Here is one more comic that I picked up at Short Run over the weekend. This title, Exit, by Miles MacDiarmid, got my attention because the creator chose to include Pres. William Howard Taft on the cover of his work just like I did for a book collection of my own work, A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories. Taft! Taft! Taft! Was he a great American president? No, not great. But there’s something about him, right? Well, he figures in MacDiarmid’s comic in a similar way as it figures in mine, more of an absurd MacGuffin creature. So, a cartoonist with a offbeat and erudite sense of humor is a very good thing and so it goes with this book, Exit. I also see from MacDiarmid’s website that he does fine art. So do I. I think it’s an important distinction among cartoonists that I can relate to all too well. I think MacDiarmid is someone who loves to create work and is restless, always looking for something new to do. You can see that in this book. It’s just classic absurd fun, that’s really all you need to know. Seriously fun stuff!
Exit by Miles MacDiarmid
What goes on in Exit? How about What doesn’t go on in Exit? There’s a state of frenzy running throughout these pages where you fell anything is possible. You don’t get that with any work in comics. It’s hard to do and too many cartoonists sink down to something very predictable and easy. It is those rare artist-cartoonists who dig deeper and live and breathe their comics than have the potential to reach the level of, say, Simon Hanselmann. And that reminds me that I want to do a proper review of Simon’s latest book, even if it is rather late. I hope to do a proper interview with him too. We should both be dressed in drag for it too. And, no, I am NOT digressing. Simon’s work comes to mind because I see a similar energy in MacDiarmid’s work. The next big step would be to keep going, stay consistent, keep pushing and things will continue to come together as they already are!
Exit is published by the arts collective, Freak Comics. Everything there looks fresh and delicious so go check them out right here.
From time to time, Comics Grinder features a notable comics shop. If you find yourself in Petaluma, California, be sure to visit Brian’s Comics. This is what an ideal comics shop should be: organized, clean & tidy, nicely stocked with friendly and knowledgable staff. From the moment you walk in, you know that the owner, Brian himself, will do his level best to match you up with the comics you’re looking for.
Brian’s Comics in Petaluma
While I browsed through the store, I was instantly impressed with how Brian interacted with his customers, putting them at ease and attentive on every point. This is definitely a warm and inviting store. Brian’s Comics has been around now for six years and it looks like this shop has a very bright future.
Brian’s Comics in Petaluma
After a while, I asked Brian my number one question. I asked him what was currently on his radar. To be fair, he mentioned a number of items. I will stick with the one that got my attention the most. Currently, among what he’s been tracking, Brian highly recommend’s Event Leviathan, the six-issue mystery thriller from DC Comics, written by the legendary Brian Michael Bendis with artwork by Alex Maleev.
Brian’s Comics in Petaluma
Brian’s Comics is an excellent shop. Visit them in Petaluma and on the web right here.
Early in the morning on Monday, October 9, 2017, wildfires burned through Northern California, resulting in 44 fatalities. Brian Fies’s book, A Fire Story (Abrams ComicArts), is his honest, unflinching depiction of his personal experiences, including losing his house and every possession he and his wife Karen could not fit into the back of their car. In the days that followed, as the fires continued to burn through the area, he posted an initial version of A Fire Story online and it immediately went viral. The video segment KQED produced about his comic went on to win a Northern California Area Emmy Award. He has expanded his original webcomic into a full length graphic novel that goes deeper into environmental insights and the fire stories of his neighbors and others in his community. A Fire Story is an honest account of the wildfires that left homes destroyed, families broken, and a community determined to rebuild.
A Fire Story Book Tour
I was able to catch up with Brian Fies at his reading at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, part of his book tour. This interview is the result of a subsequent email exchange.
Brian, thanks for doing this interview. You have built a very interesting portfolio of comics and graphic novels. You’re searching for answers and you’re compelled to express yourself through comics in order to explain big themes whether it’s history and technology (Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow) or personal challenges (Mom’s Cancer). When you were creating that webcomic about your first impressions of the Northern California fires, did you already intuit the making of your next graphic novel?
