Above: Me with my trusty MOMEntum tour guide. "And here we have the work of French master, David B."
So this past weekend I had the extreme good fortune of visiting the great city of Minneapolis for the opening of MOMEntum, a retrospective exhibition of the first 15 issues of MOME at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. The exhibition was the brainchild of MOME contributor and MCAD faculty member Zak Sally and his colleague, Barbara Schulz, who invited me to curate an exhibition of what I considered to be the cream of MOME's crop. Here's some scenes from the show:
The show was a raging success and I spent all of Friday at MCAD engaged in a variety of activities. We started the day with lunch and a quick tour of the facilities, including a look at both the MOME show and a student show that was also opening that night. I was immediately struck by the high level of craft that permeated all of the student work - clearly the students were learning something at MCAD. None of the most common (and easiest to avoid) mistakes that young cartoonists make in comics - poor lettering, unclear panel-to-panel transitions, lazy panel bordering, etc. - were on display. There was a fundamental clarity to all of the work that you rarely see in the work of 20-year-olds. I was impressed from the get-go, and only moreso as the day went on.
In the afternoon, I gave a powerpoint lecture to the students. This was the most challenging part of the trip for me; I'd never spoken to such a large captive audience of young cartoonists and wasn't sure what to expect. I talked about how much the landscape has changed for aspiring cartoonists entering the professional world from when I began working in comics professionally about 15 years ago, for better and for worse, and how I saw MOME fitting into that landscape. It was a potentially unseemly blend of art and commerce that seemed to go over fairly well, or so everyone told me. I have no doubt that even if I had dropped my drawers and did my business on stage, these kind-hearted Midwesterners would have still complimented me and thanked me for my time.
After the lecture, I sat in on one of Barbara Schulz's afternoon comics classes and did an impromptu portfolio review... for three hours. To be honest, this could have been the most grueling, painful thing I've ever done in my life if not for the fact that, hey, these kids aren't bad at all. Giving a face-to-face portfolio review is incredibly awkward if you have nothing sincerely constructive to say. So it was not without some apprehension that I waded into the first review. But by the end, I was cruising, these kids made my job easy. None were perfect, but all had something uniquely going for them that was easy to sink my teeth into and use as a springboard for a larger conversation about strengths and weaknesses. I think I got as much out of it as they did.
I've always been a bit cynical about the ability to teach comics. But in the wake of schools like CCS, SCAD, and MCAD, and coming out of last weekend, I am fully prepared to admit that this might be my own cross to bear having come from a time when there were virtually no accredited academic institutions that acknowledged comics as an artform or anything other than a strange bastard child of the illustration field. Yet here at MCAD, I had fine art professors coming up to me and thanking me for putting the show together and telling me how excited they were to talk about the work with their students. I'm not sure anyone under the age of 30 can appreciate how unusual it would have been throughout much of the last century for a Fine Art department at a serious art school to treat comics as a legitimate form of expression, what with all of that nasty representational imagery getting in the way of pure-hearted, abstract expressionism. Yet here I was, in Minneapolis, a guest of the school and being asked to do just that.
The MOME show opening that night was a blast. MOME contributors Tom Kaczynski (pictured above with his mother!), Zak Sally (pictured above with his son and father -- it was a family affair!) and Nathan Neal were all in attendance, as was most of the Minneapolis comics scene, including Will Dinski, Sarah Morean, Brett Von Schlosser, and the notorious Mr. Mike, Mayor of Mt. Holly, MN. After the event, a bunch of us (including our old pal Eric Lorberer, proprietor of the excellent book review, Rain Taxi) headed over to the great Big Brain Comics to get our geek on and rendezvous with proprietor Michael Drivas. Big Brain is, hands-down, one of the finest comic shops I've ever been to, and my only regret is that I visited it after spending 11 exhausting hours at MCAD. I was literally too tired to shop, coveting beer and food more than comics by that point, although I still managed to almost unconsciously bring a small pile of goods to the counter, including the latest issue of Found magazine, which I literally had gone to about six different locations in Seattle to search out, only to find in about 30 seconds within Big Brain. Every city in America needs a Michael Drivas.
