A line was then drawn


I was a convert to the idea that popular art, particularly sequential art (comics) was true ‘real’ art (without requiring any qualifying subcategory) from roughly the age of ten. 1975 was a cool year for that.  Comics wise, we could still read and reference the golden age stuff (not just well recognized greats like Ditko and Kirby – Gene Colan remains aces by me), we also had exciting new people like Frank Frazetta, Neal Adams, and the ridiculously prolific Jim Starlin (Starlord, anyone?), who was gearing up to almost single-handedly power an American answer to Metal Hurlant (known here as Heavy Metal magazine). Frank Miller, Bill Sienkiewicz, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore, all lurking in the dugout.

I’ve been watching and savouring the wild mutation of comics ever since – wonderful new stories, markets, fans, and appreciation (critical and cinematic – and not only for the big money super hero pieces). Being an eccentric, I naturally have a few screwy super-favourites. Guillermo Del Toro – my new unmet and yet excellent friend, shares my taste to a degree that just floored me!

Goya – ways to fly (top photo)

This one startled me, not for it’s energy light or drama (we’ve come to expect all of those from him) – but for it’s technical insight and modernity. Lilienthal or Cayley (from whom the Wright Bros. borrowed much) might have done similar glider design work, a good century later. Ultra cool thinking (and quite beautiful). Every angle thought out. When a master does a study, there is no skimping!

Moebius – Two athletes – Pour Sylvain

Jean Giraud, known for decades to comics maniacs everywhere as Moebius, is one of the most recognizable line stylists working – and the consistent excellence of his gestures and perspective projections, even when he’s making up species, technologies, civilizations, their sub-cultures and architecture in the midst of a dreamy piece of science fiction, is a real pleasure, every time you delve into one of his uniquely conceived works. Looking for something wild, original and thrillingly imaginative? Check out his “Airtight Garage” (Garage Hermetique – more layers of meaning in the original French – naturallement – since hermetic also suggests mystical, not just isolated).

At the time he created it, Moebius was freeing himself from the dulling shackles of a boring and creatively restrictive straight job, as so many of us are prompted to do at some point, by one thing or another (in his case, cowboy comics for kids) – and for this piece he decided to REALLY clear the mental decks.  The joyous creative free play which resulted is why “The Airtight Garage” remains on my top ten all-time comics list – and Moebius himself, one of my very favourite line-men.

Moebius – kid running away (couldn’t get at me specs, to catch the title) ;o)

Heres another small panel from him – and again, you can really feel how much more work he does than anyone could ever make you do, if you weren’t just your very own special kind of maniac anyhow, every single day when you wake up in the morning. I truly love those creators who work so generously – not just a good tilt, but all-in every time!  This extra quality of enchantment is why we must take great care to preserve our pleasure in the work!

Bernie Wrightson – Frankenstein – “A monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?”

I first encountered Bernie Wrightson back in the seventies, in the weird and unmistakable Swamp Thing (a character he co-created). Even then his lines completely fascinated me for their incredible sculptural quality, twice over – once for so wonderfully hacking-out planes and contours (a chore many artists left to their colourist) in his case with insanely perfect crosshatching, and yet again for the way he made it feel as if each panel of the work itself had been engraved, rather than simply inked. There’s a visceral, extra physical dimension to his stuff – and like Moebius, a kind of excellence-mania that no one could ever create with or extract for mere money.

Bernie Wrightson – scene from Frankenstein

Still wonder if comic artists care as much? How about this – Bernie spent seven years without pay working on his illustrated Frankenstein – total labour of love – he worked so hard on it, he actually lost the use of his dominant hand, and finished the piece with his other! One entire wall in the show showed his stuff and it stopped me hard. Realizing he’d departed (very recently) saddened me greatly – but seeing what he accomplished with his skill and will since I first admired his line as a foolish child absolutely took my breath away.

R.Crumb – “In the lurid glare which followed…”

It’s a strange thing with Crumb – there are thousands of things one can object to in his content, but his approach is so honestly neurotic, demented, unfiltered and wildly unrestrained (even for the sake of his own emotional and/or personal safety) that he’s attained a cultural status rather like “collective expresser of the imp” – what Freudians like to call the id (mischief-circuit), and so, can often go places that no one else could even write their way into, and still return from these expeditions smiling. His early (80s) anti-Trump work was right off the charts (so intense it’s actually darned rude).

His psychedelic contributions are legendary early benchmarks – but he has also been working steadily from the eighties onward in the new art-comics area, constantly seeking ways for new artists and new kinds of work to reach the public. His collaborations with Harvey Pekar, his Blues Cards (lovely) and much else of sentimental (and often political) weight, all grow naturally from the far more provocative work of the younger artist, which many dismissed as silly or rude, decades ago.

Quite amazingly, they actually did get the movies “Crumb” and “American Splendour” (mostly about Harvey Pekar, but Crumb also features) pretty much tone perfect – but in both cases, the protagonists are so personally messed-up, that I have to warn any who are sensitive to family type craziness (esp about the film “Crumb”).  The biggest surprise about the boundaryless jester-madman Crumb turns out to be that considering his origin and upbringing, he’s actually a shockingly mellow, sane and well-contained fellow!    ;op

Gahan Wilson – dining couple

When I’m chatting, I usually describe myself as a lapsed Herge (Tintin) man – and I remain a huge fan of clean line-art with a lot of thoughtful intention. But there is, as usual, one thing even better than putting a ton of effort into every single line – and that’s doing the very same thing – but making it look absolutely effortless!

Gahan Wilson, like Shel Silverstein, managed to have a very surprising split career – a lot of his work sold to the adult market (Playboy and National Lampoon, esp – if you class that as adult). It wasn’t ever blue – but he sure could go dark with his ghoulish sense of humour. He also had another career at the same time, creating whole series of really great kids books (I positively ate-up his Matthew Looney sci-fi series, as a kid, just before I got into Pohl and Williamson).

The other thing Wilson always did, whether in a charmingly finished, colourful and detailed painting with a surprisingly macabre subject, or a lovely clean line-sketch like this, was constantly PLAY.  Every line he drew was always saying far more than it absolutely had to. Again, we feel the generosity – I’m reminded of Spike Jones and the way his band used ‘extended technique’ everywhere, not to be artsy, but in the service of a rude cognitive shock, and a (philosophically productive) laugh to follow, very shortly after. You never have ANY doubt how the super-expressive people in a Gahan Wilson drawing feel, that’s for sure – gestures, expressions – even the stew in this one has definite attitude!

Yeah, you know what?  I change my mind – when I grow up, I think I want to be Gahan Wilson now instead of Herge. Way more fun! (and I’ve only got roughly three hundred and fifty thousand practise drawings to go, until my hand gets about half that smart and fluid – 349999, 349998… sigh)  ;o)

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