Category Archives: Art

Review: ‘How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias’ by Prentis Rollins

"How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias" by Prentis Rollins

“How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” by Prentis Rollins

I want to share with you a book that really speaks to me as an artist and storyteller. I’d been meaning to write a review of it for quite some time and then it struck me last night as to what to say here. This is one of those books with the goal of art instruction that really gets it! And it is considerably helped along by its niche focus! Are you into science fiction? Would you like to draw work that perfectly fits into that genre? Well, then, here’s the book for you: “How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” by Prentis Rollins, published by Monacelli Press.

This is the ultimate guide for illustrators at all levels on how to fine tune their sci-fi imagery. You get the very best advice from Prentis Rollins, a DC Comics veteran (Rebirth, Supergirl, and Batman: The Ultimate Evil). Given the opportunity, I would love to pick his brain. But, let me tell you, this book is the next best thing as Rollins takes a very accessible and conversational tone throughout his instruction filled to the brim with examples. There are 32 step-by-step case studies in all created and imagined especially for this book.

Whether you are attempting to create a compelling utopia or dystopia, it all comes back to basics. Here is a book that goes through the building blocks all the way to sophisticated techniques to really rock your world. Rollins is certainly not alone in stressing a need to master the fundamentals before veering off to pursue your own thing. In fact, he implores you to not rely too heavily upon emulating the work of others. However, he also emphasizes the very real need to be inspired by others.

For Rollins, he has two main influences: American artist Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Star Trek: The Motion Picture); and the Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger (Alien). As Rollins is quick to point out, these two artists could not be further apart from each other. Mead is logical, clean, and rational. Giger is morbid and nightmarish. You could place one in the utopian camp and the other in the dystopian camp. And that falls well into the theme that Rollins pursues: a close look at science fiction imagery, both utopian and dystopian.

A utopian scene

A utopian scene

Consider these examples, among the many you’ll find in this book. One shows you a scene more in the vein of Syd Mead.

A dystopian scene

A dystopian scene

While the other shows you a scene more in the vein of H.R. Giger. And, yet, both resonate a certain way of doing things that is all Prentis Rollins. And that, my friend, is the whole point of the book. I hope you’ll get a chance to pick up a copy for yourself or for someone you know who would get a kick out of such an impressive art instruction book.

“How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” is a 208-page trade paperback in full color. For more details and how to purchase, visit Monacelli Press right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Batman, DC Comics, DC Entertainment, Illustration, Monacelli Press, Prentis Rollins, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Supergirl, Superman

Short Run 2016: The Big in the Small

Short Run 2016

Short Run 2016

I picked up some fine comics at Seattle’s Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. Short Run is one in a growing number of comic arts festivals in recent years in the spirit of the Small Press Expo (SPX) which was created in 1994 to promote artists and publishers who produce independent comics. The prime objective of SPX, and other comic arts festivals, is its main annual event, a place to showcase artists, writers and publishers primarily of comic art in its various forms to the general public. We are dealing here with a decidedly small demographic but a very important one. Short Run organizers Eroyn Franklin and Kelly Froh have done an admirable job of putting together a comic arts festival that resonates with this niche audience. They have found the big in the small.

Short Run Comix Fest 2016

Short Run Comix Fest 2016

This year’s Short Run at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center saw a steady flow of attendees. You could clearly see an impassioned interest for the hand-made. In spite of our jittery digital world, it seems that a lot of people are attracted to something more basic, something stapled or stitched together that’s printed on paper. And for the actual participants, the various writers, artists, and cartoonists at their tables, the sense of community alone is quite gratifying.

Here are a few nibbles of observations in no particular order. It was nice to stop by and chat with cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. He tells me that he’s thinking about having a new book out in the next year or so. Pat Moriarity has some similar plans. He sees a new book in the future as well as an animated treat down the line. I’ll see about letting folks know about it when it comes out. Pat, by the way, has created some of the most gorgeous prints through the Vera Project press. Noel Franklin has had quite a good year as she has the distinction of having won all three major grants in Seattle. Always good to see Vanessa Davis and Trevor Alixopulos. I had to pick up the new edition of Spaniel Rage, which won’t officially be out until February, from Drawn & Quarterly! Megan Kelso recently created a special collaboration with her 10-year-old daughter, Virginia, which is a lot of fun. While Short Run fell right on Halloween last year, this year it fell within the specter of the most crazed presidential election ever. I asked cartoonist and humorist extraordinaire Greg Stump for his thoughts. He said it felt like a perpetual loop where we never reach the actual day of the election as in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Betty Turbo's Portrait Machine!

Betty Turbo’s Portrait Machine!

And, by the way, if you did go to Short Run, did you get your face drawn at Betty Turbo’s Portrait Machine? Looks like a hoot. Visit Betty Turbo right here.

