Saturday, September 16, 2017

Original Art Sundays (Saturday) NO. 256: Bugs meets Gargantua

So much running, but I'm actually getting somewhere and very happy about it!
I'm deep in the throes of a new semester of teaching, plus my continuing workload at the other job, which I still love. I'm also on Faculty Senate this year, and taking the time to enjoy life in the midst of it all.
There's also a new Big Project, along with the previous Big Project. I'm behind on the first Big Project not because of that, but due to being stymied on layout revisions for the next page. I had a breakthrough before work Friday, so I should be able to post Sunday or Monday.
Meanwhile, something else.
Though they show up in the name of the blog, I seldom mention Gentle Giant here.Well, I'm planning on attending GORGG in two weeks. This will be my tenth GORGG, and the first time I've ever gone for the entire event. The planning is complex and incredibly stressful and fun, all at the same time. This is a wonderful bunch of people, and I'm excited to see them again, and to play on the big jam night!
In anticipation of being in Albuquerque on matters Gentle Giant, I came up with a quick sketch inspired by the classic Bugs Bunny line: "I knew I should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque!"
Canson sketch pad
# 4 lead in holder
#4 solid lead pencil
Brush tip marker
Magic Rub eraser
Next: back to Sharp Invitations.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Original Art Sundays (Friday), no. 255: Sharp Invitations, cover draft and poster

Well, this is rather a bit of cheating in a way.
I got my minor Adobe license issues resolved, and was able to complete the revised version of the alternative (far from final) cover for Sharp Invitations.
Lately, I've been fascinated by David Mack's evocative watercolors. He gets such mood and intensity out of what appear, at first blush, to be random spatters. While I don't have his level of control, I do enjoy testing the waters (so to speak) with this stuff. This was done with Windsor & Newton colored inks, as I believe I mentioned in my previous post. I much prefer them to conventional watercolors- so much more vibrant!
The typography is more dynamic here than on the previous version of the cover. The colors work, but not as consistently as I might like. There are places in this where I'd like the brush strokes to be less prominent. I'm compelled by the profile silhouette, even though the hairline is iffy.
I know, I know. I should take the advice I give my students and not point out flaws in my work.
In general, that's good advice. But if you don't see the flaws in your own work, you won't try to fix them. No need to improve if you think you're already perfect!
I probably won't use this for the cover. But I'm far from completely happy with the previous version. I have a resolution in mind.
But there's more for right now.
As I work on this book, I find myself considering and reconsidering the issue of detail. My work has often had a more stripped down quality, but I revere the detail work that many artists do. Trying to seek a balance on this issue, I remembered Marc Hempel's innovative work (shades of Krigstein!) on the Sandman story-line The Kindly Ones. Sparse and stark, almost crude in spots, it still felt elegant, full and complete.
In re-reading the story to reconsider the art, I chanced on this passage that hit me right in the gut. This blog is just about the only place I haven't talked endlessly about the profound and absolute rejection I got this summer from a woman I liked for years (possibly loved, who can say?), abruptly truncating years of hope. Oh, she was more than decent about it, especially considering that I just dropped my feelings on her out of nowhere, and I was treated with compassion and with great respect.
I was so proud of me! I had finally and completely resolved my weepy school girl feelings. I was actually becoming a grown-up about it, very sophisticated. Then I read this, and it was right back to primal scream tears.
In a few lines, Neil Gaiman has summed up the inevitable, dreadful and devastating nature of this experience. I'd like to think that as a lesbian trans woman, I have a special brand of this stuff. But no. Love is love and pain is pain. While nobody may know exactly how I feel, everybody knows how I feel.
Inspiration struck. I added Neil's thoughts on the subject to this image. I left out Neil's last line, "I hate love". I hope he'll forgive my chopping his words, but I don't hate love. I just wish it would pop in a bit more often.
This adaptation of Neil's ideas works. It's not perfect, but then, what is?
Next: back to Sharp Invitations, the story proper.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Original Art Sundays No. 254: Sharp Invitations, Cover Preliminary

Bad news, folks. My Adobe license is down. This was discovered just now. I'm reasonably certain I can get the situation remedied tomorrow.
Until then, here's a piece to tide you over.
This is a quick painting I did on Wednesday. I have plans to add typography to it as soon as software permits. I suppose I could try doing so in Word, but it somehow seems- well, dirty.
I have two different ideas for the execution of this piece. It was originally intended as an alternative cover for Sharp Invitations, but something happened that may modify that. More on that later.
Here's the painting.
Windsor Newton colored inks
Aquabee 80# Rough finish watercolor paper
Richeson Synthetic fan brush #8
Richeson Synthetic brushes #2, 4, 4 Filbert
lead holder, eraser
More soon. Glitch solution imminent, I hope.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Original Art Sundays No. 253: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 11

Before we begin, one of my Windsor Newton Red Sable brushes died during completion of this page. We will now observe a moment of silence.
After a couple weeks of false starts (one due to exhaustion following completion of teaching my Graphic Memoir course, the other due to a mercifully brief but intense bout of immobilizing depression), we're back with the next page. It's been a long time since I've missed a week, and two in row really grates on me! I'm planning a trip for October, and will work ahead to be sure I don't miss a week!
This is the seventh page of story culled from the two lines of text on the rough draft page. When this chapter is done, I'll post the whole story with that draft page in relation to it, just to make the point of how much story was left out of the draft edition.
This poses a daunting aspect in the telling of the story. As Alan Moore said about Miracleman, the story is growing in the telling. That's good in the sense that it's a better story if fully told, provided it's judiciously edited. However, it's frustrating in terms of the time it's taking to tell the story. My self-imposed completion deadline of the end of November does not seem plausible right now, and I am eager to complete this. I have a couple other projects I'd like to get going on, and I am reluctant to undertake them before completing at least a more fleshed out (so to speak) edition of this one. Besides- hey, it's my magnum opus and all that.
When we left our heroine (me), she had just married Delia without knowing it. Now we jump back a couple months, still within the time frame of the chapter on Curt.
Read on:
Story: unlike the woman that served as the basis for Delia, I AM still in contact with the real Sara. She remains a good and trusted friend, all these years later. I've changed her name and altered her appearance as she requested. If she wants to out herself as this character, she is of course free to do so. No pressure either way, my dear.
This is pretty much the way it happened. She ran after me out of the Library, outed herself and asked me to follow suit, then we started talking. Pretty gutsy, lady!
My outfit was easy. I was wearing the short denim skirt that was required at the time (as was she), and a black top that I still have!
Technical aspects:The challenging part of the backgrounds on this page was finding accurate reference for the OLD downtown Library, with that odd sculpture in front of it! I had to do the checkout station from memory, As with many libraries, checkout in the Hennepin County system is automated now, so no more checkout clerks!
My backgrounds remain a blend of loose and sketchy and technically accurate. For a while, when I was working on A Private Myth (another project yet to see completion in comic form, though the script is done), I had evolved a trick of penciling tight backgrounds, then inking them in free hand to keep the feel consistent with the art. That works on backgrounds, but not as well. In general, I'm being more aware of the background/environment as a story device. It's crucial, and I'm improving at using it effectively.
So many pages to rescan. This business of scanning in tiers and matching up the halves is tedious at best.
I really like the old trick of using continuous background with dynamic characters as a way of advancing time, used here in panels two and three. The second tier is tied together by the old Terry Moore trick of an arc of black as a weight/background element. Also, we move in from 3/4 shot to cowboy shot to medium close up. Once I got over my usual intial inhibitions about inking, I had real fun doing her hair and my top.
Materials used on this page:
Canson XL recycled 96 pound Bristol
Graphite holder with #2 and #4 leads
#0, #2 and #4 Synthetic and Sable Brushes
Crowquill nib and handle
Dr. Martin's High Carbon India Ink (this stuff is great!)
FW Acrylic White
Magic Rub eraser
And a plain old ballpoint pen for touch-ups!
Next: more Sara, as the Curt story continues

