Me, Me, Me! Archives

February 15, 2006

My Day In The Sun

The present burst of unaccustomed Cruse Visibility on the Web continues today at Popimage, not only with the unveiling of yet another page of "My Hypnotist" but also with a long interview that was conducted with me a couple of months ago by Scott Grunewald.

Not satisfied with the foregoing star treatment, Popimage has added on re-runs of its past reviews of three of my books: Stuck Rubber Baby; Wendel All Together; and The Swimmer With a Rope In His Teeth. Thank you Tim Fish, Ed Mathews, Scott, and Benjamin Russell for treating me like royalty this week. (And thanks also to Alonso Duralde, the Arts & Entertainment Editor at The Advocate, for making sure that an advance plug for "My Hypnotist" made it into last Saturday's edition of the magazine's online version.)

Meanwhile my project of the moment is designing the poster for an upcoming production by the Mill City Productions, a community theatre troupe here in North Adams.One-act plays by Harold Pinter ("The Dumb Waiter"), Eugene Ionesco ("The Bald Soprano"), and Jean-Paul Sartre ("No Exit") are being combined in an evening of absurdism sure to leave all present wobbling giddily down Main Street afterwards in search of safe existential ground to stand on. I'll show it to you once I'm finished.

February 18, 2006

Another Opening, Another Logo

Well, I got my title logo and poster done for the upcoming Mill City Productions show I mentioned to you on Wednesday. This design was a bit of a challenge because of all the information that needed to be included in a single graphic.
The show's got three well-known one-act plays each of which comes with a different well-known author attached, all combined into an evening that comes with its own umbrella title: Hell, Hitmen & Hospitality.

That's no small mouthful to stir into a tasty and digestible morsel, visually speaking. But what's the fun of designing something if it doesn't come with a challenge?

Meanwhile, to jump to another topic, all five pages of "My Hypnotist" are now on view at Popimage, so the ending of the story is no longer a mystery. And with it ends Tim Fish's long-running Young Bottoms In Love series. Thanks for masterminding a class act among web comics, Tim. It was fun being part of the ride, even if I only got to hop in for the final turn.

February 27, 2006

Up Against The Walls

March is shaping up to be my month for getting strung up on walls of the museum and gallery sort. And bi-coastally, yet!

I'll tell you about the group show I'm part of on theWest Coast on another day, since its opening isn't happening until March 18.

But here on my home turf, the place to be this Thursday, March 2, is at Gallery 51 on Main Street in North Adams, MA. So, like, if you plan to fly in from Albuquerque or Grand Rapids for the festivities, you'd better get those tickets reserved!

Above: Artist and Gallery 51 co-curator Sean Riley and I sort through the 24 cartoon and comics items of mine that will go up on the wall.
At left: A painting by Emily Daunis. Below: Fastasy art by John Stomberg.

It's a three-artist group show called North Adams Illustrators, and during the seven weeks between March 2 and April 23 my drawings will be sharing the gallery walls at 51 Main Street with two other illustrators who live and work nearby: Emily Daunis and John Shamburger.

The opening reception on Thursday will run from 5:00 PM until 7:00. Refreshments, I'm told, will be served. And if you can't get to the reception, Emily's, John's and my artwork will still be waiting to quietly bedazzle you during gallery hours: Thursdays through Sundays from 11:00 AM until 6:00 PM

March 2, 2006

Hey, Who's The Guy With a Camera?

From the top left clockwise: John Shamburger, me, Emily Daunis, and John's muse Lauren.
So we three soon-to-be-celebrated-far-and-wide local artists gathered at Gallery 51 on Tuesday to make final preparations for our "North Adams Illustrators" exhibit, opening today at 51 Main Street. Eddie "Il Paparazzo" Sedarbaum caught this candid shot of us along with John's irrepressible daughter despite our feverish efforts to avoid his camera. We assaulted him angrily immediately thereafter. Charges are pending.

The opening reception starts this afternoon at 5.

March 7, 2006

The Swimmer Speaks

A couple of weekends from now I'll be giving a new performance venture I've been contemplating for the last few months its first trial run.

Thanks to a gracious invitation by Caryn Heilman and Nana Simopoulos, proprietors of a hot new performing venue in nearby Adams called the Topia Arts Center, I'll be debuting a new live adaptation of Jeanne E. Shaffer's and my recently published fable The Swimmer With a Rope In His Teeth.

Specifically, I'll be reading the entire book (it's only 70 pages long and none of those pages have very many words on them thanks to my large illustrations) accompanied by a running slideshow of the book's pictures.

