Tom Devlin on D&Q, Highwater and more

I spoke with Tom Devlin, currently the Creative Director at Drawn and Quarterly, about the recent projects he's overseeing for the company, in particular Pippi Longstocking and the Moomins. I've spoken with Devlin over the years about our shared love for the work of Tove Jansson and the Moomins. I also spoke with Devlin about the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of Highwater Books where he published some great cartoonists – John Porcellino, Megan Kelso, Matt Madden, Brian Ralph and more. I also asked when we'll next see one of his comics.


Ahmed Alsoudani at the Wadsworth Atheneum

Ahmed Alsoudani/Matrix 165 at the Wadsworth Atheneum

Because September has been an odd month for me, due in part to a variety of factors including the shock of being back in the U.S. and adjusting the colder weather here, I’ve gotten behind on many things. One of them would have to be writing pieces that are for the blog and thus don’t have a deadline. The other week I attended the opening of a new show at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT of paintings by Ahmed Alsoudani, an American born in Baghdad in 1975.

The exhibition consists of a series of works by Alsoudani, all of which are untitled, which are acrylic and graphite on canvas works. By refusing to title the work, one is forced to make sense of the work on its own terms, which is always a challenge in confronting abstract work and the multimedia aspect of them only makes it a bigger challenge.

The show’s catalog includes an essay by Patricia Hickson, the Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art at the Wadsworth. She opens her essay with the sentence “A visual encounter with a painting by Ahmed Alsoudani feels more like a visceral confrontation with the aftermath of violence.” And while I do feel that the statement is very correct I feel that it does place a limitation on the works’ subjects. Further the biographical details, make it clear that this work is a confrontation with war and its aftermath and make a point of associating Alsoudani with war and violence, in particular the Middle East conflicts with which Americans are familiar.

I feel uncomfortable with this. First of all, I do hesitate to draw too many conclusions between biography and art. I think that it’s possible to view work through such a lens but I think that seeing in such terms is inherently limiting. Because while I do think that Alsoudani’s work is about violence and its aftermath, about war and destruction, looking at it through the lens of, this is work created by an Iraqi about war prejudices how the audience reads the canvases.

Alsoudani avoids titling his work to prevent people from seeing things in certain ways. To allow the work to be open to interpretation and to let people find their own way through the imagery and associations.

For example, I’m uncertain about the meaning of Alsoudani’s use of graphite in the canvases. The figures of systems which have been rebuilt into what could be described as monstrous and grotesque but could also be the face of survivors, the way that in the face of violence and loss we often try to rebuild our lives and our selves, not always successfully. That’s not to say that such figures or systems are not destructive forces but there is a sadness at the heart of them, broken and incomplete, still alive through force of will or simply the result of habit.

In this sense the use of graphite takes on two possible meanings, that it either represents an incomplete aspect or it shows us what has been lost. It may represent what we paper over, unable to replace or rebuild that part of ourselves or lives and the ways we try to make do. Or it could be the way that we unconsciously try to replicate our lives as they were before even though we can’t, even if we may not know why. They’re ghost limbs of our lives as they used to be and now whether we’re aware of it or not, they can never be like that again.

In this sense the grotesque can be seen as a testament to survival. Also I can’t help but think of the paintings as very contemporary. Not because of the style or approach, necessarily, but I can’t help but feel that the imagery could not have been possible a generation ago. Not because he’s using lots of modern technology or shorthand that a contemporary audience would understand, but because I can’t help but feel that these figures and these systems are representative in many respects of how we live today.

I really enjoyed Alsoudani’s work–and I think there are a few canvases that would make a great addition to the museum’s permanent collection–but I can’t help but feel that the presentation of his work by the Atheneum did him and the paintings a small disservice. The room that most of them are exhibited it has bare white walls and really does provide the right environment. The essay is interesting if you've already spent time with the paintings but if you read it before spending time sitting with the art, it just diminishes them. There’s so much in those canvases; I think the best of them would have been better off speaking for themselves.

Ghassan Zaqtan and Fady Joudah across America

The Palestinian writer Ghassan Zaqtan is finally coming to the United States. He was supposed to tour the country in the spring when his book, Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me and Other Poems was first published. Zaqtan will be touring with his translator, the poet Fady Joudah. The book, published by Yale University Press as part of their Margellos World Republic of Letters series, is fabulous and I'm looking forward to hearing them during their tour. 

And if the chance to meet and hear a great poet read isn't enough encouragement, the fact that Zaqtan had a hard time getting into this country in the first place–his spring book tour was cancelled because he wasn't granted a visa–should push to make a point of seeing him while you can.

The Final Cul de Sac that would have been

Richard Thompson writes about the final Cul de Sac comic, or at least what would have been the final strip.

