Here are (almost all of) the final prints that people made for the class I taught at AS220 back in February & March! Some folks sent me pictures of themselves with their prints, so I’ve thrown those in too. Check out the awesome work… & there are still spots open in the upcoming session of the class that starts this Monday!
(hmm… something is weird with the color display via wordpress, if you click on the images you’ll see a much more vibrant look at the actual prints. it doesn’t look *too* terrible here, so I’ll troubleshoot it some time that is not tonight!)
[print by Soledad Soons]
It’s been a while! It feels like I fell off the planet or something, but I’ve actually been up to a bunch of stuff, just in all different directions (at the bottom of this update I noted it all down). Time has sped by, terrifyingly…
[print by Ryan Dean]
[print by Jeremy Ferris]
If you want to explore advanced silkscreen techniques, refine the knowledge you already have, and improve your precision hand-printing skills, while learning how to use rubylith film and transparent, overlapping colors to create a sharp-looking graphic print (like the ones you see here)… this is the class for you. It’s four Monday nights, 6-10pm, over the course of four weeks (starting this coming Monday, April 29th) plus one extra printing/studio day (day/time t.b.d.), and it costs $150.
[this is only the first test version of this print... by Loren Howard]
I wrote more about the class here & here (the date & time info in those blog posts is no longer accurate, but the other details remain pertinent!). In the first session, people found the advanced-printing-techniques aspects of the class really rewarding, so we’ll probably be prioritizing some of that stuff this session. (I will probably also hassle everyone about screen care, cleanup, and general good studio practices!) If you have questions you can get in touch with me, and if you’d like to know more about the AS220 Printshop you can contact Lara Henderson, the Printshop director.
[print by Jen Booth]
[print by Al - whose last name I never learned!]
There are spots open cause two people cancelled (today — urgh)! Do it! Here’s the signup link. Let’s hang out Monday nights & get super nerdy about screenprinting.
[Jen Hall finished her print after the class was done — so I don't have a copy of it for a close-up... yet!]
Activities between March 7th and April 27th: I finished out the last couple weeks of class, then did a bunch of catching up with friends (after the work-focused months of January & February), and got to finally really hang out with some new friends to whom I had been saying “we should hang out!” for way too long — yes!!
I worked on documenting some of my work from the February show, designed & printed a not-too-sappy wedding invitation for my little brother & his partner, traveled to IDA in Tennessee and walked around the early-springtime ridges & creeks there, stopped in Phila on my way back and walked around liminal zones near my parents’ house, then came home to Providence & did taxes, and wrote something and performed it (in “slide lecture” form, aka “multi-media performance”!) as part of the series of “Queer Salons” that Casey Llewellyn, Ren Evans, and Chana Morgenstern have been putting on here in town.
Also I worked with Beth Brandon on planning the construction of a 15-foot-long fabric printing table, helped Andrew Oesch with the late-nite final stretch of getting ready for his “Characters in the Collection” show at the MFA, and helped Sam Merritt install wordpress for her custom-embroidery website (not yet ready to be looked at, check out SamsWorld360 in the meantime), AND I started getting ready for the Spring RISD Alumni Art Sale (coming May 4th). So there! I didn’t fall off the planet after all. HA.
… and I am slowly getting back to work. I’ve been helping friends with projects, enjoying summer, and swimming a lot. also bike riding. I’ve also been working on a bunch of self-figuring-out, which is ongoing and in progress! Some crazy romantic stuff has gone down. Two of my best friends and project collaborators, Andrew Oesch and Meg Turner, are about to leave town: AO for some epic travels on a balky diesel schoolbus, Meg for an exciting & challenging job in a far-away city where she has always wanted to live. Summer has been awesome, lovely, and really intense — but I haven’t gotten much work done. Now, by necessity (both financial, deadline-wise, and psychologically) it’s time for some work to happen… hopefully I’ll be able to write more here soon about projects in progress.
I’ve seen this building since forever on one of my often-traveled bike routes through Providence. For as long as I have known it, it has been covered in vertical painted metal sheathing (as seen above, under the cornice), with a smattering of small windows along its length. I had always assumed that it had a metal structure as well. Earlier this month, they started pulling the metal off, revealing insulation, many windows, earlier brick-pattern asphalt shingles, earlier wooden siding, and its original wooden structure. Man, just look at all those windows!!!! (It seems like it’s being renovated, which is a relief — I’m tired of watching buildings disappear.)
