Saturday, 11 October 2008

jenny Uglow is magnificent in her own write, as I blogged here.
And her review of Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder in this weekend's Guardian is a wonderful thing in itself.
Holmes's telling mimics a quality he sees as central to this scientific surge, "driven by a common ideal of intense, even reckless, personal commitment to discovery". He gives us stories of individuals braving great odds, taking risks, undergoing physical and intellectual tests of endurance. This may seem dangerously like an old-fashioned narrative of "great men", but it is very different, partly because Holmes is acknowledging the vital role of collaboration, the importance of the long, unglamorous slog to get results, and the vagaries of chance and luck, but chiefly because it is a narrative of ideas. Mistakes are recorded here, as much as right judgments, because they stem from - or give rise to - imaginative leaps. The model is not Newton, but Wordsworth's idea of Newton:
"With his prism and silent face,
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone."

(link thanks to ben Smith)
the wife of my bosom decided just a minute ago to clean out a kitchen cupboard while I finished my after-lunch coffee. Pulling out a pile of drinks coasters she said 'hey! There's that budget planner CD I never got around to looking at.'


Friday, 10 October 2008

SCIENTISTS have claimed a fearsome mutant fish has begun actively hunting people - after gorging itself on human corpses which have been dumped in rivers.
Jeremy discounted theories that crocodiles could be responsible for the carnage before turning his attention to goonches – among the world’s biggest freshwater fish.
He caught one which tipped the scales at 161lb and was nearly 6ft long – a world record weight and far bigger than any landed before. (photo)

Thursday, 9 October 2008

artist John Glashan (1927-1999) drew a complicated and unique weekly cartoon in the UK’s Observer magazine titled Genius between 1978 and ’83. In the introduction to the collection John Glashan's World published in 1991 he wrote “It occurred to me that the cartoon form had the potential for something wider-ranging than the three patterns in current usage: the political cartoon, the single joke, the strip cartoon.” I like this because he apparently saw the American comic book and its ambition to become the 'graphic novel' as a separate and unrelated event, a different medium even (as I do). Alternatively it had not impinged on his consciousness at all, which would be difficult to imagine of a cartoonist in the UK in 1991 as the newspapers were full of it, but I prefer to think that he simply wasn't impressed.

The problem with this book is that it doesn't do his higher concept justice, arranged as it is in the manner of conventional cartoon books under thematic headings such as 'money,' 'guilt,' 'love,' fame.' Any reader attuned to the bigger idea would have preferred the pages run in the order the artist made them, and with the goddamn dates attached. But book publishers have never been good at understanding bigger ideas, at least in relation to cartoons, and they still (with few exceptions) do not get them, as I have found in my recent forays into the book world.

But most of my readers are probably not familiar with Glashan and his work. His wikipedia entry will bring you up to scratch, and since i am not being paid to write this blog, I will simply steal it without paraphrase: " Scottish cartoonist, illustrator, and playwright, creator of "Genius". Glashan's cartoons typically included small pen-and-ink figures drawn over a fabulous backdrop often featuring fantastic (Gothic/imaginary) architecture, surreal landscapes, or gloriously impractical ingenious-looking machines. Born in Glasgow and the son of a portrait painter, McGlashan studied painting at the Glasgow School of Art after national service in the army. He moved to London with the intention of making a living from painting portraits, but was unable to do so. Switching to cartooning and illustrating, he curtailed his name to "Glashan". Glashan's cartoons appeared in Lilliput, Harpers & Queen, Private Eye, Punch, and various London newspapers, as well as Holiday and the New Yorker. A series of humorous guidebooks created with Jonathan Routh in the late 1960s allowed extensive expression of Glashan's graffiti-like style, combining small figures (often bearded men) with scrawled text -- but even here, often with elaborate backdrops. In 1978 he took over Jules Feiffer's spot on The Observer magazine and began his strip cartoon Genius featuring Anode Enzyme (IQ 12,794) and his patron Lord Doberman, the richest man in the world. 'Genius' won him the Glen Grant Strip Cartoon award in 1981. This ran until 1983 when he returned to landscape and portrait painting, and from 1988 to 1998 he also contributed weekly cartoons to The Spectator."

