December 3rd, 2014
For some time now I have been puzzling over a vexing problem: how to draw a jumping jack. You can usually find a way to convey a sense of movement in a drawing. But I just couldn’t seem to capture a jumping jack in a single image.
Even with lots of overlapping outlines of limbs, and motion lines, it’s impossible. I kept trying to figure it out, making a video of myself and analyzing the different positions. Then drawing them separately and combining them in a flip book. But I didn’t have enough drawings and my pages weren’t on thick enough paper. Then it occurred to me to put them in a GIF generator.
November 20th, 2014
In 1995 the website Planet Out hired me to design a bunch of avatars that people could use in a chatroom. The technology back then was pretty primitive…I never actually saw the functioning chatroom. I didn’t personally get online until 1996, and by then whatever they were doing had already become obsolete.
So I never got to see my little characters in action, which was really disappointing. I put a ton of work into them. The assignment was complex: create 5 male and 5 female characters, then create multiple poses of each character. (And multiple racial versions of each one.) The characters were: Goatee Boy and Pierced Girl (young hipster types), Mr. Downtown and Execudyke (corporate types), Lipstick and J.Crew (a femme and a rather prissy man), Gym Queen and Girljock, and Bear and UHaul Woman (slightly older types). I had to draw each avatar standing in a neutral pose, happy, angry, flirting, etc….the idea was, when you wanted to have your avatar express an emotion, you’d click a button and there would be a brief animation—they’d move from neutral into a laugh, e.g. I didn’t even have a scanner in those days, and no Photoshop. So I was just winging it, trying to imagine these little animated movements.
So as I said, I never got to see them in action. Then the other day I ran across the huge packet of all the drawings and got inspired to scan them and try making some of them into GIFs. Almost 20 years later, technology has come along with another interesting way to recycle these lost images. I’ll paste a bunch of them in here…some work better than others. But it’s so very amazing to me to see how the rapid succession of two still drawings creates movement and life.
November 19th, 2014
Look at this amazing diorama of Madwimmin Books created by artist Judith Abraham. It’s part of an exhibit at A.P.E. Gallery in Northampton called The Diorama Show. It’s up until December 7th. I’m hoping to get down and see it up close. I’m not quite sure what the scale is, but it looks quite small. See all the miniature books, and the tiny vibrator in the glass display case?
Judith, a.k.a. Iris Bloom, describes her piece like this. “This diorama is based on the underground comic Dykes To Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel which chronicles the cultural history of lesbian feminism in the 80’s and 90’s. It is also a reflection of my personal history. It has been fun to re-imagine this history through the characters of DTWOF in a women’s bookstore where so much of it took place.”
Although the bookstore in my comic strip was based to some extent on the late lamented Amazon Bookstore in Minneapolis, it was also very similar to many other women’s bookstores that used to exist. Like Womanfyre Books, in Northampton itself, where I lived briefly in the 1980s. It’s moving to see that historical space recreated, and it’s very cool to see my own two-dimensional universe given three-dimensional form. There’s something haunting about seeing the light and shadow falling on real objects. I imagine that seeing it in person will be even more intense. Here’s one more view:
Also, the idea of a diorama reminded me of this scene from Invasion of the Dykes to Watch Out For, circa 2005. Clarice has taken Raffi and Stella to the natural history museum, and there’s a special exhibit on endangered species. There’s a panda diorama, and then in this panel, two more dioramas:
September 25th, 2014
Well Venice was pretty amazing. I am a bad traveler and did not do much research beforehand. I know very little of the history there, really, political or art historical or literary. Except for Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Those Who Walk Away which have given me such vivid impressions of the city. I kept wanting to know where her protagonists had stayed…but I have had such terrible wifi on this journey, I can’t look anything up. It’s hard not having that external memory–I really find it difficult to function without it. Anyhow, I couldn’t get excited about Henry James or freaking Titian. I just liked walking along all those tiny wending canals and imagining Tom Ripley having a panic attack around the next corner.
Also, even though everyone had warned me about the tourists, I somehow didn’t believe it until I was caught up in the insane throng. It was like being in Las Vegas, except everything was real. And people were not so drunk and women were not walking around dressed like prostitutes…uh… okay, it was really nothing like Las Vegas but it was a bit sad nonetheless. Yet there Hol and I were jostling along with everyone. One cool thing we stumbled onto that was practically empty, though, was this Hiroshige show at the Palazzo Grimani.
Hiroshige was a bit younger than Hokusai, and maybe a little more conservative and not quite as brilliant, but his woodblock prints are breathtaking and very comic book-like.
Look how he drew these cherry blossoms for godsakes.
Then we did this totally corny thing. Went to a Vivaldi concert of the Four Seasons in some church. It wasn’t great, and the audience was really confused and clapping when they shouldn’t and not clapping when they should and the musicians were rolling their eyes at each other. But these four well-set-up gentlemen in front of us seemed to be enjoying themselves so maybe it wasn’t so dorky after all.
Everything is so crooked and leaning and off center…I guess you can’t tell from the photo that that tower is completely askew. Hol is copying it.
Here is a lovely view of a canal obstructed by someone selling trite drawings of views of canals.
Another cool thing was the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. We visited in a downpour, which slightly reduced the madding crowds. Here I am on her front porch…deck…dock? With a Calder.
