Friday, December 31, 2010

Review: Comic Artists on the Web

I mentioned Matt Feazell in my last post, but encounter artists all the time on the internet.  Some have posted a huge body of work, while others, like me, seem to be just starting out.  Here is a short list of some artists I've encountered recently and enjoyed.

vagrantheader copy



jtfordpage10 copy


Perhaps the most amazing thing about these artists is that they share their stories as they make them with little  expectation that you might benefit.  I wish I could support them all, only I am in a similar boat, creating without any guarantee of financial support outside of the products that I offer on my website. Go read and then if you can, help out by buying their stuff.  It is worth it just to help us all keep the faith.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Loren and Sylvia redux

Back when the black-and-white comics boom happened in the early Nineties, due to the cheaper pricing of computers and printing technology, somewhere in the Mid-West Matt Feazell started a mini comicbook called "The Amazing Cynicalman".  Although minimalist cartoons have a long tradition, including a topper in Chester Gould's Dick Tracy where nothing more than word balloons and little piles of sawdust appeared, Cynicalman embodies a light humor and engaging social outlook that is both immediate and easy to embrace.

I have dabbled with the idea of minimalism in comicbook humor before.  Somewhere I have a twelve panel comic called "Deep Thought Breakfast", which features a piece of manufactured cereal that has longings. But once Kathy Sprague introduced me to Matt Feazell's work, I had to dash off a tribute to his rare genius.  The cow references a descriptive Kathy attributes to the rural nature of our home state, Idaho, but is little more than a doodle...really.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eon Lives

After reading Frederik L. Schodt's 1986 book Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics sometime in the early Nineties, I joined the ranks of many frustrated American fans of Japanese Comicbooks who could not find the titles they were wanting to read. Animation, especially made for television animation, was imported to the states for years, but Manga, especially the stories featuring gay men in relationships, often called yaoi, were not yet available in translation within the United States in the early Nineties.  Speed Racer may be one of the better known anime shows that aired on American TVs in the early seventies from Japan, but there have been many others.

Discovering a backlog of comicbook archives had not yet been imported to the US was maddening on a certain level, but in the intervening decades that has begun to be remedied.  Fans began translating both movies and magazines, which eventually lead to commercial entities being formed and official publications.  In the meantime I was seeking untranslated magazines for a time in the Nineties, mostly to examine the art style.  The above picture is one of my first deliberate attempts to copy a Manga style.

At some point while hanging out on Capitol Hill in Seattle, a young Japanese-speaking woman accosted me because she saw me carrying my sketchbook and asked to see my artwork.  She liked this portrait of a young man in a coat and asked if she could have it.  I was still quite attached to it, but I did give her another figure this was based on.  Later when considering characters for my forthcoming novel, I remembered this picture and decided this young man with the big eyes would be my protagonist.  Thusly, I've named him Eon.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Review: Breaking the Glass-Ceiling of Syndication

Curbside Boys: The New York YearsCurbside Boys: The New York Years by Robert Kirby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With Gary Trudeau publishing his forty year retrospective this year it is hard not to be impressed by syndicated cartooning. Charles Schultz is the only other syndicated cartoonist that comes to mind who has a more impressive collection of work, but there are many who have benefited from syndication, becoming national bestselling cartoonists, despite breaking conventions in the system. All the same, writing for mainstream newspaper media seems a breeze compared to the challenges faced by Gay and Lesbian cartoonists who also want to tell their stories.

I learned about Robert Kirby's "Curbside" back in the mid-ninties, years after I'd begun collecting gay comicbooks. I was immediately impressed, because his formula of telling simple stories about relationships between gay men was something I'd attempted to do at the same time, but never found my voice or stride. Robert had something I didn't have, which is a real drive to be published in as many newspapers as he could manage.

The Gay press media landscape has changed over the years, but there has never been a syndicate, that I know of, that have helped the careers of gay cartoonists in the same way that Trudeau, Schultz and other mainstream cartoonist careers have. Kirby and others who want to see their work in print have to hit the pavement and talk to editors first hand, convincing them to make room in their papers to publish their comics. And I know first hand that newspaper editors will make room for paying advertising long before they will print cartoon strips.

Ultimately it depends on the artist and his own discipline to regularly produce quality work and send it out. So the real heros in the cartooning world are people like Kirby, who syndicate their own strips to unsympathetic editors, often for no immediate compensation. Nowadays, newspapers are finding it difficult to maintain their readership. Here in Seattle, we no longer have dedicated gay and lesbian owned bookstores where you know you can find the major gay newspapers. Instead you have to rely on adult bookstores and bars where these things are left on faith that they will get into the hands of the people who need them.

