Thursday, April 28, 2016

Teaching in Italy

The Scuola Internatzionale di Comics is run by some very nice people in Florence, Jesi, and Pescara: Marco Bianchini, Raphaela Massacesi,Vanessa Petrucci, Graziella Santinelli and  Sara Sasi. 

Here is one of the videos that they made of me teaching:


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Monday, April 18, 2016

Tribute to William Hamilton


New Yorker cartoonist, William Hamilton, died on April 8, 2016.

A typical William Hamilton drawing is rendered in a mess of abbreviated lines, thick on top of thin with patches of random crosshatching. Then there are places where line just gives up the fight and contours are left up to the reader to complete. These fussy things shouldn’t work. But they always do.

In part because their subjects are invariably about fussy people.

In most Hamilton drawings, the caption is well-served by the drawing, but in his finest work the drawing ratchets up the payoff. Like here.

Hamilton has rendered all of the five men around the table to look basically like the same guy. They all have similar quantities of hair and jowl. The same diet and taste in shirts and neckties. Yet they are drawn with precisely just enough differences to make them individuals.

One’s immediate reaction might be, “Why the same guy? Is the artist too lazy or incompetent to individualize?" Well, we know that’s not the case…so “Why?”

The caption reads, “For some reason, we weren’t appealing enough to those awful little bastards everyone hates.”

The craft of gag cartooning often overlooks the workmanship of the caption. In this case the whole amalgam of drawing and words is ignited by three words: “for some reason”.

The joke here isn’t simply that they (obviously) all hate the same people. The joke is their comprehensive cluelessness about the fact that they all dress alike, think alike, hate alike, and have no capacity to reach beyond their tiny circle. With those three words, working with this masterful drawing of the minute differences among affluent white middle-aged businessmen, Hamilton explains why so much of what is marketed and sold to the rest of us misses the mark, at best unappealing and at worst offensive.

A perfect marriage of form and content.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

HYPE: Join me in Umbria

I will be holding a week long Graphic Novel Workshop in Umbria at the end of August. 


Got an idea for a graphic novel that is stalled and needs a jump start? Maybe what you need is a chance to get away and recharge the creative battery? 

And when I say get  away...I mean FAR away! 

Our host, Michael La Placa, owns the largest palazzo in the small hilltown of Bettona. Just take a look at the rooms in the link above to see how spectacularly he has renovated and furnished the joint. Plus, word on la strada is that Michael is a hell of a chef. Comics? Comfort? Italian cooking? Vino? What else could you ask for?

Well, let's toss in a few side trips to nearby Assisi and Orvieto to uncover the tricks of Renaissance “cartoonists” like Giotto, Perugino, Pinturicchio, and Signorelli. 

Sign up today!

La dolce vita!!!


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Angouleme 2016 Postscript

Angoulême 2016 postscript

I left the international comics festival in Angoulême this past February pretty much resolved not to return. By most accounts the festival was a disaster. Others have reported, much more succinctly than I, how out of step, out of touch, and out of decent coffee this event has become.

This year’s blatant misogyny and insensitivity revealed the uncomfortable truth that the festival is tired and stodgy.

Going to Angoulême is like going to the elephant’s birthday party only to be stomped on by the elephant who does not know why people are making such a fuss over getting ground into the mud as he greedily finishes off the entire birthday cake.

...And yet, in the midst of this narrow-minded sediment for members of the boys' club, there are nuggets of shiny comics-related expertise and esoterica. Things happen to me there that could only happen in Angoulême

A few days before the festival began, Jean-Pierre Mercier, the Director of the Musée de la Bande Dessinée, invited me out to lunch. We took the short cut through the museum and out the back door, passing, along the way, the frantic last-minute hanging of the Morris exhibit.

Morris was a cartoonist who created a much-beloved character named Lucky Luke and in doing so cemented some fundamental rules for 20th century French cartoonists, namely to make comics about the American West and limit yourself to only one name.

Most of such cartoonists beloved by generations of Europeans leave me cold. And I mean truly beloved. While suggesting that the festival be burnt to the ground may elicit a complicit shrug from a French comics fan, to dismiss Franquin, Gotlib, and Moebius is heresy punishable by being burnt to the ground, yourself.

Morris, however, is to me a different kettle of ink. I kinda like his stuff. He knows how to stage an action and design a page so that every gag pays off and in all sorts of unexpected ways. And here he was, as a part of this festival.









Morris was also one of those guys who did nothing but make comics…well, almost nothing but make comics. In his spare time, he carved little wooden toy figures of his creations…little toy figures that move.

As Jean-Pierre and I trotted through the mounting of the exhibit, we stopped at a glass case not yet sealed and Jean-Pierre delicately reached in and demonstrated Morris’ handiwork in action. Amazing.

