January 28, 2009 § Leave a Comment
The online web comics show I curated for my good friends Matt and Marianne at Greylock Arts in Adams, MA, is up and viewable – go check it out. It’s by no means a complete rundown of web comics available, rather some of my favorites that I think might open up the experience for folks out there who never really thought about the possibility. Each cartoonist is interviewed and I think there is something there for everyone – including the infamous “Garfield Without Garfield.” I also talk to one of my perennial favorites, Aaron Alexovich, superstar-to-be Dave Malki, and a few other really great creators whose work I adore – Matt Kindt, Trade Loeffler, Joan Reilly, Phil McAndrew, Jon Adams, Jennifer Hayden, and Rich Morris, who does “The 10 Doctors.” There are also plenty of links to good sources for further web comics.
January 23, 2009 § Leave a Comment
The busy hands of shifty priests in proximity to young boys has been a pretty high-profile phenomenon of late — so much so that the cash settlements have busted the Catholic Church pretty badly even as the publicity has squashed some faith.
As a graphic novel entry into the onslaught, “Why I Killed Peter” comes from a different place. It’s a tale of the betrayal of an institution, but it’s not the kind you would expect. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 23, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Lucy Raven’s short film, “China Town,” is an animated work created from 7,000 photos — she shot about 60,000 that she pulled from — and various ambient sounds from the locations.
In the film, Raven traces the copper ore production process, starting in a pit mine in Nevada and ending up at the Three Gorges Dam in China. The film was two years in the making — Raven never planned for it to be so sprawling.
“It was sort of like pulling a thread and it kept unraveling,” she said. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 17, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Among the many attributes Art Spiegelman has added to comic book affectations is the weight of artistic trauma that affects so many fine and gallery artists but has been skipped over in the popular conception of commercial illustrators, cartoonists and those folks. Only Robert Crumb has really traversed the same dark biography in his work on such a popular level and, in many ways, even he has not achieved quite what Speigelman has — massive breakthroughs and mainstream acceptance, offering more chances at greater subversion.
With “Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@*!” Spiegelman manages to utilize his work from 30 years ago — experimental, raw and, yeah, just a little bit smug — as the center of a more autobiographical wrapping that explains just where in the world this groundbreaking work was coming from. Spiegelman uses the term “breakdown” to its best advantage, both evoking a method of crafting a comics page and the psychological result of pressure — and the nexus between the two. His pages are explorations, direct results of the pressure.
At the center of the book — literally, it’s embedded inside — is Spiegelman’s self-published precursor to his ’80s anthology endeavor “RAW,” an oversized collection of short pieces that make up a anarchic whole. In these stories, Spiegelman often plays with the technical side of comics in order to examine the conventions and clichés of the visual language being enjoyed. Just as there is such a thing as art for art’s sake, this may very well be described as comics for comics’ sake — not a bad thing considering how far ahead of his time Spiegelman is. It would take almost 20 years for alternative comics to catch up with his ideas about the framework of comics as a narrative and his investigation of the panel as a limiting but mandatory device. Of equal importance is a short story of “Maus,” the first appearance of the work that would make Spiegelman a mainstream success and forever change the public perception of graphic fiction.
Spiegelman wraps up the volume with an informative and charmingly self-deprecating account of his life behind the work, but the real gem in the book is the lead-up to the reprint, a 19-page graphic introduction. Mixing styles and genres, Spiegelman’s early life unfolds in a series of sad, funny, cruel and revealing strips that cover such diverse topics as how he became enamored of comic books, the suicide of his mother and the mechanics of comic book narrative.
Spiegelman wraps emotional history and academic theory around each other in a tour de force that puts both the creator and the older work that follows in their deserved places. All told, the parts of “Breakdowns” gather for a whole as an example of what great comics are — a mix of emotional honesty and confident technique.
January 17, 2009 § Leave a Comment
The choice for Ali– love a man but learn to love a woman — reveals the incorrect either/or assumption so many make about sexuality and the result of those assumptions. Anoosh reveals that he has not one genetic iota of female in him — he was not born a transsexual. In many ways, he was pushed into being one out of necessity. The human psyche is not a simple black-and-white existence, and its solutions can be adaptive — it can even learn to love what is enforced on it.
