Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Post Post 3: Comic-Con Buys

Third in a series summarizing my time at Comic-Con. Check out the installments below and then come on back.

Although I saw much to covet at Comic-Con, ranging from Golden Age comics to really cool movie props, I came home with just two new things. A lot of cartoonists are also collectors, I think. It's an urge I've resisted although, as I wrote a while ago, the first thing I bought with my advance for Mom's Cancer was a 1914 drawing by cartooning great Winsor McCay that I felt I didn't deserve to have until I could pay for it with "cartooning money." Fantastic, but not the start of a habit.

However, I have begun a small collection of original comic and cartooning art that I hope will grow. The catch is that it has to be drawn by, and acquired directly from, someone I've made a personal connection with. Not necessarily a friend--that would set the bar pretty high--but someone with whom I've spent a little time, had a nice conversation, shared a moment I valued. I expect that criterion to both keep my collection (and related expenses) manageable and give it some emotional weight. I'm collecting pieces that mean something to me.

Raina Telgemeier, "The Baby-Sitters Club."

I think very highly of Raina as a cartoonist and storyteller. She has a crisp, clean, expressive ink line that I really like. On Saturday, she and I spent five minutes discussing ink viscosity (she likes hers thin, I like mine thick). I haven't talked with her about her artistic aesthetic in any great depth, but based on her work I believe we share similar ideas about what cartooning can and should be. She's thoughtful, and deceptively good--moreso because she makes it look easy. I think those traits made her the perfect choice to relaunch "The Baby-Sitters Club" stories as graphic novels.

My page from "The Baby-Sitters Club." Raina pencils with non-photo blue and produces some of the most pristine originals I've ever seen. I love the expressiveness of the figure below from Panel 4, as well as the brick-work texture she uses to anchor both the beginning and end of the page. She makes good choices.

In my previous post, I wrote about the warmth and lack of cynicism I perceive in the cartooning of both Raina and her fiance Dave. It's interesting: as time passes I think I'm getting more opinionated and cranky, but at the same time I have less and less patience for cynicism. Cynicism is lazy. It's arrogant and anti-creative. It doesn't accomplish anything. As hard-headed a rationalist as I am, I increasingly treasure art and literature with heart. Heart is risky and takes skill to pull off. And Raina's work is always 0% cynicism, 100% heart.

Not very flattering, but the only photo I have of
Raina and me together, taken at APE in San Francisco.

Irwin Hasen, "Dondi"

I love the old guys.

The comics industry is famous for devouring its own. I know good, professional artists in their thirties forced out of the business for lack of work while thousands of eager teens line up with sketchbooks in hand ready to take their places. Short memories and fickle trends turn today's creative heroes into tomorrow's tired hacks. There's precious little appreciation or respect for the men and women who began and built the business--many of them still alive, some of them still working.

I've mentioned how I originally met Irwin Hasen in February at my book launch party at the Society of Illustrators building in New York. I saw him again the next day at the New York Comic-Con, selling prints of the old DC characters he drew plus originals from his long-running comic strip "Dondi." I only took the time to greet him briefly, and left New York regretting that I'd let an opportunity slip through my fingers.


This original strip from 1968 is huge, nearly two feet wide. No contemporary cartoonist that I know of works that large, mostly because the shrinking space newspapers devote to comic strips doesn't allow for the kind of detail Mr. Hasen drew, for example in Panel 1 below. (I don't know what the ® symbol is doing under the right word balloon--I suspect it was originally pasted elsewhere and migrated over the years--but that's the way I got it so that's where it's gonna stay.)

Last Thursday I saw Mr. Hasen again, set up in Comic-Con's Artists Alley. No one was at his table; in fact, I had to elbow my way through a line of fans queued up to meet the Hot Young Artist at the table next door to get to him. I reintroduced myself and we had a nice conversation, when I looked over his table and noticed only the prints. No originals.

"Oh, I remember you had some Dondi originals in New York," I said, disappointed. "I was really hoping to see them."

Mr. Hasen gave me a conspiratorial nod, pulled a portfolio from under the table, and slid out a dozen "Dondi" strips. We continued to talk as I flipped through them, figuring out which one I wanted to buy. At last I chose my prize.

"You've got a good eye, you S.O.B.," said Mr. Hasen, eyes twinkling. "You picked the best one."

With Irwin Hasen in New York, February 2006

Two pieces of art that will always remind me of the creators who made them and the time I spent with them.


Keith said...

Great choices! I also like the criteria that you have chosen for your collection; that you must have some personal connection. That way each piece in your collection will have a story when you show it off to friends.

I thought of you and your McCay purchase a week or two ago when I made a trip to the OSU Cartoon Research Library for a Windsor McCay exhibit. Some lady here in Ohio discovered a box of originals for a comic strip I had never heard of, and the library purchased a few pieces. Luckily, I work just about 10 minutes from the library.

Lynn said...

Raina is a great person, and incredibly talented! I told her I was going to buy one of her original art at the con, and it was the first thing I did when I got there Friday morning. (*grin*)

patti digh said...

I loved your story about Irwin Hasen - my family and I went to the Charlotte comic-con recently and had the same experience of having to make our way through someone else's line to get to Mr Hasen, who had no one stopping by his table.

We had a delightful time talking with him - he was quite gracious with our daughter, who is a budding illustrator.

We're hoping to make it to the San Diego show next year to support her interest in the art...

Brian Fies said...

Keith, thanks for the comment. I remember the story of that Ohio lady. The one that always kills me is the guy who showed up on "Antiques Roadshow" with a "Little Nemo" original he found in his barn or someplace like that. I literally screamed at the television.

Lynn, Raina is the best. She deserves every success that comes her way.

Patti, Great story about Mr. Hasen. San Diego would blow you away, and maybe not entirely in a good way. It's so big! I think if you want to enjoy quiet time to talk to creators about their work, smaller cons may be the way to go. But if you and your daughter are fans of the art, you probably need to see San Diego once. Just don't say I didn't warn you.