Experienced Amazing Art at LACMA in Los Angeles last November. An Etching called Das Waldfraulen (The Maid of the Woods) and more

art museums and art that inspires me

Last November, I visited some folks that I know and love in sunny, smoggy Los Angeles. I always check out art museums and parks when I travel. It’s very important for any working artist to continue to research art history and to see art in person. I love all kinds of art, and I got lucky with some spectacular artwork while I was there. At LACMA, there were three things that really stood out for me.

I was in one of the galleries, when I approached an etching that was about 16”x30”. It was called Das Waldfraulen (The Maid of the Woods) from 1845 by Eugen Napoleon, a German artist. I was about to get my mind blown. I don’t want to give away too much of the story of this artwork, so you can experience the surprise for yourself. (Somewhat of a spoiler alert.) But I will say a few things. Basically, in the center of the visual field there is a lovely maiden, being comforted or protected by a young man. They are resting at the base of a tree, and the strongest light source shines on them, so the viewer’s eye is drawn there first. They are surrounded by gnarly, twisted trees and shrubs; a woodsy scene. It’s drawn in a beautiful, busy, detailed, expressive style. The eye then moves to the center of the composition, where there is some kind of demon above the couple. The maiden is shielding herself with her hand, the couple are both looking ahead of them, as if there is something sinister approaching from the right side of the composition. But you can’t see what’s coming, it’s blocked by trees, which adds to the mystery. Two of their friends are in the bottom right corner, one is panicking and the other is praying to heavens. Does the etching represent the fear of nature and the unknown? The fear of getting lost in the woods?

Then you start to look around to the rest of the painting, and there is another maiden. And she is being threatened by another demon/etc or being tended to by her companions. Then another maiden. Then another one. And another… and so on. It’s not a goofy Where’s Waldo kind of deal. Each maiden is hides in a layer that includes an interesting use of perspective. Which makes this piece one of the most fascinating and engaging drawings I have ever looked at. The layers of perspective in this artwork are outstanding. It’s like going to a National Park and staring at a scenic viewpoint that stretches for hundreds of miles, and trying to take it all in. I can’t imagine how long this artwork must have taken to complete. There must have been at least dozens of prepatory sketches, and then larger sketches to work them all into a cohesive unit. I made a mental note that I need to purchase a print of this piece when I returned home. I should have checked the LACMA gift shop to see if they have one. Much to my chagrin, when I returned home, I googled the image and could not find a single retailer selling it. I couldn’t even really find anything about the piece, so it must not be well known. I love this etching! (Update: you can now find this image online, but you can’t see any of the detail that makes it so great. That’s why you need to see art in person.)

Between that last piece, and all the fantastic art at LACMA, I would have been happy with my visit. But I was in for some more treats. Or tricks? I think a goal of art should be to make the familiar unfamiliar. Take something the viewer knows about, and then change their perspective about it. Make them see it in a new light. The aim is not to distort or confuse, but to reveal. Down into the rabbit hole, seek and find something new. The opposite goal is also important; make the unfamiliar familiar. Take something that the viewer is uncomfortable with, or doesn’t know well, and make it familiar. Find a a way that the audience can relate; a way that the viewer can identify with the art. For example, themes today could include the refugee crisis, sexuality, war and violence, our warming climate, and the struggle for human rights. By choosing one of these two goals, you can usually create some great art. Aren’t there enough portraits of landscapes and baskets of fruit in the world? Non threatening subject matter is often uninspiring, happy to collect dust in the Imperial Museum, near the river of sleep. Isn’t there enough vapid art and soporific music?

Which brings me back to LACMA and the small exhibit of prints titled “Fantasies and Fairytales” which collected graphic works from around 1900. “Ooh” I thought to myself, here we go.” Every piece was unique and inspiring, I must have spent up to an hour in the room. The standout piece was Christ’s Descent into Limbo by Pieter Van Der Heyden, an etching from 1561. In this image, limbo is populated by all kinds of strange creatures and demons.