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Original Art Sundays No. 252: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 10

Welcome back!
I feel like I did back when I was drawing Tranny Towers on deadline. There's an energy to this I've not felt for some time. My art is flowing, and while it may not be as self-consciously inventive as it was on those strips, I'm pretty happy with the way it's turning out.
This memoir stuff poses some unusual challenges. As I noted to friends on Facebook, here I am tasked with drawing my own butt as I remember it from more than 20 years ago.
Some doors should not be opened.
But it looks like it turned out all right.
When last we left our heroines, me and Delia, she had awakened in my bed, screamed, slapped herself and went back to sleep. I was left sitting up in bed, nonplussed to say the least.
Read on.
Much to like here, I think. I've used the local color/texture of the wall to give the top tier a bit more weight. I wanted to keep the figures light on this one.
The hand fasting image turned out fairly well. I suppose I could have put a pattern on the ribbon she used, but the truth is, it was just a plain ribbon- pink, I think.
While I'm reluctant to overuse silhouette (after all, it's only been a couple pages back that we had a whole page done in that), I think it works and it's necessary here.
Real life notes: this happened. Delia sprung this on me with no warning, just lightly tossed the ribbon over both our hands. There was no official knot, which is part of many such ceremonies. She later laughed about it and said it was just some dumb thing she did on a whim. But she was a pagan who took her faith seriously, so I think that was just a cynical front. I think that in her eyes, however briefly, she and I were married.
I did attend her wedding to her boyfriend, the one she was living with while we were, ahem, keeping company, some years later. As far as I know they're still together. They live on the West Coast now.
She really did say the classic line from the pagan ceremony, "death does not part, only lack of love", but she said it during a later phone conversation.
Further technical notes: the world balloon in the first panel didn't behave. Also, I wasn't paying attention and ruled the panel borders on the right edge clear out to the cut line of the Bristol! Luckily, I caught it in time to fix it.
Doing the "squint test", I think the white highlights inside the silhouette of the last panel may not have been necessary, but by the same token, I don't think they do any real harm. Perhaps the hand fasting and the panel below it could have used a bit more weight, but I think they serve as they are.
Looking at past strips, I have a mountain of reworks to consider if I want this book to have integrity. So many decisions. Well, make them one at a time, and review before committing to a final version.
So there you have it. Without meaning to, I had a lesbian wedding in the 90s. Sort of. While I was seeing another woman, and seeing Curt. I guess that doesn't really count. But in the moment, it sure felt like it did.
I hope she's doing okay.
Materials used on this page:
Canson XL Recycled Bristol Board, 96 lb.
#4 soft lead in lead holder
.03, .05 and .08 tech markers
#0 and #2 synthetic brushes
Crow quill nib and holder
FW Acrylic Artist's White
Dr. Martin's Black Star High Carbon India Ink (love this stuff!)
Magic Rub Eraser
And of course, Photoshop, but very little.
Next: a quick gag page, and the first page of the next facet of the Curt chapter.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Original Art Sundays (Monday) No. 251: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p.9

Technically after midnight, so no longer Sunday. Still close enough to on schedule that I count this as A Good Week.
I had a setback in my personal life this week. However, it only slowed down my comic work for a day or two.
I'm grateful for that, as I feel like I'm hitting a stride. I tossed that bottle of gummy ink! I may get ambitious and rework last week's page. I'd also like to go back a couple weeks and redo the first panel of the page set in Loring Park. Looking at it now, that's pretty bad and would not be that hard to fix.
Reading over these last few pages, I notice there's not a lot of transgender stuff in this part of the story. It's an overarching theme, to be sure. But if every page were about that, it would be boring. I went to the symphony with a pal on Friday, another trans woman. She asked me outright, "can we not talk about trans stuff tonight?" I was fine with that. It's part of who we are, not all of it.
In last week's episode, we saw our heroines comforting each other, taking solace from their respective pain. Of course, it didn't hurt that we were both horny as hoot owls.
And we drifted away to sleep.
Read on.
This is exactly the way this happened. No hedging on this page.
I like the way this page came together visually. Clean lines, good energy. There's almost no variation of panel position relative to the viewer on this page. We zoom in and out slightly, but it's pretty much the same shot in every panel. I'm using the old trick of leaving a white outline around figures and backgrounds/environments surrounded by large areas of heavy black.
The faces are a bit looser/ more cartoony than I usually like to use for more serious work. I tried not to overthink it, to just draw it as seemed natural.
I love detailed art, but my work lends itself to simpler lines most of the time. I have a lot of similar paradoxes in my life. My hair looks better short, but I like it better long, for example. Play the cards you're dealt, baby.
By accident, I started using a scumbling brush for filling, and found it perfect for the "slap lines" on panel three- turns it out it was ideal for dry brush, which I already knew but had forgotten.
Not using word balloons on panel four was a conscious choice. I wanted her (my) questions to be floating in the air, as ambiguous as the situation. Again, hand lettering here.
It was a hell of a thing to sit up in bed like that, shaken and worried, as she quickly and easily fell back asleep.
In terms of environments on this page, I let the bed and the dresser (with its omnipresent lamp) do the job. The dresser is present in the first and last panels, to anchor the page visually in the so-called "real world". These are also the only panels in which Delia is sleeping.
The real Delia later spend some time volunteering for the Center for Victims of Torture. Rather brave and quite healing, I think.
Materials this page:
Canson Recycled Bristol
Soft lead and lead holder
.05 and .08 tech markers
Ames Lettering guide
Faber Castell Brush Tip Markers, large and small
Dr. Martin's Hi-Carbon Waterproof Black Star India Ink (yay, love this stuff!)
#0, 2, 4, and 10 Richeson Synthetic brushes
Crow Quill Pen
Magic Rub Eraser
Next: last page of the Delia sequence, though she shows up again at the end of the Curt story.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Original Art Sundays, no. 250: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p.8

