Holiday Twigs and Berries

Incommunicado, Monotype, 18×30″, 2023. About a certain segment of Americans who have isolated themselves from facts and science, it is, somewhat ironically, hanging in Portugal right now.

2024 is a MoPrint year, thus, I’m very busy right now. There’s a lot of preparation goes into it in the Fall preceding. There are larger shows which require framing; and smaller “market” type shows which need smaller work. During my travels, I didn’t get any studio work done, now I’m trying to add work forMoPrint in Spring, as well as a holiday market I’m trying out in December.

WHAM ( Winter Holiday Art Market ), a new show being held at The Import Mechanics at 235 Broadway.

December 9. I have quite a bit of newer, smaller works for this. The spaces are just 6′, so small work is the focus, although I will have a limited amount of framed work as well. The prices are in the lower range of my Summer Art Market selection, $50-200 or so. There will an evening version on Saturday, which includes food and music ( $20 admission), and a Sunday afternoon version, market only, for $5 entry. Tickets available here.

Open Portfolio, Botanic Gardens, MoPrint 2024

This is a very popular event, held at the Botanic Gardens, that is part of MoPrint 2024 and offers a chance to quickly build your print collection at affordable prices. I bring monotypes and etchings that are unframed or are simply loose, from my flat files. There are often finish quality test proofs that have never been offered, or monotypes that haven’t been offered in years, and are at their original prices (which are lower than today’s). I have a standing 10% discount for two prints, 15% for 3, etc. Admission is free, and there are many artists. This year’s floor space has been expanded, which I think will reduce crowding.

Print Educators of Colorado, Front Range Community College, Moprint 2024

This invitational show highlights teachers of various print techniques at schools around the state. I hope to have multiple works, including my largest recent works. The opening will be February 8th at 4 PM. I’ll be there.

ASLD Print Fair, Upstairs Gallery, Art Students League of Denver

It’s at 200 Grant Street in South Capitol Hill. I will have smaller works and portfolio-type works available, but also a few larger framed works. There will be demos and displays about printmaking, including info about collecting. You can sign up for classes, too.

In addition, I may have work in one or two other shows, I will post news about that when I know.

There are classes coming in Spring, too. The first up is Monotype Blast, a one day sampler, in which the ink is provided, all mixed and ready. You simply print. It’s February 17, a Sunday, 9-4 PM. Registration begins January 2, here:


Re-sort Life

I took a break from studio. It makes me anxious to get back, and there tends to be more in my mind than I really have time to do, so it becomes a sort of settling in process, about sorting out my various experiences and trains of thought. During my travels I saw some things which naturally, have an influence. I mentioned the red and black imagery of Classical Greek and Minoan pottery I saw in Toronto. I also saw a Sol Lewitt sculpture which stuck in my mind, that was in Buffalo.

I haven’t been sketching, which is somewhat irrelevant to monotypes. The hand can only approximate what the press might do to the ink. However, I’ve been sorting, which is somewhat relevant, as my basic instinct when making monotypes is to plan/react, and there are always a surplus of images to react to. I have drawers full of them, in fact.

Sorting is also relevant to museums, which essentially sort works for our consideration. So it’s no surprise that I might consider red figure pottery, or Sol Lewitt as jumping off points.

I took some failed works from my drawers and arranged them on the work bench, overlapping them in order to create new contexts. I’ll probably print some in red and black, to experiment with that color combo, which has been on my mind. These are failed works, which means I never showed them, or I showed them very little or they attracted very little engagement. Thus, they are pretty irrelevant, even to me, who is also pretty irrelevant, at least to the people who sort work for museums.

Box with Object, Monotype, 15×11″, 2023. A series of smaller prints led to a larger version (below), done 2 or 3 months later.

Adrift on this sea of irrelevancy, I’m free to do what I want, which can be pretty liberating. Boxes also relate to sorting, in a way, as they are often the end destination for things we’ve sorted, at least until we must re-sort. I’ve posted two boxes I made this year. I describe some of my ‘iconography’ here, in case it is relevant.

#Monotypes #ArtMuseums #Studionotes


Fall Twigs and Berries

Fall is my happy place. The summer was very busy with shows and classes, so a lighter schedule is welcome. I do most of my longer travels in Fall; this year I spent time in Toronto and Western New York. It’s hard to think of a place where more can be done, in such a small area, and for so little money, as in this area of the Great Lakes.

Toronto has the Royal Ontario Museum, a huge place, and there I saw Roman mosaics and Greek and Minoan black figure pottery. I’ve been considering an exploration of red and black printmaking, iconic modernist graphic colors. So the black figure pottery struck a nerve. I also saw period dioramas of home interiors that resonated when I later went to visit the Susan B. Anthony house in Rochester. Toronto is a very international, user friendly, walkable city. The food is great, and reasonable places to feast on French, Indian, and Asian fusion, as we did.

The prices are noticeably higher than the two smaller cities I visited, but owing to exchange rates, you come out fine.

Rochester is a small city that did take some recent economic hits (Kodak closed), but also has a large University presence to help it through, and it appears to be starting to bounce back. There’s the University of Rochester’s Metropolitan Art Gallery, which I didn’t visit this time, but we did tour their outdoor sculpture garden which featured nice work by Rashid Johnson, Tony Cragg and Tony Smith, among others. I saw a nice artists’ studio complex in a warehouse district a few blocks away. Rochester reminds me of Denver in the 1980’s.

