Author Archive

A Drawing for Mullany

by on Oct.29, 2011

I haven’t been moved to write something in a while. But Edward Mullany’s poem “If I Falter at the Gallows” from the book with the same title moved me to draw this, and I wanted to share.

Here’s the book with the poem in it.

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In Defense of Illness

by on Jul.15, 2011

I’ve been spending most mornings with The Magic Mountain. Thomas Mann makes illness a very attractive thing. This morning I was reading a conversation in which the characters (all of whom consider themselves ill in some way) debate the humanity of illness.

Herr Setembrini, the Italian humanist, suggests illness is inhuman. He argues it focuses us on the body at the cost of all else.

Naphta, who the book’s protagonist Hans Castorp describes as a “caustic little Jesuit and terrorist,” compellingly suggests that “Illness was supremely human.” He asserts that it is illness exactly that sets “man apart from nature.” Creative genius, humanity, nobility, even Spirit lie in nature. For those who espouse “progress,” even they have to admit that it is illness which brings this about. Even the healthy can be so because of the accomplishments of the ill.

Naphta is most practical when he states that to “win knowledge for mankind,” people must be willing to give themselves over to illness. This is a voluntary and even a conscious act. Some might describe it as an act of heroism.

I wonder in what ways you’ve given yourself over to illness. Can the pursuit of health be problematic or even socially irresponsible?

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Sharon in Karen

by on Jul.13, 2011

Out at Rockaway Beach this summer, they’ve decided to act like it’s a place where you can surf and spend a day at the beach, and get people to come there on subways. Part of the ruse is to offer a selection of “food carts” on the Queens boardwalk. All of these food carts are run by Brooklyn (and a few Manhattan and maybe Queens) restaurants/food makers who affect a similar aesthetic of refined flavor with a suggestion of vague social responsibility (peppering their copy with the words ‘local,’ ‘artisanal,’ ‘organic,’ etc.) To see a photo essay of with soft-focus backgrounds and proper antique effects of people enjoying Rockaway go here. Hidden among all this is conceptual artist (?) Sharon is Karen.

Maybe if you beat the health dept down there and get one of the open-faced watermelon sandwiches, it’ll make the eight-hour train ride worth it.

(p.s. If you don’t have a car and want to go to the beach, try this.)

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PEE ON WATER, reconsidered

by on May.31, 2011

Last summer, it was really hot in New York City, so I spent a lot of time reading in front of a window unit air conditioner during the midday. I had been given a free copy of Rachel B. Glaser’s Pee on Water with an apparently mis-registered cover (or some other imperfection that I still can’t locate), and I picked it up one afternoon without specific expectation. (I had met Rachel once and eaten Chinese food with her, and was impressed with the fact that she liked the NBA—which I don’t—and, moreover, made paintings of her favorite NBA stars). When I finished the book a week or so later, I believed that I had been given a vibrating and sloppy masterpiece of storytelling. Pee On Water is one of a few books that has recently rekindled this college-freshman warmth I had for “the short story.” These things are really “new” but not “new” like anti-short-stories that we’ve been writing for the last 40-45 years. Last summer, I couldn’t well describe what had impressed me particularly about Pee On Water and I actually felt better not identifying it for fear of dispelling the mystery.

So, it’s hot in New York again—and it’s still May—and I put my window unit in my bedroom yesterday, and used the cool air blowing on my forehead as occasion to take another look at Glaser’s book after a year. I don’t want to define too much about my experience, but this book is funny and singular and lacks precision; I can guarantee all of those things. I think the feeling I can most equate reading Pee on Water to is being about nine years old and hearing my brother listening to The Dead Milkmen and being intrigued and thrilled by these pop songs BECAUSE they didn’t play them right. The imperfections were quickly addictive.

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Cotner and Hamilton Raid the Armory

by on Mar.23, 2011

Artworld insiders and power couple, Jon Cotner and Claire Hamilton, spent four hours roaming New York’s Armory Show and they documented their afternoon at Paper Monument. Basically, Cotner and Hamilton offer us, the poor, a glimpse into the lives and charisma of their rarefied and beautifully bespectacled friendset. Go see Jon and Claire hash out with their pals how they might blow the wads burning holes in their silk-lined pockets.

Billionaire Mayor Jon Cotner could buy and sell you eight times over.

