Thanks again to Hurricane Nancy for such trippy and beautiful art! I have respectfully, with her permission, added color. I hope you enjoy this latest installment! Let’s all relax, however we like, and contemplate this piece.
If wise animals, non-human animals, were left to dividing up the planet, we could all breathe a big sigh of relief. But humans, often mistaken as the wisest of all animals, have the last say and wreak havoc. You know what wreaking havoc is all about, right? It’s a strange term but it’s pretty clear as to what it describes, despite the arcane wording. Animals, the ones that get to regularly roam free naked and uninhibited, are the ones we must listen to. If we humans can do that, perhaps we’ll have really gained some wisdom to see us through our next slouching towards redemption.
Artist Elise Engler is like all of us who love to document. It seems that we all want to have our say and tell not only our story but contribute to the bigger story. But only a few generations ago, the whole idea of self-expression, let alone self-portraits, was mostly in the artist’s domain. So, now everybody documents. A lot of it is ephemeral and only some of it has that everlasting quality, like the daily dispatches of news items collected in Engler’s book that chronicle the events of that infamous year, 2020. A Diary of the Plague Year: An Illustrated Chronicle of 2020 is out now. You can read my review here. And I invite you to my conversation with the artist.
Double Portrait of the Artist
It’s the persistent vision that wins out in the end. An artist engaging in a process for an extended amount of time is like mining for gold or anything else with a less than certain outcome. There will be trial and error efforts but a person with a certain mix of qualities, like sheer determination, will reach a breakthrough. Engler’s art is about keen observation from collecting data: everything in her apartment; or everything in a series of purses; or everything on every block of New York City’s Broadway! Each of these, and many more, have been subjects for Engler’s work.
Medical tents set up in Central Park in 2020 near the artist’s studio.
So, it is a pleasure to have a chance to chat with this artist. We have gone through so much in the recent past. It’s good to have an artist of this caliber to create this special record.
Highlight from The Cathedrals of Art (1942) by Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944)
A traditional question that I don’t always ask but had to in this case was to ask about influences. Engler’s choices, once I had time to consider, suggested to me a more earthy approach with Marsden Hartley; perhaps a spiritual connection with the Sienese School; expressive with Philip Guston; and whimsical with Florine Stettheimer. Well, I hope I got it right. Suffice it to say, Engler has a very emotive and energetic style.
I invite you to view the video interview. I also happen to have created a brief movie introduction so the interview begins right after that. In our interview, we cover all you would need to know before reading the book. We chat about the whole idea of documenting and the concept of a news junkie. As I suggest, documenting, as well as an interest in the news, is something we can all relate to. Elise Engler proves to be an exceptional participant, taking bits of data, giving them a sense of order, and finding something transcendent.
A Diary of the Plague Year: An Illustrated Chronicle of 2020 is available now.
“A Study in Ink” is a 32-page zine by artist Angela Krieg detailing the first six months of 2021, leading up to her first art show. This zine acts as a showcase for work; provides a window into a young person’s life struggles; and is a idiosyncratic document representing the COVID-19 era.
Perhaps the most appealing thing about a zine is that it is part of a DIY culture which sets no limitations and embraces authenticity over polish. Many a zine embraces typos and a more raw approach. Krieg’s zine has that kind of energy; it is more like a peek into a private sketchbook, warts and all, rather than a crafted finished work. That said, like many a sketchbook, there are certain gems that stand out. Some of the best examples here give the reader a taste of Krieg’s lean and direct style. It all adds up to a fun and interesting look at a small batch of artist notes and drawings.
A young artist’s life.
The very best example pares it all down to a bunch of words and one picture. At the bottom of the page is Krieg, eyes shut and appearing to hold it together. Atop her, various concerns loom overhead: mental health, motivation, COVID-19, taxes, cold, time and work. It’s a powerful image and a glimpse at what lies ahead for a promising new talent. You can find out how to purchase this zine, as well as review a variety of graphic artwork and services, at Krieg’s website.
Matt MacFarland is a talented artist who makes some very intriguing comics. In this conversation, we discuss Matt’s latest work, a book focusing on his father, MoreSeasons of Gary, published by Zines and Things. You can read my review of it here. And we also discuss his series, Dark Pants, and get a sneak peek at the next, and perhaps final, issue to that series.
MORE SEASONS OF GARY
There is quite a lot going on in Matt’s work with its explorations of relationships and social commentary. More Seasons of Gary is a great jumping off point if you’re new to Matt’s work. It is a little master course in how to tell family stories. With a light and balanced approach, MacFarland addresses the issue of alcohol addiction that his father struggled with. Bittersweet remembrances provide a complex and fair portrait.
SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE
Scenes from a Marriage is another of Matt’s projects and this one is just as offbeat and subversive as the best of MacFarland’s humor although it might look more like a conventional family comic strip at first glance. There’s definitely an elegant air of mischief. You can find some samples of it on Matt’s Instagram.
Dark Pants is where it all began. You can read one of my reviews covering the first two issues here. This is a series of cautionary tales about a supernatural pair of skinny black jeans that take over whoever ends up wearing the pair. Whoever wears the jeans is empowered to seek out their darkest desires. It is an excellent example of the artist-cartoonist aspiring to the highest levels of his craft. I look forward to more of this kind of this quirky and engaging work.
This is a really fun interview and I’m so glad I got a chance to catch up with Matt, a dedicated artist without a doubt. We even discuss the legacy of R. Crumb! Be sure to visit Matt here. And seek out More Seasons of Gary, published by Zines and Things.
It’s always a pleasure to get to do some shop talk with a fellow creative. Here is an interview with Kibla Ahmed, a comic artist, collector, and pop culture reviewer. I happen to have stumbled upon an online workshop that Kibla did recently from his London studio. It seemed to me a great opportunity to support a promising emerging artist. Perhaps the fact that this workshop was going on in London sealed the deal for me. For regular followers of my blog, you know how much fun Jennifer and I had on our visit to London in 2019. One of our favorite spots in London was Orbital Comics!
Illustration by Kibla Ahmet
I did my best to contact as many creative folks as possible and I did get to set up and follow through on some great interviews while I was in Europe. Well, since returning to Seattle, that trip left me wanting to seek out any opportunity to do more interviews across the pond. I did one recently with Sayra Begum. And now I present to you another UK talent, Kibla Ahmed.
The artist takes a coffee break.
It turns out that Kibla and I share quite a lot of common ground. We love comics, that’s a given. And we’re both determined to follow our own creative path. Plus we definitley have a similar interest in time travel. We both have our own ideas on how to pursue that theme in our creative work. Iconic time travel movies like Intersellar and Back to the Future, of course, resonate with us on a deep level. But, I have to say, Kibla has got me beat since his marriage ceremony included a bonafide DeLorean! Now, that’s dedication. I hope you enjoy our shop talk. We cover a little of everything and Kibla has lots to share about the creative process.
Be sure to visit Kibla Ahmed at his art site right here.
I ask that you keep going on this journey with me. I have been carving this niche for years and I feel like I’ve got it at quite a cozy level with just the right content and pacing. That said, it’s time for another thoughtful interview. For my video interviews, I add here a few notes and observations. Traditional journalism, like hard news reportage, will take an interview and create a concise summation. Some magazines are known for their long sprawling interviews where everything is transcribed. Of course, we also have a long tradition of various talk show formats, some thoughtful and some that are so casual as to blur right in with a dance segment on Tik Tok. Hey, I have nothing against fun and entertainment and I’ll engage in that when it makes sense. But, for interviews, I take them seriously, prepare for them, take off my Joe Cool hat and don’t engage in any dancing. Although, in a metaphorical sense, a good interview is sort of like a dance. The person conducting the interview leads while the person who is the subject of the interview goes about picking up one cue after another and making something out of it.
A bus driver finds solace through the suspension of disbelief.
Anyway, I say all this because it’s particularly relevant to this interview. Essentially, this is an interview about interviews: how to conduct one, what it means, what you attempt to get out of it. I interviewed Julia Wald about her new book, The Suspension of Disbelief (review), an illustrated collection of interviews she conducted about life and work during Covid-19. In the course of the interview, we ended up talking about what it means when you’re working at a restaurant during a world-wide pandemic and suddenly it’s like all the lights are out and then, just as suddenly, you are out of a job, your source of income. We discuss who might have stepped in to help and who didn’t.
A disadvantaged man finds hope through knowledge.
And, finally, once an artistic and talented person is inspired to create a book about Covid-19, what responsibility, if any, does she have to the vulnerable people she has interviewed? Well, part of the answer goes back to the dance. If the dance partners have established a sense of trust, then there’s a very good chance that something worthwhile will result that everyone can be proud of. We focus in a bit on American journalist Studs Terkel (1912-2008), the icon of what came to be known as “literary journalism.” Terkel was most active from the 1950s to 1990s, creating his seminal collection of interviews, Working, in 1974. He was part of that old-fashioned gumshoe journalist/creative tradition: loyal to his readers and listeners, to his Chicago, and to the art and craft of journalism. Julia says that Terkel inspired her on her Covid-19 project and it shows and, ultimately, it demonstrates that she did right by all who she interviewed. Julia did it the right way, the old-fashioned way that involves hard work and integrity. It’s the best way. And it’s what inspires me to keep going on this journey.
