Saturday, November 21, 2009

For all the talk about how "comics" is a misnomer, there's certain trends in humor that seem to find their first expression through the medium of combining words and images. Jules Feiffer's Village Voice strip, with its neurotic Jewish male dialogues, is an expression of worldview that, when viewed with Feiffer's Little Murders, becomes this connective tissue that leaks down into Larry David. That, combined with Matt Groening's Life In Hell metamorphosis into The Simpsons, starts to define the 1990s. There's also Gary Larson's The Far Side, which was sort of dismissed as a comic but influenced a generation of people's sense of humor, like Ben Jones.

Lisa Hanawalt's I Want You combines this absurdist sense of humor, totally well-drawn, that you can read in Michael Kupperman's comics, and then jettisons the emphasis on cultural detritus, like 1970s cop shows and 1950s comics, in favor of looking at the self and interactions with other people and feeling like a creepy weirdo. This shouldn't make the comic seem derivative: It's a huge leap forward, in using that sense of humor for personal ends, as an expression of what the cartoonist is like in real life and how she feels about things. You feel as if you know her, and confident that she's much more interesting than the people that do autobiographical comics.

It's a great comic, and I hope Buenaventura Press can afford to print more issues, because her minicomics are harder to find. I want her stuff to keep coming out, and being encouraged, because even though it's a fascinating creative voice, it seems possible that she could do weirder and deeper work in the future. Hanawalt cites Renee French as an influence, and that's certainly someone whose work has changed over time into something different from what it was. I also recently got my hands on Shary Boyle's Otherworld Uprising art catalog, and learned that Shary was in her mid-thirties by the time she started doing the more fantastical work she's doing now. This isn't to say I'm waiting for Hanawalt to abandon her sense of humor and make serious work- I love humorous work, and think the sense of humor on display is inherent to Hanawalt's experience of the world- rather I'm trying to orient understanding of the nature of the consciousness on display by bringing up these artists rather than mentioning specific autobio cartoonists.

Monday, November 02, 2009

This interview of Peter Blegvad in the new issue of The Believer is phenomenal. Blegvad's work is fascinating: I'm more partial to the Leviathan comic than I am to the music of Slapp Happy but that both, and more, originate from the same man is mind-blowing. It's sort of astounding how much one can accomplish if one stays alive long enough and continues to work as an artist, especially if one doesn't limit oneself to one medium.

This coincides with my recent discovery that Gregg Turkington, aka Neil Hamburger, was an original member of Caroliner, edited the Sun City Girls' Midnight Cowboys From Ipanema tape, and ran Amarillo records (with its own vast catalog). This sort of thing really helps me connect the dots of various artistic activity. I imagine early issues of Bananafish would also help elucidate a lot.

Since living in Baltimore I've made the acquaintance of all sorts of accomplished types, one of which would be Daniel Higgs, whose own life and musical history maps a wide territory in its movement from punk to mystic. Then I discovered that in 1994, he was a part of the first show at Alleged Gallery in New York.

What's interesting about this stuff is that it really goes beyond any notion of a scene, there's nothing that can be pigeonholed. It's just individuals who end up in a variety of places, largely by virtue of staying productive while alive, and outlasting the immediate surroundings to go somewhere else. It's deeply inspiring for the way it reminds what life is, existing in time.

While I'm saying all this I can also point out how semi-strange it is that there's a They Might Be Giants song about one of the guys who co-created Wonder Showzen, and that I am really looking forward to Drag City's release of Vernon Chatman's Final Flesh in a couple weeks. They Might Be Giants were my first favorite band when I was in middle school, and while I've stopped caring, and find the fact that they're making children's records for Disney really strange, they did a CD to accompany the sixth issue of McSweeney's, which, while this happened after I'd stopped caring about them so intently, was still one of the first things I'd heard about that periodical. I would also like to salute McSweeney's for the fact, learned from their website, that their upcoming newspaper's comics section will contain a Savage Dragon page from Erik Larsen in addition to Chris Ware and Art Spiegelman: Right on. (Alternately, when They Might Be Giants showed up as voices on Home Movies it really solidified the way that show captured much of my childhood-through-college interests in miniature.)

And all these things I'm writing paragraphs about have never intersected in anything more than super-tangential six degrees of separation style.