It's an experiment. We shall see how it goes. If anyody reading this lives around here, feel free to drop by: it'll be happening at 8:30 PM on Saturday, March 18, at the Topia Cafe (27 Park Street on Route 8 in Adams).

There'11 be no admission charge, by the way. We'll "pass the hat" but I'll cover my eyes so I won't know whether you put anything into it! Copies of the book will be there for sale, too, and Papyri Books in North Adams is also stocking it.

March 20, 2006

Galleried Again!

Twenty of us LGBT cartoonists have artwork about to go up on the walls of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco on April 1st — assuming that somebody isn't playing a really mean April Fool's Day joke on us! The folks at CAM seem really cool, though, so I think it's safe to say that No Straight Lines: Queer Culture and the Comics will open as scheduled and remain open until June 25.

I'm told that Alison Bechdel and I will be being "spotlighted" in some special way. I'm flattered, of course. It doesn't look like I'll be able to be there to be blinded in person, unfortunately, but I'll do my best to cultivate an appropriate deer-in-the-headlights response from here in North Adams. (Note to Alison's fans on the West Coast: Ms. Bechdel is expected to make an appearance at CAM as part of her Fun Home promotional book tour, so bee sure and stay alert for details about that treat.)

On the home front, meanwhile...

...Emily Daunis, John Shamburger and I have been given front-page coverage (plus two more pages inside) in the April issue of the Berkshire Trade & Commerce Monthly, the occasion being our group show that's still on view at Gallery 51 on North Adams's Main Street.

Contributing Editor John Townes threaded together interviews with the three of us most effectively, and I really like the photographs that Brad Johnson took. Thanks for making us look so sage and creative, Brad. You were a whiz at getting me to relax while a camera is pointing at me, and that ain't easy.

March 29, 2006

What They're Saying About Me in Barcelona

Actually, I have no idea what they're saying about me in Barcelona because I don't speak Spanish, but from the two-page layout at left I can tell that I'm under discussion in some fashion or other in the second issue of Claro Que Si Comics, which arrived in Monday's mail.

The article about me accompanies a Spanish translation of "Billy Goes Out," the seven-pager that I drew for the first issue of Gay Comix 26 years ago. Claro Que Si, as you may suspect from its cover, features gay stories of an erotic bent, and my tale of one young man's quest for uncomplicated sensual contact in the wake of romantic loss certainly fills that bill.

American friends and colleagues of mine like Robert Kirby (Curbside) and the Glen Hanson / Allan Neuwirth team (Chelsea Boys) also number among the classily designed magazine's international roster of cartoonists. And there's an additional reason for me to cheer this enterprise on: Claro Que Si's publisher, Ediciones La Cupula, has recently translated the entire Wendel series into Spanish and has also just issued a Spanish album of Rob Kirby's Curbside strips.

April 5, 2006

Egg Art

Above: My egg from several angles
as photographed by Kay Canavino
You haven't lived until you've drawn pictures on the shell of a goose egg. But at the prompting of local egg art enthusiast Patricia Lyga, I spent quite a few hours last week doing just that.

Patricia moved to nearby Adams a few years ago from Somerville, MA, where Patricia had curated an annual spring egg show at the Brickbottom Artists Building for eight years running showcasing eggs decorated by her artist friends. This year the itch to resume that tradition here in the Berkshires proved irresistible.

So Patricia has prevailed upon several area artists, myself included, to work whatever artistic wonders strike our fancy upon eggshells (emptied of their yolks, I'm relieved to say) that she has provided.

The results are now on display at the North Adams Public Library at the intersection of East Main and Church Street, where they will be available to library-goers through the month of April. Besides myself, artists with eggs on view are Barbara Armata, Kay Canavino, Sean Riley, Diane Sullivan, Norm Thomas, and folk art collaborators Juliette Wilk-Chafee and her son Ben Chaffee. Pat herself has contributed her "Trypillian-motified eggs" to the mix, and you can bet I'm going to hightail it down Cliff Street to the library at the first opportunity to see what in the world those are!

A few eggs and avian-related artworks from Patricia's previous exhibits in Somerville are also on display to complement the new ones Patricia has elicited from Berkshire artists. Pier Gustafson, Ram Hannah, Gina Kamentsky, Pauline Lim, Susan Strauss, and V Van Sant are the east-Massachusetts artists responsible for these.

That my own egg is likely to be a true "one-of-a-kind art objet" may be inferred from my response to Patricia's request that I provide a comment for her press release. "I will probably not make drawing on eggshells my preferred mode of expression," I told her, "since eggs have a habit of wobbling and rolling about this way and that while one is laying down delicate pen lines — a practical drawback not shared by sheets of paper."

