Saturday, December 29, 2007

Moon Bloat Carrier

A panel from a story in Starstream 3 (1976): "I saw lots of emergencies, but none with the blue-circled eyes . . ."

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

This Again

One of the most tired and unimaginative criticisms of ‘alt comics’ is the following: desperate for validation by the literary elite, cartoonists create boring stories about the uninteresting problems of average people so that The New Yorker and their ilk will reassure them that they are worthy. This argument presumes an intimate knowledge of the cartoonists’ psyches that the critic never has; and those who make this argument are rarely good readers of the comic that’s right in front of them, so how can we put much faith in their analysis of a human being? Most artists would like to be appreciated by smart readers, but to reduce the many motivations that drive them to a single, overwhelming need to be loved by the ‘tastemakers’ shows a real lack of depth or suggests that The Critic is posing (“He’s too smart to really believe that, right?”). Why is he upset that others create comics that he doesn’t like? I assume that artists are trying to make a comic that they believe is good, interesting, funny, moving, or truthful, etc, even when I think it stinks.

Then The Critic will direct his attention to the reader, psychoanalyzing him by making (surprise!) the same argument. This reader, the critic says, thinks that “if the elitists like the comics I like, then I can feel good about myself and the comics I read; respectability, long sought, will finally be mine.” (I have never met anyone like this . . .) So, if you make or like a comic the critic doesn’t like, it must be because you are deeply insecure: he can see no other reason and can’t imagine that other people think differently than he does or like different kinds of stories. Why, though, does this critic constantly return to the issue of validation?

Comics in general have not achieved the status of, say, the novel, but the debate about acceptance is really on its way to being over, a fact that makes these complaints a waste of time, and a bit foolish. Comics by ‘alt-cartoonists’ in particular are being reviewed and printed in mainstream periodicals; their books are being published by major publishing houses, being made into films, and being read in more and more high school and college courses . . .

A cartoonist whose work I sometimes like and whose political essays I usually agree with makes some of these complaints here. Not only does Rall rehash these arguments and offer confident claims about cartoonists’ and readers’ sex lives, but he shows himself to be a shaky reader by the unfounded assumptions and misrepresentations he makes; for example, he calls woman in Ware’s strip a “spinster,” an often derogatory term almost never applied to anyone as young as this main character. Here’s another one: “Daniel Clowes' "Mister Wonderful" treads standard art-comics territory: unattractive boy meets dowdy girl.” It matters a great deal that these main characters are not a boy and girl, but two middle-aged adults with decades of relationship trouble behind them, a history that two teenagers simply could never have. Clearly Rall is trying to be cute here, but he intentionally misrepresents the age of the characters in Clowes’s and Ware’s comics to make them appear to be something they aren’t. If after reading a review/essay, you come away with a completely mistaken impression of what the comic is about, you know the writer is not to be trusted . . . . Is he afraid that if he describes them accurately, they might actually sound appealing?

“I don't know why anyone cares about what other people read,” Rall asks. It’s a good question, one he should ask of himself . . .

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Frank O'Hara


I am actually not very familiar with O'Hara's poetry, but I remembered this one from college, thus the orange.

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Four Great Stories of 2007


The following is not a best-of list or a series of reviews, but short discussions of why these books are some of my favorites from 2007, and would be favorites in any year in which they appeared. I focus a few things that I find particularly interesting in each story as a way of trying to explain something that I find appealing about the cartoonist’s approach in general.

*Gilbert Hernandez Chance in Hell
One of the things that’s so compelling about Hernandez’s work is its use of striking visual shifts; he often transitions from (in film terms) a very long shot into a mid shot, or alternates directly between shots that imply a dramatically different scope. Moving between these kinds of shots draws a reader’s attention to the ways that various locations, geography, and the characters interact. This is particularly true in Chance in Hell, the first part of which takes place in a wasteland on the edge of a city:

