Monday, August 24, 2009

She's Out Of My Life

I see that Archie #600 still, for some reason, bears the tiny, archaic seal of approval from the Comics Code Authority, a throwback to the comic-burning days of the 40's and 50's, when dubious psychology studies intimated the correlation between fanboys and juvenile delinquents. I wonder, who are the moms out there who are simultaneously cool and lame enough to know this bit of history, yet use their knowledge of it to dictate their comic-book purchases? But, as always, the CCA is useless here; guess what I don't approve of, and feel like burning?

Yes, several months ago, when I first caught wind of this, I kept my mouth shut; I didn't want to be the harbinger of bad news. But it's all over the radio now: in Archie #600, Veronica is chosen over Betty. (The above panel isn't from that issue, but from an old Betty comic in my personal collection. I thought it properly exemplified her justified disgust with the eternal love triangle.) Do you really want to read my indulgent little tirade about this? If you do, there's plenty more under the cut.

Before setting foot in kindergarten, a time period I would go back to any day if given the chance, I started accompanying my dad on regular trips to the Mount Holly Comics Museum (now Comics World, under new management). In those days, Barbie and Wendy the Witch were the gender-appropriate selections purchased for me, and I had no complaints. Barbie might have come out a little after kindergarten, actually. Fuzzy memories.

But then I was seven years old, in Mrs. Barnes' 2nd grade classroom, asocial even then, and, for some reason, kneeling on the floor before a stack of dog-eared Archies -- selected for classroom use, I presume, by our teacher. Maybe it was D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) time, or perhaps this shelf-o-fun was some kind of reward for good work or citizenship. In any case, it was my first exposure to Archie comics, a title I knew of but had never read or been encouraged to read until this time.

My life would change. In a movie of my life, the T.I. song Dead and Gone would be an appropriate track to play during, or immediately after the scene I described in the preceding paragraph. This, as well as Veronica, Betty and Veronica, Betty, and Jughead, was the title I would request from my dad on future trips to the Comic Museum, and, in time, as this store morphed into Comics Plus and then Comics World, would purchase myself and continue to purchase almost 20 years later. To earn money, I would collect dimes from cleaning out the gutters, raking leaves, shoveling snow, and clearing wheelbarrows full of twigs and debris from the lawn in preparation for mowing. With the changing economy, these dimes would become quarters. Someday, I would get a real job.

From the beginning, I copied the drawings of the characters -- I thought Betty and Veronica were primo examples of feminine beauty. I related to Jughead in a way that I have related to no other character in comics or any medium -- the first openly asexual character in literature, was he? My plastic young mind absorbed the lame puns and rhyming story titles which, perhaps more so than the draftsmanship, continue to influence basically everything I create.

In those pre-Internet times that I desperately hope I will return to after waking up from this dystopian, lonely, artificial nightmare, I developed an interest in the history of comics, knowing somehow that Archie was an old title. Rather than do a Google image search or browse Wikipedia, luxuries unavailable in those prehistoric times, I purchased older issues when I found them, and, more commonly, digests with reprints of old stories. As I read, I carefully noted the changes in styles (art styles, clothing styles, etc.), slang, and advertising. I checked out library books on cartoon history. Archie #1 was always the first issue I looked up whenever the new Overstreet guide came out. It increased in value about $1,000 a year. Probably more now. At a vintage comic book store on the Boardwalk one time, in a glass case, I had the priviledge to cast my eyes upon a battered, original copy of Archie #20, the front cover torn almost completely away.

As we flash forward more into the present day, during a stay in Seattle a couple years ago, I had the rare opportunity to borrow, from a video rental place called Scarecrow, the made-for-tv-movie Archie: Return to Riverdale. In this live-action special, the characters were all grown up. Jughead was a psychiatrist...I have a psych degree, too! And Archie hadn't chosen between Betty and Veronica...or Cheryl Blossom. He had a different girl.

But I suppose that movie isn't the official continuation of Riverdale life, because Archie chose Veronica Lodge, nee Veronica Lake. These 18+ years, I thought I was reading a comedy series.
Instead, Archie's story, begun in Pep comics in the December of 1941, has been a long, epic tragedy all along. Was this always the plan?

No new artwork or creative suggestions today, folks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)

D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself)

Hoo, boy, who's the Thomas Nast who conceptualized this masterpiece (don't answer that)? What's next, a portrait of George W. Bush with a blacked-out front tooth and the caption, "What, me worry?" underneath? Oh,never mind. Of course it exists. I'm not saying that I voted for either president (though I have a funny sitcom-worthy story of my experience in the voting booth last November), so my own political views don't have any influence on my tone here. Hey, maybe if I had been the first to execute one of these Photoshop jobs I wouldn't have spent the better part of last year refilling mayonnaise bottles.

