On Valentine’s Day, people everywhere shell out all sorts of denominations on flowers, candy and gifts. In honor of that most glorious consumer holiday, it would be seem to be most appropriate to highlight comics that are perfect for Valentine’s Day. Nevertheless, there are enough exhortations to purchase gifts at this time of the year, as such this column will not address what books to buy loved ones. Rather, the focus will be to examine how the traditional ideas espoused by Valentine’s Day manifest themselves in the cartooning work of three different authors, Charles Schulz, Jordan Crane and Chester Brown.
It’s important to start with Charles Schulz, the cartoonist responsible for Peanuts created the epitome of the comics Valentine in the little book, Love is Walking Hand in Hand. It was created as part of a series of Peanuts gift books that Hallmark Cards released in the early sixties. In creating this little book, Charles Schulz, the accidental king of all that is marketable, birthed the perfect comic for Valentine’s Day.
Love is Walking Hand in Hand contains illustrated minimalist aphorisms that express the vibrance of love in the mundane. The book displays an astoundingly bold usage of orange red, black and pink color plates. One would argue that given it’s boldness of color and visual simplicity, this book would likely not do very well in today’s world of print comics and picture books.
The color combination would seem to put the reader on edge, forcing them to struggle without much visual breathing room. Nevertheless, by carefully balancing them and letting the black ink rest quietly among the buzzing pinks and oranges, Schulz creates a warm and coherent space for the reader to inhabit for a short while.
At its heart, Love is walking hand in Hand is a celebration of the little moments in which love reassures its presence in our lives. The beautiful thing about this book is that Schulz preaches an all encompassing notion of love. Love is when someone takes a moment out of their day to do something nice for someone else, but is best summed up by his assertion that “Love is the whole world.”
What a perfectly reasonable message to be sending on Valentine’s Day.
One issue that Love is Walking Hand in Hand simply does not broach is loss. It’s crushing, but the truth is that everyone deals with it.
In most contemporary stories told in cinema and television, romantic love goes hand in hand with loss. Nevertheless, the sadness of the loss of a loved one is portrayed as a loss so utterly bleak that it ends everything. There is no life possible after that love. The truth is that, after great loss, one must face the absence of a loved one daily.
Jordan Crane’s comic, The Last Lonely Saturday, explores the trials of and release from life after loss. Crane beautifully captures the delicate beats of the reverence that a husband pays the spirit of his wife. The story follows the ritualized trip that a husband makes weekly to pay respect to his wife and within no more than a couple of pages, Crane’s story retells a husband and wife’s entire history.
From the comic’s meticulous book design, its quaint size and the roundness of the hand lettered type in the first pages, a reader can definitely expect the story to be heart warming. Nevertheless, what the reader can’t expect is the grace with which Crane pulls at a reader’s heartstrings. While the story is rooted in the traditional American cliché of a pair of lover reunited in the afterlife, the story is told deftly. Without spoiling too much, Crane’s narration of the reunion of spirits is truly gripping.
Similar to Love is Walking Hand in Hand, The Last Lonely Saturday is the kind of book that elicits an unparalleled delicately visceral warmth, even on the seventh read.
Now, those that may dismiss the works of Schulz and Crane for their seemingly hokey notions towards the idea of love might think they’re out of luck in terms of Valentine’s Day comics. Fortunately, though, they’re not.
Chester Brown’s Paying for It : A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being A John is the perfect reading material for the reader disillusioned with romantic love and its inherent possessive monogamy. In this book, Brown sorts through all the legal, moral and emotional arguments against prostitution. It is a sober and intense look at the moral and cerebral aspects of prostitution, both from the perspectives of prostitutes and the clients.
The book begins with a record of Brown’s slow disillusionment with the concept of romantic love. It then follows his carefully planned and budgeted forays into the world of being a john. Despite the documentary impulse that transcribes the minutiae of Brown’s experiences, however, Brown’s real concerns lie beyond mere observation. Throughout, he uses his own experiences to make the case for decriminalizing prostitution. In a boldly direct style, Brown expounds on his reading material, inquires after his friends’ stance on the morality of sex work, and, in one sequence, simply sits around in his underwear thinking.
In a conversation with fellow cartoonist, Seth, Brown reveals he is of the mind that, “the romantic ideal is actually evil.” At heart, it causes “more misery than happiness” and causes people to bind themselves for life to the wrong person simply to satisfy society’s dictates.
For the reader that wishes to dismiss this book as nothing more than a series of anecdotes geared towards rationalizing an often persecuted personal choice, Brown presents a series of appendices along with a girthy bibliography that address the full spectrum of issues involved with reforming the way in which Western culture thinks about the relationship between, sex, love and romance.
From Brown’s vantage point, the very moral pillars upon which Valentine’s day stands are inherently destructive and not worth indulging in if a society is to be deemed rational and understanding. In the end, though, Brown’s arguments will need a lot of time to catch on. Simply put, the instincts towards monogamy are part and parcel of Western society.
With so many different perspectives on love, it’s certainly hard to know which is the right one, Fortunately, though, there are plenty of cartoonists to aid in the exploration of the vast emotional territory of love.
