Saturday, September 22, 2018

Down to the Nub: Trash Talking Art

You can really wear yourself down sometimes. Especially when everything around you seems to be worn out. Cars, clothes, music etc. Sometimes I catch myself eking out the very last possible amount of usage whether its leftovers in the fridge, or especially when it comes to art supplies. Toss-up as to whether it's attributable to frugality or simple laziness, but the backside of every single piece of scrap paper is valuable real-estate.

This instinct dovetails with a perennial problem in the classroom, that of witnessing countless pieces of student work left behind. I wind up trashing so much of it when it comes time to turn over the flat file storage drawers in the drawing studio and make room for each new incoming semester's crop of aspiring talent. Real estate being rather a precious commodity amongst shared workspaces on campus, it's rather an unfair predicament having to be the one to throw away piles of pieces - many of which came from your own classes. Guess that makes a definitive and final statement on the perceived self-worth of one's own work. All that time + effort though... perhaps it's more of a reflection on our throwaway, consumerist culture, in conjunction with being young (or on student loans) and not really knowing the true value of things, whether the financial cost of materials and/or art that serves as benchmarks on progress - a perspective that gains in richness over time.

Mind you I have no compunction when it comes to purging my own stuff, whether it be by fire or relegated to the dumpster. But after making an effort to remind them via email and/or phonecall, out it goes. Very rarely do I make an exception and move the portfolio to my office, but that's just a temporary reprieve as space is severely limited, and my position as an adjunct is tenuous. But I am always grateful for the second-hand art supplies, which get farmed out among folks in need - even the teacher.

Speaking of wearing away, one indicator of a good semester is when the ID sensor on my iPhone doesn’t recognize my thumbprint anymore when it gets worn away from constant pushing in/pulling out of push-pins. I estimate around several thousand push-pins get stuck into the walls over the course of a six week session, putting up, rearranging and taking down samples + student works. For example there’s about 500 holding up the works currently on display in the hallway showcases (and yes, just for the purposes of this post I actually remembered to stop and count them). Besides aching knees after standing on concrete floors around the clock, and maybe a hoarse throat from hours of lecturing, that's about the extent of any physical effects from the job. Otherwise the workout happens between the ears... it's all mental.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


Been over five years since my last Jewish joke... hopefully the underling phrase is familiar enough to the general populace to get the gag. At least I know most folks up in this neck of the woods are more than familiar with the absolutely staggering explosion of vetch that has blanketed the hillsides of the Interior. This highly invasive weed is proliferating at an incredible rate, and is slowly strangling out other species.

Somewhere buried in my studio is a pencil sketch or at least a doodle from a couplefew years back that I did of this same concept, but using birds (apropos given the name "bird vetch") instead of moose. But I couldn't find it when I needed to, and so now this variation will do. Astute readers will note the judicious editing of language even further than the usual symbolic shorthand for cartoon cursing.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

"King Crab"

Way back when I was a waiter, one of the restaurants I worked at had "All You Can Eat Dungeness Crab" on the menu. Which was more often not, was pretty much a recipe for disaster as far cleanup was concerned.

Ivory Jacks Alaska Surf + Turf

The radius of shell shrapnel and oil slick (many a time I wished not just for the requisite bib but also for deploying an accompanying containment boom to control the gobs of melted butter) would exponentially expand in direct proportion to the eater's enthusiasm. It's probably the most primal eating experience, with a real gonzo gustatory gusto, short of eating something raw.

Dungies might not be as huge as the photogenic King crab, but they tend to be a bit sweeter. Same goes for Alaska baby bay scallops, which are another culinary icon of seafood. It's all good, especially slathered with butter.

