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Vanessa Davis Comic Artist Interview





Vanessa Davis is a successful Comic Artist with an honest, authentic narrative in her work. I met Vanessa and her drawings when we both lived in New York City several years ago. It is no small thing for an artist (or fan of art) to leave New York, and now that we have both managed to relocate successfully, it's time to catch up and see how things on the West Coast have influenced her work.

When I was young, "Marvel or DC" was a relevant question. Is it still?

I have no idea! I think it might be. To a segment of the comics-reading population, I'm sure it is. I did read comics growing up, but with little concern who drew or published them. The closest I got was knowing Dan DeCarlo drew for Archie. And I recognized my favorite "Archie eras" by how tightly Betty's ponytail was pulled. I think there was a sloppy, unfashionable time in the 80s when her hair sloped over her ears. There are many kinds of comics consumers and producers now. One can't just differentiate between "superhero" and "non-superhero." At even the smallest independent comics show you will see work appealing to wildly different sensibilities. Today comics are "post-medium" or something--an inarticulate way to say that they used to conjure up one or two particular things in people's minds but now it's much more panoramic.

Do you see yourself and your work fitting into a tradition? Whose work do you admire? There is a list of young artists and illustrators on your web page, do you consider yourself part of a movement or school?

I thought I was approaching comics based on things purely from my own experience but then saw many cartoonists, both past and present, work in a similar way. Obviously, as I became more entrenched in comic-making, I learned more about them and met more cartoonists. As I get older I recognize things that have been influencing me throughout my entire life. The diary form came from one of my favorite painting teachers, but I've always worked autobiographically. Apparently I'm part of a burst of diaristic autobio comics, which is probably due to something timely and cultural, but I'm not going to attempt to get into that. I was given the "Twisted Sisters 2" anthology of female cartoonists in the mid-90s, and a lot of the work there had a lasting affect on me. Even now I recognize a drawing I did last week looks like one in the Debbie Drechsler story there. Also I'd learned about Julie Doucet from Sassy magazine. She wrote about her own life and I loved it, way before I ever thought I'd do comics myself. I've met a LOT of cartoonists around my age since starting 7 years ago, and that's been one of the greatest rewards of getting into this field. There has been a wave of comics-related activity in the last decade and it has been extremely exciting. So even though I say I got into comics with my own idiosyncratic intentions, I'd be deluded to not say I wasn't part of something larger. The list of people on my website is somewhat arbitrary and grossly incomplete, but it does include people around my age I admire. I feel like I've been working with them since I got started. They have influenced me along the way. I wouldn't say that all of the people on my list work just like me, as there is a lot of different work represented by that list.

Did you study illustration or art? Are you a commercial artist or a fine artist? Is it a line you are aware of, or balance?

I went to an arts magnet school from seventh grade onwards, and was exposed early to a lot of cool, crazy art and ideas. I don't know how things are going now at that school, but when I was 13 they tried to veer our attention away from drawing Betty and Veronica, Ferraris, or Animaniacs and to focus on brainy, idealistic artists instead. My friends and I were more obsessed with the idea of being arty bohemians than making a living. I did always have an illustrative streak and was devastated when the representative from Cooper Union thought I intended on majoring in illustration, which they don't provide. I was totally offended! Did I want to dig holes in the ground and line them with silk and lay eggs or something feminist-earthworksy like that? Now of course I think I'm a combination of commercial and fine artist. In this day and age those lines are blurred. As I continued my fine art education, the insular fine art world seemed more and more irrelevant. In fact bullshit. I think that art has been about ideas and making collective mental innovations. I don't think in this day and age a gallery is the best showcase for that, and I question the fine art world's cultural magnanimity. It seems the commercial world might be the more appropriate climate for my thoughts and ideas but I haven't really figured it out.

Where do you see your work and your career going?

Ooh. That's the topic of the day for me lately! I'm not sure. There's a LOT I want to do. I have more stories to draw, I want to paint big paintings, design fabric and wallpaper, partner with a ceramicist to decorate pots and have a breakfast nook and some babies! It's all a mishmash. I still have a lot to learn about what's the best direction for me, career-wise.

