Friday, October 7, 2016

Original Art For Sale


I am selling some of my original art on Etsy.
Sir Alfred No. 3 is now available to download on Gumroad; damaged print copies are still available at Fantagraphics. 
I missed linking to another review of Sir Alfred No. 3 by Abhay Khosla.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

S-u-per-man

(Photos: Y. Yeto)

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Diapason


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Monday, October 3, 2016

Apt Bldg


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Friday, September 2, 2016

In the Realms of the Lightly Damaged



The final remaining stock of Sir Alfred No. 3 is described as "lightly damaged" and offered at a discount on the website of Fantagraphics.

I love this expression, "lightly damaged." Isn't everyone? What it also means is the undamaged books are now gone--souled out. With a thousand already in the ether, a second printing is asking for too much trouble.

Since Alvin's death, he's been in many dreams; in one, he was showing me a non-existent graffiti spray paint mural he did on Vermont near Santa Monica Boulevard in my old neighborhood. As we were crossing the street, a fleet of military aircraft swooped down at a 45 degree angle into the pavement and passed through us the way ghosts do. On the corner near the bus stop, there was a felled squirming cow covered in afterbirth.

I then started binge watching Kurt Cobain suicide conspiracy movies on Netflix, comforted by their distracting ability to explain "what really happened" because there is not going to be a way to know.

Recently there was a fire in Santa Clarita, and although it was not so near where Alvin is buried, I started to wonder what the temperature would be like under the ground and whether it might be stuffy wearing a suit inside a padded coffin when there are flames overhead.

So buy today, argh. I feel mostly like sleeping for a good while, but I am so indebted to Fantagraphics and John Porcellino for agreeing to make the books available for purchase.




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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Comics Reporter Review

Before

After (Alternate)
Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter has posted a review of Sir Alfred No. 3.
This review luckily coincided with the San Diego Comic Convention, where the book was for sale.
It looks increasingly like Sir Alfred No. 3 will sell out.
There are no plans for a second printing, so order today, etc.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Podcast Trifecta

Photo reference.

Joe McCulloch and Matt Seneca discuss Sir Alfred No. 3 on the podcast "Comic Books Are Burning in Hell." I believe the title is meant to be salutary, in the same sense one might say, "Those twelve bars by Drake are fire." I actually don't know if Drake is fire or not. 
I'm very flattered to be the subject of this broadcast.

Normally on their podcast they are joined by Chris Mautner, who may have recused himself because he recently weighed in on Sir Alfred No. 3 with a review in The Comics Journal.


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Monday, June 6, 2016

More Link Blogging

Having the time of my life

I feel like I do better with the written word, but instead fate has presented my second podcast interview.
This time it’s the show with the ironic misnomer "Inkstuds." It was host Robin McConnell’s inspired idea to have me interviewed instead by Roman Muradov.

Roman is a great cartoonist whose work for me has echoes of midcentury modernist art. He's, like, I don't know, a fauve painter, but one who has also assimilated someone like Syd Hoff? He combines that with an elevated wordplay, arguably that of an amused and/or appalled emigre?

It often occurred to me I should’ve been interviewing him. He has a new book coming out called Jacob Bladders; the sample art I’ve seen looks great.
He also has a book coming out in France, “Aujourd’hui, demain, hier,” I’m curious to see.
He’s also an extremely erudite fellow, to the point where I often felt like one of the scientists confronted with Cliff Robertson’s Charly at full apex. Whenever I say, “Oh, okay,” in the interview after he mentions an author like, say, César Aira, chances are I may be aware of who he’s talking about, but haven’t read the book in question.
(I was lucky he didn’t push me about my non-fiction reading habits, or I’d have to admit checking out Rod Stewart’s autobiography.)

Last I heard, Sir Alfred No. 3 is now past half gone. Order now [Space echo].