In between the two, Buffalo continues to be an architectural wonderland. The Doors Open Buffalo event featured exceptional examples of Gothic Revival, Nouveau, Prairie, Craftsman, Deco, Gothic Deco and Moderne, all within blocks of each other. Buffalo features an extensive Fredick Law Olmstead park and parkway system, making the two cities pretty much required visits for devotees. Throw in a Beef on Kummelweck, and you’ve got a legendary day.

On another day, I visited the newly reopened Albright Knox Gallery, now known as Buffalo AKG, recently expanded with an addition by OMA/Shohei Shigematsu, and now with more space to show off its spectacular collection of modernist art. This is on the site of the Olmstead Delaware Park, across from Buffalo State, my first University. The list of art history book staples you can see there is prohibitively large, but I’ll restrain myself to mentioning a room full of Kiefers, More Pop and Ab Ex than you can see anywhere outside of MOMA, and my new favorite Nick Cave piece.

Returning to the theme of architecture, we walked across the street to the Richardson Hotel, a refurbished portion of the H.H. Richardson State Asylum complex, a masterwork of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. It contains a small architectural museum and a bar, which we didn’t get to visit as it was closed till 4 PM.

Traveling and reading are aspects of mental drifting that I see as a nice break after a big show. My mind ‘shops’ for new ideas. A lot of my traveling is about relaxing and eating good food and drink- I got on an Old Fashioned kick while away. I’ll be back in studio soon, and I predict that Russian Constructivist red and black, as well as Ernst Barlach’s The Avenger might make their presence felt in new work.

The Fall temperature was congenial, too. The leaves were starting to turn. I tend to hide from Summer. Fall is good reading time. Summer is too busy to focus on big reading projects, graphic novels tend to rule. September came, and suddenly I was reading Tristram Shandy. I’ll be reading it all Fall I’m sure, and will write about it when done. So far, with its digressions and long mazy sentences, it reminds me of an early Modern Pynchon or Barth.

My next class is Monotype Starter, a detailed Beginner/Advanced Beginner class that still has spots available for next week.You get certified to use the print room independently, and we generally enjoy the Fall weather out the tall windows at the (Richardsonian ) ASLD. Click on ‘Contact Me’, if you have questions. Here’s the link for registration.

MoPrint at the League is also on its way, though the date has to be changed owing to a conflict with another League show. There is a holiday show the League is presenting called WHAM ( Winter Holiday Art Market), which sounds interesting, and I’ll be doing it and posting more about that later. I’m also doing the Portfolio Show at Botanic Gardens during March as part of MoPrint ’24, and there is lots of new work in all sizes, so starting your own collection will be very easy this next 6 months.

As I settle in at home with all my new books, I’m sure I’ll be back to graphic novels as well, and I’ll have a post about those

#travel #architecture #art galleries #culturaltourism #buffaloakg


Finish Lines

A very early improvisation on the theme of a box, with a nested figural object, and an ampersand. I was exploring grammatical symbols as visual elements, such as asterisks. This small study seems to have inspired a later full sheet idea. “And”, Monotype, 13×9″, 2023

I somewhat offhandedly posted a picture of me at work on a monotype in the last post. It seems fair to post the final image. I now have a professional shot, as opposed to my rushed iPhone shots taken while moving between phases. They’re bad, and I generally get professional shots of the bigger, more important pieces a couple of times a year, for publicity. But the snaps can be great for tracing the sometimes confusing history of an image, with elements criss-crossing and popping up in multiple iterations.

This is a second layer view of the piece in the studio picture. The relief element (L), and chine colle element (R) in the margins are actually just laid there to explore composition. You can see the final execution in the last image, below.
I began a series of boxes in different colors with different variations of stenciled imagery. I did not try to make specific ideas, but to take a simple idea and drill down with different solutions. This makes them both decorative and a bit edgy. “Box With Object”, Monotype, 15×11″, 2023.

I have been better about documenting the various stages of a given art work, and it’s been a while since I explored the various permutations leading up to, and out of a given idea, so here’s a series of images that explicates that process.

The ‘Box’ series, like my ‘chair’ or ‘place’ series, is meant to explore the possibilities of a given simple image, both visual and metaphorical, in a gradually refined way. It’s typical for me to start off with many small variations, then pare down the options to execute a grand, refined image using some of the same ideas, or indeed, some of the same stenciled imagery.

A blue toned variation in the same size, printed over two sessions at the Art Students League of Denver.

I always explore different textures and effects as I go. Gradually the image seems to take on meaning, to me, at least. The first boxes were visual/textural experiments. Then I gradually moved into almost pure decoration:

But boxes were meant to contain something, so that implies a simple statement, or context. I’m a fan of organic branchings, and this implies outgrowth. I had added an asterisk, a symbol of “further information to come” to a chair image, and these were quickly co-opted to act as placeholders for stars, their alter ego. The spheres are somewhat molecular, but also astronomical, and I often put those lower in the plane to represent earth, but a famous comics artist Jack Kirby, often employed those as crackling, electric energy. A somewhat heart-shaped object in the box calls to mind an obvious reference to Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box”, but the slatted construction also, to me, feels like a rib cage or a coffin. Sneaking all these diverse elements in is a bit of a gamble, trying to create levels and complexity without becoming too busy.

