Announcing Brain Frame 12!
An extraordinary feat of engineering. A plane. A bridge. A tower. A tightrope; its walker. A survey; its proctor. A suture; your doctor. An event: the twelfth in a series of performative comix readings.
Join us in another new location (Bridgeport) for the next session of BRAIN FRAME, the show that proves over and over that you can not anticipate how some comic books might be interpreted. Extraordinary engineering feats this episode include: shadow puppets, sanitary napkin disposal bags, a breakdance crew,an eating disorder, some drums and possibly bass. With:
Eamon Espey and Lisa Krause
Anne Elizabeth Moore
As well as live synthscapes by Tyson Torsentenson.
Refreshments will be available including gf/vegan goods from local bakery D’ology.
Saturday, May 18th, doors at 8pm, $7
I designed this poster with Clay Hickson and printed it with Andrew Ghrist. Clay and I (who grew up in the same small town in northern California but didn't meet until both moving to Chicago for the same school, pretty neat huh) sat down and sketched the body of the plane together, then I inked it and drew the people, then Clay drew the squiggles and did all the airbrushing, then I finished the text. Clay has a ton of really beautiful airbrush and wiggle work over at his website, you should really check it out.
The simplicity of this poster was a big relief after the insanity of the last one. Printing was a bit tricky, mostly mixing the colors, but they came out well.
I've been putting out the Brain Frame newsletter for five months, now, and they're getting pretty fancy. This latest effort even matches the poster colors to the email borders, check it out.
These are my first panels for the Infinite Corpse. I was assigned to follow Art Spiegelman. I colored it with watercolor pencils. Here's what our panels look like in combination, on the website:
After my submission, you can follow the story either with a strip by John Porcellino or a strip by August Lipp. In the future, there may be more options. That's because the Infinite Corpse is just that - infinite.
This is a project that Trubble Club (mostly Aaron Renier and Nate Beaty) have been working on for a full year. It's a chain comic that never ends, branches off in innumerable dimensions, and currently features the work of over 200 artists, growing daily. Anyone can contribute their follow-up to a random three-panel segment. Submissions are reviewed by a panel of Trubble Club members, but most of them get in, so go ahead! In the beginning, when Aaron was gathering the original strips that make up the framework of the Infinite Corpse, it was in true exquisite corpse fashion. I wasn't able to see any panels except the ones I was following. Now, with the catacombs online, artists will be able to build longer story arcs and reference other parts of the narrative (if they want).
I am flabbergasted by the seamless genius of the Infinite Corpse. I can hardly believe I have such innovative and talented friends. Please, spread the word and contribute.
In between two jobs, running Brain Frame, a few commissions, attending all the coolest Chicago events, making 'boner' puns, and occasionally relaxing, I've been working hard on my autobiographic book Recent Days. It's been in the works for two years. I'm on a tear, now. Here's an amusing update.
Tyson's solo project, Night Terror, has finally released an album. I had a dream that it was called Night Terrors. I told Tyson and then he named it Night Terrors. It is available for $8 from Living Tapes, a label based in Los Angeles, and it's really good. You can also listen to the whole thing and buy a digital copy here.
I designed this new logo, and adapted it for the various merchandise seen below. Please buy the tape, or, if you're in Pittsburgh, New York City, Baltimore, or Chicago, come to one of the following shows on our upcoming mini-tour. I'll be doing scary slide projections and operating a fog machine. Click here for more detailed information.
+ 04-18 Pittsburgh at Brillobox w/ Majeure (mbr. Zombi)
+ 04-22 Brooklyn at Death By Audio w/ Alan Watts; The Flag; Trabajo
+ 04-23 Baltimore at Golden West w/ Cross; Vlonde
+ 04-26 Chicago at Lake Paradise w/ Bitchin' Bajas; Quicksails
The pin is 1/2" on each side, and printed on silver paper. Here's the original tape cover design.
You awake one morning from uneasy dreams to find yourself transformed in your bed into a giant insect. What has happened to me? you think. That evening, the hive mind calls you to a new location. Six of your brethren take the stage to enact their own creative transformations. One artist reads from a giant pad of paper, ripping each page as the story unfolds. Another draws a love interest with a skin disease, his artistry projected on a screen above him. A woman wears a coat; a man wears a thong; a trumpeter blares staccato notes in an unknown key. BRAIN FRAME, you hear yourself intone. Expanded comics. Expanded minds.
