Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Roy de Forest's To The Far Canine Range And The Unexplored Territory Beyond Terrier Pass - Coda

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All Images are details from Roy de Forest's pages in To The Far Canine Range And The Unexplored Territory Beyond Terrier Pass (Bedford Arts, 1988) as can be read in #:
1. cover, in which we can see the old sage and his dog;
2. Bigfoot and dog;
3. Roy de Forest, himself, "faces" his own mortality;
4. rock spirits?;
5. the family rests under an old genius loci's protection;
6. the rabbit spirit of a mountain?; its sight breaks the fourth wall protecting the reader in these unknown regions;
7. the old sage does the same.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Roy de Forest's To The Far Canine Range And The Unexplored Territory Beyond Terrier Pass

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Funk art isn't exactly my most admired art style. Being Francis Bacon my favorite 20th century artist (as recently seen) it's a bit strange that I favor Roy de Forest's work (and Gary Panter's, and Mat Brinkman's, and Brian Chippendale's). That's all true, but all things considered I don't have much choice: Funk (not Pop, which is just Neodadaism) is the obvious place where low / high art meets the lowly mass comic art. Besides, Funk is lively and, believe it or not, can also be pretty serious and deep. The proof?: not being exactly Funk, New Image painter Nicholas Africano's "autobiographical figural psychodramas" (as Arden Reed described them in Art in America, December 1999: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_/ai_58361009) are close enough to Francis Bacon's own obsessions...
Repeating Modernism's fascination with non-Western forms of art (Pablo Picasso admired African art and Francis Poulenc was inspired by the Indonesian Gamelan) these artists (Funk and surroundings, I mean...) pioneered a reivindication of previously discriminated social groups: popular decorative art, traditionally created by women; stupid, urban, bad, popular art; the art of American Indians (and Roy de Forest is the right artist to cite here, even if his characters are cartoonish...); narrative art (scorned by the Modernists), and the inevitable, mass produced, non-arts of caricature (Red Grooms) and comics...
A Journey To The Far Canine Range And The Unexplored Territory Beyond Terrier Pass by Roy de Forest (Bedford Arts, 1988) is an accordion fold book spanning eleven double-page spreads and two single pages. It records the peripatetic adventures of a "renowned grey-haired sage [a figure that Roy de Forest calls "Leonardo da Vinci"] and his loyal companion, a spotted, red-faced sheep dog" (as the artist described his characters at the end of the book). In the same page Stephen Vincent "reads" the story (and informs us that these images were inspired by a de Forest "one-week spring vacation with his family in Yosemite."): "Gradually we are introduced to diverse figures from Western mythology. Big Foot, the Indian, human spirits (à la Dante) stuck inside trees, anthropomorphic mountain shapes, and a host of haunted wolves, dogs and natural emanations will each alert our nervous systems that larger forces do accompany us on this latter day comedic journey into unknown territory."
Roy de Forest's graphic resources are remarkably varied. His textures, dots and lines, make visible what's invisible, as Paul Klee wanted (The Thinking Eye, Wittenborn, 1961 [Das bildnerische Denken, Benno Schwabe & Co., 1956]: 76). I don't mean locus genii or such things I don't believe in though: I mean simple things like breathing, sending light rays (the sun), and seeing. On second thought, the genni aren't that bad an idea either: providing that we see them as figments of our imagination and, consequently, as byproducts of our feelings in a particular place (a religare). In that specific department, the spiritual one, I like how To The Far Canine Range And The Unexplored Territory Beyond Terrier Pass ends, a lot: the old sage becomes one with nature. As he does so, he sends eye rays in our direction breaking the fourth wall. I, for one, feel compelled to accept his invitation...

Images:
1., 2. Nicholas Africano, The Shadow [I beat this fucker up], 1979 (we can't beat ourselves, I suppose), and The scream, Struggling with him, He's afraid of loneliness, 1978 (sorry for the bad resolution);
3. a William T. Wiley comic, (Unmuzzled Ox, 1975; sorry also for the awful resolution);
4. Red Grooms, Gertrude [Stein], 1975;
5. Amos Bad Heart Buffalo's drawing as published in Hartley Burr Alexander's Sioux Indian Paintings, C. Szwedzicki, 1938 (image caught, here: http://www.lib.ucdavis.edu/ul/libcoll/harrison/books.php);
6. a mola (Kuna for "blouse," Panama).

