Comic-Book Altermodernism

Frank Santoro recently posted a note about ‘fusion cartoonists.’ He sees the work of Paul Pope and Scott McCloud’s Zot as progenitors of a new stylistic movement (a loose term – perhaps a better word is sensibility?). Other, younger cartoonists mentioned in the same breath are Brandon Graham, Brian Lee O’Malley, and Dash Shaw. Their work (according to Frank – and I concur) is a new kind of fusion of contemporary and international influences. Their works draw on art from all the major comic-book producing regions: America, Japan, and Europe. This international miscegenation is key.

Frank likes Jazz metaphors and I think ‘fusion’ generally fits… though it’s perhaps a little broad. I’ve been thinking recently along similar lines, but aligning these artists with a recent art-world concept of Altermodernism. The term & concept was coined by Nicolas Bourriaud in 2005. Bourriaud asserts that post-modernism has exhausted itself and it must be replaced by a new concept. His candiate is Altermodernism. Here’s his explanation:

“Artists are looking for a new modernity that would be based on translation: What matters today is to translate the cultural values of cultural groups and to connect them to the world network. This “reloading process” of modernism according to the twenty-first-century issues could be called altermodernism, a movement connected to the creolisation of cultures and the fight for autonomy, but also the possibility of producing singularities in a more and more standardized world.”

To my eyes this really fits what Frank is describing.

Altermodernism itself is still rather vague and ill-defined… it’s very new after all… but at least it’s meaning is not yet so overstuffed like it’s predecessors post-modernism and modernism. I for one would be thrilled to see comics at the head of an artistic vanguard, embracing and extending the meaning of the zeitgeist with the same kind of determination seen in the art world. Down with Alternative. Long live Altermodern!

Notes on Will Eisner

Will Eisner, A Contract With God

I was asked to contribute an essay on the work of Will Eisner as part of this year’s (2010) Will Eisner Week celebrations. I decided to take a closer look at Eisner’s Contract With God Trilogy. The essay (well… really a series of notes) just got posted. Here’s a short excerpt:

All the stories in A Contract with God take place on Dropsie Avenue. Eisner fills this fictional Bronx street with multiethnic (especially Jewish) immigrants, desperate criminals and ragged tramps. Sudden wealth is as possible as instant ruin. Throughout the book it becomes obvious that the real protagonist of the book is the street itself. Eisner lavishes attention on its dilapidated buildings, rain drenched stoops and moody street-scapes. He’s clearly enamored of the urban patina of the place. With each subsequent story, Eisner increasingly begins to use the architecture of the street as a substitute for the panel border. In effect he trades the comic-book gutters for the gutters of the street.

Read the whole thing here.

A Cat in Minneapolis

On Saturday (Oct. 24th) John Porcellino arrived in Minneapolis to promote his new King Cat collection, Map of My Heart. He rode in on a weird wind charged with spectral energies. The evening started out at Big Brain Comics, where John Porcellino & Zak Sally held a joint signing. Perhaps the ectoplasmic currents were stirred by the eerie juxtaposition of two old friends publishing work from roughly the same time period. Sally’s Like a Dog and Porcellino’s Map of My Heart exhume old material, reopen old wounds and release the ghosts of the past… ghosts which still haunt both authors… ghosts which haunted the small gathering that convened at the West Bank Social Center to see John speak about his life and work.
Zak Sally roused the poltergeist by a spirited reading of an epic letter (penned by Mr. Mike) from John’s book. As if ordained by malicious spirits, the overpowering sound of a brass band emanated from the floor the moment John took the stage to speak. Undeterred he pressed on struggling against the powerful oompa rhythms which permeated the air. I detected a presence in the room… was it the absence of Maisie Kukoc? As he read from the book and illuminated the comics with stories of his health struggles and divorce a change started taking place in the general mood. John no longer labored against the brass cacophony, just the opposite, it became the soundtrack to an exorcism. The painful memories of past struggle transformed via the alchemy of King Cat into a personal lapis philosophorum.
I took only a few pictures. They can be seen in my Flickr stream. Ghosts are difficult enough to capture on film. Are digital pixels a better medium? But the presence of ghosts can be detected by the eerie juxtapositions they leave behind.

eerie juxtapostion

At the end of the event, we learned that the artists who run the West Bank Social Center were about to embark on a ghost finding experiment by constructing a giant cardboard Ouija Board. I think their efforts were successful.

