Category Archives: Art

Review WINDOWPANE by Joe Kessler

Windowpane by Joe Kessler

One of the first pages from Joe Kessler’s Windowpane, published by Breakdown Press, shows a wandering dog searching for food and finally finding a baked pie sitting out on a windowsill. There are splotches of color overlay on some of the blue line art. Welcome to a most experimental work in comics. Kessler covers various themes: childhood trauma, alienation, sexual dysfunction, and religion. Everything is a bit off kilter and on edge. What could be better for this kind of work, right? Well, this kind of work can often fall short and not measure up. But, in this case, there’s a lot to like even if it seems that things don’t always add up as the general reader might expect from the comics medium.

Like any artist, Kessler wants to challenge the reader. For instance, he enjoys the harsh use of basic colors. He also likes tossing his characters from one situation into another. He has them suddenly running away from things. He has them hurting each other. Then, in a fit of petulant bravado, he will take a gob of primary colors and fling them like a bolt of lightning. A blast of these harsh basic colors will blow up some characters to bits. Others will be saved for a proper decapitation. All in a day’s work.

There goes that iguana.

Quieter moments will serve for such scenes as an iguana forcing its way into a sleeping woman’s mouth.

It’s pretty wild stuff. Not for kids. Mature content abounds. All in all, this collection of sordid tales is quite fun, original, and worthwhile.

Windowpane is a 272-page full color soft cover. It collects new and previous work by artist Joe Kessler. You will find here reprints of Windowpane issues 3 and 4. This collection is published by Breakdown Press, based out of London.  Visit Breakdown Press right here. And be sure to visit Mr. Kessler right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Art, Breakdown Press, Comics, Europe, European Comics, Independent Comics, Indie, Joe Kessler

Interview: Bill Kartalopoulos on The Best American Comics

BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2018

Here is a discussion of what makes for the best comics within the United States with Bill Kartalopoulos, the series editor of the prestigious annual collection, The Best American Comics, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. What does it take to be considered the best? Well, mind you, everyone has their own set of ideas but, essentially, it boils down to compelling work. One way or another, things add up. The work commands your attention and it checks off a number of boxes like being original, structurally sound, and maybe even groundbreaking.

One thing that makes this particular interview special is very good timing. I happen to have been in New York for a combination of business and pleasure. The latest collection of Best American Comics had just come out. In fact, I’d recently reviewed it here. So, one thing led to another. I asked Bill what he thought about getting together in person for an interview and so we did. For me, meeting Bill at Parsons The New School for Design was a nice treat. He teaches there on the subject of comics. Currently in his class, he’s covering Art Spiegelman’s landmark work, Maus. Bill was Associate Editor and Production Assistant on MetaMaus, Spiegelman’s 2011 book and multimedia DVD set examining the production of Maus.

Parsons The New School for Design

My goal in this interview was simply to have a pleasant, perhaps even lively, conversation. I am a fan of Best American Comics but I was setting that aside, so to speak, in order to go through a relatively objective set of questions. I wanted to dig around and see what we might uncover and Bill was certainly up for it. What I come away with  is the fact that this annual best-of collection has gone through a rigorous process. First, we have Mr. Kartalopoulos dutifully gathering up around 120 or so works that he deems worthy. Then, he hands them off to the guest editor. This year, that honor goes to cartoonist Phoebe Gloeckner. Finally, a shaking and mixing and final rinse. The editor, after paring down the final cut of titles, may end up adding some of her own, and will ultimately preside over a presentation all her own. Okay, lots going on. So, here we discuss all that and more.

“Yazar and Arkadaş” by Lale Westvind

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Bill, I thought we could take as our jumping off point the last work in this year’s Best American Comics. This is by Lale Westvind. It is quite a surreal sci-fi tale entitled, “Yazar and Arkadaş.” I think it would be good fun to linger over this loopy and wonderful work, an ideal example of what comics are all about. It kicks off with an urgent search for a book and, along the way, the main characters are compelled to continue their journey naked. What can you tell us?

BILL KARTALOPOULOS: Lale Westvind did the cover for this year’s Best American Comics. This piece was one that she published during the twelve month cycle that we cover for each volume. Our excerpt doesn’t contain the story in full but it gives the reader a good sense of it. The original work was published on a risograph. We attempted to evoke that same look and feel, including the pink paper used in the original.

CHAMBERLAIN: That unique look that you get from a risograph is part of what defines independent comics.

KARTALOPOULOS: I think a lot of Lale’s work speaks to science fiction. Although a lot of her work is very different, it does bring to mind Jack Kirby and how he played with mythology with his New Gods.  Something else that I think is really nice and speaks to the selection process is what happened when it came time for Phoebe to pick what to excerpt from Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters. She chose a conversation that refers to Medusa. That moment would end up resonating at the end of the book, with the last work by Lale Westvind and her disembodied head of Medusa with the tendrils of hair acting as arms grabbing at things.

