epicenter of this city’s exploding homeless population. Eat day I went there, I walked or rode through the hordes of much less fortunate people that our current failing politics seeks to ignore.

That brings me to the point of the post, not the art we made in class, which was mostly fairly simple processes which in some cases led to spectacular results. As I said, there were some talented artists here, and I’ll post some of those below.

But the cat above is not from the class. It’s part of a separate Gathering Place project I’d like you to know about: Their card project which allows down on their luck women to make money from their talent for art and making. I got this one, with some nice notes written inside, as a thank you for teaching the workshop, and it’ll be treasured along with some other artworks and notes I’ve received over the years. I wish the picture showed it better- it’s drawn in a sort of sparkly colored ink!

 

By Purchasing this piece of handcrafted original art, you are making a difference in the life of an individual who is experiencing homelessness or poverty. 75% of the revenue generated for The Gathering Place by the sale of this card will be returned to the individual artist.

-back of the card

Many of the artists were pondering how the simple relief prints we did could be incorporated into The Card Project, which made me feel very happy. Have I contributed in a small way?

As you might imagine, The Gathering Place is not really open to the public. But you can visit, and see all of these hundreds of cards at affordable prices by contacting them at cards@tgpdenver.org or calling 303.996.9068. We’ve all been feeling a bit knocked around since November 2016. Soon, we get to vote, but we can also pay it forward a little. 

Just a few of the many prints done by the artists of The Gathering Place.

Fall Workshops Are Registering Now

A bit of surrealism for your late summer/fall enjoyment. “Gloaming”, Monotype, 20×26″, 2018

I’ve updated the Classes, Demos and Workshops page for the Fall schedule. It’s got dates, descriptions and links for everything scheduled so far. There may be more coming, so check back soon. Click here.

The big news is the addition of a third main workshop, Mad Science Monoprint, starting in November on Tuesday afternoons. It’s not intended to follow the second in the series, Monotype Portfolio, but to be a companion to that. It’s four weekly sessions on adding repeatable elements to your monotypes. 

I’m still working on a series of posts on Starting, Transforming and Finishing Ideas, and a new editor for Word Press has been introduced just as I’m getting a last bit of free time, so I’m hoping for an update for the entire site soon.

I’ve been doing a series of workshops for a women’s homeless shelter here, and I’m blown away by the talent I’m seeing. It can be hard to get time to take pics during the classes, but I’ll try to post some soon.

I need to thank longtime Gathering Place volunteer, and ASLD print artist Cindy M. for her help as assistant and liaison with these wonderful folks. There is an existing Card Project that allows women to earn money for themselves and the program by making cards, and we’re trying to incorporate some of the basic printmaking techniques in our drop-in workshops into that. It’s inspiring!

I’m reading up on Picasso’s prints and some techniques I want to incorporate into Mad Science. I also finished John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, and I’ve been dipping into a history of 20th Century modernist graphics. All of this has made for a great relaxing summer, and while I haven’t been doing a lot of studio work, I guess I decided a break was OK after a crazy spring. Most of my fall schedule is still up in the air, but I’ve got a feeling it’ll all fall into place soon.

I’m feeling optimistic in general. After a horrible two years, are we on the cusp of a turning point? Register to vote, and plan on positive change this November! Then register for a workshop, and let’s get creative. 

Summer Class Update

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.

A Real Lulu

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?