Wednesday, April 1, 2015



I have gathered you all here today in service of the individuals just named and the cause to which we are all so dearly devoted, namely: J.T. Dockery's DESPAIR vol. 3, of which we are currently accepting advance orders to assist with printing costs until April 14, 2015.

Something of a tradition, I take time to spotlight my "special guests" in the volumes to serve both as introduction into the artists for the general reader and to pay homage to and elucidate in further scrutiny why, to my mind, I've selected the artists to join me on my Despair trip. Or "my" Despair trip. Or, let's get real gone: my "despair" trip, or even Despair "trip." Insert or remove quotation marks and adjust capitalization, dear reader, at your own discretion.

In fact, being that this is the final volume, I will underline that the series was always regarded from its inception to be a three volume work, not continuing on into an unspecified number of train stops with no end in sight of the tour. Indeed, I perceive this work to have a beginning, middle, and end. That is to say also:, I've had the guest artists in mind for each volume from the beginning for each volume before the USS Despair departed the bay. I was very lucky that almost everyone said "yes." I am grateful for that.

But, back to this, third and final volume. Let's discuss the special guests:

I: Jeremy Baum

When I relocated back to Kentucky from Vermont, I had been contacted while in flux of the move by Jeremy Baum for my address; he wanted to mail me some comics he had published. I provided him with my address soon to be, and when I arrived, a package from him was already waiting for me. While I was aware of his work to some degree via social media/the internet, it was cracking open this big brick of work that truly introduced me to his illustrated worlds. Hell of a way to kick off a residency in a new pad.

This enigmatic package did not include the timid explorations of an aspiring cartoonist. Rather, it was a flood of fully realized visions. It's hard to know where to place Mr. Baum. While one might label Baum's work "fantasy," it is more applicable in the archaic, visionary sense of the word than by genre. Baum's choice as an artist and story teller is often to place women at the forefront of his narratives, the lead protagonists navigating the miasma of his abstract, symbolic landscapes.

More than a comment on women or a comment on sexism, or defense against sexism as such, or a less lofty fetish for the female form, I regard Baum's use, again, in more archaic/symbolic light of the realization that is, old as dirt, both pre Roman and anti Roman which is as follows: women, or rather Woman and/or the feminine as conduit to wisdom to knowing, an embodiment of wisdom. "Think Sophia," I always say. "You always say that?" you might ask? I just did.

With Baum, I am reminded of the generation just previous of American comic book artists, like Rick Veitch and Stephen Bissette, folks who grew up on mainstream genre work including Silver Age super dupers, but also had their heads zapped by underground comix, on one hand, and who had horror and sci fi/fantasy genre comics in their bones as well. Just as they were able to look at the underground artists a few beats ahead of them in time who had made genre personal and, following, idiosyncratic, and political/personal yet stll genre, such as with an artist like Greg Irons, and transmutate those precedents further into work both personally profound and, oddly populist, such as with their joint tenure on Swamp Thing. Or then, speaking of, later as individuals, with Veitch charting dreams, making those archetypal landscapes his business moreso directly than any other American cartoonist, or, with Bissette, making of himself a time traveler, dinosaur bones in his bones connecting all the other cartoon art bones, which is another kind of incomparability.

There's no way around the words Metal Hurlant and/or Moebius and/or Jodorowsky's comic book collaborations with Moebius when thinking of Baum, and also another influence on the aforementioned Veitch and Bissette for that matter, but he's certainly no superficial imitator as is often the case when Moebius is invoked. To cop a phrase from Basho: Baum doesn't seek to follow in the footsteps of the artists/fantasists who came before him; instead, he seeks the things they sought. If we view all this fantasy and science fiction or archaeology of both self and history as escapism for escapism's sake, what Baum does in his comics is rather more complicated: a ballet of metaphor that confronts a reality complex. And with Baum, beyond influence, it's his own dance, his own choreography, his own particular, specific rituals.

Baum takes us right back, before all the figures just mentioned, to Wally Wood and his reaction to underground comix and indeed even publishing work from the so called underground, like Vaughn Bode and others, with his Witzend, striving to find a spot for personal genre work, meant for literate adults. Fantasists, but fantasists with a vision, and a point of view, not merely plying the trade of genre for a few cents on the word, a few bucks the page. Like any artist worth his or her salt, Baum, in the end, allows us to see worlds through his eyes.

Whatever Baum is doing and who he sees as his own antecedents, he's working a mtyhopoeic visual language that's as old as the also aforementioned dirt, a confluence of influences that places him on the vanguard of the contemporary, and his visionary qualities are not static, not retrograde, and, following: point towards a future or futures or even the future.

