Sunday, September 18, 2016

This Blog has Moved

I just launched a new website and will from now on be blogging over there. I'll leave this site up for a while as I work out kinks, just so that old entries are still available. But all the new stuff will be here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

God and the Devil Reprinted

So I finally got the long out-of-print God and the Devil at War in the Garden reprinted. It's available for sale here, at my new website.

The book is a collection of short pieces that didn't used to have a home. The main story is a piece in the silhouette style of Rage of Poseidon, about the Devil. There's also a large narrative diagram of a vacant lot near my old house in Chicago, and a piece I did in collaboration with the novelist Kyle Beachy. It's big, 9" x 12 1/4", and done on really nice paper, with a big back flap and everything. Order one for you and two for your friends.

Yeah, I have a new website. Go check it out it's kind of amazing. Totally up-to-date and visually stunning. I had basically nothing to do with it. My huge, undying thanks and love to JW who made it happen despite my sluggishness. Check out her phenomenal mix[ed] tapes here, also, btw. This one is a favorite, and even has some thematic crossover with the book's title and cover. Maybe you should listen and read at the same time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Trying To Put It Into Words

I probably would have written something like this anyway, but Dan Nadel at the Comics Journal asked for remembrances. This went up at their site earlier today.

Author’s note: The first thing I need to say about Geneviève Castrée – because it mattered to her very much – is how to pronounce her name, or at least how she cajoled me into saying it with my clumsy American-English tongue: it’s zhun-vee-ehv. Not zhon-vee-ehv, and definitely not Jenna-veev. 
Okay, now we can begin.
I became friends with Geneviève Castrée after her husband, Phil, wrote me a letter in 2006. He wrote after the two of them had been stuck in their car waiting in a line to board a ferry shortly after picking up a copy of my book Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, which was just out. Phil said they had read it together, sitting there in their car, and it had affected them very much. So he wanted to write and say thanks. He sent me a record, too and so I wrote back to say thanks, or “you’re welcome” or some other slightly awkward thing, and maybe I sent a minicomic or something as well, in return. Later I got a follow up from Geneviève, and from there we struck up a correspondence. Little packages of books or records or homemade jam would arrive with a small drawing and a letter in her small, lovely, unmistakeable cursive handwriting letting me know a few details of her week, or her work, or her cats. She was a giver of gifts of all kinds. It was in her nature.
That correspondence meant a lot to me because I was already aware of her work, and an acknowledgement from her felt profound. I was in awe of Geneviève’s work. I remember her as a sort of mysterious figure on the outskirts of American indy comics. There had been a beautiful little red book in French that got passed around to wide eyes, and then all of a sudden there was Pamplemoussi, a screenprint-and-offset 12” square book-and-record that seemed to emerge out of nowhere. And it wasn’t just impressive as an object… it was really good. By the nature of alternative comics you usually get to see artists’ early awkward stages, where they are muddling through and figuring themselves out. Geneviève was young enough that even if we had been keeping up with French-Canadian comics, which we weren’t, if we’d blinked we’d have missed her formative years anyway. I followed her work where I could after that though it was never easy to find unless you knew someone. But then she did a full color piece for Drawn & Quarterly’s Showcase in which she reinterpreted elements of Hergè’s Tintin in Tibet as a kind of autobiographical love poem. When the mini-history is written of cartoonists interpreting Tintin, that piece will be at the top. It was perfect and strange and heartbreakingly beautiful. She was an uncompromising feminist who nevertheless had an uncomplicated love and enthusiasm for the (weirdly woman-free) work of Hergè. The last time I visited her in Anacortes she found me perusing her collection of Tintin books and proudly told me that as a child she had studied for and entered a competition of knowledge about the Belgian reporter’s adventures. And won.
Geneviève was extraordinarily productive. The list of small and large books and records (and books-and-records) she made is much longer than her reputation might imply. Not to mention her paintings and the art shows and music festivals she organized. And the jam she made.
She should have been better known as an artist. She was mostly a self-publisher and willfully flouted the boundaries between her chosen fields. Her books were records and vice versa – in a way that probably would have confused many retailers in both worlds even if they had come across them. But I think it delighted her more to give her books and records away as gifts than to go out of her way to solicit them for review or track down stores to sell them to. Self-publishing was a political choice at least in part, but it seemed to me that it was simply in her nature, as well. As a giver of gifts. Which is not to say a particularly small royalty check was any less painful for her than any of the rest of us.
