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Posts Tagged ‘comics’

Night Shift: An Interview with Leslie Stein

November 4, 2015 | by


“Life is nonlinear and that takes a lot of courage to cope with,” writes Leslie Stein in her new book, Bright-Eyed at Midnight. Stein coped, in part, by sitting down at a blank page each night for a year to draw comics. Fueled by insomnia and prompted by characters she encountered while tending bar or traveling the city or by bittersweet childhood memories (her insomnia stretches back to juvenile night terrors), she produced twelve months’ worth of microstories that build a larger narrative through accumulation. In addition to diaristic recollections of everyday events, she meditates on collaged aphorisms and observations snipped from Jules Renard’s Journal, offers up doodled portraits of teen crushes, and returns again and again to the moment just before dawn, when she is alone, awake, and contemplating her art and her existential questions.

In Bright-Eyed, Stein has foregone traditional comics panels, leaving her dreamlike watercolor scenes surrounded by white space. Dialogue between the book’s impish figures is handwritten in colored pencil and linked to its speakers not by conventional word balloons but by small, unobtrusive squiggles. Some nights seem to get the best of her: a handful of pages are dense, wildly rendered paintings with anxiously scratched self-portraits and recriminations peering out from between brush marks. The Globe and Mail described these as “Kandinsky illustrating Virginia Woolf.”

Seasonal headers are the only organizing devices in the book, which has been edited down to 224 drawings. According to Stein, her publisher wanted page numbers, but she resisted, not wanting to interrupt Bright-Eyed at Midnight’s magical quality. “How does this book even exist?” she told me. “It’s unique—it’s a comic book and an art book, it’s a diary. You could open it to any page to begin.”

Stein and I met at a bar in Brooklyn early one evening in late August to discuss her nightlife. It was hot, so we sat under a tree to talk.

When you decided to draw every day for a year, were you making the work for yourself instead of readers?

I didn’t actually anticipate having any readers. I started drawing the series on New Year’s Eve—it sounds so gimmicky, but it really wasn’t on purpose. I had had a difficult year. I was either bartending or alone all night. I wanted something new and different to play with, to get color in my life. New Year’s is symbolic. I wanted to think about what a new year meant in my own life rather than people’s expectations of it. I didn’t want to go out to a party. I did a bunch of terrible drawings that evening and then went out drinking anyway, because I felt discouraged. When I got back to my apartment, I did a scratchy comic about my night and threw it up on Tumblr. The next day I woke up and there it was. I took it down, because posting it was kind of an accident, but then started the next in the series right away. Since I was playing around with materials, the style changed often but turned into something concrete. By the end of the year, I was laying down my lines in a specific way before coloring, and the spatial relationships between images and the design of the characters had solidified. Read More »

Moebius and the Key of Dreams

October 21, 2015 | by

Jean Giraud at the exhibition “Moebius-Transe-Forme,” in 2001. Courtesy Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain.

Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, at the exhibition “Moebius-Transe-Forme,” in 2001. Courtesy Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain.

“Even when you reach a certain level of success,” Jean Giraud once said, “there’s still this desire to break the established rules and be a bit of a delinquent.” The cheerfully libertine Frenchman spoke those words in his early seventies, just two years before his death in 2012, but he had voiced similar sentiments throughout most of his adult life. He was already established as an extraordinarily gifted comic-strip artist in his twenties, having created, with writer Jean-Michel Charlier, the immensely popular Western series Blueberry, which he signed as “Gir”; he nonetheless found himself intermittently beset by that restless desire to be “a bit of a delinquent.” A decade later, partly inspired by his infatuation with American underground comics and their countercultural freedom, that restlessness produced a creative eruption, a second artistic identity, and a second pseudonym: Moebius.

