Sunday, October 24, 2010

Original Art Sundays #64 : A Private Myth, p. 18 (final)

Well, buckled down and put the finishing touches on this today.  Very happy with it, after the usual wrestling match with myself.
I did submit A Private Myth to date, the first 17 pages and the cover, for a PRISM Comics Grant, but the work was not chosen. Rather than wallow in self-deprecation, I decided to hone the work and try again next year, or apply for a Xeric Grant if I have enough by the next deadline. My congratulations to the winners!
I toyed with a couple Photoshop effects and abandoned them. This is the raw art, for the most part, done in grayscale brush markers. After a brief bout of indulgent perfectionism, I decided that I like the quality of the mark making here.
I tried to use Charles Vess' trick of translucent word balloons on this one. I love the way Vess handled that in the pages of the BONE prequel, ROSE.
Vess' work makes me weep. I have little use for much fantasy art, but his is so eloquent.
Next page of A Private Myth, page 19, will be a hike in the woods.

The First Five

Over at Flashback Universe, there was a post listing the first five comics the writer ever read.
To paraphrase Vaughn Bode', like Diana thinks, she does.
While Emo Phillips' comment on repeating the fourth grade- I couldn't do it exactly- applies, here are the first five comics I remember reading.
1. Mr. Ed

While this is probably not the first comic I ever read, it's the earliest one I remember. I associate it with a trauma. One blistering cold winter's day, my older sister and I were waiting for the school bus. I was in either Kindergarten of first grade. A gust of wind tore the comic from my hands and sent it blowing across the snow-covered field next to the bus stop. Devastated, I desperately wanted to run after it, but my older sister, always practical, refused to let me.
Little did I know at the time that the artist, Russ Manning, would have a profound influence on my life and work. His clean lines and sleek anatomy in his Tarzan and Magnus, Robot Fighter comics, to say nothing of The Aliens, his thoughtful backup strip, gave me an idea of what drawing could really do.
2. Atlantis, the Lost Continent
Again, probably not one of the first, but it sticks in my mind. Since it was contemporary to the film, I must have read it in 1961, at the age of 6 or 7. The film upon which it's based is a lesser work of George Pal, best known for The Time Machine.
There was one panel in which Princess Antilla, frustrated with the cowardice of a suitor, proclaims, "Now he takes orders from a Warlord!" My younger sister and I were fascinated with this line, and turned it into a song.
3. Batman 156: Robin Dies At Dawn

June 1963. Again more of an impact than a "true first", especially in light of recognizing the cover, but not recalling the story, of  this slightly earlier issue.

But Batman 156 contains a pivotal story in many ways. Surreal extraterrestrial landscapes, raw emotion bordering on pathos, the great Pieta cover,  and an ending involving a man coming to terms with his own fears, albeit in a trite 1962 kinda way.
4. Superman Annual No. 2

The early work of Curt Swan, reprinted here, was another exceptional influence on my artistic development. To this day, I regard Swan's Superman as definitive. The cover that stands out more in my mind is one from several years later, that of Superman Annual No. 7.

The lower left story, the dream in which Superman becomes President (only natural born Americans can be President, remember?), bring to mind another Superman story that had a deep emotional resonance: Superman's Mission for President Kennedy. Begun before Kennedy's death, the story was published posthumously and featured an added splash page that still makes me choke up a bit.

5. (tie) Justice League no. 34 and The Spirit No. 1
Since this issue of Justice League of America came out when I was 11, I already had a burgeoning comic collection by then.
My neighbor Patsy spent a dollar and bought me 8 new comics as a Christmas present. Money was incredibly tight in our household, and new comics were treasures, so opening the present and seeing this on top of the stack was a real treat.
Finally, this one.
There was this used furniture store in my old home town of Cohasset, Swelland's Used Furniture. The gent who ran the place (Mr. Swelland, of course) sold old comic books for a nickel each. Many of us built up our collections there.
One day he had this as a coverless book. Despite its not having a cover, I took  a chance on it. I didn't see the cover above till just a few years ago, when I got a copy signed by Will Eisner (with issue no. 2, also signed!) dirt cheap on Ebay.
Somehow, I still have the coverless issue to this day.
This was my first exposure to the work of Will Eisner. I had no idea what it was, who he was, or how much he meant to my chosen art form, but I knew I wanted more. I would not see any more Eisner work till I encountered the Kitchen Sink undergrounds at the Madison Book Co-op during my first year of film school, circa 1975 or '76. If I can dig up my copy, I'll post a scan of the full wraparound cover later. For now, here's the front.

The Harvey Spirit was my first exposure to Gerhard Schnobble, a Capra-esque 8-pager about a nebbish who forgets he can fly.

