Friday, December 31, 2010

Best comics of 2010: No. 14: Ex Machina No. 50

With just an hour an a half left to 2010, I think I'm on safe ground beginning my best of the year posts now.
I know many of my readers may be out reveling, but I never got into New Year's that way very much. So more power to you. Party on. I'll write. Nice glass of wine, relaxed cats, a fire, and writing about comics. That's a good celebration!
I'll do two weeks' worth of bests. No less arbitrary a number than ten, and there was some good stuff this year.
First up, the final issue of Brian K. Vaughan's Ex Machina.

The writing remained taut to the end, and the art maintained its effective combination of photo-realism and ornate decorative elements.
But I was let down by the ending.
When you have a superhero who's a politician, both roles carry expectations on the part of the constituents. I had a preconceived notion of who Mitchell Hundred was, and the character presented in the denouement did not reflect that preconception, quite specifically, did not reflect MY preconception. I don't know if that's a failing in the writing or in the reading, but it did leave me rather nonplussed. I saw him as a pragmatic idealist, and the latter sort of- eroded.
I'd like to be more specific about the big thing that left me with this sense, but I don't want to give too much away. It's still a book well worth reading, and we're about to enter spoiler territory anyway.
You've been warned. Spoilers in your immediate future.
Here we go....
As Mitchell Hundred ascends the political ladder, the two people closest to him are consumed by that ascension.
First, his friend Bradbury resurfaces. After declaring his love for Mitch, he wanders into oblivion.
Now, this plays into the subplot about Hundred's sexuality, which was never resolved directly in the storyline, though we were given ample plot points indicating he was gay. That makes his shocked response to Bradbury's declaration tough to cipher. Is he jarred by the prospect of loving a friend, or is he really not gay? In either case, his less than noble response to Bradbury says it all- he'll sacrifice the friendship for ambition if he must.
Then Mitchell encounters his friend, mentor and oftimes adversary, Kremlin, who had a very different vision of how Hundred should best use his miraculous curse of conversing with machines.

I can't decide if this is as simple as power corrupts, or if this is the inevitable path of political ambition, or simply the culmination of these two people being who they are in relation to one another. In any event, it has a moral ambiguity that left me feeling, well, disappointed.
Now understand. I'm not one of those people who has to have chipper stories all the time. Far from it. But I was left with a sense of uncertainty. A book that offered shining possibility turns out to be a tragedy.
Hundred becomes UN Ambassador and declares that the fallen tower (only one fell due to his intervention- how's that for heroism?) will be rebuilt exactly as it was.
We are privy to this intimate moment of remorse.
Brings to mind the moment in Unbreakable when Elijah says "real life doesn't fit into little boxes that are drawn for it."

His political path takes him in other directions as well.
Again, I won't reveal the ultimate spoiler, though others have done so online. Suffice to say that the issue's title, VICE, has more than one meaning.
I still recommend the whole series wholeheartedly. But I feel about Mitch Hundred much like I felt about the main character in Samuel Delaney's TRITON: after going through all that, I so wanted them to have happy endings.
Jan. 2: Best Comic of 2010, no. 13.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rosie the Riveter: the comics connections

Geraldine Hoff Doyle, the woman who modeled for the famed Rosie the Riveter poster (unbeknown to her!) has passed at the age of 86.
Rosie was an icon for more than WWII, which was important enough in its own right. The classic Rosie poster became a symbol for the feminist movement of the late 60s- mid 80s, and retains its power to inspire to this day.
Rosie surfaced in comics several times. The most noteworthy is Trina Robbins' Rosie strips.
Here's a button Trina did for Kitchen Sink!
The strips appeared in Wimmen's Comics no. 4 and Snarf No. 7, and if memory serves, an issue of Arcade as well.
Illustrator Joel Priddy offers this version of Ma Hunkel, the original Red Tornado, as an aspiring Rosie figure:

There was a villain named Rosie the Riveter in this issue of Green Lantern, but the connection is in name only.
About a year ago, our friends at Tee Fury put out a limited edition Rosie pastiche using Princess Leia.

The image has been adapted more times than can be counted, in all probability. Here's a Tristian Eaton poster for Obama's election campaign, using Rosie imagery and some pretty standard comic book devices.

Amendment to original post! Here's Marge Simpson as Rosie, from the cover of the Dec. 2010 issue of Utne Reader!

Finally, here's Norman Rockwell's version of Rosie...

