The Story of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Rise in the 1980s Art World Gets Told in a New Graphic Novel

Jean-Michel Basquiat was keenly sensitive to the way the art market thought about him. He was compared to “a preacher possessed by the spirit,” his art, wrote critics, indicative of his “inner child.” This talk, writes Artnet's Bruce Gopnik, “could easily veer into ideas of the Noble Savage.” The artist thought so; he was disgusted by his portrayal as “a wild man running around,” he said. He wanted no part of the primitivist image forced upon him. Yet “to this day, he’s almost always billed as being more in touch with his emotions and the passions of urban life than with the orderly reasoning of post-Enlightenment culture.”

This itself is a false dichotomy—between expressionist and conceptual art, “urban” passions and reason—but if anyone gets caught in-between, it’s Basquiat. Gopnick leans, maybe too heavily, on the conceptual side of things, pushing comparisons between Jenny Holzer and Hans Haacke, downplaying Basquiat’s roots as a street artist and his connections to hip hop and new wave. Basquiat had his ear to the street—also an artifact of post-Enlightenment culture—and was hardly comfortable with the orderly reasoning of the massively profitable art market.

Whatever anyone wants to call his work, it makes no sense to separate it from its context: Basquiat’s Brooklyn home and Lower East Side stomping grounds, the downtown scene in which he came of age, his complicated relationships with Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Julian Schnabel, three of many figures who, along with Basquiat, created the huge 1980s art market and art gallery culture. A new graphic novel by Italian illustrator Paolo Parisi promises a new take on the now-well-worn biography of Basquiat. It's a story written and drawn by a fellow conceptual artist, albeit one whose work more fits the image.

With eye-popping primary and secondary tones—the comic book colors favored by Basquiat and his contemporaries—Parisi takes some license, imagining conversations that may or may not have occurred. “Basquiat comes off as a bit more naïve and far less conflicted than we now know him to be,” writes Eileen Kinsella at Artnet. The chapter excerpted there, “New Art/New Money,” (see a few pages above and below), has multiple perspectives. In a reconstructed dinner scene between art dealers Mary Boone and Larry Gagosian, Basquiat doesn’t even appear.

But the narrative also draws directly from Basquiat’s own words. One page is a facsimile of a handwritten note the artist made in April 1984. “I have money everywhere, everywhere. I’m paid exorbitant sums for a single piece,” he writes, not to boast but to marvel at the incredible amount of inflation he sees all around him:

A picture I sold to Debbie Harry for $200 only a couple of years ago is now worth $20,000. That’s the art market today. Working with gallery owners is exhausting.

                                                They always want

                                                            More

                                                            More

                                                            More

Later Parisi adapts the artist’s thoughts in a critical monologue: The gallerists “have this way of doing things I’ve never seen before. They focus a lot on the artist’s image, buy in bulk, decide who to promote and how. They often buy and sell among themselves, between galleries. They never respect agreements. I don’t think I’ll be able to trust them.” Basquiat’s frustration at “something rotten in this scene” made him consider giving up painting for good. He didn’t get the chance, though Parisi has him tell a girlfriend “Picasso died at ninety… I’m certainly not going before then.”

Parisi, who has also written and illustrated graphic biographies of Billie Holiday and John Coltrane, has an ear for American speech patterns and class and race dynamics, drawing out with more or less subtlety the associations between the art world’s fascination with “primitivist” art and the continuing resonances of slavery and colonialism in its hyper-capitalist economy. Was Basquiat a childlike character who only slowly realized the greedy machinations of the dealers?

In the 2010 documentary The Radiant Child, his former graffiti partner Al Diaz explains his motivations from the very beginning. “We wanted to do some kind of conceptual art project.” Basquiat aimed directly at the art world, writing messages on walls like “4 THE SO-CALLED AVANT-GARDE.” Once in its company, however, he found, like many other fiercely independent artists who make it big, it wasn’t worth the money. Read the fully excerpted chapter at Artnet and purchase Parisi's graphic novel Basquiat online.

via Artnet

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Freddie Mercury Reimagined as Comic Book Heroes

Pop culture thrives on superheroes, both fictional and real. This isn’t unique in human history. Read most any collection of ancient myth and literature and you’ll find the same. The demigods and chieftains beating their chests and talking trash in the Iliad, for example, remind me of macho professional wrestlers or characters in the Marvel and DC universes, cultural artifacts indebted in their various ways to classical legends. One thread runs through all of the epic tales of heroes and heroines: a seeming need to immortalize people who embody the qualities we most desire. Heroes may suffer for their tragic flaws, but that's the price they pay for universal acclaim or an iron throne.