But because Robert Kirby did all this work in the early nineties, he eventually found publishers like Cleis Press who were willing and interested in collecting his strips into published books. "Curbside Boys:The New York Years" is the second such collection. The first collection is incidentally selling for about seventy dollars at, although I would like to point out Mister Kirby is not getting any money from these used copies.

This second collection is a complete story, where the protagonist and his roommate meet, fall in love and then move on. It stands on its own more than anything Trudeau or Schultz ever wrote. Having read the original "Curbside" many years ago it is difficult to compare, but this feels more mature and studied than his earlier strips.

I really enjoyed seeing young men struggling to connect with each other in these stories. Nathan and Drew, the main characters seem fickle twenty-somethings and yet like all young men, vulnerable to the opinions and reactions of others. Their relationship counterpoints the supporting characters lives, Kevin and Rain who break even more stereotypes about black men than I've seen before or since in a gay comic strip. All the same, the drama is difficult to sustain within the context of six to eight panel stories.

Kirby returns to the story-telling techniques that worked for him in earlier strips, bringing back his own "greek chorus" character modeled after himself. He keeps the same squared nose on this character from earlier strips, which helps clue the reader into the fact that this character can directly editorialize for the cartoonist. All the same, he returns to telling the story rather than spending a lot of time with back-story, allowing the characters to tell their own stories.

"Curbside Boys:The New York Years" is a must read in the lexicon of gay comic books. The themes are adult and there is a lot of male sex, but the images are clean and appealing. Anyone who happened to pick them up might keep reading because the emotions and situations are universal.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sylvia in Wonderland

My all time favorite books are the two Alice books by Lewis Carroll aka the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, so it was only with time that I'd think of injecting it into Loren & Sylvia.  Afterall, another of Carroll's novels was called Sylvie and Bruno, but the truth of the matter is this:

I originally attempted drawing the Disney version of Alice for the 1951 animated film.  Kathy had come across it in my sketchbook and made the astute observation that it looked like Sylvia from our comicbook.  That naturally lead me to attempt more adaptations of characters from our story.

This is a foiled attempt at drawing Wayo as the hookah-smoking caterpillar.  Only he came out more like a preying mantis.  I didn't like this version so I did another following a more traditional interpretation of the character.

Somehow this one is even less satisfying, but it does follow the Disney version somewhat.  The Persian shoes with turned up toes seem to have migrated his way.  And I think those claw like things on his chest are supposed to be multiple arms the caterpillar would have along his trunk.

Of course that lead to more characters: Genise as the white rabbit, Erie as the mad hatter and perhaps a lesser known character, the mock turtle, portrayed by Spencer.  I guess Todd would be the griffen, perhaps Jared would be the Red Queen and I'd want Loren to be the cheshire cat.  I so thought Sterling Holloway did a wonderfully fey version of the cat.  And Sylvia of course is Alice, but that says something about her character, what with all the temptations of bottles that say, "Drink Me".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Egyptian Priestess

For some reason, I don't remember where this came from outside of what it appears to be.  I've always been interested in ancient Egyptian religion and so I suspect this could be an extrapolation from a conversation of what an Egyptian priestess might look like.  It is a decidedly campier version than I would do now as I know much more about ancient Egypt society than I did twenty years ago.  For example, I think that headdress was pretty much reserved for royalty.

Anyway, she certainly has an elongated face and looks more like one of my drag portraits than a woman. I might use this for a character design somewhere, so she may morph into something different. That collar and sholder wings are quite unique.  Hmm, that beltclip looks like clue.  Could this be a missing character from Paula and the Purple Rayz? I wonder?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Paper Doll" and the Manhattan Transfer

In high school a favorite vocal jazz group was The Manhattan Transfer (TMT).  They had two albums that I remember were popular and iconic of the early Eighties,  Extensions which was released in 1979 and Mecca for Moderns which was released in 1981. I sang along with these until it became part of the running soundtrack of my life. These album covers defined for me the "nouveau deco" style that appeared at that time.

Although I sketched this "paper doll" almost ten years later, I was thinking of the figures that appear on the "Extensions" album.  If you check it out under their discography you will see how the feet are rendered as simple cones, which always made me think of pen nibs.  This is why her feet are seemingly joined like a fountain pen, although I'd think she'd be difficult to grasp with those fins on the lower part of her dress.

Gee, I wonder if TMT ever recorded the song that the Mills Brothers made famous?

Friday, November 12, 2010

More Theo Silliness at Cafe Press!