I mean no disrespect by this to my contributing goose.

April 14, 2006

Views of Cruse

Adobe Photoshop vs. Apple's Photo Booth: which best captures my ineffable grandeur?

I leave you to ponder that question while I adjust to life with my new iMac. (Anyone want to suggest the best book for learning the GarageBand ropes?)

April 19, 2006

Tweedy Bird

Well, I'm told by art department insiders that I will definitely be invading the hallowed classrooms of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts next fall in all of my fabulous wackiness.
It seems that the minimum number of student have already signed up to make sure that the course (see the MCLA catalog listing below) will fly. It's a night course that will meet every Wednesday.

ART 207 Cartooning 3 credits

Explore the wacky and fabulous world of cartooning. Each student will develop a series of cartoons, exploring image-making methods, captioning, publishing methods, and individualized cartoon styles using pen, ink and marker.

Prerequisite: None

I'm having my tweeds pressed as we speak.

May 26, 2006

Me Overseas

I was recently allowed a sneak peek at the provisional cover design (shown at left) for the upcoming Spanish-language edition of Stuck Rubber Baby. I find it quite handsome.

Dolmen Books expects to bring the book out on June 6. I'll give you more details when I know them.

For whatever reason, the publishing world in Spain has chosen to be nice to me lately on more than one front. During the last two years a second Barcelona publisher, Ediciones LaCupula, has introduced Wendel Trupstock to the comics readers of that nation by dividing the entirety of my American collection Wendel All Together into two companion volumes for Spanish consumption.
Meanwhile, in France, I was pleased to be reassured recently that the Jean-Paul Jennequin's French version of Stuck Rubber Baby, issued by Vertige Graphic under the title Un Monde de différence, remains in print and available to all. (I had feared that that might not be the case, since as best I can tell the German and Italian editions have vanished into the mists at this point.)
Then again, Jean-Paul's translation of my novel did win a Prix de la critique at the Internmational Comics Festival at Angouleme, which suggests that he must have done a bang-up job of making Toland Polk accessible to readers to whom the ways of 1960s American southerners might otherwise seem as remote as grits and gravy. I surmise that Jean-Paul's skill as a translator has given extra "legs" to the French leg of Toland's international trajectory.

And before I move on from stuck rubber matters, let me point you to a brand-new online review at Johanna Draper Carlson's wide-ranging and informative site Comics Worth Reading. These many years after my baby's creation, Johanna's generous words are much appreciated.

June 27, 2006

Auditioning? Step This Way!

In the course of doing bookstore readings from Stuck Rubber Baby back when my book first came out, I discovered that there were certain scenes that worked for audiences when delivered as words alone, without the benefit of the pictures that appear underneath the word balloons in the book itself.

One such speech was Orley's emotional plea to his wayward brother-in-law Toland on page 88 in which he enumerates the many unpleasant aspects of spending one's afterlife in Hell.

Another was Toland's account (on pages 61-61) of a high school picnic that left him feeling forever doomed to be an outsider among his peers.

Both of these SRB speeches of mine have found their way into 60 Seconds To Shine: 221 One-Minute Monologues for Men, a collection of short dramatic monologues (edited by John Capecci and Irene Ziegler Aston) excerpted from both classical and contemporary literary sources.

The compilers of this just-published book did not limit themselves to monologues that were originally composed for the stage, which is why the door was open for words first spoken in the pages of my humble comic book story. Such openness to unorthodox avenues of expression is to be applauded, of course, particularly when it ushers my immortal creations onto unaccustomed shelves at classy bookstores.

I choose to believe, naturally, that the Stuck Rubber Baby passages in this volume will by virtue of their passion and eloquence propel some earnest fledgling actor into the role of his dreams. How could it be otherwise?

Hopefully the actor will be handsome. Hopefully he will seek guidance from me over dinner at some quiet restaurant (Eddie will be along, of course) about the subtle nuances of my characters' inner lives. And hopefully, once he has ascended to stardom and critical acclaim, he will give Eddie and me a grateful — perhaps even flirtatious — wink from the stage as he steps up to receive his Tony.

July 24, 2006

What They're Saying (Sort Of)

For your delectation today: some comments* from a Spanish web site called about Dolmen Publishing's new Spanish-language edition of Stuck Rubber Baby.

*as translated by Google


“Cómic Never showed as much indirect labor cost. Worlds, universes and minorities populate this essential work” (Boris Izaguirre)

It has not very often in that a work related to the world of cómic as much wakes up passions in the public as in the specialized critic, and is that Stuck Rubber Baby (Different Worlds in Spain) has taken all the possible prizes to international level.

