Nick Bertozzi

Nick Bertozzi
One of the great things about the burgeoning independent comics scene here in the U.S. is that a wider readership is beginning to see beyond the narrow cliché of “comics = superheroes” that has dominated the public’s general perception of what comics are, and open their eyes to some of the wider possibilities of the medium.

Comics (graphic stories) are a terrific place, for example, for cultural mash-ups, and a wonderful case in point is Nick Bertozzi’s “art history by way of noir murder mystery with a touch of supernatural fantasy graphic novel”, The Salon.

Set in the pre-modernist cultural stew of Paris 100 years ago, the story pulls together protagonists like Picasso, Braque, Gertrude Stein, Leo Stein, Erik Sati and Guillaume Apollinaire in a fantastical murder mystery, in the course of which we are given the birth of Cubism revealed in discussions on a train and scrawls on a napkin.

Bertozzi weaves his tale in horizontal panels, giving it a somewhat cinematic consistency, and throws his images at us with brusquely drawn, rough edged ink lines, at times using intentional crudeness to push them in our face, at other times pulling back into woodcut-like refinement, and casts them in hauntingly expressive duotones.

His story, likewise, swings from from refined to crude, from intellectual ponderings on the nature of art to sex scenes and the scatological details of Georges Braque squatting on a chamber pot. Throughout it all, Bertozzi makes it abundantly clear that this particular story could not have been told effenctively in any way other than the unique synergy of words and pictures that we call comics.

You can read the first few pages online here (though the link for the fourth one seems broken at the moment), and a few others in the course of this interview with Bertozzi on The Comics Reporter; or you can watch a short promotional video. The fact that a “trailer” for a comics story feels natural points up the often mentioned relationship between comics and film. There is also a short film linked from Bertozzi’s site on The Making of Salon.

Ths comics page on his site features glimpses at some of Bertozzi’s other stories, including his recent collaboration with Jason Lutes, Houdini: The Handcuff King (the first title released under the auspices of The Center for Cartoon Studies), Drop Ceiling, an ongoing story originally serialized in Rubber Necker, and another history-based story, this one closer to actual history, of Ernest Shackelton.

Bertozzi also has illustration clients that include The New York Times, Fortune, SPIN Magazine and others. In addition he teaches a Comicbook Storytelling Workshop at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

Dan May

Dan May
“Taunt Your Monster” says the title of one of Dan May’s images, and taunt them he does, in the process delighting us with a fascinating beastiary of odd flora and fauna. His creatures, monsters, occasional people and animal-like thingies inhabit charmingly odd environments that look like undersea landscapes or perhaps the ice caves of Muni Mula, or are often presented stark against backgrounds of big obvious brush strokes and textures of paint as paint.

May’s paintings carry echoes of Joan Miro and Yves Tanguy and he occasionally tips his hat to pop culture influences with tributes to the likes of Dr. Seuss and Tim Burton.

He works in acrylic on wood or canvas and varies between larger canvasses populated with multiple examples of his odd animals, plant things and and sometimes vaguely microbial or virus-like entities, and smaller works in which one or two are isolated.

May has worked extensively as an illustrator but now focuses more on painting and exhibiting as a gallery artist. His bio page includes a list of illustration clients and gallery exhibitions.

His web site includes two galleries that can be navigated by convenient arrows, sequence dots or by simply clicking on the images to move forward.

The link to “Blog” is actually to a Flickr space with multiple galleries that are considerably more extensive than the web site and includes blog-like entries on the main page.

There is an interview on LCSV4.

Animator vs. Animation (Alan Becker)

Animator vs. Animation - Alan Becker
OK, I have to admit that this is something I find particularly appealing for a number of reasons, and may not appeal to everyone to the same degree, but I can’t help enjoying it as much as I do.

First of all, I’m a sucker for comics stories or animations in which the artist interacts with his or her creation. One of my all-time favorite Warner Brothers cartoons, for example, is Duck Amuck, in which Daffy is tormented by the hand, pencil and eraser of the unseen animator.

