Saturday, September 19, 2009

SPX , LoM news and simply shameless self-promotion!

Hey Monster Fan! Ever since Kevin Mutch of Blurred Books and I started
pissing people off with our new blog of comics criticism , Next Issue! this past summer, I've been remiss in posting here on the personal side. My apologies! I got so caught up in Next Issue! - my own interests have sort of taken a back seat. But I'm back--with some news and updates--so without further ado:

ITEM! I will be appearing at SPX-still the original, premier small press comics convention on the East Coast-- Saturday, September 26 from 11AM to 7PM and Sunday, Sunday September 27 noon-6PM at The North Bethesda Marriott Convention Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

I'm excited because this year we've got a full table--and we'll be displaying a lot of wonderful stuff--and more importantly--we'll be running a big, big SALE on Look Out! Monsters- and all of our books! How big is big? How does this sound-"Look Out!Monsters"-$5.00! Nice Work--$5.00! Buy all four issues of Dr. Speck"-$5.00! Posters-$5.00!!!! So don't walk -- run for table-E11--It should be to the left as you walk in.

ITEM! I'm also hoping to draw some at the show-(If I've got enough maneuvering room) -and some of those drawings will feature the lead figure of my upcoming follow-up to "Look Out!Monsters" Hint: it ain't a monster book!

the drawings are likely to be in the manner of some of the material for the book--charcoal and pastel--large(18" x 24") and between $25.- $50. a pop. If you're looking for some original art-at an affordable price--look no further!

If you're looking for some originals at an unaffordable price-I should have some collages and masks with me too-if I can get together this make-shift display unit this weekend. But I make no promises!

ITEM! I have short piece in Andrei Molotiu's beautiful new book, ABSTRACT COMICS: the Anthology from Fantagraphics. This is the ground-breaking book that's creating so much buzz--and for good reason-there's a wealth of thought-provoking material between its covers.

ITEM! in addition to Abstract Comics, I also have a piece in the Silent Pictures exhibition organized around Art Spiegelman's collection of wordless comics, at the James Gallery at the CUNY Grad Center, 365 fifth avenue, NY. Curated by Andrei and Linda Norden, the show is up until October 11th.

Whew! shameless self-promotion is exhausting! How has the Man done it all these years?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Barn: Studio #10

Last weekend was it-my wife Deb & I moved the last of my work out of my studio in Brooklyn and to our place in upstate NY. "We're getting too old for this" we said over and over as we carried load after load onto the passenger elevator, sweat staining our shirts. And as if to prove the point, as we were moving out a younger generation was moving in. As far as the art world goes, New York belongs to the young-with dreams still fresh and lives yet to be determined. The trials and tribulations of city life lie less heavily upon shoulders buoyed by enthusiasm and unburdened by disappointment.
So this is it--The Barn. Studio #10, by our count, in this vocation of mine.
And it feels great. Man it fits like a glove. Behind the house and next to the garden, the cow bell rings when she wants me to come in--or she just walks up the ramp to visit. I got the tunes cookin' and I play 'em loud--and there's no one to answer to, no one to complain. It feels like I've always been here-or that I've finally found the place I've been looking for. Age does have some benefits.
Before I moved in-I put up a wall-gotta have a working wall. And this is the initial configuration:
I'm going to add another piece of sheetrock on the right side-so the working wall will be twelve feet in length-which should be sufficient. And eventually I'll put up shelves and when I get the courage up I'll clean the batshit out of the loft.

and these are the first sketches--a few warm-ups, just to get a groove going, get the feel of the place. Pastel and charcoal-nothing too heavy--just for fun:

I did them on crumpled up newsprint that was used as packing material in a box UPS brought us. I love working on garbage.
Well we don't drink anymore, I've even given up carbonation! So we'll break a bottle of Aquafina or something on the bow, and christen thee "The Barn". Here's to hard work and lost time. Here's to inspiration and life yet lived. Here's to seeing her in the garden just below my window on a hot summer's day. Here's to the cow bell and barbecues and sunsets. Here's to Studio #10. Long may she reign.
Goodbye, Brooklyn.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

George Sprott

I have been an intermittent reader of the Sunday funnies as printed in the NYTimes magazine, but not much of a fan. Leave it to the Times to take all of the lower east side ruff -n-tumble out of the comics and dress'em up and slick back their hair for presentation to society-folk uptown.
The Funnies weren't good enough for the Times, they had to wait until comics had been officially declared "Art" by the rest of the world before presenting them to mother. (And not on newsprint either-might soil your hands.)