Many of the longer views feature a beautifully stylized, yet almost oppressive sky, which seems on the verge of enveloping the characters:
He also often moves between starkly different perspectives and distances, and frequently uses high angle shots, as in the second panel:
Most eye-level shots assume an adult perspective (the image of the man on the first Chance in Hell page above takes a conventional adult point-of-view.) But in the last panel directly above, Hernandez draws from the child's level.
These different shots, angles, and shifting POVs help to create something that’s very hard to define, in Hernandez’s story or anyone else’s: its rhythm. And a way to get at one of the many kinds of rhythms found in a comic is to look at patterns the artist creates with shots or angles (or with the length of scenes, density of panel compositions, variation in the grid/page layouts, etc . . .). [Some argue that you should not use film terms to talk about comics. But as long as you recognize the many differences between comics and films -- i.e., the comic panel doesn’t frame out reality in the way a camera typically does -- I think you can use them whenever they are helpful.]
Also, note the careful design of the above page: the 1st and 3rd panel switch the placement of the sun and the girl (who is seen in silhouette towards the side of the panel); while the 2nd and 4th panels feature her figure in the center (and not as a silhouette.)
Hernandez has a sense of rhythm, scale, and drama that recalls adventure comics and films of the ‘40s and ‘50s, yet he has a genuine sense of strangeness and unpredictability that separates his work from conventional genre stories.
*Daniel Clowes Mister Wonderful
In a powerful scene from chapter 7, Natalie recounts some of her ‘relationship history’ to Marshall (they are on a blind date):

In the middle three panels, the ha ha (which begins as a line of dialogue and then appears as images) becomes increasingly larger as the panels become increasingly smaller; not only does the ha ha come to dominate the way Natalie thinks about the relationship, it dominates and even overwhelms the confines of the last panel; it is too large to be represented within it. In the third panel of her memory, the ha ha is placed in between the two word balloons and you read it as a part of a sequence of text: her words are interrupted as she hears his laugh in her head and then he asks a question. But you also experience the words as a part of the panel’s picture; they are Natalie’s thoughts, but they assume the shape and presence of physical objects, casting a literal and figurative shadow. Comics is often defined as a medium in which two distinct things - words and images - are used to tell a story. But Clowes’s art here complicates that claim by blurring any boundary between them.
Some of Clowes’s weekly installments have a rhythm in part suggested by their serialization -- a kind of subtle punch-line at the end of each installment; and here the formal inventiveness of the penultimate panel quickly gives way to the traditional comics of the last panel, as Natalie’s emotional recollection is interrupted by the waitress’s mundane comment. Each episode of MW is remarkable for the shift in rhythms it employs, some of which are created by Marshall’s vacillation in moods; his conflicting desire both to confess and to withhold truths about himself from Natalie, the reader, and himself; or from changes in drawing and coloring styles.
[Here’s a different kind of word-picture moment from Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library 18, and one that's equally powerful:]

*Adrian Tomine Shortcomings
Much of the elegance of Tomine’s stories derives from the constraints he places on his comics. There’s a profound clarity in his work that comes from a decision to avoid many of the techniques other cartoonists use. These choices encourage us to focus on his dialogue and accompanying facial expressions and bodily gestures, and Tomine is a master of panel composition with a broad range of subtle poses and positions for characters:

The kinds of things I talked about in Hernandez and Clowes are often absent from his work. Tomine prefers mid shots and medium close ups and only occasionally uses slightly high angles -- this creates a rhythm different than Hernandez’s and yet one that’s equally engaging. Unlike Mister Wonderful, every page in Shortcomings uses either 6, 7, 8, or 9 square or rectangular panels arranged in a traditional grid and has a consistent margin size and gutter size; there are no thought balloons or narration boxes; sound effects are limited to roughly two different types of hand-lettered ‘fonts’ with some, but not much, variation in lettering size (page 43 is an exception); and there are no motion or emotion lines or any similar kinds of effects . . .
While avoiding many techniques, he employs some familiar, unpretentious devices that have long been staples of comics; for example, he repeatedly introduces a change in setting with a conventional establishing shot, often of the restaurant in which in a conversation is talking place or the theater in which the main character works:


