Sweating the Small Stuff

My latest piece is up on-line at The Comics Journal. Here’s the link:

Sweating the Small Stuff

It begins:

A painter who proves his ability to render the human form competently has flashed me a valid passport.
William T. Vollman. Imperial.

Vollman had asserted this in, it had seemed to Goshkin, a digressive discussion of the work of Mark Rothko, about one-sixth of the way through a 1200-page study of the exploitation and ruination of the land and people in and around a geographically inexact region encompassing both sides of the California-Mexico border. This study itself had seemed primarily digression, though digression as an all-encompassing, all-swallowing, all-explaining miasma of fact, fiction and surmise. His point, Vollman’s, that a painter who hadn’t mastered this basic aspect of drawing could not be trusted when he elected to communicate through “blotches and squiggles” seemed a bit close-mindedly retrograde but perhaps held a truth. We were all but human, Goshkin knew from 77-years of being, the last eight of which having been particularly instructive since his badly damaged heart had made every day of them a constantly informative surprise; and if a painter, whose job it has been since the Renaissance was to get us on canvas, could not be bothered to learn to render limbs and noses, he might arguably lack the connection to deliver any knowledge worth sharing about our cradle-to-grave existence.
And it seemed a matter of near-divine cosmic connivance that Goshkin had come to this passage only the evening before Ruth and he were to visit an exhibition of the “micro-paintings” of Guy Colwell at Berkeley’s East Bay Media Center

Creating Dangerously

My article, “Creating Dangerously,” about the fine artist/UG cartoonist Guy Colwell is in the latest issue (#2) of FULL BLEED magazine. It begins:

On Thursday, May 20, 2004, readers of the San Francisco Examiner learned that, two days earlier, Lori Capobianco Haigh, the owner of a one-room art gallery in North Beach, a neighborhood that even within that proudly liberal city had long been known for its tolerance of dissent, had found the entrance littered with broken glass, smashed eggs, and the contents of several trash cans. This defacement had apparently been in response to the gallery’s display of a thirty-nine-by-thirty-inch acrylic-on-canvas painting entitled “The Abuse.”
Haigh, was thirty-nine. She was a twice-divorced mother of two children, aged fourteen and four. She had opened her Capobianco Gallery, on Powell, near Columbus, across from a Catholic elementary school, a year-and-a-half before. Since May 1, she had been showing the work of Guy Colwell, a fifty-nine-year-old, white bearded, round-faced Berkeley resident, whom the media would characterize as an “established artist… (of) realistic and quasi-abstract oils, known for their keen social observation and technical proficiency.” (He had also, it would point out, served seventeen months in federal prison for draft resistance during the Vietnam War and authored Inner City Romance (1972 – 78), a five-issue underground comic about drugs, revolution, prison and the ghetto.)
The story of the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison had broken on April 29. On May 16, Colwell had placed his newly completed work in the Capobianco’s front window. It depicted three frontally nude males standing on over-turned buckets, their faces covered by hoods and electricity-conducting wires running to their fingers and toes. Two soldiers stand in the foreground, gloating. One holds an electrically charged baton. In the doorway, another soldier leads a blindfolded and handcuffed woman into the room. The painting is entirely grey and black and white, except for the red American flag patches on the upper arm of the two dominant soldiers and drops of blood on one of the soldiers and running down the chest of one of the nude men.

True Romance

My latest is up at http://www.tcj.com/reviews/inner-city-romance/

It begins:
Shortly after the underground comic Inner City Romance debuted in 1971, with its surfeit of pimps, smack, revolutionaries, and ho’s, the Afro-American cartoonist Grant Green bet cash money that its creator, Guy Colwell, was a brother.
Green lost.

Last Night

Things began slowly. The poster from Fantagraphics, Guy Colwell’s publisher, said he and I would be “in conversation” about his new book, “Inner City Romance,” at Pegasus, a downtown Berkeley bookstore, at 7:00, and at 7:00 our audience was 31 empty chairs and my wife Adele. Then I noticed the poster from Pegasus said we would be conversing at 7:30 and relaxed.

A photographer from a Berkeley paper arrived, took our photograph — and left. By 7:20 our crowd had not grown. “Maybe if it was warmer,” Guy said. “Parking is a problem,” I noted. Guy gestured to two rows, a dozen seats he hoped to fill. “My expectations are low,” he said.

I had personally hung five posters. (One had been torn down and one taped over. I had never seen anyone so much as glance at the other three.) A friend had said she would come, but Adele had given her the wrong date, and by the Time Adele corrected it, the friend had other plans. Fantagraphics had said it would include copies of my books in its shipment, so I could sign too, but none were in evidence. So this is not my problem, I thought.

Eventually — and miraculously — we scored about 16 listeners. Impressively, except for a couple who were friends of Guy’s and a fellow I knew from the Wrench Café, none had a personal connection to either of us. (The listener who interested me the most was a rabbinacally-bearded-and-then-some gent I had seen around town for years. He would open the door of a café where I would be seated, look around, and continue on his way without entering. Now, not only had he entered, he had stayed and sat. I would like to think this was due to the nature of our discourse, but it ay have been the wine and cookies Pegasus was offering.)

Guy and I filled our aimed-for half-hour comfortably. The Q&A went on about as long. People asked about Guy’s other books and how the current art scene regarded his figurative social surrealistic work, and a tattooed young man, who’d served two years in the military, asked about Guy’s time in prison as a draft resister. “I respect your right to do that, sir, but…”

Guy sold several books, and one of the buyers told me how much he’d enjoyed “The Pirates and the Mouse” and “Most Outrageous.” The man in line behind him said he’d read neither but had heard they were good.


This Friday, at 7:00 p.m., at Pegasus Books, 2349 Shattuck Avenue, in Berkeley, I will be “in conversation” with fine artist/cartoonist Guy Colwell about the release of his collected “INNER CITY ROMANCE” commix from the 1970s.

Hope to see you.