Here are two cartoonists that need to be on your radar, David Lasky and Greg Stump. And, if you’re in Seattle, then you have an opportunity to take a very special comics course from them. This is an in depth look at “graphic humor,” as expressed by artists, writers, and cartoonists. “Graphic Humor” is a 6-week course at Hugo House: Saturdays from 1 to 3pm, starting April 13 – and is described in the Hugo House catalog:
“Two experienced, allegedly funny cartoonists will guide you through the process of creating a wide range of humorous comics, from New-Yorker-style gag cartoons to page-long stories, rants, and satire. We’ll examine work—from subtle to slapstick to surreal—of some of the medium’s funniest artists and writers en route to generating material for a class anthology comic book. While prior drawing/cartooning experience may be helpful for this class, it isn’t absolutely essential; however, be prepared to collaborate and share work.”
Comics by Greg Stump
Lasky and Stump aim to reveal a wide range of techniques and approaches to humor through a variety of prompts, forms, and experiments. The list of artists and writers covered in the course include Dan Clowes, Julie Doucet, Will Elder, Lynda Barry, Raymond Pettibon, Donald Barthelme, Kate Beaton, Saul Steinberg, Edward Gorey, Lisa Hanawalt, Jeffrey Brown, Ernie Bushmiller, Joe Brainard, David Shrigley, and many others. Students will work towards creating a comic book at the end of the sessions which everyone will contribute to and receive a copy. This is the first time Stump and Lasky have focued on humor for one of their courses. They look forward to engaging with their students.
Berlin is a monumental work in comics. Few cartoonists will come close to such an achievement–and it couldn’t have been created by a nicer guy. What came across, over and over, during this talk is the fact that Lutes is very accessible and down to earth. That open approach plays into part of what makes his landmark work so special. It all began when teenager Jason Lutes wanted to make sense of a documentary about the holocaust he was suddenly exposed to in a high school history class. The teacher for that class was an alcoholic who made no effort to hide his struggles. He literally set up the movie for his class and left to get a drink. That abrupt and careless action ultimately triggered an in depth exploration of Weimar Germany through a creation of an expansive work in comics that would take 22 years to complete.
#ProtectMueller march in Seattle on 8 Nov. 2018
It was not lost on anyone during Lutes’s talk related to the dismantling of the German government of the 1920s that concerned citizens, just outside on the streets of Seattle, were protesting Trump’s own inroads into dismantling the U.S. government. Timing is everything. That Thursday night book talk directly coincided with protests across the country in support of protecting the Robert Mueller investigation after Trump installed a loyalist as acting Attorney General of the United States. Details are everything. If you follow the characters and the rich narrative of Berlin, you can’t help but get an eerie sense of having a mirror held up to the past and to the present.
Cartoonists holding each other’s works: Jason Lutes with David Lasky
Authenticity is everything. What is so appealing about comics by Jason Lutes is the solid storytelling. That involves a dynamic use of the comics medium: a crisp consistency in step with strategically placed visual elements that are pleasing to the eye and move the story forward. A quick example: I was standing in line to get my copy of Berlin signed and I made a point of poring over each page as I flipped my way through. Right around the midpoint, there is a page made up of wordless panels showing a mysterious figure in a row boat. He reaches the shore to find what looks like a vicious snake. He picks it up by its jaws and overpowers it. That same character reappears in the book as does the snake, both providing just the right doses of symbolism as well as pure entertainment. It’s important to note that, while Lutes referred to vast amounts of research and reading, he also fondly recalled the influence of key works in pop culture. Berlin Alexanderplatz, a novel about Weimar Germany, by Alfred Döblin, holds as much importance to Lutes as his viewing of the original Star Wars movie as a kid. Altogether, what you have in Berlin is an honest look from an individual processing and distilling at a meticulous level.
Cartoonists Revisit: Jason Lutes with Jennifer Daydreamer
For many in the audience that night, it was an opportunity to revisit a respected work and commiserate with a friend and colleague. Seattle is a lightning rod for countless creative people and that includes a high number of independent cartoonists. There’s a certain sensibility to the alt-comics artist with Jason Lutes being a prime example. As he discussed in his lecture, it was Seattle that he gravitated to in the 1990s. After attending the Rhode Island School of Design, Lutes moved to Seattle and worked for the comics publisher, Fantagraphics. He subsequently worked for the alt-weekly, The Stranger, just as it began publication in 1991. During this era, Lutes became part of a group of cartoonists that went on to form an integral part of the Seattle comix scene. That group included some members that were in attendance that night: Megan Kelso, David Lasky and Jennifer Daydreamer. It was a treat to have part of the gang together again on such a special occasion.