A couple of weeks ago I caught it in this great state of semi-dismantlement, as the workers were stripping it down to the original wooden board sheathing. Meg & I returned the next day & peeked inside as well as we could. I was delighted by all the overlapping layers, the history made visible. (Also one of my favorite things is fake brick patterning on anything!) Meg loves the point at which the forces of human action and natural disintegration are in balance upon a building: the time frame between when the building has been neglected to weather and age, but before it collapses — a realm of possibility…
Looking at these photos now, I feel a strong kinship to this building. Its outer layer is pulled off, and what’s revealed is kind of patchy, not very well fitted together, and possibly a little precarious. However, what is now visible is more true and more real than its former, tacked-on facade was. The insulation and the weatherproofing is gone, so the building is more vulnerable to the elements and to external forces… but the source of its strength is clear. However, it is obviously a work in progress, under construction, and changing constantly even as we speak…
I have some work in a print show in Chicago, IL. There’s an opening party tomorrow, Friday March 27th, from 6-9 pm, at the Green Lantern Gallery.
One of my pieces looks something like this: cut-out-able kitchen plans. I think you will be able to cut my prints up yourself & mess with them at the show… I hope!
The show is called Without You I Am Nothing, has been curated by Anne Elizabeth Moore, and features a number of other weirdos and hotshots from Providence & Chicago, including my colleagues & friends Andrew Oesch & Meg Turner.
Here’s the one-sentence blurb:
Without You I am Nothing: Cultural Democracy from Providence and Chicago is an exhibition of works on paper that are not intended for public consumption but to create small venues for public participation.
Check it out, or forward to your Chicago friends! I won’t be there, I’m getting work done here in Providence… but the show might travel here, to the 5 Traverse Gallery, in the summer. Cross your fingers!
This past weekend, at the Block Party! that Andrew Oesch organized (and I helped with) in Worcester, MA:
…and, a couple of days earlier, working on drawing (or rather, desperately trying to figure out how to draw) the display font for what became this poster:
The Block Party was collaborative, temporary, and chaotic. It had no tangible “goal” besides getting a chance to play, offering other people (kids and adults) the chance to play, creating a potentially transformative experience, practicing collaborating and facilitating with Andrew O, taking the chance to do something we had wanted to do since we were little (have an almost infinite number of giant blocks to build with), and maybe getting a little transformed ourselves (I’m pretty sure that’s me in the red shirt):
Despite its transience, this kind of project is very direct — you can see the results in people’s enjoyment of and immediate narration of the experience (one kid, as his mom pulled him away from jumping on and squashing boxes at the end of the day: “But… this is the BEST PLACE EVER!!!”). I have a bunch of persistent memories from my own childhood (a giant wooden dragon in the children’s section of the public library, walking through a tall maze of translucent plastic at an art fair, building forts in the woods, working on a collaborative clay castle-sculpture at a craft show) which convince me that Sunday’s memory of building giant structures out of boxes will stick with some of these kids for the rest of their lives. Andrew O and I are left with nothing except lots of photos and a couple of sheets of colorful paper — almost all the boxes got smashed and recycled — the experience was the important thing.
A poster like this one (computer-designed, computer-printed) is also temporary. If I’m lucky, someone will put a copy of the poster up on their dorm-room wall, maybe keep it as a reminder of the speaker that influenced their changing ideas; maybe it will go into the departmental archive, but most likely, most of the copies will become part of the massive pile of paper-waste that comes out of any university in any given academic year. Hopefully, it will get some folks to come out to the talk — maybe more people than if it was a simple flyer designed in a word-processing program and printed in black and white… who knows.
Designing on the computer opens up too many infinite possibilities for me. I like the limits of the physical, of rubylith and of ink drawings; I’m more comfortable with the irregularity, and the permanence, that are built into something you make by hand. Looking at a computer screen, I get wrapped up in minutely adjusting the anchor-points of lines or editing shapes pixel-by-pixel, saving endless versions of things so I can revert to earlier decisions if necessary.
