Categories
Ideas Month of Printmaking

End Game

What is the end game in the studio? Sometimes a deadline will bring focus, leading to a well resolved work, sometimes it inhibits experimentation, bringing repetitive ideas. I guess both- experimentation and production, are important.

At this time, I’m trying to produce new work for the upcoming MoPrint ’22, which will bring show opportunities, if COVID doesn’t cancel it again. But I’ve also had more time to work, read and think, which has brought a lot of experimentation.

Trestle With Stars, Monotype, 2021, 15×21″. Ideas of narrative, creative progression, crossings come to mind. It uses relief elements and viscosity effects to create a sort of dreamscape or subconscious landscape.

Most of these experiments haven’t turned into finished, showable work yet. Here’s one that seems acceptable. Not quite sure where the idea of a trestle came from, but from a creative stand point, it seems to allude to being carried from somewhere to somewhere else. The journey is not resolved, but a tenuous structure appears to offer support and transit over the chasm.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it. I’m reading a lot of Gary Panter ( Jimbo in Paradise, DalTokyo, Cola Madnes ) He tends to really push an idea graphically, while still trying to at least allude to basic narrative. His characters invest a lot of energy and desire into quests, though what is quested (cheeseburgers, vintage muscle cars) sometimes seems quotidian or even preterite. This seems like a good model for what my studio work is trying to accomplish.

#ASLDprintmakers #MoPrint2022

Categories
Books, Comics, Music Reading List Uncategorized

Reading Edge:

Place With Stars and Dragonflies, Monotype, 2021, 21×15″. This image combines trace monotype with relief elements, and kicked off a series of existential chair images I used to explore presence and objective reality.

An extended period of downtime following a very successful Summer Art Market, and the end of my part time day job in a college bookstore is to blame for a lengthy lack of posts. This list of abbreviated book blurbs is a pretty good summary of what I’ve been up to as I emptied out my days with a view to building a new routine.

Classes and studio work have continued, of course. And with MoPrint ’22 fast approaching, a bit more urgency will be needed there. But for now, the order of the day for the last few weeks has been coffee and books- with excursions to bookstores to stack literature, non fiction, comics and art like cordwood against the bitter winds building.

Here’s a downpayment, culled from a diary I keep where often these thoughts first appear. There’s no theme, to the blurbs at least- the daybook includes a lot of rumination on what time and work actually are- and perhaps I should try to bring those deeper contemplations here sometime, but for now, just the books.

Bradley of Him, Connor Willumsen’s newest, was a bit too complex for just one reading. This is the downside to library books. Like Antigone, about slackers in a vaguely post-apocalyptic beach town, it was palpably brilliant, but hard to describe why. Extreme protagonist meets slightly dystopian hyper-capitalist paradise in Las Vegas. In both books, art that is watery and a tinge neurotic with narcissistic characters seemingly unaware of the strangeness they are immersed in.

Stroppy, Marc Bell: Again, I originally read it from the library, and decided when finances loosened up, to reread and add it to my shelf. Stroppy is an oafish schlemiel in a dystopian urban oligarchy, where even art is in service to the powers that be. Bell invokes E.C. Segar (Popeye) and mini-golf to tell the tale of a song contest that perpetuates a pop culture kleptocracy.

Bell is a central figure in the ongoing mini-comics/zine subculture, which small websites make it easier to experience. However, he’s long since broken through into mainstream publishing, not to mention gallery sales and this is just one of his highly entertaining hardcover albums. I also picked up Pure Pajamas, a collection of his alternative press weekly strips.His artistic lineage, after Segar, stretches through Crumb and even Phillip Guston, before looping back around to Rube Goldberg. An amazing talent, whose deadpan protagonists are always being imposed upon, and even physically occupied, by other characters.

S! #32 Kus: A pocket sized anthology, published in Latvia, of alt comics auteurs from around the world, in this case, Japan. They are available from online sellers such as Copacetic, or John Porcellino’s Spit-and-a-Half. This one, however, I found at Matter, the letterpress/bookshop on Market St. It’s well worth the trip on a Rockies away day. They also publish single-artist mini comics as Mini Kus.

The artists featured here belong to a later era of Garo magazine and other current publications, and thus provide a view of the current state of alt comics in Japan. Here, and in AX, a collection of alt manga published in 2010, the interchange with American styles seems more apparent, than in Garo’s earlier days, which took cues from pop art and French Nouvelle cinema. Fort Thunder influences are visible and Heta Uma (bad/good) styles the equivalent of the comics brut of Johhny Ryan, et al, are prominent. Who influenced who I can’t say, but these comics lack the sense of Japanese cultural ferment that the early manga pioneers like Hayashi and Sugiera drip with. Not that there aren’t some very intriguing short pieces here, and the internationalization of comics is sort of implicit in the Kus! project to begin with, but the downside of anthologies is you get only a quick glance at a given artist. The small format may also inhibit real engagement, but there are definitely artists here I intend to look for. One, Yuichi Yokoyama, I already found and sent for from the Copacetic site, and it’s in a stack of things I’m saving for when the flurries fly.

Bad Ball, Samplerman: Samplerman is a French comics artist who cuts up and reassembles old comics to create surreal adventures. Again the small format in this Mini Kus may not be optimal, as I’ve seen him play in a piece in Scratches with intricately shaped panels to bring the negative space of the gutters ( space between panels) into play, and here he limits himself to a 6 panel grid. Thus, the vibe is sort of constrained surrealism, like the early Dr. Strange comics by Ditko, or even the cluttered strangeness of Ogden Whitney’s Herbie.

Gold Pollen, Seiichi Hayashi: This is also a reread after I got it from the library a couple of years ago, then found the book online for a decent price. It’s rare to find it under $75, partially because it’s a beautiful book published by the sadly departed PictureBox of Dan Nadel, with a very interesting essay by Ryan Holmberg.

