MeCAF Recap (2015)


I had a nice time at this year’s Maine Comics Arts Festival, held in Portland, ME.

Overall I thought it was a well-run show. Wi-Fi, power outlets, and bottled water were all available to exhibitors. The tables were in a single, large space, with plenty of room to navigate the aisles and to get behind the tables. And food was on-premises, a very short walk away (made-to-order sandwiches, I think by a local restaurant.)

Attendance was steady for most of the day – lots of families. There was a kids’ activity area on one side of the room (coloring and drawing) and some of the panels listed seemed very kid-friendly. There was a healthy contingent of single and older adults, too.

I had a good tine chatting with my table mates Chris Watkins and John Forcucci. Chris had a nice table setup and an easy way with customers; I started taking mental notes. For my part I mostly tried not to crouch too low, and to split the difference between greeting customers and giving them space to look things over in peace.

I had a enjoyable talk with Jason Little and Nick Bertozzi, who both had books and original art on hand. Jason’s art for his Bee stories (SHUTTERBUG FOLLIES, MOTEL ART IMPROVEMENT SERVICE) was a treat to look at – an elegant riff on the “clear line” style. We talked shop while I looked at the art. Some panels for the Bee books were quite large, done with brush; Jason’s new book BORB was drawn rather small (maybe 9″ wide?), with a fine crowquill pen. I think he said he was looking for a way to draw more quickly, without getting bogged down in the process.

Nick and I talked more generally about managing expectations when tabling, and taking a long view about building an audience. This is a dry summation, though; he’s an extremely affable guy and put me at ease immediately. He also let slip that he was the reason that (fellow old people) was a side-scrolling comics site – an oddity in the early 2000s, before phones got us used to swiping left and right. I picked up his recent graphic novel PERSIMMON CUP.

I didn’t get around much after that, but did visit First Second’s big table (picking up Farel Dalrymple’s THE WRENCHIES) and talked to Eleri Mai Harris. She had an interesting historical comic and a beautiful screenprint for sale (see photo above.)

Upcoming small comics show MICE was on a lot of people’s minds; I bet they’re going to have a lot of applications. Sales at MeCAF were encouraging enough that I might give MICE a try too.

In the Store: Raconteur #5



New in the store, issue #5 of RACONTEUR, the anthology of true stories by cartoonists who “usually don’t do this kind of thing.” Featuring stories by Brian Fies, John Klossner, Mike Lynch, Mark Parisi, and myself. Cover by John Klossner.

My story is “No More Green Beans” and is about green beans, welding, shopping carts, looks that could kill, shovels, and little name tags.

Fires, Finally

It only took 25 years, but I finally picked up a book I’d been wanting.

photo of ad

The ad on the back of The Comics Journal #124, August 1988. Cover feature, a big Jules Feiffer interview. Inside, all kinds of door-opening stuff, like first glimpses of Jack Cole, Howard Chaykin, the Bros Hernandez, R. Crumb, Dan Clowes, etc etc etc. But this ad really caught my attention.

What lay behind all these miniature book covers? I could pretty much guess with the Manara books. TORPEDO 1936 and SAM PEZZO PI were self-expanatory, and as a longtime SF reader I was already suspending disbelief for whatever might be happening in the Bilal books.

But what the hell was up with FIRES?

photo of ad

FIRES. OK, there’s a sailor there, and a stylized battleship of some kind. And a flame. His face is very weirdly drawn – never seen stylization like that before. And what kind of expression is that? Are his eyes glowing? What’s that weird twisty emblem on his hat? Mysteries abounded.

The entire issue was full of the Other: books, cartoons, and artists I’d never heard of before, but which obviously existed (of course – people in other countries draw cartoons! And people can draw whatever they want!) and which were in cultural conversation with each other, whether I had been paying attention or not.

But this Mattotti image was like the Other Other. It didn’t appear to be about T&A or gangsters or slice-of-life or more T&A or monsters. The image of that head, with the weird bent nose and almost-forgot-to-draw-the mouth, stayed with me.

