Confederate statues are being removed, including that infamous Robert E. Lee statue, the one at the center of the tragedy in Charlottesville in 2017. What is essential to know is that these Confederate leader statues were not erected immediately after the Civil War in 1865 but were installed years later, during the era of Jim Crow. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s research, the biggest spike was between 1900 and the 1920s. Lost in the shuffle is the question of what happens to these statues once they’re “removed.” One Lee statue in Dallas was removed in 2019 only to be sold to an unknown party. In 2017, New Orleans removed a total of four Confederate statues including one of Lee. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said that the monuments represent a “sanitized” view of the Confederacy. Landrieu added that they were erected years after the Civil War ended by people who wanted to show that white supremacy still held sway in the city. The cost of removal was over 2.1 millions dollars. Some of the factors in that huge price tag involved public safety and security but that still seems to be a steep price to pay. And, again, what exactly should be the end result to all of these statues? That’s a very good question.
Artist rebel Banksy offers an option byway of a recent removal of a statue across the pond, that of Edward Colston in Bristol. Colston was a 17th-century slave trader that was responsible for having transported over 80,000 enslaved individuals between 1672 and 1689. This past Sunday, protestors took down the statue of Colston from its pedestal, located in the center of Bristol, and sank it to the bottom of the Avon River. Banksy proposes to keep the infamous statue but repurpose it. As Banksy states on Instagram:
“What should we do with the empty plinth in the middle of Bristol?
Here’s an idea that caters for both those who miss the Colston statue and those who don’t.
We drag him out the water, put him back on the plinth, tie cable round his neck and commission some life size bronze statues of protestors in the act of pulling him down. Everyone happy. A famous day commemorated.”
Sounds like a very good answer. Of course, taking a sledgehammer to these statues is another option. New Orleans Mayor Landrieu led the way with the removal of his city’s four statues. Other cities followed, including Baltimore, Austin, and Durham, North Carolina. But where did these statues end up? The New Orleans statues are kept, to this very day, in some old shed in an undisclosed location.
We can all only hazard a guess if we’re asked to imagine a post-covid crisis world. COVID-19 will ultimately settle into whatever a virus like this does. Can we contain it, for all intents and purposes, like polio? Probably so, in due time. The question now is how long will this Age of Covid last? All the disruption: and all the anxiety over uncertainty. We wear masks and practice social distancing while wild animals emerge and fill the void. For all of us fortunate enough to be able to draw, write or do something else productive, we must remain grateful and patient. So, I share with you a recent drawing I did as I go about my process of reflecting and resetting. Sure, I’ll post more. It’s healing to express one’s concerns. Trying to add a bit of the whimsical is not easy. I don’t even know if I was trying to be whimsical with this piece. Life will, and must go on, amid death. Hope will, and must, prevail over despair. These are strange times but we need to remain calm, respect everyone on the front lines, and keep working towards the future.
I love creating comics out of the 24-Hour Comics challenge. This year, I went to New Orleans to create a work that pays tribute to the landmark comic strip, Krazy Kat, by George Herriman. You can buy the book that I created at the Comics Grinder store right here.
Sample pages from Krazy Kat 2020
One reason I was in New Orleans was to interview Michael Tisserand about his book, Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White. If you’re new to the Krazy Kat comic strip (1913-1944), you may be surprised to discover just how relevant it is today. Krazy Kat is a gender-bending, race-bending whimsical creature who regularly challenges the status quo. Race, and identity, plays a predominant role in Krazy Kat as the main character is engaged in a never-ending journey of following an independent path while dealing with society. I couldn’t resist attempting to create a work in comics that placed Krazy Kat in our own very krazy times. While Krazy Kat did not directly comment on politics, I can only imagine that Herriman might have made an exception for the fantastical and larger-than-life personality that currently occupies the White House. No matter your politics, I believe I’ve captured a moment in time that we can all agree has been unusual.
