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Uncategorized

Whereas:

Whereas: I’m having a good Summer, drinking coffee and reading in the cool mornings, and when the afternoons get blazing hot, I simply pour a gin and tonic or a white wine and sit under the ceiling fan, reading any number of various diverse books that have piled up, until it cools enough to venture back into the living room and watch TV, and

Whereas: Whether from a pandemic defense mechanism of shopping online for books, or from nice long walks around the city that always seem to end in a bookstore, resulting in any number of various diverse books that have piled up, and

Whereas: I’ve purged number of previous and similarly various and diverse books to make room for the new books, which is necessitated by my limited shelf space, but which I also suspect to be a sort of finicky churn rather than the brilliant, incisive “curation” I flatter myself to be my overarching goal in collecting various diverse titles, and

Whereas: I’m nibbling away at these diverse piles (see what I did there- having implied an amorphous, single pile in previous ‘whereases’, I’ve now sneakily revealed the existence of several piles, the rhetorical diversity of my scene-setting having now expanded from individual titles to various placements around my small apartment, and

Whereas: I don’t mean to imply by this ( the previous ‘whereas:’) that I am awash in teetering piles of books like some sort of doddering, reclusive hoarder. To be clear: the bookses are in their proper places on a shelf or a side table, not encroaching on floor space or seating; I can see the TV, and out the window; I can find my keys. And

Whereas: I think I owe you people [and by ‘people’, I do in fact realize that I’m probably a couple of ‘whereases’ past the point where anyone but me is still reading this] a close parentheses), and

Whereas: I also never really finished the ‘whereas’ a couple of whereases ago, in the fever dream of my parenthetical diversion; and meant to point out that despite spending entire mornings reading many of the various and diverse titles I have not, as of yet finished a single one, a pathetic failure of focus which I document in great detail (oh, good!) here, and

Whereas: I heretofore, forsooth, have probably had enough fun with compound Anglo-Saxonisms for the day and should probably get to the ‘Hereby’ part, a call to action of sorts-really, a call to inaction, when the gin and tonic and the couch are factored in- in which I would like to actually finish a book, I

Hereby: Do declare August to be “The Month of Finishing a Book”, any book, even if it is only:

Bluets, Maggie Nelson: a marvelous little volume of sequential thought events, mini-essays connected by rich allusion and intra-textual poesy, epiphanic nuggets of shame and regret built around a single thematic hue. It’s the kind of book that, in reading it on a very non-July-like cool morning in the shade by the lake, causes one to pause and stare off toward the mist and mountains, lost in pleasant digression that probably has the joggers wondering: what the hell is that doddering fool doing sitting there, staring into space? To which, I reply, to myself: ‘Where are these young fools running to? Or ‘from?’, a dear friend added, one night over the phone.

Bluets is simple enough, and yet rich enough, to merit a second read. But that’s a different Whereas.

Foundation: The History of England From Its Earliest Beginnings To the Tudors, Peter Ackroyd: I’d put it down because I was about to read about the Wars of the Roses for about the 3rd or 4th time, and the fear was, I’d go through all of the English hyper violence for a 4th time, and yet still not be able to summarize the Wars of the Roses. Bingo! But it’s not Ackroyd’s fault. He condenses the narrative nicely enough, and provides lots of cultural perspective, though not enough to explain the constant chopping up of people. I’ll pick up the second volume dealing with the Tudors and the Stuarts next. Not to mention the Puritans- more hyper violence.

That leaves several unfinished books from last month, a task I’ve complicated by… buying more books. There was a stretch of pleasant days in August, and after doing my best to patronize small online booksellers during the pandemic, the idea of getting out and spending in local brick-and-mortars appealed. I found:

Why Comics? From Underground To Everywhere, Hillary Chute: a very engaging and fresh look at the Alt Comics renaissance of the 80s, 90s and Oughties that I found at Kilgore, who have a separate small section for comics criticism and history, which is burgeoning. The question becomes, do these now regular books by big publishing houses just tick a box, or are they original scholarship? This one is.

New Essays On The Crying of Lot 49, Patrick O’Donnell, editor: The last of the early Pynchon novels I haven’t yet re-read, I found this 1990 gem at Westside Books, North Denver’s trippingly abundant shop, on a too high shelf behind a short overstuffed shelf unit, next to a chair piled teeteringly with un-shelved books. Finding stuff is a whole afternoon’s project here, but find it, I did. It has an essay comparing Pynchon with Borges, and was never NOT going home with me.

The Amazing Spider-man, by Lee! and Ditko!: RepubliQans who think nothing of storming the Capitol are undoubtedly clutching the pearls That Penguin Classics now has a Marvel Collection. Overstuffed, but not stuffy, Westside had this new. There are essays, cultural context, and the comics themselves, an odd and utterly compelling blend of Lee’s Liberal hucksterism, and Ditko’s incipient Rand-ian Libertarianism. These pre-date my discovery of what Lee called “The Marvel Revolution”, and are fascinating to me. They are the roots of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there had been nothing like them before.

None of which advances the prospect of actually finishing the other books. But I’ve got all Fall for that, and fulfilled the proclamation, so ‘Theresthat’, withal. Howbeit.

#Reading Edge #Bookstores #Summer Reading

Categories
Art Students League Summer Art Market Uncategorized Workshops

Twigs and Berries: Shady Doings

Parasol to benefit Art Students League of Denver
This parasol, among many others by League affiliated artists, will be for sale at the Summer Art Market 2022, August 27-28.

I’m not doing a booth at the Summer Art Market this year. After about 25 years or more of doing it, I wanted to take a break.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be there. I plan on being there, volunteering and posting on social media. And my artwork will be there too, at least one of them: I offered to paint a parasol/sunshade that will be on sale there to benefit the school programs.

The photo I made in a Square app for shooting things for sale on one of their web store pages. I wish I could make it work for flat art as wall as this 3D object, but I’m working on it, and may have more to share in time for the show.

Other News:

Registration for my first Fall class, Monotype Starter, a beginners class that runs Tuesday evenings in September, opens August 9 here: asld.org. Search under “Instructors ” for Joe Higgins.

I’m working on larger works with my free time not preparing for the show. It goes slowly, but you can always see it by private appointment. Click on “Contact” in the menu bar above.

#sam2022 #asldprintmakers #artclasses

Categories
Uncategorized

Postponed Bliss

There’s a rhythm to this blog thing. Twice a week studio schedule means there will be projects to talk about, but they will naturally involve writing incessantly about me.

