Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Preview of Coming Attractions

So after a long dry spell cartooning-wise, I've been trying to get a new project under way just a little bit at a time. To encourage incremental progress, I have decreed that my personal calendar will be observing the Twelve Days of Comics, because I started the project on Christmas day and plan to work a little every day until Epiphany at least (though as of January 7 I may have to cool it as other obligations threaten to swallow up all my time, as opposed to merely most of it). At any rate, progress has been encouraging enough so far for me to risk jinxing everything by posting a teaser image of me with my materials before me and my baby in my lap:

Yes, I am cartooning at the kitchen table, because I still haven't set up my art table in the study, because there are still too damn many boxes of books in the way. (There is an alarming shortage of shelf space in our new house.) No, I did not produce the images visible in the sketchbook while dandling Miss Thing there on my knee, though I confess that after this picture was taken I did indeed attempt to draw a few figures in ink while still cradling my daughter in my left hand. Kind of tricky.

And yes, the comic open before us there is an indispensable element of the piece I am working on at present. If all goes well, I may have more to tell before too much longer. (I'm sure that Isaac at least is a little curious...)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Unsung Cartoonist's Little Symptom Guy

As I tidy my desk before a trip to the MLA, I find that I clipped a set of small cartoons from a mailing I got about some diabetes-related medical product. I liked the little cartoon illustrations of hypoglycemia symptoms enough that I saved them, and now I'm going to pass them on to you.

One of the things about insulin is that, in helping the body metabolize its blood sugar, it can sometimes do its job a bit too well. When blood sugar drops below a healthy or normal level, these symptoms can result:

(You can click to enlarge that.)

Which of these hypoglycemia symptoms might also be caused by a trip to a professional convention like the MLA?

If you keep your eyes open, even your junk mail might have interesting cartooning in it. I think this little symptom guy is really a nice piece of drawing, and my hat is off to the anonymous cartoonist who drew him.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Regina Holliday's mural for health-care reform

So early this morning the Senate passed its version of a bill to reform health care in America. I think it's an ideal time to salute the work of my friend Regina Holliday, an artist and advocate for health-care reform, who created an allegorical mural about the problems of health care in the United States.

A year ago Regina was just as much an artist, but not the driven and committed advocate, lobbyist, organizer, and witness for health-care reform that she has become in 2009. Unfortunately, she was moved to reshape her life and her career by painful personal experiences with the many outrages and injustices—some small, some large, all unnecessary—that attended her husband Fred's diagnosis and treatment for Stage Four cancer.

Fred Holliday was both my colleague at work and my friend, a warm and funny presence, a scholar of film and television, a generous host, and a model of how to be a husband and a father. He was admitted to the hospital just a few days before his 39th birthday last March, the cancer having been detected while doctors were looking for the source of other problems Fred had been having. Fred moved from one hospital to another, to a rehab center, and then to a hospice before returning to Regina and their two boys at home for the last week of his life. He passed away in mid-June, a day after my last visit to see him.

Already while Fred was still in the hospital, Regina had begun turning her art to public advocacy for health-care reform. An early painting, Medical Facts, was hung in a local restaurant, and featured a painting of a skeleton showing areas where the bones had been weakened by cancer—the areas where Fred had been afflicted. The painting offered a stark confrontation with the harsh literal facts of Fred's illness, laid bare on canvas. The image was accompanied by text including data from Fred's medical charts, laid out like the "Nutrition Facts" box on food packaging, and it asked a blunt question: "Why do we have more access to information on a box of Cheerios than on a medical chart?"