Has a major American city ever commissioned a graphic novel as a public art piece before? Seattle is on board! Cartoonist David Lasky and writer Mairead Case have been selected (from 71 applicants) by the City of Seattle to create a fictional graphic novel centered around the historic Georgetown Steam Plant. The goal is to increase awareness of this unique landmark with a graphic novel geared toward young adults.
Panel from “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song”
David Lasky is the co-author (with Frank Young) of the Eisner-Award-winning graphic novel biography, “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.” Chicago writer Mairead Case is the author of the acclaimed prose novel, “See You in the Morning.” A story by Lasky and Case, “Soixante Neuf,” was featured in Best American Comics 2011.
West elevation exterior of engine room. The Georgetown Steam Turbine Station, built in 1906 is now a National Historic Landmark. The plant is owned by Seattle City Light and has been working to restore the plant. It is open for tours the second Saturday of each month and is occasionally used as a teaching facility for steam power engineers and hobbyists.
Here is a brief email interview I did with Mairead Case today:
What went through your head when you got the news about being chosen for this special graphic novel project?
Well I was, am, sincerely grateful: to be from a city that celebrates public monuments with comics, and to have visibility and support for the creative relationship David and I have pretty much always had, even when nobody else was looking. Grateful to have work that includes time for oral histories and site-specific research (no screens!). And aware of the responsibility to accurately represent Georgetown’s diverse history—we want to use this platform to amplify and illuminate the stories that are already here, not co-opt them. For real. (Also, I was really happy to have news that would make my mom proud.)
Are you already envisioning what your routine will be like with the project?
David and I are both pretty focused, detailed nightowls so I expect we’ll have a focused, detailed, nightowl routine. That said, it’s amazing to have financial support for this project so it’s really exciting to think about how we might work in new ways with that gift. (We might even work in the daytime, ha!) But no matter what we’ll be collaborating closely. And we will probably listen to Bowie at some point.
Did you ever think you’d be creating a graphic novel about a steam plant?
I feel like I’m supposed to say no here, but why not? When I was a kid I wanted to be a tightrope walker so maybe this is not that far off.
What do you think this project might say about the role of graphic novels in America?
Ah, I think our role is to make the book and then other people can tell us! But it is terrific terrific terrific that Seattle is supporting a project like this—it’s really wonderful that an American city in 2017 is using art to build community, as defined and remembered by that community. I’m used to telling (maybe yelling a little too) at the government about that, and am still gobsmacked that this time the government was all “we know. Go.” I hope that other cities say “Go” too. The talent is here! American cities, if you want me to send you lists about the talented storytellers I know in your neighborhoods, just send a flare.
You can keep up with this intriguing project right here.
And, if you’re in Seattle this weekend, be sure to stop by and see David Lasky at the annual comic arts festival, Short Run.
Even in what would seem to be the carefree world of alt-comics, there is a creeping feeling of “self-publish or perish” that can nag at many a cartoonist. This can be a good thing as it helps to motivate many who must rely upon their own self-imposed deadlines. Despite all the interest that is supposed to be heaped upon the DIY world and a myriad of other endeavors conveniently labeled as “hipster,” “quirky,” or the grand ole workhorse, “geek,” there’s really no money, let alone a livelihood, to be expected from all the scribbling in notebooks and sketchbooks. Maybe, for some, there’s at least a real feeling of accomplishment from one’s efforts, not just a pat on the back. And, for a relative few who keep honing their craft, and especially at the alt level, each year brings a little more recognition. Each year makes the big picture more clear. This is certainly the case with cartoonist David Lasky. Here’s a look at a special annual publication that he’s been putting together to coincide with the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle.
David Lasky and I are of the same vintage. I consider him a good friend and a fellow cartoonist that I’ve always admired. We’re both in Seattle and share a certain sensibility. So, of all the people who take a moment to read what I have to say, he’s one of my readers who I will hope to especially resonate with. Let me put it this way: I appreciate what he’s doing on a deep level. I believe there’s this chasing after the brass ring that was drummed into folks from our Generation X. People like us will make good on the dreams we’ve envisioned since we were little kids, as corny as that sounds. I know that makes sense to David, and probably, I would hope, to everyone reading this.