Animator vs. Animation, a Flash animation by Alan Becker, is a kind of reversal on that notion, in which the animator’s creation gains a will of it’s own and engages him in a battle for control.

The particularly delightful thing for me is that the battlefield on which this conflict is played out is the Flash application interface itself. As someone who works in Flash, and in fact teaches it, I took great delight in seeing this familiar set of tools, palettes, timeline, and controls deconstructed in a battle between the artist’s stick figure character, initially labeled “victim”, and the artist, cleverly represented by the mouse cursor.

In spite of some of the Flash-specific references and in-jokes, I think anyone can appreciate the general idea and the entertaining way it’s presented.

Apparently, the animation has been successful enough that Becker has revised it, and followed it up with a sequel, Animator vs. Animation II, in which he has given his protagonist (antagonist) more power, in anticipation of a greater challenge, and the battle rages well beyond the Flash interface.

He says in the introductions to the two animations that the first one took him three months to complete; the second one, five months.

Becker doesn’t seem to have a web site, instead posting his animations and other projects to his deviantART space.

One of the other items on his page is this quite nice acrylic painting of his own home-grown watermelon. There are also other drawings. His brief bio indicates that he is only 18 and plans to attend the Columbus College of Art and Design and pursue a career in art. Something tells me we’ll be seeing more from him as time goes on.

[Link courtesy of Janet Kofoed]

Mark Campana

Mark Campana
Some landscape and cityscape paintings have a distinct sense of place. There is a certain appeal to paintings with subjects that are exotic and imply the romance of travel, for those of us in the U.S. that might be exemplified by images of Venice or Paris.

There is also a strong appeal, however, in the near and familiar, and many artists will devote them selves to the portrayal of the areas near where they live, finding resonance with those who have familiarity and identification with the places pictured.

Mark Campana is a Philadelphia painter who covers a range of subjects, but I particularly enjoy his depictions of houses, streets, cafes and shops in the areas of Center City (what those of us in Philadelphia call our downtown) around Rittenhouse Square and Fitler Square, both of which are areas in which I lived at one time, and both of which contain a rich array of architecture. It’s a section of the city criss-crossed with small streets that are lined with old, real townhouses, (large, 19th Century, single family city houses, as opposed to the misnamed suburban constructions for which “townhouse” is a euphemism used to avoid calling them what they actually are, row houses).

Campana has also found a rich source of subjects in the city parks themselves, Rittenhouse Square is a marvel of a city park, and Fitler Square is a small treasure, unknown even to many Philadelphia residents. The two areas actually adjoin one another, and I used to enjoy the visual richness as I walked through them on my way to school when I was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Campana, was a graphic design student at the Art Institute (Philadelphia has more art schools per capita than any other city in the U.S.), but moved into gallery art shortly after graduating; and, like many artists, considers most of his painting skills self-taught. Campana is from South Philadelphia and has exhibited in the city for years, both in galleries like The Newman Galleries, The Home Works Gallery and the Kevin Butler Gallery, but also in the city’s juried outdoor art exhibitions.

I’ve encountered Campana and his work before at the Rittenhouse Square Fine Arts Annual (one of the oldest juried outdoor art shows in the nation), and I ran into him again last weekend at the Manayunk Art Show. Manayunk is an area of Philadelphia that feels a bit like a European town, perched on a hillside above a river, filled with tiny streets and small houses, and is an ideal setting for an event that is part juried art show, part street fair.

These kind of exhibitions allow Campana, and artists like him, to connect directly with their patrons in a way not ordinarily possible in a gallery setting, which lends itself particularly well to artists whose work has that element of a local connection.

Unfortunately the images of Campana’s paintings on his web site are a bit small and not always reproduced as well as I would like, making it difficult to see the visual charm in his brush marks and paint surface, lively with bits of scumbling and broken color.

I particularly like his contrasts of light and dark, textures of stone and brick and his frequent portrayal of dappled light and shade on the small side streets.