Also:

Fellow Blog Flume inmate Ken Parille puts Sir Alfred No. 3 under the electron microscope.
Chris Anthony Diaz publishes an interview on ComicsWorkbook we did way back in the halcyon days of 2014.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Comix Claptrap

"Diploma" shades purchased at Target for $3.00.
I was recently a guest on the podcast The Comix Claptrap.
Listen to me drone here.
The hosts are Ticket Stub publisher/cartoonist Rina Ayuyang and cartoonist Thien Pham.
They have entertaining good cop/bad cop chemistry.
Josh Frankel also checks in at the top to discuss new releases.
In other news, here's a page from Mujeres Celebres No. 69, Grace Kelly, published in 1966 in Mexico:


My Spanish is bad enough that I thought, "Cool, a comic called Dead Celebrities!"
I had originally bought issue number 76, but Alfred Hitchcock wasn't in it:


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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sir Alfred No. 3 Now Available

The final Pigeon Press publication Sir Alfred No. 3 is now available for purchase on the website of Fantagraphics:
http://www.fantagraphics.com/siralfred
and through John Porcellino's Spit and a Half distribution arm:
http://www.spitandahalf.com


Or it can likely be found in a few select comic shops soon enough.

Thanks to Manuel and Josie Buenaventura for facilitating the distribution and John P. and Fantagraphics for taking the book on.
Also thanks to Chris Anthony Diaz and Thien Pham who physically transported the boxes from Alvin's to UPS. Chris sent me this in-transit cell phone photo, which calmed my nerves a bit:


Thanks to everyone I spoke with who offered their help or took interest in the proceedings.
In other news, Tippi Hedren is on the cover of Life After 50 magazine this month:


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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Alvin


Alvin Buenaventura, Oakland, CA, 2007.

In early 2001, I lived on eBay, bidding on anything that had Daniel Clowes art on it: comics, LPs, t-shirts, etc. Every week I’d win several auctions, always defeating a bidder who went by “totoroar.” It wasn’t long before I started to feel bad; after all, we were fellow collectors, fellow obsessives. So, in an uncharacteristic act of generosity, I contacted totoroar and offered to give them a few Clowes-related things I had. Totoroar turned out to be someone named Alvin Buenaventura, a name I assumed was fake. I sent Alvin some comics and then we exchanged numbers. He eventually told me he planned to start his own press, asking if I’d help. I said “Sure.” And I can say — without the slightest exaggeration — that meeting Alvin fundamentally changed my life.


*
Alvin was absurdly generous. I’m writing this in a room filled with stuff he gave me: comics, magazines, letterpress prints, original art, obscure minicomics, button collections, cartoon masks, European exhibition catalogs, foreign editions of books by cartoonists we liked, and so much more. When Alvin travelled, he must have been thinking “What would Ken want?” Then he got it. His gifts frequently arrived unannounced.

Once, when he attended a conference featuring a dizzying, never-to-be-repeated line-up of cartoonists (Crumb, Barry, Clowes, Ware, Bechdel, Brunetti, Panter, Sacco, Burns, Spiegelman, Gloeckner, Green, Tyler, Katchor, Seth), Alvin got every one of them to sign a program for me. It arrived unannounced.

I couldn’t make sense of Alvin’s generosity given his ongoing financial troubles. How could he afford to be so generous with me, and with so many others? (And how could he travel so often? I always wanted to ask him, but knew not to.) When I’d suggest a project I thought could make him some money, or propose a way he could cut a book’s printing cost and increase his profits, he listened, said no, and then talked about what he planned to do. He wouldn’t compromise. He insisted, in ways sometimes reckless but ultimately inspirational, that he represent the artists he cared about in the manner they deserved. To look at the work Alvin produced is to see his generosity.

A gift from Alvin with a note.

*
Alvin had the softest voice of anyone I ever knew. When we’d talk on the phone, I had to press it as hard as I could against my ear; and even then I often couldn’t hear him. It seemed a perversely perfect, Alvin-like irony that someone so soft-spoken would choose to live with two screaming birds, who frequently turned our phone conversations into farces.

This quiet, reticent voice embodied Alvin’s withholding and withdrawn nature. I knew him for 14 years yet I’m not sure I understood him. He’d often ask how I was doing, but when I asked the same of him, he’d say, “There’s a lot of shit going on that I don’t wanna talk about now,” and we’d get back to work or to discussing comics.