After Big Brain, we headed next door to Grumpy's, the Minneapolis institution owned by longtime friend of Fanta Tom Hazelmeyer, also the founder of Amphetamine Reptile records and perhaps better known to old school comic fans as the guy that made all of those cartoonist Zippo lighters back in the 1990s. The beer flowed and by the end of the night, even this urbane, sophisticated group of serious ah-teests were reduced to talking about -- what else? -- the Watchmen movie, of course, even though none of us had seen it. But this was not before Tom K and I made our case to Zak Sally and (I think) persuaded him to go rent the one, true great genre film classic of the last decade-plus: Starship Troopers.
And with thoughts of art comics and Paul Verhoeven still racing through my brain, I called it a day.
Saturday was our day to sightsee, and we spent the first half of the day at the Walker Art Center. We lucked out and happened to hit the museum on Free First Saturday, where this Sara Varon display greeted us right inside the front door:
I'll leave my critique of the Walker for another time. I liked some of it, disliked a lot of it. There's something wrong when the Lichtenstein starts looking better and better as the day wears on (and if you didn't think that was possible, try again after looking at one serious portrait of Kurt Cobain after another for an hour), while other installations made me think I'd inadvertently taken a left turn into an Ikea. I know, I am a sad dilettante who believes comics should be respected. That said, I found the Joseph Beuys exhibition surprisingly affecting and beautiful, totally contrary to what I expected going in, and would have loved to have absorbed more of it if not for the fact that my eight-month-old daughter really liked the acoustics in that room, necessitating a hasty exit. While waiting for an elevator, I noticed this peculiar typo in a stairwell:
Is the modern art world turning into the Modern Arf world? Speaking of which, one of my favorite parts of the Walker was actually the gift/book shop, where I was pleased to see Fantagraphics well-represented. It was particularly cool to see Jacob Covey and Adam Grano's designs alongside so many great art books:
Adam attended MCAD for a little less than two years and I'm guessing that young MCAD Adam would have been pretty thrilled to know that in a few short years he'd be able to find his work in the Walker.
The highlight of the trip, however, came after MCAD, and after the Walker, and that was our tour of the grim and gritty La Mano offices, courtesy La Mano El Jefe, Zak Sally (after an absolute kick-ass lunch at Brasa, which singlehandedly made me consider moving to MN). Zak gave us the V.I.P. tour, showing us the La Mano printing press, as well as his art studio, where much of the forthcoming Sammy the Mouse #3 hangs on the wall. There are few things in life more enjoyable to me than seeing where an artist I admire does what he does, and La Mano was no disappointment. Here's a few pics:
And that's about all I got. Aside from the fact that Minneapolis was clearly settled centuries ago on a gorgeous spring or fall day with little regard for how the rest of the seasons might pan out, I could live there and look forward to returning. Oh, and to bring things full-circle, this was one of the last things we saw in Minneapolis before boarding our plane back to Seattle:
As you are surely aware by now if you've been following this blog, Fantagraphics will be releasing two graphic novels by the great French cartoonist Jacques Tardi this summer. Yesterday I discussed the first of the two, Ici même. Today I hit the other one: West Coast Blues, née Le petit bleu de la côte Ouest.
Tardi has always had a special affinity for detective-slash-crime fiction, so it was natural that he would pair up with Jean-Patrick Manchette. Aside from being the pre-eminent crime writer of his generation, with ten short, powerfully dark crime novels to his credit, Manchette happened to be an enthusiastic comics fan. (Those scenes in Tardi's adaptation of West Coast Blues in which one of the hitmen enjoys a French-language Spider-Man comic are not Tardi's comics-centric invention, in fact; they're in the original text.)