Comic books and graphic novels seem to have avoided the decline of the book in the digital age, at least for the time being. How do you see the format evolving or fitting into media trends? You write for a webmag. How does that differ from print?

This debate affects the comics world in a big way. Many cartoonists are freaked by the computer thing but just as many embrace it. Some tout the internets ability to expose their work to a wide audience, they find it liberating to be able to publish without the constraints of the publishing industry. I don't really know where I am on it. I haven't benefited as much as others from opportunities on the web mostly due to my own inexperience with computers and site-building. But it's a bad time for publishing, both in paper and on the web. I was very lucky to have my column at Tablet, that was a rare experience, unfortunately. I hear more and more from older and more experienced cartoonists, writers and illustrators that "content" is not that financially valuable anymore, and that's obviously crappy...so I don't know. I think it would be a shame for any one media or format to overthrow the another. Some work belongs on a blog, some should be in a magazine, some a book, some on a wall. Hopefully the money will come to pay for it all.

You ink, color and caption. Will you always? Is it tedious or a joy.

As long as I do comics, I am sure I will do it all. I'm into the handmade nature of it, so it is fun AND tedious. Usually I have some deadline and think about how nice it would be not to... but then I wouldn't be working if I wasn't on deadline.

Do you sell original work or editions?

I've sold a few things here and there and it is always a bit confusing. I want to do prints, I just haven't gotten around to it. I did a series of paintings of women that I think would make a cool calendar.

You have a regular column in a contemporary Jewish publication. How prominent is your "ishness" in your work?
I don't know whether it was working for Tablet or something else that brought the Jewish stuff out in my recent comics. I had to talk about Jewishness in the column, and sometimes it was over deliberate. I never would have considered doing comics about Judaism earlier in my life. Since moving to California and seriously dating someone non-Jewish, I think about it a lot more, just because it's not as much of a given as it is in New York or in South Florida where I grew up. I do think my own particular Jewish experience has helped me embrace comics and see them for all of the possibilities they hold, because I've been able to be Jewish on my own terms. I'm into the aspects of Judaism that are about being an individual, seeing things out of context. So obviously that's helped me with comics, since I've approached comics separately from a lot of the stuff associated with comics.

Your work is all autobiographical, often painfully so. It is also entirely narrative. Do you ever think in terms of "a gag" or "a joke".

I think of jokes all the time, but I don't know that I'm that good at gags. There are lots of circumstances surrounding things I think are funny, and they are best explained in some kind of context. I did this one comic about looking at a pretty college girl, from head to toe, she was all blond and skinny and stuff. But then her toenails were like 3 inches long and curly and brown and just insane. So stuff like that, even things less outrageous, are constantly making me laugh, but they're not really "gags" I guess. Most of the editing and criticism I've received has been about explaining things even MORE, so I think my strength just doesn't really lie in the overt, one-panel format.

Have you ever submitted a panel to the New Yorker?

No!

You have no square panels, the drawings float and quiver. Is that more natural to you?


I started using panels in the last few months of my Tablet strip because it helped me organize the stories quickly and coherently. I didn't have time to artfully dovetail images together in visual witty ways, and because it was for a wider audience I wanted the narration to be straightforward. In the past I enjoyed that organic layout because of the visual opportunities, and because I didn't like the constraints of the panels. I wanted to be able to bend the perspective as needed and the panel was just an arbitrary obstruction that affected things.

Do you Miss New York? Has leaving the city changed your drawings?

