Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Busting for Busker Week

Those who know me know that I've been working on a series of artistically challenging projects for comics publications.  What's been fun about my projects for this year is the diversity.  One story is an adaption of a dark Eastern European fairy tale; another is auto-biography about being a woman working at a shipyard and the last is a work of comics journalism set in Chicago.

One of the busker silhouettes
created by Noel Franklin
for Seattle Busker Week.

While I'm gearing up, now, to dive into a whole new slough of auto-biographical stories, I have something of an artistic palette cleanser happening in the form of a paid illustration gig for Seattle Busker Week.

If you don't know what a busker is, that's ok.  Lots of people don't.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a busker as:  a person who entertains in a public place for donation.  So, the person you see on the street corner playing their guitar with their case open for donations, that's a busker.  But buskers aren't limited musicians.  Just about anything people find entertaining can fall into the busking category.

We've got a lot of great jugglers, magicians, balloon-twisters, contortionists and other street artists here in Seattle.  Ever heard the song Spoonman by Soundgarden?  When he lived in Seattle, Artis the Spoonman became probably one of the most famous buskers in history.  However, it would have been illegal for Artis to perform in Seattle 40 years ago.  There were laws against performing in the streets without a permit.

I don't know the entire story YET, but I will know it, because I may be doing a comic about the history of busking in Seattle as part of the Seattle Busker Week program.  What I do know is that a guy named Jim Page serenaded the Seattle City Council while they were in session at Seattle City Hall with a song that persuaded them to drop the permit requirement for busking.

Since then, there has been an awesome renaissance of busking in Seattle, that has included the long-running Pike Market Busking Festival. THAT festival was started by Jim Hinde, who passed away in 2008.  Seattle Busker Week strives to honor where
Pike Market Busking Festival festival left off, and it's pretty exciting.
Photo of Jim Hinde
provided by Jim Page

I am going to be back to tell you SO MUCH MORE about Seattle Busker Week in about a month from now.  It runs from September 14th - 20th, launching with a 4-stage, parade and kids activity jubilee on the 14th at Pike Place Market.  Then it runs around the city to Benaroya Hall and Seattle's amazing Central library, with lots of "pop up" events in-between, and ends at the Experience Music Project on the the 20th.

The same Jim Page who sang for Seattle City Hall is one of the organizers, and a lot of attention is being paid to honoring tradition and being inclusive and adventurous.  I'll post more when details are finalized, and you can check their website in a little while as maps, schedules and other enticements are added. 

As for my part, I'm just drawing drawing drawing up a suite of materials for them, and thinking about the possibilities of a lil' comic history of this whole Seattle busker experience.  Until next week!

C-log posts on comics, publication and community every Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Chicago Picasso" Visits Serbia, Meets Aleksandar Zograf

Detail from "Chicago Picasso" by Noel Franklin
My story, "Chicago Picasso," will appear in an international anthology of comics dealing with sculpture this fall!  

The anthology, titled SKULPTURA?, is curated by one of Europe's most successful cartoonist and comics journalist, Aleksandar Zograf.  It is being created as part of the 16th edition of the Pančevo Biennial of Art.  The Biennial launches on September 20th, 2014 in Pančevo, Serbia.

What is a "Chicago Picasso?"


The Chicago Picasso -
50 Feet and 162 tons of fun.
"Chicago Picasso" is one of the names for the 50-foot  sculpture designed by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso that stands in the Chicago's Daley Square.  At nine time my height, it dominates the popular public meeting place with a rusted steel presence that is both figurative and abstract.  

Picasso never visited Chicago in his life and how the sculpture came to be there is what my comic is about.  I chose the sculpture for the anthology because I have a personal connection with the sculpture and I have a personal connection to poetry, and the Chicago Picasso was prompted by a poem.

