Monthly Archive for December, 2012

The Week

The week in review

On Christmas eve, 18-year old Joshua Davis was shot dead in the West Englewood section of Chicago. He was an aspiring rapper, going under the name Jayloud. He was killed in an altercation, allegedly because he was wearing a hoodie bearing the name of his close friend, the rapper Lil Jojo, himself shot to death in October. Another couple of statistics, I suppose, in a country suffering thousands of murders, the majority by guns, every year. Another couple of footnotes, I suppose, in the ongoing self-destruction wrought by poor inner city youth on themselves. But tragedy, first and last.

The only reason I know about these deaths is because of the hip hop connection. The power of hip hop, in large part, has always been the voice it gives to subaltern parts of the world, primarily the United States. This is its lifeblood and its discontent. In the present case, hip hop music played an integral part in the gang feud leading to the killings, and secured for it much broader exposure than other such — from a news perspective — sadly routine events tend to get. Hip hop can be a beautiful thing, it carries a promise of emancipation, but gnawing at its core is a despairing nihilism reflective of its brain trust. It’s enough to make you wanna holler.

RIP

  • The New York Times has a section up remembering notable people who died in the course of the year. I found this one on legendary graffiti writer Stay High 149 poignant, this one on Adam “MCA” Yauch incisive, and this radio clip with the great Maurice Sendak is very moving.
  • Keiji Nakazawa, creator of the blunt, shocking memoir of surviving Hiroshima, Hadashi no Gen (1973-1985, Barefoot Gen) also passed away this week. For those who read Danish, I wrote an obituary at Nummer9. Read a scanlation of his first work to engage the aftermath of the atom bomb, Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (‘Struck by Black Rain, 1972) here.
  • Last but not least, Marva Whitney, arguably the rawest vocalist to have worked with James Brown, died just before Christmas. He gruff, rousing voice lives on in legendary recording such as “Unwind Yourself” and “It’s My Thing.”
  • Cool Comics Documented


    So, Cool Comics — the exhibition I co-curated at Gammel Holtegaard (greater Copenhagen) — is over. For a show running just a month on a modest budget and with very little prep time, I was impressed with what they pulled off at the gallery and it seems it was a success, with a good number of visitors and lots of media coverage through its run.

    The director Mads Damsbo is really dedicated to showcasing the intersection between popular culture and high art and is planning to continue to do so in the coming years with new iterations of the Cool Comics idea. Color me excited that we have a gallery that devotes its energy simultaneously to such forms as comics, animation and digital media and to once popular, now enshrined high art such as the drawings of François Boucher — the object of a world class selection of drawings displayed beautifully at Gammel Holtegaard just prior to Cool Comics.

    Click on over to the Bunker’s photo page to experience our virtual walk-through of the exhibition courtesy of our ailing Canon Ixus camera. Enjoy, and keep an eye on future shows at Gammel Holtegaard!

    Merry Christmas

    El Greco, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1612-1614, Museo del Prado, Madrid

    The Week

    The week in review

    This holiday week, I thought I’d share a couple of insightful nuggets pertaining to particular corners of the hip hop and comics worlds that are dear to me. Little gifts of extemporal criticism, if you will. First up is cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert on the genius of André Franquin, creator of Gaston Lagaffe, from this interview on the former’s latest — great! — book L’Enfance d’Alan:

    I recently gave a talk on Franquin at a library seminar. I kind of went on a tirade to express my great appreciation I have for certain people, and especially him. This was a guy who, to me, lived his entire life, without filter. He endured perpetual and tremendous nervous stress because of his great sensitivity. Everything resonated with him: people, plants, animals, architecture… everything that surrounded him clearly affected him, haunted him, obsessed him… Naturally, this resulted in episodes of great melancholy, but this is how it had to be. When you have this human quality, which to me borders on the martyrological, there is inevitably an aspect of sacrifice. To capture the world, making the effort to do so when you’re possessed of a nervous temperament such as his, is restorative.

    Franquin’s nervousness is something singular. When you read Gaston Lagaffe or Spirou with an understanding of its aspect of frustration, of repetition, of the wear and tear of daily life (that one never succeeds in signing a contract, for example [a reference to a running gag in Gaston])… all this explains the grinding of teeth, the difficulties his characters have with fitting in… and at the centre of all this, it felt natural for Franquin to place the character Gaston, who — in contrast to himself — remained entirely unaffected. I think it would be worthwhile to write about all this. Perhaps I’ll do so one day, but it’s amazing how far it goes. And I think this explains the intensity of the passion some people have for comics.