If it all seems so much hyperbole for me to place Baum in this/these tradition/s and divining his future/s, at least we can guess that I'm not so very all alone, as the faculty and staff of Fantagraphics must have come to some similar conclusion/s in regards to both Baum's seriousness and his potential viability in the context of genre/genre busting, as his debut graphic novel Dorfler is set to be released by them this summer. A major comics event in this, or any other, time.

II: Eamon Espey

Eamon Espey is a singular force in comics as a serious art form one must reckon with, or if not reckon with, in which case, one might consider stepping down from regarding contemporary comics as a form, and admit to oneself that one is interested more in something else, like junk soap opera or anecdotal memoir. I'm not telling you, dear reader, how to live your life and/or how to be a fully aware human being.

I am however telling you, dear reader, that Espey approaches the comics form as a kind of alchemist in ink and paper, delineating with those tools the raw elements, not with modern scientific methodology, but a kind of intuitive/raw proto method, more akin to Blake than post modern superficiality/vanity and cynicism in art or science, or rather art/science, as if he's rebuilding comics language into a world view from the ground up, not just in comics language but incorporating many archetypal human visual devices stretching from now back to antiquity. In a much different result than Baum, he is arriving at his own conclusion/s by remixing reality with historical visual cues via his own nervous system. Again like Baum, his magic is to allow us to see the world as he sees it.

If we place under our viewfinder the most recent, and most mature, single collection of Espey's, Songs of the Abyss, we can see clearly that what Espey is in touch with the modern, in fact: more in accordance with recent genetic discovery, the fundamental absence of diversity implicit in the being of humans, than he is with the language of cultural studies in the trademark of current academic mores. The truth at the heart of his art and symbolism is that we are and have always been one culture merely divided by the umbilical cord of region of one's birth and the resultant varying dialects; time in addition to place, all of humanity saying the same things, regardless of our ability to translate each other from one territory to the next. Espey expresses himself with one dialect, and it is a summary dialect.

Like Carl Jung before him, who stated, "To give birth to the ancients in a new time is creation," Espey seems to intuit that the myths of humanity are THE myth. The distinctions human beings make between races, like racism itself, is largely human vanity; not the reality of oppression but the fundamental futility at the core, the vanity for anyone to ever become a racist. From the fragmentation of a stained glass window in Middle Ages Europe designed to translate biblical messages visually to the illiterate, to the symbolism of pre Christian Celts, to the symbolism of the pre European conquest Americas, as we go back and further back with Espey through human history and story telling, as Espey reconfigures all these elements of image as information into one new element; we see when/if we have the eyes to see through him what is not, largely, a comforting vision: that the past is not dead, to echo Faulkner, it's not even past. And if what the past is, instead of was, is prologue, then we are headed for violence, doom, self destruction, cultural implosion, the present an improvisation along the continuing melodies not a departure from melodies past. This revelation is a distress single, an error message. Songs from the abyss, indeed, even the abyss of time; Espey does not comfort.

Cultural appropriation in contemporary parlance denotes exploitation of the disadvantaged by the privileged, a version in the arts of exploiting natural resources not just minerals and goods and cheap labor but also creative forms of expression of culture for export back into itself by a privileged culture from the source of the unprivileged culture, without recompense. Espey doesn't do that. He gives us ourselves, or Our Self/s, back to us.

I was on the cusp of writing that the Songs of the Abyss are not lullabies, then I realized my own mistake of imprecise words leading to unawareness. His songs/Songs are in fact lullabies as well as ballads as well as dirges as well as screams. His book, as does his mature work in general, sings to us in our slumber that if we were die before we wake, while we may pray the Lord our soul to take, total implosion will carry no culture nor soul into a future that is no future but rather the loss of it all.

We can choose to ignore both the wisdom and the folly of the ancients and, either way, small minded theories and labels fade, if not indeed erupt in flame in one's own hands, and ones own hands holding the small words may catch flame next. In Abyss, Eamon quotes the Cheyenne "Death Song": "Nothing lives long/Only the earth and the mountains." The earth and mountains don't need "us". If we are to survive to thrive to evolve for the better as a species via the "gift" of human intellect, as the closing verse in the end notes/appendix/guide of the book states after asking the question of "where does the spirit live?":

in a grain of sand

outside of time

waiting to come alive.

III: Liv Valasco

Of the visualists, Liz Valasco is the youngest, and insofar as I am aware, the femalest of this trinity of artists. While all three of these artists I consider friends/fellow travelers, not just in the abstract but in the nuts and bolts facts of living life in flux at comics festivals and crossing paths be it Bethesda, Baltimore, Pittsburgh , Minneapolis and/or parts unknown, I've had opportunity, unlike Baum and Espey whose work I know best by proxy via publication and sometimes getting to rub elbows within person for short stretches, to regard Valasco's process and works via closer and more prolonged proximity by virtue of hanging out with her for several different longer stretches over the course of a couple of years in Columbus, Ohio, her residence in that fine Ohio town concurrent with the "second home" status with me of Cbus via our mutual friend and Columbus resident, Caitlin McGurk, my friend prior to her move, which she made for work a few years ago at the Billy Ireland Museum at OSU.

