R. Crumb and the larger Portland comix community by Mariel DeLacy
When I hear old music, its one of the few times I have a kind of looove
for humanity. You hear the best part of the soul of the common people. You know
Its their way of expressing their connection to eternity or whatever
you want to call it...
-Robert Crumb from Terry Zwigoffs documentary, Crumb.
R. Crumb's The Book of Genesis at the Portland Art Museum and places that sell comic books
Robert Crumbs fans may have said the same thing about his cartoons in
the 1960s and 1970s capturing the spirit of the times. Reverend
thrived off of Crumbs common people soul expressed through
his crude depictions of women, black people, or hippies that essentially evoked
societys unspoken sentiments towards American culture.
"He dared to speak what, in those years, was THE UNSPEAKABLE White mans
fear of black people, battling inside him with his innate 1960s sense that they
were as human as he, or more so was something that so self-evidently
needed to be said that we readers were stunned into a sense of just how painful,
and how necessary, telling the truth might be. Crumbs depictions of blacks
and women, his big-legs obsession notwithstanding, were understood by us (fellow
white male artists) for what they were far beyond racism and sexism,
and in fact, violent reactions against both, using irony and horror as stylistic
tools." - Ivan Stang, The Life and Times of Robert Crumb, p 48.
Crumbs style resonated with famous artists such as The Reverend Ivan
Stang, Wil Eisner, and Portland's own Matt Groening; just a few of artists many
who attribute their successful cartoon driven careers to Robert Crumbs
underground comix. To 1960s America, Crumb's gritty style represented
an artist who discarded the voluntarily conservative Comic
laws such as, All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed,
gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
His work was out of step with the industry's self-imposed censorship, paving
the way for a witty rebellion against mainstream society in cartoon form. It
was a counterculture revolution that was difficult to co-opt, even by Hollywood
(which has only recently become enamored with comix in a big way).
The tale of Lot in all of its gritty detail by R. Crumb
However, the Portland Art Museums gallery tour of R.
Crumbs The Book of Genesis
seemed to reveal a different world, one
more accepting and honored to house Crumb than the gritty world from which his
work emerged. Though it's likely that the lurid and earthy tales one finds in
Genesis are what attracted Crumb to the project in the first place. In a way
Crumb is finding his moral genesis by doing Genesis and the museum is interfacing
with this cosmopolitan outlook through Crumb..
Thus, Crumbs exhibit at the PAM spawned my curiosity about the modern
day comix world and its response to Robert Crumb, serving as a gateway towards
my growing knowledge about Portlands bustling comic book culture
aside from R. Crumb altogether.
During my tour of Portland's bustling comic book scene I was able to catch
up with three comic men - Kaebel Hashitani, co-curator at Sequential Art Gallery,
Matthew Clark, pencilor for DC comics and co-founder of Periscope studios, and
Jason Leivian, independent bookstore owner of Floating World Comics to ask them
all about their thoughts on Robert Crumbs exhibit.
Predictably, our discussions quickly deviated to a history of each mans
relationship to Portland and to the comic world in general rather than R. Crumb.
I became enamored by their modern day influences, by the factors that allow
them to thrive in the industry, and by those that influenced their entrance
into comics in the first place. And thus, their stories.
Kaebel Hashitani at Sequential Gallery (photo Jeff Jahn)
Their world is pedestrian friendly those that I spoke with all reside
or work in China Town. The intimacy of the environment adds to Portlands
comic charm and commonality. Yet, I sensed Portlands soul most vividly
through Kaebel Hashitanis gallery, Sequential
, mainly due to the fact that the gallery is dedicated to showcasing
local art. Hashitani originally came to Portland to jump-start his own penciling
career. However, he opened his Gallery in 2002 and has since dedicated his work
to promoting local comic artists by exhibiting their work at his gallery. Sequential
Art is the first of its kind in Portland, where the pen and paper world
as Hashitani referred to it, exit their original form as pages within a bound
book and stand freely as paintings would on a wall.
However, the gallery space doesnt make each page autonomous. Hashitani
and co-curator Merrick Monroe work with each artist to produce a gallery space
that welds the artists narrative with the walls of the gallery to create
one unified public presentation. They come to me and I just say, Okay!
Lets do it. In one case repainting the gallery doors to resemble
the art on the walls to make the experience more immersive. The Sequential Gallery
is where a lot of would be comic book artists make connections, find mentors
and get feedback from like minded peers.
Hashitani's accommodating attitude towards these artists has created a reciprocitous
relationship between himself and the Portland comic community as well as with
the artistic arena in general. According to Hashitani, if the artists
has a vision, Sequential is there to provide a skeletal void for them to fill.