I was thinking this portrait of Theo would come out more conservative, but once I saw it in this hot pink all the memories of hot pink sweaters from the late Eighties came rushing back to me. Hideous, really, although somehow Theo seems to pull it off with aplomb.  She manages to express a unique combination of sophistication, world-weariness and relaxed irritation.  I'm glad that she does not haunt me anymore.  I've even put away my high heels and no longer have any desire to dress up and express myself this way.  But I have my memories and these pictures, although they are only sketches, which I can share with you.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


A Naga is a legendary creature from India usually a feminine form emerging from a snake body.  I was thinking in terms of a Halloween costume, so I wanted a male version and figured less than the Medusa-like creatures that are often depicted, this one would be more sophisticated and cultured.  I gave him an "Astroboy" hair-cut and low-cut waistcoat.  I suppose I was also trying to figure out a way to make a pun about a "naga-hide".

Friday, November 5, 2010

Recolored Theo design at Cafe Press!

It's another colored Theo portrait available as a tee shirt from  My designs are eclectic, campy,  unique and printed on a tee shirt makes the best holiday gift.  Inspire others to be true to themselves or encourage your own party spirit.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Gremlin on the Bus 11.24.90

I don't often date pages.  But I do remember riding a bus south of Seattle and finding this child charming enough to attempt a quick sketch.  You can see how I used the jostling of the bus to suggest brush lines.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Loren and Sylvia do Don Giovanni

Kathy Sprague and I are both fans of opera.  We both developed our tastes because of our mother's backgrounds.  Kathy's mother once worked as an opera singer and my mother had the opportunity during her childhood in San Diego to appear on stage of a production of Aida, which has formed a life long interest in music and singing.

Still, this title isn't quite accurate because I've never done a sketch of Sylvia dressed as Don Giovanni and I'm not sure I'd cast her in the role because it would be odd to have Loren as Dona Elvira.  These sketches happened because I was watching a production of Don Giovanni on television (I think it was the Metropolitan Opera in New York) and really liked the detail of the women's costumes.  If you are unfamiliar with the storyline, Don Giovanni is quite the ladies man, but has been around the block a few too many times.  Eventually he encounters a ghost which calls on him to repent or face the fires of Hell.

This other sketch of Dona Anna features Jared from Loren and Sylvia.  After doing these I realized it could be a sequence for the comicbook, perhaps as a dream.  I so love the drama of opera.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Self portrait based on Tom of Finland

Perhaps the ultimate conceit for a gay man is to imagine himself as one of those models in a Tom of Finland drawing. Not that it is wrong, far from it, but Tom of Finland's men are so "other-worldly" it is rare to encounter anyone who resembles the idiom.  Still, I often dream of entering this world and after all these years of searching, I still get a charge out of looking at Touko Laaksonen's art.

Naturally it becomes something to emulate.  As Jon Macy commented on an earlier post, Tom of Finland's models are happy, which I think is ultimately the appeal.  As oppressed sexual minorities, we all dream of happiness, a happiness that is acceptable and accessible to everyone.

So this is a self portrait filtered through the Über-masculine.  Looking back at a photo taken around the same time, it is perhaps not so fantastic, although I drew my hat much smaller than it really was.  In fact, I have a big head and finding a used straw hat that actually fit was quite unusual. Okay, I really did cheat on the nose and the glasses.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Review: Romance, Heart and Soul

Teleny and CamilleTeleny and Camille by Jon Macy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not a fan of gay romance novels, but I've always loved gay romance comics.  From sitting on my friend's bed back in college reading the Gay Comix anthologies and the few other works available at the time, to recognizing my personal desires displayed on the movie screen when I watched Kiss of the Spiderwoman, even prior to coming out as a gay man; graphical stories of fighting against repression have always resonated with me.  Meeting my friend Jon Macy, back in the early Nineties when I managed a gay bookstore was the pinnacle of my gay life, but my joy has only seemed to rise from there.

Jon has put his heart and soul into Teleny and Camille (T&C) and I still love looking over the pages and finding all the little tidbits he put there.  The cherry blossoms, the gypsy on horseback, the gardens at Kew, the morgue and the page of absinthe are all favorites.  This enjoyment carries over to his new series Fearful Hunter (recipient of a PRISM comics grant) where coincidentally my own brush with madness mirrored his realization to honor his past with a personal story of love and redemption.  I really can't say anything against his wonderful stories, and why would I?  I envy his skill and dedication to his craft, but I also love that he shares it with the rest of us.  I think by doing so he asks us all to consider striving for better lives, despite opposition we may encounter.

