Wednesday, July 22, 2015

(Pierre Feuille Ciseux Is Back) Want An Amazing Artists Book? (Pierre Feuille Ciseux Is Back)

Artists Book "Hercules" from PFC3, Arc et Senans, 2011

I first did the unique artist residency that is Pierre Feuille Ciseaux in 2011, just after the publication of Big Questions. I went to a tiny village in France with 19 other artists from 6 or 8 different countries – almost all complete strangers – and worked on structured collaborative comics experiments for a week. I had no idea what to expect going in, and was probably a little skeptical. But it was amazing. Conceptual comics Summer camp in the best possible way.

In 2013 Zak Sally (another 2011 attendee) and June Misserey had the idea to bring PFC to Minneapolis, and I ended up helping make it happen, along with ChiFouMi, Barb Schulz and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. And again, it worked out better than any of us could have hoped. Well, now it's back. Artists will begin arriving a week from today. June is already on the ground.
PFC Artists Book "Some Breath King" from PFC4, Minneapolis, 2013

We've got luminaries like Charles Burns and Jillian Tamaki joining us this year along with experimentalists like Aidan Koch and underground heroes like Laura Park. The full list is below, and it again includes a slew of European artists like Dominique Goblet, Elvis Studios' Helge Reumann and one representative of the lively Mexico City comics scene, Ines Estrada.

Artists Book from mini PFC (4.5), Saint Claude, France 2014

Every iteration of PFC produces an editioned, hand-made artist's book with contributions from all of the artists. That's true again this year but for the first time we are making the book (screenprinted cover, risograph interior), along with a narrative comics screenprint available to the public. We should have been doing this all along, of course, but this year there was a slight shortfall in funding to bring some of the European artists over, and so our hand has been forced, for the better. So last week we launched a Kickstarter, which functions basically as a presale of the book and print.

Go here to find out more, to get a copy, and to give us a hand.

Here's a list of whose work will grace both the book and the print:

Josh Bayer (US)
Marc Bell (CAN)
Gabrielle Bell (US)
Charles Burns (US)
Rachel Deville (FR)
Inés Estrada (MEX)
Edie Fake (US)
Pierre Ferrero (FR)
Dominique Goblet (BE)
Sammy Harkham (US)
Aidan Koch (US)
Antoine Marchalot (FR)
Pascal Matthey (SW)
Jean-Christophe Menu (FR)
Anders Nilsen (US)
Jean-Michel / Nylso (FR)
Laura Park (US)
Helge Reumann (SW)
Zak Sally (US)
Jillian Tamaki (CAN)

The LA Times likes it

The LA Times did a really nice, perceptive piece on Poetry is Useless, here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Show at Lula

While I was on book tour last week Marianne Fairbanks oversaw the installation of the new show at Lula in Chicago. The show includes work by Katara Mallory and his mentor Leslie Baum. Leslie teaches art to students with developmental disabilities at the Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner foundation (Nathan Lerner was Henry Darger's landlord, and discovered that work after Darger's death). Katara is her student. He does drawings based on screen shots of Star Wars. Here are a few images. If you're in Chicago in the next couple of months you should go check them out. A couple of Baum's pieces are below that from a studio visit a few weeks back, including something that looks for all the world like the Deathstar. Influence moves in circles, perhaps.

And Leslie Baum:

Monday, July 6, 2015

Marc Bell just arrived in Minneapolis for our tour kick-off on Wednesday at Magers and Quinn (7pm). He brought a pile of his @#$%ing awesome new risograph book Boutique Mag #1. Apparently there are only 27 copies left and his etsy site is currently getting repo'd, so if you want one you have to come to one of our events and listen to us read poetry.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Behind Enemy Lines

Books won't be in stores for another two weeks, but you can get one tonight at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, the first stop of the tour. 6:30pm, catered by my alma mater, Lula Cafe. Also with Erika L. Sánchez and Amy Newman. Music by KSRA.

Hopefully all parties can maintain civility.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

What I Said at the Funeral: Talking About (Life and) Death as a Non-Believer

Below is the text of remarks I made at my grandmother's funeral last week. The subject is a little more personal than what I usually include on this blog, but a lot of people told me afterward that what I said meant something to them, and a few asked for the text. And it may be useful as an example for other people in a similar position to mine.

So I want to talk a little bit about the idea of gifts, in a couple of different senses of that word. But before I start I want everyone to do something with me. Close your eyes... and take a deep breath.