I miss New York a lot! I talk about it all the time. I miss my family and the hustle and bustle. I miss the "biz" aspect of New York. Here when people see me drawing, they ask me if I'm doing it for a class. In New York, people assumed I was a professional. Obviously that's a nice feeling. I don't miss the discomfort and I don't miss trudging around. I never felt "liberated" by the subway. I literally felt desperate for nature. I hated going home for my mother's birthday, because it fell during the nicest 2 weeks of the year in the city, at the end of April. Florida is beautiful then too, but I was angry and resentful about what I'd been through over the winter and to miss a minute of New York spring was annoying. But the longer I lived in the city, there were fewer and fewer places I really enjoyed being. Soho felt like the mall, the East Village felt like Long Island, Midtown felt like the Midwest. Because Manhattan and now Brooklyn is so punishingly expensive, I found by leaving I could devote an appropriate amount of time to my own work. I loved my job in New York, but I was torn between work and drawing. In a smaller town I can afford to actually BE a professional. I always thought those starry-eyed suburban kids who couldn't WAIT to move to New York were so dorky. Then I moved there (from the suburbs) and had an amazing "only-in-New-York" dream experience despite my cynicism. But then I started to feel like a sucker, thinking I HAD to be in the city. Putting up with so much bullshit just to be there felt kind of degrading. I wondered if maybe it was MORE of a "New York thing" to move away, like I don't need it.

Does your mother see all your work before it is published?

Ha ha, no! With these Tablet comics, I used my mom and other family and friends so much, I did try to take their feelings into consideration. Sometimes I'll offend my mom, and she won't say anything. She doesn't want me to feel self-conscious. But she WILL tell my sister, who will tell me, and she knows it!

See MORE about Vanessa Davis on DRAWN and QUARTERLY and SPANIEL RAGE

Horrors in Wax #15 The Dangling Dudes


AIEEE! Most wax "chambers of horrors" are hardly that...a few familiar Hollywood villains to scare the kids and a damsel in distress for Dad. This setup, however, would warp a kid for a decade. What demented wax sculptor dreamed this up? Vintage grain rake hangs in the back to add a pointy "what is THAT" object to further scare the kids, and a few presumably wax chickens scratch around the "barn of death" floor. A question? Who would SEND this?
From the Dull Tool Dim Bulb "Horrors in Wax" series. Collect them all.

Horrors in Wax #15 Postcard c. 1965. Collection Jim Linderman

At the Circus in Black and White Dull Tool Dim Bulb #14 of a Series


Circus Performers Anonymous Snapshot circa 1960 Jim Linderman Collection

Absentee Cards...Not so Gentle Reminders







Did you even know there was an "America's Largest Line of Absentee Cards?" There was at one time, and now you know. Absentee cards are gentle (or not so) reminders to get your butt off the couch and into the pew. Personally, I think we all have enough guilt in our lives that we don't need a postcard to remind us, but they did probably work. Looking for a niche to collect with no competition? Here you go.

Salesman Sample and group of Absentee Cards, circa 1950.
Collection Jim Linderman

Teeny Tiny Grauman's Chinese Theater and Big Hand


Model of Grauman's Chinese Theater, complete with tiny hand-prints of the stars.
Original Press Photograph 1946 Collection Jim Linderman

Photo-Eye Magazine: Take Me to the Water "The Best Books of 2009"

"Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography" makes Melanie McWhorter, Photo-eye bookstore manager's list as one of the Best Books of 2009. She writes "It is a humble and beautiful book."
Link HERE

Untitled Nudes by Rudolph Rossi Hand-Painted Photograph c. 1950



Three large (11" x 14") Original Hand-tinted Photographs by Rudolph Rossi circa 1950. Rossi was a member of an informal camera club in New York City where he took photographs of Bettie Page and other amateur models, then meticulously painted each black and white photograph by hand to create the illusion of color photography.  The models for the camera club shootings (including Bettie Page) were found from all over New York City.  While the three models here are all seemingly posing alone, it is possible Rossi "painted out" other participants after making large prints in his home studio.  
Note gold tint he applied to the jewelry on the blond!  
Three original prints by Rudolph Rossi, circa 1950 Collection Jim Linderman

Objects to Paint (Do Not put Brush in the Mouth)



Painting Instruction Book 1910 Saalfield Publishing Company Collection Jim Linderman