Well that’s about all I have to report. We did not ride in a gondola. But I did spring for a water taxi to go to the train station. When we arrived, we had schlepped onto a vaporetto with all our suitcases and about 4 thousand people and it took forever. But leaving the city, the water taxi ride on the Grand Canal was great fun and totally worth the money.
September 17th, 2014
What a bizarre day. I’m sitting here watching my email fill up with message after message from people from so many different times and places of my life, all congratulating me for the astonishing good fortune of receiving a MacArthur Fellowship. Not to mention a flurry of texts and tweets, and I haven’t had the energy to even look at Facebook.
(I’m packing up to leave the artists residency where I’ve spent the past 6 weeks, plus I had to give a talk about my work tonight, and do some media interviews, so I’ve been pulled in a lot of different directions and haven’t been able to focus as intently as I would like on the incoming reactions.)
But I’ve heard from people representing the entire spectrum of my life. High school friends. My next door neighbors in Vermont. Long time readers of this blog. A smattering of ex-lovers. Writer friends saying the kindest, most generous things. The president of my college. A bunch of fancy authors and journalists. Several members of the cast and creative team of the musical adaptation of Fun Home. Serious heavyweight mentors and role models—namely, the photographer JEB and the cartoonist Howard Cruse, who made my work possible because of their own revolutionary, pathbreaking efforts when I was still wet behind the ears.
I heard from an 89 year old woman. My mortgage broker. Many, many cartoonist friends. Old friends I lived with in the Twin Cities in the 1980s. Friends of my parents! A cousin! A student! An old time dyke who said she was “crying tears of joy for how far society has come.” And Mary Bonauto, my fellow fellow, the MA attorney who also received a 2014 MacArthur for her tireless legal work for marriage equality.
Thank you to everyone. I will try in the coming days to answer everyone personally. But I’ll just sign off with this DTWOF episode from ten years ago. I don’t have access to the crisp line art version because I’m still away from home, but maybe you can make it out from this photo. This is the beginning of episode 451 of Dykes to Watch Out For, Pox Populi, from 2004.
September 17th, 2014
[This is Mentor doing a brief blog-jack.
As many of you may have heard Alison Bechdel has been named a 2014 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow: (More details [HERE].)
I can only imagine that AB is pretty busy at the moment, and that she’ll have more to say once she’s had a chance.
But in the meantime, congratulation Alison, from us all. –Mentor]
September 13th, 2014
I’m nearing the end of my artist residency in Umbria. I’ve been doing lots of fun projects, and here’s one of them. A big scroll on which I made sort of diary drawings. I ordered this big roll of paper, 1.5 meters by 10 meters.
My plan was to make a drawing every day, keeping the scroll intact and unrolling it a little bit each day. I kept to the daily schedule for a while but then it got more erratic.
I liked the challenge of drawing spontaneously with ink at this large scale on a continuous piece of paper. It was like walking a tightrope.
It got a little less spontaneous as I went along, because a story started to emerge. Living in this castle, I felt like I was turning into one of the medieval characters in this drawing on the cover of our orientation handbook.
I had to physically wrestle with the giant swath of paper every day, rolling up the drawn part and exposing a fresh blank area, which I’d pin to a cork board.
Every week we went out on a field trip to see ancient hill towns and Piero della Francesca frescoes. This is a mash-up of his Madonna del parto, a pregnant madonna, and his Resurrection.
Medieval life has its tedious aspects. There’s no washing machine here.
The character kind of fell away as I got absorbed with another project—drawing myself in different yoga poses with charcoal at life-size scale.
On a field trip to Assisi, we saw more Piero frescoes. Actually I guess there’s some dispute about whether he actually did the frescoes in the Basilica there. But there’s an awesome one of St. Francis and some other monk casting the demons out of the city. Here I am casting the demons out of my head.
This was after our trip to Arezzo, where it seemed like one of the Piero figures could just be walking down the street.
And all too soon I reached the end of the roll.
The other thing I like about the scroll is its unwieldiness. I could never see the whole thing at once. Until one night a bunch of the other fellows helped me, and I rolled it out in the hallway and into the next room.
August 21st, 2014
I just heard that B.K.S. Iyengar died. Strangely, one of the things I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks is making drawings of yoga poses. Here’s me working on one last Thursday.
I studied Iyengar yoga in the late 1980s and early 90s, and have kept up a minimal practice ever since. Several years ago I got out Mr. Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga, and started doing quick brush drawings based on the lovely black and white instructional photos of him in the book. It was very fun and freeing, and really loosened up my drawing. Now I have found my way back to a similar project. I started by doing giant life-size charcoal sketches of myself in various yoga poses. It’s an interesting challenge to draw on this large scale, without preparatory sketches, just trying to draw from my whole body the way the pose feels.
I haven’t really thought this through intellectually…I guess it’s something to do with the body as a signifier, as a sort of unmediated vessel of meaning. But mainly I have just experienced a lot of joy doing these poses, and I feel grateful to Iyengar for his carefully codified teaching methods. I’ve tried other kinds of yoga, but nothing else has ever felt quite as deep or precise.
After drawing myself in a few poses, I got some other people to do their favorite poses for me. I did a quick sketch, took some reference photos, then later made a more careful, but still quick and spontaneous ink drawing—not life size but still much larger than I am accustomed to drawing.
It’s been a really fun and rewarding drawing project, plus I’ve been constantly googling images of B.K.S Iyengar doing the poses over the past week, since he is the gold standard. So it’s especially strange to hear that he is gone.