“Any lady who is first lady likes being first lady. I don’t care what they say, they like it.”
“I still think we ought to take the North Vietnamese dikes out now. Will that drown people?”
“No, no, no, I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?”
“You know, it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana are Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose because most of them are psychiatrists.”
“Always remember that others may hate you but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself. ”
Hi all. It’s time for another Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup. I would have liked to do a full post on the big comic news of the week–Marvel announcing an app for digital distribution on the iPad–but with AWP looming, I’m going to have to skip that for now and focus on smaller updates. For those of you who missed Roundup I, the purpose of these articles is to showcase artists I believe deserve recognition (and also to backdoor promote my upcoming graphic novel, The Black List). So why not just get started?
1. Sweet Tooth #7 by Jeff Lemire
Last month I did a top ten list of graphic novels for the literary inclined. Sweet Tooth would have made it, but at the time, it didn’t exist in paperback format, only in monthly issues. That is no longer the case. Without a doubt, Sweet Tooth is one of my favorite ongoing series. I won’t do the book any justice describing what it’s about, so I’ll just say the work of writer/artist Jeff Lemire has to be seen to be believed. He eschews the realistic for a bizarre style that perfectly matches his apocalyptic dystopia. The most impressive aspect of his work is his facial features, something that gets glossed over by even the most successful of comic artists, especially those who photo reference. Lemire is not one of those artists. He positions his characters in straight-on, Wes Anderson style shots and lets their expressions tell the story. Anyone interested in the comics medium absolutely needs to study the work of Lemire, and there’s no better jumping on point than Sweet Tooth.
2. Blackest Night #8 Written by Geoff Johns with art from Ivan Reis
Blackest Night is an eight-issue miniseries that shows just how fun and insane superhero comics can really be. The conclusion to a multi-year story set in the Green Lantern section of the DC universe, BN succeeds on the merits of its hyper-talented artist, Ivan Reis. Check out this article by the good folks at iFanboy raving over the man’s ridiculous art skills. The average comic reader may not understand how difficult these events comics are to put out, but these are the toughest types of books to draw in the industry. Reis has to draw a cast of hundreds and literally squeezes dozens upon dozens of characters into single panels. Even if you know nothing about Green Lantern or Blackest Night, pick up this issue at a low, low price of four dollars for a master’s class in panel composition and character placement. Reis does not disappoint.
3. Unpublished Artist Tommy Smith
Tommy Smith is another artist I found on Mark Millar’s forums, and it’s very clear from a four-page sample of his work he posted that this man has chops. Being able to convey motion is a skill that sounds easier than it is to master, but right here in this one silent page, Smith gets across movement even while segmenting the flow of time. We don’t get every moment of this woman waking up, but it’s clear what’s happening thanks to the interesting angles and quirky subject choices. He doesn’t put the woman front and center in each panel. Sometimes she’s off to the side like in panel one, while others use a hyper close-up. Smith is currently looking for collaborators so if you’re a comic writer looking for someone who has storytelling down, consider shooting him an e-mail.
4. The Black List written by Salvatore Pane and Mark Kleman with art from Lamair Nash
This is one of the first finished pages Mark and I got back from Lamair, and we were absolutely floored. We posted a bunch of ads on various art websites looking for an artist and received many, many submissions. Lamair Nash was clearly the most talented, but we didn’t realize the extent of his skills until this page came in. Lamair takes a very simple, relateable moment–a twenty-something at a McJob caught goofing off by his boss–and turns it into something downright otherworldly. The closeup on protagonist Harry’s eye. The imposing figure of the boss. You can’t teach this stuff, folks. Lamair’s ability to make even the most mundane scenes bristle with energy and tension is one of the major reasons we so badly wanted to work with him on this project. And if this is what he does with a simple office scene, I can’t wait to show off what he can do with Richard Nixon firing rockets at stone mason mercenaries in secret underground laboratories.
5. Amazing Spider-Man #626 written by Fred Van Lente with art from Michael Gaydos
Three years ago I wrote articles for a great comic book website called Broken Frontier. Around the same time, a controversial of Amazing Spider-Man came out that rebooted the previous twenty years of continuity, namely the amount of time I’d followed the character. I flipped my shit. But since then, the thrice-monthly Amazing Spider-Man has been absolutely superb. The book employs a rotating cast of creators, including the brilliant writer Fred Van Lente whose MODOK’s 11 is an absolute must-read, that continues to put the screws to the life of lovable Peter Parker. Issue 626 is no different. Michael Gaydos is one of the best artists in the industry, and like Jeff Lemire, he is a master at facial expressions. Look at this exchange between Pete and his roommate Michelle Gonzalez. Is this the art you expect from a mainstream superhero book starring one of the most recognizable characters on Earth? No. It’s breathtaking. It’s a reminder of everything comics can accomplish. If you think Spider-Man begins and ends with Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi, you owe it to yourself to run, RUN, to the nearest comic store and jump on board the new and improved Amazing.