It is rare that a title comes before the image. Usually, the image suggests a title to me. If it’s a simple image, such as a box, then a simple title becomes a working title. I add other details to the image, usually to create a new metaphor, such as a tablet, or ampersand, or ladder, and these accrue new meanings and new expanded titles.

If the various studies and small work-ups seem to have their own metaphoric presence, I put them in some shows. The #SummerArt Market2023, for example, requires a lot of work, so it’s the best place to see the various stepping stones in the process. The various create threads turn into finished lines. You can track them from the small work bin to the larger framed works. There are many other creative threads on display there, as I have a lot of new work. I hope to see you there!

The Art Students League Summer Art Market is August 26-7, 9-5 Saturday and Sunday. I am in Booth #54, between 2nd and 3rd on Grant Street, near the garden. One ticket ($5) gets you into both days, and is available here:

This is the finished piece, “The Juggler”, Monotype, 30×22″, 2023

#SAMprintmakers #ASLDprintmakers #summerartmarket2023 #monotypes

Books, Comics, Music Summer Art Market

Twigs and Berries: Life’s Been Berry Good

I have the luxury of time lately, which is very good for art. A regular studio routine is great for following up on ideas, and midweek days to work on framing, etc, without feeling rushed or stressed by deadlines, makes one feel more professional.

The weather has been vivid. I’m taking more walks, looking at birds, watching the clouds roll in. Of course, I’ve always believed that an appreciation of ‘now’, a certain presence in the moment, is valuable in the studio. It’s wonderful in daily life as well.

Nights have been mostly about reading, and I’ve chided myself for ‘wasting’ my streaming subscriptions by not flipping on the TV and catching up on my odd series, such as Dickinson ( a Hip-Hop-infused mash up of Puritan retro futurist takes on the poet’s life ), and Upstart Crow ( Shakespeare gets the Black Adder treatment). You can see the problem here- my favorite TV shows only remind me of how much there is to read!

I’ve been organizing my studio/workroom to make a more pleasant place to frame art and work on the computer. It’s less like a storage/ creative dumping ground, and there’s more room to work on projects, which can then remain out until the next time I’m ready to work on them. I wound up with a better set up for quick photos, too:

Illustration of blog post
Homestead, Monotype, 2023 15×11″. From my series of boxes, exploring all a box could be.

#MoPrint24 is bubbling into existence as we speak. The main organizers are working on not just next year’s event, which looks better than ever, but serious organizational issues that will strengthen it for years to come. I’m not as involved in that as I used to be.

I am trying to contribute, in my own way, by helping to organize the ASLD Print Fair event at the school. That is also in process already, and will accelerate in Fall, after the 800-pound gorilla that is SAM is fed.

I have several classes going on, mostly for kids. My next adult class starts July 11, and is registering now. It’s called Monotype Portfolio, for people with a bit of printmaking experience and is registering now. Here’s the link:

The demos often reflect what I’m currently working on myself, which is certainly valuable dialog for me, and I hope others craving those kinds of conversation- hard to find- will feel free to join us. If you are curious about MoPrint, or just want to talk about books, there’s plenty of time for that as well.

What I’ve been reading is a wider range of fiction, non-fiction, as always, modern and older comics. I’m thinking of starting a separate, pop culture-oriented blog for my reading and bookstore adventures, and converting this one to all art. I perceive this as more professional, although posting regularly is always a challenge. Also, diverse readings certainly inform my creative explorations, and would certainly continue to pop up here.

Examples of things I’m reading lately: The Sot-Weed Factor, by John Barth, a hilarious picaresque that skewers the essential venality at the heart of Puritan America, and led directly to one of my all time favorite novels, Mason & Dixon, by Pynchon. Jews In American Comics, which explores the ethnic, European roots of this historically repressed medium, which naturally goes a long way toward explaining why the repression. I also finally located an affordable copy of the seminal Kramers Ergot #4, a landmark publication for the Fort Thunder group, as well as other avant grade cartoonists. Until Fall, after the Summer Art Market, I won’t really have time to launch a new blog, so I may go into a bit more depth about these books here later.

On a related note, my dictum that ‘a good walk ends in a used bookstore‘ ( it used to be ‘bar’, of course, and there was a “Bookbar” in my neighborhood, a great idea which failed of incompetent management ), has become a mantra. In that vein, I’m inserting a mini-review here of the recently relocated Fahrenheit’s Books.

The new one, several blocks farther down South Broadway, on Antique Row, is larger and less dingy. It’s still cluttered, which some people like, and why not? -it allows them to display more books, and the selection was superior even before. As an example, I quickly found Jews In American Comics and a William Gaddis novel, A Frolic of His Own, in clean copies for great prices. It goes along with my obsession with obscure comics criticism, and Post Modern Brick fiction ( see: Barth and Pynchon, above ). You can’t find these in most bookstores.

There is a sort of simpatico curatorial consciousness to stores like this, and Kilgore, On 13th. There, I found But Is It Art?, a book I’ve been wanting to read. I don’t read as many art books as I used to, partly because I can find plenty of germane concepts in PMBs, where I don’t feel as derivative. Sot-Weed is one of the early PMBs, and Gaddis also was a pioneer, though Frolic comes much later. A store across the street form Fahrenheit’s specializes in nice clean, collectible copies of mysteries and histories, etc. It’s less about the reading, although, I like clean copies, and I collect some of them. There’s such a thing as not enough clutter!