Nadel was an apparently huge part of the re-discovery of Garo Magazine-era manga of the 60’s and 70’s. I’ve become a bit obsessed with these artists and Holmberg is part of the reason, as he explicates Japanese culture both pre-WWII, and in the turbulent years of Garo‘s establishment as the first magazine devoted to alternative, avant garde comics in the world, in 1964. Our ingrained American exceptionalism makes this massive contribution to the art of comics easy to ignore, but at the time, Marvel’s angsty but violent superheroes were about it in this country for those looking for comics for an adult sensibility. Even Undergrounds and the often adolescent boob-a-licious sci-fi of Heavy Metal were still in the future. Not so in Japan, where dramatic gekiga manga led to a real avant garde.

Hayashi and others, such as Tsuge, Sugiera and Tezuka were experimenting with Pop Art and avant garde Carnaby Street graphics and French New Wave cinema as inspiration for their charged stories of relationships and change in Japan.

Hayashi is not easy to find here. I’ve tracked down 3 of the 4 collections that have been published in English. Red Colored Elegy, about doomed, disaffected lovers is his masterpiece, but one will want the title story in this collection as well, a tensely constructed minimalist visual symphony. Mike Mignola’s measured cinematic pacing and love of folklore in Hellboy might offer a hint of what Hayashi was doing while Marvel’s The Thing was immersed in clobberin’ time, but that would not do justice to Hayashi’s sense of ordinary people caught between a fascist past and a hyper capitalist occupier.

Valley, GG: Ordered this Mini Kus from Copacetic after running across She’s Not There at the library. Misty images, disturbing implications, and ambiguous plot lines in both.

Comic Arf, Craig Yoe: This is an odd project; a bit of an ego trip, but not without merit.On one hand, it’s over designed, with not much to say about the artists it presents, and is editorially dodgy as it attempts to shoehorn Yoe’s own mediocre work as an equal to the accomplished past professionals. Those artists, however, are very interesting, and some I’d never heard of. He employs current illustrators as part of his design, which adds to the jumble, but certainly leads to some nice individual pieces. There’s a great Milt Gross feature, “Draw Your Own Conclusions” in which current cartoonists complete Gross cartoons originally offered for readers to finish. There’s nothing wrong with having Gross and other classic cartoonists on one’s bookshelf. But it lacks the editorial/design unity of Scratches or Blab.

Cola Madnes, Gary Panter: which gets too much credit in the afterword for being a masterpiece, but which is an early, fairly improvisatory Panter romp that features the mutually disaffected characters and post industrial wasteland of his Daltokyo and other classic punk comics. The graphics are amazingly… graphic. “Ratty line” is a common descriptive for Panter’s slashing, textural ink work, but his rich blacks are always well placed and add depth and detail to his dystopian suburbia. It’s mostly hyper grungy, hyper violent slapstick, and I keep wanting to assign manga influences to it that may not really be there, but it was originally intended for Japanese publication before being shelved for 20 years so the urge is irresistible. Very interesting item, and I want to re-read other Jimbo I have.

Comics vs. Art, Bart Beatty: Always a fascinating subject, and ambivalence is of course high- I’m not one to denigrate Pop Art, or to deride its superficiality, which is actually a big part of its complex point. This is a facile trap that “Team Comics” often falls into, though thankfully not Beatty. Nor do I consider war and romance comics of the 50’s to be under appreciated artistic gems. I have a respect for Kirby, Heath, even Novick, from the pulp escapes of my youth, but for the most part, I do not attempt to elevate them as high art.

Nonetheless, the appropriation of the imagery in all the great museums is a bit troubling. Russ Heath gives it a wry reflection in a one pager about his image Whaam!, appearing at MOMA ( the painting is actually a mash-up of panels from Heath, Novick, and Jerry Grandinetti, from two comics that Liechtenstein undoubtedly bought at the same time from the same newsstand. One imagines an unknown but soon to be wealthy artist being regarded a loser as he buys comics on the street. Or one does if one is an unknown artist who often buy comics on the street.) “Quotidian” is about the most complementary term I’ve seen applied to the original work in several sources, including Comics vs, and Wikipedia. Nonetheless, the original imagery was conceived by these artists, took time and effort, and often displayed a level of compositional creativity that clearly places it above the sort of mundane disposable image Liechtenstein and co. implies it is. This is a common stereotype in all graphics. While the irony in “Whaam!’ Is all Liechtenstein’s, Heath was certainly no stranger to camp and irony, having executed Michael O’Donahue’s hilariously arousing bondage/romance/war/western comics parody Cowgirls At War in National Lampoon. Buxom dommes and subs, viewed through binoculars in blasted landscapes. We don’t know how much of that is in O’Donaghue’s script, and how much Heath’s imagination, but what is suppressed in pop culture is often telling. While Ditko struggled to realize comics’ creative potential on Dr Strange in the work-for-hire sweatshops of Marvel, he was also inking Eric Stanton’s luscious underground kink across the studio they shared. In the case of war comics, the industry was not interested in irony, and with the exception of Kurtzman and co., rarely even questioned the morality of war.

Collectors certainly have always valued these originals, to an extent, but they never approached the cultural cache of Kirby’s superheroes, let alone Liechtenstein’s appropriations. My search on ebay for All American Men of War #89 ( the “first appearance” of the “Whaam!” image) brought up a listing at $325 in nice condition with Liectenstein’s name in the heading (not Novick’s, as would be the case in most comics listings). Another comic in similar condition from the same era, same Johnny Cloud character, AAMW #100, Heath’s name in the heading, is asking $30. However, for whatever reason, interest in these books is higher than I recall, whether Roy gets credit, or not.

This is an interesting book, very readable ( like most comics critics, excepting Thierry Groensteen, Beatty proudly eschews the lit theory jargon) and raising ponderables about both high and low arts.