The traits ascribed to late modernity’s fictional heroes haven’t changed overmuch from the distant past—power, wit, agility, persistence, anger issues, spicy, complicated love lives…. But when it comes to the real people we admire—the celebrities who get the superhero treatment—creativity, style, and musical talent top the list. Why not?

David Bowie’s larger-than-life personas surely deserve to live on, transmitted not only via his music but by way of his posthumous transformation into a series of pulp and comic heroes as imagined by screenwriter and designer Todd Alcott, who has given the same treatment to beloved musical characters like Prince and Bob Dylan.

Performing a similar service for Freddie Mercury, Brazilian artist Butcher Billy satisfies the cultural craving for demigods in his immortalization of Freddie Mercury as various heroes like The Hulk, Superman, and Shazam (or “Flash”); a contender for the Iron Throne; and himself: riding on Darth Vader’s shoulders, breaking free in housewife drag, and sporting Bowie’s Aladdin Sane lightning bolt. What are the superpowers of these super-Freddies? The usual smashing, punching, and flying, it seems, but also the essentials of his real-life power—an impossibly big personality, huge stage presence, personal magnetism, and a godlike force of a voice.

Add to these characteristics a unique talent for writing  lyrics punchier than your favorite Twitter feed, and we have the makings of a modern epic giant with abilities that seemed to surpass those of mere mortals, with the swagger and ego to match. This tribute to Mercury is unabashed hero worship, turning the singer into an archetype. In the simple, bold, colorful lines of comic cover art we might just see that there’s a Freddie Mercury in all of us, wanting to break free, pump a fist in the air, and belt out our biggest feelings in capital letters and giant exclamation marks.

See more "Planet Mercury Comics" below and at Butcher Billy's Behance site.

via Laughing Squid

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Andy Warhol and Tintin Creator Hergé Mutually Admired and Influenced One Another

Comic-book stories of a boy reporter and his dog (later accompanied by a foulmouthed sea captain) featuring rocketships and submarines, booby-traps and buried treasure, gangsters and abominable snowmen, smugglers and super-weapons, all told with bright colors, clear lines, and practically no girls in sight: no wonder The Adventures of Tintin at first looks tailor-made for rambunctious youngsters. But now, eighty years after Tintin's debut in the children's supplement of a Belgian Catholic newspaper, his ever-growing fan base surely includes more grown-ups than it does kids, and grown-ups prepared to regard his adventures as serious works of modern art at that.

The field of Tintin enthusiasts (in their most dedicated form, "Tintinologists") includes some of the best-known modern artists in history. Roy Lichtenstein, he of the zoomed-in comic-book aesthetic, once made Tintin his subject, and Tintin's creator Hergé, who cultivated a love for modern art from the 1960s onward, hung a suite of Lichtenstein prints in his office. As Andy Warhol once put it, "Hergé has influenced my work in the same way as Walt Disney. For me, Hergé was more than a comic strip artist." And for Hergé, Warhol seems to have been more than a fashionable American painter: in 1979, Hergé commissioned Warhol to paint his portrait, and Warhol came up with a series of four images in a style reminiscent of the one he'd used to paint Jackie Onassis and Marilyn Monroe.

Hergé and Warhol had first met in 1972, when Hergé paid a visit to Warhol's "Factory" in New York — the kind of setting in which one imagines the straight-laced, sixtysomething Belgian setting foot only with difficulty. But the two had more in common as artists than it may seem: both got their start in commercial illustration, and both soon found their careers defined by particular works that exploded into cultural phenomena. (Warhol may also have felt an affinity with Tintin in their shared recognizability by hairstyle alone.) The Independent's John Lichfield writes that Hergé, who had by that point learned to paint a few modern abstract pieces of his own, "asked Warhol, modestly, whether the father of Tintin should also consider himself a 'Pop Artist.' Warhol, although a great fan of Hergé, simply stared back at him and did not reply."