That being said, of the many excellent cartoonists given audience in those pages in the last few years, none has fared better within the weekly format than Seth, whose contribution, "George Sprott", has just been collected in a beautiful package by Drawn & Quarterly.

I had been eagerly anticipating a "Sprott" collection, and somehow thinking it was to take the humble format of "Wimbeldon Green" , I was not prepared for the oversize book I finally held in my hands. To cut to the chase( for those who have lives), this is a terrific book, gorgeous to behold and far surpassing my expectations. It very well may be Seth's best work yet, it is certainly my favorite. Go buy it now.

Seth is one of those few cartoonists whose visual style is so perfectly suited to his literary pre-occupations you might have thought he worked it up as some graduate thesis in post-modern aesthetics. But rather than some distant academic pursuit, total immersion in "style" is an absolute necessity of life for Seth, a compulsion thoroughly examined in "It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken", his first book.

That pre-occupation has something to do with style-not as fuel for nostalgic reverie, but as signifier of a futile quest-to come to terms with life's passing, and to grasp something solid from the sand that slips through the hourglass. There is no stopping time, but in the post-modern era, style is all that is left to us. Movie set designers have made careers out of reconstructing the look of the past in exacting detail-masterfully manipulating the cultural signifiers of memory and loss( was the world ever sepia-tone? Or black and white?) and we accept that manipulation as not only pre-requisite for a journey to an historical period , but as some kind of proof of authenticity-as if the "authentic past" were something tangible, something verifiable in experience.

In "George Sprott" , as well as in "Wimbeldon Green" , Seth's visual style presents as an apparent pastiche of some undefinable past manner of the cartoon-whether from the back pages or side bars of magazines from the '40's or '50's, or the gag cartoons of "The New Yorker" -we're never exactly sure. While at the same time, that style, both in surface and substance, is absolutely contemporary, impossible to conceive of in any other era. In Seth's visualizations the past is fuzzy and indistinct, yet it is right there- forever present and out-of reach.

And what is wonderful in "George Sprott"-and I think a grand achievement amidst Seth's body of work, is the application of this approach- with all of its contradictions- in the service of portraiture. For Sprott too, is right there; given to us in fits and starts, in broad, sweeping strokes-as detailed a portrait as any of us is ever likely to receive-and yet Sprott remains unknowable, an unresolved tangle of reminiscences.

Television has become one the major repositories of cultural memory, we judge entire eras by their television "look"-(as if all of the Sixties really looked like "The Mamas and the Papas" on the Ed Sullivan show, and the Seventies like "the Brady Bunch" and "Charlie's Angels") and Seth's lead character is aptly enough, a television personality of the 1960's. Fittingly, all of the tapes for his shows have been lost, and so, that particular past, which would necessarily dominate all other pasts competing to define George Sprott, is left to be filled in by the voices of the interviewees; the friends, colleagues and relatives who tell his story. What are we missing without these video tapes? The suggestion is-- that while the TV shows are a tantalizing missing piece of the puzzle --not much. The essence of a life, lies beyond television's capabilities-and well beyond that of any single memory. We think we know Ed Sullivan, Robert Young, George Reeves. But what do we know? An image, a phantom, splayed out upon a screen in endless repetition.

How many times have we watched dvds of some obscure television show from our childhood, in the vain, unspoken hope that via the flickering images on the screen we might touch, feel, smell -something of that we have lost? Like the character in Jack Finney's "Time and Again" we
think by laying out the artifacts of a period past we might construct a time machine--as if time were merely some intellectual construct, rather than biological necessity.