Short Run promo by Vanessa Davis

Short Run promo by Vanessa Davis

We’ll take a closer look at some of the comics I picked up this Saturday in the next few days. Some have a direct connection to Short Run and some don’t. In the end, it’s all about comics with that special touch. Call them comix, or call them alt-comics. They may appear at this or that comic arts fest or only online or even in an actual comic book shop. Whatever route you need to take, seek them out. And, if you’re in Seattle, be sure to visit Short Run right here.

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Filed under Art, Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Comix, DIY, mini-comics, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, Small Press Expo, SPX

Portland Focus: Portland Art Museum

South Park Block: Theodore Roosevelt guards the Portland Art Museum

South Park Block: Theodore Roosevelt guards the Portland Art Museum

One of my favorite strolls is walking down the South Park Blocks in downtown Portland and then making it over to the Portland Art Museum. I was recently in Portland and enjoyed such an outing. This was just prior to the new Andy Warhol show. So, I need to make another trip from Seattle in the near future. That said, I had a wonderful time spending most of my time taking in the permanent collections. Just for fun, here are some observations.

PAM 2016: Cymatic Modular Triangle

I was in a contemplative mood. I found myself focusing on the various juxtapositions of art I came across. There were so many pleasing combinations on view that I could not help documenting some of the most striking ones. So much to see and process. This is just a quick sampling. I also include one of the temporary exhibits that intrigued me, “Sound Beyond the Auditory,” on view until the first of the new year. I’ll say a few words and you can go to the video that showcases a really cool pulsating triangle. This exhibit is made up of experiments in cymatics, the process of making sound visible and tactile. People enjoyed each work on view and were compelled to linger over the Cymatic Modular Triangle. They would stomp, tap, click, whatever sound they could think of, to influence the colorful patterns it responded with. This exhibition was developed in partnership with CymaSpace. For more information on their programs or how to volunteer visit cymaspace.org.

Bourdelle and Monet

Bourdelle and Monet

Getting back to my study in coupling of art works. In no specific order: we begin with Bourdelle and Monet. The massive yet pensive bust, “Head of a Figure Called Eloquence,” 1917, by Emilie-Antoine Bourdelle, takes in the scene and is a perfect counterbalance to a water lily painting by Monet.

Caro and Oldenberg

Caro and Oldenberg

Anthony Caro’s quirky “Table Piece XXX,” 1967, fits right in with what looks like a study for a large scale Oldenberg, “Profile Airflow,” 1969.

Rauchenberg and Stella

Rauchenberg and Stella

Rauchenberg shares space with Stella.

Rodin and Monet

Rodin and Monet

Rodin’s exuberance gives way to Monet’s calm.

Smith and Berman

Smith and Berman

David Smith’s spiky sculpture, “Portrait of Don Quixote,” 1952, wages a battle with Eugene Berman’s expansive “Time and the Monuments,” 1941.

Smith and Berman

Smith and Berman

Olin Levi Warner’s sculpture rides the ebb and flow of time with the paintings of Edward Lincoln Espey.

"Charrette de boeuf (The Ox Cart)," July, 1884

“Charrette de boeuf (The Ox Cart),” July, 1884

"The Thatched-Roof Cottages of Jorgus, Auvers-sur-Oise," June 1890

“The Thatched-Roof Cottages of Jorgus, Auvers-sur-Oise,” June 1890

By far, the most moving combination is of a painting early in Vincent van Gogh’s life coupled with a painting from the month of his suicide. The space between the paintings seems to stand for such a troubled life as Van Gogh’s. One painting seems perhaps serene and studios. The other painting we might read into it resignation. We can sense a mastery, a certainty within uncertainty.

Portland Art Museum

Portland Art Museum

Portland Art Museum is located at 1219 SW Park Avenue. “Andy Warhol: Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” runs from October 8, 2016 to January 1, 2017. For more details, visit the PAM website right here.

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Filed under Andy Warhol, Art, Portland, Travel, Van Gogh

Review: BECOMING ANDY WARHOL

Warhol overseeing production.

Warhol overseeing production.

The world of Andy Warhol is our world. His art, inextricably linked to his persona, resonates with us today on an uncanny level. Along with a select few artists like Picasso, he has broken through, reached immortal fame with the general public. When a new book or movie comes out about him, we feel we’re dealing with something familiar. The new graphic novel, “Becoming Andy Warhol,” written by Nick Bertozzi and illustrated by Pierce Hargan, seems to tap into some new ground by presenting us with more of the human being that was Andy Warhol (1928-1987).

Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, with my own art ambitions, I was keenly aware of Warhol as I digested his art through the media. What I saw of the person was actually quite minimal. There was that exaggerated deadpan pose, that would be taken up by so many artists of the next generation, like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Who Warhol really was did not seem to matter. The fact that he was gay was never brought up in the mainstream media. But one thing was clear: Warhol was a significant artist breaking new ground.