He uses the whisper version of the word balloons, in which the balloon is made up of dashes, and the telephone conversation word balloon, in which the tail of the unseen speaker’s balloon takes the zig-zag shape often used to represent electricity:
The storytelling in Tomine is literally straightforward -- the narrative is completely linear and each panel depicts external, objective reality (whereas in Mister Wonderful, for example, Clowes includes flashbacks or panels that features images from a character’s fantasy). Yet the seeming transparency that arises from Tomine’s formal choices is balanced by the story's complex look at issues of ethnicity, sexuality, and identity. And Shortcomings is never burdened by the moralizing that sometimes harms narratives that tackle these kinds of issues.
Overall, his use of familiar cartoon devices in the context of his stripped-downed, austere approach creates a style at once elegant and friendly -- a very unusual combination.
*F. C. Ware Acme Novelty Library 18
Critics have sometimes said that Ware’s comics emphasize design over story, and that his formal innovations come at the price of limiting or obscuring the story’s emotional content. I’ll let this page, which addresses the alienation and everyday routines of the main character at different times in her life, answer those criticisms:

This story is also remarkable for the ways in which it interweaves a series of recurring and connected images -- sleeping people, cut or wilting flowers, a circular birth control pill pack, a clock, the main character’s leg and prosthesis, a quarter, rooms, windows -- and ties them to themes of alienation, sexual desire and frustration, incompleteness, maternity, mortality . . .

More so than many cartoonists, Ware repeatedly focuses on objects, showing how the most mundane item can be invested with emotional weight (perhaps in Ware objects perform the role of geography in Hernandez . . . ). The main character engages in reveries about other people’s lives inspired by seemingly random objects, such as a camera, or in this case, a hook:

Even though the objects are often depicted in small panels (and critics have said that such panels are typically read faster), for me these panel seem to want greater attention; we expect a cartoonist to center on people and places, and so when he focuses an entire panel on a lock we should linger for a moment and consider why.
Every now and then you read a comic in which a character describes or undergoes something unusual and meaningful that has happened to you, and the artist represents it in a way that seems undeniably true:

These kinds of moments are a hallmark of all of the cartoonist discussed above.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Kdo Chce Zabit Jessii?

In "Who Wants to Kill Jessie," a superhero, a cowboy, and a bombshell all spring to life from a cartoon serial in "Technical Review" magazine. It's one of my favorite comic book movies.


video

video

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fig. 1.


The Patent Room is one wing of the great Shorpy photoblog family (Shorpy is worthy of its own post). Filled with beautiful and interesting patent application drawings from the distant past and fairly recent. It's a massive collection, organized into Toys, Architecture, Airplanes, Cars, and Trains. The scans are clear and clean, available at large sizes, and they're lots of fun to browse. Random selection follows…


click on images to see them larger.






This one is great. There is a phonograph inside the toy truck! Looks like the back wheels spin the record under the tone arm… I wonder how well that worked?







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Monday, December 17, 2007

Ad-Art by Raymond Savignac.


All that I know about Raymond Savignac I've only just read in this five year old Obituary from the New York Times. He's one of many great illustrators and designers who's work I've seen for years, but I never took the time to find out who's work it was. It's thanks to my favorite blog, Grain Edit, for posting an image of Savignac's work that I finally found out more about this highly celebrated poster artist and found more of his work online.

As usual I'm the last one to "discover" this artist only to find that all their posters command extremely high prices, even modern reproductions, and books about the artist are out of print and highly collectible too. Oh well. I'll settle for perusing the archives at the Savignac Store.

An assortment of Savignac posters follows, enjoy…

Note: Most of the images can be viewed larger if you click on them.


This image is funny, but sort of gross.

This must be a self portrait.




The man in this image looks a little uncomfortable with his dancing partners state of undress.


Spaghetti cannibal?

I love this painting. France doesn't really lend itself to anthropomorphism, but Savignac pulls it off.



He worked in a few very different styles over the years, and sometimes, like in the above image, he brought the two together. The figure is so primitive and childlike, but the fridge and all the items inside are so expertly rendered.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Ticket Stub

From 1996 until 2006, I sat in a small enclosed room each week and typed closed captioning and subtitles for thousands of television shows and home videos. As I worked, I would write down time codes where there were interesting images, and at the end of the day, since I often finished early, I would cue a frame and draw it in my sketchbook. Thus was born the zine Ticket Stub...


In 2006, the company downsized, and the entire editorial staff at our location was terminated during union contract negotiations; R.I.P. Ticket Stub.


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Why Gary Panter is The Greatest

My six-month-old baby girl got a wonderful surprise in the mail a few weeks ago.

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Hogan's Alley has posted a cartoonist Christmas card gallery here and here and here.

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