Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Assorted artists, glimpsed from the back of a galloping horse.

Thought for the day:"I don't think much of my face. I think it falls somewhere between Fu Manchu and Desperate Dan - but a Robert Redford lurks inside." Michael Gambon.


Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter has an interview with Paul Grist, reminding me of a series Paul drew to my script way back in 1990 titled LUCIFER. It was a three issue comic book mini-series which was then collected in soft cover, but it's never been seen since then. I got to work with Paul again in 2005 when first rate DC editor Joey Cavalieri assigned him my five page script for a cockeyed Flash story in the second Bizarro collection. It's a day in the Life of superhero the Flash, narrated by him in abbreviated shorthand. Yet another illegible Campbellian offering! (Joey was a helpful editor by observing that 'parallel world' made for a difficult abbreviation and suggested instead 'alternative universe') There's a Mirror Master story (in an alt unvrs), and a Grodd the Gorilla story; the second one provides the solution to the first one and the whole thing is bookended by Barry (Flash) Allen and his wife Iris in domestic contentment. It's a lot like a 1960's comic; you got plenty story for your ten cents in them days.
And my old pal Phil Elliott provided the colours (he drew the first of the three LUCIFERS). It was like 1986 British small press all over again.

* * * *

I mentioned the apparently magnificent Hogarth exhibition a few days ago (and I'm wishing I was in the neighbourhood). Ben Smith, in comments two days back, alerted me to the fact that cartoonist Steve Bell has written on the subject. While I think he is supreme at what he does in cartoons, abusing the establishment and other pomposities, he is clearly not a deep thinker (as we suspected after reading his Comics Journal interview some time recently.) But then, it's useful to have big noisy uncontrollable dog around to deter people from coming in and stealing your bike.

"He was the first to take the idea of telling a story in comic strip form, in multiple panels, and do it justice."
"I think he must have been quite pugnacious."
(that second sentence is from a different papragraph.)

No, give me Jenny Uglow, whom I spoke of here on 26 Jan, a writer who has written extensively and well on the eighteenth century. her piece on the exhibition appeared on Jan 13
"While Hogarth's Progresses are still theatrical - telling Moll's story, for example, through a sequence of "dramatic" moments, such as her seduction by the bawd, Mother Needham; the crash of the table when her sponsor discovers her infidelity; the tiptoeing of the magistrate through the door - their suggestive use of detail and complex creation of character also link them to the emerging novel. One reason for the enduring appeal of the Progresses is their ambivalence, their reservation of judgment. Hogarth shrewdly marketed his prints, tabloid style, as moral lessons rather than prurient stories, but - rather as Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones are unlikely "heroes" - he also created a heroine, Moll Hackabout, and a hero, Tom Rakewell, who rise above typecasting to complex individuality. Each is both victim and predator: their fate draws our sympathy, rather than acquiescence in rightful punishment. Yet Hogarth is less optimistic than Fielding: his ironic titles, echoing Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, suggest that hectic urban society is more conducive to madness and decline than to spiritual progression."

Here, instead of a reiteration of that crap about Hogarth and the comic strip we get a genuine insight into what he was about. I have for some time felt that a connection to 'the emerging novel' is one place to start a discussion of Hogarth. It is this mainly that differentiates him from all the cartoonists who followed him, except perhaps for George Du Maurier in the late 1800s, whose informal assortment of cartoons in Punch lampooning the aesthetic movement built a recurring cast of characters and provided the cartoonist with a trying ground for the novels he eventually did write, including Trilby, which gave the world the character of Svengali. There is a great deal to consider there, but the comics fraternity is hung up on the simplistic obsession with a single formal procedure ('multiple panels'), and their mindless blatherings, like that of Bell referenced above, give me no pleasure at all.
Uglow's final remarks are relevant to my theme of the Fate of the Artist, that growing suspicion that it will all add up to nothing.
"In his final print, The Bathos, the artist's palette lies broken. The main actor, old Time himself, lies prone, croaking: "Finis"; the backdrop is a gallows on a lonely plain, the scenery is collapsing in ruins. Yet even this bleak print shows Hogarth as a man of theatre. In 1766, two years after his death, his long, intricate, back-and-forth relationship with the stage, as well as his bluff nationalism, received due tribute in Garrick's prologue to The Clandestine Marriage, which drew on Marriage à la Mode... (etc)"

* * * *

Weeding my list of bookmarks, I find this Guardian review of Reading Pictures by Alberto Manguel, from march 11 2001. I had been googling the phrase 'The Fate of the Artist" in preparation for using it as the title for my book (in case somebody else had used it recently etc.)
"This leads Manguel into a discussion of the career of Edward Weston who, in his attempt to 'see' his subject with the least possible interference, refused to crop his final prints. But, as Manguel goes on to note, this commitment to the 'truth' can become addictive and lead to the abandonment of art - photography, even - altogether. This was the fate of the artist Tina Modotti who gave up photography because seeing and portraying the social reality of Mexico's poor was too mediated a form of witness. She had to get much closer than her camera would allow and so she retreated into artistic silence."

* * * *

Drjon links me to a piece about the lately rereleased Walt Kelly's 'Songs of the Pogo' album. Walt Kelly! Now there's a voice I miss in the world.

"Break out the cigars, this life is for squirrels
We're off to the drug store to whistle at girls."

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12 Comments:

Blogger Hayley said...