Worst.President.Ever. Robert Strauss: Not about who one would think, published in early 2016, with a title that was outdated by the end of that year. James Buchanan, the last president to have a chance at avoiding the Civil War, provides a parallel lesson to today in what happens when personal ambition *trumps* civic responsibility. While 15 was not as corrupt as 45, he apparently was just as willing to adopt a racist stance to further his career. Sometimes a bit frothy, sometimes a bit sketchy on the research, but certainly timely, in a weird sort of way.

Robinson, Muriel Spark: Robinson is a recluse on a small island, onto which our heroine’s plane crashes. With a controlling hermit and 3 marooned strangers, suspicion is high, and human nature being what it is, there is tension. Spark, like Hemingway, packs a lot of meaning into the simplest of sentences.

Trots and Bonnie, Shary Flenniken: NYRB resurrects this unfairly forgotten 70’s gem from the pages of National Lampoon. Flenniken wields the subversive power of second wave feminism combined with utter, tits out horniness and narrative anarchy to come up with an authentic statement about growing up during the war of the sexes and the necessity of comics and other pop culture for social change. In other words, it’s hard to believe that voices like Flenniken’s, Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s and Julie Doucet’s would have been heard without the relatively accessible medium of comics to provide a platform.

The back material, including interview, sketches and annotations, is a real plus. Many of these cartoons, especially the earliest, are laugh out loud funny. Like many at this time, Flenniken brilliantly reprises, then revivifies early newspaper comics’ styles to move the medium back into its rightful place as pop cultural touchstone. This was America’s reply to Garo Magazine’s creative experimentation, and a precursor to Raw. The rise of female cartoonists is one of the Underground era’s most redemptive features. How about some new material, Ms Flenniken?

Categories
Art Shows Art Students League Summer Art Market

SAM Wrap

Illustrate post on Summer Art Market 2021
‘Wishful Thinking’, Monotype, 26×20, 2021. A similar print found a new home as part of a UCHealth program at the Summer Art Market.

The Summer Art Market returned, about 14 months late, after the COVID shutdown. People were clearly glad to see it come back. Attendance was crowded on Saturday morning, and steady for the rest of the weekend, with only the afternoon heat really slowing things down. The sales were strong for most artists I spoke to.

It was no different for me, as the show was an all-time high. That makes all the work of framing and wrapping, packing and hydrating worthwhile, but it’s been over 25 years of doing it, and I’m going to take a year off next year, in all probability. It’ll be nice to recharge the batteries, and the steady time in the studio has been very rewarding, so a year of simply doing new work without regard to what might sell could be a tonic. I’ll undoubtedly volunteer to enjoy the vibe, and for the first time, see the whole show.

As for now, I’m going right back in the studio, as I was really pleased with the way things were going, and was a bit reluctant to stop for the show. I’ll be monitoring the print room most Fridays and Sundays this Fall, which is when I work on my own things.

Other than that, I’m planning a relaxing autumn. Restaurants and shopping now seem safer, at least in this area, and like many who attended the show, working on freshening up my house will be a nice distraction. I’m postponing travel till Spring, hoping things will stabilize.

Reading is always a go-to activity in my house, and while I’ve been too busy to attempt any major works, I’ve been reading enough lighter things to post some blurbs. That will be next.

Categories
Uncategorized

Summer Art Market Update

Classes For Fall Updated

The Summer Art Market 2021 will be a ticketed event to control for social distancing. It’s coming right up, August 28-29. However, tickets are only $5 and are good for all weekend. The socially distanced event will still feature over 100 artists, but the ticket money will go toward making up for lost revenues from the reduced booth fee revenue.

My spot will be similar to past years, near the entrance to the school, at 2nd and Grant St. Booth #55

Crowd size limits have been increased, so they will not sell out, but it’s best to reserve early. Here is the link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/art-students-league-of-denver-summer-art-market-tickets-163699151569

It’s my favorite event, and one of few street fair type shows I still do. I’ve done it for over 25 years now, and may take a break next year, I won’t decide till the new year, but a year off to just wander around and enjoy the show may be a pause that refreshes. I plan to volunteer.

As for this year, the lack of a 2020 show means more work available for this one. There will certainly be more room to show it. There will be food and drinks, and a chance to see some peeps we haven’t seen in a while. I’m looking forward to it.

Classes for Fall: I’ve updated my Workshops page to reflect Fall offerings, which have increased from Spring. You will be able to register at the Summer Art Market, but the distancing limits are still in effect so far, and space will be limited. So consider registering as early as you can. For my September class, Monotype Mad Science, that’s now! Questions? Come see me at Booth #55 at SAM.

This monotype, Chair With Small Ghost Chair, 2021, will NOT be at the Summer Art Market, as it has already found a new home. However, some similar pieces will be available at Booth 55, near the school’s entrance at 2nd and Grant .
Categories
Art Shows Art Students League Summer Art Market

Twigs and Berries

It’s ironic to note that as the reopening of quarantined restaurants, bars and businesses presents options for going out after a long lockdown, the heat has made leaving the house quite unappealing. Viruses and global warming have made our world resemble a Steve Erickson novel.

My own narrative this Winter/Spring has included a health issue- no, not that one in the news- a lovely condition where one’s autoimmune system attacks your own joints and muscles, making going anywhere, even to the fridge for a drink, painful. Thanks to treatment, that’s now manageable, and I’m back in the studio, if not in the bars.

I haven’t titled this one yet, and it’s not even dry yet: monotype, 14×20″ 2021. It contains up-cycled relief and drypoint elements, along with stencil and resist elements. As such, it qualifies as a bit of an experiment or study, which is why no title immediately presented itself. By ‘up-cycled’, I mean clipped and shaped bits of material such as styrofoam or Mylar or Tetrapak cooking broth containers etched and inked as if a traditional linocut, or metal drypoint plate. These can be top-rolled or spot-rolled to create variations of hue, even when only using two colors. I’ll post further previews of works available at the Art Students League Summer Art Market in future posts.