After midnight by two minutes, so technically Sunday. I have a very full day coming up, so thought I would post earlier rather than later.
When last we saw Delia and me, she had frozen over having her face touched.
Read on.
Silhouette. Yeah.
That's the way to go with this one.
I was inspired by a sex scene from Don McGregor and Marshall Rogers' Detectives Inc., which showed the couple in silhouette. It was a difficult sex scene in a darkened bedroom, and Rogers rendered fully realized backgrounds. For him, for that page, the right choice. For me, here, no.
Silhouette has two primary purposes here. It's universal, the shapes are relatable to most people. Also, the silhouette was prominently used in eras we now think of as rather placid and quaint, which makes their use to communicate such painful events rather jarring.
This page is also text  heavy, violating the axiom of "show, don't tell". This is of necessity, if I'm to continue to respect Delia's privacy. The stuff she went through was pretty bad, and as I've said in the past, it was HER stuff, not mine to tell. I'll tell that it happened, but not what it was. I hope that's not a cop-out, as we used to say.
I also wanted to communicate a bit more of Curt's rage. The drawing here is deliberately crude. The figures in the silhouette on the second tier are intended to communicate that ferocious energy, the stuff that started to really scare me.
Yeah, what I was doing then was dishonest and hypocritical. I'm not going to try to excuse that. I just want to fully communicate everything relevant that was happening then.  The events and conversations alluded to on this page are a condensation of several of my nights with her, but the core actions, along with those on the next page, did all happen in one night. As before, I suspect the real Delia would find my memory and interpretation of these events laughable.
I chose to hand letter here, knowing it would be uneven. As long as it's legible, the slightly jarring quality contributes to the disorientation I'm trying to communicate.
Materials for this page:
Canson Recycled Bristol
#4 lead and lead holder
Ames lettering guide!
Pro 4100 India Ink. I swear I'm throwing this bottle away. Even working in large flat areas, this was like painting with gum.
Synthetic brushes, #2, #4 and #2 scrub brush
Staedler tech markers, 0.5 and 0.8
Magic Rub erasers.
Next: we conclude (for now) the Delia interlude in the Curt story.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Original Art Sundays No. 249: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p.7

The next page is done, so here we go.
When last we left our heroine (me), she was happily surprised to find that Delia had told her boyfriend she was spending the night with her.
Read on.
Much I like here, a few things I don't. There's enough background/environment to give a sense of place, but not so much as to detract from the action. Just a hint of a dresser and a lamp (which I still have but now sits on my desk) to give a sense of place. I did some preliminaries in which my usual dresser top clutter was included, but decided it was too much of a distraction. This page is about one thing, and the dresser ain't it.
The layout is simple. Two panels without dividers, split by shift in viewpoint and in action, implying closely timed moments. I'm using the old trick of dropping borders to slow action, but using a partial overall border to contain and define the area.
I thought a lot about how raw to make the sex scene. I shied away from showing The Act, partially out of my own modesty (which will be blasted out of the water in upcoming pages anyway), and partially out of respect for Delia. If the real Delia is reading this, she's probably howling with laughter at that. Then again, maybe not. She always could surprise me.
I stole a bit of a Frank Miller trick in the first panel. In his image for the Images of Omaha collection, Miller used cast shadows on the bedding to define the form beneath. I could have pushed it further, but my art tends to be of the less is more school, and I'm good with where it ended up. The shadow creeping on the wall from the lamp still needs a bit of clarity- possibly I'll just use Photoshop, since everything else on the page is working very well.
After much consternation, I elected to completely remove the dark background on the two-shot in the bottom tier to concentrate on us girls.
Delia's comment was very telling. In the next page, I'll tell a bit more of her story, but not much, because it is HER story. While she once laughingly told me she'd share her story with anybody, that's her choice, not mine. Here, you get just enough that it helps define our relationship.
Again electing to work in ink rather than pencil. Curt's story (of which this is still part) will be told in pencils, inks, and photography. I just hope the bouncing between media doesn't detract from the flow.
Materials used on this page:
Canson XL Recycled Bristol.
#4 and #2 lead and lead holders
Magic Rub eraser
Pro-4100 India Ink. This stuff clogs my crow quill nibs like crazy, but it's great for brush work.
#1 Sable brush and #4 synthetic brush
Ames Lettering Guide (yes, really), 0.3, 0.5 and 0.7 tech markers
Ellipse template
I'm emotionally raw today, as I prepare for a new class I'm teaching starting Wednesday night and am writing a very emotional postscript to the current work, possibly the most honest part of the whole book. Still, it feels good to stay on self-imposed schedule with this.
Next: more of Delia by way of Curt's story.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Original Art Sundays No. 248: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 6

Posting a day late. I anticipated being tired from Pride and completed this week's page in advance, but I didn't reckon with just HOW tired I'd be, so failed to post last night!
When last we encountered our heroine (me), she had met a charming and buxom young (and I do mean YOUNG) woman with a guitar in the Loring Park. Their hands touched.
This page has little overt trans content, beyond my presence, but is important in other ways. The event is the beginning of my re-asserting the bisexual/lesbian part of myself. I thought that, as a woman, that might and might not be part of who I was, and this part was the same scared little rabbit I was before coming out as trans.
It's amazing how many things we can hide when we're trying to be honest.
Read on.
 What I like about this page: the pacing and layout are right. Initially I had reservations about the sliced angled panels, but it struck me as a way to slow the moment down while maintaining the tension between the principals.
The line of music, loosely rendered, is an ersatz version of the melody to Holly Near's classic song How Bold. This is a song that I would play while dancing and exercising alone, while I lived with Curt, when I thought of Delia.
The trembling tails of the word balloons echo the tone of the moment- soft and eager, yet afraid the whole thing would fall apart at any moment.
It's worth noting that if Delia is reading this, she's probably howling with laughter. She's much more self-assured than this implies, and has such a fericously independent streak that she would NEVER say she belonged to anybody, as is implied in her last line here. But it's verbal shorthand for a very long, elaborate conversation we had that day.
What I don't like about this page: the backgrounds/environments are better, but still need work. The candle on the mantle gave me an excuse to stipple a bit, always fun. The backgrounds disappear in the second and third panels, replaced by a large grounding area of black. This is a little bit of a cop-out, but not much. In that moment, everything did fall away except the two of us, at least as I experienced it.
Also Delia's facial expression in panel two and mine in panel three are a bit wanting. I find drawing left face profiles very challenging. Judging from the few I've seen in comics in my research, I'm not alone in this.
We're coming up on a big scene in the next page. I've been stalling on it a bit, but the core of this work is honesty first, cutting myself slack second, so we'll jump in.
Net seven, as they say in the business world!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Original Art Sundays No. 247: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p.5

Beginning the post before midnight, so technically still a Sunday post!
I had a devil of a time resolving this page/section of the narrative. In the draft version, two major people enter my life and the relationship with Curt takes an unnerving turn, all on one page.
The more I looked at it, the more I realized that I was trying to rush through/gloss over one of the more awkward spots in my life, either before or after transition. That one page will now be four, possibly five pages. Given the scope of the events covered, that still may not be enough. The important thing is to let the story breathe, without bogging it down in tedium or omitting crucial information.
Here's the revised version of this page.
I'll post the original draft after I've completed this segment.
I'm also trying to get away from telling and getting back to showing. No flashback narrative on this page!
This page reverts to inks. I'm a bit rusty, and my inks were gummy, making use of a crowquill almost impossible, but it's a poor workwoman that blames her tools. I may redo this page yet again. I don't mind the rough, raw feel of the rendering of Loring Park in the first panel, but the building, shot straight on like that, looks rather flat.
I've changed the name and the appearance of the woman I met in the park that day, as I've not been in contact with her. I've been trying to let people know when they are included in the book. If I can't contact them, as is the case here, I'll make them anonymous, while holding on to the events in question.
Also hand lettering this page! With this sparse text, it seemed superfluous to letter digitally.
I will review the work when this chapter is complete, to see if it flows with the jump from pencil to ink. As alluded to in a previous post, the last page of this story has another jump in style, so I suspect it will be okay.
The poses in panel two are consistent with the idea that characters' positions should do at least as much to convey story as dialogue.
I debated the merits of throwing in a background texture on panel 3 and decided against it. Backgrounds/environments remain a tentative area in my work. But I like the rendering of the figures in panel 3. Just enough dry brush to make it interesting, and a good variation of line weight.
The last panel just fell into place. Once I realized I was concentrating on the hands touching (which, believe me, was a very potent moment!), the silhouette became the way to go. I do so love a good silhouette.
I'm working through detailing my past stupidity.
Understand me on this one. I don't think I was stupid to be with her, or to commit any of the actions that follow in this story. My stupidity is the same here as it is in most of my stories. If I had just been honest from the outset, I would have saved myself so much trouble!
But in order to be honest with somebody else, you have to be so to yourself first. And at that point, I wasn't there yet.
Next: page 6 of the expanded Curt story.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Original Art Sundays (Friday) no. 246: The Studio