It also contained the classic "Ten Minutes", the story of a kid named Freddie whose life is going nowhere and who snaps as a result of a pinball game. Here, Freddy is trying to hide the fact that he's just killed the owner of the corner drug store.
This story also contains a classic panel of little kids ogling the new comics, in which one of the kids utters the classic line, "wow! Look at the true horror romances!"
In addition to the populist perspective, burgeoning in comics at this time in Infantino's revitalized Batman (often completely at odds with the TV series) and the early Silver Age Marvels, this coverless book redefined the possibilities of comics for my hungry young mind.
If I ever fulfill one of my dreams and win an Eisner award for my scholarly work in comics, I'm going to mount the coverless Harvey Spirit No. 1 right next to it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Comics? Museums? How perfectly too-too.

The announcement of a museum exhibit on graphic novels at the James A. Michener Museum of Bucks County is challenging in several ways.
While museum exhibits of comic art in the US and Canada date back to the 1970s (earlier exhibitions happened in Europe, but the only one I can find a a record of is the 1968 exhibition of comic-strip art at Musée des arts decoratifs, Palais du Louvre) with the Steranko: Graphic Narrative show in Winnipeg, the 1980s and the Whitney Comic Art show, involvement of Art Speigleman in the Beyond High & Low show in response to the High & Low Show at MOMA, their presence, while desirable, poses other challenges.
Comics are relatively accepted as an art form now, due in no small part to the Graphic Novel demarcation. Note that the exhibit at the Michener is a "graphic novel" exhibit, not a "comic art" exhibit, despite using panels from a Spirit comic, not a graphic novel per se, in its informational web page. Also, please take note of the sloppy research in attributing the nomenclaute of "commonly accepted as the first graphic novel" to A Contract With God. While the significance of this book cannot and should not be denied, even Eisner acknowledged Masreel's woodcut books as predecessors. Others worked in "wordless books", and the term "picture novel" was used on the cover of the 1950 paperback It Rhymes With Lust and its successor from the same publisher, Case of the Winking Buddha.
The original It Rhymes With Lust has been reprinted twice, first in The Comics Journal and second as a facsimile edition with a new foreword from Dark Horse Comics, the third largest comic company in the US.
Are we to infer sloppy research on the part of the Michener Gallery in its statement that A Contract With God is " is commonly accepted as the first to be called a graphic novel", or is that simply a limitation of copy space, since Milt Gross's name is also cited as being part of the exhibit? Gross's He Done Her Wrong, a 1930 book billed as "The Great American Novel in Pictures", back in print from Fantagraphics, is another work that predates Eisner.
This is journeyman stuff.  Any undergrad researcher could discover most of this in a matter of a few minutes.
However, it's rather easy to get one's back up about such things. It may very well be a case of sloppy copy writing and nothing more, especially given the inclusion of Gross in the exhibit. And as comics scholars, many of us have a slight persecution complex. No, really, we do!
All that given, there's the larger question of acceptance and its related costs and advantages.
True, comics are now in museums, although often trough the aforementioned back door of the "graphic novel". The notable exceptions are museums devoted to comics, like San Francisco's stunning Cartoon Art Museum, whose current show, Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women includes the work of old friend Trina Robbins. We've linked to Trina's site numerous times, so one more won't hurt!
What do we gain and what do we lose by comics gaining social acceptance?
For one thing, comics may wither. This is a possible byproduct of the acceptance of manga and graphic novels. After all, why pay $3 -4 per issue for "floppies", old school flimsy paper comics of 24 -32 pages including ads, when you could wait for the collection (not properly a "graphic novel", unless that was the creators' initial intent) and get the whole thing in a more durable form for a lower cumulative price, in many cases?
That's a bit a doom and gloom thing. I firmly believe that the floppy, or conventional comic book, will endure in some capacity, much as live theater still exists but is no longer the entertainment/cultural mainstay it was once was. However, when great books like daytripper sell a meager 9,800 copies, it's hard to avoid a small sense of foreboding.
The other thing we lose with social acceptance of comics is the imprimatur of the outlaw cachet.
So many things regarded as social taboos- pinball, motorcycles, tattoos, comics- have been accepted, with that acceptance ranging from a near-mandate (tattoos) to becoming passe' (pinball).  The cadre of misfits has been assimilated to varying degrees.
That has its up side. Comics are a more than valid art form, and deserve to be taken seriously, contingent on content, of course. I have little patience for the latest bombastic, senses-shattering, "this will change everything" multi-book epic from Marvel or DC. Civil War was socially relevant and genuinely important as a metaphor for a divided nation at odds over the false distinction between freedom and security. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a necessary bit housecleaning, with some strong storytelling. They're worthwhile and fun. But enough grandeur already. Just tell me a decent story and I'm there.
My point is that comics deserve to be taken seriously, AS COMICS. Museums are great and comics deserve a place in them. But please don't damn them with faint praise by insisting on the "graphic novel" badge to "legitimize" the work. A great show of Comic Book Art needs no excuses for itself.
It's a bloody comic book. That's all it needs to be. If it's a good one, let it stand on its own merits.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Original Art Sundays #63 : the Gentle Giant Retros Files