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Another only-in-Angoulême moment occurred in the Press Room, which, as you may recall from 1930’s movies, is supposed to be a crowded, smoke-filled room lit by a dangling light bulb and badly in need of a paint job. In Angoulême, the Press Room has 15 ft. high windows snuggled by velvet drapes. You can just make out the chandelier in this photo:

(l to r) Paul Gravett, Jean Mardikian, Paul Karasik, and 
someone trying to actually file a story in the Press Room.

And here is where I found comics historian, Paul Gravett, chatting merrily to Jean Mardikian, one of the guys who founded the festival. Gravett’s usual way of chatting to anyone is merrily and he has the uncanny ability to be everywhere at the Festival simultaneously.

The two men were flipping through photostats of pages of British romance comics from the 1970s featuring Carnaby Street ingénues with panda eye-makeup, straight hair, and white hip boots and guys all wielding sideburns that a mouse could get lost in. Not really my cup of tea, but these particular pages were weirdly notable.

On top of each page sat a transparent sheet of acetate bearing a reduced copy of the line art but with the translated English lettered in French inside the word balloons. They had been sitting in Mardikian‘s attic for decades and the transparencies had become semi-attached to the photstats creating an unintentionally wonderful gestalt. Again, only in Angoulême.













So, OK guys (and I do mean guys): get rid of the stodginess of Angoulême. Burn it to the ground, but in its ashes allow for a new festival to arise. Move the commerce to the sides and give the art events some breathing room. Bring the artists into the planning stages to create a new model for the entire festival. And, while you’re at it, skip the whole awards charade. Shake the whole thing up. I really want to like this festival ‘cause things occur to me there that simply do not happen anywhere else on the planet. But some big things must change.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Angouleme 2016

 
I came to Angouleme a week and a half ago to teach a Masters class on comics and stayed on for the Festival. I have done this several times before but skipped last year. The only notable difference between this year and past years when I attended is the presence of Security Forces everywhere. Two gendarmes stand at the entrance to each tent to check backpacks and wand bodies.

The psychological effect of this is hard to assess, but the physical effect is painfully apparent. Checking backpacks and wanding bodies takes time hence the lines to get into any tent have become  sluggish, especially on the final day of the Festival. Throw some ink-wash gray drizzle on top of this and the mood is far from festive.

This may actually be a good thing for commerce. After waiting an eternity for entrance, once inside where all those comics are for sale, pent up Festival-goers let loose a torrent of repressed euros.

The Festival began with the sexist debacle described in a previous post where women were not included (also known as “excluded”) from the list of possible Grand Prix recipients. Reinforcing this masculine slant, the three blockbuster exhibits feature the works of two dead titans of European comics, and one living Japanese master: all men.


For me, the high point of the festival was discovering the work of Li Chi-tak, yes, also a man, who has been working in Hong Kong comics since 1984 when he was 17. His works range from fairly straight-forward genres (he drew a series called “Black Mask” about a guy who wore a black mask that was made into a film starring Jet Li wearing a black mask), to surreal. My favorite stuff that was on display in a small exhibition of his work at the festival is the surreal series that he drew as a weekly newspaper series.

Here are some pics taken through glass at Li Chi-tak's exhibit:





...and here's a little movie of Li Chi-tak entertaining the masses with a guest appearance by one of my favorite French cartoonists, Vincent Perriot: (hmmm...for some reason this video only appears to work on Firefox browser, sorry.)

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mission in Angoulême

I am in Angoulême teaching a Masters Class in Comics at the EESI School. My class of 13 bright and talented students are creating autobiographical mini-comics. With a short deadline looming, we took time off from class to cross the river prompted by the present controversy surrounding this year’s Angoulême International Comics Festival that starts this Friday. 

We had a mission.


Each year 30 names are announced as finalists for the Grand Prix. Traditionally, the winner, voted on by cartoonists published in France, gets a huge retrospective of their works the following year and must attend endless ceremonies in their honor. This year’s contenders were announced a couple of weeks ago. The controversy? Not a single female cartoonist was included on the list.

When this exclusion was pointed out to them, the official reaction from the organizers of the prize was that, “…the festival cannot revise the history of comics." Subsequently, male cartoonists on the list began to take their names off in solidarity.

Then things got messier.


The officials tried to add six women to the list. A few hours later, that idea got scrapped and they turned the whole thing into an open vote with no pre-selected list.


Still with me? Wait... things get messier, still.


To keep up with the convolutions I had to turn to my friend, comics author and scholar, Theirry Smolderen, who explained,


“In principle, as this point, anyone could win. Only dead authors and previous recipients were excluded. Oh, yes, and Claire Bretécher, for some obscure reason. She has already won the “Festival Tenth Anniversary” award in the early 1980s, and the festival decided that was a sufficient motive to exclude her from the lifetime achievement award. Joann Sfar, however, had won the very, very similar “Festival 30th Anniversary Award”, and wasn’t excluded.  Anyways, after that vote, the Festival declared that the first three names were Hermann, Alan Moore, and Clare Wendling. All of which have declared previously that they weren’t interested in getting the award, and would probably refuse it.”


