Words and Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ride The Rabbit

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

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

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

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

Here’s what’s going on:

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Resties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bestiest of the Resties:

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

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

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

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

#besties #comics #graphicnovels #Marvel


It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Besties

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Bestiest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week: The Resties.

#comics #bestof2022 #booklists #bestcomics


Stop The Presses

Working in the studio is a nice way to spend time, but it’s still technically WORK, and it requires a break from time to time, especially as it gets darker and colder, and especially after a productive year, and especially as the whole rest of the world celebrates some form of Season of Lights, and most especially, as the whole rest of the world celebrates the greatest sporting event on the planet.

So, it’s time for ‘Holly Twigs and Berries‘, a round up of less than dramatic news from my couch. I’ll point to my 2 month silence as evidence that I’ve been “busy”, a lame excuse for not communicating, I know, and I’m posting one of my latest large monotypes here as circumstantial evidence.

No shows to announce- it really was about enjoying myself in the studio this year, and I did. Shows create a pressure to ‘produce’, and I wanted time, not money, for Xmas this year. A lot of the last month was spent on studies for larger pieces I hope to explore after New Year’s Day, when I really will have to produce, as I’m heading back to #SummerArtMarket in the late Summer.

Similarly, there is a press to frame art for shows, but this year after buying and trading for multiple new prints during MoPrint, and having a pretty good backlog of previous acquisitions, I spent quite a bit of time framing from my personal collection, and rehanging a lot of the walls in my home. This, and other domestic projects I spent time on this year, was a lot of fun! After COVID shutdown for most of two years, and with another frigid winter oncoming, freshening the interior space seemed like a very healthy thing to do.

On the subject of MoPrint 22, when, I can attest, many brilliant artworks were available for easily affordable prices, I need to remind you how shopping local really does constitute a creative act in itself. Your walls will thank you- but let’s not forget our local economy! I can vouch for the fact that money spent on local artisans WILL be returned to the economy very quickly, as their finances can be very fragile in this rapidly gentrifying city.

Illustration for Post
Late Summer, Monotype, 20×26″, 2022. It was begun in 2019, but not completed till this year. It incorporates stencil and chine colle.

I can also tell you that planning for MoPrint 24 has already begun! My role in this will again be localized, in conjunction with the Art Students League of Denver, but the overall committee, of which I used to be a member in the early days, is already combing the state for venues and printmakers. Contact me through this site if you wish to be involved, and need a referral. You can also go to

I’ll post my Winter/Spring Class schedule soon, under “Workshops”, above. I’ve also got two Kids’ Camps scheduled for Summer. I’ve been pretty good about posting links and registration deadlines this year, so return after the New Year for more info. I’ll get it done early, as I can do that from the couch!

As to the greatest sporting event on the planet, a combination of unscheduled mornings and a 2 week illness allowed for a lot of time in front of the TV for games, and it was a glorious way to take one’s coffee and toast. I may post a recap soon for fun.

This time of year is when I like to post a list of my favorite readings of the year, and as every every other major media outlet (you see what I did there- it’s called ‘branding’, people) concentrates on prose fiction and nonfiction, I stick to comics. I’m working on my hotly anticipated Besties as we speak, which to a large degree, constitute a tour of my youth. That’s all I can say right now. Secrecy is imperative with the Besties, to minimize the risk of bribes (Side note: I just put my Xmas tree up, and there is room underneath for gifts. I’ve been assured by my personal banker that there is room in my account for bribes, too).

Strips, Toons, and Bluesies, Dowd and Hignite: This is a book I found on the used shelf at Kilgore Comics and Books on 13th Avenue. It’s kind of a hodgepodge, originally issued in 2004 as a catalog in conjunction with two gallery shows at Washington University in St. Louis, and then re-issued to ride the hype surrounding the Masters of Comics show and catalog later. A coeditor is Todd Hignite, who published the excellent Comic Art Magazine at the time. He was a leader in the flowering of comics criticism at that time, which included Masters of American Comics, and The Comics Journal. This may be sort of a piggyback project.

It’s well worth reading, though it’s a bit over designed, and one of its essays falls short of proving its interesting proposition, that comics and animation are linked in history. Hignite’s contribution, a close reading of Jaime Hernandez’ early “Locas” story arc, feels like a Comic Art article that was left out, nothing wrong with that. There’s an intriguing, but perhaps a bit stretched examination of Tijuana Bibles and Jack T. Chick comics as early manifestations of Underground Comix.