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Pretty Little Lions

by on Dec.30, 2010

A couple of months ago I did an interview with Blaise Larmee, and Blaise, or his ideas, sparked some kind of debate in the comments thread, a debate which I didn’t quite understand (I think I was ignorant of much of the context). So Johannes and I decided to each read (or re-read, in my case) and write a consideration of his book Young Lions and try to figure out what’s up. I’ll get it started with my thoughts:

Young Lions is a study in prettiness. The child actors conducting the narrative, the intentional and sweeping pencil lines, the orchestrated heartbreak are graceful and beautiful. But all of this prettiness is saved from itself, from refinement and glossiness and a good sanding down that might make you overlook it by the generous use of omission, erasure, hole-poking, and breaking shit up. The book is a stylish object, full of stylish people putting on stylish shows, and is one of the more intelligent discussions of the role of style in creation that I’ve encountered in a while.  Much like Kenneth Burke was able to explain human relations by framing our interactions as a stage play, Larmee puts his kids in boxes, little theatres, and conducts them, while the whole time they consider and question the very play that they are acting in. Larmee’s four characters, all members of a conceptual art group that views itself and its membership as if it’s a rock band, are placed in contained spaces and set to interact as we might do with figures in a diorama. The spaces are sometimes conducted as if films (with background music) or the book of a play (with scene titles), or even as a venue in which to watch a film (as in the closing panel of the the “New Museum” section). The book’s cover itself, a step away from the “craftiness” of comics and towards the mechanical of books, questions the medium’s conventions of presentation.  Many of Larmee’s choices court questions if not controversy (dipping one foot into the pond of tweeness, but yanking it out before he gets too deep), including his choice to include a single blurb on the book’s back cover, from David Heatley, a cartoonist who, unfairly, is best known for voluntarily putting pink boxes of his characters’ genitalia when Big Publishing reprinted his work.

Young Lions invites perusal and rereading. Its lightness is part of it. The clip of the narrative, and flow of pages pull the reader through, encourage page-flipping, like a salaryman might rifle through a chunky manga album on the Chuo line at rush hour (it seems like Larmee has taken some lessons from Frank Santoro’s discussions of mathematical models and proper page structure). From the first page, Young Lions presents itself as a remarkably conventional narrative, with a crisis presented immediately (their art group is failing), a love triangle quickly introduced, and the need for a journey (a road trip to Florida) to bring about resolution. Where Larmee distinguishes himself is the strangeness with which he conducts his story. Just as he balances his perfect pencil lines that carve out pretty young cheeks and self-conscious coifs with smudgy palimpsests and completely absent lines where the white space begs for definition, he confounds his narrative with subtle steps into the fantastic, meta-fictional conceits that usefully demand critical consideration, and by leaving straight-up gaps and holes. This is where the richness and mystery is contained in Young Lions, not in the magic of the characters’ performances. (As the groups’ seeming leader, and only apparent adult, Wilson says, “Art becomes magic when it has nothing left to hide.”) Larmee’s continued attention to the concept of Yoko Ono creates a particularly compelling, and almost eerie, subtext of a hidden world beneath the one he is showing us, a world accessed in the whispers of passers-by and through the tenuous connection of cellular communication. (continue reading…)

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Context: Panter

by on Nov.30, 2010

I want to talk more about what I think the prevailing influences are on the “art comics” being made today. This conversation should have begun with Gary Panter. Sure, I know there is the undeniable influence of Jack Kirby (most creators read superhero comics at some point), Robert Crumb, maybe Dave Sim, Moebius, Art Spiegelman, etc. But all the influence is of all these guys has been so abstracted. The one that is less adulterated is Panter. His work is so diverse and extensive, that it certainly serves as an example of why these brief history posts are unfairly reductive. Nevertheless, the guy who create Jimbo and won an Emmy for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse title sequence is the best entry point for understanding much of today’s comics avant garde.

In 1980, Panter wroter the “Rozz-Tox Manifesto.” Read it here. This document explained Panter’s idea of artists (particularly in America) admitting that they worked within a capitalist system and using this as a means to reach a larger audience (or market) rather than seeing it as an artistic straight-jacket. Whether this manifesto is a document of hope or immense self-delusion, the methods described seem to have served Panter well – he has earned a living off of his work for over thirty years, and never, in my opinion, does it show signs of compromise for market.
(continue reading…)

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Soda Series – This Sunday – Brooklyn – Barber, Byrne, Devine, Groves, Robinson

by on Nov.11, 2010

If you’re in Brooklyn on Sunday evening, try to come by Soda Bar in Prospect Heights at 7:00 for our fourth Soda Series conversation between writers. We’re going to have a Baltimore-Providence face-off, including Stephanie Barber, Mairead Byrne, Ms. Andy Devine, Daniel Groves, and Adam Robinson. Click here for map, face photos, and publishing records. (If anyone’s selling a steel cage, cheap, I’ll buy it.)

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5 Questions with Blaise Larmee

by on Nov.09, 2010

Blaise Larmee is a particularly interesting presence in comics these days. While he certainly cartoons, his aesthetic is obviously drawn from a much broader vocabulary: philosophy, language, anti-narrative, deconstructed marks-making. You can see this on display in his book Young Lions. Follow his thoughts at the Co-mix (cometscomets) blog. And, now, see him publish books with his new press Gaze Books, which just released its first book, The Whale by Aidan Koch.

JDW: Name three or four comics artists whose work is particularly influential on the comics being created in 2010.

BL: Frank Santoro, Aidan Koch, Jason Overby.