The poetry element of this sculpture's history is often overlooked.  A consortium of architects began working on Daley Plaza (then called the Chicago Civic Center) in 1960.  A large statue was in the plans from the start, and the key architects from the firms collaborating on the project agreed they wanted it to be created by Picasso.
Detail from "Chicago Picasso" by Noel Franklin

Picasso, on the other hand, was 82 at the time, living on the French Riviera and had no internal motivation to be involved in Daley Plaza.  To begin to entice Picasso, Architect Richard "Dick" Bennett wrote him a poem in 1963.  The poem still lives on the Loebl Schlossman & Hackl website.  A 2nd poem was created to be performed at the unveiling of the finished sculpture by soon-to-be Illinois Poet Laureate, Gwendolyn Brooks, in 1967. 

I didn't know about either poems when I began  research for this story, but I was excited to learn of Gwendolyn Brooks' involvement.  I once secured a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to bring her to Seattle for the 2000 Seattle Poetry Festival for what was to be one of her last public performances.

Saša Rakezić
aka Aleksandar Zograf

What is an Aleksandar Zograf?

Aleksandar Zograf is the pen name of celebrated Serbian cartoonist and comics journalist, Saša Rakezić, who is curating SKULPTURA? for the Pančevo Biennial of Art.

He is a long-time creator of surrealist art, creating comics based on dreams. 
In the early 90's his life became affected by the Yugoslav Wars and he bore witness to the conflict through a series of (still surrealistic) comics journalism called "Regards from Serbia."  His combination of artistic talent and unflinching journalism earned him a post at Vreme--Serbia's Time Magazine--where he contributes two pages of comics journalism a week.

I think you would be fascinated to learn more about Aleksandar Zograf, and his website is a great place to start!

Saša has a long history with the City of Seattle through his relationship with Fantagraphics Books, who have published some of his titles.  I met him at Roq La Rue when he was in Seattle for an event there.  His demeanor was unassuming and his attitude was one of genuine friendliness and curiosity.  Even though I was told something of his experiences in Serbia, the gravity of it was lost on me at that time.

Draft SKULPTURA? cover art by Pat Moriarity.
This was over 10 years before I began making comics in earnest!  I was introduced as a poet and literary arts organizer.  So it is a great honor to work with Saša as a contributor to SKULPTURA?.  Apparently, there will be artists from Serbia, UK, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Portugal, Austria and Greece.   As it turns out, another Seattle comics artist, Pat Moriarity, is the cover artist for SKULPTURA?.  I can't wait to find out who else is part of the contingency.

When I asked him about the connection between comics and sculpture, Sasa sent me the essay he is using to introduce the anthology, which I will reprint below.  And I will publish "Chicago Picasso" here in the United States, sometime after
SKULPTURA? comes out in the fall.

C-log posts on comics, publication and community every Tuesday.

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Intro to Skulptura?

How are comics related to sculpture? 

Well, in this modern world you can say that there are no strict lines between different forms of art.  Actually, experimentation and crossovers are welcome. The old world of hardcore “specialists” is gone. So, it felt kinda natural to invite cartoonists to create comics which would express their musings on sculpture and sculpting (in the process, it was funny to learn how many cartoonists actually did or still do sculpture, aside from their regular comics assignments). 

That is how this project was made – we collected stories by comics creators from different countries, allowing different styles and approaches. The result is interesting and thought-provoking, and of course there was a joy of discovering that comics were included in Art Biennial, which is an important fine art event in the town of Pančevo, and Serbia. 

The first page in this book is an example of early comics made in Serbia, from as early as 19th Century, and certainly the premier example of comics commenting on  sculpture and its creators in these parts. The page was created by Jovan Pešić (1866 – 1936), and reprinted here from Zdravko Zupan’s book A Century of Serbian Comics (published by Pančevo’s Cultural Center, 2007). As Zupan stated, Pešić “started to study sculpture in Novi Sad, and continued his studies with the well-known sculptor Đorđe Jovanović, until they had a quarrel. Inspired by this, in 1897 Pešić created a silent story …which was published many years later, in 1969, in the Anthology of the Belgrade’s Museum of Applied Arts”. 

Anyway, the world of comics and the world of sculpture are intermingling, embracing and clashing a multitude of ways, and this anthology may be a good start to learn about these complex relations.

Saša Rakezić alias Aleksandar Zograf