Dark Horse Comics' The Best of Milligan & McCarthy is a gorgeous and (almost) exhaustive compendium, collecting the duo's legendary runs like "Paradax!," "Rogan Gosh," and the previously unavailable "Skin." Both Milligan and McCarthy went on to forge distinctive careers, but the work collected in this collection is explosive, bewildering, and immediate - completely ignoring the careerist ambitions and institutional strictures both artists eventually had to confront and contend with .
The comics are all over the place (sometimes head-wreckingly so) but they're always readily situated in the catastrophic top-spin of Thatcher-Reagan economic/social tachycardia. McCarthy's artwork is typically hyper-active and color-saturated, pushing the physical boundaries of panel and page (the exception being the provisionally censored "Skin" - which is wrought in unique pastel colors by the always incredible Carol Swain). Milligan's writing winds a loose balance between non-linear and scabrous - taking very little seriously - but capable of surprising moments of tenderness and expansive vision.
Their work can definitely jolt - and possibly offend (especially "Skin" - which tells the sad angry, and brief tale of a thalidomide-deformed skinhead in the 1980s UK). But it's heavily recommended for fans of politically-charged comics that explore the horizons and possibilities of graphic narrative and page art (see Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Sandman-era Neil Gaiman).
I came back from my yearly trip to Mexico recently: it’s always refreshing to walk around the city of Cuernavaca where I’m from, visiting historical sites as I do year after year. This city is privileged to host the work of two great Mexican muralists. Diego Rivera painted the history of the city at El Palacio de Cortés or the Palace of Cortés and David Alfaro Siqueiros’ mural ”The March of Humanity” is found at La Tallera cultural center. If you want to know more about this kind art, follow me!
Muralism was practiced long ago when indigenous groups painted their ideas and important events in big displays on the sides of ceremonial and burial buildings. The splendid Maya murals of Bonampak are a simple example of this kind of art.
This artistic manifestation gained more importance in Mexico during the 20th century. The first murals were created in 1921 and the last were created in 1955, when murals lost the essence of an articulated artistic movement. There were several artists who brought a diversity of aesthetics and political influences; at times the artists' were severely criticized and censured, and even destroyed, as happened with one Diego Revera's murals at the Rockefeller Center in New York.
The movement is characterized by the artists' great need to express the social and political events of their times using huge platforms. In the murals, Mexicans have the opportunity to appreciate the content of their own reality and identity. The Mexican Revolution, political radicalism as an international proposal, agrarian reform, and oil expropriation inspired nationalistic artists who presented the reality of a Mexican society so devastated by these events. A group of muralist artists created the movement using the walls of important public buildings as canvases, to exalt the art and rescue indigenous and popular traditions. The three great figures of this artistic era were Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Would you like to learn more about this great art movement? Take a look at the video lecture on Maya murals below, or explore my list for further reading.
My favorite city is San Francisco. When I was slogging through high school in the Midwest, I dreamed about moving out to California and going to college there. It took me a few years after high school, but eventually I made it out there and stayed for the next twelve years. Now I try to visit the Bay Area once in awhile. It’s changed a lot since I lived there but the main things that I loved about San Francisco are still there. Golden Gate Park, huge and green, with pockets of bison and windmills all leading to the cold, cold ocean. The neighborhoods, each with its own character and atmosphere. I was there just a few weeks ago and found a bevy of hippies still hanging out in the Haight.
My new favorite book about San Francisco is Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in Its Own Words. The author and illustrator, Wendy MacNaughton, has captured the people and places of SF perfectly. She visited different neighborhoods and drew the people and the scenes. And she had lots of conversations at each location. MacNaughton then gathered the twenty to thirty stories she had heard and combined them into one story for each picture. It’s both deceptively simple and deeply profound. The section on the main branch of the SF Public Library is perfect; on one page she has a list of all of the people that entered the library between 12:45 and 12:50: number 9 of 59 is “old man bent over, beard nearly touching the ground.”
Meanwhile in San Francisco captures both the characters of the city and the city as a character. Sheer loveliness.
She has a really great website too. Check it out here.
Until his death on April 13, 1973 not many folks knew Henry Darger. However, while cleaning his small, cluttered apartment, what Darger’s landlord’s found forever changed that. In the process of clearing out decades of presumed clutter, “30,000 manuscript pages, and over three hundred canvases depicting a rich, shocking fantasy world - many featuring hermaphroditic children being eviscerated, crucified, and strangled” were discovered.
Intrigued? I was. After attending an fascinating exhibit of Darger’s work at the American Folk Art Museum I was drawn into his outsider art and wanted to know more about the man behind the vast and bizarre body of work. Unfortunately, aside from speculation based on the imagery there was little to know. Luckily Jim Elledge stepped in. After ten years of research, he produced “Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy” a scholarly, yet readable history of Henry Darger that not only illuminates the man, but also his societal backdrop to better understand him.