The third amazing thing I saw at LACMA was part of their exhibit on Stereograms and 3D art. A stereogram is a way to make images appear three dimensional to the viewer. You view a pair of images through binoculars called a stereoscope. It tricks the eye into combining the pair into one image, and seeing depth in the image, much the way our eyes work.

There was a table with the stereoscope on top. You peeked through the binoculars to view images that took you to another world. There were scenes of comical, cartoony yet somewhat realistic skeletons, people and demons, doing various things like eating at a banquet, things that look funny when skeletons and devils are doing it. And of course the scene looked even more appealing because it appeared three dimensional. Each scene appeared in black and white, and you could press a button to add color to the scene. When you press the button, parts of the scene would be illuminated by colored lights, like the skeleton’s eyes. The scenes were “laced with political and social commentary about France around the time of Napoleon III’s regime (1852-70.)” They had a lot of detail for being so tiny. This was one of the funniest and most interesting artworks I’ve ever seen in my life. You have to experience it. It’s called Les Diableries, Ou Voyage Dans L’autre Monde (Devilments, or Voyage to the Other World.) It was created by two French artists, Louis Alfred Habert and Pierre Adolphe Hennetier in 1875, from hand colored, albumen silver prints. When backlit, the colored light shines in the image because of small, strategically placed pinpricks.

I managed to visit a few other museums while I was in LA, they were all excellent. I’ll be back every year. New York and LA are my favorite American cities; I could see myself living in LA but the air pollution is pretty bad. I went during the wildfires, which was even worse, Malibu was burning to the ground. Also, LA is not a walkable city, which is unfortunate. That Mediterranean climate calls me though, my body wants to be there; it recognizes that feeling of “home.”

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10 Picks for 2018. (And Ten More)

Books I like, comics, graphic novels

Here are ten graphic novels / comic collections, etc that I really enjoyed reading this year. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever come across. If you scroll below this post, you can read more in depth reviews about a few of them. Those books are marked with an *.

*Art Spiegelman Conversations (2007)

Great interviews of the author and his wife, history of comics. Led to finding a lot more comics based on his recommendations.

*Threads from the Refugee Crisis (2017) Kate Evans

Important and beautifully rendered book. See full review below.

*Little Nemo Vol 1 (1905-1907) and Vol 2 (1907-1908)

Friggin’ classic. Large pages with dense text and illustrations. Read a few each night before going to sleep, or when you can’t sleep.

* R.F. Outcault’s the Yellow Kid: A Centennial Celebration of the Kid Who Started the Comics (1995)

This funny lookin’ kid started it all. See full review. So much going on, on each page. This is where the term yellow journalism comes from. Interesting history.

Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer. Undocumented Vignettes from a Pre-American Life Alberto Ledesma (2017)

Great. Comics, essays, and drawings. Helps people understand what it is like to be an immigrant to the United States.

Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me Lovina Mapa. (2017)

I love this book. It starts with the author’s memories of growing up in the Philippines in the 1980’s. In 1986 there was a People Power revolution. It was a bloodless revolution in the Philippines, that overthrew an autocratic government. Which preceded, but has similarity to the colour revolutions in post-soviet Europe in the 2000’s (Putin’s worst nightmare.) The author, who moves to America and has a family of her own, visits the Philippines for her father’s funeral. The book deals with themes of religion, pop culture, adolescence, social class and politics. It’s also a beautifully drawn book.

*Barefoot Gen Keiji Nakazawa. (First serialized in Japan 1972-3. New translation 2004)

Timeless classic set in post-WW2 Japan. A book to end all wars. Masterpiece. See full review.

What Am I Doing Here? Abner Dean (1947)

Fantastic. You could call them existential cartoons. A simple caption below a one-panel illustration. People doing ridiculous things, in ridiculous situations. Easy to identify with, many brilliant ideas that critique the way things are and what we accept as normal behavior in polite society. Each one is like a Zen Koan. A great coffee table book / conversation starter.

Thomas Nast. Cartoons and Illustrations, 117 works (1974) Thomas Nast.