Nick Hornby-style book blurbs provide topical diversity, and a never depleting pile of subjects to write about. But there’s a catch: One has to finish the books in the pile. An unanticipated obstacle to finishing lots of books, then firing off witty blurbs about them, leaving aside the always tricky question of where the wit is to come from, is not finishing a lot of them. It’s not indolence, boredom born of crap books. I just like them too much.

My living room pile is as fulsome and alluring and edifying as it’s ever been. From printmaking to Shakespeare to Maggie Nelsen, it’s a cornucopia of choice and aspiration. My bed room pile, typically about indulgence and dreamy flights of fantasy with comics and soccer, history and literary essays, is a bower of unrestrained geekdom. An Emily Dickinson bio floats between both.

Half of them, with pride of place in the theoretically public pile in the LR, are half done. The rest, trapped in my BR torture chamber, are being nibbled to death. My mentor, Nick Hornby from the Believer’s Polysyllabic Spree column, is very decisive about the books he lists in his blurbs: he either loves them, and finishes them and their entertaining blurbs by deadline; or he decides ‘they’re not for me’. I’ve spurned books, yes, but mostly I’m good at choosing ones I’ll like. And don’t finish, fickle, besotted page-flipper. And I can’t write a post about books I haven’t finished, can I?

Books I Haven’t Finished

Part of it is, I have more time. Cool mornings without time clock deadlines, afternoons to browse bookstores and the Gonzalez branch library, or obscure web sites specializing in rarified exegeses. I like to think of them as rare treats, to be savored. So I save them for later, then pick up another intoxicating tome.

Also, I’m a general reader. And publishers and writers have our number now. From breezy, conversational sentences, thick with implication, to perfectly sized chapters or sections timed unerringly to a cup of coffee or glass of wine, it’s like they’ve read ME (are they reading this blog? They’d be the only ones). I can plow grumblingly through something addressed to academics, thinking, it’s good for me, then trundle it back to the library-off you go! But whisper sweet, declarative nothings in a soothing authorial voice, and it’s like you become a part of the furniture.

Why I haven’t Finished Them

Foundation: The History of England From Its Earliest Beginnings To the Tudors, Peter Ackroyd: I’ve been reading English History for years, heaven help me. On the one hand, it’s very seductive, the endless and obscure royal successions, and the incestuous relations with France, both literal and geographical/cultural. And while the genre has long understood that its audience is far larger than academia, the endless detail of ducal ambition and the twists and turns of fortunes in the shires often leads to an unhealthy fascination with the venal schemes of aristocracy, which defeats engaging narration.

Ackroyd keeps it pacy and readable by gliding lightly over the interminable venality of the upper crust, and stopping to dig deep into the lives in the lanes. There is not a lot of documentation about lower class lives, to be fair. But he’s hit on a way to make medieval history engaging- make it at least partly about us working stiffs. And he’s written a series of English histories, divided into eras, so there’s no reason to set this one aside.

Why I Set This One Aside

The English are continually chopping people up. Or sticking hot pokers up one another’s asses. It’s pleasant to take a break from that. Also, I’d finished the Saxons and Plantagenets, and had reached the Wars of the Roses ( Lancasters and Yorks), about which I’ve read extensively, so the time was right to take a break. I am very excited to get Ackroyd’s refreshing perspective on that, so I will be returning, however.

My Wars Are Laid Away In Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson, Alfred Habegger: This poet is emblematic of my struggles with academic writing. A few years back, I drifted into the deep end with a book by Cynthia Griffin Wolf about Dickinson, replete with lots of close reading and oblique psychological interpretation. All (interesting) books address other books, to a certain extent, and it’s natural for an academic to pose innovative theories addressing the complex motivations of artists.

But Dickinson’s obscure life and homespun phrasing, ambiguous syntax and backyard infinities cry out for a commonsense guide for a general reader. I’m hoping this is it. It’s certainly effortless reading, and the amount of detail seems right. Unlike Wolf, the close reading has mostly been reserved for the years she actually wrote the poems, and Habegger has been critical of writers, notably Wolf, who read too much into poems written decades after formative years.

Why I Laid This One Away

I’d reached the very formative Mount Holyoke Academy years of her early adulthood, just prior to the beginning of her writing years, and I want to give it full attention. Some of the books go back to the library, or have just arrived in the door, bright and shiny, and this was always a book meant to brighten the Fall and Winter gloom or the quiet Summer late nights with a soft glow.

This is preciousness, I get that. I shouldn’t be precious in the studio, in conversation, or even in largely ignored blog posts ( especially in largely ignored blogs?). But books- I’mma go ahead and let myself be precious.

Dickinson, Apple TV: Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way at the get go: DO NOT let your children write their class essays based on this layered cocktail of magic realism, indie/hip hop music video, and Buzzfeed lifestyle porn, dressed up in designer calico. Our educational system is not set up to see the humor in this, and they will flunk. But this odd show is surprisingly sensitive to the issues surrounding ED’s most un-hip hop puritanical world, and that, in a way is very appropriate to Dickinson’s legacy. Once resigned to rustic nature writing, then elevated to late Romantic repressed striver, and now subject to all manner of academic fabulations, including Camille Paglia’s anti-academic Amherst’s Madame De Sade. So the boob tube is not the first to use a cypher who stayed in her room and wrote on scraps of paper as dress up doll. Sweet, mousy Emily as feminist, lesbian, dominatrix, and now, woke party girl. Don’t touch that dial!

Why I Touched That Dial

I watch a couple of episodes, then I return to the book. It’s like going back to class after a spring break acid trip. Because who really is to say what belongs in the syllabus? ED, on ‘poetic feet’ of unassigned, syntaxqueer phrasings, dead-legging her way, dashes dashing, through a dime package of academic ‘line packers’ and into the open field. Hoo-Rah! People say poetry is boring.

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom: First, here’s more advice. DO NOT go into blogging if you want to appear smart. As in the famous aphorism, it is a perfect way to ‘remove all doubt’. Harold Bloom is actually one of the more general-reader-friendly academics. This book posits a thesis, indicated clearly in the subtitle and intro, that is provocative and interesting. Then develops it as a chronological survey of all of the Bard’s plays. It seems superficial to read it without going back to at least some of the actual source material, and my plan was to start with some of the plays I’d never actually seen. Taming of the Shrew amazingly being one. I searched Kanopy, and found a BBC version with John Cleese as Petruchio (!)

John Cleese, and British actors, and Shakespeare, and all British people, actually, and the Early Modern English language have thick, impenetrable accents and bizarre phrasings. I decided that flipping on the captioning on my TV would be wise. This was stupid.