Seldom, and always unexpectedly, he’d tell me something revealing — and occasionally disturbing — about his life. When he was going through one particularly serious financial crisis, we’d spend hours day after day working through things, trying to find a way out, a way to move on. Then, suddenly, I didn’t hear from him for months. I’d call, but nothing. I’d wait a few weeks, call again; still nothing. I learned to accept Alvin’s Way. Suffering from life-long physical and mental health problems, his only satisfying therapy, it seemed, was escape — he often took week-long “silent retreats.” Once, just before a project was due, he emailed that he was off to Nepal and we’d hear from him when he returned in a month.

Because of his reticence, I was genuinely moved when he opened up — it felt like a profound act of trust coming from someone so deliberately unknowable.

*
Collaborating with Alvin was a real joy, though it wasn’t always easy (a habitually disappearing phantom can test any collaboration). I was happy to help him in any way I could. I’d talk with him about projects, write press releases, edit comic books, touch-up website copy, and write text that appeared on Buenaventura Press and Pigeon Press comics. Writing wasn’t Alvin’s strength, but collaborating was. When I’d put together some copy I thought was pretty good, he was always able to make it better, to get it to say just what it needed to say. I felt lucky to play a part in the forward-thinking art he released.

I vividly remember one conversation last year in which we worked on a few sentences for several hours, fine tuning every word, every punctuation mark, thinking about the best way to place the text on the object and its packaging. Remarkably, these kinds of conversations, of which we had dozens, weren’t the least bit tedious. They were fun.

Alvin was central to the two projects I’m most proud of. I co-edited his Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist and he designed my Daniel Clowes Reader. So many have praised the elegance and clarity of the Reader’s design. Alvin made it a beautiful book.

Me, Alvin, and Daniel Clowes at SPX 2012.
*
Alvin had an instinctive artistic intelligence, the kind of peculiar perception and sensitivity toward visual art that I’ve yet to encounter in another human being. His taste was uncanny; he was able to recognize great cartoonists long before others did. He introduced me to several who have since become essential: Tom Gauld, Lisa Hanawalt, Anders Nilsen, Jeffrey Brown, Vanessa Davis, Matt Furie, and on and on. He was the first to publish many of these now-celebrated cartoonists, introducing them to the art-comics world.

When I’d say I didn’t like a cartoonist that he did, he’d insist that I read them again, more carefully. He was right, every time. In the least pedantic, most unassuming way, Alvin taught me so much.

While he certainly had an aesthetic, I don’t think I could define it. He published everything from the cartoon obscenities of Johnny Ryan to the lyrical drawings of Souther Salazar. To look at a Believer issue with an Alvin-edited comics section is to begin — but only begin — to understand his visionary eclecticism. (When I had a piece rejected at The Believer, Alvin told me to give it to him and he’d take it directly to the editors; soon after, it appeared in one of their music issues.)

*
A champion of those he believed in, Alvin solicited and published my first essay on comics, a short piece in the catalog for the Buenaventura Gallery exhibition titled Original Comic Art. This 2003 San Diego art-comics show was timed to coincide with the pop-culture fiasco that is the San Diego Comic-Con, a great example of Alvin’s ‘counter-programming’ approach to art and life.

The catalog, his entree into publishing, shows all the hallmarks of his free-wheeling, yet deliberate style. Most exhibition catalogs, no matter how attractive, are simply pages under a cover. Alvin’s was a little masterpiece. Letterpress printed, hand-sewn, and hand-numbered, it included a fold-out title page, several funny hand-stamped images, random spot color, a separate comic-strip insert, and the real coup: a stapled-in plastic bag containing an “authentic piece of trash,” a scrap of original art from one of the exhibition’s cartoonists. It impressed even genius designer Chip Kidd: “It’s just stunning . . . . I wish I could say I designed it but I didn't. Fuck. If I would have though, I would have wanted it to look just like this.”

*
Alvin loved beautiful, unexpected objects; he gathered so many around him and brought so many into the world.

