Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Comics Round Up #9: The Cole Closser Conversation

I never really intended to do interviews with the Comics Round Up series, but nine entries into it, and this is already my second interview (the first being with Julia Gfrörer). But what I've discovered with some artists is that the idea of writing about their work lends itself to begging questions and jump starting a dialogue with the artist. In Julia's case it was because I had questions about a specific work, and with Cole Closser it was because I wanted to get a more clear picture about him as an artist in general in terms after having read some of his pieces and meeting him in person in passing in the great white Northeast. Cole was generous enough with his time to answer a few questions.

J.T. Dockery: From what I've seen of your work, there is a real affinity for turn of the century newspaper comic strips on through to 1950s comics: artists like Lyonel Feininger and the playful slang dialogue of George Herriman, Fleischer animation. If it's not revealing trade secrets, and to hit you up with the world's most obvious question: what do you consider your most important influences as an artist and story-teller (and it doesn't have to be limited to just comics artists)?

Cole Closser: Aw, man. Feininger, Herriman, and Fleischer (to a lesser degree) have all definitely had an impact. As far as direct influences go, I'd at least have to list all of the "commonly-named" founding fathers of the American comic strip -- R.F. Outcault, George_McManus, Rudolph Dirks, F. Opper, Jimmy Swinnerton, and several others. I also draw a lot from later guys like Frank King, Roy Crane, and George Storm. It's a hard question to answer, because I could end up listing names for the whole interview. I just love comics, and I love the history of comics.

As far as living folks are concerned, Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly had the biggest influence on me when I read RAW as a kid. Later, Tony Millionaire's unbelievable drawing ability and his knack for mixing crass humor with heartbreaking profundity inspired me to finally go from being an appreciator of comics to a participant.

I'd name my older brother, Hotspur, as maybe the biggest influence on my work. He was always the one discovering these things first and then sharing them with me. He's also been my biggest critic and supporter.

JTD: I imagine you to have rural roots, but I don't know if that's true. I know you hail from Missouri, which is just about as contradictory a place as my stomping grounds of Kentucky (and my family on my mom's side actually moved to KY from MO after the Civil War). So where did you grow up? What was your childhood like? One of the reasons I ask this is I imagine you in a barn as a kid discovering some hidden cache of old newspapers and comics and that's what formed you. That said, I realize that's probably a romantic notion on my part. For me, it was Marvel comics as a kid that got me sucked into comics. In this day and age I find it an interesting question to ask artists how they got sucked into this whacky racket in the first place.

CC: I was born in Springfield, Missouri. I spent my childhood between my father there, and my mother in Fayetteville, Arkansas and three tiny towns in middle Georgia. Springfield, Missouri was pretty suburban. We've got hillbillies in the Ozarks, for sure, but restaurants didn't even serve sweet tea there when I was a kid. We didn't have a barn in Georgia, but I spent a lot of time running barefoot, with my dogs, on the red clay between mama's house, the pond, and my uncle's trailer.

You were close on the hidden cache of comics, though. My dad's a literature professor, and his house is lined from wall to wall with books, which overflow into boxes in the basement. When I was ten or eleven, my older brother and I were digging through those basement boxes, on the hunt for girlie magazines, when we discovered RAW, Volume 2. It was mind-blowing. We'd read newspaper comics and Marvel comics,but reading RAW was life-changing. It showed us that comics could be beautiful and terrifying. I'd stay up late, flashlight under the covers, to try to make sense of it all. My brother, Hotspur, carried RAW around in his backpack for weeks. He ordered both Maus books in '91 or '92. He even sent Art Spiegelman a fan letter with a little note card to sign. Spiegelman sent the note card back with a nice message and a drawing of himself in the Maus mask. Hotspur's still got it, of course.

RAW planted a seed in my tiny child-mind of what real comics ought to measure up to. I still read and reread all three of those little Volume 2 books. I'd be re-reading Volume 1 if I could afford it! I suppose I can directly attribute my interest in the history of comics to RAW, as well. That's probably the first place I saw Herriman.

