Wanderings of an artist in the trenches.

Archive for May, 2012

Greg Irons

I’ve been a guest lecturer lately in Marshall Vandruff’s online TAD Genre class giving my “Short History of Comics” presentation. I make it a point to state that I am no historian in these matters and that what I’m presenting is my own biased love of the history of this medium in the hopes that it will spur viewers on to discover the true breadth of the work of so many wonderful talents. It seems to do the trick, which is great. There are huge holes in my presentation, mostly because what I’ve been interested in doesn’t cover the entire history of the medium. Romance comics are absent, though I could easily scan (and have started to) some of the beautiful work of Frank Frazetta and Alex Toth, to name just a couple of artists. So the holes will get filled in eventually, just so it will be a more representative presentation.

I am by nature a pack rat. Always have been. My collection is pretty large and I’ve been doing it for quite a long time now. I love it all, really. Can’t get enough of it. And, though my collecting has slowed considerably, the collection does still grow. Usually in the case of foreign material, which is so hard to find here in the States, but which I load up on when I travel overseas.

Anyway, in the course of presenting this time around I was hit once again by the unusual power of Greg Irons’s work. I was fortunate to have a cousin who was older than myself and one who reveled in introducing me to things I would never have seen otherwise, and probably shouldn’t have seen! My cousin Jake was the wanderer, the experimenter, the loner. He has the greatest sense of humor and an enthusiasm for life that is not lost on me. I lived vicariously through him and his adventures when I was younger. Like when he went on safari through Africa in a van and got lost in the Sahara, evading nomadic tribes on camelback, then had to live on a boat on the Congo for a week until his German friends could air drop him a visa sealed in a tupperware container so that he could safely return home. He could hear battles taking place along the banks of the river; gunshots in the night, screams. It was heady stuff for a young kid and gave me a love of travel, both physically and fictionally. He introduced me to Doc Savage and those incredible James Bama covers! He showed me the Lancer editions of Conan with the Frazetta covers. He collected Creepy and Eerie comics and blew my mind with those too. And he showed me the underground comix. Stuff that I really should not have been looking at, but was so glad to get at that early age. My parents heads would have exploded if they’d known just what he’d handed me. And it was the knowledge of their being forbidden fruit that made the reading of them so much more enjoyable and thrilling.

I was always graphically inclined even as a kid. I was automatically drawn to anything that was printed. I absolutely loved the ben day dots printed on paper. I used to hold paperback covers up close to my eyes and marvel at how that crazy arrangement of colored dots made that image, that painting come alive on the page! I still marvel at it all. It’s still magic of the best kind to me. So this stuff was on an order of magnitude greater than other things I was looking at that were more easily accessible.

I was stunned by the work. Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Jack Jackson (Jaxon), Dave Sheridan, S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez and Greg Irons. I loved/love them all. Even though S. Clay Wilson’s Checkered Demon freaked me out, it was like watching a train wreck. I just couldn’t look away! There was a sense of the covert in looking at all that. That I was seeing things from behind enemy lines, adult stuff that wasn’t being told to us. That same feeling of looking at something I shouldn’t have been looking at that I got from reading Creepy and Eerie and even, to a lesser extent, Mad Magazine. I was in the inner circle thanks to my cousin Jake.

I knew that Don Martin in Mad was clean fun, especially when stacked up against Gilbert Shelton and Dave Sheridan. The Freak Brothers and Wonder Warthog were on a different level entirely. Still funny, just in a dirty sort of way that I didn’t truly understand, but still coveted. There was a sense to all the underground material of having been done in a garage. They were hand made and printed on a shoestring, and that made them more real to me than the regular above ground comics that I usually wallowed in. They had that feeling that I got from seeing the original Batman and Superman comics. They lacked polish, but that’s what made them special. Anyway, a long way to point out how Greg Irons work hit me where I lived, and still moves me.

There was something else about Irons’s work that hit a nerve with me. He did have a certain polish that the others lacked. It was like he sort of knew what comics were all about, or what they “could” be, and took them and twisted them around to suit his own needs and he then spit them back out after wringing them through his wonderfully enlightened self. There was a sense of playfulness that crept into his work, but also a sense of the absurd, and a slowly sinking edge of horror to them as well. It walked a razor’s edge between fun and scary, if that makes any sense.

He was taken from us way, way too early. Killed by a bus in Bangkok in 1985. He was only 35 years old! But he left behind a wonderful body of work that you can love up on in Fantagraphics “You Call This Art?!!” by Patrick Rosenkranz. The book has been out now since 2006 and I picked it up the minute it was released. I constantly enjoy revisiting its pages and getting that familiar nostalgic pang when looking through his work. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, certainly. And there’s quite a bit that’s actually hard to look at. The Time Magazine cover “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” is a brutal condemnation of the Vietnam War.

