I Love Comic Books!

I love comic books. There’s no better way to put it. They have been a major part of my life for most of my existence. As a child, I grew up with my uncle reading comics to me. Spiderman, Iron Man, Conan the Barbarian, the X-Men; we were Marvel fans all the way, True Believers! The first comic I ever bought myself was Ghost Rider. I guess a motorcycle riding demonic spirit of vengeance appealed to my prepubescent self. Comic books expanded my vocabulary, enhanced my love of reading, taught me some elements of storytelling and inspired me with their colorful and dramatic images. They made me the man I am today.

In high school, I discovered independent comics, titles put out by companies who were not one of the big two, DC and Marvel. Eastman and Laird were local celebrities when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first came out. I still have some of their first and second printings of the early TMNT and I think they even did a signing at the comic shop in Portsmouth, NH that I used to go to. I would read and reread issues of Dave Sims’s Cerebus the Aardvark, both because of the intricacies of some of the art and to catch the humor as they lampooned the world of comics, as well as several other favorite targets, such as politics and religion. Teenage me loved the sex and violence that characterized Howard Chakin’s American Flagg. There was one time, during a final exam, I finished the test early and was required to sit quietly at my desk, while other students still worked, taking full advantage of their allotted time. Fortunately, anticipating this very situation, I had brought comics with me. One of these comics happened to be the finale of Matt Wagner’s first Mage series. I got so caught up in it, I forgot where I was and, at the end, almost jumped out of my seat and cheered for the hero’s inevitable victory. Like any art form, be it music or movies, comics have a way of creating an emotional response that can just sweep one along.

College interrupted my love affair with comics as certain other interests took their place. Not to mention that I wasn’t exactly rolling in money. It was reignited when I transferred out to a California school, where I didn’t know many people. Having more freetime, without overwhelming social obligations, I indulged in one of my favorite pastimes, wandering through libraries. It turned out that my university’s library had a graphic novels section, I happened upon it when I had a 2 hour break between classes. Browsing the stacks, I found a copy of Alan Moore’s The Watchmen and sat down to read it. I could not put it down. I skipped my class and burned through it in 3 hours and got up unsteadily when I was done. That book rocked my frickin’ world. Taking an almost equal role during that time period is Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

Somewhere in that time period I also discovered underground comix. I could say a few words here and there about the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Cherry Poptart and Fritz the Cat, but the two main influences to come out of this genre are Robert Crumb and Rick Griffin.

I still read comics. The titles I currently follow are (in no particular order) Ms. Marvel, Lazarus, East of West, Walking Dead, Wildstorm, Saga, The Injection, Scarlet to name a few. At the height of my comic addiction, I was probably buying 40-50 titles a month. I own complete, or nearly complete, sets of The Boys, Preacher (Love Garth Ennis), an entire box of Batmans, a bunch of special events, like Blackest Night, Flash Point, Infinite Crisis, etc. To appease my wife, who would often look in horror at my exponentially growing collection, I eliminated roughly a third of my comics, meaning I currently only have 2,000 to 2,500 comics left. Don’t worry; I’m already building it back up again. Don’t let my wife know.

I’ve made this too long already. I wanted to talk specifically about comic artists that I love, that have influenced my work, but I think I’ll move that to another post. Given the internet’s love of top 10 lists, I’m going to make a list of MY top 10 favorite comic book artists for next week’s blog post.

What is your style? (or Why the Dots?)

I hate brush strokes. That pretty much sums up my style. My first experiments in color involved watercolor markers. Their soft tips left lines where the marks overlapped, making darker lines as the layers of pigment bled into the paper, like the pattern vacuumed into a shag carpet. I hated the look. My solution was to use the markers in a circular motion. I would have preferred a uniform field of color, but wasn’t unhappy with the cloudy swirls that resulted. As it turned out, though, this swirly pattern was what people commented on the most.