Posting late this week due to two considerations. I have a heavy work load this week, to make amends for work lost due to the recent car accident (I'm healing well, thanks for your concern). In addition, I ran into an impasse on a couple crucial factors on my next page (more about that in the next post).
To deal with my frustrations, I decided it was time to make my studio better. Not perfect, just better. I was tired of navigating the space like it was Fibber McGee's closet.
I had stacks and stacks of papers, books and magazines, boxes of old documents awaiting filing (either in the cabinets or, in most cases, in the proverbial circular file). I had also made a critical error in my initial studio setup, putting my drawing area against the wall and my writing area by the window!
Here's the initial chaos.

Stacks falling over, stuff precariously balanced atop bookshelves, no moving room between writing/office space and drawing board. Every thing I needed to get at to draw properly was at least three moves.
Here's how it resolved.

More effective use of space, and much cleaner. Right now, the studio is the cleanest room in the house, and it's not because the rest of the house is dirtier (the rest of the place is not too bad)!
By switching the drawing and writing areas, I was able to get a better flow. It's still not perfect. I want to rearrange the bookshelves slightly. The old media stand beside the short bookcase, which serves as a tabouret/ storage for some unwieldly odd shaped art supplies like triangles and ellipse templates, is now on the opposite side of the room from the drawing board. There are still some papers to sort, but it's down substantially and they are now in one location as opposed to an uncountable number of places. For some reason, putting up art in this room has proven to be a rather annoying prospect.
I'm toying with getting a strip of peg board to mount stuff like big triangles and long T-squares.
I have a reluctance to getting everything just so. Historically, whenever that has been achieved, that's when I have to move. And I hate moving.
Until such time as either or both of those things happen, this is not perfect. But it IS better. There's more of a Zen flow.
The new-ish space is inspiring, or else I've let go of my inhibitions, because a few days after doing this, I realized what the big issue was with the current page, and now I know how to resolve it!
Next: the frustrating page and its resolution.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Original Art Sundays No. 245: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p.4

Despite having a drunk total my car and bruise my poor body last night, I am delighted that I can post the next page today. I finished it last night about 2 hours before work, so all is good.
If you recall, our hapless heroine (me) was just getting to know her new boyfriend, but had a feeling something was wrong.
Hey, it's a relationship, so there's usually SOMETHING wrong at some point but this was ...different.
Next page:
 There's a lot that I like here, artistically and in terms of narrative.
One of the big issues I have with graphic memoir (which I'm teaching as a Continuing Education course at MCAD in a few weeks!) is the tendency to what Chuck Jones called "illustrated radio". The Master was referring to animation, of course, but the principle applies here. It's a text narrative in which the illustrations are either redundant or superfluous. This can lead to very static images, or worse yet, images that serve no purpose whatever. I've seen this in some very well-received graphic memoirs. The art is considered an afterthought.
The ideal, which was achieved in Special Exits, MAUS, Stuck Rubber Baby and Fun Home, is a hybrid of text and image that moves the reader along with the subject, rather than placing the reader outside the subject.
In this page, I've chosen a related action scene, which is actually a composite of two real world events, to offer an example of the threat alluded to in the text box. The second panel was originally a lovemaking scene, but I decided that this moment of anticipation and greeting had better action and conveyed a fuller sense of the relationship, such as it was.
For comparison, here's the original rough for this page:
Head shots convey relatively little emotion, despite having the face to work with. I'm constantly reminded of the philosophy of that Archie comics writer. Characters are always on stage, and should always be in a pose that suggests mood or action. Spear carriers should do more than carry spears.
Aesthetic concerns:
I elected to stick with pencils again, but it was a MUCH harder decision for this page. I had to really push to get the darks and weight I wanted from the panels. In retrospect, I could have done more with the background on the restaurant panel. What's there works, but it might work better with a bit more of an environment. The primary poses and attitudes in this panel are freely lifted from Scott McCloud's The Sculptor, page 20, but changed sufficiently that I can call them my own and maintain integrity.
Panel Two is all me. I've played with the Shadows in Open Doorways thing in my work as far back as Tranny Towers. I like the idea of a girl running to her lover- it's a classic- and in that moment, everything else disappears.
Drawing yourself is a challenge. I've represented my figure and hair more or less as I remember them from that time. Drawing that left arm gave me fits! Looking at it now, I can see it's still a bit long/big, but nowhere near as much as it was at first. I spent an hour trying to get the left hand right. Sometimes hands are easy for me, sometimes I just can't draw them. After combing several books for reference, I finally just went to the bathroom mirror, made the gesture and took a shot with my cel phone. It gave me sufficient resources to render a plausible hand.
That's it for this week, unless something comes up that I want to say before the next art entry. I'm on the mend from the aforementioned car crash, and foresee no obstacle to keeping on track with the next page.
I've also started a new story which will serve as an afterword to the completed book, but that's some 120+ pages away.
A suivre...