The first political cartoonist. He was an immigrant from Germany who came to the US in 1840 when he was six. In his day, his cartoons could make or break a candidate or election. Seperation of church and state, minorities and civil rights. Interesting history. Detailed woodblock style. This is where we get our modern image of Uncle Sam, the democratic Donkey and the republican Elephant, John Bull, and Columbia. He was a big fan of Christmas apparently, so Santa Claus too, haha.

In the Shadow of No Towers Spiegelman (2004)

The author, who has lived near ground zero for many years now, describes his and his family’s reaction to the events on 9/11, and critiques George W’s response. Huge pages filled with color and references to old comics.

10 more picks:

Dore’s Spain (1862-73) and Dore’s London (1869-1872.) Gustave Dore.

I know it’s not a comic, but this type of illustration has always been some of my favorite. Such amazing detail and line. Such interesting history, a master artist. It made sense that he had assistants, no one person could do all that! A mix of detailed illustrations, but also includes sketches that he alone worked on. It’s really cool to see those sketches too.

The Fun Family Benjamin Frisch (2016)

This book is funny. A syndicated cartoonist goes through a divorce. There’s a shady therapist and guru. Because the cartoonist gets depressed, his son takes over the strip. The baby is really cutely drawn. The whole thing is drawn in a cute style, but don’t confuse it for a kid’s book, it has dark humor. I don’t want to give away any more of the story.

Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron Daniel Clowes (89-93)

A grown man in a baby crib, a guy with crustaceans in his eyes, an orficeless dog. I would go on but it would ruin the surprise from this surreal, creepy comic. I love the detailed picture of each main character at the start of each chapter.

Cambodian Grrl (zine) Anne Elizabeth Moore (2011)

This book is about making an effect in the world. A zine maker visits Cambodia in the 90’s (a very undeveloped jungle country) and teaches girls to make zines. Very informative.

Inner City Romance Guy Colwell (72, 77. 78)

A classic underground comic. This cartoonist also makes larger works for art galleries, which I think is cool. Not for kids. Great inking and facial expressions.

Corpse on the Imjin Harvey Kurtzman (50’s,)

Classic comics, written by Kurtzman and illustrated by many different authors. These were written post WW2, about the war. The writing style is like old-school horror stories.

*Spiegelman Notebooks Art Spiegelman

Really cool to see this great cartoonist’s notebooks. See full review.

Tunnel to Hell. Lake Erie Tunnel Disasters: Tales of Heroism and Tragedy Scott Macgregor, illustrated by Gary Dumm (2017)

A mix of Irish-American immigrants and African Americans tunnel under a lake to bring fresh water to a city. The whole thing is run by corrupt bosses and politicians, resulting in preventable death and misery. A tale of corporate and political greed and corruption, based on historical events. Sad but also funny at times.

SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) Harvey Pekar, illustrated by Gary Dumm (2008)

Tells the overall history, and then some individual stories of this group that organized anti-war protests in the 60’s. Interesting, did not know about SDS before.

The Realist Cartoons 2016. Edited by Krassner and Persoff.

The Realist was a long-running American satire magazine, first published in 1958 in the New York offices of MAD. Interesting history, to understand many of the cartoons, I had to do a little research about the events and people they referenced. The Realist’s catchphrase: Irreverence is our only sacred cow.

The Trial of Roger Casement Fionnuala Doran. (2016)

Roger Casement was considered an Irish patriot and a British traitor. His research exposed the horrors of imperialism in the Congo and Peru. Therefore he is known as the father of 20th century Human Rights Investigations. He was accused of wanting to side with Germany in WW1 and the sentence was treason and death. He represented himself at his trial, and gave a passionate and reasoned speech in his defense. He was accused of being a homosexual which ruined his prospects for a fair trial in England. The book is drawn with a loose, dark, sketchy style which almost seems sloppy to me, but it suits the book theme.

Thank you Detroit Comix Party 2018!

comic cons

Thank you Detroit Comix Party 2018! What a fun and welcoming comic convention, hosted by friendly artists, located in the Motor City; where such great music came from like The Stooges and Motown. Thank you to everyone that came out and supported me by purchasing my stuff! I sold more work here than ever before. Even hitting double digits. It was nice meeting new people and doing some networking for upcoming shows. I’ve been meaning to post this for a while now, it’s been a busy summer, working on two large projects, and traveling. Pictured rocks in northern Michigan is a peach!