I’m going to momentarily pull myself away from the glory that is March Madness to introduce a new feature I’m working on (in my best Dicky V. impersonation: It’s going to the best, baby!). Bi-Weekly Friday Art Roundup is an opportunity to showcase some of my favorite artists working in the comic industry, as well as hyping The Black List with some unused art and promotional covers. And who better to kick off the inaugural feature than Rafael Albuquerque?
Vertigo released American Vampire #1 this past Wednesday with art by Rafael Albuquerque and scripts from prose writers Scott Snyder and Stephen King. This book’s getting a ton of buzz and for good reason. Although Dark Tower and The Stand have both been adapted into comics by Marvel, this is the first time King’s actually handled scripting chores himself on a comic book. And Scott Snyder’s no slouch either, having written a very well-received short story collection, Voodoo Heart, and an issue of The Torch for Marvel. But Albuquerque’s pencils come close to stealing the show. With settings including the Old West and 1920’s Hollywood, Albuquerque really has a chance to shine here. He’s a master of body language, facial expressions and wonderfully lived-in settings. This is a book to watch.
Mitch Geralds is an artist I hadn’t heard of, but I discovered his work over on Mark Millar’s forums. He’s self-publishing his book Johnny Recon, and from the looks of the art, it’s definitely something I’d be interested in checking out. Geralds seems to be relatively undiscovered so if there’s any comic writers out there looking for a collaborator, consider getting in touch with him.
What kind of promoter would I be if I didn’t take this opportunity to once again show off the artwork of Lamair Nash, one of my collaborators on The Black List forthcoming from Arcana Comics? This guy is a superstar in the making, and I know that both Mark (my co-writer) and I feel incredibly lucky that we found him before he broke into the industry. This is a unused cover from The Black List featuring an early design of Richard Nixon, one of our main characters and heroes. The final Tricky Dick design is slightly different, however (Our Nixon is slightly younger and more buff) so we won’t be able to go use this beautiful cover.
I apologize in advance for how srunched together the art appears, but Night Owls by the Timony Twins is a must read. Published by DC’s webcomic imprint Zuda, the art of Night Owls is remarkable due to its old timey feel and classic/wacky character designs. The juxtaposition of Ernest Baxter and Roscoe the Gargoyle is hilarious and gets a chuckle pretty much on every page. I also love how the art team chose to stick with the traditional grid layout of panels. It really makes the webcomic feel like something transported out of an earlier decade regardless of bizarre subject matter.
Also: it’s free!
If you’re not reading Irredeemable, you ain’t shit. This book is one of the best indies out there and reaffirms why Mark Waid is one of the most talented comic scribes in the biz. The artist, Peter Krause, is also doing phenomenal work, but the cover above was actually done by Paul Azaceta and Dan Panosian. I haven’t heard of either of them, but I’ll definitely be looking for their work in the future after this eye-catching, yet sparse, cover for the final issue of Irredeemable‘s first year.
A few weeks ago I was at a multi-genre reading with segments of fiction and nonfiction. I sat. I listened. I thought about how cultured I was. And I was utterly bored, especially during the creative nonfiction components. It was mostly navel-gazing and that genre I hate more than anything in the entire world: “Memoir of a Privileged, White Twenty-Something”. Ok, I guess that’s slightly better than “Memoir of a Privileged, White Twenty-Something Who Goes To The Third World and is Enlightened Spiritually”. I sat there scowling and thinking about how much I used to love CNF back in college when I enjoyed literary journalism as well-deserved respites from devouring novel after novel after novel. I sat there thinking how I no longer cared about the genre.
In a workshop class I’m taking, writer Cathy Day has us thinking about “the negative cultural and critical reaction to personal nonfiction writing vs. its popular/commercial appeal”. It’s interesting that in an era of publishing history when nonfiction greatly outsells all facets of fiction that CNF, particularly the memoir, is under attack. Check out Taylor Antrim’s tirade on The Daily Beast. How about Maud Newton’s slam over at the LA Times? Two big name authors who swung through Pittsburgh both discussed how much they disliked CNF: Lorrie Moore and Aleksandar Hemon.