By comparison, another cluttered store, Westside Books, caps off a lot of walks, as it’s near me, and I like to support neighborhood business. But it’s dusty, poorly laid out, and choked with outdated redundancies, which make browsing a chore. Fahrenheit’s is much more mindful in their selection, and user friendly.

I can’t go there every week, as I would just buy 2 or three books every time. But here’s a shout out to a wonderful place to finish a bus ride/walk.

#Artclasses #Bookstores #ASLDprintmakers

Art Shows Ideas Summer Art Market

A Studio Bestiary

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Words and Pictures

I try to communicate just what it is about comics that has carried my interest across decades, from my years as a thrilled kid and enthralled teen to my dotage as a book blurb blogger. I have never stopped searching for the thrill that only the synthesis of words and pictures can provide, and the search has taken me around the world, metaphorically, anyway.

It’s ironic to me that my personal experience of comics syncs pretty exactly with their heavy handed censorship. The cultural ghettoization of comics as a children’s medium ( some add insult by ignorantly calling it a ‘genre’) is part of a larger prejudice against communicating with pictures. This is an aspect of America’s puritan/fascist underpinnings. A capitalist/anti-art strain in the country’s cultural life has also contributed. Comic books emerged from pulp publishing in the 30’s, and any artistic or auteurist concerns left over from their newspaper strip cousins, only got in the way of raking in profit. Their popularity brought them under suspicion. (Comic) book burnings were a feature of the censorship crusade in the decade I was born, and it has never really disappeared, as the recent upsurge in library censorship, often targeting the popular graphic novels of the burgeoning Young Adult category, shows.

The still all-too-common assertion that getting one’s content from a medium that privileges art as much as words somehow warps literacy is idiotic and offensive to basic intelligence. It’s the inherent power and creativity of the medium that the censors fear. For one thing, it’s a straw man argument, meant to obscure the censors’ attacks on basic intelligence, which in YA reading, often includes learning about homosexuality, transgender issues, and other cultural differences.

For another, it denies kids- and adults their best opportunity to learn visual intelligence, the poetics of seeing, the almost magical synthesis of right and left brain, an act that is a formative exercise for creative genius. Americans, exceptionalists on both the left and the right, have traditionally undervalued the learning of other languages, and the language of cartoon art is as ‘other’ as they come. Chief censor Frederick Wortham of the 50’s comic book hysteria, for example, was actually a liberal psychologist who lent his voice to the preposterous fascist theory that comics lead to juvenile delinquency.

The prejudice has been persistent, not least in progressive academic circles, which is why comics such as Tillie Walden’s exquisite On A Sunbeam, which is often shelved in the YA section and which deals with, among other things, a coming of age lesbian romance, are so vulnerable to the howling mobs that seek to cripple our libraries. There are few to defend this vibrant art form.

On A Sunbeam is in a broader sense, sci fi. Its characters travel the universe, restoring architectural gems on other planets. Comics grew out of genre (pulp) fiction, though comics themselves are obviously a medium, encompassing many genres, such as sci fi, horror, autobiographical, and of course, superheroes. People who ignorantly or sometimes, deliberately, call comics a genre are doing it to demean the medium, which makes it easier to repress. They’ve always feared comics’ popularity with kids and immigrants, and they fear art.

Part of the thrill of comics is the ability to linger over the art -as long as you want; you’re the director- and to decide for yourself the importance of the art, and how it relates to the words. In the case of the often censored On A Sunbeam, the pictures are of exquisitely detailed, exotic architecture, the artistic passions of ancient alien cultures, which mirror the alien passions of the young women protagonists. Here’s my original review. I’m due for a re-read, and I’m sure I’ll have further thoughts then. By the way, Walden gets shelved in the YA section for her obvious affinity with young women, but there is nothing about her books that would disappoint an adult reader. The synthesis of futuristic sci fi genre with universal themes of love and belonging, along with the echos of the past architecture make for a lovely read.

In the meantime, here is a side by side comparison of two action thrillers I recently read. I like reading genre in comics, because it actually frees up time for literary pursuits in prose. Genre is wide open to various interpretations, and it was a more adult treatment of genre that launched alternative comics in Japan and Europe, before the mercenaries who controlled publishing in the United States dreamed of the possibilities.

Olympia, Vives, Ruppert and Mulot: This may be more audacious than Le Grande Odalisque, where these vibrant characters, 3 women who steal art masterpieces, were introduced. This time, Manet is the target. Not ones to panic when things go wrong, the appeal is in how they triumph over their failures, which include excess partying, overconfidence, violent escapes, and a professional killer who is assigned to oversee a spectacular theft, then eliminate them. Not to mention that one is 9 months pregnant.

There is a nice interplay between the casual attitude of the women as they case their targets, and the action of the actual capers, where the sense of danger is visceral. An essential of this type of thriller is a comfort level with violence and death, and these thieves are as cool as it comes, yet loving and concerned for each other. It’s a good formula, and one would expect to see more of these, as they seem cinema-ready.

In comics, the panel and the page layout are the camera eye. The ink work and colors provide the cinematography. In Olympia, it all seems so offhand. Spacious, uncluttered panels, favoring medium distance shots. Loose pen lines, as sensual as a lace dress, and soft aqueous colors. Euro comics have always benefitted from generous formats, from their album length page counts to their airy page sizes ( 9×12″), and this is a beautiful comic.

Its sophistication and wit override its relatively preposterous plot, and like all good thrillers, your identification with its engaging characters makes it impossible to forget.

