Saturday, September 11, 2010

convention withdrawal

I'm going through SPX withdrawal symptoms today. The anxious feeling that I'm missing out on something important,  the feeling that "something's happening and I don't know what it is", missing out on an important fall ritual, the annual gathering of the east-coast alt-comics family that SPX is.  I didn't have the $300-$400 table fee when it was due this year, so I'm sitting this one out. It's driving me crazy.
But the skies are blue and it's a beautiful country day in upstate New York and when I really begin to think it over, I'm probably better off where I am rather than at the Bethesda Marriot at $150. a night.

The truth of it is--SPX--and every con I've ever done(solo) for that matter, has never made any economic sense. At the best of times, I've (just) covered my (1/2) table fee--but I've never made enough to cover hotel expenses, plus meals, plus display costs, plus, etc. Never even come close. Never. 
and I've been doing it on and off since 1997.  I've had 1/2 tables, full tables, no displays, big displays, sold $3.00 books for $1.00, $10.00 books for $5.00, buy one get one free, buy one get two free, given books away, stood in the aisles and flagged people down, stood behind my table and said nothing, engaged customers in happy patter, sat quietly and drawn; you name it, in the name of salesmanship I've done it.  None of my strategical variations seem to impact the economic bottom line.  Every year I tell myself it'll be different....
"This year I'd better bring a full box--100 books."
I've never sold more than 20 of a single title over two or three days. Never. Usually it's much less. But I still bring the full boxes. Just in case. You never know.

So I don't make money. So what? There's always the possibility of exposure, right? We all want to sell some books, get noticed, have the opportunity to create a career(of a kind) in this medium we love so much.
Certainly one of the reasons we all cite for exhibiting at SPX or one of the other alt-cons is the opportunity for exposure-to fans, to pros, to other creators. But the reality of it is, very few of the more than several hundred exhibitors will be noticed, whether by press or publishers.  The same few creators make the post con reports-- every now and again there's a new face, but for the most part the hierarchy is an established one. (compare one and two)
And the big gun publishers are way too busy trying to sell their own books to notice the hapless masses surrounding them.  I'll admit it, I've gone to cons over and over again hoping to "be noticed".  Never happened. Again --no matter how much noise I make behind my table--or how good I think my new book is--never happened. Once in awhile maybe you connect with someone "important" in the industry, (by connect I mean have a conversation)but over the course of my experiences I can't really claim that I was ever noticed by industry professionals to any significant degree.

Disappointed on those two fronts, finally, SPX and other similar cons do offer  the sense of community. The sense that you belong to this great big family we call independent or alternative comics--and the idea that we've come together to celebrate our medium and our collective endeavors. And that, ultimately, is the real benefit from shows like SPX.  The sense that you, the creator, working isolated and alone throughout the year and bereft of human connection  (except for The Comics Reporter or Journalista or Robot6)--can feel part of something larger than yourself.  I have certainly made some nice acquaintances over the years and had some very nice conversations. At the same time, (and I know I'm not the only one who experiences this), I always have the feeling that I'm crashing the cool kids' party.*   And  many of the other creators I've spoken with over the years have expressed the same observation--cliques aren't just a high school thing. On Sunday when it's all over,  as I'm wheeling my suitcase and a stack of unsold books back to the car, I invariably feel more distant from the community I love so much than I do when I'm at the computer screen reading the blogs days later.
Ok. OK. But what about the medium? What about finding new books at the shows? New stuff that knocks your socks off?  Yes--that has happened to me a couple of times over the years. I have stumbled across a book or two that I would never have heard of and I fell in love with.(look out J.T. Dockery!)
But truthfully, most of the time I come home with a bag of books that I flip through once and then put in the closet to look over "...some time in the future, when I have more time".
Hey, my stuff has ended up in someone else's bag in the closet too.
Because I'm trying to sell stuff, I rarely have time to go shopping or really pay attention to shopping. I might make my way over to the Fanta table, or D&Q--like everyone else at these shows--they have the new stuff I really want to see( or rather-- I've already heard of and am prepped to go seek out)--and on my limited budget I might be able to buy one book, "so what will it be"?
In the end, while Fanta & D&Q, are really big draws at these shows and must be responsible for at least half(maybe more) of the attendance, they are also "really big draws" at these shows and whatever expendable cash the attendees might have goes to those tables first. For those of us trying to sell our own stuff, their presence is a double-edged sword. And as a customer, I'm just as guilty as everyone else.
There's a lot of work that goes into preparing for a con. A lot of excitement, hope and expectation. But after reviewing the facts, I really know I'm better off looking out at this clear blue sky today.
But still---part of me(a big part) really wants to be in Bethesda.  Perverse, isn't it?

