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September 25, 2005

CR Sunday Magazine

Milo George Goes to the Comics Art Show

I would love to attend "The Cartoonist's Eye," a show curated by Ivan Brunetti at the A+D Gallery in Chicago. I really like seeing orignal art on a wall where I can stare at them, and Ivan's assembled a killer group of artists. But I'm not going to Chicago this Fall. When I learned Milo George went to the exhibit, I asked him if he'd be nice enough to reformulate some of his impressions for our benefit and he was nice enough to reply with the following.
imageSaturday, Sept. 10, 2005: I had a wedding in Chicago to attend and six hours to kill, so I met up with some friends at Columbia College Chicago's new A+D Gallery to see "The Cartoonist's Eye," Ivan Brunetti's history-making show of original comics art. It's presented as a preview of the upcoming ANTHOLOGY OF GRAPHIC FICTION (Yale University Press), which Brunetti has stated is meant as a Norton's Anthology-style comics collection for a general audience. The ecstatic word-of-mouth on this show is accurate -- I've been dryer-eyed at some funerals -- so all self-respecting comix nerds should haul ass to see it immediately.

I got into O'Hare at noon with nothing but four cups of Mountain Dew and a Vicodin tablet in my stomach*; two subway trains and a two-block walk later, I reached the "A+D Gallery," clearly one of those city-beautification deals where the local Chamber of Commerce or somesuch gave the College use of an empty storefront to occupy and thus discourage hooligans from vandalizing that mostly abandoned-looking area. I've never seen so empty storefronts with big tape Xs on their windows as I saw in less than a day on the streets of Chicago.

Anyway, the show takes up one good-sized room; from the sidewalk, you can see one of the partitions, which holds work from the names you would expect to headline such a big show: George Herriman, Art Spiegelman, R. Crumb. I'd like to publicly thank whoever's responsible for placing a spiffy NANCY daily and a LITTLE KING Sunday [the first time my eyeballs got a little misty] alongside such heavy hitters. Curiously enough, the only Charles Schulz piece in the show [a lovely PEANUTS Sunday] is on the other side of the partition, despite it easily fitting in a spot on the front taken up by a battered, mangy-looking Dick Tracy merchandise illustration, which wasn't even original art. At the top of a partition dominated by the likes of Rory Hayes, Gary Panter and Julie Doucet, there's a jaunty little cartoon sketch from Milt Gross, which looked like it was crammed up there a half-hour after the show opened its doors.

Such odd prioritizing is the show's only fundamental flaw. In getting so much great comics art in one room, Brunetti has achieved a Herculean task -- a Sisyphean task, if comics-art collectors and cartoonists are as assholic and neurotic about their originals as other types of art collectors and artists are -- so only a total shitheel would take him to task over the artists who aren't in the show.** So the problem isn't who and what's not on the wall, it's sense of scale used for what is on the wall. If "The Cartoonist's Eye" project is intended for comics neophytes, it's going to give them some pretty strange ideas.

Two examples: I think Seth's work is great, but if you were to judge its comparative worth based on its volume and prominence in this show, you would think he was The Undisputed King Shit of Comics -- but some of the Herrimans seemed to have been hung as afterthoughts, simply plugged into holes in the less-than-primo areas left by the placement of the other pieces. I recognize Karl Wirsum's name, at least -- my Hail Mary guess would be that his work's been in a recent volume of BLAB*** -- but there's no way he's a more important comics artist than Gary Panter, whose pieces are as scattered and ill-placed as they are inspired, whereas Wirsum's illustrations get large chunks of wall space at that prime five-foot eyeline height. Like I said, pretty strange.

The show has been hung fairly loosely, with vaguely related clusters of art that sort of make sense near each other. Like Dan Clowes, Charles Burns, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez and Adrian Tomine more or less share a corner near the front. There's a small hallway just past the information desk that has serious artcomix artists like Debbie Drechsler, Phoebe Gloeckner, Kevin Huizenga, James Sturm and David Mazzucchelli on one wall facing comedians like Joe Matt, Peter Bagge, Tony Millionaire and Bill Griffith, Mark Newgarden, R. Sikoryak and a trio of Julie Doucet's "Kirk & Spock" strips on the other.

I appreciated the odd but curiously appropriate logic that connects young cartoonists with older artists: For example, William Steig and Marc Bell hang close to each other, and Jeffrey Brown's booklet originals hang next to Justin Green's recreation of his BINKY BROWN cover. I don't know if Bell or Brown would even consider Steig or Green an indirect influence, but seeing their art beside each other drew some intriguing connections.

I'm always grateful to see new work from Richard McGuire, but his pair of "pages" raise a question I doubt he intended to ask: Is there a joke here that these inkjet printouts are poster-sized [if not bigger] despite the art being so simple and abstract that both comics would work just fine at gum-wrapper size? It's a pity that the artist's remarkable 9/11 piece hadn't been sent, since that's a work I would imagine gaining even more power and depth the larger it gets. I understand some people have complained about inkjet prints being included in the show; I don't care, myself -- especially in cases like McGuire's, where I imagine a lot of his work is done on the computer -- but I must admit that the Ben Katchor printouts literally hurt my eyes to look at, much to my chagrin.