What this graphic novel attempts to do is humanize Warhol to better understand the man and his art. He was certainly not a passive eunuch. The most distinctive contribution this book makes is to show Warhol as an active and sexual being dealing with relationships, and strategizing his career. His career did not just emerge one day fully formed and he did not have all the answers. In fact, there’s some wonderful scenes in the book with art critic Henry Geldzahler guiding his friend along. When it came to attempting to answer rather pompous questions from the media, why not simply respond with enigmatic non-answers? This approach, Geldzahler advises Warhol, will make him a star.

Enigmatic Andy

Enigmatic Andy

Warhol was certainly more than capable of explaining his methods. More than anything in the world, he wished to share his insights with the Pop Art kings Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. But, when they saw themselves as on a separate plane from Warhol, it did not faze Warhol. What we see in this graphic novel is a Warhol who, despite setbacks, maintains an internal compass that keeps him on his path. He is a determined and driven dynamo. The book focuses on Andy Warhol from 1962 to 1964, those critical years which see him make the break from a hugely successful career as an illustrator, dive into a fine art career, and never look back.

Warhol at Work

Warhol at Work

A grand biography is one of the most suitable of subjects for a graphic novel. Bertozzi and Hargan turn Warhol’s journey into a most engaging story, one that gains much from the way that they tell it. The challenge here for Bertozzi was to present a story that many of us already know to some extent, while only relying upon books and resources commonly available. What is so new and compelling to tell? It becomes a matter of what to bring to the foreground. I believe Bertozzi does an admirable job of choosing what bits to use that add up. Hargan does an equally good job of tuning into an irreverent depiction of the man. His Warhol becomes an accessible comics character in his own right. As you read, you can get lost in conversations and the whole pace of things from a certain era.

Andy Warhol was already Andy Warhol at the start of this story insomuch as he wasn’t going to let anyone or anything get in his way. And, when it seemed time to choose whether to abandon parts of who he was in favor of a more mainstream presence, he knew where to draw the line. There’s a particularly effective scene where the renowned architect Philip Johnson admonishes Warhol to drop all of his rough trade friends while, at the same time, he ponders which of the boys he might get to bed. While far from perfect, Warhol proves to stand for something. By defying Johnson and others, Warhol stayed true to himself and would go on to make history. I’m sure that Bertozzi felt compelled to articulate these finer points about Warhol.

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan

“Becoming Andy Warhol” is a 160-page hardcover with two-color illustrations throughout, available as of Oct 4th, and published by Abrams ComicArts.

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Filed under Abrams, Abrams ComicArts, Andy Warhol, Art, Art books, Art History, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Nick Bertozzi

Review: ‘The Best American Comics 2016,’ Editor, Roz Chast; Series Editor, Bill Kartalopoulos

Reading "Best American Comics 2016" on the train.

Reading “Best American Comics 2016” on the train.

I read this year’s Best American Comics on the train and I loved it all the more for doing so–but more on that later. Bill Kartalopoulos is the series editor and this year’s editor is Roz Chast. Even if you think you don’t know enough about the contemporary American comics scene, you probably know Roz Chast’s work in The New Yorker. So nothing to worry about, even Roz Chast doesn’t think of herself as exceptionally knowledgable about the current comics scene. However, Bill Kartalopoulos knew right away that, no matter how splintered the comics scene may be, here was a legendary cartoonist, with a wealth of experience, insight, and a very special kind of irreverence. This book is a guide through the best of American comics from someone with just the right sensibility to add to the journey. And what a journey it will be kicked off by the artwork of Marc Bell on the cover, as well as within the pages!

From "Stroppy" by Marc Bell

From “Stroppy” by Marc Bell

The path begins with a forward by Kartalopoulos which explains how we got here from there and what sort of comics we are focusing upon. For the most part, the focus is on comics that have come to be known as alternative comics, or alt-comics. These are comics that fall well within comics as an art form. While genre comics occasionally rise to the level of art, that is not their main purpose. So, as I have maintained, it is useful to be able to separate comics within two main groups: genre and the alternative to genre. There is crossover (which is great when it happens and can be quite interesting), but, in general, art comics are on one side and superhero and various other genre comics are on the other side. So, while it is possible, you will usually not see the likes of Batman or Spider-Man in Best American Comics–even if that just doesn’t seem right somehow.

Father and daughter clash in Adrian Tomine's "Killing and Dying."

Father and daughter clash in Adrian Tomine’s “Killing and Dying.”

Roz Chast’s introduction provides some clues as to what comics would appeal to her. Considering what she chose to include in the book, she is mostly intrigued by wry humor and in-depth autobiographical work. She says she’s not a prude but that if work gets misogynistic, that makes her sad. And she’s open to just about anything, even willing to go back to a comic that she wasn’t sure about at first. Chast does not categorize her selections. You just start reading. First up, is an excerpt from Adrian Tomine’s celebrated collection, “Killing and Dying.” In this excerpt from the title story, I can only imagine Chast’s love for zany humor telling her this is the piece to set the tone for the rest of the book: a story about a father struggling with his daughter’s sudden desire to be a stand-up comic.

