Sunday, November 29, 2009

See Kim's Art at the Annual Postcard Show

It's time for the annual Postcard show at The Lab (2948 16th Street in the old Labor Temple building in the Mission). Every year The Lab rings their gallery with bins filled with small artworks by dozens of local artists ranging from $1 - $50, to give people access to inexpensive original art for holiday gifts (or whatever).

This year I've gotten into veggie drawings and watercolors, and will have those plus some other graphics, like the floral collage on the left. I get so busy with other things, that I really appreciate this chance to get some small pieces of my own out there. The show opens the evening of 12/4 and goes through the weekend.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Documentary - 24 Pages

24 Pages is a 15 minute documentary that follows what happens during 24 Hour Comic Day, an international challenge where an artist of any background must complete a 24 page comic, written, drawn and inked, within 24 hours. Filmed October 3 & 4, 2009 in San Francisco at the Comic Outpost and Mission Comics and Art by Gary Buechler (co-owner of Comic Outpost).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Once Upon a Dream at the Cartoon Art Museum

Once Upon a Dream: the Art of Sleeping Beauty - Cartoon Art Museum, San Francisco (July 18, 2009 – January 10, 2010).

This excellent exhibition at the Cartoon Art Museum celebrates the 50th anniversary of the release of Disney’s visual masterpiece Sleeping Beauty. On display are concept paintings, model sheets, cels, production drawings, color keys, photos and other ephemera that tell the story of the making of Sleeping Beauty from design concept through the finished film. Sleeping Beauty was a Disney milestone: a Technorama 70, 6-channel stereophonic vision of the Perrault fairy tale that took over five years and $6 million to make. Stunning as it was visually, the film cost so much to make that it lost money when it was released in 1959, even though its box office take was only beaten by Oscar-winner Ben Hur. The film had a comeback with the 1979 & 1986 reissues, when it finally took its place among the rest of Disney’s classic (and money-making) films.

Unlike many Disney features, the visual style of Sleeping Beauty was driven primarily by one man, supervising color stylist/inspirational sketch artist Eyvind Earle. Earle was a painter and greeting card designer that was hired at Disney in 1951. Earle painted backgrounds and concept paintings for shorts like The Little House and Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom and the features Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp. When Walt Disney decided he wanted to do something with a completely unique look, he took a chance on Earle, and gave him unprecedented control over the project.

Earle created a “medieval tapestry” inspired by the paintings of Durer, Van Eyck, Breughel, and 15th century French illuminated manuscripts, especially the Tres Riches Heures de Jean, Duc de Berri, as well as Persian miniatures and Japanese art. Another influence was the minimalist, streamlined style of 1950’s graphic design. Many of Earle’s concept and background paintings are featured in this exhibit. I was spellbound by the contrast of the stylized sharp angles, rich color palette, and dense detail work. At one point in the exhibit, there is a concept drawing by Mary Blair for the cover of a Sleeping Beauty storybook, and it’s interesting to contrast Blair's whimsical style with Earle's, and imagine how different the film would have looked based on Blair’s designs.

Many of the animators, which included the famous Nine Old Men and Production Designer Ken Anderson, were concerned that the backgrounds were too cold for a romantic comedy and that the detailed backgrounds would swallow the characters. This struggle is mapped out in a series of model sheets and character concept sketches that show the amount of work that went into finding character and costume designs that would stand out against Earle’s grandiose backgrounds. Of particular interest in this section of the exhibition were drawings of Princess Aurora, who was loosely based on Audrey Hepburn. The princess presented special problems as she has only 18 minutes of screen time to establish herself as the sympathetic heroine before she's fated to meet up with that nasty spinning wheel and sleep through the rest of the film. On top of that, she is living in the forest when the character is introduced, and is dressed in a muted wardrobe that echoes the natural surroundings. The drawings show the character's progression from forest maiden to a princess regally attired in blue or rose colored gowns. Also of interest were different versions of the 3 good fairies, a photo sheet of Maleficent’s two-horned “devil” headdress from every conceivable angle (the animators had a really hard time drawing it), and photos of the "live cast" who acted out the characters for the animators, enabling them to achieve more realistic movement in their drawings.

Much of the work featured in this show is drawn from the collection of Ron Dias, a Disney artist/illustrator whose first professional job in the animation industry was as an in-betweener and clean-up animator on Sleeping Beauty. Dias went on to become one of the most highly-regarded and sought-after background artists and color stylists in the business. The exhibition includes a spotlight section with a selection of Dias’ own work, such as background paintings and color concepts from The Secret of Nimh, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and The Little Mermaid.

Photo: Production cel of the evil witch Malificent (animated by Mack Davis) and a concept drawing of Sleeping Beauty's castle by Eyvind Earle, courtesy of the Cartoon Art Museum.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Beyond High & Low in the IJOCA

My article Beyond High & Low: How Comics & Museums Learned to Co-Exist, has been published in the Fall 2009 edition of the International Journal of Comic Art. Thank you John Lent, for finding my piece on the "paper table" at PCA/ACA New Orleans last year and inviting me.

Beyond High & Low is about art world politics, modernism, and how The Comic Art Show (Whitney, 1983), MoMA's High & Low (1990) and Masters of Comics (2005) built on and responded to each other, as well as a few lesser known shows and some exhibition strategies. Since I wrote this article, I've done extensive research and interviews about The Comic Art Show. This was the show that brought Art Spiegelman, John Carlin, Brian Walker and Ann Philbin together, and helped launch Sheena Wagstaff's career, as well as being the first show to display comic art and fine art as equal works in New York museum setting. I was beginning this research when I presented at SDCC in July, and will be presenting on the finished paper at PCA/ACA in St. Louis in March.

IJOCA articles are not published on line. If you are interested in a hard copy or subscribing to the IJOCA, their site is here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Genesis of R. Crumb's Genesis

This Halloween, Marc and I went to see R. Crumb, in SF to discuss and promote his epic illustrated work The Book of Genesis. Presented at the JCCSF’s intimate Kanbar Hall, the format was “a conversation” between Crumb and New Yorker art editor/author/publisher Françoise Mouly. Half biography and half discussion of the new work, a frank and often humorous exchange between the two old friends followed.

As this image of Crumb at 13 was projected behind them (thanks artolog for posting this photo), Crumb told the story of how he lost his front tooth in that photo. He said he’d seen an older boy flinging large pieces of cinderblock over a wall and thought, “If anyone was over on the other side of that wall, they could be hurt.” Before he knew it, he found himself on the other side of the wall, and sure enough, he was hit in the mouth with a piece of concrete. He went on to talk about how he began drawing, and the influence of early New Yorker cartoons.

Crumb told many stories about the evolution and making of the Genesis project, which he originally estimated would take him a year and a half, and instead took four years of intensive work and study. The story of the “begats” was particularly funny, as Crumb decided that each descendant needed to have an individual portrait. “If it was just a block of text,” he said, “people would skip right over it.” The “begats” were an important element of Genesis, he explained, because this was how people traced the origins of the tribes, possibly going back to the oral storytelling tradition.

