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Reading Edge:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Summer Art Market Update

Classes For Fall Updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been a crazy week for everyone! For me, I had the additional stress of a plumbing emergency. I have a long post planned about what I’ve been doing in the studio, with lots of photos. And I have a best-of post about my favorite comics of the last year, too. But they would just be lost in the general uproar, and I’m too exhausted to polish them up and post them.

However, life goes on, and classes at the Art Students League of Denver will soon be stating up again. So it made sense to try to get things back to normal by updating my Workshops page with all the dates, links and info about my upcoming classes. You can see that by clicking “Workshops” on the menu bar above.

I’m also back to monitoring the print studio on Sundays, and a few other days. If you are already certified to use the room, you can sign up for print room slots for only $15 per day. I’ll be working alongside you, reminding everyone to follow distance and cleaning protocols. But I don’t mind questions while I’m working.

The League has now been re-opened since September without any infections reported or quarantines, which speaks to how mindful the staff and artists are being. And it is nice to see some fellow artists from time to time.

I’ll be back next week with something more substantive. Stay well !

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Solitary Muse

“Fortunately, it turns out I’m very good at social distancing” I quipped on social media at the beginning of the virus shutdown, perhaps still wedded to the idea that May 15 or beginning of June would be plenty of time to beat the pandemic, and ‘get back to normal’. Close to 6 months later, I’m still good at quarantining, but could use a good conversation or two.

I guess we all could use more of that, and less Q-time.

And some studio time would be nice. The school opened September 1st after an extensive review of distancing and cleaning protocols, and my first scheduled class was September 16. However, it did not meet minimum enrollment, and was cancelled. I get it, certainly. People need to protect themselves and be comfortable with their activities.

I, for instance, have no plans to enter a bar this fall, no matter how juicy the burgers or on-field matchups. I’ve had (very) small group picnics in mountain parks, and on the lawn, but my biggest gathering was 7 longtime friends. So be it. A more coordinated response from the federal government would definitely help, so like most, I’m hoping November 3 will bring positive news. Until then, there’s no sense ignoring reality.

Science tells us the negatives: 1. Most of the continued spread happens at bars and other large gathering spots. 2. Slowing the spread below certain levels is the only way to get the economy going again; and ‘get back to normal’. 3. I’m in an ‘at risk’ group, as are many at ASLD, and abundant caution has been my watchword.

I miss the days when I could spend long hours in the studio, working on large monotypes. This one is one of the largest I ever did, 42×72″. Grievers, Monotype, 2005.

The positives, I think we all can agree, of getting out of the house, are what they’ve always been: 1. Seeing a friendly, smiling face (or at least, eyes) lifts the spirit. 2. A feeling of community, of ‘tribal’ creative purpose. 3. For some of us, productivity. I can’t really plan for shows until I can get near a printing studio again. 4. And I know many, like me, are anxious to support vital arts institutions like the League during this catastrophic time.

The school may soon open for open studio artists again, so that’s progress. But the conversations you can have with other artists in a classroom about technique and ideas you just don’t find anywhere else, so I’ll be excited for my first class, whenever it is. I have another ‘live’ class scheduled in mid-October, for more experienced artists. It can be found at: https://reg135.imperisoft.com/asld/ProgramDetail/3139363431/Registration.aspx

Sooner or later, all of this will pass. I’m grateful that I can eek by without a full employment schedule.

If you are considering a return to public life soon, and as I say, I GET why you may not be, here again are the facts regarding the extensive thought the Art Students League of Denver has put in on their reopening: Class size has been reduced, and in the print room, 6 people are the maximum number, 1 to a workspace. 2. Class times staggered and hallway traffic patterns defined to create distance. 3. Cleaning of work spaces and equipment before and after each class built in and mandatory. 4. Masks and sanitizer, of course, and excellent cleaning has always been a professional goal in printmaking.

Contact me if you have questions about any of this. I’m committed to being as safe as possible.

There is a third option: I have an online, hand-rolled monotypes-at-home class happening in November. I did test fly this one in July during the Kids Art Camp, and found it technically smoother and creatively more versatile than I feared. We use Akua water-soluble inks, so your house will not have fumes and your dining room table or craft area will not be permanently stained every time you slip up. like all things, there’s a learning curve, but professional results are possible, and I’ve shown them at several galleries. Registration opens October 8 at ASLD.org.

