“Pop! The Art of Comics”

Pop The Art of Comics Facebook event cover  - 1

I don’t always do a good job of documenting my gallery shows, but I was able to turn that around this week when I visited “Pop! The Art of Comics” at the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art. I made the trek to Tuscumbia, AL in the company of Mid-South Cartoonists Association president Kevin L. Williams, who made the connection that got member art included in the show in the first place.

The TVMA may be a small museum, but they pack a lot of art into the space! The exhibit opened with samples from their collection of ukiyo-e prints, where they did a good job of linking the techniques employed by studios making those woodblock prints with the typical process of comic book creation. The details in these prints by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) are very crisp, and the colors are exceptionally vibrant, even 150+ years after they were printed!


Next we moved into the Bobby Denton Wing, which was devoted to the art of MSCA members! Lots of good work, including my own original art to “Visiting the Moon Kitties” (1997), and a printed episode from my “Watusi in Oz” storyline (2019).


The member artwork looked good in the space, and I was particularly drawn towards those pieces which highlighted the process of creation, something that’s not always apparent in the craft of the final printed piece.

An equally large space was devoted to the work of the late Christopher Hanther (1946-2021), and his epic sci-fi/fantasy strip, “Tandra”. While I’m accustomed to seeing artwork larger than its printed size, I’d never seen work as large as those “Tandra” pages. Clearly influenced by the epic adventure strips of his childhood, working at that scale gave him plenty of room to indulge his love of detail and texture!

I was intrigued by these self-published issues of Critter, where Hanther first began publishing his epic “Tandra” adventure. He was encouraged to make the move to self-publish at the advice of editor Roy Thomas, a colleague during his brief stint as an artist at Marvel Comics. Printing his original work in the company of reprinted adventure strips from the 1940s that had entered the public domain was a clever way to present his work as part of that storytelling tradition.

The “Pop!” show included a third gallery of vintage comics, grouped and labeled in way that nicely paired trends in comics with trends in society at large. While there were attractive groupings of comics (some by character, some by artist, most by theme), I didn’t bother photographing anything in that room. Besides, when you get the itch to look at vintage comics, there are already comprehensive sites like the Grand Comics Database and “The Newstand” at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics where you can easily do just that…

I completed my tour of the TVMA by taking in a pair of solo shows: the plein air paintings of Stacie Thomas, and the landscape drawings & paintings of Yuri Ozaki. Both nicely presented, and I was particularly captivated by the attention to detail in Ozaki’s pieces, a far cry from the simplification I apply in my own work.

Before heading out of town, Kevin and I toured Helen Keller’s birthplace, right across the street from the TVMA. It’s just one of many area attractions, as it turns out; the Shoals Area has a lot to offer!

(In addition to not always documenting my gallery shows, I’m not one to go about photographing my meals. We did, however, lunch at Superhero Chefs in Tuscumbia, where I enjoyed a satisfying War Eagle burger, the best fries I’ve had in some time, and a peach lemonade. Well worth a stop if you’re passing thru the area!)

Beyond the Emerald City!

2022POTS-aLong-time Watusi readers will recall that my characters and I spent a great deal of time in the Land of Oz for an extended comic adventure. While I haven’t completed making the revisions to that online comic for its print edition, I do have an opportunity to showcase some of the work from that epic alongside other Oz-inspired artwork this fall at Playhouse on the Square!

Made up of a selection of comic pages from my story, along with other Oz-inspired artwork, my “Beyond the Emerald City” show will be on display from October 14-December 28, 2022, in conjunction with Playhouse’s staging of “The Wizard of Oz”. That fortuitous timing (pointed out to me by someone else, since I had totally missed the opportunity it presented) was just too good to pass up, even if it meant completing work for the show on a tighter schedule than I’d have liked. Pushing deadlines can work when it comes to publishing comics online, but my paintings need time to cure before varnishing! Still, it all came together, and has made for what I think is a really satisfying show.