Shakespeare is (not was) a master of witty dialog, mise-en-scene pacing and exposition. Early Shakespeare, when he may have been concerned about holding a raucous London audience (and here, possibly beholden to rigid BBC scheduling), is a machine gun spray of thickly accented, Elizabethan lingo. In the theatre, one trusts in the interpretive body dynamics of live actors, and ‘lets the early modern Elizabethan patois wash over you.’ Generally, by the end of the first act, you are doing fine. Here, my main instinct was to duck and cover.

The Bard is far too nimble of verse and quick witted for the BBC’s fat fingered character generator operators to keep up, and now I had two impenetrable Elizabethan scripts to follow, a good 5 seconds out of sync. Was I reading, or watching? Time to drop back and punt.

Why I Punted

Harold Bloom is very readable and his proposition, that Shakespeare invented what it is to be a modern human, is beguiling. But all interesting books address other books, and Bloom himself is clearly at the center of an academic power struggle between those who trust that canonical works traffic in universal truths, and those who insist that they are merely products of the prejudices of their eras, albeit, burnished by time and repeated readings. And Bloom very much does challenge the post structuralists directly at times. One can’t accuse him of not being transparent. It’s really hard to judge these subtleties of language, inflection and theatrical body language necessary to deriving meaning from a play when at the mercy of a character generator.

Traditionally, studying Shakespeare’s language is done by reading the scripts, and I’m sure that’s what Bloom has done. But for the general reader, what fun is that? It is after all, not the original intention. The play’s the thing.

So, possibly a later, more familiar play to begin with. I’ll finish Taming, and re-read the commentary by Bloom on it. But unless you’re someone living on academic grant money, watching Kate, and critiquing her feminist credentials, are two separate tasks.

The Age of Football: Soccer in the 21st Century, David Goldblatt: Goldblatt wrote the definitive history of the game, The Ball Is Round, and this is a sequel of sorts. Readers who have just discovered their passion for Man City or their grandfather’s Italian National Team, should be warned: world football goes back decades before the NFL was even paid attention too, and is of course, the world’s favorite game. Meaning, there are many many stories about football in many different lands, and in both books, Goldblatt tells them all.

“Tell me how you play, and I will tell you who you are”, Eduardo Galeano said. The Uruguayan writer, social activist and fanatico understood the cultural implications in the game’s alternating beauties and uglinesses. Goldblatt follows this plan to the letter. He does not generalize about each separate country’s history in the beautiful game, understanding e.g., that the social divisions that motivate the glories and the corruption of Brazilian football ( black, white) are different than those that animate neighbor Argentina (city, country).

A litany develops: each country gets a railroad and a weekend, and soon after, each country gets football. Then football gets money, and goes industrial (Goldblatt is very good in explaining the anomalies, Australia, Japan and the U.S., and how their resistance is inevitably weakening). Ball is the best 900-page analysis/history of a game from a Marxian, means of production, perspective you’ll ever read. But for the newbie, who just discovered why the ball is deliberately kicked to the opposing team after an injury, it may all be a bit much. Poor newbie.

This book raises the ante another notch, because globalization, natch. There is less on-field lore about big games at the inflection point of social change, and more about the social upheavals (racism) related to football themselves. And of course, as the money in the game explodes, more corruption. It’s more a hard tackle than a thrilling romp down the touchline.

Why I Put It Over The Touchline

As mentioned, the book flirts with a repetitive drone. Goldblatt is careful to examine the subtle differences in each region, and many countries. It’s easier to digest in segments, and besides, I worry that with the World Cup looming, I won’t have something interesting to read about football as the unbearable anticipation builds. I think this is demonstrably foolish. For one thing, it occurs to me that I could simply re-read Galeano, Soccer In Sun and Shadow. But running out of books is one of my few worries these days, so I worry it like crazy.

Collected Fictions, Jorge Luis Borges: The final wonderful book I CAN put down. I wrote about the generative power of Borges’ amazing little fables in a post about recent studio doings, here. But why in hell would I put such a fascinating book down?

Why In Hell I Put Such A Fascinating Book Down

I always put it down. It’s perfect to put down. It’s quite possible its author wrote it to be put down. Each of these 8-10 page little gems get my mind churning with the conceptual, metafictional magic and ultra realism they embody. I ponder it for a few days, then sometimes I wind up in the studio, starting another project. I’ve had it for a couple of years now and I’m only on the 3rd of the nine original volumes it collects. So I keep it by the bed for when I can’t think of a thing to read. Which evidently is not now.

There are several comics-related books I’m also reading, then ignoring, but that’s a separate post.

#books #readingedge #readinglist

Categories
Books, Comics, Music Culture wars Monotypes Politics

Chillin’

Illustration of post on monotypes
A secondary stage of a study for “Library of Babel”, monotype

As the news of the world continues to get worse, the urge to escape, into making art, reading, domestic tasks, grows. I create space for these essential tasks by blocking out politics during election off-years, but now the election is here and it’s hard to engage as the fascist politicians grub for money and votes so they can ride the gravy train. The Supreme Court’s Christian Ayatollahs announced their plan to roll back reproductive rights, and the corrupt thug who started the whole movement remains out of jail and living lavishly from the donations of his ignorant and rage filled sycophants. The slouching beast with the orange fright wig is moving toward Bethlehem. Hearings about the January 6 coup attempt are under way, but it’s clear that the white power faction will continue to sow the big lies even as the truth of corruption is revealed. Action is needed, and I’ve picked up a book (or two).

It can be hard to justify escape into the magic realism of a Borges, the delicate perversities of metaphor and language of a Dickinson, and colorful landscapes of the mind in the studio, but those don’t become suddenly irrelevant simply because the brute realities of greed, racism and willful ignorance are ascendant. As a matter of fact, they complete, and redeem the declarative mottoes of activism: ‘bans off my body’ -in this Information Age. What do these slogans mean? They are of immediate urgency to the bodies directly affected, but to the rest of us, ‘bans off my mind’ is equally relevant.

The activists are correct: a declaration has to be made at some point. Just ‘keeping keeping on’ is admirable, but can seem inadequate when the solid ground of democratic society is slipping from beneath your feet.

“I’ve always envisioned Paradise as a sort of library”, Borges is quoted as saying and the library is often a refuge from the assaults of ignorance. Not always, though; the same fascists who seek to control women’s bodies often target the corpus of great works on the shelves of the local library. Meanwhile the thugs have turned the Supreme Court into a corrupted theocratic hideout, destroying rights rather than protecting them. It’s hard to be an optimist these days, and making or enjoying art that is not sloganeering ( not that there’s anything inherently wrong, or un-creative with that, see: Banksy) often requires optimism.

Borges’ Library of Babel provides the sort of thoughtful magic realism that can act as a tonic to the cynical power mongering happening in the news daily. I’ve adopted it as a theme for new work, and as a metaphor for creative possibility.