Here are a couple of examples of the weekly series, featuring the aforementioned characters Anode Enzyme and Lord Doberman (dates as I said irritably, are unknown to me, though I imagine there must be somebody who collected the stuff as it came out). Another problem with the book is that the things are printed too damn small, two to a page. As I recall, the Observer didn't do them any favours either. They clearly come from the tradition of the gag a day strip cartoon; once the set-up had been established, with a minimum of narrative introduction, the work was an ongoing series of self-contained variations and elaborations. Glashan's sense of a bigger kind of strip cartoon was all about scale. Each of his pieces wants at the very least a full magazine sized page. There's one place in the book where a single painted gag cartoon, not involving any regular characters, is given a double page spread and the watercolours are a joyful ocular experience. Why couldn't it all have been thus? It's no wonder he got out of the business and made a living from his painting. The larger end of his scalar contrast was usually a baronial hall or some baroque improbability:

But in this one he switches it around and an easel painting of a fish is dwarfing his cast of characters:

There is much aesthetic pleasure to be had in looking at the contrast of the typical big painterly image with the sensitive tiny pen drawings. here's a zoom on one of the latter:

The grand scale was also reflected in the characters and the relationships between them. "Anode Enzyme is a genius with an IQ of 12,794. Master of all trades, Jack of none; his impeccable psychic architecture is marred by a single flaw- he has no money." He becomes employed by Lord Doberman, richest man in the world. In a sequence running over several weeks, the first task that is given to the genius is to invent a machine that will fire portable television sets into the sea. "What rate of fire?" asks the genius without hesitation. "Twenty sets per minute," responds Doberman, equally without hesitation.

there's a website

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Wednesday, 8 October 2008

they've been using this song in a Volkswagen ad here in Australia and three nights running I said to myself I must find out who that lady is. It's Little Waltz by Basia Bulat, Canadian singer songwriter. Here's a live performance of it.

First few lines of Lyrics for Little Waltz
© Basia Bulat
"You and I, we make a grand salute
stare at each other like lost little birds across the room
and I remember the way you looked
I learned how to dance, but I’d never shown it to you
My love, I know I was wrong,
but you know that you’ll always be
my love..."

her website


i uploaded a couple of images this week to post in a discussion on the Comics Journal forum in response to a plea for me to stop being so pathologically touchy about the endless pointless arguments over the naming of our medium. I said it's fine to say that when you don't have to suffer some of these stupid interviews where the whole purpose seems to be to make me feel foolish. Having gone to the trouble I'll post them here too. These happen at least a couple of times every year; they are a total waste of my time.

This one took forty minutes and they took a bunch of photos. Then it all got thrown out and the journalist salvaged this bit for her gossip column:

The wife of my bosom asked what 'hauteur' means. I said it's a French word that means I'm full of myself. She said, 'well at least they got that part right.'


Tuesday, 7 October 2008

OUR TV ADVENTURE, so far-part 5

what is the most important and undervalued skill a strip-cartoonist can have? Is it the facility to neatly ink brush lines with a steady hand? Is it a keen grasp of the complexities of perspective? Is it the ability to negotiate a bigger page rate? Nay! I say resoundingly. It is the art of pulling faces in the mirror. And Every comic book artist worth his salt who is reading this is grinning and nodding his head.
Of course you won't find many who will admit to it and you would have to be very stealthy to catch one of us in the act. But there you have it. It's the truth. You just read it on the internet. Artists need to be constantly reminding themselves of the muscle and bone structure of the face, and looking for the expression best suited to the situation at hand. And since we are working on a very small scale, these expressions need to be grand physiognomical exaggerations in order to communicate clearly with the minimum of means.
When Pete Mullins worked with me, he always had a full size mirror next to his drawing table, and if it wasn't there waiting for him, he would draw attention to our oversight. And every time my eye roved around the room in contemplation and alighted upon his lively countenance in the act of such a performance, he would have me doubled up with cackling mirth. And how else would he have achieved such an array of interesting cartoon faces?

To relate this to the matter at hand, and for those who wondered about the face I was pulling in yesterday's post, it could have been much more outlandish than it ended up. I'm not saying this is the same thing as acting, but for the purpose of the one-sheet still-photo promo I showed here, I figured the thing to do was to arrive at the studio with a portfolio of sample muggings. Thus I caught a few facial distortions on the digital camera, looks that would express the proposed set-up of me being harassed by the Snooter, printed them out on typing paper and when I arrived I presented them as a swatch. Below is an edited version. When the producers saw it I'm sure they thought that I thought we were doing silent movies in the style of Lon Chaney. In modern film, where the image is going to be enlarged big and precisely focused on a screen, and the soundtrack is conveying a share of the meaning, everything needs to be understated. I'm learning this as I go along. The facial expression for contemplation is the same as the one for constipation, and that would never do in a comic book. My fellow artists, you may file these away for the next time you need reference for a sequence of a man being pursued by running zombies.