 

Emil Ferris

 

Lale Westvind

CHAMBERLAIN: It happens every year. I recall us talking about interconnections between the selected works during our phone interview a few years back.

KARTALOPOULOS: It’s  not a heavy-handed thing.

CHAMBERLAIN: Oh, of course not.

KARTALOPOULOS: It’s something you can’t force. It’s natural and organic.

CHAMBERLAIN: I think of how iconic My Favorite Things is Monsters is for readers. To present it in this collection, the challenge was to find an interesting way to revisit. Maybe you could give us another look behind the scenes. What is the significance of having Gabrielle Bell’s piece as the opener?

Gabrielle Bell

KARTALOPOULOS: That’s an interesting question particularly with how it relates to the creation of this collection. Each new guest editor handles the job a bit differently. For example, Scott McCloud created categories and wrote short introductions for each. Jonatahn Lethem, the next year, aware of what McCloud had done, followed suit in his own idiosyncratic way.This year, with Phoebe Gloeckner, she decided to see what it might look like with  alphabetizing the titles–which is exactly what she ended up doing for the book!

CHAMBERLAIN: You can’t be any more fair than having the book alphabetized! That’s a good tip for aspiring cartoonists. Get a pseudonym that places you towards the front. I’m looking at Tara Booth’s work now. It’s a very raw and powerful style. And then you’ve got, after that, the very lean and clean work of J. D. Bryant. Some of the elements in Tara’s work are very challenging for the viewer. While, with Bryant, it’s very cool and detached. Maybe we can do a bit of comparing and contrasting with these two. 

Tara Booth

 

D. J. Bryant

KARTALOPOULOS: Sure, these are two very different ways of working.  I certainly hope that it demonstrates the wide variety of work on display in these pages. Tara Booth shares with the reader the more private aspects of life, things you wouldn’t typically share, like popping a zit. She works mostly, if not exclusively, in gouache for this piece. Bryant works in the tradition of alt-comics from the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a naturalistic style with pop appeal, very dense, with a surreal narrative that loops back on itself. The types of brushes and pens and inks he uses go back further to the ’30s and ’40s. Booth has a very different approach, wordless little moments. Both are extremely effective styles.

Geof Darrow

 

Max Clotfelter

CHAMBERLAIN: It does take a lot for a major comic book publisher to appear in Best American Comics, doesn’t it? It happens from time to time. This year we have a piece by Geof Darrow that appeared in Dark Horse Comics. I understand why that is. A lot of the work is market-driven and would seem out of context in Best American Comics. That said, I see a lot of interesting work coming out of Image Comics, for example. Is it a case of stepping back from the major comic book publishers in order to secure room for the independent cartoonists?

KARTALOPOULOS: We don’t really think about the scale of the publisher necessarily. We’re just looking for good work, something that is unique that expresses a personal vision, not necessarily an autobiographical vision. Dark Horse does publish a good amount of creator-owned work. This piece by Geof Darrow is very much an auteurial work: it is his vision; he is doing the work just the way he sees it. This is a personal vision regardless of the means of production. It is a personal vision as much as the work just before it, a self-published piece by Max Clotfelter.

CHAMBERLAIN: I agree. This brings us back to our theme of different approaches. One piece is technically crisp and another is stripped down. I want to ask you to share with us something about your intimate connection with comics. I know you spend quite a lot time on comics in various ways. Would you give us a window into your day or whatever you might like to share.

KARTALOPOULOS: I teach at Parsons about comics so at least once a week I’m teaching. Then I’m either preparing for a class or grading papers. I just finished reading for Best American Comics 2019. Each book has a time lag. For example, the current volume covers work created from September 2016 to August 2017. It goes from Autumn to Autumn. Then it takes a full year to create a volume. I’m at a place right now where I’m about to hand off work to our next guest editor. At the same time, I’m working on a book on North American comics for Princeton University Press. It’s pretty far along but I still have a number of chapters to complete.

CHAMBERLAIN: How do you gauge the reception that the book gets. With each year, do you sense that you’ve got a locked-in audience?

KARTALOPOULOS: The print run is somewhere around 20,000 copies so that’s a lot of copies out in the world. One thing that I think is very helpful is that the series tends to fairly automatically enter libraries. I think this series has a pretty useful life as an entry point into comics for many readers. We put as much information as we can about the sources of each title. We have bios and websites. So, for example, if there’s a self-contained work among the selections, maybe readers will seek out that creator and read more. In this way, we can make a quite impact well beyond the initial release of a volume.

CHAMBERLAIN: You’re talking about a quiet impact. You’re not exactly thinking in terms of setting a standard–or maybe you are, to some degree?

