Saturday 24 October 2009

A tale of two murals. (Links via Bob Morales.)

Florida City bans new murals in downtown after confusing an arm rest with a male sex organ
The mural was retouched to take the armrest out. But that was not enough, ity commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to essentially ban new outdoor paintings from historic downtown.

UPDATE: meeting tonight to discuss possible destruction of boxer girl mural
tonight's bloomingdale civic association meeting will include discussion about the boxer girl mural. there seems to be a lot of pressure on the city to destroy the mural and the mayor's office is considering it.
Nothing accomplished. Pretty poorly run meeting and it didn't ask for community input. DCCAH said they've changed their policy but there's no mechanism to reverse what's done. Someone had actually asked police to see if it caused an increase in crime. They said there has been a 55% decrease.


Friday 23 October 2009

The time for leaving the house is again upon me. It happens once a year. This time, on Monday, I'm off to Italy for the Lucca festival to coincide with the release of the final volume of Bacchus in Italian from Edizioni BD. Here's a page in English. It's the one where the acolyte, cast in the likeness of my pal Mick Evans, meets his sticky end, as told in the video I posted here a few days ago. (click to enlarge)

Where to find me:
Thursday, 29 th: Lucca Comics and Games: signing session 11:00 - 12:30 and 15:00 - 17:00
Friday, 30 th: Pop Store, via Nino Bixio 51 from 16:00 to 18:00
Saturday 31 th: Lucca Comics and Games: signing session 11:00 - 12:30 and 15:00 - 17:00
Sunday, 1st: Lucca Comics and Games: signing session 11:00 - 12:00

From Italy I go to the UK. where I"ll surface the following weekend, and so hopefully will The Years Have Pants.
Saturday 7th November- two events
One: - Signing at Gosh! Comics from 2pm-4pm
Two: Comica Festival, interview
Nash Room, ICA, The Mall, London- at 7pm to 9pm (se link for details on getting in)

Here is a page from the book that just happens to involve pants: (click to enlarge)


Thursday 22 October 2009

How come I didn't know about this? There is a town in County Donegal named Muff

and it has a diving club, The Muff Diving Club, founded in 1981 one night in the Sqealing Pig pub. It had its first AGM in 1981 and membership now stands at 80.
(photo from the club site, link from Hayley Campbell)


Wednesday 21 October 2009

Making a work of long-form comics has become something of a test to show that a comic strip artist is of the modern age. Robert Crumb achieved fame in earlier age, that very brief one of the 'underground' comics in the 1960s, whose artists specialized in the spontaneous, the self-indulgent, the iconoclastic and merry taboo-breaking. We would not expect one of them to have the discipline to disappear for four years and come back with a 224 page intensely detailed and faithful illustration of the oldest and most venerated book in the world. The very idea of it is brilliant and the job is one that cannot fail to attract attention, though so far I can't find a bad word about it anywhere.

Bill Kartalopoulos at PRINT gives the best formal analysis
Crumb invests this cast of thousands with cultivated observation of both physiognomy and character, and his characters, even when only briefly glimpsed, resonate authentically as flawed strugglers. More august Biblical figures project recognizable human motivations, even in the book’s most heightened circumstances. Crumb’s aged Abraham, submerging grief into duty, is rigidly stoic as he prepares to sacrifice his only son.
Paul Buhle in The Jewish Daily Forward makes a good observation:
More striking for anyone but the seasoned Crumb fan: unlike previous Biblical comic adaptations, including some published and drawn by Jews, Crumb’s characters actually look Jewish, the women even more than the men. The contrast to the classic work, EC Comics’ “Picture Stories from the Bible” (1945) in that respect is most illuminating. But more recent works like the best-selling “Manga Bible” (2000) are not much different (nor was the “The Wolverton Bible” by one of the strangest of comic artists Basil Wolverton). Close readers will see Crumb’s wife Aline Kominsky, to whom the book is dedicated, again and again, in various guises; perhaps only Chagall drew his beloved wife so often and with such varied imagination.