When I decided to make a comic set in the Land of Oz all those years ago by bringing my talking dog Watusi & his friends into interaction with Oz characters & settings in the public domain, I didn’t realize just how much fun I’d have playing in that sandbox! While I was familiar with the movie, once I read the later books in the series I came to have a real fondness for its wide cast of characters and an appreciation of L. Frank Baum’s world-building skill. Plus, those books are darn fun to read, chock full of wordplay & puns, much of which is still clever and humorous over a century after they were first written! Rereading illustrated editions whenever possible, I especially appreciated the design sensibilities of original Oz artist W.W. Denslow, and found his work to be an inspiration for my own treatment of the characters. Much like Baum’s written descriptions of the cast, they were so well designed visually that there was no need to “update” them! If you ever get a chance to read a color reprint of the original Denslow-illustrated edition, with its whimsical character designs and luscious two-color spot illustrations and full-page plates, you’re in for a treat! The second Oz artist, John R. Neill, had a more refined illustration style that I didn’t connect with as easily as with Denslow’s cartoonier art, but his lanky characters certainly influenced my take on Jack Pumpkinhead…

Admittedly, this show– a fan art love letter to the novels– is more comfort food than a palate-expanding meal … but sometimes mac & cheese is just what one needs, isn’t it? My hope is that viewers will find the work in this show an intriguing first step into (or a happy reminder of) the wide, wondrous world of Oz beyond the Emerald City! Like in my treatment of familiar Oz characters and settings in my own story, I hope this show has enough “Ozzy” touches to bring joy to those already familiar with Baum’s novels and piques the curiosity of those who aren’t … yet!

If you’re in the area, you are invited to join me for an artist reception from 5-7 p.m. on the play’s opening night, November 11th, 2022.

[January 2023 UPDATE: included below is the landing page that ran on this website for the duration of the show.]

landing“Beyond the Emerald City” is an exhibition of my OZ-themed comics & artwork, on display Oct. 14-Dec. 28, 2022 at Playhouse on the Square, 66 South Cooper St., Memphis.

  • Please join me for an artist reception on Nov. 11, 5-7pm!
  • I’ll be sharing a popup shop with artist Martha Kelly on Dec. 10, 10am-1:30pm!
  • To read “Watusi in Oz”, start here. You can read the newest Watusi comic here.

On stage: “The Wizard of Oz” (Nov. 11 – Dec. 22) – get tickets here.

Other art on exhibit at Playhouse on the Square is by Priscilla Cunningham, Gerecho Delaney, Suzanne Evans, and Martha Kelly.

A meal fit for The King!

And not The King most people in Memphis think of, either … but the one and only Jack “King” Kirby!

2017 marks the centennial of Jack Kirby’s birth, and I’ve been working on projects to celebrate that anniversary. Some are coming along better than others, but one that is complete is my contribution to Crosstown Arts“Potluck” exhibition, on display during the grand opening of Crosstown Concourse.

This piece, which is a tribute to Kirby’s character and machinery designs (and his co-creation, Galactus), was a good challenge that stretched my creative muscles a little. It’s been quite a while since I worked in 3D, and in the process I used materials and tools that were new to me. I’m happy to say that it turned out pretty much how I envisioned it– if not better! Come see it (along with 80 other artist-created place settings) this Saturday!

And look for other upcoming Kirby-celebratory pieces from me, both online (like this) and in print…

Gallery-worthy comics

DimeBag2014When I saw the flyer for the Percolator Artspace‘s “Dime Bag Show”, a joint fundraiser for the gallery and Lawrence’s Social Service League, my interest was certainly piqued. The challenge: purchase a bag of thrift store items for $10, and make artwork out of it. Of course, I’m not the kind of artist who would make a “collage, assemblage, fabric, poem, video, a song or a dance” out of the items … but I am the kind of artist who can make comics inspired from them!

And thus Dime Bag Comics was born.

When the realization of the short timeline (about 5 weeks) sank in, I knew I couldn’t fill up a book with my own new stories in that time, so I asked if some of the other artists I know would be interested in taking on the challenge, too. Fortunately for me (and Dime Bag Comics readers), a number of them were, and the comic is so much better for the variety of styles they brought to the project. Dime Bag Comics features all-new short drawn stories by J.B. Winter, Tom Cherry, Greg Smallwood (soon to be of Moon Knight fame), Drew Boynton, Matt Levin, Keith O’Brien, and Dale. Signed and numbered limited edition (of 50) 28-page black & white standard comic w/hand-cut accent on the outer wrapper for $7.00.

Since it was initially produced for the gallery fundraiser, I’m giving them first crack at selling copies, after which I will make them available from other retail outlets and direct from the publisher. The “Dime Bag Show” opens Final Friday, June 27th.

[Feb 2020 UPDATE: You can now order a copy of Dime Bag Comics from my new Square store!]