(Later, in an issue of ASIMOV’S, I would see another Catalan Communications ad, this one in b&w and with a excruciatingly brief blurb for FIRES: “Mystical possession ends in Expressionist inferno.” Well, that clears it up, thanks.)

photo of book cover

So, I finally got around to tracking down a used copy. The book itself turns out to be surprisingly large format, and with pretty good color reproduction. The translation seems a little shaky, or maybe the original was just very elliptical, but it only adds to the dreamlike feel.

So what is it about? I’m still not sure. At this point I’m mostly admiring the pictures — nobody draws like Mattotti — and not trying to make much sense of the scenario. But even after all these years, and (web-enabled) access to books and artists and images I never could’ve imagined as a teenager, it still feels like an Other Other.

Thoughts on Ezra Jack Keats Exhibit

photo of drawing table

Over the weekend I headed over to the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst to see their current exhibit, “The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats.” The show is up until October 14 and it’s worth the trip. Pressed for time (as usual) so just a few brief thoughts on the show.

1. There are a bunch of books represented in the show, including THE SNOWY DAY, APT. 3, GOGGLES, PETER’S CHAIR, A LETTER FOR AMY and others. There’s a wide range of technique on display too, from the collage-heavy SNOWY DAY to more painterly APT. 3 and GOGGLES.

2. I was surprised as the tightness of detail in some of the pieces – the pages from GOGGLES had a ton of fine brushstrokes and what might have been sand mixed into the paint for texture. The paint looked glossy – a surprise to me as I’d been expecting gouache. Or maybe the whole thing was varnished; some of the collage elements looked glossy as well.

3. The paintings were largeish (maybe 18″ x 24″ or so), and most appeared to be on some kind of illustration board. You could see Keats’ crop marks (and occasionally those “bulls-eye” adhesive registration marks) on some of them. A few had notes to the art dept. e.g. “Don’t side light” – the raking light would have made the collage cast shadows, I bet. Between that and the sand in the GOGGLES piece I wonder if Keats’ art was difficult to prepare for reproduction.

4. The boards for THE SNOWY DAY were spare and perfect. Very carefully shaped (and shaded) collage, very tightly drawn elements. One had real cotton glued to the background to make clouds (where Peter slides down the snowy hill). The art took up much less of the page than the boards for later books. The collage was all absolutely flat.

5. A LETTER TO AMY is gloriously colored; what you see in the book is nice but the blue on the boards is irreproducible. Also that “use ZIP CODE” that’s so prominent on some pages is a very tight painting, not a collage. (Near these boards were some reference photos Keats took including the mailbox and laundry service sign.)

6. Keats’ palette and a few paints were on display. The tubes were Golden Aquatec and Grumbacher Hyplar acrylic paints – fairly new stuff in the early 60’s. There was also a bottle of turpentine in the box; maybe he used that instead of water.

7. The exhibit put everything into historical context, and into Keats’ personal history too (showing his drawings and paintings of tenements, mineworkers, etc. and how they related to art in his books.) The books’ content was analyzed in terms of Keats overcoming pain from his childhood.

8. Finally – any visit to the Carle has to include a long stopover at their bookstore, which is probably the best picture book bookstore I’ve ever been in (Curious George Goes to Wordsworth being a close second.) In addition to a deep, deep selection of picture books, they carry YA novels, graphic novels (Toon Books, First Second, more), art books (Charley Harper, Blexbolex, illustrated Elements of Style) and cool one-offs (those $$$ Sunday Press books of Little Nemo and Little Sammy Sneeze, and a giant Golden Age DC Comics thing I was afraid to pick up.) At one time they had that giant KRAMER’S ERGOT too.

9. Food is right down the street from the Museum, at Atkins Farms (ice cream stand / grocery / deli). It gets mega-packed, so be light on your feet. Their dark chocolate peanut butter cups are worth the crush.

10. Here’s a NYT article about the show in its original venue, the Jewish Museum.

Crime Studies

brush and ink in sketchbook

More studies after great crime cartoonists – Munoz, Raymond, Toth, Tardi, Eisner. Brush and ink in sketchbook. (I’m working from The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics, ed. Paul Gravett – definitely worth getting if you’re interested in crime comics from various eras.)