I read a new graphic novel that is so compelling I couldn’t put it down. It’s definitely a page turner! March is an autobiography by congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. It is filled with stunning visuals by award-winning Nate Powell. The story starts with the family chickens. His care of the flock helps him build his moral core. As a reader it helped me get to know him and care about him. At the same time, this comic book is a biography of our civil rights movement in the United States. Important issue, important man: Fantastic read. Don’t miss it.
If you are interested in more comic books about history they can be found in the History through graphic novels list.
Street photography according to Wikipedia is “photography that features the human condition within public places.” I realized I love street photography with the discovery of photographer Vivian Maier’s work. She took a lot of photos of children that were very tender. Maier also took many thought-provoking photos of the poor. She seemed to be looking to capture moments of comfort, like holding hands or cuddling together on the train.
There are a few websites devoted to this style of photography. There’s the Sunday Styles section column On The Street in the New York Times featuring Bill Cunningham's street photography. I’ve been a fan this column for years. There is also a series of videos derived from Bill’s photography. Sometimes the Willamette Week covers local fashion that intersects with street photography.
This type of photography is sprinkled throughout images of our popular culture. And of course our library has many books on the topic. A great photographer takes great photos. Great photos make me pause and wonder what happened before and what happened after that moment in time was captured on film. What about you? Do you wonder?
Do you like stories where families go away for the summer? Author Elin Hilderbrand takes her characters to Nantucket for the summer. OH to have a long vacation every summer! Where weeks bleed into months. Sometimes boredom sets in. Sometimes the need for fun causes tension. All of these elements are evident in this great new graphic novel This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. Two families go to Awago Beach every summer. Rose and Windy have been friends who play together all summer while at their families’ vacation homes. Tensions rise a little bit because of the slight age differences of the girls in this coming-of-age tale. But like the waves on the shore they rise and fall.
Rose’s Mother has come to heal, the girls to grow and the Awago residents to cause sensation. If you like stories about friendship and families and beautiful brushwork illustrations like Craig Thompson’s, then you might like This One Summer. It might be your beach read. It might be your long exhale for vacation. Let the Tamiki creators sweep you away.
Can you guess what was the first Western television series to air on Soviet Television? Here’s a hint: it was also the first series to air on HBO - still stumped? Fraggle Rock starring Jim Henson's Muppets. Yes, before The Sopranos, before the Game of Thrones, there was Fraggle Rock.
In Jim Henson, a biography, by Brian Jay Jones, we see how Jim was born into a big family where holidays and birthday gatherings were marked by laughter and stories of growing up. His creativity and ideas were encouraged by his family- especially by his Grandma Dear. But he knew from the time he was a young man he knew he wanted to work in television. He mourned the fact that television’s great potential was was used to sell products and to dull minds. It was important to him that television be used
to educate and excite people- adults as well as children. Jim had that type of single- mindedness that showed him what to do, and the tireless creativity to do it.
Hence his creations- muppet and otherwise, reach out to us like real living breathing people. He also had that rare gift of attracting innovative and inventive artists like himself and giving them the power and opportunity as well, to be experiment, to dream, to create.
If Jim Henson were still alive now what would he be doing? Something tells me that he wouldn’t be putting the muppets on Survivor unless it was to show how they could all live on a desert island together. But best of all we would still be experiencing the fresh creativity of a man who was able to achieve what no amount of political diplomacy has achieved before or since-stimulating our minds by touching our hearts with laughter and song and love. As it is, he left us with a unique legacy. One that his favorite invention allows us to still enjoy. As Uncle Matt says in Fraggle Rock: "The magic is always there."
Before I became a parent, I was a painter. When my son was born, I imagined a mini easel propped up next to mine, where we would paint together. If anybody has actually made this work for longer than three minutes, I’d love to hear about it. I will also suspect you are lying through your teeth.
Now that my son is more self-sufficient, I think I’ve simply stalled out and I need an assignment to help jump start my art. I already went back to art school in my thirties, so this time I'm taking a different and less costly approach. My first course is One Painting a Day by Timothy Callaghan. The 42 exercises in this book center around painting ordinary things, but the examples from contributing artists are far from mundane. There is no muse more accessible than your every day surroundings and I am already looking ahead to day 11: Paint a storage still life.
Next quarter, I'm considering How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith. I bought this book for my (then) 12-year-old niece with the intention of hanging on to it until she was a little older. In the end, I gave it to her anyway because I’m disorganized and found myself otherwise empty-handed on her birthday. It turned out not to matter that Exploration #26: Becoming Leonard Cohen, didn’t strike a familiar chord. Her interpretations of Exploration #9: Case of Curiosities and #34 Interesting Garbage, completely blew me away.
I hope to graduate this time, with a renewed and regular art habit. Feel free to join me. Admission is open year-round and you only need to dust off your art supplies and pull out your library card to get started with your first assigment!