[give everyone time to do this. Do it yourself]

Like probably everyone in this room I have been the recipient of gifts of one sort or another from Helen Nelson. On the one hand she sent me twenty dollar checks every year on my birthday and Christmas when I was a kid… and those were certainly gifts… but that's not really what I'm talking about. She also made me a very finely crafted needlepoint Christmas stocking when I was very small, along with all her grandchildren, and, eventually her own adult kids as well. And maybe that gets a little closer to what I mean.

I've been aware for many years of some of my deep debt to my grandfather Harold. As a minister he spent his life getting up in front of groups of people once a week to talk about stories, to tell stories, to interpret them, to ruminate on how they might help us think about how we ought to live our lives and how we ought to treat one another and to consider what in life is really important. He did it as a preacher, I try to do it as an author and cartoonist, but I'm very aware that in some small way it's a similar vocation, and it's a gift that came to me, at least in part, through him.

It's only in the last few years that I've begun to realize that I probably received a similar gift through Helen. She was a craftsperson and an artist in her way as well, as evidenced by her needlepoint work, which was very fine. But she was also an appreciator and curator of fine objects more generally. Some of my strongest memories of visiting the home she kept in Morris, Illinois are of the arrangement of the space itself and of the objects in it. For one thing it was very clean. No house I live in will probably ever be that clean and orderly. But it was also very thoughtfully and carefully arranged. I remember the commemorative plates arranged on the walls, the finely crafted spoons she had collected on travels in Norway and Sweden, and the little porcelain Hummel figures arranged on the end tables on either end of the couch. I loved those little figures. I related them to my own small toy figures, even then: my GI Joe and Star Wars figures. It was puzzling to me in a way, because they were clearly not meant to be played with – that would have been a very bad idea, and anyway their limbs didn't move and they couldn't hold a gun, so how fun could it really be? But they were clearly vehicles for a kind of storytelling and they were objects of beauty, carefully arranged.

My mother's house is similarly carefully curated. The kinds of objects are different, but the impulse is much the same. Both natural and crafted objects of meaning and beauty, thoughtfully arranged. The same impulse shapes the spaces in my house. And it's not an accident. You could say this sensibility is a gift that my mother and I received from my grandmother. But the truth is she got it herself from her own mother. One of my own most beautiful, most prized objects is the crocheted bedspread on my bed, made with meticulous care, by hand, by Helen's mother, Cecilia. This kind of gift has come
through her, perhaps, more than from her. Where did she get it? How far back do we go?

And that brings us to the next, much larger sense of the word 'gift'. And it is all of this: the air you just breathed in and the sky and the light coming in the windows, and the thoughts in your head and the people sitting around you. The grass and the trees outside, the sound of the traffic. It is, on the one hand, life. Everything. Yourself.

It is so huge that it can be hard to really take in, or appreciate. And sometimes it doesn't feel like much of a gift. There were times in Helen's life when she probably struggled to appreciate it. She had dark moments when she was a child. I remember a story from later in her life, at a transitional time when Harold talked about sitting down to balance the checkbook, and she got so frustrated that she ended up throwing it at him across the table and stomping off. It can be hard to appreciate at times. This gift we have is impossibly huge. But it's worth trying to wrap your head around it once in a while. And it is, for me, all the more profound because it is a gift with no giver. It is simply the universe, doing its thing.

The universe is made up of stuff. Dirt and ice and gases and dust. Stars and galaxies. And some of that stuff is us. We are made of the same material as everything else. We're only different in that we are aware of ourselves, and of the other stuff moving around us. We can feel it and see it and smell it and we can think about it, and talk about how weird it is. We can tell stories about it. We are aware. That is the gift. Our awareness. Our ability to take it in. We, in a sense, are a gift that the universe has given to itself.

So what does all of this have to do with Helen, and what we are all doing here? I've been using the word 'gift'… but 'gift ' isn't a perfect word. It's a very good one, it gets very close to the mark, for example, a gift isn't something you earn or deserve and neither is all of this. But the word 'gift' falls short in one important respect, which is that we don't get to keep this thing. It is only lent. We borrow it for a while, and then we have to give it back. You might say my grandmother has been giving it back slowly, little by little for several years. But that process was made complete a few days ago. What was lent has been returned. She got to hang onto it for 94 years, so it's hard to complain about that. And she had a remarkably full life.

As far as I can tell, the universe doesn't care if you say thank you, or are properly grateful. But I am human, and for me it feels very important to say thank you when someone gives me a gift. And to keep on saying it every time you think of how great it is, if the giver is around. And even if you are only borrowing the thing, to express your gratitude when the time comes to give it back. And that's what we are doing here, today.

So, on behalf of myself, and of my grandmother, and of the people who got to share a little in the gift of her life, to the universe:

Thank You.