In Umberto Eco’s version of the medieval library, apparently lifted almost wholly in homage to the author whose brief, fantastic stories inspired postmodernist giants such as Eco himself and Thomas Pynchon, etc. the library burns to the ground. In Borges’ library, the sublime is shelved side-by-side with gobbledygook. Every combination of letters is there, in infinite proliferation. Just like the internetses!

In my own small ‘library’, Borges is shelved next to my bed with some other small collections of quick reads, such as some Nick Hornby book blurbs from Believer Magazine, some Granta and McSweeney’s short stories, and a collection of C.F.’s zines, etc, to provide bedtime escape from anxiety-producing blue screen realities.

I do donate to important candidates and causes, and have often been active on the streets in various campaigns, but the culture of disinformation promoted by the Republican Party has supplanted actual debate. Their lies are intended to devalue honest, searching political debate in favor of their memes of fear and bigotry. It’s hard to feel your voice counts against these unhearing oligarchs, some of whom pretend to work for democratic causes, while aiding the rich, white zombies of control.

Authentic voices these days can be found in books, art and music, but the oligarchs seek to control the means of production there as well. It seems to me that authentic ideas, no matter how small, and no matter how distant from topical issues, can be very empowering. I try to make as many as I can.

Thus, I trundle off to the studio on a weekly schedule to putter around with my abstractions. I suppose it seems trivial, but independent thinking is exactly what most scares the fear mongers. This year’s studio projects are not intended to fill frames in shows. I use very simple images, such as tables, chairs, trees, trestles, etc. to explore formal solutions, but also to free my anxious mind for new ideas.

Given my escape into reading during quarantine (I’d recently read The Name of the Rose, for example, only coincidentally picking up my bedside Borges to discover the library homage) it was probably inevitable that Borges would leak into my interior scenes, which are all about finding metaphor in generic imagery. Borges’ Fictions, aren’t that complex either- except in their conceptual richness, are intended to add the ‘magic’ to my very schematic ‘realism’.

These are studies on a half sheets of the basic idea, which will be worked on in large format this Summer. I’m taking my time, as there’s no show deadline upcoming. So I’m focusing on the details which are intended to tell the tale in a thematic, rather than a literal sense.

I’m reminding myself to take pictures at various stages and will probably do some video at some point when I have a good idea of where I’m going. In addition to Borges, I’m reading a biography of Emily Dickinson ( My Wars Are Laid Away In Books ). There’s a rather surreal retrofuturist TV series about Dickinson on Apple TV, too. I’m working my way through Harold Bloom on Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human ( with BBC productions of the plays I haven’t seen), David Goldblatt on The Age of Football ( because, World Cup!), and various magazines on Printmaking and Comics.

It’s not political activism, but I do consider it to be active and engaged. It’s a ‘retreat’ in the sense of contemplation and ideas of the human, rather than a retreat from humanism. It’s a refuge, but I’m not a refugee. It’s an activism of the mind, which could go a long way toward inventing some newer, better humans.

Illustration of post
Finished study for “Library of Babel” Monotype, 21×15″ 2022

I’ve noticed that some comics creators like to cite the music they listen while creating their projects. This sounds like great fun. Among others: Dandy Warhols, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia and Be-In; Lush, Gala and Spooky; and Wilco, Sky Blue Sky and Whole Love.

#Monotypes #Resist

Categories
Books, Comics, Music Ideas Reading List

Matters of Style: Small ‘p’ Pop

I don’t often write about art books, which often for me, take the form of technical research, and is thus not as much of an ‘escape’ from the day-to-day grind of what is, after all, a business. The ways in which technique translates to expression are naturally of a major concern, make no mistake, but they’re hard to process, and then write about as general interest topics. I much prefer writing about other people’s graphic solutions, whether as art or comics.

Here’s a nice middle ground: Pressing Matters magazine. It’s a beautifully produced celebration of creative solutions in the graphic arts. Interesting design in magazines is part of what attracted me to alternative comics- Raw magazine sought to highlight the expressive potential of comics by placing them in an attractively formatted magazine, and Pressing Matters does the same for printmakers, by putting them in a coffee table showpiece type of publication. It’s expensive, with shipping placing it in the higher end that international design magazines inhabit, but it understands the appeal of printmaking to artists, designers and collectors.

The magazine is published in England, which has a strong contemporary printmaking scene, but it features artists from around the world as well. It’s diverse and progressive- as in many out of the way areas of the creative economy, women seem to have more access to positions of leadership in printmaking, for example- and it downplays purely technical reportage in favor of a lively and very visual presentation of the final result, the textures, bold color schemes, and spirit of innovative graphic simplicity that forward looking prints communicate. In printmaking, the proof is in the pudding; rarely do pundits and experts extoll it for conceptual leaps, rarely do its practitioners seek to wholly reject the past. It inhabits the gray area between mass communication and stripped down visual syntax. It requires no manifesto, the medium truly is the message.

This is no screed against the loftier aims of painting. Pop art is still, even now, misunderstood because people, even Pop art lovers, almost willfully downplay its conceptual brilliance. Warhol made a complete break from the idea of craft in both printmaking and painting with his deliberate mis-registrations and advertorial iconography. Campbell’s soup cans are camp, not kitsch, and as such, are powerful commentaries on the construction of taste. This must be a huge contributor to the rise of printmaking since abstract expressionist days, and the liberation of printmaking from subsidiary roles as advertising and bourgeois decoration. The prints in Pressing Matters hew most often toward the Mid-Century Modern in style and spirit. Like comics, film posters and Warhol himself, they are a distillation of High Modernism for popular (populist?) tastes, but merely a step from expressionism, or even a Neo-Fauvism, as in zines, mini-comics and punk posters.

The art in Pressing Matters is of a working class, rather than academic, discipline. Pictures of ink-stained wretches are common. There is no Ingres in printmaking. Toulouse-Latrec advertised cabarets; his acolytes, booze and bicycles. Russian Constructivism is a high water mark, and Bauhaus its holy center. Red and black are the colors of revolution, and still hold an honored place in printmaking. The magazine celebrates those colors often, along with the generative void of white space.

There is a transparency of process, rather than transcendent technique, in most images here. It is in modern printmaking’s almost necessary disassembling of illusion and gesture, its ever so slight displacement from craft and perfection, that allows it to seduce the eye, and simultaneously to vaguely disturb assumptions about art, not to mention the means of its production. Pressing Matters zeroes in on this disjunct. Pictures of brayers, talismanic and dripping with candy colors, and presses, the machinery of free expression, often cooperatively owned or shared, symbolize printmakers’ close relationship to the nuts and bolts of creativity and to work. At the same time, making multiples, while it began as a way to make art more accessible, is, as Warhol so succinctly demonstrated, a basic commoditization of it.

