The Clearing is an animated short that recently achieved Oscar nomination eligibility. It is the brainchild of Daniel Robert Hope who wrote, directed, and animated this devilishly good character study. If you are a fan of Wallace & Gromit, then you’ll enjoy this dark and spooky character study. It was my pleasure to chat with him for a bit about this intriguing new short work.
You will be able to see The Clearing for yourself beginning on December 9th as part of The New Yorker Screening Roomseries.
Bill is a wildly delusional sad case. He thinks of himself at the head honcho of the family but he neglects his wife and son at every turn. It’s only a matter of time before he gets his comeuppance and then some. Deb is his partner and she’s pretty much had it. Perhaps some unexpected development will set things straight.
Bill and Deb are played by legendary comedy talents, the husband and wife team of Julian Barratt and Julia Davis. Hope conjures up a riveting morality play spiked with wonderful dry wit that is fully brought to life by the voices of Barratt and Davis.
Silly and sad in equal measure, Hope’s surreal comedy would fit right into a vintage episode of The Twilight Zone. Hope was joined in his efforts by producer Johannes Schubert, who was named Austria’s Producer on the Move at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022 and was featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.
The Clearing is the latest of a host of outstanding animations to come out of the U.K.’s prestigious National Film and Television School, including Wallace & Gromit, The Hill Farm, Head Over Heels, The Bigger Picture, and many more.
Anna Haifisch is one of our great artist-cartoonists with an impressive portfolio already in her young career. You may know her from The Artist comic strip series that appeared on Vice.com. In this interview, we chat about her latest book, Schappi, published by Fantagraphics. It was a pleasure to review this book recently for The Comics Journal. You can read my review here.
An artist out for a light snack.
So, the goal here was simply to have a pleasant conversation and perhaps scratch the surface a bit on the whole subject of comics as fine art. At this point, I believe there can be little doubt over comics being a true art form, just as entitled as paintings to be displayed in a museum. The fact is that the comics medium fits right in with other established forms and uniquely inhabits the art world space. Comics, as an artwork, can be shown in original form; is easily blown up to cover a wall space; and is tailor-made for any kind of book or digital format. The future is indeed very bright for comics in galleries and museums.
That said, it is a nice treat to be able to discuss this subject with a cartoonist of the caliber of Haifisch, who can lay claim to her own show of her work at a major museum, the MdbK in Leipzig. As Haifisch pointed out during our talk, museums are still coming around to comics. Unless you’re a figure of the magnitude of an R. Crumb or a Chris Ware, cartoonists are still edging their way into the higher strata of the art world. Well, that is steadily changing.
Comicfestival Hamburg, MOM Art Space, 2021
That steady change will quicken each time that cartoonists manage to take control of the narrative. All one needs to do is observe the work that Art Spiegelman has done on behalf of cartoonists, including himself, in making inroads into academic and museum circles. It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen. In the case of Haifisch, she is making strides in a very natural way. The whole idea of dedicating time and effort on the museum catalog is utterly priceless! We discuss at length Chez Schnabel, the publication that resulted from the art show at MdbK. There’s your key to progress: a book about the artistic process with content made exclusively for the book. Talk about controlling the narrative! It’s quite informative and a delight to read. For example, I had to ask Haifisch about the drawings she did in connection with The Peabody Hotel. Did she go to Memphis and draw the famous ducks on parade? Well, no. As it turns out the idea of creating illustrations about hotel ducks was just too hard to resist and so she used that to add some color to a relatively dry interview with some museum dignitaries discussing Haifisch’s work. And it did the job just fine.
Happiness, Where Are You?
Learn more about Anna Haifisch by visiting her website right here.
The Painted Tree, The Shops at Hilltop, Virginia Beach
The Painted Tree is truly a one-stop-shop experience, perfect for the holidays. I’ve been meaning to share this unique shopping experience with you and now’s the time. As an artist and all-around “DIY maker,” this appeals to me. The focus here is specialty gift items, home decor and boutique clothing–which covers quite a lot of options. What began as one vintage market in Bryant, Arkansas in 2015 has grown into a network of superstores in over a dozen locations across the country bringing together indie artisans and businesses. I’m thrilled to share with you what I’ve found at the location in The Shops at Hilltop, Virginia Beach. And, of local note, The Shops at Hilltop will be celebrating with an Open House extravaganza this weekend, December 1, 2 and 3.