A great thing about visiting Detroit is the food. This time, I treated myself to amazing Middle Eastern sweets and Yemenite food. Al Masri sweets (which means “the Egyptian”) makes the best Baklava and Kanafeh that I have ever tasted. Even though I don’t really have a sweet tooth, I got a variety of their sweets which were all excellent, and very reasonably priced. I will be back for more! I like how Middle Eastern sweets have lots of nuts in them.

This was the first time I tried Yemenite food, and I was really impressed! Their national dish called saltah, has become a regular part of the food I cook for myself. The fenugreek helps stimulate digestion. I visited a Yemenite coffee place, their coffee is outstanding. It’s not thick like Turkish coffee, it’s more like American, and the one I picked had ginger and cardamom in it. In the one I picked, they also used the husk of the coffee beans. I asked them why they used the husk, and the guy said it imparts a tea-like flavor to the coffee. Yum!

Lately I’ve been reading the Yellow Kid, by Richard Felton Outcault. Wot? You never hoid of the yeller kid? He’s only da foist comic character! Dis kid from da New Yok slums was also the first comic character to be mass marketed. The Yellow Kid is a fascinating portrait of America in the early 1900’s, the good and the bad, and the ugly attitudes and stereotypes, all crammed into a cramped New York city block of tenements. For an artist/cartoonist, the Yellow Kid is also a great way to learn how to design a crowded composition that still makes sense, and leads the viewer’s eye around the page naturally. The Yellow Kid reminds me of a quintessential kid growing up in a refugee camp today, he is tough and street-smart, surviving poverty, he imagines his world to be a microcosm of the larger world and he makes the most of it using his imagination, and he gets through life with a sense of humor. He makes fun of anything and everyone, satire from the mouth of babes. Hully Gee!

Thank You Space 2018!

comic books and zines, comic cons, comics, graphic novels

THANK YOU SPACE COLUMBUS, 2018! I had a great time tabling at the Midwest’s longest running and largest small-press comic convention. There were 150 artists there, many whom I met for the first time.  I was impressed by the quality and variety of work. If you missed it, be sure to check it out next year. And while you are in Columbus, don’t forget to check out the Billy Ireland Comic Museum. Columbus is a fun town, and it has some tasty restaurants too! Thank you so much to the people that bought and traded for my artwork; the proceeds from my newest comic book have been donated to the charity of my choice.

comics from space

Coming to your first small-press comic convention? You can expect to find: comic books, zines, posters, mini-comics, graphic novels, and lots more!

Barefoot Gen, By Keiji Nakazawa

comics, graphic novels, Open Borders

During the last few months, I have dived headfirst into the wonderful comic called Barefoot Gen, by Keiji Nakazawa. The ten volume story is set in Japan during the bombing of Hiroshima. The story is autobiographical, the author survived the bombing and lost his father, brother and sister. Eventually the effects from the bomb claim his mother and many other people he cares deeply about. Yet Gen is not a victim, I think he chooses to be a witness; a witness to the horrors of modern warfare. He is the type of witness that won’t keep quiet about what he knows, because he knows that the people who started the war made lots of money of it, and were not held accountable for starting the war and their actions. There are ten books in this manga series, and each book brings joy and tears to the reader who patiently descends into this dark and watery place with Gen.

Gen is a spunky kid. His goal is to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons from this world, and make sure people understand, so they are never used again. His goal extends to ending all wars that are started by greedy people, who make money off the war. Like Gen, his friends and companions along the way are also strong, smart and funny. Gen is a prickly kid, he develops his wildness, something that is necessary for a young man. A boy must first learn to be wild, and then you become a man when you learn to walk among society with your sword sheathed.

Read the full review.