The probable result at this point is that there will be no Grand Prix this year.

My students are fortunate enough to take classes three minutes away from the bastion of comics history, the Musée de Bande Dessinée, the largest institution of comic art in Europe. They have been welcomed by the Director of the Musée, Jean-Pierre Mercier, a scholar and all-around decent citizen, to partake of the museum’s treasures whenever they like.

There is nothing more illuminating to an aspiring cartoonist than to look at original comic art. So much can be learned by looking at the actual paper on which a master’s hand has marked. And here in Angoulême, the Musée allows students to actually hold the work and examine it up close.

So we asked the Museum to cull a few examples of work by women cartoonists and went to examine history. We were met by Nelly Lavaure, who took us into the inner sanctum where she had laid out not merely a few examples, but dozens of works in every comics genre by extraordinary female cartoonists including:

Claire Bretécher
Florence Cestac
Olivia Clavel
Nicole Claveloux
Jacqueline Cohen
Bernadette Després
Rachel Deville
Julie Doucet
Lilliane (et Fred) Funcken
Annie Goetzinger
Lynn Johnston
Laureline Mattiussi
Chantal Montellier
Marie Pommepuy
Aude Samama
Johanna Schipper
Caroline Sury


Conclusion: Women have been making museum-worthy comics for years. We don’t need to change history, we just need to pay attention to it.

Mission accomplished!



Sunday, January 24, 2016

Day Trip to Bordeaux

Bordeaux is a swell town to visit and a city I could see myself living in some day if I ever learned a few more words in French and depending on how the upcoming US Presidential election turns out.

It is very cosmopolitan and by that I mean that everywhere there are people who are strolling around dressed very well, very shabbily, and, though it is January, people who are barely dressed at all. And, since it is Bordeaux, there is lots of fine wine and gourmet cuisine everywhere. Such as this:

HFC: Halal Fried Chicken

And literally around the corner, 47 steps away (I counted), this:
CFC: Chilly Fried Chicken (though it is also halal)

I like to go into old churches and look at poorly lit old stuff. Unlike the twisting streets of your typical European city, you can never get lost in a church. They are all laid out basically the same. Like a cross...and don't you forget it, heathen!

The Cathedral of St. Andre is dim, cold, and large (the town recently vetoed the idea of renaming it The Cathedral of St. Andre the Giant). There may be some wonderful things in there to see, but I kept bumping into tourists stumbling around taking selfies in the dim light so I gave up and headed to the exit.

On my way there I noticed a small, well lit annex that turned out to be a gallery of two rooms with about 30 first-rate painting, sculpture and reliquaries. The work that struck me was the early renaissance stuff that curiously appeared to be mostly Italian.

Here is one of two paintings on exhibit of the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine. This was an event that I never heard of, but I suspect that the mystical part had to do with Catherine getting married to a baby who liked to play with his toes... at least I think that's what he is playing with.


Baby Jesus ate his fruits and vegetables and so should you.

And then, there was this. Is this is one of the greatest Madonna and Child paintings ever? I don’t think I have ever seen Mary tweak the Baby’s earlobe like that with her Lincoln Log fingers, but it is charming. And the Baby Jesus’s poke actual seems to push Mary’s bemused mouth a little to the side. It’s a hell of a painting.

Next stop, the Musée des Beaux Arts. The last time I was here a few years ago, these galleries were closed for renovation. The bathrooms definitely got an upgrade, but the rooms themselves in the pre-19th century wing do not appear to have been upgraded or even swept since the reign of Charles de Gaulle.

Several reviews on TripAdvisor commented that this was a good place to take the kiddies...seriously?! All I can say is that whoever curated this impressive collection had a taste for flesh...seriously!!

“Slave Trader” by Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli (nice last name, dude!)


“David Holding the Head of Goliath” by Aubin Vouet

“The Miracle of Saint Justus” By “Pierre” Paul Rubins


“Painting Crowned by Fame” by Sebastiano Mazzoni


“Saint Sebastian Aided by Irene” Attributed to the Maitre a la Chandelle


“Giotto in Chimabue’s Studio” by Jules Ziegler
Huh? This is a subject that I know a bit about. Chimabue was Giotto's teacher whom Giotto left in the dust. So, in this version of reality, Giotto was half naked in Chimabue’s studio when he got the idea that he could completely revolutionize Western painting forever by making flesh more supple and rounded and fleshy?!?!

Why does that painting remind me of this comic? On second thought, don’t answer that question.