And now, finally, it arrives at Spain, in an edition of luxury superior to all the made ones until the moment in the rest of the world, in which all the details have been taken care of, as much the technical edition (it covers lasts with back in skin), aspects, the translation (it is had counted with which it is considered by all like the best translator within the world of cómic, Diego Garci'a), etc. In addition, has been consulted with he himself author at any moment with the idea to make an edition that outside its affability.

July 29, 2006

A Sneak Peek at Mark the Art Guy

Artwork above ©2006 by Adobe Systems Inc.

He's the title character of a cartooning project that's been dominating my life for the last few months, and if all goes as planned he'll continue to be an ongoing presence well into 2007.

He's a struggling artist who, in concert with his two diminutive "alter egos" Go-Slow and Gung-Ho, is part pitchman and part cheerleader for All Things Adobe. (For the benefit of you non-digital-graphics-users, I'm referring to Adobe Systems Incorporated, the generator of ingenious software without which most of us present-day designers wouldn't know how to get up in the morning, Photoshop being its most widely-known crown jewel.)

His name is Mark the Art Guy and his enthusiasm for Adobe's line of software is to be expected, since he wouldn't exist had I not received email last March from Karen LeFever of the company's marketing wing inviting me to create a biweekly webcomic for Adobe's web site. The strip's goal would be to use a lighthearted narrative to generate curiosity about (and ultimately, of course, an irresistible inclination to purchase) the latest upgrade for Adobe's integrated family of digital tools known as Creative Suite 2.

I've made only one glancing reference to this endeavor (it's the "strictly commercial" gig referred to in my April 27 post) — initially because an amazing amount of preparatory paperwork had to be plowed through before I could be absolutely sure the whole thing was really going to happen, and subsequently because it's the sort of thing one just doesn't blab about months before it materializes.

But all the groundwork has now been laid, even though an exact launch date or URL hasn't yet been set (I'll fill you in on those in future blog posts). So I asked Karen this week if I could stop limiting myself in this weblog to coy remarks being really, really busy all the time and start talking openly to you about what's been taking up so much of my time.

Hence this unofficial announcement to Cruse insiders of my webcomic-in-the-making.

Of course, those of you with good instincts for detecting Things Being Left Unsaid must surely have suspected from my constant protests about being overworked that something had to be up. After all, the gigs I've occasionally described haven't exactly added up to calendar-killers.

But while I've refrained from burdening you with a play-by-play account as events unfolded, the fact is that I've been pretty much living and breathing Adobe since the contract was inked. OK, a little time had to be set aside to plan my soon-to-begin cartooning course at MCLA and slightly more time was required to prepare the soon-to-be-published cover art plus a comic strip for UAB Public Health magazine.

But mostly I've been living in Adobeland.

First we had to figure out what Mark would look like and which of my stylistic approaches would work best for him. (We decided, as you can see from the teaser panels above, on a largely but not completely black-&-white universe with lots of crosshatching.)

Then we had to roughly chart out the "story arc" I'll be following during the feature's 20-installment run.

I've drafted individual scripts for the episodes that will get the ball rolling and they've been approved by Adobe. Scripting projects like this one is especially hard for me, since my normal comedic reflexes don't ordinarily allow for an extra requirement that a company's products be showcased. But that requirement, of course, is Mark the Art Guy's raison d'être.

It's taken time to sketch out rough versions of the inaugural episodes for the Adobe folks to peruse. They seem satisfied at this point that what I'm providing is what they are paying for. So I have moved on to drawing finished artwork.

Along the way I have also had to carve out time to bring myself up to speed on the Creative Suite tricks that I'm drawing comic strips about. Not that I'm any kind of expert yet. It takes take practice before you have all of the "Ah ha!" moments you hope eventually to have when you're exploring upgrades to familiar software. But Creative Suitre 2's has cool new attributes that I'm enjoying getting a handle on.

Three episodes are complete as this is written. The date for going online with the series is apparently just around the bend. As I said above, I'll let you know more when I know more.

Being a pitchman isn't a role that exactly fits me like a glove. But I can honestly say that I was already a fan of Adobe's flagship software long before this recent gig entered the picture (as visitors to my site's longstanding Cartoonists Corner, which came into being years ago with no prompting by Adobe, will attest). That bolsters my comfort level. In other words, there's been no need to bend my ethics into pretzels for the sake of a paycheck the way I would have to if, say, Satan approached me in the night with word that Fox News was eager to shell out big bucks for a cartoon frontman.

That's a gig I'll pass on to Art Guy Mark. With Adobe, by contrast, I'm cool.