Book Review: Conversations. (Collection of Interviews with Art Spiegelman)

comics

Art Spiegelman’s Conversations is a great book that has taught me so much about comics. The book is a collection of interviews over the years, where Spiegelman elaborates on his work as a cartoonist, which includes his Pulitzer prize winning graphic novel Maus, and the magazine he and his wife founded called RAW. If you would like to learn more about the history and origins of comics and graphic novels, this would be a great place to start. Spiegelman has taught many college-level courses about comics. The interviews are also a great source to learn about the strengths of the comics medium, according to one of the finest cartoonists of his generation.

Read the rest of the review.

Book Review: Be A Nose Sketchbooks By Art Spiegelman

comics, sketchbooks

Book Reviews: Spiegelman Conversations and Be A Nose! Sketchbook

Be a Nose is a collection of three sketchbooks by Maus creator Art Spiegelman. The guy has got to be pretty decent at drawing; his name is Art isn’t it? I enjoyed viewing these sketchbooks, because it’s great to pick an artist you admire, and then see how they brainstorm ideas. Sketchbooks offer a glimpse into the artist’s visual language, in a rough form that often retains spontaneity. Spiegelman makes it known that when he made Maus, he spent days on a page. But according to the artist himself, his sketchbooks contain some of his best work, because they capture that spontaneous moment when a certain magic happens in putting down an idea on paper…

Read the rest of the review

Draw a Refugee, and a review of Threads From the Refugee Crisis by Kate Evans

Open Borders

refugee

As refugees flee war and persecution, and as governments strike deals to limit and funnel the flow, certain areas become bottlenecks for refugees on the move. They are stuck in limbo, in summer tents, in overcrowded camps that are beyond capacity, as the winter approaches yet again. Overcrowding, lack of clean water and sanitation, lack of mental health services all plague the camps. Nobody would want themselves or their families to be stuck like this. The refugees have been using the tool of nonviolent protest to bring attention to their situation. Now is the time for governments to step up and relocate them to safe areas. One such bottleneck is Greece. This is a comic I made describing the conditions of the camps on the Greek Islands, where thousands of refugees are stranded, waiting for an extremely slow bureaucratic process of asylum.

After making this comic, I found a graphic novel at the library that deals with similar issues:

Graphic Novel Review

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness.”

Threads from the Refugee Crisis By Kate Evans (UK, 2017)

Why you should read this book:

If you would like to learn more about refugees, so you can take the next step and help them

If you are interested in journalism and comics

If you are a fan of Joe Sacco’s Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde, and books like Harvey Pekar’s Macedonia: What Does It Take to Stop a War, and Sarah Glidden’s Rolling Blackouts.

Read my review here.

12 Picks for 2017 – Graphic Novels

graphic novels

Looking for some great graphic novels, but don’t know where to start?  Here are some picks, straight off the comic book tree.  Or was it the comic book vine?  I don’t remember…

Aya Marguerite Abouet (story) and Clement Oubrerie (illustrations) 2007 French

Set in the Ivory Coast, 1978, “growth without development” boom years. A young woman grows up and dreams of becoming a doctor. (Thanks to my cousin for recommending!)

Sick Gabby Schulz 2016 NYC

A cartoonist gets terribly sick and hits rock bottom. He thinks back about his life, his regrets, and the current system of power/technology in the world. Some amazing illustrations.

Soft City Hariton Pushwagner (a.k.a Terie Brofos)

Fantastic comic about a dystopian future. Amazing use of perspective and repetition. Predicted Trump (Heil Hilton!) The author was born in Oslo, Norway 1940. He started Soft City in 1975, lost it, and it was rediscovered in 2002. City of drone-like people, sad and haunting. Large pages with incredible detail.

Rolling Blackouts – Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq Sarah Glidden 2016

A cartoonist accompanies her two friends, reporters and founders of a journalism non profit, as they research stories about the impact of the Iraq war on Iraqis. Her childhood friend, a marine who served in Iraq comes along, and provides an alternate view and builds tension in the story. Well researched and well done, based on her actual trips to these countries and interviews with real people.

Fante Bukowski Noah Ran Sciver 2015

An author whose last name happens to be Bukowski (no relation to the famous author) tries to make his dent in the literary world. Hilarious, interesting characters and quotes. Nicely drawn facial/body language. Also, the actual Bukowski is one of my favorite writers.