Bobby Charles R.I.P


I keep claiming this blog is not about music, but for Bobby Charles, I'll make an exception. After all, how many heroes do we have? Especially those who are genuine, low-key to the point of painful modesty and who choose to live in a trailer alone with pet parrots? Louisiana born Robert Charles Guidry has been an inspiration to me not only for what he did (how many performers wrote hits for Fats Domino and worked extensively with the Band? Well, Two that I can think of...) Bobby was one. The writer of "See you Later Alligator" when he was a VERY young man, his recordings tricked Chess records into releasing a record by a White man. (They thought he was Black) He also, as a child, wrote "Walking to New Orleans" for Fats and Levon Helm once called him "a hellacious songwriter." Levon has never told a lie. Despite all this, Charles was painfully shy, a trait I both share and admire...and lived modestly out of the limelight by choice with his pets and worked to preserve the Louisiana wetlands. If anyone had listened to him, Katrina wouldn't have been as bad. Charles dribbled out too few recordings in his later years, but had just finished one with another New Orleans saint Dr. John. Charles was 71. His record produced by Rick Danko in the 1970's is available again after long being out of print. Sigh.

Give



FORWARD to Friends, Bulletin Boards, Blogs

Meet the Press: Woman's Deformed Feet from Improper Shoes


Original Press photograph, 1921. "Imprint of the Feet of a Woman (American) Deformed by Wearing Improper Shoes. Collection Jim Linderman

Take Me to the Water received Grammy Nomination for Best Historical Album


Take Me to the Water receives Grammy nomination for Best Historical Album
"Best Historical Album is a Grammy category that never attracts much attention, but the nominees are usually excellent. This year is no exception: Among them are the Little Walter Chess recordings and a Sophie Tucker collection from the folks at Champaign-Urbana’s great Archeophone label. The excellent Dust-to-Digital label is a regular presence among the nominees, and this year it’s up for a fascinating package called Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950.

The 8.75" x 6" hardbound book includes a gorgeous collection of rare photos of riverside baptisms by both white and black congregations, taken from the collection of Jim Linderman; there’s also a terrific essay by Luc Sante. Accompanying the images is a wonderful CD featuring black gospel, blues, and old-timey country songs that touch on baptism—including tracks by ubiquitous preacher Reverend J.M. Gates, quirky gospel singer Washington Phillips (who also played a fretless zither he built himself and called a Dolceola), the Carter Family, and J.E. Mainer’s Mountaineers. I don’t really think that baptism songs comprise a truly important genre, but the practice itself is obviously a huge part of religious life, and immersion baptism is still practiced today in the U.S. So while this may seem like a rather esoteric subject for a Grammy bid, that doesn’t make the music (or the photos) any less compelling." — Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader

http://www.dust-digital.com/

Dirty Reds and Prophecy TURN or BURN!






If you are following my blog old time religion you already know I am a sucker for religious graphics of the golden age of fear. The best one here is "Moscow over Hollywood" which every patriotic American must read. Otherwise, how will you know "The Communist supreme headquarters have been moved from the alien-infested slums of New York City to the intellectual slums and moral cesspools of movieland" that "Three sets of Russian-born brothers control 95 percent of the movie industry" and that a "bumper crop" of lazy Hollywood 4-Fs like Frankie Sinatra, Orson Welles and Errol Flynn wouldn't even "trade greasepaint of the theatrical world" for the REAL grease of the munitions plants during the big one. And don't even mention "Comrade" Charlie Chaplin. The author also manages, through some convoluted stretch of god-fired logic, to proudly claim that since lynchings in the south have dropped by 10%, Red singer Paul Robeson will be foiled in his attempts to spread a communist revolution through the Negroes. These pure examples of perverted prophecy will also be posted on old time religion. If you choose NOT to follow the blog, don't say I never warned you about the Devil Spit.

Group of Religious Prophecy Pamphlet claptrap by Dan Gilbert and E. J. Daniels, all circa 1950. Collection Jim Linderman

Tina the "go to" Surrealist from Sexology





I profiled another artist working for the digest "Sexology" on another blog (the fearless L. Sterne Stevens on Vintage Sleaze) but neglected to mention "Tina" the somewhat inept surrealist who was obviously the "go to" artist for the monthly digest. I have not been able to find the artist's full name, nor do I know if "Tina" is accurate...but then if I were working for a magazine with articles such as "Strange Objects in the Bladder" "Odd forms of Reproduction" "Polymastia-Multiple Breasts" and "When Midgets Marry" I might use a pseudonym as well. A gig is a gig. Genius Craig Yoe who has compiled pages from this journal in his book Sexology might know more about her, but I don't have the book and can't kindle it yet, so I'll wait for reader comments. The above paintings come from issues dated 1953 to 1956, and who (or what) subscribed to the magazine is a mystery. Thankfully.