JTD: From Little Tommy Lost to your silkscreened mini-comics, while there is always a common thread, it seems like you pick out a specific approach to the visuals and the printing for each project. Is there any way you can describe your process, how stories and the approach to the art take shape for you? If not in a general way, perhaps describe the process on some of your specific books?

CC: Man, that's tough. I think it's different for every story I work on. Sometimes I just want to pay direct tribute to a cartoonist, like my Sweet Sammy mini that I made mainly as an homage to Swinnerton. Other times, it's the story that leads, and then the visuals and design take shape behind that. Little Tommy Lost is a combination of those. I wanted to do something in the vein of Gray, King, Crane, and Storm, but I wanted to tell a compelling story, also. It's still a work in progress. I've always got five or six books I'm working on, but I don't like putting anything out there until I'm happy with it. I plan to have one of my big ol' secret books out next year.

JTD: In the final product, it often seems like achieving an appearance of a vintage printed comic or newspaper is important to you. I wondered if you could talk, on one hand, of why this appeals to you, and, on another more technical side, how you achieve some of these effects. While I imagine you to start with the classic tools of the cartooning trade, I picture you finishing up on the computer in some cases. Am I wrong? Can you explain to a computer moron how the digital side of things does and doesn't factor into your work?

CC: It's important to me, for sure. I've tried to just do comics with flat colors, but it hasn't felt right to me, so far. There's something warm, complex, and wonderful about the imperfect way that halftoned images look on newsprint. Of course, there's a delicate balance to not making it look like you "Instagrammed" it, either -- and I've been known to go overboard. Also, when I age the hell out of a drawing, it tends to hide my shaky line work.

As for how I make things look the way they look, you nailed it. I work with India ink, nibs, brush, crayon, and Zip-A-Tone on large sheets of vellum Bristol. For the color, it depends on the project. I've used silkscreen and watercolor on things, but I generally prefer to color my work digitally. The process isn't really the same any two times, so it's hard to explain. I'm generally just layering things to try to imitate whatever I'm looking at for reference.

JTD: I've ducked out for a few months back to KY and I'm on my way back VT, but it's no secret you just finished your first year at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT. Even though we've walked the same streets of the greater Upper Valley and rubbed elbows, we haven't had much chance to talk to each other. How is the Northeast treating you as a Missouri boy? Any thoughts on how a year at the school has impacted your work and/or you view of comics?

CC: We can remedy the talkin' situation awful quick, bud. I know you have a fondness for bourbon.

The Northeast is tough, but my lady and I are growing accustomed to it. The weather is cold here, and people don't always seem very hospitable (compared with the Midwest or the South) when you meet them or pass them on the street. All the same, the mountains are beautiful and there is a rich culture and history that is pretty wonderful to be a part of. White River Junction is also a tiny, tiny town. I think they call it a "village." We took a bus to Boston not too long ago to get more of a feel for New England, and were blown away by the place and the people. We loved it.

One thing I won't hesitate to say about White River Junction is that CJ's is an excellent bar. Great bartenders, good burgers, and generous whiskey pours. Don't tell them I said that, though. They don't appreciate a kiss-ass there.

The school is great. James Sturm is one of the coolest people I've ever met. Steve Bissette knows more about pop-culture history than anyone in the entire world. Jason Lutes is a Zen pen-master. Jon Chad and Alec Longstreth are amazing at keeping spirits up while bestowing vast amounts of knowledge. R. Sikoryak was a visiting faculty member this year, as well -- which was a big damn deal to me. I even got to work with him on the Cartoon Crier anthology.

The most important thing I've gained from the school so far has been a glimpse into the business world of comics. I've been drawing and writing in secret and seclusion (surrounded by old books) for so long, that I had no idea there were so many other aspiring cartoonists out there. I'm an absolute outsider to conventions and the comics world, and CCS has given me a window through which to see how that world works. It's hard to pinpoint exactly how this year has affected my work specifically, because I haven't stopped drawing long enough to look at it, but I know that each instructor has helped me tremendously.