And to those living outside the Denver area, a bonus- for the first time, you can take one of my classes without traveling. I’m looking forward to that aspect of it!

I will be trying to post more video excerpts of various techniques and processes this fall. One of my home projects has been to catch up on updating my mailing list, so I’ll send an update out soon. And my web store, torpedoed by faulty software before the virus hit, is one of my last remaining projects. Though I’ve been knocked out of my usual routine, I haven’t been moping. I’m optimistic that we will, in fact, ‘Build Back Better’ as the saying goes, and I hope this finds you safe, well and rarin’ to go.

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Corona Update: School’s Back in Fall!

Registration Opens Aug 11 for the first wave of distanced, in-person classes since the shut down.

I updated my Fall workshop schedule with my limited class offerings, and that is here. I’ve gone in, along with other instructors, to finalize the distancing preparations in the print studio this week. It’s certainly spacious, as classes will be smaller. There’s a little about what the League as a whole is doing about this as we prepare for the September 1 re-opening, here. And I attended a Zoom meeting where our Faculty Advisory Committee of various community-minded instructors presented a Zoom/Keynote about how to get started in online classes.

There I learned the nugget that a third of the school’s Fall offerings will be online. I shared my insight that by actually doing an online class my self, I learned quite a bit about the process. It was fun, too.

I think this qualifies as one of the positive opportunities that the virus does present. And it was probably overdue for some of us, certainly me. It’s also a nice channel for my energies right now, as the print studio is still closed, and I’m not making a lot of work. However, I’m also working with staff and faculty with an eye toward a limited open studio re-opening, so hang on, art is coming!

I did, however, get a small series of hand-rolled prints done in association with the online class, so I’ll generate a post about that soon. It goes without saying that one is limited in how much one can do outside the print studio, and without a press, but not as limited as one might first think.

I also have some reading/ binge watching reviews to post, as that’s been my go-to for home entertainment during quarantine. Those will be posted next. I certainly hope to be spending significant time at home this Fall, in caution. I haven’t read a lot lately as things are suddenly opening all at once, and I find myself out a bit more than I’d like. But I intend to make reading a major part of my Autumn.

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The Plague’s the Thing

Illustration for show at CVA
My little Star Wars datebook -2018 vintage, rescued from the freebie pile at work and converted into a portable place for sketching new ideas. It now resides grandly in a vitrine as part of the “In Process” show at Metro State University Center for Visual Art, by virtue of having been the first place to appear for the imagery central to my part of the exhibit. It sort of seems emblematic of the whole MoPrint2020 show cycle for me now.

Strange days have found us

Strange days have tracked us down

They’re going to destroy

Our casual joys

Doors

The [plague’s] the thing; Will it catch the conscience of a ( wanna-be) king? While America waits to see if the corrupt sham of the current presidential administration can survive its bumbling response to the virus, the virus is changing the way we live.

This post was intended for at least a week ago, and of course, things were changing so quickly that it was often outdated hours after I wrote it. My unstated strategy of keeping a lower political profile while exploring the joys of printmaking and the Month of Printmaking, a biennial festival of fine art prints here in Colorado, has come crashing up against the reality of the virus, which as everyone knows, shutdown everything, causing cancelled shows and events just midway through.

My plan for the original post was to discuss the then current In Process show at Metro State University Center for Visual Art as it pertains to my own process in making monotypes. That show is of course cancelled, though I’m grateful that it did, indeed get to open at all, unlike some MoPrint shows. During the opening I took some photos and can certainly patch together some thoughts about the show.. I’ll enjoy doing that with the time freed up by other now cancelled events, and I’ll post it soon.

Before that, some updates:

The Open Portfolio at Redline was cancelled at the last minute.

The Rhythm and Balance show at Niza Knoll Gallery is now effectively closed, with the proprietor in a high risk pool, and other galleries on Santa Fe Dr. suspending operations. You can see some of this work at their website, http://www.nizaknollgallery.com. It was a reasonably successful show for me thus far, with one small sale, and some good crowds, pre-‘social distancing’.

The Arvada Center show “Imprint: Print Educators of Colorado”, conversely, was extended to early May, as the following show was cancelled, but the gallery is now closed, and it seems doubtful it will open again before May.

Access Gallery I have not heard from, assuming it’s closed?

My Library workshops have been cancelled. I’ll try to update my ‘Workshops’ page soon. Shout out to the alliance of grantors, Art Students League and DPL, as they are paying us for previously scheduled dates, thus eliminating some of the financial trauma of this crazy Spring.