Hotel Royal courtyard
So, New Orleans is a big deal for me. I have a strong family connection there and it’s great town, one of the great American cities. It is a place that beckons you with its alluring music, food, and hospitality. For this year’s 24-Hour Comics workout, my base of operations was Hotel Royal. I highly recommend it. The service was excellent, the room was spacious and nicely kept, and the location was just perfect. Royal Street places you right in the heart of the French Quarter. If you want to enjoy Jackson Square, you’re only a few blocks away. If you want to party on Bourbon Street, again, it’s very close. Of course, you really don’t have to venture far at all since Royal Street has quite a variety of boutiques, impressive art galleries, and amazing fine dining.
As I tend to end up doing with these 24-Hour Comics adventures, I present to you a short film that captures some of the process and some of the atmosphere during my efforts. Hope you like it. You’ll see that I mapped out my work in a series of storyboards. This became a set of blueprints for what was to evolve. I’ve been having fun with developing this work as well as with calling attention to it. Not too long into the process I decided to post photos of each panel from the book on Instagram. You can view that here. For high quality images all gathered together in a book, please visit the Comics Grinder store.
Sample for Krazy Kat painting series
It became clear to me that each panel could stand alone as a work all by itself so I worked on the assumption that I was not only creating a book but that prints and even more work, like separate paintings, would follow. Be sure to visit the Comics Grinder store as more work becomes available for sale.
“Hours” is a film that has an offbeat dynamic and unusual level of suspense that brings to mind something like Steven Spielberg’s “Duel.” There are elements of horror to this and, much like “Duel,” this is a story about a man, out of his element, forced to keep his wits and survive. One added wrinkle: our hero, Nolan (played by Paul Walker), has just lost his wife, Abigail (played by Genesis Rodriguez) while she was giving birth during Hurricane Katrina. More to the wrinkle: Nolan ends up being left behind while everyone at the hospital evacuates. He must remain with his premature baby who will need a ventilator for the next 48 hours, thus the title, “Hours.” And we’re just getting started.
It was Richard Matheson who perfected a thinking man’s horror with such work as “I Am Legend” and “The Shrinking Man.” These stories pivot upon a lone man in a life or death situation, at war with his environment–whether it’s vampires or giant spiders. The situation begins dire and gets more and more complicated. Does the character even have a decent chance of survival? No, so his life keeps flashing before him, and his senses sharpen, as he contends with one gut-wrenching challenge after another. That’s exactly what is happening in “Hours.” This 2013 film is the directorial debut for Eric Heisserer who is a writer on the rise in Hollywood. This film is his first opportunity to direct one of his scripts and you sense that attention to detail, to composition, and consistency. Nolan is totally trapped in the fight of his life–and his newborn daughter.
There is an undeniable added layer of significance with the acting talents of Paul Walker who sadly passed away in 2013. At the heart of this film is a story about how to respond to a disaster. Paul Walker was part of a relief team responding to the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010. That led him to found Reach Out WorldWide (ROWW), an organization of skilled volunteers responding to post-disaster situations. That energy and commitment is indelibly marked on every frame of this engaging film.
You’ll be seeing a lot more of Eric Heisserer’s work in the coming months. One fine example is “Lights Out,” screenplay by Heisserer, out in theaters 22 July 2016 (USA). And, you better believe it, this looks like a really scary horror movie. Currently, Denis Villeneuve is directing Heisserer’s Black List script “Story of Your Life” for Paramount Pictures, starring Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams. “Story of Your Life,” is a sci-fi thriller based on the short story by acclaimed author Ted Chiang.
Frenchy is an artist who does a lot of his work out and about, like at major sporting events. He was featured on the CBS pre-game coverage for Super Bowl XLVII: Ravens vs. 49ers.
Frenchy was documented as he worked on numerous canvases: laying out his compositions, blocking in color, all the way to the last splatters of paint.
He’s a vigorous artist with a bright personality. It’s great to see him in action. What’s even better, is to see the variety of work he does. His paintings are compelling, drawing you into their energy and humanity.
And here are some more Frenchy paintings from Super Bowl 2013.