I guess it's the same as any other school in most ways. You get out of it what you put in. If you're listening when the instructors are teaching, and you're studying more than you're partying, then you'll grow as an artist. I've got a long way to go, so you won't see me out very often.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Comics Round Up #8: Max Clotfelter's Andros #5, Good Deal #1 & Dawg Pond

If my memory speaks not with a forked tongue (speak, memory), it tells me I first encountered Clotfelter's work in the pages of Zack Soto's fourth issue of the Studygroup 12 anthology. Regardless of what memory tells me, whenever I first got exposed to the contagion of his ink, I know I soon engaged in a correspondence and zine/mini-comic trading trajectory that continues to this day.

It has pained me that I've never taken the time to focus on Clotfelter with an actual review, but part of that, beyond my own idleness (or if not idleness then a tendency to move slow and steady through life like maple syrup or a tortoise)/focus on my own art to the exclusion of writing about art (did I lose you there?), is his tendency to constantly be releasing in short bursts small projects (his own but also collaborations with other cartoonists) scattered like machine gun fire into the atmosphere. He doesn't stop long enough to issue a more comprehensive collection, which makes it hard for the reviewer to in turn stop long enough to issue a comprehensive survey. This is not a bad thing.

And I'm grateful that via the Atomic Books blog I was asked to list my top five books of the year, and I could easily say: any and everything Max Clotfelter has put out in the past year, as a single entry on that list (and, lets face it, Atomic's blog is gonna get more play for Max than me bellowing in my little personal dark corner of the digital universe, anyway). That brings us to today, in which I have the most recent batch of goodies Clotfelter sent me, and with the Atomic round-up behind me, my mind feels free and clear to simply look at the batch before me.

First of all, Max hits the page with the kind of detailed grotesque humor of a Basil Wolverton. Characters bumble through menacing landscapes that Rory Hayes would feel at home within. The layout and movement would not feel out of place in Kaz's Underworld, but whereas Kaz's drawings are clean in composition even at their dirtiest in content, Clotfelter gets right under every fingernail to render each piece of dirt heavy with his own expressionism, which slows time down and makes us linger for a while in each dingy panel or drawing.

If artists surveyed here recently like Dunja Jankovic and R. Clint Colburn are psychedelic in execution, Max is our guide exclusively through bad trips. While the calling card of Max's style is the firmly marked, etching-like firm clarity of his line, I like it when he loosens up into a more sweeping gestural squalor as in Good Deal #1, which is also in the running for the "best" bad trip of this bunch (that said every other piece in Andros #5 is a worthy contender). Often the characters seem like maybe they are so drunk that the experience resembles an hallucination, or so drunk maybe they've only imagined they've taken hallucinogens. In the small fold-out of Dawg Pond (along with collaborators Nikki Burch and Tom Van Deusen) the imaginings of the characters seem to take them to a place no better or worse than the twisted hells they actually inhabit; Max (along with his conspirators) says it's all the same on the grungy vaudeville stage of human life. And narratives are often difficult to discern as autobiography or fiction such as "My Mr. T. Experience" from Andros #5 (the larger collection of comics of the three), but, regardless, the joke is always going to be on his characters who are never safe, whether or not the characters might even be Max himself. Sober as a board, or bad tripping into infinity, one gets the idea that Max is telling us there's no difference between the two states of being, either way.