The Art Students League of Denver classes themselves are now cancelled, probably through April. Online may be the best way to get more info (ASLD.org), as they are working from home.

Another show, which the #ASLDPrintmakers and I had been working on, to include a Monotype-A-Thon and Pop Up Portfolio show, set for March 28th during the #MoPrint Studio Tour, is of course cancelled and will not be re-scheduled at least till next year. That was fun working with the other ASLD printmakers, and some good things may come out of that in the future.

All of this is unfortunate, of course. But I’m grateful for the opportunity to show in so many great places, and I think the MoPrint Committee did a nice job putting the 4th Month of Printmaking together. I hope everyone is staying healthy and enjoying their self quarantine. I think we’ll get through this eventually.

And on November 3, we have direct control of the health of the nation.

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Books, Comics, Music Culture wars Politics Reading List Uncategorized

Reading List: First World Problems

This is a real grab bag, partly because in the rush to finish up some deadlines this fall my reading was very fragmented. It’s very unjust when life upsets my reading schedule, I just want to be on record with that.

For a brief while, I wasn’t really reading much at all. Some of these are also leftovers from earlier readings this year that I’d never put down impressions for. This is mostly comics, as that’s something that fit my frantic pace of life, but I did return to prose eventually, and there are a couple of those here as well.

Sabrina, Nick Drnaso: a critical fave that I’d alluded to in my Besties list as needing to read. It got nominated for a Booker prize and attracted attention. I read a rather rambling and contrarian review of it in the Longbox Coffin blog, and it sparked my memory. 

It delineates the spirit of our post 9-11, post-truth world (fear, rage, conspiracy and misguided, even corrupt, populism seem to rule our discourse, whether Right or Left). Thus the book is rather bleak, mostly. The art mirrors that social entropy in simplified, almost emotionless cartooning and flat color. Everything looks fluorescent-lit.

Though the book’s not fun to read, it stays with you. I almost put it down, and did avoid it a couple of nights where its creepy atmosphere of fascist media bullying hit far too close to home in Trumplandia. The current conservative trope of infested, dangerous cities, lifted from 60’s conservatism, and dating back to the anti-immigrant politics of the early days of the GOP’s turn toward fascist politics in 1912, are proof of that. It’s hard to see positive human interaction in our venomous, twitter-fied online dialogue, but the book ultimately does offer for one main character, at least, a way out. Fear of change, an armadillo like interiority, are the gateways for the numbing negative populism ranging through our public dialogue. Interpersonal contact is the exit strategy. As always, love is the answer.

I also got Kramer’s Ergot #10 and Now #6 in the mail. They are the two preeminent comics anthologies now, and it’s interesting to compare them. They’re both published by Fantagraphics, a long-time pioneer in alternative comics, but are edited by different people. There is much intersect, but they are not identical.

Now is the latest in a long line of Fanta anthologies, meant to test drive new creators, or promote company stalwarts. The company, led by Gary Groth and the late Kim Thompson, has debuted so many of today’s comics stars that it’s easy to lose count, and foolish to not keep up with their latest discoveries. Now, edited by Eric Reynolds, features international artists and has increasingly showcased very abstract comics. Kramer’s has never been afraid of abstract or expressionist comics and has returned often to its favorites. That’s because Kramer’s, a franchise edited and originated by Sammy Harkham in the 90’s and self-published before being published by the legendary and now deceased Alvin Buenaventura before ultimately landing with FB, has developed a kind of stable.

Both these most recent issues feature Steven Weissman, an artist whose hyper charged ‘kids’ comics FB first published in the 80’s, but who now brings a surreal humor and a real zest for fabulism to many other traditional genres including the western, or the fairytale.

Both also are prime promoters of the Fort Thunder/Paper Rad/ ‘cartoon brut’ schools of comics as exemplified by Marc Bell, Helga Reumann, C.F., and Mat Brinkman, etc. These 20-oughts era movements constitute a revival or continuation of the zine subculture that grew out of punk rock in the 80’s and earlier, the comics subculture of the 50’s and 60’s, especially undergrounds. Some, like Bell, trace their roots ultimately back to the ‘big foot’ style of the turn of the century newspaper comics. Many of those were expressions of marginalized cultures, often Jewish.

