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Behind the Eightball: Daniel Clowes

We can do things like these cartoons, which are amusing, and a form of light entertainment, or we can do work that is more serious in scope and feeling that deals with issues of great importance.” That’s a quote from Ghost World. Not the acclaimed, late-’90s-defining, graphic novel written and drawn by cartoonist Daniel Clowes, but [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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We can do things like these cartoons, which are amusing, and a form of light entertainment, or we can do work that is more serious in scope and feeling that deals with issues of great importance.”

That’s a quote from Ghost World. Not the acclaimed, late-’90s-defining, graphic novel written and drawn by cartoonist Daniel Clowes, but the screenplay for the film adaptation. The whimsical summer-school art teacher who delivers the line, played by Illeana Douglas, wasn’t in the comic, but in the context of an Oscar-nominated movie, it serves as Clowe’s just desserts, aimed towards the disdain he received as an “artist” before cartoonists were hanging in museums or forecasting network television.

“Nowadays comics are taken much more seriously. Kids are going to art school and taking courses on graphic novels. I’m always asked to come and lecture a class about how to break into the graphic novel market,” says Clowes from his Oakland studio about the sea change in perceptions about his preferred art form. “When I was in school the teachers would tell me that comics were fine to do in your spare time, but they were an acute diversion and they didn’t think of it as art. It was just endlessly frustrating. But now, people can’t even relate to what I’m saying because it’s so different in the art-school world.”

Modern Cartoonist: The Art of Daniel Clowes, opening this month at the Wexner Center, is certainly no raspberry towards the art world, nor is it an endpoint. Clowes is never one to sit on his hands or buckle to the technology that has erased the days when mail-ordering  a copy of his cult-classic Eightball was a ritualistic thrill for alternative nation. Within the pages of Eightball, Clowes was a man of “strips,” or serial comics, many of which, including David Boring, The Death-Ray, and Ice Haven, have become renowned “books” in the realm of graphic novels. Hence an exhibition to see his process and evolution through original black and white sketches from those tomes, gouache paintings of his iconic characters, and sundry artifacts should be a godsend to his eccentric fan base and a legitimization of his narrative genius to those unfamiliar.

“You put together a show like this and it definitely had that feeling that this could either be a retirement party or the mid-career retrospective. I was scared about how I would respond to it when it all came together, but it actually energized me to start something new,” reflects Clowes on digging through his old work. “As an artist you’re always trying to find ways to regenerate and start afresh. That’s the beauty of doing something like comics. You finish one and then you get started on a blank slate. You can correct all of the mistakes of your past. The show is a way to do that on a much larger scale.”

In that museum setting, whether you’re seeing Clowes for the first time via the museum or a long-time fanatic, it’s hard not to glean his surrealist perspective on the human condition. Even within single panels there is black humor, grotesque honesty, and quotidian existentialism. (Be it with personalities ambling inside of awkward adolescence or middle-aged curmudgeondom, drawn with thick lines and living color, it’s hard to find a piece that doesn’t strike a nerve or elicit an inner chuckle.)

Though Clowes’s oeuvre has served as an emblem of anachronistic pop culture or as a pulse-heeding critic of a dumbed down society, his first love and inspiration is in the primordial beginnings of the cartoonist – guys like Ernie Bushmiller who created Nancy, or Chester Gould, responsible for Dick Tracy. As a companion to Modern Cartoonist, Clowes was asked to raid the vaults of the Wexner’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library to curate his own survey of the comic strip’s golden age.

“There were a few things I couldn’t believe I was looking at,” Clowes says about his geek-out experience. “There were a couple of Little Nemo originals by Winsor McCay, which were literally like looking at Da Vinci drawings in person. This was stuff I’d been obsessing over since I was 15 years old, so to see it first-hand was mind-blowing.”

Despite the exhibition’s title, Clowes doesn’t have much time to keep up with modern comics trends. Between running a family, knocking around various screenplays, and the promise of what Clowes calls his biggest, most-involved book yet, the genre’s ebb and flow is off his radar. As long as he’s inspired and an audience persists, he’s content. A very Clowes-ian temperament.

“My only interest is doing the books, whether they begin as a comic book or they appear in holograms or whatever’s the popular form of the day,” concludes Clowes. “I want there to be at least enough copies of a physical book for me to have, my friends to have, and for all of the readers I’ve built up over the years. As long as there’s some way to pay the mortgage with that is all I’m asking for.” •

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Arts Fest Preview: See BalletMet live outdoors!

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BalletMet’s Friday night’s headline performance at 8:30 p.m. at the Arts Festival is sure to be a highlight of weekend. One of the nation’s top 20 largest professional companies, BalletMet consists of dancers hailing from across the nation and the world and boasts a premiere academy for aspiring professional dancers, one that’s been recognized as an institution of local and national stature.

Since 1978, BalletMet has brought incredible dance to theaters in Central Ohio and beyond and their commitment to bringing dance to the Columbus community, especially in underserved areas, is unparalleled.