Thanks for your gracious thoughts on my work, I appreciate it! I can’t claim any grand strategy—as my wife Karen and I fled our house that night, I wasn’t thinking, “Ah ha, I’ve found my next book!”—but I knew I was an eyewitness to an extraordinary event and felt like I had to tell people about it. To bear witness. My first job out of college was as a newspaper reporter, and I felt that journalism gene kick into gear. Even as I walked back into my neighborhood the next morning to see what had happened to my house, before I even knew it was gone, I was taking photos and making mental notes that I knew I’d need later. The next day, I bought shoes and art supplies, and started writing and drawing.
As I worked on the webcomic, I was certainly aware it might become my next graphic novel. I’d been down a similar path with Mom’s Cancer: live through something terrible, find something interesting to say about it, put it online because that was fast and cheap, and see if anybody cared enough to read it. If nobody had read either webcomic, that would have been the end of both of them, and I would have been satisfied with that. I got my story out into the world; what the world did with it was out of my hands. In the case of A Fire Story, within a few days it went viral. Around 700,000 people read the webcomic on my blog. News and other media picked it up. San Francisco PBS station KQED made it into an animated short-film that was seen by 3 million people and won an Emmy Award. None of that was guaranteed or planned, but when it happens, the odds are good it’ll be a book if you want it to be. I thought about it and decided I was up for it.
Keep in mind, the whole time this was not the most important thing going on in my life! My family lost our home. Our neighborhood of about 200 houses looked like a nuclear bomb had hit it. People died. Thousands in our community were suddenly homeless and jobless, and we had no idea what to do. We had to figure out a lot, fast. My little comic strip, and the hullabaloo that soon came with it, wasn’t top priority. We were busy.
Page from A Fire Story
Share with us what sort of person becomes a cartoonist. I think everyone can potentially draw and write but there’s a certain personality that remains persistent and follows through with work year after year. I think it’s a combination of passions: a desire to report, to draw, and even perform. What do you think of that, and how it ties in with your new book, A FIRE STORY? Heck, I’ll also throw in: Did you always want to be a cartoonist and was it just a matter of time?
There may be as many motives for cartooning as there are cartoonists. I loved making comics from childhood. As a teen and early adult I tried very hard to make a living at it—which at the time meant becoming a syndicated newspaper cartoonist or drawing comic books. I got some nibbles but, like most people in most creative arts, I failed. I went on to have a family and a couple of different careers I enjoyed, but always kept cartooning. I sold some freelance work. I illustrated a light bulb catalog once; they come in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes. But my real career in comics didn’t begin until my mother was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer and I decided the comics medium was the best way to tell our family’s story. In that sense, maybe it was just a matter of time. When the opportunity came, I had sufficient skills to do it.
Page from A Fire Story
Most cartoonists I know are shy. More introverted than not, though I know some on the other end of the spectrum who are hyper-outgoing. I think one of the attractions of cartooning, certainly for me, is that one person can do it all themselves. It’s not collaborative, like animation or filmmaking usually are. I’m the god of the little world I create on the page. Even my handwriting communicates a mood or feeling. For better or worse, and sometimes it goes really wrong, you’re getting one person’s singular creative vision. It also has incredibly low barriers to entry. For the price of paper and a pen, you too can be a professional cartoonist!
It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that cartooning doesn’t strictly require being a good artist. I mean, it helps, but making pretty drawings is one of the least important parts of it. Comics are about storytelling. Not making one breathtaking picture, but making a dozen, a hundred, a thousand pictures that move through time and space, and guide a reader through ideas, characters, plot, and emotions. A comic drawn in stick figures could make you weep or cheer if its storytelling were compelling enough. That said, the better an artist you are, the more tools you’ll have in your storytelling tool box.
The other thing I’ve come to believe is super important is authenticity. Readers can tell when you’re faking it or jerking them around. If you tell a story from the heart—one that really means something to you, one that only you can tell because your entire life went into making it—somebody will respond. A comic about a routine planet-devouring laser-mounted space dragon, or a group of wizards and goblins who bumble through Lord of the Rings-like adventures, will probably bore me. Anybody could do that. But if your true passion in life is collecting bottle caps, and you can draw a comic about bottle caps that makes me care about them as much as you do, I’ll be your fan for life.
