Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pen & Ink & Health Care

“ 'Tis healthy to be sick sometimes.” - Henry David Thoreau
Yeah, so maybe a bit trite & clich├ęd with this one, but I haven't done any health care related issue panels as of yet. Most artists aren't (though here's a notable exception), and it points up probably one of the reasons I'm so damn glad I cartoon, so I can say something, and this had to be said.

Not only is Alaska the land of opportunity for folks to charge four-eight hundred dollars a month rent to live in an Appalachian-style one-room crackhouse cabin without running water, this is also the Last Frontier as far as fucking over people with outrageous medical costs. Earlier this year I had to get a tooth yanked; since I'm uninsured it ran me $1,200 out of pocket and many monthly payments, and that was after doing some emergency bartering using artwork with another dentist to find out exactly what was wrong. It's fairly common practice for people to fly out of state to get their dental work done - you still come out ahead financially.

Meanwhile, during yesterday's intro to pen & ink class, I showed quite a wide range of examples to students from a diverse field of artists. This encompassed not only incredibly ornate, detailed works by contemporary professionals and historical giants, but also much less intimidating pieces by unassuming and overlooked talents. The possibilities are what I push: it's relatively easy to hold up an example that literally illustrates the absolute best, but as this is a beginning drawing class, it's important to keep it real and not bludgeon aspiring efforts with near-impossible standards. To these ends I'll show the works of Winsor McCay next to Shel Silverstein; Frank Miller next to Garth Williams; Robert Crumb next to Edward Koren; and Maurice Sendak next to Jules Feiffer.

One of the top inspirations for me way back in highschool, and what really turned me on to art to begin with (along with Frazetta, Vallejo, Roger Dean, the Brothers Hildebrandt & Richard Corben) was a book published by Dragon's Dream (1979) called "The Studio." It featured profiles and portfolios from four rising rock-star caliber illustrators who were at the time cohabitating the same studio space in lower Manhattan in 1975. The artists, Jeffrey Jones, Michael Kaluta, Berni Wrightson and Barry Windsor-Smith, each had distinctive styles, totally different techniques and work habits, yet the synergistic effect of sharing this loft was a creative experiment that yielded some outstanding results.

So what the hell does any of that have to do with health care?

Well, besides the new editorial panel shown above, while brushing up on pen & ink for this semester's presentation I got lost all over again in the work of Barry Windsor-Smith (including some sample pages I include in the class handout packet). This in turn led me to a link on the Comics Reporter regarding a recent posting on the artist's own blog about his very personal experience with the contrast between the maligned British system and the fate of the uninsured right here in America. Enough to make you sick: something like that ever happens to me you can probably cross off another artist ... sometimes it takes a testimony like that to bring it all back home.
"Ordinary people think that talent must be always on its own level and that it arises every morning like the sun, rested and refreshed, ready to draw from the same storehouse, always open, always full, always abundant, new treasures that it will heap up on those of the day before; such people are unaware that, as in the case of all mortal things, talent has its increase and decrease, and that independently of the career it takes, like everything that breathes... it undergoes all the accidents of health, of sickness, and of the dispositions of the soul, its gaiety or its sadness. As with our perishable flesh. talent is obliged constantly to keep guard over itself, to combat, and to keep perpetually on the alert amid the obstacles that witness the exercise of its singular power.” - Eugene Delacroix

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