Having watched this project begin with baby-steps back in the mid-nineties to Macy's full realization now, I cannot be happier to recommend T&C to all curious readers. (Check out previews at, and This is the real thing: explicit tales of sex, sumptuous graphics, torrid romance, Victorian virtues upheld, and then overturned. Bringing this material to the modern reader through personal storytelling and displaying the challenges he encountered, Macy "pulls-no-punches" resurrecting an underground world Oscar Wilde likely encountered sheltering a hidden nineteenth-century sexuality.

Praise must also be raised for his publisher, Northwest Press, not only taking on a controversial work, but placing it in such a handsome package. The design is understated and enhances what is inside. Everyone will be proud to display this modern novel of gay romance on their bookshelves. The interiors may shock and reveal the lurid nature of repression, but this is with good cause. Without questioning the social structures that allow prejudice to persist, how can we create a more peaceful world for all humanity? I think this is the purpose of retelling our personal stories, no matter how horrific.

This publication sets the standard for erotic storytelling very high. I want to see more stories like this in the future, be they from the pen of Macy (did I mention he is publishing a new fantasy series?) or others working in the same market. Northwest Press already handles several quality titles and is set to become a leader in presenting new works of gay literature today. I am looking forward to more excellent work from Charles "Zan" Christensen at Northwest Press.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: Filtering Childhood Memories

Fun Home: A Family TragicomicFun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am amazed that after all these years, I still identify so strongly with Alison Bechdel. I always enjoyed her characters from "Dykes to Watch Out For" and found them quite appealing. Of course, I am a gay man and "Dykes" was written from a lesbian point-of-view, but I could still relate to the human drama of people struggling to live their lives with integrity. And besides, I have always aspired to create art and work in bookstores. I managed to even do that in my twenties, which has been very satisfying.

So I was very happy to hear about Bechdel publishing a personal and true story about her coming out as a sexual adult in "Fun Home" (FH) several years ago. It has taken me quite a long time to get to reading this book, but allow me to feign excuses based on my gender and sexual identity. What I did not expect was to find an even closer relationship with a fellow artist and storyteller.

In FH, Bechdel focuses almost exclusively on her relationship with her father, almost to the detriment of telling her own story. But I've always found her to be a fairly truthful and modest public personality. She does include herself in her stories but often presents her stand-in as self-effacing. Her "Dykes" author-character, exhibits the most neurotic and personal emotions that any artist might express in a confessional comicbook, even while fictionalizing her own life stories. Reminds me of Woody Allen, a bit. But Bechdel also understands enough about narrative to step away and allow the stories to develop without editorializing.

FH is a sober book, though, so you expect to find wistful reminisces about the high points of a personal life. You do get those reminisces but filtered through a very adult sexual sensibility that only comes from sifting very finely through old photographs, diaries and memories. I love that her main objective is to present herself and her family as baldly human as possible. Still, we see her adult self wrestle with the adolescent exhibition of an effected mental illness.

While a little madness throughout life effects us all, the truth Bechdel uncovers is not only disturbing but lies just under the surface of the facts. She neither recoils from them or waves them about like some emblem of sanity. At one point she even coolly describes her Fruedian childhood fear at encountering a snake in a pool of water. All the same, what she reveals is a very normal if still unique family portrait, which is all too common and from my own perspective, strangely familiar. I cannot help but identify with and ponder the various items on display.

My father was a closeted gay man, too and in FH, Bechdel shows her father as a divinely flawed human being, limited by his inability to grasp his desires and yet totally successful at sublimating them. I also remember the same emotional distance from my own father growing up that Bechdel states as such a particular element of her relationship with her own father. When it becomes clear towards the end of the book that he eventually drops his pretense, we can see how sometimes there are details even his own daughter can't scrape up from the clues he left behind.

Still, my father didn't exhibit the quintessential fussiness that Bechdel's father used to manipulate his children to his stereotypical will, and yet my father did manipulate us in his own way. We didn't need clues to know he was closeted; there always seemed to be plenty of information, but my mother and the other adults in our lives generally ignored it. Acknowledging a truth like this is always painful enough that you avoid using it, like a wounded limb.

And in the end, a short time after Bechdel comes out to her parents as a lesbian, her father is killed by a truck while crossing a road. Rather than make the whole book about this one incident, she mentions it again and again, almost in-passing, piling up the details, like a "macguffin" which allows her to reveal her personal memories of growing up. The difference for me is that my father is still alive and came out as a gay man soon after I came out to my parents in college.