In early September, Regina finished a much more extensive mural, an outdoor painting that fills the entire side of a BP station at 5001 Connecticut Avenue NW here in Washington, DC. This mural is titled 73 Cents, after the amount it cost Regina, per page, to get a copy of Fred's medical records. Unlike the almost reportorial quality of Medical Facts, the 73 cents mural employs symbolism and allusions to other works of art. Regina describes some of her artistic models for the painting's composition here, but you can probably recognize at a glance the elements inspired by David's Death of Marat and Picasso's Guernica in the central section of the mural:

That's Fred in the hospital bed, clutching a note with an actual message he delivered to his wife: "Go after them, Regina." And that's Regina in blue before him, wearing a mask to show a brave face to Fred as wife and caregiver while a more troubled face is turned to the nurse who is passing some medical records to her. The little boy with the blocks is their younger son Isaac; their older boy, Freddie, can just be glimpsed as an eye peeking through the sliver where the door in the background joins its hinges.

Here is the leftmost portion of the mural:

And here is the right:

For more information about the symbolism of the mural (and its use of text from Buffy the Vampire Slayer alongside quotations from Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson), along with many more detailed photos, please read Regina's own discussion here. For an early statement by Regina on art as advocacy, please read her post here. For Regina's Thanksgiving post on what 2009 was like for her, Fred, and their boys, please read this post. And for Regina's continued updates on her art, her mission, and the progress of health-care reform, please visit reginaholliday.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

So, um, yeah...

... I have kind of left poor Isaac holding the bag o' the blog for most of this semester. I would lay the blame here—
(Shira at four months, as drawn at five months)

—but it's not really fair to her, innocent that she is; and Isaac has had his fair share of claims on his attention, too, yet he's managed to keep the blog moving single-handed. So to my good buddy Isaac, I publicly apologize for being such a slacker on this would-be joint endeavor of a blog, and I will endeavor to do better henceforth.

(Incidentally, the flaws in the drawing above are the fault of the artist, not of his subject.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

RIP Arnold Stang

Earlier today I saw the New York Times obituary of character actor Arnold Stang. (My new goal in life: to live in such a way as never to have the word "milquetoast" in the headline of my death notice.*) Anyway, the story caught my eye because Mr. Stang has been important to me for two things. First, his surname is "gnats" spelled backwards, and how cool is that?** Second, and frankly more important: he voiced the character Churchy LaFemme in the clay-animation film Pogo for President, which film I am sure I have seen more than any other, so sad is my life.***

At any rate, I commemorate Mr. Stang's demise with this quasi-pencil sketch, digitally darkened, and so faint in its original graphite version**** that I myself failed to detect part of the artwork in the scan and cropped it too close on the left (man, I'm out of practice with the machinery of bloggery...but all that's missing is part of a gravestone whose text is the title of this post):
* Perhaps fittingly, given Mr. Stang's work in animation, the term "milquetoast" is itself derived from an early comic-strip character, Caspar Milquetoast. Who knew?

** I wish I'd been kidding when I noted this, but it's true: every time I think of Arnold Stang I mentally read his last name backwards. Till now, however, it has never occurred to me to read his first name as Dlonra.

*** For further evidence in re: my life, the sadness whereof, see also: the previous footnote.

**** Graphite, but not pencil. I drew this with a "graphite object," a sculpture of a pea pod. If the object's not meant for drawing with, why does it fit perfectly cradled in a hand poised for sketching? I ask you...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hand Turkey Corrigendum: Abner Jenkins Is Miffed

Okay, so in the post I made a few days ago, one of the Marvel Hand Turkeys was pretty much unrecognizable. Partly that's because it's derived from an obscure costume design for an obscure character. But mostly it's because I got the freaking hand design wrong. I am not too big to admit my mistakes.

Here, what if I had posted this? Would you have been able to guess then?

You see, in my haste to get the doodles up online, I looked only at the first image for this fellow that I found—only the first thing to hand, so to speak. And truth be told, I could have done my homework more thoroughly. That first image really doesn't reveal the full weirdness of the hands in Abner Jenkins's first Ditko-style suit of super-villain armor.

Yes, the "answer" to that missing Hand Turkey was supposed to be none other than the Beetle, in his original Human-Torch-fightin' getup.

I'm sorry! Next time I'll pick my reference images more carefully!