The narrator of Seth's masterwork speaks simply and eloquently of time, and in so doing sums up the cartoonist's ambition and achievement: "...Maybe it's like these funnies..."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Look Out! Monsters News


In February of this year I received a University grant to help me publish a follow-up to Look Out! Monsters - and by this time next year that book should be in available to the public. ( And that means MoCCA -- if it remains a June show). I don't want to say too much just yet--but I can tell you this: I'm a little guy, but I like a big sandbox to play in-so LoM #2 ( and that's only the working title)will again be a large format collage-comic. It will involve newsprint and it will be tactile! It will be artsy-farty! It will be inscrutable. You will again pick it up and ask yourself-" what the f#*k?"
The other details I'll keep close to the vest for now-except to say that certain movie monsters don't seem to be lurking about it's pages.
News will be delivered as it suits me! so check back!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

excessive heat

Maybe it's a generational thing, but I'm afraid I just don't get all the fuss about Cold Heat, Frank Santoro and Ben Jones' trippy political thriller .I don't have the newest 48-page double issue which everyone is raving about, but I have read the the first four issues online-and well... ok. The story, which centers around a teenage girl named Castle and the near simultaneous deaths of a 90's rock icon and a politician's son, is entertaining enough, to be sure- in a Quentin Tarentino "I love trashy B-movies" kind of way. But Tarentino's manic-obsessive involvement with the mechanics of genre movie-making is what makes his best films so compelling, and from what I've read so far-Cold Heat doesn't rise to that level.

Yes -Cold Heat offers an array of neo-geo Paper Rad-style psychedelia all mixed up with a Nancy Drew-on-acid thriller--and that's amusing and entertaining as far as it goes. But too often the art (at least in the issues offered on-line) just doesn't live up to its ambition--or hype. After some scrutiny it seems clear that the artists have apparently developed some kind of algebraic equation, i.e.-the lack of detail and/or precision in execution in any given scenario is in inverse proportion to the amount of passion felt by the artist and thereby communicated to the reader, wherein passion = truth and truth = self-expression, or pi, or whatever. Thus detail is an obstacle to passion, proportion and volume are impediments to veracity, control is a barrier to expression.
I might be swayed by the argument if the art practiced what it preached with any kind of consistency--but Santoro's art is wildly erratic, and not in a way that always serves the story. Though there are occassional images of imagination and expressive power, the linework offers little variation, a sameness that lies flat on the surface. And then there are moments when one feels Santoro has a situation he simply does not have the patience or skills to address adequately. (He speaks to matters of temperament and sensibility in a revealing interview at Inkstuds)

In his best moments Santoro applies a delicate, lyrical, almost impressionistic approach to landscape-and after looking at his grand-opus "Storeyville" and "Cold Heat" one imagines that he may actually be quite a fine landscape painter. But these are qualities that are utterly lacking from his figurative work. And what passes for figurative work is just so inconsistent from one page to the next that it is impossible not to be "thrown out" of the story and into critical mode. (early on in the series, the characters are so difficult to recognize from panel to panel that the letterer has resorted to giving them identifying labels.)

The overlay of psychedelia may provide the narrative with a visual key to Castle's drug induced perceptions, but there's no escaping the nagging suspicion that the obsessive patterning is covering up for shortfalls in the illustrations.And I'm not advocating any sort of DC/Marvel mainstream photo-referenced approach to drawing in comics. I'm not into that. But I am questioning the apparent equivalence drawn between a particular manner of execution and its expressive capability, prevalent in a growing body of "art-comics" these days.

One of those professor's statements from art-school that has remained with me over the years : "don't think that just because you're feeling something that it translates into good painting."

He went on to say that over-the-top passion, the kind that young art-students tend to equate with some kind of truth, rarely results in great art( more often than not it makes for a big mess). Good painting, drawing, comics, is the result of a deliberative process, and some kind of balance between vision, temperament and skill. Pollock, De Kooning, Kline; Van Gogh, Matisse, Munch; Redon, Picasso, Schiele; Kirby, Herriman, Segar, Wilson, -all of these artists are expressionists of one kind or another-and all were disciplined and skilled in their approach to painting and drawing. Spontaneity and improvisation were hard-won attributes, skills developed over years of study-and it's evident in the quality of their work. Take a look at the most casual of Matisse's drawings or collages and you will see linework that is rich and full, that sounds a whole host of notes, not simply one key of the piano repeated over and over.

