Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Second Coming of Noah Van Sciver, an Interview: Part 3 of 3

Parts 1 Parts 2

Comic by Noah Van Sciver (duh!)
“Australia has no comic book industry. One way of explaining my situation is to state that you wouldn’t believe how good my assistants are. Most artists assistants are there just to sharpen your pencils. Yet because there is no work here, I get people drawing my backgrounds who are extremely clever and competent people. People keep trying to do magazines, and for some reason they just don’t work. Australia is very good for political cartoons, however. And there is a great tradition of cartooning, leaning heavily towards political cartooning. It’s gotten to such a way that if you say your a cartoonist here, people will automatically say, “Oh! Can you do me a sketch of the prime minister?” Most people simple don’t understand the concept of comics as comic books here. The newspapers are filled with the American comic strips. In fact, they think most of the strips are Australian; the average citizen really thinks Peanuts is Australian. I’m sure he does. And the American comic strips are better, so they remain in power.
But there is no industry here; there’s nowhere for anyone local to go. Last year I made my income in five different currencies, including Swedish and Spanish. But I only made $200.00 from working in this country--and that was by doing a lecture for a nearby university.”

The above is a quote by Eddie Campbell taken from Comic Book Rebels, published in 1993. I have chosen to include this as Master Noah Van Sciver is most likely over there by now, for his BLAMMO tour. I imagine the comic book industry is a little different over there today than it was in 1993. Perhaps I am mistaken-- never been there myself. Anyways, lettuce make like rabbits and conclude Part 3 of the NVS-interview saga!:

Raighne Hogan: Say, how did your Australian Blammo Comic tour come about?  It's sounds absolutely amazing!

Noah Van Sciver: The power of my brother Ethan. He didn't want to go alone and arranged for myself to be included in the conventions out there. It'll be fun seeing him again after a year of not. He cracks me up.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Second Coming of Noah Van Sciver, an Interview: Part 2 of 3

Parts 1 Parts 3

Our conversation with the handsome young cartooning master Mr. Noah Van Sciver continues in this here Part 2:

Raighne Hogan: It is an interesting transition that the single issue torch has been passed from publisher's like Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Top Shelf to artists that self publish or smaller and smaller publishers like Sparkplug, I Will Destroy You, Koyama Press, Uncivilized Books, La Mano, and many many more.  With the advent of all these smaller publishers and self-publishers, how do you think this affects the comics buying public and the market?  Word of mouth travels slower than the growth of these up and coming small press comix publishers and sales seem to be ever more incestuous at shows and shops.  I'm ranting a little.  I apologize. Do you think about this stuff much?

Noah Van Sciver: I only think about this stuff when I talk to people like yourself! I think that there are still weirdo people who like single issue comics and will seek them out as long as they exist. People like myself. Maybe I'm naive, or just stupid. I have my readership still, though. I know that what I work on at home will be read by some one, somewhere.  I'm not really sure how this affects the market. I just hope that the stapled comic book will always exist in the same way that records exist.

RH: What are you reading these days?

NVS: I'm reading what people send me mostly. I just read all of the Good Minnesotans that you sent to me, I read these mini comics from england called Smoo that were sent to me, and I re-read ICE HAVEN in it's softcover form. Have you ever read that?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Second Coming of Noah Van Sciver, an Interview: Part 1 of 3

Yes, Come to Butthead Noah Van Sciver! The NVS interview Part 1 of 3:

Peripherally, I’ve been aware of Noah and his Blammo series since ’09 when I started seeing his comic reviewed on small press sites like Optical Sloth and Midnight Fiction.

Then at SPX, Nic Breutzman, another fantastic cartoonist, tabled near Noah and gave him a copy of Yearbooks (a comic I coloured and published). Apparently he enjoyed it enough to mention in Blammo #4, which I purchased at Stumptown last year.

Through sheer coincidence I met Noah Van Sciver last year at MIX when he and an awesome gaggle of amazing cartoonists crashed at my place. We’ve been emailing and occasionally talking over the phone the last few months, but it’s been only recently that I’ve started to compose this interview.