My first visit to The Painted Tree was at The Shops at Hilltop here in Virginia Beach. You can literally spend the whole day at this amazing complex of top-of-the-line boutiques and restaurants. And, as I say, you can find just about anything for every kind of taste at The Painted Tree: fashion, pop culture, art, antiques and so much more. I’ll provide here some samples of items that caught my eye and top it off with a video tour.
Selfies to Canvas
One of the vendors here, Nancy Harrington, gave me the scoop on what The Painted Tree has to offer. Her business, for example, Selfies to Canvas, will convert pictures from your cell phone and turn them into works on stretched canvas. Nancy spoke about the community of vendors she is so happy to be a part of. In fact, she took me around to point out a few highlights, like Church Mouse fine woodworking as well as K Courage artisan jewelry and fiber art.
“This is the perfect home for an entrepreneur. The Painted Tree is worry-free and so much fun. For the guests coming to shop, we are not just a shopping trip, but a whole shopping experience. Maybe kind of corny, but to coin a phrase, ‘We are Etsy on steroids.’ All the best in one place. You are supporting the small business person and finding treasures you didn’t even know existed! I offer a one-of-a-kind gift for your loved ones, friends or yourself. Any picture on your cell phone can be perfected and transferred to canvas while you shop.”
— Nancy Harrington, Selfies to Canvas
Catwoman by Mark Winslow, Your New Best Friend
Church Mouse Woodworking by Al Cain
Art by Mabelle Lansdell
K Courage artisan jewelry and fiber art.
Shore Drive Farm Market, Lynnhaven Coffee Shop.
I’m thrilled to know about this amazing shopper’s paradise and look forward to getting to know the whole scene better. I am amazed by all of the talented folks, including artists Isa Sofia Monell, J Glynn Winters, Rachel Jennings and Summer Paradiso, among many others. I’ve already noticed that items get snatched up pretty quickly, making room for new merchandise. Oh, well, I thought I had more time to consider buying that antique phonograph!
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”
— Robert Frost
We’re in Virginia Beach so let’s walk across First Landing State Park on the Cape Henry Trail and do some nature hike sketching. It’s time for this urban sketcher to get back to nature!
This is the state park that I walked across. It’s a nice workout!
I’ve been meaning to share with you again some of my art-making adventures. This is something that’s been in the works for a while. Bit by bit, I gathered up the will and motivation to tackle my new local state park. I’d been venturing forth a little at a time, getting used to it and then, finally, I decided to go from one end of it to the other! Now, it doesn’t seem that 6 miles is so bad at all. And, since I live near it, it’s about time.
Virginia Beach Seagull by Henry Chamberlain
I put this video together of some of the best moments from some of my visits leading up to my longest hike, from one end of the Cape Henry Trail to the other. If there are any natives reading this, I’d be curious to read about your own experiences with the park and if you too have walked the length of this trail.
Green Snake by Henry Chamberlain
A word of caution: Keep an eye out for snakes. I have no plans of getting too close to any snakes. As they say, the snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them, even the poisonous ones. So far, I’ve come across a green grass snake (non-venomous) and a Copperhead (venomous). It turns out that Copperheads are the most common venomous snake in Virginia, found in all regions. Snakebites are supposed to be rare. It helps if you stay away from them!
Forest Surrounding Sun by Henry Chamberlain
So, go in there mindful of your surroundings. Aside from safety concerns, if you’re really looking closely enough, you’re bound to see some amazing sights. It may take a minute but you’re bound to reach some scenic gems. In this case, you’ve really got a surf and turf panorama before you: world class beaches and a first-rate state park.
You can learn more about First Landing State Park right here.
Contact artist Henry Chamberlain for art sales, commissions, etc.