PS I'm glad to see that film critics have a lot more sense than comics critics: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081223/REVIEWS/812239987. (On the other hand, I have my doubts because Ebert wrote these incredibly obtuse couple of phrases: "Frank Miller, whose 300 and Sin City showed a similar elevation of the graphic novel into fantastical style shows. But they had characters, stories, a sense of fun.") I especially liked this bit: "To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material." He he... I'm still laughing out loud... And in case you're wondering: yes, I would apply the same phrase to Will Eisner's Spirit (another hugely overrated character of the heavy paper stock persuasion).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Francis Bacon's Triptych May - June 1973

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Simply put, Francis Bacon's Triptych May - June 1973 is the best comic ever made. Not surprisingly it is not comical at all. To go on unsurprised, it was created by one of the best artists that ever lived. (We can't be surprised by our own convictions, or so it seems...)
My remark between brackets above is a bit self-ironic: not being an essentialist I have suspicions when things are too clear cut. We know how these things go: first we rationalize reality... afterwards we find that reality matches our rationalizations perfectly: big surprise. Anyway, it isn't because of this vicious loop that I'll stop believing what I said above. Irony just helps me to put things in perspective, that's all...
My views on art are very close to those defended by Francis Bacon himself. In this video: http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/francisbacon/bbcarchive.shtm he says: "Abstract painting is a form of escaping the issue, because Abstract painting can never... even at its very best, can be never more than lyrical, charming, and decorative. It never, finally, unlocks, like great art can do, unlocks the valves of feeling by the... by this attempt to record the fact. When I... You see?, what any artist needs today is a profound technical imagination. It's a technique by which he can reset the trap in which the image he wants to record can be trapped again..." (1965).
Antoni Tàpies, Manolo Millares (but are they always Abstract painters?), and, possibly, Mark Rothko or Alberto Burri (but certainly not Wassily Kandinsky) remind me that Francis Bacon is wrong in his opinions about Abstract painting (I love the Informalists, obviously; plus, unlike Bacon, I don't exclude the "lyrical" from great art's realm), but I'll use his words (adding "zany") to dismiss most, if not all, comics art in the babymen's canon. (A word for Feminist decorative art: it's a conceptual stance: the work is less important than the idea; Francis Bacon wouldn't approve this kind of art, I suppose, but I'm apparently more tolerant.)
Giles Deleuze explained Francis Bacon's art perfectly when he wrote (Francis Bacon, The Logic of Sensation, Continuum, 2003 [la Différence, 1981]; translation by Daniel W. Smith: 27): "The head-meat is a becoming animal of man." That's the fact Francis Bacon caught in his trap created with a profoundly imaginative technique: we are animals made of meat, and perishable meat at that.
Giles Deleuze said that what a philosopher does is to create concepts. A couple of them in Francis Bacon, The Logic of Sensation are very interesting to any serious comics scholar. The first one that I'll cite in this post is "chronochromatism" (Deleuze builds this concept over "chronophotography"). It describes how Bacon paints the bodies to indicate micro variations in time (he was very interested by Edweard Muybridge's chronophotographs). Bacon began his career influenced by Pablo Picasso and we can conclude that his art is a Cubo-Futurism with Expressionist clothes. The other concepts that I want to talk about can't be summed up in a word, so, I'll have to quote Giles Deleuze again (on the triptych format; ditto, 84, 85): "This then is the principle of the triptychs: the maximum unity of light and color for the maximum division of Figures. [...] Time is no longer in the chromatism of bodies; it has become a monochromatic eternity. An immense space-time unites all things, but only by introducing between them the distances of a Sahara, the centuries of an aeon: the triptych and its separated panels. [...]
[T]he three canvases remain separated, but they are no longer isolated; and the frame or borders of a painting no longer refer to the limitative unity of each, but to the distributive unity of the three."
Deleuze also studied complex rhythms created by the forms in Bacon's triptychs. These reading beats are seldom explored by formalist comics scholars (from the top of my head I can only think of Renaud Chavanne's Edgar P. Jacobs & le secret de l'explosion; Edgar P. Jacobs and the secret of the explosion - PLG, 2005; but his primary texts, even if interesting, were a lot poorer, of course).
Triptych May - June 1973 (1973; see above) denies at least one thing in Giles Deleuze's quote above. A few instants only pass between the panels not "the distances of a Sahara, the centuries of an aeon." It represents George Dyer's suicide in 1971. To describe this tragic "comic" strip (I put the misnomer between inverted commas for obvious reasons) I'll quote Hugh Marlais Davies (Francis Bacon, Abbeville Press, 1986: 74, 75; as found, here: http://francis-bacon.cx/triptychs/t73.html): "In Triptych, May-June, Bacon shows sequential views of a single figure, like stills from a film. He has reversed the conventional left-right progression and has, again as in a film, abandoned a fixed viewpoint. We look through one doorway in the left panel and through another in the center and right panels. Read from right to left, the images depict the facts of [George] Dyer's death, as the nude figure vomits into the bathroom sink, crosses the room, and then dies on the toilet. The sinuous, agonized curves of Dyer's arm and shoulder at right are continued by the curve of the sink's drainpipe. The pitiful, almost fetally positioned figure at left has a closed composure in opposition to the distended agony of the adjacent panels. The white arrows in the foreground of the side panels were added to counter the sensational character of the subject matter by inserting a mote of clinical objectivity."
Two comments about the above quote: since these are still images wouldn't it be more appropriate to mention comics instead of film?; not being a mind reader I bet that I'm not wrong if I claim that Hugh Davies would never mention the word "comics" in this context; the fetally positioned Dyer reminds me of one of my favorite (moving) paintings by Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin (see above); it's the Eros / Thanatos (vanitas) theme again... Great art isn't that varied, I suppose...