Putting Harvey Kurtzman's and John Porcellino's relatively tiny originals under glass on tables was a pretty elegant display solution. The pages from THE JUNGLE BOOK were probably the most worked-over originals in the show; it really does take a lot of work to make something look dashed-off.

There was a table near the front with a small pile of books by the folks on the walls -- lots of Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics books, Chris Ware's volume of MCSWEENEYS -- which is where I finally got to see KRAMERS ERGOT 5 and the first volume of WALT & SKEEZIX, both of which I must own even if I've gone completely blind by next year. They smelled nice, too.****

Things I remember admiring but have nothing at all worth saying about:

-- The huge, late-period POLLY & HER PALS Sunday original.
-- A small battery of Walt Holcombe art.
-- The GASOLINE ALLEY Sunday original hanging next to its printed final.
-- The colored BUNGLE FAMILY Sunday.
-- Chester Brown's NY Magazine annotated duck strip.
-- The computer setup that looped a neat animation showing Chris Ware's working process, from blue pencils to finished coloring.
-- The funny/interesting notes and cartoons in show's guestbook.
-- The show's promo card has that spiffy, colorful mosaic of cartoon characters Ivan drew in his stick-figure style.

Things that blew my mind and made me briefly ponder robbing the joint on my way back to the airport:

-- Even Sikorak's originals for "You're a Good Man, Gregor Brown" could pass for Schulz's! That guy's a genius.
-- In Herriman's final, unfinished KRAZY KAT strip, there are light pencilings over the inked panels -- it's undoubtedly dialogue but I couldn't make it out -- which suggests that Herriman inked backward from the typical method. The pencils don't show in the strip's reproduction in Patrick McDonnell et al.'s biography THE ART OF GEORGE HERRIMAN.
-- That there were two Otto Soglow pieces in the show. Is there a better strip than THE LITTLE KING? Well, yes, but not many.
-- Onsmith's accomplished portraits of other cartoonist's characters was a major surprise -- each drawing was unmistakably his, but you could immediately recognize who he was covering. I was particularly impressed that he could do a Mat Brinkman with his chunky brushline.
-- Chester should draw way more smartmouthed ducks.

Other comics-noteworthy crap I saw in Chicago:

-- Jesse Reklaw's dream book was remaindered at all three booksellers I visited Sunday: Uncle Fun's, Chicago Comics [my ride had to collect his minicomics, honest] and Powells Books.
-- Uncle Fun had what seemed to be every Top Shelf book not drawn by Craig Thompson published in the last three years. I don't think any of the books were priced in the double digits. Ouch.
-- Chicago Comics had a handful of that five-in-one KRAZY & IGNATZ hardcover, which my friend told was strictly a direct-from-Fanta thing. I finally saw the COMPLETE BONE, which blew my mind and hurt my hand holding it.

* The Fine Print: I don't remember the last comic I read, it's been so long. I'm somewhere between half- to three-quarters-blind most of the day and I take a lot of painkillers for eyestrain.

** Like Jules Feiffer, E.C. Segar and maybe Peter Arno. I said "a total shitheel." By the way, the North American contributor cutoff is stupid and arbitary, but it's not like anyone would be sent to jail if Eddie Campbell's work was slipped into the project when no one's looking.

*** I'll let the reader guess whether or not this is meant as an insult. Actually, I assume Wirsum's in the show because he's probably a big local artist and/or saved Ivan's cat out of a tree or something.

**** ps. While my friends and I were there, a guy who sorta looked like Ivan came in and checked out the whole show by himself. I figured it couldn't be him, since A.] he looked way too happy and normal and B.] what kind of lameass curator spends a good chunk of his Saturday afternoon visiting his own show just two days after it opened? As the guy was walking out the door, he turned around and said goodbye to the otherwise bored-looking girl behind the information desk, who waved back. So, it probably was Ivan and I'm the asshole for thinking he's a lameass. Sorry, Ivan.

Thank you, Milo! Please help me thank him by visiting Mr. George's blog, The Unofficial John Westmoreland Memorial Tribute Webring -- the only comics-related blog I ever describe to non-comics reader where they assure me, "Oh, yeah, I've seen that."

While We're On The Subject

Here are some David King photos from the opening of the exhibit described above.

Chris Jaworski Recommends


This straight-ahead profile of Patrick McDonnell, the creator of Mutts. I knew nothing about the book project mentioned. Also, I apologize if someone owns the use of the above art; I have no idea what it's from.