And the syndicate is running the strip online from the beginning. If you haven't read them, or even if you have:


Movie Review: The Pirates! Band of Misfits

I'm a huge fan of Aardman Animations, the company behind the Wallace and Gromit films and the great underrated feature Chicken Run. The company's most recent film from directors Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt is "The Pirates! Band of Misfits." It's an awkward title but it's an entertaining film.

It's not a great film. It's one of those works where the individual elements of the film work well but they don't necessarily cohere into a satisfying whole. I think it would have likely worked better as a shorter film.

Some of the highlights: Charles Darwin (as voiced by David Tennant). Darwin's chimpanzee. Cameo appearances by Jane Austen and the Elephant Man. A dodo bird. A particularly entertaining take on Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton). A dirigible. Plus there are many pirates. Who doesn't like pirates? (besides, of course, ninjas, but we're not counting them as part of this rhetorical exercise).

Also, am I alone in noticing that Queen Victoria at one point enters the film riding a fat pony? Or do I just read too many Kate Beaton comics?

Not a perfect movie but a lot of fun.

A Small Endorsement

Apparently one of the glamorous new couples spotlighted at last night' Emmy Awards was Michael C. Hall and Morgan Macgregor. Hall is of course the Emmy Award winning star of Dexter. His significant other, Macgregor, is a book critic.

In the spirit (which is to say blatantly ripping off) Slate's Culture Gabfest Podcast, I would like to endorse dating book critics.

I'd also like to endorse possessing multiple tattoos and looking elegant.

I know. Self-serving. Still. Both excellent points, I think.


Happy Celebrate Bisexuality Day

I'll be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure how to celebrate such a holiday – admittedly a moot point since, after all, the day is over by now. Bisexuals have a rough time of it. A lot of people don't believe that bisexuality exists, which honestly I've never understood. So here's to the B in LGBT.


The End of Cul de Sac

Today is a sad day. It's the conclusion of one of the great comic strips, Cul de Sac. Richard Thompson has been suffering from Parkinson's disease and it's just become too much for him to handle. My love for the strip knows no bounds and my admiration for Thompson's skills as an artist and writer is immense.

All our thoughts and wishes are for your good health.

I certainly hope that someone notes the great devotion that many of us have for the strip and sees fit to publish in the coming years a hardcover slipcased volume collecting the entire run of the strip - similar to what we've seen happen with The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes.

Television This Week: September 23-30

Sunday September 23:

-Treme  -  10 pm at HBO. One of my favorite shows on television with one of the best casts on television. Not to mention the best music.

Monday September 24:

-How I Met Your Mother  -  8 pm on CBS. So Barney is marrying Robin a year from now and that’s where Ted meets the mother. Go.

-Mob Doctor  -  9 pm on Fox. An uneven first episode but let’s see what the second one is like.

-Revolution  -  10 pm on NBC. Let’s see if the second episode gives u a hint where the series is headed.

-Castle  -  10 pm on ABC. Like the actors, bored by the show. But they’re back for more in a new season.

-Hawaii 5-0  -  10 pm on CBS. For the life of me, I really don’t understand why this show is popular and keeps coming back.

Tuesday September 25:

-New Girl  -  8 pm on Fox. Looking forward to this.

-New Girl  -  9 pm on Fox. Wait. Two new episodes, not back to back on the same night. I’m going to forget this second episode, I know it.

-Go On  -  9 pm on NBC. I’ll likely end up watching this at 9 instead.

-The Mindy Project  -  9:30 pm on Fox. Had a lot of fun watching the pilot.Love Mindy Kaling and the show

-Vegas  -  10 pm on CBS. Nick Pileggi, the writer of work like Goodfellas and Casino tells the story of a rancher who became sheriff (played by Dennis Quaid) and the new man from Chicago (played by Michael Chiklis) who’s come to oversee casinos for the mob. With Carrie-Ann Moss and Jason O’Mara. The tale of a small desert community about to become, well, Vegas. Could be genius or disappointing.

Wednesday September 26:

-Animal Practice  -  8 pm on NBC. A good cast plus a monkey.

Thursday September 27:

-Last Resort  -  8 pm on ABC. Good pilot, though I’ll be honest, I’m not sure where this is going or how long they can sustain this premise.

-The Big Bang Theory  -  8 pm on CBS. Five bucks says they’ll make fun of nerds this season.

-Person of Interest  -  9 pm on CBS. The first season was uneven, but the actors were great and kept bringing me back. Hopefully this season they’ve seen what worked and what didn’t.

-Parks and Recreation  -  9:30 pm on NBC. Woo hoo!