There are two movies, just released for home viewing, that deal with the sticky subject of, what some call, “The Magical Negro,” which is something that is discussed in the social sciences and certainly has its place. One movie seems to just roll with it and the other emphasizes that point with a decidedly heavy hand. The one that rolls is “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” a movie that feels like a cross between “Where the Wild Things Are” and a dystopia set in New Orleans. The heavy handed one is “Butter” which goes to great lengths to be social satire.
“Beast of the Southern Wild” is the sort of seemingly hot mess that would attract the likes of Werner Herzog or Terry Gilliam. You have all these things going on at once in a vague, presumbably post-Apocalypse, something like New Orleans, post-Katrina, but worse, or perhaps just about the same. The main characters are a five-year-old girl nicknamed, Hushpuppy, played by Quvenzhané Wallis, and her father, Wink, played by Dwight Henry, who, at turns, displays flashes of anger which are due to frustration with the knowledge that he’s dying.
“Butter” is a very different sort of hot mess that might attract the likes of Ben Stiller or Christopher Guest. It is about a power couple (Laura, played by Jennifer Garner; and Bob, played by Ty Burrell) who have dominated a rather strange niche, competitive butter sculpture! Laura has gotten herself so worked up about their notoriety that she envisions them parlaying their status into politics, maybe all the way to the White House. Garner does a wonderful job of channeling Michelle Bauchman but her go for broke performance is still missing that something special that Parker Posey brings to the table. It’s still a good performance but it’s that sort of misfire that works its way throughout the movie. In this one, the magical little girl is named, Destiny (how could the writer’s resist?), played by Yara Shahidi. The twist is that the little girl is on it, she knows about playing the race card and she’s not there to be anyone’s noble savage.
It’s “Beasts” that pits Hushpuppy against the odds which, at first, may resemble the “magical negro” in American cinema where you have the downtrodden black character with mystical powers minus any real humanity. But Hushpuppy isn’t there to help white people anymore than Destiny is. Hushpuppy, half the age of Destiny, has pure innocence working in her favor. She is also a very symbolic character in a movie full of dystopian symbolism. The poor and forgotten people thought they had gotten a handle on their fate, foraging for food and living out of rusty old discards. And then the waters began to rise some more and flushed them all out. They are all carted away by the powers that be and placed in some quasi-hospital which leaves them all ill at ease. It leaves Hushpuppy in the lurch as she prepares for life as an orphan.
In “Butter,” Destiny is also an innocent bystander, a foster care child who doesn’t think she’s good at anything until she happens upon the Iowa state butter competition that Bob and Laura have dominated for so many years. Destiny discovers that she’s a natural at sculpting butter. She makes only one specific request of her new foster parents, who she deems as “too white.” She asks them for 200 pounds of butter. In no time, Destiny is well on her way to butter sculpting stardom. Destiny will show up all the white people by mastering the relatively simple butter sculpting techniques and using it to create sentimental work tugging at their guilt: a tribute to Harriet Tubman and, later on, a homage to an African American mother and child that even moves Destiny. When the pressure becomes too much, Laura pleads with Destiny that butter sculpting is all she has and, to that, Destiny tells her to think again. The point is well taken but comes across as belabored. It’s fun to note, that in comparison, Olivia Wilde’s performance as a whacked-out prostitute, with no agenda but her own survival, provides the most laughs.
“Beast of the Southern Wild” is such a wild and wooly affair that it manges to avoid being pinned down too easily. It is playing its own race card but more deftly. It also has a genuiely magical feel to it having nothing to do with race. Keeping to its dystopian theme, it is just as concerned about global warming and the like as it is with any white man’s guilt. It packs a unique mix of unexpected imagery and situations and never feels forced. The direction by Benh Zeitlin (from a screenplay by Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar) is so spot on that you assume that the main actors are professionals. At age five, it’s understandable not to be surprised that this is Quvenzhané Wallis’s first film. But Dwight Henry could be easily assumed to be a seasoned actor and yet this is his first role ever. Like the rest of the cast, Zeitlin and his team had set out to create something very organic, tilling the movie’s cast from the soil of its location off the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. It is a delicate process to get right but this movie manages to do it and provide us with an authentic work.