Working on an analog object, if you erased something, that means it is gone (even if you might reach for the command-Z key instinctively) and you have to draw it again, or as close as you can get to it. In the physical world, there’s no perfectability: whatever you make might have problems or issues, but they will result from how it was made and be a part of it — not errors you have overlooked and might have fixed if you had just had another couple of hours to spend in front of the monitor.
[here are two parts of the middle of the "digital/analog battle royale" illustration process for the Labor Studies poster. on paper:]
[and on the computer. notice the ink-line tracing of the two politicians, which is in the middle of being re-sized to fit the photo-reference mockup:]
When I was looking at display fonts to use on the Labor Studies Dept. poster, I couldn’t find a computer font that I liked. I started to draw letters from scratch, but the initial sketches didn’t fit the need or style of the poster, and I didn’t have a lot of time and wasn’t feeling super-inventive at that moment. The letter-pantograph device (seen at the top of this post) was handed down to me by my grandfather, a retired engineer, along with his set of 1970s Rapidograph pens. Using it, I drew the letters above, then scanned them in, enlarged them and printed them out, photocopied them to the right size, and traced their outlines in ink, making them more angular, and changing them somewhat (to differentiate them from the dreaded Comic Sans!). The tracings were scanned again, and photoshoppified into something usable for the graphic title of the poster.
The whole poster involved so much work, so much finicky moving of text and images back and forth, so much consideration and discarding of various fonts, so much attempting towards perfection. I’m mostly happy with it, especially with the illustrations, but I don’t think it has the richness and interest of most of my screen-printed projects… and since I’m not part of the community where the event will take place, it doesn’t have an effect on my life, and I can’t see its effect on other people.
The Block Party! project also involved a huge amount of work (done mostly by AO, though I jumped in at the last minute). Collecting and assembling all the boxes was an almost-infinite task, printing the patterned paper, pasting it on, organizing volunteers, thinking about the philosophy and metaphorical underpinnings of the project. . . However, there was no pretense of perfection: our basic goal was to have enough boxes to really transform the space of the street — beyond that, we had no idea ahead of time of how it would actually turn out, and we knew that we would be figuring out how to do the project along with everybody else who was there that day.
Searching for perfection — ignoring the demand for perfection (even/especially when it comes from within myself). Either of these approaches could be applied to any project, any medium, that one might want to work in. At this point, coming off of these two almost-simultaneous projects, I think I know which of these paths regarding perfection I like being on the most.
However, it’s relatively simple to apply the “chaos is awesome” mentality to projects (like the Block Party) where the chaos is actually unavoidable. It’s somewhat harder to let it creep in to the screenprinting projects I really want to be focusing on, the areas where my meticulousness is more ingrained and more likely to take charge. Additionally, when life is overwhelming (as it usually is for me), it’s easiest to strive for righteousness and certainty, since those seem like the most secure options. One constructive strategy might be to take on less, leave more time for things, don’t put myself in places where I’m so stressed out that perfection seems like the only achievable goal, where I don’t have time to accept complexity and confusion. I know this is possible, because I’ve worked on more and more projects recently where I’ve had to slow down to allow for learning and chaos. . . they are harder and more difficult to approach than the ‘perfectable’ projects. . . . but simply remembering that the harder projects are more fun is a large part of the process. . . .
Here’s Andrew Oesch starring as Sisyphus in Werner Herzog’s new movie about participatory, community-based art projects:
… and a good reminder (from fomato.com) about how not to get bogged down by more projects than I actually want:
After a lengthy stretch of time occupied with logistics, being out of town, dead ends, “getting organized”, being sick, preparing, finishing, cleaning up, things not working (including this updates page), and consequent general frustration, this past week some things started to come together.
a more-or-less fully working web site
new & reliable web hosting, which was encouraged into existence by Andrew Oesch and the “cooperative not collective” internet project (more on that later)
the realization that I already have more than 10 pages of notes and drawings (made in three different notebooks and on scraps of paper) over the course of the past month, about the layout of residential spaces — following that, the realization that I had already started on the thinking work for the next posters in the ‘everyday spaces’ print series…
becoming excited about the specifics of those next posters, and how they all fit together…
the realization that all the thinking and drawing work I was doing on the forbes kitchen project was already leading directly into the work for the next couple of posters…
a large drawing, begun tonight and started very fast, that now takes up my entire desk (the blurry photo above is a detail) that is the first attempt to make those 10+ pages coalesce and cohere, to create the logical backbone of the patterns that deal with common and private, centers and edges, work and relaxing, symmetry and asymmetry, in the spaces from kitchen to bedroom and in between.
