I went to Texas this weekend. Went to hang out with my friend Lori and see what Austin is all about. I'm city shopping at the moment, trying to figure out where why and how to live, and Austin sounded cool. I mean, yeah, 100+ degrees underwater…but cool.

I fly out Thursday morning. On the way, the landscape below is bizarre. After I cross the Rocky Mountains, everything goes completely and utterly flat all the way to the horizon, like a poorly rendered landscape in an old video game. It's even divided by farm lots into perfectly geometrical grids. Very Tron.

I'm sitting next to a lady in her mid 60s from Detroit. We strike up a conversation that gets deep extremely fast, plummeting like a bathyscaph into dark depths of personal tragedy and profundity. Her husband just died a year ago. She has no one left except her daughter, who she's going to be visiting in Austin. She tells me about her Grief Groups and how pretty much all her friends now are fellow Griefers. She says she thinks she may be addicted to going to these groups, and I think of Fight Club but figure she wouldn't appreciate the reference. She tells me she feels like she's pretty much starting over from scratch, trying to figure out where to live and what to do with the rest of her life. I remark that we're in pretty similar places in life, her and I, except on opposite ends of age. We share a world-weary nod and look out the window. We haven't even exchanged names yet.

As we near Austin, clouds of smoke billow out of the plane's air vents. After five minutes of letting us assume we're about to burn alive in midair, the pilot casually mentions that it's just condensation steam. It continues to blast out even after we've landed and are deplaning. It's like a Halloween party up in here. I wonder if the flight attendants and pilots dress up like ghouls or zombies for Halloween. Might make some people uncomfortable, I would think.

When I arrive in Austin it's something like 85 degrees. I learn that during the summer months people pretty much don't go outside at all, they just hole up in houses and vehicles and suck down air conditioning. You need a space suit for the trips between car and home. Out in the sun, you can feel your internal organs sweating.

Lori suggests visiting various local attractions, but since I am fairly anti-tourist and prefer the unbeaten path, we pretty much just go to restaurants and bars and walk around and do normal stuff. The feel of Austin is somewhere between Seattle and LA. Plenty of bands and hipsters, but also plenty of buff Marine-looking dudes and tan babes glistening brown in barely-there blouses. There are cool shops and bars everywhere, all with vast outdoor seating. Everything is a bit more open and easy-access. You can smoke indoors. Grocery stores sell liquor. Stop lights run horizontally instead of up and down. There are bizarre little black birds with glowing yellow eyes who make chirps exactly like the bloops and waaohws of an old analog synthesizer.

Friday night I go with Lori to her friend's wedding. This is the first time I've been to a wedding where I don't know the bride, groom, or any of the guests. It feels a little surreal, being a complete stranger at such a warm human celebration. I feel like an alien visitor observing the event from outer space.
Who are these fascinating little beings? What are they doing down there?
Oh look, an open bar.

I am lying spread-eagle in the grass of the orchard outside the wedding area, staring up at the sky while a rusty metal windmill creaks above me. Suddenly, without warning, the scorching hot evening explodes into a violent thunderstorm. The wedding facility, an Alamo-ish castle of stone and mortar, is suddenly inundated with thick, pummeling rain. Within an hour or so, every sensible person has left the reception, and only the hardcore remain. The hardcore are, of course, raging drunk. There are wild dance parties in the fierce rain while the entire place is lit a surreal purple by nearly constant lightning. I encounter a soaked woman huddled against the wall sobbing into her hands. She waves me away when I ask if she's ok. Oh, and me and Lori's ride home is gone now too.

Lori and I fumble with a phone trying to call a cab. No one seems to know exactly where this place is. The cab company hangs up on us. Finally, we land a ride with some of her friends, and I find myself sprawled out in the bed of a truck driven through the muddy streets by drunken Texans I've never met.

The rest of my stay is pretty uneventful. We go to a party. I meet Lori's friends, and receive yet more confirmation that gorgeous people only hang out with other gorgeous people, like tribes, like species. We go to various restaurants and bars. We seem to be drinking a lot. We remember details of the nights before only later in the day. We are plagued by inexplicable headaches and fatigue. Where the hell did I get these grill marks on my fingers? Oh right, when I tried to pull the pizza out of the oven with my bare hands.
I guess I'm living the authentic TX experience. Might just go ahead and move here.