September 17, 2006

The Secret Is Out!

Now it can be told! Last night The Soap Factory in Minneapolis finally held it's suspense-filled (not to mention bargain-filled) $99 Sale fundraising event, at which more than 200 identical-sized (5"x7") works of art were made available to the Soap Factory's supporters, all for the identical price of $99.

The catch? All of the artworks in question were unsigned — or rather, their signatures were hidden on the backs of the individual pieces so that a buyer could not know the identity (and hence the exact level of celebrity enjoyed by) the creator of his or her newly-purchased masterpiece until after their $99 had been forked over.

As one of the participating artists, I was, of course, sworn to secrecy (until today). After all, had word leaked out that the drawing above was the work of noted cartoonist Howard Cruse (as opposed to, say, Thomas Kinkade or Paris Hilton), a stampede might have resulted that could have endangered life and limb among the gallery crowd. Hence my months of carefully preserved anonymity as the renderer of the belligerent paint tube you see before you in the service of a noble cause.

September 21, 2006

Cruse Doings In Spain

Jaume Vaquer, my contact in Spain who was first to approach me some time back about a possible Spanish translation of Stuck Rubber Baby (a dream since made real under the stewardship of Dolmen Books), emailed me this week with the news that Dolmen's version of my graphic novel has won a Comics Critics' Award over there.

I would provide more details were I able to read Spanish, but since I can't I can do no more than point the Spanish-speakers among you to the relevant web site so you can share the moment in a more comprehending way than I can.

Jaume also calls my attention to a Spanish comics blog called La Cárcel de Papal, which he deems "the most respected and important web site about comics" in his neck of the woods. Apparently SRB has earned plaudits there , since Jaume tells me it was given a 4+ rating, which is "is the best qualification you can get if you aren't dead and aren't [George] Herriman, [Harold] Foster or someone like that."

The blog's review of my book (which was issued in a translation by Diego Garcia) is followed by a whole bunch of reader comments. These, of course, are similarly beyond the reach of my limited language skills, thus thwarting my natural impulse to eavesdrop madly whenever I'm the topic under discussion among strangers.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I choose to believe that I would be pleased by absolutely everything that is being said by the commentors and am polishing up my blush of modesty accordingly.

If you speak Spanish and know otherwise, please be gentle as you shatter my illusions.

September 22, 2006

My Eavesdropping Enabler

Following up on yesterday's blog entry concerning the difficulty of eavesdropping on comics sites where my work is being talked about in languages I don't speak... friend Jason writes today to remind me that I can enlist Google's clumsy but better-than-nothing automated translation tools to get a rough idea of what's being said.

All I have to do is go here and type (or paste) in the URL of the non-English web page I want to read in something approximating my native tongue, select the languages involved from a pull-down menu, and go for it.

I tried this with the La Cárcel de Papal comics blog in Spain I was telling you about yesterday and zap! All became clear. Sort of.

Clear enough to sate my curiosity about my book's standing among at least a few of the Spanish locals who have discovered Dolmen's well-produced hard-cover edition of Stuck Rubber Baby.

October 12, 2006

Me, My Cartoons, and I This Saturday & Sunday

The North Adams Open Studios art festival is preparing to flower this weekend, and examples of my creative output will be in full bloom along with works by a bunch of other local artists* who'll be sprinkled across assorted venues in our city for the whole two days.

A trolley will provide free rides from venue to venue. In other words, the berg will be hopping with art-creators and art-lovers all day Saturday and Sunday.

If you want to see me in particular (and who wouldn't?), I will be tending my art display (plus Howard Cruse books, mugs, and mousepads) at 107 Main Street. If you're in the area, do drop by. Two days is a long time to be parked in one spot, and it's much more fun to chat and party with friends than to stare into space for fourteen hours.

Below: Me beginning the process of figuring out which drawings will go where with the assistance of my friend Sierra Murphree. Her mom Rosemary snapped the photo.

Other artists who've signed on to exhibit at 107 Main Street are: Viola Moriarty; Jennifer Mulcahy; Jaye Fox; Martha Rose; Ryan Hutton; Ian Grey; Glenn Shalan; Karen Kane; Jerid Hohn; John Lissee; Danny O'Connor; David Lane; Rebecca DeWitt; John Sherman; Stephanie Gravalese; Alicia Zalud; and Rachel Porter.

October 17, 2006

Next Monday in the Apple

I've been sending the promo graphic below to friends in New York City who might be inclined to show up for the panel I'll be part of next week, so I figure I'll share it with you loyal blog-readers while I'm at it.