In a discussion of how the illustrated Genesis came to be published, Crumb mentioned Denis Kitchen, and said that Kitchen called him and said, “Norton will give you a big advance for your Genesis book.” Crumb said he was excited by the deal and the money, but his enthusiasm faded as he realized how much work it was really going to be. I asked Denis Kitchen about this and he told me the following story:

“The background is that in 1998 I was visiting Crumb in the south of France when I was still the publisher of Kitchen Sink Press. I generally made an annual trip there to discuss upcoming projects. We talked about a variety of things, mainly his Devil Girl candy that was especially popular for us at the time. But then I asked him if there was any project he’d really like to do that, for whatever reason, he hadn’t. He told me he had been thinking about doing Genesis. That surprised me, but I shared his fascination with the stories in the Old Testament and encouraged it. We left with a handshake on it... But that year my company, after thirty years, was seriously struggling and there was no practical way to take on the Genesis project. By the start of 1999 Kitchen Sink Press was under and I reinvented myself as, among other things, a literary agent.

In 2004 I had a lunch meeting in New York with my agency partner and an editor at a major house who happened to inquire about what R. Crumb was up to. “I’d love to do something with him,” he said. I mentioned the aborted Genesis project and his eyes lit up. “Oh, I’d jump on that one,” he said. He said it with such relish that I had to call Robert to see if he was still up for the notion. “

Kitchen went back to Crumb and the two of them outlined a deal that Crumb felt he could commit to. With this information in hand, Kitchen “went back to his partner and we decided to hold a mini-auction with three target publishers. W. W. Norton came back with the highest bid. When I passed along the news, he was pleasantly surprised, we formalized the deal, and he began to clear his schedule. Ultimately Genesis was a grueling task, requiring much more research and time, something he periodically blamed me for, and it ultimately took him over four years to complete. But, in a strange way, this could also end up his magnum opus ---it’s by far his single most unified work, and one with probably the widest appeal. And, ironically, given the longstanding sexual and racial controversies over his underground comix work, his Biblical stories could end up the most controversial of all.” Kitchen could be right about the controversy, as excerpts of Genesis published in the New Yorker generated many irate letters from readers. Crumb delighted in these and read several to the audience.

The audience itself was actually pretty interesting, as this was Halloween night in San Francisco. At one point during the Q&A period, an athletic blonde Amazon, perfectly attired in a “Crumb Girl” outfit (braless, tank top, short Catholic girl plaid skirt and low heeled pumps) appeared at the microphone to ask her question. When Crumb invited her up on stage to show off her costume, she bounded up on stage, loomed over him (he was sitting) and said “Now that I’ve seen you, I don’t know if I should ask a question or give you a piggyback ride.” She finally leaned over him and asked her question directly into his mic, and was he was visibly overwhelmed. As the next person asking a question said, “I really don’t know how to follow that…”

Friday, October 30, 2009

... the Garden Grows at Dominican University

Went to the opening reception for Karrie Hovey's show ... the Garden Grows at Dominican University (San Rafael, CA) last night. It was absolutely gorgeous: gardens, bamboo forests and other "natural" environments created from an astonishing array of recycled materials. According to Hovey she used primarily "plastics, paper, cardboard and display materials that have been cast aside by retailers ... upon closer examination the construction materials emerge to reveal their origins in the brand name goods we recognize and covet."

Included in the show was a wall of "violets" Hovey created while doing an artist residency in Spain. "I was surprised they had such pretty lavender and purple trash bags over there," she said with a smile, "all we get here is black and white." We were happy to see a good turn out for this lovely show in spite of the horrible traffic caused by the temporary closure of the Bay Bridge (grr... arg... thanks for driving, Denise).

There's an artist talk, Wednesday, November 4, 2:30 - 4:00 p.m. The show is installed at the San Marco Gallery, Alemany Library at Dominican. Hours: Monday - Thursday: 8:00 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.Friday and Saturday: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Sunday: 2:00 - 10:30 p.m through December 23. Directions: info: 415-485-3251 event page with installation photos on facebook.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yerba Buena Gallery Walk 09

The annual Yerba Buena Free Gallery Walk was this past Saturday (11/24) in San Francisco. This year 14 SOMA galleries opened their doors and provided drinks and munchies to wandering art lovers. SF photographer Wendy Crittenden joined me in having a look at about 80% of them.

We started at SF institution Crown Point Press and once we dragged ourselves away from their addictive bookstore, we found lots of interesting art. Among the works on display was a special exhibition by London based painter Tomma Abts, who had done a two week residency at CCP in the fall. Her etchings with color aquatint were gorgeous.

From CCP, we went downstairs to 871 Fine Arts, who had a special exhibition of paintings, watercolors and books by June Felter. We oooed and ahhed over a lot of her work. She often did still lives that include a newspaper open to a comic strip in the middle of the table, in this case Calvin & Hobbes, although I’ve seen pieces that feature Krazy Kat and other strips.

Around the corner from these two galleries was the Sculturesite Gallery which featured a joint show of works by Bella Feldman and JP Long. Neither Wendy nor I had ever been to this gallery before, and we were impressed by the range of sculptural works on display both inside and out in the courtyard.

Next we worked our way through the cluster of galleries around Mission and 3rd Street. We stopped at Chandler Fine Art and Baer Ridgeway across from SFMOMA. At BR, we enjoyed Brendon Lott’s quirky oil paintings, and were fascinated with the sound/film installation by Maurico Ancalmo in the downstairs gallery (still on the left). In the center of the room was a sculpture constructed from old film projectors, which cast 3 movies amongst the stills. Alternating between a group of traditional African singers and footage of classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz, we were both taken by the contrast. We also loved their bookstore! A great selection of artist made books in all price ranges.

Catherine Clark Gallery was host to Sandow Birk’s impressive American Qur’an series, an ongoing project to hand-transcribe and illuminate the Holy Qur'an with scenes from contemporary American life. These are intricately detailed and colorful, sometimes humorous and sometimes heartbreaking. There were also a few works from Birk’s Disasters of War series, commenting on the Iraq War (with a nod to Goya, of course).

We were blown away by the exhibition upstairs at SF CameraWorks, An Autobiography of the San Francisco Bay Area - Part 1: San Francisco Plays Itself. Wendy and I both agreed that it was one of the best we had seen there. I’d like to point out 2 artists doing work on labor themes that really stood out: Jona Franks Uniforms series (photos of workers in uniform immediately after finishing their shift) and Ken Light’s mid-1970’s series of workers in heavy industry.