It seems ages ago that I posted a drawing early last year about the developing “new normal” living conditions during this pandemic. Well, as much as things have changed with vaccines on the way, we still have a journey ahead of us. Perhaps it’s safe to say we’re at the halfway point, or better. Let us hope so! For now, we keep doing all the safe things we’ve been doing and, when it’s our turn, we get vaccinated. 2021 is now here. Let’s all make the most of it as best we can.
Mongrel is a significant debut graphic novel by Sayra Begum. This is among the best works of 2020 as I look back on the year. You can read my review here. And, now, you can enjoy something more. Check out my interview with Sayra Begum by just clicking the link below:
Gipi is one of the great cartoonists. His approach is to treat the page in a heroic fashion, as both canvas and stage, employing a variety of techniques and styles. In one work, he will typically shift from loose sketchbook line drawings to haunting panoramic watercolor panels. We see this kind of work in the States but we see even more of this in Europe. Gipi is part of that Italian breed of cartoonist who sings for his supper through fierce and daring visual storytelling. I was rifling through a stack of books and papers just the other day and Gipi’s The Innocents nearly hit me on the head. I took that as a sign. It is a story about lost youth and their comeuppance. That title was part of an amazing Ignatz collection published by Fantagraphics. A title that is currently on my radar is One Story, also published by Fantagraphics and one of the most ambitious works by Gipi that I’ve come across.
Gipi commands the page like a canvas or a stage.
Any artist, or magician worth his salt, is a master of illusion. Any given number of strokes of ink or paint on the page may seem marginal or of undetermined worth–and sometimes they don’t seem to quite add up! There are times when no one notices any of these potentially perceived mistakes or accidents that require further reflection. Or the culmination of all these marks does add up without much doubt but it still doesn’t seem to meet some fickle taste. Only a determined, persistent and consistent effort will ultimately win the day and that is what Gipi does. He’s the one who is constantly drawing. He is a cartoonist who unmistakably acts like any other artist, whatever the medium. And, in the process of all that problem-solving, a universe emerges. In the end, he can make it look easy. Ideally, and in general, you want all the elements on the page, even the splotches and rough gestures, to simply read as part of the narrative. Each mark belongs on the page. Gipi has the temperament and the confidence to pull that off.
Gipi, cartoonist as visionary artist.
Going hand in hand with a heroic attitude to mark-making is the actual script to which Gipi runs with as if his very life depends upon it. These sort of stories are the ones that need plenty of room to run, as they are larger-than-life stories about life! The reader can ease up on applying cold logic and allow the tale to cast its spell. For most readers, this will not be a problem at all. We begin in the present. Gipi charms the reader with his overwhelming sense of weltschmerz. Gipi shows us that the older you are, the less you can acknowledge your age when facing the mirror. An aging beauty can only see through a vintage lens. Cut to our main character, a former fiery rebel who is not aging into the perfect Lothario he intended to be.
Just drive off in a Maserati.
Next, our aging rebel finds a kindred spirit and they drive off in a Masareti. Remember, the plot is going to keep shifting. So, our main character is one Silvano Landi. It turns out that Mr. Landi is under heavy medication in a psych ward. He is drifting in and out of recollections, all very lucid and vibrant as hell. What Silvano sees, we see. A team of professionals are determined to keep Landi nicely sedated with increasing amounts of Bituprozan, in keeping with their standards, in order to address his “Schizophrenia with Monomaniacal Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors.”
“A bare tree. Why?”
The team is both impressed and bewildered by a series of drawings Landi has done of a service station and a tree. They admit the work is dazzling but it is also so clearly out of the norm, and most disturbing. God help any artist at the mercy of psych bureaucrats! As for Landi’s request to go outside, well, the team won’t tolerate that at all. Silvano Landi is a famous writer, after all. He must get the most careful and strict of treatment.
Navigating a psych ward.
The story now takes a determined turn. We move over to Landi’s great-grandfather, Mauro, and the trenches of World War I. From here on out, we alternate between Landi, Mauro and all points beyond. As you’ve come to appreciate from this writing, this is all pure Gipi! Ah, and this is where the plot thickens as we venture off into geopolitics and so much more. It is absolutely not my intention to go over every plot point but, instead, to give you a good generous taste.
A tree grows at the end of the world.
My goal in a post like this, as always, is to provide you with a guided tour, part of my exploration of the most provocative and challenging works in comics. I happen to relish expressing myself in well-chosen words and this exceptional work inspires that effort. Keep in mind, Gipi is not exactly alone but he’s also definitely among the very best auteur cartoonists. If you had only one cartoonist to read, Gipi will win you over on many levels. None the least is, again, that deliciously melancholic sense of raw and jaded sophistication–and exhausted experience.