As well as live synth soundscapes by Tyson Torstenson.
IMPORTANT: Brain Frame has moved to a new location! This show will be at Heavy Gel, a new artists studio and resource center. Located on Lake Street around the corner from Western, it's a short walk from the Damen or California Green Line stops, or the Western or Damen bus lines. Street parking abounds.
Local bakery D-ology will be selling vegan, gluten-free, and non-considerate cookies, and BF alumni susan sarandon will be selling Brain Frame's first t-shirts. View the design here.
SATURDAY, MARCH 23RD, 8PM
2335 W LAKE ST, $7
Aaron Renier and I designed this poster. You can view a larger version here. It's a hospital noir murder mystery. It begins in the upper left, where the 'Sapphic Slasher' breaks free, killing all her doctors. We can tell from the television in the nurse's lounge on the upper right that she was scheduled to receive a lobotomy. She ties up a nurse, stripping her and taking her clothes, then wanders into the cafeteria where she wreaks havoc, weilding a ketchup bottle like a prosthetic phallus, squirting ketchup all over the tables and floor. After that, she walks past the vending machine into her room, applies lipstick, then finds the Top Doc and, with a little wine and persuasion, leaves the woman naked and sated, smoking a cigarette on her desk. Next, she walks out into the lounge, scrawls names all over the window, and exits the building, escaping in Top Doc's red car.
All of this information and more is visible through careful inspection of this perspective-defying, bird's eye blueprint, Family Circus footstep method, insane print. Aaron and I developed the story and layout together, then he drew all the people and stuff, then I drew all the blood and shadows, composited and colored this poster. Then, last night, Andrew Ghrist and I printed it. If you come to the show, you can buy a copy for the one-time-only price of ten dollars.
I've opened an online shop. You can check it out here. Currently, merchandise includes heavy hitters like Compiled and Dock Ellis, and then a lot of posters including Go Down, Mr. Square, and Motion Sickness prints. More to come soon, including beautiful Risograph prints of Banana Glove Game.
But wait! There's more! All of the Brain Frame screen prints are ON SALE until this Saturday! Half-size posters are $15, full size $20, and the newest print, seen above, is only $10. This is not a joke. These are totally insane, totally limited edition, totally high quality prints that should be sold for at least $65 if there were any standards at all where art meets commerce. But hey, I'm broke too. Get them while the getting's good.
The game goes like this: a referee throws you a banana from a fixed distance. If you catch it, you have to eat it, and then put on a pair of gloves. For every banana you catch and eat, another pair of gloves. Thus: it not only becomes more difficult to catch and peel the fruit, but to stomach each additional banana.
This game was invented as an insignificant joke over four years ago, but its mechanics were so ridiculous that it stuck with me. At one point, I envisioned a Super 8 film about a transgender friend of mine traveling through an interdimensional portal to arrive at a gaggle of octogenarians picnicking in an inner city oasis (I envisioned the empty lots between Paulina and Wolcott, between 13th and 14th streets - former housing projects, I've been told, now vacant grassy areas littered with copses, teeming with lightning bugs in the young summer, surrounded on all sides by rows of abandoned parking meters) while one man in his late 30's tossed bananas to children in the background. Later, I reimagined the game as a comic strip, drawing three quarters of one page before abandoning it.
The banana glove game would occasionally reoccur to me, always making me laugh, never attractive enough to actually materialize. Then, Joe Tallarico sent out a call for short, experimental comics to be published in the upcoming, all-comics issue of Lumpen (he also interviewed me about Brain Frame for this issue). Lacking a better idea, I decided to finally lay Banana Glove Game to rest, as it were. I revisited my truncated attempt and sketched the characters again.
As with every comic I make, now, I knew I would be reading BGG at Brain Frame. So, my focus in the creation of the comic needed to synchronize with my idea for its performance. Anyone who knows me, or knows my art, is aware of my obsession with color separation. It's my favorite way to break apart the structure of an image, regardless of the medium used in its creation, and the resulting product is always beautiful and self-evident, primary parts laid bare. So, what better focal point than color separation for BGG?