This stunning scan of a 1940s comic is courtesy of 4CP | Four Color Process.
Holy moley macaroley! A recent article on the Comics Journal shares Seth’s design process on the beautiful The Collected Doug Wright. If you’re interested in a book designer’s process work, check it out.
The book is a gem and that reads effortlessly and exudes a bold Canadiana. As an American interested in contemporary Canadian culture, I would say that in that department, Seth really hits it out of the ballpark.
Unbeknownst to most, Pittsburgh is home to a vibrant independent comics scene. With over 7 comics shops in the city and the Toonseum, a museum wholly dedicated to celebrating animation and comics, you can be sure that there are a lot of comics aficionados in town. And, with homegrown comics anthologies like Andromeda and Unicorn Mountain, alongside independent comics giants like Jim Rugg, Frank Santoro and Tom Scioli, you can be sure that there’s a lot of ink hitting the page in the city.
In the midst of this vibrant community, you’ve got the inkstud, Ed Piskor. A workhorse of a cartoonist, Piskor is an artist that in the past 7 years has been making great strides in the world of professional comics, opening the medium of storytelling to new audiences. Thanks to a range of stories about the passions and politics of hackers, the reflections on life from Cleveland and the borderline biblical history of Hip Hop culture, Ed Piskor is a curious storyteller.
Ed Piskor was born in the city of Homestead, Pennsylvania in 1982. Growing up, money was tight but pencils and paper were easy to come by. Determined to pursue a future in comics, after highschool he made his way to the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, where he studied the ins and outs of comics creation.
He has been cartooning professionally in print form since 2005. He made his inroads to the world of professional publication by collaborating as an illustrator with Harvey Pekar for his American Splendor comics. The collaboration between the two continued as they worked on two subsequent graphic novels, Macedonia, the story about the travels of peace activist, Heather Roberson to Macedonia, and The Beats, the story of the generation that stood in the face of mainstream American conformity and conservatism.
After that collaborative work, Piskor began to focus on solo work, writing, penciling, lettering and inking his comics himself. As a cartoonist, Piskor has found a writing style that immediately finds unique audiences. His recent works, Wizzywig, the story of Kevin “Boingthump” Phenicle, a young prodigy who becomes fascinated with social engineering, phone phreaking, and eventually computer hacking, and Brain Rot are notable contemporary comics because they have engaged audiences outside of the traditional comics reading demographics.
While Piskor created Wizzywig, he would regularly post the story online to read for folks to check out his work and to get up to date with where he was in thes story. The work really caught on with technophiles and Piskor was suddenly getting invited to technology conventions technology and getting the opportunity to speak at hackerspaces.
More recently, Hip Hop Family Tree segment of the Brain Rot series published on boingboing.net has been developing a highly interactive online fan base. For example last week Chuck D of Public Enemy retweeted the comic which yielded hundreds of emails in Ed’s inbox within a two hour period. In that same vein, Piskor was recently contacted by DJ Disco Wiz, one of the early DJs inspired by Kool Herc. Disco Wiz got in touch with Piskor because Piskor had depicted a historic incident during the blackout and loots of 1977. Although a little known figure in the history of Hip Hop, here was this underground figure getting in touch with Piskor via facebook.
When asked why he began working on the sprawling project that is the Hip Hop Family Tree, Piskor laughed and explained that the comics were just an excuse to put the family tree flowchart together. When asked about what it was that was so interesting to him about this musical history Piskor said, ” If you really get into the old records and the music from the beginning, throughout the years you can draw these very clear lines between each generation. It is almost like the bible. Grandmaster Flash begat Grandmaster Melle Mel, Kool Herc begat Dj Disco Wiz… and so on.”
Piskor is often asked what kind of research he does for his stories based on history. To these questions he responds seriously that “to say research, makes the work seem like a homework assignment.” As he sees it, the truth is that he has been building on his memory bank of knowledge since he was a kid. If he has to delve further than his own knowledge in order to fully tell a story, he never sees it as “researching” but rather as “reading for pleasure”.
In his own words, when asked about his work ethic, he said “I feel like a slacker if I’m not working constantly.”
To keep himself drawing, he has been making sure to constantly incorporate his passions with whatever his current project is, personal or professional. For example, when he became curious about the worlds of verboten information, hacking, and breaking systems, he wanted to delve deep into them so as to understand the nuts and bolts. In order to justify the time and energy needed to reach this level of comprehension, he had to make Wizzywig, a 300 page comic.
Although his approaches to the creative process might seem extreme and obsessive, thanks to his tireless work in communicating his learnings through comics, his readers have portals into the the curious worlds that Piskor relishes exploring.
I thought that I’d share these little illustrations have been made for CMU’s newspaper the Tartan. Nothing fancy, just trying to make some solid looking illustrations to go along with the articles.
In case you were interested, the subjects were: Music and the brain, Taste buds, CMU’s email system(Squirrel Mail), the spread of false information through social media, and the hazards of hookah.
Here’s a beautiful video on the mythic typeface Futura. Certainly not my own but a definite inspiration.
credit where credit is due
Graphic Design & Animation
Thibault de Fournas
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