One of the best texts on drawing I know, The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting reveals that the most fleeting and spontaneous of Chinese Bamboo drawings, is the result of deliberation, patience and skill. The spirit of "chih" is arrived at through the artist's immersion in these qualities, revealed in the moment they place brush to paper. And brush is not placed to paper until the artist has achieved a moment of quiet, allowing for mind and body to act in unison. It's a text that offers good lessons-lessons that quickly dispell any romantic notions one might have about the relationship of passion to execution.

How much is the quality of a comic determined by its visualization?
There's no denying that Santoro's work offers an argument for a particular approach to visualizing comics. (listen to him discuss Chris Ware's work in the Inkstuds interview and you'll see what I mean ). He obviously believes in what he's doing, and to a number of folks he's made a compelling case.
His work displays a connection to 19th-century romantic-expressionist belief systems, and shows a strong connection the prints of Edvard Munch.

But the power of Munch's vision is his alone, and Munch's formal attributes are altogether more finely honed than those Santoro displays in Cold Heat. And I have yet to be swayed that a gestural approach to graphics in the tradition of the late 19th-early 20th century makes for better comics, unless, of course, one is in fact a late 19th- early 20thc. master. (or Sue Coe. or David Sandlin. or Eddie Campbell. or...)

Santoro speaks to this in the aforementioned Inkstuds interview when he mentions Chris Ware's conception of the symbol in comics--and it's a discussion well worth engaging. At this point I think Ware's approach is aesthetically more tenable.

I find the story of Cold Heat entertaining although not mind-blowing. But its visualizations more or less ruin it for me. Others disagree--but for me, I think it starts with the art --and if I don't dig it, then I don't buy it. And at $20. a pop, I'm not engaged enough to find out if Cold Heat 5-6 is more to my liking.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"The Making of Look Out! Monsters at

If you're one of the millions, billions who've purchased "Look Out!Monsters" only to ask-"what the?"--then fret no more! "The Making of Look Out! Monsters" is now a feature article at THE premier Horror Comics! So what are you waiting for--

hit the link and resolve all those questions that have kept you awake so many, many nights!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Nice Work updates on Fridays!

1961! Kennedy! the Mob! Castro! in The Wild, Wild West with Johnny Cat, Sinatra-stand-in supreme! Every Friday at Modern Tales and Webcomicsnation! Here's a taste:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Frank Robbins saves the NYC Comic-Con

Lissen, I didn't have a great NYC Comic-Con. Sales were slow, and I was wearing some kind of invisibility cloak or something-I don't know. How do you make the best out of a bad at a comic con? Buy some original comic strip art! So dig it-I picked up a daily "Johnny Hazard" by one of my all-time favorite cartoonists-Frank Robbins.

My first introduction to Robbins' work was as a writer for a variety of Batman comics at DC in the early '70's. I knew nothing of "Johnny Hazard"-the daily comic strip he'd been doing since the forties. I didn't know he was an artist. He was a solid, interesting and relatively dark writer--and he would have been utterly out-of-place in the pages of Batman at any time earlier. But Robbins not only wrote Batman--he drew as well--and so I finally saw the complete package in the pages of "Detective" in 71 or 72. In those days-Neal Adams was the man and his super-cool, beautifully polished brand of realism was THE style Batman fans drooled over. And if it couldn't be Adams, then it had to be the suave, sophisticated Jim Aparo. Robbins--with all of his brushy inkiness, his hyper-kinetic figures, his jittery line, his animated pages--was a rude shock to the system in those days.

Needless to say, those very qualities that put me off back when I was a kid are exactly the ones I cherish in Robbins' art today. His pages are so alive--and utterly without pretense. Without resorting to splashy layouts or graphic gimmickry, Robbins invests every single line, every figure, every object, every page-- with animation. These pages live, man! You can feel the sweat off of his characters--and its not because Robbins felt he had to draw the beads of perspiration dripping down a forehead.