Anyhow...The sun is shinin', leases are expirin', and the trash is ripe for the pickin' here in the 'Cuse. Which means misadventures for Chrissy's porcine, punk-rock alter ego. And comic misadventures she has, under the cut.

Dunkin' Swine in "Swiner Living"

Serves me right, huh? While I abandoned anarchy as a realistic goal many years ago and find many (not all) members of that community to be shrill, preachy, priviledged (I asked one guy how he was able to mass-produce his zine inexpensively, and he confessed he broke into *his dad's* print shop to make copies for "free") and humorless, the neat secret knowledge I gained through reading subversive literature has seasoned me as the sensible and mature, yet childlike young adult I am today. Besides trash picking (and, yes, young freshman throw perfectly nice, petite clothing in the dumpster and no, I bet you can't tell which items I wear came from there as opposed to the Banana Republic), the lessons I've learned and still carry with me today include:

-How to make a large shirt into a fitted shirt exactly my size.
-Dogs enjoy boiled vegetables such as broccoli, and these are much healthier for them than regular dog treats and will help them to live a longer life (I did this for my miniature schnauzer Peppy, who passed away last summer at age 14, and he loved it).
-How to effectively calm myself down when I'm all alone.
-How to make wheatpaste, an adhesive which makes it impossible for others to tear down posters (okay, I never use it anymore, but it could come in handy someday).
-How to decrease my shipping costs by sending everything media mail.

And the list goes on; reading anarchist lit is like reading a bunch of free Klutz books. Amongst all the youthfully ignorant suggestions, like how to give yourself a silly, unfortunate prison tattoo with a safety pin and India ink, or how to shoplift or train hop effectively (don't do it!), anarchist literature has lots of neat, legal arts n' crafts to try out and useful, educational, trustworthy information about the law, health, how to (legally) cut your costs, etc. Because the people who write this stuff truly care about you and/or improving American life and culture. They earn no money from what they create, so it's all a labor of love. Furthermore, some of the zines are out of date, so you can learn some tidbits of counterculture days gone used to pour salt water in soda dispensers, which would short circuit the machines, causing them to vend free cans and money. Simpler times.

I'm a big fan of nonfiction, especially biography and D.I.Y. guides. And such things can be enjoyed even on a hot day like today; if you don't care to walk to the library, you might prefer to relax inside with a frosty carafe of lemonade and enjoy what, if I remember correctly, is the first digital library I've ever patronized...the Crimethinc Online Reading Library. This site also used to have bundles of free paper pamphlets and other freebies that they would mail out, but sadly the free store appears to be dying out. HOWEVER, if you write to them and complain that you are bored and the weather isn't nice enough to go to the library, someone will eventually take pity on you and mail you a grab-bag of goodies and a longish, neatly handwritten letter on nice stationary. Infoshop is another good one. Totse is sadly defunct. It was all so very long ago.

By the way, in keeping with the anarchist tradition of adding books to the library stacks, I "lose" some little reading materials around the iSchool from time to time. When I do, they're on the second floor on that table with the couches around it. It's usually just weeding out materials from my personal collection that I think others might find interesting.

So hopefully the digital library I linked to will stimulate your imagination somewhat...because if you want to make a political statement, you can do better than that Obama poster there. I'm not a fan of political art, but maybe that's just because it has gotten so lame over the years. Our kids at Crimethinc are still putting out some interesting stuff, at least, but they're so sequestered in their own communes that few even know they exist. Perhaps if the fellas putting up those Joker posters read the ubiquitous wheatpaste recipe embedded in many anarcho-craft guides, their stuff wouldn't be so easy to tear down.

After awhile, dystophile.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fall Again

One of MJ's lesser knowns.

In today's post, I will explore a craft that is new to me: Pop-up books. Or, to coin a new, elitist term, kirigami novels. I wanted to play around with this sort of thing about a year ago, but those plans fell through, heh-heh-heh. Further reading includes more pop-up fun (instructions, the finished product, and further reading suggestions), as well as a classic art school story.

Read more!

During my senior year in college, myself and two other students were given our own private art studios on the second floor of a rickety, condemned building, the only entryway to which was via a splintery exterior wooden staircase erected by a sculpture professor in the art department. I appreciated and took great advantage of this studio space, particularly during winter term, despite the thick mattresses of snow constantly melting and refreezing in a daily cycle on the 15-foot stairway's bare, unenameled wooden planks and rusty nails.