Images:
1. Francis Bacon, Triptych May - June 1973, 1973; the shadow / Erinys leaving George Dyer's body in the second panel is particularly haunting; this avenging monster in ancient Greek mythology is coming to get the painter: it symbolizes his guilty conscience;
2. Francis Bacon, Three Figures in a Room, 1964 (triptych, detail: left panel): a premonitory portrait of George Dyer?; as I did for Nadine Spengler below: I wonder how he felt, seven years later, when his image became true?;
3. Manolo Millares' Antropofauna (anthropofauna, detail), 1970; in the same way as Ana Hatherly's characters, Millares' late paintings show figures that are partially made of language (the anthropos part?); wanting to contradict Francis Bacon I may be agreeing with him though: these tortured figures are hardly Abstract;
4. Edweard Muybridge's chronophoto The Horse in Motion, 1878;
5. Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin's Un lapin, deux grives mortes et quelques brins de paille sur une table de pierre (a rabbit, two dead thrushes and a few wisps of straw on a stone table; c. 1750).

Friday, December 26, 2008

Martin tom Dieck's hundert Ansichten der Speicherstadt - Coda

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Images:
1. the Speichestadt as drawn by Martin tom Dieck in hundert Ansichten der Speicherstadt (Arrache Coeur, 1997);
2. the Speicherstadt as a heart in hundert Ansichten der Speicherstadt's back cover;
3. said story's main character emerges after being violently thrown into the water (the flow of life?) by a godlike, Buster Keaton look-alike rainmaker demiurge;
4. "Quatre ans" (four years) as published in Beaux Arts Magazine, BD hors série: 32 bandes dessinées inédites pour 2004, 2003; the same story was published in Strapazin # 75 (June 2004) as the third part of "La FM";
5., 6. two illustrations from the Mutanten catalogue (Hatje Cantz Verlag, 1999): Christian Huth's Neoexpressionist "The Old Greece" (1998); Anke Feuchtenberger's hypnotic "Somnanbule 2" (page 2; 1999);
7., 8. two artists that recently published in Strapazin (images caught at their site: # 75, June, 2004; # 92, September, 2008): "Kalte Füsse" (cold feet) by Anna Sommer (who specializes in male / female troubled relationships); Peter Blegvad's Kosuthian "The Pedestrian."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Martin tom Dieck's hundert Ansichten der Speicherstadt