KARTALOPOULOS: I think we’re seeking out good comics. I’m putting together a larger pool of material, over a hundred pieces, for the guest editor. I select work worth considering…really give the guest editor a lot of options. Really select pieces that are meaningful to them. I try to give them a broad palette. The guest editor is applying their own sense of critical judgement of what they consider a good comic. If you look at the series from multiple volumes, you’ll see a consistency, a pretty high level of quality.

A mark of success for the series is how each guest editor leaves their personal mark.  This year’s volume, edited by Phoebe Gloeckner, feels different to me to the volume edited by Ben Katchor, which feels different to me to the volume edited by Roz Chast, and so on. There’s consistency, a high level of quality, and each guest editor brings in their own point of view.

CHAMBERLAIN: That’s a wonderful place to end. Thanks for your time, Bill.

KARTALOPOULOS: Thank you.

*****

We had a really good, insightful, and fun conversation. You can listen to the interview by just clicking the video link below:

You can visit Bill Kartalopoulos right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Art, Best American Comics, Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Comix, Independent Comics, Interviews, mini-comics, Minicomics

Illustrator Focus: Devan Fowler

Devan Fowler character design

Comics Grinder has a long history of supporting exciting new talent. In that spirit, welcome to illustrator Devan Fowler! She is a recent graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design.

Devan Fowler character design

What I like about Devan’s work is that it shows a lot of care and dedication. At this early stage in her career, Devan has got a strong foundation to work from. There’s a whimsical quality to her work as well as an overall strength. You believe these characters have lives and can hold their own.

Devan Fowler comics

“As an artist I strive to create cute and relatable characters, while giving them unique and diverse personalities and characteristics.”
— Devan Fowler

Devan Fowler illustration

The future looks bright for Devan Fowler. I think she has great potential as a cartoonist and she certainly shines at character design. She definitely has the skill set. And I’m sure that she will succeed with whatever she puts her mind to accomplishing.

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Filed under Art, Character Design, Comics, Illustration, Illustrators, Savannah College of Art and Design, SCAD

Book Review: GEEK INK

“Geek Ink: The World’s Smartest Tattoos for Rebels, Nerds, Scientists, and Intellectuals”

GEEK INK is much more than just a book about tattoos or a collection of way cool tattoos. This is truly exceptional first-rate work from some of the best talent working today around the world. GEEK INK is a book that showcases tattoos artists from Inkstinct, the world’s largest online tattoo studio directory and app. GEEK INK is published by Race Point Publishing, an imprint of The Quarto Group.

New York City tattoo artist Emrah Ozhan

Here you will find exquisite work like that of Emrah Ozhan, an artist from Istanbul, based in New York City. Ozhan is a multidisciplinary artist celebrated for his tattoo work. His portfolio includes tattoo work, graphic and fashion design, music, collaborations, and fine art.

L.A. tattoo artist Lustandconsume aka Phil Tworavens

Way across to the U.S. west coast, you can find L.A. tattoo artist Lustandconsume aka Phil Tworavens. This is very trippy and very impressive work. No wonder he’s a legend of blackwork tattooing.

The book is split into two sections. The first section covers profiles of tattoo master artists while the second provides galleries of work divided into categories. Every artist here is part of Inkstinct. There are twenty-five artists featured in lengthy features which are, I kid you not, like chatting with master tattoo artists and having them share tips and secrets. I have done a lot of research on tattoos. I am a huge fan. I simply adore tattoos and embrace the community. This book will fit right in for those new to tattoos and for longtime connoisseurs.

Examples of Fantasy Tattoo Art

The second half of the book takes just as meticulous care as the previous profiles and presents tattoo artwork in sixteen categories. This includes work in the fantasy category that includes the above example: from clockwise: Maleficent-inspired tattoo by Maria Fernandez; City in The Clouds by Jessica Svartvit; and Unicorn tattoo by Rob Carvalho, inspired by My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

For me, tattoos have been on my radar for quite a long time and I’m always on the lookout for resource material. I am gradually getting inked and, who knows, I may need to actually pursue being a tattoo artist myself down the road. There are a ton of books on tattoos but GEEK INK truly stands out for its high quality presentation and genuine insight. You won’t learn how to tattoo from this book. This is the sort of book that people turn to for gems of insight and inspiration. For casual observers too, this will prove a handy all-in-one guidebook on what’s hot today in tattoos.