American Eurocomics fans with long memories may remember that back in the early 1990s, our own Pictopia magazine serialized Griffu, a hardboiled Tardi thriller from 1978 written by none other than Manchette. And hardboiled fiction fans may in fact already be aware of Three to Kill, released by City Lights in 2002, which in fact is the English translation of the original Petit Bleu novel. It's out of print (although you can find inexpensive copies at Amazon.com), but The Prone Gunman, which City Lights released the same year, isn't.
(New Manchette fans may be intrigued at the thought of the 1980 Alain Delon-starring film of Petit bleu, retitled 3 hommes à abattre, but as I understand it the film is neither particularly good nor particularly faithful to Manchette, nor were two subsequent Delon-starring Manchette adaptations, and they were a prime element in Manchette's ongoing disillusionment with the film industry.)
Anyway, Manchette passed away in 1995, leaving Griffu as his only graphic novel (although Manchette did place his imprint on French comics in one other important way, as the French translator of one of the seminal graphic novels of the 1980s: Watchmen). So for those of us who really liked Griffu, it came as great news when Tardi decided to give that book a new sibling, an adaptation of Le petit bleu de la côte Ouest, which was released in 2005.
Tomorrow: My concluding speech and exhortation, and a longish preview of You Are There.
A couple of weeks ago, Wired.com profiled nine different comic store employees, including Gary Panter's daughter Olive. However, their feature focused solely on stores either in New York or the Bay Area, bypassing the Emerald City and our very own fine establishment, the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery. Therefore, we've taken it upon ourselves to spotlight an employee from our store (whom you might also meet staffing our booth at various conventions across the country), using the same basic questions Wired used for their interviews. Wired.com, you're welcome.
Name: Janice Headley Store: Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery Age: 32 Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Lives in: Seattle, Washington Background: Also runs the arts-n-crafts website copacetique.com (currently on hiatus), and works in the Programming Department at KEXP.ORG
If you could be any comic book character, who would it be? Pupshaw. My best friend would be a kitty, and I'd have a loyal, awesome admirer to romp with. Sounds good to me! Plus, I could make an army of tiny me's spring from my mouth and attack my enemies. Cutest. Death. Ever.
Which title has fallen farthest from grace? Hmmm... I'm gonna get SO much crap for this, but for me personally, I'm gonna have to say Popeye. You see, for me, it all comes down to the Whiffle Hen. In Volume One, I was entranced by the Whiffle Hen. I eagerly turned page after page, wondering, "Where's the Whiffle Hen?" But in Volume Two? No Whiffle Hen. Forget about Volume Three. Nope. Totally off the Popeye wagon here.
Which has risen like a phoenix out of the ashes of suck-itude? Any comic out there that wants to adopt a Whiffle Hen...
How long have you worked in a comic store? How did you start? I guess it's been something like a year and a half now? I took over for the awesome Ms. Rhea Patton, wife of also-awesome Eric Reynolds, who used to work the Sunday shift until she got pregnant with the lovely lil' Miss Clementine. As the spouse of a Fantagraphics employee myself, the application process was surprisingly simple.
What are the best and worst parts about working in a comic store? Best: Getting to talk to customers about comics. What can I say, I love dorking out with fellow enthusiasts. It feels great introducing someone to a new artist, or telling them about new books coming out, and then watching them freak out with excitement. That rules. Also, our bookstore shares its space with Georgetown Records, so I get to spend my shifts listening to obscure 60's garage rock.
Worst: The customers who spend three hours in the Eros corner, staring at me creepily, and then they leave without buying a thing. Quit it.
What's the least nerdy thing about you? Everything about me is nerdy. Everything.
What's the worst misconception about comic books and their fans? Besides the misconception that comics are a "guy" thing? That we don't get any sex. Let the recent Fanta baby boom put that misconception to rest!
Why is there such a big crossover between comic book fans and tech junkies? Is there? I don't know if that's necessarily true in our world. Sometimes when I try to tell customers to check out our website, they shake their heads and frown. I think there's still a large number of comic book fans who prefer the good ol' fashioned storefront.