The parallels between our two different lives are uncanny and yet speak to a larger truth about the combined narrowness and width of our generation, sometimes called the "lost" generation. There are several years between us, but at the same time our lives are both uniquely American and of a time between the Sixties and Seventies. I think this book is going to haunt me for a very long time. And if I ever meet Alison in person, I'm not sure I will know what to say. I might just give her a big hug and say simply, "thank you."

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tattoo designs III

I began to consider more Tod's background in costume.  Here you can see more ideas which play with the idea of costume in mind.  The feminine figure in the upper right hand corner got Tod's approval enough that I came up with the larger central figure in response.

Tod really liked this design because it both captured the idea of a thistle and a figure.  It is the design he took to his tattoo artist, Vyvyn Lazonga, who's been doing tattoos in Seattle for almost four decades.  She had to alter it slightly, but in the following photos you can see it is basically the same design.

This last picture needs some explanation.  It was taken while Tod was attending Evergreen state college.  Tod held a "pink dress" party which was lots of fun.  The dress is of his own design and the wheel behind him is a roulette, which he was using to give gifts to the guests.  I'm not sure about the man to left baring his chest.  It was a pretty wild party.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tattoo designs II

Here is my second page of design ideas for Tod Streater's "dancing thistle" tattoo.  I was thinking more decoration than figure, so here were more interpretations that use symmetry and natural sources.  There is even a sense of the "Pineapple" character from "Paula and the Purple Rayz".  I've often thought these would be great designs for tee shirts.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tattoo designs I

When I first moved to Seattle I shared an artist's loft with a young man named Tod Streater. He was a costume designer and a very good person with big ideas. He admired my own design skills and asked me to design a tattoo for him.  I wrote a fictional account of our lives which appeared in my zine, Gaeraj and I've posted at my web page.

I'd never designed a tattoo before, so it was a great challenge for me, but also an opportunity to test myself and my design skills.  Tod and I had discussed it after seeing Disney's "Fantasia".  His favorite sequence was the dance between thistles and orchids, set to Tchaikovsky's "Trepak" music from the Nutcracker Suite.  He asked me to design a "dancing" thistle.

You can see above left a literal interpretation from the Disney film, and below right a stylized design that I think was based on art nouveau era wallpaper.  Some how a dandelion came into the picture, perhaps because they are similar.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tee Shirts available at!

All the more reason to remind the world that life can be better!  The wonder of the Internet allows me to offer your favorite designs printed on tee shirts.  See the selection of images at my web page: Tee Shirt Designs.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Starting a new sketchbook, October 13, 1990

So this begins my post college years.  Before this I'd almost always used a spiral bound notebook. Since my previous college sketchbook was a small bound 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 book with a blue paper slip cover and I liked the idea of a permanent record I couldn't alter without leaving some indication I'd removed a page, this time I went for a larger black leather-cloth 8 1/2 x 11 book by Strathmore available at most art supply.

I was very productive during this period, sketching and jotting down thoughts and ideas in pencil, inking them in later, inventing some new comic strips that never went anywhere.  There are some erotic images that I will post at when I get to them.  Notably I have ideas for a tattoo I designed for my friend Tod Streater, but there are a few Loren and Sylvia riffs too.  I also have cameo appearances from friends, as I almost always carried my sketchbook when I was out and about. 

Just one more note about the above image.  That straw hat I purchased off the street from someone doing a sidewalk garage sale.  At the same sale, I also bought a cheaply made blue enamelware pin in the form of a shield that I married to the hat ribbon.  It became iconic for me and I wore it around for most of that year.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Theo Portraits III

"Really Albert, you're so weird!"

This portrait of Theo is definitely in a modern mode.  We had a catalog of women's sweaters kicking around the house and a model in one photograph had such an imperious look that I needed to capture it.  It took me longer to come up with the caption, but it seems appropriate for the image.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Theo Portraits II

"Really darling, the guests will run away
 if you don't come out and greet them." 

I am posting these portraits in fairly quick succession because I want to get to posting pages from my next sketchbook which begins in 1990.  I'm including these under the sketchbook labels (below) because these images started out in sketchbooks and then took on a life of their own.  I hope to post t-shirt versions of them, although I have no idea if anyone will wear these images.

This Theo portrait is directly from my imagination.  I created it more consciously and the caption is something I said because of a real situation rather than just springing from my subconscious.  But it received such a reception that I thought it deserved a Theo portrait.

