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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