Cushion Up a Storm

Remember "abuse pillows"? Therapists used to encourage their clients to punch them, throw them, and stomp on them as a harmless way of venting their suppressed anger. Maybe they still do.

Anyway, they were obviously on my mind when I drew the sketch below as an adornment to a personal letter I wrote to a friend 22 years ago.

The Old Turf Calls

Odds are that the vast majority of you aren’t going to be in Birmingham, Alabama, during the next month, but should fate take you there (or if you’re an old pal of mine or blog-follower who happens to live in the area), you’ll find a page of my original comic book art included along with art by numerous other Hilltop graduates in the Alumni Art Exhibition that’ll be on view June 12-July 3 at my beloved alma mater, Birmingham-Southern College.

Above right: A panel from "Mister Bug Has His Say," the comic I loaned out for the BSC exhibit.

My fellow BSC alum Don Stewart (who’s a pretty fascinating artist himself, as you’ll see from his web site and presumably from art of Don’s that’ll be in the show) nagged—I mean, encouraged me to be part of the show until I finally overcame my resistance to packaging up yet another drawing for mailing. And I’m glad he persisted, since it’s pleasing to see that cartooning is being recognized these days by BSC as part of the "real" art landscape. That was a leap of the imagination that the Art Department Chair couldn’t quite muster when I was an undergraduate four decades ago (although a couple of more open-minded professors encouraged me individually).

The opening reception for the exhibit is this Friday (June 12) at 6 PM at the Durbin Gallery.


I recently found my mailbox next to the front door all but overwhelmed by a handsome hardcover catalog that’s been put together by James Danky and Denis Kitchen, the co-curators of the Underground Classics exhibit at the University of Wisconsin that I blogged about on April 28.

The book is a real pleasure to pore over, and besides showcasing the art that’s still on display (until July 12) at the Chazen Museum in Madison, Wisconsin, it includes enlightening essays by Jay Lynch, Patrick Rosenkranz, Trina Robbins, and Paul Buhle in addition to the introduction by Danky and Kitchen.

I’ll admit that I had misgivings when Denis Kitchen told me that the catalog would feature color photographs of the originals themselves instead of high-resolution scans, which is the way that my drawings normally make it into print. Color photos, after all, show all of the flaws and patches and corrections and marginal notes that are not expected to be visible to readers when a page of comic art is published, not to mention the yellowing that can afflict sheets of Bristol Board with the passage of time.

But now that I can see the finished catalog, I’ve gotta admit that there’s something especially intimate about encountering the sheets of art in their unadorned, physical "reality"—if photos in a book can be extrapolated by the imagination into something like physicality. I’ve always known that there is a special pleasure in seeing original comic book art on a gallery wall (or as part of a personal collection) instead of in reproduction, with all of the sweat marks, remnants of pencil sketches, and other artifacts left by the artist’s hand right there for the eyes to see. I wouldn’t have predicted, though, that this intimacy could be as effectively approximated in print as it has been in this book.

Seeing pages like the one above of the late Joel Beck‘s art takes me back to 1966, when I first visited my brother in Berkeley and came across a hand-stapled copy of Beck’s Lenny of Laredo on Telegraph Avenue. It was a revelatory discovery. It had never occurred to me that the supposed "children’s medium" of comics could be represented by pages of art drawn excellently, without abandon, with the human id fully acknowledged and incorporated into the mix but without the visual griminess of the surreptitiously exchanged "Tijuana Bibles" I had seen.

Suddenly a new world seemed possible. I couldn’t imagine, however, how far into that world I would ultimately venture.

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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