So, this page is back, the print series is back (for those who might have been wondering), and I’m back, excited about next steps and possibilities.
First of all: subscribers — did you get your print yet? Everybody who subscribed before August should have their print, with a couple of exceptions. I’m holding on to a couple for people who are traveling, when you come back, it’ll be here. Four people have yet to pick theirs up: if it’s you, email me or call me and come get them!
As far as I know so far, two people didn’t update their address with me when they moved, so there are those two prints somewhere in postal limbo. Two other prints (that I mailed later than the first big batch) haven’t arrived yet, the post office claims that they “fell off the conveyor belt” somewhere and will get there eventually. Thanks, USPS. So to anybody who didn’t get their print yet, let me know if you haven’t, and — patience — I’m sorry…
If you subscribed in September, you might not have gotten yours yet because I haven’t done a second big mailing/delivery… It’s coming, I just have to plow through the last couple of days of this project I’m working on now which is:
This Thursday, Sept. 27th, in the afternoon, Andrew Oesch & I will be in Worcester hosting another city-building day where you can come make some kind of building or structure and add it to what is shaping up into a magic city atop a giant cardboard mountain with a cave you can go inside and some cardboard archways and structures that can only get bigger & better in the next month. Lots of information is on the project web site, the whole show is up till November 9th so there is no excuse not to miss it okay? Given the scale of the space and of our installation, and the nature of the context which is a relatively careful, proprietary, and non-messy university visual arts department this version of the Magic City project has come to incorporate both the dreams of 12-yr-old jean to have an infinite number of cardboard bricks to build a building out of… and the dreams of 28-yr-old jean to help create an equitable society in which anybody can build and shape things according to their desires. Could I ask for more ??? (well, maybe…. now about that adventure playground….)
Thanks to help from Jake B and Jay R Z this web site should soon become some kind of more formalized web log. It will be set up so things are more organized, and so that you can sign up for updates whenever I post stuff via RSS. There are many other things that are happening “soon”, so I’m not going to even talk about them here because that “soon” keeps getting larger and larger….
Here in an authentic multi-dimensional Providence context is the multi-dimensional poster made by Andrew Oesch (unfortunately the other two conversations already happened, sorry for not posting this earlier! TIME! augh!):
This is the seventh (I think?) year of having these series of “conversations on creative practice” at NUA — I’m really honored to be asked to be part of one. Based on the preliminary discussion that Beth & CJ & I had, a) there is a lot to talk about, and b) we will be getting pretty real? or at least I aspire to that (as always, but especially in this context). Come even if you’ll be late, you can jump into the conversation at any point… it’s free & there will be snacks… Okay! See you there I hope!
Among some likely subjects: non-documented actions/interactions as art, racism / white supremacy, dog walking, political art, narrative & text, tumblr, invisibility, bodies, the possible scope of our actions as humans…. and more? I’ve known CJ for a long time through various connections (if you go back far enough in this bloggy, you can find a picture of CJ helping Emmy Bright print a poster for one of the earlier iterations of the “conversations” series), & I keep being amazed at how New Urban Arts has created these connections which extend over time and allow me to keep understanding new things about people I first met when they were teenagers… and to grow and learn alongside of them. Yikes!
Other things that have been happening:
— with the organizational help of a friend who is good at the organizing & prioritizing things, I am *finishing* lots of projects to get ready for the RISD Alumni Spring Art Sale, Saturday May 3rd! 6 more days to get ready! lots to do! gettin it all done hopefully… Jess X. Chen & I are sharing a table, & we’re near other friends — come say hi at the corner of Benefit & Waterman Sts from 10-4 next Saturday!
