Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Trip Report

The Mighty Housatonic
(I hope to someday learn how to pronounce that)

One of the nice things about travel is it makes you appreciate home. My wife and I are happy to be back, although I return to face a mountain of work that has to get done before Thanksgiving. You may judge how eager I am to tackle the mountain by the length of this post. Let's see how well I can procrastinate.

Elaborating on my previous post's highlights:

1. Western Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Berkshires. Beautiful country, perfect little villages full of nice people. If there is a single home in the entire region that doesn't look like it belongs in a painting by Grandma Moses, Currier & Ives, or Norman Rockwell, we didn't see it. Ordinary houses well off the beaten path have all the clapboard, dormers, gables, cupolas, cornices, finials, and flying buttresses you could hope for (maybe not flying buttresses). Beautiful brick construction of the type we simply never see in northern California because ours all fell down in 1906. We're pretty sure everyone keeps their one-horse sleighs locked up in their garages until the first snow falls, because that was the only detail missing.

We met several locals who were almost apologetic about the state of their trees' leaves. Leaf tourism is a big deal, and we were alternately told that we'd missed the best colors by a few weeks, that we'd see better color a little farther north, or that the colors were bad everywhere this year. As we explained to a few folks: we're from California. Our standards for fall leaf color are pretty low. However, I don't see anything wrong with vistas like these:

2. Opening of the LitGraphic Exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum. What a beautiful facility. I only realized as we drove to it that the reception was scheduled to begin after sunset, and it was pitch dark by the time we arrived at 5:45 p.m. So of the building exteriors and surrounding landscape, I can only say that the photos I've seen look very nice.

The interior, I can report first-hand, is terrific. Galleries are arrayed around a small central rotunda featuring Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" paintings. Many of Rockwell's huge, stunning originals are on display, in some cases accompanied by the sketches or studies he used in their creation. It's not an enormous place; I'd call it appropriately intimate, in an architectural style that seems to reflect a Rockwell aesthetic without calling attention to itself at the expense of the artwork.

The LitGraphic exhibit occupies three galleries in the back, with one dedicated to "historical" work by artists such as Eisner and Kurtzman, and the other two to more contemporary pieces. A tiny side gallery--almost a corridor--has benches facing two TV monitors that looped five-minute interviews with six of the exhibit's contributors, including me.

Me and my wall.
Watching myself on TV.
Because I'm just that vain.

It's hard to estimate how many people attended the opening reception. More than 100 for sure. Several were museum patrons and members, though the museum staff told me there were many new faces they didn't recognize--presumably people just drawn by the subject matter--and they were thrilled with the turnout. The first person we recognized shortly after we arrived was curator Martin Mahoney, who came to my home to interview me. I also reconnected with Jeremy Clowe, who ran the camera and did a fantastic job editing all the interviews into a great presentation. He worked very hard to find five minutes that did not make me look stupid. We also enjoyed meeting their friends and loved ones as well.

3. Meeting Artists. Dave Sim, Peter Kuper, Howard Cruse, Marc Hempel, and Mark Wheatley all had work in the exhibit and attended the opening. I spent a few minutes and had good conversations with each, during which we said nice things about each other. Dave was great, and Peter and I turned out to have a mutual friend in Editor Charlie (not as big a coincidence as it may seem; Charlie knows everybody). Even artists much cooler, better, and more experienced than I admitted that showing their work in the Norman Rockwell Museum was something of a career highlight, which made me feel a bit less like a freshman at the senior prom.

With "Cerebus" creator Dave Sim.

4. Terry and Robyn Moore. I mention Terry Moore of "Strangers in Paradise" separately because we had a little more time to talk and, maybe, connected in a less superficial way than usual at an event like this. We really had a good visit about writing, the creative process, family, all sorts of stuff. As I wrote in my last post, Terry and Robyn seem like especially nice people I look forward to seeing again whenever I can.

Terry (center) and I chatting with a museum patron who was very proud of the comic-themed tie he'd worn for the occasion.

Dinner following the reception was held at the palatial (literally) Cranwell Resort in nearby Lenox, where I got to know more of the museum's staff, curators and administrators. I was impressed by how excited they seemed to be about hosting the exhibit. They talked about the emergence of a new narrative form and the continuum of telling stories with pictures that linked Norman Rockwell to us. Good food and better company. It was after 11 when we finally parted.

5. Guy Gilchrist. Guy began his professional cartooning career at age 14. Mentored by "Beetle Bailey" creator Mort Walker and often working with his brother Brad, he's had an impressive career that's included "The Muppets" and "Nancy" comic strips as well as many books and commercial art projects. Now he works out of Guy Gilchrist's Cartoonist's Academy in Simsbury, Connecticut, which serves as his studio, a school, and a summer day camp for kids.