It is a little hard to believe that World War 3 Illustrated, now nearly half a century in the struggle for challenging art and social change, seems so fresh. Sometimes, the “fresh” is fresh blood, at least as much as fresh-growing plants or humans in their increasingly inhumane environments. WW3 can be grim and means to be grim, here and there in the pages, some lavishly drawn in color. The editors insist that the book is intended to “repair the world, and ourselves,” even bearing a gardening theme that pops up a couple times. The splendid experimentation in comic art offers, in any case, a way forward and a hope.
Per usual, the variety of work defies any easy generalization. Where else would pages by Ben Katchor, sometime New Yorker illustrator, be found alongside those of Sabrina Jones, Kevin Pyle, Sandy Jimenez, Seth Tobocman and a host of young artists making what is likely their first appearance in print, or something close to their first? WW3 is, by intent, not only a political expression of radical ideas but a school for learning and development, an outlet for young idealists to try out their work in just about any form. Some of the results are inevitably stronger than others. But again and again, the intensity of the effort comes through, sometimes along with a surprising personal candor.
Thus we find the notoriously excitable Seth Tobocman explore himself, his own life, in “Rage,” rooted in family experiences but realizing itself in social struggles where anger helps and hurts, is at once either justifiable or inexplicably self-destructive. He has drawn on various subjects so often, we naturally respond to his multi-general family saga beginning in the Cleveland of his childhood, and the grandparents’ bodega (aka “Candy Store”). The more prosperous side of the family can relax and enjoy upward mobility; the less prosperous carries a rage and resentment at what happened to Jews in the twentieth century. Both sides unite, so to speak, in the drive for children to achieve and advance, whether they want to or not.
Thus Milwaukee’s own Sue Simenski Bietila, a school nurse by profession, who lays out the tales of Street Medics from the 1960s to now, volunteers who are threatened, sometimes beaten or arrested by cops, for providing aid and sanction. Thus in 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Bietila shows us street medic Gaige Grosskreutz, who tried to stop a high school right-winger from murdering a protester, but was murdered in turn (Fox News glorified the shooter, who was acquitted.) Bietila knows the issues and the moments of struggle as no outsider could. She’s an artist on the job, the unpaid job.
Thus the artist calling herself “Fly” delivers seven jarring pages on George Floyd. Christopher Cardinale describes the use of masks in New York (forbidden on the streets from 1845, then mandated in 2020, albeit with occasional police assaults against anyone who urges them to put on masks) in political and personal terms.
Thus artist Kevin C. Pyle takes us to the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona, where the building of The Fence and the misuse of an aquifer in the building process only begin to accelerate the degradation of ecosystem and the Tohono O’odom Nation, on site for centuries. Against this background or creating a background is philosopher Walter Benjamin, his quotes effectively explaining the deep and terrifying logic of “progress” as destruction laying the basis for more destruction.
Gianluca Constantini and Elettra Stamboulis take us to Bergamo, Lombardia, in Northern Italy, where the health system was said to be among the best in the world. Come Covid, the reality of a continuing privatization was revealed. Bodies piled high and the artist trapped in his studio struggled to grasp the moment. “Doctors became heroes for a while. But we need…continuing social justice, not just heroes for a day.”
I’m drawn, so to speak,to the pages of Sandy Jimenez, Bronx educator who loses his job after fifteen years, finding himself in middle age without any certainly what he will do or even who he has become. He works it out, partly by elaborating a friend’s saga, the erstwhile Vietnam Vet who looks back with horror at the killing, and gains self by coming out. Jimenez ends by embracing his younger friends, poor Latin Americans or Eastern Europeans who find their way to the Bronx. They show him that he has a role beyond working for a living: it is quite a gift.
I am also drawn to the familiar touch of Sabrina Jones, seen here recovering the familiar bunny (source of “Br’er Rabbit” in Southern folklore exploited by Disney but very real nonetheless as the weak animal who has historically outwitted the more powerful animals including humans) but now faces all-destructive “development.” Lawns, fences, pesticides ruin what could still be recuperated as a healthy environment for Mr. Rabbit and his animal friends, birds and frogs to butterflies. Message: let your land re-wild itself with native habitat!