— Hand-drawn letters, they are everywhere:::
…and I’ve been posting the cool ones that I see, as well as work in progress / neat buildings / interesting patterns / cats / etc. on instagram, I like its simple interface for whatever reason, follow if you want… most of those pictures get cross-posted to tumblr…
— Did I write anything yet about being a contributor to the 6th issue of Headmaster Magazine? Well dang, again, TIME!!! (Here’s the preview image I posted a couple months back, but all the contributors were still under wraps at that point, and I have yet to put together a full post on that project…) Also on May 3rd, from 9pm till late, Headmaster is having their Providence release party: “The Pawtucky Derby” (facebook event) at Machines With Magnets in P’tucket. Dancing, fun times, magazines, drinks, snacks? boys? (“men?”) okay! Headmaster (aka. Matthew & Jason) are the sweetest most tender fancy-art-magazine publishers everrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr <3
— Along with a bunch of other local artists, I'm working on a project for a show at Slater Mill, celebrating the Pawtucket strike of 1824, that will be opening in mid-May! More three-dimensional letters, coming up. I’ll post progress pictures along the way; here’s the space we’ll be working in:
— found a use for old laser-printed offset plates! as the best, water-proof, re-usable sheets for masking off areas of silkscreens while printing. YES:
… after four and a half relatively brutal days (and some long nights in there) of installation work. I cut a ton of pieces of glass to put the art behind, I hammered in almost 400 L-pins to hold the glass (and prints) to the wall, I began to understand why people *frame* art (cause once you frame it once you never have to frame it again!!!), I depended on my friends, especially Scott, for help & support… I felt more professional than ever before, and also very much like a force of chaos in the desirably-predictable space of the gallery… and not in a cool disruptive gadfly way like when AO & I were working on the Magic City Repairs project, but in the way where I was letting people down… if that makes any sense?
BUT! It all* got up on the wall, despite (or because of?) the chaos; it looks very professional (I think/ I am still surprised by), and I really hope you will come to the….
… OPENING RECEPTION!
free & open to the public, wheelchair accessible, etc, as a public institution all places should be. Catered! food! drink! (no wine though since it’s a university? or somethin’? bring your flask if you wanna, I guess). Thursday November 7th, 4:30-7:30 pm, University of Rhode Island Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Rd, Kingston RI.
please come & join the party & check out what I spent 13 years of my life on!
People are coordinating some rides from Providence on the facebook event page, if you’re not on facebook & need a ride, email me & I’ll connect you to somebody. You can also take the 66 bus from Kennedy Plaza, it seems to run about every hour… If you can get down there, someone will probably be able to drive you back to Prov afterwards, as a last resort you can climb in the back of Scott’s van….!
(This is the front of the postcard that I made, featuring many of my favorite tools…)
*(The only things still missing from the gallery walls, in my mind, are some photos that are necessary to give context to the paper ephemera from the Magic City Repairs project… photos which I don’t have physical prints of yet. In thinking about this, I realized that I haven’t gotten a physical print made of a photo since I stopped taking pictures with film, which is strange… but I’m gonna go to CVS tomorrow to remedy that situation, hopefully I have a chance to sneak in with a hammer & level before Thursday afternoon!)
The funny thing was, when we started to actually get all the artwork up in place, my first thought was “it’s like looking at my website, but all at once and without having to click on links”. I’m not even gonna try to figure out what that means in terms of how much the internet has colonized my brain, I’ll just leave it there… and I really haven’t processed the surrealness of having all this work, each piece of which has defined and shaped my life in its own way, up in the same physical space. It’s surreal. I don’t know what more to write about it than that — I’m still pretty sleep-deprived… !
Here’s a moment from the hanging process, this is the “recent work” wall, which is (parts of) 2012-2013, in progress… (and yes, “Queer Buttz” did make it into the show…)
Here are some screenshots of the spreadsheets that I made to organize the many (I haven’t counted yet) pieces of work for the show, and that will hopefully help me to put everything back in its correct place when it’s time to take it down…
October 27th at midnight:07:47 AM:
a detail of another screenshot around the same moment:
… and then, November 1st at 2:53:54 AM:
and here are the same documents (or a selection of the information thereon) in action, as reference documents for cutting the glass to go over the prints:
Here’s the *back* of the postcard that got printed (the yellow/orange image above up there is the front); I’m proud of all this hand-drawn text (from the poster) used as computer text, even though that in itself was a project & a half….
And here is the 4-foot-wide text on the gallery wall, I traced my scans of the knife-cut-paper letters into vectors & then it got computer-cut by some place out of a plastic fabric / sticker stuff… looks so cool, doing the vector work is physically difficult for me cause the tablet I have is old & it’s strenuous to hold the pen (because it’s wide in diameter, I think…)… but it’s cool to see my hand-drawn letters so big! Yay for vectors? maybe? It’s so not-fun to make them but… well… they’re useful…!?