I have the sense that I know Valasco best as an artist by the privilege of looking at her largely unpublished sketchbook pages in person. Liz has gifts at daily observation, surreal/zany humor, I mean real funny, and a lightness of touch in her linework and story telling that can jarringly turn dark. And when I say dark, I mean real dark, as if the lightness was only ever there to deceive the viewer that he or she was not in fact being led into darkness the whole time, like the insect that suddenly realizes the plant upon which it has been contentedly grazing is in fact the gaping maw of the proverbial Venus flytrap. And even that can yet still be funny, granted one is not the actual insect sitting on the flytrap.

Her sketchbooks naturally reveal this, as do her published comics to date. The absurd Adventures of Moon Pie is as charming as it is unsettling. The Seeker seems to be a slice of life, but the slice turns on a dime to the foreboding, to ambiguity. I'm interested in everything she does. She has the capacity, and that is self evident; if she maintains the discipline and dedication, in particular, to the craft of comics in the next few years, Criswell predicts she will become, even more than she is at the present, a heavy hitter of contemporary indie/art focused comics. Or even, for that matter, could produce something utterly commercial or expand away from comics into other forms; she's an artist, regardless.

Either way, I like to see my artist friends ascend, and she is on her way. Dig her now before you are forced to see me smugly give you that, "I told you so" look.

IV: A Quaternity

I've said several times to my artists in Despair that I operate a kind of "psychic editorial policy." Select the artists, give them the theme of despair/Despair, and otherwise lay back and read unless they ask questions and/or for direction. There's something about getting a diverse set of artists and giving them all a task that yields connections, synchronicity, if all involved have all their pistons firing. The results have, to my perception, worked out in perfectly anticipated and perfectly unsuspected ways: the pieces have all fit.

With this latest and lastest volume, I've said to all guests that if we had sat down together in one physical location and had a meeting at a table to hash out the flow from one piece to another and had a shared, physical map to direct us, we couldn't have come out with more seemingly forethought results. We did this all wordlessly, by natural occurrence.

I: Baum's pin up, single full page image opens us up to a suited astronaut of some exotic variety, holding the hand of some fellow primate, not suited, both regarding some modern/ancient stone sculpture that invokes some obscure symbolic moon based consciousness.

II: That leads the viewer next to Espey's single page as divided into four panels, but with a central, circular piece that in turn divides itself into four more sections, again with a yet another circle at the center within the center. Within this organizing of reality, symbolic creatures operate: the Christian cross juxtaposed with Unidentified Flying Objects, and yet there seems to be a relatively mundane facade of a house, or an apartment building, at the crux/flux of it all.

III: Which then takes us to Valasco's unique two page comic which begings with an image of a courtyard, vaguely ominous in its banality which takes us to an image of descending deeper into the basement of one of the buildings from the said courtyard until we see a woman, on hands and knees, seemingly preparing to enter a small entrance into what we might perceive as the subbasement of all basements.

IV: In turning of the page, we then see a single house from the outside, and then the "camera" takes us inside that house, apparently, to see the image of a sleeping woman, then awakened by nightmare. That is the start of my collaboration with Croatian born German woman of letters, Nikolina Serdar–Kissel. The tale that spins from those next four pages, then leads us into the body of the rest of my own work for Despair 3.

If the nature of the first two volumes was rather masculine in energy to my discernment, even including the work of my female guests previous, whether its the invocation of the moon, with both Baum and Espey, the image of such always associated in world religion/art as embodying the quintessence of the female/the feminine, or Valasco's subbasement set up or the journey into the landscape of Nikolina's female protagonist, or my own use of the image of Asherah, both for the cover, and in the outro strip with Bill Duck before the back cover and Bill's "translation" of the rotas/sator square, I would postulate that Despair vol. 3 is the most feminine, and, hopefully therefore, most "wise" of the three volumes. At least, hopefully: may it be so.

Friday, August 8, 2014

What We Talk About When We Talk About Jazz: Doc's Map and Other Things to Get Lost By

James Moore, a naturalized citizen of Cumbus, Ohio, and at least 1 of 2 of 2 Headed Monster Comics, conscripted of yours unruly a top ten introduction into the mystery cult of the form commonly referred to as JAZZ.

Jazz is a big umbrella. As in the umbrella depending on which way you're holding it, contains American popular music.

