Monday, February 20, 2012

Original Art Sundays No. 116: photography: Birthday Suit

Feb. 19 is my birthday.
I have  new page on the board done and awaiting scanning. But since I didn't want to run in to work to scan today, I'm posting something a bit older, with some pride and some reservations.
This self-portrait was done with multiple exposures on  a single negative.
This is intended to show three different facets of me. Looking back on it, it's a bit on the nose, and a little ostentatious. But hey, it was 20 years ago. I've gained weight since then (and was probably too zaftig for the look even then), wear my hair shorter these days, and am not so concerned with the dictates of fashion as I once was.
The print from which the scan was taken is old and weather-beaten, but I still think it's important to try and preserve these things.
Within the next two days, I'll post an additional birthday reminiscence.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Original Art Sundays no. 115: A Private Myth, p. 23 (final)

Well, what's going on here? Original art Sundays on a Sunday?
For a change, yes.
Finally completed the backgrounds for the next page of A Private Myth. I posted roughs of this page here months ago! Oh, the shame, the perfidy!
Here's the elusive next page:

The story is heating up. While the pace has been lackadaisical, this is deliberate and is a setup for a major plot element, initially alluded to about ten pages back.
Astute readers will note some major changes between this and the roughs, notably in the pacing of the bottom tier. The central panel of that tier is key to this plot point.
The skyline of Portland in the top tier is actually from photo reference. The sign is not. I'm going to need to make a trip out there before I go to press on this to check accuracy of some stuff, since I've not been there for almost a decade!
I'm speaking on Works In Progress at MCAD on Thursday at noon, and so am attempting to amp up my art schedule, if for no other reason, to get my head back into the studio mindset.
Next: a new Cowgirls page.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Best Comics of 2011: no. 1

To recap:
14. Sailor Twain
13. The Lions of Valletta
12. FF/ Fantastic Four no. 600
11. Rachel Rising/ Terry Moore's How to Draw series
10. Batwoman
9.  Star Trek
8. Scapled, Book 8
7. Ruse: The Victorian Guide to Murder
6. Sugar & Spike Archives
5. The Shade miniseries
4. Kevin Keller/ The Simpsons no. 183
3. Habibi
2. Pogo Vol. 1: Through the Wild Blue Yonder
And the No. 1 comic of last year:
This thing is a monster, in every way. Close to 40 years in the making, this is the only comic I know of that contains work by Vaughn Bode', C.C. Beck, Fellini, Frank Zappa, Will Eisner, Barry Smith, Wally Wood, Trina Robbins and Tom Wolfe, which is but a small sampling, to give you an idea of the book's scope.
The volume measures a hefty 5.7 x 11.8 x 0.9 inches and weighs over four pounds. The initial concept as proposed to Rolling Stone was to have cartoonists create work that summarized their views of the 1960s as the decade drew to a close. The project was tabled for a labyrinth of reasons, and just finally saw print this last November from Abrams Books.
Another noteworthy touch: the editor, Micheal Chocquette, asked that the creators leave blank space in each of their stories. He then returned to the stories and filled in those holes, illustrating his escapades in getting the book out in panels contained in the other narratives.
I had a hard time deciding which pieces to include in this entry, but here's the Frank Zappa page.
And I'll brook no complaints about the pages being crooked. Given the size of this bear, it's a miracle I got it on the scanner!
And here's the Eisner story, always a welcome treat.

 A new Spirit story.
That alone is an event worth celebrating.
In addition to the aforementioned benefits, the text of the foreign language strips is printed in the original text, with a section in the back devoted to translations. And the editor even has the courtesy to refer to the late Jeffrey Catherine Jones by her proper name and pronoun, despite her work having been submitted before she came out.
So what does it say that the two best comics of the year were reprints? Was there really such a dearth of worthwhile new material? Did I just not see the best stuff? Did my limited exposure for the first half of the year taint my judgment?
Or was that just the way it worked out?
Some combination of those factors, I suspect.
2012 looks to be a promising year for comics. I'm enjoying the stuff I've been reading all along- CHEW, Unwritten, Terry Moore's stuff- and some old favorites are reappearing- the first new issue of The Twelve for almost two years- so I have hope for a good year in comics.
Thanks for sticking with me through this painfully protracted process. Much faster next year!