I feel that I should mention, maybe as a disclaimer (!?--hah), that we are publishing a book with Noah late next month or early April. It’s called The Death of Elijah Lovejoy. I’d be happy to blab about it more over at the 2D Cloud shop...

Enough of that, to the interview:

Raighne Hogan: One thing that struck me immediately when I finally stumbled upon BLAMMO were the similarities to the single issue comix (floppies) D & Q and Fantagraphics used to publish back in the day; Hate, Eightball, Dirty Plotte, Yummy Fur, etc.  These comix were following a tradition paved by the likes of Justin Green, Art Spiegelman, R. Crumb.  BLAMMO is the latest comic to follow in these footsteps.  Were you actively looking at these creators and some of those books for direction/inspiration?  What are some other works, creators that fed your creative itch?

Noah Van Sciver: Every one of those artists influenced me, as well as one you've forgotten Optic Nerve. And also Palookaville. When I started trying to draw my own comics, those were the things that I was reading. I didn't realize until much later that all of those creators had decided to quit drawing their comic books.
I used to send issues of Blammo to all of the publishers to see if they'd publish me. Oh lord the rejections I've gotten.... Yummy Fur really had a lot to do with Blammo. Chester did whatever the hell he wanted to, and his style didn't intimidate me like maybe Clowes' did. I really love Chester's line work as well. Beautiful!

Sometimes Things are not Disappointing

I first heard Julian McCullough's stand up on This American Life's Comedians of Christmas Comedy. Julian's Christmas story was so funny I found an interview with him on In the Tank. He mentioned that he and Sean O'Connor had taped their own American Apparel commercial in their underwear. So in the name of all things that should be stupid but turn out fantastic, let's begin this post here:

Julian McCullough and Sean O'Connor

Sometimes I order books online that I've never seen. It's a gamble. So yesterday when I received Daina Taimina's Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes I opened it half-heartedly, picturing a small pamphlet of crochet instructions. Instead I paged through a text book full of geometrical models, M.C. Escher, and wall mosaics. The book was so good I started sweating.

Then this morning, the google search engine did that aggravating thing where it flashed a list of choices at me while I'm typing in what I want it to find. I clicked "google bookmarks" and it sent me to "google body". I was terrified, not knowing what sort of freaky spam I had stumbled into.

Maybe google cookies is keeping good info on me, because what I found twisted my heart up in knots. Google Body is a 3D model of the human body. You can rotate it in any direction and GET THIS it is divided into layers of anatomical sections. As an artist I'm most interested in the muscle and skeletal layers, but there's the nervous system and the organs too, which are also neat.

Well I will close with an appropriately sorrowful Valentine's day story: My husband Raighne and I received matching pottery cups from a friend at our wedding reception. We love those cups and use them all the time. On Valentine's Day, I shattered his marriage cup, but I made up for it by leaving a ♥ shaped tear-stain on his shirt.

Keep up with my thoughts on my startledmaggie blog.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Comic Champions

Some time ago Dan, Raighne, and Justin posted videos that inspired them. Here's a few videos that have inspired me.

1. Kermit's X-Ray Machine with Herry Monster

I first saw this episode of Sesame Street when I was five. My Mom says it inspired me to draw bones on my arms with magic marker. I ran up to her afterward and triumphantly yelled, "Bones!"

2. Ernie Kovac's character Percy Dovetonsils:

My dad would always get Ernie Kovacs movies from the library when I was a teenager. I'm absolutely in love with this show and this is my favorite character. Sometimes I smile and shake my head like Percy.

3. Mr. Bean

My dad and I also watched a ton of Mr. Bean together. It's so embarrassing because when I watch it now I realize that half of my mannerisms are swiped from Mr. Bean.

4. Sesame Street's "Monsterpiece Theater" Parodies

It's funny, my most memorable moments from childhood tv are grover running a marathon on the beach and grover running up the stairs forever till he reaches a brick wall. I think of these scenes fondly in spare moments. My over-the-top yelling Maggie humor and my love of making furry toys comes from Jim Henson.