Your Ignatz Award Winners

Winners in Bold
Held Last Night in Conjunction With Small Press Expo
Keith Knight, Emcee
E-mailed to Me; Not Double-Checked

* David B., Epileptic (Pantheon), Babel (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Jeffrey Brown, Bighead (Top Shelf Productions)
* Roger Langridge, Fred the Clown (Fantagraphics)
* Seth, Clyde Fans Book 1 (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Craig Thompson, Carnet de Voyage (Top Shelf Productions)

* Above and Below: Two Tales of the American Frontier, James Sturm (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Dead Herring Comics, edited by Actus, (Actus Independent Comics)
* Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, John Porcellino (La Mano)
* Fred the Clown, Roger Langridge (Fantagraphics)
* Hutch Owen: Unmarketable, Tom Hart (Top Shelf Productions)

* Bighead, Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
* Carnet de Voyage, Craig Thompson (Top Shelf Productions)
* Cinema Panopticum, Thomas Ott (L'Association, Fantagraphics)
* Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon)
* Why Are You Doing This?, Jason (Fantagraphics Books)

* Dogs and Water, Anders Nilsen (Drawn and Quarterly)
* "Dumb Solitaire," Love and Rockets #11 and #13, Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
* "Homme De Le Bois," The Frank Ritza Papers, David Collier (Drawn & Quarterly)
* The Legend of Wild Man Fischer, Dennis P. Eichorn and J.R. Williams (Top Shelf Productions)
* "Onion Jack," Superior Showcase #0, Joel Priddy (AdHouse Books)

* Joshua W. Cotter, Skyscrapers of the Midwest (AdHouse Books)
* Rebecca Dart, RabbitHead (Alternative Comics)
* Vanessa Davis, Spaniel Rage (Buenaventura Press)
* Andy Runton, Owly (Top Shelf Productions)
* Karl Stevens, Guilty (Karl Stevens Publishing, dist. by Alternative Comics)

* Bipolar, Tomer Hanuka, Asaf Hanuka, and Etgar Keret (Alternative Comics)
* Deadpan, David Heatley (Self-published)
* Finder, Carla Speed McNeil (Lightspeed Press)
* Love and Rockets vol. II, Los Bros Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
* Skyscrapers of the Midwest, Joshua W. Cotter (AdHouse Books)

* Dogs & Water, Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Love & Rockets #13, Los Bros. Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
* Love & Rockets #12, Los Bros. Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
* Or Else #1, Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Worn Tuff Elbow #1, Marc Bell (Fantagraphics)

* Couch Tag #2, Jesse Reklaw (Self-published)
* Dance, John Hankiewicz (Self-published)
* Monday, Andy Hartzell (Self-published)
* Ouija Interview #3, by Sarah Becan (Self-published)
* Phase 7, Alec Longstreth (Self-published)

* Ballad, deadmouse
* Copper, Kazu Kibuishi
* Dicebox, Jenn Manley Lee
* The Perry Bible Fellowship, Nicholas Gurewitch
* Superslackers, Steven Manale

(There may have been more by the awards show)
* 676 apparitions of Killoffer, Killoffer, Typocrat Press
* Action Philosphers: Self Help For Stupid Ugly Losers #1, Ryan Dunlavy & Fred Van Lente
* American Music: A-Z, Ben Towle
* Big Fat Whale's Sea Anomie, Brian McFadden
* Conversations #2, James Kochalka & Jeffrey Brown, Top Shelf Productions
* The Dada Alphabet, An Absurdist's Primer, Freese, Milloway & Wood
* Dr. Dremo, Vol.1, DC Conspiracy
* House of Twelve's Rashoman, Cheese Hasselberger, House of Twelve
* Matriculated, Phillip Chan, Digital Pimp Productions
* Merde, Steve Ahlquist, Chris Reilly & Ben Towle
* Owly, Vol. 3, Andy Runton, Top Shelf Productions
* Pale Fire, MK Reed
* Strange Detective Tales: Dead Love #2, Jesse Bausch & Jim Callahan, Oddgod Press
* Stupid and Unkind, Robin Enrico
* Superf*ckers #2, James Kochalka, Top Shelf Productions
* The Surrogates #2, Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele, Top Shelf Productions
* True Porn, Vol. 2, edited by Robyn Chapman & Kelli Nelson, Alternative Comics
* Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed?, Liz Prince, Top Shelf Productions
* Zed: Setting the Scene, Duane M. Abe, Corkey Comics

Initial Extended Thought of the Day

I don't miss going to Small Press Expo. It must be a fun and rewarding show at which to exhibit, but for the rest of us it's really one two-hour walkaround, dinner out and a couple of hotel parties. I'm old now: I'd rather go to the county fair and watch Notre Dame football on the television. I used to get irritated when I thought about SPX embracing its inclusive, feel-good elements over its celebration of the art form elements, and I'd still love a real American comics festival, but now I just hope people have fun and sell some books. I look forward to going again someday and taking a lot of headshot photos for the site, but if I never make it back, that's okay, too.
posted 7:52 am PST | Permalink

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