Warhol may not have known what to say forty years ago, but in that time Hergé has unquestionably ascended into the institutional pantheon of Western art: Lichfield's article is a review of a 2006 Hergé retrospective at the Pompidou Centre, and the years since have seen the opening of the Musée Hergé south of Brussels as well as increasingly elaborate exhibitions on Tintin and his creator all around the world. (I myself attended such an exhibition in Seoul, where I live, just last month.) The French artist Jean-Pierre Raynaud expresses a now-common kind of sentiment when he credits Hergé with "a precision of the kind I love in Mondrian" and "the artistic economy that you find in Matisse." Warhol, who probably wouldn't have phrased his appreciation in quite that way, makes a more tonally characteristic response in the clip above when Hergé tells him about Tintin's latter-day switch from his signature plus fours to jeans: "Oh, great!"

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Archive of Animations/Cartoons of Ancient Greece & Rome: From the 1920s Through Today

Ancient Greece and Rome have provided fertile hunting grounds for animated subject matter since the very inception of the form.

So what if the results wind up doing little more than frolic in the pastoral setting? Witness 1930’s Playful Pan, above, which can basically be summed up as Silly Symphony in a toga (with a cute bear cub who looks a lot like Mickey Mouse and some flame play that prefigures The Sorcerer’s Apprentice…)

Others are packed with history, mythic narrative, and period details, though be forewarned that not all are as visually appealing as Steve Simons’ Hoplites! Greeks at War, part of the Panoply Vase Animation Project.

Some series, such as the Asterix movies and Aesop and Sona staple of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show from 1959 to 1962have been the gateways through which many history lovers’ curiosity was first roused.

(Russian animator Anatoly Petrov’s erotic shorts for Soyuzmultfilm may rouse other, er, curiosities, and are definitely NSFW.)

And then there are instant classics like 2004’s It's All Greek to Scooby in which “Shaggy's purchase of a mysterious amulet only serves to cause a pestering archaeologist and centaur to chase him.”  (Ye gods…)

Senior Lecturer of Classical and Mediterranean Studies at Vanderbilt, Chiara Sulprizio, has collected all of these and more on her blog, Animated Antiquity.

Beginning with the 2-minute fragment that’s all we have left of Winsor McCay’s 1921 The Centaurs, Sulprizio shares some of her favorite cartoon representations of ancient Greece, Rome, and beyond. Her areas of professional specializationgender and sexuality, Greek comedy, and Roman satireare well suited to her chosen hobby, and her commentary doubles down on historical context to include the history of animation.

The appearance of cartoon stars like Daffy Duck, Tom and Jerry, and Popeye further demonstrates this antique subject matter’s sturdiness. TED-Ed and the BBC may view the genre as an excellent teaching tool, but there’s nothing stopping the animator from shoehorning some fabrications in amongst the buxom nymphs and buff gladiators.

(Raise your hand if your mother ever sacrificed you on the altar to Spinachia, goddess of spinach, in hopes that she might unleash a mushroom cloud of super-atomic power in your puny bicep.)

You’ll find a number of entries featuring the work of Japanese and Russian animators, including Thermae Romae, part of the juggernaut that’s sprung from Mari Yamazaki’s popular graphic novel series and Icarus and the Wise Men from the legendary Fyodor Khitruk, whose retelling of the myth sent a message about freedom from the Soviet Union, circa 1976.

Begin your decade-by-decade explorations of Chiara Sulprizio’s animated antiquities here or suggest that a missing favorite be added to the collection. (We vote for this one!)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this April. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Moebius Draws Adventurous Ads for Maxwell House Coffee (1989)

What do you do after you’ve helped create one of the “first anti-heroes in Western comics”; pioneered the underground comics industry and heavy metal album covers; won the enduring admiration of Federico Fellini, Stan Lee, and Hayao Miyazaki; and brought your distinctive creative style to the look of sci-fi classics like Blade RunnerAlien, Tron, and The Abyss?