Printmakers, art collectors, and fans of popular arts- not to mention magazine design- will see in Pressing Matters a loving and lavish home for one of the humblest of art forms, and the complex histories and aspirations it encompasses.

Illustration of Subject Matter
You can subscribe or order bundles of back issues at pressingmattersmag.com

#pressingmatters #printmaking

Categories
Besties Books, Comics, Music Ideas Reading List

Fast NonFiction

It’s in the nature of comics to feel like light reading. I’m not sure that’s true- I have a Yoshiharu Tsuge book of seminal manga stories that is still waiting for me to settle into a slower routine after MoPrint, as I just don’t feel I can give it the focus it needs. Manga is a bit tricky as the format is backwards, not a natural flow for western eyes, and these early, alt-manga classics are very subtle in construction.

The lightest reading is often non-fiction, especially with an old, familiar subject matter. I put down my medieval histories and picked up a few books on the dark ages in comics themselves: the 70’s and early 80’s, when the Marvel Comics renaissance of Kirby and Lee had slackened, and the alt-comics explosion not yet started. Manga was not widely translated yet.

Undergrounds, widely known, were killed by the Supreme Court’s ‘local standards’ ruling, which led to a crack down on head shops (their distribution network) and raids on bookstores. This is a point made by multiple authors here, notably Roger Sabin. There were stirrings in the mainstream with Heavy Metal bringing Euro-comics to these shores for the first time, and Marvel experimenting with Sci-Fi, and there was Arcade, an attempt to mainstream the UG’s, which failed with the antiquated newsstand network. The direct market (comics shops) was still getting started.

I was embedded in the reddest of states at the time, and non-mainstream comics were literally a distant idea to me. When I got to the city just as the alternative boom was beginning, I caught up quickly. Now the internet makes finding obscure publications easy, but at the time, as disenchantment with mainstream offerings took hold, I figured I’d ‘outgrown’ comics. I was wrong, of course, and eventually became curious about those pre-renaissance years. It’s easy to assume there was a gap, but as always in art, there were things bubbling, half noticed, below the surface.

Adult Comics, An Introduction, by Roger Sabin: I found this, partially unread, 1999 Routledge chestnut on my bookshelf. Sabin is a very insightful writer, with a lot of quirks. One is his desire to elevate the British comics industry’s role in the history of comics history. There was a publishing phenomenon in Victorian England known as ‘comics’, but they were more akin to a humor magazine, with prose features and captioned picture stories. He utilizes this semantic glitch to claim the British invented comics, but I see this as equally chauvinistic as the claim that the Americans did. In the broad perspective, comics seem to have developed along a long continuum from Northern Europe through Britain and then to the US, with each commercializing and advancing the medium (and often, infantilizing it) in greater numbers. The Japanese get ignored in this timeline, I agree, but with few translations available, their rich and somewhat belated innovations had little influence until the 1980’s.

I’d of course ignored the European history narrative that begins the book, in favor of the American half when I first read it. Big mistake. Though the repressed 50’s-60’s were largely irrelevant in Brit comics, the 70’s began a Sci-Fi resurgence that led to the ‘British Invasion’, referring to the appearance of Alan Moore (Watchmen) and numerous others in the American mainstream, which finally killed the Comics Code censorship regime and dragged the Marvel/DC mainstream superhero schtick into more adult territory.

Sabin does detailed research, does not ignore minorities, especially women creators, and provides a vital link between the undergrounds and the coming of the alternatives, a punk fanzine-inspired movement in both Britain and America. He demonstrates clearly how Moore, et al’s desire for creative freedom and creator rights brought them- and those issues- to the US. That, and the concurrent emergence of Raw magazine and others such as Weirdo, were to revolutionize the comics form here.

He is over-reliant on reflexive filler phrases such as ‘It should be noted’. These are empty calories in the literary sense, and annoying as hell. The book is quirky but informative.

Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels, Roger Sabin: Sabin does better with this Phaidon publication from 2004. The larger format, better editing and longer timeline make his case for Brit comics a bit stronger. He puts the undergrounds and punk/alternatives into context with the mainstream, with strong sections on feminist and European (and even Japanese) voices. I’d love to see an update, but he’s put the alternative revolution into an international context here, a valuable statement that I’m sure I’ll go back to often. It sits next to Mazur and Danner’s Comics: A Global History 1968-Present on my shelf, along with Gravett’s Comics Art, as antidotes for the poison of American comics exceptionalism.

Profusely illustrated and intelligently argued, it draws a clear line between the Marvel superhero resurgence, the undergrounds, and the British/Euro revival that led to what he calls “The New Mainstream” and the alt comics renaissance in the US. It does a lot to illuminate the foggy yet significant era of creative and market diversification in the 70’s.

Comix, Dez Skinn: This book drills down deep into the underground comix movement and includes sections on the Brit comics resurgence, and the American alternatives, which it treats as linear outgrowths of the UGs, despite being quite obviously more influenced by the punk/DIY aesthetic of the Thatcher/Reagan years, rather than the hippie movement, as were the undergrounds. But it’s interestingly written and nicely researched, with the glaring exception of the illustrations, which are often shambolic. This is the reason I can’t recommend the book.

It appears to have been self-published, but in any case, no attempt was seemingly made to access publishable images and it’s quite possible that many of them are simply lo-res images skiped from the internet, then blown up to unsustainable size. It’s lazy, unprofessional and distracting. The Phaidon Sabin book is a much better overview if, unlike me, you are interested in just one comprehensive look at the era.

The Book of Weirdo, Jon B. Cooke: Again, this is possibly far more detail on this transitional era than most will want. But Weirdo, 28 issues of underground holdovers, alt-comics future stars and primitive/outsider weirdness, really does do more than any other publication to bridge the gap between the undergrounds and the alternatives now plumping book sales everywhere.

The book is arranged as a quasi-scrapbook of history, interesting sidelights, and then a compendium of contributor memoirs, which forms a fairly compelling, if long-ish oral history of sorts. Robert Crumb founded the magazine, deliberately choosing outsiders and unknowns to go alongside his gorgeous and innovative post-underground autobiography comics and Mad mag style covers. Here, we see just how revered Crumb is among the early alt comics pioneers, his generous and egalitarian nature forming a magazine part incubator, part call-to-action, noted in numerous testimonials. His dark side is not glossed over. The misogynism of Crumb and the undergrounds is mentioned often, especially by female creators. And it was in this periodical that Crumb published the deadpan parody “When the Niggers Take Over America”, which fell decidedly flat among more conscientious artists, and was in fact (illegally) appropriated by Neo-Nazi publications.