Do you have any anecdotes about working in a comic store? This really precocious kid came in once, maybe 9 or 10 years old. He looked up at me wide-eyed and said, "These aren't normal comics, are they? These comics are... are..." He scrunched up his face, like he was trying to find the right word from last week's vocab test. And then looked back up, beaming with pride, and said, "These comics are revolutionary!" Awwwww! So right you are, kid.
Kevin Huizenga, Ted May and Dan Zettwoch, co-creators of the recently-canceled (and consistently great) strip Amazing Facts... and Beyond! with Leon Beyond, are seeking to keep Leon alive in online form by accepting commissions (strips on a topic of your choice, prices ranging from a paltry $30 up to $200), donations in any amount, and subscriptions in what they call a "Beyondathon" of fundraising. Read Leon's plea and open your wallet!
20/20 Club members: check your inbox for details on how you can have a chance to buy one of a scant handful of recently-unearthed copies of the outrageously out-of-print #$@&! The Official Lloyd Llewellyn Collection by Daniel Clowes! Plus there's an incredible bonus if you combine it with an order of $100 or more. All the details are in the email; if you're a 20/20 Club member and you don't receive the email, for pete's sake write me at "mbaehr" at this here "fantagraphics.com" domain before the end of the week so I can add you to our mailing list and send you all the details.
Everyone else: we'll have another semi-related contest next week featuring an even rarer Lloyd Llewellyn collectible, so be on the lookout for an announcement because you'll have to act fast. And if you're not a 20/20 Club member yet, this is the kind of crazy exclusive offer we'll throw at you every once in a while, in addition to all the usual benefits (20% off, breaks on shipping), once you sign up...
• Review: Bookforum says of the two volumes of Beasts!: "Covey’s brave band of 180 artists... put these mythological and folkloric beings on vivid display. The distinct and varied styles of the cartoonists, illustrators, and graphic artists give further evidence of each creature’s unique characteristics... The enthusiastically detailed evocations in these books give us all reason to believe."
• Review: Dear Stranger reads The End #1 by Anders Nilsen and declaims "It’s sad. In that way that things are only ever sad when they’re really honest, so it’s beautiful, but you feel a bit guilty for thinking so -- because under the beauty, it’s still sad, honestly so."
• Review: The Star Clipper Blog says "[Esther Pearl Watson's] Unlovable spares no degrading detail, but still remains an ironically loving tribute to the awkward protagonist... these monstrous depictions of early puberty could be found in just about anyone's high school yearbook... perhaps the perfect teenage girl experience."
When I decided to launch this "Tardi library" project, I quickly knew that I wanted to include as one of the first books Ici même. This is, if I do say so myself, a bit of nervy move, because Ici même is long (at almost 200 fairly dense pages, it's among his most massive) and, in its satirical, surreal playfulness, difficult to pigeonhole (NOT a World War I drama! NOT a detective novel! NOT a Feuillade-esque fantasy romp!) and not exactly the most accessible of Tardi's works.
But Ici même is one of the milestones of French comics. Created in collaboration with Jean-Claude Forest (of Barbarella fame), its serialization was the centerpiece of the first year or so of (À Suivre), the great '80s comics anthology that dragged European comics out of its character-oriented, genre-oriented, endless-serial prehistory. Originally conceived by Forest (and trust me, if you know Forest only from Barbarella, or even worse only Barbarella the movie, you have NO idea) as a film, it was one of the first book-length comics to be designed specifically as a single, self-contained piece of fiction. When Ici même ends, it is most definitely over.
So I figured by God, if I was going to take a stab at Tardi, I'd start at the top.
But as I said, Ici même is a bit of an atypical Tardi... Which is one of the reasons the other Tardi I picked to kick off with was a ball-busting crime thriller (which comes in at a very tidy 80 pages). But there's a number of things I want to chat about on this one, including its connections to Alain Delon and Watchmen, so I'll see you here again tomorrow.