Monday, May 22, 2017

Original Art Sundays, No, 244: Sharp Invitations: Curt, p. 3

Well, here we are, on schedule!
Had a great two days at Twin Cities Spring Con. I came home exhausted, but inspired, both by the con and by a concert I attended Saturday night (more on that later if appropriate).
I had a blank page on the board, and after resting for a bit, started drawing, based on the rough in the draft version of the work.
Here's the draft version.
It's legible, but the art is barely there. Many scan artifacts not removed, text layout is static, and those facial expressions- ouch!
I decided to stick with the pencil for the final version, for two reasons. First and foremost, the other pages in this section have been based in pencil, so I thought it might be jarring to switch media within a chapter. Such a switch does occur at the end, but that's a closure thing, and I think it works. We're 8 or 9 pages away from that yet, so some time remains to resolve the issue, if necessary.
8 or 9? I'm considering adding a page right before this one. This is a key event that built for five years, so a little more background on such matters could help clarify things.
Here's the (possibly) final version.
The text integrates more successfully with the image. I'm also trying to use the advice of that old Archie illustrator. Don't have your characters just standing wooden. Have their poses reflect action.
In the first panel, I've gone for greater emotional intimacy. The text says a lot of that. It was my moment of greatest triumph. I had accomplished one of the major goals of my life, possibly the most important one. And there was no acknowledgment from family (to be fair, my Mother did call).
I rendered the hospital bed from memory rather than reference. Since I work with them in my AIDS caregiver job, I'm pretty clear on the basic structures.
I'm rendering Curt pretty much the way he looked. After 5 years with someone,  you get to know their nooks and crannies. I think the loving/bedraggled look I gave my face in the first panel is just right.
The second panel is one of my favorites. Though I do love realistic rendering, the flowing lines of a loosely structured, almost gestural pair of figures is somehow emotionally satisfying. As I was writing this, I noticed that the figures form an ersatz heart shape, which was NOT my intention.
I made a conscious  decision to delete the white from the word balloons and let the pencils show through. I'm happy with that.
The only thing I wonder about on these pencil pages is weight. I don't push the blacks far enough when working in graphite.
I may rescan this. It retains a few more artifacts than I like, there's a slight disjoint where the two scans of the half pages don't match up, and there are some cloying shadow lines at the base of the page. I fret a bit about having to re-enter the type, but I could just copy and paste those parts of the image to the new file.
I still have large format scanner access at my other job, even though I don't have a summer contract, so it's just a question of better time management.
In general, the page works, but there's some fine print to address.
Materials used: Canson XL Recycled 90# Bristol, soft lead in holder, #4 solid lead stick, #4 solid lead pencil, Magic Rub erasers, HP Deskjet 1510 scanner, Photoshop cc 2015.
Next: page four of this story. I have a couple short pieces tickling the back of my brain, but I'd like to stick this story out.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Original Art Sundays (Monday) No. 243: Athena's wine (Tranny Towers!)

April 20 is the anniversary of my surgery. I try to find some small way to celebrate every year, however quietly. This year, I was working.
I used the tools on hand to do a sketch on break, in the wee hours (I'm usually pretty much caught up with my duties between 4:30 and 5:30 AM, though I do make rounds regularly even then). All that was on hand was a no. 2 pencil with a dull lead, ballpoint pens, and printer paper.
Inspired by the recent positive reaction to my work at the Queers and Comics conference, I decided to revisit Tranny Towers. I did a quick sketch of my main character from the strip, Athena.
There were a couple things that weren't quite working. I let it be for week and came back to put some finishes on it. Going in with brush tip marker, Pro Art India ink and a no. 4 synthetic brush, I corrected a few things, and did a bit of clean-up.
Some of the sketchy ballpoint lines irritate me, but they provide enough character that I can live with them.
Originally, I had rendered the night stand on which she was resting her hand at an odd angle, almost an isometric drawing. Between that and having originally set her left leg way out and at an equally odd angle, it appeared our dear Athena was not on her first glass of wine!
The wine glass, still not the best rendering I've ever done of an object, is miles above the original sketch.
Athena's figure works for me. I've always seen her as having more full/real world proportions. I know many trans folk who thrive in the high glamor look. I did that for a while and I liked it, but it just wasn't me. As Athena is the character from the original strip who I always considered my closest parallel, it makes sense that her look should follow suit, although her hair has always been nicer than mine!
It does feel good to get back to Tranny Towers. The strip had some problems, I suppose, but I was so bold and excited doing that work, right up to the end. I took a lot of chances in the work, and most of them paid off.
Next: back to Sharp Invitations. At last.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Original Art Sundays, No. 242: Queers and Comics Drink and Draw

After months of working two, sometimes three, jobs and dealing with writing assignments, I'm back in the art saddle, so to speak!
These illustrations happened as a result of my attending and participating in the Queers and Comics conference in San Francisco last weekend, which was possibly the best conference I've ever attended. In addition to my contributions to the Queers and Underground Comics and Trans Cartoonists Navigating the Industry panels being well received, I got to spend some time with old and dear friends, including Trina Robbins and Roberta Gregory, and make some unexpected new ones. The Queers and Undergrounds panel was satisfying in that I thought I had little to contribute compared to some of the luminaries on the panel, like Howard Cruse and Vaughn Fricke (with whom I later had a wonderful chat), but I held my own. And after the Trans panel, some folks asked where they could buy my books, so courtesy of the Dealer's Room, I sold come copies of Surrealist Cowgirls and the draft edition of Sharp Invitations.
The first night, Thursday, had an opening ceremony I passed on to share a couple drinks with my gracious host Noel in a Castro bar. However, I did attend an opening at Strut, a community health and wellness space for Gay, Bi, and Trans men that doubles as a gallery space.The opening of the work of Salvador Hernandez culminated in a Drink & Draw. The models were bears and leather boys. 
All the poses were short.

This was done before the poses had officially begun.
I was a bit apprehensive, as it's been a while since I've done live model drawing, but the key remains constant.
Remember the basics. Build the figure from the inside out, rather than trying to do an outline drawing. Looking around between sketches, I was surprised and dismayed to find so may artists trying to do an outline. The teacher in me wanted to take over, but I held myself back.
This was one of the most relaxed and easiest sketches. The subject sat relatively still for most of five minutes, enough to get a sense of mass and proportion and a sense of place.

The first official pose involved two models. This posed some foreshortening challenges, as one subject was prone while the other kneeled. I struggled with proportion issues on the feet for a while, then made the deliberate decision to concentrate on overall mass.
It was a special challenge to map lights and darks, since the light was gallery light- very bright and even, and offering few cast shadows! Still, something as simple as a hint of a cast shadow beneath a chair can do wonders in this arena.
As the note indicates, this was a 10 minute pose.
I wasn't particularly interested in facial expressions on these, but I did want to get a reasonably accurate sense of facial features and proportions.
This was part of the penultimate pose, another duo. I found the pose intriguing and the relative size variations of the two men a fun challenge.
I found myself losing my place in mapping the relative features and seemingly simple, yet not really so, proportions of the front and back gents. To try to remedy this, I went in with a brush tip marker and did some outlining in spot color. I think the decision to stick to one additional color was wise. Had I more time, I could have done some fun things with pushing background tones in both graphite and rust tones.
It should be mentioned that, aside from this one, these pieces are all done on marginal tooth sketchbook paper with #3 and #4 graphite pencils.
I was also the only person I saw using an eraser!
Please. It's not cheating to correct as you go. It's smart.
I took out quite a few construction lines, but elected to leave some in, as they add to the overall feel and energy of a piece sometimes.
The final pose of the evening was a complex interlocking of all the models- eight, I believe. The alternated facing front and back and linked arms behind the backs of the gent next to them.
I found this pose impossible. It was a fairly long pose, 15 minutes if memory serves, but I started three times and grew increasingly displeased with my results each time.
I made a deliberate decision to edit, and concentrated on a head shot of one of the leather men.
In retrospect, while this would have benefited from some background tone, I'm pretty happy with it as it is. There's a sense of confidence and repose in the face that I find very satisfying and reassuring. It's nice to end a session on a good note. While some might find it cheating to do a head shot in a figure drawing session, the reminder that this isn't a class applies to me too. The only people I'm answerable to in making my art are me and any clients/readers I may have.
Additionally, this is a good sketch, especially for the three minutes I took for it. Since photography was verboten during the session, you'll have to take my word that this is a reasonably accurate representation of the model's face.
At one point, I got frustrated by the barrage of testosterone I was drawing. This is not to disparage the models or the venue. I just wanted variety. At that point, I started drawing another artist, a young lesbian who was sitting directly across from me.
This is the first of two drawings I did of her. The second, which I liked much better, I gave to her. She left almost immediately after I did so!
When I saw her at the conference the next day, I apologized for my presumption and said I hoped I hadn't freaked her out. She replied no, she had to leave at that time as her girlfriend was picking her up. She added that both of them loved the drawing!
I'm very sad that this conference doesn't happen again for two years. I talked with one of the organizers, Jennifer Camper, about having one in the Midwest, ideally in Minneapolis. She opined that a smaller one might be a possibility. After watching her run about madly for three days, I could see her point. I still think it's a good idea. Not that I need another project, but I plan to bring this up to some friends and see if it goes anywhere.
Next new art: the anniversary sketch.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Best Comics of 2016, No. 1

