The last post was getting a little long, and I was getting a little sleepy … so over a week later, I’m here to complete that thought.
Four Tall Tales: A Graphic History of the RPL was a very fun project, but even the most enjoyable projects aren’t without their controversies. Behold, as I reveal a potentially morally reprehensible image!
Pretty innocent, right? Well, sure. Except for the fact that this was the original panel:
Yeah. Someone at the library felt that a dog licking its crotch would offend some readers. I had some kind of lengthy, and possibly pretentious, statement about the dichotomy of high art vs. low art … but in the end it seemed like a petty point to argue. I felt bad for the curators at the Dunlop because they were very supportive and tried to offer me some ‘outs’ (i.e.: maybe the dog is just hiding his face?).
Still, an artist friend of mine found the whole controversy hilarious. If memory serves me, he said something like, “Who’s going to be offended by something you can see on the street, legally?!”
Oh well. If I ever become a famous artist, people will be begging me to make dogs lick their crotches. That’ll learn ‘em.
To close, here are a couple more pages from the comic. The story itself ended up tying together a number of moments in Regina’s history through a Wizard of Oz framework. I used to hate drawing buildings, but working on this comic made me love buildings … especially when I realized how many beautiful buildings Regina used to have before they started knocking them down in the name of progress. But that’s another post.
Four Tall Tales is available at the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina for $15.
In 2008, the Regina Public Library commissioned four local artists and/or graphic designers to work on a comic book celebrating the library’s centennial. This project included myself, Jonah McFadzean (my brother), Allan Dotson, and Raul Viceral.
Each person was given a photograph from a different point in the library’s history. We were asked to respond to the photo any way we wished for ten pages– fact or fiction, we could write and draw pretty much whatever we wanted.
I should mention at this point that the RPL is particularly fantastic when it comes to comics. Their ever-growing collection of comic books, graphic novels, zines, and related ephemera is very impressive, and the collection rotates between the branches on a regular basis. Every time I go there I find something cool, be it Chris Ware’s sketchbook, Joe Matt’s Spent, a Krazy Kat collection, Watchmen, Sandman, or just some regular super-hero and Archie comics.
They have also offered a lot comics-related programming, including manga clubs and comic jams. Not to mention the fact that the Dunlop Art Gallery (which physically exists within the Central and Sherwood branches of the RPL), has brought in exhibitions like Comic Craze.
Anyway, enough shameless praise for the RPL, I don’t want it to go to their collective heads and have them go all apathetic on me.
Back to the project. The book was titled Four Tall Tales: A Graphic History of the Regina Public Library. It was also one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on.
Cartooning is a skill that requires a lot of patience, practice, and knowledge. It might seem simple to just draw some funny pictures in little boxes to those who have never tried, but for any artist worth his/her weight in ink, the process requires constantly navigating dozens of questions about composition, balance, timing, perspective, style, and more. Every time I work on a comic I learn a little bit more about the medium, which makes me feel like I’m getting a little bit closer to being a ‘for-reals’ cartoonist.
But, as many artists know, the people paying the bills frequently believe that they know more than the artist. For example I was once hired to do some ‘cartoony’ illustrations and had the following conversation:
Bill-payer: “Yeah, you made this character look really angry in this drawing. It’s good, but why did you scribble above his head like that?”
Dakota: “It’s a cartoon symbol for anger. You know, like he’s sizzling, or blowing steam off.”
Bill-payer: “Hmm. Yeah. Well, I don’t like it. Get rid of it.”
Fortunately, the RPL and the Dunlop gave the artists a lot of freedom in this project. I can’t speak for the other artists, but this made me feel like they trusted us a to do a good job, and so I wanted to do a great job for them. I did tons of research, trying to come up with an interesting story. In the end, I probably worked full-time on the comic for about a month.
But more on that in a future post, where I will show some more images from the comic, as well as some insight into the terrifying moral controversy caused by one li’l panel!
Four Tall Tales is available at the RPL now, selling for $15. It’s beautifully printed, and it contains very diverse work.
Broken Pencil magazine did a piece about the Gene Day Award for Self-Publishers (which was part of this year’s Joe Shuster Awards. Each artist on the shortlist was given a full page with a short bio and a sample of some of their work. I made the shortlist for Hypocrite.
Long story short, go pick up a copy of Broken Pencil and check out the feature. There’s some great work by several self-publishers, and of course Broken Pencil is always good times!
After spending much time agonizing over my decision to apply to the Center for Cartoon Studies, I finally sent off my application in September.
Yesterday I received an acceptance letter (along with the great CCS How-To Guide, filled with the sort of anxieties and self-doubts that seem to drift through the mind while inking). By Fall 2010, I’ll be in Vermont beginning work on the two-year course of study to get my MFA.
Naturally, I was ecstatic, I’ve found it impossible to get White River Junction out of my mind since I attended the CCS Portfolio Day in November 2009.
