Drawing to a close: Craghead and Mallman mark Migration’s end

Laura Parsons, The Hook, 01.12.09

It’s rare to visit a gallery and receive a parting gift. But as Migration prepares to empty its walls and take flight, it’s fitting that artist Warren Craghead, III has created a special book, The Dot & The Line, for the venue’s final show of the same name, which features the work of Craghead and Brian Mallman.

Even more fitting is the fact that this tiny 2 x 2.25” souvenir represents something of a post-gallery approach to art. To get the prize, viewers must use a Migration-provided link at Craghead’s website (wcraghead.com) to reach a downloadable document, which the recipient then prints, folds, and staples.

The resulting 16-page piece, though minimal, captures Craghead’s unique aesthetic of intentional randomness, in which images and words fuse to form visual poetry. I realize that last sentence sounds like pompous art talk, but, trust me, it’s literally true.

Among Craghead’s works on display at Migration are original drawings for several other books. The 50 pages of How to Be Everywhere— presented in three separate groupings— combine fragments of poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s writings with seemingly spontaneous bits of drawings. Varying his lettering and line refinement, and playing with how words and images interact, Craghead invents a visual syntax that treats words as drawings and drawings as words.

Particularly poignant is Craghead’s 14-page story, “This is a Ghost,” in which Craghead exercises his skill as a cartoonist and illustrator to track the elusive nature of memory. The last page, which features only a small empty palm with the final “t” from the word “ghost” beneath it, is achingly tender.

At first pass, Brian Mallman’s large graphite-and gesso drawings on wood depicting businessmen seem in sharp contrast with Craghead’s notebook-like work. But the two artists share an interest in how marks convey information and how fragments prod viewers to fill in the blanks.

Mallman’s “Meetings Series” offers caricature-like portraits of balding white men. Their facial features are often a barely-there set of lines emphasizing teeth and eyes (perhaps alluding to the way dogs challenge each other), while their heavy black suits elide with their office chairs to form abstract shapes that the viewer can nevertheless read.

Presenting Mallman and Craghead together is the last hurrah for what Migration brought to the C’ville scene: an innovative approach to contemporary art distinct from that of other local galleries. I will miss the space and am grateful for Craghead’s memento.





Best of 2007

Bill Randall, The Comics Journal #281, 02.14.08

...

My book of the year must go to Warren Craghead's How to Be Everywhere. I'm already on the record as an admirer of his work, but this is a masterpiece. It is the only fluid, beautiful fusion of comics and poetry I have read, with drawings that echo the language, a true marriage of media. Issued in an edition of just 100, I can only hope that more than 100 people will read it.

The book adapts Apollinaire's modernist verse into free comics pages. Craghead abandons panels as modernist poets abandoned meter, and his drawings echo Braque and Grosz. I am struck by how naturally his drawing, previously in the service of suburban America, lends itself to the trenches of World War I. And how beautifully his lettering transforms another's poetry into his own. The work recalls Apollinaire's calligrams, only in line as well as word.

Most impressively, the book calls to mind the scholar's fantasy that ended Dylan Horrocks' Hicksville. At the lighthouse down in New Zealand, there exist all the unknown masterpieces of comics, works by Gertrude Stein and Picasso, our medium's lost history. Imagine if these artists had put their hand to comics, Horrocks suggests. Craghead has done one better, envisioning an entire poetic autobiography by Apollinaire. He has made a work that would sit comfortably on that shelf in that mythic lighthouse, waiting to be discovered decades later. In other words, right now.

 

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THE POETICS OF COMICS: BILL RANDALL ON THE POETRY FOUNDATION'S POETRY COMICS SERIES

Gary Sullivan, Elsewhere, 02.21.08

...

The one example of “comics as poetry” that Randall cites as particularly successful, Warren Craghead’s HOW TO BE EVERYWHERE, is a comic made up of words from Guillaume Apollinaire. It’s worth noting that Apollinaire was a genuinely great poet. But it’s much more to the point that Craghead did not illustrate a single poem by Apollinaire. His book is a creatively collaged “biography” of Apollinaire using words from numerous poems and, perhaps, some of his fiction, essays, or letters.

It’s a brilliant book. And it is, I agree, “comics as poetry.” (Or, for that matter, “poetry as comics.”) And that has everything to do with the fact that Craghead used Apollinaire’s words as raw material rather than slavishly copying down one of his poems. The text itself, had he submitted it to Jacket would not be out of place with other work on the site. I can name countless poets who have created great poems collaging together other poets’ words.

It’s also worth noting how Craghead approaches the individual page in that book. I suspect he takes his cue from Apollinaire’s numerous visual poems—or “calligrams”—Craghead’s pages have something of the rhythm of Apollinaire’s “La Colombe Poignardee” and “Le Jet D'Eau”.

...