So while FB (Now) has always sought out and attracted young innovators looking to get published, Kramer’s may possibly have the deeper roots in self publishing. Either way, or both, one can get a nice overview of cutting edge comics, especially if periodic visits to Spit and a Half.com, John Porcellino’s online mini-comics clearing house, are added in.

These are clearly a world apart from the fan-boy oriented mainstream publishers of superhero fantasy found in the direct market shops; but also the newer, burgeoning young adult genres advocated by libraries and school reading programs. Comics are an expanding medium, and in exploring their relationship to the art, design and literary worlds, these two titles are essential.

Songy of Paradise, Gary Panter: Panter also got his start in the punk rock era, and is best known for a series of LP covers he did for Frank Zappa in the 80’s; and the sets for Pee Wee’s Playhouse on TV. He was a Raw Magazine mainstay. Here he takes on Milton’s Medieval biblical fantasy, Paradise Regained, which I haven’t read. The Temptation of Jesus in the desert is here enacted with Panter’s hillbilly character Songy. It’s a large format comic, and Panter is able to really stretch out, proving that his punk/expressionist style is in no way incompatible with great design and a sense of place, which his post apocalyptic comics have always had. Panter’s thick, unrefined, but very precise and evocative line must have been an inspiration for the cartoon brut comics creators but his dry humor masks a genius for Candide-like satire that sets him apart.

Comics Journal #304: Simon Hanselmann Interview: I was delighted to see this feisty little mag ( also Fantagraphics) available at Tattered Cover for the first time in a while. Gary Groth doing his Gary Groth thing, long form interviews of comics creators, that in the strictest sense usually need an editor, but in the long view, now after roughly 35 years of them, form an irreplaceable study archive of some of the greatest creators of the 20th and 21st Centuries. ” Moving on to your Kindergarten years… ,” I swear I read in a Patsy Simmonds interview once. That gives you an idea of what to expect.

But who else was ever going to do such a complete job of documenting ignored cartoonists and writers, with many of the earliest ones now dead? I really doubt there’s a lot of critical source material on Will Eisner or Harvey Kurtzman, for example. TCJ is comics’ magazine of record.

This is a very timely interview, in that it touches on issues that are hot topics in comics, and indeed in many pop cultures; such as #metoo, transgender issues, and queer identity as pertains to satire and biography in comics. Hanselmann raises some interesting questions in regard to the comics subculture, in which snap judgement and the ‘cancellation’ phenom of say, Twitter are very definitely in force, as in all pop culture. This is a very complex set of questions, as he points out, and may not always be compatible with creative freedom.

I’m also reading a radical feminist survey of Julie Doucet’s work from the 80’s/90’s. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but sometimes creative work- however ground breaking a feminist vision Doucet’s work was- viewed through that prism can suffer from a lack of balance and perspective in understanding what the artist’s vision and motivations actually are. I haven’t finished it, so it’s premature to say more, but I’d like to return to the topic soon.

Paul Gravett’s overview Comics Art, which seeks to touch on but not comprehensively examine, current and historical issues in a refreshing survey of international comics, is his best book. He had real flashes of insight in Escape Magazine, a British publication that featured comics and criticism from both sides of the Atlantic in the 80’s, but his Graphic Novel was too much a coffee table dog and pony show intended for newbies during the first blush of comics’ entry into the mainstream to be of much use to the serious student of the medium.

This one explores issues surrounding comics’ history as a marginalized medium, its use by marginalized populations, and its structural development to examine its nature as a unique art form. There are copious examples and Gravett does not always go to the usual suspects from American or British newspaper and comic book publishing, instead taking the opportunity to introduce lesser known artists worldwide.

While I do not always agree with his choices, he uses them well to explicate his ideas in a compendium of short essays on various topics. I’ll return to it again in a comparative sense, I’m sure.

I wanted to sample the new volume of Pretty Deadly, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, and Jordie Bellaire without having to wait for the ‘graphic novel’ album in March. I’ll still buy that, I’m sure. The only place to get a ‘floppie’ of the first issue is the comic book store, so I did one of my periodic ‘State of the Comic Shop’ visits and spent an hour sifting through the various titles on offer. I have my thoughts on that; it’s also a separate post, that ties into the current transition of alternative/ literary comics from comic shop direct market to the bookstore market. But I did enjoy the first installment of the new arc, which takes place in 30’s Hollywood.