“Geek Ink: The World’s Smartest Tattoos for Rebels, Nerds, Scientists, and Intellectuals” is a 224-page hardcover in full color and is available now. For more details, visit The Quarto Group.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Geek Culture, Geeks, Hipsters, pop culture, Tattoos, The Quarto Group

Review: DISCOUNT DEMON DEALS by Michael Koehler

DISCOUNT DEMON DEALS by Michael Koehler

“Discount Demon Deals” is a hilarious mini-comic devoted to demons by Michael Koehler. Done is a wacky style that would fit right in on Cartoon Network, Koehler’s demons are at once hideous and whimsical. The idea here is that this is a catalog presenting the latest in appealing demons. All you need is your demon credit card and a reasonable number of souls in stock in order to properly catch up on this season’s demons. For more details, visit Michael Koehler right here. And, if you are in Tacoma, be sure to stop by and see an art show featuring Koehler’s artwork this Saturday, February 3rd, from 6-8pm at Destiny City Comics:

Lore of the Lords – Showcasing the Art of Michael Koehler

Here are some more details from Destiny City Comics:

Lore of the Lords – Showcasing the Art of Michael Koehler
February 3 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm Free

A strange look into the modern folklore and fantastic characters imagined by artist Michael Koehler, Lore of the Lords takes a tour through the tribes residing within the elusive cult realms.

“You enter through a dark whirlpool to find yourself at the mouth of a great trench. As you look around, you find this world is full of strange and mystical creatures. They seem to be some sort of ancient looking, animalistic people. Suddenly a large reptilian scout spots you and bellows out a deafening screech as you try to find your footing along the loose, rocky chasm. You see flying in the cloudy sky above, a bat like figure quickly descending upon you. You scramble out of the way just as it swoops down at your feet. Looking up at you with three crazed eyes and psychedelic features, it lets out several high pitched chirps and begins lurching toward you. A gang of grotesque bat faced creatures surrounds you as you look for an impossible escape. Each wretched bat drips with slimy plasma and is armed with arcane tools and primitive looking weapons. As a tall, fiery red faced man-bat leans into your face and sniffs piggishly, you utter, “What… where am I?” It lets out a wild cackle and replies, “You have entered our world through the black void, and so now, you are ours. Just as everything that enters… Into the Cult Realms.”

Be sure to visit and experience this highly original art firsthand. Facebook Event Page is right here.

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Filed under Art, Comics, Destiny City Comics, Michael Koehler, Tacoma

Seattle Art Fair 2017: Much to See and Buy!

Kurt Cobain, Incesticide. Courtesy of UTA Artist Space.

The Seattle Art Fair (August 3-6) offers much to see and to buy. The whole idea is to offer in one space an opportunity for a varied audience to engage with some of the best contemporary art around the world. The 2017 edition features 99 galleries representing 30 cities globally, with 58 from the Pacific Rim alone, in addition to lectures and specially commissioned installations. UTA Artist Space, for example, brings the first-ever exhibition focusing on the visual art of Kurt Cobain to the Seattle Art Fair. It includes previously unseen notebooks as well as two original paintings by Cobain. An additional piece that Nirvana fans will undoubtedly recognize is this collaged cover of the band’s 1992 Incesticide compilation.

From Joshua Liner Gallery: Riusuke Fukahori’s
The Ark (Goldfish Salvation), 2015

If you are in the Seattle area, you can still catch the final day of Seattle Art Fair this Sunday. And, if you should not be able to make it, be sure to visit the Seattle Art Fair website for details on all the participating galleries. The following is my recap of my visit on Saturday. There are a number of ways to take it the show with countless observations to make and insights to gain. Here are a few of mine.

Sean Townley’s 7 Diadems, 2016.

Be sure to look twice. While many of us believe we’ve seen it all, there is a part of us ready to be astonished. But you need to really look. Take, for instance, a row of what appear to be pods floating along a strip of the showroom floor. Upon a closer look, they appear to be heads reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty. Are they emerging with the truth and rising to the top? Read more regarding Townley’s work at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts right here.

C24 Gallery: Carole Feuerman’s City Slicker

The art is alive. Engage with it as it is already engaging with you or so it certainly seems. Carole Feuerman’s City Slicker was a crowd favorite. Represented by C24 Gallery.

Forum Gallery: Bo Bartlett’s Object Lesson, 2017

The art is there to provoke. Welcome a new conversation as art provokes new thoughts and renewed debate, like Bo Bartlett’s Object Lesson, represented by Forum Gallery.

Forum Gallery: Xenia Hausner’s Gone Girl, 2014

Lose yourself. Art can certainly be as fun as it is intense. Consider Xenia Hausner’s Gone Girl, represented by Forum Gallery.

Winchester Galleries: Joe Fafard’s Lucien Freud, 2014

Art will shock. Art takes seriously its option to shock. It can be intense or it can be more of a whimsical nudge like, Joe Fafard’s 2014 tribute in bronze to painter Lucien Freud. Fafard is represented by Winchester Galleries.

Shift Gallery Seattle: Eric Day Chamberlain’s Red Plate Yellow Background, 2016

Art will soothe. Art also prides itself in its ability to calm. Consider Eric Day Chamberlain’s Red Plate Yellow Background, 2016. Chamberlain is represented by Shift Gallery Seattle.

David Zwirner Gallery: Andy Warhol’s Astronauts, 1963

Pay respect. You are among some of the best art galleries in the world, like David Zwirner Gallery. You will be treated to some of the biggest names in art and perhaps in a whole new light, like the above Andy Warhol’s Astronauts, 1963.