The first impression any fan of comics and cartoons would have when entering Guy's academy is jaw-dropping wonder. The walls are covered with original art, some by Guy but most by other great pros: Milt Caniff, Stan Drake, Curt Swan, Cliff Sterrett, Jack Davis, too many others to count or recount. As I told Guy, I think young cartoonists can learn more from looking at original artwork for 10 minutes than they can from a shelf full of books, so he's done them a tremendous service right there. The academy is also outfitted with desks, art supplies, light boxes, and computers for the students to make their own comics and flash animations. It's quite an undertaking.

Guy very graciously treated us to lunch and spent about two hours of his day off with us. He's known a lot of the old-guard East Coast cartooning elite and is quite a raconteur. He's also very generous. I won't embarrass Guy (or me) by revealing how generous; let's just say I'm pretty sure if I'd expressed admiration for his microwave oven, he would have unplugged it from the wall and carried it to my car. All in all, it was one of the nicest, most interesting, insightful and engaging conversation I can recall having with any cartoonist. Thanks, Guy.

Talking cartooning over the foosball table. Guy's students do animation at these computers, hence the cels on the wall for them to study.

6. Historic Boston. Not much to add here, except that we spent a day walking the "Freedom Trail" and seeing all the highlights. A couple of hours were spent in the company of this delightful man, who led a group tour and enhanced our understanding and enjoyment enormously.

My wife Karen and I flanking Revolutionary-era hat maker Nathaniel Balch.

We spent some time exploring the Common, the Public Garden and Beacon Hill, and Boston seems like a perfectly fine city that well deserves it reputation for nighmarish traffic. Now, I expected that in the heart of the city, laid out 250 years before the invention of the auto. Jumbled narrow streets are part of the charm. My real puzzlement and frustration was with the modern stuff, which was a lot more baffling than it ought to be. Tunnels you can't get to, streets with five names within four blocks, interstates to nowhere. And the Massachusetts Turnpike: seriously, what the hell? I'm familiar with the concept of toll roads, but this thing's got booths that take cash, booths that dispense little tickets with teeny Excel spreadsheets printed all over 'em, booths at every exit manned by three guys who collect $1.10 from the six cars per hour that wander through. We went through one booth whose entire purpose seemed to be circling us around to a different booth. To misappropriate an old saying, this is no way to run a railroad.

However, it's a poor guest who leaves badmouthing his host, so I'll wrap up by saying we had a wonderful time in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and only regret we didn't have a chance to see everyone we wanted to. Also, I have never seen so many Dunkin' Donuts franchises in my life.

UPDATE: At the request of exactly one person, I've linked the first four photos above to higher-resolution version of the same. OK, Sherwood?


Mike Lynch said...

Sounds like a great time! I laughed out loud at you watching yourself on TV! Thanks for the report and the photos. And you're right about Guy: one of the most generous guys around -- definitely a gentleman.

Jan said...

Those leaves looked pretty fabulous to me!

Sounds like you had a great time. Tell me, because I'm intrigued, did the shape of the citizens reflect the amount of dunkin-donuts franchises? LOL!

Brian Fies said...

Mike, sorry again we couldn't get up to see you. But you live in a beautiful part of the world.

Jan, I don't recall the citizens looking any rounder than USAans anywhere else--which is round enough as is. They were sure lining up for their Dunkin' Donuts, though...

Sherwood Harrington said...

My lovely wife, Diane, has only visited my native northeast once. Based on that visit, though, she has a new name for that locale: "pastyland." She (a San Francisco native) was impressed by how sun-starved and carb-blessed most folks in the New York/New England area were. Or maybe she was looking for another way to zing me, like she needs any.

Speaking of lovely wives, hi Karen! Nice to see Brian nudging you in here, and we promise to be genteel. At least I do; can't speak for certain others.

Brian, there seems to be some problem with your pictures: when I click on the ones that allow it, I don't get higher-res versions, just stand-alone pix of the same size. I'd really like to see some of the pix in this post at higher resolution; any way of doing that?

Great post; thank you.

Brian Fies said...

Sherwood, Karen says Hi back. There's nothing really wrong with the photos, in that I reformat them to approximately their final size and resolution before I attach them to the post. That's about how they look. Of course I've still got the high-res originals and will be happy to link to any you're really interested in.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Brian, I'm a pictures kind of guy, so I'd like as high-def as possible renditions of everything you've got to offer. But, if I had to choose one or two from this buffet to taste more fully, they would be "Sunny+Hill.jpg" and "The+Wall.jpg" (latter which, I presume, doesn't really have any link to Pink Floyd. Or maybe it does.)

Sherwood Harrington said...

Updated comment:

Thanks for the higher-res versions, Brian! It's nice to be able to see your part of the wall more clearly, and those gorgeous landscapes make me a little homesick -- but I bet that sickness could be cured by the same landscapes in the middle of February.

Paul Giambarba said...

Thanks to Mike Lynch for reminding me of your excellent blog. You were very kind to say nice things about our blighted and now frigid area. If I had only thought to drive up to the museum when you were there! Congratulations again.