-Scandal  -  10 pm on ABC. Okay I’ll admit that I watched the first season for Kerry Washington. Because it wasn’t that good a show. I’m not sure if my love for Ms. Washington is so strong that I can watch another season.

-Elementary  -  10 pm on CBS. A contemporary Sherlock Holmes? Hmm, I think I watched this show earlier this year. This one is set in New York with a Dr. Joan Watson (played by Lucy Liu). I’m intrigued.

-Louie  -  10 pm on FX. Season finale.

Friday September 28:

-Fringe  -  9 pm on Fox. Finally, the team is back and we begin the first of a thirteen episode final season set in 2036. I am so excited!

-Grimm  -  9 pm on NBC. New episodes. Finally.

Television This Week: September 16-22

This Week on TV

Sunday September 16:

-Wallander  -  9 pm on PBS (Or not, check local listings). Academy Award nominee Kenneth Branagh returns as the titular figure in a new series based on Henning Mankell’s detective. I’m a huge fan of Mankell and his books and I think that Branagh does a great job, but I’m not a big fan of the series. Mankell writes lengthy complex novels and editing them down to 90 minute movies means eliminating a lot of what makes them interesting.

-Leverage  -  Starting at 9 pm on TNT.  The Summer Season finale for the show is a two part season finale. Or it’s just two episodes being aired back to back. One of those. Still, two hours of Leverage.

-Boardwalk Empire  -  9 pm on HBO. The third season launches after last season ended by killing off a major character (I won’t spoil it).

-Weeds  -  10 pm on Showtime. Series Finale. If you weren’t aware the show was still on the air, you’re not alone. But this was a huge series once and even if it overstayed its welcome, well, isn’t that what happens to most shows. Still, it was a great show for a few seasons, Mary-Louise Parker showed what an incredible actress she is, and Nancy Botwin was a loveable often maddening character who you couldn’t help but love and want to smack upside the head (often in the same scene).

Monday September 17:

-Mob Doctor  -  9 pm on Fox. I love Jordana Spiro, William Forsythe and Zeljko Ivanek, so it should be worth watching at least one episode.

-Warehouse 13 and Alphas  -  Starting at 9 pm on SyFy. Based on how both shows ended last week, this week will rachet up the tension a notch as the ongoing stories kick into a slightly higher gear.

-Monday night football on ESPN. The Broncos playing the Falcons in Atlanta. We’re all wondering what Peyton’s capable of and what the Broncs will end up doing this season.

-Revolution  -  10 pm on NBC. A new series from Eric Kripke (the creator of Supernatural) with the help of producer J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk and director Jon Favreau.

Tuesday September 18:

-American Experience: Death and the Civil War  -  8 pm on PBS. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, PBS takes this look at the conflict based largely upon the book by Drew Gilpin Faust, which is one of the great books about the Civil War.

-Go On and New Normal  -  Starting at 9 pm on NBC.

-White Collar  -  9 pm on USA.  The show reaches its summer season finale and hopefully we’ll find out who Treat William’s character really is. Anyone want to take bets?

-Sons of Anarchy  -  10 pm on FX. New season, more mayhem.

Wednesday September 19:

-Revolution  -  10 pm on NBC. A rerun of the pilot episode for those who were watching ESPN or SyFy Monday night.

Thursday September 20:

-Saturday Night Live Election Special  -  8 pm on NBC. I’m not sure whether I should look forward to this or whether it will be a complete waste of time. Based on past SNL political humor, it’ll be either one or the other, and half an hour is just way too long.

-The Office & Parks and Recreation  -  Starting at 9 pm on NBC. Woo hoo!

-Louie  -  10:30 pm on FX. The third of a three part episode, which will hopefully feature another guest appearance by David Lynch.

-Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell  -  1 pm on FX. A great weekly series with topical political humor from a different perspective. Funny, pointed and not getting enough love.

Friday September 21:

-Grimm  -  9 pm on NBC. Can anyone tell me what the point of launching the new season of “Grimm” in August was if NBC is just going to rerun those episodes in September? Did they run out of summer programming at the last minute and needed something to fill the time slot? Was there a plan I’m not seeing?

-Haven  -  10 pm on SyFy. Season premiere of the show in which we’ll hopefully get a few more answers about the troubles.

-Strike Back  -  10 pm on Cinemax. If you get the channel and you’re not watching this action series, you’re missing out on a fun ride. I’m not going to claim it’s anything more than that but neither are the people making it.

Nicola Scott on the Sunday Conversation

I'm a big fan of artist Nicola Scott and had the chance to speak with her for the Sunday Conversation on Comic Book Resources. I asked whether people in Australia use the phrase "down under", and we spoke about real estate, renovation, Sydney and more.