That’s it! gotta keep working on some spreadsheet stuff tonight! Tomorrow I teach the second class of my AS220 class (on their website it’s marked as “sold out” for now, but there will be another one in January 2014!). Thursday the opening! Then hustling to finish up Craftland stuff! and to move my woodshop stuff out of Building 16… and you know, just to get everything done… whatever…
If you’ve talked to me in the past five weeks, I’ve probably been slightly incoherent, stared around me confusedly (especially in large-group social situations), and mumbled something about rubylith, mixing ink colors, and how I need to get back home to the studio to keep working… So, in sincere apology for that slightly rude behavior, I would like to invite you to come to the art opening where you can see all (or most of) the stuff that I have been working on!
This Saturday, February 2nd, 5-7pm, at AS220′s performance space gallery (115 Empire St), I’m showing a whole bunch of new work. Some editioned prints, a whole bunch of tiny drawings of words/letterforms, things in actual frames (whoa!), hand-printed “classic paisley / new pattern” bandannas/hankies, newly re-printed agit-prop from earlier this summer, and a bunch of very new (aka finished yesterday!) unique screenprints that were amazingly full of discovery and magic to make and which I’m SUPER excited about.
The show is titled “Practical Tools For Shifting Reality” — it’s up through Feb 23rd, and AS220 is open from noon to late evening every day except Monday.
The work is lots of hand-drawn letters, lots of overlapping colors, echoes of my thinking about how we create our bodies and existences, and the world around us, through strategic and/or magical language and significant objects… Words as structures and tools and actions, printed things as evidence of thought & of having an idea & making it real & sharing it with the people around you… Creating reality, talking about things, making them happen. This is some of the first work I’ve made that’s felt like an extension of my embodied existence, rather than a distraction from it or dazzle camouflage for it. I hope you can come see the show!
Below are some snapshots of the world I’ve been living in for the past month or so: hover over each image for details. I’ve extracted myself from a lot of sociable things happening around town (with a certain amount of regret / “missing out”), but it’s been a really, really satisfying & fruitful re-engaging with my studio practice. I need to figure out how to maintain this level of art work energy and also have social time as well… but I don’t want to stop working on this stuff… because being engaged so seriously in these processes is pretty much the best thing ever.
So many people need thanks, first off: Neal Walsh & Mollie Deerkin for being the super patient & awesome gallery folks at AS220. Thanks to Walker Mettling for riso-printing skills, Liz Novak for fabric assistance and teaching me how to use the rolled hem foot, Tatyana Yanishevsky for glass cutting impetus & assistance, Andrew Oesch for crucial studio visit & computer loan, Meg Powers for allowing me to re-print her sticker drawings, Faces Imaging for film outputs over a national holiday, Mt. Pleasant Hardware for supplies & all the scrap glass, RI Glass for the nice non-scrap glass, Lorraine’s for their bargain fabric loft, Peter Lutz for miter-saw loan, Meg Turner for consults & encouragement, Jesse & Chris for driving me places, feeding me, & putting up with my distractedness & totally weird hours, Olivia, Katrina, Graci, Freya, David R, Noel P, Katie M, Cybele, & other friends for “hanging out” with me when I was “working” at the same time, and everybody who wrote about how & why they wear their hankies. There are probably others that I am forgetting!
and, Last but Most Crucial: Scott Reber for driving me everywhere, playing awesome music, being a late-nite studio companion, sharing selections from his readings, thoughts on dissonance, creative excitement, and terrible jokes… and Emmy Bright for frame loan, delicious/nutritious food & salted caramels, and a crucial logistical / strategic prioritization session, without which none of this work would have been completed. Thank you!!!
also, of course, insistent companion & dedicated co-sleeper Buio-cat:
Whoa, sorry for a long time of no updating — I’ve been vaguely overwhelmed by holiday times, business stuff, traveling to see people, and working!
Now… the holiday crunch is over, and I got sucked into working on writing and drawing a comic. I know, this is not a “productive” silkscreen-type project like I probably should be working on, but it’s pretty exciting to me. It’s an adventure story based on a comic book character named Scar, made up by a middle school kid. Andrew Oesch and Walker Mettling had the kids in their after-school comics classes (at public library branches) draw and write a bunch of characters, and their attributes and backstories, to then write comics about. Grownups (or should I say, “grownups”) also made up some of the characters, but this one was written & drawn by a kid.