Sit back, have a coffee, and design a series of ads for Maxwell House. Why not? You’re Moebius. You can draw whatever you want. No one’s going to accuse Alejandro Jodorowsky’s partner in the legendary never-made Dune film and The Incal comics of selling out—not when contemporary comic art, science fiction, and fantasy could hardly have existed without him.

“Probably the most important fantasy comic artist of all time,” as Art Futura dubs him, the man originally known by his birth name Jean Giraud began his career as an illustrator for the youth press Fleurus, who were the first in France to publish fellow bande dessinées artist Herge’s Adventures of Tintin. The Maxwell House ads here, drawn in 1989, recall those early days of Franco-Belgian comic art, when adventurers raced around the colonies, braving wild animals and surly natives.

Moebius’ confident hand leaves a signature in the dense patterns of the foliage and slender jawline of the elegant, coffee-sipping damsel, who does not seem remotely in distress, downed plane and curious gorillas notwithstanding. But the settings are just as reminiscent of Tintin’s juvenile conceptions of the Amazon and "darkest Africa," though Moebius leaves out the swashbucklers and ugly native caricatures.

Giraud’s own travels took him through Mexico—where he joined his mother as a teenager and saw for the first time the magnificent Western landscapes he had always dreamed of—and through Algeria, where he worked as an illustrator for the French army magazine while finishing his military service. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he portrayed non-European nations and people with sympathy and respect.

Though he first took the name Moebius in 1974 in order to pursue more fantasy-oriented work after drawing the Western Blueberry for over a decade, some of Giraud's ‘70s comic stories under the name drew upon real events, like the murder of a North African immigrant, Wounded Knee, and the famous speech of Chief Seattle.

The Maxwell House panels keep things light and sweet, so to speak, though where the cream and sugar might be hiding is anyone’s guess. The heroine of the series, named Tatiana, is “a self-possessed and fashionable young woman who happens to find herself alone on a desert jungle island or the like,” as Martin Schneider writes at Dangerous Minds. Unperturbed, she takes more interest in her coffee than the wildness around her.

At Dangerous Minds you’ll find alternate unused images and the ad campaign’s droll captions describing Tatiana taking coffee breaks from some mundane errand or chore. The commentary, though amusing, is hardly necessary. We can imagine dozens of stories embedded in each panel. The ability to create such complex and evocative illustrations, every one a world within a world, has always set Moebius ahead of his peers and many imitators.

via TripWire/Dangerous Minds

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Behold Moebius’ Many Psychedelic Illustrations of Jimi Hendrix


The 1995 release of posthumous Jimi Hendrix compilation Voodoo Soup has divided fans and critics for over two decades now. But whatever its merits, its cover art should hold an honored place in every Hendrix fan’s collection. Drawn by the legendary cult comic artist Moebius from a photograph of Hendrix eating soup in France, it captures the sound Hendrix was moving toward at the end of his life—his head exploding in flames, or mushroom clouds, or pink psychedelic bronchial tubes, or whatever. The image comes from a larger gatefold, excerpted below, which Moebius drew for the French double LP Are You Experienced/Axis: Bold as Love in 1975.

Journalist Jean-Nöel Coghe was supposedly very upset that he did not even receive mention for taking the original photo, but in the nineties he and Moebius came together again for a project that would do them both credit, a book called Emotions électriques that Coghe wrote of his experiences traveling through France as Hendrix’s guide during the Experience’s first tour of the country in 1967.

Moebius provided the book's illustrations, many of which you can see below, “each of them,” as the publisher's description has it, “imagining Hendrix in a classic Moebius landscape of dreams.”

 

Obviously a huge Hendrix fan, Moebius is in many ways as responsible for the psychedelic space race of the 1970s as the guitarist himself. His work in the French comic magazine Métal hurlantHeavy Metal in the American version—epitomized the sci-fi and fantasy elements that came to dominate heavy rock. His work with Alejandro Jodorowsky on the Chilean visionary filmmaker’s aborted Dune is the stuff of legend.