A couple pounds of the side-dish @ Alaska Salmon Bake

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Recap: Summer Sessions - Cartoon & Comic Art 2018

Confluence of Comics: Drawing a demo comic for the drawing class, who are all drawing their own comics, while in the background I'm playing a documentary about drawing comics, next to a huge table piled high with comics. Not to put to fine a point on it, this is one of the few days a year that I absolutely live for. When all the elements are aligned a sort of mystical + magical moment occurs that's truly on a Stonehegian scale of cosmic transcendence. And then it's back to reality for the other 261 days of the year.

Following closely on the heels of a return to the 2018 Visual Art Academy after last year's hiatus, I rebooted the Cartoon & Comic Arts course for UAF Summer Sessions for the twelfth year. Again and again, without fail, every single class is my absolute favorite one of the year, filled with my favorite students doing their best artwork ever. Of course there are always a couple who become quickly disabused of the naive notion that it's all fun & games, like a slacker student's dream opportunity to have fun and get some easy credits... this really is a boot-camp of creativity, an everybody puts out an impressive amount of energy and artwork.

Couldn't include the titles in the second photograph with the first because they were being used

Going off of the assumption that it's a good class if I myself learn something, I picked up on a few new things. One of the wonderful side-benefits in teaching this class is the picking up on new and different artists and techniques, particularly all the favorites from my students - so over the years they've turn me onto some amazing stuff that, left to my own devices holed up in the cabin alone or online communities I would otherwise have remained unaware about.

Caught up on some classic DC back titles (a lot of Batman... "Long Halloween," "Killing Joke," "Hush," … plus "Flashback" and "Kingdom Come." Also scored remastered Asterix Omnibus #1 & Bernie Wrightson’s collected Creepy & Eerie stories… plus recent work by Evie Wyld/Joe Sumner (“Everything Has Teeth”), Brian K. Vaughan/Cliff Chiang (“Paper Girls” vol. one) + new releases from Jim Broadbent/Dix (“Dull Margaret”) & Dave Gibbons (“How Comics Work”). Also "Killing and Dying," short stories by Adrian Tomine, “Why Comics? – From Underground to Everywhere” by Hillary Chute, “This One Summer” by the Tamaki cousins. Oh yeah, and working on my own stuff…

Another educational avenue I wound up turning down and researching was the historical genre of Kibyƍshi comics, arguably one of the earliest manifestations of the comic art form. This was in rebuttal to the of-repeated claim that comics are a uniquely American institution, such as baseball and jazz. It is more accurate to refine the terms to say superhero comic books per say.

In my history overview lecture, we see examples of early image + text with Egyptian papyrus scrolls ("Ward equates visual humor in Egyptian art to the “modern cartoon.” Sometimes the image demanded an explanatory hieroglyphic and sometimes the image was enough of a joke"), Mesopotamian cylinder seals, church doors and chapel frescoes. These Japanese influences make for a splendid cultural addition to the mix that evolved into contemporary comics. 

Speaking of such, another thing that got me all excited was to stumble across a concerted effort by a dedicated community to showcase a hybrid genre in the field of comics: comics poetry I was personally so delighted to read across so many different approaches to this juxtaposition of image + text, though by no means limited to using panels, gutters and other conventional hallmarks (in many instances, restrictions) of the medium.
"Comics poetry is a hybrid creative form that combines aspects of comics and poetry. It draws from the syntax of comics, images, panels, speech balloons, and so on, in order to produce a literary or artistic experience akin to that of traditional poetry. Comics poetry" can be used to differentiate the genre from written poems later interpreted in comics form, which is also called "poetry comics." (Wikipedia)
" the end of the day, more than any other practitioner, a poet is just dealing with words.... Words aren’t necessary for comics, but of course they’re there to use. Panels aren’t necessary, but they’re also there to use. Where the poet’s toolbox contains every imaginable arrangement or manipulation of words, the cartoonist’s holds analogs for the visual elements of the page." - Alexander Rothman, editor-in-chief of Ink Brick

“Comics poetry isn’t poetry as text with comics images; it’s the whole comic as poetry. The images, the words, the structure, the rhythm, the page, all of it is used together to create the poetry, to create comics in a poetic register." - Derik Badman

It's been immensely gratifying to see a long-running exercise that I have done with my drawing classes for all these many years get recast within an academic framework from a scholarly perspective. It's akin to that feeling of validation that I've been giving to my own students in turn: the place, the space and the time to make comics because it counts.
Here's some backlinks to previous posts on my own classroom project variation on "Vignettes," and sample demo pages: here, here, and here. And a few additional online resources about comic poetry here, here, here, and most importantly, here.