Progress was made on the new page since last post, but scanner access was inhibited by someone vandalizing my car (just a rock through a window, but I can't get it fixed till tomorrow).
One of these fine days when I have an extra few hundred dollars, whatever that is, I'll buy a decent large format scanner and not have to rely on the ones at work.
Until then, we persevere.
A few years ago, I joined a Yahoo group devoted to the cover and CD art created by fans for specialty CD projects by and related to Gentle Giant. The group, Retros Productions, has been dormant for the last couple months, aside from some irritating spam.
Therefore, as a caution, I have saved the images of my work form that site and would like to present them here.
The first are covers from remasters done by list member Marc Guilbert, quite good remasters at that. These were "treed" to the Gentle Giant mailing list, On Reflection. Before file sharing was as prevalent as it now is, we'd mail out CDs. Each recipient woudl send to three more members, till everyone in the list who wanted the material had it. You get the idea.
The Gentle Giant list is named after one of their more intricate and beautiful songs.

A bit prim for the tastes of some, but I love it.
The first of these included two albums, Free Hand and The Missing Piece, both rather high energy albums with distinctive covers. I integrated elements of the two covers and matched the typography of the dominant cover.

The second twofer, as we are wont to call them, was Three Friends and Acquiring the Taste, both more eclectic and varied albums.
Again, integration of elements from the two covers figured prominently.

A bit of Photoshop foolery around the edges, and an attempt at typography that reflects the flavor of both albums.
Finally, the cover art and interior tray art for a benefit CD of GG-inspired material. We paid homage, and in the case of the one actual cover, royalties to the band.
Subsequent projects from GORGG Tribe, the aggregate that released this material, have been benefits for the Global On-Reflection Giant Gathering, or GORGG, and annual event going on, well, now, in Scotland this year.

The idea here was a primal illustration of the band. I took a simple marker sketch and added elements in Photoshop and Illustrator. I actually rather prefer the inversion of the art used for the tray.
I perform on this as well. My ex, Jenny, and I recorded the track Girls In Glass under the name Natural Light Orchestra. One of these fine days I'll make a video of the number and get it up on YouTube.
I also have a recording with Anthony Bowes on last year's benefit CD, recorded under the nom de song DianAnt,  Think of Us With Kindness, which also serves as a memorial to lost loved ones. The track, Esther's Lillbulero, is available from CD Baby, if you are inclined to spend a buck for the track or a sawbuck for the whole album.
There's another project nearing completion now, but I'm taking a pass on this one to concentrate on my comics and my academic career.
I hope you enjoy yet another trip down Amnesia Lane. Next week, hell or high water, the next page of A Private Myth, completed!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Original Art Sundays #62 : A Private Myth, p. 18 (in progress)

Still a bit ill, but feeling well enough today to get some work done on the next page before I hit the wall, as they say.
This one is what they call the money shot, folks. It's the beginning of a plot catalyst and I want it to be a gorgeous page.
So I'm taking my time with it.
When I was overcoming my reluctance to draw hands, I did a page of nothing but hands as a narrative device. Trying the same for backgrounds and environments.
I will repost during the week as the page evolves.

I need to go full range of grays on this. I want to blend the marker values by hand rather than digitally if I can. Also, placing of the text will be crucial.
If all goes well, I will be able to post the completed page during the week and move on to the next one by next Sunday!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Original Art Sundays #61 : Tranny Towers, pages 9& 10

I caught a lovely cold the minute Midwest PCA ended. So although I had these scans done and ready to post, I didn't have the stamina till today.
Made it through my comic history class last night, barely, but it took a lot out of me. Great class, though- talking about the 50s and the aftermath of Wertham. More on that in another post.
I'm still a mite foggy in the head, but back in the game enough that I can write  couple lines and share some work.
Until I'm back to full steam, please enjoy these older pages.

A number of things I really like about these two. They advance the storyline nicely. The border elements on the first page are fun- the little scallops at the bottom- and I think the mirror shot of Dena in panel 2 is charming.
The second page was the beginning of my coming to terms with my difficulty drawing hands, now largely a problem of the past, I hope! I did the whole page with hands advancing the story. The title comes from one of my favorite Argent songs. I was delighted to meet Rod after a performance he and Colin Blunstone gave at First Avenue a few years back, and it was right up there with meeting any of the greats. The problem with meeting people you admire is sometimes that you discover that the trait or skill you admire them for is not a reflection of their personality. I found Rod to be genuinely charming.