...and Brucilla the Muscle from Kaluta's wonderful Starstruck comic.

It's tempting to attribute all images of strong women post-WWII to Rosie. But what's more significant than direct attribution is the way the spirit of the image informs women: strength, confidence and beauty. None of these need be sacrificed. A woman can be all those things.
Now that's a positive message, one that comics can reinforce.
Go Rosie! You did well!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Original Art Sundays (Tuesday)#73 : Tranny Towers p. 12

A tad late, but only due to the holiday!
This strip was timed for Pride, as surgery is celebrated in trans communities (or used to be, at least). It was presented as a double wide strip, taking a full half a page in a 9" x 12" magazine.
Again, some playful graphic elements, notably the title composed of scalpels and the swirling memories in the free association panel that leads into the main action.
In retrospect, this is rather sparse for an operating theater, and she is not exactly, ahem, in position for this particular operation. Also, that cart is in isometric perspective, not linear.
Ah well.
Bear in mind as you read these that they were, aside from this one, printed at about 3" w x 4 1/2"h.
These have not been reprinted in 15 years.
The reversed out text at the end of the bottom banner has been digitally re-lettered, as was the "machine that goes ping" on the side of the, well, machine that goes ping.
Next week: something a bit different.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thoughts on 2010 as it fades away....

As I prepare wildly for Christmas (one of my favorite times, but so hectic!), I'm given to reflect on the last year.
You know, the one that's wrapping up now.
Dickens had a gift for understatement. Times glorious and tragic.
My career was full of opportunities this year. Many of them, such as presenting at both national and regional PCA conferences, were satisfying and promising. However, I had the lowest level of paying work in 2010 that I've had for more than a decade. I won't bore you with the ensuing economic woes. Suffice to say it's been a snug year, at best.
I have three writing jobs to finish by mid-January. All will be published. One pays.
Mind, this is in large part the academic's lot in life. And though I came to this career late in life, I am loath to part with it, despite its continual setbacks. As the Genesis song says, these are the hands we're given. My Deity, I just quoted a post-Peter Gabriel Genesis song. Oh, the shame, the perfidy.
My hope for the scant remaining days of 2010, and for 2011, is that I will complete some or most of (perhaps all?) my projects, and that I find a creative outlet that provides me with much-needed revenue.
I suspect that, for many of us, Alfred Bester's observation will hold true. The future will be like the present, only more so.
Politicians will bring hope and disappointment. We humans will continue to mistrust one another, and on blessed occasion we will put our skepticism and fear aside and allow ourselves to treat each other decently, giving us hope that we can do so again.
And a few more people will decide that art is worth something.
In reading over my class evaluations for this semester, I was struck by the following comment:
"I learned way too much."
What a fascinating variation on Woody Allen's observation that life is full of pain, suffering and misery, and it's all over much too soon.
Sadnesses: a premature end to a promising relationship, career and fiscal setbacks, and the losses of Charlie Beasley and Harvey Pekar.
Joys: Rediscovering old comics artists, rediscovering my older comic art and finding it to be much better than I recall, and seeing the Greenwood Encyclopedia in print with me as an editorial board member.

And I live in the hope that next year is exactly like this one, only more so.
Some rather charming thoughts and images about the possibilities of life from two of my favorite creators:

Another goal for 2011: re-view all of the Seven- Up films!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Original Art Sundays #72 : Tranny Towers p. 11

On time for a change this week. How'd that happen?
In cleaning up a huge pile of work, I found a few dozen comic pages I'd forgotten I'd done! I will post these on an as-needs basis.
The stack included the Tranny Towers strips from book II.
We're about halfway through Book I now. But I'm so glad I found the originals of these. I have ONE copy left of the comic-size mockup I did in preparation for the Xeric grant lo, these many years ago, and I've been pulling scans from that. Problematic, as the book is on 20# Xerox paper and there's a LOT of bleed through to compensate for, which can be a challenge if the art has fine lines that can drop out when pushing the white point. This has been an issue in many of these pages.
Anyway, here's the next page.
Again, some fun layout play and some on-the-nose wordplay.
I was so enthusiastic when this work went to press for the first time. I timed the work so Dena's surgery would hit at Pride, in the following strip.
I'm toying with the idea of doing a collection of these on a POD site, possibly LULU.
The collection would have to include some editorial comment and the editorial strips I did for TransSisters (note: link to an article on another contributor) and TNT News magazines, one of which was not printed because the editor felt it "too depressing". In truth, the strip was about tragedy balanced with optimism, but hey, she was the editor.
At any rate, my vision for this book is becoming more coherent, even if its content is in part dated.
Next week: I don't know yet!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Original Art Sundays #71 (late) : Gentle Giant Calendar 2011