P.S --- Many of you have gotten my book The Inside recently and some of you have started reading it. When you finish, if you have anything good to say about it, I'd love it if you could email me your comments. Not because I crave praise, but because I want to use your "reviews" as review blurbs to try to help sell copies. You don't have to sound like Booklist, just a quick sentence or paragraph saying what you thought of it. Thanks!

Please send your thoughts to:

isaacinspace at gmail.com

Cartoon Sprints (with props to Mike Lynch)

A couple weeks ago I saw an item on ¡Journalista! about a cartoon exercise that Mike Lynch had given to students in a cartooning class: to draw 80 characters in 15 minutes. You can read about the exercise at that preceding link, or you can click here to go directly to the finished product.

I'd like to know more about Lynch's class than he reveals in this particular post: how old are the students, for instance, and--more relevant for this post--how many of them took part in this cartooning exercise? Because it appears to have been a collaborative eighty characters in fifteen minutes, and, you know, that wasn't what I was expecting when I saw the link at ¡Journalista!

No, what I expected to see was Mike Lynch's single-handed effort to crank out eighty characters in fifteen minutes--which averages to one character every eleven and a quarter seconds. Mind, I enjoy the drawings his students produced--no doubt about it, they're fun to look at--but I was hoping for something more, well, athletic, pell-mell, even desperate. So I did what I expected Lynch to have done, and I drew 80 characters in fifteen minutes. Here's the first dozen:

Now, it would be a real challenge indeed not just to draw eighty characters in fifteen minutes but to have to dream up eighty different characters along the way, so I decided to use Lynch's list, which he has thoughtfully included in his blog post. (You may note that two items--robot and hydrant--occur twice on his list. Lynch has already noted it himself, so there goes your No-Prize.) I also soon realized, after warming up with a few practice sketches, that there was no way I could draw eighty characters that quickly if I also had to read their names, so I enlisted the help of Becca Boggs, who read me the names of the characters in turn and warned me when I was taking too long (already with the cowgirl, #5) and reassured me when I had made up lost ground (by the skateboarder, #70). By the second dozen I was getting pretty sketchy indeed:

Lynch describes the exercise as a useful way to train cartoonists to draw lots of different kinds of things. It's true that I haven't spent much time drawing baseball players, truck drivers, businessmen, or angry waiters, as pictured in the third dozen:

On the other hand, I've drawn plenty bunnies, Martians, fish, and fire hydrants (really!) over the years, to say nothing of Batman. And one somewhat frustrating thing about this exercise is that eleven and a quarter seconds doesn't allow a lot of room for invention or witty rendering. That may sound like a somewhat feeble excuse for the resort to visual cliché in these sketches, but I think it's in keeping with what Will Eisner says about stereotypes in Graphic Storytelling: not every imaginable Martian is going to have attenae, say, but if you want to communicate the idea that a humanoid is an alien then a pair of attenae will get the idea across pretty quickly and pretty consistently--more so than a portrait of J'onn J'onzz would (for civilians, at least).

Most of the items in the fourth dozen were pretty straightforward:

It occurred to me while drawing the TV that the rabbit ears are another case of antennae functioning as reliable cliché: fewer televisions nowadays use them, what with cable, satellite, and such, but if you don't want your scrawl confused with a drawing of a microwave they're useful. I was thinking of Mr. Natural while drawing the guy with beard (#45), though that might not be apparent from the hasty result. Probably the trickiest item on this page was #47, specified as not just a car but a "cool car," which required both more thought and (barely) more drawing. (I almost made it the Batmobile, but time was a-wastin' and I figured fins would suffice without further Bat-paraphernalia.)

With the alien (#50), I faced the dilemma of not repeating my Martian. I still resorted to antennae, confound it. The penguin (#51) is dedicated to Carl Pyrdum in memory of Chilly Willy. The Presidential candidate (#53) surprised me somewhat by being influenced by Hillary Clinton (don't look too hard for a resemblance)--perhaps because she seems to be the most determined candidate of late. About the crook (#59) I will note the clichés of garb--dark cap, striped shirt--by way of observing that the reliance on stereotyped imagery caused me to draw a mugger (#8, first picture above) that looked nothing like the assailant who actually mugged me a year ago, save for being male and armed. In other words, even when I had real experience with one of these characters, cartoon convention prevailed over lifelike rendering. (I suppose the same could be said for the lightning bolt, come to think of it.)