Page from A Fire Story
There’s a wonderful nugget you brought up during your reading about kids from families that survived the fires in Nothern California. You point out that in your webcomic you have children requesting bedtime “fire stories.” What a great way to come around to the title of your book. I’m assuming that’s where the title comes from. Any story behind it—or was that title a natural fit and you ran with it?
Yeah, that nugget came from some people I know who lost their home, and whose grandchildren insisted on reading A Fire Story every night for weeks because that’s how they understood and processed what had happened to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. And Grandma would even read the naughty words because, while kids shouldn’t say those words, sometimes they’re the right words to say.
I gave the title much less thought than you’d expect. Again, Mom’s Cancer was instructive for me. It’s simple, direct, memorable, tells you what the story’s going to be about. Same with A Fire Story: it does what it says on the label.
A Fire Story by Brian Fies
You have said that this graphic novel has changed you. You’ve got a different perspective. For now, of course, it’s a time of healing and rebuilding. My heart goes out to you. As you did in your reading, I think the best place to end here is with that one page that sums things up so well where it’s you and Karen simply wanting to go home. It’s also a time to get the word out on A FIRE STORY. That said, this is a long way around to simply asking what do you hope folks will get out of your book?
Thanks so much. As I describe in the book’s end notes, I’ve gotten two kinds of feedback to the webcomic and graphic novel that mean the most to me. People who went through it with us tell me I got it right. And people who didn’t go through it tell me it helped them understand what it was like.
I hope A Fire Story stands as a work of respectable, responsible journalism that gives a full picture of what living through a disaster is like for an individual, a family, a community. It doesn’t have to be a fire. I think a hurricane survivor and I would have a lot to talk about. In an even larger sense, I think A Fire Story has something to say about any family or community in any type of crisis. These experiences and our reactions to them are nearly universal. We all have more in common than we think. So A Fire Story is my story, but I hope folks might see that it’s their story, too.
Page from A Fire Story
A Fire Story is a 154-page hardcover, in full color available as of March 5th. For more details and how to purchase, visit Abrams ComicArts.
Many of you may recall a webcomic recounting the horrible 2017 wildfires through Northern California. Except for a smattering of bare essentials, cartoonist Brian Fies and his wife, Karen, lost everything in the fires. Mr. Fies chose to set his recollections down as soon as possible and posted them as a webcomic. His on-the-spot reportage struck a chord and it led San Francisco PBS TV station KQED to adapt A Fire Story into a five-minute animation, which was subsequently picked up by NPR. That animation went on to win an Emmy Award in 2018. Now, in 2019, that 18-page webcomic has been refined and transformed into a 154-page full color graphic novel, published by Abrams ComicArts, that includes an entire community of people.
Graphic novels, I can tell you from firsthand experience, are a glorious beast to tame with their myriad of details to tackle. So, it is quite remarkable and commendable that Fies stuck it out and built a full length graphic novel upon a small scale webcomic. The reader will immediately sense the urgency of a determined storyteller within these pages. Fies is not only telling his story but involving thousands upon thousands of individuals affected by this disaster. In honest words and pictures, Fies shares his loss: “I used to have five redwood trees in my front yard. I saw a refrigerator and the rough shape of a car I used to have in my garage. I didn’t recognize anything else. A two-story house full of our lives was a two-foot heap of dead, smoking ash.” And Fies shares the loss of others, like Dottie, an 81-year-old woman displaced from her mobile home: “My niece called me. She said, ‘Auntie, if you’re on any kind of medication, grab your medications and come up to my house.’ She didn’t say ‘fire,’ she just said, ‘Get up to my house.’ I could tell by the tone of her voice to listen to her.”
Fie’s artwork has a nice clean, crisp and spare quality to it which lines up well with the urgency of the narrative. Fies still prefers to draw by hand and that added human touch is apparent. The same can be said for the coloring, direct and resourceful with just the right amount of flourish. In fact, the coloring might be made with markers, or at least it has that look to it. So, you get the best of both worlds: hand-drawn ink on paper artwork married to digital components. When Fies chose to document this disaster in real time, he managed to cobble together a purchase of some basic art supplies and it worked out just fine. Someone told him that he must have been compelled to “bear witness” and that is exactly what Fies did in the best way he could, through comics. That need to bear witness is palpable on every page.