 

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CR Sunday Interview

Tom Spurgeon, Comics Reporter, 09.08.07

As Bill Randall points out in his excellent overview of Warren Craghead's career, Craghead is one of the more productive, compelling, and almost completely overlooked verbal-visual artists working today. I first saw Craghead's work 11 years ago in his Xeric-sponsored release Speedy. That book and a few smaller mini-comics the artist produced during that period felt as thrilling and potent as any young cartoonist's work to emerge that decade. Craghead bent comics' formal properties in a way that yielded new thematic ground and significant, almost delicate instances of emotion and meaning. His work seemed more like a comics equivalent to poetry than anything that had come before it and perhaps since, and Craghead used it to explore some wonderfully nuanced notions about the passage of time and human longing. In 2000, Craghead began to shift from comics and cartoon-based stories to projects more heavily dependent on non-iconographic drawing. Through works like Thickets and A Map's Little Spell, Craghead began to forge connections between the gallery world and the Internet and self-publishing that in some location suspended between them seemed to give his work a home and greater context.

His latest works have begun to make good on the staggering promise of those early mini-comics. An adaptation of young writer Erin Pringle's story "The Only Child" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, while HOW TO BE EVERYWHERE [caps Craghead's] showcases the artist's almost unique ability to empathize with another person's view of the world by giving life to their words through their careful placement vis-a-vis a visual element: in this case, the words of poet and painter Guillaume Apollinaire. Rather than cutting into Apollinaire's poetry, dissecting its meanings, Craghead climbs inside of its causes and attending worldview so that in the course his interpretations explain, embody and ultimately reinforce the ideas behind the originals.

As a comics fan, you owe yourself some time spent with Warren Craghead's work.

Mr. Craghead has prepared a special preview page for his latest book just for this interview. Thanks, Warren!

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TOM SPURGEON: Warren, I'm kind of unclear on what you do now. You mentioned a day job... are you making art full time?

WARREN CRAGHEAD: My wife and two-year old daughter and I live in Charlottesville, Virginia, about two hours south of Washington, DC, and an hour west of Richmond. We originally came here because of my wife's job, but have decided to stay for a while at least. There's a surprisingly large art scene here.

For my day job I do design and art direction for a company based in North Carolina. I work alone in my office downtown which is also my art studio, so I'm able to deal with both sets of things throughout the day. Between that and some nights and weekends I get a good amount of studio time, but it's never enough.

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SPURGEON: Can you tell me about your collaboration with Erin Pringle on "The Only Child" and how it came about?

CRAGHEAD: The literary magazine Barrelhouse approached me for this project. In every issue they have an "illustrated story" where an artist chooses a piece they have accepted but haven't published yet. So I chose Pringle's short and creepy story "The Only Child" and got to work drawing it. It's not technically a collaboration because I worked off of the finished story with no input from her and luckily she ended up liking what I had done with her work.

SPURGEON: How do you look on your adaptation now that there's been some time since it was done?

CRAGHEAD: I really enjoyed making that piece. I wanted to make something that both mirrored her story but also set up some parallel narratives, like visual grace notes to her main story. Making it, and trying to do her story justice, involved a lot of research and some very close reading which allowed me to find more and more in the page and a half story she wrote. That page and a half ended up as twenty pages for me because of the way I wanted to make rhythm in how I broke up her text. I was also aware that this was going to be published in a magazine that had curious readers but ones not used to strange comics experimentations, so I drew it in a clearer and at times very "normal comics" way. Well, "normal" for me anyway. I even quoted Charles Schulz by using a tiny Charlie Brown-like character in it.

A main undercurrent of Pringle's story is death -- the story takes place in a hospital morgue -- so I found as many ways as I could to show death in a wide variety of symbols. I think my favorite page is the one where a drawer is open and it contains a flag at half-mast, then it closes, then it's open again and it has a dead tree. What I drew followed the text -- "We shut her drawer. We open it." -- but also referred to death and the crazy way the narrator is understanding everything. All that wrapped up in a visually jarring and, I hope, compelling series of images. The trick in comics is to make a picture that says several things at once.

SPURGEON: How many similar works have you done at this point?

CRAGHEAD: Other than "The Only Child" I've done two books with the writer Roger Noyes [Other People's Schemes and The Problem With Chemistry], a book with Marc Geddes [Wallball], two swapped stories with Ted May [Deliverance and The Legend of the Prowling Paw] and HOW TO BE EVERYWHERE which is drawings based on the work of the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. I'm also working on three different "drawing conversations" with three artists which will eventually become individual books. Along with that I'm doing two drawing/video projects with people, and one other drawing/writing collaboration. It's a lot, but they all move slowly...

SPURGEON: Has working with people changed the way you approach your own work?

CRAGHEAD: Working with someone else, or with someone else's work, makes me do a lot of things differently. As I mentioned earlier, it makes for some very close reading as I really try to do right by whatever I'm working with. Working with Ted May's script for "Deliverance" was hard because I could see that really funny story drawn by him and I knew I couldn't match his comedic chops, so I had to go in another direction. Noyes' poems also threw me for a loop because I had to find things to draw in his poems without merely illustrating them. For the Apollinaire book I was trying to connect with not just his poems, but his biography and the whole world of pre-WWI Paris as well.