Anyway, I'm almost done here. Sixty-one (a cactus; the label got cut off) through seventy-two:

Mike Lynch's students definitely draw a better Spongebob than I do, at any speed. I'm flat embarrassed by that ostrich; a much better one can be seen in Satisfactory Comics #1. And hydrant #2 (drawing #72) makes no effort to look any different from hydrant #1 (drawing #33). Snoring (#69) is dedicated to Alex Lifeson's wife. Paperboy (#72) is dedicated to Patrick Denker.

And finally, the last eight, including robot #2:

So that's it. It's an instructive exercise, that's for sure. For more attractive visual results, I think it might be worthwhile trying to fit eighty characters not into a confined period of time but into a confined space: how small can you draw eighty characters while keeping them recognizable and attractive? My model here would be the amazing Tom Gauld, who has already pulled off this stunt in various ways. Maybe Isaac would like to give that one a try?

Robot underpainting ..probably wont finish

Backyard Bandits Logo

Twenty Five Years and Counting

This June I will celebrate my 25th anniversery of ordination and the Upstate New York Synod has asked me and others who are celebrating significant milestones to briefly reflect on these years of ministry. I decided that I wanted to focus on two things, first; the value of youth ministry experience and second, the importance of relationships in ministry. Here is what I wrote.

Reflection on 25 Years of Ordained Ministry

Any reflection that I do on the past 25 years of ordained ministry must, I think, be done in the context of 40 years of youth ministry. It was in those early years ministering to youth as a volunteer and later as paid staff that I received the call to ordained ministry. It was in those experiences that I grew as a leader and began learning to communicate the Gospel in exciting and creative ways. The youth I worked with and ministered to taught me how important it is to be energetic, passionate, and creative as I shared my faith. It was during those early days that I felt called to develop “The King’s Clown” ministry as a creative way to share the message through mime. This ministry opened many doors for me including opportunities to lead worship in Germany and Ireland. It was this unique ministry that generated the financial resources I needed when attending undergraduate school and Seminary while raising four children. Youth that I have trained continue this ministry today, bringing joy and laughter along with the Gospel to many congregations. My passion for working with youth and young adults has continued to this day as I prepare for a 26th year at Senior High Camp.
The most important knowledge that I have acquired in 25 years of parish ministry is that I am but one part of the “Body of Christ”. Carrying out my responsibilities as an ordained pastor has been a collaborative affair. Whatever effectiveness I’ve had comes from the love, support, and encouragement of the family members, congregational leaders, parish staff, and colleagues who have shared in this ministry. In those relationships I experienced humility, forgiveness, and the wonderful joy of working together to proclaim God’s love to the wider community. My first call was to The Rensselaer County Lutheran Parish, an effort to bring four congregations and two pastors together in a collaborative ministry. We experienced both successes and challenges as we strived to do ministry together. Three years later I was called to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Clifton Park where I served for 21 years. What a joy it has been to serve a community so rich with people willing to stretch and grow in their faith walk. Together we grew as a pastor and a congregation that could boldly state that we practiced
“LEADERSHIP that is inspired by the Holy Spirit and shared by our Pastors, staff and lay leaders as we strive to live as a Christian community with integrity.”
I am now “retired” from parish ministry and am continuing to explore how I fit into the “body of Christ” during this chapter of my life. My purpose continues to be “to creatively and joyfully communicate God’s love” in whatever circumstances I am experiencing. I am forever grateful to all those who have been a part of this journey with me.
His Servant;
Pastor Chuck Schwartz

The Synod also requested before and after photos. Here they are.

Matteu (1-3)

Back in the summer of 2005, Mike and I started drawing two stories that both involve a scholar named Matteu. In both stories, set ten years apart, he travels to a walled city somewhere in the hinterlands. That's as much as we knew about the stories when we started, and I don't want to spoil any future revelations (or revisions) by trying to describe what he discovers there.

This project has been really slow in the making. Although we were originally planning to draw one strip of each story each week, swapping stories every week, a lot of other things have come higher on our list of priorities, and Matteu keeps getting postponed. (If we had kept up with the original plan, we'd have about a hundred pages of story now. As it is, we have almost ten.)

