Posts Tagged ‘robert crumb’


Tribute

I thought I’d use this post to talk about a few cartoonists whose art I admire. No, I’m not going to dedicate the entire post to Bill Watterson. I grew up copying Calvin and Hobbes comics (I can still draw a pretty good Hobbes). I also copied FoxTrot, Garfield (at the very beginning of my love of comics), and once I bought a “How to Draw The Simpsons” book that I still own. The cartoonists here all have styles very different from mine, and that’s one of the reasons I like them so much. I could never do what they do. So here they are, in no particular order:

mignola

Mike Mignola. One would not assume, from reading my comics, that I would include a cartoonist best known for a book called Hellboy. Mignola’s art is so graphic, so well-balanced, that I find myself just looking at the panels instead of reading the story. That’s not to say I don’t like the story; it’s just that the drawings are so good, I want to spend time looking at them. He draws gothic architecture very well. A lot of old, broken-down stone buildings litter his world. He would make a great stain-glass artist, I imagine. His characters look cut from the same rock as his buildings. He makes liberal use of black ink, increasing the shadows and giving the stories a feel of the macabre. Glance at one of his pages, and you’ll feel shivers. Increasing the creepiness factor is his specialties: monsters and skulls. A friend of mine in high school loved drawing skulls, and was good at it. His style was sketchier, more spidery. Mignola’s skulls are blocky. I admire someone who draws a good skull – one that looks different from the rest. People are so used to seeing skulls in horror comics, TV, and movies. You have to do a lot to make your skulls stand out in the crowd (heh – crowd of skulls). I’d love to see Mignola do either a book of Grimm’s folk tales or Victorian ghost stories. Good bedtime reading…
 gorey
Edward Gorey. Gorey draws scary things, as well, but in a completely different way. If you’re curious, I am drawn to artists who can draw scary things with restraint. I don’t really go for the straight-up gorefest. It’s so obvious. To me, scary things are scary because they are hidden or implied. Such is the case with Edward Gorey He is almost British in his restraint. I was first introduced to Edward Gorey through his tiny book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies. It’s an alphabet book, and each letter is the first letter in the name of a child who has died in some novel manner. My favorite: N is for Neville, who dies of ennui.
Gorey’s style has a delicate line quality. He draws very innocent-looking children, and his monsters are not always the meat-eating kind (see: The Doubtful Guest, about a terrible houseguest). He is very meticulous. His books are full of repeating patterns, primarily seen as wallpaper, or on the many knick-knacks inside the characters’ houses. His drawing style works perfectly for his often dark subject matter. He is humorous and scary simultaneously; his light touch makes his pairing work.
Edward Gorey died a few years ago. I remember reading an interview with him, in which he expressed consternation that he couldn’t be more productive. He had written so many stories, but it was the art that took so long. Looking at his books, you can see why. There is such wonderful detail to be found in each panel.
 baxter
Glen Baxter. There might be a pattern emerging here. These three cartoonists all have a style that seems old fashioned in a way. They don’t look inspired by art from a generation ago – they look much older. In that sense, Glen Baxter has the most recent style so far. His drawings resemble classic Western comics from the 1940’s and 50’s, with maybe some 50’s magazine ads thrown in. There is no mistaking a Baxter comic. It is a bizarre juxtaposition of modern humor with that period drawing style. If humor is surprise, then Baxter has taken it to an extreme.

crumb
Robert Crumb. The above three artists can draw anything in a specific, unique style. Crumb can draw anything, period. Everything is well drawn. He just lays down line after line, and it all works to make a picture. It’s expressive, three dimensional, balanced. I have to say that one of my favorite things about his style is the way he draws the detritus of modern life. Telephone poles, junked-out cars, overflowing garbage cans. He even seems to relish drawing the people who inhabit the messy world. Some of his comics seem to say that we live in a trashed world, and we ourselves have become a part of that rubbish. And yet, there isn’t a sense of judgment you would expect with such a statement (maybe because he includes himself in that statement – just look at the hilarious way in which he’s caricatured himself over the years). His stories are engaging, and a big part of that is the way he draws. I’ve seen a lot of imitators of Crumb’s style, and I have to wonder why they would even try. What’s the use? It’s already being done so well. I only hope that I can draw as well as he does someday. Not in his style, of course; in my own way.