We had a look at Topher Delaney’s model train installation at the UC Berkeley Extension Art and Design Center Gallery, and then went on to the Modernism Gallery. The featured artist in the front gallery was Jerry Kearns, whose large acrylic paintings depicting Jesus in ironic situations really cracked us up. Here is his Lowland Drifter ( 2008, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 112) on the left. Among the other works on display were some by Kasmir S. Malevich, and a selection of small works by Le Corbusier. We were most fascinated, however with the gallery office, which was basically a large desk ringed with towering stacks of art books. Reminded me of home, although we are a little better at hiding the piles (ignore all that research piled in laundry baskets under the dining room table…). After this we toasted the Pied Piper mural at Maxfield’s (Sheraton Palace) and fortified ourselves with wine and cheese.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Marc on KRON Best of Bay

Marc appears in a featurette for KRON's Best of Bay for Boulevard Cafe (Daly City) in the "family restaurants" category. I'm in there too, stuffing my face with a wonderful shrimp cocktail. Yummm...

Poplaski Exhibition in Paris

Thanks to Jim Danky, I can share with you these wonderful photos of comic artist Peter Poplaski's exhibition and opening reception at the Galerie 9e Art in Paris. Along with the photos is a 3 page English language article from the Paris Herald-Times which not only provides an excellent account of the show itself, but also who came, what they said, what they drank, what was sold, and what they all had for dinner afterwards. I felt like I was there! Don't miss the slide of the 4 part Marvel Monsters drawing, which was the hit of the show.

Poplaski's latest publication is The Sketchbook Adventures of Peter Poplaski (more info here and here). He also is an expert on Zorro, and there is a YouTube video of him in costume showing a French reporter through an exhibition in Ganges, France (he is talking in English, with a French translation dubbed in). It looks like it was an interesting exhibition, and the video shows close ups of his sketchbooks and other drawings.

Morrie Turner at SFPL

Morrie Turner, Creator of Wee Pals Cartoon: a 45 Year Retrospective, an exhibition produced by the AfroSolo Theatre Company at the San Francisco Public Library (August 15 - October 15, 2009), showed an impressive range of work by this award winning cartoonist. Large display cases clustered in three locations within the library explored not only his best-known work, the Wee Pals comic strip, but also Turner’s Soul Corner panels and the social/political cartoons he created in the 1960’s & 70’s for publications like Black World and Ebony.

Turner, a life-long resident of Oakland, California, was born in 1923. He was a self-taught artist, and some of his first publications were strips he drew for military magazines while serving in WWII. After his service was completed, he continued drawing, supplementing his income with a job as a police clerk.

With the encouragement of Charles Schulz, Turner became a full-time cartoonist in 1964. In 1965, he developed a racially-integrated comic strip called Dinky Fellas that ran in five newspapers, which was renamed Wee Pals. By 1966, Wee Pals could be seen in over 70 newspapers in the US and abroad. The strip gained true nationwide acceptance after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, when it’s publication expanded to over 100 newspapers nationwide, making it the first nationally syndicated racially-integrated comic strip.

The library exhibition, curated by Kheven Legrone, devotes several display cases to Wee Pals. Outside the Children’s Center, on the library’s second floor, two cases featured Wee Pals books and memorabilia, and paintings that were used as background slides for a children’s concert series, A Journey Into Jazz, performed by the Oakland Symphony at the Paramount Theatre. These slides featured portraits of famous jazz musicians, and child characters demonstrating dance moves in different styles. Turner would attend these concerts, sketching the children that attended and giving them the drawings.

The heart of the exhibition, upstairs in the African American Center, focuses on the development of the Wee Pals characters (some based on Turner, his son, grandchildren and friends), his production methods on the Wee Pals strip, and his political cartoons. Many of these single panel “civil rights cartoons” (as Turner called them), drawn with pen, ink and watercolor, found humor in irony. For example, one drawing depicts a White panhandler saying “Thanks, Boy” to a wealthy Black gentleman that had just deposited a dollar in his cup (Turner says this really happened to him). Also featured in this part of the exhibition was a series of cartoons Turner created in 1969, when he was invited with five other cartoonists by the National Cartoonist Society to travel to Vietnam to entertain the troops. He spent twenty-seven days on the front lines and in hospitals sketching more than 3,000 caricatures of service people.

Turner’s drawings for the Sunday Soul Corner panels were prominently displayed in the third floor main lobby. These drawings, originally meant to fill up the "drop out panel" in Turner's Sunday strips, illustrate the accomplishments of famous persons of color.

Turner (shown in conversation with Belva Davis at the SFPL 11/15/09) still lives in Oakland in the house his father bought in 1941, and continues to reach out to children through small cartooning classes and guest lectures at schools. Turner’s life was the subject of the 2001 documentary, Keeping the Faith with Morrie, produced by Angel Harper for Heaven Sent Productions Inc.

Griscom Gets a Rave!

SF photographer Tom Griscom's labor landmarks photos recently got a rave review on Jen Bekmen's Hey Hot Shot blog. Tom started this body of work while we were both finishing up our programs at San Francisco State, which sort of culminated in the Syndicate collaboration with the Labor Archives at SFSU for Bay Area Now 5. Some of this work has also been included in the SFSU 2009 MFA show and as part of Laborfest:Art & Labor Today. Griscom has continued to build on the framework of this narrative and done some beautiful work. To the left is Griscom's photograph of Beale Street in San Francisco.

Griscom has also been assisting photographer David Maisel on his latest series, the X-Ray Project, which is based on x-rays of artwork taken during Maisel's residency at the Getty Research Institute in 2007.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Update on Pittsburg Trip

Here I am in Pittsburgh, after speaking at the Union Label and Service Trades Dept. -AFL-CIO's 68th convention. I spoke on the label department's history (and label history in general) to commemorate their 100th anniversary. Thanks to ULSTD president Richard Kline for inviting me (that's him in grey) and to Greg Kenefick of Kenefick Communications (in tan) for all his help.

My labels project is currently featured on the ulstd's web site and was also featured in the newsletter of the International Labor Communications Association (thanks to Steve Stallone and Fred Glass). You can see the presentation on my labor history slideshow page.

Maybe it's my Northern Michigan upbringing, but I am also a huge football fan. I was so focused on the details of my trip to Pittsburgh and New York, that I completely spaced out on the fact that the NFL season kickoff game was happening in Pittsburgh the same day I was flying in (Sept 10). I flew Jet Blue with a short stop over at Kennedy in NY. On the NY-PIT leg of the flight, almost everyone on the plane was wearing a black & gold Steelers jersey. On arrival, the city was crawling with fans. There was a free concert with the Black Eyed Peas and Tim McGraw. The Steelers won, and there were happy fans in the streets.

I didn't have a lot of time in Pittsburgh, but I did make it to the Warhol Museum. The range of Warhol's work never ceases to amaze me. The museum did a good job of representing it. There are 7 floors, each representing a different theme in Warhol's career. There was a floor dedicated to his celebrity pieces (including an entire gallery on the Rolling Stones), the factory era, to his record cover illustrations and advertising work, to Interview magazine, and other experiments and installations. The photo on the left is an installation of Silver Clouds, which I totally enjoyed; an entire gallery filled with these floating silver pillows.