It’s an evolutionary survival skill. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 10, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Alan Abel may not be a household name, but he ought to be. Unfortunately, it’s a little hard to explain what he does in order to deserve this honor. In a new documentary film on his life and work, “Abel Raises Cain,” Abel’s daughter Jenny and co-director Jeff Hockett tackle that explanation and reveal that in simple terms, he is a prankster. But in wider terms, Abel was an important social critic with much to say about the gullibility of the masses and the fallibility of the media.
You may actually know Alan Abel and not realize it. He’s appeared on television news shows and in newspapers and on radio hundreds and hundreds of times — just rarely as himself. He’s behind dozens of high-profile and outrageous news stories that were revealed as fakes.
In the 1960s, his Society for Indecency to Naked Animals sought to clothe animals, with the slogan “A nude horse is a rude horse,” while his fictitious creation Yetta Bronstein, a Jewish grandmother, ran for president in a few elections. Later Abel would cause a stir with his staged marriage of Idi Amin — a look-alike — to an American woman in order to gain citizenship.
One of his masterpieces involved a group fainting spell in the audience at Phil Donohue’s live television debut. Lately, Abel has been masquerading as the leader of the activist group Citizens Against Breastfeeding, which claims that the act is both incestuous and a violation of the baby’s civil rights. At one point, he even faked his own death — The New York Times ran a respectful obituary celebrating his calling.
Through the eyes of his daughter, Abel is the recipient of an affectionate portrait that reveals the guy behind the stunts as well as the one right in the middle of them. A former magician turned nightclub performer, Abel — along with his wife and partner in crime, Jeanne — had a radio show on which they pulled some pranks. His real early attention-getter was the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, an organization with an intentionally confusing name that tipped off not one member of the media that the whole movement was a hoax. Eventually Buck Henry took the role of the organization’s president, and this taught Abel the most potent lesson of his career — give a credible, straight face to the most insane cause, and you can probably get some media attention that will give a platform to almost anything you do and say. Abel continued to prove that for over four decades and continues still.
In those four decades, the message from his work has not disappeared — in fact, it may be more important than ever. Too much careless reporting is born of single sources with no verification, sometimes mere parroting of officials spouting their agendas as inside information. Was there ever a more damaging incident of journalistic laziness than New York Times reporter Judith Knight’s verbatim transcriptions of Iraqi hawk Ahmed Chalabi’s fabrications masquerading as news stories? With the war in Iraq still raging, it’s a powerful example of the devastating domino effect that sloppy reporting can start. While the stakes aren’t that high when Abel pretends to be the leader of a hooded Ku Klux Klan orchestra, his point is well-taken — the power of the press demands a high level of caution and conscience.
Following Abel through the decades is a revelation — not in regard to his personal behavior, which is steady, but to the media’s. Where once Abel dealt with straight-laced institutions, by the 1980s, radio and television began to turn his way. Sensationalism became the guiding principal of so much of the news, especially on television — a cynical shift that fed and still feeds off hundreds of unintentional Alan Abels posing for the cameras on so-called talk shows.
Abel was ahead of his time, but even with an influx of showmanship as the norm — witness Fox News as the ultimate manifestation of information presented through an over-the-top Alan Abel conceit — the audience has proved no less susceptible to the fraud. Instead, the public’s pathological need to believe what is presented to them has been revealed. Abel’s work accentuates the lack of critical thinking within our society and the dangers that can usher in.
Despite this heavy subtext, the film is far from gloomy — in fact, it’s joyful. Abel’s stunts are incredibly funny and his energy is infectious. His marriage is still strong and inspiring in its partnership, and Jenny Abel’s understanding of her father — not just celebration, but real analysis and the ability to communicate that insight — has created a treasure of a portrait.
It is also a love letter to families that do not live in society’s norm. As a unit of love, the Abel family shows that following ones’ own heart and intellect, rather than society’s, is often the path to real joy — and there is value in questioning the mainstream. Abel is a hero to weird dads everywhere.