America, mongrel in her nature, in general, is, following, logically in her illogic, a musical mutt.

From the agricultural fields of The South, to the sports taking in a minstrel show in town or maybe on tour out on the hayseed circuit in the rural diaspora, what you might call jazz or jass might be the blues, and from syncopation once one is not dancing and it becomes Art, not Art Tatum nothing against Tatum but the form with a capital A, like, blown to elemental bits blissy in urbane deconstructionist spiritual warring, we can encompass the whole maghilla with it. Walk down tin pan alley, conversate about which booze drugs love and other vices of the human heart and just generally what it means to reflect what it means to be alive.

There will be about fifteen hundert things I will leave off and/or forget about, but the trails of American jass muzak are not be be roadmapped in exacting delineation. This reporter suggests digging your own various rabbit holes. There will be no test. Build your own school.

Speaking of roots, or at least umbrellas in the ground, depending of course which way the tree is pointing and what ritual you perceive, Yazoo Records' Jazz The World Forgot collections are as good as any resource for the pre historical recorded artifacts of early jazz.

If Louis Armstrong ever seems like a cliche, you haven't time traveled right. Horn and voice, immensely so. Innovator. Whether he's singing "Dinah," or, "Stardust Memories," which is known to inspire what I believe they call "nostalgia" in some professions.

Bix Beiderbecke, not too far behind Armstrong on the horn list, "Since My Best girl Turned me down." Bix is another one who soundly reminds me that there is life on this planet.

When we talk about guitar, folks like to say "Django," but, while I say that too, I mostly like to say, "Eddie Lang."

Speaking of Eddie Lang, When I talk about him, and his guitar, that usually leads to me speaking upon Emmett Miller, which really brings the mongrel to the conversation table.

There's not much point talking about anything if we don't talk about Bessie Smith.

You might ask isn't jug band music blues instead of jazz, but then I suppose you might as well ask, to quote the tune: "Somebody tell me what makes this jug band drink?" If that was too much drinking, "Let's all take whiff on Hattie now."

I mean, if we talk about Eddie Lang and/or Emmett Miller, we might as well talk about Lonnie Johnson and Clara Smith who ponder having had too much, see also Memphis Jug Band which you may have just did unless of course you've had too much and then you might see them even if they're not there.

We haven't really talked about the piano, Fats Waller has a lot to say even if he's just asking "How Can You Face Me Now?" Fats is so big, we give him two, like Armstrong; he's theatrical. Big in most of all the ways one can be big, in fact.

Were we talking about the piano? In the realm of folks forgetting things, it's too often forgot that Nat King Cole was one of the greatest piano players/stylists of all time.

Cab Calloway, like Fats Waller, reminds us to never, ever forget that jazz can be and usually is a theatrical form, even if the theater is as subtext. But this ain't latent form mastering obvious form here:

By the time you get to Bird, things start to get so disassembled they are reassembled. Don't ask me why I love this selection. Okay, I'll tell you: it's like action painting with a sax for a brush over a corn ball pop canvas, yet lyrically the tune is about the imminence of death.

Louis Jordan in that what's his nuts big Jazz documentary touched upon this mostly poo pooed Louis Jordan as proto rock and a writer of "novelty songs," but we here at Doc, Inc. reject that as bunk. We have dancers to prove it.

Slim Gaillard didn't even get named dropped in the Ken Burns, that's his name, public broadcasting documentary, just a photo of him drinking wine on the screen when Jordan is mentioned, but we here at Doc, Inc. observe that anyone who creates his own hep language, vout, and can write songs about snacks, poodles, cement mixers, etc. and so on is Our Hero.

I love Billie. And I love Lester. When Billie and Lester perform together, it transcends the transcendence of the abstract concept of love itself. Also, it's my theory, they together are as solid a concept, a stone upon which to step, to transition from jazz as show business to jazz, by intent or not, as Art.

When we get to the cool bop of Miles Davis, even if selections from "Kind of Blue" border the ubiquitous, it doesn't mean the pivot isn't real.

But when we talk about Thelonious Monk we deconstruct to where it all is reconstructed, singular figure.

Coltrane went his own way. This is a "greatest hit," but that doesn't mean he and his quartet don't take another pop song and go to some other place, and don't let me get in your way from following this to all sorts of areas to which Trane ascended.

It seems like by the time bop folded into what Ornette Coleman laid down in his "Shape of Jazz to Come" album, there's about a million paths to follow. I'm afraid if I bring up Sun Ra now to James, for whom this list is being tossed toward, along with anyone else who wants to get in on the game of tossing, he might never come back. That was more than ten things, and we didn't even talk about Chet Baker much less Sun Ra, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.

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's all happening right now, page to 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 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.