I knew that Lumpen would be printed on newsprint, and because Joe offered the possibility of full bleeds, I knew it would have full bleeds. (Never pass up an opportunity for full bleed.) I also know that standard color printing is CMYK. Carl Baratta once told me, in the only college-level painting course I ever took, that using black paint is a cop-out. A rich black, one that makes sense given the surrounding colors, will be created from the sum and opposite of those colors. In this sense, true black pigment can only be used in surrealistic images. While this is clearly a subjective opinion, it's one I admire, perhaps because it demands more work from its believer. So, in choosing the colors for BGG, I opted for C, M, and Y, sans K. This, I felt, would yield the purest, most pleasurable newsprint viewing experience.
I often exclude black from my palette, but it was particularly important in this instance due to the method by which I planned to project the comic. I wanted to use analog slide projectors, each assigned to a color, to project simultaneously, combining on screen to form the complete panels. But first, I had to draw the comic.
I knew from my ancient sketch that I wanted the sister and brother character to look almost identical. I also wanted to remove any evidence of location from the comic - no perspective, no background information, minimal clues as to where the characters are standing in relation to one another. So, I formatted the pages as almost identical grids, with a few larger panels. I used my circle template to draw perfect circles in the exact middle of every panel featuring the brother or sister, raising the circle by 1/8" in each panel where the boy catches a banana (he's jumping). For the other heads, I cut templates of my own so as to mimic exactly the characters' head shapes - this was especially important considering none of the other characters are fixed centrally in the panel like the brother and sister.
Not only had I restricted myself solely to the use of cyan, magenta, and yellow, I'd also decided that I must use those colors in full, or not at all. No gradients, no intermediate shades, unless they were the combination of two full coats of color. By this rule, I now had at my disposal: cyan, magenta, yellow; purple, orange, green. Because I was also forsaking panel borders, I needed background colors for each character to demarcate the panels' boundaries.
I chose cyan for Walter, since he needed to appear in the most natural setting, and I could add yellow to indicate grass. This left magenta and yellow; I gave yellow to the twins, since yellow is easier to look at and they have the most panels. The referee got magenta, which worked out for his sense of flushed flamboyancy.
I tried, at first, to work out in my head the color scheme for each character's clothing, hair, and props, but it was too difficult to tell what would be successful without viewing the options. I knew concretely, however, the way I wanted the colors to sit. I would keep the linework, coloring it in opposition to the character's background, and underneath those tight lines my color fields would be loose and sloppy. I wanted it to be obvious, for example, when I was overlaying magenta to turn the yellow red-orange. So instead of making transparencies for each color layer, as I would normally, I made transparencies for each type of field: flesh, clothing, and objects.
I also drew a transparency to designate the panel borders. This step would have been relatively easy to do on the computer, but I preferred to do it by hand, minimizing my hours spent staring at the screen. Besides, drawing by hand guarantees just the degree of geometric imprecision necessary to achieve perfection, IMHO. That's four transparencies per page: 12 sheets of tracing paper in all.
After scanning all of these pages into Photoshop and lining them up with one another, cleaning up specks, and filling in my various masks (the shapes you see outlined on the pages shown above), I was ready to test out different clothing/flesh/object color schemes. Here's what my final layering system looks like, next to the completed page:
Before I filled in the colors, the document was just a series of image masks in layers. Like this:
See how the masks don't quite meet at the edges, or sometimes overlap? Like where the referee's glasses don't quite touch his face? That's so I get these beautiful misaligned overlays once the masks are assigned to colors:
When I was filling in everything with 100% hues, I ran into another problem. Not only was the image kind of garish, but I used up all my available tones in coloring the character, and had no color left over to distinguish the linework. So I separated them: I set all of the fill-in hues at 65% opacity, and created separate layers at 100% opacity for the linework and other items I wanted to highlight (mostly the bananas). Here's all the 100% layers, and all the 65% layers, isolated:
To make the banana pattern that gives the page its full bleed, and which I have also made available as computer desktop wallpaper, first I drew out a banana pattern in a gridded sketchbook, then scanned it and isolated the lines.
I copied and pasted, with small, periodic adjustments to randomize the grid, expanding the pattern, then made a second layer, a mask of the positive space of the bananas. Bringing the pattern into the gutters of the finished page, I attributed the banana pattern linework and masking to the 100% cyan layer and the 65% yellow layer, respectively.
Structuring the color layers as well as the mask layers this way was absolutely necessary for producing from them full-color jpegs for industrial offset printing, greyscale plates for risograph printing, and three color slides for every panel.
