July 4th Superheroes

Rockets RedglareThanks to Andrei Molotiu of Abstract Comics making me aware of this site. Not that I’m very familiar with some of the American political references, but I was quite impressed with a few of the entries. Chris Duffy’s July 4th Project is an “art blog featuring variations by many cartoonists on the notion of the patriotic, all-American superhero.” It appears they accept submissions too, which is great. The entries are primarily pictures of the above theme with a short origin. Most are witty, and more than a few are laugh out loud funny. Molotiu has two recent entries – The Star Spangled Badger and Rockets Redglare whose “power only falters when her adversaries turn out to be reasonable, responsible adults; but, since most of them are men, this rarely ever happens.”

Other highlights are Redneck-Dude Man by Amanda Geisinger, who is described thusly:

After a quick change in the outhouse, mild mannered Bubba becomes our mulleted hero, Redneck-Dude-Man—ready to fight for everyone’s god-given right to have Christmas lights on their porch in June, an armory in their basement, and a refrigerator on their front lawn.

Redneck


and I have to mention Jef Czekaj’s The Second Amendment which focuses on a 10 year old boy and a bear who swapped appendages. This is how Czekaj describes the concept:

The Second AmendmentYoung Nathan R. Armstrong has invented a teleportation device, which 
he plans to demonstrate at his school’s Science Fair. Unfortunately,
 as he enters the teleporter, a bear enters the school (it’s a long
story) and sneaks into the device. The two emerge from the teleporter 
seemingly unharmed, but with a bizarre mix-up: N.R. Armstrong now has 
the arms of a bear, and the bear is left with puny 10-year-old human 
arms.

 

Frustrated by his disfigurement (and the fact that he didn’t win the 
Science Fair), Nathan turns to a life of crime under the name The 
Second Amendment. His side-kick, the bear he has named Winnie the 
Goon, can’t really do much with his little arms, but he sure looks 
weird.

For more of this patriotic craziness, visit the official site.


Abstract Comics: The Anthology Review

Abstract Comics CoverAbstract Comics: The Anthology is an impressive collection of old and new work with unique pages covering exactly what the title says. Fantagraphics’ bold book covers the years from 1967 to the present, with a selection of abstract comics from over 40 artists.

Now I think I’m a pretty open comics reader. Having primarily grown up on superheroes however, it’s only been the last 5 years that I’ve expanded my reading habits to include indie titles. It was Craig Thompson’s masterwork, Blankets that woke me up to the world beyond spandex and ever since then I’ve pretty much bought an indie title every week.

Abstract comics is a foreign concept to me though. I’m surprised that I’ve never thought of the genre before. It makes complete sense and after pouring through this hardcover from Fantagraphics I have a greater understanding and appreciation for the form. This intriguing 208 page tome includes some of the best work from pioneers in the field, as well as new work created for the anthology by artists including James Kochalka.

The introduction of the book is the only piece with words strung together that actually form an obviously coherent thought. Andrei Molotiu is the editor of Abstract Comics, and quite an authority on the subject. His work as an artist is reflected here and his introductory summary of what abstract comics actually are, as opposed to the use of the word in other art forms, is insightful. Even this obligatory introduction is treated with a loose abstract veneer, with plain text comprising the bottom half of each page, while above it sits the same words through the lens of simple shapes, which reminded me of the Kryptonese language. Yes, even with abstract comics, I can’t help but see things through my fanboy glasses. (There’s also a look at the history of abstract comics here). Molotiu defines the term thusly;

abstract comics can be defined as sequential art consisting exclusively of abstract imagery, and indeed most of the pieces in this volume fit that definition squarely. But the definition should be expanded somewhat, to include those comics that contain some representational elements, as long as those elements do not cohere into a narrative or even into a unified narrative space.

Whew. It’s the kind of talk that gets art students all sweaty. His 8 page introduction is littered with great work as he shows us the history of abstract comics, with examples of a bunch of artists unfamiliar to me to those who I didn’t expect to see, such as Wassily Kandinsky, Willem de Kooning, Winsor McCay and Steve Ditko.

Abstract Comics Intro DetailThings kick off with a great piece from 1967 by R. Crumb, as originally seen in Zap #1. As you’d expect, it’s only 3 pages, but packs a lot of zest, with rounded figures, cheeky expressions and wild imagery. For the next 200 plus pages I was bombarded (in a good way) with every form and technique imaginable. I never knew what each turn of the page would bring. Black and white, pencil sketches,  colour paintings and more – it’s all accounted for. Most of the works are only 3 or 4 pages long, with little or no text and some semblance of structured panels. I found myself treating the book like a portable art gallery as I let the images wash over me and tried to grasp their meaning. With close looks, there are stories of sorts to be told here, but as Molotiu mentions in the intro, abstract comics don’t have a narrative. I couldn’t help myself though and on some occasions examined the shapes in an attempt to form one. However, like all art the point is the enjoyment of the work first and foremost, rather than a desperation to cram it through out structured reasoning.

getsiv-6Molotiu’s work, The Cave was definitely a “wow” moment for me with its bold colours and gem like qualities, as was Andres Pearson’s work, with its swirling organic structures. Through some pages I could see how the panels, or the shapes within those panels, related to each other, which gave clarity to Molotiu’s introductory definition as to why this is different from abstract work done in other fields, such as cinema. James Kochalka’s (American Elf) work is exuberant and playful, as is Mike Getsiv’s. Blaise Larmee’s I Would Like To Live There is simple yet elegant while Life, Interwoven by Alexey Sokolin is 6 pages of increasing fury.

It’s hard to describe the experience of reading this anthology, but it must have been that much harder to choose the artists whose work would be shown here, especially considering this is the first book of its kind and it covers 4 decades. Book designer Jacob Covey must also be mentioned as there’s an undeniable sense of purpose that holds these pages together, from the cover to artists’ credits to last few pages. It’s subtle which allows the abstract comics to own the spotlight.

The book concludes with handy artist biographies for those that would like to discover more about them, and there’s also a useful accompanying blog which features work from the anthology and elsewhere.

I’ll admit that it was sheer curiosity that made me read this, and after enjoying its diverse offerings it brought me back to my art school days when I was exposed to a wide array of artists. It’s obviously a difficult book to review as well, especially as there’s no Good Guy A punches Bad Guy B action, but it was a treat for my often superhero consuming eyes. This is a book for readers who like fine art or those who would like to expand their sequential art experiences. A hearty slap on the back for Fantagraphics for choosing to create this marvelous example of a widely unknown artistic expression.

Abstract Comcis Preview 1

Abstract Comics Preview 2

Abstract Comics Preview 3