Warhol also collected taxidermied animals (lions, dogs, etc...) which are displayed around the museum. He did "time capsules," a nice art historical way of categorizing his habit of throwing all the paperwork and other ephemera he didn't want to deal with in cardboard boxes and sealing them up when they got full. Apparently, there are hundreds of these, and the museum has a major project in sorting them out. It's hard, looking at it in hind-sight, to remember what a radical visionary Warhol was when he first appeared on the scene. The museum makes a real effort to put Warhol in the context of his time and influences, and I think they did a good job of it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

24 Hour Comic Book Day

Saturday October 3, 2009 - Sunday October 4, 2009 from 11:00am - 11:00pm
Comic Outpost 2381 OCEAN AVE.San Francisco, California 94127
Get Directions

24 Hour Comics Day is an event where cartoonists all over the world attempt to create their own 24 page comics in 24 consecutive hours.The San Francisco event is being put together by the San Francisco Cartoonist Conspiracy and hosted by Comic Outpost and Mission Comics.

Cartoonist Conspiracy says: "If you are interested in taking part in this years event, please email Doctor Popular at at yoyogenius at gmail dot com with your name and phone number. Space is limited to 20 seats (per shop), so serious inquiries only, please. Additionally, we are asking for a $5 fee to reserve a space, this money goes to the shops to help cover costs.Artists should bring their supplies, but leave your ideas and storyboards at home. The goal of creating a 24 hour comic is to push your boundaries, and learn just how much you can create in just one day.We are also looking for any sponsors (pizza, art supplies, etc) and press. If you can help us out, or would like to take part in the event, please let us know."

Marc and I checked it out last year, and it's a great event! Support our cartoonists! I just heard that the Outpost will have a live feed of this 24 hour event on their web site (scroll to the bottom of the home page).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Post Labor Day Ramblings

Since I'm about to head off to Pittsburgh to speak about the history of the union label movement at the 100th anniversary convention of the AFL-CIO union label department, the state of work and my frustration with the health care reform process are really on my mind. I came across this blog post on the Off-Center Views site about why strength in numbers is still a relevent concept.

Traditionally, union label week was observed over the week following Labor Day, as a way to recognize American workers. The Labor Archives at SFSU has some incredible posters from Label Week, 1948 (one example is on the left). There are more of these posted on the LARC union label on-line exhibit.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Eilish Talks Art.Tech on NBC

View more news videos at:

The Art.Tech is at The Lab in San Francisco, 2948 16th Street (near Mission). Appropriately enough, since I'm posting this on Labor Day, the Lab is in the Redstone Building that used to be the Labor Temple (built in 1914). Congrats to Eilish on being named Exec. Director!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Video Tour of Vraoum!

Here's a video tour of the Vraoum! Treasures of Comics and Contemporary Art exhibition at La Maison Rouge, Paris. Sorry, I can't figure out out to close the ad on this thing, but you can still get a feel for the show. The guy talking is David Rosenberg, one of the curators. Previous post here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Underground Classics on Tour

I am happy to say that Munson Art Consulting has partnered with co-curators cartoonist/publisher Denis Kitchen and archivist James Danky to find museums to host the well-reviewed survey show, Underground Classics: The Transformation of Comics into Comixon tour. The show originated at the Chazen Museum (University of Wisconsin) during the spring and summer of 2009. The hardcover catalog for the show, published by Abrams, is getting good reviews in US media outlets such as Boing Boing, The New York Times Review of Books and the San Francisco Chronicle. The catalog includes essays by comix scholars Jay Lynch, James Danky, Denis Kitchen, Patrick Rosenkranz, Trina Robbins and Paul Buhle, who all contribute to this serious examination of underground comix as art.

The exhibition itself collects 145 framed drawings, other artifacts and ephemera from the beginnings of the underground movement in 1963 through 1990. The pieces in the show are assembled from Denis Kitchen’s personal collection, the collection of Eric Sack and others, representing the work of some 60 different artists.

Cartoonist, writer, editor and publisher Denis Kitchen was present at the birth of the underground comix movement. From his first self-published effort, Mom’s Homemade Comics #1 in 1968, Kitchen has worked with every important artist active in producing underground comix. This long relationship with other artists, many of whom he published through Krupp Comic Works and Kitchen Sink Press, is the basis for both the exhibition and this catalog.

James Danky built an internationally recognized collection of alternative press materials in his four decade career at the Wisconsin Historical Society, publishing dozens of books along the way. Today he is on the faculty of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he continues to investigate the worlds of print and popular and alternative culture.

As an art historian, I am very aware of by the debt owed by many contemporary artists to the underground comix artists of the 1960’s and 70’s. I’m pleased to help underground comix artists gain well-deserved recognition from the arts community.

Other links related to Underground Classics:
Underground Classics official blog
facebook group page
SF Chronicle/Gate - Book Review
SF Chronicle recommends book as holiday gift
New York Times - Art of Rebellion (also features Kitchen & Buhle's Kurtzman book).
77 Square (Madison, WI) - Lynda Barry Talks Comix (co-curator Danky & Buhle are participants in this panel discussion as well).
Chazen Museum of Art The Chazen Goes Undergound with Comix Exhibition Inside Pop Culture: Underground Comics Exhibition at the Chazen Inside Pop Culture: Followup on Exhibit Opening
The Beat: The News Blog of Comics Culture
Isthmus Review of Exhibit
Badger Herald Arts: Chazen showcases ‘comix’ movement in radical exhibit
Boing Boing Review (of catalog)
Milwaukee Shepard Express Cover Story
Robert Crumb's visit - blog
Toronto Globe & Mail - Book Review/article
Miami Herald - Book Review
BlogTalkRadio - Denis Kitchen interview
Althouse blog exhibit photos
USA Today - Pop Candy Book Review
Rants & Raves blog - Book Review
GameZone Book Review (scroll down to 12/20)

The exhibition includes original art by - Joel Beck; Vaughn Bode; Tim Boxell; Roger Brand; Charles Burns; Leslie Cabarga; Dan Clyne; Richard Corben; Robert Crumb; Howard Cruse; Kim Deitch; Will Eisner; Will Elder; Shary Flenniken; Drew Freidman; Don Glassford; Grass Green; Justin Green; Rick Griffin; Bill Griffith; Gary Hallgren; Rory Hayes; Rand Holmes; Greg Irons; Jack Jackson; Jay Kinney; Denis Kitchen; Aline Kominsky Crumb; Harvey Kurtzman; Bobby London; Jay Lynch; Jim Mitchell; Victor Moscoso; Willy Murphy; Dan O’Neil; Jim Osborne; Harvey Pekar; Peter Poplaski; John Pound; Wendel Pugh; Ted Richards; Spain Rodrguez; Trina Robbins; Sharon Rudahl; Gilbert Shelton; Art Spiegelman; Frank Stack; Dan Steffan; Steve Stiles; William Stout; John Thompson; Larry Todd; Reed Waller; Bruce Walthers; Robert Williams; Skip Williamson; S. Clay Wilson and Kate Worley.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Marc on KRON

My lovely husband, Marc Greenberg, will be on KRON's "Best of the Bay" show talking about our home-away-from-home the Boulevard Cafe, in Daly City near Westlake Village.
Marc is pictured here with Patty Zubov, a Producer from Platonic.TV who shot the segment with her crew at Boulevard. There are also short bits of the owners talking, and Marc & I marveling over their gigantic shrimp cocktail. At the moment, we aren't sure when these segments will air, but I will post again when we know.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Photos of Comic Con 2009

This is just a small sample of the sights of San Diego Comic Con. Thursday night Marc, Michael Dooley and I had lovely dinner outside at a very nice Italian place called Chianti. While we were eating, a group of women dressed as girl scouts roller skated by. They were followed by approx. 200 people dressed as zombies, who marched down to the convention center and back demanding "brains" from everyone they met. LOL! See photos here!