I’ve been working full-time since March, as well as taking every commission that comes my way, just in the off-chance that I would decide to apply. Now that I’ve been accepted, the weight of it all hit me today. Debt! Distance! Visas! In short, this shit just got real. It’s a good thing they sent that guide.
So it looks like I’ll be continuing my office work for the next eight or nine months, which will hopefully help take a chunk out of the debt I’ll soon incur. My wife mentioned that we could have a baby in that time, but I think she was joking (though I seem to remember reading about a CCS student who had a baby with his wife during his studies … well, not literally during his studies, but the point is it can be done, especially if said baby craps cash).
Anyway, I’ll complain about the inflexibility of working full-time coupled with the finicky nature of creative inspiration another day.
For now, I’d like to post the comic I made for my application. Each prospective student must create a minimum two-page comic featuring themselves, a robot, a snowman, and a piece of fruit (the current application form also requests the inclusion of the ocean). For the printed version, I colored the falling hair silver in the last couple of panels … the effect was much more underwhelming than I would have liked.
In the last year, the MacKenzie Art Gallery has asked me to produce a couple of comics for their newsletter, At the MacKenzie.
The first released in conjunction with an exhibition of Ted Godwin’s paintings from “the Regina Five Years”.
For those unfamiliar with this piece of history, the Regina Five were a group of painters from Regina (or at least working in Regina) who exhibited their abstract paintings at the National Gallery of Canada in 1961. For a brief, shining moment people from places other than Regina had heard of Regina. It’s a moment in the city’s history that is consistently, if not constantly, recalled (for good or ill).
Still, 1960s Regina sounds like it was an interesting time. I tried (and apparently failed) to make a comic that contrasted Godwin’s recollections of this past, with moments from my experiences in current-day Regina. The idea was that the panels would be arranged in a tartan pattern (Godwin became known for his tartan paintings).
I say “apparently failed” because the strip garnered nothing but criticism … mainly from those referenced in it. Godwin was none too pleased with it, claiming that I should have drawn him smoking and drinking (he was known for his alcoholism at the time). The architect Clifford Wiens also emailed me, trying to understand why I said that he said something that he said he never said (of course, the quotes all came from interviews with Godwin interviews in Mark Wihak’s documentary A World Away: Stories from the Regina Five). Also, Wiens didn’t get the comic. Didn’t like it.
So, lesson learned. Don’t make comics about people who are still alive.
Despite this, the MacKenzie commissioned me to do another comic in conjunction with the current exhibition, My Evil Twin. Because there are numerous contemporary artists included in the show, the concept for the comic could afford to be a little more open-ended.
I’m much happier with how this comic turned out (other than the annoying ink bleeding. Damn Stonehenge paper!) Ideally, this comic would be read in its printed form and would encourage the viewer to decipher it in the candle-lit bathroom mirror.
Here are a few more covers I’ve done for Prairie Dog in Regina.
The first was used for the Regina Folk Fest issue. Unfortunately, there are a lot of problems with this image. Like the fact that the fretboard doesn’t reach the sound hole. Or the fact that her one of her feet is messed up. I might as well have put her thumbs on the wrong side. Gah! I was so young and naive all those months ago.
Next we have an illustration I did for an issue focusing on Saskatchewan’s potentially nuclear future, featuring a radioactive-blue, mutant prairie dog thing. I learned a lot about chain link fences with this drawing … mainly that they take forever to draw.
Finally, here is the most recent cover art: the ABCs of scary halloween monsters. I tried to imitate the flat, dry-brush paintings in old Little Golden Books like The Saggy Baggy Elephant – but I think I’m going to need a lot more practice. If you can guess what the thing under Q is, it’s a warp zone full of bonus points.
That’s all for now. I’ll post some more junk soon.
Tonight is the opening of Mind the Gap! at the Dunlop Art Gallery. This exhibition featuring 29 Saskatchewan artists, including an eight-page comic I made titled Gregarious.
You can read about the show here.
I am told that the launch of Four Tall Tales: A Graphic History of the Regina Public Library will coincide with tonight’s celebrations. The RPL commissioned me and three other artists (including my brother Jonah) to create ten-page comics celebrating the moments in the library’s history. This was done to celebrate the RPL’s centennial.
So much comics goodness!
Below is a little preview of Gregarious. I hope to see you at the opening!
The problem with me having a blog is that I forget that I have a blog. Consequently, my blog does not get updated.
But no more! Today I will begin making posts on a regular basis! Today I am a changed man!
For starters, I thought I’d post some of the illustrations I’ve done for Prairie Dog magazine in Regina.
After losing my weekly strip in the Leader-Post, I started seeking out other venues. I sent stuff to magazines across Canada (and even a couple from the USA) … but the only ones who even responded were from Regina. I guess I’m invisible everywhere but home … or maybe I don’t exist anywhere but home. Hm.
Anyway, I approached the Prairie Dog with the idea of doing a regular strip for them. Prairie Dog is pretty ‘with it’, so I figured the staff and readership are probably more aware of the same ephemera that draws my attention.