Ah! As it is customary for the first poster to selfishly whinge about the lack of a sketch (it being the one night they stayed up or the rare morning they got up early, none of which apply to me as I'm actually just very good at faffing about at work), here goes:

WHY DON'T YOU PUT SKETCHES UP ANYMORE? I liked 'em.

I was at the Tate on Saturday to see the Hogarth exhibition. Once there I found that the line to get in curled around the foyer and into the gift shop. 'Bugger that,' I thought 'I'll save my tenner and go see the Pre-Raphaelites and things instead.'

And I found Henry Wallis' Death of Chatterton so I'm glad I did.

I'll go back this weekend. I might even pre-book like what those organised people do.

14 February 2007 6:27:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous John C said...

If the Tate is packed out I'd advise going over to Lincoln's Inn Fields and one of my favourite places in the whole city, the Sir John Soane Museum. Has some original Hogarth paintings including one of the Rake's Progress pictures.

14 February 2007 7:56:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hayley, The best time to see exhibitions at the Tate are the late openings. They're Fridays and Saturdays at Tate Modern, Tate Britain's a bit behind the times but they do a late at least once a month. From my expereince of these 'blockbuster' shows that's the only time you'll get to see the pictures without hordes of punters in front of you - most folk tend to give up on Art after 7.30pm (or maybe they're just hungry).

Eddie, I see what you mean about looking at Hogarth as comics as unhelpful to understanding Hogarth, but there is something startlingly modern about seeing a story in sequential (forgive the word) pictures - at least in the flesh. The series pictures usually hang in the 18th Century John Soanes' House in Lincoln's Inn Fields, where the effect of 'reading them' is increased as they're found on folding walls, so some of the pictures get releaved one after another.

Even if it wasn't the reason I kept reading up on him I know one of the reasons I pursued Hogarth to begin with was because he did series work and it chimed with my love of comics.

(oh and lastly have you seen Jenny Uglow's new book on the engraver Thomas Bewick? It's a wonderful edition with masses of illustrations).

Ben Smith

14 February 2007 8:01:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley said...

John---
I love Sir John Soane's Museum. I like the way it's confusing and you'll turn a corner and bump your head on a mirror thinking it's another hallway. I also love the fact that it's just across the way from the Huntarian which is also terribly cool but in a completely different dead-things-in-jars sort of way. John Soane's feels like something out of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (and I have it on good authority that there's a blindingly obvious reason for that). The sarcophagus in the basement is interesting too. When it was still in Egypt the heiroglyphics were a bright blue and the stone itself was sort of yellowy but upon arriving in the UK the English weather fucked it up so completely that it's now a bit dull and grey. Kind of like English people in February.

Ben---
The folding wall thing was amazing. I had to beg the Museum Man to open them for me and he was well pissed off about it because he had to go and find his white gloves.

Is it just me or does going to the Tate til 10 at night feel like you've snuck in?

14 February 2007 9:26:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley said...

Oh and John, what'd you think of the posthumous paintings of Soane's wee dog in heroic/adoring poses?

14 February 2007 9:34:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely, I've taken to going there on Saturday evenings mainly. Being free, it's at least 10 quid cheaper than the cinema and you know whatever you see is going to be world class.

I keep thinking at some point everyone else is going to realise what a good thing they're missing and, frankly, ruin it for us lucky few. Not yet though, not yet...

Also, is no one actually doing their job with all this time for commenting?

Ben

14 February 2007 9:52:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley said...

And if you're really in the mood for a film you can go see one by Man Ray or Dali and they're loads of fun. Complete and utter madness. I'm looking forward to the Gilbert & George exhibition that starts tomorrow.

And shush! As long as I maintain this stern expression I look like I'm doing things I'm supposed to be doing. I think. I probably don't. They're probably all commenting on blogs too.

14 February 2007 10:05:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Justin C. Sherrill said...

Until her recent death, Selby Kelly was selling videotapes that had Walt Kelly's hand-animated Pogo cartoon - it's a mix of stills and animations, narrated by Walt himself.

I don't know if they are still available now that she's died; I have one videotape that I purchased not long ago.

14 February 2007 11:46:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous John C said...

Hayley: Couldn't bring Soane's dog to mind but I find I've a picture of the animal in one of my books. Funny the way he had her painted surrounded by Classical ruins. The book says her remains are buried in the yard along with yet more ancient artefacts.

Last time I was there I had to persuade one of the blokes to open the walls of the picture gallery as well. That surprised and delighted some other people who were wandering around.

14 February 2007 12:57:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Jack Ruttan said...

Wish I lived in London, to see all that stuff again.

Of course, it costs an arm and a leg, and is the coldest city (attitude-wise) I've ever visited (perhaps excepting Toronto).

14 February 2007 4:07:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Hayley said...

John--
Now that you mention it, I do remember the monument in the courtyard in memory of Soane's dog. I giggled when I saw it. It says in huge letters,

"ALAS, POOR FANNY!"

I'm not making this up.

14 February 2007 7:38:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Kári Tulinius said...

What do you think of Rodolphe Töpffer? In the French bande dessinée tradition he's often considered the father of comics. I don't really agree, I think no one person can be called the fountainhead of the entire thing, but he's an interesting figure that gets mentioned rarely in Anglophone circles, even though his books were translated into English and published in America.

14 February 2007 9:30:00 pm GMT-5  

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