Comics & Writer's Panels at SDCC

One more post to wrap up the rest of the doings at Comic Con. There was really so much going on that it made more sense to write about it in chunks. I keep reading articles saying that one of the underlying reasons for the huge success of the Con is the interaction that fans get with the creators and stars of various types of pop media.

Sometimes it's just straight-ahead pride in the geek nation. Although SDCC has outgrown some of the geek/nerd stereotype since the Hollywood invasion a few years ago, there are moments that still take me right back to the Con's roots. On Saturday, Marc & I caught the end of a panel with the creators of Green Lantern, and they ended the panel with 2,000 people standing with their fists raised reciting the Green Lantern oath from memory: "In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight, Let those who worship evil's might, Beware my power, Green Lantern's light!" Of course, Marc and I were reciting right along with them. It was touching, and entirely appropriate, as the next person featured on that stage would be a man who has brought much light to the world, Ray Bradbury.

Ray (center of photo), is 89 and claims to have not missed a Con in San Diego throughout its 40 year history. Our joy in seeing him was slightly marred by what seemed like an endless stream of product announcements, taking up the first 20 minutes of the session. But when Ray finally got to talk it was magic. He brought a DVD of himself being interviewed by Mike Wallace on CBS News (w/W. Cronkite) on the night of the moon landing 40 years ago. It was great to celebrate that moment with Ray, and to see Cronkite again. Ray spoke about the need to help young children learn to read, and endorsed comics and other illustrated books to do the job, saying "I want Calvin and Hobbes in every classroom."

This lovefest was followed by another with the writer J. Michael Straczynski, who is originally from San Diego and absolutely loves the interaction with the fans. His Q & A sessions are both enlightening and funny. In different ways, J. and Ray have the same advice, "love what you do, and don't be afraid to fail." I finally got to meet JMS face-to-face for a signing, and of all things I blurted out the story of Ray and the moon landing. Who knows, maybe this was the story he needed to hear. He seems like a truly nice person, and I was happy to finally meet him.

Another session honored the great editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant, who has been gracing the editorial pages of newspapers and magazines since the Nixon era. At this session he was given the "inkpot" award, a life-time achievement award for cartoonists. Throughout the session he drew in charcoal, one political caricature after another, Nixon, Agnew, Condi, Cheney, Bush, Clinton, Obama, even Palin getting screwed by a moose. It was incredible to see his mastery over his medium and materials. This is an creative area people don't think of when they think of Comic Con, but every year they feature several panels and focused sessions with legendary political/editorial cartoonists.

There were more great comics creator panels this year than I can possibly mention, some of the best I attended were the Underground Comics panel, with Denis Kitchen and Trina Robbins, pictured on the left. Trina did an excellent presentation on her Nell Brinkley project which is still at the Cartoon Art Museum in SF. There was the annual Jack Kirby Tribute panel; a panel on graphic novels with many of the artists currently doing great stories and cutting edge work like Seth, Gene Yang and Jason Lutes and a panel about the work and legacy of the "Mad" genius Harvey Kurtzman. At the wild and crazy Aspen Comics showcase, I heard the latest scoop on the company's recovery after the unfortunate loss of their founder, artist Michael Turner, and their plans to capture some of their properties on film (Fathom and Soulfire are both being developed with major studios/production companies).

Of course, we also jumped on the opportunity to add to our collection of original comic book pages. I was happy to acquire additional artwork drawn by Joyce Chin (Red Sonja, Witchblade) pictured with me on the left, and Wonder Woman artist Aaron Lopresti. I'm sure our ever-growing collection will always contain work by them.

Kevin Sorbo at SDCC

Things you would never plan on happen at SDCC. You put 120,000 people that love pop culture in one (LARGE) building, throw in celebrities, comics, games, costumes and anything else you can imagine and it's quite a mix. To tell the truth, I've never really gotten into the Hollywood aspects of Comic Con. Not that I'm immune to the spell of Hollywood, it's exciting to hear about the new shows and etc, and I do manage to check in on some of my faves, but mostly Marc ends up at the Hollywood panels and I end up listening to writers and artists, prowling the exhibit floor looking for additions to our art collection.

Saturday, I was on my way through the central pavilion on my way to another panel when I saw Kevin Sorbo, star of Hercules and Andromeda. No one had really noticed him yet, in the midst of all the chaos of the moment, and he was just sort of hanging out watching the crowd in amazement, waiting to sign autographs.

I may be be the only person that has ever personally thanked him for making Kull the Conqueror in 1997. But I felt compelled to tell him my story: In 1997, Marc & I went back to see my Dad in Northern Michigan for what turned out to be a very stressful visit. Afterword we continued our vacation in New York. I will never forget going to see Kull at the Loews Manhattan, overlooking Times Square and thinking "I can finally just relax and enjoy this movie." I think it was followed by many martinis...

At the end of this story, he looked at me and said "Where in Michigan?" I said, "Manistee. I live in San Francisco now, but I grew up there." It turns out that he just shot a film there called What If , and we were both blown away by the coincidence. Manistee is a tiny resort community of 25,000 souls perched on the shore of Lake Michigan. "I'd never heard of this town before I went there on location," he said, "and now here you are. It's a pretty little Victorian town, and I played a game of golf there for my children's charity A World Fit for Kids." He also mentioned that, counting What If, he has 6 movies coming out. Sorbo seemed like a very sincere guy, and I was glad I met him.

Marc has much more celebrity news than I, as he made it to panels for Smallville, Farscape, Sanctuary, Marvel Animation and Eureka.... and he met Leonard Nimoy! But these are his stories to tell. Live Long and Prosper!

Kim & Marc at SDCC

Marc & I both spoke at San Diego Comic Con this weekend. As usual, it was an amazing experience, and we have all kinds of stories. This year the Comic Arts Conference, hosted yearly at Comic Con since 1998, was very well attended and featured 16 panels on a wide range of topics.

