Once again, I’m writing about my art stuff while being overwhelmed by what’s going on in this country. The first presidential debate (I’m terrified), the multi-prison strike in the south, the North Dakota Pipeline, the protests in Charlotte, and pretty much everything going on in Chicago. My art does talk about pertinent issues, I hope in an engaging and non-dogmatic way. I make video for social justice campaigns. I try to engage people in civil conversations about the challenges we currently face. Is it enough? Does it matter? It’s never enough. And it does matter. I never know if I’m doing this exactly right, but I will keep doing it.
Last week I went to Small Press Expo, a comics convention in Bethesda, Maryland. Bethesda is near Washington DC, so I was thinking a lot about the state of the country while roaming aisles full of independent pop fiction with pictures. Since I was there for the full weekend, I was able to attend several panel discussions featuring people whose work have had a profound affect on me and on my own work.
Panel discussions with creative people are sort of weird. It’s kind of like writing an artist statement: “here, please put into words that which you are compelled to make art about because it is impossible for you to put it into words.” And okay, in this case I don’t really care; because I am content to merely gaze upon the revered creators for a time, and to see that they are human. That’s what this was for me.
Joe Sacco is a pioneer of comics journalism, which seems like an absurd concept and it is, maybe. But it’s also a beautiful and intensely personal way to contemplate world events. I could go on about his work (I own most if not all of it), but you should really just look at it yourself.
It struck me how he talked about journalism (which he studied). In his book called Journalism, and also on the panel, he maintains that it is impossible to remain completely objective. He covers a lot of war zones, and conflict aftermath. He includes himself as a character in his stories. He shows how he interacts with those whom he interviews, how sometimes he acts as a message carrier between members of refugee families who are caught in different cities. Because he is human.
Hearing him speak on this panel, I was impressed by how composed and sweet he seems. A gentle soul who has seen a lot of shit. From where I was sitting I could not detect anything coming out of his mouth that was not genuine. SWOON.
The Hernandez Brothers have always had underground fame, but lately they’re enjoying a resurgence in popularity. They were pretty much the darlings of this event. Even though I’m a huge fan, I always forget which brother writes and draws which part of the story – Locas or Palomar – because I think of it as all one universe. I guess I’m not a very good FanGirl.
During this panel I learned (or was reminded) that Jaime, the guy on the left, draws and writes the Locas part of the story; and Gilbert, in the middle, writes and draws Palomar. Both parts are exquisite and profoundly perceptive, especially when it comes to the experience of women. I have always loved them for this.
Gilbert is the more talkative brother; in fact he dominated the panel. It was interesting, but a lot about comics biz stuff, which doesn’t really interest me although maybe it should. The few times Jaime spoke I related immediately: “I feel more like a writer who can draw, than an artist. I don’t enjoy doing commissioned illustrations, because if there isn’t a story behind them, they feel dead. I feel like I’m giving someone an incomplete work. Like I’m getting away with something.” EXACTLY.
I also discovered that the Hernandez Brothers are not yet published in Mexico. That seems absurd to me. I’m sure it has to do with money for translation (apparently neither of them speaks Spanish) and other publishing nonsense, but still. It gave me a bit of perspective.
I appreciated Joe, Jaime and Gilbert from afar. I did FanGirl the Hernandez Brothers at CAKE a couple years ago; it was dumb and awkward and I am not sure I see the point. Like I can’t see the point of an artist statement.
I will continue to buy these guys’ stuff, and hopefully one day I’ll be on a panel with them and then I’ll have drinks with them later and refuse to let them pay for anything. “Your money’s no good here, Sacco! Put away that wallet, Jaime! Barkeep – another round!” I’m sure that would be a fitting tribute.