More should be said about the color work of Paula Hewitt Amram, the occasional color page by Kate Gerhart or the rightly renowned Eric Drooker. And the black and white full page drawings by Tom Keough of James Baldwin, Harriet Tubman and others less famous. More could be said about so much more in these pages. But I leave them for readers to discover.
Paul Buhle’s latest collaboration is ¡BRIGADISTAS!, a story of the Spanish Civil War; his next ones include a pirate comic and an adaptation of W.E. B. Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk.
‘Good Eggs’ by Hurricane Nancy. Color by Henry Chamberlain.
Hurricane Nancy shares with us a little tribute to those folks we can rely upon and who bring a ray of sunshine into our lives. Here’s her piece, Good Eggs. Nancy’s work is done in her own iconic black-and-white style. That’s just the way a lot of underground artists worked; and it is still created that way today by artists who prefer to keep to ink and paper and not use color. But Nancy has given me permission to add color to her work if I choose to. So, here’s another contribution with my added color.
Nancy’s work goes back to the East Village Other, circa 1966. Trailblazer Trina Robbins names Nancy as an inspiration to move forward with her Wimmen’s Comix movement. In fact, Nancy was a founding member of Robbin’s all-women comic book series, It Ain’t Me, Babe, which began in 1970. Sixty-five pieces of Nancy’s cartoon art are in The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University. Nancy currently produces cartoons influenced by the oddities of current life and more. Visit her at hurricanenancy.com.
It was over an egg cream, or two, that I concluded, or finally admitted, that I was indeed a treasure trove of knowledge, insight and overall sensibility regarding a whole rat’s nest of pop culture and various related concoctions. It is all stored in my mind, still whirling away, processing and extrapolating. I couldn’t just assume that what I knew was something that everyone else knew. Ah, and then, conversely, I couldn’t dismiss what I knew as something other people would not be interested in. Well, I knew this all along–isn’t that what led me to this blog? Yeah, and it led me to this diner, this gloriously runny egg and pancake and this most banal yet delectable egg cream! There are many folks out there who still admire, love and can’t resist a good egg cream. It doesn’t matter how many of a younger generation might act as if they don’t care. Forgive these dewy-eyed naysayers for they know not what they do. Because, given a chance, they would reveal that they care very much.
“Isn’t that exactly how it was for you?” I asked my young friend, Nelson here, the guy I was told would give me a tour and help me set up my Ghost Busters mission. They promised me an all-expenses-paid residency and all I had to do was make heads or tails out of the ghost in the attic, or the staircase, or just out of view each night from an upper window. I was told that my unique background was very attractive for this assignment. I’d pleaded that I was nothing more than an over-rated dilettante at best. But the foundation, the whole board, agreed that I possessed a certain sensitivity to matters, esoteric, cerebral and ephemeral, that they just couldn’t resist at least giving it a try. So, maybe I was an unconventional choice, but, what the hell, you only live once, right? Everyone said I was a pop culture sensitive! And it took someone like me to draw out the ghost, given that it was such a fanciful creature of pulp and the fantastic. It was often called “the ultimate figment of the imagination.” I wasn’t sure what that implied or what exactly a “figment” was supposed to be. Truth be told, I have more than a passing connection with the supernatural.
“So, anyway, given the chance, you’re as charmed by an egg cream as I am, right?” I knew what he’d say. Finally, letting out a sigh, “Of course! Henry, I think I love egg creams almost as much as you do, even if I’m the last person who would have tried one out. I’m more of a beer guy.”
“Well, beer is a whole other subject but it definitely has its own quirky history, like an egg cream.” I gave him an empathetic smile. I think, only recently, did he get this gig involving a haunted house. Was he more a real estate guy or more of a spooky ghost and goblin guy? I wasn’t sure. It took me a while to understand that maybe his most important purpose was simply to rally me into action and get this whole thing off the ground.
The magic of an egg cream.
“Everything has a history.”