I can only speak to my own experience. I’m not a huge reader of the genre. I’m very often bored by memoirs, especially if the writer isn’t famous or hasn’t gone through something exceptional. I don’t read nonfiction for assurance that I am not alone in the universe and that there are others out there like me; that’s why I read fiction. These are my favorite works of CNF: On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner. Lives on the Boundary by Mike Rose (light pedagogical theory). Portions of Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (a pedagogical biography). No More Vietnams by Richard Nixon. Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman. A Tragic Honesty: The Biography of Richard Yates. And New New Journalism, a fantastic collection with long, informative essays by writers as varied as John McPhee and Hunter S. Thompson.
I bring these up to illustrate a point. The Rumpus recently ran an interesting article about why people read nonfiction. It quotes John D’Agata who asks, “Do we read [nonfiction] to receive information, or do we read it to experience art?” I think this is the fundamental sticking point in the nonfiction debate. I’ve looked at my shelves, thought about this question and my own instinctively negative reaction towards memoirs. Clearly, I’m not reading nonfiction for art. No one who lists the prose of Richard Nixon as a favorite could possibly be looking for art, and it’s now obvious I value the genre for its ability to distill and disseminate information.
So to sum up: I think that a bunch of leather-elbowed professors and critics sitting around trying to decide whether CNF is a bankrupt genre is silly. It’s different from fiction. The two genres aren’t in competition with one another. People whose natural instinct it is to chide CNF are probably just coming at it from a different viewpoint: they’re not looking to experience voice, or sometimes even emotion in nonfiction; they’re looking for (at times clinical) information. And if that’s your primary motivation for reading nonfiction, it’s difficult to really compare it to fiction in any favorable way. Nor should you.
It’s almost Valentine’s Day, so I guess it’s appropriate that the literary world think about relationships and love. Over at The Millions, Anne K. Yoder wrote an article that, among other things, disagreed with HTML Giant’s Nick Antosca’s editorial claiming writers should date readers. Yoder writes, “writers should date writers, who will likely understand the importance of clearing time and mental space to write.” I’m not sure how all of you feel about this, but writer on writer relationships always seemed dangerous to me. Jealousy over one partner’s success always looms over the relationship. I can’t imagine things being much better for already established authors who meet and date. Writers are inherently egomaniacs, the only people on earth who can look at the sagging shelves of fiction and think, “No. That’s not enough. I have something fundamentally vital to add.” How does one partner react when the other gets a Guggenheim? How about when the other’s presence is requested at Bread Loaf and you’re not?
But of course, there are examples of writer/writer couples working. Yoder lists a bunch, and let me add the wonderful Robert Boswell and Antonya Nelson to the mix. However, I’m still inclined to go with Nick from HTML Giant. For one thing, the process of writing is a romantic mystery to readers. They don’t know that it mostly involves me sitting in my underwear trying to see my computer screen behind day-old coffee and empty beer bottles. And I’m sure many of us who’ve gone through undergrad writing programs and MFAs can relate to writer breakups playing out in workshops again and again. “You don’t have a grip on male voices! This isn’t moral fiction! Why did you cheat on me with that bassist? His low-fi alterna-folk band blows!”
And now a topic only slightly unrelated to love: DESPAIR. Maud Newton recently blogged about feeling intimidated by really good works of art. She read a book she quite enjoyed, then turned to her own fiction and froze up, unable to reconcile her “shitty first draft” with the assumed brilliance of the published–and polished–book. This happens to me often and has especially been a problem over the course of the last week where I’ve been locked down in Squirrel Hill due to the never-ending snowstorms of Western Pennsylvania. My usual method of dealing with said despair is just to keep on writing until something halfway decent inevitably turns up. I’ve always felt that it was the only thing writers could do: to have some of that faith Flannery O’Connor and JCO are always blabbing about.
Maud Newton has a better strategy. “I’ve kept on hand a well-reviewed novel that I don’t like or respect,” Newton writes. “It’s sitting on my desk right now, in fact. I don’t re-read it in any detail, because I don’t want it to contaminate my thinking, but flicking through the book makes me feel better about my own work, however imperfect it may be.” Hmm… I’m not sure this would work for me. I’m always very careful about what I read while writing out of fear that the published voice will seep into my own–case in point: Richard Nixon is a major character of The Black List so I’ve been reading his delightful No More Vietnams to get his voice “right”.
What I’m afraid of is that although reading some lousy book will manage to cure my stage fright, its flawed voice will also infect my own. Do other writers feel this way? Are they conscious of mimicking whatever they’re currently reading? Are there other ways of beating writerly despair that I just haven’t thought of? Comment below if so.
It’s official. The lawyers have spoken. The contracts are signed. The Black List, an original, 110-page graphic novel written by myself and Mark Kleman with art by Lamair Nash, has been purchased by Arcana Studios. Expect it to be released in late 2010 or 2011. More news to come as we get closer to the release date.