A Fire Story is a 154-page hardcover, in full color available as of March 5th. For more details and how to purchase, visit Abrams ComicArts.
I am a big fan of Matt MacFarland’s DARK PANTS series. You can read my review on the previous two issues right here. The third issue is now out and it follows Phil, a teenager in Silver Lake, California, circa 1988. As Matt described to me in an interview, each new issue focuses on a different time and place in the Los Angeles area. The motif is a mysterious pair of black jeans and the sexual awakening they trigger in whoever wears them.
Page from DARK PANTS #3
For our hero, Phil, life has been hell as he struggles with his sexuality. Phil is navigating in a very oppressive environment. The last thing he wants to consider is being gay. But, once his fate crosses paths with those alluring dark pants, he gains enough confidence to explore his options a little bit. MacFarland is relentless in his depiction of Phil’s inability to be true to himself. It seems as if his embracing his truth is filled with nothing but pain. Gradually, MacFarland hints that Phil may ultimately find pleasure but it sure won’t come easy.
Reading DARK PANTS #3
The easiest thing that Phil can rely upon is his imagining having sex with teen heartthrob John Stamos. It’s a pretty funny and sobering fact. Phil thinks about it and he knows he likes it. But he’d rather hide. Things come to a head, so to speak, when Lisa, his supposed dream girl, lures him away to a bedroom. It’s his big chance to prove he’s not gay to his confused and frustrated self but all he can think about is…John Stamos. As for Lisa, she will have her day. It looks like she is the subject of the fourth issue set in Eagle Rock, California, circa 2016.
No matter how empowering those dark pants are, they are no match for an awkward teen. Phil is simply ill-equipped to harness his new raw power. He makes some progress but not quite what he might have expected. MacFarland’s drawing and writing is highly accessible. He immerses the reader in the inner turmoil that his characters are going through. With just the right touch of humor, MacFarland offers us stories of missteps of the heart that will stay with us.
If you are in the L.A. area this weekend, be sure to see Matt MacFarland on Saturday, July 16th, from 5-7pm at the Los Angeles County Store in Silver Lake. Find out more right here.
I’m a lot like you, someone who loves to be creative and follow their wanderlust. My latest adventure took me to Los Angeles and I want to share with you the wonderful place I stayed at, BLVD Hotel & Suites. What follows is a review of this boutique hotel complete with my own illustrations. Hope you like this and will see yourself at BLVD on your next visit to L.A.
BLVD Hotel & Suites has three locations in California. I stayed at the one in the heart of Hollywood near the iconic intersection of Hollywood and Highland Blvd. Thus its name, BLVD. It’s easy to remember and easy to find. You are within walking distance of the Hollywood Walk of Fame and beyond.
BLVD in Hollywood is located at 2010 N Highland Avenue and that proves to be a really convenient hub to return to as you go about your day and night. I need to emphasize this fact because a lot of people will take a hotel’s location for granted. Where you start your day plays a pivotal role. This made it easy to wander over to a number of great places for meals. At the top of my list is Musso & Frank Grill at 6667 Hollywood Blvd. A new find since my last visit to L.A. is Loteria Grill on 6627 Hollywood Blvd. Another old favorite is Miceli’s on 1646 N Las Palmas Avenue off of Hollywood Blvd. All are walking distance from BLVD Hotel & Suites.
BLVD is a very pleasant luxury boutique hotel at a reasonable price. All the staff are courteous and friendly. The room, as they say, exceeded expectations. I think when you get a welcome home feel to your room, that says it all: great bed, plenty of room to spread out, ample television screen, plenty of care with amenities.
Everything has been looked after: from well-stocked toiletries and ample towels in your room to an inviting lobby and lounge. They even have a snack bar for a quick bite on the go. Other features include a pool and a gym. Here is where you get refreshed and relaxed in a comfortable setting before your next L.A. adventure.