JDW: Whose fiction and/or poetry are you into these days?
(continue reading…)

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Context: Fort Thunder

by on Nov.05, 2010

Johannes and I were just talking and he pointed out that many Montevidayo readers, those who are not extensive readers of comics, might be interested in what I think are some of the formative historical works and movements that inform contemporary work. So I hung up the phone with him and decided to write this. Hopefully, I’ll do a series of posts like these. Just suggestions of things to check out as way of building a context when looking at comics, cartooning, visual narrative – that kind of thing.

I think a good place to start discussing the source of some of the more avant-garde or form-challenging work being created today is to consider what was happening in Providence, RI a decade ago. (The contemporary work that I’m talking about includes comics published by presses like Picture Box, which I hope to write more about.) At the center of the Providence scene was an old warehouse, venue, workspace, housing complex called Fort Thunder.

This was the center of both the noise rock scene and the indie comics scene happening in the city at that time. Brian Chippendale, member of the band Lightning Bolt and a comics creator, is the best place to start to understand Fort Thunder. Chippendale sheds cartoonists’ traditional anal retention of exact tools, and particular lines, and preciousness. While in many ways his work (including his recent Ninja) explores the role of traditional genres in comics, they resist the expectations of that kind of work. His smudges and palimpsests and cross-hatching will never be confused with the perfect blacks of Jack Kirby (or the deft Rapidograph lines of Robert Crumb, for the matter). This is maximalist work. The lo-fi approach is indicative of much of the “alternative” art created in the late nineties. (Think Pavement’s approach to classic rock.) There’s something about the Fort Thunder work that often makes people say, “What is this shit?” at first look. But the lines compel you not to look away, to find the movements and the shapes and the coherence hidden with the nest of marks.

Other Fort Thunder artists include Mat Brinkman. His work is also characterized by crowded pages, and an obliqueness that hides an essentially “boy”-inspired adventure story:

And the more accessible work of Brian Ralph (he builds up those beautiful thick lines with a Uniball pen):

And I think the work of CF (Chris Forgues) very much follows in this tradition.

The next place to go from here is a discussion of fine artiste and cartoonist Ben Jones and techno-maximalists Paper Rad.

Oh, and, of course, the single creator who made this work possible is Gary Panter. Let’s talk about him next time. (Then we’ll talk about Paper Rad, and then look at the reincorporation of the conventions of traditional genre comics into these deconstructed pages in the work of Frank Santoro, and discuss his own fresh, new term  for what the kids are up to: “hybrid comics.”)

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shouted rage

by on Oct.28, 2010

Doesn’t it seem like everybody just shouts at each other nowadays? I think it’s because conflict is drama. Drama is entertaining, and entertainment is marketable. Finding consensus and common ground is dull! Nobody wants to watch a civilized discussion that acknowledges ambiguity and complexity. We want to see fireworks! We want to the sense of solidarity and identity that comes from having our interests narrowed and exploited by like-minded zealots. Talk show hosts, political candidates, news programs, special interest groups…They all become successful by reducing debates to the level of shouted rage. Nothing gets solved, but we’re all entertained.

The above comments were made by Calvin during a walk in the woods with Hobbes in 1995.

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Last Two Pages of ASTERIOS POLYP

by on Sep.15, 2010

I waited a long time to read Dave Mazzuchelli’s ASTERIOS POLYP. Let it sit on my shelf for a year with its heavy spine looming over me each night. I was expecting a lot from the this book, and I wanted to wait for a special time to read it. This summer was hellish in New York, so the recent cool weather was occasion enough. (And we’d been waiting how-many-years for this mysterious epic Mazzuchelli was working on – so what’s one more?) The book didn’t disappoint. I think Douglas Wolk said in a review of Asterios Polyp that modernism came late to comics. (My reaction is, really? Because Winsor McKay and Lionel Feininger and the their contemporaries certainly didn’t seem ignorant of modernism in their work). But, where I’m with Wolk, is that modernism has flourished and remained in the practice of American comics over the past decade or so, the bookends being the beautiful epics Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware and Mazuchelli’s Asterios Polyp, both structurally dictated sentiment-fests that rest more comfortably alongside the novels of 80 years ago rather than those written 30 years ago – in tone and form.

The penultimate two pages of AP struck me just right. They worked. Good. But then there were two more pages. I’m still trying to figure out if they were the right call. I want responses here from those who’ve read the book. What do you make of the last pages two pages of Asterios Polyp?

(If you haven’t read it yet, then do so. And then let me know what you think.)

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Todd Baxter's Owl Scouts

by on Sep.03, 2010

The other day when Johannes wrote “the greatest works of atrocity kitsch is not that which tries to make atrocity more ordered, less crass, but which goes straight through it,” and I said, “Exactly.” Then I find Todd Baxter’s series of narrative photos, OWL SCOUTS, and I think, “That thing Johannes wrote the other day doesn’t work here.” The artist’s control is all over these compositions, everything is exactly in its place, right where Baxter wants it. Which sounds life dead, lifeless, unthreatening work. Except I think these OWL SCOUTS are anything but. Despite Baxter’s obvious particularity, the works maintain a palpable mystery, and, I’d venture to say, crassness.

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