The slides were hard. I found it was cheaper to buy film and shoot my own slides than have them made digitally. BGG contains 94 panels, so I needed just under 300 slides. I borrowed a camera and tripod from Nate Beaty and shot a practice roll, trying different combinations of black lines, white lines, adjustments in color, etc. I was worried about the yellow and cyan combining to make green. The primary colors of light are RGB - green being a primary color, no other colors combine to make it.
I also learned that instead of negative white space, I needed negative black space. Finished with the test, I shot three and a half rolls of film in which I forgot that, despite the negative space adjustment, I still needed some white in the panels: the children's shirts, the whites of eyes, the gloves, etc. I bought three more rolls of film and reshot from the beginning. I added the white areas to the line layer in each panel (either the cyan or magenta layer), and, those areas on the yellow slides that were intended to combine with the cyan light, I preemptively turned green, to get around the difficulty of mixing green on screen. Everything worked out.
When dealing with pigment, layering multiple colors on top of one another yields a darker composite shade. Dealing with light, the combination of colors yields a similar hue, but one that's brighter than its parts. So, when Banana Glove Game debuted as a multiple slide projection, the colors on display were more ethereal and varied than in the printed version, and lent the presentation a hallucinogenic quality.
Whatever hypnosis BGG exercised over the audience was enhanced by the rhythm of the projectors and the incredible sound design developed by myself and Tyson Torstensen, which Tyson played live at the show. We prerecorded me saying all the lines in the comic, then altered each character's voice slightly to give them different pitches. Tyson added compression, delay, and noise to the tracks. For the performance, we miked the slide projectors and Tyson played glacial, unnerving synthesizer background music over infinite loops of gentle breeze and summer bird sounds, steeping everything in reverb and breaking into ragtime harmonium music when I started flashing the tiki-letter credits. I advanced each slide projector in turn, with a steady 'chunka-chunka-chunka' rhythm.
The instant after the first and before the last projectors had been advanced was an effect I anticipated long before completing the comic and a huge inspiration in my decision-making process. In between each complete panel, the audience saw abstract amalgamations of the two transitioning images. Like this:
With many of the panels so similar to their neighbors, this effect was like a slow moving cross-dissolve animation punctuated by one of the most satisfying analog equipment sounds in existence, over and over and over. I needed two carousels for each projector in order to hold all the slides, so I timed that change over for the panel where Walter slips and falls. I had Grant Reynolds dress up in a fuzzy purple suit and run onstage to slip on a banana peel at that moment.
I'll be performing this comic again next month, on March 9th at Township, as part of the third afterparty for the Chicago Underground Film Festival. I'm planning on sprucing it up a bit with some gloved actors under black lights and a more acrobatic Walter performance. I was calmer presenting Banana Glove Game on stage than I have been debuting any other comic at Brain Frame, which is a testament both to my preparedness and the confidence I have in this piece.
I starred in a movie. My friends Jerzy Rose and Halle Butler wrote this movie, Jerzy directed it, and more of my friends, like Mike Lopez and Ted Tremper and Buki Bodunrin, also starred in it. The majority of the shooting took place last March. This trailer was only just finished, and I believe the film is waiting to show at some festivals, so if you'd like to see it in a theater near you, I'm sorry but I can't give you any more information - not yet, at least.
As you can see from this trailer, my character cries a lot and gets injured repeatedly. It was a lot of fun to shoot this movie, but I'd also like to take this opportunity to say that crying constantly in a film means you're actually crying constantly for days on end while they shoot multiple takes and set up for different camera angles. For a real cry, it's important to stay miserable and in the 'crying zone' even while you're not on camera. And, the longer you stay in the 'crying zone,' the deeper the wells of angst you must tap. I recommend starring in a movie as a crying character to anyone who is having trouble getting in touch with their dark side.
Last week, the 119th issue of Lumpen, the long-running counter-culture free quarterly, was released. It's Lumpen's first all-comics issue in over a decade, and a really stunning collection of work by almost 40 artists, most based in Chicago. The issue also includes an interview with me, by Joe Tallarico. You can click on the images above for a larger, legible version of this interview.