This year I had a few solo (ie independent) advanced students who spiraled out and orbited the class while getting right into the rhythm of their own individual publication. Their six weekly deadlines as outlined on the board above provided the rest of us with an opportunity to not only offer some additional insights and suggestions, but also afforded everybody (especially the advanced folks) the chance to see how well - or not - they can task themselves with producing such a focused output resulting in a finished product. It's an extension of the old 24 Hour comic - but extended with much higher stakes. Maintaining a disciplined and inexorable progress amidst all the other pressing duties is a skillset unto itself - life gets in the way.

A couple of other first-time advanced students had to also instead make their own individual comic books  but they had the option to just "simply" publish a 'zine that largely consisted of the required daily and weekly assignments ie basically follow along with everyone else. Check 'em all out:

Chaweinta Hale, Jacob Odom, Cydney Lybrand, Shayla Sackinger and Sydney Priest.

The incessant barrage of timed exercises begins to ratchet up right off the bat on day one, culminating with a five-second sketch. Somewhere along this continuum is a character and an emergent style. Style is what happens naturally when you're not paying attention - say like a signature for example.

Another interesting item of note that distinguished this session's group was the successful execution of an occasional add-on to the set of character sheets is the recasting of their characters into an opposite extreme of style. In other words they take their character, and if the drawing is complex with a lot of textural details, try instead redoing them as simplified, or the reverse. Experimenting with with a variety of rendering styles can often provide a valuable insight into an aspect that informs their personality.

A small sampling of excerpted panels from the strips critique... seeing the evolution of characters as they progress into longer narratives is such a cool aspect of this comics course. Almost as much fun as surreptitiously observing folks make funny face as in reflective mirroring as they channel the energy of the assignment on paper and in person.

By this time, the characters in context (in an environment with props) will show both personality traits of themselves and their respective creators - individual styles can be easily ascertained. This is one of the hallmarks of comics, and inherent in the descriptive power of the line itself.

As a counterpoint to the caricature exercise I make the drawing class do when introducing figure drawing and portraiture as well as their final critique assignment, I put the cartoonists through a similar process, but instead of charcoal on easels, we just simplify use copier paper, pencils + our omnipresent Sharpies.This exercise is purposefully nestled amidst the character development phase so as to hopefully provide more grist for the mill. Besides, we are our own single best source of inspiration and endless material to, eh, draw from.

 I always try and put out there an example for all to see of the endless parade of non-sequiturs, bisociations and random juxtapositions that fuel the mental Jacob's Ladder.

As of late there have been several friends and recent survivors to suicide who have been in my mind, which made me particularly keen to the tremendous loss currently rippling throughout the Fairbanks community. Half-way into these 2018 summer sessions classes, I had one particular friend in my thoughts, as I always do during the several times a semester that I take classes up to the top floor of the library. That’s where he shot himself six years ago. The next day a student jumped from the Gruening building, and it cast a heavy shadow over the next week.

On that somber note our editorial cartoon critique took place, and I had one exceptionally informed and aware student adapt the e e cumings poem "L(a." While I've had several students have meltdowns and start crying over the years, this is the first time I was hit hard enough to sit for a few minutes in my office.

Gradually over the years of teaching this course, I've collected and kept thousands of index cards with random doodles on them that students have whipped out in 60-seconds with their trusty Sharpies. Eventually, like a glacier accumulating enough critical mass to begin it's inexorable journey, all these individual flakes of funnies amass into my portable morgue of material. I like to keep this box of ready-made inspiration (think prompts) as a resource for struggling students.