Because we're both a little embarrassed about the glacial pace at which this piece has been moving, we've decided to create a spur for ourselves with the blog here. We'll be posting one of the stories (the first visit to the town) here in weekly installments. The other story will continue to grow at the same pace, but will remain invisible to the internet for now. Until we catch up with new work, I'll post the story in pages instead of in individual strips. (The weekly unit of progress is a strip or a tier, not a page.)

Here are the first three strips:

(I recommend clicking to enhance legibility.)

The inspiration for this form of collaboration, by the way, was the Josh Neufeld / Dean Haspiel concoction Lionel's Lament, for which the pair of collaborators alternated two-panel tiers in a six-panel grid, working on the story in two halves simultaneously. It's a pretty fun jam, and Matteu's story has been a lot of fun for Mike and me, as well, though I don't think you'd ever guess that Matteu and Lionel shared much in their origins.

I hope you'll enjoy getting up to speed on Matteu's travels, and that you'll stick with us long enough to see the new material, which is just a few pages away.


The Road Before Us...

Monday was the day that our entire world was turned upside down. I had this intuition that something was somehow "off" with my pregnancy. My symptoms were subsiding, and I didn't know if it was just that time in pregnancy (around 12 weeks) where that starts to happen, or if there was something wrong. So I called the doctor.

They brought me in at 10:30 to check the heartbeat on the doppler. No heartbeat. So, they sent me for a sonogram. They found a good heartbeat, but also found two very concerning abnormalities... an abdominal defect (omphalocele) and more concerning, something called a cystic hygroma. Basically, it is a thick cystic thing filled with fluid on the back of the baby's neck. The fold on the baby's neck should measure 1-2mm. Our baby's measured well over 8mm. Since my miscarriage was also the result of a chromosomal abnormality (triploidy), they sent us to a genetic counselor. We met for a while with the genetic counselor who basically she suspects another chromosomal abnormality with the baby. When I asked specifically what she suspected, she named two trisomy disorders (trisomy 13 and 18) both of which are lethal, usually with the baby being carried to term or close to it, and then either being stillborn or dieing shortly thereafter. An omphalocele or umbilical hernia is also often present with both of these trisomies. She suggested doing a chromosomal test (called CVS), so we went to Holy Cross Hospital to have that done. The doctor there also measured the thickness of the baby's neck, and said that given the severity of the thickness, that research only suggests a 10-15% chance of viability, meaning the baby being born alive (not a normal, healthy birth or life). There was no ray of hope in anything we heard yesterday. The "best case" scenario would be Turner's Syndrome or Down Syndrome, the worst being the trisomy 13 or 18. Some of the students at Stephen Knolls, the school with children with severe and profound disabilities where Spencer used to work, had those coniditons. The genetic counselor also said she was concerned about a possible heart defect, but that it's too early to tell that.

With my miscarriage last Novemeber, there were 3 days in between the day we found out and the day of my d&c.... three heart-wrenching days of walking around knowing I carrying around my dead baby inside me. This, however, is much worse. There's no definitive end.

And I am scared. I don't know if I am more scared of another miscarriage, of the baby being stillborn, or of the baby being born living and us having no idea how long he or she will be with us. I am scared of the possibility of raising a child with multiple severe and profound disabilities.

I want to pray and ask God for a miracle; but what if He says no? I want to pray and ask for God's will to be done; but I am terrified of what that is. I don't know how to pray for this situation or how to navigate it. All I know is that God hears me, He loves us, and that He will carry us through this.


Heres the sketch and the piece that is going to come from it, im reapproaching the spider piece for now because frenkly, i got bored of the other one, i figured out this new way of rending which is much more effective and realistic. so im heading down this path and i will redo the other one at a later date. Heres some work in progress on the final, which will be posted on wednesday or or thursday. Enjoy!


Just to recap everything about the printing of my novel, The Inside:

I have done another print run of 100 copies. (Curently 88 remaining)
I really hope you folks buy them, because my older brother fronted the money, and he has been known to collect his debts By Any Means Necessary. Let's just say when people call him "Old Hammer Toes" they're not referring to a podiatrical condition...

So, here's the deal. Books are 14$ each. Shipping overseas is possible, but costs 12$ instead of 3$ for US shipping.