Misfits band together in Chris Ware's "The Last Saturday."

Misfits band together in Chris Ware’s “The Last Saturday.”

Along with Adrian Tomine there are other clear choices to include: Chris Ware, Lynda Barry, Gabrielle Bell, John Porcellino, among others. But the treat is that they are set within the context of choices that Chast came to make. That fact adds another layer to one’s enjoyment of a story about struggling misfits by Chris Ware. And, it is quite true, there are so many comics out there that you cannot keep up with all of them. It does seem best to find a way to hook in and make some sense of things using different approaches each year. To that end, series editor, Bill Kartalopoulos has settled into taking a long view of things. Ideally, you don’t just read one Best American Comics annual but you keep up with it each year to find out what has made an impression and how it may fit into the current wave. What novelist Johnathan Lethem did as editor last year is different from what comics historian Scott McCloud did the year before.

Discussing time and effort in Lynda Barry's "Syllabus."

Discussing time and effort in Lynda Barry’s “Syllabus.”

By the time I reached Lynda Barry’s story about coming to terms with a cartoonist’s goals and how to impart that wisdom unto students, I had a good sense of what Chast was going for. It provided me with a way to hook into everything else. And it was about that time that the rocking motion of the train added more resonance, especially as I patiently followed along lines of Barry’s handwritten writing reproduced from a notebook page. Both the train and the handwriting asked me to take my time. Earlier in my reading, I had been picking up on the fact that there is so much going on around you while riding in a train and how that is true for comics.

Barry brings up a challenging question: Just how long does it take to draw something? Well, it all depends. In the end, a good cartoonist develops a keen sense for this. It’s a variation of the old saw, When is a painting finished? So many art students have suffered from callous professors who dismiss work as simply unfinished. But, on the other hand, so many art professors have suffered from callow and impatient students who demand a checklist for assignment requirements. You cannot create anything, especially art, from a checklist! Time. It all takes time. So, in “Syllabus,” Barry sums it all up with, “Rushing it is missing it!” It is that standard that is maintained by all the cartoonists included here.

From “Adults Only” by Lance Ward

From “Adults Only” by Lance Ward

Cartoonists of this caliber are meticulous note-takers and obsessive in the best sense of the word. Among these type of cartoonists included in this book is an excerpt from “Adults Only” by Lance Ward. Ward states that he works directly on pre-made panels, without preliminary drawings, so that he can best attack his work. This runs counter to the Barry dictum of measured craftsmanship. However, Ward’s obsessive quality wins out. This is in the same spirit as Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Ward has gotten to the point where he has hit enough marks to know, on an intuitive level, where the marks will end up. The work has a spare and energetic look to it. Ward is recounting his misadventures working in a porn shop. That is the point of departure for his delving into struggles with his sexuality. A more free-form style could not have been invented for him. A cartoonist can try to minimize or maximize their style but, usually a certain way of doing things falls into place.

"Bike Fast" by Sophia Zdon

“Bike Fast” by Sophia Zdon

Ward, along with other rising talents included here such as Sophia Zdon, has found what works. Zdon, a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in 2015, provides heartfelt observations as if out of dreams.

From “The Corpse, the Ghost and the Hollow-Weenie" by Casanova Frankenstein

From “The Corpse, the Ghost and the Hollow-Weenie” by Casanova Frankenstein

One of the most raw and honest expressions in comics comes from Casanova Frankenstein. In an excerpt from “The Corpse, the Ghost and the Hollow-Weenie,” he confides in the reader about a tumultuous life.

Panel excerpt from "Fatherland" by Nina Bunjevac

Panel excerpt from “Fatherland” by Nina Bunjevac

An excerpt from “Fatherland,” by Nina Bunjevac, published by W.W. Norton, provides insights into a peculiar and dangerous life in Yugoslavia in the aftermath of World War II.

From "Fashion Cats" by Alex Schubert

From “Fashion Cats” by Alex Schubert

Alex Schubert‘s “Fashion Cat” is a hilarious look at the misadventures of a feline hipster, originally published in Blobby Boys 2 by Koyama Press.

From "El Deafo" by Cece Bell

From “El Deafo” by Cece Bell

Cece Bell‘s “El Deafo,” published by Abrams, is quite a captivating story about a little girl coming to terms with being deaf and how to navigate the world. The story is given an added lift by the nicely modulated coloring by David Lasky.

"Don't Leave Me Alone" by GG

“Don’t Leave Me Alone” by GG

“Don’t Leave Me Alone,” by GG, is a dream-like compilation of growing up with fear and uncertainty in an intolerant and hostile world.