Backslash gallery: American artist Fahamu Pecou

Art keeps you strong. Especially during these very troubled times. Backslash gallery is pleased to present a solo show with works especially realized for the fair by American artist Fahamu Pecou whose large painting Daedalus Upliftment was acquired by the Seattle Art Museum last year.

KRUPIC KERSTING II KUK: Tracey Snelling’s Lost City

Discover. Keep your eyes peeled and your mind open. You will be rewarded by something fresh and new, like Tracey Snelling’s Lost City, represented by KRUPIC KERSTING II KUK.

A Seattle Art Fair video recap:

Keep up with Seattle Art Fair right here.

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Filed under Art, Kurt Cobain, Seattle, Seattle Art Fair

Review: ‘Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel’

“Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel” by Pablo Auladell

Spanish artist Pablo Auladell battled with demons and angels for some years before he ultimately created a graphic novel based upon the landmark in English lit, John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” As many a college student will attest, reading this masterpiece can be a bit of slog, but a noble slog. As you immerse yourself in the text, the imagery comes alive. And so this is what happens when a skilled and nimble artist interprets this mighty tome. You get, “Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel” The new translation by Angela Gurria has just been published by Pegasus Books.

For those familiar as well as new to it, this artful take on Milton’s most famous work is quite satisfying. It’s fascinating to study how Auladell went about interpreting some of the most iconic characters and images of all time. No doubt, it wasn’t easy. As anyone who has ever fancied going about creating their own graphic novel (good luck) and actually followed through, the whole process is quite time-consuming. The level of commitment is very demanding. Auladell is certainly up to the task.

Pages from “Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel”

The only expectation for the reader is that here is a compelling reimagining of Milton’s epic poem on humanity’s fall from grace. Here is the monumental clash between God and Satan, good and evil, and life and death. For Auladell, he’s accomplished an ambitious work, put his personal stamp upon one of the greatest work of the ages.

Pages from “Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel”

A work at this level is years in the making. Not days or months but years. There are so many people who wish to create their own graphic novel. But are they really prepared to put in the time required to create something worthwhile? Well, perhaps with the right combination of passion and persistence, each hopeful can achieve their particular dream. One key to all this is pacing one’s self. That’s the big secret. You need to pace yourself. Auladell did exactly that. He embarked upon one phase of the book and then another with no guarantee of a final result other than what pure persistence might promise. One creates hooks for one’s self. For example, Auladell chose to place a jaunty hat upon Satan’s head. That’s a hook that helps to inspire him to draw a legion of demons flying up ahead and so on down the line.

Page excerpt from “Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel”

So this book is as much as study on the work itself as a study on the progress of creating such a work. As Auladell states in his introduction, he is self-conscious of how the work developed in stages. But to the reader, it will read as a smooth narrative due to an overall consistent quality. In Auladell’s case, he has already set the bar high so we are going from excellent work to even greater work.

“Paradise Lost: A Graphic Novel” is a 320-page hardcover available as of April 4, 2017. For more details, visit Pegasus Books right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Comics, Devil, God, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Pegasus Books, Satan, Spain

Interview: Edward Sorel and a Grand Career in Illustration

Edward Sorel in his studio.

Edward Sorel in his studio.

Anyone interested in illustration, art, satire, or the specific art of drawing, will know something about the career of Edward Sorel. The work of Edward Sorel covers a wide spectrum resulting in a hefty portrait of the human condition, with a notable eye to speaking truth to power.

My interest in Edward Sorel runs deep. I checked out from my school’s library Sorel’s 1972 collection, “Making the World Safe for Hypocrisy.” It was 1973 and I was a sensitive and highly impressionable lad of 10 years-old. I was filling sketchbooks with portraits of Watergate personalities, both villains and heroes. I tore into that book and marveled over Sorel’s distinctive crosshatching and his lively expressive line work. I was in awe with how he brought to life various dignitaries, politicians, and movie stars. The gold standard had been set in my mind and it hasn’t changed ever since. What really wows me now goes back to my early introduction to the work of Edward Sorel.

Quotes from reviews for Mr. Sorel’s new book, “Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936,” published by Liveright/W.W. Norton & Company:

“Life is so unfair. I tore up the old linoleum in a grungy apartment I rented years ago and found under it only schmutz, hardened chewing gum and a torn ticket stub to ‘Moose Murders.’ Ed Sorel tears up the old linoleum in his apartment and finds yellowing newspapers with headlines screaming about a scandal that gave him material for a terrific book. Not only does he then write a terrific book, but he illustrates it with his wonderful caricature drawings. Who would figure that Mary Astor’s life would provide such entertaining reading, but in Sorel’s colloquial, eccentric style, the tale he tells is juicy, funny, and in the end, touching.”
—Woody Allen, The New York Times Book Review (cover review)