And I’m preparing for the Summer Art Market, now postponed to August 26-7, and distanced and limited to a few thousand visitors. As I was incapacitated for March/April, this postponement has been a fortunate twist. It was not fortunate for a friend- we’ll call her Susie- who went down to visit my booth during the traditional weekend, this last one, and found a quiet intersection in front of the school.

Don’t be like Susie! Read my blog for further updates.

Classes are also ongoing as people begin to venture out. A teen camp in July is full, and an adult evening class is registering now. The print room is religiously cleaned and distanced, and we’re going on a year without any reported re-closures or incidents. You may attend without a mask if you are vaccinated. Evenings in the print room are cool and pleasant.

Other than that, It’s been a lot of what I’ve come to think of as ‘comfort’ reading and viewing, with soccer books and telecasts a prominent feature. International football is returning with the Euro Championship, and with the US national team winning its own continental championship. I also re-read The Ball Is Round, by David Goldblatt, a history of the game from a somewhat Marxist/cultural perspective that is even more rewarding with a second run-through. I post on reading and pop cultural matters to break up the content presented here, and I may work up a post on that soon.

Stay safe and be cool! #sam2021 #asldprintmakers #monotypes

Categories
Art Shows Art Students League Online Art Classes Summer Art Market Workshops

SAM Update: We’re Baack!

The Summer Art Market is back! It will of course be different as a result of the pandemic, and I’ll be posting about it several times before it returns, August 26-27. I’m going to be in a very similar spot to where I have been in past shows, which is right near the school’s main entrance at 2nd Avenue and Grant. I’m not publicizing the booth number yet, as the restrictions on attendance and number of artists are fluid, so the booth numbers may change, though the location will remain the same.

First note the dates. The old second weekend in June slot was too soon and too uncertain, so August was chosen. I’m glad, as the studio was closed for several months, and it’s given me time to make more work.

Second, and most important, the event will be smaller, per city guidelines. This may also be subject to change. There’s a limit to how many artists and visitors will be allowed in, 5,000 people as of now. This is about a 6th of the normal crowd, IIRC. It will allow for distancing.

To control for crowd size, a reservation system is being set up, and thus the show is expected to sellout before it opens. If you’d like to see the show, please consider reserving early. There will be a nominal $5 charge for reservations. The festival is the school’s major fundraiser, and will help them recoup lost revenues from the reduction in booth fees.

For more info, go to the school’s website. I have not seen a link for registration yet, and will post it here when I do. I’m having photos of new work done, and will post previews soon.

Classes:

I have several classes scheduled for Summer. An online teen camp from June 20-25 is registering right now. There is also a live teen camp in July which is full, but again, guidelines for class numbers may change, so getting on the wait list can’t hurt.

Tomorrow, June 8, begins registration for my adult evening class, Monotype Starter, which is a beginner’s class that gives you all the basics of printing monotypes and also certifies you to use the studio on your own. Registration link for that class is here. Numbers for adult classes are currently limited, so don’t delay. Again, however, changing guidelines may open more spots, especially as unlike kids, adults have generally been vaccinated.

More general info on all my classes is under ‘Workshops’ on the menu at top. I’m hoping to see some people this Summer, and I’m sure I’m not the only one!

#sam2021 #asldprintmakers

Categories
Books, Comics, Music Reading List

Reading Edge:

The promised end of quarantine is just as slow to arrive as the sun. Snow and rain, which we’ve had a lot of, means movies and books. Mostly movies, these days, but that leaves room for larger book reviews. This post has sort of a theme, but begins with a personal weakness of my always associative reading agenda, a book on books.

The Book, Keith Houston: I get geeked out about books. That’s the point of this column. Books on books? Better not get me started. Oops- too late. The Book, with its cute diagrammatic design and very definitive-sounding subtitle: “A Cover-To-Cover Exploration Of The Most Powerful Object Of Our Time”, was always going to be a must-read.

However, this isn’t the book that I hoped, or fantasized, that it would be: a wholistic examination of books’ development, including the intellectual matter of their effect on culture. Despite the subtitle, little was really said about what makes books powerful.


Instead the narrative stuck close to the nuts and bolts of how the physical item developed, interesting, but not really as powerful as the ideas therein. It made for what is properly speaking, historical trivia- highly readable, take my word for it- but not essential to the understanding of just how books came to be so entrenched in our intellectual landscapes.


To be fair, at 325 pages of mostly fascinating details, there was little room to stop and contemplate the insistent whisper of the flipping leaves. But a discussion of Audobon’s The Birds of North America left one aching for at least some acknowledgement of the sweeping changes in ordinary life that the publication of Gutenberg’s Bible, or science tomes and maps, and maybe even the appearance of the novel, brought.


On the other hand, a fairly concise history of printmaking is found here, a real joy for a printmaker. Paper, we forget, is one of the great innovations in human invention, and here we are reminded. The internet- an earthshaking development in our own lifetimes- but can it compare with the only slightly more distant inception of mechanical presses- mass media? Again, the relationship between commercial printing and the spread of images and info among a rapidly expanding middle class is not touched on. The Book needs context, something that the object itself helped invent. That book is out there, I’m sure, or will be. This book provides diversion for bibliophiles, but only points out the need for something that gives books a bit more their due, culturally speaking.

Red Red Rock and Other Stories, 1967-70, Seichi Hayashi: An elegant trade paperback, published by Breakdown Press in England (2016), It is still available at cover price, unlike others of Hayashi’s work in English. It contains one of Ryan Holmberg’s excellent essays on the history and influences of manga which really add to the richness of Hayashi’s topical, Pop Art-influenced short stories. There are 4 collections of Hayashi’s pioneering early alt manga that have been published, including Red Colored Elegy, a moody, impressionistic tale of a relationship smothered by ennui, and Gold Pollen and Other Stories, which I’ve read, but which is impossible to buy for a reasonable price. I attribute this to Hayashi’s status as a landmark creator in the history of comics, but also to the sheer beauty and attention to detail of Picture Box’s publications before they went out of business.