From "Blanket Portraits" by Geneviève Castrée Elverum

From “Blanket Portraits” by Geneviève Castrée Elverum

And then there are those comics that are simply transcendent–and can best inform us on the integrity and purpose of the comics medium. “Blanket Portraits,” by Geneviève Castrée Elverum, is a visual essay on a lifetime’s appreciation for blankets, their beauty and comfort, and what they symbolize. Geneviève passed away on July 9, 2016 from pancreatic cancer. As Bill Kartalopoulos states in a postscript, what made her comics unique was that they were “entirely expressive of who she was.”

The Best American Comics 2016

The Best American Comics 2016

“The Best American Comics 2016” includes the work of 30 cartoonists. It is a full-color hardcover, available as of October 4, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Best American Comics proves to be an essential and inspiring guidebook. As I say, Bill Kartalopoulos has taken the long view. You’ll definitely want to read this year’s edition and make it a habit to keep up with this most distinctive collection.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Bill Kartalopoulos, Book Reviews, Books, Comics, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Marc Bell, Roz Chast, The Best American Comics, The New Yorker

Review: KRAMERS ERGOT 9

From Steven Weissman's "Silver Medicine Horse"

From Steven Weissman’s “Silver Medicine Horse”

As I stated in my previous review for “The Outside Circle,” about an Aboriginal’s journey, you get to that point in the process where you say your work is more like A than B or C. In the case of the comics anthology, “Kramers Ergot,” it is, without a doubt, totally in the fine arts camp. This is where anything goes with subversion ruling the day. The shifts can be jarring but the payoffs can be great too.

It’s perfect timing for me to start off with the first entry to the latest KE, volume 9. We can do a little bit of comparing to my previous review dealing with Aboriginal people. “The Outside Circle” is a very sincere work with more of an earnest tone. Its goal is clarity of purpose and to deliver compelling facts much like a documentary. Steven Weissman has a different take in keeping with the goals of Kramers Ergot. In his story, the Native American character seems to have been stripped of any significance. He feels more like just a guy and flawed in a low-key sort of way. No great drama. This guy is a little jerk (a favorite comics trope): basically selfish and inconsiderate. The simplicity and Zen-like quality to this comic can be deceiving too. As we see, he might be on a quest, per se. But he is petty narrow-minded and that kills off any mystery. In the end, the animals will eventually pull rank on him. He is no hero but the story itself is magical. There is plenty of irony in this short work as opposed to a more earnest approach with the last book I reviewed.

Panels from Michael DeForge's "Computer"

Panels from Michael DeForge’s “Computer”

For something more in line with pushing the limits as far as you can go, we can turn to Michael DeForge‘s totally ironic, “Computer.” This is a commentary on gorging on the internet and too much social media. The computer and college student love each other and they engage in unabashed sex. The acts they engage in are joyous and depicted in a relatively tasteful manner. It is what it is. That’s the limits that DeForge seems most interested in pushing. And, sure enough, it will offend some readers and helps to place this book in a teen and up category. The artwork is spare and crisp. Each reader will need to make their own value judgment on this one. Is it too crass? But, then again, hasn’t the internet made us all more crass or crass-tolerant?

Panel from Gabrielle Bell's "Windows"

Panel from Gabrielle Bell’s “Windows”

Among the excerpts on display to works-in-progress are pages from “Windows” by Gabrielle Bell. And, all I can say here is that Bell keeps getting better and better. If someone could get Bell to take her comics and adapt them into a series on HBO, that would be something! Certainly, Bell loves the medium she’s working in already. But, I’m just saying. What makes Bell’s work resonate? I’d say it is all about its honesty and consistent vision. For those of you unfamiliar with Gabrielle Bell’s work, you can think of it as autobio with a touch of magical realism. In the case of “Windows,” we follow Bell and her mom as they shop for a tiny house. You know, a tiny house, they’re all the rage. And pretty darn inexpensive. I’d love a tiny house of my own! Well, imagine a really good episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and then tweak in more dry wit and there you have it. Bell’s drawing style is as droll as her writing and that is no easy feat.

From Dash Shaw's "Discipline"

Page from Dash Shaw’s “Discipline”

“Discipline,” by Dash Shaw, is another notable excerpt included here. Shaw and Bell, along with a number of other artists in this book, belong to the same tribe, as Peter Schjeldahl has put it regarding certain artists from a certain time and place. And, what I say about Bell, also holds true for Shaw albeit in a different sort of way special to him. I admire Dash Shaw’s uninhibited process, as I see it. He’s the kind of artist who will draw, and draw, and draw. And the sheer power of persistence will carry him over to a higher level. He’s imaginative, brave, and always interesting. From looking at the pages from “Discipline,” I like how the ambiguity keeps the reader at some distance. And I really like the more refined handling of the artwork compared to some work in the past. And, whatever Shaw is up to with a Civil War theme is okay by me!