I am going to guess Tina worked on artist's board...somehow can't see her stretching canvas for these. (But I CAN see racing Jim Shaw to the Salvation Army to buy one) I also do not know the process for commission...did she produce a work every month based on the editor's direction? Did she read the articles for inspiration? At any rate, our unknown, deservedly so, artist is responsible for all of the above, which were published to illustrate the following respective articles:
Narcissistic Frigidity: Virgin Wives
Musical Sex Sublimination: Conversion of Sexual Urge

Change of Life
Women who Rape Men

Dull Tool Dim Bulb Discovers Andy Warhol Missing Link?






My discovery which questions whether Andy Warhol learned to draw soup cans from a small Heinz tracing book he would have had access to as a child seems to be striking a nerve. Quite possible, and I will lay out the details here as a few folks have asked.

I found a small booklet in an antique mall which was originally published by the Heinz company in Andy Warhol's home town the year before he was born. The book encouraged young children to TRACE THE IMAGES contained for "fun" when the intent was clearly to imprint impressionable young minds with the Heinz logo and brand. Tracing paper was bound into the pamphlet on top of each Heinz product. The book has a date of 1927 and was published in Pittsburgh, PA. Pittsburgh was also Andy's home town and he was born one year later in 1928. As such, the small book, one of a series called "Heinz Kindergarten Books" would have been readily available to the young artist.

The images here come from the Heinz book number 6, so the series was well established and local Pittsburgh residents would have surely picked up the premium, which was free, for their children to play with.
Although not as famous as his Campbell's images, Warhol did produce art with the Heinz logo, just like the branding experts at H. J. Heinz apparently hoped he one day would! As the similarities are quite striking, and the location and dates too much of a coincidence to ignore, I believe Mr. Warhol may have played with books from the series and remembered it some 40 years later when he began using similar (in fact, nearly identical) images in his work. I am not speculating that Mr. Warhol traced this copy, as thousands of children would have had the book, but he clearly would have had access to another copy.

Have a look, consider it yourself...and contact the art historians!
Greg Allen on his blog has added some history on the book series and discusses the impact product advertising has on young minds.

The images were originally published a month ago on Dull Tool Dim Bulb, I am re-posting them along with a few additional scans. Just for the record, a Heinz Tomato Ketchup drawing by Warhol done in 1962 ( and quite similar to the very ketchup bottle shown in a tracing here from 1927) sold for over one million dollars at Christie's in 2009.

Big Chief Little Tourist Utah Snapshot



c. 1940 Snapshot Orderville, Utah at Fisher's Rancho Lodge. Collection Jim Linderman

Review of Gals Gams Garters The Virginia Stockings Scrapbook



John Foster reviews my book Gals Gams Garters at Accidental Mysteries, thus providing me another opportunity to post a photo of some legs.

"Cut from vintage men’s magazines of the 1950s, the anonymous collector used scissors and tape to arrange his private soft porn collection taped to the pages of a commercially bought scrapbook. Perhaps the creator’s wife found them and tossed them out, perhaps he passed away or maybe he found Jesus. Whatever the reason, they ended up in that dumpster and today are the subject of a new book called Gals Gams Garters by Victor Minx. Victor Minx is the pseudonym of Jim Linderman, a longtime collector...these pages are beautiful, almost randomly arranged clippings, where the yellowed tape becomes an integral part of the composition. Random colors from the magazine and the spaces between the clippings work together to build a solid page—one man’s private fantasy made public"

Book available at right.