*
I keep waking up at night, thinking things like, “Fuck, Alvin’s gone. I’ll never get to proofread another comic for him.” Of all there is to miss — the friendship, the intelligence, the generosity — a proofreading opportunity seems like a really stupid thing to care about. Yet, when working with someone like Alvin, someone who had such an extraordinary imagination, it’s not. Perhaps I’m trying to avoid feeling the loss in its largest terms: our fourteen-year relationship, the sadness of his last days, all I had yet to learn from him, all the projects he had yet to imagine and give us — and that the world will be forever less artful, less beautiful without him.

_____________
Coda

Alvin once wrote about his first name:

When I was growing up, that uncommon name my parents assigned me invited endless, unwanted, hackneyed, tiresome taunts from children and adults alike. “Where’s your brothers Simon and Theodore? he heh heh....” Yeah, charming, real clever. 9 out of 10 of people that I'd meet for the first time would immediately rattle that off, or even worse, sing the ditty. Annoying as that was it proved a reliable, instant douchebag detector.

I’m so glad I passed the test.





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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Daniel Clowes on Alvin at The Comics Reporter



At The Comics Reporter, Daniel Clowes offers a remembrance of Alvin Buenaventura.
Other recent posts found about Alvin: Jonathan Barli, Anders Nilsen.
And here is Alvin's obituary by Chris Mautner and Joe McCulloch in the The Comics Journal.

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

RIP Alvin




Early Friday morning, I received an email from my friend Rina informing me Alvin Buenaventura had passed away. She had no specifics about what happened.

I later got a phone call from Alvin’s friend Dylan, who informed me what I was hoping was some kind of elaborate hoax was true.

The previous evening I had received a package with the final comp copies of the comic book Sir Alfred No. 3 that we had just finished. There was no note. There were also some uncropped front cover prints he had wanted me to sign and send back to use as an incentive for initial orders of the book.

We had recently been through the usual round of emails and phone conversations resulting from the production process.

He was overworked on many other things besides our project and generally mentioned some health problems, both physical and mental.

He described having some autoimmune issues he said were making it difficult for him to use his hands? Severe arthritis? He said he was taking some kind of medication with unpleasant side effects?

Another time he apologized for being out of contact by saying he had a breakdown. He didn’t seem willing to go into any more details.

He had also got back from a trip to Hawaii and told me he had thought about not coming back.

But the things people always say after a suicide were true as well. His last email was upbeat about the mylar sleeves arriving. Things were looking up, he seemed so pleased, all those usual things.

In general though, most of our conversations were more about stuff like moire patterns on a dot screen, final trim size, file corrections…

Alvin sometimes reminded me of the type of manic/depressive I had read about in Kay Jamison’s book Touched With Fire. He also sometimes reminded me of a Hollywood agent with his Swifty Lazar type glasses and that kind of gifted orientation toward creative personalities.

He was a secretive person who often seemed at odds with himself, a great source of his creativity.

The photos you see of him looking through a loupe on press are indicative of his focus. I asked him about the loupe, and he said it had filters so you could look at just cyan, magenta or yellow at a high magnification. I never knew anyone could do that or be willing to. If you look at even his most low-key books, you will see that kind of attention to the simple matter of the plate hitting the paper.

Because the size of my book meant the pages could not be ganged together, he did 22 press checks. Who does that? I wouldn’t have.

On the other side, he could be erratic. You could talk to him on the phone and the line would go dead, and he wouldn’t call back. There’d be odd absences in contact. He could be cold when he felt slighted, and you’d never quite know why. He was a man of indomitable alliances and longstanding grudges. I grew to not be so thrown by these things as we progressed. It’s even some of the things we had in common.

I do not know the fate of my comic, which I imagine is sitting in a bunch of boxes in Alvin’s place somewhere. It will depend on the disposition of his estate. I hope people get to see what a bang-up job he did on it.

Often in his emails he told me that working on my book meant a lot to him; I sure hope so.
I hope working on my project didn’t cause him any more stress than anyone usually encounters in the sometimes perilous compact of putting a book together.

I’m also remembering, among so many other memories which could fill many other posts, Alvin, after receiving my files, asking for “first refusal” of my next book in his business-like way…

My condolences to his friends and family.