The most ground breaking essay is a survey of African American imagery in comics of the 60’s, as the civil rights movement surged, and the first black superheroes appeared. A very useful timeline of key points in the intersecting histories of comics, graphics and printing closes the book.

While not as hefty or relevant in its content and impact as John Carlin’s Masters, it helps to fill the many gaps in comics scholarship.

Metropolis, Ben Wilson: If I did do a Besties for prose, this would be it, I think; a cultural history of the city from the first, Uruk, through many others, both well known and less so. Paris, London NYC are all here, but each is examined in a specifically significant time of their flowering, in order to examine important issues in the growth of cities as a cultural force.

Other, less written about cities are here too, Lisbon ( colonialism ) Lubeck ( commercialism ) and L.A. ( car city ) are examined for significant developments, as is Warsaw, emblematic of the ‘innovation’ of using annihilation, terror and genocide as techniques in warfare.

Each chapter focusses on one city and examines related developments in other cities as well. This leaves Wilson plenty of space to dwell on not just facts and logistics, but the underlying question of what a city is. And he knocks it out of the park- the writing is pacy and conversational, but the subtext, a philosophical examination of why cities exist, and keep growing, and their essential alliance and agency with civilization itself, builds to a nice climax as we enter Lagos, the last chapter, under the heading “Megacities”.

Lagos, congested and sprawling, does not usually get good press. But Wilson makes the persuasive argument that Lagos, for all its dangers and ecological stressors, is actually doing what cities have always done- innovating, democratizing and adapting. It’s an eye opener, and the book as a whole will make you want to travel, if only in your own city, but yes, even to Lagos.

The book itself, which came out in 2020, is perfect for armchair travelers. Not a travelogue, not an academic study, somewhere in between, like a leisurely but well informed conversation with wine on a snowy day. You may want to save it for when you have time and bandwidth to savor its rich speculations, which encompass not just streets and skyscrapers, but music, beer and wildlife. Which is pretty much how I enjoyed it, though I started it on a trip to another city, in its own adaptive historical transition.

It’s all too easy to diss cities, especially in this puritan country, where density has often been a cue to grasp for more open ( and insular ) spaces. Metropolis is a call to action, to think progressively about why and how we live together.

Books, Comics, Music Monotypes

A Library of Ideas

“Library of Babel”, Monotype, 42×30, 2022. Inspired by a Borges short story.

Library of Babel is a Jorge Luis Borges short fiction that clearly inspired the library in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. It’s a delightful story, and the themes of infinity and mathematical abstraction appealed to me at a time when I was beginning a cycle of work so I put it to the test as subject matter.

I’ve mentioned that I have a process that involves working up ideas from small sketches to larger, ‘finished’ works. Each size level may yield satisfying results, however, so I’ll post a condensed history.

“Library”, Monotype, 12×9″, 2022. Ghost of a larger study

This is a ghost detail from a preliminary print. When I refer to a “study”, it can function as a finished monotype, but it alludes to a larger monotype I have in mind. Thus, there may be several versions, and this is an example.

“Library of Babel” Monotype, 21×15″ 2022. It actually came before the smaller study, as indicated by the first impression of the top inset circle image.

This is a larger monotype from the same “thread”, though it does include the exact source of the top inset circle. So it The threads can often intersect partially in the form of ghost images to which I add new imagery. I don’t religiously document these various stages, so I can’t always describe the order of their making. As you can see, it is a related but slightly different image, which includes my interpretation of the hexagonal imagery in the original story. The leaf imagery relates to the idea of replication, the letter imagery to the book themes in Library, and other abstract imagery such as the dot/branch motif; and the threads, to the rhythms of Borges’ narrative. The colors I’ve flippantly referred to as my “Summer of Love” theme, bright combos of secondaries and primaries.

It led to the one I began the post with. Brighter colors, more letters and hexagons, a larger stack of tables; and the addition of the star/asterisk motif with connecting threads. Asterisks are sometimes referred to as stars, asterisks signify: additional info available. So I felt they fit thematically. The question of when to stop layering additional imagery is always a prickly one; I chose to simplify, partially because of the technical challenges of working so large, and partially because some ideas lend them selves to white space.

The entire sequence taking something like 3-4 months, with possibly 6-7 studio sessions. I’m happy with it, and thus have moved on to other images and themes. And I owe it all to Borges, with his rich imagery, thought provoking themes and the overall wit of his invention. As I’ve noted, Borges is great to pick up sporadically, not just for inspiration, but for the sheer pleasure of his intriguing imagination.

Current info and links about my classes:

#monotypes #wip #borges



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

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: 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


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

Books, Comics, Music Culture wars Monotypes Politics


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