Here is Andrew & Walker’s project blog with about ten of the many, many characters, and songs by Amil Byleckie to go with them!
The characters were all made into “rogues gallery” type books (as seen in the photo* above), which AO offset-printed at AS220. Using the books as reference, the kids made comics about and around the characters, which I mostly haven’t gotten a chance to read yet… and the character books were also handed out to various artists around town so they could also make comics & drawings based on the characters. (Here’s one: Mickey Z’s comic, and the characters it is based on.)
Upon seeing the full-color drawing that Alec Thibodeau (a dedicated vegan) made of “Tofoon”, a giant block-shaped warrior made of radioactive tofu, I said, “oh my gosh, I have to do this, what do I do, is there still time, I have to make a comic for this project.”
I looked through the books & to Andrew’s amusement, found a character that is maybe one of the more brawny / classic-superhero-y of the collection… at least as the kid drew him: so far I have drawn three pages that are pretty emo, and then there are two pages in progress that are more active… but I have a feeling there’s going to be a good deal of action eventually. Though, as AO said (in response to my worry that I wasn’t gonna get the action scenes done because all I wanted to draw was love scenes), “love scenes are kinda like action scenes.” ehhhhhh…
Anyways, I was trying to keep this update brief, and just say, “I’m making a comic & it’s really fun!” But now that I got into it, here’s the origin story of why I’m working on this comic that promises to be super epic, based on a little kid’s idea…
Thanks to the diligence and stubbornness of our mother, my brothers & I grew up throughout the 80s and 90s without a television in our house. Although we would go to a movie occasionally or watch TV at other kids’ houses, reading — books, picture books, newspaper comics, and Tintin comic books — was our main source of narrative and visual entertainment. When I went to college in Chicago in the late 90s, I drew a couple of comics & illustrations for the independent school newspaper there, and I was introduced to self-published zines and comics, but I never made anything long-form — I didn’t have any good ideas for what it should be about, and I didn’t want to make something just for the sake of making something.
Arriving in Providence at the end of the 90s, I was extremely inspired by the comics artists here, as published in the newsprint periodical Paper Rodeo and other small, hand-made formats around town.** I would dedicate hours of coffee-shop patience to deciphering what was going on in the tiny, odd-sized panels filled with scribbly lines. Stretches of narrative unfolded and then fell away, characters were introduced and then re-appeared, maybe, fleetingly, with a different name or years later, hardened and world-weary. Little guys got stomped on by giants, scrappy weirdos and machine-men fought against forces of corporate ownership, people tried to build structure and spaces and logic for themselves in a confusing world that was beyond their comprehension.
I loved how these stories created fantastical, imaginary worlds, filled with the adventure elements that I had loved as a kid & teenager — that at the same time served as metaphors for the world that we lived in in Providence, with its magic, struggles, and difficulties. Going to shows, making our homes in weird industrial spaces, and making art in Providence was the first time that I had felt like I was actually living in an actual place, living my real life — I didn’t have to live in medieval times or in an imaginary fantasy world to live authentically and experience exciting things. Biking manically through the car-clogged, snowy streets, climbing up dark, steep staircases to dance wildly at noise shows, exploring the city and meeting new people, staying up all night to finish making something important and beautiful — these were the real adventures of my real life in the broken, vibrant, difficult, actual world.
My ambitions to make comics continued to grow, but I knew that I still didn’t have a story to tell: I shied away from a personal narrative of my own life, because I felt like it wasn’t coherent or important enough. Translating things metaphorically seemed like the only way I could make a thing that would feel far enough away from me to be able to put it together as a story, as opposed to a shapeless, self-indulgent splurt of what my high school english teacher Mr. Reinke might call “logorrhea”. But what story did I have to tell that even merited translation?
After a friend of mine had a bad hand injury a couple years ago, I spent some time sketchily scripting ideas and scenarios for a comic about people in a world “not unlike our own”, where there’s a fascist military police force made up of people who’ve been augmented with metal/robotic weapon arms (with one thread of influence branching from Mat Brinkman’s Multi-Force comic epic, which is set in an underground labyrinth in which the monster/warrior characters have giant interchangeable battle arms…). The protagonist of my story was a young man who is recruited into the force and equipped with a weapon arm, but then deserts, thereby losing control of the arm. Removing the weapon leaves his own arm totally useless. He must figure out how to to hack the weapon arm and restructure its abilities from scratch, and how to use its weapon nature for good, or if that’s even possible.