“Rapier-sharp…With a tip of his pen to Daumier, the artist evokes the quaint, febrile glamour of Astor’s Hollywood, and his affectionate, conversational prose gives Mary and her story a kind of valiant dignity never bestowed while she lived.”
—Edward Kosner, Wall Street Journal

“Delightful, colorful, and occasionally cheeky.”
—Allison Sadlier, Entertainment Weekly

From "Mary Astor's Purple Diary" by Edward Sorel

From “Mary Astor’s Purple Diary” by Edward Sorel

Edward Sorel (born Edward Schwartz, 26 March 1929, The Bronx) has recently released a book from Liveright/W.W. Norton. The book, entitled “Mary Astor’s Purple Diary” is about his lifelong obsession with film star Mary Astor but it’s also a memoir of a sort. You may have read Woody Allen’s review of the book in The New York Times Book Review. Allen had the honor of introducing many new readers to the opening story in the book: It is 1965 and Edward Sorel, newly married and settling into new digs, is left with the task of replacing the old linoleum kitchen tile. Lo and behold, buried underneath is a stash of old newspapers chronicling the scandalous 1936 custody battle of Hollywood star Mary Astor. Well, the rest is history and this most engaging book.

I interviewed Mr. Sorel this last Wednesday, February 8th. I hope you enjoy it.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Turning our attention to Mary Astor, what is intriguing about her is that she had a life where one plus one kept equaling three. Despite a series of bad choices, whether in lovers or career options, Mary Astor managed to persevere. Is that part of the appeal, that she took such an offbeat path?

EDWARD SOREL:
The appeal came when I read her memoir. She was a self-denigrating and witty writer. Very observant. Somewhat cynical about Hollywood. She had an intelligence that appealed to me. Then I started seeing her movies and I was hooked on her. Her bad decisions that you refer to have to do with having had an abused childhood, not in any physical way but in a mental and psychological way.

Her father kept her from having friends because he didn’t want her to see how Americans lived, how Americans treated their children. He wanted to be the dictator of his home. And he succeeded. She was unable to break free from him until quite late in her life. And it kind of ruined her. And God knows she made a lot of terrible mistakes in her life.

Marry Astor and John Barrymore.

Marry Astor and John Barrymore.

I was watching 1924’s “Beau Brummell” and I am intrigued by the relationship Mary Astor developed with her co-star, John Barrymore, of all people. In their case, the twenty year age difference was inappropriate. However, it was what it was. And it was through Barrymore that Mary Astor learned a lot and gained self-confidence.

He did do her a lot of good but not for any altruistic reasons. He was out to nail her. He was on his way to Hollywood on the 20th Century Express. He had just completed the most successful run of “Hamlet” that America had seen. He was acclaimed as America’s greatest actor. He was on his way to the coast to make “Beau Brummell” for Warner Bros. because they were paying him a lot of money. And he picks up a magazine that has a photograph of Mary Astor about the age of 16 and under the photograph it said, “On the Verge of Womanhood.” Barrymore had a particular liking for virgins.

As I pointed out in the book, it was Barrymore who had his way with Evelyn Nesbitt, who later married Harry Kendall Thaw. And it was Thaw who shot Stanford White, America’s great architect, because he thought Stanford White had taken his wife’s virginity–when, in fact, it was Barrymore. That is a sidebar I’m proud of since I pieced together that bit of information.

According to Mary Astor, Barrymore really believed that he was going to marry her. And maybe he did plan to. But when Mary would not break free from her parents, after Barrymore offered her starring roles, because her father forbade it, Barrymore realized that she was just a child. She was completely under the sway of her father. Marrying a woman twenty years younger was one thing but marrying a child was something else. He broke her heart by calling it off.

I think it’s a cartoonist thing, as I’m a cartoonist, that we keep seeking out the offbeat. So, in the spirit of that I throw out a curveball, and ask you about your changing your last name to Sorel. You are referring to Stendhal’s “The Red and the Black.” I loved that book and the main character, Julian Sorel. Is there something interesting going on there with that connection?

I liked to think that I saw myself in Julian Sorel because he was like catnip to women, which I really wasn’t, and he hated the corrupt society of his time, as I hated mine. The first election that I voted in was the one between Eisenhower and Stevenson. I took a dim view of both of them and voted for a third party.

The other thing about Julian Sorel was that he hated his father. God, I certainly hated mine, not only because he tried to discourage me in wanting to be an artist but because he was a mean-spirited ignorant man not kind to my mother, not kind to anyone. And I didn’t want anything to do with him. I was going to be a cartoonist and I didn’t want to sign my name, Schwartz, in the right-hand corner. And I chose the name, Sorel, because of the novel. It seemed as good a name as any.

"Stagecoach." 1980 illustration for Esquire magazine.

“Stagecoach.” 1980 illustration for Esquire magazine.