If you order now, or whenever you feel like ordering, you'll receive not only a copy of the hit semi-autobiographical romance/psychological thriller The Inside, you'll also receive a FREE BONUS copy of the hit album Dead Children, by the hit Seattle group Isaac Marion's Moon Colony!




Ahem. So, that's the scoop. To find out more about The Inside and read the first 90 pages, go HERE

To just go ahead and buy it, go HERE

NOTE----If you want your copy signed, please email me and let me know! I won't be signing anything unless you specifically ask for that graffiti.

Roller Girl

Old Kirby-Character Doodles

I pulled out an old notebook (from 2004) the other day, so I could hunt up some details about the apartment I used to keep on Long Island. As I was flipping through the notebook, whom did I see but my old favorite superhero from childhood, Scott Free?

There he is, among notes for a verse essay on escapism. (I've written the poem, but haven't found a place to publish it yet. I keep sending it out.)

I wasn't sure whether I was remembering this right, but I dug out a notebook from the spring of 1995 (the first year I was in New Haven, while I was still taking courses in graduate school), and sure enough, there's Scott Free in pencil, on his aero-discs, sailing among doodles drawn from a discussion of The Tempest. I think the bug-eyed guy on the left is one version of Caliban.

You see, when I was just five or six years old (if I remember right), a friend of my father gave me a big collection of Kirby's work at DC: almost every issue of Forever People and Mister Miracle; lots of New Gods and Kamandi and Jimmy Olsen and The Demon. It was a huge influence on my young mind, I think. Kirby's design sense permeated my childhood head, and his characters seemed to me more "real" than Marvel's characters, in the way that Hercules and Odysseus are more real than characters in a novel or on TV.

A few pages earlier in the 2004 notebook, just goofing around on a page with a to-do list, here's Etrigan:

Yarva Demonicus Etrigan, people!

Something about this doodle got me thinking: where have I seen something like that recently? A Kirbyesque physique, in celebratory contortions? Swagger and strut with blocky fingertips?

A-ha, I realized: Casey and Scioli's Godland! Friedrich Nickelhead, dancing in celebration, taunting Basil Cronos!

Yep, that's Dylan he's listening to. It's a trippy, trippy book.

Thoughts From the Wayback

When I was a kid my family drove a Plymouth Valari station wagon the color of dirt, which was a popular color for a lot of things back then, like houses and carpets. The kids sat in the back, but if there was no room we had to sit in the trunk space, which we called the "wayback". I think we sat on the spare tire. This kind of thing was ok back then because people didn't find out about car wrecks until the early 90s.

The ceiling of the car had millions of tiny holes in it, and if you looked up and let your eyes blur they would turn 3D like a magic eye picture. We would look at them and go "Woaaahhh". We didn't need drugs or sex or TV or video games back then. We had the ceiling.

I have no memory of my pre-pottytrained years, and I feel like I'm really missing out on that. I should try wearing adult diapers for a day and just pissing and shitting the shit out of myself. Just for a day. Just to see what it's like.

They make canned chickens. Whole chickens, whole intact chickens, that come in a giant can. I bought one once just to see what it was like. I tried to pull it out of the can but the body fell apart in my hand like jelly. Was I supposed to spread an entire animal on my toast?

When I was a kid I had a bedtime routine. Every night I would get in my bed and pull out a route-instructions disc from the box on my headboard, put it in my bed's navigation computer, and launch off to some unknown destination. My bed was an oceanfaring seacraft, see. But every night was the same. These fighter planes would start circling overhead and attack me. My blankets were bulletproof, so I'd cover myself in the blanket and press the buttons on the side of my mattress that made the missiles shoot out and blow up the planes. Why did those guys keep trying? My bed was a legendary warship. What were they thinking? Every goddamn time.

Around the same age, I had a pet squirrel. Well it was plastic, duh. But it was still a squirrel. It had "fur". Little velvet fuzz fur. It was my best friend. Sometimes our church had youth group at our house. One time the youthgroup kids found my squirrel and plucked all the velvet fuzzfur off him. When I found him he was just bald white plastic. I think that's why I reject organized religion. I definitely blamed God for what happened to my squirrel.

One of the ways I felt alone and isolated as a kid was that pretty much no one else in my family liked tapioca pudding as much as I did.