This one makes for a great overview of Hayashi starting with early efforts in a sort of Euro/satirical leftist journal style, and gradually progressing to his peak style, which incorporates elements of Warhol’s Pop Art, Carnaby Street commercial animation, and even French New Wave cinema. Hayashi is to be considered integral with the Japanese Angura (underground) of the late 60’s, as Holmberg demonstrates.

Remember, all that American comics at this time had to offer to those interested in comics as a creative medium were the innovative but bombastic Marvels, and the raunchy, rowdy undergrounds. Europe was beginning to explore adult genre, such as sci-fi and crime, but the Japanese were the first to truly push the boundaries of the medium, through Hayashi, Sugiera, and and others associated with Garo magazine. Manga is impossible to ignore now, and these spare and thoughtful comics are part of the reason why.

Mysterious Underground Men, Osamu Tezuka: Another Picture Box product that is hard to find at a reasonable price. Again, it’s well designed, contains a Holmberg essay, and is a seminal manga artifact, being published in this country for the first time since its 1947 appearance in Japan.

Unlike the Hayashi and Tsuge works mentioned here, it is clearly aimed at children, and heavily influenced by Disney’s Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson, not to mention Flash Gordon serials. But in it, as Holmberg explains, we see a first departure from Nansensu (nonsense) manga for children and toward Gekiga, the ‘dramatic pictures’ that paved the way for Japan’s groundbreaking Garo magazine in the 60’s. Tezuka himself, after starting the equally influential Astro Boy, embraced alternative visions, and started his own similar magazine, Com.

Red Flowers, Yoshiharu Tsuge.: This title story is probably the first manga I ever read, tipped into the pages of Raw Magazine Number Seven ( 1985), the infamous “Torn Again” issue, which also included a small section of alternative manga ( my first encounter with the wondrous strange Shigeru Sugiera). I was impressed by the story, a lush, bittersweet tale of children growing up in rural Japan, but didn’t see enough things like it to place it into context until I read an overview of alternative manga in the very excellent Comics: A Global History, by Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner. I began seeing collections pop up on the lists of fave publishers Picture Box and D&Q. This is the importance of good criticism and book editing; it is a form of curation, and the medium needs that. I recommend those above-mentioned starting points for sorting through the vast befuddling landscape of manga, but I’m sure there are others.

I mention all this because the complete original collection is about to be released for the first time in English in the Fall as part of a series of Tsuge collections by Drawn and Quarterly. I’m not saying that this, too, will shoot up into hundreds of dollars on the secondary market, but it’s clear that the pioneers of alternative manga are starting to finally attract attention. They went a long way to making the medium appropriate for adult reading around the world, and they certainly deserve it.

Manga- Japanese comic books, simply put, are another aspect of how ideas and culture spread themselves to all corners through a simple codex of sheaves of paper.

Categories
Art Students League Ghost

Work In Process

Regular studio work is necessary for any artist. The power of a disciplined schedule has been noted by writers, such as Hemingway; and some artists such as Picasso, seem to never leave the studio. For most of us it’s hard, especially as real wages have nose dived under corporate/conservative economics. One just works harder and longer to pay the basic expenses that the studio time can’t provide for, at least immediately.

So for me, one or two days a week is pretty normal, with two edging into luxury. I work in the print studio at the school where I teach, so for 6 months during the shut down, it was no days. Since the studio has reopened, I’ve been engaged as a monitor, to ensure covid protocols are being met, and in the 6 months since then there’ve been no cases recorded ( which would have necessitated re-closure), so I’ve been making up for lost time with a regular schedule.

Having to commit to a regular schedule actually helps with my own work. I can cover all the bases with a day to test concepts in smaller work, and then a day to expand my idea onto a larger sheet. Also, breaking news- the Summer Art Market will be back this year, but has been pushed back to late August. So I’ve been able to settle into a regular rhythm of working that isn’t as rushed by spring deadlines. I think it’s had a good effect. The ability to build up incrementally, in layers, or even set a monotype aside for a week to mull it over isn’t great for getting a lot of work finished, photographed, and framed in 3 months, but over the course of 6, it can lead to a lot of work in the flat file. That makes for a better show ultimately, as I can afford to pick and choose items for that show. It’s one small benefit of the quarantine.

I’ll pick one piece to illustrate the idea. In picking up the lost thread after shutdown, I had a fairly big stack of unfinished prints from last Spring and before to start with. This one is a ghost from my Fall ’20 return to the studio to complete work Left unfinished for all the various MoPrint 2020 shows I’d been invited to. So the original idea ( ladders, dreamy skyscapes) dates to 2019, although this one came in 2020. When on a deadline I use ghosts as insurance- if a print fails, I can use the other to pursue the idea. When not on a deadline, I use them to push the idea in different directions. By the time I was ready to finish it in January 2021, it had been a year since I worked on the concept, and my train of thought had changed a little.

Here is one of the 2019 works that inspired it. Also a ghost, it was displayed during MoPrint 2020 in the Colorado Print Educators show at Arvada Center before shutdown.

Here is the first impression of Wishful Thinking, inspired by a song on a past Wilco album, about the power of fantasy in love and life. I had been exploring ladders and nightscapes in previous images. The sky is a stenciled field of circles, the ladder is assembled of inked mylar scraps.

Another impression simply developed the ladder and skyscape.

The final state looks like this. I confess to forgetting whether there was an intervening addition to the sky and ladder before I added the organic leafy elements, and the box/nest in lower right. But it’s starting to get busy, and now I’m done. In my opinion, one can put too fine a point on a narrative or verbal concept, and lose some of the mystery. I like the contrast of the box/ nest figure to ground the ascending ladder and counterpoise the teeming sky. It gives a sense of place, which I like to think helps the viewer enter, but leaves the ultimate narrative open.

See it at the Summer Art Market, August 28-29, in the West Washington Park neighborhood , in front of the school!