Panel from Anya Davidson's "Hypatia's Last Hours"

Panel from Anya Davidson’s “Hypatia’s Last Hours”

Another challenging work is “Hypatia’s Last Hours,” by Anya Davidson, which could be disturbing for some readers but is certainly one of the most compelling pieces here. It is Alexandria, Egypt, circa 415 CE. We find Hypatia, a young woman who is trying her best to tutor Anaxis, a wayward and lusty young man. She leaves him frustrated and in a rush to present a lecture on the algebraic equations of Diophantus. But, before she gets too far, she is forcefully detained. She has been sentenced to death for crimes against the bishop. I admire Davidson’s simple rather geometric drawing style, and her use of bold primary colors. This is a story that quickly builds up to its dramatic and abrupt ending.

Panel from Matthew Thurber's "Kill Thurber"

Panel from Matthew Thurber’s “Kill Thurber”

One piece that comes across as quite refreshing, so full of a joie de vivre, is Matthew Thurber‘s “Kill Thurber,” a hilarious time travel jaunt. Yes, Matthew Thurber is sick and tired of being associated with James Thurber. Sure, it was cute at first, but it’s really a drag when you find yourself on sort of a similar career path. Then it really sucks! Why did there ever have to be a James Thurber in the first place?! And then, as fate would have it, Matthew Thurber stumbles upon a plot by the writers who once held court at the fabled Algonquin Round Table. You know the bunch. People like Dorothy Parker and S. J. Perelman. Well, they would all like to see Thurber dead too! Utterly hilarious and drawn in a wry and witty style. Hooray for Matthew Thurber, no relation to James Thurber.

Panels from John Pham's "Scared Silly"

Panels from John Pham’s “Scared Silly”

Another piece with a playful vibe is John Pham‘s “Scared Silly.” This piece follows two young friends, Kay and Jay, as they search for Kay’s “baby,” Bacne. It seems that the little one got lost in Holy Lake Cemetery. This is an excellent immersive narrative playing off more traditional comics storytelling. While invested with a lighthearted and whimsical quality, in the same spirit as the best comics of yesteryear, a dark wisdom prevails.

"The Kanibul Ball" by Lale Westvind

Panel from Lale Westvind’s “The Kanibul Ball”

We come full circle with “The Kanibul Ball,” by Lale Westvind, with a decidedly existential bent. This is neither earnest or ironic. It’s a fantastical hybrid. Really, quite beautiful. We follow a woman who seems, at first, of no significance, more like a kook who would use tin foil to pick up signals from Mars. But the kooks shall inherit the Earth, right? It turns out that she has tapped into something cosmic. We then jump to the frantic anticipation of a huge animal gathering that will result in an orgy of feasting upon each other’s flesh. Our main character, in turn, is engaging in a gathering of beings from various interstellar origins. They are all gathered to feast upon each other, mind, body, and soul. The goal is to share in each other’s pain. It is a goal beyond our heroine’s understanding. However, the animals seem to understand these dark secrets all too well.

Kramers Ergot 9

Kramers Ergot 9

This is a book full of A-list cartoonists. These are the sort of comics artists for whom it is a point of pride to be squarely in the alternative comics camp. That means comics that are an alternative to genre, especially the superhero genre. Would they be at all interested in a corporate gig? No, not in general but do give them a call. They are mostly interested in the art. For these cartoonists, I dare say, they can take the art for art’s sake credo as far, even further, than some other artists in other art forms are willing to go. It’s a fascinating time to be part of comics at this level as the whole shooting match, comics as art and comics art criticism, is still so relatively new and in flux. A lot of these cartoonists are willing to only ask for some legitimacy and maybe even a taste of immortality. That is where a book such as Kramers Ergot gains its strength and integrity.

“Kramers Ergot 9” is a 288-page hardcover, compiled by cartoonist Sammy Harkham, with black and white and full color pages. It is published by Fantagraphics Books.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Comics, Gabrielle Bell, Kramers Ergot, Sammy Harkham

Review: ‘Guardians of the Louvre’

Jiro Taniguchi Louvre comics

I would love to know the details on the Louvre series published by NBM. This latest installment, “Guardians of the Louvre,” by acclaimed manga artist Jirô Taniguchi just goes to show once again how unique this subject is and the endless possibilities for it. What a great cartoonist wants in a project, especially one who both writes and draws and has done so for many years, is a task worthy of the enormous effort. And, to sweeten the deal, make it something heroic. A cartoonist loves it when he or she can make a grand gesture.

