Category Archives: cartoonists

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.

photo of drawing table

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.

ink, gouache, watercolor

Art Links 10-28-11

ink, gouache, watercolor