In a contemporary comics landscape where many of our young artists seem like twee precious/precocious little things like Aubrey Beardsley without the jam, lighting like fairies on the page lost in wonder and abstraction, often with a watered down Henry Darger influence ("sexy babies," a term my friend Caitlin has coined for these types), Max pukes on that for us, for he has more in common with Hieronymus Bosch and Brueghel the Elder: with Clotfelter, it's foibles, not fables. His world is violent, perverted, and always pregnant with danger and his vision does not reside in the right tax bracket or take the right medication to regard it otherwise. He finds the humor in all of it and draws it. And I am thankful that we all have a artist like that among us.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Comics Round Up #7: R. Clint Colburn's Wild Glass Look Back

Wild Glass Look Back from Space Face Books by R. Clint Colburn is not comics in the strict sense. Then again, I've never been one to care about any strict sense when it comes to comics. It is an art book. And it does flow from page to page, and it does seem to move through time, and it does take the viewer on a psychedelic trip, much like the recently reviewed Circles Cycles Circuits by Dunja Jankovic. Colburn's work is more abstract, less linear and more strictly visual. Wild Glass Look Back takes place in a world in which language eats itself, cancels itself out, runs backwards and forwards; maybe you even need to hold the pages up to a mirror.

Full disclaimer: I know Clint socially from knocking about that collection of contradictions that is sleepy little Lexington, Kentucky. Younger than me, I can't really separate getting to know Clint from hearing from mutual artists about his art, or if I was introduced to his art before I was introduced to him. The jungle of my memory is not unlike the place that Colburn takes us in this book: the distinction of time and place, the past and future are not needed...it's all happening right now, page to page...read it backwards or forwards and the end result is the same. We are entering into something, not being led like a dog on a leash for our daily walkies.

Colburn's work is arguably best known from gracing album and seven inch covers by Cage the Elephant or Idiot Glee. He is a proper gallery artist whose "commercial" work and cartooning or work in the form of books or zines all seems to flow from one format to the other, as if Colburn just stops at each moment to let the images speak in whatever context, like the images in his head are in a constant stream of consciousness. If he's performing in bands like CROSS or drawing, painting, designing covers, with Clint: it's all one ongoing conversation, like a jazz soloist whose life is one constant riffing, getting from one note to another. I mean, hell, aren't we all (artists or not)? But what makes R. Clint Colburn an artist is just how interesting (and how interesting the focus of) it all is. It's like it's our world, and Colburn is just here to play in it for us.

With Wild Glass Look Back you'll probably wanna sit down with your favorite drink or smoke (whatever gets you comfortable) and just watch him make it happen. If you want to dig deeper on what's happening to you, as viewer, you're going to see human figures moving through time, maybe being born, and returning to where they came from. Feline animal faces will seem to hum with electric information encoded in color. It might be difficult to know if you are in a place of war or harmony. But there will be no doubt you are in an experience of things.

Numbers appear that seem at first to be a phone number missing a digit could turn out, upon further reflection, to be the Magic Square of Fu Hsi. The motif of two triangles together might represent the flesh or material matter and the male generative act, while another, pointed downward, might signify female sexuality and the spiritual plane. And if you see a third triangle it could even be emblematic of the three Masons who were present at the opening of the first Lodge of Intimate Secretaries. Which makes me wonder if Colburn is intimating that King Solomon is present in these pages.

If you are into art that makes you ask yourself questions for which you may not have answers and opens up rather than limits experience...this will work for you. If not, there's probably a television show on right now that would serve you better. I don't say that to be snarky or play holier-than-thou: just saying soap opera this ain't.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Comics Round Up #6: Josh Bayer's Raw Power

Josh Bayer's work had been in the fuzzy realm of my peripheral vision for some time, but between Tom Neely and Austin English early this year both singing the praises of his Raw Power book on Box Brown's Retrofit imprint, which was oddly prefaced by riding on a train with one of his former students (her noticing my rapidograph led to a discussion of art/comics), my ordering online this "King Size Retrofit Annual" finally brought his fuzzy world-view into focus in front of me. There was no regret along with this purchase.

