Latest Blog Posts

by Michael Barrett

4 May 2011

Over the decades, much has been lost from the world of newspaper comics. With the reduction in size came a reduction in scope, grandeur, and ambition.

In the ‘30s, the comic pages were littered with gag strips, adventures, and a wonderful screwball hybrid of the two. The most popular was Sidney Smith’s The Gumps, now shamefully forgotten. Others were Wash Tubbs (later Captain Easy) and Thimble Theater (later Popeye).

And then there was Mickey. Walt Disney started the daily strip in 1930 and turned it over to one Floyd Gottfredson as a two-week replacement. He stayed with the strip 45 years.

by Sean Murphy

14 Jul 2010

Man, what a rough week for Cleveland.

It’s never easy to watch a homegrown talent—a native son who defied odds to become a national treasure—abruptly depart. Even if you figured it was inevitable, it doesn’t make it any easier.

I’m referring, of course, to the death of Harvey Pekar.

I don’t have a great deal to say about this, other than suggesting you see the fantastic movie based on his life/life’s work entitled American Splendor.

The title of the film was also the title of his long-running comic book. And while Pekar was groundbreaking in a way for making the primary source of his subject material his own life, his life story is more remarkable than anything written by or about him. To go from a genuinely obscure misanthrope living in squalor to becoming the mostly obscure misanthrope living mostly in squalor… that’s America. It’s definitely the American Dream, through a broken glass darkly.

by David Maine

13 May 2010

For all the talk of graphic novels as a rapidly maturing, adult-oriented art form, the fact remains that much of the genre is dedicated to the adventures of costumed superheroes, post-apocalyptic sci-fi, and various incarnations of werewolves, vampires and zombies. Not that there is anything wrong with these genres per se; I like them as much as the next guy. However, their prevalence hardly reflects the idea of narrative sequential art as a mature medium that could, for example, tell the story of a turn-of-the-century Eastern European Jewish rug-weaver who finds himself caught up in the onrushing tide of modernization, a victim of the new thinking that places a premium on affordability and uniformity at the expense of individuality and craftsmanship.

Which is, in fact, just what Market Day is about. However, saying that James Sturm’s graphic novel is “about” these things things is like saying that Sin City is “about” crime. As is usually the case with the graphic novel form, the manner of Sturm’s presentation is as much a part of the story as the actual events themselves, and it is this presentation, as much as the plot, that sets the story apart from other books on the shelves.

by Rodger Jacobs

2 Jan 2010

Cultural historians have given Bob Dylan his fair share of credit for significant contributions to popular music. Dylan’s reinventions of American folk, blues, and Appalachian song stylings have been so significant in rearranging the landscape of music that it could be argued that if not for Bob, Woody Guthrie would be a footnote (an important one but still a footnote) in the pages of Americana.

In The Songs He Didn’t Write: Bob Dylan Under the Influence, renowned Dylan expert Derek Barker devotes 508 pages to exhaustively and alphabetically catalog every song composed by another artist that has been covered by the man from Minnesota in recording sessions, concerts, and even private parties, from Guthrie’s 1913 Massacre to Carl Perkins’ Your True Love. Barker writes in his introduction:

Bob Dylan had begun listening to music as a child and by his early teens he had immersed himself in everything from rural blues and R&B and from country to rock and roll. These life-affirming sounds first reached young Bobby in his isolated Hibbing home via the knobs and dials of his radio set. When he began playing in the 1950s, rock and roll was his thing, Little Richard was his idol, and live covers of Jenny, Jenny, Ready Teddy, and Lawdy, Miss Clawdy were the order of the day. When he arrived in Minneapolis, essentially to attend college, he quickly traded his electric guitar for a Martin acoustic and set about learning to play every traditional, blues and Woody Guthrie number he could unearth. This material would become the cornerstone of live gigs during his apprenticeship around the folk clubs of New York’s Greenwich Village, and it was from these songs that his own greatest compositions would be born.

Using Barker’s words as evidence, one could easily deduce that Dylan understands and appreciates the circular and collaborative nature of the cultural environment. As Judge Alex Kosinski of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit wrote in an opinion on a landmark copyright protection case: “Nothing today, likely nothing since we tamed fire, is genuinely new: culture, like science and technology, grows by accretion, each new creator building on the works of those who came before.”

With that much said, why would publisher W.W. Norton list Dylan as the putative “author” of Bob Dylan Revisited: 13 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan’s Songs?

After more than thirty albums, fifty-eight singles, thirteen live albums, fourteen compilation albums, eleven Grammy awards (including induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame), an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a slot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, does Dylan really need to cop credit for a book he did not author, or did someone at Norton drop the ball big time?

Presented as “a standing testament to the universality and transcendent vision of Dylan’s American music”, Bob Dylan Revisited is nothing more and nothing less than reinterpretations of the lyrics of thirteen classic Dylan tunes by leading contemporary graphic artists, many of them European.

Unfortunately, attempting to appreciate the work on display in this lush coffee table book is like visiting an art gallery without a guide or trying to understand Dylan’s own baffling shape-shifting persona without a fleet of psychiatrists at your side.

“Americans are spoiled,” Bob Dylan declared to an interviewer in the late 1970s, “they expect art to be like wallpaper with no effort, just to be there.”

Oddly enough, Dylan’s sentiment employs the precise verbiage this writer would use to describe Bob Dylan Revisited, a work sanctioned and approved by the artist himself and Sony Music.

There are some outstanding artists onboard, such as Dave McKean of Sandman fame in an epic, operatic (and immensely disturbing) interpretation of Dylan’s Desolation Road, and Gradimir Smudja’s sepia-toned, semi-documentary approach to Dylan’s ballad Hurricane is certainly memorable, but, as the man said, writing about art is like dancing to architecture and to compound matters there is no there there in Bob Dylan Revisited.

Bob Dylan Revisited just lays on the page like yesterday’s dead fish wrapped in the Sunday funnies; absolutely no artist bios appear in the book and no creative or mission statements from the thirteen artists are anywhere to be found. Also absent is any form of an introduction to provide a framework for the collection. How were the artists selected? Were any of them major league Dylan fans before coming aboard the project? Why did I have to conduct my own online research to get background on these artists? Who the hell knows because those and many other questions are left unanswered.

The press materials that W.W. Norton sent out properly list the thirteen artistic geniuses as the authors of the book but everywhere else one looks—on the copyright page in the first American edition, in the listings at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online—Bob Dylan is cited as the author.

Sure, Dylan wrote the lyrics that incited the “artwork…filled with inspiring political messages, surrealistic flourishes, and deeply moving meditations” but that certainly does not entitle him to authorship over this work of spellbinding original art.

It is well-known that the gifted Dylan is a difficult and controlling public persona so one cannot help but wonder if his endorsement of the unique project came at the cost of overshadowing the artists involved in the creation of the book, keeping the focus entirely centered on the man and his lyrics.

As much as I admire Dylan—his music forms a virtual soundtrack to my life—this promising book reeks of a vanity project that seeks to downplay the artistic contributions of others while further promoting an artist who needs no further promotion and who most certainly did not arrive at his mythical status all by his lonesome.

The true authors of Bob Dylan Revisited are as follows: Alfred, Francois Avril, Bezian, Jean-Philippe Bramanti, Christopher Benjamin Flao, Jean-Claude Gotting, Mael Le Mae, Raphaelle Le Rio, Lorenzo Mattotti, Dave McKean, Henri Meunier, Thierry Murat, Nicolas Nemiri, Gradimir Smudja, and Zep.

//Mixed media

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

READ the article