One day, when one of the students was descending the moldy and decrepit old staircase, one of the highest steps yielded, and, as a result, she fell 15 feet on the ground, landing on her back. She's fine.

Anyway, the point of this story is that no one was allowed to go back into the house after that, and a library book I checked out about how to make pop-ups was still up there. So I never got the chance to learn how to make them!

The book I checked out last year was Paul Jackson's The Pop-Up Book, which is especially nice in that it teaches concepts rather than, as other books do, simply giving instructions or patterns for how to make a specific object. This instruction manual is available at several public libraries in Syracuse, and, according to the SU library catalog, also resides in our fine arts limited access collection. But on Sunday, when the public libraries were closed, I went to the college library and asked the art reference desk assistants to help me locate a copy. It's missing. So I had to postpone my pop-up plans for my next venture to the Central public library. They had a copy, and I also picked up another fine book while I was there: Laura Badalucco's Kirigami.

Depending on the library you go to, such pop-up manuals can be found in children's nonfiction, young adult nonfiction, or adult nonfiction. Parents, be sure to supervise your child's X-acto knife usage.

In my first attempts at pop-ups, as with many things, I tried what my high school math team instructor called the "Luke Chang Method": plugging in different educated guesses until arriving at the solution. But this ended up in a lot of wasted paper and sad, crumpled designs. It's best to just read through the instructions and measure everything exactly.

After browsing through the guides, I decided to make something simple: A dog's head, complete with wagging tongue, popping out at the reader. For this project, the essential materials are a moleskine sketchbook (any stiff paper will do fine), a pencil with eraser, a ruler, and an X-acto knife or other blade. The dog's head makes use of the "wing" technique explained in Jackson's book. For this to work, two equilateral rectangles must be drawn at equidistant points on either side of the fold in the middle. You'll see later why I should have made that bar in the middle a little wider.

Next, I am using my knife and a ruler to cut out the windows...I'm only cutting on the outermost three sides...the two sides facing the middle will be folded upwards, in a valley fold, not cut out. Careful observers will see that I'm using the cover of my moleskine notebook as a cutting surface. Be careful if you attempt the same. Ideally, you should have a better surface to cut on.

Here I am using my ruler to make a sharp and precise fold. If you fold using your fingers, your design won't be as neat, and the dirt from your fingers, which usually accumulates when you sketch something in pencil, will rub all over the paper fold, which looks gross.

And here's where the creative part comes in: here I penciled a dog's head to be cut out. I will use my knife again to cut along the pencil lines so that this design is cut out symmetrically on either side of the fold.

And now, some inking in action. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to do this before cutting out the face, but it was no great inconvenience for me.

Here's one for the blooper reel: Remind me to buy the watercolor moleskine books rather than the sketchbooks next time I plan to flood a page with ink. These books are no good for that, and just turn into mush. Plan B is to use whatever other coloring materials I have around the apartment, which turned out to be makeup and some dirty old crayons I had in the dregs of my old pencil case, which also held black charcoal sticks.

This is lipstick.

Lest you look at the book and determine that my little dog head is a total derivative of an example already pictured in it, you'll see that I added a little tongue inside! I made the tongue by folding a separate piece of paper in half, and cutting out a tongue shape the way you would cut out a Valentine heart. Then, I folded up two tabs, one on either side of the tongue's middle fold, and glued the tabs on either side of the fold inside the dog head. This way, the tongue will collapse when the head is collapsed, and will pop out when the page is opened. I thought I had taken a picture as a visual aid for this, but I guess I forgot to save it. I hope the instructions are clear. After gluing in the tongue, I glued the two ends of the dog head together, as shown.

And my Russian dictionary is doing double duty here as a weight which will stay on the dog head until the glue dries.

The last step was pasting the construction inside my moleskine book. Ta-da! If I made the middle strip wider at first, as I mentioned earlier, the dogs head wouldn't be so narrow when viewed from the front. Something to remember for next time.

So there's my first attempt at pop-ups...for extra credit, figure out how I made those letters in the picture at the top of the page.

For further reading, look at Jim Woodring's stuff. My desire to learn these techniques was inspired by this cartoonist, who made pop-ups in his own little moleskine. Woodring, in my opinion, doesn't get enough mention, though he is one of my favorite alternative cartoonists: one of the most technically skilled, as well as one of the most imaginative. His images are seductively ferocious and disturbing, a great inspiration.