So yeah, themes of physical vs. mental strength, the struggle with the body and its control, ability and communication, and a sub-narrative about neighborhoods and fascist urban planning strategies… also a love story between the young man and a nice lady who has a fiance who’s a legitimate member of the force, and the story of how she becomes politically radicalized… anyways! I have a bunch of pages of basically-illegible notes for this story in an old sketchbook… it was decent stuff, but I never made anything happen with it — partly because of time constraints & other projects, partly because I was self-conscious about the science fiction-y, comic-book-trope-y aspects of the story, partly because I was intimidated by having to make *so* *many* *drawings*.
When I read the character description of Scar (see the image at the top of this blog post), the parallels to my old story jumped out at me — all the old themes still tugged at me — plus the powerful idea of the flawed body & the search for completion. I was also psyched to try to write a tough superhero character, and to have the “trite comic-book-story” aspect of the character & the plot excused by its origin in a little kid’s imagination. I started writing a little bit of the backstory script — how he finds the arm, why Scar killed Black Death’s brother, what happened after his hands got cut off… and found myself totally thrilled and sucked into the process.
I’m way more compelled than I expected I would be by the demands of making drawings that tell the story, by figuring out how to do that. How to pace and time the action or sequence of actions, how to combine text and drawings in a way that leaves a lot to be filled in by the imagination, but sets up a coherent story for readers to grab on to. Still feel like I am totally ignorant of the “right way” of “how to do it” — but the first steps in figuring it out are very exciting. And — I finally feel like I have a story to tell.
So, the past couple of weeks have found me…
doing technical research:
conscripting my friends to be the photo reference for characters / people’s faces:
combing my past photos for other visual references (in this case, cityscape, wide street):
making an actual balsa-wood model of the robot arm (I know, crazy, but totally awesome — I like having things I can look at to draw them, and the arm is as much a character in the story as Scar is…):
early version of the arm, now it’s a lot cooler than it is here:
Okay, that’s what I’ve been up to, also new year’s was awesome, and things are generally confounding and beautiful and transformative. I want to write more, and there is more of the backstory of why this story feels like it demands to be told, why it demands that I tell it. But! I also want to draw & write new pages of the story itself! Time time time…
I’ll post complete pages on the website here somewhere, when I have some more done. The first five pages will be published in the anthology that AO and Walker are putting out sometime “soon”, along with a bunch of other work surrounding all these characters, by kids and adults. I’m worried that I will never be able to finish my version/vision of Scar, that the story will spiral out of my control and that I will never be able to tell all the parts of it that are important to me (or that I’ll get distracted by the love scenes and never get around to figuring out how to draw the action scenes…!). But I know I need to just keep working on it, moment by moment, piece by piece, and let it accumulate slowly.
Also, the lesson that I ultimately take from Providence comics-makers, and from my friends alongside whom I am delighted to draw, is to remember to let things be loose, to not worry about connecting up every episode, but to concentrate on drawing the parts I want to draw, the parts that are the most fun to draw, the stories that are the most interesting to tell. Readers will make their own connections between them, and create a narrative out of my stumbly efforts…
okay wait, I can’t write about comics without linking to a couple of friends: Melissa Mendes who is going really deep & intense with her self-investigative comics work right now;
James McShane whose total dedication to the form inspires & intimidates me daily;
* apologies for all the blurry photos, I am reduced at the moment to using my cellphone camera since my old camera’s batteries seem permanently drained to the point of unusability, and I didn’t realized how much I depended on the macro-focus feature on my old camera. Acquiring a functional camera is on the to-do list…
** A small selection of this late 90s / early 2000s work, including Ninja and Maggots by Brian Chippendale, and Teratoid Heights and Multi-Force by Mat Brinkman, has been collected and re-published recently. Also, CF’s Powr Mastrs, though new work, is a product of the same scene/mentality… and Mickey Zacchilli‘s comics and print work are also in the Providence lineage of surreal, energetic scribble narrative…