Color has never come to me easy. I was terrified of color, at first, avoiding it like the plague for years. Those watercolor markers busted my prismatic cherry, but I wanted more, I wanted bigger and for that, I’d need paint. I choose acrylics for their simplicity and affordability. Space was tight in the one bedroom apartment I lived in at the time and it seemed a bit risky to keep the flammable supplies I would need for oil painting. Watercolors, with a brush, not the markers, have always been too uncontrollable for me and while I knew of gouache and tempera, I had no idea how they worked. So, acrylics it was, but I still needed to figure out what to do about the brush strokes.

My first few paintings were crap, but that’s no surprise. At that point I had failed so many times at so many things that failure is expected. I only have a few pieces from my “early days”, the rest long since thrown away or painted over. “Three Birds” is the first piece where my current style began to emerge. The paint was applied by being dabbed onto the surface, which didn’t quite achieve the look I wanted, but did eliminate several brushstrokes. I don’t really like this piece anymore, my style having developed and progressed in my opinion, but it does possess a raw energy that was the purpose of the piece. My wife likes it, and has insisted that I keep showing it, but I suspect that she may be a little biased.

My use of dots is slightly more developed in my piece, “Otherworldly”, but they are used sparingly, only for background. It wasn’t until “God of the Ants” that dots became a major aspect of my work. This is also the piece that made me realize that I like working big. At 47” X 29.5”, I can remember looking at the vast expanse to be filled and thinking, “Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to try to cover this with dots?” I didn’t keep track of every minute I spent working on this, but it was created over a three month span. I used to roam the neighborhood searching for painting surfaces, and was very excited to happen upon the sides of a shipping crate. “Otherworldly” is also on one of these sides. Unfortunately, in addition to its size, “God of the Ants” weighs in at a little over 18lbs, making it difficult to hang anywhere, so it has never been publicly shown.

Using layers of dots upon dots also provided a way for me to blend colors. Without any classes, any training in things such as color theory, I was clueless as to how to mix different colors on my palette. Not that I don’t still try, but my results are far from predictable. If nothing else, my use of dots gives my paintings a look that is distinctively mine. As much as I lament about how long it takes me to build a painting the way I do and how I sometimes wish that I had gone to art school, that I had been “trained” in some way, I am proud that I can own my style. I look forward to seeing how this style of mine will grow and develop over the years.

Who am I?

As basic a question as this is, it’s one that I’ve always avoided answering. I enjoy being the chameleon, the one who could step into any role that needed to be filled. The scientist, the healer, the brute, the poet, the lover, the strange, silent guy mumbling to himself in the corner; I’ve been all of them at one time or another. Until now, I’ve never claimed the title of artist, despite creating art for the vast majority of my life. It seems like I’ve tried every career path I could to avoid being a professional artist, but none of them ever rang true.

I was born and raised along the southern coast of Maine. Got my black belt in karate and began teaching to help put myself through college. Graduated with a degree in chemistry and went to work in an analytical lab. Began taking tai chi and studying to become an acupuncturist, but ended up getting a scholarship to a medical school in Maine, which made medicine the more financially viable path for me. My time in medicine was brief and I went into biotech, which was an equally uncomfortable fit. Just before my dive into art, I spent an extended period operating my own bodywork practice, while teaching anatomy at a medical school on the side. Throughout all this time, I kept telling myself that I would do art seriously, once I felt I was “stable” enough. At a certain point, it became obvious that the “right” time would never come and I was going to have to make art a priority, or it would never happen.

Despite what many people may believe, art is not easy. I don’t make art because I want to; it is a relentless compulsion that drives me to create. A cruel taskmaster that demands that I manifest the crazed visions that blossom within me. How does one paint joy or sketch dread? I spend agonized hours in internal conflict about whether I should use quinacridone violet or magenta. My job is to bring the impossible to life and accept the inadequate fruits of my labor. My work is a solitary endeavor. I can’t even talk to others about my work, since few are interested in the intricacies of paint viscosity or the difference in tooth between smooth and vellum Bristol board. Don’t get me wrong, there is joy involved, as well. Making beauty is an ecstatic experience, an act I consider to be my highest purpose. I claim the title of artist with a great amount of pride, but it is a role so ill-defined, often times outside the very boundaries of society, that there is a butt-clenching level of fear that accompanies that pride.

Of course, I want to be rich and successful, but, right now, I’ll just be happy if I don’t shit myself.