Art of War Photo by Jen Zmuda

From in-school programs to theater field trips, scholarships and free performances, the company is dedicated to making dance accessible to all. More than 10,000 children attend the company’s Morning at the Ballet field trip performances each year. And thanks to a grant from PNC Arts Alive, BalletMet’s second company, BalletMet 2, has performed at free events at the King Arts Complex, Franklin Park Conservatory and more, throughout the 2018-19 season.

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In addition to the free performance at the Arts Festival BalletMet will perform at Dance on Dakota on Friday, May 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. in Franklinton. This performance is also free.

Dance on Dakota, co-hosted by Franklinton Arts District, is part of a weekend-long block party in Franklinton and features free food and drink and a collaborative performance with TRANSIT ARTS. The event will take place at Dakota Ave. and Town St.

Dancers Grace Anne Powers and William Newton Photo by Jen Zmuda

BalletMet’s Columbus Arts Festival performance will include a mixed repertoire of shorter pieces from its past productions and will be preceded by music from DJ Donnie M. of Damn Girl.

And if these performances capture your interest, the company recently announced its 2019-20 season, which includes ALICE, based on the later stories of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, Twisted 3, a collaboration with the Columbus Symphony and Opera Columbus, and, of course, The Nutcracker.

More info at www.balletmet.org. For all your Arts Festival details visit www.colubmusartsfestival.org

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Arts Fest Preview: You wood hate to miss local crafter

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Woodworker and Art Makes Columbus featured artist Devon Palmer has been working with his hands since his upbringing in northeast Indiana. His mother a wood carver and his father a carpenter and cabinet maker, Palmer took a more mechanical route by obtaining his pilot’s license and attending Purdue University to pursue a career as an airplane mechanic.

But as his career transitioned from maintenance to the tech field, he yearned to work with his hands again. Originally he considered pottery, before a class he planned to attend got canceled. But a trip home the weekend before Thanksgiving led to his father introducing him to woodturning.

That was more than 15 years ago. And though he is largely self-taught, Palmer also credits local woodturners from the Central Ohio Woodturners (a chapter of the American Association of Woodturners) for taking him under their wing. In 2005, he opened his first studio just north of Downtown, and in 2007 he began teaching woodturning at Woodcraft Columbus.

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Today, Palmer does a bit of mentoring of his own. He teaches classes in blade and bowl turning, resin cast pen turning and more advanced projects like hollow vessel turning in his studio at the Idea Foundry. He is also adding a series of LGBTQ date night pen turning classes to his growing schedule of classes, shows and demonstrations.

Palmer says his work represents “family and connectedness” with work ranging from salad bowls and laser engraved pens to funerary urns and ornaments. The details in his hand-crafted tableware and home goods manage to invoke a warm sense of community, fellowship, and hospitality.

Devon Palmer works in internet technology and is also a pianist and ordained minister.

Make your own wood turned pen with Devon Palmer at the Columbus Arts Festival, June 7-9, at the Big Local Art Village located at the Festival’s Franklinton entrance. Learn more about Devon at www.columbusmakesart.com/stories/devon-palmer and get all your Arts Festival details at www.columbusartsfestival.org

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Arts Festival Preview: Dr. E uses voice to overcome adversity

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Dr. E, singer-songwriter and author Cleveland-born singer-songwriter Dr. Elaine Richardson — known by her stage name Dr. E — has used her voice to detail the incredible circumstances she encountered while overcoming great adversity. Born to a musician father and Jamaican immigrant mother, Dr. E begun tapping into her talent while singing in church, her school’s choir, and in girl groups.

Dr. E continued to sing despite the difficult path she faced. As a teen, she became a sex trafficking victim and fell into addiction. In her recovery, she pursued higher education at Cleveland State University and Michigan State University. During this time Dr. E also began performing as the frontwoman for a number of cover bands and placing her original music on various TV shows. She recorded her first album, “Elevated,” in 2010.

Dr. E’s introspective song lyrics reflect the often difficult process of healing while defending those who share her experiences or face exploitation and discrimination in other ways.

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On her sophomore album, 2017’s “Songs for the Struggle,” she gives a soulful retelling of her journey from sex trafficking survivor to university professor, Ph.D., author and advocate. Blending elements of soul, rock, funk, rhythm and blues, and jazz, Dr. E sings with an astonishing amount of hope and positivity; Though the album details the trauma and exploitation experienced by Dr. E during her teen years, her power message ultimately expresses affirmations of self-love and acceptance employed with an equally powerful and joyous voice.

Dr. E is currently a professor of literacy studies in the College of Education at The Ohio State University. She has written a number of books on African American literature as well as a memoir, “PHD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life.”

See Dr. E. perform at the Columbus Arts Festival, Saturday, June 8 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on the Big Local Stage on Rich St.

For hours, artist listing and all Festival information go to www.columbusartsfestival.org

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