Our paths crossed now and then in person, as well as on paper or in the air. She didn’t go to festivals much in the US, but I was able to invite her to a comics residency in 2013 – PFC4, and we shared a little farmhouse in Angoulême one year. Those late-night walks between the festival to the farmhouse meant a lot to me. Away from the chaos and noise of the tents, ambling through centuries-old streets and past farmers’ fields, under the stars, hashing out our fears and hopes for the future. Both of us were at promising moments in our careers that winter and straddling different kinds of cusps in our personal lives. She’d had a brief, unexpected brush with the idea of having children, and was wrestling now with whether to try to become a mother. About a year later she let me know she was pregnant. Having wrestled with the idea of motherhood, once she made her decision and had a daughter she was as purely delighted as any mother I’ve ever known.
Geneviève was an extremely helpful counsellor to me about my own work, something rare and precious in comics. Around the time she was finishing the autobiography of her complicated childhood,Susceptible, I was re-working and collecting my own memoir-ish The End. Our conversations about the complex interplay of one’s life and one’s work helped shape my own book in very concrete ways and continues to inform how I think about autobiographical storytelling.
What else? How do you sum up a person and friendship that has shaped you? She and Phil put on the best music festival I’ve ever been to, The Unknown. I aspire to make drawings half as exquisite, beautiful and strange as Geneviève’s. I want my house to be half as fun to explore. She was thoughtful, kind and direct in conversation, she was opinionated and loyal. When my French publisher decided to keep my book’s English title on its French edition she spent an hour breaking down for me the cultural complexities of the decision. As a Québécoise she didn’t like it, and wanted me to understand why it mattered.
So Geneviève was all these things. And she should have had fifty more years to play out her own particular genius on this planet – as a musician, storyteller, mother, wife, and friend.
Our story took us full circle. The book of mine she and Phil had read together all those years ago was the story of my partner at the time, Cheryl, and her own battle with cancer and death at a ridiculously early age. That’s how our friendship started. A little over a year ago, shortly after her own diagnosis Geneviève gave me a call. Perhaps in part she wanted to talk to me as a friend, but she also wanted to hear from me as someone who might actually understand what she was facing. I welcomed her questions and was eager to help in whatever way I could in the face of something so monumentally terrifying and unfair. And so I did. But there was a dark subtext to that conversation that we both sensed, I think. Cheryl had died. Geneviève wasn’t planning on going that way. She was determined to fight, however impossible the odds, to move toward health in any way she could figure. After that first conversation I avoided openly comparing her situation to Cheryl’s. She asked different questions. I hoped she would recover, too. I desperately wanted the parallel to end at diagnosis and treatment.
Last week, she got in touch and asked about Cheryl again. There was no avoiding that darkness anymore. Geneviève’s doctors had run out of options. She’d entered hospice. And she wanted to know what I thought. What choices had Cheryl and I made? What would I do differently? She was trying to figure out how she should die.
Earlier that same week, though, she sent me another kind of message: images of a whole mess of exquisite small drawings spilled out in her studio. One, still in progress, was a jewel-like rendition of a mother and daughter scribbling together on paper with markers, radiantly smiling in red stripes. The darkness was there, terrifying, inevitable. And Geneviève was making beautiful, inspiring drawings until the end.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Searching for Genevieve

Just put the search term "Genevieve" into the box on my blog. This is one of the things that came up, from 2011. Her house felt magical.

From 2011:

Here are some pictures from Genevieve Castree and Phil Elverum's house and church/studio in Anacortes, Washington. I stayed there on my way from Seattle to Vancouver, and it was awesome. Genevieve gave me a little jar of the most delicious tart cherry jam she'd made, gave me a tour of town, and told me the craziest story about Phil's great grandmother adopting a chimpanzee. Anacortes is great. I liked it there.

Collage of photographs of clouds and trees.
Spider Webs for Halloween, by Genevieve.
A small sample of Genevieve's studio. The one original page she had out (she's working on a book for D&Q) was kind of mind bogglingly beautiful. Nobody has such a thin, delicate yet confident line. And she pencils in orange.