5. Harpo Marx

When I saw Harpo Marx in Horsefeathers...I wished I was him. I always loved comedians that didn't use words (like Mr. Bean and Charlie Chaplin). Probably because I preferred not using any myself.

ps. Sigh...I wanted to post the video of Gilda Radner and Bill Murray as Todd and Lisa in Nerds & Milt (SNL) but it wasn't on youtube. Gilda and I both love red candy. My mom always called me Rosanne Rosanna Danna when I was a kid because my hair was so poofy.

Why are all my inspiring videos about comedy? For the same reason I married my funny husband. I appreciate and cherish weird humor above all else. It's how I was raised.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Beautiful Interaction

Let this video load and move it to the 3:00 minute mark to see it in all of it's beautiful interactive glory. Then check out the text beneath it.

This game beautifully shows how so much can be accomplished with the most minimal of means. An argument could be made that because the fundamental elements are at work, it is inherently beautiful like a Kandinksy painting. 

Glad to be part of the Itchy Keen. Your truly, Sean.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Filthy Spectre: Paranarrative and the Cultural Position of Lo-fi Art Comics

In our efforts to keep this blog alive, Raighne and I have agreed that we should expect contributors to post at least four times per year. Realizing that I've only posted one substantial entry thus far, I told myself I better think of something to write about before the year was out (failed). I started with the simple and clichéd idea of putting together a best of 2010 list, but after looking over what I read last year, I realized that a lot of it was 1-3 years old already (I always feel like I'm playing catch-up). I do have plenty of 2010 comics on my 'to read' pile, but most hadn't been opened yet. I then thought maybe I can cull from what I read last year what has had the strongest influence on how I approach my own comics, which was plenty, but for the sake of clarity I wanted to narrow it down to one primary theme or tendency.

Part of what helped me focus my thoughts was how Good Minnesotan 4 has been received and I how I've interpreted Raighne's design and editorial choices. In our lengthiest and most thoughtful review of said volume, Rob Clough claims, "Hogan at times goes overboard by inserting too many incidental drawings and sketchbook scribblings of some of his contributors". Other reviewers had similar misgivings regarding the level of craft involved in some of the comics Raighne chose to include. Looking over GMN4 again, I can see what they're getting at, but at the same time, I'd have to disagree. While we've mentioned here and there during our time putting out the Good Minnesotan series that we're drawn to rough, loose styles just as much as some of the more polished, technically accomplished cartooning out there, I think that point may have been missed by many. Yes, there are quite a few roughly sketched incidentals and even comics, but the space accorded those comics/creations alongside work by more established cartoonists was to me our way of saying that although something like this (nothing personal here, choices made are for the sake of argument):
Luke Holden

 holds up just as well as something like this:
Kevin Cannon

Obviously, the aims of each artist are quite different and maybe it isn’t fair to even juxtapose them here, as they were kept in separate minis for the volume, but the fact that they still both reside in the same slipcase meant that we held both contributors in a high enough regard to expend the same amount of energy and time in showcasing their comics to the outside world.

That’s all well and good, but where am I going with this? What I’m trying to say here is that while Cannon’s work demonstrates his drawing chops and ability to craft an interesting little narrative or sequence, it feels like a much more mediated (read distanced) experience. Now that is just my reaction to his work, so maybe that’s an unfair criticism, but what I get from Holden’s comic feels more direct, which subsequently makes it appear to be a more sincere or authentic statement. Again, different intentions between the two, different ways of reading each, but what makes me, or others, have that kind of reaction to rougher styles that foreground their imperfections? Is Holden really being more truthful or genuine than Cannon? What is it about seeing partially erased images, traces of a ruled out page, smudge marks not removed in Photoshop, or any vestiges of the artist’s hand that connotes authenticity? This is something I noticed repeatedly in my own reactions to many of the comics I read this year. What struck me as interesting was that it wasn’t limited to a particular time (from Jerry Moriarty’s Jack Survives strips in the early 80s
Note: these are from the reprinted edition put out by Buenaventura. The original printing did not include the traces of unused word balloons, etc., yet the choice to include them in the reprinting is worth noting.

to Blaise Larmee’s Young Lions, put out in 2010),

 region (Mark Smeets in Holland,

 the east coast output by CF,

west coast work by Jason T. Miles, etc.)

 or genre (autobio from Moriarty,

 Fantasy from CF,

 abstract stream of consciousness from Miles

and Al Columbia,
and so on).