The comic arrived into my world like some artifact from an era difficult to discern, as if someone put into the teleportation device from David Cronenberg's version of The Fly a 60s underground comic and a black and white boom comic from the 80s (along with a random Marvel comic that nobody noticed) and out came the other end some new creature altogether. Bayer puts us in a world that could be now, could be the recent past, or could be the near future, but it's definitely an alternate reality. But a reality that also utterly seems plausible in its own way, not unlike the realities that Philip K. Dick's best fiction presents. Carter is President. G. Gordon Liddy is an agent provocateur boasting on a talk show about taking down Timothy Leary and being called in by Carter to go to task on the subversive punk scene of Jello Biafra and Black Flag. And along with all of this, we have the exploits of a sociopathic vigilante, Cat Man, obsessed with exacting revenge on the punks, two of whom killed his parents. And don't forget the Harlem Globe Trotters; they loom large in this world, too.

With all this curious cultural flotsam and jetsam, which is based in reality, but breaking apart and mashing up back together in Bayer's comics fiction, it makes me wonder how old Bayer is. I don't want to cheat and look it up, but if I was venturing a guess, he's a child of the 80s (God knows I am). This book reads like what would happen if someone raised on The Dark Knight Returns and hardcore punk and Raymond Pettibon was set free to make a comic book which speaks to the sum total of all these things. I suspect that's what it is, but since Bayer is the only one who has done this, it makes for a relatively profound achievement...as if this book, his work, needed to exist, and, as readers, we needed Bayer to exist to make it. What seems so obvious had yet to exist until now, and the result is a one man genre show, Bayer unto himself.

His actual mark-making is deceptively simple. In a very free, gestural manner Bayer nimbly summarizes a lot of comics history. As an artist myself, he makes me wish I was as loose and flexible, as perceptive as he. If a big chunk of what comics is all about fundamentally is putting marks on paper, Bayer is a master craftsman. The nervous energy and virtuoso display reminds me of everything from Gary Panter to the inks of Klaus Janson on the aforementioned "Dark Knight" collaboration with Frank Miller to a combination of the crowded, kinetic pages of both Harvey Kurtzman's EC Mad collaborations with Wood and Elder and of the proto punk rock of Zap artists like S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams, and Rick Griffin sliding right into the aforementioned Pettibon. Bayer is one of those rare artists who seems to have scanned the entire history of comics and then walked away and forgot about all of it at once as he hit the page, ready to tango. That takes a considerable amount of skill--making THAT look easy--and I admire Bayer as if he were a comics Harlem Globe Trotter. I think he can take us in almost any direction he chooses, and Raw Power has made me ready & willing to get on the bus.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Comics Round Up #5: Dunja Jankovic's Circles Cycles Circuits

"In every painting, as in any other work of art, there is always an IDEA, never a STORY. The idea is the point of departure, the first cause of the plastic construction, and it is always present all the time as energy creating matter. The stories and other literary associations exist only in the mind of the spectator, the painting acting as stimulus." --Orozco, from the pamphlet, The Orozco Frescoes at Dartmouth, 1934

In Bill Kartalopoulos's review of the eighth installment of the comics anthology Kramer's Ergot, he makes a case that the collection is acting as "an art-comics reflection on the networked age." If one agrees with Kartalopoulos's postulation, what makes the newest book by Dunja Jankovic interesting in this context is that she has managed to concurrently/independently (call it synchronicity, call it the zeitgeist of now) create a one-woman collection reflecting on this same topic: Circles Cycles Circuits.

What we're dealing with here is a collage comic book, which uses her own drawing in combination with photographic/found sources. Jankovic's book plays itself out along fine art lines that feel like a Fluxus work from the 1960s, and also brings to mind the Brion Gysin influenced collage work of William S. Burroughs from roughly the same era, placed in a comic book narrative context. Within comics, the most obvious connections would be Jack Kirby's "Negative Zone" collages from Fantastic Four (and interestingly, recent attention to his unpublished experimentation and looking at his work in context make the connection seem even more appropriate) and more recent work from Geoff Grogan.

If in the two issue Spakplug Comic Books series Department of Art/Habitat, Jankovic used her comics narrative to meditate on what it means to be an artist, searching for connection through expession in an isolated, perhaps dystopic society, the meditation implicit in Circles Cylcles Circuits is one that places the viewer right into a trip of experiencing consciousness itself. And, I would argue, a trip that is also a "reflection on the networked age." I use the word trip pointedly as this book feels, that is to say, it is psychedelic. And just as I invoked the Fluxus movement, the book does seem to conjure the aesthetics of the 1960s but using them to make a contemporary statement, as opposed to a nostalgia trip.