This is what I had hoped for and this is what I ended up getting. Yes, indeed, location is everything. Specifically, you are very close to the Hollywood Bowl. And, for fans of film history, let me tell you here that you are in for an added treat: you are near the Hollywood Heritage Museum at 2100 Highland Avenue. This is just an interesting fact that I want to throw in since, as I say, you are close to everything.
Visit our friends at BLVD Hotel & Suites right here.
Steve Jobs, we feel we know him and yet he is something of a mystery and there is an enormous amount to cover. Jessie Hartland has created an illustrated work, a “graphic biography,” that brings the public figure down to a human scale: “Steve Jobs: Insanely Great,” published by Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Read my review here.
Jessie Hartland is the author of the highly acclaimed graphic biography, “Bon Appetit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child,” described by the New York Times as “bursting with exuberant urban-naif gouache paintings and a hand-lettered text that somehow manages to recount every second of Child’s life.”
For her book on Steve Jobs, Ms. Hartland provides us with an engaging and comprehensive look at one of the great technology trailblazers of our time. “Steve Jobs: Insanely Great” is another wonderful example of an all-ages book providing a significant amount of information in a concise and entertaining way. While Jobs is a problematic role model at best, he remains a most intriguing individual.
The full interview with Jessie Hartland follows and includes the podcast at the end.
Henry Chamberlain: Do you believe that your book has brought Steve Jobs down to a human scale and made him accessible to readers? What would you say is your purpose in bringing this book out?
Jessie Hartland: I think more people are reading my book than would normally sit down with a 600-page biography. So, more people are learning about him. He’s such a fascinating guy. I had just turned in the book on Julia Child, which was also a graphic biography, this one was in color. And I was searching for who to write about next. I was considering a scientist or an artist. And then Steve Jobs dies. He seemed like just the right person to write about. It had begun as a picture book, more like the Julia Child book I’d done, for younger kids. The more I read about him, the more I wanted to write about his whole life. My editors had originally envisioned the book ending with the Apple I computer. Only 200 of those computers were sold and that’s not what he’s known for. So, I went back to my editors and said I really wanted to cover his whole life, I want to do it in black and white, and just run with it. I didn’t want to limit the page count and I wanted it to be more for middle grade or teenagers.
HC: What was your thinking with going with black and white? Was that to instantly signal the reader that this is more serious content?
JH: I think a lot of the graphic novels out there are black and white. I like the stark quality of black and white. I like Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis.” I could have used color. It wasn’t really discussed. I think I wanted it to be more about the drawings, the lines, and the words rather than these gauche paintings. If I had done gauche paintings for this one, I probably would still be working on it.
HC: This must be quite pleasing to have these two major films coming out coinciding with your book. That didn’t turn out that way with your book on Julia Child.
JH: Yes, that’s a funny story. I came up with the idea for the Julia Child book years ago, probably two or three years before the film, “Julie and Julia.” I had different editors then and they were saying that no one cared about Julia Child anymore. And so the book ended up without a home. Only later, with my editors at Random House, did the book find a home. The 100th anniversary of Julia Child birth was coming up and there would be press for that. But, had we moved forward earlier, my book would have coincided with the film.
HC: But now you’ve got two major films. The new Alex Gibney documentary, “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” comes out this week, September 4th.
JH: Oh, really?
HC: And then you have what I can only imagine will be a very important film, with an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, simply entitled, “Steve Jobs,” coming out next month, October 9th. There have been all the books, these two major films. I can’t think, in recent memory, of so much notable work springing forth from one public figure.
JH: He’s such an interesting character. Here’s this guy, this rebel, this iconoclast. He dropped out of college after only one semester. And then he takes a calligraphy class. He starts a little company in his parent’s garage with Woz and it grew to become the world’s most powerful company. It’s just amazing. Who wouldn’t want to know more about him?
HC: We’re at a very interesting turning point with graphic novels. More and more people are understanding that they aren’t just for kids, if they ever were, really.
JH: Yes, that’s right.