Monday, June 7, 2010

give us those nice bright colors

What's all this hullabaloo about comics and photo-referencing? Copying photos, tracing photos, deriving inspiration from photos is as American as apple pie. Any look around the larger art world, from galleries to museums to the local library flower show will tell you that photography is central to contemporary art practices and has been since at least Manet. Not only as a source of imagery--which it obviously is---but as Walter Benjamin, John Berger and Susan Sontag(among many others) have observed--as a "way of seeing", a point of reference by which we frame our experience of the world. Photography(in all of its manifestations)is our map of the world. None of us sees the world in a way not impacted by photography.

So much for the obvious. The subject of comics and photography is not one usually given much thought--and when it is, it's usually in polemics pro and con or in discussions of the ubiquitous Alex Ross. (we'll get to him in a minute).
Complaints around photo-referencing in comics usually center around an artist's fidelity to the source material, and the sacrifice of expressive qualities in favor of "photo-like"ness. I say "photo-like"ness rather than photo-realism because realism (in the way the term is usually used) in such works is secondary to the replication of "photo-ness". To artists, and one would assume, editors and writers utilizing or requesting these techniques, drawing( painting/ digital effects) is in the service of said photo-likeness; not so much in a quest for verisimilitude( i.e.-to resemble the empirical world)--but resemblance to the photograph--because "we" view the photograph as something more real than reality.
("It's funny h
ow the colors of the real world only seem real when you viddy them on the screen"; Malcolm McDowell, Stanley Kubrick; "A Clockwork Orange")

Those of us who would judge these photo-based works by the yardstick of traditional cartooning(or drawing)--miss the point. Works of this type--are not playing the game by the same rules and are not concerned with scoring the same points. Despite the obvious illustrative virtuosity displayed by many photo-referenced comics---these have less to do with drawing for drawing's sake than with drawing for photo's sake. Western comics, for example,were inspired by the movies and have always had a strong connection to film and TV. It should come as no surprise then, that some contemporary western comics make the connection to film explicit via imagery(not to mention narrative) that is more cinema-like than cartoon-like.
That "photo-likeness" proliferates today primarily in corporate super-hero comics indicates that said corporate interests may lie with the cinematic manifestations of their properties more so than with comics or cartooning. But the intricacies of this trend are too complex to be purely capitalistic, with connections towards greater illusionism in all forms of digital media, culminating in the seamless integration of cgi into even the most banal television productions, supplanting both sets and scenery.

The big pooba of of all of these developments(re: comics) is of course, the great Alex Ross. And indeed, despite overexposure, the predictability of his imagery and the stodginess of his storytelling, his achievement was truly some kind of breakthrough, for better or worse as the case may be. His vision was full and complete from the point of introduction, and who among us can say that we haven't at some time taken pleasure in his fully rendered god-like embodiments of the heroes of childhood fantasy?
Yet Ross's achievement lies not just in the realization of some collective comics fan wet dream.