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When I cited notable magazines in various countries a couple of posts ago I forgot at least three: Le cheval sans tête (France, 1994), Mano (Italy, 1996; an awesome year for comics), Strapazin (Switzerland, 1984; language: standard German). It was in Strapazin that Martin tom Dieck published a "story four hands" with Atak (Hans-Georg Barber): "Difficult Mitgift" (difficult dowry; Strapazin # 50, March, 1998), republished "Fragments Fugitifs" (fugitive fragments; Strapazin # 56, September, 1999) and two parts of his story "La FM:" (2) and (3): # 73, 75 (December, 2003 [Satélite Internacional # 3, May, 2003]; June 2004 [Beaux Arts Magazine, BD hors série: 32 bandes dessinées inédites pour 2004, 2003]). As the radio receiver receives sound signals Martin tom Dieck's FM "receives" the 20th century history signals (the theme of Comix 2000 - L'association, 1999 - in which "La FM" - 1 - was published for the first time).
In the intro to the very important exhibition Mutanten (October, 24, 1999 - January, 9, 2000), Christian Gasser (http://www.dorgathen.org/mutanten/info.htm) acknowledges Strapazin's importance after saying that Germany and other German language countries don't have much of a comics tradition to speak of (Wilhelm Busch and Lyonel Feininger notwithstanding): "Without exaggeration, it is possible to say that while comics have always enjoyed great popularity in Germany, there were never any authentically German comics or comic artists for the most part of this century - with the exception of a few lone fighters such as Matthias Schultheiss and Gerhard Seyfried. As a result, German comic fans had to read material licensed from the U.S., France or Italy. In the Nineties, however, things certainly seem to have changed. Helped along by publications such as Strapazin (an independent comic magazine first published in 1984), a young generation of German and Swiss comic artists has emerged from nowhere. People from the DDR (the former East Germany, where there were virtually no comics except ideologically correct ''funnies''), such as Anke Feuchtenberger, Atak, Holger Fickelscherer, Christian Huth, Henning Wagenbreth; people from West Germany, such as Hendrik Dorgathen, Martin tom Dieck, Markus Huber, Jim Avignon; people from Switzerland, such as Thomas Ott, M.S. Bastian, Anna Sommer, Christian Farner - all have developed individual graphic and narrative styles."
Martin tom Dieck explores images as Jazz musicians explore sounds or Dada and Surrealist poets explored words: he improvises with pictures (one of his favorite comics is Moebius' Le garage hermétique de Jerry Cornelius; the airtight garage of Jerry Cornelius, Métal hurlant # 6 - 41, 1976 - 1980). As Martin told me in an email ages ago (January, 14, 2003) he likes the idea that the story is not finished when he finishes it, permitting many versions imagined by the readers. Even so I would like to distinguish two leitmotifs that punctuate Martin's work: water and a city map that's also a heart. The latter two are present in his wordless story undert Ansichten der Speicherstadt (a hundred views of the warehouse district; Arrache Coeur, 1997), but water in its multifarious manifestations is all over Martin tom Dieck's oeuvre: cats and dogs raining, air bubbles, foam, waves, vortexes, tsunamis, cascades, light reflections on and in the liquid element... you name it... Water behaves in a way that's very Deleuzian and Zen: it's always the same and yet, it's always moving and it's always different; difference and repetition. Martin, by the way, did two books about Gilles Deleuze written by Jens Balzer: Salut Deleuze! (hi! Deleuze; Fréon, 1998; Neue Abenteuer des Unglaublichen Orpheus [the new adventures of the incredible Orpheus], published in the Berlin edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, 2001). The Speicherstadt of the title (inventing a wordplay in German: "the city of memories," as discussed in an email that Martin sent me dated February, 19, 2003) are Hamburg's, now disused, but still impressive, old dockland facilities (see image). With a little imagination we may very well see that, seen from above, the Speicherstadt has the form of an heart. Maybe that's where our most cherished memories come from, after all... But I'll let Martin tom Dieck the last words in this post. They're about hundert Ansichten der Speicherstadt's epigraph: (Zhuangzi: the whisper of the water speaks my thoughts; email to yours truly, February, 19, 2003): "what it speaks (for me) is less of an intellectual or rational conception like in a significant use of a metaphor, but more (as it comes from a Taoist) of that not centered but spread attention. Or in short terms, while it speaks of thinking it means not thinking."

Strapazin's site:

Martin's site:
Martin tom Dieck's work on Countour's web page:

Images:
1. Strapazin [# 59], special edition in English: it's the catalogue of the Bubbles 'n' Boxes 'n' Beyond! exhibition at the Swiss Institute in New York (June, 1 - August, 19, 2000) which included Swiss and American comics artists; the cover is by Nadine Spengler: I wonder how she felt, a year later, when her image became true?; < align="left">
2. the Mutanten exhibition catalogue's cover (mutated, German language comics avant-garde of the nineties; Hatje Cantz Verlag, 1999; Düsseldorf, October, 29, 1999 - January, 9, 2000) with an image by Hendrik Dorgathen; design by Roli Fischbacher, Sabine Singenberger;
3. the Speicherstadt in Hamburg (image caught on the www: http://flickr.com/photos/fimbulfamb/2300988952/)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thierry Groensteen's Why Are Comics Still in Search of Cultural Legitimization?