HC: You create a perfect all-ages book with issues that can be discussed between a parent and child. You bring in the issue of his experimenting with drugs. You bring in the issue of his not ready to be a dad the first time around. These are big issues but kids can appreciate the realities of life and these are things that are fair game to include.
JH: I didn’t want to leave out the low points in his life. His denying the paternity to his first child with his high school girlfriend. And, of course, the drug use. He said so much about how important that was. He really liked these psychedelic drugs and they gave him a different viewpoint of the world. For him, it was like looking down from another planet and seeing the big picture. It helped him with his intuition and imagining what kind of products people would want in the future before they knew what they wanted. He didn’t like to do market research. He liked to quote Henry Ford, another great businessman. Ford would say that, if he left it up to the public to decide what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.
HC: I wanted to ask you about your process. You do a variation on storyboarding. I imagine that you work larger than print size and then reduce your pages to fit inside your binder where you can then shuffle them around as you need.
JH: Yeah, I work a little bit bigger than print but not by too much. Those binders are really important. This book took up two of them since it was so long. The pages let me shift things around. It’s really important to organizing the material. It took two years to siphon through that quantity of material, to winnow it down, and get everything in order. It took a while to wrap my mind around the fact that iTunes came around before the iPod. And then the events involved with Pixar were complicated to sort out.
HC: Where did his catch phrase, “Insanely Great,” originate from?
JH: Oh, I think that goes way back to when he was a teenager. Yes, I love using that in the book. Woz had the idea for a home computer and his employer, Hewlett Packard, wasn’t interested in developing it at that point. And then Woz showed the circuit board to Steve and Steve says, “Insanely great! Let’s start a company!” Jobs was the great salesman with the big picture. Woz was this engineering genius.
HC: Steve Jobs was at the right place and at the right time in so many ways.
JH: Yes, he grew up in and spent his whole life in Silicon Valley. It used to be known simply as Santa Clara Valley. His father was a machinist. He was adopted. His biological parents were graduate students at the time. One of the parents objected to the marriage on religious grounds. Steve was adopted, grew up in the suburbs of Santa Clara. His father worked in the tech industry. He didn’t go to college but he was a tinkerer and he and Steve would go to the local junkyard, fill up the truck with things, and do projects together. They’d put things together. There were tools all around. And the neighborhood was just swarming with engineers. Steve got to know a lot of the neighbors and how things work and what was going on. It was a very exciting time in what was to be known as Silicon Valley.
HC: Steve could just pick up the phone and start talking to the founder of Hewlett Packard.
JH: Yes! That’s right. He needed some parts for his frequency counter, a device that measure the pulses per second in an electronic signal. He had some of the pieces he needed but he was missing some. He knew that the head of Hewlett Packard lived nearby. So, he looked up Bill Hewlett in the phone book and called him up. Bill was so impressed with the young Steve Jobs that he offered him a summer job.
HC: I am looking at a page from your binders. And I was thinking last night, what if Steve Jobs was standing beside you and looking at your process. He might say to you that he had an “insanely great” way to speed up your work flow. However, I am not sure that I would classify your system so much as “low tech” as “hands on.” I don’t believe that there would be a satisfactory alternative for how you work.
JH: I like having little bits of paper around. I like sketching in a cafe and then slip that work into a binder. It is so hands on. And I love painting, working in gouache. This whole book was done in pen and ink. I went through six bottle of India ink and 24 Prismacolor pencils. It’s all hand-drawn. And people will snicker that I didn’t use a computer. But I did. With the gray tones, I had an assistant help me prepare all those files.
HC: Thanks so much for this chat. I know you want to pursue more graphic biographies. You have the one about pioneering computer programmer Ada Lovelace.
JH: That one, the Ada Lovelace book, is written by someone else and will be a picture book for younger readers. Currently, I am working on some art for a local show here on Long Island. The art will resemble totem poles. These will be called, “floatem poles.” They’re made from the flotsam and jetsam that washes up on the beach. And I’m working on some other books. I’m working with an entomologist on a book about insects. And I’m working on a book that features Tartufo, a truffle hound and that will be set in either Italy or France. I am going to Europe in a week to research that.