Black Widow, Thompson, Casagrande, Bellaire: Like many mainstream American comics lately, this is a screen play wannabe, using cinematic tropes to grab the same fans that never miss a Marvel movie. There is, however, the simple fact that a good screenplay is a good screenplay, and this is one of the recent best. It follows in the same spirit as the slightly under the radar Black Widow movie, which mixed physics-defying action and pyrotechnics to make a surprising point about families: they don’t require blood relations to form strong bonds and provide emotional support.

Its author, Kelly Thompson, made a hash of her run on Jessica Jones with an over reliance on super hero tropes. She does the same thing here, and knocks the thing out of the ballpark. Go figure. I won’t try to analyze whether she’s learned her craft, or if Jessica Jones was just the wrong character for her formula.

With all its action thriller trappings, the underlying conflict here is the eye-rollingly hackneyed script of super villains teaming up to exact revenge on a super hero, seen every Wednesday on new comics day at your local geek infested comics shoppe since before Ditko’s Spider-Man. If you don’t ( or refuse to ) like Marvel movies, then you probably won’t like this. The far more subtle and whimsical characterizations of Olympia ( above ) may be your best bet. But this is certainly as punchy and well paced as any movie, and with comics, you get to slow the plot down to your own pace if you feel like lingering.

For someone who has no family, Black Widow sure has been forming them a lot. In the comics, she is an orphan, abducted as a child and trained in deadly arts in Soviet Russia to be a spy/hit girl. This made for an unapproachable character, who struggled to sustain sales in many various titles.

The movie solved this shortcoming by re-writing her back story to create a ‘family’ around her. In this book, she again forms her own family on her own Island of Misfit Superheroes, in the process tapping into other 2nd tier Marvel characters and thus, into some of their strongest recent storylines.

This is nothing new. The MCU has only succeeded so well because Marvel has, in the last decade and indeed, since the beginning, been unerringly on message- every writer, editor and character. This allows them to get max value from second- and third-tier characters, which aren’t so dialed into the overall mythology that they can’t be given to innovative new artists and writers for a bit of retcon. In this process, we get to drill down into the characters, and Marvel, whose first superhero hit, in 1961, was about a near dysfunctional, yet tight knit and indomitable family ( pull out your copies of Fantastic Four #1, and turn to page one ), turns out to be often all about family.

Stan Lee, who has his detractors in the comics sub culture, got his position at the publishing company that would become Marvel Comics from his wife’s cousin. Make of that what you will. But as much as Lee’s bombast and self promotion made him a pop culture demi god, his humanizing influence made for epically memorable characters. Here, it saves the story from the over-the-top superhero tropes that clog most American mainstream comics.

Clean, excellent art, snappy dialog, a fast paced story with killer action scenes does not hurt, of course. The standard, and relatively cramped 7×10″ format is well served by simple, imaginative breakdowns. But let’s talk about the colors, or rather the colorist. I’ve mentioned this before -It’s the Bellaire Rule: If I see a comic book with Jordie Bellaire’s name on the cover, I buy it. Yes, it would be unusual to buy a comic based solely on who does the colors, but Bellaire is the top color artist in comics, and presumably, has the clout to pick up only the projects she really likes to do, and it turns out she has excellent taste in comics. Pretty Deadly, Zero, Hawkeye, are all groundbreaking comics that benefitted from her colors.

Two very different approaches to the comic book thriller: the breathless, soft focus emotional terror of Olympia, and the snarky buddy movie patter and concise jump cuts of Widow. Like all thrillers these days, they are somewhat over the top, but they provide engaging characters and tense action nonetheless. Taken together, a short course in why comics are very definitely in a golden age right now. Comics are not a genre; they are a camera eye into all the things genre can be.


Ride The Rabbit

“Perspective”, Monotype, 30×22″, 2022.

One can’t help but look forward after such a bleak January/February. Winter is a very interior time, given to dream and fantasy, but one must be mindful of the value of solitude in the present moment. I worked steadily in two studios, somehow avoiding most of the weather trauma, which I wished away from the warm comfort of my home. A natural response, I guess, which I leavened with a bit of gratitude for the snowy vistas outside.

The usual ‘resolutions’ apply: there’s been a bit more fiber and exercise; a bit less wine and coffee. A good resolution for any year, new and rabbity, or otherwise, is gratitude. Life, including small-fingered political corruption, gun-fetish fear and rage, creeping physical breakdown, and old fashioned frigid, gray winter lockdown, is good. It’s well to remember that, and going regularly to the studio, even as my so-called career winds down, is a reminder that poetry, however unattainable it may seem sometimes, is magic. And magic is the only thing that can accomplish the alchemy needed to turn darkness into light. Or, to make a long paragraph short: The studio is a good place to wish the winter away. Or to honor its poetic present.

Each day allows for transcendence, should we choose to honor the quest with our presence and our belief. When I walk into the studio, I believe I will become a better poet, at least that day. It helps that I now see studio alchemy as being mostly for my own benefit. The next 12-15 months will have its share of public shows and opportunities, but ultimately the privilege of studio time is its own private reward. I do think it’s worth sharing, but each has their own story, and I think it’s well to listen to the other sounds in the orchestra. And in winter, that sound is often silence.