Blueberry remained Giraud’s most bankable project in Europe, but from the seventies onward he used its success to underwrite his more outré impulses as solo auteur Moebius. With virtuoso line work, relentless experimentation, and radical shifts of style, his fantastical works proffered a bouquet that could include the dark, the erotic, the whimsical, the intellectual, the bawdy, the scathing, the humorous, and the philosophical in countless, often chance, combinations. Characteristically, he did not leave a neatly ordered oeuvre; instead of a manicured garden of civilized delights, we find a multiverse of astonishing impulses. Read More »

Beauty at the Cash Register, and Other News

October 19, 2015 | by

From the cover of Design for Point of Sale.

  • Weimar Berlin is “typically presented as a nonstop freak show of grotesque transvestites and mutilated war vets, lumpen Brechtian beggars and top-hatted industrialists, Charleston-crazed floozies, effete gigolos, and brazen rent boys”: imagery at once bolstered and challenged by “Berlin Metropolis: 1918–1933,” an exhibition at Neue Galerie. “Drawing on 350 well-chosen examples displayed in six jam-packed galleries arranged by Richard Pandiscio (who also designed the handsome catalog), the survey summons up the fast-paced, jittery, but scintillating atmosphere of a wide-open world city that attracted foreign hedonists enticed by its louche nightlife.”
  • Chris Ware’s new illustrated essay is about why he loves comics, in a very, very, very big-picture sense: he invokes neuroscience, linguistics, and cosmology. “Really, when one comes right down to it, in the end, that’s all we have. Our memories! Not to bum anyone out, though … As organisms on a planet that’s bifurcated by a daily passing dance between shadow and radiation, comics are, like, the perfect art form!”
  • Today in midcentury design nostalgia: Ladislav Sutnar’s Design for Point of Sale, a 1952 guide inflected with the ideals of the Bauhaus, is “easily the most exquisite book about supermarket store displays ever created.” Here, at last, is your chance to master that most delicate art: retail. Sutnar—who was also the guy who told Bell Telephone to put area codes in parentheses, a major advance in telephone-number design—gives us “page after page of beautiful layouts with ample white space, as well as his architectural renderings of point-of-purchase display spaces.”
  • While we’re stuck in the fifties, go ahead and answer these questions: In a first edition would you prefer a soiled original binding to one in morocco? What great country has never produced a great painter? Would you like to see more of our public buildings decorated by artists? What is the origin of the romantic conception of love in the Western world? Name several of the leading nineteenth-century antagonists of revealed religion. These are drawn from The Cultured Man, a 1958 book of quizzes that aimed to elevate mankind by asking him not just about facts, but about his attitudes. Its author, Ashley Montagu, believed that “a person considered ‘cultured’ would not just be able to readily summon facts, but also to access humane feelings,” and that nothing could access these feelings quite like a good quiz.
  • On Percival Everett, whose new collection of stories, Half an Inch of Water, extends his satirical purview: “He rarely does publicity, doesn’t write reviews, and doesn’t read reviews of his own work; he is probably not coming soon to a bookstore near you. His novels tend to be both choppy and dense, with chapters broken up into one- or two-page scenes that are riven with philosophical asides, interpolations from outside texts, wordplay, classical allusions, self-interrogations, metafictional interjections, and the occasional photograph, drawing, mathematical equation, or semiotic square … Everett’s novels suggest that the self is a patch job, a cognitive illusion. It’s no surprise, then, that the shift to the third person in his short fiction feels like a kind of liberation, a sweet relief. And if the price of that shift is a loss of intimacy or immediacy, the reward is composure and lucidity —which, it turns out, are not the same as comprehension. You can see something clearly and still not know what to make of it, or even what it is.”

Long Story Short: In the Studio with Aidan Koch

August 20, 2015 | by

Photo: Amanda Hakan

Photo: Amanda Hakan

On Aidan Koch’s cover for our Summer issue, six panels depict a woman lounging and reading and ruminating at the shore. Each panel exists both as a discrete event—here, she looks at her book; here, she shades her eyes—and as one sentence in a paragraph about the woman’s day at the beach. The issue also features Koch’s comic “Heavenly Seas,” the story of a woman who travels to a tropical location with a man she doesn’t love. It is twenty-eight pages long and contains just over a hundred words of dialogue and no narration. The difference between “Heavenly Seas” and the cover sequence is like the difference between Lydia Davis’s long short stories and her very short ones.