Despite his success as a respected cartoonist in the hallowed land of the daily adventure strip, amidst the likes of Caniff and Gould, Frank Robbins had the bad luck to follow fan favorite artists on at least two titles in the Seventies: The Shadow--which he picked up after what has become a legendary run by Mike Kaluta on the first issues of that title--and then stalwart Sal Buscema on Captain America. The outcry was intense-particularly after Robbins took on C.A.--which, in the hands of Steve Englehart and Buscema had developed a particularly compelling storyline and a devoted audience. Buscema had left his mark via a rather bland but dependable application of Marvel's 1970's house style--and Robbins, whose work was nothing if not highly individualized--was like a smack in the eye to readers who'd grown accustomed to Buscema's non-offensive conventionality. Initially I was among those who was irate at Buscema's replacement--and for a moment I wavered in my support of the title. But this was the "Nomad" storyline--and Englehart kept me coming back for more. Somewhere through my second reading of CA #182-I was hooked. Robbins characters were so passionate, his figures so contorted, twisted and alive. Nomad's travels across city-rooftops were imbued with animation and danger-- Robbins' figures in space could just as easily fall to their deaths as traverse the alleys between buildings.

Robbins stayed with Cap for another year or so--and then with Roy Thomas he originated "The Invaders" --and left his mark on one of the first truly post-modern adventure groups in the Marvel canon He continued to produce "Johnny Hazard" until 1977. How he did comic books and comic strips simultaneously is beyond me. I lost track of his career--I've read he retired, quite happily, to Mexico after "Hazard". He certainly didn't need to hang around and take all of the crap heaved at him by irate fanboys calling for his head after Buscema left C.A. But I cherish those issues of Captain America, those dark and inky Batmans. I keep that work accessible to me in my studio-right along my copies of Kirby and Canniff and Eisner. I refer to it frequently---hoping a little of the life in his drawing seeps into mine.

But Frank Robbins was inimitable---and the qualities that make him great are those of personality and sensibility, they come around once and once only.

*"Batman" copyright DC Comics. images from Detective#426. Oct 1971. "Captain America" & "Nomad" copyright Marvel Comics. Images from CA. # 182 and #183, Feb. March 1974-75. apologies for the bad scans!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Look Out!Monsters at

One of the nicer moments at NYC Comic-con was being introduced to
Rob Caprilozzi and his wife and their website: , where you will find everything you ever wanted to know about monster comics new and old. It's a terrific site, chock-a-block full of interesting material--particularly the "Making of..." feature--which highlights the creative process of just about everyone working in the genre of "Monster Comics" today. I've been asked to contribute a piece as well-and I'll be putting that together in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile---The Big Bad Wolf asked me some questions about "Look Out!Monsters!"-
and that interview is right here:

So check it out!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Life after Previews

Leave it to me to start a publishing company during an economic avalanche and at the same time that print is sounding its death knell. Not to mention that the largest single comics distributor is effectively eliminating the small press from its catalogue( a development that seems to be welcome to everyone but small press publishers).
Yet is strikes me that Rahm Emanuel has it right when he says that every crisis offers an opportunity (or something to that effect) and for those well positioned, now would seem to be the time for the establishment of a serious and distinct small press/alt-comics distributor.
What would that look like? For starters, I imagine an online only catalogue;-a fully functioning, well maintained and attractive website that presents its vendors well and is user-friendly for retailers and potential customers. In order to draw customers to the site it would have to offer at least a few big independent publishers and a number of well-known independent creators. There'd have to be a big promotional push, advertisements and interviews, signings and events.
I'm not a distributor, nor do I know the intricacies of coordinating hundreds of publishers with thousands of retailers. It takes organization, a good chunk of money and decent technology. It takes more than one person in the office. But there are people out there doing this already-it would seem that now is the time to step up the effort and while it sounds crazy, put some money into the enterprise. It might require small press publishers to pay some kind of annual fee-$100. or so-as in a co-op. Obviously this wouldn't cover expenses for the distributor-but it might fund the website. and that's a start.
Easier said than done, no doubt. But as the mainstream has its single source in Diamond, perhaps if there was a single source for alt-comics, interested retailers, art galleries and bookstores would be able to locate and order our work easily.

Freedom from the mainstream might also encourage the cultivation of a broader array of retailers. Jettisoned from comics shops, alt-comics might begin to find a place in galleries, bookstores, coffee shops and other venues. The model exists, undergrounds sold out of head shops-why shouldn't alt-comics sell out of bookstores and art galleries?