 Keep in mind this is a very limited sampling, as I’m basing it mostly on what I’ve read this past year and a little bit of 09’, so do not consider it exhaustive by any means, but I did find it notable that so many of the comics that are critically well-received share elements of this lo-fi tone to them. Of course, this is only one tendency amongst many, but what makes this less mediated mode of address feel more authentic to so many? What follows is my attempt at trying to interrogate my own reactions to this aesthetic upswelling and how it possibly fits in to the larger discourse about contemporary comics and culture in general.

One train of thought that came to mind when thinking about this trend or tendency was something Jason Overby discussed in a post on his blog in the summer of 2010:
We started talking about how Crumb (and most cartoonists) has internalized the vernacular of comics history and makes things according that particular set of rules. As great as Crumb is, he's also a good counterexample w/r/t his aesthetic conservatism. I brought up that there is no reason in the era of Photoshop and cheap printing for drawers to go through the steps printing deemed necessary 40 years ago. Surely, many folks have recognized this, but the ramifications of desktop publishing for comics are immense. As long as your images and words function in combination to create something that works and is cool, then you've made good comics. Scanning drawings made on paper and then tweaking them for printing could be eliminated in favor of directly making images using a computer. There aren't a lot of good examples of it so early in the game, but this newish technology will probably bear more interesting fruit in the future.
Quite often Overby seems to theorize in whatever direction he’s leaning in terms of how he approaches his own comics, but that aside, he does have a point. Technology has eliminated the need for certain processes and conventions that have been instilled in many cartoonists, without much thought as to their necessity. Obviously, plenty of cartoonists have gone in directions far removed from the pencil-ink-scan-‘clean-up’/color-print method, but that process still has a strong enough pull that typically the division of labor in superhero and genre comics continues to fall along those old production lines. But besides the broadening of aesthetic possibilities, what’s the significance of being freed from these dated parameters? How does being able to scan in straight pencils or light watercolors or ink washes broaden the narrative or poetic potential of comics? Does it? Some reviewers like to think so, calling smudged and erased pencilwork a technique for conveying memory or liminality, whether that be perceptual or ontological. I can’t say I disagree with these hermeneutics, but what continues to stick in my craw is this assertion that these methods are somehow more truthful or carry with them an air of authenticity that work by someone who adheres to more conventional processes might not. How truthful a narrative is isn’t dependent upon its aesthetics, yet there is something being told in that approach that differs from what you would find in the type of honesty someone like Chris Ware might deploy.

While others have thought of these choices or techniques as a way of manifesting some of the more ethereal qualities of a narrative, I see them rather as a means of overlaying the artist’s own narrative of creation onto the more overt or primary narrative. By leaving the imperfections, discarded ideas laid bare on the page, the artist is creating a paranarrative. This paranarrative engages the reader on a different level, one separate from the primary narrative. Instead of regurgitating what has been said about this concept, I’m going to drop some choice quotes from the essay I encountered it in (credits to Benjamin Biebuyck):