The same goes for a massive stockpile of accompanying captions, ready for randomizing.

Jams are an excuse to introduce the secondary feature of funnies: that of learning how to generate vast amounts of material in a relatively short period of time so as to facilitate fast and faster gag reflexes. Sometimes all you really need is a few seconds to spit something out.

Here's a hilarious outtake from the end result, after all of our invested energy into exploring the potentials and possibilities by using the element of humor. Still, at it's core is the foundation of a good drawing, and all of the associated elements that constitute a successful cartoon.

Strips are where we begin to manipulate the very rules of time + space... through the conventional usage of closure, ie by means of employing panels + gutters. One subtle sign of sure success in surviving the ever-ascending succession of assignments is how well students remember to incorporate each little lesson in all the previous pieces. Applying what worked so well for a single panel translates in paying time + attention to detail to each individual panel within the context of a formal strip.

I'm never really sure as to whether or not take it entirely as a compliment to see myself manifested in the work of students. On the other hand, what the hell was this guy even doing sleeping? Got no time for that! That said, flattery will get you anything, or at least a gold star for effort.

The panels above are just selected excerpts of student works, which they each had to complete several 3-5 panel strips, inked on Bristol, for the third critique in our class. This also when we really get to see the characters stretch their legs, not necessarily always for comedic effect.

An exercise from one of my instructors back in the MFA days... this one dovetails with discussing the lessons from Eisner's instructional comics for the Army.

The challenge is to effectively render a concept clear enough to be understood through visuals alone. Studying the greats in pantomime comedy is a useful way to examine the range of expression possible in pure physical comedy, and serves an important lesson in how much meaning can be imparted with non-verbal means. Another example I like to bring up is how my father, who taught English, Latin and French, would use foreign language editions of Asterix as an educational tool. These were the very first comic I was ever exposed to as a youngster, and would learn to piece together the narrative through the pictures alone.

Resurrected the classic "Think Before You Ink" exercise as way to prime the proverbial pumps and begin pushing the boundaries of the form past our last threshold. What a world of possibilities in only five panels on one single page.

Selected excerpts from the collaborative page exercise. I frequently mull this unique aspect of the comic arts medium, especially while riding out an indulgent obsession (again) with a wave of mainstream comics (ie DC + Marvel). There were some inevitable disappointments along with the usual winning combinations, but just like creating in the kitchen, you don't stop eating on account of one bad dish do you?

We utilize hundreds and hundreds of index cards in many transitional exercises meant to drive home the singular importance of editing - so often overlooked and an absolutely critical aspect when playing the accordion of comics. As the narrative expands + contracts it retains it's essential form yet can produce an amazingly wide and different variety of notes, coalescing into altogether new stories.

After all the different variations on the minicomic theme that I've done both on the side and in the classroom, this is the latest to get incorporated as a stopgap between shifting from strip format to single-pagers.

While waiting for everything to get printed off in time for the final day release party, we collectively cranked out a spontaneous, collaborative 10-page comic
... starring Lucy Goosie, Reginald Featherbottom and Dr. Goat “Take a gander at what happens when the pharmacy across the road from the farm runs out of meds, and Lucy has an episode before migrating with her flock of personalities on the drunken doctor’s orders.”
Oh yeah, editor-in-chief fail with the typo on the freakin' title, which hilariously escaped the notice of everyone including me right up until scanning the pages for reformatting, converting to PDFs and sending off to the printers. Everyone is so damn fried by this point at the very end of the session I'm just ecstatic for the simple fact they still show up and can summon one last page.

