A WRITER WHO DRAWS

“I like to think of myself as a writer who draws.”
—Saul Steinberg

Next week we’re going to see the Saul Steinberg show at the Pierpont-Morgan Library in New York. I’m really pumped for it. Steinberg (who was also Romanian, like the Kleons) called himself “a writer who draws,” which led the curator of the show to call his drawings “illuminations,” since they combine word and image in much the same way as illuminated manuscripts. The NYTimes covered the show a while back, David Byrne wrote about it in his journal, and Derik Badman just put scans up from the catalog book, along with some comics-related commentary.

If anybody else has tips for stuff to see in New York next week, leave them in the comments, please!

PLUG FOR A FELLOW ALUMNUS

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Jordan Tate attended Miami University’s Western College Program and earned a Bachelor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Studies in 2003. He is currently an M.F.A. candidate at Indiana University’s Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts. Some of his work is held in the permanent collection at the Kinsey Institute for Gender, Sex, and Reproduction.

I don’t really know Jordan, but I was impressed by his undergraduate photography show (2003…I would’ve been a sophomore at the time). This book not only seems like a real riot, but some of the pictures below (taken from the book’s Myspace page) are of people I went to school with. See how many of the euphemisms you can name:

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The Contemporary Dictionary of Sexual Euphemisms is out from St. Martin’s Press on January 9th. I just pre-ordered mine.

GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST

“Maybe I’m even extremely biased but, on my honor, there is something to this place! And this something can be sensed by a person with mettle who agrees that life is sad, monotonous — this is all very true — but still, nevertheless and despite everything it is exceedingly, exceedingly interesting.”

&#8212Isaac Babel, “Odessa,” quoted in Joann Sfar’s Klezmer

Woke up this morning and finished “A Christmas Carol” at the kitchen table. Yesterday, I doodled my own ghosts of Christmas past on the living room floor with the help of Meg’s set of markers. As Scrooge says,

“I know nothing! I’m quite a baby….I will live in the past, the present, and the future!”

THESE CODED DRAWINGS ARE REALLY MY JOURNALS

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I have a confession to make. I haven’t been Working. I haven’t been Working, and I won’t be Working until sometime next year, when all this wedding craziness ends.

Does this bother me? Not as much as it should.

Actually, things have been quite pleasant. Minus the wedding anxiety dreams. Last night I had a dream that I overslept until five minutes before the ceremony, and my shirt wasn’t ironed, and I tripped over the power cord and severely burned my forearm, but instead of calling 9-11, I called my mom to make sure she stalled everybody until I could get there…

Now, I should be drawing this. I should be making cartoons of this.

But I don’t have a deadline to make. Thank you, baby Jesus.

There is an excellent Washington Post article today about the editorial process of selecting cartoons for the New Yorker and the new book, Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw and Will Never See In The New Yorker. In case you didn’t already now, even if you get a contract as a New Yorker cartoonist, your rejection rate on a good week is 80 or 90 percent — every week, New Yorker cartoonists send in 10 or more drawings, and at the very best, the editors pick one or two, at the very worst, they reject them all.

It’s tough being a cartoonist.

But there are a few perks. This is from the introduction to Bruce Eric Kaplan’s collection, This Is A Bad Time:

…these drawings are really my journals. I use them to explore whatever I find interesting, confusing, or upsetting on any given day. But here’s the beauty part—these private thoughts are filtered through the prism of moody children and blasé pets, disillusioned middle-aged men and weary matrons, among others. And so I get to work through whatever I am thinking about in a coded way. No one but me will ever know what the real seed of each image and caption was. So I can be as free as I want to say whatever I want, and no one can catch me. It’s great.

A secret code!

MY NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: COLOR

I’m going to teach myself color. It’s something I’ve never understood, and something I’ve never really been able to do. I’m sure that somewhere I have a subconscious understanding of it, but I just can’t consciously create effects using it. I suppose the solution is getting out a big box of crayons and starting to play, but I’ve been putting it off.