At the time I drew it, Auntie Mame was a newly discovered "favorite" movie, so there is likely quite a bit of inspiration from that, although I have to admit my notions about the artificiality of the nineteen fifties and the odd costumes of Orry-Kelly for the movie inspired me less. The costume for this drawing was based on the unlikely pairing of satin and fur which is something that could have been used in the nineteen fifties.  I liked that the wide edging of the coat works both at concealing and revealing the body underneath.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Theo Portraits I

"Really Albert, you can't go through
your whole life being a toad!"
 - Theo

After coming out as a gay man, I began to believe I was possessed by the spirit of a woman from the nineteen twenties.  I didn't take it very seriously and it mostly came on when I was inebriated with marijuana and beer.  But it persisted enough that I attempted to capture the notion in pictures and stories.  In a way, it was a psychosis brought on by a desire for attention and related directly to finding my identity as an adult gay man.

My friend Kathy would laugh and make a big fuss about it when I'd say things out of the blue, like the above statement.  She also encouraged me to dress up in drag, which I'd always skirted with my interest in theater but eschewed in my childhood because my mother always vetoed it as being "artificial" and "stereotypically effeminate".  But in my mind as a newly out gay man, it was less about falsehood or transgressing-my-gender than it was a combination of finding myself suddenly freed from otherwise invisible shackles of sexual, emotional and social repression that I'd grown up wearing in my childhood.

Imagining myself possessed was my way of healing and reconciling my memories of pains I developed socially when my gender and sexuality was questioned at school by other boys.  Possession was also a reflection of stories coming out of Hollywood, but it also gave me permission to be silly and effeminate in front of friends who encouraged me for the first time in my life; when growing up I'd always felt an outsider, even when I was praised for unique abilities. Because dressing up and playing at being sissified was an easy way to entertain, I could indulge again in the sort of play that previously I had controlled and commodified out of fear, a fear that I had no concrete idea what the consequences were outside of my own ongoing experience of isolation, separation and loneliness.

Both my parents had interests in theater and growing up I became involved and shared their interest.  One of the first times I saw a public performance, my mother took me away from a cub scouting event to see a performance at a local theater of "The Fantasticks!".  I was already familiar with the music, my mother loves to sing and taught me all sorts of tunes.  But it was the very idea that this adult storytelling could take precedent over an otherwise boring social event, that I soon realized my desire for acceptance didn't need to come at the price of my own identity.  Somehow I continue to persist, no matter how anyone else perceives me.

The above image (which I named "Theo" after my grandmother) directly references a photo-portrait of  New York heiress, Peggy Guggenheim.  I copied it from a magazine, perhaps Smithsonian magazine, but I really don't remember now.  I loved her odd turban-like hat and the imperious manner of her stance.  The cigarette holder became a signifier for Theo's character in a picture.  Like many gay men, I have always been attracted to strong, powerful women, some of them lesbian, almost always distinctly feminine; but most often they are self-possessed and in control of their situation and life.  It is something I see in my own mother although she remains heterosexually oriented.

The reference to "being a toad", besides the obvious and classic Grimms' fairytale of "The Frog Prince" , I think is related to the famous character in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, but here it is clearly directed at a male counterpart. In my mind, Albert is her brother, but I never did imagine what he looked like.  Perhaps he looks something like a toad.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

THREE, edited by Robert Kirby


THREE #1 by Robert Kirby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Existentialist realism, that is, the examination of the self in relationship to the environment we create for ourselves is entirely the realm of the self-confessional comic story.  I think since the nineteen nineties when the self-confessional comic book boom really hit its stride, the genre has matured.  I love this type of comic book because it often breaks traditions and challenges readers expectations.  We have come a long way from the talking-head confessionals of the nineties and yet in any story that deals with human emotions, especially isolation, the talking head, where the author and artist both address the reader directly, persists as a dynamic feature of the genre.  So it is always wonderful when a comic book creator works especially hard to avoid the simplicity of talking heads.

Robert Kirby has brought together in THREE, the first issue of his new anthology series, two other storytellers with very differing skills from his own.  Eric Orner is only less familiar than his comic strip character "Ethan Green".  In "Weekends Abroad" he speaks with a personal voice rather than that of his popular "nebbisher" character.  We encounter personal stories that you might hear if you met him casually at a cocktail party. But they are not simply stories to fill the uncomfortable silences between sips of your drink.  Instead he decorates them with scenes and environments that really bring them alive and outside the flat page.  I am pleased to see his art has moved beyond the static and ironic talking heads of his early strips.  In every location his story goes, from the Hebrew school of his childhood to the outskirts of Tel Aviv, you get the very clear sense that he's been there and he's bringing you along with him.