I was on the Sunday afternoon panel, Comics in Museums, with Michael Dooley and Denis Kitchen. I presented my new research about The Comic Art Show (Whitney Museum, 1983). You can see the presentation in the slideviewer widget at the bottom of this page. My paper on this topic is in progress and I hope to finish it this fall. Co-presenter Michael talked about High & Low (MOMA, 1990) & Masters of American Comics (Hammer/MOCCA, 2005). Denis talked about some of the initial problems comics faced in the art world enviroment, and then about Underground Classics, a show he just co-curated in Madison WI.

A lively Q&A session followed, but we were pleasantly surprised that the artist selection in Masters wasn't the main topic of discussion as it often is after this sort of panel. Instead, many of the questions had a more businesslike slant. "Are artists able to get more money for their work because of the exposure they get from museum shows"? "Is it easier for a comic artist to crossover into gallery art, or a gallery artist to become accepted as a cartoonist"? "Why did museums seem to resist the narrative function of comics"? Conversation continued and spilled out to the hallway afterword. Thanks to Pete, Denis and Michael for their input and a great experience. If you are one of the people that came to me for more information after the panel, you can find my paper Beyond High & Low, which summarizes many of the events and issues we discussed, on my archive page.

Marc also had a good response to his presentation on the cases of CBLDF and the 70 year (and still not resolved) Superman copyright case. We were amazed to learn that Denis, my co-presenter, founded CBLDF! Small world...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Comics Exhibition Round Up!

It’s Comic Con time again, and this year it seems like comics related exhibitions and articles are springing up like weeds in a veggie patch.

This afternoon I dropped by the Electric Works gallery (130 8th Street, SF, thanks Tyson for letting me know about this) to see The Cresting Wave: the San Francisco Underground Comix Experience, featuring a wide range of drawings, published pieces, comps and cover art from 13 artists from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Artists included in the show are Mark Bode, Vaughn Bode, Guy Colwell, R. Crumb, Jay Kinney, Paul Mavrides, Dan O’Neill, Trina Robbins, Spain Rodriquez, Gilbert Shelton, Larry Todd, Randy Vogel and S. Clay Wilson, curated by Dan Fogel.

First, I need to mention that this is the first time I had been to this space, and it was a great place for this particular show. As you enter the building from 8th street (btw Mission and Minna) you walk past a group of people behind a glass partition busy doing something (?) into the store. On this occasion, it was very much like walking into a comics store, with a great selection of artist’s books and back issues of underground comics everywhere. Past the store is a lovely, open space with high ceilings, behind the gallery is a working printmaking shop.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen original drawings and/or paintings by many of these artists (if ever…). I was immediately taken with the frantic energy of S. Clay Wilson’s pirates, and the whimsical yet subversive work by O’Neill and Mark Bode. As a Wonder Woman fan, one of my favorite pieces was Trina Robbins Wonder Woman pin-up, with the WW II icon showing off her "assets" for the good of the soldiers.

Speaking of Robbins, the show she guest-curated at the Cartoon Art Museum, The Brinkley Girls, was really an eye-opener. I admit, I had never heard of the artist, Nell Brinkley, before seeing this show. It features over 30 lavishly illustrated newspaper tearsheets, magazine illustrations, original artworks and other highlights from Robbins’s personal collection. Brinkley began drawing very glamorous and stylized women for the Hearst newspapers in 1907, and continued on to a 30 year career. Aside from the quality of the work on display, I was impressed with Robbin’s story telling. In the related book Nell Brinkley and the New Woman in the Early 20th Century, Robbins manages to convey Brinkley’s transition from the stereotypical giggly girl of the period to an artist that was willing to take risks by including working women among her romanticized ladies without covering up some of the “warts” that made Brinkely a real person.

The San Francisco Chronicle also jumped onto the Comic Con bandwagon this weekend with a center spread in the book review section by Michael Berry Best Comics – and Comix. In this article Berry covers a wide range of comics and graphic novels, from superhero stories about classic characters like The Best of Simon and Kirby and DC’s Final Crisis collection to character driven works like Adrian Tomine’s 32 Stories and Shortcomings. On the whole this article is a good survey of recently published work, and it mentions several things worth checking out. If I was going to nit pick, I’d say that I wish he had included Art Spiegelman’s revised version of Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young…. (Parthenon, 2008), and Spain Rodriguez’s illustrated biography of Che Guevara (Che: A Graphic Biography, Verso 2008).

I’ll close with a mention of some other exhibitions I’ve heard good things about:

Strips, Scripts and Scapes at the Riverside Art Museum (LA-ish), features 16 Southern California contemporary artists working in a wide range of mediums with Comics roots. Michael Dooley, my co-presenter at Comic Con, has been raving about a show at the Skirball Cultural Center in LA called Zap-Pow-Bam: The Superhero, the Golden Age of Comic Books 1938-1950. This show features many works of classic comic art from Jerry Robinson’s personal collection, along with toys and promo items, even the Batcycle on loan from LA’s Peterson Automotive Museum. Lastly, I’d like to mention Underground Classics: The Transformation of Comics into Comix 1963–1990, at the Chazen Museum of Art (Madison, WI), co-curated by James Danky and my other co-presenter, Denis Kitchen.

Images: Ronald's Rampage by Jay Kinney, 1974 featured in the Cresting Wave exhibition. Cover illustration for Trina Robbin's The Brinkley Girls; Fred Ray, cover for Superman #14, 1941, featured in Zap-Pow-Bam.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Laborfest - Art & Labor Today

The opening reception for the exhibition Art and Labor Today had a great turnout last night. I was impressed by the range of work on display. The show was curated by David Duckworth, around the theme of "the effects of capitalism and the state of labor today." Artists include Skylaar Amann, Philippe Barnoud, Joe Blum, Paul Bouchard, Lenny Bové, Sherri Cavan, Michael Chomick, Mike Connor, Slobodan Dimitrov, Chris Dunker, Tom Griscom (pictured at left, discussing his Copra Crane panorama with 2 guests), Trudi Hauptman, Véronique Held, Mike Kimball, Anthony Lazorko, Jr., Kyle Levinger and Holley Coley, Doug McGoldrick, Douglas Minkler, Mimi Plumb, Aubrey Rhodes, John Robinson, Rachel Schreiber, Elizabeth Sibilia, elin o’Hara slavick, Angela Franks Wells, Marcia Weisbrot, Steve Zeltzer and Holly Wong. Margot Smith’s documentary film, WPA Murals in San Francisco / The WPA Murals of Bernard Zakheim / New Deal Public Art: The Works Progress Administration, will be screened throughout the run of the show.

The exhibition is free, and will be on display through July 25th at SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan St. at 8th St. SF. I will update with links to reviews as they come out. For the calendar of this and other Laborfest events, click here. You can see more photography of San Francisco's labor landmarks by Tom Griscom and Wendy Crittenden by scrolling to the bottom of this page and clicking on Labor Landmarks on the slideviewer widget.