Those of you who live at some distance from lower Manhattan (like, say, in California, Hawaii, or Istanbul) may want to weigh the cost of air fare before rushing to buy plane tickets. But if you're going to be in the neighborhood anyway next Monday evening and feel like being part of the event, my fellow cartoonists/panelists will be happy to see you there.

The program starts at 6:30. To be 100% sure you get a spot in the hall, call 212-367-1176 for advance reservations.

This program, which you already know about if you read my earlier post about it, is being organized by Gay Men's Health Crisis, one of several events around the Big Apple that mark a quarter-century's worth of struggle against the plague that blindsided so many of us back in 1981. The Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art is hosting the occasion as part of its ongoing MoCCA Mondays series.

October 19, 2006

Mark Steps Onstage

I promised I would let you know when "Mark the Art Guy" finally made his online debut, did I not? Well, yesterday was the day.

So if you want to take a look at the webcomic about Creative Suite 2 that I've been preparing for Adobe Systems since last spring, here's the link to click on!

Five installments of the series are ready to view from the get-go, and more will be added every couple of weeks.

Admission is free, and springing for the product Adobe is advertising is not a requirement for enjoying my goofy story of a designer whose servitude to a nutso client is made easier by the new, cool tools of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and the other co-inhabitants of the graphics suite to end all suites.

But of course, if Mark's adventures inspire you to avail yourself of any or all of the CS2 upgrades under discussion, far be it from Adobe to turn you away!

November 25, 2006

Stopover in Italy

Having fine-tuned their Spanish during the last couple of years, thanks to the two-part La Cupula translations of Wendel All Together, my Wendel characters have been practicing their Italian of late.

Stuck Rubber Baby made it to Italy ten years ago, but the ten-page sampling of Wendel episodes in the new Happy Boys & Girls anthology of gay comics creators (don't let that English title fool you; the contents really are in Italian) represents the Strawhead's first opportunity to amuse readers in Italy.

Other comics by yours truly that are included in the book are "Dirty Old Lovers," my five-pager from Gay Comix #3, and "My Hypnotist" which was posted online last February (where it's still viewable in English) at Popimage. "My Hypnotist" served as the closing Episode of Tim Fish's acclaimed Young Bottoms In Love gay webcomics series, hosted for years on that site, and will be included (still in English) in an upcoming YBIL book collection. But my story's travels aren't over: a Spanish translation will soon (if its title holds sway) be mesmerizing readers in Spain.

Or entrancing them.

(Or, uh, putting them to sleep.)

Tim Fish has twenty pages of his own in Happy Boys and Girls, as do Leanne Franson of Canada, Tom Boudon of Belgium, and my fellow American compatriots Paige Braddock and Roberta Gregory, and Belgian Tom Boudon. The book's publisher is Coniglio Editore.

December 22, 2006

Getting Weird With St. Nick

For its most recent three issues an alternative weekly in my home town of Birmingham has been showcasing a bent Christmas tale about a world overrun with weirdly twisted Santas and more Christmases than a single planet can be expected to handle, thanks to the unwise wish of one greedy kid. The story is called "Destroy All Santas."

The author of this three-installment yarn is the paper's regular contributor J'Mel Davidson, who moonlights locally as a Magic City improv performer.

To enhance the publication of J'Mel's story as an event, three different Birmingham artists (Christopher Davis; Tim Rocks; and yours truly) were invited to create illustrations linked to "Destroy All Santas." These illustrations, created separately with no inter-artist consultation (or at least without any consultation between me and my counterparts down south) were displayed as cover art for the three issues of Birmingham Weekly that contained the holiday serial. My art (seen above) appears in the December 21-28 issue — the one that available as I write this.

You'll notice that, out of a touching desire to include me in the project, The Weekly's editor Glenny Brock has hewn to an expansive definition of the term "Birmingham artist." In other words, she has graciously ignored the fact that I've lived in Massachusetts for three years now and was a resident of New York City for the 27 years prior. Christopher and Tim, by contrast, are participants in Birmingham's cultural scene right now, so their standing as true Birminghamians may be viewed by some as more solid than mine.

Nevertheless, Glenny knows that "you can take the kid out of Alabama but you can't take the Alabama out of the kid" (to bend a colorful old saying to my will). My bare feet have squeezed Southern mud between their toes while I picked wild blackberries on the hillsides of Springville; I remember in which direction on Archedelphia Road we Birmingham-Southern students were instructed to run should nuclear bombs start falling on us during the Cuban Missile Crisis; and I know which way the bare butt of Vulcan faces. These are things that you can't take away from a fellow.