Finally. Illness, working two jobs, conference prep, and at last, here is the rundown for 2016.
16. BRIK
15. Agony
14. Dr. Strange
13. The Drawing Lesson
12. The Children of Captain Grant
11. Backstagers
10. Bombshells
9.  The Complete Wimmen's Comix
8.  Paper Girls
7.  Art Ops 
6.  Electric Sublime
5.  Black Widow
4.  Scarlet Witch
3.  Dr. Fate
2.  Faith

And here is the number one comic of last year.
Gene Ha's MAE is a delight that is, at once, all the things I like in a good comic. It's creator owned, originally self-published (through a Kickstarter campaign that included a lovely retrospective of Gene's 25+ year career in comics and illustration), currently in a successful run from one of the bigger publishers, Dark Horse, has a strong female protagonist, and is an exciting delight to read and to see!
From Gene's web page: "Once upon a time in Indiana… a 13 year-old girl named Abbie Fortell disappeared. Her younger sister, Mae was left behind to finish school, take care of her ailing father, and build a life without her sister. Eight years later Abbie has returned, claiming she’s found a doorway to a world of adventure and monsters. These tales are hard to believe — at least until the monsters show up too…"
The Kickstarter was followed by the first story arc of 6 Dark Horse issues, which concluded in November of 2016. The next arc is due in spring, and as Gene is scheduled to grace MNCBA's Spring Con (hooray!), may be available in time to have a chat with him about it.
Full disclosure: Gene has been a casual friend (and serious supporter of mine on Facebook) ever since I modeled for the character of Irma Geddon, who Gene drew as part of Alan Moore's Top 10 series in the America's Best Comics imprint from DC.
Ahem. Back to the book.
The book has just shone in every page. Gene has always been an articulate, well-spoken and just plain fun guy. That exuberance for life is the core of MAE
My only sadness concerning the book, and it's a minor one, is that the last issue of the first run was penciled and inked by someone other than Gene, Pauline Ganucheau. Her credentials, ranging from Star Trek to The Magic World of Gumball, are quite impressive. She's clearly a professional, and does a wonderful job, but she ain't Gene. I read issue 6 without looking at the credits, and from page one, it seemed the art was - well, just not the same. Oh, it worked fine, but I really hope Gene returns to full creative chores with the next story arc.
MAE is good, smart storytelling, integrated with compelling, imaginative and beautifully rendered art. I hope we're all still talking about new issues as they come out a year, two years, five years from now, and more.
Next: back to my art, I think... hmm...

Best Comics of 2016: No. 5 - 2

Only two posts to finally end this year's list. I know it's VERY late, but I want to post anyway.
5. Black Widow
There were a LOT of impressive books with female leads in 2016, and a surprising number from Marvel. It should be apparent by now that I tend to prefer DC books, so this year was a surprise to me in that respect. Writer Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee have given Black Widow a feel that echoes the best aspects of the early Wally Wood Daredevil run, yet has a contemporary sensibility. Like the Scarlet Witch book (see below), this title is at least partially inspired by the lead character's presence in Marvel movies (sidebar: Captain America: Civil War was a good Avengers movie, but it wasn't really a Captain America movie to me).
Movie crossover? Tense Tony Stark lays down the law!

In Black Widow, a noir sensibility, coupled with an affection for action and spy movie tropes, gives the book visual eloquence and urgency. The first issue, a nearly wordless chase story, is one of the most fun single issues in a long time. Once the running stops, there's the good old heroine's journey to propel the storyline. In this case, the backstory of Natasha revisiting her childhood training camp is tense and heartbreaking.
As the story develops, we work around to the on-again, off-again romance with Winter Soldier. While there were rumblings in the fan press that good old Bucky would finally be revealed as bisexual, there's nothing overt (and very little that's covert) in the actual book to support that premise.
However, it does make me wonder about the distinctions between romance in books with male heroes and those with female heroes. Marvel's been very good about diversity this year, not just in terms of inclusion, but inclusion that fits the stories and characters, with a few minor exceptions (the gay Iceman fiasco comes to mind).
Even with that, the book remains a solid read. I've fallen a bit behind, but I continue to pick it up, and eagerly anticipate a binge on the title again soon.
4. Scarlet Witch
James Robinson has written some of the best superhero comics ever done, like Starman, and authored a few that are awkward, like Justice League: Golden Age. I've long championed his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film script, seeing it more as a Starman pastiche than as a Moore adaptation. I liked what he was doing with Squadron Supreme, but was quickly turned off by the vehement tone of the book. His C-3PO one-shot was brilliant.
In short, Robinson is back near the top of his game. In Scarlet Witch, he revisits and tries to clean up the backstory of Wanda Maximoff, whose tale has developed an alarming number of Marvel convolutions over the years.
As is the case in Black Widow, we have a journey into the heroine's childhood. But in this case, the journey is plagued by rocks on the road in the form of old nemeses, mentoring ghost witches, and revelations of and unknown family tree (once again, Wanda discovers she's not who she thought she was).
This book is visually alarming, in a good way. Wanda's new costume is brilliant. The covers, and some of the interiors, have arresting and compelling designs, often reminiscent of Coles Phillips' classic fadeaway paintings! Vanessa Del Rey is providing moody art that's still readable and tells a story, and Jordie Bellaire's coloring is a exquisite complement to both art and script.
Although it's working fairly well in Black Widow, I'm grateful there's little romance in this book. Not that the character doesn't deserve happiness, but it's refreshing to see a woman-centered book that isn't about romance.

3. Dr. Fate
Well, this does seem to be the year for magic, doesn't it? Between Dr. Strange, Scarlet Witch and this book, magic has regained its position near the top of the comics pile, and rightly so. In the case of Dr. Fate, the magic draws from the Kimetic, or ancient Egyptian, belief system. Since the character was created by Gardner Fox in 1940, with an origin story modeled in part on the 1922 expedition of Howard Carter that unearthed the tomb of Tutankhamen, this is no surprise. The surprise is that the character has never strayed far from its origins.
This incarnation of Dr. Fate, so to speak, brings the ancient connection home in a very different way. The helmet of Nabu, the source of power that possesses its hosts over time, is assumed by a young and somewhat naive college student, Khalid Nassour. The book alternates between his attempts to save the world from a flood caused by the ancient gods (which reminded me of the Peter Weir film The Last Wave), and (shades of early Spider-Man) trying to hold his life together and keep his secret.
Oh, yeah, and Kent Nelson, a long lost uncle as it turns out, puts in an appearance.
Slice panel showing
the head behind the mask. Brilliant.