    (The imperfect translation is mine). Next up is drummer and anchorman of the hip hop band The Roots, Questlove, ostensibly on Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s classic “It Takes Two”, from his enjoyable list of fifty favourite hip hop cuts from the beginnings to his own professional debut in 1995. What an occasion to talk about James Brown’s drummers?

    For all of the James Brown/Clyde Stubblefield “Funky Drummer” sample folklore talk out there, I rarely hear conversation about the James Brown drummer who actually got sampled more than my idol Clyde did. John “Jabo” Starks was the Beatles to Clyde’s Stones. A clean shuffle drummer to Clyde’s free-jazz left hand. Clyde fit more with Public Enemy’s pop-art-rock sporadic vision. Emphasis on everything surrounding the one beat, thus making other parts of your body shake in order to keep up with his rhythm – see “Mother Popcorn,” “It’s A New Day” and “Give It Up or Turn It Loose.” Jabo’s sparse, all-on-the-one funk was more at home with conservative soul lovers – see “Hot Pants,” “Escapism” and “The Payback” – which is why it makes total sense that Clyde’s panic style was the anchor to drum and bass music and other experimental styles, while Jabo was the anchor of the New Jack Swing movement. He was always reliably on the one and never, ever in the way. Jabo’s go-to magnum opus was on the five-break-filled JB-produced “Think (About It)” by Lyn Collins. James’ holy ghost yelp almost threatens to upstage Starks’ show, but it’s Starks’ steady glide that gave R&B music its blueprint some 15 years after its release.

    Apocalypse Now

    Not that I want to jump on the silly media bandwagon or anything, but this End of Days affords me the opportunity to post the video above, for seminal Danish hip hop group Malk de Koijn’s “Braget” (‘The Boom’), written and directed atmospherically by Tobias Gundorff Boesen, alumnus of The Animation Workshop in Viborg — the school which has just announced a new educational track for comics makers. From the Gilliamesque vistas of a Copenhagen apocalypse to the Tarkoskyesque finish, it shows a keen visual talent and a sure directorial hand.

    Happy Apocalypse. Next.

    The Week

    Never Just a Joke: Representations of Race in Scandinavia


    Over at Hooded Utilitarian, the latest installment of my very irregular column, DWYCK, focuses on recent media controversies in Sweden over representations of race: Stina Wirsén’s empoyment of pickaninny stereotyping for her childrens book and film character Lilla Hjärtat and Makote Aj Linde’s infamous cake installation at Moderna Museet in Stockholm earlier this year.

    The dicussion also touches upon the media kerfuffle a few months back over the projected removal of Hergé’s Tintin in the Congo to the adult section of the Kulturhuset library in the same city, as well as — inevitably — the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. It’s a complicated set of issues that have implications of cultural integration and free speech and I’d love to hear your opinion, so pop over there and have a look.

    The Week

    The week in review

    So, the Raphael drawing I mentioned back in September was sold at Sotheby’s London this week for a whopping £29.7 million, breaking even the astonishing record set by the previous Raphael drawing sold at auction, back in 2009. This is the highest sum ever paid at auction for a work on paper and the second-highest ever paid for an old master.

    The prices of art are a nebulous issue, and this is clearly an incredible sum, but we are dealing with a masterwork of the highest order by one of the greatest artists of the Western tradition. In other words: if a drawing had to fetch this price, it could be a worse one. As I wrote in September, this drawing, preparatory for one of his greatest and most iconic works, the late Transfiguration (finished 1520), shows the master at his peak for this type of highly rendered study. To me is clearly of higher quality than the Head of a Muse sold in 2009.

    There’s plenty of speculation online as to who bought it, with the famous Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich apparently being the main candidate. That Raphael should join Fernando Torres in Abramovich’s trophy room I find a little sad, especially considering that the drawing was previously available to the public at Chatsworth where it was part of the Devonshire collection. This is to great a treasure to have disappear from public view, but one can at least hope that whoever acquired it will be generous toward loan requests.

    I can only kick myself for not having been able to get down and see it when it was on display in the Late Raphael show in the Prado this summer. I saw the exhibition in its current incarnation at the Louvre the week before last, and there they had unfortunately not been able to retain the section devoted to the Transfiguration. It is still a fantastic show however, that I urge you to go and see.

  • Andrew Nosnitsky on Nas’ classic album Illmatic (which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year) and the forming of an hip hop album canon. Teaser: he regards Nas’ effort as a limited if brilliant one.
  • Very cool interview with visual futurist Syd Mead on his seminal work on Blade Runner.
  • Kailyn Kent on Bart Beaty’s new, exciting book Comics vs. Art, on the comics world and its uneasy relationship with that of fine arts, and on the great cartoonist Saul Steinberg’s equally uneasy positioning within same.
  • Oh, and Dave Brubeck RIP