Why? Because of you and other critics like you, of course...
I'm reading Mississippi Press' A Comics Studies Reader (edited by Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, 2009, believe it or not). The book's first essay gives this post its title (3 - 11). I had read it already a few years ago in Comics Culture (edited by Anne Magnussen and Hans-Christian Christiansen, Museum Tusculanum Press, 2000: 29 - 41). I also read Thierry Groensteen's book La bande dessinée, un object culturel non identifié (comics, an unidentified cultural object; l'An 2, 2006) in which part of this ubiquitous text is integrated in the first chapter: "Une histoire faite d'anomalies" (a history constructed by anomalies: 6 - 19). I'm not writing a critique or a review of said essay and cited book though. I'm just writing my two cents about a few phrases and various name droppings that Groensteen tosses to and fro. I'll start by the bombastic beginning (translation by Shirley Smolderen; 3): "Although comics have been in existence for over a century and a half, they suffer from a considerable lack of legitimacy.
To those who know and love it, the art that has given us Rodolphe Töpffer and Wilhelm Busch, Hergé and Tardi, Winsor McCay and George Herriman, Barks and Gottfredson, Franquin and Moebius, Segar and Spiegelman, Gotlib and Brétecher, Crumb and Mattotti, Hugo Pratt and Alberto Breccia, not to mention The Spirit, Peanuts or Asterix... in short, comic art, has nothing left to prove." Really? Is he serious? I find the notion of someone "loving" an art form somewhat strange. Do we love music?, all music compositions? Or painting?, all paintings? I don't think so. Anyway, picture this paraphrase, please: To those who know and love it, the art that has given us Jonathan Swift and the brothers Grimm, L. Frank Baum and Eric Flint, Enid Blyton and Astrid Lindgren, Roald Dahl and Leo Lionni, Sharon Creech and Laura Numeroff, James Thurber and Helen Epstein, Cavanna and Gerd Brantenberg, Charles Bukowski and Italo Calvino, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jorge Luis Borges, not to mention Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Story of Tracy Beaker or Chroniques de la haine ordinaire... in short, literature, has nothing left to prove.
Some of the above writers are part of any literary canon, I suppose, but where are the real heavyweights like Dostoyevsky, Ogai Mori, Constantine Cavafy? And aren't satirists and children's writers, I don't know?, somewhat overrepresented?
If comics have nothing to prove after this list I would say that the critic has not very high standards. In the end, my point is: what if people have their legitimate reasons to dismiss comics as high art, legitimizing it in the process as Thierry Groensteen seems to want? They are not familiar with the art form's best work in the restrict field (Fabrice Neaud's journals, for instance) because no one champions the stuff. On top of that they don't recognize some great work done in the expanded field as comics.
Another part of Groensteen's text that I have some trouble understanding is his use of the word "great," here (translation by Shirley Smolderen, again; 4): "the great American series (Brick Bradford, Flash Gordon, Mandrake, Popeye, and so many others)." Maybe he has a very loose meaning for the word. These are formulaic, escapist, stories if ever I saw such things, but I'm not going to criticize them (not wanting to engage with the stuff at this point in my life; I'll just add that Popeye's zaniness should have put said series in better company, but, oh well...). I made my point, anyway... methinks...
The icing on the cake has to be the ending though (ditto; 11): "Yes, why not admit it? All of us here in Copenhagen, delivering our clever papers, are probably doing nothing more than holding our hands to the kids we used to be." Gracious! I'm glad that I wasn't there delivering "clever papers" about dumb comics, "holding [my] hands" to the dumb kid that I used to be. I can't sing a victory song just yet though: maybe this largely expanded Peter Pan's syndrome pandemic is contagious and I'll catch it... eventually? Beware of the babymen out there...

Image:
A Comics Studies Reader (Edited by Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, University Press of Mississippi, 2009; cover by Seth or by some anonymous person ripping him off).

PS On the brighter side of things (for me at least) in the Thank You department: Derik Badman, Joe McCulloch, Chris Mautner, Larry Cruz, James Bucky Carter, David Soares, Steve Holland, Jorge, German.

PPS For a pioneering use of the words "babyman," "babymen," in the comics' milieu's context, see Mike Manley, here:

Yoshiharu Tsuge's Nejishiki - Coda

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Images:
1., 2., 3. a distinctive trademark in Yoshiharu Tsuge's work are these melancholic lonely characters, viewed from the back, lost in their thoughts and lost in the sometimes inhospitable landscape (remember Fred's Jules Renard?, kindred spirits?); here's what he said in an interview when asked about travelling (Susumu Gondô, interviewer, 1993 [quoted by Béatrice Maréchal: "On Top of the Mountain," The Comics Journal Special Edition, 2005: 26]: "It is not only to get free from daily life, it is also in the relationship with nature to become oneself a point in the landscape."; the above quote talks about pantheism and fits like a glove to image # 3, but the other two also have that unsettling Tsuge's touch: the mark of genius, I would say; disappearance (including suicide) is one of Tsuge's main themes;
4. another travel inspired illo;
5. the real location (transformed, after a couple of decades, I suppose) and its transposition in "Nejishiki" (Garo, June, 1968; image caught, here: http://www.mugendo-web.com/y_tsuge/);
6. a famous "Nejishiki" page as published in 9e art # 10 (April, 2004 [1968]);
7. Sukezô Sukegawa (with son) pisses in the Tama river while trying to sell ornamental stones (that's what's written: "stones)"; Yoshiharu Tsuge's autobio stories are always an invention (he aims at a more profound truth through creation); Sukezô is a misfit character who, among other things, tried to do comics just to discover that personal expression doesn't sell; sounds familiar? All images, except the ones already noted, are from Kusetsu juunenki (a period of ten years' unswerving devotion; Chikuma Shobô, 1994).