(drawings above: top is mine from the 1001 nights of Bacchus, lower set is a montage of faces by Pete Mullins, from assorted Bacchus books)


Monday, 6 October 2008

OUR TV ADVENTURE, so far-part 4

the original plan that was put to me was for the production of six five minute short films. However, after initial tentative approaches to a network the producers were encouraged to think on a much bigger scale. Now we were talking about eight half hour episodes, which would involve coming up with a lot of extra material as there are no obvious half hour tv stories in After the Snooter or Fate of the Artist. The possibility of me playing myself was kicked around when it was five minute shows we were talking about, but now it was starting to look complicated.
For the time being at least it would have to be me in the photo-shoot that was organized for the purpose of making a promotional image to front the proposal. We had a brainstorming session to come up with a working title. For a while it was Eddie Campbell's Domestic Apocalypse, which is one of the assorted subtitles of Fate ("EDDIE CAMPBELL, his Domestic Apocalypse: The Fate of the Artist: An Autobiographical novel, with typographical anomalies, in which the author does not appear, as himself") but that was soon deemed too complicated. But for the time being, the image had to reflect the 'domestic' angle as well as being a combination of cartoon and photographed figure. This was the result (click on it for larger):

The proposal was successful and raised the capital necessary to take us into 'development,' which if it goes on too long gets to be referred to as 'development hell', but at the very least, for somebody accustomed to print-time, is a long sojourn in purgatory.
(more later)


Sunday, 5 October 2008

a few more thoughts following Friday's ruminations and relevant to the Fate of artists:
via Eric in comments friday: John Ziegler's commentary on the suicide of David Foster Wallace:

I strongly believe that a large ingredient of the toxic mix that ended up forming Wallace’s self-inflicted poison was the pressure he felt of living up to the hype surrounding his writing and the guilt he must have felt for not really having the true talent to back up his formidable reputation.
While I have absolutely no evidence to back up this assertion, I also think it is quite possible that he knew that killing himself in his “prime” and before he had been totally exposed as being a mere mortal in the literary realm would cement his status as a “genius” forever. After all, don’t tortured artists often kill themselves? Heck, based on the glowing and reverential reporting on his suicide, in some circles ending his on life may actually be seen as a badge of honor.
The notion that a (hypothetical) writer would take his own life to secure a place in some imaginary literary pantheon is one that could only be entertained by a dunderhead. In fact it is more reasonable to assume that a writer might have done it following the growing realization that there in fact IS NO SUCH pantheon, or literary afterlife, that it was just an imaginary construct he or she believed in during the naive youth of their artistic joy, and the world is in fact largely made up of dunderheads.

There's a line in Charles Rosen's The Classical Style in which he reflects that there was time when the world appeared to be in accord in the measuring of artistic genius:
"As for Beethoven, in spite of difficulties in winning acceptance for his larger works, by 1815 even most of those musicians who did not like his music would have admitted that he was the greatest living composer: some of the admiration he won may have been unwilling, but it was uncontested (except of course, by the lunatic fringe that is the normal burden of the taste and criticism of any age." (bolding mine)
I'm reminded of the scene in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen concerning the bet with the Sultan of Turkey: he, the Baron, will present the Sultan with a bottle of tokay from the Austrian Empress's own cellar that surpasses the Sultan's best, OR, he loses his head. If he succeeds, he gets to take as much from the Sultan's vault of jewellery and gold as his servant can carry. There are assorted slips between the cup and the lip, but by and by the Sultan pours a glass of the tokay. He nods in agreement and the Baron's strongman proceeds to empty the vault of its riches, carrying it all in one enormous pile. The Sultan is unable to do anything about it because the Tokay is as good as Munchausen claimed.

No argument. No room for opinion or splitting of hairs.

Compared to this world and time of ours, when every dunderhead claims entitlement to his opinion, how deliciously, gloriously daft.


i haven't seen The Mindscape of Alan Moore, but the NY Sun's review of it sounds like a fair criticicm of all previous attempts to represent Alan on the small screen:

Mr. Moore's interview is great stuff; with his droopy eyes and bushy beard, he looks and sounds like a talking British bear who spends his days fixing car engines and his nights philosophizing. But the film spends too much time worshipping at his feet, rather than expanding on or challenging his views, and it embarrassingly reproduces scenes from his comics in bargain-basement eruptions of misplaced fandom that are mortifying to watch.