Last night I was reading Joann Sfar’s Klezmer, Book One. He is brilliant: he doesn’t plan anything when he writes it, he just cuts loose and lets the story dictate where it goes. His line is so free and sketchy, he just knocks the thing out. (This is why he has more than 100 books to his name.) He sent The Rabbi’s Cat to a colorist, but for this one, i think he did his own color (at least I couldn’t find a credit for another colorist.)

Look at the way his drawings are transformed by color:
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I keep wanting Meg to teach me, because she’s a master of color, but we’re so busy that I don’t see it happening any time soon.

So I turn to books. Right now, it’s Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color. Page 8:

On the blackboard and in our notebooks we write: Color is the most relative medium in art.

The book’s aim is to show that colors work only against other colors, and that pleasing effects arise out of these juxtapositions. (When Meghan was learning to paint, her teacher would only let her use color — no blacks, no whites!) This was a big slap in the forehead for me, because my only foray into color has been to use it to accent black and white drawings. Albers uses several examples with colored paper to show different effects:
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Meghan did a series of collages last year that were very similar to these paper confections: strips of pure color that she was arranging into these really cool landscapes. I can’t find a scan of them anywhere right now. Maybe I’ll post them later.

Either way: look out color, here I come.

WILLIAM BLAKE AND UNCLE SCROOGE, HAGGLING OVER MONEY

THE LAOCOON AS JEHOVAH WITH SATAN AND ADAM

This is an engraving by William Blake called “The Laocoon as Jehovah with Satan and Adam.” It was done around 1820, but to me, it looks like it could be a graphic for yesterday’s New York Times magazine.

The graffitti scrawl on this is really nutty: Blake is spouting off a manifesto about Christianity and art:

A Poet a Painter a Musician an Architect, the Man
Or Woman who is not one of these is not a Christian
You must leave Fathers & Mothers & Houses & Lands if they stand in the way of Art

A little extreme for my tastes. I think that pretty much all that stuff is more important than art. (That’s probably why nobody will be reading my comics in 200 years…) And what about weddings? He goes on to say, “For every Pleasure Money Is Useless.” Tell that to the cake baker!

Maybe it’s the huge bags of currency we’re throwing into the celebration fire for this wedding, maybe it’s the Christmas season, or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been reading Dickens’ Christmas Carol in bed, but I’ve been thinking about money.

Jesus said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24) I guess that means that you should give everything away. Eat, drink, and be merry. Ebenezer’s life sure got better when he started burning through his savings…

And what about charity? What is our motivation for giving to others in need? It’s not necessarily the promise of getting into heaven. Dig this excerpt from an Nytimes article by Peter Singer, “What Should a Billionaire Give — and What Should You?

Interestingly, neither [Bill] Gates nor [Warren] Buffett seems motivated by the possibility of being rewarded in heaven for his good deeds on earth. Gates told a Time interviewer, “There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning?? than going to church. Put them together with Andrew Carnegie, famous for his freethinking, and three of the four greatest American philanthropists have been atheists or agnostics. (The exception is John D. Rockefeller.) In a country in which 96 percent of the population say they believe in a supreme being, that’s a striking fact.

MORE MAPPING

Here’s another map I did with the ol’ sumi-e brush for an essay I’m working on.  The piece of paper was really huge, so I had to take a photo with the digital camera.  I had all this random junk floating around my head for the essay, but I couldn’t figure out how to put it in linear, narrative form.  I started out thinking this would be another radial map (I started with the black box in the bottom-middle), but it ended up with a horizontal flow (what you see is only the top half of the sheet).  This was a happy accident, and in the process of drawing the map, I realized the narrative that was hiding amongst all the random junk.  

The quote by McCloud in the top, lefthand corner is from chapter 6 of UNDERSTANDING COMICS, “Show and Tell.”  Notice the creative writing professor repeating the mantra of workshop: “Show, don’t tell!” 

(I should note that even though I often take shots at creative writing workshops, my own workshop professor was wonderful: I took all my workshops at Miami from him, and he is still a good friend of mine.  He’ll even be at the wedding!)