Friday, December 12, 2008

Yoshiharu Tsuge's Nejishiki

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There are only a fistful of comics anthologies that pulled back the art form from the commercial hell (of children's adventures dreck and silly humor) in which it was imprisoned by the lords of kitsch. I mentioned a couple already, here at The Crib: Madriz (Spain, 1984), Frigorevue and Frigobox (Belgium, 1992, 1994). I'm sure that I will cite a few more in the future: Raw (U.S.A., 1980), Labo and Lapin (France, 1990, 1992), Lápiz Japonés (Argentina, 1993). The first, though (if we don't count satire: Hara-Kiri, France, 1960) is Garo (Japan, 1964).
Postwar in Japan was a period of economical crisis. Tormented by the deadly combo of unemployment and inflation the lower level of the Japanese society found itself in a precarious situation. In such a state of affairs people not only seek, they need to be entertained. The problem is that their entertainment has to be very cheap. That's where pay-libraries enter our picture. Loaning books for a fraction of their price (7 or 8 yen against 30 to 50, according to Béatrice Maréchal in 9e art # 10, April, 2004: 68) these pay-libraries flourished in recession-ridden post war Japan.
Yoshiharu Tsuge was born in Tokyo in 1937. After his father's death in 1942 he lived with his mother, stepfather, two younger brothers and two half-sisters. He always liked to draw and wanted to become a comics artist. Creating comics to the pay-libraries' editors was both an attempt to solve his economical troubles and the accomplishment of a dream. His first comic was published in 1955 showing Osamu Tezuka's influence.
In 1957 Yoshihiro Tatsumi coined the term "gekiga" (drama pictures) to mean more mature, closer to reality, darker stories (before Tatsumi's generation Japanese comics were also mostly aimed at children). On the other hand pay-libraries' editor Katsuichi Nagai published Sampei Shiratô's left wing, historically set stories (Ninja bugeishô). It's mostly for him, and with his help, that he decides to publish Garo magazine (as can be seen on the mag's first issue's cover above). Garo ("fanged wolf", but it also has the word "ga" - image - in there) was so named after one of Shiratô's characters.
From 1964 through 1997 (with a couple of false restarts after its main run) Garo published many important Japanese comics artists. Yoshiharu Tsuge was one of them since the mag's first years, but there were also: Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Seiichi Hayashi, Shinishi Abe, Ôji Suzuki, Kazuichi Hanawa, Yoshikazu Ebisu, Shungicu Uchida, Teruhiko Yumura, Hinako Sugiura, among many others...
In 1966 Yoshiharu Tsuge suffered one of his periodical depressions and stopped drawing his own stories to be Shigeru Mizuki's assistant. It's under his influence that Tsuge becomes partly a Naturalist. From now on his highly detailed backgrounds will be as important as his cartoonish characters.
Mitsuhiro Asakawa published a great overview of Yoshiharu Tsuge's relatively short career in comics in 9e art # 10 (April, 2004: 62 - 68). He classified Tsuge's oeuvre in three different kinds: life stories, travel stories, dream stories (as Béatrice Maréchal called them in "On Top of the Mountain," The Comics Journal Special Edition, Vol. 5, 2005: 22 - 27). Japanese writers distinguish two varieties in autobiography: one that deals with a public persona (jiden) and one that deals with more private affairs (watakuchi). Tsuge's I-comics belong to the latter classification. As Chôkitsu Kurumatani stated (as quoted by Béatrice Maréchal in the above cited text: 24): "I-novels question the root of one self's existence... this ominous and mysteriously unknown part that hides inside the ground of daily life." (This is marvelously put and makes perfect sense to me: I always distinguished between Chester Brown, John Porcellino, Fabrice Neaud, and mostly all the others who did autobiography: the former had the courage to expose themselves doing watakuchi, the others just dealt with daily life's foam.)
"Nejishiki" (screw-style; Garo, June, 1968) is a dream story that, as in "Numa" (marsh; Garo, February, 1966) joins thanatos (including a war ravaged Japan) and eros (a female surgeon solves the main character's health problem performing a strange mix of sexual intercourse / surgery operation). I committed the error of not putting this story in my personal canon. Hoping to come back to Yoshiharu Tsuge's comics... (to all the other stories that I read in English and French, that is: "Ô ba denki mekki kôgyôsho" - Oba's electroplate factory -, Manga Story, April, 1973 [Raw, Vol. 2, # 2, 1990]; "Akai hana" - red flowers -, Garo, October 1967 [Raw Vol. 1, # 7, 1985]; his last series Munô no hito; a useless man, Comic Baku, 1985 - 1987 [L'homme sans talent, Ego Comme X, 2004])... I'm correcting it now.