Categories
Besties Besties Books, Comics, Music Reading List

Besties! I’m Going Off the Rails On a Crazy Train ( of Thought)

It’s been quite a year already, obviously. It hasn’t always seemed appealing to spend time on book blurbs, but the book blurbs must go on. They provide a bit of needed stability in a chaotic world.

End of year means: Besties! My own small contribution to listomania, postponed while the Qnazis blew off steam and the GOP felt comfortable enough to get back to white supremacist apologetics. Besties are limited, by design, to comics, allowing me to avoid the traffic jam with mainstream prose. They are now, officially, a ‘tradition’, meaning I’ve done it a few times, and a couple of them have even come out similar. That sort of intimates that there are parameters: 1. There is a list of stuff that came out this year, or close enough. In this case, Rusty Brown, which I wouldn’t have been able to finish before last year’s end, to squeeze it onto a 10 year list. So it got bumped back. 2. A list of stuff that came out in collections or critical/bibliographical works, to which I’m adding past works I discovered this year. 3. Honorables ( Resties) will include both categories this year. 4. They’re comics, of course. I read a bunch of good prose, but everybody does prose, and those are in the month to month Reading Edge lists, yes, but I style comics as my niche, as they touch on both graphics and literature, thus fitting into the blog’s manifesto ( I fancy). 5. A Clunker, a woulda coulda shoulda been bestie that wasn’t necessarily awful, just disappointing.

As one expects, this is a mainstream (Here, DC), but did include an alt title, What’s a Paintoonist? last year. Besties are of course biased, as I tend to choose alt titles to read or take home from the library anyway. Especially during lockdown, with the library closed, and trips to the mainstream/fan boy store limited, most acquisitions were through my cadre of small press web sites and specialty shops. I try new things, of course, but it’s still mostly all about my tastes and expectations. Nonetheless, mainstream titles such as Hawkeye have made the list each year, and did again this year.

My Reading Edge posts are meant to track a stream of conscious reading program, that expands according to my curiosity and day to day musings. They’re meant to track my train of thought. I can’t be the only one whose train of thought went off the rails this year, whether from virus anxiety, or election anxiety? There was presumably less output from publishers both large and small, and more time to search the nooks and crannies of the internet for obscure stuff. Here it is:

The Angriest Dog In the World, David Lynch, Rotland Press: A rather dunder-headed review in The Comics Journal tried to pass off its lazy thinking on this little gem as an expose of this as a ‘ celebrity vanity project’. A massive critical howler. The print run was 500 @ $10, hardly enough to pay for a nice wicker basket to hold the residual checks from Blue Velvet, and thus, not in the same neighborhood as vanity, coming closer to the zip code assigned to charity, as Rotland Press, the small Detroit publisher that marries the subversive wit of the comics with the craft and social urgency of printmaking, must have thanked their lucky stars to even have David Lynch read their proposal. There was also the suggestion that its static repetitions and arid ironies disqualified it from real consideration as a comic, when it is really, the newspaper comic to end all newspaper comics, as Lynch brilliantly intended. And anyone who doesn’t think Lynch has a sense of humor, hasn’t really understood Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks. There is more humor in the Julie Cruise/sawmill opening credits in Twin Peaks than a pound of Nancy strips, whose minimalist aesthetic Lynch only amplifies in Dog, and which are lionized by critics.

I first saw this comic in Westword alternative weekly in the 80’s and immediately understood that 1. I really didn’t need to even read it regularly to get its subversive humor and elegant message ( which in fact IS its humor and message), and 2. My days of scooping up the Living section in the break room at work and flipping to the comics section were nearly over. I mean, why? Even Mutts is more tribute than triumph.

The Angriest Dog strains at the end of its chain in an industrial wasteland of art history, paralyzed by the formulaic expectation of newspaper comics ( Goodbye, Garfield) and the toxic irony of modern humor ( Hello, Zippy). The only thing it’s missing is the T.J. Eckleburg billboard from Gatsby. To paraphrase and expand the famous line about Bushmiller’s Nancy: It’s easier to read it, than it is to explain to yourself why you shouldn’t bother to read it. And this slender volume is no chore to read, anyway. It really didn’t need to be that large to point out Americans’ crippling fear of conceptual art, or even (see: 2020 election results) critical thinking.

David, Bianca Bagnarelli, McSweeney’s (57): A very quiet and elegant story about the tragedy and ubiquity of missed connections published as a separate comic in McSweeney’s. After McS #13, curated and MC’ed by Chris Ware, I was hoping for a real steady presence of McS in the comics world, but it never really happened. Publishing sibling Believer did curate a steady comics page, though. This belongs to the Adrian Tomine/ Jillian Tamaki school of understated, somewhat autobiographical literary comics that blazed a trail into the bookstore market in the 90’s and which now seems to have taken up residence in the YA explosion. This makes it hard to track, as not all YA comics appeal to, or are marketed to adults, yet not all are exclusively rewarding for young adults (whatever that is- like the term ‘graphic novel’ it seems to describe a sales opportunity, rather than a real demographic). An essay in The Comics of Chris Ware describes the pitfalls of trying to summarize the rapidly exploding renaissance in comics. For one thing, this is a medium that many still equate with the genre of superhero science fiction, and communicating its diversity to those who labor under that stereotype is hard, in a few sentences, at least. This lovely little psychological drama will go a long way toward that end.

Los Angeles Times, anthology: One person who’s put a lot of time and thought into how to present that renaissance is Sammy Harkham, the editor of the estimable, yet still rowdy, Kramer’s Ergot anthology, still the best single publication to find out what’s going on in modern comics. Kramer’s is the opposite of the YA category, in that it’s probably the first place young adult comics readers go when they chafe at being categorized as young adults. KE has its roots in the alt comics and minis and zines of the 80’s and onward, but it knows its comics history and it gets that Gary Panter can be punk/zine icon, yet still be an influential creator today.

Anyhoo, not The L.A. Times. Harkham edits this tabloid supplement, so it’s like a newsprint Kramers with a very representative selection of vets and newbies. It may still be available (for a penny!) from CopaceticComics.com. And it’ll help cure the lengthy itch until the next Kramers comes out.