Ross is about a tradition in illustration--not cartooning--and it's a mistake to view him solely within the lens of comics and cartooning rather than that of illustration. What makes Ross interesting is the way he's brought a post WWII, 1950's illustration aesthet
ic( carried forward from the work of his illustrator mother) that trumpeted American Exceptionalism and brought it to super-hero comics---and then--turned it on its head w/ comics work that tends to be critical of American Empire and unlimited power. There is something exceptional in the subversion of the idealized visions of American advertising-- all the more surprising that such a critique has taken the form of the most idealized of pop culture figures: the super-hero.
There are of course a multitude of other uses of the photograph in comics form, not all are so slavishly devoted to the source material. For some, of course-the photograph is simply reference in the traditional sense, information to be gleaned and adapted for a variety of purposes.
For others, the photograph imbues a certain spark of life to the imagery-- like roto-scoping in a Disney or Fleischer cartoon-- not for mimicking photography as a way to fashion something "life-like",( or photo-like) more as a way for imparting some nuance of posture or movement--as magic, really. There's a difference between Madame Tussaud's and say-- Kiki Smith.
And still the potential of photographic imagery--not as source material for illustration, cartooning or caricature--but as imagery itself--has only been lightly touched upon in comics, not fully developed. Strange to say in that regard, Jack Kirby's visionary photo-collages from 40 years ago remain ahead of the game--for now.

images by Alex Ross from Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, c. Marvel; Alexander Ross-terrific painter who makes plastecine sculptures, photographs em and then paints from the photos-Amazing stuff! what's the deal with the name and the photo-referencing? Wot a coincidence! ain't the woild grand? Anyway --then there's some serendipitous fan art I found on the web by putting in Jonah Hex/ClintEastwood--y'knew there had to be sumpthin'; and finally Jack himself from FF #51. by the Man and Jack-the King now and ever.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

a place for pood

and now there is a place for pood.
a place for your pood.
& our pood.

but do not make the mistake--this is a place for pood
but it is not pood.

pood is something else.

pood comes later.

for the current moment in this the space/time continuum--this place for pood is the place to read what others have to say re: pood and all things pood.
the place where you will find out what this pood really is.
hahhah! go there now!!!
have fun!

pood is good.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

pood?! what is pood?

You are wondering what this pood is.
"what is it? this pood?" you ask.

Hah! I will tell you.
but only a must suffer first--SUFFER for your pood!
hah! HAH!

pood is not poo! pood is not

pood is!


Joe Infurnari.

Jim Rugg.

Hans Rickheit.

Bishakh Som.

ummm...there is more.... tobias tak.

lance hansen.

andres vera martinez.

fintan taite.

chirs capuozzo.poodmark sunshine.pood

adam mcgovern. paolo leandri.


Connor Willumsen. Henrik Rehr. Sara Edward Corbett.

oh yes---I almost forgot!

kevin mutch.pood.geoff grogan.pood.

hah! I will let you chew on THAT for some unspecified quantity of time! Hah!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

reports of our demise

Those of you who had been following this blog until recently may be under the impression that both Kevin & I have fallen off the face of the planet. I understand the rational for this conception--our posts have become few and fewer far and farther apart until finally like a Cat of Cheshire they exist no longer. But --were you to suggest-- that we have been idle in our irresponsibility, that we have succumbed to the pleasures of the couch and potato -then I must counter your assertion and say nay! shout No! No- you would be wrong,sir! Sorely Wrong! Hah! Have at you!

Indeed-for The Mutchster (of Famous Mutchsters --or those of you of baby-boom age may remember him portrayed by the genial Fred Gwynne in the eponymous television classic) and myself, the Mutchkin of Oz, have been sequestered in our Tower, cloistered in our attic, imprisoned in our castle, plotting and conniving,conceiving and constructing---day in, day out , month after month since before the special in its specialness--that it exceeds all previous special-nesses ever previously presented as truly special**. Something...for you...something for comics fans so desperate for something...special...that they scan blogs like these continuously looking for that special something. or some such.
Yes--we have a plan. Together, along with the inimitable Alex of Rader, we have combined our forces---our minions, our millions---
and we have hatched it. "IT" is what has been hatched from us-which one I can't say--but rest assured it has reached hatched-ness---and now soft boils in the roiling boil---waiting to be unleashed upon--the world! The World! HAhAhhah--yes! The WORLD!