Images:
1. the cover of ガロ # 1 (Garo, September, 1964): as published in Paul Gravett's Manga (Laurence King, 2004); the image illustrates Shiratô's story "Kamui Den" (the legend of Kamui);
2. according to c. bren (cf. comments): "the center image is Tsuge as portrayed by the actor Shirô Sano in Teruo Ishii's 1993 film Gensenkan Shujin, which is based on several stories of Tsuge's" (image as published in a 1993 poster);
3. Tsuge as a character in one of his stories (with another character: Yanagi inn's owner; Maki Fujiwara?): "Yanagi-ya shujin" (the master of the Yanaga inn) Garo (February, March, 1970): as published in Kusetsu juunenki (which someone translated for me on the Comics Journal messboard, ages ago, as: a period of ten years' unswerving devotion; Chikuma Shobô, 1994).

Here's a relatively recent photo and an impressive list of comics' absolute masterpieces:

"Nejishiki" (screw-style), as published in The Comics Journal # 250 (February, 2003 [Garo, June, 1968]):
An older version is included in Concerned Theatre Japan (October, 1969):

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mat Brinkman's Teratoid Heights - Coda

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Images:
1. looking at this still from Mat Brinkman's favorite video game (Victory Road, Arcade, 1986) it's easy to see what inspires him...;
2. Mat Brinkman's playful little characters in Teratoid Heights (Highwater Books, 2003);
3. if Highwater's Teratoid Heights is a small book (6 x 5) this Brinkman's original mini-comic (Crab Claws; reprinted in the aforementioned Teratoid Heights) is five times smaller: roughly 2 x 3; narratively it works a lot better with an image per page until the final surprise (ruined in the faked layout of the reprint);
4. Mat Brinkman's abstract mini-comic color pages as published in The Comics Journal # 256 (October, 2003);
5. part of a "Multi-force" episode (Paper Rodeo tabloid # 6, October, November, 2000);
6. Brian Chippendale's brilliantly textured cover for Paper Rodeo # 4 (August, 2000; detail);
7. semantic noise the Fort Thunder way (detail): Joe Grillo: Paper Rodeo # 18 (August, September, 2004).

PS I thought that it was lost forever, but it's here, after all:
http://web.archive.org/web/20050404113213/www.fortthunder.org/comix/

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mat Brinkman's Teratoid Heights

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Fort Thunder was a group of Rhode Island School of Design students living in the second floor of an abandoned 19th century textile factory in Eagle Square, Olneyville. They occupied the place from 1995 through 2001 when the whole premises were demolished. According to Tom Spurgeon (here: http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/briefings/commentary/1863/):
"The name "Fort Thunder" was selected by the quartet [Mat Brinkman, Brian Chippendale, Rob Coggeshal, Freddy Jones] almost immediately upon moving in, as the space needed a name in order to advertise its music shows. (Brinkman says its first show was held within a month after opening.) The name is related to the fact that the space, on the outer edge of a sparsely populated neighborhood near downtown, allowed the music to be played as loudly as they wanted. Brinkman also liked the idea of a Fort where "you're there to defend yourself from the quietness of American bullshit.""
Many artists joined the original four (most notably: Brian Ralph, Leif Goldberg, Jim Drain, Paul Lyons) or were influenced by the group's funk aesthetics (Paper Rad - Jacob Ciocci, Jessica Ciocci, Ben Jones -, Sammy Harkham, C. F.:Chris Forgues, being the most obvious examples).
Appart from comics, music, installations (that's what the place really was) and posters were the Fort's forte. Two examples: Drum & bass noise-rock band Lightning Bolt (Brian Chippendale, drums and vocals, Brian Gibson, bass: http://www.myspace.com/laserbeast; http://laserbeast.com/); arts collective, noise band, Forcefield (Matt Brinkman, Jim Drain, Ara Peterson, Leif Goldberg) who showed their installation Third Annual Roggaboggas at the Whitney Biennial in 2002. Jim Drain, as a solo artist, won Basel's Art Fair's award in 2005: http://www.boston.com/ae/theater_arts/articles/2005/06/26/knitting_his_way_to_the_top/.
But enough with history. What's Fort Thunder, really? If I had to define it with one word it would be: noise. It gave the name to the artists' group and noise-rock was played there. But is there such a thing as visual noise? Yes, there is: in information theory (Shannon-Weaver model) noise is everything that distorts the transmission of information. (Instead of simply saying "noise" I should have used the more accurate expression "semantic noise", though.) This means that Fort Thunder is some sort of Dada (Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau is the grandfather of the Fort), Funk (Jim Nutt et al - I personally have a soft spot for Roy de Forest and Nicholas Africano), Punk (Gary Panter comes to mind), aesthetic. Not to mention Art Brut, New Image, Figuration Libre, etc... etc...
Nothing new under the sun? It depends: no one cited above invested in comics as the Fort Thunder artists did (except Panter, of course); they brought their generations' imagery (the eighties' video games and other cultural detritus) to the forefront.
Teratoid Eights (Highwater Books, July 2003) is an handsome little tome that reprints Mat Brinkman's remarkable mini-comics. He depicts simple, rocky, slightly menacing, alien worlds populated by goofy monsters. Even if brief, Mat Brinkman's stories contradict the idea that Fort Thunder comics are visual noise only. His ratty line and simple creatures transport us to a primitive world. His imagery may be too playful to truly haunt us, but it is enough to rouse deeply buried feelings, hiding in our primitive brain.