Reading Guardians of the Louvre

Reading Guardians of the Louvre

What I’m saying about the grand gesture is so very true. Look at how Taniguchi responds to the task: his main character/alter ego is reduced to a little heap in comparison to the Louvre and its many treasures, opportunities, and mysteries. He arrives in Paris completely spent from a bad case of the flu. He is completely overwhelmed, out of his element, his observations through a fever dream. Like Little Nemo on his magic flying bed, we set off on a most unusual journey.

The Louvre, outside of any known realm.

The Louvre, outside of any known realm.

Our hero, due to a bad rabbit stew or some such mishap, is now in tune with the supernatural elements of the Louvre. When you consider that we are talking about a museum that is over 200 years old, as large as ten football fields, holding 70,000 pieces of art going back to antiquity, well, it would not be surprising to find that it has many tales to tell and that it is at least a bit haunted, right? Taniguchi asks that you run with that idea.

And so one grand gesture leads to another. We see poltergeist in all their gloopy glory floating about. We meet a beautiful ghost, presumably the Winged Victory. And, it just goes on from there as we go in and out of time, meet various artists long gone expect very much alive in this moment. The Louvre is a House of Leaves. It is a place that insists you shed your normal skin and walk amongst it. You inhabit a place such as the Louvre and you can’t help but let it inhabit you.

“Guardians of the Louvre” is the latest in the NBM Louvre series. It is a full color hardcover, right to left reading manga-style, 8 x 11, 136 pages. For more details, go right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Art History, Comics, France, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, NBM Publishing, Paris, The Louvre

Review: MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland

When an artist draws or paints expressive work, he or she owes something to Edvard Munch. Whether that work is still compelling in the 21st century, is totally up to that artist. In 1893, when Munch created the first version of what is famously known as “The Scream,” he was 30 years-old and there was no question he had unleashed something new. Steffen Kverneland taps into that sense of urgency and excitement in his graphic novel, MUNCH, the latest in the Art Masters series published by SelfMadeHero.

August Strindberg and Edvard Munch

August Strindberg and Edvard Munch

If Edvard Munch was a free spirit, then he met his match when he befriended the flamboyant playwright and artist August Strindberg. Between the two of them, they boldly embodied everything you’d ever want to know about Expressionism. These guys lived it at a raging pace with wine, women, and song. The party was supposed to never end — and then each ending was capable of tearing these fierce bohemians to shreds as they quarreled, mostly over women. That crazy energy is mirrored throughout this book by cartoonist Steffen Kverneland masterfully inserting his own highly spirited debates on Munch with his friend and collaborator, Lars Fiske.

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland, part of the Art Masters series from SelfMadeHero

MUNCH by Steffen Kverneland, part of the Art Masters series from SelfMadeHero

What such men as Munch and Strindberg, so full of talent and lust, really wanted is explored in Kverneland’s book with great gusto. At times, you feel like you’re there with the model/lover/destroyer of the moment. In the same spirit as Munch’s vow to paint what he saw (what he felt) as opposed to what he literally could see before him, so too Kverneland engages with his subject. Munch is depicted here as any other man, full of flaws, and open to some cartoonish interpretation like anyone else. But this is Edvard Munch, after all! Due respect is made too. Kverneland’s strict use of only actual writing from Munch, rounds out the authentic effect.

Munch and his model

Munch and his model

Kverneland including himself in his work follows a long tradition. I can tell you, as a cartoonist, I find it often unavoidable and an essential element. Kverneland even finds a genuine link between Munch and the comics medium. In the 1880s, Munch had been following a plan that would have led him to auto-bio comics nearly a century before R. Crumb! Words and pictures. There’s always been that link. Munch maintained that his visual art always began as text. And, for a time, he was pursuing illustrated journals. For someone so in tune with sharing his life experience, a life intertwined with words and pictures is inevitable.

Steffen Kverneland discusses the creation of MUNCH with a friend

Steffen Kverneland discusses the creation of MUNCH with a friend

MUNCH is a 280-page trade paperback, available as of May 10th. For more details, visit SelfMadeHero right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Bohemians, Comics, Edvard Munch, SelfMadeHero

Book Review: REFOCUSING CHAPLIN

The Little Tramp off into the sunset. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

The Little Tramp off into the sunset. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Aristotle speaks of the mimesis of the first order and the mimesis of the second order. When creating art, the goal is to distance oneself from the source. Mimesis of the first order is simply art imitating nature. Mimesis of the second order is art perfecting nature and turning it into something transcendent. That rule is certainly at play in the work of Charlie Chaplin. As Marco Grosoli points out in his essay on Chaplin, this was an artist keenly aware of his myth and in a unique position to go on to make great art from that myth. Marco Grosoli’s fascinating essay is part of a collection of essays from various writers on one of the masters of cinema, “Refocusing Chaplin,” published by Rowman & Littlefield.

