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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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Q&A: Columbus artist Mandi Caskey wants to bring us together

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Photo by John Thorne

Context plays one of the most important roles in our understanding of art. For instance, if you saw the unveiling of Columbus artist Mandi Caskey’s latest masterpiece, you’d probably equate the message to the daily protests that have been held in Columbus over the past week.

When the mural on the abandoned highway overpass near Scioto Audubon Metro Park was started, that wasn’t the case. It was a message meant to distract us from the hardships that COVID-19 flooded our lives with.

Now, to some people, the mural’s message, which stretches over 400 feet, takes on a new meaning.

(614) caught up with Caskey to find out the inspiration behind the piece and how she feels about subjectiveness in art. Check out a brief Q&A below and some incredible aerial footage from photographer/videographer John Thorne.

Obviously a project this big can't be tackled alone. Who all helped bring this idea to life?

This project was originally an idea that I wanted to do secretly aka illegally, but my business partner came up with a better idea. And that was to get other artists involved and pay them during the stay-at-home order. 

The whole time we honestly didn’t think we would be able to get approval on all the permits we needed, but thanks to Lori Baudro, over a month and a half we got permission and permits from the Department of Public Service, ODOT, and the Arts Commission. We were honestly in shock. 

When it came down to businesses, we started working with Tim Cousino, who’s an architect. He figured out all the measurements we needed. From there we had to get our hands dirty and clean the surface of the bridge, which had five 9-foot around dirt piles that we shoveled off.

Once the surface was prepped and ready to go, we had Jacob Bench come out. He’s an engineer that helped translate all of Tim’s measurements. The project would have been 10 times more difficult without him! 

Through the process, we slowly grew the team. David Greenzalis is my partner in crime so he was there from the beginning. Katie Bench, Hawke Trackler, Lisa Celesta, Ariel Peguero, Chris Blain, Patrick Cardwell, Eric Terranova, Sam Rex, and Justin Paul, who has taken the amazing footage everyone has seen. All of these people are passionate, hardworking, and just awesome to be around. I was excited when we all came together. 

From what I've read, it seems like your idea for this was green-lit very quickly and easily. Why do you think people responded to the idea in your message so strongly?

There’s a combination of reasons everything moved so quickly (in terms of government) ha-ha. Part of it was the fact people were at home; they wanted something to get excited about. This was a project people could easily get geeked out about: 400-foot long mural on the bridge that has been abandoned for 10-plus years! I think they just wanted to see if it could happen. Also, the bridge will be torn down in a year or so; this means the mural doesn’t need any upkeep. The fact it was temporary made it an easy Yes for people. Still in shock this all worked out so smoothly.

What roadblocks did you run into during the process of creating the mural?

A big roadblock that no one could help was the weather. Man, was it a beast to work with. When we first started prepping the bridge, it was raining and around 40 degrees outside. We were in coats with gloves for half of the project. Then it rains for almost two weeks straight, which pushed back any painting we wanted to do. The days when we did get to work was easily 95 and scorching! We were all burnt to a crisp! It was stressful but fun working with this crazy Ohio weather.

How do you think art helps people during times of unrest and uncertainty like we're in right now?

Art is truly the bridge between thoughtful conversations and action (pun intended). Public art specifically can be the most impactful since it’s meant to be viewed by everyone. There’s no fee to look at it, no dress code, no need for art knowledge, just acceptance and appreciation are necessary. 

Art in general helps people look outside of their own personal bubbles. We can see into someone else’s mind for a split second and become apart of the art and experience. I think we forget that art is a living representation of us, but I hope through this unsure time we start to remember why humans started painting in the first place.

I think there's something to be said about how the mural was made on the basis of the coronavirus pandemic and bringing people together and now it can take on the meaning of the social change that needs to happen in this world. What are your thoughts on that?

