Monday, January 31, 2011

Lilli Carré Challenges Comics

Don't Drink From the Sea (2010)

Comics comprise a small part of Lilli Carré’s section in New Chicago Comics. Video stills, hand-bound silkscreened books and an assortment of videos surrounded excerpts from the graphic novel The Lagoon (2008). Carré shows the viewer that comic art can be realized in many forms. Don’t Drink From the Sea (2010) and My Dreams Have Been Quite Strange Lately (2010) are short narratives that look like children’s picture books. The short videos were beautifully done, using movement and growth to connect time and space. Head Garden (2009) illustrates the travels of a head that leaves its body. I love the idea of the head as a seed, separating from its body to go on an adventure, and then eventually sprouting and returning to its owner.

Head Garden from Lilli Carré on Vimeo.

The featured portion of The Lagoon shows a clandestine encounter between a woman and a swamp creature in the dead of night, their connection arising from a haunting melody sung by the creature. The scene ends when the woman’s husband wakes up from a deep sleep and attempts to find her. The cliffhanger ending serves a purpose for both the writer and the curator. By entrapping the reader with an intense and mysterious scene, the curator shows that comics can be powerful narratives as well as art. The questions left unanswered by the excerpt encourage the readers to read the book.

Excerpts from The Lagoon

Although I enjoy Carré's work, I did not enjoy the curation. There were too many art forms represented and it seemed almost eclectic. Comics may only be a small part of her repertoire, but it was inappropriate to display everything she’s ever created when the theme clearly was comic art. Perhaps the setup was meant to challenge our definition of comics. What is the difference between a graphic novel and a picture book? Isn't a video simply an animated version of a comic? If this were the case, the curator might be a genius...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New Chicago Comics at the Museum of Contemporary Art

I am extremely lucky to live in a city that has such a vibrant comics community. I can find a wide range of comics in bookstores and libraries and many of my favorite artists, like Chris Ware, Lucy Knisley, and Ivan Brunetti, live in this very city. So it comes as no surprise that The Museum of Contemporary Art is hosting “New Chicago Comics” an exhibit dedicated to the work of four comics creators from Chicago—Jeffrey Brown, Lilli Carré, Paul Hornschemeier, and Anders Nilsen.

As a former tour guide at the Smith College Museum of Art, I am acutely aware of how exhibits are curated. The media poses a potentially difficult problem for a curator. How do you showcase the work to exhibit the artistic merits of comics without compromising the unique sequential narrative? Michael Green, the show’s curator, recognized this dilemma and created an exhibit that explored the sequential narratives while exhibiting the pages as works of art.

The cover for The Three Paradoxes in German
(There was a sketch of this at the exhibit)

A panel from The Three Paradoxes

Pages from Hornschemeier’s The Three Paradoxes were pasted on a part of the wall, allowing the viewer to read quite a large chunk of the narrative. The original panels were presented to the side of this printed copy, not yet colored, with visible blue pencil drawings. Green presented the comic’s narrative while showcasing the original work. Very little happens in The Three Paradoxes, and exhibiting only a few panels might not capture the attention of the viewer. By allowing the viewer to read part of the comic, he or she understands where the individual panels fit into the larger story.

An excerpt from Clumsy by Jeffrey Brown

Green similarly excelled in his presentation of Jeffrey Brown’s various sketchbooks, published works, and stories. Two tables in the middle of the room displayed each book open to a narrative, interesting sketch, or script for a comic. Usually, I have a problem with displaying books as art objects because I find it frustrating to only see one page out of an entire book. However, Brown’s short vignettes were so amusing and well paired that I was not bothered. The one-page stories moved from childhood to Brown’s pimpled teenage years to his sometimes-awkward adult life. Although only a random sampling of his work, these stories presented a seemingly complete narrative.

One of the most important aspects of Green’s presentation was that he revealed the process of making comics. He showed this by combining Hornschemeier’s original pages and finished comic. With Brown’s work, he paired a rough sketch and notes of a cartoon with the final version. Green created an exhibit that not only presented comics in a unique way, but provided an intimate look into the creator’s mind as well.

(I didn’t forget about Carré and Nilsen. They are, out of the four, the two artists that draw the most beautiful and detailled comics. I plan on discussing their mind-blowingly fascinating art in my next post.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Forbes Library

Avery reading in the comic section at the Forbes Library

I can probably credit Forbes Library, located in Northampton, Massachusetts, as one of my most important influences when it comes to my taste in comics. In the summer before my sophomore year of college, my cousin Liam gave me a list of indie comics that drastically changed my preference in graphic novels. The comics section of Forbes Library, comprised of an entire wall, began a similar transformation.