In this sense, it seems implausible to expect that the paranarrative actually interferes in the primary narrative; it can be said to cast a new light on it and put things into a different perspective, but these are supplementing actions rather than real interventions. 
…The paranarrative, however, being tied to the eventuality of figurative occurrence, has no continuous time-line, but takes on a lapidary form, becoming very prominent at some points of the primary narrative, only to retreat at others. Conjuring up dispersed portions of the narrative and shifting figurative networks, the paranarrative manifestly traverses the intentionality and temporal linearity of the primary order. This urges us to interpret it as a counter-telling, joyously released from the illusion of narrative sequentiality and – although requiring recipient activity – not depending on a specific and purposive hermeneutic intervention, as is required in case of allegory. 
…Being a derivative narrative, the paranarrative is not necessarily the shadow of an epinarrative, since it has the potential to disrupt its most elementary narrative parameters. As such, it is determined to be an answer to the primary narrative, by means of which the literary text can fully unfold its reflexive potential. 
…Most importantly, in all of the cases the paranarrative is there to enhance and intensify reader involvement, not allowing him or her to remain a witness of what is being represented, but urging them to become an active participant in the encompassing cultural dynamics of the narrative, which does not satisfy itself with mere representation, but always supplements this with a figurative counternarration.
In some cases (especially in some of the examples I noted above), applying this concept may be a bit of a stretch, but in others it feels like the most apt way to describe what I’ve felt as I’ve read some of these comics. The paranarrative doesn’t necessarily alter how I would read or interpret the primary narrative, but it adds a dimension to the comic itself that makes it symptomatic of one of the potential zeitgeist(s) of the 00’s.

In a post meant to instigate debate on the music/film review site, Tiny Mix Tapes, the question of whether lo-fi music could be considered to have any political or critical value was proposed:

Point: By emphasizing pastoral escapism conjoined with nostalgia, these artists dangerously put aside the material world of political reality and choose to embrace a form of dreamlike, childhood fantasy that results in apathy and inaction. 
Counterpoint: American music’s so-called “retreat” into the past was not escapism at all, but rather a process of carving out an alternative psychic reality to the bourgeois economic and political value system. Lo-fi’s return to low-cost, outdated recording technologies, which Beaumont-Thomas decried as a “retro” fad, was in fact a move toward the democratization of the music-making process. And while it did not discuss politics directly, lo-fi and its nostalgia for the past constituted a critique of society’s failure to deliver the egalitarian future that technological progress once promised.

Can we find a parallel in the increasing popularity of lo-fi art comics? Is this a democratization, or what may have been thought of a little over 30 years ago as a punk approach to comics? Privileging passion and ideas over technical skill or refinement? If we refer back to Overby’s statement above, it would seem that way. The price of basic scanning equipment and desktop publishing software has dropped to the point that with a little shopping around online, you can acquire the means to put together comics for a few hundred dollars as opposed to the thousands you would have needed a couple decades ago to gain access to the same tools. In light of people like John Porcellino and the new-wave minicomics of the 1980’s, even the cost of entry at those price points seems rather prohibitive, as they were making comics without these tools for even less money. Nevertheless, one could say that this renewed interest in the rough-hewn quality that was commonplace in minicomics from the 1980’s has returned, but maybe as more of an aesthetic pose or layer, meant to connote authenticity. Numerous critics have leveled like-minded criticisms at the profusion of lo-fi bands over the past few years, describing the trend as just a fashionable scuffing up of one’s sound to mask the mediocre skill and ideas lurking behind the static and low-production values. Whether the same could be said for the primitivist and lo-fi comics currently enjoying favor by many critics will of course remain to be seen, as the trend wanes and those working in those idioms make their next moves.

If we are to give those practicing in this vein of comics the benefit of the doubt, that they are trying to communicate something besides potentially mediocre work disguised by fashionably low production values and claims of primitivism, what would that be? By leaving the spectre of process, of error, within the work, it could be said that these artists are trying to fight against the simulacraic reality of how their work is produced and consumed. This is but one paranarrative that could be applied to these works; another could more directly address the quotes listed above concerning lo-fi music’s political connotations (or lack thereof), that the appearance of rough artwork could be a way of distracting from the bourgeois privilege typically accorded to those who can create these comics. Regardless of what one may take away from this relatively new aesthetic branch of comics history, its mere existence demonstrates the broadening scope of the medium, with all the attendant messiness and contradictions that such growth engenders.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Craig Mullins

One of my art heroes is Craig Mullins ( I love looking at his paintings and trying to figure out how much is 3D, how much isn't actually there, and how much he actually had to render.

Here are some simplified diagrams I found from him on I found them very helpful when I first got into speed painting.