To those of you not in Philadelphia, or even the U.S., perhaps his images will pass over into the distant and different, but for me they’re wonderfully familiar.

Simon Ng

Simon NgIllustrator Simon Ng was born in Singapore, acquired his illustration degree from Otis College in Los Angeles, worked for publishing houses and a children’s magazine company in Hong Kong for several years, and is now back in Singapore, doing freelance illustration for a number of agencies.

One of his projects was a series of three (as far as I know) illustrations used to raise awareness for the Gambling Helpline of the National Council on Problem Gambling, Singapore.

These took the form of three playing cards, the Ace of Hearts, 7 of Diamonds and a Joker, in which Ng has created the card markings in smaller illustrated vignettes of scenes of domestic violence, abandonment, financial and emotional distress.

The image at left shows the 7 of Diamonds illustration with a detail below it of the “7”, suit marker diamond and one of the interior diamond markings.

A terrific idea, beautifully executed. Art direction is credited to Bob Tay from McCann-Erickson, Singapore. You can see all three of the Gambling Helpline illustrations on Ng’s blog, simon @rtwork.

The campaign and illustrations have garnered awards from many quarters, including The Singapore Creative Circle Awards, Adfest, The World Press Award and the D&AD Yellow Pencil.

Simon Ng also has a portfolio site where you can see his illustrations, character designs and storyboard illustrations. Ng works in a variety of stylistic approaches and seems to enjoy taking on wide range of projects.

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Multiple Choice: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi from the town of Caravaggio, Italy) was:

A. One of the greatest painters in the history of Western art

B. A rebellious upstart who defied the conventions of religious painting, alienated patrons and incensed the church

C. A master of chiaroscuro, the dramatic contrast of light and dark, perhaps matched only by Rembrandt

D. A master of foreshortening, the difficult representation of the body or limbs from end on, possibly matched only by Michelangelo Buonerotti

E. A bragging, swaggering show off who specialized in dramatic, violent scenes of fights, struggles and particularly beheadings, one of which featured his self-portrait as the severed head of Goliath

F. One of the most respected and envied painters in Rome at the beginning of the Baroque period, and a tremendous influence on other artists

G. Largely forgotten in the centuries following his death until “rediscovered” in the 20th Century

H. A violent, irresponsible, brawling miscreant, who went looking for fights and was arrested and imprisoned for multiple assaults, one of which resulted in the death of his opponent over a disputed game of court tennis and forced him to take it on the lam for several years until pardoned by the Pope

I. All of the above.

Well, whatever else you may say of him, one thing stands out about Caravaggio: this guy could paint!

Look at his famous painting of the Supper at Emmaus (image and details, above). This is no glossed over, idealized religious scene, aglow with the unreality of poetic divinity, this a real scene with very real figures.

Everything here is tangible, and rendered with the kind of palpable fidelity to life that got some of Caravaggio’s other works rejected as vulgar and secular. Look at the disciple’s hand on the chair in the foreground, the “instant in time” position as that figure is about to rise, the outstretched hand of the beardless figure of Christ and other disciple’s hands extended into space, suspended toward or away from us in dramatic foreshortening, the rich, dark shadows, against which the whites of the cloth pop forward, the tactile physicality of the food and plates on the table, rendered with as much care and emphasis as the figures themselves, the odd way one disciple’s elbow and the other’s fingertips are cut off by the edge of the canvas, and the striking realism of the faces, more portraits than idealized figures. What a tour de force of painting skill. What a show-off. What a painter!

Though I can’t say I was unequivocally thrilled with last week’s showings of the PBS series The Power of Art (see my previous post), I will say that they were interesting and thought provoking and for that reason worthwhile. Tonight’s program will be on Caravaggio (10PM on most PBS stations), and it will be interesting to see which of Caravaggio’s faces the program chooses for its focus.

There are many angles by which to approach Caravaggio; he was a pretty remarkable fellow in more ways than one. Take your choice.