Peter Bagge took over editing with #10, moving Weirdo more toward the Punk/zine movement, then Aline Kominsky-Crumb finished up 10 issues later, making an important effort to continue offering a place for female artists, as she had with Twisted Sisters in the 70’s. All three were important threads in what alternative comics were to become: a place for unheard voices.

I’ll add here one of my occasional raw counts of creator gender, from the earliest available (to me) issue by each editor: Crumb, issue #3: 12 male, 1 female; Bagge, #14: 13 m, 2 f; Kominsky-Crumb, #18: 6 m, 5 f. This is regardless of page count, which in the first two might heighten the disparity, and in the last, might tip toward the female. Weirdo‘s ground-level editorial spirit was often compared to Spiegelman and Mouly’s much-lauded and artsier Raw magazine. I’ll include a count for my earliest Raw, #3: 19 m, 3 f. Comics were an area where motivated feminists could make a real difference in pop culture.

So for a confessed comics geek/historian, this is an essential read. There are plenty of illustrations, valuable, as a Weirdo reprint collection does not exist, though copies of the original are pretty moderately priced on the internet. Especially in Kominsky-Crumb’s run, it’s a very important pop culture artifact.

Categories
Monotypes Month of Printmaking

LessPrint

At MoPrint Print Jam at the Denver Art Museum, I got the opportunity to tell the world everything I know about printmaking. Photo is by Denver photographer and photography teacher Tom Finke

Most of my major participation in MoPrint is now complete, and all of the events went pretty well.

Last weekend was the latest, Print Jam at the Denver Art Museum, produced by Month of Printmaking and featuring 14 artists giving demonstrations and drop in workshops, including me. The crowd was very steady all day (11-4), and the organizer, Emily Moyer did a great job.

I helped with the Monotype table featuring 3 artists, 2 of whom had taken their first monotype classes with me. That’s always a source of pride. I fancied that we had some of the largest gatherings at our station, but that may just be team spirit on my part.

There are still openings and ongoing shows featuring my work, as well as many many others, but the events that required planning and organization on my part are now finished, which means I’m now essentially a tourist. What a relief!

The party began early for me Saturday, as I was one of the first artists to complete my demo, and spent the day relaxing and enjoying the other artist demos as well as assisting my own team at the monotype station. I took a ton of photos and some video that I hope to turn into a MoPrint promo that I will donate to MoPrint.org, should they want it. With that project, I hope to again jumpstart production of my own videos for this site, and for my YouTube channel.

But the pace of that will be much more relaxed and leave time to produce some larger monotypes for a new show, whenever that may happen. My class schedule will also be somewhat reduced as I recharge my batteries. I’ll update soon, but the next post here will undoubtedly be about reading projects. Other than that, I’ll see you next weekend on the #studiotour and at #steamrollerprinting in April.

#moprint2022 #asldprintmakers #monotypes #denverart #artstudentsleaguedenver

Categories
Art Students League Etchings and Small Work Month of Printmaking Uncategorized

Warming Up at MoPrint

Yes, it’s fair to say that the Black Ink fundraiser at TRVE Brewing was popular.

Despite the on again, off again winter weather, MoPrint is off to a great start, and people seem to be eager to see it after 2020 was cancelled, mostly, by the pandemic. I’ve seen several shows already, which is more shows than I probably saw all 2021.

ARThropod, Artists on Santa Fe: Carol Till and Jeff Russel take differing approaches to the subject matter, insects ( arthropods also include lobsters and crayfish, etc, I believe, but I saw mostly insects in the exhibit). Carol is a botanical illustrator by trade, who has migrated to printmaking. So hers are naturalistic, though abstract elements such as chine colle and hand colorings have been added. Jeff is more known for patterning and collage, and his prints follow that approach, projecting a more decorative designerly style.

Black Ink, TRVE Brewing: A MoPrint fundraiser, and a crowded one, with lines out the door. That’s what selling editions of linocuts donated by 60 artists for $10 will get you- a madhouse. It’s rare and gratifying to see people line up to buy art, of course, but I didn’t stick around too long as I’m not totally ready for crowds yet, and I had other commitments. I’ve posted a quick snap of the craziness, and I got my share of affordable art, of course. A lot of money was raised to keep #Moprint going. No word on how my own effort sold, but whatever prints are leftover can be bought at the Open Portfolio event at the Botanic Gardens, this Saturday from 1-4 PM.

This Lino cut by Greg Santos will soon be on my wall.

ASLD Print Fair Exhibition: I’m in this show, but will nonetheless extoll its overall strength. ASLD artist such as Kathie Lucas, Mami Yamamoto, Taiko Chandler and Michael Keyes contributed noticeably strong work, among many others. The opening was also crowded and many works have already sold. It’s up through March 27.

I also saw monotypes, ink transfer prints and some very interesting oil resist prints/drawings at Edge, and a great ceramics installation at Pirate. I tried to see the Women in Printmaking show at 40 West, but it was unexpectedly closed, so I’ll try again. I’ll be out there this Friday night for the opening of SurfaceIn/sight, a national printmaking show I juried, and that I’m excited about.

I will also be at the Botanic Gardens Open Portfolio show this Saturday with a portfolio of many (mostly smaller) prints culled from the flat files and past shows. Other upcoming events are described more fully, here.

#moprint22 #printmaking #denverart

Categories
Art Shows Art Students League Etchings and Small Work Monotypes Month of Printmaking

Month of Printmaking 2022

Illustration of artist's monotype process in relation to Month of Printmaking
This monotype is one of several ghosts and variants I created from a trace monotype image I did in 2021. The chair imagery is simple, but lends itself to multiple treatments and suggests to me a state of being in the present, with the asterisk suggesting more info to come, or in other words, change. It’s about presence. Showing at Art Gym imPressed show, March 24-April 17.

It’s been a busy, snowy run-up to #moprint2022. But the pandemic seems to be easing, at least in the vaccinated parts of the state, so we can keep our fingers crossed that this one will go off as planned, unlike 2020.

I committed to a lot of events, which has kept me running, but it’ll be fun if it all comes off. Note: I do not anticipate doing the Summer Art Market this year, to give myself a break, and to re-fill my inventory. So MoPrint may be the best opportunity to see work by me this year. Of course, you can always contact me (above) for a private showing. Here’s as complete a list as I can give right now:

February 26, 4 PM: Opening for Print Educators of Colorado show at Lincoln Center, Ft. Collins. I have 2 pieces in the show and anticipate being there for the opening. The show runs through April 9.