Moebius had illustrated album covers since the early seventies, mostly those of European artists. But his creations as a magazine and comics illustrator (and film scenarist) have the most enduring appeal for much the same reason as Hendrix’s music. They are both unparalleled masters and natural storytellers whose imagined worlds are so richly detailed and consistently surprising they have birthed entire genres. The two may have crossed paths too late to actually work together, but I like to think Moebius carried on the spirit of Hendrix in a visual form.

It may not be common knowledge that Hendrix hated his album covers, leaving detailed notes about them for his record company, who ignored them. His own choices, one must admit, including a Linda McCartney photo for the cover of Electric Ladyland that makes the band look like they’re on the set of a proto-Sesame Street, do not exactly sell the records’ treasures. But Jimi might have loved Moebius’ interpretations of his headspace, a visual continuation of a prominent strand of Hendrix's imagination. See all of Moebius' Hendrix illustrations here.

 

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Every Spider-Man Movie and TV Show Explained By Kevin Smith

Look, I’ve never been a fan of Kevin Smith’s ooooooov-rah, per se, but I will never criticize his ability to spin a bloody good yarn. He’s funny, engaging, charming, and knows his pop culture. WIRED also knows this, so when on the eve of the (apparently very good) Spider-verse movie, they called on Smith to sit down and run through every Spider-man Movie and TV Show and opinionate all over that mess. (And because Sony’s contract with the Marvel superhero is up, this might be a nice demarcation line.)

I stepped on board the Spidey-train when he appeared as a character on PBS’ The Electric Company, the educational kids show that would screen after Sesame Street. As Smith points out, this Spidey was mute, a red and blue mime who only spoke in thought balloons, some of which others could literally read as they hung above his head.

Around the same time the ‘60s cartoon was also screening, copying the rogue’s gallery of villains well known from the Steve Ditko-Stan Lee comic book. Both this and the Electric Company Spideys had the best theme songs, and they still haven’t been topped. (If you’re a Gen-X’er, you can drop the lyrics on request, anytime).

Now, before this, there had been a few live action attempts to bring the wall-crawler to the big screen but, well, they’re as cheesy and not-good as you might expect, so for the period during the ‘90s, Spider-man stayed an animated concern. The highlight of the ’94-’98 animated series, according to Smith, is the final meta episode, where Spider-man crosses over into “our” reality and meets Stan Lee, while Lee’s wife Joan played Madame Web.

Interestingly, Smith glosses over the three other animated series that have run since then because of the beginning of live-action Spider-man films made with the power and money of the modern blockbuster. (Interesting, I say, because critics are now declaring the new animated film the best of the bunch).

Smith isn’t wild about the first Sam Raimi film in 2002. He questions the decision to cover up emotive actor Willem Dafoe with a Green Goblin mask for the final battle. However, he not only likes the sequel, but calls it “one of the greatest superhero films ever made” because it never loses sight of the man behind the Spidey mask.

He chastises Sony for the needless 2012 reboot, just five years from the final film in the Raimi trilogy. His problem: Garfield’s Spider-man is great, his Peter Parker is not. The opposite is true with McGuire.

Finally, they got it right with Tom Holland’s version in Avengers: Civil War, that mix of geeky student by day, cocky quipster by night. Plus, as Smith points out, they gave him his Queens accent back. (Marvel comics, at least the first couple of years, was always entrenched in a real New York City as background.)

“The real charm of that character...is that he’s covered from head-to-toe,” Kevin says, paraphrasing Stan Lee. “You don’t know who he is or what he is. You don't know if he's a boy, a girl, you don't know what he is, what race, creed, color, anything. So any kid reading that book can see themselves as the character.”

And that leads us to the current film, which Smith can tell you about himself. It follows that universality of the character and explodes it out to a bunch of alternative universe versions of all races, genders, and genus.

“We live in such a golden era (for comic book movies),” Smith declares and even in a world of Marvel burnout, you want to believe him. Maybe the new film is the way forward: more diversity, more fun, more talking animals.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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