Maybe another reason I quit going to church was because I smashed my mouth into a bloody pulp twice during church services. The first time I tripped and fell against the wooden pulpit. I jammed my tooth all the way through my lower lip. I still have the scar. The second time I tripped and fell against the church steps. I broke a couple of my front teeth out. My adult teeth now are crazy because of it. Oh and another time I accidentally lit a match in my coat pocket with my fingernail during prayer, but couldn't scream or anything because it was during prayer. It melted my fingernail and burned a hole in my coat, through which down feathers poofed out for at least two years. I guess maybe I was also pretty clumsy and stupid.


And heres the Final

Nervous House Painter

Last Week at Long Island University

I had meant to say something about this sooner, but as I mentioned last week, April is particularly cruel for those of us on an academic schedule: as the end of the term gets closer, all those postponed and delayed things start coming in... Plus, I've got a move to Vermont to prepare for. But enough excuses: here's what I was going to say.

Last Wednesday, I was pleased to host a comics-related event at my campus of Long Island University, with Matt Madden and Jessica Abel:

It went really well. Matt and Jessica came to my graphic-novel seminar and talked with my students about their recent books (which we had read in the class), the creative process more generally, and their books that are about to come out. In the evening they gave a slideshow presentation for a more general university audience, and I think the students really enjoyed it. The creatively inclined students in my afternoon class really seemed glad to be able to talk with some working writers. One of my students who is interested in writing fiction told me that listening to the presentation made her more interested in making comics, and that she was planning to buy Jessica and Matt's textbook when it comes out later this year.

This brings me to one of the most exciting parts of the visit for me: Matt and Jessica brought in an early copy of their forthcoming Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, which looks like it will be the best book yet released on how to make comics. I had high hopes for Scott McCloud's Making Comics when it came out—despite all my quibbles and arguments with the stuff in Understanding Comics, I think McCloud is a really smart thinker about how comics are put together—but it turned out not to be all that useful in the classroom when I taught my first class on how to make comics.

This book, on the other hand, looks like it will be perfect for that class, if I ever get to teach it again. It has a friendly, open approach:

Not all of the book is narrated in comics format like this—just the introduction and a few other parts—but this moment really does seem exemplary of the book's tone. (I scanned these images from the latest issue of The Comics Journal. The actual book has color in it, but I'm not sure whether these pages are grayscale or color.)

Having taught comics-making once now, I can also see signs all over this book of Matt and Jessica's years of experience teaching at SVA and elsewhere.

Can't draw hands? Have problems with perspective? Sounds like a lot of my students last year. Heck, that sounds like me when I was first teaching myself how to cartoon. (I remember asking Mike to set up the perspective for me in one panel of my first mini. I couldn't figure out how to make it look right. And I was having trouble with hands all the way through our Demonstration mini in 2004.)

To my mind, though, this moment in the introduction hits precisely the right note: being an expert draftsman can sure help you make good-looking comics, but if you learn the way the language of comics works, you can teach yourself to draw more beautifully (or more to your own aesthetic, whatever it is) as you make comics. Almost every cartoonist goes through a learning period, sometimes lasting a decade or more. Someone once told Mike that you have to draw a thousand pages of terrible comics before you can make one good one—so, as I now tell my students, you might as well get started on the bad ones. But I'm guessing that having a guide like Drawing Words and Writing Pictures would help to accelerate the learning curve, maybe trimming off a couple hundred from the count.

I am really excited about the release of this book, and I hope anyone who is interested in making comics will pick up a copy.

One final note about the visit: Jessica and Matt brought their baby daughter Aldara along with them, and she is one amazingly beautiful and sweet-tempered little girl. She charmed both of the students who babysat her while the cartoonists were presenting, and I swore (and will stand behind it, even never having seen Eli and Oliver in person) that Aldara is cuter than both of the Kochalka sons put together.

Joker Re-Touch


Ok, the people have spoken, many of them in Portuglish, and I decided I have enough support to risk another print run. Guess what? This time I'm printing 100 copies. So, don't let me down, folks. Tell your friends! No seriously, tell you friends. Unless you read it and hate it. Then don't tell your friends.

Check it out HERE

ZOOT SCOOT Space Ship in progress

He Seems to Be a Happy Camper

As long as we're posting odd cartoon mascots for tasty sweets, here's something I saw recently in my local grocery store. I believe this pale-faced fellow is the current avatar of Campfire Marshmallows.