So I feel entitled to continue calling myself a Birmingham artist, however much I may dally in my dotage amid the stirring mountains of New England. I'm pleased that I was sought out across the miles to pry bizarro Santa Clauses out of my warped subconscious in the service of J'Mel's humorous verses (which you can read from the beginning by clicking here and following the story issue by issue).

Like the UAB Public Health cover art gig I told you about back in November, it's the kind of thing that makes an Alabama-born cartoonist feel like he's not all that disconnected from his younger self.

Above: the work of my two cover-art predecessors in the Destroy All Santas illustration parade. The first interpreter of J'Mel's story was Christopher Davis (above left); a week later came the cover by Tim Rocks (above right).

December 26, 2006

Toland Goes To College

From time to time I receive email from college teachers who are using my graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby as a classroom text. Sometimes their students write me, too.

This sort of attention is hugely gratifying, naturally, as it would be for any author who hasn't become jaded by levels of acclaim that for sure have yet to flow my way. I was once even asked to interact live with a roomful of students in Iowa by way of a group Internet linkup, which was great fun. And periodically some school or other will pay for me to travel to their campus so I can chat with their students face-to-face about my work. I get a kick out of such jaunts and my bank account is always pleased to be plied with campus speaking fees.

Mostly, though, I don't get to tag along when my graphic novel travels to college campuses and my secret desire to listen in on classroom discussions go unfulfilled. So the detailed online account of how SRB fared recently in an academic setting that was pointed out to me last month by the pedagogical perpetrator himself (that would be Stephen Frug, a graduate student at Cornell University who writes science fiction in his down time) was fascinating to read. It's not quite like being a fly on the wall, but it beats being on the wrong side of window glass wishing fruitlessly that you could hear what's happening inside.

If you've read Stuck Rubber Baby or think you might do so sometime, you may enjoy experiencing Stephen's individual take on the novel and his account of how his students reacted to it.

Stephen's heads-up about his blog entry arrived in my inbox a month ago and I immediately asked if I might invite readers of my own blog (that would be you) to look in on it as well. Stephen said yes, for which I thank him.

It's taken me four weeks to follow through because my mid-December crush of deadlines temporarily knocked my blogging habit out of the saddle and into the ditch by the horse trail. But as you may have noticed, with Christmas merriment now completed and holiday relief from my college teaching underway, I've begun climbing back from my blogside paralysis and, in the course of remounting this tortured equine metaphor that I find myself tentatively astride (at least until I'm finished with this ill-advised-but-too-weird-a-train-wreck-to-delete paragraph), I have begun catching up on old business.

Which includes pointing you toward Stephen's very interesting essay.

When you're a comic book creator who is lost over a span of years in the solitary processes of crosshatching, refining dialogue, and fretting about narrative transitions and character nuances, there is always the fantasy that at some vague point in the future someone will be moved to give your brainchild an attentive enough reading to discern and (hopefully) admire the thousands of tiny artistic decisions you are making in isolation along the way.

In your heart you know, of course, that not every reaction will be flattering. You can't even count on thumbs-up from an impressive minority. As frustrated artist Headrack observes resignedly in an old Barefootz comic strip, "A cult following is better than no following at all!"

I mean, you've gotta at least aim for your own cult!

Sure, some readers will invariably look askance at the flaws you never manage to eradicate. Heedless of your noble intentions, they will snicker impertinently at the instances where your skills are inadequate for the challenge you've set yourself. They will ridicule you in conversation with their friends. You may even end up being pummeled publicly by sarcastic reviewers. That's never fun, but the prospect of such town-square floggings rarely outweigh the hope that your work will inspire close readings by a few perceptive strangers. If you're going to soldier through the bouts of uncertainty that benight marathon projects, it pays to stay in denial about the possibility of hostile reactions once you're finished. Otherwise you'll be paralyzed.

In your heart, you have to believe that readers exist out there who will get what you're trying to do, who will find it rewarding to hover over your work's tiniest details and applaud your minute decisions for their intelligence, if not always for their success.

Thank god for academia, collective mother ship for all the world's obsessives. There the impulse to consider things in detail is rewarded rather than viewed as a sign that psychotherapy is urgently indicated.

January 5, 2007

My Winding Road's Spanish Detour

Before I leave the topic of Stuck Rubber Baby (see my previous blog entry), I should thank the Spanish comics newsmagazine Dolmen for devoting more than four pages of its October issue (#129) to a nicely-done print adaptation of "The Long and Winding Stuck Rubber Road."

That's the web feature you'll find elsewhere on this site that chronicles my graphic novel's four-year journey from initial concept to published form.