Our hatched thing called "it"--or something else---is soon to be presented --to you,loyal reader,long suffering, true-blue comics fan---Our "It"ched--that which we have christened "pood"--pood the beauty-ous, pood the generous, pood the large---is soon to be revealed to you--because you--deserve it. Yes--we have a present of pood for you--because you are special and we like you!
We have worked on our pood and we are so sure that you will love it too that we will tell you very soon what pood is and wot pood does and where pood wuz---and you will be happy. Or the hell with you. I don't care anymore. I luv pood and you will too. Big beautiful, colorful pood is just for you--all of you--pood people--everywhere!

So be on the lookout---Kevin, Alex and I are bringing pood to you very soon--whether you like it or not! (but you will--I promise you you will!)
more to come.........

** special lines unabashedly stolen from the great, supremely cheezy Michael Palin in the "Concert for George".

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

less than Corben, more than zero

Man I love Richard Corben, don't you? the First time I saw his stuff was in Heavy Metal in the late seventies--and I was just blown away.
Seeing Corben for the first time was like stumbling into some kind of adolescent comics paradise---all color and naked women-naked purple women! and realism-so volumetric, so tangible, so much space and atmosphere! More real than Neal Adams! NEAL ADAMS!!! (any comics geek growing up in the seventies was irrevocably impacted by Adams, right? He was like the Clapton of comics--& Clapton was God. Well-when he was in Cream, anyway. & the same when Adams was on Batman--or Conan--hmmm..maybe I ought to save this for a post on Adams--yeh, I think I will)
At the time I was sure that one couldn't aspire to any better embodiment of great comics illustration. This was it! Corben was the pinnacle! (& I'm so glad Kevin brought him up--particularly in relation to the discussion of color)

But even then--even when I was in awe of Corben's verisimilitude, I had this impulse for something else---something...less. While I stood in abject subjugation before Corben's neo-pyschedelic interplanetary elseworlds, more often than not I found myself thinking about Alex Toth, about Milton Caniff, Harvey Kurtzman and Walt Simonson. Later on I was thinking about George Herriman, Charles Schulz, Johnny Hart, Garry Trudeau.
Today I admire Alex Ross's technique, but I'm a fan of Jaime Hernandez, of Darwyn Cooke, Seth, of David Mazzuchelli, Jason and Patrick McDonnell.

Corben, like Ross, speaks to desire--a desire to see fantasy fulfilled in three dimensions--the equivalent of the Iron Man movie, the dioramas at Museum of Natural History, a Robert Zemeckis film; the same desire we have for hot fudge sundaes and blueberry pancakes doused with butter, maple syrup and whip cream at IHOP. (!#$!!??*&$ and doesn't everyone seem happy at IHOP ? at least --the last time I was there--oh, but that was years ago.)

Hernandez, Toth-they play upon our understanding that the comics page is first and foremost a work of design, of pacing, of communication. They speak to the intellect. They do so not by bravura demonstrations of illustrative skill(although skill is surely evident)-but via their restraint. By holding back-they force the reader to work the imagination and to acknowledge the page. While representational illusionism is in evidence, it is firmly in the service of design.
In a Corben page-we are seduced by his mastery of illusion--the page falls away, and we enter into a dream state before his exquisitely rendered vistas. This is not to say that we are not also aware of craft in his work--we are. But as with any great magic act, the wonder is in not knowing how the trick is done- and in the face of great illusion we sublimate our need to know to our desire to believe.

There are some who argue for one approach over the other--that one provides a "truer" comics experience than the other*. I could easily fall into that pattern-I do have my prejudices--but my experience as a reader trumps aesthetic dogma. There are times when I want my comics lean, and then there are times when I want the works; butter, syrup, whip cream--oh hell! I'm a big fan of IHOP, of magic--and Richard Corben too.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Black Metal Comics or If It Ain't Baroque, Don't Fix It!