(Pardon the cameraphone photo. At least it's clearer than my last one.)

So, apparently this cheery, puffy young camper, made of marshmallows himself, is wearing a t-shirt that shows a flaming marshmallow.

I can't decide whether that is meant to imply a lack of self-awareness (or foodchain-awareness) or whether he's just totally Metal.

Café Cartoon Curiosity

While in Paris, I came across this curious cartoon image on the wrapper of some sugar for my coffee:

Maybe I'm just too ignorant of the mechanics of grinding and brewing coffee, since a cafetière is about as advanced as I get, but I find this image perplexing. I get that the sweating trio must be coffee beans in flight from the deadly grinder (or whatever that device is), even though they don't look much like the far smaller beans being jolted around in the grinder's cranial cavity. But really, that grinder and its cranium confuse me. The join between the open black hatch and its counterpart doesn't seem right--is it hinged at a corner only?--and I can't help seeing a resemblance on the one hand to Mickey Mouse's ears and on the other to the caps worn by Huey, Dewey, and Louie. But whatever, that's my own hangup, clearly. Still: can someone explain to me what on earth is emanating from the drawer below the grinder's eyes? Is that supposed to be an ineffectual word balloon, with but a limp red stripe for speech? Or, god help me, is that supposed to be its tongue (and if so, a vile and disgusting tongue it is, reason enough for the legged beans to flee)?

Surely I have made too much of what is, after all, merely a scribble on a sugar wrapper. But the image is strangely menacing by design, and more so by the accident of its incomprehensibility. Ils sont fous, ces français!

Lewis Trondheim's Diablotus (1995)

So, three weeks ago I was in Paris for Easter weekend (though strictly speaking I went for Purim), and while there a friend of a friend directed me to a terrific comics shop near the Bastille called OpéraBD. Please, if you are in Paris and you enjoy comics, go to this store. They're open 'til midnight seven days a week, the staff are friendly, and they have ways of emptying your wallet. Just look what they did to me:

Okay, to be fair: not all of these books and comics were purchased at OpéraBD, though I probably could have found most of them there; and to defend myself: they're not all for me! My lovely wife personally chose about a third of these items, and a few are intended as gifts. But all are fair game for blogging comment, and I'd like to say a few words about the tiniest comic of the lot, which I just put in the mail to Isaac as a present (sorry for the spoiler, Kaiser, but it's for the cause!).

The comic in question is a 22-page story from the prolific master of modern BD, Lewis Trondheim, and it's the tale of a little demon whose name is probably the same as the title:

Visually, it's drawn in much the same style as Le Pays des trois sourires (The Country of the Three Smiles), possibly my favorite Trondheim comic, which employs spare but clean black-and-white doodles and which likewise features the occasional walking skeleton. Unlike Le Pays des trois sourires but like Mister O (also possibly my favorite Trondheim comic), Diablotus is a wordless pantomime. Unlike either of those works, which are formally quite constrained (Le Pays reads like one hundred episodes of a daily comic strip, Mister O adheres to a rigid many-panel grid for a series of single-page gags), Diablotus unfolds like an improvisation, one weird thing after another. It's not entirely devoid of plot, inasmuch as certain strands of incident get wound back into the thread of the story after being set aside for a while, but mostly Diablotus is a kind of comic bagatelle, a brief exercise in invention and style that probably shouldn't be asked to bear too much interpretive weight. Take, for example, this two-page sequence (you'll want to click to enlarge, but take care not to read across the whole page by mistake):

Now, if I wanted to get all "lit crit" about it, I could say something about how the dealing out of punishment in this work inevitably implicates both would-be punisher and would-be victim in an exchange of roles and suffering, and I could make a lot of hay out of the way identities are exchanged and reshaped as characters literally try on different skins or resculpt their familiar faces (as at the end of this sequence). But, you know, that kind of reading just doesn't seem suitably playful for a work as gleefully violent and innocent of consequence as this one. Even when ghosts eat each other in this comic, it's good more for a laugh than a meditation on mortality. At least I hope Isaac laughs when he finally gets to read his copy.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see a single-page, doodly pantomime strip that shows Isaac and me at our most Trondheim-like, please check out "Because of This, I Cannot Love" in Elm City Jams #3 (the strip is included at that link). And if you want to see the sorts of demons we've turned out on occasion, Demonstration also is but a click away...