January 10, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Fast becoming one of the best storytellers around is Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan, whose collection of shorter works — “Jamilti and Other Stories” — is a worthy follow-up to last year’s wonderful novel, “Exit Wounds.” Modan darts through stylistic decisions — sometimes her stories are wound around the horrible family secrets that tint lives forever; other times she employs absurd fables that bring the stories out of reality while still maintains their grounding in the world of emotions we all feel. Mixed with her flat art style — part cartoon, part outsider art — Modan’s realizations are rich and complex.
Her stories often explore that space in each life that is more like a hole waiting to be filled — sometimes it’s by what we have lost; other times it’s in expectation of what is to come. In the title story, Rama seeks a little romance in her life — an odd pang for a bride-to-be. It’s the officiousness of wedding planning and the structure of Israeli society — male-dominated as witnessed through a cheerful exchange between her husband-to-be and a cab driver who belittles women and objectifies her. If women sometimes dream of bad boys swooping down and showing them a little appreciation, what could be more forbidden than a Palestinian suicide bomber at the center of his crime?
It’s this sort of rebellion that defines many of Modan’s characters. Filling the space drives them to act out in ways that are desperate and perhaps self-destructive, but necessary to grasping their desire.
Such is the case with Rickie, the main character in “Energy Blockage,” doomed to play hostess for her mother’s business — a healer by electricity — set up after a suicide attempt following the disappearance of her husband supposedly imbues her with unearthly powers. It’s also the situation for Sarah, trapped working in a family “theme hotel” run by her irritated sister and desperate to break past the family mythology.
Other stories take on a fable-like quality. “The Panty Killer” is a serio-comic murder mystery that examines the large hurt brought on by small moments that seem innocuous to some. In the book’s best tale, “The King of the Lillies,” a plastic surgeon’s obsession is taken to its obvious conclusion if only for the purpose of examining who we love and why we love them and why love can often be an imperfect force that causes some people to wound themselves with the truth of that imperfection.
Modan’s stories are engaging and filled with thematic depth, plunging into the mysteries and secrets that every family has and using them for intimate character studies and surprising plot twists. She’s one of the most complicated and literary of graphic novelists working today, and she’s destined for greater things.
January 9, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Director Scott Hicks won acclaim — and a couple Oscar nominations — for his film “Shine,” which told the traumatic story of Australian pianist David Helfgott, but he’s finding himself once again on the Academy Awards shortlist for a documentary about legendary musical composer Philip Glass — “Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts.”
The experience of making the film resulted in much more than professional pride for Hicks —it was also a chance to get to know someone he admired.
“There are so many documentaries I’ve seen about great artists whose work I admired and I’ve come away at the end of the film feeling less enamored of them as people,” said Hicks. “In my life, I’ve met many people whose work I’ve admired from afar and very seldom is that experience enriched by meeting the person. In the case of Philip, it was something which enriched everything that I had come to imagine about him as a person. It wasn’t all easy, but it was a remarkable journey.”
Hicks first encountered Glass’ when his son introduced him to the film “Koyaanisqatsi,” the 1982 hit experimental film that Glass scored.
“Seeing that film was like seeing pure cinema,” said Hicks. “It was so different to the normal narrative drive of cinema that you’ve come to expect and it was the combination of the power of the image and the sound, the music, seemed to provide the narrative. It was just a wholly new experience to me.”
Glass’ music stuck with Hicks, who pursued further compositions over the years and, later, had the opportunity to work with Glass on his own film, “Snow Falling on Cedars” Hicks had used Glass compositions in scenes he was editing and contacted Glass’ management to license a piece for the final product. Hicks’ interest in Glass was very apparent and it was suggested that he might wish to meet Glass and make a film about him. Hicks jumped at the chance with the understanding that he would make his film about Glass and not the typical dry, reverent biography about a great artist. The experience gave Hicks the opportunity to contrast the real Philip Glass with the one he imagined after years of listening to his music.
“I formed in my mind an impression of an austere, intellectual, aloof individual, somewhat forbidding,” said Hicks. “The term ‘minimalist’ came to encompass many things in the 80s, so it was a delicious surprise to actually meet Philip and find out how easy to get on with he is, and that he is the complete opposite of all those things I just said. Sure he’s intellectual, but aloof, stern, forbidding — absolutely not. He turned out to be the most human, available, amusing, engaged individual.” « Read the rest of this entry »