Unfortunately, I've seen no reviews yet of this thought provoking exhibition. Here's a general write-up about Laborfest in the SF Examiner and a good piece from the SF Chronicle about the 75th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. If any reviews appear, the Laborfest site usually posts links at the bottom of the home page.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Art of the Superhero

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Art of the Superhero
September 26, 2009 - January 3, 2010
Free Preview Reception: September 25, 2009, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

A press release from the The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon says this show "features rare and valuable works by some of the most admired artists in the history of superhero comics, gathered from private collections from across the country, the exhibition will also present an extremely rare copy of Action Comics # 1 (left, 1938), featuring the first appearance of Superman. Mapping the path of the American superhero through a history of comics, this exhibition addresses the subject from many perspectives, including aesthetic achievements. The exhibition and accompanying symposium also examine the larger processes of social change through narratives and visual expressions of age, gender, race, religion, culture, and nationalism. Guest-curated by Ben Saunders, a professor in the Department of English, the exhibition focuses primarily on Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, and features original art by the masters of the genre."

This seems to be an obvious and popular title for a superhero show: there was a well-reviewed show called Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: Superheroes in Contemporary Art in Superman's hometown at the Museum of Modern Art Cleveland in 1999, which included works by Mel Ramos (they featured the Ramos Superman, 1962, before it was acquired by the de Young museum here in San Francisco) & Warhol (among others), emerging regional artists and comic art on loan from the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton, FL (unfortunately, closed since).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Upcoming Speaking Gigs

Forgive me for a moment of self promotion, but there are some events coming up worth checking out:

July 19 (Sunday), 1:00. Labor Archives and Research Center at SFSU. I will be talking about the Evolution of the Arm & Hammer logo as part of Laborfest. Tom Griscom's labor landmarks photography will be included in the Laborfest Art Show opening July 9 at SOMArts. This year Laborfest includes many panels of interest to artists trying to make a living, so be sure to check out the event schedule on their site.

July 26 (Sunday), 1:00. San Diego Comic Con. Comic Art and Museums panel. I will be speaking about my new research about The Comic Art Show (1983) and a recent interview I did with John Carlin, Michael Dooley will be talking about High & Low (1990) and Masters of American Comics (2005). Mega-publisher/collector Denis Kitchen will be talking about new exhibitions and trends. We are expecting a lively discussion, so check it out. Husband Marc is also speaking on Thursday morning about CBLDF and the Superman copyright case.

I've just confirmed that I will be speaking about the history of the union label at the AFL-CIO Union Label and Service Trades Department's 100th anniversary convention which will be held in Pittsburgh on September 12th. More later.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tim Burton at MOMA

Just in time for Halloween, NY MoMA is featuring a retrospective of the works of Tim Burton. According to the press release the show "presents artworks and objects drawn primarily from the artist’s personal archive, as well as studio archives and the private collections of Burton’s collaborators. Included are little-known drawings, paintings, and sculptures created in the spirit of contemporary Pop Surrealism, as well as work generated during the conception and production of his films, such as original The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride puppets; Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, and Sleepy Hollow costumes; and even severed-head props from Mars Attacks! Also featured are the first public display of his student art and earliest nonprofessional films; examples of his work for the flash animation internet series The World of Stainboy (2000); a selection of the artist’s oversized Polaroid prints; graphic art and texts for non-film projects, like The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories (1997) and Tim Burton’s Tragic Toys for Girls and Boys (2003) collectible figure series; and art from a number of early unrealized projects. Additionally, a selection of international posters from Burton’s films will be on display in the theater lobby galleries." Concurrently, MoMA will be screening all of Burton's movies, including some rarely seen experimental shorts.

I love Burton's quirky universe, and I'm glad to see this, but I'm puzzled why we see retrospectives of pop culture icons like Burton and concept art from Pixar, but not a retrospective of a key comic artist like Art Spiegelman, who helped reshape the medium. Museum culture moves in mysterious ways... The exhibition will be on view from November 22, 2009, through April 26, 2010. More details here on MOMA's site.

Graphic on top left: Tim Burton. Untitled (The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories). 1982–84. Pen and ink, marker, and colored pencil on paper, 10 x 9" (25.4 x 22.9 cm). Private collection. Graphic on lower left: Tim Burton, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas storyboard. 1993. Pen and ink, marker, and colored pencil on paper, 5 x 7" (12.7 x 17.8 cm). Private Collection. © 2009 Tim Burton.

Rosie Goes to Wal-Mart

I just read that Norman Rockwell's beloved Rosie the Riveter, which was originally painted for the May 29, 1943 cover of the Saturday Evening Post, has been added to the permanent collection of the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. It's weirdly ironic that this iconic image of labor has found a home in a museum being built "as a gift to the community" by Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress. Wal-Mart's endless battles with organized labor have been in the news for years.

A recent article on the KGO Newstalk site (thanks Phyllis!) about the estate of illustration art collector Charles Martignette claims that Rockwell's Rosie was sold at Sotheby's for $4.9 million in 2002.

There are more details about the journey of this painting and its new home here in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Follow up on VRAOUM!

In a follow up e-mail about VRAOUM!, Bart from the University of Calgary said: "I just wanted to say that I saw this show yesterday and that it's fairly interesting. Certainly not an all-time great comics exhibition, but far superior to something like Masters of American Comics.

There is a catalogue for 35Euro but it's not very good (very little text).There is also a related special issue of Beaux Arts Magazine that is likely available from their website, which is better than the catalogue and 1/5 the price.

The current comics exhibition highlight in Paris is the Spiegelman show at Galerie Martel which opened Thursday. Lots of interesting material, some of which is still unsold. If you're interested in buying original Spiegelman art, which does not go on sale very often, there are still some lovely pieces available from about 2500Euros up to 24,000."

The Galerie Martel show Bart refers to, Art Spiegelman - From Raw Books To Toon Books, has many great images of Spiegelman's work, including the image on the left.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Comic Art Exhibition in Paris

Maison Rouge in Paris Opens VRAOUM! An Exhibition of Comic Strips and Contemporary Art

This sounds like an amazing exhibition of comics and other art base on pop culture. Here's another reason we need Star Trek technology to beam us over to Paris for the day to see it :-)

Art Daily describes it as: "PARIS.- VRAOUM! is a celebration of paintings, sculptures and drawings shown side-by-side. There is no hierarchy and certainly no divisions. Comic strips are presented as art and contemporary art as being fuelled by strips. Put simply, this is one big jubilation.

Visitors are welcomed in the foyer by the work of Guillaume Paris and the Taiwanese artist Hsia Fei Chang with, on one side, a column of video screens where cartoon characters fall endlessly into nothingness, and on the other a giant speech bubble made from plastic flowers. Further along, the walls are covered by a superhero's disconcerting shadow, a work by Vuk Vidor, and an impressive montage-collage of comic-strip fragments by Sylvain Paris. Fabien Verschaere's giant Mickey dominates the patio. Facing it, Rivane Neuenschwander invites visitors to draw their own comic inside giant coloured panels. A crumpled cover of the French comic-strip magazine Fluide Glacial lies on the floor, enlarged to monumental proportions by Wang Du with, alongside it, the originals for some of the magazine's most memorable covers. Scattered here and there are wall hung works by Pierre La Police, a singular figure who can just as easily be found in contemporary art as in publishing. Works in the polygonal space are grouped by themes or affinities, branching off into multiple circuits."

The rest of the description continues with a list of artists and how their work is organized, here . The photograph on the top left was created by Gilles Barbier (L’Hospice, 2002. Dimensions Variable. Collection privée, courtesy GP & N Vallois, Paris). The lower photo features Rivane Neuenschwander's zé Carioca and Friends : O saci, detail Alain Séchas Lolita, 2001© Marc Domage.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Signs of Unity: Stories and Symbols of the American Union Label Movement

Recently I was cleaning up some of the old content on this blog, and I was dumbfounded when I realized that I have never posted anything specific about the Union Label project that I have been researching off and on over the last 4 years. This will be a book that analyzes the graphic symbolism used in US labor union emblems, such as the AFL-CIO’s “hand-in-hand” logo, from the beginning of the union label movement in the Victorian era through the present, to demonstrate how these emblems, many of which have changed dramatically during this period, reflect the attitudes of society and of the worker’s self image, and the contribution the unions and their members have made to the fabric of American society and culture.

After the Civil War, American labor unions began using individual logos, both as a means of group identification, and as printed seals or labels affixed to union made products, to assure the consumer of the quality of the products manufactured in union shops. The label movement was also a non-violent means of garnering public support for the labor movement, by encouraging boycotts of products made by companies that did not support labor’s goals. The role symbols play in developing a sense of identity, and their ability to convey, in non-verbal context, important messages about cultural values, is also explored in this work.

Over the decades since the civil war, the symbols and messages contained in these logos have changed due to union mergers, economic transformations, changes in the political climate, and cultural/societal trends in general. Aside from this historical survey, I also plan a reference section that will show all the different versions of these logos (I’m estimating there will be about 200) and whatever information I have been able to collect about their specific use and origin.

How did I get into this, you ask? Well, I grew up in a blue collar family in a small town in Northern Michigan (Manistee, MI). Both my parents were in unions (Atomic & Chemical Workers & the Ladies' Garment Workers) and later I had my own union experiences (IATSE). I hadn’t thought much about it for a long time, and then in 2006 I did the Battle Emblems show at Intersection for the Arts. This show explored 13 well-known graphic symbols used by labor and social movements (like the globe logo of the IWW or the Peace Sign). While I was researching the labor symbols at the Labor Archives at SFSU, I realized that this is a neglected area. Also, people have no real awareness of this history anymore. A friend who teaches Political Science at CCSF assigned an extra credit report about the show to her classes, and we were amazed by the student’s attitudes. They seemed to have little interest in the idea that organizing for a common goal could be an effective way to instigate change, and seemed to think that rights like the weekend and the 8 hour day have just always existed. People suffered and died for these rights, and they deserve to be remembered.

Have a union label story? Leave a comment.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Jack Kirby's Collages & the Sublime

The above image from Fantastic 4 Annual #6 (1968) was one of a series of photomontages created by the comics genius Jack Kirby (1917-1994). Kirby had a long and fruitful career as a comic artist spanning from the beginning of the comics industry in the 1930's through the 1970's. He is best known for his collaboration with Stan Lee (writer) which spawned many famous Marvel comics characters like the X-Men, The Avengers, The Hulk and The Fantastic Four.

Kirby was an artist that liked to experiment. In the mid-1950's he began making collages out of ads and magazine photos as a hobby. In the mid-1960's he put his collages to use in the comics he was working on. The most notable series of these were published in the Fantastic Four. The F4 had adventures in far-flung locations; the undersea world of Atlantis, labs filled with alien technology and the "negative zone," which existed in the 4th dimension. It's the negative zone collages that I would like to explore further.

I’m hypothesizing that Kirby used the collages because he was trying to find a way to differentiate our 3D reality from the disorienting and scary yet beautiful negative zone/fourth dimension within the limitations of 2D characters and (not so great) printing technology. The collages evoke feelings of the sublime, in Burke’s sense of terror and awe. Also, the idea of the technological sublime; attempting to show the unshowable (advanced alien technology, the vastness of the universe). Later Kirby experimented with the collages in a short-lived (only one issue) publication called Spirit World (this is one of his collages for it on the left). These collages, even more than the ones featured in the F4, suggest feelings of the eerie and the surreal.

At this stage in my research I can't say that I know specifically what art/collages Kirby might have seen that inspired him to create these. It seems logical that one influence might have been the early British pop artist Richard Hamilton's Just What Is It that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing? (1956), which prominently features Kirby's cover for Young Romance #26 (October 1950) hung as a painting in the center of the piece. It was widely reproduced, and logically, he must have seen it. My sources, so far, say that he started playing with collage around this time. There are also many surrealist elements, reminiscent of works like Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (1919) by the German collage artist Hanna Hoch. Kirby may have been especially affected by these surrealist works due to his war time experiences.

I plan to continue research on this topic and write an article about it in the fall.

Here are some interesting links about these collages:

Revisiting The Comic Art Show at SDCC

A quick note related to my on-going project exploring the relationships between comic art, fine art and museums: I am currently researching The Comic Art Show, which happened at the downtown branch of the Whitney Museum in New York over the summer of 1983. This show, co-curated by John Carlin (co-curator of Masters of American Comics in 2005) and Sheena Wagstaff (currently the chief curator at the Tate Modern), was one of the first to display comic art and fine art as equal works in a US art museum setting.

August Update: Since I originally posted this, I have presented on this show at PCA/ACA and WonderCon as part of a general "comics in museums" talk, and have more specifically presented on this show with new research at San Diego Comic Con 2009. You can view both of these presentations using the SlideShare widget on the sidebar, or at the bottom of this page. I have written generally about this show in the article Beyond High & Low: How Comics and Museums Learned to Co-exist, which will be published in the upcoming issue of the IJOCA. Since writing that article, I have done research at the Frances Mulhill Achilles Library at the Whitney Museum, and have interviewed John Carlin, Sheena Wagstaff and Anne Philbin, as well as delving into the art scene and art criticism of the 1980's. I expect to complete the article fall 2009.

Update 3/2012 - I have committed to finally finishing my research on this topic and publishing it in the IJOCA for the fall/winter 2012 issue. 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Best of SlideShare

I just found a notice from SlideShare that 2 of my posted presentations were designated "Best of SlideShare" around the beginning of April. Most viewed were the sample slides of my work on art exhibitions and the SF Labor Landmarks photography proposal (photos by Wendy Crittenden and Tom Griscom on the left). Thanks, whoever you are.