I have hopes that I’ll be bewitched by it as much as the first volume, a sort of goth spaghetti western, that I discuss here. I was a little disappointed by the second, a World War I narrative that did not attain the same heights of fabulist synergy. As you may have guessed, it’s one of the oddest series out there. I discovered it during my first survey of mainstream comics, just after I left my day job and had time on my hands. I don’t have that kind of time to devote to mainstream comics now, but again, I’ll try to work up some impressions before the year is out.

And that brings me to my “Besties”, which when I wrote them for the first time last year I just assumed would be the typical yearly survey. But I’m not the type of reader who tries to keep up with current releases, so I have to get on Amazon or Goodreads or something and try to figure out how many of this year’s releases I’ve actually read. I promised myself I would make note of 2019 reads as I read them, but now the holidays are crowding in and I obviously haven’t done that. Reading Listing is hard! But I’m determined to have my Besties, even if it has to include leftovers from last year, such as Sabrina, or Coyote Doggirl, a sort of feminist “Lonely Are the Brave” in bubblegum colors by Lisa Hanawalt that I finally got to this year.

Civilizations, by Armesto-Diaz: a big survey of world history from the perspective of how civilizations interact with and modify their natural environments. It eschews the traditional ‘progressive’ history of flood plain civs to sea/trade/colonialism to ‘modern’. It advocates against a top-down hierarchy of ‘advanced’ v. ‘primitive’. It’s somewhat provocative and interesting, well written and highly readable. But I dawdled, had to take it back, as it was due. I got just over halfway through it, and was enjoying the lively almost bantering tone, and some pretty fresh thoughts on how to judge social and civic innovation through the centuries.

A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende: from the freebie pile at work ( it’s not been released yet). My bucket list of South American writers continues, and this one has two, really- Allende, and Pablo Neruda, whose social conscience and poetry inform the story of a couple who span two eras of socialist experimentation, from Republican Spain through Allende’s father’s brief, doomed Chilean reign. The omniscient narration and dreamy factuality of S.A. lit is here, though the realism is far from ‘magic’. Highly readable, certainly sad at times, but ultimately hopeful.

I don’t call myself a socialist, but we certainly need a lot more of the democratic kind right now, as the proponents of unregulated capitalism have failed and are becoming more corrupt. This book is thought provoking about leftist agendas, their pitfalls, and the obstacles they face.



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Stories in Art- Music and Movement

Q

Illustration of unintended meanings in article
When I made this large monotype about memory, I didn’t realize that some would associate it with environmental concerns.

The next workshop I’ll teach this fall is Monotype Portfolio. It’s intended to go beyond the basic techniques of one of a kind prints and explore harnessing of acquired skills in service to an artist’s creative vision. Less about how to make a competent print, and more about  making one that tells your story. So here’s some speculation about stories in art:  all art tells a story, whether the artist intends an overt narrative or not.

I reviewed Women of Abstract Expression at DAM in 2016 in terms of its inherent drama- Ab Ex is always about drama, with its reliance on gesture and scale- and in the context of its backstory, of women against a repressive art scene in a sexist society.  

Lee Krasner made obvious use of pinks and browns in this show to declare artistic independence and feminine creative power. “No one was surprised more than I when the breasts appeared,” she says of a pink-dominated piece in the catalog. Pink and brown ( as seen in a couple of pieces in that show), not pink and blue, are the colors of feminine sex. In asserting the dominant colors of the flesh of the vulva and the earth with power, gesture and scale, Krasner must have known she was using color in a transgressive way, to break assumptions and conventions. Pink had already been associated strongly at this time with a demeaning view of femininity, whether in the pink triangles for gays in the Nazi camps, or its prevalence in stereotyped domesticity. She returned later to this combination in “Gaea”. Her generative colors wind up being the story of her will to create art .

 Krasner finds a rich, assertive pink and her browns are straightforward and do not recede. There is tension here, and much to ponder no matter what your superficial reactions to the terms ‘brown’ and ‘pink’. Here, they cannot be separated from her suppressed rage, her earthborn desire to create, her need to assert animal power. Her story, in other words, though through its raw aggressive assertion it becomes ours, too, as recognized by the curator of the show. Colors thus can tell a story in the tension between complements, hues, transparent/opaque, light/dark, warm/cool. Colors are a component of light, of course.

And light has its own story to tell.