My feeling about Ka-Boom ( the POD printer that has recently announced a direct-market distribution service) is that there are too many limitations. Distribution with Ka-Boom requires printing with Ka-Boom and while that works for some things, I couldn't have done "Look Out!Monsters" or "Nice Work" under those circumstances. No, I don't think tying POD to distribution is appropriate to a movement that seeks to break with the norms in all manners of packaging and content.
These are random thoughts, not fully thought out, admittedly--but the important point is that there exists an opportunity in the fallout from this economic wreck. What form it will take-that has yet to be determined. More web-comics? you bet. An "Image"-style publishing house for art-comics? Hey-that's a whole 'nother post. But ideas are flying now--and its time to contribute to the discussion.
While the dust continues to settle-I'll be in Artist's Alley at the NY Comic-Con this week--with the entire line of L.o.M. books--"Look Out!Monsters (made it onto another "best of 08" list! check out Adam McGovern at ), Nice Workand Dr. Speck, the all ages alt-comics "super" hero (well-- his head inflates, what kind of power is that?)--and I'm introducing some brand new posters. In these dour times, I'm looking to have some fun--and what better place to find it than at the Javits Center this weekend?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Patrick McGoohan

There was nothing like "The Prisoner" on television in 1968. There is still very little that compares to it today--in its deliberate quirkiness, its refusal to follow the established formula of the 6o-minute teleplay. Imagine the staid audiences of 1968-trained on "Gunsmoke", "The Andy Griffith Show", "F Troop", even the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." and --tuning in to "The Prisoner". More than one viewer probably called their station to complain--or maybe called the TV repairman to get their "regular TV back on the screen".

I was 8 years old in 1968, left alone during summer Saturday evenings--and "The Prisoner" fascinated me. Man it was weird-soooweird. And creepy. What the hell was that big latex ball? Gave me nightmares-still does.
And that concept--falling asleep, waking up in your own apartment--but transported to an entirely different place--how cool was that? I remember looking out my bedroom window wondering if I really was where I thought I was.
'Good question.
McGoohan gave no quarter in that series, he never succumbed to the conventional demand for closure-revelling instead in the ambiguities raised by his premise, and engaging the philosophical complexities of the post WWII cold-war society we were creating. And if you shared his dark sense of humor-"the Prisoner" was funny -like a knife.And colorful--love those umbrellas. The 'ending" to the series is no ending at all--a maze within a puzzle within a riddle--it answers nothing and yet confirms our worst expectations. Did Six escape? Is there an escape?
It's the narrative possibilities that stay with me today. The questions the series raises-about individuality, about the social collective, mind control-media control; the symbols McGoohan utilized to engage difficult ideas in an entertaining way.
I'm not hopeful for the new series--"The Prisoner" was the result of one man's vision. And like any work of art, there's no recreating it--why bother? It's like trying to repaint Matisse.
So I imagine they should have a parade to celebrate Six in Portmerion. Bring out those rainbow umbrellas, march in unison throughout the square-chanting"SixSixSixSix".
Patrick McGoohan would've hated that. and that's as it should be.

Be seeing you.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ditko's World

Whew! I just finished Blake Bell's Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko--and not soon enough. Not for any fault of Blake Bell's-who has produced an attractive, detailed and insightful tome on Ditko's 50 -odd year professional career. Rather, I'm relieved to be free of Ditko's oppressive worldview, so thoroughly conveyed via Bell's comprehensive research and analysis.There are points-particularly late in the book-where I wanted to scream-- at Ditko's intransigence, obstinance, --his complicity in his own martyrdom.
The artist who emerges within this text is difficult, self-destructive and self-aggrandizing- with an apparent disdain for his audience, fans, and the early career creations for which he is justly revered. His sense of his own righteousness and the perceived failure of his readers, co-workers, collaborators--oh, just about anyone within striking distance-- to live up to his(and Ayn Rand's) moral code is suffocating, effectively ensuring the artist's isolation and long artistic decline-- and perhaps that's the point. Was there something in his make-up that made these circumstances an inevitability?
There is plenty of room for analysis of the personality within these pages, but alas, if Mr. Bell has entertained any ideas in this regard, the reader is not privy to them. Aside from the descriptions of Ditko's early life in Pennsylvania, there is scant biographical information presented here.While Bell has covered Diko's public and professional life in detail, charting creative differences, office interactions, editorial discussions and the like across every phase of the artist's career, the man outside of the office remains remote.