If you've got your calendar out, and you care to mark it with your special Lyra pencil, here are some dates of which to take note:
- TOMORROW, Friday February 1st, I will be reading Go Down as part of the woman-artists/woman-art event Hysteria! Visualizing Female Anxiety. The show includes installations, wall art, sculptures, and performance. Doors at 7:00pm, free admission. Pink champagne toast at 8:00. I perform at 9:00. Located at Temple Head Gallery (formerly known as Reversible Eye) at 1103 N. California Avenue.
- On February 28th the 20th annual Chicago Underground Film Festival's movie poster gallery show opens, which will include last year's CUFF poster as well as the Two Years At Sea poster. Extra prints of both will be on sale at the show.
- March 8th-9th is the Chicago Zine Fest. I'll be tabling with Thomas Comerford and his incredible son Henry.
- On March 9th, Township is hosting one of several CUFF afterparties. In a delightful bit of synchronicity, being as it is the final day of the Zine Fest, I'll be performing my comic Banana Glove Game to open the show.
- Brain Frame 11 is March 23rd.
- On April 12th, I'll be hosting a special-edition Brain Frame/CAKE fundraiser at Peanut Gallery, featuring comix readings from four artists, including Brain Frame alumi Andy Burkholder and an epic set from the incredible Paul Nudd, as well as a live auction. I gotta start practicing my tongue-twisters.
- On April 13th, I'll be reading Night City at the Hideout as part of a special evening put together by Pocket Guide to Hell, an ingenious and informative series of Chicago-based historical reenactments and happenings.
- April 21st is the second annual Brooklyn Zine Fest. I'll be traveling to NYC with Tyson, who will be playing a few Night Terror shows, in Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. I'm tabling at the fest and will be hosting the first ever Brooklyn Brain Frame, a celebration and afterparty for the Zine Fest as well as a seminal moment in Brain Frame history. I promise to reveal more about this rousing announcement soon.
Back in September, the first feature-length film by Ben Rivers began its first official tour of the United States. The single existing 35mm print, blown up from hand-processed, black and white, anamorphic 16mm film stock, even traveled through my booth at the Siskel. Two Years At Sea is an 88 minute avant-portrait of a grizzled man who lives alone in Scotland's wilderness. Part documentary, part meditation, it received rave reviews from a number of respectable publications.
Ben Rivers is one of my favorite filmmakers, and someone I've assisted with graphics before. Regardless, it came as a great surprise and honor when he hired me to make the poster for the U.S. release of Two Years At Sea. After negotiating a deal, he sent me a link to watch the film. I captured over 40 stills and proceeded to sketch the most compelling ones.
I drew some mock-ups of what pieces I thought might make an interesting poster, and we narrowed down the images through a series of email exchanges. I sketched our top choices again.
After some more back and forth, we agreed on the final layout of the poster, and the two screen print layers (white-silver and black, on grey paper). The poster would be 24 x 30 (the same size as the BF7 anniversary poster). I chose to draw it a bit smaller, on 14 x 17 paper, so that when the image was blown up my pen marks would be rougher and more obvious.
Okay, so the paper I drew it on wasn't exactly 14 x 17. More like 14 x 16, or something, which accounts for the finished print fitting on the paper more like the emulsion on a polaroid than an image in a proportional matte. And, using a smaller piece of paper lessened the amount of grass I had to draw, which ended up being awesome. Because drawing all of that grass sucked.
Experience it with me. Here's a video of me drawing grass.
Of course, I'll do anything to exorcise onto paper an image in my head. And once all of that texture was down, the feeling I was hoping for - of sweeping seas of dewey brush, waves like clouds, the rippled fabric of a dream background - all of that came together, ultimately uniting the surrounded subject(s). The grass, rendered from a film still, became abstract in its repetition, morphing freely, assisted by the upset in directionality. It was time to frost the tips.
This transparency bears the highlights. It's always funny to draw what will be white in black ink. Unlike a film negative, or a solarized image, the technique in this form retains a hideous goofiness.
Having completed the drawings, I scanned them, enlarged them, and printed them to some fine paper. I sent Ben Rivers' distribution company a run of 25 prints, and gave one to the box office at the Siskel, where it hung in the lobby for a week. My only regret at this point was my paper selection. When I came up with the idea for the ink color and paper scheme, I imagined a darker grey than was available in the size I needed. Luckily, Ben requested I print him a second run for his personal distribution, offering me the chance to buy slightly smaller, darker paper. The blue tint of this version lends additional nautical flavor. I'm very happy with it.