On this guided tour, circles are holes, sometimes literally in the paper, that beg us to look in, and look through, as sometimes that paper is transparent. Every passageway seems to be a transitation, and every moment we are asked as the viewer to focus, that focus opens up from micro to macro and closes back to micro, on something of a loop. At first we see a lone female in space. She is distorted and tumbles through it, unclear if she tumbles into inner or outer space, but before we're sure, it's time to look into a microscope. We are introduced to the case studies of Loretta, Sybille, Harpa, and Flora, describing their respective forays into consciousness/consciousness expansions in either the lingo of an advertisment or an advertisement pretending to be a clinical study (or maybe the other way around). But we're assured that "Efforts have been made to mould one's consciousness into a perfect shape for countless multidimensional travels." Which then puts us right back into space to be manipulated by Jankovic's expressionism which then dumps us, smack dab in the middle of the book, back into outer space again, but this time granted a mask. We put it on, adorned with her icongraphy. We are in it and a part of it, the book is telling us at the half way juncture.

It is here that the book takes on its most conventional, in terms of comics, narrative structure. We are told about the rituals of primitive cultures used to connect with the ineffable, to "become one, with the black and white..." We then transition into a first person account, the narrator, following the hole shaped facial injuries from photographs of plastic surgery: "I started cutting small geometrical shapes all over my body. Mostly circles." This leads to an account of the narrator, as teenager, exploring sexuality, expanding these holes as places to insert "metal plates and electromagentic chips in," building to at age 20 an ecstatic merging with the internet. This is, narratively speaking, the climax of the book, if you will allow me the pun. We go from there into uncharted territory of geometric shapes, images of 1950s women in ads, peasant folk dress, all culminating with us, our masks on regarding a similar visage on the paper as we look through the paper holes of our mask, a human face with her head exploding into a universal mind.

One can enjoy this work strictly for Jankovic's virtuoso visual flair and the top notch design of the book. But taking the trip on a narrative level, we're provided a non-linear but serious (if not seriously playful) rumination on consciousness in the digital age, done in between the covers of an exceptionally well-made paper product. And it reads to me like a logical extension of Jankovic's previous Sparkplug books. Those two books were some of the most exciting new discoveries in contemporary comics of recent memory, and I'm just as impressed with this offering. And like those books, here there seems to be implicit just as much possibility as there is confusion or fear in her worlds, or trips through her worlds. I have already returned, and I imagine myself returning, to Circles Cycles Circuits repeatedly to consider its mysteries. I'm willing to listen to Vera Suchanokova, "a fictional, yet alive character," and take on any confusion as a natural by product of the pangs of evolution, willing to trust Jankovic for no other reason than because her art is just that engaging.

Friday, March 30, 2012

State of the Union


Taking some time here today to break down what's been going on in the diaphanous world of one J.T. Dockery (that's me), and note some changes for those of you out in radio-land. While I relocated to Vermont in May, I've spent the late winter and this nutty early spring in Kentucky, playing the role of "roving reporter" (that's me above visiting the birth/resting place of Bill Monroe: Rosine, KY).

It's been busy here on on this traveling desk. And when I say traveling desk, my vagabond ways were featured recently on the great Where They Draw blog. After contributing to the third & fourth issues of the over-sized newsprint anthology Pood, I also had a collaborative piece with Brine Manley in "Lies Grown Ups Told Me," an anthology edited by Caitlin McGurk, Nomi Kane & Jen Vaughn (which was nominated for a Stumptown Comics festival award...as of this writing, you can go vote for it, if you like).