Apocalyptic Vehicles: Segway Chariot

segway chariot gary panter jimbo
Jimbo Mini Cover by Gary Panter

Gary Panter has been very visible lately thanks to a couple of recent awe-inspiring books. Gary has renaissance-man-like abilities as a painter, cartoonist, TV art director, musician, light manipulator, etc. I’m sure this list of his talents is not exhaustive. I’m not going to add much to that list… except ‘postmodern conceptualist.’

I just received the new Jimbo mini-comic from Picturebox. It’s short, but full of deadpan funny non-sequiturs and great drawing. It’s another Gary Panter quality product. It contains one image-concept that encapsulates the Panter sensibility: Jimbo, cruising around on a Segway chariot! A Segway chariot! This post-apocalyptic vehicular imagination rivals Mad Max! It slices right through the Gordian Knot of late-capitalist, apocalyptic imagination: modern/ancient, primitive/advanced, peaceful/war-like, banal/sublime, etc.

In moments like this, I’m tempted to view Gary Panter as an unsung postmodern conceptualist masquerading as a cartoonist. I mean that in the best possible way! In any case, it’s time to dig out Gary’s Jimbo, a post-apocalyptic Gesamtkunstwerk, for a closer read.

Jimbo mini page 1 by Gary Panter

Comics in Poland: Zbigniew Lengren’s Filutek

Filutek Lengren

A looooong time ago I promised a series of posts about Polish comics. I never got around to starting that until now. Without further delay, here’s the first installment about Zbigniew Lengren’s, Filutek, a long-running cartoon known to practically every Polish person.

The Polish Peanuts

One of the first comics I remember looking at was Professor Filutek by Zbigniew Lengren (1919-2003). It ran weekly in the Przekrój magazine for over 50 years, a record run in Polish comics. It was ubiquitous in Poland. The closest analog in the USA in terms of name recognition was probably Peanuts, though Filutek never achieved the kind of commercialized ubiquity of Peanuts merchandising. As far as I know, there were no Filutek toys. Perhaps that was just how things worked in Communist Poland. Or maybe it’s because Filutek had a more “New Yorker” sensibility and wasn’t translatable into plastic baubles. I don’t know. There was an animated cartoon though. I’ve never seen it.

Gentle Modernism

I recently stumbled on a small collection of the Professor Filutek strips on Abe Books. I was struck by a kind of gentle modernism that’s rarely seen in western cartoons. The art is minimalist, with that 1950’s clean pen line. Lengren renders the characters and objects with precision and economy. Professor Filutek is a kind of cartoon version of Monsieur Hulot. Absent-minded, generous, Filutek resembles a child-at-heart full of wonder at the everyday chaos of a rapidly changing world.

How Old is Filutek?

The introduction to the book claims that Lengren himself didn’t know the age of Professor Filutek. According to the cartoonist, the character’s beard might not be real! He implied that Filutek glued it on!

Filutek often interacts with children. He waits in line with kids to see a Tarzan movie, buys art supplies to help a boy create better graffiti on a wall, or entertains a toddler with a bicycle pump. But this isn’t a simple endorsement of childishness. In a famous strip, Professor Filutek corrects the spelling of vulgar graffiti. Write on walls if you must, but at least learn how to spell! Break rules, but do it well.

Gentle Zen Master

In some ways he reminds me of eccentric Zen Masters; older than dirt, wise, but with the impishness of a child. The strip is playfully didactic in ways similar to other cultural products of Eastern Europe of that time (for example, the Czechoslovak Krtek and Russian Cheburashka cartoons). It encourages playful co-operation, generosity, and good manners. It punishes selfishness, greed, and rudeness. The possibility of human progress and betterment is palpable in every frame.