As it travels across a pictorial plane, light creates an inherent story. It reveals, hides, blasts and suggests. It’s movement, which creates interest, and even in an abstract picture, one is well served to be aware of the source of the light, as viewers will almost certainly do that, and follow its path, whether unconsciously or not. In pictorial arts, eye movement can certainly be analogous to emotional involvement or interest. It’s an obvious source of drama,   Let there be light. The light at the end of the tunnel.  Every picture is a lighted stage-something is about to happen. It is the white space that makes the advertisement more powerful on a page, separating out noise to let the signal through. Chances are, if you are surrounded by black, you are dead, or asleep and dreaming. Surrounded by white, you are in heaven ( blessed , transcendent), or in a blizzard (lost and near death). Black and white are never neutral.

Composition also tells a story even when not attached to a specific literary narrative. Diagonals are important because they imply movement. Molly Bangs in her innovative Picture This speaks of a diagonal as a tree about to fall, and that’s a form of movement, even an implied danger. But even ‘static’ or stable diagonals in perspective  imply movement into space.  A repeating series of simple vertical shapes, especially strokes, imply rhythm or music, and in this, as in physics, distance= rate x time. Every one of these concepts is somewhat synesthetic; they blend sensory information, which does for the interest level in a picture, what eye movement does. 

Along implied diagonal axes in a picture, other dichotomies come into play as dramatic elements. For example, hard edges versus soft edges: soft =mystery, distance. Hard = surety, obstacle. The eye gives us definition up close, and indistinction far away, so it is a natural thing to see hard edged shapes as closer or more important. In realism, these cues get used pretty straightforwardly. In abstract or expressionistic art, they get jumbled, and become part of a picture’s mystery. This too can be manipulated. Too close, and objects become mysteriously indistinct or vaguely threatening. 

The final story a picture tells is not at all under an artist’s control. Not so much in a gallery setting, but in a street fair show, where artists are spending long hours absorbing the diverse reactions from a large sample of viewers, one is struck by how much a viewer’s interpretation can differ from the one intended by the artist. I actually encourage that with schematic, open ended imagery, but you don’t ultimately control what another tells themselves about a scene. I maintain that this is part of the natural narrative process in art.

When several people interpreted my large monotype, “Man With Torch”, as an environmental statement, I couldn’t really disagree. An indistinct figure wielding elemental power strides across a denuded plain (top).

However, I intended it clearly in my mind when composing it, as a metaphor for memory. One razes the past in memory, even as one marches confidently toward new experience, oblivious of past failure. 

Both interpretations seem valid now. I don’t argue that some interpretations of an image may seem more valid than others; this sort of visual relativism can go too far. But narrative IS organic, and the oldest story is transformation

Thus, no matter how specific the imagery, ambiguity results, and working to make the image more specific often leads to overworking it, which tells its own story, of obsession or neurosis. Visually, this can be a form of stasis, not necessarily a bad thing if balanced against movement or transformation. 

Movement of light across a plane and suggested movement of diagonals comes under the general heading of transformation: all art is transformation of a sort, and anything that shows an artist’s hand, such as transitions from black into white, or blended colors, bring that idea to the fore. Transformation is already in your process, but preconception can sometimes render it awkward or graceless. Transformation IS the story, and it should be built into your process, your composition, and your colors. A recognition of the transformation that inevitably informs a successful piece as it’s being made makes it easier to deal with the fact that the story of a given work of art often doesn’t end when it goes into a frame and onto a gallery wall.  

Register here for Monotype Portfolio, beginning October 13, Or Mad Science Monoprint in November.

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Workshops For Fall

Let’s get printing!

I’ve updated my ‘Workshops’ page to reflect my fall schedule at the Art Students League of Denver. You’ll find info about beginner classes, weekend sampler, and my more intermediate-friendly classes. I don’t have info on DPL Plaza Program workshops yet. Those are still being scheduled, and I’ll update when I have them. There is also a video, and some brief essays on why monotypes might appeal to an artist.

I’m still working slowly on my web store. I’m using freeware and open source software for all of this, including the web site itself, and they’re glitchy as hell, and poorly documented. I know, what do I expect for free? I’m not a programmer, damn it! But I’m slowly working through the issues. There will definitely be some Grand Opening and Holiday specials , so watch this space.

I have plenty of book posts, and another creativity post in the editing queue. So there should be plenty to see here soon. Thanks for dropping by!

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Art and Comics: Not Such a Ligne Claire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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