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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Information, The Gathering: Fifteen Years of The Daniel Clowes Bibliography



Fifteen years ago on February 1, 2001, my Daniel Clowes bibliography went online. I can trace its origin to an afternoon in 1999 when, wandering around Clemons Library in Charlottesville, Virginia, I said to myself, “I’m going to track down every single thing Clowes has ever done!” Having followed the cartoonist since 1987, I already had most of the comic books, graphic novels, and anthologies, along with a few OK Soda cans and Sub Pop LPs with his art, several magazine illustrations, and a Clowes original or two. But I had no idea how much stuff was out there, waiting to be unearthed, organized, and cataloged: dozens of magazine, comic-book, and zine covers; over 100 minicomics; tons of t-shirts; 45s with picture sleeves; Zippo lighters; comics in Cracked magazine under several pseudonyms; foreign editions and translations; prints and posters; a paddle ball; a board game; a watch; hand-painted ties; etc., etc., etc. After two years and around a thousand hours spent gathering information and buying stuff, I thought the bibliography was ready to go online. 

The site, whose updates since 2001 average 1.5 per month, includes over a dozen category-based lists in reverse chronological order with annotated entries (annotations typically include description, date of publication, contents, etc.). The bibliography has around 2000 entries for physical objects as well as things like online interviews with Clowes and magazine features about the cartoonist. Throughout the years, I’ve simplified the organization and compiled information into a few ‘user-friendly’ lists, such as an alphabetical cross-referenced list of stories in Clowes’s comics and collections, as well as a list of uncollected stories. (Bibliographic scholar and textual critic David Vander Meulen offered some helpful advice on restructuring the site’s contents and categories). Some folks have suggested I expand it into a visual archive, but I’ve decided to keep it simple and somewhat 'pure' — and adding images would be too much work. That, plus my limited ‘design skills’ explains why it looks the way it does: lines of black text on grey backgrounds.

The bibliography, which first appeared on the University of Virginia’s American Studies site, is a fairly basic digital humanities project, but it serves its purpose. Many scholars and fans have told me they’ve used it when researching Clowes. Likewise, it's been essential in helping me to understand the vast scope of Clowes's work, informing the three books and many essays I've done on the cartoonist. But it also serves a different, more personal purpose. Such long-term pursuits keep me off the streets and out of trouble, providing my anxious, wandering mind with a sense of ‘direction.’ Since I’ve yet to track down everything Clowes has done, as I said I would in ’99, and since he's still producing excellent new work, there’s a reason to keep on keepin’ on.

                                            

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Chris Ware, The New Yorker, Minecraft, and Interpretation


What is this Chris Ware cover about? Some feel confident that it’s a ‘trite’ image, unambiguously illustrating its maker’s disapproval of the scene it portrays: “those darn kids today, playing with computers when they should be playing outside.” In this reading, Ware is ‘cranky grandpa,’ and that’s the end of it. But this interpretation, and others like it, seem a little simplistic, taking an image full of things/information/relationships/design choices/etc. and reducing it to a verbal cliché. Why is our first reading -- our first reaction -- so often a didactic one? (Note 6.26: This post has been revised to eliminate some incorrect material on Minecraft and expanded with new observations.) {Click on images to enlarge them.}

Some things I thought about when reading and writing about the cover:

* What about aesthetics, the relationship between Ware’s geometric approach to cartooning and Minecraft’s somewhat similar visual approach, as seen when comparing the image framed by the window to those on the screens? The way cartoonists and video-games build worlds also parallel each other. These connections seem like clear “themes," at least as intentional as any commentary about kids and play. Style- and design-wise, the cover gives us reasons to think that Ware's attitude toward Minecraft might be positive.

Is Ware judging this scenario, or is he simply setting up a scene/series of ideas for our contemplation and enjoyment? If judgment is involved at all, might he have mixed feeling about the scene?

* The world outside the room is certainly designed to echo what appears on the screens (grass, tree, sky). The cover shows that virtual worlds are pretty compelling, that they may actually be more interesting than the 'natural' world (at least in its manicured suburban form). Maybe Ware, a parent, identifies with the kids. In Minecraft, users are gods, little demi-urges, just as cartoonists like Ware are . . .  So world-building, cartooning, creativity, parental sympathy, and aesthetic sympathy also seem like themes.