What we find in “Manifesto Items #5” is special indeed. David Lasky highlights his creation of comics from the past year. It’s a fascinating window into the creative process. Like I say, there’s that “publish or perish” mantra that can dog cartoonists. If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? That’s the challenge that many creators must contend with. They can certainly opt to work alone until a project is complete and many are just fine with that. But some want to keep stoking the fires in between significant work and so they need to hunt down viable options such as anthologies, local publications, and comics jams. In the case of Lasky, it is this short form work, with its room for experimentation, that he loves the most and that he can raise to the level of significant work. We get a nice sampling of all of that, notably a sci-fi satire that appeared in The Intruder.
Perhaps most revealing are a couple of things that feel very natural. One is a father and son comics memoir. David is visiting his dad. And his dad gives him some advice: Rid yourself of clutter! He then proceeds to unload a bunch of books and DVDs on his son who gladly accepts each and every one. I think that speaks to a particular Gen X mad love for all media.
The other is a prose essay recollection of David visiting the Hirshhorn Museum as a little boy to see a Saul Steinberg retrospective. David was fascinated by Steinberg on many levels not the least of which was his noncommercial approach to cartooning! Here you had Steinberg creating cartoon characters without a comic strip or any scent of franchise. Ah, that’s fodder for Gen X rebellion! And to make the point, David emulated Steinberg’s penchant for drawing cartoons directly onto the envelopes he sent off in the mail. How unconventional back then and even today.
Be sure to visit David Lasky right here. Find David at Etsy right here.
David Lasky and Henry Chamberlain enjoy a hearty laugh at the Sorrento Hotel, 8 November 2014. What was so funny? Perhaps it was Henry’s best joke ever!
Let the word go out, loud and clear, that the graphic novel, “A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories” has officially launched! There was an intimate gathering at the Sorrento Hotel in Seattle, this Saturday, November 8, to celebrate the launch of Henry Chamberlain’s new book, a collection of some of his best work in comics. Do you like scary stories? Apparently many of you out there do. Well, this book has got you covered. Perhaps you like humor? Or a tour de force coming-of-age tale. Again, you’re covered. Covered. Covered. Covered. This book is your best bet as a gift for the holidays! Get it here.
Henry Chamberlain with a copy of A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories at the Sorrento Hotel.
The Sorrento Hotel is truly a unique destination. If you’re staying the night, you are in for a treat. But, you can also stop by for an exceptional cocktail, fine dining, and some excellent pastimes, such as live music in the legendary Fireside Room. It was my pleasure to act as host as some friends gathered to help me launch my new book.
It is only fitting to have a book launch at the Sorrento Hotel as this is the setting for the title story in the book. I created this story when I stayed at the Sorrento Hotel to conduct one of my 24-hour comics experiments. The story that resulted is a spooky little gem involving a couple with supernatural abilities and a lot of issues to resolve. Since then, I have come to rely upon the Sorrento as an old friend that you can always trust to serve you well.
Pat Moriarity and Henry Chamberlain at the Sorrento Hotel, 8 November 2014.
Truth be told, creating a work is only half the battle. The other half is promoting the work. Often, the biggest hurdle to jump is competing with all the distractions of life. And the most important thing to always remember is that the book’s creator must always remain that book’s most steadfast and loyal fan. People will come around. If the book is worth it, well, its creator will have never left its side.
Find out more here.
Alright, you’re at Comic-Con and feeling fine but where’s David Lasky? You may be asking that very question if your taste in comics runs toward indie and offbeat. Or maybe you’re a fan of his recent graphic novel, with Frank M. Young, The Carter Family. And with the handy illustration above, provided by David Lasky, you will know just where to find him at Comic-Con.
“Short Run” is a gathering of small press in Seattle with some added attractions this year. There’s the main event, the Short Run Small Press Festival at Washington Hall on Saturday, November 30, 2013. But, for those who want more, there’s plenty more starting with an event on November 1. Check out the Short Run website for details here.
David Lasky Accepting the Eisner Award. Photo by Jacq Cohen
“The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song” is a very special book dear to my heart. You can read my review of it here. So, to learn that it won an Eisner Award last night at Comic-Con is great news. It shared the honors with another wonderful book, “Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller”
The night’s other tie was in the Best Reality-Based Work category, with Joseph Lambert (“Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller”; Center for Cartoon Studies/Disney Hyperion) and Frank M. Young and David Lasky (“The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song”; Abrams ComicArts) sharing the award.