Here in Kentucky, besides being a featured guest at 21 Nights Art Happy Hours in Lexington (photo above), I was asked to write an introduction for UK-based Kentucky native Carey Gough's book of photographs. I have sent off a comic for Mark Rudolph's tribute anthology of artists doing the heavy metal band Mercyful Fate's songs as comics, along with artists like Ed Luce, Johnny Ryan, and many more. Also in the can is an article I wrote and corresponding illustration I drew for Zack Soto and Milo George's new magazine version/new issue of the award-winning Studygroup 12 anthology. The article concerns a visit I got to take to John Byrne's house, which becomes something of a summary of my feelings on Jack Kirby, in contrast to Byrne's own reality principle.

On the horizon and in process I'm working on two projects for artist/publisher, Tom Neely (whose Bound & Gagged anthology I previously appeared in). First, he has a new metal/horror magazine to which I'm contributing a collaborative illustrated/hand-lettered article with the aformentioned Manley. Following that, I pitched and Tom accepted a couple of scripts for the new "Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever" comic book series, which extends the peculiar universe of the surprise cult smash of Igloo Tornado's original Henry & Glenn Forever. I'll be drawing up my own scripts.

Really excited, as well, to be contributing to my fellow J.T.'s (Yost that is) vegetarian-vegan vs. carnivore themed anthology, Digestate, on his Birdcage Bottom Books imprint. I also hear-tale that much of book will be translated into a German language edition as well.

I'm about to wrap up my take on Chester Gould's Dick Tracy, "Dock Tracy," for the collection of comicstrip parodies for the third issue of the Atomic Books anthology, Mutants (oh, yeah, while we're on the subject of the indomitable Atomic Books, I also contributed to their Jackets & Sleeves show last October (and one other thing in regards to Atomic in a bit)).

In the not strictly comics deptartment: Curator Ashley Kolka asked me to do a piece for MacRostie Art Center of Minnesota for their forthcoming "Miniatures" exhibiton in May, and I'm knocking out a drawing that has something to do with Daniel Boone in the 21st century. Steve Baron of CD Central in Lexington asked me to contribute to their Records Reimagined show in June. I'm also doing something of a mini comic for Seattle based band French Letters forthcoming CD, one of their songs turned into a comic to go with the new album.

Beyond the assorted bits scattered out there far and yonder, I'm also working on two new projects directly of my own to be published in the next year. First, I have "J.T. Dockery's Despair," a series I will be printing in three consecutive volumes. It will feature new work by myself along with back up features and other goodies by guest artists. Outside of the end papers design by Julia Gfröer, I'm not at liberty to speak of the other artists who have committed just yet (a counting chickens before they hatch principle), but I hope to curate and present a series that will capture a certain mix of hybrid horrors and science fiction expressionism in which all the artists will be presenting genre in a personal fashion.

Speaking of things that can't really be spoken of just yet, I'm also planning an anthology with T. Edward Bak which I'm very excited about. What I will say is that I'm knee deep in research on Jose Clemente Orozco in the United States, specifically at Dartmouth, and, regardless of the proposed anthology, I plan to do a non fiction comic on the subject of Orozco. While in VT, I've visited his The Epic of American Civlization mural in nearby Hanover, NH many times.

As we round the corner on this round up, I wanted to address the subject of my own rounding up of new indie comics for review. I started reviewing comics informally at my former Transylvania Gentlemen blog (shared with co-blogger Jeffrey Scott Holland) which evolved into our Victorian Squares blog, with the concept of putting new indie comics in the mix of the various subjects we'd respectively write about. Due to both my own busy schedule, and Jeff's devoting more time to paid writing projects, neither of us has been blogging as much.

In addition to that, the passing of Dylan Williams caused me to somewhat stumble in regard to my comics reviewing mission statement. Dylan had sent me a big box of Sparkplug comics to review, some of which I did, but after his passing, it was just too much to go to those books he sent me. But now is the time to get back into it on the reviewing front. A change that I will be making is that I'll double-post on Victorian Squares those new reviews.