Joey Alison Sayers's, "Number One" takes a different tact and focuses less on place and time, instead opting for relationships.  I have to admit I am less familiar with her previous work, but I did find it quickly online and am pleased I took the trouble to find it.  She has a wonderful sense of humor and she uses that quirkily in her portion of THREE.  The effect is unsettling within seemingly static panels filled more with space and emptiness than detail. This unsettled feeling counterpoints the easy reading of her brightly colored and breezy storytelling.  My feeling after reading is that I just overheard a series of conversations over the fence between a next door neighbor and her hired workers.  Sometimes the most compelling stories are things you'd rather not know about first hand.

Perhaps the most confrontational story in this anthology is editor Kirby's own offering, "Freedom Flight".  His approach to storytelling for me has always been a little self-conscious and here he is elaborating a story he has hinted at before in other strips.  But he does what he can to help you follow the twisty thoughts of his main character with little formal motif-like arrows that repeat like punctuation throughout the telling.  These curvy and staccato, swirling lines echo the same lines that make up the legs, arms and clothing of all the characters. These are pointers to the dissolving nature of the character's relationships.  That dissolution is both isolating and freeing, so much so that some conscious direction is seemingly needed to connect them on the page.

I like his artwork because even in the tiny panels he gives himself to carve out a story, there is a cohesive design that pulls it together on the page.  He also has a keen eye for arresting images.  Molecular patterns that swirl around his main character and then dissolve into shadows and shading on the remaining page, a street map that illustrates an urban neighborhood and then becomes the pavement where his character walks onto the next page, and a handicapped dog missing a front leg that seems to fade away into silhouette and then disjointed pieces, even as his owner enters the panel with even more curvy lines to retrieve him.  I would like to see more visual real estate given to these small visual moments, because they help to frame and arrange the themes of Kirby's stories.

It is challenging to create a satisfying and whole reading experience in only thirty-one pages of a comic book, which is why most superhero comics serialize a much larger story.  It keeps the readers coming back.  When you share that space with other artists it can be distracting and I have to admit the variations between the artists and stories kept me from jumping into reading this volume several times.  But once I did, I discovered this anthology offers far more heart and soul for your money than any superhero comic can.  Ultimately, I think it is well worth the investment and I will be looking out for the next issue with great anticipation.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Some Early Portraits

I'm not ashamed to admit that I played a lot of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in high school.  In fact, I am glad my parents encouraged me to read about and explore fantasy worlds, despite being fairly starched Mormon Christians at the time.  In the late nineteen-seventies I responded to a newspaper ad for someone looking for others to role-play this game with.  I'd noted similar advertisements posted at the local library, so I assumed it must be the same person and responded to the ad.  This is how I met Clayton and his wife, Terry.  Clayton was originally from Pennsylvania and had played D&D in college.  He had developed a whole world campaign that we played in over the next few years.  The original group of players was a mix of teenagers and adults that grew and expanded.

I met a lot of great people I doubt I would have met otherwise.  One of the librarians at the local public library, Mary, and her brother joined the group and I became fairly good friends with them both.  At one point I made several trips to Cour d' Alene, to visit with them when they moved out of the Sandpoint area.  Mary and her brother were always quite resourceful and developed a dungeon campaign system on 4x6 cards so that any time someone didn't have a campaign prepared she could game master one easily by randomly selecting cards from her file.

Another friend was Darin who fostered some of my interest in comic books and horror fantasy.  He began a campaign based on a gaming system called Chill, where he managed to mix a Lovecraftian inter-dimensional story with the Sanctuary fantasy series with the added feature that each player gained a new skill when in the fantasy part of the scenario.  He also began a comic book store he ran from his apartment by taking subscriptions from friends, which is when I began my comic book collecting.

This is a portrait I drew in 1985 of my D&D character, Aurora, who was a priestess of the Egyptian Goddess Isis.  The drawing is based on the image of Isis in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Gods and Goddesses Manual. Unfortunately I don't remember the original artist otherwise I'd credit them here as inspiring me.  Aurora wasn't my first female D&D character and I did have a few other personae.  There was Naylor, who was my first character and was an elven multi-class character that I hoped to make a ranger.  Only he was killed off by an unfortunate encounter with hellhounds.

Another character I liked playing was my cleric, Balden, who is depicted in the next image with his elven friend, Trevor.  He started off being named Baldwin until I learned that was the real last name of another player, who was really cool about it.  But I wanted him to be unique and I have to admit I named him after the piano manufacturer, so I came up with something different.  I originally wanted him to worship Baldar, the Norse god of beauty, but Clayton had pretty strict rules about which gods and goddesses showed up in his campaigns, so I choose the Greek god Apollo instead.  Unfortunately his new character name brought quite a bit of ridicule from other male players, because they assumed I was referring to lacking hair on his head, which as you can see, isn't how I saw him.