Rusty Brown, Chris Ware: Though this is only the first part, and most of it was previously published since a while now, its emergent themes of emotional distance, intersection, and personal fantasy, though not resolved here, make this another Ware work to keep an eye on. Its inherent structure is fragmented, so it’s not productive to speculate on how the eventual whole may stack up to his others, such as Jimmy Corrigan and Building Stories. Its narrative schema, such as diagrammatic layouts, exploded time and cinematic pacing, do not always seem as incisive as in previous works, but he’s come up with a more diverse cast of disaffected losers than ever. The implied theme of fantasy as a substitute for love holds real intrigue and is given a more central place than his previous work.

It’s sort of a must read if you want to understand the big picture that is the comics medium right now.

And the Bestiest of the Besties is: Pretty Deadly: The Rat, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios with Jordy Bellaire: Which started in late ’19, but which did not finish till early ’20, thus pushing it onto this year’s list ( I bought it, impatiently, in the traditional ‘floppy’ form, the ‘graphic novel’ compilation should be out by now). As teased in the intro, the Bestiest this year, is indeed, a mainstream book by Image, though Image is of course, the company that changed mainstream comics publishing forever by offering creator owned comics.

This could, back in its first volume, The Shrike, be pinned into a genre or two ( let’s go with Goth Folk Feminist Western), but now mostly inhabits its own mythology. The Rat does touch down in noir mystery and also on the silhouette animation of Lotte Reiniger, and the decadence of 30’s Hollywood infuses it like opium. Here, as in all 3 volumes (The Shrike; The Bear; now, The Rat) we follow members of one family, and they must find meaning in death. Kelly Sue DeConnick, fresh from a consultancy and cameo with Captain Marvel of the MCU offers a strange, complex mythology that encompasses feminist, racial and artistic-folkloric allusion and there are two more volumes to go. It gives up its secrets reticently. If it existed only to offer a venue for Emma Rios’ swirling, shadowy double page spreads, and Jordy Bellaire’s acidic and “acid”-tinged colors it wouldn’t fall much on this list.

It’s a defining principle of this list and really, most of my reading that art doesn’t really exist or succeed until inscrutable concepts have been invoked. Pretty Deadly builds a world where the inscrutable is part of the landscape, as is war, murder, sexual betrayal and art and love. Only DeConnick knows where it’s headed, but comics may be headed there with it.

The Resties: These are my Honorable Mentions, and I’m including older stuff that I have just now gotten to, compilations just published, and critical works in this category as well.

Scratches #1, 2 ,Scratch Books, 2016-18: A European anthology; a natural successor to Raw Magazine, edited by one of its European alums. I had a hard time tracking these down, especially with limited funds for shipping and the cover price of its large trade book format. I finally found #1 through a British seller on Abe Books, and #2 through Canada’s Conundrum Press. And they’re both definitely worthy of the trouble and expense.

They differ from Kramers, the go-to anthology for cutting edge comics in the USA, in that they naturally focus on Euro cartoonists, though not exclusively. In this way, they do resemble Raw Mag more than Kramers, though there is some overlap. Ligne Clair (think Tintin’s successors) is the dominant style here, unsurprisingly. Joost Swarte, editor/publisher was at the vanguard of the clear line revival, which was propelled in this country by his and others’ appearances in Raw. However, we also see plenty of what I’ve called Cartoon Brut, always filtered through a Euro sensibility rather than the Fort Thunder/Paper Rad, style, e.g.: Bret Vanderbroucke, last year’s Bestiest. And Euro comics, like Manga, have their own unique threads to follow, such as Brecht Evens’ watercolor surrealism, a vaguely disquieting transposition of traditional children’s book imagery into sexual suggestion.

I guess we’re due for a #3, but who knows what virusworld has done to their scheduling.

Pig Tales/Cartoon Workshop, Paper Rad, Picture Box, 2007: I found this at the CopaceticComics.com store, always a useful site, see above. Big haired pigs party down in a garish materialistic world, with a flip book of Hanna-Barbera look-a-likes and Chuck Norris. Paper Rad/Paper Radio/ Paper Rodeo were early pioneers of Cartoon Brut, but also multimedia art and performance. They have existed where art and comics merge. So too, Picture Box, a much lamented publisher that closed in 2011, who also put out the gloriously eclectic Ganzfeld Magazine, and strange Manga artifacts (below).

The Last of the Mohicans, Shigeru Sugiera; Cigarette Girl, Masahiko Matsumoto; Red Colored Elegy, Seiichi Hayashi; Picture Box, 2011; Top Shelf, and D&Q, 2013: Strange Manga artifacts from the Garo Magazine era. I’m cheating here; these do not really relate to each other, except for being part of a creative explosion in Manga ca. 1964-79, while the alternatives in Europe and America were barely beginning to stir. It was predictable that when I finally made time for Manga, it would expand exponentially in my personal canon. I continue to obsessively haunt obscure websites for more classic Manga.

Mohicans actually predates Garo, the world’s first alternative comics anthology from 1964 onward. It was published as part of the nansensu (nonsense) style for kids in the 50’s and was re-done for the 70’s Garo-inspired comics boom in Japan. It brings the occupation-era Japanese fascination with America culture to a creative fever with Sugiera’s genius for pastiche. Here the James Fenimore Cooper plot serves as a scaffold for swipes from American westerns and superhero tropes in the big-eye manga style.

Later, The Ganzfeld, in their “Japanada” issue published a Sugiera story that conflated Rasputin’s Russian Revolution legends, faux Japanese folk art figures, and Utrillo village scapes that has to be seen to be believed.

Cigarette Girl tells quotidian tales of 60’s Japanese working class strivers dealing with traditional stricture in romance and love. They are quiet stories told in simple drawings, and would be easy to pass over in the hectic publishing world of pre pandemic comics. But during the lockdown, with DPL closed I was unable to return it, and read it twice, as it grew and grew on me. It captures an atmosphere of self repression accompanying the economic miracle, and prior to the youth quake of ’68, of which Garo would have been part.