There ultimately wound up being over ONE HUNDRED PAGES of comics up throughout the art department hallway showcases + hundreds of other sketches, drawings & doodles on display... representing only a fraction of the total output this class generated over this 6-week session. I was also a total meanie this year by holding everybody's work hostage at least until after the first couple of weeks had happened in the new Fall semester, so as to at least have examples of student work actually up on the walls when everybody shows up. 'Cause there's nothing sadder than an empty wall, much less in an art department of all places. And it indisputably drives home my meta-point on the holiest of trinities for any aspiring art talent: have your work on the web (establishing an on-line presence), on the wall (say for example originals in a gallery) and reproduced (ie in print like an illustration).

Sunday, September 2, 2018

"NOW What?" (Genuis Edition)

How many times have I bitten off way too much... and afterwards had to sit and stare at the flotsam floating about my mental boat as it bobs along in the wreckage.

I suppose the flip side of this situation would be at least getting vast amounts of shit out of the way in one fell swoop. It's what to do when the fell is fallen that's funny.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Musings: Mumble + Drool

Dip-pen + doppio = creative juices

Over the many years I've have to tacitly admit to not really feeling all that joyful over making art - more and more it becomes a job to do, whether I feel inspired or not. That may come as a horrible news to some, even be anathema to the many freespirited artsy-fartsy folks whose purity means never getting down & dirty with the reality. But that's it, that's the distinction between every single person whose work I personally admire - there's almost always an accompanying work ethic involved. Scroll down to the "Top Posts" index on the right-hand side of the blog and peruse any of those posts to get a good idea of my perspective + opinion on the issue (also try searching the website in the "Topic" list under the "Art/Work" category.).

I recently came across the work of cartoonist Mark Stivers, researching the above piece after seeing it reposted - sans credit or even a signature - and ever since then have been enjoying his blog. I'm now including it in my show & tells to my art students, as it perfectly encapsulates the distinction I stress about discipline in drawing. It also serves as a great flashpoint in debate about the extent to which artwork becomes work - as in, when the hobby becomes a real job. I've found it incredibly controversial if not downright divisive at times amongst my peers as well, almost as much as Bob Ross.

Even though I have an official quoteworthy mantra regarding compost heaps and mental mulch-piles,  now can be added the bonus metaphorical mulling: Note tabletop littered with discarded pupa skins after the metamorphosis of ideas is complete.
“There is nothing more tiring than to sit by yourself trying to be funny.”B. Kliban

There's no waiting All I have to really say is that you better be damn ready when & if inspiration does reach right on out and grab you. Better still to already be working anyways, so that you will already have a pen in hand, ready to get it out on the piece of paper.

Another train of thought that I routinely engage students with during lectures in the art class is drawing analogies between my role models or inspirational folks like Julia Child, at work in the kitchen surround by the tools of trade, with decades of experience in knowing the right tool for the right job. I equate the making of artwork like a car mechanic or musician or athlete: it's training. I'll now add to this list the profession of the dentist, especially after eyeballing the buffet of impliments at my elbow during a recent visit. Whenever I'm stressed out or scared I tend to joke nonstop as a way to deal with the situation. Like for example, dental surgery. Also, to be fair, one probably shouldn’t prescribe any drugs like, say, Valium, to cartoonists, unless you’re a dentist and can load their mouth up with hardware so as to shut them up. Still, as in all other areas of life, the best we can hope for is to try and find a way to mumble and drool our way through it all.

Sunday, August 26, 2018


This one dropped a couple weeks ago, and also merited an upload onto Facebook, as I wanted to catch the month (same with this post) before it got away - much like pretty much the entire season. Such is the occupational hazard of keeping one's head down and working like mad through the best months of the year. You look up and the leaves have changed, and there's frost on the window. Ha ha, really funny there Jamie. But seriously, geese are assholes.

Sunday, August 19, 2018


Based on actual observation of a species seen milling aimlessly about downtown. Original caption was a tad bit more condescending, calling them "stupid herd animals," which in all honesty includes your truly as far as walking dead while surfing.