Complete review HERE

Cleveland Torso Murder True Crime Ed's Head on a Plate



Cleveland Dick Dave Cowles shows the reconstruction mask bas relief of Mr. Edward Andrassy, a murder victim to be sure, but one of the lucky ones as he has his name. Most of the other victims are left only with names such as "Lady of the Lake", "Tattooed Man"
and a handful of regular old "John Doe" followed with a number. It is a trade off though--as Edward DOES have a name, when the killer was finished he did not have a penis...win some lose one Ed. The Cleveland Torso Murderer is credited with 12 hits. There MAY be as many as 40. Most of the victims lived in the shanty towns which turned up in Cleveland during the depression. Big Daddy Elliot Ness got involved in the case and couldn't solve the crime...but it did insure books, films and such would be produced. Some book titles? The Maniac in the Bushes, In the Wake of the Butcher, Butcher's Dozen, Torso (a recent graphic novel) and many more. Unusual to see Paper-Mache as grisly.

Original Press Photograph November 1939 Collection Jim Linderman

By the way...he was deaf in one ear.

Still is. Brian's abusive father slapped him so hard he went deaf in one ear. If you watch clips of the Beach Boys, or Brian Wilson in the studio, you'll see him tilt his head to compensate. He even speaks and sings out of one side of his face. Brian was once known as the "Dumb Angel" and has outlived both of his brothers.



The story of this song is complicated. This is the early rough outtake.

Til I Die Brother Publishing Co. BMI
by Brian Wilson

I'm a cork on the ocean
Floating over the raging sea
How deep is the ocean?
How deep is the ocean?
I lost my way
Hey hey hey

I'm a rock in a landslide
Rolling over the mountainside
How deep is the valley?
How deep is the valley?
It kills my soul
Hey hey hey

I'm a leaf on a windy day
Pretty soon I'll be blown away
How long will the wind blow?
How long will the wind blow?

Dip do do do
Do do do do
Do do

Until I die
Until I die
These things I'll be until I die
These things I'll be until I die
These things I'll be until I die
These things I'll be until I die
These things I'll be until I die
These things I'll be until I die

Drink Dream Dull Tool Dim Bulb


Dream Orange Soda Everyone's...Anytime. Ingredients on crown. Contents 6 1/2 FL. OZ. Property of Standard Bottling Co. Alliance, Nebr. Collection Jim Linderman

My Loving Parents, Hank, Luke the Drifter and New Years Day


Some of you may know, of all things, that I was nominated for a Grammy this year along with Co-producer Lance Ledbetter of Dust-to-Digital for the project "Take Me to the Water." This is a personal post, and one which I hope to avoid boasting or gloating.

I don't remember when New Years Day began to mean the day Hank Williams died to me, but I do remember writing a poem about it way back in High School. You see, I was born the same year Hank died on New Years day. He was riding in the back seat of a car being driven to a gig. I believe he was wearing his boots, or at least I like to think he was, and I've always imagined them crossed and propped up against the car door as he rested on his back and got some sleep. I think he was alive at midnight, but was gone with the light of the new year. The next year, Elvis made his first recordings. So as a baby I was able to share a life with both events, something I am proud of but which came about through no choice of my own. Pure dumb luck. How lucky am I to be able to say "the soundtrack of my life" began with Hank and Elvis?


I always favored Hank's "Luke the Drifter" songs best, the pseudonym he used for his gospel and religious material. I've said many times over the last 6 months, while talking about "Take Me to the Water," that artists perform harder when they are singing of their faith. I first realized this because of Hank's Luke the Drifter way back as a boy. He may have been the first Honky Tonker, but it was his Sunday morning material which moved me the most. I also believe it was an outlet he felt necessary to save his own soul.


Today as I helped move both of my parents to safer, more assisted living, I took some time to think about Hank, as I always do, but this year it was a deeper, more grateful appreciation. It was how fortunate I have been to share New Years with his soul...because my beautiful pair of loving parents somehow timed my arrival to be able to say it...and that on this very day I am able to still feel his presence even as I accept the difficult and taxing fact that my folks are waning profoundly this holiday.
That it came in the same year as a nomination I never thought I would be able to receive has made this the most memorable New Years day ever.