March 4, 5:30-8:30 PM: Opening for ASLD Print Fair Exhibition, Art Students League of Denver, 200 Grant St. I’ll have 1-2 pieces in the show. There are free demos by ASLD faculty and artists upstairs. I will be here most of the night.

March 4, 5-10 PM, Trve Brewing, Broadway and 2nd, Black Ink fundraiser for MoPrint. I will have an edition of 20 lino cuts available at a ridiculously low price of $10 apiece, along with 60 other artists. It all benefits Month of Printmaking. I will be here for part of the night.

March 5, 10-4 PM: ASLD Print Fair Pop Up Portfolio show and free artists demos at ASLD 200 Grant. I will have a portfolio of selected prints available for sale, and I’ll be here all day. Prints are an affordable way to start a collection!

March 11, 5-10 PM, Core New Art Space. A show of many techniques in printmaking, that I juried from a national call for entries. Show runs through March 27. I will be at the opening, at least for the later hours.

March 12, 1-4 PM, MoPrint Open Portfolio, Denver Botanic Gardens, Mitchell Hall. This is also a portfolio show, so no framed work, and mostly small pieces that I can display on a table. I predict prices will be very affordable.

March 19, 11-4 PM. I will be doing a demo this year at the MoPrint Print Jam at the Denver Art Museum, Martin Building Creative Hub. There will be 14 separate demos ( by various artists, in various techniques), and 3 workshops you can participate in. My demo will be at 11 AM.

March 24, 5-8 PM, imPressed, opening for juried sprint show, Art Gym. I will have one medium sized piece in the show, and I plan to attend the opening. Show runs through April 17.

All info is on the MoPrint.org website, along with all of the other Moprint-associated events. I will be seeing as many as I can; hope to see you there!

#moprint2022 #ASLDprintmakers #ASLDprintfair #denverart

Categories
Besties Besties Books, Comics, Music Reading List

Close Your Eyes and Think of Besties

Over their long rich, history, the Besties have established a tradition of… um, being 3 years old and changing in format every time. Of ignoring SEO-building topics such as best-selling novels and important prose non-fiction to concentrate on the best comics. Of not always focussing on the past year’s comics and being mostly about what my limited budget and the public library gets around to offering. Not even counting down, like a proper, click-bait, end-of-year list, and sometimes starting with the Bestiest. I see no reason to change a winning formula.

A little history: I have honestly always tried to start with books published in the last year or two. Mauretania, Comics From a New World, Chris Reynold’s haunting, dystopian 80’s comics in a new collection by Seth won the first; White Cube, by Brett VandeBroucke, a very penetrating and hilarious satire of the fine arts world, the second, and Pretty Deadly: The Rat, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s noir mystery about 30’s Hollywood, last year.

I have been known to count (known) gender representation in anthologies; So I’ll give a rough count here (excluding anthologies), of white males, versus non-white male, in the 4 years I’ve named names: 30 and 33, respectively. I’ve been known to mention rampant American exceptionalism in comics history; so I’ll give an estimate of North Americans v. European/Japanese: 35 and 19. It looks relatively balanced, though of course, not an exact study.

I’ll add some Resties (honorable mentions), which include things I’ve rediscovered or newly discovered, critical writings and surveys. There will be a Bestiest of the Resties: There was none the first year; the second was Dan Mazur’s and Alexander Danner’s Comics: A Global History, 1968-Present, a much needed, non-American exceptionalist survey of comics from leading producers which opened my eyes to Japan as the first to explore comics’ potential for creative self-expression; and none the third year. I’m bringing it back.

The rules, looking suspiciously like no rules, having been murkily defined, the envelope, please:

Besties: This was a tough one this year. I eliminated a few very good ones, including Coin-Op #8, by Peter and Maria Hoey, that is actually from 2019, but I ordered it this year. The winner is also from 2019, and one of the Resties is from 2017, I just forgot to include it last year. I never got to current books by Tillie Walden and others that will undoubtedly be seen next year. I only now ordered a Tsuge collection that will almost certainly skew next year’s list. There should be an investigation:

Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber, 2021: Matt Fraction wrote the 2011 Marvel series being referenced by Disney+’ Hawkeye series. He brought buddy-movie thrills and spills to that, and now takes on the uber absurd Comics Code era DC comics featuring “Superman’s Pal” and a whole bunch of gorillas and aliens and monstrous transformations that Jimmy went through. So maybe you have to have grown up in the era of the 12-centers to appreciate the humor and the in jokes, but it’s a comic book, for gosh sakes, and Fraction, with all his meta narratives, gets that.

Bradley of Him, Conor Willumsen, 2021: I liked the post-apocalyptic hedonism of Antigone better. Willumsen is always edgy, disturbingly so, and the protagonist here is obsessed, like many of our current public figures, politicians, media figures, celebrities. The setting is Las Vegas, capital of narcissistic obsession. The soft, rubbery pencils only add to the tension, which is of course left unresolved at the end.

Monstress Volume 6, Charlotte Liu and Sana Takeda 2021: These types of ongoing series are tough to judge in installments, as I’ve mentioned before. This horror/fantasy tale is not ended yet, and I never did track down Volume 4 with the library closed for shutdown. But rereading Volume 1 did not dissipate its skin-crawling intrigue and its world-building grandeur, all its steam punk glory and dark tangled relationships. This volume was no different, and if it sometimes felt a bit pot boiler-ish, I’m not ready to make that assessment yet. So did Lord of the Rings, and that’s the echelon this tale aspires to, though it is much more violent and racially charged.

Le Grande Odalisque, Jerome’ Mulot and Florent Ruppert 2021: Three luscious, lusty, bisexually hedonistic women decide to steal an Ingres, arousing all the fire power the police can muster; and I’m sure, the scorn of the cultural guardians, both right and left. But reasonable readers will see these as action heroes with brains, wit and verve. And above all, agency- they drive the spectacular action and the loose limbed art allows for a sexy physicality without the static airbrushed obsessiveness of most action comics. This is a caper movie waiting to happen, with a subtext of revenge sex bringing a tinge of melancholy to the almost non-stop thrills. Traditional, Euro-comics genre with a modern twist.

Bestiest:

Press Enter to Continue, Ana Galvan, 2019: In candy colors, faux offset textures and simple, cipher-like drawings, this Spanish artist offers vaguely surreal stories of people who don’t quite trust their own realities. This is precision paranoia, where tigers appear to feed on the workaday masses, and people dive into pools only to run up into the inside of a TV screen. There is no rhyme or reason to these tales, only a feeling of alienation and dread.