He didn’t shy away from showing the underbelly of things. And while it may at times seem gratuitous, it really came from a place where he was confronting what he thought were serious demons in our society. It wasn’t something from within him, but what he was seeing in others. The book gives some great insight into his reasons for creating some of the work.

But the work! THE WORK! It’s beautiful! So lively, so powerful! What a talent! I love his lines, his use of black, his characterizations. It’s just a joy to look at for me. It’s like political cartooning thrown on its head with the blinders totally off. No rose colored glasses here. His scathing exposé on Whaling, “The Honour and Glory of Whaling”, in “Slow Death”. The splash page is remarkable. Just a brilliant piece of work. And the story is so dense with facts and information. I think most people at that time would have been (and probably were) sort of shocked at what was being presented in what most considered ephemera for children. They truly were Comix with a conscience. I’ll have to scan more work because what I’ve got here doesn’t quite do him justice.

These things seriously had an effect on me and others that carries through today. That need to not shy away from the unpleasant, or the ugly. To try and make sense of some of it all and maybe even find the latent beauty that lurks in the shadows.

We need more artists like Greg Irons.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Late night musings

It’s 3 AM and outside it’s raining. A heavy, steady thrum on the rooftop. I was walking Scout just a bit ago and we’d just about rounded the last corner of the neighborhood when I could hear the oncoming rain squall. It was pretty eerie and approaching fast. I tugged on Scout to get a move on and practically half-dragged her home. We got drenched anyway. Now it hammers the house and I can hear sheets of water splattering the tiles by the pool. Scout gets antsy during thunderstorms.

Earlier, at the beginning of our walk, I saw a light in the sky. It was arcing quickly, too fast to be a jet or plane, from the clear edge of the sky to the deep orange clouds blanketing the western edge. And it was a faint light, not a bright pulsing light, such as one might see on the edges of airplane wings.

And then it was gone.

I stood watching the sky, mouth half-open, because I wasn’t really sure I’d seen it, even though I’ve had lots of these lights in the sky experiences since moving to Florida and during my nightly perambulations. So my thoughts were on Close Encounters and how the UFO’s used clouds as their cloaking device. Running all that through my head and connecting it to my idea that maybe other weather events are cloaking devices used by extraterrestrials. That’s when I heard the roar of the rain. And why it was creepy. At that point the cloud cover was complete. You couldn’t see the sky anymore, the stars were all gone.

This mood has been running all day today for me. It started this morning when the new Guerrilla Pochade box I’d ordered from Amazon arrived. Had fun putting it all together and filling it up. Playing with tubes of paint is a joy that’s hard to describe. So many wonderful choices, so much possibility encompassed in such a small tube. I figured the pochade box was a good way to go compared to the heavy French Easel I’ve used for years and years. It seems to grow heavier and heavier. I’ve been debating on whether to order one of these for a long time. Finally just bit the bullet and did it. I figured if it were easier to just hit the road and paint en Plein Air I’d probably do much more of it. The box is a neat little unit. Very compact, all things considered. I’m happy I did it. Now I have to see how it performs in the wild.

Anyway, part of the order from Amazon was also copy of Dark Horse’s reprint of the complete “Hunter” series from Eerie magazine. Man, did I ever love this story when I was younger.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Warren Magazines published Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, and Blazing Combat magazines. These were wonderful comics because they were magazine format, printed in black and white with full-color painted covers usually by the likes of Frank Frazetta, Sanjulian, etc. They contained the sequential work of some of the best creators in the business, both writers and artists. Because they were magazine format they were not bound by the comics code rating authority, so they could push the traditional boundaries and tell stories unseen in conventional comics of the day – to paraphrase Mike Richardson’s intro. As a kid growing up in the mid-Sixties these were a breath of fresh air. I was introduced to these books by my cousin Jake, who made sure that I saw all the stuff I wasn’t supposed to see, like underground comics with Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, the Checkered Demon, etc. You felt that you weren’t supposed to be reading these books. They had a sense of the far side of adult to them. They felt like questionable material, which made them all the more appealing. I loved those magazines and collected them all.

I saw the ad for it on Amazon, you know how they pepper you with things like other things you’ve ordered, and HAD to order it. I didn’t realize until I opened it up and started looking through the pages what a nostalgic slap it would be to my heart. I started tearing up while looking through it. Those pages, so graphic, so much a part of a certain time in my adolescence, put me right back to that time. I was immediately transported to my home and to the comforting closeness of family. I remember sitting in my room at my drawing board copying those pages and panels by Paul Neary. And the strongest memory was of my father. How much I miss him. There I was spending inordinate amounts of time struggling to learn how to draw, scratching away at recreating those panels line for line, and my father was moving through that house, humming and whistling, his light tread on the carpets as he wandered to and fro.