I love the art on this! Paul Levitz's writing is as solid as it ever was here, with some brilliant characterizations, particularly Khalid's parents. But Ibrahim Moustafa's art is spot on. Stylized and angular, yet approachable in a good way, every issue of this now concluded (sob!) series shines. The layouts have nuances that reinforce plot points, in addition to being attractive and compelling, as in the cutaway panel in this page from issue 6.
I really hope to see this interpretation of Dr. Fate again. Like last year's run on Martian Manhunter, it put new life into a very old character.

2. Faith
I've commented a bit on the social aspects of this book in a fairly recent post, so I'm going to concentrate here in the superhero aspects.
To be a good superhero book, the book must be:
  • Rendered consistently with the writing
  • Written in a style that suits the character's demeanor and history
  • Be plausible. Not realistic, but plausible. There's a quantifiable difference.
  • Evoke an emotional response consistent with the intent of the creator(s). Admittedly, this one has a more arbitrary aspect than the others.
In that spirit, Faith succeeds with  a few reservations. The art is consistent and worthwhile superhero art. If I had to make an artistic analogy to Franics Portela's work on the series, it would be much of Dave Gibbons' work: clean and accurate, without a ton of flourishes, and with solid storytelling in panel and angle choices.
The writing by Jody Hauser really grabs me, so much so that I'm tempted to give her TV series Orphan Black another chance. I watched the first episode and it left me cold. Perhaps, in retrospect, that was a mistake. Hauser has been doing strong work on Faith. There are a few times when I wish Faith was not such a popular culture geek. As much as I liked the issues dealing with the Comic Con villain, it felt a bit played out after a while- could have been one issue instead of two and I would have been fine with it.
One aspect of the writing I do enjoy is Faith's relationship with Archer, of Archer & Armstrong. As has been noted in so many superhero books, it only makes sense that a superhero would enter into relationship with another superhero: unique commonalities and all that. I didn't have much use for most of the Valiant line the first time around, largely due to my reverence for the original Magnus, Robot Fighter and ensuing resistance to the reboot. But I did enjoy the original A & A run, both the Barry Smith and Mike Baron issues.
One aspect of the writing I do enjoy is Faith's relationship with Archer, of Archer & Armstrong. As has been noted in so many superhero books, it only makes sense that a superhero would enter into relationship with another superhero: unique commonalities and all that. I didn't have much use for most of the Valiant line the first time around, largely due to my reverence for the original Magnus, Robot Fighter and ensuing resistance to the reboot. But I did enjoy the original A & A run, both the Barry Smith and Mike Baron issues.
I've not been inclined to follow any of the other crossover titles with Faith in them. I tried one issue of the team book Harbingers, and I was disinterested throughout.  If Faith has significant appearances in future issues of Archer & Armstrong, I'll probably pick those up.
Faith remains a worthwhile book, though I'm a couple issues behind in current reading. I'm likely to stick with the book for a while.
Next: the number one comic of 2016 (at last!).

Best Comics of 2016, Nos. 11 - 6

An extra heavy period at the day gig slowed my writing, so I'm going back to the model I used last year: multiple books in every post. I will expedite matters, since I had originally planned on being done with these on the 16th of January. This is time-sensitive material, after all. In response, I am writing all the entries in three posts before making them public.
11. Backstagers
Despite all the backlash snobbery of the 90s, comics can be for kids. It takes nothing away from comics to have some dedicated to younger audiences. Regardless of the target audience, quality will out.
The Boom Box line has been producing  genuinely smart kids' comics for a while now. Their biggest success, Goldie Vance, has been on my radar for a while, and in addition to the title we're discussing now, I'm reading the trade of Help Us, Great Warrior, which is wonderful fun.
Backstagers is a very clever and humane comic about young adult theater. The book goes behind the scenes of a high school play, and discovers a world of magic, wonder and danger in the nether regions of the props archives. If you have to have labels, think of elements of Narnia combined with A Chorus Line. A profoundly inadequate description, to be sure, but it serves to get the conversation rolling.
Stars Kevin and Blake
at their self-congratulatory

The characters, even the self-absorbed and cruel show stars, are wonderfully engaging.  There's a mystery and excitement to every issue.
The colors are lush and vibrant. The book is smartly laid out. One of the things that chafes me is any creative team dumbing down their work, pandering to readers. This is particularly insulting when you're treating kids this way.
When I started teaching high school age kids, I quickly learned to respect their intelligence. Yes, yes, we've heard the arguments- kids' brains aren't fully formed, they lack sufficient experience to make informed decisions. What excuses do adults use? So many so-called grown-ups make much worse decisions than kids do, and with farther reaching consequences. The kids in Backstagers understand strategies, motivations and their own desires much more clearly than many who claim to be adults. Yet they're clearly still kids.
This is one smart book. I'm sticking with it.

10. Bombshells
Some surprisingly good comics have come out of marketing gimmicks. The 1960s  Captain Action book, the 70s (and 90s revival) Micronauts and Rom, Space Knight come to mind. DC created Bombshells as a way to sell statues, glasses and posters. In fairness, it's pretty cool merchandise, but we're here to talk about the story.
Bombshells shouldn't work but it does.This WWII alternate reality pastiche of DC superheroines and villianesses recast in curious ways is full of verve, smart art and impassioned writing. I'm sure a lot of people are buying the book just to look at the girls/women. In fairness, that's on my list too. I love the evocation of classic pin-up art that dominates the book. As one who's often waxed effusive about the virtues of pin-ups as opposed to porn, the art in the series delights me.
The take on Wonder Woman, usually my favorite, is good but not great here. I like Mera!
The plotting is a bit on the nose at times. Batgirl as a baseball player- get it? She uses a bat! Look at us, we're being clever!
Even with that, the story remains engaging. I was taken aback by the Stargirl storyline.The Russian aspect, coupled with the heartfelt self-sacrifice really resonated with me.
I continue to enjoy this book. I picked up the newest issue just today. Since it's a bit gimmicky, I had my doubts about how well it would sustain, but so far it's remained worth the money.
Batgirl in action, pre-hero!

9. Wimmen's Comix
My favorite cover from the series!
One of the frustrations of comic book binding is that sometimes you bind a book that later gets reprinted. Though I accumulated all the issues of Wimmen's Comix with a bind in mind, this collection came out before I could complete the project. I'm glad.
The blurb from the Fantagraphics website:
"In the late ’60s, underground comix changed the way comics readers saw the medium — but there was an important pronoun missing from the revolution. In 1972, ten women cartoonists got together in San Francisco to rectify the situation and produce the first and longest-lasting all-woman comics anthology, Wimmen’s Comix. Within two years the Wimmen’s Comix Collective had introduced cartoonists like Roberta Gregory and Melinda Gebbie to the comics-reading public, and would go on to publish some of the most talented women cartoonists in America — Carol Tyler, Mary Fleener, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Dori Seda, Phoebe Gloeckner, and many others. In its twenty-year run, the women of Wimmen’s tackled subjects the guys wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole: abortion, menstruation, masturbation, castration, lesbians, witches, murderesses, and feminists."
So much work here to love! From the welcome inclusion of It Ain't Me Babe, the first all-woman comic, through #18, so many brilliant artists are included here. 
The good: the collection is very well archived and edited. There was a slight variation in format between some issues. This is rectified by allowing luxury margins for the art. There was also a wide range of quality in the printing of the original comics. Here, the art is cleaned up and printed on decent bright paper, with very good separations for the covers and the 3D issue (glasses included, of course!). They were even nice enough to include a 2D version of the 3D issue at the end of the book!
The bad: This thing is a brick. Two hardcovers, over 700 pages on heavy paper in a slipcase, weighing in at just over 7 pounds! I've questioned the formatting, which set the list price at $100, several times. This is 18 comics, plus the Babe issue and the 2D/3D issue, for a total of 20 comics. I have several custom binds of just over 20 issues, including some underground stuff. They fit neatly into one book. Did the reformatting demand the luxury treatment? I'm not sure.
Aside from the inconvenience for people who aren't avid bibliophiles, the price point of a deluxe volume might keep some people away from this collection. If it were in paperback at half the price, would more people buy it? This ranks at #436 in Amazon's Fantragraphics sales ranking, while the cheaper and smaller (and admittedly collecting less work and having been in print longer) Inner City Romance ranks at #328. That's hardly conclusive evidence. I do note that Fantagrphics did a paperback reprint of its Usagi Yojimbo 2 book slipcased set. It continues to sell briskly, while the HC is long out of print.
There's little material aside from the comics- one essay and some photos.
Either way, I hope for a more accessible printing, even though I do so love a well-made book, which this clearly is.
There's also a strange practical incongruity. The spines are flipped. The spine that reads "The Complete Wimmen's" is on book two, while the spine that reads "Comix" is on volume one! This puts the avid owner of a comic library in the awkward position of having it wrong no matter what she does. Either the spines are in the slipcase out of order, or the books are. Grr.
But the descender on the N in "Wimmen's" links with the ascender on the X in "Comix", making such a wonderful design touch, it's almost mandatory to leave the spines in that order.
Retrospective volumes are often given the prize/curse of being "important". This is more than an important book or a reflection of decades of feminist evolution. It's a fun and compelling collection of comics.
8. Paper Girls
Brian Vaughan has been a fixture on the comics scene for some time now. His first comic work appeared 21 years ago. Despite the unrelentingly downbeat ending, I adored Ex Machina, and found his take on Doctor Strange, The Oath, refreshing and surprisingly optimistic. I may be the only person in comic readership not drooling over Saga. Frankly, I find it too cynical, and its "fresh" ideas are reminiscent of things Philip Jose Farmer was writing 50 years ago.
That said, Paper Girls cheers me.
A Vaughan comic with bleeped out
swear words!
Maybe it's the support text, the letters pages dedicated to the delightful myth of being a paper girl, echoing the supporting text in Lumberjanes. Maybe it's that these girls prove to be so capable when they're catapulted into a nightmare world that's part future dystopia and part mythological realm. Maybe it's just that, for a change, Vaughan doesn't let cynicism and snark dominate the narrative, though there's still enough of both.
This book is cleanly drawn, fast paced, complex enough to engage the mind and a roller coaster ride. Having teen girls as protagonists without pandering to the stereotype of the month is also quite refreshing! In fairness, Vaughan's work on Runaways also handled teen girls well (I didn't mean that the way it sounded - ick!)
Cliff Chiang's art is clean, energetic and on point. He composes frames seamlessly, and has a clean line that brings Geoff Darrow to mind. Yet he's very much his own artist.
I've only discussed the plot in vague terms. This is a chronic condition with me. I want to give you enough to want to read the book. The book in question has time travelers encountering their younger selves, strange monsters from another dimension, and tons of late 80s nostalgia. Is that enough to whet your appetite?

7. Art Ops
Here's a clever idea. A spy agency dedicated to keeping subjects in their respective artworks. Of course, things go wrong, like Mona Lisa escaping and getting in a family way. Oh, and the son of the lead Art operative loses an arm, which is replaced with living artwork.
Art Ops is a lot of fun, but is a bit on the nose at times. It plays with reality, suing tones that echo Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, but lacks the subtlety and nuance of Morrison's work. Writer Shaun Simon brings a decent knowledge of art history to the book, but the story rarely goes much deeper than well-known and well-trod grand masters. It's a chaotic ride, but it doesn't go any place too scary once the reader adapts to the premise.
And really, it's not all that chaotic. There's an inevitability bordering on cliche to some aspects of this. The expatriated artworks take haven at the Chelsea Hotel? My, how novel. Nobody's ever used that setting as a metaphor for escape of tortured  souls before. Please.
Mike Allred's art, however, is expressive and on point. I'm on record as liking good fundamental comic art (and one of these days I'll try to define that), and Allred has long championed comparatively simple and anarchic comic art. Sometimes it works well. I  loved his work on X-Static. Sometimes it doesn't. His Fantastic Four run left me cold. Here, it's very effective, and just plain fun to look at. Rob Davis' fill-in on the penultimate issue, #11, lacked some of Allred's verve.
As alluded to above, the series is concluded at 12 issues. The first half is out in trade now. This chafes me a bit. This is a short series. Why break it into two books? Apparently marketing is more important that reader satisfaction.
Perhaps that's the crux of the biscuit. The underlying cynicism of this book is irritating, not because there's no place for cynicism in comics, but because of what it says about how the creators value art in the world. It's well worth reading, but there are other comics about art that tell better stories.
6. Electric Sublime
In contrast, here's a surreal adventure comic about art that shows a deeper understanding of art.
As far back as Frederic Pohl's novel Drunkard's Walk, and more recently the play and film The Caveman's Valentine, we have narratives dealing with the challenge of the mentally ill person who sees things as they truly are. Add Electric Sublime to that mix. While I have major issues with the whole "tortured artist" syndrome, it's used here in an interesting way, echoing the lost and lamented series Millennium. A central character is pulled from an asylum to use special abilities to solve an inexplicable puzzle- in this case, a winking Mona Lisa.
Main characters are trapped in the winking painting. In the so-called real world, mass suicides complicate matters.
Evoking many of the usual suspects of art history, this book strikes many of the same notes as Art Ops. But where the latter uses amplified guitars and buzzsaws, Electric Sublime uses a string quartet playing a Berlioz string quartet that sneaks in some Philip Glass riffs on the sly. In short, this is a much more elegant and nuanced look at art and its place in society.
Electric Sublime manages to address the whole "crazy artist" cliche while treating artists with a measure of respect. And the book is much more visually intriguing than Art Ops, using a controlled palette where necessary, and evocation of numerous styles from both comics and the "legitimate" art world. The book reminds me of artists ranging from Hannes Bok to Ben Templeton in places. And the use of the artist's pose-able wooden mannequin as a Greek chorus of sorts is quite charming.
The first mini of four books recently concluded. While there was a sense of resolution, it was clearly left open for a new series. I'd like to see more, and like to see writer Maxwell Prince and artist Martin Morazzo play with even more art history - tropes, memes, riffs, chose your visual motif. I just want more.
Klimt, anyone?
Next: entries 5 - 2.