adaptation of a classic

Robert Crumb became famous for his family-friendly erotic comics and, later, for championing ancient blues musicians nobody remembered. He is known for the high quality of his drawings and for the amazing speed with which he can produce them. It seemed, in the past few years, that he was slowing down. Now we know why. Crumb spent the past five years on an illustrated Genesis, the first book of the Bible. And oh, boy is it ever good. r-crumb-genesis-2
You get to see Old Testament God in all his angry glory. All the violence and sex from the original has been lovingly illustrated in this remarkable adaptation.

Having never sat down to read Genesis before, I didn’t know quite what to expect. Yes, there are the pages of “begats”: Crumb mentions that the writers of the original text most likely wanted to pinpoint their lineage and trace it back to these illustrious and important characters. What was, on the written page, just a series of names, is now a family tree. It’s remarkable.r-crumb-genesis-5
One of my favorite parts of the Bible as a kid was when people would interact with God. I mean, what are the rules of etiquette for that? You’re talking to the creator of EVERYTHING. At first, there is only deference:r-crumb-genesis-3
Eventually Abraham gets enough courage to barter with God. God wants to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but Abraham talks him down. Abraham doesn’t want God to destroy the innocent along with the guilty, and God proves he can be persuaded. In this version, you get to see Abraham, after speaking with God, hurrying back home with perspiration on his brow. Was he nervous? Heck yeah.

This edition – which should be called the Crumb Bible – uses the illustrations to give the stories context. You’ve got shepherds, and farmers, and the ancient Egyptians. Here they are all rendered in a realistic (well, sort of) manner. Their stories always seemed, to me at least, distant and disconnected. Crumb has done no less than put them into context by showing us how they lived. You see the desert the people called home. You see their dwellings – usually no more than tents – and their clothes. You see their facial expressions!

Most importantly, there is no overt attempt to show the text from a present-day perspective. It’s simply the stories, illustrated. I can’t imagine how much research went into making it seem that transparent. This gives the stories themselves more power. Their meanings are left open to the reader, just like in the original.r-crumb-genesis-4

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r. crumb’s ed abbey

My favorite Robert Crumb book adaptation does not quite exist. Years ago, he made illustrations for Ed Abbey’s masterpiece novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. Unlike his recent Genesis, The Monkey Wrench Gang is not fully illustrated. There are spot illustrations punctuating the text.monkeywrench-gang
Google has most of the book online, incredibly, so you can check out all of Crumb’s illustrations on your own. I’ve collected a few favorites here, though, so I can have something to blog about today.

The plot of The Monkey Wrench Gang is pretty zany. A group of good folks commit acts that corporate America would call vandalism but that those of us who happen to like the out-of-doors would call preservation. Preservation of land that has gotten uglied up by billboards, roads, power lines: all the usual detritus of man. Their master plan, never enacted but often spoken of longingly, is to blow up the Glen Canyon dam, that concrete boogeyman straddling the Utah/Arizona border. The Monkey-Wrenchers consider it their patriotic duty to preserve the beauty of the American West.monkeywrench-billboard
Abbey loved the West. A transplant (like most people living in western states today), he saw the unprecedented growth that was going on and instinctively recoiled. Growth is not a bad thing in and of itself, but unchecked growth is a cancer. Abbey noted the difference and fought against the malignant development that continues to happen long after his untimely death.

Of course The Monkey Wrench Gang is not meant to be a primer on waging a war against evil developers. It is a comic novel with environmental themes. It’s a bit of fantasy many of us would never dream of fulfilling in real life. Who among us hasn’t driven by a development of multi-million dollar homes scarring the foothills of a mountain or gutting what was once forest or prairie and thought, “wouldn’t it be great if they just burned to the ground?”monkeywrench-dynamite
We would not do such a thing. In fact, this blog is against violence of any kind, be it to humans, animals, plants, or evil land developers. But just as I would never consider putting a giant crack in the Glen Canyon dam, I abhor those people who consider land unbuilt-upon as land wasted. I’d rather write my Congressman to have that bastard dam dismantled. (Or better yet, blog about it.)