Koch, a native of Olympia, Washington, is the author of three book-length comics—The Whale, The Blonde Woman, and, most recently, Impressions. She also makes sculptures, ceramics, and textiles that reinterpret the classical motifs that appear in many of her comics. Her narratives are elliptical, fragmentary, and open-ended; it seemed appropriate to include “Heavenly Seas” in an issue that is largely about translation. Last month, I met Koch at her studio, in the basement of a tatty mansion she shares with eight other artists and a corn snake named Cleopatra, in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Where did the story for “Heavenly Seas” come from?

I’d been trying to think about how to utilize the idea of traveling. I’d read a couple of Paul Bowles books, and I liked how well he captured the mindset of how foreign places can seem to the traveler and how that’s seductive but also scary. He also thought about people’s attitudes in different countries and in confronting different cultures. That’s something I’d been considering, since it’s a big part of my life. I’ve been traveling constantly for the last three or four years. I left Portland in 2011 to travel and just didn’t stop. I went to Spain and Turkey, then I was in Scandinavia and around Europe. My book Field Studies documented 2012, when I lived in a different room in a different city every month, just because I didn’t know what to do with myself. I thought maybe I’d figure it out along the way. Read More »

Flower Voyeur: A Comic

July 28, 2015 | by

Thinking Through Images: An Interview with Nick Sousanis

July 20, 2015 | by

First idea map for Unflattening, April 14, 2011.

First idea map for Unflattening, April 14, 2011.

Everything about Unflattening is odd, from its ungainly title and unfashionable subject matter (Rudolf Arnheim art theory meets Herbert Marcuse radicalism meets Scott McCloud comics boosterism) to its provenance: Nick Sousanis initially wrote and drew this full-length comics essay as his graduate-school dissertation. (He was earning his doctorate in education at Teachers College Columbia University, studying under the philosopher and social activist Maxine Greene.)

Sousanis’s career might be considered a little odd, too. He followed up an undergraduate degree in mathematics with a brief stint as a professional tennis player, then cofounded and edited a cultural magazine in Detroit, while also working as an artist. This isn’t the typical career path for a cartoonist—though to be fair, that profession doesn’t provide many followable emblematic models in that regard. Wild enthusiasm and plunge-taking fearlessness aside, Sousanis seems like a solid citizen; while his ideas are radically utopian, their flavor is resolutely wholesome. He is reminiscent of the kind of small-town high school teacher who’s popular with students because they believe he tells the truth and is unafraid to veer away from the curriculum-assigned script.

The script Sousanis is veering away from in this case is the age-old Western bias against visual imagery (and in favor of the Word), which he traces back to Plato’s cave. Sousanis believes that verbal language alone is a poor vehicle for capturing the multidimensional, many-layered fullness of human experience, the equivalent of Edwin Abbott’s two-dimensional flatworms trying to explain a sphere. It’s not so much that a picture is worth a thousand words, but rather that a picture is worth concepts that can’t even be put into words. And in an attempt to prove his case, he drew it.

What does “unflattening” mean?

It would be easier to tell you what the book’s about than to tell you what “unflattening” is. Actually, I’ve thinking about that lately because there’s a French translation in the works, and they can’t use that word because it doesn’t mean anything.

How could it not mean anything?

Well, I don’t think it means the right thing. It doesn’t mean anything in English—it’s not a word people use. The book is very much an argument that we make sense of the world in ways beyond text—teaching and learning shouldn’t be restricted to that narrow band. So rather than talking about visual thinking and multimodal stuff—from Howard Gardner to Rudolf Arnheim, people have been talking about it—comics just let me do it.

That’s what the book is about, if it’s about anything. Read More »