My head was spinning, just a bit, but I wanted to press forward. It had been a wild ride thus far. Only a few hours ago I had been in Seattle. Here I was crisscrossing all over Manhattan. It was a lucky turn that led us to Landmark Coffee Shop, deep in the Bowery, one of the great haunts of so many happy souls, lost or otherwise.
“I mean a history that you could turn into a novel, that kind of history, with twists and turns, romance, mystery.”
“What is it about an egg cream that grabs you most?”
“The humanity of it all. No one knows, for sure, how the egg cream came to be but it’s very likely a case of simply making do with limited resources. A little sugar, or syrup, a little milk, and a little fizzy water. That’s all you need and you’ve got an egg cream.”
“Yeah, well, I’d prefer a Coke.”
“Exactly. Coke, and other soft drinks, paved the way for the demise of the egg cream. It’s a relic of another time. But those with heart and soul will seek it out, keep it alive and well.”
“Okay then, that’s why they hired you for this ghost whisperer gig. You love a good ghost story. You want to dance with ghosts. And then there’s that book you wrote about that ghost . . . but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.”
“Yeah, we can discuss that later on. I’m glad we managed to at least initally agree on the qualities of the noble egg cream. I’m telling you, it’s an excellent portal into the past! Perhaps in ways . . . beyond the scope of this convivial little conversation . . . I’m talking about ancient rites . . .”
“You know what I really like, a good root beer float! That’s sort of like an egg cream, isn’t it?”
“Pretty close but not really.”
–to be continued.
Enjoy the video where I show you how to make an egg cream and give you a mini-tour of a classic New York diner that serves egg creams. If you find this interesting, you may also want to check out my book, Sometimes You Just Want an Egg Cream, available thru the Comics Grinder store.
In my video, there’s a demo on how to make your own egg cream. The beauty of the egg cream is how versatile this little treat is. You can get fancy and order an artisan version of it or you probably have the ingredients you need right in your own kitchen. For this demo, I used the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys Egg Cream Kit. So, you don’t have to live in or near New York or Brooklyn to get the real deal. You can order this kit and have yourself quite an authentic experience. The second video gives you a tour of Brooklyn Seltzer Boys, the remaining source for true authentic seltzer.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for many indie comics fans making their way to Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle. This Saturday it’s the place to be to meet up with old friends, survey recent comix offerings and nab some items making their debut, like Brandon Lehmann’s WOMP WOMP #3. Are you already a Brandon Lehmann fan, or have you been waiting for a friendly nudge? Well, here goes. Let’s take a peek at this new title, a fine example of what you can find at Short Run.
WOMP WOMP #3 is Brandon Lehman’s new 28-page full color book debuting at Short Run.
What happens in the pages of WOMP WOMP stays in WOMP WOMP. All the more reason to seek it out. Seriously, these kind of books don’t read themselves. But if this book could, it would have hilarious tales to tell like the first story in this collection, “The Time Machine.” Yeah, you read that right. Lehmann goes on an all-out time travel trope bender to give the reader masterfully crafted satire. Lehmann keeps perfecting what he does to the point of it being just a sheer joy to read. I think he’s developed a highly original universe of deadpan humor that, like Frankenstein’s monster, is a beast moving under its own power. Ah, but don’t aim a pitchfork at this guy. Read. Enjoy. I think Lehmann is having a great time with his work and that’s a reward onto itself. And yet, it’s not too much to ask for more. With each year, more fans emerge, more ideas take shape for more comics. I see that Lehmann has some amazing prints of stand-alone art to sell along with his comics. I hope to maybe even see some animation down the road. Whatever he does, it’s finely-crafted and worth your attention.
Page excerpt from “The Time Machine”
So, in closing, I say, “Womp! Womp!” to all of you! “Womp! Womp!” Say it out loud. Fascinating how it instantly amuses. Well, it sounds like that sound you hear on game shows when the contestant gives the wrong answer, right? It’s a funny and weird sound and, hey, it can be a quick tonic for so much that we have to put up with in life. It sure is. I’m not gonna lie! I’m not gonna lie! Oh, how I hate that phrase. Have you ever heard anything more vacuous and phoney?! Well, . . . of course, you have! We put up with so much. All the wretched counter-intuitive contortions we must endure. And for what? As a sign that we’re a team player and totally and utterly sane? No, it’s madness, I tell you. Sheer and total bonkers. So, yeah, you make some time for yourself. A little (or a lot!) of ME time and yell it out proudly, scream it out unabashedly, “Womp! Womp!”