I began going to Forbes Library after Smith College cut me off. I went from having millions of books at my disposal to nothing. (Technically, I graduated and was no longer a student.) I was in Northampton for quite a bit of the summer and needed something to read, so I went to Forbes and got a library card. Their comics section was impressive. It contained a wide range of titles I had only heard and others I didn’t know existed. Owly, A Treasury of Victorian Murders, and Tamara Drewe are just a few titles I encountered during the summer.

Going to Forbes helped me form a distinct taste in comics. Usually, I check out around five comics each time I go to the library. My only criteria are that I haven’t read it before. Some graphic novels have a profound impact on me and I continue to think about them, while others make me uncomfortable and angry. When I was in high school, I read a selection of comics that my friend chose for me, ignoring all others. While I might not have liked them, I continued with these because I didn’t know what else was out there. Reading a wide assortment has allowed me to discover the elements I enjoy in comics: strong female characters, travel, mystery, and terror comics, complex relationships between characters, suburban dystopias, etc. Thanks to libraries, I now know that I do not like superhero comics and randomly disgusting, gory violence, or evil characters without back-stories. While reading Tamara Drewe, for example, I was enthralled by the complex relationships between the characters, and found myself thinking about them long after I finished the story. The Great Hoax, in contrast, was a noir comic that showed a woman constantly abused by an evil, sadistic lizard character. (What motivated this lizard, but a desire to be cruel? Why was the woman only able to fight back when prompted to by a man?) I felt so disgusting after finishing it, that I had to read another comic to just forget about it. The comics that I choose to read now are based off these experiences.

So, dear readers, even if you don’t have a collection as extensive as Forbes, you can still develop your own taste in comics by visiting your own library.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Vacationing in Western Mass

My trip to Argentina is approaching all to quickly. There are about a million things I need to worry about and resolve before I go. I should be working on lists, stocking up on products I can't find in Argentina (maple syrup, Tupperware, etc.), and reading everything I can possibly find about comics.

But...I'm on vacation in Western Massachusetts visiting friends and former professors.

The vacation will not be comics-less, however. I plan to visit the comic store Modern Myths, check out comics from Forbes Library, and look in my former college's archive. I want to research ghost stories for a comic I might possibly want to create in the future. While biking in the summer and fall, I would always create intricate stories for comics. My favorite plot involved a student encountering ghosts at my college. I had heard rumors of ghosts (a man burned to death in an attic) and had read about a few violent stories (in 1909, a man shot his fiancee and then himself in front of the Campus Center), but nothing concrete that I could turn into a comic. I'll let you know what I find and how my research progresses.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Escaping to The Great Escape

This was the only picture I could find of The Great Escape

The peace of the holiday season is usually broken by the requisite visit with family in Louisville, Kentucky. I visit my grandfather in the nursing home, help my aunt organize piles of paper in her office, and sleep on deflating air mattresses. Spending time with family can get stressful, but luckily I have an escape: The Great Escape.

The Great Escape sells comic books, videos, music and other trappings of nerdom. I mainly go for the large collection of used indie and mainstream comics. I check over every shelf and ratty box at least a few times before making a selection. Sometimes I find a comic I’ve been meaning to buy for a while. Other times, I choose something promising that I haven’t encountered before. I bought Maus I and II there, as well as Kim Deitch’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Alias the Cat, and my favorite book by Gilbert Hernandez, Fear of Comics.

I bought an extremely odd assortment of comics this trip. My least expensive comic was Peter Kuper’s Comics Trips, costing a mere 66 cents. This book tracks Kuper’s eight-month travel through parts of Africa and Asia. I was fascinated by the combination of sketches, comics, and photos. My biggest issue with the book was that Kuper’s comic narrative ended in Africa, with no description of Asia. It seems as though Kuper, exhausted by too many months of travel (and diarrhea), gave up on his journal. And it sort of makes me angry that he would publish a half-completed story. But what am I complaining about? I bought it for 66 cents.

Much to my amazement, I found two comics by Carlos Trillo, one of my favorite Argentine writers. These comics are presents for Avery, so I can’t go into too much detail, but they were perfect examples of Trillo’s writing: grim, terrifying, with lots of violence and unhappy endings.

On a completely different bent, I also bought Owly: Flying Lessons and Scott Pilgrim Volume 4. The store was having a 30% off sale on everything, so I was able to afford new comics. Because these comics were not filled with graphic violence, I was able to share them with family members. I made my 29-year-old cousin read Owly with me and we translated all the pictorial dialogue into words, arguing about meaning. My sister and I decided to start collecting Scott Pilgrim after my friend Mark bought me the first issue as a present. We quote Scott’s ridiculous lines to each other at least two times a day.

In sum, the Great Escape is awesome and prevents me from going insane over the holiday. If any of you should happen to visit Louisville, check it out!