Cartoon Optimism

I’m not sure if that’s true of all Filutek cartoons. The collection I have is from 1957. At that point in time, the communist project in Poland was still young. It was a few years after Stalin’s death and a only year after the death of Poland’s Stalinist Prime Minister Boleslaw Bierut. These were the early years of the cultural thaw, de-Stalinization, and Roman Polanski‘s early films. It was an optimistic time. It would be interesting to compare Lengren’s work from the 50 years of its existence. I wonder if Poland’s numerous political shifts would be detectable in the absent-minded life of Professor Filutek? The center cartoon above may be a playful reminder of the frequent power outages that plagued Poland during various periods of its Communist history. Or maybe it is just a general comment on man vs. technology?

Zbigniew Lengren’s memorial featuring Filutek’s dog Fafik, his umbrella, and hat in the Old Town in Toruń, Poland. Fafik joined the cast of characters later after the collection pictured above appeared. Photo from Wikipedia.

Hot Ink: Comics Art in Minnesota

minnesota museum of american art photo

From the MMAA:
The Minnesota Museum of American Art is proud to announce the opening of its fall exhibition, Hot Ink: Comic Art in Minnesota on September 28, 2008.
The MMAA will host an opening party on October 3, 2008. The party will open up for MMAA members only at 7pm and open for the general public at 8pm. DJ Justin Olson will spin a live set and complimentary refreshments will be provided.
Admission for this event will be $10 for the general public and $5 for students and MMAA members.
Here’s a list of artists included in the show:
Kevin Cannon
Zander Cannon
Will Dinski
Tom Kaczynski (that’s me!)
Reynold Kissling
Lars Martinson
King Mini
Tyler Page
Evan G. Palmer
Brittney Sabo
Zak Sally
Barbara Schulz
Tim Sievert
Andy Singer
Tom Spence
Steven Stwalley
A bunch of my originals will be on display along with other artifacts and sketchbooks. I’ll be at the event tonight so stop by and say hello.

Mome Vol 12

mome 12 cover

The latest volume of MOME should have hit the stores on Wednesday. Volume 12 is pretty great. It’s got stories by David B., Olivier Schrauwen, Dash Shaw, Killoffer & many others. I only have a measly 4 pages in this issue. Each page is a stand alone meditation on noise, sound, silence and other auditory phenomena… inspired by loud neighbors, Jane Jacobs, Merzbow and tight deadlines.

countless solar holocausts

A couple reviews have already hit the interwebs. Here’s one by Jog and one by Rob Clough (the site seems to be down at the moment). Get yer copy at your neighborhood comics store, or direct from the publisher.

Lutefisk Sushi 3

ransom strange voodoo economics.jpg
From Ransom Strange: Voodoo Economics

Here’s another event I participated in, but failed to mention on the blog. Lutefisk Sushi 3 is an (almost) annual comics event in Minneapolis. Practically every able-bodied cartoonist in town makes a mini-comic, makes 150 copies of it and they all end up packaged together in a fancy box. This year the box was designed by Kevin Cannon of Big Time Attic. On top of that there is also a nice exhibition of some of the art held at the Altered Aesthetics gallery. My slice of sushi is a short 8 page Ransom Strange story titled Voodoo Economics. Check out the excerpt above. The Ransom Strange character first appeared in Swindle Magazine No. 12 (and he may appear in some future comics…). The original art from that story is now available for sale and viewing at the art show. The exhibition is open until the end of May. Anyway, click on the pic to see some blurry pictures from the opening event:

lutefisk sushi
Mike Toft of Brainfood checking out the art.

Cartoon Dialectics Vol 1 – New Edition


I’ve finally had a chance to put together a new edition of Cartoon Dialectics Vol 1. This new edition debuted at Stumptown a few weeks ago, but I didn’t manage to make enough copies to offer online… until now. The cover is brand new and was silkscreened by the talented Squad 19. This is a good time to mention a not-full-on review of the book that appeared quite some time ago on the excellent ComicsComics site. I don’t think I’ve linked it before, now I have. Get your copy here.