Crumb's restraint and subtlety are to be applauded, and I often feel that he is catching the moments that all other artists miss, for instance this one in which the males of the household of Abraham have just been informed that they have to be circumcised:

Update: Robert Alter, whose translation Crumb used, writes at length in the New Republic.
Perhaps the most winning aspect of Crumb’s Genesis is its inventive playfulness. He is keenly aware that many bizarre things happen in these stories, first in the primeval history because of its legendary character and then in the patriarchal narrative because of the writers’ deep interest in what is odd, paradoxical, and surprising in human behavior and in divine intervention. It is fun to follow Crumb’s images. In some instances, the fun is a direct visual translation of what is conveyed in the narrative report. More often, it derives from Crumb’s play with the biblical text.


Sunday 18 October 2009

In Exit Wounds Rutu Modan gives me something that's getting harder to find in my 'graphic novel' reading. That is, she's telling me something I don't already know. It's set in an actual place I've never been to, and the characters are involved in plausible actions that are outside of my experience. They are investigating whether the father of one of them has been the victim of a terrorist bombing, and whether he is the 'John Doe' in a hastily dug grave at the cemetery. While they're there, an unrelated body is being exhumed with, much family ceremony further along the line, due to a similar discovery.

The impressive thing about Exit Wounds is that there is a keen organizing intelligence at work at every single level of it, from top to bottom, and I'd like to run my eye down them.

First, the thematic material. The softcover of Exit Wounds that I'm looking at here was released last December, a year after the hard cover, and includes a very thorough eight page interview with the author at the back of the book, from which we glean a few insights into her method. 'Life has no subtext, and a story without subtext is a soap opera... journalism has a different duty. I'm talking about fiction.' There is then a suggestion that the matter-of-factness of death is her principal interest in the book, the thought that nobody might give it a thought. A real news event forms the seed of the story, a victim who could not be identified. Second, on to the nuts and bolts of plot construction: 'the problem with reality is that it is too chaotic.' Her story does indeed have an orderly way of unfolding, everything noted in its turn and in its place. A personal experience contributes to the plot, things that happened to other people, then inventions and connections are added and the whole thing is logically worked out until the joins are invisible.

Third, the setting, which is Tel Aviv. Reference photos would have to have been used for buildings and cars, but Modan subsumes everything into a 'Ligne clair' style, all the way down to dots for eyes. The underlying draughtsmanship is so tight that she loosens things up a bit on the surface by eschewing rulers and straight lines. Fourth, the people- there's a studied ordinariness about them that becomes an attraction because they're so engagingly observed. Using Photos for figures is too complicated for a long form comic strip. That kind of thing was right for old style painted magazine illustration where the artist could spend several days on a single composition. With comics there is too much ground to be covered. The artist most of the time must rely on mentally internalized figure studies, so that they can be convincingly produced when needed. He or she must be looking and mentally recording, all the time, even when they're not supposed to be. There's a marvelous six page sequence of perfectly observed love-making in which clothes get in the way, pants come off as inelegantly as real pants come off.

Fifth, the color has me mystified. It's obviously done on computer, but there are inconsistencies and textural suggestions under the hues, perhaps some roughage has been scanned for a base layer. Here's a zoom on a head, with uneven yellow across the flesh and what looks like the merest suggestion of purple veins around the man's temple. There's life in these colours

Sixth, the lettering shows the same degree of thinking too. It obeys all the rules I wrote about in an earlier post. The words form a shape within the larger shape of the balloon and there's plenty of air between the two. She also solves another problem which I've written about before. which is that white word balloon tends to look like a hole in the picture through to the white of the page, suggesting in most comics that the sound is happening in a separate dimension somewhere else. A technique to unify the words and picture into a single audio-visual space is necessary. Modan solves the problem by colouring the balloons a very pale yellow. I've picked a detail in which the figures and balloons are isolated against the white of the page, then I've blown it up and darkened it to underline the point. The most casual of readers may not have even noticed that this method runs all through the book.

Seventh and finally I'm looking even at the white spaces between the panels. They are a little wider than most artists would have them, but rigorously consistent. The casual reader, once again, probably never thinks about it, but every artist has to make important decisions about this at the outset. As an example, I recall that I once had a theory, though I have to go all the way back to the King Canute Crowd just now to find it in use, that the vertical spaces between panels should be narrower than the horizontal spaces between tiers. In other books, as in The Order of Beasts, I've left it to my whims on the day.

It's a real treat to see everything working toward a unified purpose like this, and worth analyzing because we don't see it often enough.