I think back to myself as a boy wondering about how you created your work. You’ve spoken about “finding lines.” Could you share a little bit about that?

When you work commercially, and you’re taking assignments, you have to show the art director what you plan to do. So, you do sketches of the drawing you plan to do. And, after a while, I began to notice that my sketches had more vitality and life than my finishes did. My finishes were often dead and overworked. And so I tried to emulate the quality that I had in my sketches which meant doing it without tracing. In point of fact, that’s impossible to do if you’re doing very complicated scenes. You can work direct if you’re doing a face, a figure, a still life, or anything relatively simple. You can work direct without tracing and the work has a vitality to it. But when you’re doing complicated scenes, with many different elements, you really do have to know where you’re going. So, I found out that if I just had a light outline of where I wanted the elements to be, and didn’t trace, I could keep this sketchy quality that I think gave my art work some distinction.

"The Goodwood Races," 1939, by Feliks Topolski (1907-1989).

“The Goodwood Races,” 1939, by Feliks Topolski (1907-1989).

That quality of your art has influenced so many artists, whether they realize it or not. And, certainly, there have been other artists who have used an “expressive line.” You have talked about some of your favorites, like Feliks Topolski. There’s a certain sensibility that you both share.

Yes, well, he wasn’t trying to be funny like I always have. But his work has spontaneity, which I value in every artist. Wether its Bemelmans or Topolski. What shocks me now is to find so many artists who enjoy doing art work with a computer. I’ve seen some very nice computer art. You can get that nice flat color and can do all sorts of tricks that you can’t do by hand. But, to me, it doesn’t seem like fun. It seems like working on a machine. I just love the act of drawing. I’m a throwback. Most of the illustrations that you see today in magazines, and God knows you don’t see too many, are computer-generated in some form or another.

One compromise is for the artist to draw some of the illustration by hand, scan it, and do the rest on a computer.

It doesn’t seem fun to me but it must seem fun for them. I don’t cast aspersions on their way of doing it.

I think it boils down to being a time-saver. And, once a routine has set in, that’s the way it’s done and that’s it.

The other thing about computer art is that there’s nothing original, nothing to hang on the wall. You could have a show but it would only be prints. To each his own.

"Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition," 1967, by Edward Sorel

“Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition,” 1967, by Edward Sorel

I wanted to touch on one of the all-time classics, your 1967 anti-war illustration, “Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition.” The real life punchline there is that you were all set to roll out a poster when the focal point of the piece, Cardinal Spellman, passed away rendering your satire unsellable. Now, there’s some divine intervention.

The day it came off the press is the day he died. It never sold in any store in America. It is in a museum in Amsterdam. One store in Chicago tried to sell it and had its window broken. Apparently, Cardinal Spellman had some fans in Chicago. That was a bad break. You get some bad breaks and you get some good ones. I was the recipient of Woody Allen’s praise on the front page of The New York Times Book Review. That was the best break I ever had.

From "Edward Sorel: Nice Work If You Can Get It," 2011, by Leo Sorel.

From “Edward Sorel: Nice Work If You Can Get It,” 2011, by Leo Sorel.

I encourage everyone to check out the short film on you that your son, Leo, did. That is quite informative and a treat. It shows you in your studio. And then the Q&A afterward with illustrator James McMullan is very impressive. Towards the end of that, you talk about the pen you favor, a Speedball B6. I’ve always had a devil of a time with steel point dip pens. But the Speedballs I could manage. And then you flip it backwards to get the crosshatching.

Yes! That was my secret. The Speedball does move and it allows you to be kind of spastic over a piece of paper.

"Nixon and Mao," 2007, The New Yorker.

“Nixon and Mao,” 2007, The New Yorker.

I wanted to ask you about Donald Trump. There was that drawing of him as Medusa you did last year. The big news at the moment is all about Mitch McConnell silencing Elizabeth Warren. I could see that as perhaps triggering an Edward Sorel drawing.

I can’t cope with Donald Trump. I haven’t done political cartooning in a number of years. I can’t deal with him. With all other presidents, you could make fun of their hypocrisy and have fun with them. But Mr. Trump is kind of crazy. And he’s dangerous. He’s cruel. Making fun of him doesn’t seem what’s called for. It’s trivializing him. He shouldn’t be trivialized. He’s really a danger. People are really scared. They wake up with Donald Trump on their mind and they go to bed with him on their mind. He’s a heavy presence in our lives now. I don’t know how to deal with that.

You can’t call him the new Nixon. At least with Nixon, there was a mind at work. It’s being very generous, but there was some sense of integrity compared to Trump. Nixon you could call a president. But, with Trump, he’s president only by title.

He seems unhinged. I think it was Bernie Sanders who called him unhinged. He seems too crazy to be in that office. I don’t know what else to say about him.

Donald Trump illustration, 2016, for Vanity Fair.

Donald Trump illustration, 2016, for Vanity Fair.