* What about the cover’s depiction of three versions of play?:
1. The discarded dolls are an imitative form (users pretend to be a care-giver, mother).
2. The ball near the image’s center (like the swing set) represents a non-imitative, less restrictive kind of play (in other words, it’s not programming kids for adult roles).
3. Minecraft represents both something imitative and more open-ended than what the dolls represent. Is Ware making a statement about a "hierarchy of play?" Maybe, but I doubt it. Ware doesn't seem like a "statement artist."

The yellow ball, which occupies an image's place of prominence (the center), does look a little lonely, though. (Note that the pink/red girl might be stepping on a ball.) Ware's work often communicates 'the pathos of objects': things can carry more emotional weight -- can even seem to 'feel' -- more than people do. At the risk of overstating things, there may be a  'spiritual materialism' at work here. This room is a curated collection -- and careful artistic rendering -- of objects that appear to have the kind of talismanic power that things have for children (and for nostalgic adults.) (Ware's work is kind of like that of the cartoonist Seth in this way; both show a lifelong collector's devotion to things.)

* What about perception and ‘frames of reference,’ or comics form and sequence? All of the frames/panels echo each other -- the screens, the window panes, the odd empty frame on the left. So perhaps the image has something to say about competing forms of seeing, maybe?  Something about enclosed spaces (rooms, screens, fenced in yards, houses) and perception/attention? When a cartoonist  (especially one known for formal innovation) uses so many panels in an image/illustration, there might be something interesting going on; and certainly we can talk about the image in terms of design, even independent of its content.


With all of these panels, the cover reminds us that a single image can be sequential, and that the sequence here (in contrast to one in a comic made of rows) is unstable: it can be read in many different orders; there is no definitive way through the image's 'units' (which seem like an ugly term to use when describing such an attractive image).

* What about gender and technology? Girls leaving dolls behind them to invent worlds? They appear to have just been playing tea and cake while dressing the dolls; cups are knocked over and three of the dolls’ four shoes are off. The girls seem to have left this play-world in a hurry . . . There’s a real sense of chaos toward the bottom of the image that’s replaced by an impression of order as we move up into the space of technology. Maybe Ware endorses their implicit ‘rejection of gender roles’ and the technology gender gap? (The cover is a male-free zone, with girls, girl-surrogates (female dolls), and girl avatars.) Or perhaps he's just documenting, with a kind of objectivity. something he's witnessed.

* Each girl is near a doll whose outfit matches hers. Note how different the poses of the girls’ bodies are when compared to their doll counterpart. The girls, comfortable and creative, seem to be rejecting those more restrictive poses. Lying on the floor, the un-bendable Barbie can never relax: she must forever pose, and even be propped up in order to stay upright.

On the topic of matching colors: in a balancing design gesture, the partially-shown lamp on the left shares the two-color scheme of the outfit on the girl on the right, just as the colors of the partially-shown doll on the right -- atop the bookshelf -- resemble the outfit of the girl on the left. There's what appears to a skirt at the bottom/center of the image; it's blue and red, with the blue part 'gesturing' toward the blue girl and the red part toward the red girl. Some of this mirroring seems to be related to how Minecraft can be played.

Another odd detail: a shrub visible through the window is blue (you can have blue trees in Minecraft.)

* The blue girl sits in a full-size chair, her doll’s play-chair almost fully hidden under the desk. This feels like some kind of ‘moving away from childish things’ -- or at least Ware sets up a relationship between these things. Like the dolls, a few books are strewn about, perhaps tossed aside for the more engaging Minecraft. Is Ware, a lover and maker of books, OK with this? In 2015, are books and dolls becoming more and more like artifacts of some dying world? Or, again, is this just something that happens in homes around the whole that Ware finds visually interesting, socially relevant, and/or 'relatable'?

Etc. Etc.

If you don’t like the  cover, fair enough. All such opinions are valid. But I think there’s a lot going on in it, more than can be expressed by a few words. It's a pretty dense image. (Sorry about the sloppiness -- I wrote it kind of fast, internet style.)



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