One of the best recurring jokes in the book happens whenever Seldom-Seen Smith crosses over the Glen Canyon dam. A lapsed Mormon, he nevertheless kneels down to pray. He prays that God will send a bolt of lightning to crack the dam in half.monkeywrench-pray
Crumb’s illustrations are perfect because The Monkey Wrench Gang is written in such a cartoony way to begin with. I’ve often thought it would make a great animated movie. Somehow watching real people act out the events in the book wouldn’t do justice to its slapstick momentum. Cartoons are clearly the best way to go.

As it is, having Crumb’s drawings in this edition of the book makes it feel more complete.monkeywrench-helicopter

 


comic con 2010 in words

san diego convention center [Blogger’s Note: Although there were many superstars at Comic Con, one actor was notably missing.  Alan Rickman did not, to my knowledge, attend Comic Con.  Sadly, my meeting with Sir Rickman has yet to occur.]

I can hardly believe it’s been more than a week since Comic Con.  The yearly festival of comics and media geekdom was, my second time around, still just as vital as ever.  Comic Con excels at two things, mainly: facilitating fans’ meeting hundreds (possibly thousands) of famous and yet-to-be famous cartoonists, and providing a ground for the exchange of ideas and products related (sometimes tenuously) to sequential art.  Uh, and recently it’s become a place where Hollywood previews movies based on comics.  If you want to meet the cartoonist who created your favorite strip or book, or if you want to see the starlet who will be starring in the movie based upon your favorite strip or book, Comic Con is the place to be.

This year, as I mentioned before, I was joined by my wife Isis and my good friends Nate McGraw and Alex.  It was their first ever trip to California, which was totally crazy to me, but some people just grew up on the wrong side of the country (or continent).  The ladies took off almost immediately to stand in line for movie panels.  Nate was gracious enough to let me lead the way though pop culture wilderness. L1020100L1020149

I’m dividing this post up thematically, as giving a blow-by-blow chronological account would bore all of us.  As it is, only three readers have gotten this far in the post.  Thank you!  Read on for the exciting part.

Panels
If the convention floor is the meat of Comic Con, the panels are the vegetables.  It is the panels where you can hear cartoonists blather on for an hour about their favorite pen nib. True bliss.

Nate and I kicked off Comic Con with the Spotlight panel on Jeff Smith.  Jeff created Bone and Rasl, and is a genuinely nice and funny guy.  His slide show covered new projects he’s been working on, and in the question and answer section he mentioned the upcoming Bone movie(!).

We also sat in on the Keith Knight Spotlight panel, in which Keith spoke about his weekly comic strip and his new (-ish) daily strip.  Keith is a great speaker, a natural entrepreneur, and above all a very funny cartoonist.  He brought something up that I found intriguing; his weekly comic, The K Chronicles, was essentially a blog before blogs even existed.  When I read it that way, it makes complete sense.

Nicholas Gurewitch, the mad scientist who created Perry Bible Fellowship, is someone either destined to be a Hall of Famer or a delirious bum who dies in a gutter.  I’m not sure which.  His question and answer section sounded eerily like a Bob Dylan press conference from the 1960’s, in which he would answer the question with a riddle, or he’d answer the question he wanted to be asked.  My favorite answer was to the question, “Do you get your ideas directly from life?”  He responded, “If we can only write from what we experience, then yes, 100% of my ideas come directly from life.”

We saw about half of a Krazy Kat panel.  They showed some home movies of George Herriman with his (then) baby granddaughter.  It was pretty cool to see one of my cartoonist heroes come to life, since we are separated by almost a century.

Berkeley Breathed put on a freewheelin’ panel, documented by this post and photographed in this post.  I may be the only one, but based on the test footage he showed I’m glad Opus never got made into a movie.

Ray Bradbury is almost 90, but he spoke to hundreds of us and seems entirely lucid, if nearly deaf.  Honestly, if it was a choice between ears and brain to go first, I’d choose ears every time.  It was a real joy hearing the very first Comic Con guest speak at Comic Con 41.  His responses to to questions were in depth and often funny.  Not sure why he hates the internet and Obama.