Especially living it right now. It is stomach-turning. I won’t talk about him anymore. But I do need to mention Melissa McCarthy’s impersonation of Sean Spicer. Have you seen that?

No, tell me about it. I’ve been trying to avoid the news lately.

Well, Melissa McCarthy is a comic genius and she was on Saturday Night Live last weekend. She did a spot on impersonation of Sean Spicer, had the look and mannerisms down.

Oh, wait, I did see that! A friend sent that to me.

I think that has the power of a political cartoon and then some. It captivated everyone. It was an emotional release for everyone to see that.

Yes, I’m sure it was. It was very funny.

It seems to me that every artist needs a hero, someone to play off of. I see your book, weaving your life with Mary’s, as following the artist’s struggle. I think of how Mary evolved. I think of how Mary and Bette Davis were able to rewrite “The Great Lie,” turning that around into a notable film.

She did become a very fine actress. But she also became a little bit like her father, terribly obsessed with money. She twice turned down contracts for starring roles since she believed supporting roles would provide a longer career. She did indeed have a long career. She was in over 100 movies. And she was going strong until about 1959. She didn’t take chances. Maybe she didn’t believe she was a good enough actress. She missed having a chance at great roles and great performances. That was too bad.

My obsession with her has to do with my thinking I wasn’t a great artist because I didn’t have an obsession. So, I was very grateful when people called my interest in Mary Astor an obsession. Yes, it was an obsession and I do think it helped produce my best work.

"Mary Astor's Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936" by Edward Sorel

“Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” by Edward Sorel

Can you tell us about your connection with Boston University?

I was very lucky to have Boston University buy my entire work, my oeuvre, as we say. In March, they’re having a retrospective of all my work and, as a matter of fact, I’m still packing up things to send there.

The Howard Gottlieb Center at Boston University has one of the finest collections from all walks of life. They have the second largest Martin Luther King collection. They have many of America’s great writers. They have Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They have most of the actors and actresses from the golden age of Hollywood. I’m very delighted to be part of this collection.

Mural by Edward Sorel at The Waverly Inn, completed in 2007. From left to right: Eddie Condon, Donald Barthelme, Willa Cather, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Jane Jacobs, John Sloan, and Andy Warhol.

Mural by Edward Sorel at The Waverly Inn, completed in 2007. From left to right: Eddie Condon, Donald Barthelme, Willa Cather, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Jane Jacobs, John Sloan, and Andy Warhol.

I heard a siren in the background. It brings back my visits to New York. You are a lifelong New Yorker and I know how much you love New York. Could you share some of your thoughts on the city?

I do love New York. I don’t love the crowds anymore. I do worry. When you live in a city like New York, you do begin to see a kind of science fiction future: crowds everywhere, lines everywhere. New York is kind of becoming that. They keep building these enormous skyscrapers without thinking about how the city will accommodate it. They’re not building out, like they did in Los Angeles. They’re building up. It used to be that the only crowds were in midtown but now crowds are all over. And you find yourself walking in the gutter because there’s too many people on the sidewalk.

So, yeah, I love New York. The New York that I grew up with, where the museums were free and everyone went to public school, seems to have vanished. Everything is expensive now, including the museums. It’s very difficult for young people. When The New York Times that I used to buy for three cents is now $2.50, The New Yorker which I used to buy for ten cents, is now something like $7, it’s bizarre. And, of course, the wages that young people get are pitiful. So, yeah, I love New York but I don’t like the time particularly.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

I can tell you about my next book. It’s going to be similar in structure to the Mary Astor book. It’s going to be a memoir. It will be about my growing up in New York. And it will be about the thirteen presidents that I’ve lived through.

My point is that every one of these presidents, whether I liked them or not, committed illegal acts, overthrew governments illegally, and did unconstitutional things. Starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower, who became enamored with Billy Graham. It was through those machinations that they put “In God We Trust” on our currency and inserted “Under God” in our oath of allegiance. Somehow, I regard that point in history as the slope we’ve been sliding ever since.

Now, it’s done so garishly with someone like Trump.

Right. Trump, the great Christian, who apparently was much loved by the Bible Belt. I don’t think there’s anything more derogatory I can say about organized religion than that they were responsible for the election of Donald Trump.

Is part of the new book you’re working on sitting on your drawing board?

Not yet. A little bit is sitting on the computer. Nothing has been drawn yet.

I wish you well on that. It’s been exciting and quite a treat to get a chance to talk with you for a bit.

You’re very kind. Thank you so much.

You can listen to the interview right here.

“Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936” is a 176-page hardcover, with full-color illustrations, published by W.W. Norton & Company. For more details, visit W.W. Norton & Company right here.

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Filed under Art, Cartooning, Cartoonists, Donald Trump, Edward Sorel, Illustration, Interviews, New York City, Political Cartoons, politics, Richard Nixon

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