Yet, when the artists need assistance, he and Merrick will help design a set
to follow the comics narrative.
Portland's now annual Zombie Walk
Once, in conjunction with a zombie art opening
at the gallery, Kaebel organized a unique Portland
now annual event in October, which tours the Pearl District
and China Town, essentially shadowing the typical art gallery crawl.
Kaebels gallery represents a non-traditional gallery space, different
from the PAM exhibit of Robert Crumb since it is a place where comic book artists
develop ideas and receive feedback at the street level. Although PAM didnt
integrate comic artists within the Portland world as Kaebel may have, he still
appreciated the Genesis being shown in the city. Kaebel's mission
caters to the comic book world. PAM is presenting a high level sample of that
world to a generally less initiated audience..
Ultimately PAM's R. Crumb exhibit prompted me to glimpse Kaebels world.
Matt Clark (photo Jeff Jahn)
Just above Sequential lies the Everett Station Lofts the homing zone
of the greater majority of Portlands comic people. Here I found Matthew
Portlands very own, high profile DC pencilor who makes
his living off of his renditions of Superman and Batman, among other characters.
Clark also co-founded Mercury Studios in Portland back in 2001, now commonly
known as Periscope Studios. As a fellow cartoonist, Clark enjoyed the PAM exhibits
depiction of R. Crumbs creation process of Genesis. I wanted to
see the production sketches, the model sheets, what kind of pencil did he use,
what kind of paper? that to me is more interesting than the finished
product. Also, "The Museum did get Joe Sacco to make a big public
appearance, he just doesn't do that even for the Cons."
Yet, Clark works for a large (and very mainstream) company based in New York
City, which, one would assume, keeps him out of touch with Portlands comic
scene. However, the geographical location of his loft is significant to this
NY connection in Portland. He lives amongst the greater majority of Portlands
comic artists. We chatted on the ESL communal terrace. He has showcased his
work at Sequential twice in the past, and Hashitani noted that Clark is scheduled
Furthermore, Clarks love for his profession strengthens his strenuous
lifestyle. When he was working at Mercury, he would take the first bus to the
studio, work all day, and take the last bus home. As the studio continually
expanded (and eventually became Periscope), Clark moved his office to home where
he still works.
His penciling takes discipline, dedication, and passion all of which
he channels into his renditions of his favorite childhood superheros for DC,
which fund his career. Matt Clark is inspiring to all those who wish to make
a living off of their childhood dreams. Portland has a surprisingly large number
of Professionals like Clark and according to him, Not to be morbid, but
if a bomb went off in Portland the comic book industry would not recover, at
least for a long time. With Dark Horse, several from DC, Joe Sacco and others
there is a real talent pool here. It's a nice thought really that we have carved
out lives like this in Portland.
Jason at Floating World Comics (photo Arthur Smid)
As I continued my walking tour of China Towns comic world, I discovered
Jason Leivian at Floating
. Leivian represents a melange of the mainstream and indie comic
men I interviewed. He started Floating World in 2006 to supplement Portlands
lack of comics shops housing both mainstream comics and independent zines. Aside
from the store, he also utilizes his space to showcase local and international
comic artists at his China Town location every First Thursday. He showed Polaroids
from a local Portland photographer at the July First Thursday this summer. On
the August 5th First Thursday, he brought in Canadian comics Brandon Graham
and Simon Roy as well as Brian Lee OMalleys Scott Pilgrim to Floating
Levian and I discussed Hollywoods recent fascination with comics
Christopher Nolans Dark Knight, Edgar Wrights Scott Pilgrim Verses
the World, Hellboy, Sin City, 300, etc., and its affect on readership
in his store. His consensus was that there really wasnt a large spike
in readership. I would estimate that any increase we saw died down along
with the hype of the movie.
This would suggest that Portlands scene retains genuine lovers of the
comic book. The industry just doesnt seem to attract or need fringe workers.
My interviews were all the more enjoyable because of that, for I felt the passion
behind each line of work. Passion seems to feed passion in this town, and I
doubt the rest of Portlands world deviates far from China Towns
standard for comic workers.
My only fear is that some of these artists would flee the city if our cost
of living increased. Clark and Hashitani both attributed Portlands low
COL as their number one reason for moving to the city in the first place. However,
if Portland, Oregons cheap digs provide us with the second largest collection
of comic book artists in the world then I hope our residential conditions remain
fixed at the status quo. They live near one another, they work near one another,
they integrate their work with each other, and they were all willing to share
their tight-knit world with an outsider such as myself. If R. Crumb finds the
soul from the common man out of old Jazz, I found a nice Portland soul from
my walk around Portlands Comicville in China Town.
Mariel DeLacy is PORT's 2010 Summer intern and is currently spending a semester in Europe.