Back at the top of the year, Atomic Books asked me to contribute my top 5 comics of the year, in part because of the work I'd done on reviews previous. And things that I'd championed early on have gone on to be nominated and win awards in the industry, including the "Best of American Comics." I feel that I'm back on my game, and have several new reviews ready to go. I'm past the mourning now and simply ready to honor Dylan and anybody else who cares about comics.

To make it country simple:

General wordiness that takes more than a couple sentences, news and reviews, right here.

Images and short shout-outs: Tumblr.

If I take time to ramble about anything outside of comics, Victorian Squares.

And you can always visit my jtdockery.com for the basic over-view and my previous work for sale, etc.

So there you go. I traded a piece of original art in barter so as to get my hands on that new Wally Wood book this past week. And I even almost forgot to mention Institute 193 will be releasing a t-shirt with my design soon. Life is good, despite or in spite of any obstacles. Things move fast, and I take it slow and steady.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dylan Williams In Memoriam


When I found out in making plans months ago with Tom Neely to share a table at SPX 2011, which happened last weekend, that we would also be representing Dylan Williams's Sparkplug Comics (my favorite publisher), I was giddy as a school girl. As it became apparent to me that he was in ill health, the giddiness gave way to a dark cloud, yet Tom and I, and I think most everyone who knew him, had so much faith in who he was and what he represented, there was light in that dark cloud as we all believed he'd make it...because we needed him to make it. The news came in toward the end of the first day of SPX that Dylan had died. What occurs to me in pondering his passing, is that, because of who he was, there is still light amongst the dark clouds.

Perhaps the oddest aspect of Dylan's death to me is that I never met him in person (I've spent most of my life "land locked" in Kentucky, far away from the centers of zine and comics culture). Yet, knowing him from a distance, as far as I can remember, began with the issue of Destroy All Comics which featured an interview with John Porcellino and Dylan's article on Bill Blackbeard. I wore that issue out in the 90s, reading and re-reading it. It caused me to take note any time I saw Dylan's name in print connected to comics. As Sparkplug developed throughout the oughts, I followed its progress and came to see that I admired Dylan's work as a publisher more than anything in comics besides simply the work of individual artists.

I kept up a correspondence with Dylan via mail, email, and Facebook. I treasured Dylan's Facebook postings so much I remember being upset when he'd get taciturn about it and disable his account for a while. If I never got to meet Dylan in person, I certainly treasured our correspondence. Whether it was bonding over obscure zines from the 90s we'd both read, or whether it was discussing horror movies and Dylan saying he'd repeated my musings at his store, Bad Apple, and jokingly confessing he didn't give me credit when "stealing" my ideas, or whether it was a discussion of the metal band Flotsam & Jetsam spiraling out into long autobiographical digressions into metal and music that devolved into statements of shared personal philosophies, Dylan, six years older than me, was like an older brother whom I much admired so that when we got on the same page, it gave me great joy.

When I started to do comics reviews in the past year, I ordered some Sparkplug books. When Dylan realized what I was up to, he sent me a huge box of books for free, which I did not want him to do. Even as I explained to him it was my intent to pay for all the books I reviewed, he wouldn't listen to me. Even as an arch critic of comic book culture, in microcosm, and the culture at large in macrocosm, Dylan always struggled to be big-hearted, inclusive, and generous, instead of giving in to cynicism. When Dylan went on record to say nice things about my work, it meant more to me than any review or any other sort of accolade (and even when he had criticism or disagreed with my approach, it always resonated). Did I tell him this? I don't think I did. I should have. I thought I would have a decade, two, or three to get to spend time with him in person; it didn't work out that way. The tragedy of untimely death.

On Sunday evening after SPX sitting outside with a group of folks, I remarked to Tom Neely that it was apparent that in 41 years Dylan had done a life's work. "More than a life's work," Tom corrected me.

To aspire and to be inspired to be more like he was, we can bring the chilling use of the past tense next to his name out of the past and into the present tense. Dylan did what he was born to do. The burden to do and be better, following his example, is on us.

Everything I will do in comics...the memory of Dylan Williams will be close to my heart.