Cleveland’s Mondrian, is it Comics?

Looking at Mondrian I’ve often thought, “he’s the greatest comic book artist ever”. On Twitter Alan Haverholm (@haverholm) has started claiming many modern paintings as #comics. It’s delightful to have someone else claim Modernism as comics. When he posted a Mondrian grid with lots of squares done in very light values of the standard red yellow blue pallette Mondrian uses, as a #comics. Without thinking I responded #notcomics and said: “Mondrian’s work always comes down to icons for me”.

He didn’t get it. I’m not sure I get it either, so here are some thoughts to think this thru.

I’ve puzzled over this Mondrian at the Cleveland Museum of Art puzzling over why it doesn’t feel like comics to me.

What holds a comics page together as a visual unit that feels different then Mondrian’s grid-based paintings? Mondrian has put his color rectangles at the edges, making your eye move around the central white icon. For each rectangle to make sense they have to be seen in relationship to the others. Certainly not being a sequence makes it not comics. But then I’m not sure sequence is a defining part of a comics page.

The black “gutters” are zips, the weight of each one is set by the others. The thick black bar between the blue and white rectangles by its thickness takes on an identity of its own as almost an anchor of the whole composition. The bar at the bottom of the two red rectangles also take on its own identity and makes you look at it’s two parallel zip.

Despite the immaculate craft of Mondrian’s painting you can’t pull out and make any one rectangle be a “panel”. You have to hold the whole painting in your head as you look at it and can’t fall into any one panel for the meaning in the panel. I think there are two different relationships between parts of a “paintings” and “comics”. In paintings, it’s the relationships between all the parts. In comics, it’s the framework holding all the parts together. But there is still a relationship between all the parts.

So to make a Mondrian into a comic there needs to be a visual framework to allow you to compare the red and blue squares. But what he does is ask you to hold them in your head together in a relationship with the black lines as parts of this relationship, not just a framework.

Next a page from my Martian Manhunter to look more at these ideas.

An Artists Eight Fold Path

Buddha wants everyone to be happy. He can’t make you rich, famous, sexy or pain-free, just happy. Buddha gets that pain happens, emotional intellectual and physical. But then I make it worse in my head, that’s suffering. When I stop making it worse and just deal, that’s being happy.

Us artists, we gotta express our sufferings. My angst should pour out into what I make. I’m supposed to “suffer for my art”. I think I’m, special because I express my suffering. I ignore how my suffering hurts others.

Meditation is a practice in how to experience pain(emotional or physical) and let it go. There is a delight in popping the zits of day to day existence. But I can repeat forever how “The Man” screwed me to myself. But to focus on the breath and just the breath, I have to be in the moment, not in the past or the future. My breath is here as I type. My kid not doing his dishes is in the past. I’m not smart and can only handle one thing at a time. So I have to let “dishes” or the breath go. So meditation is my practice in letting go of bad shit and paying attention to what I’m doing like writing. It works, when I can do it, now I’m trying to do it with my art too.

Making art is a practice too. I have to study, each drawing or writing session is just like sitting in meditation. But I worry as much about paying the “rent” as making work. The “rent”, “The Man” and life has often stopped me from making work.

So I’m swiping Buddha’s Eightfold Path. I’m writing an Artists Eightfold path to drop all the shirt and make art. There’s no fame, no fortune not even how to draw well promised it. The only goal is to make work and be happy.

Navel-gazing at 30 Year old Ink Stains

Making art is about continually judging what is right. So in excavating old work is there any point in looking at it again? Well, when your headspace is filled by past events, fabrications and hungry ghosts that you don’t want to feed anymore, probably not.

But Daniel Vozzo once from DC Comics posted a color chart from the 80’s when the color in comics was a hand done process involving codes, little old ladies in Connecticut, and some luck. Then a request for a re-creation of the last page of Martian Manhunter (a series I had draWN colored) came over the Internet. It was shocking how much I liked the work. See those hungry ghosts are rather large with nasty tentacles that have torn at mainstream comics career.

In the middle of that career, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

I did a short strip in an anthology with friends about being diagnosed with MS. It ended with a plea to support the Single-Payer initiative on the ballot that year in California. We got a letter that said, “sorry but that’s not the appropriate subject matter in comics”. So at 31, the comics community, my body and the medical professionals basically said “you’re not appropriate”. They all said, “there is the ice floe, see ya!”.

But I lucked out, the Multiple Sclerosis, while at times crippling, is down to some chronic pain and the normal aches of old age. At 31 most people are healthy, by sixty even the finest of athletes, have aches creaks and cracks. It’s just the norm for everyones life now.

Now looking back at Martian Manhunter, there are some failures, and some neat ideas too. Age, time, a whole lot of meditation, has stuffed all the ghosts from the past into the closet. So now it’s time to find those good ideas.

Mainstream comics is factory work, a writer plots, artist pencils, another inks, another colors. I was weird that others had a hard time inking my work, and I was pretty sure they couldn’t color it right. The editor Andy Helfer let me color the work myself. But covers were more important and had to be done in the “office”. Weird kids like me weren’t allowed to color the cover, that would be wrong. When I came into the office in NYC to deliver the pages the color drone was mumbling at Andy about what a terrible cover this was and he had no idea how to color it. Helfer made a huge leap to let me color the cover because I seemed to be the only one who could make my own art work.

I had used diagonals swiped from Russian Constructivism and combining it with life drawing based inking was really the foundation of what would be my work. Now it’s seeing that color, knowing it should be simple, the buildings one color, flames another, details don’t need to be picked out in color. Let the big structure determine the color, not the need for silly rendering and tiny highlights.


Abstract Kirby 4 cover thumb

The finest comics I’ve ever done exploring the fundamental things that make comics comics. Now with fancy four colors added into the mix, the tension is can the flat hard colors defeat the evils of cross-hatch and the washes of watercolor lapping at their edges. Or some such bullshirt, I like these. Please buy them here, Abstract Kirby 4 on Amazon.

Getting Old

At 30 I knew everything.
I did “cool, different” comics, politically active and went to El Salvador to actually learn about truth justice and the American way. At 31, I chased a girl to California, got dumped and diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.At the time, there was nothing that could be done for MS other than die, thanks Oakland for ruining my life.
Maybe, maybe not.

But in life drawing class I met a cool hippie chick doing yoga. Thanks Oakland for introducing me to the love of my life. Marriage and kid followed, but comics collapsed, my cool different comics were hated by the comics editors who controlled the work. They made sure that I had no work and no health care.
Maybe, maybe not.

By 40, I could barely walk. The cool hippie chick attacked the health care system to get me access to Copaxone, a new drug for MS.The drug worked and play with kids was again possible. Commercial comics were gone for me but I went other ways, learning to program, non-profit work, teaching HTML.

At 50 I ran the get out to vote for one tiny little section of Minden Nevada from a teacher’s home, we elected a Black guy President of the United States. Then we passed the ACA, the health care that had been the threat hanging over my head, the black cloud of my life lifted.
Maybe, maybe not.

Now at 60, phone banks every week leading up to another get out the vote weekend. Now Republicans want to take away peoples health care, bankrupt our country and drive it into hell, maybe, maybe not. I’m doing the comics I really want to do for the first time in my life, maybe they’ll make me famous, maybe not. So in sixty years what have I learned?

Maybe, maybe not is a good motto for life.