Here’s what’s going on:

My next class will start in early March, Sunday the 12th, at 1 pm-4. It’s a beginner class called Monotype Starter, and it lasts 4 weeks, with each week introducing a new concept. These include basic ink mixing and printmaking, color mixing, stenciling and resistance techniques.

I’ve updated my Workshops page to reflect all upcoming classes.

As I’ve mentioned, I will be doing the Summer Art Market this year, August 26-27. I’ll have a lot of new work, that was part of the rationale behind skipping a year. I considered doing an additional show in the area, and I haven’t ruled it out, but haven’t decided yet, and I’m certainly enjoying just taking my time in the studio, so I’m not sure.

MoPrint ’24 is coming up next March, and that is sure to feature lots of shows, so having work for that is my current priority.

Speaking of MoPrint, I’ll be working on the committee to organize the 2nd Art Students League Print Fair during that time. That work begins this month, believe it or not. It’s becoming a very popular event, and making sure you are ready to stand out in the crowded landscape is important. The main MoPrint organizing committee started last month, in fact. If you are looking to be involved in one of these projects and don’t know who to contact, there is the website, or you can drop a message here as well, under “Contact”.

Happy Year of the Rabbit! The stories we tell ourselves matter quite a bit, I believe, and the rabbit’s message of calm introspection certainly resonates with me. Above, the chair imagery, for me, is often a story of being present, of being in the moment, accepting it for what it is. The colors, generally NOT associated with calm, are my Summer of Love colors, inspired by a small show of psychedelic Rock posters at the Denver Art Museum. This is an era of hope that quickly turned bitter in the Nixon years (see: Vineland, Thomas Pynchon, 1990), but it was not the colors’ fault.


The Resties

Each year end, to join in the fun of year end book lists, but also to sort of process what I’ve read, I put out a favorites list I call Besties. It’s actually two lists; one features recent or recently discovered books, with a Bestiest as top title; and the second dwells mostly on collections or reprints of past comics or comics critique or history.

You can read my favorite graphic novels and new work here; this is Part 2.

Penguin Classics: The Amazing Spider-Man, Lee and Ditko: Penguin announced that it was adding Marvel Comics (who they now distribute) to their well respected Classics line, and I’m sure the cultural guardians had heart attacks. But they are a first real examination of what made the Marvel revolution so important. This is early work, in the scheming jewel thieves era, before the fate of the universe hinged on every month’s pamphlet.

But the step up from the formulaic and very Freudian hack work of the 50s comics is clear. Peter Parker worries about money and family and romance, yet obviously enjoys the emotional release his adventures bring him. There are essays exploring the genesis of the title, and tensions between creators Stan Lee, a liberal humanist glad hander who breathed life into the characters and their fans, and Steve Ditko, a brooding, Randian Objectivist who liked his good and evil, if not his 4-color comics, in stark black and white. In a pop cultural sense, these precursors to the Marvel Cinematic Universe do qualify as classics. They exemplify a fairly simplistic society’s struggles for the hearts and minds of its children; as well as the creators’ struggle to prove it wasn’t a children’s medium to begin with.

Tom Strong Deluxe Edition 2, Alan Moore: Moore’s very intriguing Oughties attempt to rescue genre comics from infantility and the dustbin of history. Tom Strong is a Doc Savage type, brainy and muscular. He lives in a retro futurist Steam Punk version of our own world, and encounters monsters, Nazis and lost civilizations. So far, so Harlan Ellisonian.

Moore however, never misses a chance to satirize, lampoon or offer homage to well established pulp fiction tropes. This he accomplishes brilliantly with a team of illustrators skilled at mimicking earlier styles such as EC, Funny Animal and western comics and pulps. The plots are clever and intriguing on their own terms, but Moore’s love of meta-fictional context adds extra interest. He’s left comics now, disillusioned but unique in the canon.

Give My Regards to the Atom Smashers, Sean Howe: An early attempt to recruit top writers to define what childhood comics mean, this time read mostly for 60s Marvels, though there are explorations of European clear line, alternatives and classic newspaper strips. These are mostly childhood memories from established writers such as Lethem and Marcus and as such, not critical analysis, but impressions of what comics and storytelling mean. These are clearly the children Stan Lee was targeting when he flipped superheroes on their ears.

Strips, Tunes, and Bluesies, D.B.Dowd, Todd Hignite: Comics criticism comes piecemeal. There is no Harold Bloom to put their long history in perspective ( so far ). If this collection of essays on various topics has the feel of cleaning out the drawers, it may very well be, I didn’t see the exhibits they were companions to.

However, most are very readable and often, very necessary. A speculation on comics’ and animation’s mutual influence is thinly supported but intriguing, another that adds Tijuana Bibles to the historic lineage of underground comics feels incomplete ( why not 50’s fetish comics? ). But a survey of black imagery in comics is groundbreaking ( though it, too, could stand to lengthened). A timeline linking the histories of comics, graphic arts and printing technologies is very welcome.

The Bestiest of the Resties:

Why Comics? Hilary Chute: And why not? Chute explores comics, especially 80’s comics, a marginalized medium, in terms of marginalized people. This is an underreported aspect of comics: they give voice to groups that are often frozen out from more capital-intensive mediums such as TV and Movies, and are a huge part of popular history. As they always have been: early newspaper strips helped translate ethnic humor into mainstream entertainment.