Unfortunately I lost touch with many of these friends when I attended college and then came out as a gay man. I felt differently about myself, but I didn't stop playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  My friend Kathy had played some campaigns in high school and we played a few times together.  I mainly played my character,  Balden, and she played her elven magician character, Trevor.  I guess it was freeing to allow my D&D character to come out of the closet as I had done the same, but for some reason my gaming interest was already waning.  I was reaching adulthood and because I felt even more an outsider, as I'd not maintained any of my previous friendships, I soon lost interest in pursuing fantasy role-playing, preferring the real role-playing we do as adults.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Carmen Miranda

This is closing up my pre-nineties sketchbook. An image that I had to draw after all those versions of Pineapple from Paula and the Purple Rays. It's just another silly doodle.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why Loren and Sylvia didn't become a four-panel strip

These Loren and Sylvia images are just odds and ends I put together while attempting to consider it as a four-panel strip cartoon.

As you can see here, I never got to the fourth panel.  I don't consider myself a very good "gag" writer.

One of the primary concepts for the comic was that Sylvia was angry, but she is angry because everyone around her is unreasonable, while Loren is pretty much the opposite, entirely unaware that the world around him is unreasonable.

I figured Loren would be very introspective, always questioning his inner motives and those of the people around him, as I was when I came out as a gay man.  Sometimes Sylvia was seemingly irrational, saying and doing whatever occurred to her at the time, other times she'd just end up in odd situations because people would be afraid to tell her the whole truth.

In many cases we intended Loren to be a sounding board and foil for Sylvia's outbursts.

The simplicity of the artwork leant itself to becoming a four-panel strip cartoon, but Loren and Sylvia didn't really succeed that way in my mind because the stories we wanted to tell were more complex than would fit in that minimal medium.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Paula and the Purple Rayz

I promised a post about Paula and the Purple Rayz, another of the projects Kathy Sprague and I developed.  We originally devised this storyline as a comicbook, but after doing Loren & Sylvia I realized it would take me more time than I was willing to commit to develop the layouts.  So I suggested to Kathy that we turn the script she'd written into a radio play.  It was a small success at the student run radio station on campus at the Uof I, in Moscow, Idaho.  We invited all our friends to contribute voices for the various characters, deliberately playing against gender to hilarious effect.

I was assigned the voice of Pricilla Syben, the band's manager.  During our first recording I had a mild cold and began to loose my voice, which was perfect for her "Hollywood" character.  Subsequent recordings I did my best to give Prisilla the same husky quality to her voice, which wasn't easy. Over the seven episodes Kathy wrote and produced, we developed a loyal following of listeners, both on campus and within the larger community.

The storyline was pure word play and invention as all the characters had names beginning with the letter "P" (save Cinder Lou), frequenting cities from Prague to Puyallup.  At one of the celebratory parties after an early recording session we asked everyone to bring a food that began with the letter "P".  So there was a plethera of potluck potatoes, pineapples, peanuts, "pork porridge" and Pabst Blue Ribbon.  The basic idea was a mix of Wonder Woman's origin story and Jem and the Holograms, one of Hasbro's attempts to work with Marvel, which also produced the animated GI Joe and Transformers, only rather than the cheesy pop-music you encountered in Jem, we decided the band was a punk garage band.

Here is Paula's mother, Pollytah, Queen of Paradise Island saying two of her most popular lines.  Kathy and our friends would often repeat these catchphrases as if we were the Queen-mother, arm raised and voice modulated in a faux British accent.  These two drawings are not my original designs.  Instead our friend Ari Burns had attempted to copy my style and came up with the Grecian dress and pointy headdress.  She was intentionally aping the Statue of Liberty.  After seeing Ari's version I drew up these two images, based on her design.

It took me quite a bit of drawing to come up with suitable characters. I filled my sketchbook with page after page of just character head-shots.  Here is the villain character, Pineapple in a series of quick sketches, playing with how Kathy described him, a cross between the Cheshire Cat and The Joker from the Batman comic books.

Here are some quick sketches I did for the members of the band, who were all women.  Up in the left corner was a sketch that brought a strong reaction from Kathy, so I labeled it so that I wouldn't use it by mistake.  One of the running gags in the storyline is that anyone listening to the band is transformed, playing off the hysteria in the Sixties that Rock and Roll music was changing the youth of America into sexually liberated fiends.  Here is a quick sketch of Sylvia as if she were a member of the audience.