HC: I wish you a great trip. And thank you for your time.
JH: Thank you.
The podcast is below:
You can find “Steve Jobs: Insanely Great” at Amazon right here. You can visit Jessie Hartland right here.
If you’re a serious comics collector, have you ever felt the urge to pin up some of your collection to a prominent wall in your home? You know, just so you can enjoy the spectacle? Well, that is exactly what a real estate agent and a production designer did when they set out to create a show stopping wall to enhance a property for sale. If you’re in the Los Angeles area and in the market for a beautiful home in Silicon Beach, then this is especially for you. The home was listed on May 11.
The following press release is enlightening inasmuch as it’s an interesting example of how comics are valued in our society. The memories, the power of myth, it’s all priceless. HGTV’s Matthew Finlason tore into his own personal $10,000 collection of comic books to make this altar to comics happen.
The 2014 Angoulême Comics Festival, being held in Angoulême, France, is just around the corner: January 30th through February 2nd. As one of Europe’s most premiere comic book events, the Angoulême Festival helps set the tone for the rest of the year in comics. One of the selections featured this year is “L’enfance d’Alan,” published by L’Association. It is by Emmanuel Guibert and chronicles the life of his friend growing up in California in the years prior to World War II. It seems quite appropriate to provide this advance review of the first American edition, entitled, “How The World Was: A California Childhood,” translated by Kathryn Pulver, published by First Second Books.
It is a wonderful little miracle each time a life’s story is so vividly brought to life in comics. Cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert created “Alan’s War,” a graphic novel about his friend’s time as a soldier in World War II. For this new graphic novel, he turns the focus over to Alan’s childhood in California. And he does a most interesting thing. He lets Alan’s voice be heard with a deft balance of word and picture. Guibert lets the words breathe by providing them with all the room they need. These are, after all, delicate and quiet reflections and they require a certain tone.
Much of the story is told directly by Alan. His narration is predominant. We only need a smattering of word balloons on some pages. Guibert manages the tempo by alternating layouts: cinematic storyboard, grid sequence, tableau, scrapbook vignette. On one page, he has Alan recalling his grandfather’s habit of spreading out his magazines during his routine lounging. As part of that, he depicts the old man as a magazine cover portrait. This is all in the service of spinning a good yarn.
Ultimately, this book lives up to its title. Guibert, with a gentle and consistent vision, provides us with a sense of how the world was. This is Alan’s childhood and we’ve been provided a portal back in time to view it. Like anyone’s life it has its struggles, drama, and pain. But we never get pushed out of the story by melodrama. This is an honest depiction, almost as if a camera were left rolling while Alan recollects as well as rolling directly upon key moments in his life. It is left to Guibert to give it shape, and therefore bring out its meaning, and that he does.
“How The World Was” is a 160-page book, priced at $19.99, and will be released by First Second on August 12, 2014. Visit First Second here.
The Angoulême Comic Festival celebrates its 41st year, having first debuted in 1974. It is now the second largest comic book convention in the world, with more than 200,000 visitors attending each year. Numerous prestigious awards are granted during the four-day festival, known as the Le Palmares Officiel du Festival, covering a wide range of categories, including “Best Album,” “Angoulême Essentials,” and the “Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême,” which is awarded to a living creator in honor of their lifetime achievement.
For more information about the Angouleme Comics Festival, visit here.
“In the Land of Retinal Delights,” oil on canvas, 1968, by Robert Williams
ROBERT WILLIAMS MR. BITCHIN’ is now available on DVD and VOD. It is a unique documentary, distributed by Cinema Libre Studio, on Robert Williams, a significant artist that has done a lot to usher in the zeitgeist as the leader of the Lowbrow art, or Pop Surrealism, movement.
We take for granted today the mash-up of high and low culture. It is considered common knowledge that we do this mashing up. Everything is oh so “mashable.” Media empires rely upon it. How cute and comforting it all may sound now but there was a time when the lines between the art world establishment and the outsider were far more clearly drawn. Never mind the myth of such bad boy artists as Jackson Pollock or even Andy Warhol. It was the art world, taking its orders from a closely knit New York elite made up of a handful of blue chip galleries and high end art magazines that decided which bad boys, with the occasional bad girl thrown in, would go on to be crowned art royalty. It was something that artist Robert Williams could hardly not notice since, during his early career, his art was on the wrong side of the established line. As the years progressed, Mr. Williams would find the whole line not only switching in his favor but becoming blurred. This, in no small part, was due to him.
