L.A.-based indie comic book creators help Beyond Baroque break new ground
By Michael Aushenker
Long a home for poetry and performance art, Venice’s Beyond Baroque dabbles in a new medium on Sunday to welcome five creators operating in the same realm that spawned “Ghost World,” “American Splendor,” “Scott Pilgrim” and “Persepolis.”
Not the movies, but the independent comic books that inspired them.
“Going Graphic” wrangles original comic art from graphic novels (long-form comic books) by alternative cartoonists Jordan Crane, Tom Neely, Andy Ristaino, Ron Regé Jr. and Leland Myrick for display at Beyond Barqoue’s Mike Kelley Gallery through July 25.
“Comics has what movies used to have” — solid narrative, strong storylines — said “Going Graphic” curator Allen Rubinstein, an advocate of the art form via his website comicsjuice.com.
What Hollywood currently has is a golden age for Marvel and DC superheroes in the multiplexes. On paper, however, American comics have long evolved and expanded beyond capes to offer everything from Raymond Carver-style slice-of-life fiction to biographical comics.
“There are five graphic novels about Che Guevara alone,” Rubinstein said.
Among the cornerstone graphic novels Rubinstein credits with pushing the form forward in the last four decades: Will Eisner’s “A Contract With God” (considered by many to be the first contemporary graphic novel in 1978), Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-winning Holocaust memoir “Maus,” the deconstructionist superhero saga “Watchmen,” Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical account of her Iran Revolution-set childhood “Persepolis,” and Craig Thompson’s coming-of-age confessional “Blankets.”
The most well-known artist among the “Going Graphic” group is “The Last Lonely Saturday” author Crane, 39, while Regé’s mini-comics have been published by various hip alt-comics imprints and in McSweeney’s.
Pasadena’s Leland Myrick, currently collaborating on a graphic novel about scientist Stephen Hawking, works primarily in nonfiction.
Neely, 38, is an experimental cartoonist best known for his “Henry and Glenn Forever” collections — jokey self-contained cartoons exploring an angst-ridden, what-if romantic relationship between punk rockers Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig.
Neely’s “Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever” collection is due for publication this summer, and his exploration of the “ape-man, biker-gang, exploitation genre” in “The Humans” (with writing partner Keenan Marshall Keller) comes out next month. At Beyond Baroque, he displays pages from “The Blot,” “The Wolf,” “Brilliantly Ham-fisted,” “Your Disease Spread Quick” and, he added, “even some of my Popeye comics.”
Whatever the label — indie, alternative, art comics — there is more acceptance of this work as an artistic medium than ever before, Neely said.
“Right now, I think the awareness and respect for comics among the general public is at an all-time high. I’ve been self-publishing comics since 1999 and I’ve seen the ups and downs of the industry along the way,” Neely said. “There are new comic art festivals and conventions popping up everywhere around the country. And many of those shows have completely different artists, different kinds of comics and different audiences. And then there’s webcomics.”
Ristaino, 39 and a Mount Washington resident, displays seven pages in the show: five from a back-up story for the popular Image comic “Prophet” (#29) and two from his upcoming 2015 graphic novel “The Tunnel,” described by its creator as a horror tale doubling as relationships metaphor.
By day, Ristaino is an animator who has done character design and storyboarding for the idiosyncratic “Adventure Time,” now in its sixth season.
“It’s hard to do indie comics and make money. You have to be really good and really lucky,” Ristaino said.
While he enjoys working on the Cartoon Network series, Ristaino finds counterbalance in creating comics when “Adventure Time” enters hiatus.
“Part of it is for me to branch into a different type of storytelling,” said Ristaino, who recently delved into darker, more dramatic work.
Rubinstein got the idea to approach Beyond Baroque Director Richard Modiano after Rubinstein’s girlfriend, Tresha Haefner, taught a children’s poetry class at the literary center.
An exhibit pooling indie cartoonists may seem like a natural for this institution—long a bastion for counterculture self-expression — but Modiano said “Going Graphic’ is the first time Beyond Baroque is showcasing cartoonists.
“It seemed to me about time for us to recognize these artists who’ve enriched American letters by marrying the image and the word with the creation of a new genre,” Modiano said.
Neely welcomes the opportunity to exhibit outside of Comic-Con circles.
“I no longer feel a need for comics to be taken ‘seriously’ by a niche of elitists,” Neely said. “I just want people to enjoy comics as much as they do music and movies and TV.”
“Going Graphic” begins with an opening reception for the artists at 3 p.m. Sunday and continues through July 25 at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice. Admission is free; donations accepted. Call (310) 822-3006 or visit beyondbaroque.com.