Originally the mural was made because I personally felt alone and knew so many other people were feeling the same way during the stay-at-home orders. Once the project actually started to become a real thing, “we are stronger together” became more about the people who were working together; so many different types of backgrounds and artists. People from different periods in my personal life, all coming together and making something epic. 

When it was all said and done, the words are made for everyone, from any background, race, gender, far and wide. It’s a message that I hope makes people know I’m with them, that no matter the craziness in the world, someone’s got your back.

 

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Columbus artists employed to paint boarded-up downtown for #ArtUnitesCbus

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The Columbus arts community has really stepped up to the plate when it comes to trying to unite and inspire during tumultuous times. One of the latest efforts from visual artists around the area includes CAPA and Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC) latest partnership, #ArtUnitesCbus.

“When I do these projects, I try to remember to have fun and enjoy my loved ones. Even though it’s a bad time, there’s always room for love,” visual artist Hakim Callwood said.

The creative venture will exist to employ around 20 Columbus visuals artists. Their job will be to paint murals in place of the broken windows at the Ohio Theater and GCAC office. 

The art installations are expected to be finished by the end of the week.

“#ArtUnitesCbus is just one small way the arts community is trying to help. These murals are not the answer, simply a message that we ALL can, and must, help heal our community,” said Tom Katzenmeyer, President & CEO of the Arts Council, in a GCAC press release on Monday

Now more than ever is an extremely important time to give our community artists a platform. 

“The Columbus artists are more of a family than I think people understand,” Callwood said. “Whether we all talking every day or hanging out together; it doesn’t matter. When there’s times of need we always use our talents to support.” 

Check out the progress of their murals below.

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Weekend Roundup: 5/29 – 5/31

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With Ohio slowly starting to fully reopen, initial in-person gatherings have trickled into our news feeds.

Below are a few things you can check out over the weekend if you’ve been itching to leave your house and are capable of following COVID-19 guidelines.

Friday

Fair Food Weekend @ Oakland Nursery

One of the most disappointing summertime cancellations was the axing of the Ohio State Fair. For those still wanting to get their elephant ears or deep-fried oreo fix, Chester Foods will be bringing a pop-up food truck to the Oakland Nursery. Corn dogs, funnel cakes, fried oreos, fresh-cut fries, and lemonade shake-ups will all be on the menu. Fair food will be set up on both Friday and Saturday.

Time: 12 p.m. - 8 p.m. | Address: 4261 W. Dublin Granville Rd.

Saturday

Sonic The Hedgehog/Jumanji: The Next Level and The Hunt/The Invisible Man @ South Drive-In

With movie theaters in Ohio still closing their doors, the drive-in revival has been sweeping the state, nation, and world. Once drive-ins were given the go-ahead by DeWine, South Drive-In began to provide the double feature experience to eager moviegoers. Admission is $9.50 on Friday/Saturday and $7.50 on Sunday for those 12+, $2 for ages 5-11, and free for those under 4.

The showings for this weekend are as follows: 

Screen 1:

  • 9:05 p.m. Sonic The Hedgehog (PG)
  • 10:53 p.m. Jumanji: The Next Level (PG-13)
  • 12:56 a.m. Sonic The Hedgehog (Friday/Saturday only) 

Screen 2:

  • 9:25 p.m. The Hunt (R)
  • 11:05 p.m. The Invisible Man (R)
  • 1:09 a.m. The Hunt (Friday/Saturday only)

Check out the South Drive-In website to see what social distancing guidelines need to be followed.

Time: Arrive 1-2 hours prior to first showing | Address: 3050 S. High St.

Sunday

Reggae on the Patio @ Skully’s Music-Diner

If you’re in search of a relaxing Sunday, look no further than Skully’s. The music venue/bar will be opening its patio for those to have socially distance hangs, drinks, and wings. Skully’s will be setting the mood perfectly for a chill Sunday by spinning reggae music all night long. Get yourself out of the house and go catch some island vibes.

Time: 7 p.m. - 2 a.m. | Address: 1151 N. High St.

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