David Lasky accepted the Eisner award. Co-creator Frank Young was not able to be present. So, good for them! You can check out “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song” here. And you can check out “Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller” here.
You can check out a recap on the Eisner Awards here.
Truth is stranger than fiction for The Carter Family who prove to be a true All-American story: unassuming, proud, and innocent. Much like one of those trite dime store novels by Horatio Alger, this family succeeds by luck and pluck. Thankfully, however, the story of one of America’s great country music families is told with grace and wit in the graphic novel, “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song,” coauthored by Frank M. Young and David Lasky, and published by Abrams ComicArts. Mr. Young primarily writes and Mr. Lasky primarily handles the artwork in his unmistakable style. All said and done, after a number of years of work on this project, the book looks and feels like it was meant to be. The fact that this story is not only a graphic novel but presented as if it were a series of old-time Sunday funnies is a perfect fit with such a natural and easygoing narrative.
The driving force behind how this early 20th Century Virginia clan gained notoriety rests with Alvin Pleasant Carter and Sara Dougherty Carter. If not for A.P. Carter’s magic touch with crafting songs and Sara’s haunting vocals, there would not have been a Carter Family to begin with. The luck and pluck part comes into play in a myriad of ways. To start with, A.P. and Sara were an unlikely pair to begin with. He was shy and awkward. She was stubborn and impetuous. They both had their own ideas of what they wanted and preferred to be left to their own devices. Once it clicks that they, and their family, actually do have talent, that is when the prospect of good fortune ironically leads everyone down a precarious path. A.P. is prone to disappear to maintain his quota of songs to sell while Sara’s mood swings add to mounting instability.
Titles of songs and lyrics are intertwined into the narrative to bring out the bittersweet. Each chapter heading is the title of a song, like “Meet Me by the Moonlight Alone,” which features young Alvin courting Sara, or “Look How the World Has Made a Change,” a chapter towards the end when personal dreams have been broken but technological progress presses on. The songs have their own eerie irony and enhance the pleasing ambiguity of the book’s storytelling. The characters themselves often have poker faces but not always. The tension is contemporary but subtle. Things move slowly here, but not without intention.
As much history lesson as satisfying character drama, “The Carter Family” balances out what the world was like then and choices that were made along the way. When A.P. Carter would wander away to collect new songs, it wasn’t like he was out with a net capturing butterflies. The songs had to come from somewhere. To his credit, he was a songwriter in his own right and had the poet’s ear for good lyrics. He was also innocent to what intellectual property means to us today. In his time, people collected songs in the old oral tradition. If something sounded good, someone took it upon themselves to memorize it, not bothering as to where it came from. It was an easy enough system until A.P. meets Lesley Riddle, an African-American who shares with him an unusually good song, “The Cannonball.” In this case, it seems that Mr. Riddle crafted something from another source, in the same manner as A.P. was in the habit of doing. So, does Mr. Riddle get any credit? Mr. Carter tries to do just that. However, his manager/producer/song publisher, Ralph Peer, who should know better, denies Mr. Carter’s request.
As any good country song will tell you, life is not fair. This is something the Carters must learn over and over again just like any rock star today has to be ready to take the good with the bad. Even in their low-key manner, this Carter family is full of drama and we’re the richer for it. That said, the story is told in such a poetic and hypnotic way that, like any good country song, it will leave you with a satisfying melancholy.
“The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song” is published by Abrams ComicArts. This is a 192-page hardcover book in full color with a CD of Carter Family songs. Visit the Abrams ComicArts site.
I hope you enjoyed this review. Please continue reading to the next two posts for exclusive interviews with Frank M. Young and David Lasky.
David Lasky is the coauthor, with Frank M. Young, of the graphic novel, “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.” It has been a treat to observe Mr. Lasky’s evolution as an artist. He always loves a challenge and, with this book, he realized early on this was a project that would take years to get right. Sensitive to the human condition, his artistry reveals A.P. Carter and Sara Dougherty Carter for who they were while leaving something to mystery. Like the Mona Lisa’s smile, there is only so much we can know. Mr. Lasky used dip pens of the time to help capture the pace of a bygone era but he also employs a contemporary sensibility in drawing out the drama of these characters. This is the story of the early years of country music giving way to the early years of radio and beyond.
“The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song” is published by Abrams ComicArts. This is a 192-page hardcover book in full color with a CD of Carter Family songs. Visit the Abrams ComicArts site.