A new documentary, “Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin,” provides us insight into this process of becoming acknowledged as a professional fine artist as well as what it takes to make groundbreaking art, to really make art history. This is the highest achievement an artist can seek and that is what we see Mr. Williams set out to do and ultimately achieve. It is truly an inspiring story that clearly shows you how the mysterious art world climate can change despite itself. It is an argument that lead director Mary C. Reese and co-director/writer Nancye Ferguson are more than happy to make a case for with Mr. Williams as their prime example. And Mr. Williams, an amiable person, is quite adept at helping connect the dots to his own career.
The whole style of this documentary seems to suit its subject’s nonconformity well. It’s not a high end production, per se, and is ready to practice what it preaches as it presents a more casual shaggy dog presentation as opposed to your typical “art” documentary that can be restrained and clinical. There are no polished dramatic pauses, for instance. Design is pretty basic. But, at the same time, that is not really a problem at all. There is more of an honest blue collar approach that undercuts any need for too much in the way of heightened experience. The interviews, archival footage, and art speak for themselves quite nicely. And, where the budget allowed, you see some nice additional touches as in the multi-layered observation of the actual artwork.
You can tell that the filmmakers were going for a more familiar feel in many of the exchanges between Mr. Williams and the camera. At one point, he jokes that, as far as he understands from Werner Herzog, cinéma vérité is passé, implying he’s not so sure he wants to be followed too closely. The response behind the camera is a good-natured shrug and, “It’s Okay.” Mr. Williams shrugs back with a wink, “Okay.” In another scene, he sort of mocks concern over his interviewer’s lack of knowledge in anthropology. He is also quick to say he is more than happy to defer to his wife, Suzanne, and her expertise. This all adds up to showing Mr. Williams in a relaxed and trusting mood. We even see the couple riding unicycles.
Back to art history, the documentary does well with its facts and there are inspired moments as when we are swept away to the greener pastures of post-war Los Angeles. Everything cool, from Betty Page to hot rods, is happening out there. It was some pretty heady stuff decades ahead of its time, particularly for the East Coast establishment. This was the culture that Mr. Williams knew and loved. This is what Mr. Williams drew and painted. Along the way, he created iconic work, including naked women lounging on top of giant tacos, and inspired a new generation of artists.
We follow his career from his work with Big Daddy Roth through to his falling onto the general public’s radar with his painting, “Appetite for Destruction,” becoming the album art for the legendary rock band Guns N’ Roses. And onward to Mr. Williams’s answer to Art News and the like, his creation of the influential art magazine, Juxtapoz, and his own work being recognized by today’s art world establishment. “Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin'” proves to be the right mix of respectful tribute and irreverent fun.
Tuesday, July 30 – Screening at 7:30pm at The American Cinematheque (Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90028). Q&A to follow with Robert Williams, Suzanne Williams and filmmakers Nancye Ferguson, Stephen Nemeth, Mary C. Reese, Doug Blake, Michael LaFetra and special guests! Details: http://www.americancinemathequecalendar.com/content/robert-williams-mr-bitchin%E2%80%99-0
DVD and VOD street date – July 30th available at major retail outlets and digital platforms (Hulu, Amazon Instant and more!)
ABOUT CINEMA LIBRE: Cinema Libre Studio is a leader in distributing social-issue documentaries and features by passionate filmmakers. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the Cinema Libre team has released over one hundred films including the Sundance Audience Award‐Winning FUEL, THE END OF POVERTY?, Rachid Bouchareb’s LONDON RIVER and Oliver Stone’s SOUTH OF THE BORDER. The studio is developing John Perkins’ best‐selling memoirs, CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN, into a major motion picture. For more information and updates, please visit: http://www.cinemalibrestudio.com and follow on Facebook and Twitter.