Galvan’s style is evolving quickly. An earlier appearance in Now anthology featured a Steven Weismann-influenced short about two adolescent girl ponies lying to each other as one steals the other’s boyfriend. The pony imagery heightens the sense of loss of innocence. There is the realization that it would be nearly impossible to do this sort of story in TV or film. She has a new book out this month. The drawings are emblematic, almost ideographic, and the combination of words, colors and drawings reads like a new language. You can read it in a half hour ( though it demands to be returned to) and it costs less than $20 and is in fact, art. It’s why I like to do these Besties.

Resties:

Everything is Flammable, Gabrielle Bell: 2017. I don’t seem to have included it when I read it, probably in 2019-20, and I haven’t had the occasion to include any of Bell’s work, which is wry, subtly compelling and quietly hilarious autobiographical diary/memoir comics about her own life. The Voyeurs and Truth is Fragmentary cover her earlier years as an introverted but driven comics artist appearing at comics festivals worldwide.

This is her first full length memoir and tells of her off-the-grid mother’s struggles after losing her house to a fire in Northern California’s notorious Humboldt County. It deals with Bell’s strange ‘feral’ childhood and her fraught relationship with her mom, in light of her stepfather’s abusive behavior. All in simple yet very evocative caricature and subdued color. Again, the quality that I think makes almost all of these comics here appeal to me is that their stories can really only be told in pen and ink.

World Map Room, Yuichi Yokoyama, 2013: A quirky, recondite story of three men traveling into and thru a sprawling city to a mysterious appointment. There is a graphic unity in the way the angular black and white buildings, planes and people interact with the copious (Japanese) sound effects as if Onomatopoeia (sounds) were a player in the strange drama. Remember when Lynch parlayed ambient machine sounds into a sort of subtle steampunk horror in Eraserhead? The whole effect is unease, as if violence were imminent. However, the story remains open ended, with other chapters promised in the author’s notes, which I haven’t found. I found this on CopaceticComics.com, my go-to for catching up on the manga translations of the much lamented PictureBox books, now deceased. I became obsessed with their revivals of Garo-era alt-manga pioneers such as Hayashi and Sugiera, so I’ve been exploring modern Japanese alternatives. Japan, which has the largest comics industry in the world, has been easy to ignore because there are so few canonical translations, but that is ending, and we should pay attention.

Art vs Comics, Bart Beaty, 2012: As revealing about modern art as it is about comics. Understanding Liechtenstein’s appropriation of 50’s juvenile comics is not easy for comics fans, who often see a copyist who made millions. Incorporating pop culture innovations into fine arts is not easy for ‘high’ art aficionados, who often willfully ignore, e.g., Crumb’s obvious influence on Phillip Guston’s best work. These are essays without jargon, and without the reverse snobbery of ‘Team Comics’ that examine important visual truths about comics and art in a balanced way. I’ll be reading it again soon.

Trots and Bonnie, Shari Flenniken, 2021: Underground comics epitomized the underlying sexism of the 60’s ‘free love’ movement, but also provided a voice for the second wave feminist rebuttal. Shari Flenniken’s was a forgotten voice among those of Trina Robbins’, Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s, and others’, but no more. Her 70’s National Lampoon series has finally been collected, along with extra material and her comments. Her dark, yet very non puritanical sexual satire satisfies a need for sexual truth to counterbalance the programatic puritanism of both right and left, as evidenced by the fact that they consistently pass the laugh test. She published a new comic ( hilarious!) in a 2020 Rotland Press “Dreadfuls” anthology that was under consideration for this list. We can only hope that means her return to the fray is imminent.

Bestiest of the Resties:

Dal Tokyo, Gary Panter, 2011: I’ve gotten myself on a another Gary Panter jag. This was originally started with my Raw magazine obsession during the punk years, and revived by a purchase of Cola Madnes on the Copacetic site, from their ‘Deals’ section, which I plunder regularly, looking for gems that escaped my attention or budget first time around. Panter filters American pop culture through his own experience, separating signal from noise in dense, punk-inflected images.

Dal Tokyo is a 4 panel comic strip, first serialized in the L.A. Reader in the mid-80’s, then in Japan’s Riddim magazine in the mid-90’s through the oughts. It takes place on Mars, in a colony populated by Japanese and Texan immigrants (‘Dal’), but the original storyline peters out during its second run.

What’s fascinating about Dal Tokyo is the ways it pushes the the then dying strip medium forward at a time when other formats were beginning to emerge to stretch comics’ legs creatively. This was post-underground comics and in the middle of the punk/zine/ DIY wave of the late 70’s early 80’s.

Panter’s ‘ratty line’, an ironic, expressionistic commentary on Herge’s ‘clear line’ and classic strip masters such as Caniff, rather than a repudiation of those things, is emblematic of his punk roots. It sometimes obscures the real innovations he brought, and his relation to classic masters, such as even Winsor McKay, whose fantastic world-building Panter equals in this noir sci-fi. It relates to his harrowing Jimbo Adventures in Paradise (1988, recently re-released by New York Review Books), and the punk slapstick Cola Madnes (early 80’s, unpublished until PictureBox rescued it in 2000).

This Fantagraphics edition is 6 1/4” high, a big improvement over previous collections. But these are not the only innovations that a larger edition is good for. Panter, in Dal Tokyo, has also revived the lost art of page design in comic strips. While 3-4 panel dailies have not featured this in decades, since Milton Caniff, few explore its potential like Panter, who creates kinetic 4-panel vistas on dynamic diagonals with cross-hatched grays vying with blacks and whites.

I doubt it’s an aesthetic reach to ascribe his layered darks and lights to Japanese Edo printmaking, as Panter is a) a printmaker, and b) clearly interested in Japanese culture. At the same time, it’s arguable that this is the last of the great comic strips. Paradise and Madnes were conceived as graphic novels, however segmented and fragmentary they are. Dal Tokyo was always a strip, four panels put out at regular intervals (first weekly, then monthly).

By the second run, Panter had changed his style, working with nibs instead of Rapidograph, and his narrative approach, from sci-fi noir to abstract free association words and pictures. Yet the first two (-ish) years of Dal Tokyo, which is not part of the Jimbo stories, but features Okupant X, a kindred soul, continues Panter’s exploration of the everyman’s search for meaning in a dystopian society.

We who are passionate about the music of the era have often failed to see the fragmented poetry of Panter’s punk comics art, and how it tread a pioneering path between high and low art, as John Carlin so well described in Masters of American Comics. Dal Tokyo’s spotty publishing history shouldn’t obscure its achievement.

Note: I would provide an image here, as it would definitely be fair use, but both Besties are published by Fantagraphics, which has an extremely restrictive excerpt policy.

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