The Attack Davvillier and Chapron. Adapted from the novel by Yasmina Khadra (pen name of former Algerian army officer.) 2012 French 2016 English

A Palestinian surgeon living a successful life in Tel Aviv is confronted with the accusation that his wife attacks a cafe by suicide bombing. He digs deep to find out if its true and what the motives were.

Exit Wounds Rutu Modan 2007 Israel

A love story between two unlikely characters. A woman fears her dad was killed in a suicide bombing, and she tries to find him, with the help of her love interest.

To Have and To Hold Graham Chaffee 2017 L.A.

Good, quick read. Film-noir like tale of a bank robbery and marriage gone wrong.

Jerusalem – Chronicles From the Holy City Guy Delise 2012 French/Canada

A traveling cartoonist visits Jerusalem with his family to work with an N.G.O, and takes notes of his daily life there. Another solid work from this author. I also recommend Pyongyang, his book about North Korea, and I’m looking forward to reading his other books about his travels.

Just So Happens Fumio Obata Japan 2014

A woman who was born in Japan and lives in London, returns for her father’s funeral. She struggles to deal with the formal social customs of her Japanese culture, and her feelings towards her father. Interesting theme of Japanese Non Theater augments the story.

Highbone Theater Joe Daly 2016

(Spoiler alert) Shark fishing, weird and misogynistic roommates, turnips, a mojo hand, the claw, silly 911 conspiracy theories, a fart tube, submarine sarcophagus, and plunking away at a “chubush the mongolian banjo.” Unique, need I say more? *Not for kids.

Gauguin – The Other World Fabrizio Dori French 2016

The famous painter’s life. Beautiful colors, illustrations and dream sequences. Not just a biography, but a work of art in the style of Gauguin.

 

10 picks

Comics @ the Arab American Museum in Dearborn, Michigan

comics

This Spring, I visited the Arab American Museum in Dearborn Michigan, for the first time. It just so happened that they also had an exhibit of comics there! Which was awesome. The comics were by Leila Abdelrazaq, an artist whose work I am familiar with; I have read her graphic novel Baddawi and highly recommend it.

There were four main things to see at the exhibit of comics. Circled around the room were framed original artworks by Leila, from her graphic novel and comics. It was neat to see another artist’s original inked pages. As an observer, you can imagine how the inked page gets scanned into the computer, and how the cartoonist edits and finalizes the page on the computer. Usually, it’s just a few finishing touches and minor details. There were even rare pages that were not included in the final comic, because they were redone. You could see how she changed and revised the layout of these pages, until they turned out the way she wanted. For cartoonists, this is part of the composition and story telling part of making a comic/graphic novel.

On the back wall was a large mural that Leila painted, featuring a map and a cartoon of a young refugee boy named Handala. Comic fans, especially those in the Arab world, may recognize Handala, who was created by the cartoonist Naji Al-Ali. Naji published work featuring Handala from 1975 to 1987, and it rates up there with some of the best comics ever made. They are very visual comics, usually you don’t even need words to understand them. His comics achieved world-wide fame and success before his life was brutally cut short by assassination. (You can learn more about Handala at www.handala.org) It’s easy to tell that this cartoonist is a big influence on Leila’s work. On the cover of Baddawi is a drawing of her father as a young child, who is one of the main characters in the book. The pose he is standing in mirrors how Handala was typically drawn.

Another thing to see was a video of the cartoonist, where she explained a bit about herself. And there were some new comic books by Leila, which you can find online. There was also an advertisement for a comic book-making workshop for teenagers, which was hosted by the cartoonist at the museum on a later date.

I thought it was a great idea for the Arab American Museum to focus an exhibit on graphic novels/comics and this artist, and I enjoyed the professionalism and presentation of the exhibit, as well as the work of the cartoonist. There were also some comics for sale in their gift shop. I hope to see an exhibit like this again some time. I also enjoyed the rest of the museum, it’s worth checking out, you can easily spend an hour or two in there; and there is tons of great Middle Eastern food nearby in Dearborn.