Red Colored Elegy had been on my reading list for months until I could find bandwidth for it with the virus, election and Klown Koup raging. Its masterful use of inked textures and white space, along with commercial images and nouveau cinematic pacing make it a landmark in comics, comparable with Krazy Kat and Segar’s Popeye, Superman and Batman, and the Marvel heroes before it; and Raw Magazine, Love and Rockets and the alternatives after it. It aspires to high art, like all the best popular media.

There’s a clunker– there will probably always be a clunker, something not necessarily unreadable-though this year’s comes close- but something that could have been much, much better:

Harleen, Stepan Sejic, DC: Ugh. Sejic’s juicy computer assisted art and clever plot twists redeemed Sunstone, an overlong series plagued with plot churn and a didactic approach to its subject, bondage and S&M sex. In that, an insecure blonde finds romantic joy by channeling her creative energies, and making emotional connection, albeit while tied up in latex outfits. A creative woman making positive change in her life without betraying her fondness for sexual submission, a nice breath of fresh air in the BDSM stereotyping so prevalent in pop culture, which often sees sexual fantasy as inseparable from sickness.

Here, the insecure blonde is back, but we all know how the story ends: Harleen falls under the Joker’s psychotic spell to become the fan boys’ fave manic pixie, Harley Quinn. I can’t really judge it fairly, but only because I couldn’t bear to finish it. I read Volume I, that’ll have to do. Perhaps there is an attempt at a redemptive twist later. Harleen, who suffers a cartoonish amount of slights to her abilities, is somehow placed in charge of the DC Universe’s most dangerous criminal. There is no hint of agency or consent here, only an implicit equation of psychopathology with sexual bliss, which surely must allude to primitive origins of the word hysteria? There must be a less pathetic woman than this somewhere in the DCU to star in a comic? Someone who is able to separate fantasy from professional relationships? Someone who is in charge of both her career and her love life.

I’ll go on record right now: I see nothing wrong about a cartoon with nice tits. A nice fantasy, and fantasy is necessary to a healthy inner life. But this is a cartoon with nice tits masquerading as an empowered woman, which makes a complete mockery of any real world issues that cartoon might touch on, which in this gritty crime tale, are many and complex. Fantasy sometimes can’t negotiate those complexities, which is why it’s fantasy. Let’s not pretend it’s realism. This story’s attempt at psychological nuance is clumsy, to say the least.

Sometimes the most impassioned feminists lack the subtlety and nuance to address the complexities of fantasy life, but I can see why they might see a character like this as a threat to progressive, healthy thinking.

That’s Besties for a 2020 of turmoil. I’m having a blast in the studio lately, and will put up a #WorkinProgress post soon.

Categories
Culture wars Politics

Pop Corn Politics

“I’m walking’ on sunshine, whoa-oh, and it’s starting’ to feel good!”-Katrina and the Waves

It’s been an exhausting 4 years of toxic narcissism and an overwhelming 2 months of realization of how rooted it’s become. After an aggravating day at work, I sat down in front of the tube to catch up on Inaugural hoopla.

It was surprisingly ‘normal’- whatever that is now. The day began as I had my coffee, with tRump muttering something to a few die hards before dinging the taxpayers for one last free plane ride to a golf course. I did see part of the live whip around of pop stars around the nation, and though most of the acts were not to my taste in day to day listening, none were insipid; it was clearly heartfelt. It’s probably good for me to at least get a quick survey of the heartbeat of what we used to call Top 40 music. One veteran arena rocker made the inspired choice of the ultimate feel-good pop anthem, “Here Comes The Sun”. Another sang in front of what Vox called “two billion shit-tons of fireworks”.

Vox pointed out the corniness of the whole thing, but it sure beats the ugly sounds of gun-psychos in the halls of the Capitol. If we are to be a nation of pyromaniacs- it’s in our anthem-let it be in the service of idealistic pop, not jaded conspiracy.

There was blues, country, hip-hop and grunge, all filtered through mainstream pop, a reminder that in America, however successful the radicals are at changing the conversation, most legislative progress gets sifted through the middle.  It was also a nod to the creative spirit, in that dance incorporates forward motion, and singing is breathing itself. I firmly believe that however justified the rhetoric of outrage, only art and community can get us out of this mess.

It was all so hopeful, and many on both sides seemed to get into the act, from McConnell’s good humored jibe at Pelosi, to Kamala Harris, dressed in the semi-official color of the day (battleground purple), tickled pink to be the first person of color to be sworn into her office. No promises on either side, I get that, but a nice opportunity to just EXHALE and re-start the conversation with the platitudes of pop to ease the process. At the roots of American exceptionalism has always been, along with all that gun-totin’ puritan manifest destiny crap, American naïveté. But there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the end of 4 years of unrelenting bile and corruption. 

Somewhat lost was Biden’s choice for a first legislative push (other than COVID), which is apparently immigration. Bold, in that it squarely confronts the ugly truth of racism, xenophobia and America exceptionalism, first thing. It challenges the GOP’s fascists to either double down on their vitriol or get on board with needed change. As one commentator I read noted: bland reassurance is nice for the start, but ultimately, Americans want change. Most politicians hate it, but the skillful ones- Biden is that- know that engineering change requires both boldness and subtlety. Buckle in, America! 

I had expected the safer choice of Infrastructure, which would provide economic relief, as well as a vehicle for elements of a green New Deal, and I’m glad to see the bolder path was taken. I don’t expect it to meet with favor from the extremes of either right or left, but change, in our system, requires the engagement of the middle, so this one has a chance to get the ball rolling, if people get behind it as they seem to indicate in the polls. 

Martin Luther King said that only light can drive out darkness. On a day of filtered sunshine, I’m feeling some filtered joy.