How much we take for granted when we’re young. Safe in the knowledge that all is right with the world while we’re in that comforting cocoon. Yet how swift time flies. How quickly time fades and tumbles into the past. How I would give anything to relive them, to smell those smells, to smile those smiles, to feel those hugs and reassuring proud gazes from my father again. It’s a powerful visceral want in me. Yet I wouldn’t change anything for fear of losing my children. They bind me here to the present. But, oh, those memories rise unbidden and steal away yet more time from me, the king waster of time. I feel like time is speeding up and it’s a thankless, hasty bitch. Georgie grows tall before me. I’m confused at how he got so tall so quickly. When? How? And Mary, though her voice still sounds like a little pixie on the phone, grows quickly as well. It’s unnerving, because it’s all so fast. I want it to slow down, dammit!

But there I was this morning, stunned into silence and immobility by a comic book, thoughts of my wonderful, loving father battering me. It wasn’t, and never is, a terribly unpleasant feeling. It’s actually one I sort of wallow in. There’s something bittersweet about it. It hurts so good. It reminds me of a letter that NC Wyeth wrote to his mother when he was older, married and with his children. He was looking through a photo album and writing about how he constantly goes to that album, even though it invariably leaves him somewhat depressed, morose, because he can immediately be transported to a time and a place. Captured within each photograph are all the things seen and unseen that day. It makes one wonder that if we could step into the photographs, we could travel in that time, in that place and “be there!”

And looking at those Hunter stories today I WAS there! If I looked up at the right moment, I’d be home, and everyone would be living their lives in that time in that place. God, I miss who I was then. Who we all were then.

I’m not so different now, I guess. Older, wiser. Had a lot kicked out of me in New York. But I lived a lot and learned a lot there too. I was lucky to grow up when I did. The world, though it was on the brink, was still a simpler place for a kid like me, living in the wonderful wash of comics and cartoons, novels and movies. Wallowing in the belly of a family that actually functioned on love and understanding most of the time. Never realizing totally just how lucky I was. My course has been steady. Art, art, art. And I truly believe that, obsessed as I was, as I can be about some things, I do pay attention and notice the world about me, the people about me. How they enhance my life with riches beyond compare.

I wish I could hug my father again. I wish I lived closer to my mother and my sister and brother. I wish, I wish. I wish that time could be reeled in and replayed and savored yet again.

Wow. I’ve really taken a tour here of the depressed kind. Just had a close friend pass away and it seems unreal. More time lost. More grist for that mill.

Need to lighten up. Those Hunter pages caught me off guard. Totally didn’t think I’d get that kind of hit from them.

But I think about that kind of stuff pretty often. Like NC Wyeth, I see this stuff and in each page, each panel there is a whole world of things going on. I see those pages and think immediately of everything going on at the same time. While Paul Neary is working on Hunter, Jeff Jones was painting some of the Studio stuff, as was Mike Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson and Barry Windsor-Smith. Frank Frazetta was doing some of the best work of his life! Archie Goodwin was writing away on the myriad stories he wrote, as was John D. MacDonald. Cat Stevens was cranking away at his wonderful music as was the band Jethro Tull and everyone else! The list is almost endless, too great to list it all. Johnny Hart, Hal Foster, Hank Ketcham, Paul Ryan, Stan Lynde, Jack Kirby, Russ Heath, Louis Armstrong, etc. Insert your favorite artists, writers, musicians, actors, etc.

God, what a time! Everyone was doing their thing! And it was an exceptionally rare time for so much creativity. And in those things, each, is this world all happening at the same time. How lucky we are for having them all expressing their need to create at that time. How lucky I was to be alive to experience it all. How lucky I was to have a buddy, Lum Edwards, to experience it with, who shared the sense of wonder and awe in those beautiful works. Who shared the need to emulate it all, too. We pushed each other onward to greater skill and polish.

So, anyway, the musings of a momentary sadness.

Have a great day!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Yet more ProCreate!

I know I’m like a broken record, but I’m really having fun with this damn app! Anyway, decided to make some brushes in the app today and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. Now I have some brushes that approximate more of what I love about painting. If you click the link below you can scope out more of the iPad work.

iPad Painting Album

When you’re at the album if you click any of the images you’ll see larger views of them.

The piece below was done the other day from life at Starbucks. She was totally caught up in texting with someone and I was able to knock this thing out.

Hope you like the stuff!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

ProCreate is killing me!

Can’t get over this fun iPad app. It totally gets out of the way and let’s me just draw and paint.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad