day 339 – four cherished works of art

TOP LEFT An illustration by the Canadian cartoonist Seth. Last I checked, Seth doesn’t sell the original art from his comic pages. I believe he sells the roughs, and he also sells loads of his illustration work, but not the finished comic originals.

TOP RIGHT A self portrait by Canadian artist Julie Doucet. I can’t remember if this is a panel from one of her comic books or not, but I think it is.

BOTTOM LEFT Page 2 of Betty & Veronica Summer Fun #28 from 1966 by Dan DeCarlo. DeCarlo is the artist responsible in large part with the look/style associated with Archie and the teens from Riverdale. His brushwork is some of the best in all of comics – ever.

BOTTOM RIGHT Self Portrait of an Artist Worrying About His Next Book by Dr. Seuss, signed/numbered by the artist (121/495). His next book after this painting, by the way, turned out to be Green Eggs and Ham.


day 338 – four indispensable comic collections

I’m going to talk about comics today. All weekend, the 2011 edition of the Central Canada Comic Con is happening at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, so this is about as timely as a post about comics can get. I don’t plan to attend the comic convention, but that’s just me.

TOP LEFT The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics (1977), edited by Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams
This book is excellent. It contains a broad overview of every significant comic strip from the 20th century. There are more comprehensive collections that exist of the individual titles contained therein (I’d recommend the beautifully-reproduced collections from Sunday Press Books), but the history written about each strip and the spectrum of genres makes this an essential collection. If you’re at all interested in nerdery like this, you should add this to your bookshelf today.

TOP RIGHT Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 1 (2007), collecting Amazing Fantasy #15, The Amazing Spider-Man #1-38, The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1-2, Strange Tales Annual #2 and The Fantastic Four Annual #1
Sure, you can buy countless comic collections containing the work of Stan Lee, the writer of this collection. The main selling point of this collection, though, is that it contains Steve Ditko‘s complete Spider-Man run. Ditko, the reclusive artist of these issues, is an absolutely fascinating character:

  • Stan Lee was fervently left wing, while Steve Ditko was a hardcore right winger. This is especially hilarious as another character Ditko created around the same time, Dr. Strange, was embraced by the psychedelic generation (Ditko hated this).
  • Without warning, Ditko left Marvel Comics and the character (Spider-Man) he helped create.
  • I mentioned Ditko was reclusive, and boy is he ever. There are only a few known photographs (and a self portrait) of the man and he doesn’t do interviews. For someone who created the look of one of the world’s most iconic superheroes, that’s very odd.
  • He is a strong believer in Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy.

There is an engrossing BBC documentary by Jonathan Ross, In Search of Steve Ditko, that covers most of this. If you watch the documentary, you’ll be treated to legendary comic creator Alan Moore reciting a poem he wrote about Ditko’s really bizarre creator-owned superhero Mr. A. Documentarian Ross also has a piece for The Guardian here.

Aside from Ditko’s crazy backstory, his Spider-Man comics are superb; Ditko is a master visual storyteller, and there’s something appealing and just a little bit off-kilter about his work. In terms of classic superhero comics, this is one of the best collections available.

BOTTOM LEFT The MAD Archives Vols. 1 and 2 (2002 & 2007), collecting MAD Magazine #1-12
I’m not sure what needs to be said about MAD Magazine. Most people are familiar with the satirical magazine, but these volumes are vital because they show where the magazine started: as a comic magazine. Do yourself a favour: go read some classic MAD issues and laugh along with the Usual Gang of Idiots.

BOTTOM RIGHT It’s a Good Life, if You Don’t Weaken by Seth (1996), originally published in Palookaville #4-9
Seth’s drawing in this volume is his best, in my opinion. It’s fluid, lively and nostalgic, and displays great emotion. His more recent work, while still impressive, has veered into more simplistic and stylized territory. I select this volume to represent modern cartooning. It’s difficult to do this, what with so many other incredible artists and storytellers producing stellar work, but I suppose I discovered It’s a Good Life, if You Don’t Weaken at an impressionable age (16) and it’s stuck with me ever since. All of my subsequent comic purchases have been informed by this one comic.

Go read some comics.

day 337 – four favourite coffee mugs


day 336 – four portraits of the artist as a young man … by artists … who were also young men

Four drawings of me by Winnipeg artists. I’ll bet these artists have forgotten all about these portraits. If they haven’t, I doubt they would even believe these drawings still exist! One was drawn at a book launch, two were done in now-defunct Winnipeg bars, and one was a surprise gift.

Marcel Dzama is probably Winnipeg’s most famous artistic export. In 1999 he launched a collection of his work, the facetiously-titled More Famous Drawings, at Winnipeg’s homegrown bookshop McNally Robinson Booksellers. I was on hand, and had my book signed (and drawn in) by Dzama. He drew me on one of the endpapers! I’ve always thought this was pretty cool.

Greg is one of the nicest and most talented artists in Winnipeg – or any city. In fact, there are a number of extremely talented artists in Winnipeg who I’d also say are some of the city’s kindest and most friendly. This portrait was drawn in the basement of the Toad in the Hole Pub – a favourite haunt of Winnipeg’s creative subculture – until the bar was flooded, remodeled and renamed approximately 10 years ago. Now, possibly because I’m older or no longer cool (if I ever was), I don’t know where the 2011 societal equivalent hangs out.

Another talented and friendly fellow, Shaun Morin was enrolled in the University of Manitoba School of Art at the same time as me; our time as students overlapped. This portrait was drawn in Wiseguys on Campus, the University of Manitoba’s then-campus pub. There are two other portraits I could add to this series (by Cyrus Smith and Ian August) which were done at the same time, but for the sake of this blog I’ll allow Shaun to represent them. I remember collaborating with Shaun on a group project in a special topics class about humourous art. Shaun and I (and fellow student Ben Bonner) created an off-the-charts horrific video that tested the limits of our classmates’ tolerance of sex and violence. Many left the room. Our project earned us each an A+. (If any of us decide to run for political office, this video is blackmail fodder if ever I’ve seen it.)

Kevin Matthews left this impromptu sketch on my desk sometime in 2001 or 2002 as a surprise. Lucky me! Kevin’s talents as an illustrator, writer, designer and spoken word artist boggle the mind; how is he so good at so many things? Many who know him will agree – he’s one of the sweetest and wisest gents anyone could ever know.

There are many other artists whose work I’d be proud to spotlight in this post. Unlike the above mentioned artists, however, they had the sense to not provide me with a portrait of myself.

See you tomorrow!

day 335 – four caped crusaders

LEFT TO RIGHT Batman: The Animated Series maquette, released in 2004 and based on the 1992 cartoon; Secret Files Batman Rogues Gallery action figure, based on Brian Bolland‘s interpretation of the character, released in 2008; Classic Batman CosBaby mini figure, released in 2009 (Has there ever been a cuter Batman?); figure from DC Direct’s Justice line, based on the art of Alex Ross and released in 2007

Batman, created by Bob Kane in 1939, is the gateway superhero. Many may disagree, and cite Superman, Wolverine or Spider-Man as their introduction to the world of superheroes, but for my money, it’s always been Batman. In the mid-to-late ’60s, the Batman television show with Adam West and Burt Ward entertained with camp and turned on a generation. Twenty-some years later, Tim Burton’s Batman films reinvigorated the character, and, a generation later, Christopher Nolan is doing the same again with Christian Bale, Heath Ledger et al. Perhaps youngsters find the mystery and darkness of the character alluring, or maybe it’s that his origin and impetus for being are so archetypal that, 72 years on, the character thrives. Whatever the reason, Batman is never going away, despite what some story lines would have you believe.

Only somewhat related: Did you know that the term “superhero” is trademarked and co-owned by DC Comics and Marvel Comics? Maybe I’ll copyright the word the or the letter A. I think I’m deserving of the royalties that would generate.

day 334 – four mixtapes

Mixtapes are so much fun to make. I haven’t created one in years. Sure, everyone makes “playlists,” but, well, those just ain’t the same.

Please forgive the self indulgence of this post.

BACKGROUND LEFT | November 2005*
1. Minotaur Shock “Muesli” | 2. David Byrne “Glass, Concrete & Stone” | 3. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” | 4. Wolf Parade “Modern World” | 5. Andrew Bird “Fake Palindromes” | 6. Art Brut “Good Weekend” | 7. Annie “Heartbeat | 8. Erlend Øye “The Black Keys Work” | 9. Elvis Costello & The Attractions “Watch Your Step” | 10. Roxy Music “Take a Chance with Me” | 11. Iggy Pop “The Passenger” | 12. Lo-Fi-Fnk “Unighted” | 13. Belle & Sebastian “Your Cover’s Blown” | 14. Rodriquez “Sugar Man” | 15. Vitaminsforyou “Churchill” | 16. Nas “One Mic (Fog Remix)” | 17. Boom Bip feat. Nina Nastasia “The Matter (Of Our Discussion)”

BACKGROUND RIGHT | December 2001
1. James Kochalka Superstar “Soundcheck of Love” | 2. Lee Dorsey “A Lover Was Born” | 3. Day One “Waiting for a Break” | 4. The Turtles “I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (We’re the Royal Macadamia Nuts)” | 5. Pip Skid “I Rap, You Listen” | 6. N.W.A. “Fuck tha Police” | 7. Del the Funky Homosapien “Mistadobolina” | 8. DJ Shadow “Organ Donor” | 9. Brassy “I Can’t Wait” | 10. G. Love and Special Sauce “Everybody” | 11. Beck “Lonesome Whistle” | 12. The Evaporators “I Gotta Rash” | 13. Nice and Smooth “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow” | 14. Ron Hawkins and the Rusty Nails “Small Victories” | 15. The Crabs “Mission Impossible” | 16. Main Source “Snake Eyes” | 17. Biz Markie “Turn tha Party Out” | 18. The Sadies “Loved on Look” | 19. Ryan Adams “Gonna Make You Love Me” | 20. Pizzicato Five “One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten Barbie Dolls” | 21. Trick Daddy “I’m a Thug” | 22. Nina Simone “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” | 23. Oasis “Married with Children”

FOREGROUND TOP | September 2006*
SIDE ONE > 1. The Blow “True Affection” | 2. The Ramones “Howling at the Moon (Sha-La-La)” | 3. XTC “This is Pop” | 4. Cassius “Toop Toop” | 5. Lo-Fi-Fnk “Wake Up” | 6. Justin Timberlake feat. T.I. “My Love” | 7. Dizzee Rascal vs. Zongamin “Stand Up Tall vs. Bongo Song (Hold Music Consultant Remix)” | 8. Love is All “Turn the Radio Off” | 9. The Exploding Hearts “You’re Black and Blue” | SIDE TWO > 1. Devo “Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy)” | 2. Islands “Rough Gem” | 3. Le Sport “Tell No One About Tonight” | 4. Lily Allen “Smile” | 5. The Jam “Town Called Malice” | 6. Hot Chip “Colours” | 7. Junior Boys “FM”

FOREGROUND BOTTOM | February 2006*
SIDE ONE > 1. Petra Haden “God Only Knows” | 2. Jens Lekman “Maple Leaves” | 3. Brooks “Roxxy (Hot Chip’s Women of the World Mix)” | 4. Pet Shop Boys “Flamboyant” | 5. Mariah Carey “Emotions (DJ Copy Remix)” | 6. Cydi Lauper “When You Were Mine” | 7. Roll Deep “The Avenue” | 8. Dopplebanger “Got It Twisted Sister (The Rapture vs. Mobb Deep)” | 9. New Order “Krafty” | 10. Ms. John Soda “Nº One” | 11. Styrofoam & Sarah Shannon “I Found Love” | 12. Death from Above 1979 “Black History Month (Alan Braxe & Fred Falke Remix)” | 13. Sons and Daughters “Dance Me In (JD Twitch and The Truffle Club’s Optimo Mix)” | 14. Dogs Die in Hot Cars “Man Bites Man” | 15. Mouse On Mars “Mine is in Yours” | SIDE TWO > 1. Elvis Costello “Love for Tender (Demo)” | 2. Erlend Øye “Every Party Has a Winner and a Loser | 3. Bertrand Betsch “Pas de bras, pas de chocolat” | 4. The Human League “Don’t You Want Me” | 5. Hey Willpower feat. Annie “Chewing Gum” | 6. Junior Senior “Take My Time” | 7. The Boy Least Likely To “Be Gentle with Me” | 8. Belle & Sebastian “Funny Little Frog” | 9. Missy Elliot “Hot (Ratatat Remix)” | 10. Debbie Deb “When I Hear Music” | 11. Four Tet “Smile Around the Face” | 12. Blue T-Shirt “You Still Believe in Me” | 13. Of Montreal “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games” | 14. Spoon “I Summon You” | 15. The Go! Team “Friendship Update” | 16. Kate Bush “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)”

*Made for my then girlfriend, now wife, Lisa.

Incidentally, while typing these dozens of artists and song titles, I listened to portions of these mixes. I suggest revisiting your own artifacts like these if you can. Nostalgia like this is good for your soul.

day 333 – four famous signatures

These are four autographed items I own.

TOP LEFT A Spirit newspaper insert by Will Eisner, date unknown. The provenance of this is also unknown, so it could be a fake. I have another autographed Eisner item, though, whose signature matches. Even if the autograph is forged, the newspaper strip is authentic, which is good enough for me.

TOP RIGHT An autographed copy of Harvey Kurtzman‘s 1991 comics history book From Aargh! to Zap! – Harvey Kurtzman’s Visual History of the Comics. I have warm memories of this book: it was research material for a comics history project I wrote in junior high school, which saw me research everything from Rodolphe Töpffer to the X-Men. Harvey Kurtzman, in case you didn’t know (and didn’t click on the above link), is the founder of MAD Magazine, so it’s always neat to see his take on the world. Plus, his signature is pretty cute.

BOTTOM LEFT The 1996 book Mystery! – A Celebration, signed by artist Edward Gorey. At the time, I was obsessed with all things Gorey and was really excited when a catalog offering this signed book was dropped off at my family home. I’m certain you know the type of catalog I mean. It appears in the mail before the holidays and features unique gifts like miniature telephone booths and VHS tape rewinders that look like cars. Neither of these last two were received as Christmas gifts at the Saunders household in 1996.

BOTTOM RIGHT An autographed copy of Chester Brown‘s 2003 hardcover collection of his Louis Riel comic book mini-series (originally serialized starting in 1999). I bought the individual issues of the series as they were published, and, like any true comic snob, swore up and down I wouldn’t buy the collected edition when it was released. I received this copy as a gift and later had it signed by Brown at a bookshop reading.

Of these four signatories, only Brown is still alive.