Paul Buhle, a respected scholar who has made numerous contributions to the comics medium, has a new work in comics, “Ideas Can Be Weapons,” that he has created along with Nick Thorkelson (artist) and Dave Wagner (writer) based on the work of historian George Mosse. Okay, lets make a quick leap forward and refer to a figure who has not yet faded into the background, William Barr. You remember Bill Barr, the Attorney General? Barr was Attorney General once before and it was under Barr’s advice that President George H. W. Bush in 1992 pardoned six officials involved in the Iran–Contra affair.
Set them free! No penalties. If you’ve got Bill Barr working the system.
This is a fact but it has slipped its way out of view. The mechanism to justify the pardons was that the culprits involved in Iran-Contra were acting on behalf of the state.
Wait until Christmas Eve, when no one is looking and pardon, pardon, pardon!
The Iran-Contra scandal revealed, among other things, that the Reagan-Bush White House had secretly sold missiles to Iran in exchange for hostages held in Lebanon, using the proceeds to fund right-wing forces fighting the leftist Nicaraguan government in violation of U.S. law. All justifiable by Barr if you just say it was done for the sake of “Reasons of State.” It is this kind of muddled self-serving thinking that historian George Mosse explores, going back to Machiavelli’s The Prince.
You can read this comic, “Ideas Can Be Weapons,” here and an interview with the creative team here.
Silver: Of Treasures and Thieves, Book I is out as of October 25, 2022, published by Abrams. It is a deluxe hardcover edition and quite the immersive treat for anyone who loves a good yarn, especially one that takes much of the good stuff from pulp fiction and gives it a good tweak, a veritable mashup of adventure lore and vampire gore.
The meta pulp universe of Silver.
There’s no doubt that Stephan Franck has created something very special with Silver, a graphic novel set in a pulp noir universe of misfits, criminals and, of course, vampires. During our interview, I drive home the theme that much of the charm of this story is the journey and in the telling. This is absolutely an adrenaline-fueled adventure tale while also simply being a dazzling and mesmerizing play of words and images. The beauty of it all is that Franck has created a set of characters that you can really root for while, at the same time, is playing with tropes and just having fun. You can care about the characters or you can just curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy the style.
Stephan Franck at the drawing board.
Part of the pitch to this book is a comparison to the vibe you get from Bram Stoker’s Dracula or the original Ocean’s Eleven. These are two very different animals but, at the end of the day, we’re talking about a high level of entertainment, be it high or low art or a mashup of the two. Bram Stoker’s Dracula has never gone out of print since it was first published in April 1897. It was a bestseller in its day and is regarded as high art literature. Ocean’s Eleven was a big hit when it first appeared in movie theaters in 1960. It is an American heist film directed by Lewis Milestone and made the stars of the movie famous as the Rat Pack. It is one of those movies with a high level of irony that seemed to want it both ways: not to be taken seriously and yet leave you guessing. In a word, it was all about atmosphere. Take these two entertainments and roll them up into a fine paste and you’ve got yourself a gooey and frothy mix of the sinister and the ambiguous. Just the sort of clay to play with when looking to create the next pop culture mashup.
Think about pop culture in the last few decades, starting with, say, the treatment of Batman by Frank Miller, in The Dark Knight trilogy. There’s one of your finest examples of what has come to be accepted as working in an “elevated genre.” That’s the whole point. As Franck states, the idea is to “tell the most universal stories in the weirdest way possible.” And that’s what Silver is all about. You’ve got soldier of fortune types at odds with vampires. What could go wrong, right? Except for a roller coaster of a story for your delight.
Be sure to keep up with Stephan Franck here and here. And seek out SILVER, published by Abrams.
I hope you enjoy this video podcast. And, as always, a LIKE, SUBSCRIBE and/or COMMENT is always appreciated.