Best Comics of 2011: no. 2: Pogo

two to go, both tonight!
First up, a book decades overdue.
I'm using this as one of my comic history textbooks this semester. We'll know in a couple weeks how it goes over, but I can't imagine it not being beloved by anyone!
Like Habibi, this is a beautifully made book whose content warrants the care used.
The blemishes are on the scanner bed, not on that lovely blind stamp cover!
And beyond the delight of the book as object, its content needs no explanation to those of us "in the know". To the rest, Pogo began as a comic book and moved into the strips. Walt Kelly offered social and political satire along with commentary on the human condition through the animal  denizens of Okefenokee Swamp.

The book is historically significant too. The strips above are the first of the classic Christmas carol strips, from Pogo's original run in the New York Star (the strip ended its initial run when the paper folded).
The commentary framing the strips is equally remarkable. Mark Evanier's essay on Welly's coloring for Sundays and his process in working with the separators at the printer gives deeper understanding to the lush end product, properly reproduced in this volume, arguably for the first time since their original appearances.
Fantagraphics has been doing a great job with their Peanuts reprint series, and this looks to be an equally successful run. I give them laurels for doing such a phenomenal job with such delightful material.
Up immediately: No. 1

Best Comics of 2011 no. 3: Habibi

Yes, yes, I know it's on everybody's lists, and Craig Thompson is the darling of comics circles this year.
While I didn't much care for his previous magnum opus, Blankets, I did attend a lecture he gave at the school where I teach, Minneapolis College of Art & Design. I was sufficiently impressed to buy the book and get a spiffy signature and sketch.
And yes, it's a richly layered text, with multiple meanings interspersing tales of love and loyalty with lush and intelligent page design inspired by the Koran. The mathematics of the design are consistent with Islamic beliefs and serve as a framework for structuring the emotionally rich narrative.

And I am quite impressed with the layout and the dense, involving story.
The beauty of Thompson's page design is not lost on me.

But true though that all is, it's not the biggest reason it's on my Best list.
I love books.
I'm not talking about content, I'm talking about form. There's something satisfying about a well-crafted book. The beauty of a good tight binding, elegant end papers, a design and strategy to the physical properties of the volume itself that reinforces the content without calling undue attention to itself. these things inspire me and leave me awestruck.
So when Thompson talked about delaying getting Habibi printed for several months while he located a printer who could fulfill his specs on the volume, and then toured the printer and the bindery(!), I was hooked.
This is an elegant book with exquisite contents.
Few volumes of comic narrative are this well bound. This holds a proud place on my shelf next to the single volume limited edition of Bone, the lovely collection of Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly's LOCAL, and my limited edition first printing of Eisner's A Contract With God.
Great books should be a joy, either open or closed. Habibi is such a book.
Friday, Feb. 10: the final two of 2011.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Best Comics of 2011 no. 4: Kevin Keller/ The Simpsons

Intending to quickly finish these, since circumstances have made me postpone them for more than two weeks.
Next up is a doubleheader.
First, an Archie treat: Veronica Presents Kevin Keller.
I've been doing a lot of research and academic writing on Archie Comics lately. Coupled with current events in the company, this has renewed my interest in the formerly tame comics.
What current events?
There's been a fair amount of talk about Archie comics of late, largely due to the dueling lawsuits of the company and its former CEO, Nancy Seiberkleit.
Whether any of these suits have merit or not, it does need to be said that within the rather rigid confines of the Archie brand, Nancy took some big chances that paid off very well. The stories got more interesting, despite the lack of tension required in the plucky Horation Alger meets Henry Aldrich world of Riverdale.
To that end, we had the two Archie Marries storylines, the Day in the Comics Shop mini that paid homage to the company's history in a rather fun way, and the current Archie Meets KISS mini.
Oh, and Kevin Keller.
As gay characters go, Kevin is rather innocuous, but makes up for it in two ways.

First, he's supposedly named after a gay porn star, according to a friend who is, ahem, an occasional consumer of same.
Second, he's got guts.

And style.
 The storylines have addressed significant issues, including politics and marriage, in a slightly watered down Archie fashion. And I find it both laudable and amusing that there's a gay character getting his own book from Archie Comics, the company that championed the Comics Code Authority to the end.
Dovetailing on this is The Simpsons No. 183.
This is a swipe at numerous Archie conventions accumulated over seven decades of stories, beginning with Archie no. 1.
This fun Simpsons issue includes swipes at The Archies, Sabrina, Captain Pureheart, and so many more staples from Archie's history. While Simpsons parodies sometimes feel forced, this one works. Random pages on point posted below.

While Archie is usually rather mundane, the line has evolved a substantial history and has taken a lot of chances (relative to their wholesome mission statement) in recent years. These issues are worth your time.
Next: Best of 2011 No. 3, a blessing and a curse from Allah