Has Ditko ever formed any romantic attachments? Has he been heartbroken? Cared for elderly parents? Does he have kids? What about relatives? Relations with his siblings, nieces, nephews? Does he like cats? dogs? Is there anyone who can speak well of the man? Has he ever been known for acts of kindness, of generosity--of any kind? What kind of deprivations has his isolation imposed on his life? What was it in his life that made him so susceptible to Rand's stark philosophy--and to super-heroes? Is there more to him than the bleak and unforgiving Rand-acolyte described in this book?

These are not questions asked out of prurient interest. They fulfill the basic requirements of biography-to help the reader understand the motivations and choices of an important artist. Even if Ditko's personal life has been uneventful---that observation would merit inclusion here.

That said--Bell has given us an interesting and detailed overview of the artist's professional life and his half-century career-all in a very attractive package. Bell reveals Ditko's early influences and examines Ditko's artistic development, pointing out both the highlights and the low points of Ditko's long career with a critical eye and leaving the reader with a good understanding of Ditko's continued importance and the reasons for his decline.
And Ditko's best work shines--those Warren pages alone are worth the price of admission--and examples from each phase of Ditko's career are represented here and given quality reproduction on big, big pages. Much of it is a joy to look at. Much of it is a reminder of lost potential. As one scans images of Shade or Stalker, Bell's descriptions of the many fruitless editorial discussions between Ditko and those who hoped to hire him late in his career become palpable; the frustrations real.

This is a book I will look at again and again, and refer to for insight into Ditko's work - that is for certain. But questions remain. Towards the end of the book Bell describes a striking scene in the artist's studio wherein Ditko stands over a cutting board apparently cutting up original artwork from the 1950's, valued in the thousands of dollars, rather than trust it to the vagaries of the open market or to exchange with a colleague.

Who does that? Who is this guy?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Btwn the Lns 2: questions and answers;Hopper and Rockwell

In interviews over the years Neal Adams has voiced his admiration for the work of Norman Rockwell, describing him as a consummate story-teller. On that score you get no argument from me-- or those zillions of other calendar/poster purchasing consumers. Rockwell's continued popularity resides in the clarity of his narrative, the familiarity of his characters and the innocent humor with which he presents depression-era America.

Every aspect of a Rockwell image contributes to the story he is telling--from the obvious details-- such as the facial expressions of his characters, their postures, the clothes they wear--to those that are more subtle;-- the time, the place, the details of the setting. In Rockwell's world- all of the elements are explicit--so that there is no mistaking where, when or what. This explicitness extends to the manner by which he handles his materials as well, reigning in any expressive capabilities of his brush and paint, lest they clutter the canvas and distract from the narrative.

The painter Edward Hopper also mines the terrain of that period-and while he is certainly admired, it would seem odd to say he was popular. He too tells a story, and depicts an America that is familiar --and while one could repeat many of the same words used above to describe Hopper's use of detail- the end result is something quite different. And that difference resides in Hopper's inclination to be circumspect, to imply rather than explain.

It would be a mistake to say that Hopper simply plays with ambiguity for its own sake. His images are filled with questions, questions that arise not only because of his discreetness but also because of his interest in the ineffable, his deep feeling for light--and time. He uses paint to encapsulate the mystery of light upon a door , not to paint the door.

Rockwell's narratives-as pleasing and comforting as they are--conform to well-known archetypes, to an idea of a mythic America that is well-known. Every thing he depicts is complete, defined-- according to the needs of his narrative -and his audiences'expectations. He uses paint to satisfy expectation-- to define his objects, settings and people so well that questions are resolved apriori .

It is not only this-but the character of the questions Rockwell addresses: "what does an archetypal awkward teenager(of the depression-era) wear on a prom or first date? Where would they go? Who would be there? What would they say? How would they interact? What kind of soda would they drink?" -- that are both the source of his success as an illustrator--and the limitation of his art.
With Hopper we are left to wonder. The place and time are familiar to us-we recognize the light of morning, the brownstone rooftops. But the light-- seems not to define setting so much as to penetrate the inner life of the figure, to illuminate the relationship between the figure and the ineffable; inquiry and contemplation, the known and the unknowable.