Recently Aline Kaminsky-Crumb died. She was a good example of a feminist auteur who would have never been given opportunity in more mainstream media, but who had a huge creative impact in the ignored medium of comics. Alison Bechdel, who popularized the ‘Bechdel Rule’ about female representation in movies, would never have found a public voice without comics. Chute discusses theirs, and others’ importance in simple, never didactic terms within chapters dedicated to various themes: Sex, Queers, Cities, Superheroes, etc. 

This enables a far-ranging discussion on the potentials of the medium, with getting bogged down in the need to explain comics histories or pay tribute to genres. The book moves smartly, and the illustrations are very cogent. Lee and Kirby, the stars of Penguin Marvel Classics, are mentioned in passing, and creators’ reactions to comic books’ long history of caped demigods, such as Moore’s ground breaking Watchmen, give us a real sense of how far the medium has come since Spider-Man first swung.

Next week, I’ll post an update on my Winter/Spring class offerings, and I’ll later this Spring have news on studio doings and MoPrint ’24.

#besties #comics #graphicnovels #Marvel


It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Besties

Besties, if you’ve been living in a MAGA echo chamber, are my breathlessly anticipated yearly list of best comics. Or, as Marvel called their comics for a brief moment during the Stan Lee fever dream of superhero magic that jump started the Marvel Cinematic Universe many decades ago when bell bottoms were wide, and colors 4-, and garish: “Pop Art Productions”.

The Marvel Bullpen bombast of the previous graph being highly apropos. For me, it was a year when there was allowance money to spend, and time to fill with the end of my part time job, and the relentless persistence of covid. So the early Marvels are a recurring theme. Specifically, the Marvels predating my youthful discovery of Kirby’s Fantastic Four and Romita’s Spider-Man, when I was still quite beguiled by Barks’ Donald Duck and Stanley’s Little Lulu. A testament to my superior taste in four color graphic fiction even then ( we won’t mention the reams of Harvey and Archie dreck I ingested then, or the forgettable Classics Comics my parents brought home for us in the probably unnecessary project of steering us toward ‘real’ books).

Filling in the gaps of comics history was overall, a sort of a theme this year, whether it be the constrained glories of Silver Age mainstream DCs and Marvels newly enshrined by Penguin Classics, the newly published innovations of Garo magazine mangas, or the burgeoning critical literature surrounding comics new and old. I did read several newer creations as well, but as the year ended, I was immersed retrospectively in Europe’s “Clear Line” revival of the 80’s.

All our lives, we’ve been steered away from an entire unique medium ( not a ‘genre’, unless you want to sound like a moron ) by well-intentioned parents or self-appointed moral guardians. What were they afraid of? As if the presence of Benday dots, newsprint, and hack writers imposed by rapacious publishers was proof that the ancient and elemental creative combo of words and pictures were harmful to curious readers. Even when the DCs and Marvels started to leave me wanting more, I somehow found the more ambitious Euros and DIY indies that could satisfy my fascination with comics. And this year, apparently, I needed to know why.

As always, there are two loose categories: newly created, or sometimes, newly discovered productions ( The Besties); and older collections, reprints and critical surveys (The Resties). For ease of reading, I’ve separated the two into two separate posts.


Alone In Space, Tillie Walden: A newly published collection of early work, new to me. Contains End Of Summer, exquisite long story/novella that anticipates her sublime On A Sunbeam, and is beautiful in its own right.

These are subtle hybrids; existential teen dramas and grand space operas where the emotional distances and drifting allegiances of adolescence are stretched across the void. Her ink work is architectural, using empty space, rather than obsessive detail to focus us on important moments in time. This does not mean, however, that there is not richly rendered illustration, often, of architecture.

I wonder how many adults miss her exquisite books because they are routinely shelved in the Young Adult section? Not that the MAGA thugs haven’t worked diligently to keep her in the public eye (Oh no! Lesbians!) Oh- to be a teen again and come across these magical things in the library.

Are You Even Listening? Walden: Down to Earth coming-of-age road story with magical realist elements that perhaps suffers in comparison to her others, but is certainly strong. Included here because it demonstrates the broad range of this important young creator.

Crickets #7, 8, Sammy Harkham: Conclusion to the epic Blood of the Virgin tale of ‘C’ grade movie making in 70’s LA. Without going back and rereading the whole arc in one go yet, I’m not sure I place it higher than his fabulist Poor Sailor arc, but it’s unique and rich in characterization.

Saga V. 10, Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples: Back from a 3-year hiatus and following a dramatic conclusion to V. 9, it was hotly anticipated and possibly that’s a set-up for some transitional hiccups. It’s clear that the narrative driver is shifting from Alanna to her hunted, interracial ( interspecies?) child Hazel, which might occasion some writerly uncertainty or slowing. New elements (Rock and Roll!) are introduced, but some of the complications we’ve visited before (drugs). And episodic comics, with their almost obligatory end-of-chapter reveal, are hard to sustain ( So no, not sex).

But it only begs the question of the emotional impact of V.9’s concluding death (no spoilers) which is glossed over with the story skipping ahead a couple of years. And this detracts a bit from the story’s real treasure: how love trumps war.

Yeah, Saga‘s never gonna not be on the Besties. Staples’ art is still eye-popping and twists and turns are everywhere. With 8 chapters to go, there’s time to regain the propulsive energy of the earlier segments, at least until they start billing it as ‘Pop Art’.