A half inch away from being caught up....
In 1999, the year I completed my BFA, the online discussion list for fans of Gentle Giant had their first annual gathering, the Global On-Reflection Giant Gathering, or GORGG.
I was staying with my friend Tatsurou Ueda and his delightful wife Yoko.
Tradition dictates that when one is a guest in a Japanese household, one brings a gift. So I designed a calendar based on the band.
It proved so popular with his friends that I produced them for other list members as well.
It's been a cottage industry- I do the research, typesetting, printing, order taking and mailing. The 2011 calendar is my twelfth.
However, this year, rather than do the hands- on work, since my resources are quite low, I've elected to let Lulu handle the printing and shipping. I have some misgivings about this- Id rather do it myself- by hey, no printing budget means just that.
So the 2011 Gentle Giant Calendar is available to the general public (something else I've never done before) at
I don't expect my readers here to buy these (but if you want to, I won't complain!). As is my way, I'm just putting my work out there.
Profits, if any, will go into the GORGG fund, to cover expenses for putting the event on and bringing our guests, the band members who have joined us and become dear friends over the years.
I give comp copies to members of the band and contributors. They'll get 'em late this year, but they will get them!
Here's this year's cover art.
And a sample month page, featuring some preparatory art for the very first GG calendar.

As you can see, the love of the band is what it's all about.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Original Art Sundays #70 (late) : Tranny Towers p. 10

Still catching up, as is evidenced by the tardiness of this. But there are signs of land on the horizon. Grades are in and I've been taking this HUGE barrage of tests from temp agencies, in hope of getting some fill-in work between teaching assignments. The up side of that is that I will have at least one day a week to devote to my craft for a while. I have a monster batch of writing assignments with short deadlines, but not so much as to preclude my hitting the drawing board again.
I'm also working on a couple design and photo projects.  And I have not forgotten A Private Myth, but I am evolving the narrative as I go. We're coming up on some action and flashback stuff in the story, which will break the whole soliloquy aspect of it.
Soliloquy can be tedious.
I had a fascinating discussion about the basics of storytelling a couple days ago. Fellow MCAD teacher and screenwriter Tom Pope offered some blunt but brilliant insights on what works and what doesn't in personal narratives, which A Private Myth is in part.
But as the work evolves, let me offer another Tranny Towers page.

This is actually better than I remember. One person's life gets better as another person's tanks. That, coupled with the delusions around surgery ("now my life will be perfect"- don't we all believe that about something, even when we know better?) make for a challenging dynamic.
This also touches on the issues around medical hierarchy re: trans health, and it does need to be acknowledged that many of these issues have since been addressed, though I doubt they'll ever be fully resolved.
Next: another page from amnesia lane!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

More paper dolls! (catch- up No. 1 of 3)

Now that grading is done and I can concentrate on getting a new fill-in gig and putting this year's design projects to bed, I can catch up on my blogging a tad.
First up, those new paper doll finds I promised last week!
The first is a jam paper doll series, the center spread from Wimmen's Comics No. 11.
Included in this delightful piece, clockwise from top left:
Bugs Herbert
Aline & Sophie Crumb
Dori Seda
Lee Binswager
Caryb (?) 
Diane Noomin
This may be the first time I mentioned the late, great Dori Seda here. Her work has this compelling combination of raw raunchiness and innocent vulnerability.
Next up, another Trina Robbins paper doll, this one from Gay Comics No. 25.
This piece is noteworthy in a couple ways.
First, it's a sort of redemption for Trina. Her story "Sandy Comes Out", from Wimmen's No. 1, was one of the first, if not the first, comic story about lesbians, dated 1970. Mary Wings took exception to the story, and followed with her 1974 book Come Out Comix. It should be noted that Trina and Mary remain friends and that Trina's subsequent work in this arena has been very well recieved.
Second, Gay Comics No. 25 was the last issue, and featured most of the creators who had appeared in the title prior. To the best of my knowledge, it's the only time Trina and I had work in the same comic! I posted my Tranny Towers page from that issue some time back.
It's possible Gay Comics will return, but I've heard nothing of that possibility for almost two years now.
Tomorrow: Catch- up Post No. 2.