Vicente Garcia, Dolmen's editor, did the translation himself. I'm not able to read a word of it, of course, but I choose to believe that he accomplished his task magnificently, since everything about Dolmen seems to be done classily, as best a non-Spanish-speaker can tell.

I appreciate the spotlight, Vicente.

January 8, 2007

Two Portraits

Once in a blue moon an opportunity arises for me to do a portrait. (I mean, one that other people besides Eddie see.) A couple of those blue-moon occasions have arisen since we relocated to New England.
The subject of the drawing above (shown next to the snapshot it's based on) is my longtime friend Nicky Heron. It's included in a group exhibit called "Here's Looking At You" that features portraits of Berkshire personalities by Berkshire artists and is currently on display at Gallery 51 in North Adams. I call the drawing "Nicky In The Kitchen."

Nicky and I first crossed paths as fellow participants (albeit from slightly different collegiate generations) in the Birmingham-Southern College Theatre. After years thereafter spent geographically separated and only barely in touch, we've recently found ourselves neighbors again here in the Berkshires. She and her husband Jason Brown are both blessed with too many talents to enumerate, but prominent among their present family enterprises is BMA Studios, under whose auspices audio books like their most recent offering, Henry James's The Aspern Papers, are lovingly produced out of their impressive basement sound studio in Monterey.

When I first met Nicky she was playing a winsome prostitute named Karen in a one-act play called "The Old Man Dies" that I had written while still an undergraduate. Brief aside: My most influential mentor, BSC's one-time Drama Department chairman Arnold Powell, once remarked in response to a couple of my scripts that student playwrights who have never come close to knowing an actual flesh-and-blood prostitute seem irresistibly driven to populate their plays with them. Point taken.

Anyway, my college days were behind me when Cheryl Thacker (another longtime friend from college, Cheryl has since distinguished herself as a professional lighting designer) chose to direct "The Old Man Dies" as her Director's Lab student project. Naturally, I returned from New York to see it the result.

My eyes mist up when I recall what a cluster of old friends joined forces to mount that little workshop production in 1969. Of course, since they were my friends and not yours, I won't demand that your eyes get similarly misty. But take my word for it, if you had known this crowd you'd be misting up right along with me.

Drawing Nicky's portrait was a perfect way to celebrate her re-emergence as part of my present life. And there's been an interesting sidebar to our catch-up conversations: I had somehow missed learning previously that Nicky's grandfather, the formidably named Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, was a founder of DC Comics, under whose Paradox Press imprint my graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby was published. The family lore about Nicky's granddad reveals a larger-than-life historical personage whose exploits ranged well beyond the comics realm. A fascinating biography of this guy is obviously waiting to be written.


I started this blog entry by referencing two portraits I've done lately, so I'll quickly share the second one with you before I go (see below). Its subject, Will Eisner, will be familiar to any of you who have arrived at this blog because of an interest in comics. Much written about and widely admired, Eisner was a giant of the sequential art medium who was still producing new and exciting works when death finally wrestled him away from his drawing board at the age of 87.

Will was a professional colleague with whom I chatted, talked shop, and occasionally argued (always amicably) at the comics cons and conferences where our paths crossed. When he passed away last year, I contributed the drawing below to an issue of Comic Book Artist magazine that was devoted to Eisner tributes.

January 10, 2007

Party Time in Birmingham

It's always fun to put together self-promotional montages like the one above, in which assorted characters from odd corners of my professional life come creeping out of the woodwork to party.

In times past a lot of rubber cement and X-Acto knifeplay would have been required to create a graphic like this one, and even so the slightly frayed edges of the hand-trimmed images would remain apparent to anyone chosing to peer closely at the finished assemblage. But everything has been made easier and cleaner with the advent of magic software like Photoshop.

(And I would say that even if Adobe Systems, the makers of Photoshop, hadn't been dominant among my freelance clients for the last half-year.)

If all goes well and enough page space is available, this graphic will accompany an interview with me that's set to run in an upcoming issue of Birmingham Weekly, for whom I did that weird Santa Claus cover art I told you about a few blog entries ago.

What occasions that print interview (as well as a radio interview that will be taped on January 18 on WBMG's arts program Tapestry) is the trip to Birmingham I'll be making next week. By virtue of having drawn cover art this fall for UAB Public Health magazine, I'm being given the royal treatment at a reception being thrown by the University of Alabama School of Public Health on the 18th.

UAB has even made posters out of my cover art. Signed copies of these will be available for sale at the reception to raise money for the Bill and Judy Bridgers Scholarship Fund.

About Me, Me, Me!

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Loose Cruse: The Weblog in the Me, Me, Me! category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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