The house reminded me a little of people's deceptively small, but liveable houses in New Hampshire, where my Dad lives. It might have partly been the residual smell of wood smoke.
Their flat files are nicer than mine.
Readying for a show the next day.
Some Croatian Neighbors had commissioned this painting of a seaside Village in Croatia, and then didn't like it. So they gave it to Genevieve and Phil. They have so far resisted the urge to paint a sea monster attacking the town.
My studio is smaller than this.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


I really really don't want to have to gather my thoughts about this. My friend is gone.

Over the last year she would deflect the question she kept getting about whether she was "still working". Her answer was, basically, "no" She was too tired, too spent, too preoccupied with trying to live. But I was able to visit her at home twice in the year that she was sick and both times there were many bits and pieces of half-finished and carefully crafted things everywhere you looked. She was still working. She couldn't have stopped if she'd tried, I don't think. But she changed her tune (at least to me) a month or two ago, determined to bring art back into her life (I didn't mention that it seemed to me like it never left). Last week as I was packing up my life to move to Portland, I got a text from her with this image, along with one of her desk, strewn with others like it. She was working until the end. She was one of the most impressive people I've ever known. I can't believe she's gone.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tree Island with Unicorn and Pop-Cup

I just did a new board collab with Uprise, my old shop in Chicago. Stoked to work with those guys on this. They even let me mess with their logo on the back. You can order one at their site, then go learn slappies on the curb outside your house.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Walk in Eden

I'll post more about this when the book is released next Fall, but I spent the last several months working on a coloring book titled A Walk in Eden, finally turning in the final files last week. It was originally commissioned by Ginkgo Press in Beijing and will be released in North America by Drawn & Quarterly. It loosely follows some of the other Garden of Eden drawings I've done in the last few years and shares a (secret sub)title with that of another large drawing I did in 2012... so yes, there is a very loose narrative to it. Most of the actual drawings comprise ten-to-fifteen page continuous panoramas. A gatefold in the middle showcases a few of these, but the rest of the book is, of course, necessarily made up of two-page spreads. A few of the original landscape drawings, in all their white-ink/cut-and-paste-y glory, are on view now as part of a special two-person show called Side Projects at Lula in Chicago through late Summer. I may try and make an accordion-book version of the best of these in the Fall if I can manage it. But for now, here are some snippets I captured for instagram (mostly) while I was working:

Friday, May 6, 2016

Some Golden Books and the Rainbow Book of Nature

Came across some really lovely illustration last month in various travels. I think I'm old enough that classic Golden Books still felt like normal, semi-current kids books when I was a child. Last month I came upon a friend's forgotten collection and found that they feel, now, like they are from a different age. Which is funny because you can see clearly that some of them probably felt very advanced when they were made – there are clear modernist touches in some of these with the emphasis on flat shapes and idiosyncratic self-conscious stylization. Others are more traditional and classic, of course. The bears and the rabbit(s) are early Richard Scarry, from when he was still lingering longer over his drawings.

Can't get enough of Little Red Riding Hood's amazing competing check patterns, here.

I also really love the style mash-up of the back cover template illustration. I remember lingering over it as a kid. There's something extremely compelling about usually separate fantasy worlds colliding. It feels faintly subversive in some way, like that the boundaries of reality are permeable. If Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse can escape their worlds into a shared universe, maybe you can, too... or maybe they'll end up in yours. It's pleasingly meta. Note the individual copyright information with its complicated footnoting, labelling each character in an attempt to shore up those boundaries and wall off that sense of possibility. And imagine the legal battles that would prevent anything like this image from being mass-produced today.
and here's a similar idea, but with non-copyrighted fantasy worlds. This was a book I found in a Portland antique shop. Three little pigs, meet Davy Crockett. Where the hell are they all going?
Lastly, here are a few illustrations by Rudolph Freund for the Rainbow Book of Nature, from the 70s, which I found forgotten on a shelf in an unused room in a different house. I love this sort of thing, too. The artist is doing a semi-scientific observational naturalism, but he's also interested in making beautiful drawings. Old bird guides are like this as well, it's a holdover from when art and science were still not fully separate disciplines. A book like this now would likely be full of photographs, which can be done well, but where one often loses clarity in a misguided emphasis on the apparent objectivity of photography.