On a panel called Writing Animated Feature Films, four screenwriters discussed the projects they’ve worked on and how they managed to get through them.  I say that because apparently, in Hollywood, the writer is almost as low on the totem pole as the caterer (actually, they probably receive less respect than the food dude).  Between them, I found both Dean DeBlois and the writer who worked in TV (whose name I could not find in the Programming book, sorry!) to be the most straightforward about their work and what it takes to be creative while working with a group.  In all, it was a very informative panel and something that you wouldn’t normally see outside of a writing seminar.

Nate and I found the Nerdiest Guy At Comic Con at the Avatar Press panel.  We were there to hear Max Brooks, author of World War Z, talk about how to survive the coming zombie apocalypse.  The NGACC asked a dozen questions, and even filmed himself asking one question, as well as Max’s response.  Max cut him off after that.  We were thrilled to find the NGACC and wanted to ask him out for a drink afterward, to hear him monologue, but thought he might misconstrue our affection as ironic, so we didn’t.

The zombie panel leads me to the next segment of this overly-long post:

Zombies and Vampires
Last year, Twilight brought the vampire lovers to Comic Con en masse.  Seriously, there were like 80,000 teenage girls there for one reason (hint: it wasn’t sex).  This year, despite the popularity of True Blood – which Isis described to me as softcore porn with vampires – zombies ruled the convention.  There was a zombie walk, zombie panels, and two (count ‘em) booths devoted to the comic series Walking Dead.  This made me feel good about my book-in-progress, as it is about zombies.  I can’t wait to be a millionaire.L1020156

Celebrities
Last year I was at Comic Con for two days, while this year I stayed for the whole bloody affair.  I got to see more celebrities wandering the convention floor this year, which was pretty cool.

Scott Adsit plays Pete Hornberger on one of my favorite TV shows of all time – OF ALL TIME – 30 Rock.  I saw him wandering the convention floor and ran over like a panting doofus.  I was smart enough to give him my new Falling Rock collection, but I wasn’t sure how best to convey how awesome I think he is.  This was the second time this year I’ve seen Scott – he made an unscheduled appearance at Stumptown.  Scott, the next time I see you I promise to be more eloquent.

I saw Seth Green two times: once signing autographs, and once wandering the convention floor with his wife.  He would have been swarmed if he got noticed, so I didn’t try to say hello.

Nate and I saw two mega-stars while eating lunch on Thursday.  David Hasselhoff was apparently promoting a new reality show.  He stood on the roof a double-decker bus, along with a group of dancing girls, shaking his tanned body and singing “Hooked on a Feeling.”  His bus was flanked by Knight Rider cars.  Kind of the definition of “publicity stunt.”  Soon after, our waitress shrieked and ran down the sidewalk.  She saw Emilio Estevez.  She got her picture taken with him, then came back and told us how bummed she was that she had to work the entire weekend.  Despite my description, she was a perfectly good waitress.

Although I didn’t see her personally, Isis and Alex told me that they saw Helen Mirren wearing a Harvey Pekar shirt.  Helen Mirren, if you read this blog know this: you are totally awesome.  Please visit Falling Rock National Park anytime.L1020221

Cartoonists
I know.  You’re wondering what all this has to do with comics.  While Comic Con has become more about pop culture in general, it does manage to retain its comic-centeredness.  Most of the convention floor is devoted to booths about comics, either hosted by the creators or the publishers or retailers.  I ran into a number of cartoonists either by accident or by visiting their booths.  The number of serendipitous meetings leads me to believe there is a great positive energy generated by Comic Con.  I won’t try to explain it, but I know it is there.

A partial list, with links to guide you: Greg Means, Stephen Notley, James Sturm, Jeffrey Brown, Nate Powell, Bill Amend, Steve Lieber, Katie Cook, Paul Guinan & Anina Bennett, Raina Telgemeier, Stephen McCranie, Rudy Solis, Dylan Meconis, Dave Kellett.

Although long, this post feels like a snapshot of the full days and nights.  A complete write-up would probably feel more like Ulysses and less like a blog.  As an event, Comic Con is probably the biggest and best I’ve ever participated in.  As a place to meet and spend time with creative and smart people, Comic Con is probably second only to college.

Thanks for reading, and see you in San Diego next year.L1020228