Images and sounds:
1. the Fort holders in a group photo as published in The Comics Journal # 256 (October 2003: 61): top row, left to right: Jim Drain, Leif Goldberg, Rob Coggeshal, Peter Fuller, Mat Brinkman; bottom row, left to right: Andy Estep, Paul Lyons, Eric Talley, Brian Ralph, Brian Chippendale;
2. Brian Chippendale's poster advertising a meeting to discuss the Fort's headquarters' future (the building was known as the Valley Worsted mill and the Americana Flea Market); image caught, here:
3. Paper Rad's psychedelic, Fort Thunder inspired, DVD trailer (2006).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Comics Criticism? What's That?


It was inevitable, sooner or later I had to write about comics criticism, or, to be more accurate, I had to write about what passes for comics criticism in the media. Why now, exactly, though? Because we're approaching the end of the year and "best of" lists tend to pop up here and there (preferably at the beginning of December to permit readers the joyful act of penning their gift lists for Christmas). Also, because Marcos Farrajota at Lisbon's Bedeteca (comics library) always asks me to examine the year in comics criticism (this time I'll just translate this post into Portuguese; neat!). Don't laugh, please, but doing such a thing, year after year, reporting nothing, is incredibly tough. Last, but not least, because I read this very finely written and, more importantly, very finely observed, piece of metacriticism by Xavier Guilbert at Du9 (in case you are wondering, the cryptic cypher and letters mean both, "about what's new" and "about comics," the ninth art, according to Claude Beylie - Lettres et médecins magazine, January 1964; in French): http://www.du9.org/Vues-Ephemeres-Decembre-2008
Especially for you, French language impaired people, I'll summarize what Xavier Guilbert says in one sentence: he compares the nominees in literature, film... and comics... for the Globes de Cristal yearly prizes (twelve categories given by the French press to the arts) concluding that the latter, are simply ridiculous. The "ridiculous" part is mine, by the way, but Xavier is a lot less naive than myself. He doesn't believe that the journalists (those who, according to the jury, are the best informed to judge) are aesthetically impaired: he simply noted that the holy elected are the biggest at the box-office. A coincidence, I'm sure...
To add a personal note: it always was with dismay that I used to stumble, while reading the cultural section of the newspaper, with an inane review about some mediocre French mainstream comic (i. e. a comic for children very much liked by babymen also) juxtaposed with real criticism about Paul Celan, for instance. Needless to say that I'm more than happy when, in these days of economical crisis we're living in, there's less and less space to waste with comics criticism in the newspapers. I prefer nothing to inanity.
Anyway, more than a year ago Sean T. Collins wrote an article in The Comics Reporter about the comics criticism panel at SPX 2007: http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/cr_first_person_sean_t_collins_on_the_criticism_panel_at_small_press_expo/
Here are a couple of quotes that may help to explain comics criticism's place in mainstream media: ""fewer words, more bullets, more lists, more entry points," tying reviews into the PR cycle for new releases to the exclusion of works that aren't new or upcoming, tight word counts, limited space for comics coverage" (the inverted commas mean that Collins is quoting Douglas Wolk); "I wish the phrase "the dumbing down of American culture" were removed from this discussion. A look at the top-grossing films and best-selling books during the so-called Golden Age of Criticism indicates that America has always been pretty dumb, a state of affairs not at all unique to America, hey by the way." PR is the mantis that kills criticism after using it for its personal pleasure. Newspapers have a tough time just keeping afloat these days. Dumbing down is, perhaps, a necessary strategy in order to survive. This pet theory of mine tells me that things never change... Collins is right: fortunes are made in these barbaric days we're living in, selling what's dumb, not what's difficult, challenges our preconceptions, confronts us with the real world. What he doesn't seem to acknowledge is that critics back then weren't tied to PRing what sells like they do today. If that doesn't happen to older, more established criticism fields, like literature, yet, I dread the day in which babymen critics will laud Harry Potter as the greatest book ever written.

Image:
If asked, I would elect this book as winner of the Globe de Cristal for comics (Un voyage by Philippe de Pierpont - w - and Éric Lambé - a -, Futuropolis, 2008).

PS This post has nothing to do with comics criticism in academia. I just received the latest International Journal of Comic Art and it's huge with 872 pages. I'm sure that I'm going to enjoy every one of them.