Sadly, they also don’t have a lot of money. And they need space for those sweet money-making advertisements. So, there are no comics.
On the plus side, they have asked me to do a few covers and illustrations. The three above were done for an article focusing on fun things to do in the summer:
The first cover I did for them was for an issue that responded to the proposed redesign of the Public Library’s Central Branch. The concept was for the cover to depict the best library ever made.
At the time I was frequently visiting paleofuture.com, a blog the highlights what past generations believed the future would look like.
My favorite predictions of the future come from the late 19th century. Everything is a zeppelin! Even things that don’t need to be zeppelins, like coffee tables and barber’s chairs – for some reason everything has a set of propellers and/or a balloon.
I’ll leave it at that for now. More posts in the near future!
The last four days has felt more like four weeks.
I’m currently touring Saskatchewan with a troupe of artists, delivering workshops to elementary and high school students. It’s tiring work. Sometimes it’s tiring because of the early mornings, constant high-energy, and long evenings driving. Other times it’s tiring because I’m trying to play basic theatre games with a group of extremely energetic grade 2s.
But work aside, the landscape is steadily commanding my attention. Until I few days ago, the northernmost Saskatchewan community I had visited was Prince Albert. I’ve now been as far as Buffalo Narrows, and although it’s not as north as, say, Uranium City … it’s still pretty damn north.
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I’ve never felt such a sense of wild isolation. We missed a turn on the way to Ile-a-la-Crosse one night, and the wild, teeth-grinding, fist-clenching panic that overcame my body came as a surprise to me. The sight of headlights in the rearview mirror should have filled me with the comfort that we weren’t alone, but instead it only gave me a deep sense of dread. Like I had been caught. I drove virtually blind along the narrow, uneven road; my foot hovering over the brake just in case a deer jumped out of the darkness. There were no streetlights, only what was illuminated by the van’s headlights.
It’s easy to see where stories of shape shifters and tricksters originated, once one has driven lost down an empty, signless highway in northern Saskatchewan. A number of times I thought I saw the glowing eyes and hairy form of something on the roadside, or a large shadow figure running down the middle of the highway. Occasionally trees and bushes would appear to ‘pop in’ like polygons in a video game. Probably just tired eyes, and riled nerves.
In the daylight, the landscape is a different, thought perhaps no less terrifying and amazing. Psychological vertigo from a seemingly endless forest.
Last November I visited The Center for Cartoon Studies for their Portfolio Day, and my life has been in turmoil ever since. Here’s why…
Before discovering the school, I was resting on the laurels of my BFA. This mostly consisted of trying to learn more about the art world, as well as applying for grants and the occasional residency/exhibition (usually unsuccessfully). I frequently felt as though I was treading water.
Sometimes I contemplated going back to school, but none of the MFA programs I looked into really excited me enough to commit.
As much as I enjoy contemporary art, I didn’t enjoy trying to make work that would be suitable for most galleries. When it came time to sit down to my drawing board next to the fridge, I only wanted to draw comics. And while comics have been gaining increasing respect in the art world, they are often still regarded as a kind of sideshow.
The Center for Cartoon Studies offers an MFA program focussing on things in which I am endlessly interested. To name a few: comics, cartoons, design, history, narrative, printmaking, self-publishing, etc. But there were two problems with this plan: 1) CCS is not accredited (though it has been given the state’s authority to offer MFA degrees) 2) I am poor.
The weekend I spent in Vermont was fantastic, thanks largely to the welcoming CCS faculty and students. The school is located in the town (village?) of White River Junction – a place that has recently seen a little more vibrancy and bustle thanks in part to the small but active arts community.
As my wife and I drove back to Montreal, I rambled for four hours, still high on the excitement of new possibilities.
But once the voice becomes too hoarse to ramble, a funny thing happens. Reality kicks in. How would I afford it? We were about to move back to Regina; did I want to move again so soon? Does accreditation matter?
When we moved back to Regina, I spent several months waffling on the decision, seeking the advice of anyone who would listen. I even ended up getting a real job and saving money, just in case I would eventually work up the gumption to apply (let alone get accepted) to CCS.
I received a lot of different reactions regarding the school. Most of my peers thought that it was cool (though after explaining it to one artist she just made a face like I used Duchamp’s corpse as a urinal). Academics warned me of the pitfalls of an unaccredited (and therefore useless) degree. Family expressed concerns about me moving. An editor with whom I was working suggested I use my savings to show my work at various comics conferences, conventions and fairs.
Needless to say, I was conflicted.
As I sought advice, positive reactions made me excited beyond description, and negative reactions absolutely crushed me, leaving me sad for days. After repeating this cycle numerous ties, I realized that I had already made up my mind and was only seeking approval.
A friend of mine reminded me that the biggest thing an MFA should give you is lots of studio time to develop something new– to improve your skills and knowledge through hard work and research.
Long story short, I finally finished my application and mailed it this morning.