Red Flowers, Yoshiharu Tsuge: In casting about, in the late 70’s and early 80’s for a truly artistic use of this amazing medium after an adolescence of superhero fantasy, I first discovered the title story of this newly published collection of pioneering 60’s manga as a pull out supplement to an early issue of Raw Magazine. It stuck with me, but not enough to include the vast amounts of dystopian Sci-Fi mangas of the 80’s in my limited budget. This is far more down to Earth.

It took the discovery of Garo Magazine’s innovative mangaka of the 60’s, untranslated into English until very recently, to get me hooked. Hayashi, Sugiera, Matsumoto and now finally Tsuge’s pioneering alt comics, influenced by Pop Art, Poetry, French New Wave films and Japanese folklore are now being translated and seeing the light. These quiet, delicate semi autobiographical shorts of sometimes humorous, sometimes troubled characters in the Japanese countryside are lent context by the estimable Ryan Holmberg, scholar of Japanese pop culture.

And the Bestiest:

The Bloody Streets of Paris, Jacques Tardi: I did not see this one coming. I ran across it in the cluttered warrens of Westside books, where one is required to dig for one’s treasures. A 1996 adaptation of a Leo Malet noir, with a twist: it takes place in Vichy France.

I’d read Tardi before, part of the Clear Line revivalists I’d also encountered with other Euro cartoonists in the 80’s Heavy Metal mag ( also, Raw). And Fantagraphics translated another Malet adaptation of his, Fog on Tolbiac Bridge, mid-decade (also worth a read, though seemingly set later, in the 50s). Tardi, with his dense, fluid, eccentric take on Clear Line, the French/Belgian/Dutch revival of Herge’s Tintin style, brought to Malet’s mysteries a real feel for hard boiled genre fiction. He seems to have adapted several, but whether they’ve all been translated is unclear to me.

I haven’t read Malet. He has apparently been translated, but they are hard to find, and very pricy when available ( $289 for a mass market PB!), according to a quick Google search. My noir murder thriller phase passed long ago. I can’t judge his novel from this adaptation, but I can point out that this story is really kind of a set piece, with its grasping, small time bureaucrats and quotidian Vichy corruptions ( oh, and cigarettes! Has anyone written a history of cigarettes in literature?) Like most genre, chance can be relied on to supply narrative motion when logic becomes lazy, and coincidences abound. Almost everyone who appears plays a role in the mystery, and a wildly improbable gathering of all of them in one room feels inevitable. And funny.

This book is rich with obsession and characters who are drunk with it, and its Vichy setting and complex schemes along with its Bogart-like protagonist, Nestor Burma, put it squarely in league with classics such as Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, though it inhabits its own world without a hint of pandering or poseur-ing. The climactic scene, though, is as cliche as any in the noir tradition can be, and is hilarious for that, relieving the heaviness of what Tardi makes the book’s central metaphor: black ink as blood. A metaphor, I might add, that can only be executed in comics.

One follows Nestor Burma around the city streets under grey skies as he follows the black trails of wet pavement beneath a thin dusting of snow. The whites are parsed out like the skimpy nuggets of facts Burma allows us, and the police: pale faces, dustings of morning snow (never pretty, Christmas Eve-style mounds, always thin and contingent with the blacks bleeding through), and in every panel, between sardonic lips and grasping fingers, the cigarettes.

And that brings up the reasons for adapting a tale like this to comics, and what is gained. How Malet might’ve traced those black trails in the Paris streets, or did he at all? The fleshy, corrupt faces, the effervescing matches, the dwindling butt ends. Tardi aspires to the visual alchemy of Huston’s Maltese Falcon, which Crowther of the New York Times called “a blend of mind and muscle—plus a slight touch of pathos”. He has blended the agreeable clear line of Herge’s Tintin, the rich spot blacks of Terry and the Pirates‘ Milton Caniff, and the patient eye of Huston, including a 7-minute single take while Bogie, slowly losing consciousness, talks with Greenstreet, into an intoxicating, spiked drink. This was Huston’s first film. Coincidentally, his last, The Dead, similarly lingers on snow to express the fragility of emotional connection. Tardi is in very good company with his inks and paper.

Film is a visual time art, with Huston it’s poetry in motion, with the director in complete control. Comics are also a time art, also visual, but it is we the reader who control the motion and the poetry. Tardi knows this- his Paris street scenes could be picturesque documentary sketches of a city during a bleak winter of occupation, but the black inky trails invite us to be mindful of the corruption and violence that bleeds through human nature like ink through tissue. The process, the slow graceful creep and melt, the blotchy palimpsest of the Paris street- Tardi understands the interaction of white with black, and in this way, he has made something as poetic as Huston, as it is entirely of its genre, not dependent of any source except our fears and imaginings.

Genre is a word that critics often (and ignorantly) apply as an insult to comics (spoiler: it’s a medium, not a genre). But like many artists from Huston on, Tardi sees genre -and ink on blank paper- as liberating and revealing, rather than confining.

The translators made a clumsy choice of a title, seizing on Tardi’s metaphor as a cover for the grisly crime of disposing of Leo Malet’s original one, 120 Rue de la Gare, an homage to Poe, who is invoked several times in the story. If every positive review must contain a negative, there it is. Everything else is pitch-perfect. The only times the story drags is when the reader deliberately slows to take in the Paris and Lyons street scenes and interiors.

Tardi makes Malet’s Nestor Burma his own, and demonstrates the power of the comics medium as an interpreter of literary art.

Next week: The Resties.

#comics #bestof2022 #booklists #bestcomics