There may never be another artist quite like Charlie Chaplin. However, his influence and relevance continues to evolve. And so that gives this collection of essays a great sense of urgency. In the same way that an artist of the first rank like Ray Bradbury could have anticipated social media some fifty years ago, so too did Charlie Chaplin foresee the power of a meme in a career that began over one hundred years ago. To say that Charlie Chaplin was beyond famous is an understatement. He reached the level of myth. It is not short of phenomenal that he continued to grow as an artist through a career that spanned the evolution of cinema.

Chaplin in 1941's "The Great Dictator"

Chaplin in 1940’s “The Great Dictator”

In Marco Grosoli’s essay, he examines the friction between two formidable myths in Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” from 1940. By then, Chaplin was more than ready to leverage some of his celebrity for the sake of his art. The timing could not have been more perfect. The difference between the myth of Hitler and Chaplin could not have been more extreme. As Grosoli indicates, Chaplin was not merely imitating Hitler. Chaplin was channeling the myth of Hitler. In that respect, Chaplin was getting at a greater truth. In a work that deeply explores the power of meme, Chaplin plays both the role of Dictator Adenoid Hynkel and a Jewish barber who looks identical to Hynkel. Dictator and barber are, in a sense, interchangeable. In the proper costume and context, everyone accepts whatever the Jewish barber has to say, dressed as Hynkel, even if it is the total opposite of what Hynkel would say. Push two extremes together, Grosoli suggests, and they strangely equate each other, form a perfect nothingness.

"Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon Through Critical Lenses"

“Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon Through Critical Lenses”

Essays in this collection feature a wide spectrum of themes including Marxism, feminism, gender studies, deconstruction, psychoanalytic criticism, new historicism, performance studies, and cultural criticism. This critical study covers a wide reach of films including The Circus (1928), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931) Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), and Limelight (1952). This collection proves to be a valuable resource on one of the leading masters of cinema.

“Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon through Critical Lenses” is a 250-page hardcover, published by Rowman & Littlefield. Visit them right here.

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Filed under Art, Book Reviews, Books, Charlie Chaplin, Critical Studies, film, Hollywood, movies, pop culture, Rowman & Littlefield

Interview: Matt MacFarland and DARK PANTS

Matt McFarland's DARK PANTS comics series

Matt McFarland’s DARK PANTS comics series

Matt MacFarland is an interesting artist working in various mediums including comics. He is one of those hybrid artists who make for the best cartoonists. I am impressed with his comics and that initial interest led to this interview. Matt is a kindred spirit. That has a lot to do with us being a couple of cartoonists in the same boat, navigating still unchartered waters, which can often get pretty choppy.

Silkscreen print adapted from DARK PANTS #1 by Matt McFarland and Maggie Lomeli

Silkscreen print adapted from DARK PANTS #1 by Matt McFarland and Maggie Lomeli

Interviews can be organic and creative things in their own right. Sometimes they require the right balance. As I mentioned to Matt, I have done more interviews than I care to count but I always strive for them to be fun and insightful. I’m always hopeful of what may result. In the case of a young cartoonist finding his way like Matt, who already demonstrates a seasoned approach to his work, it’s really good to gather up some observations from him and add to our general understanding of where we are headed with the comics medium.

The focus here is a cartoonist as a fine artist and that usually means someone who does the whole thing alone just as you would if you were a painter. Matt is in a very good place as someone who has a traditional art education. I say this because Matt’s ongoing series, DARK PANTS, seems to me a fine example of going through the rigors of art critiques. I sense that the recurring theme of those dark pants is a hard-won motif. It is through these mysterious pants that various displaced characters in Matt’s story find some clarity and, most significantly, a sexual awakening.

What you will find instructive here is listening to a particular breed of cartoonist describe how he goes about building his particular work. This is the work of an alternative comics/indie cartoonist. This type of cartoonist often does not care for superhero or genre comics. And, as I say, they usually work alone. Alternative cartoonists do not concern themselves so much with whether or not their comics are legitimate art. They already know they are creating art. The ones that have taken their work in comics past a certain point, they most certainly know since they are employing the same methodology used with other art mediums. This is the sort of work I do. This is the sort of work Matt does.

Check out our conversation right below:

And be sure to visit Matt McFarland and keep up with DARK PANTS right here.

You can find DARK PANTS at these fine establishments:

Los Angeles, CA
MELTDOWN COMICS! (Hollywood)
Bookshow (Highland Park)
Cool Cats Comics and Cards (Culver City)
Comics vs. Toys (Eagle Rock, CA)
Los Angeles County Store (Silver Lake)
Mega City One (Hollywood)
The Pop Hop (Highland Park)
Stories Books and Cafe (Echo Park)

Austin, TX
Farewell Books
Tribe Comics

Seattle, WA
Zanadu Comics

Pittsburgh, PA
Copacetic Comics

And you can pick up a print and t-shirt right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Art, Comics, graphic novels, Independent Comics, Indie, Interviews, Los Angeles, Matt MacFarland, Meltdown Comics, Minicomics