As Geoff mentioned in his last post, we're moving to a more conversational format, where we'll be responding to each other's posts (and to your comments of course) as a dialogue rather than creating standalone essays. So, in that spirit, here are some loose responses to Geoff's thoughts about the centrality of drawing to comics:

(Quoting Geoff:) "it crosses my mind that our (I mean "our" as in comics-making people) reluctance to fully exploit appropriation, collage or other means of image-making may in part be the result of a deep commitment to drawing, rather than any distaste for alternatives."

Hmmm, yes, although I think that "deep commitment" might be another way of saying "heavily invested". Learning to draw comics is difficult and (super) time consuming, so it's no surprise that once people get good at it they tend to get a bit conservative about the whole undertaking - "I don't need photo reference like these kids today - I memorized the way every single thing in the world looks! From every angle!"

(Quoth Geoff:) "The more corporate comics trend to the de-personalized, mechanized look of digital photo-realism, the more I turn away." I sort of know what you mean about this, Geoff - I say "sort of" because I haven't actually read a "corporate comic" since 1980, except Watchmen (which I finally read a couple of months ago) and the first four Wednesday Comics. But I go to comics shops with my kids and I see a page spread or two (and the covers, of course) and I think "Yeesh, this shit is really baroque! Too much fussy detail everywhere! My eyes are bouncing off the page! Ouch!"

(Above: notice any resemblance? Some superhero thing or other and The Fall of Phaeton by Rubens)

But I honestly don't think it's "digital photo-realism" (or even photo reference per se) at fault here - nor the use of computers to color the comics into dense gaudy confections. I think the problem comes down to how we organize and read comics as stories (and by we, I guess I mean old codgers like Geoff and myself - my 9 year old son gobbles new corporate comics up like, well, "dense gaudy confections").

Comics, like music, and books, and paintings - any other art - make use of various kinds of "dynamic range" - typically via variations within the work between, say, dark areas and light areas, or action and dialogue. One way artists use these differences in the densities of parts of the work is to organize them structurally, to help readers grasp the entirety of the piece and keep them interested.

But sometimes - especially with a form that's specialized itself into a tiny niche for hardcore fans - that larger, structural "dynamic range" becomes unnecessary. The fans are so immersed in the particulars of the form that they don't need them. Instead we get dense, thick virtuoso barrages of technique. Think about the relationship between older "heavy metal" music and its newer sub-genre "black metal". Heavy metal employed structural dynamic range - verse/chorus/break, loud/quiet, even melody - but "black metal" just goes for an unremitting wall of metal noize.

This situation may be the result of historical trends (things always get more complicated, don't try to keep up with your kids you stupid nostalgic old fossils) or it could be cyclical (new technologies lead to enthusiastic abuses, which eventually correct themselves, like what happened with the use of fonts in "desktop publishing" in the 80's/90's) - but either way, it's created an over-ripe type of comics that could reasonably be called "digital mannerism".

Personally, I like structural dynamic range - I still want to be able to pull back and appreciate the overarching organization of a panel, or a page or a story, and "flat" color and simplified, "cartoony" drawings certainly lend themselves to that - but I think it's just as possible to do it with photo-realistic drawing (or photographs!) and digital color. I think it boils down to a certain discretion or restraint on the artist's part, and a willingness to work with the reader - to allow for the possibility they may need a little coaxing to come along on this particular trip, and a little breather here and there.

I've got more I want to say (about color in particular), but I'll hold off until next time and see what Geoff (and everyone else) have to say. In the meantime, here's a couple of examples of my all-time favorite photo-realist cartoonist, using every goddam speck of structural dynamic range. He's the Ozzy Osbourne of comics, ladies and gentlemen: Richard Fucking Corben!!!

(Above: Pages from Den)