All this friendliness has affected my own work in a few ways. I'm more apt to steal -- I mean learn -- from people. I'm also finding I like having a fixed point to push against. Sometimes, by having someone else's work, work that I really respect, to go from I can seem to go farther out than if I was making all of it.

SPURGEON: How exactly did you discover Guillaume Apollinaire?

CRAGHEAD: I came across Apollinaire as a result of my long interest in Cubism which has been a steady influence in my work for a long time. Apollinaire was a great champion of Picasso and Braque and other leading edge avant garde artists in pre-WWI Paris -- reading his work one can really see and feel the crazy energy of that time. He saw poets and artists as heroic and seers, as badasses. That and his embrace of the changing world around him was very appealing to me. I should also mention he was the first poet to seriously make "concrete poetry" where the way the type is laid out on the page forms an image that interacts with the text of the poem itself -- he called them "calligrammes."

At the same time I was interested in the intersection of words and images and specifically how poetry could be used with pictures to make something else. I started this project around the time I published Jefferson Forest and thickets which are along those lines. The drawings that became HOW TO BE EVERYWHERE started as just little exercises in my sketchbook, little scrambles of Apollinaire's words with some of my drawing.

SPURGEON: Were there specific qualities in his work that led you to want to explore it?

CRAGHEAD: Well, his work is full of great images, and the language is also startling and beautiful, especially the Donald Revell translations. Beyond that I'd say it's his deep affection for the world around him, the changing world of avant garde Paris, and how he tries to reflect that world while holding onto valuable methods, techniques and aesthetic tricks from the past. He uses beauty which makes his work powerful and compelling. That use of optimism and beauty was probably easier before WWI, but his later work, after he had fought in the trenches and almost died there, still has that spark.

Another thing I saw is his relationship to the visual art revolution going on around him. I think there's a lot we can still learn and steal from those Cubist paintings, especially those of us looking for new ways to tell stories using pictures.

SPURGEON: Can you talk about the show that preceded the book? How does the fact that this material was in a show have an effect on what we see on the printed page?

CRAGHEAD: The book preceded the show, part of it by several years.

SPURGEON: My bad. How did it develop, then?

CRAGHEAD: I started the drawings that became the book while I lived in Albany, New York -- my wife was in school and I would go to the library with her. She studied while I drew and ransacked the university libraries for images of France, Paris, WWI, etc. I laid that group of work aside for a few years and came back to it when Gallery Neptune in Bethesda, MD offered me a show coinciding with the Bethesda Literary Festival. I decided to finally finish the book and make some accompanying drawing/collages.

The book and its drawings influenced the wall pieces a lot -- bits of each are in the other. The wall pieces were colorful collages on board, all 12" x 12". They also were each based on a single poem rather than using fragments and lines like the book drawings. The car I drew for the book also ended up in the collage based on that poem ("Le Petit Auto"). I had originally planned on also showing the drawn pages of the book in the show, but that didn't work out.

The book itself was affected very little by being in the gallery show. The numbering of the books was something I hadn't done before, but other than that it was the same as if I had just published it.

SPURGEON: Did you have a general notion of how you wanted the work interpreted in this visual-verbal way and then figured out how to apply that to each piece, or did you struggle through each individual piece? Was there a key?

CRAGHEAD: At first each page was done separately. I would draw something, then find an appropriate piece of a poem to add into it, then draw some more, revise the text, and on and on. At times I started with the text, but usually it was the image first.

As the project grew I started deliberately doing pages to fill holes -- I tried to follow Apollinaire's life in the work with a rough Paris section at the start followed by bits of his war years. The final composition was in ordering the pages. I laid them all out in my living room and moved them all around. I was looking for a balance between the flow of images and text and some structure loosely based on his life. The final few pages were really important to me - some of his final poems sum up his whole enterprise and I wanted to reflect that.

So no, there is no "key," no master unlocking secret to all the pages that allows one to read them. I did use some of his symbology (as well as a bit of my own), but each page stands on its own inside the larger flow of the whole book.

SPURGEON: Is there possible to see in the work any antecedents? Saul Steinberg springs to mind as a potential cartooning influence here, was he? Were there other cartoonists? Other artists?

CRAGHEAD: Saul Steinberg is someone I look at a lot. He can pack narratives and ideas into seemingly simple drawings, and that multivalent image-making is something I'm very interested in exploring.

Raymond Pettibon is another word and picture scrambler I look at, though my favorite pieces of his are from old Minutemen LPs I bought as a youth. His work needs both the words and the images -- either alone is much less than both together, and than kind of friction is something I wanted to make happen in HTBE.

Gary Panter's crazy and ambitious remaking of the Divine Comedy is another thing I look at a lot. He keeps the story very Panter, but injects lots of parallels with Dante and other writers.

One other antecedent, though I know it's way above my weight class, is James Joyce's Ulysses which, on one of its almost endless levels, uses the Odyssey as a rough template. Like Panter, that absorption of an older thing into a newer piece is something I'm interested in.

SPURGEON: I wanted to ask about a couple of your basic approaches. The first being the diagrammed-out pictures, where there are actually lines between objects and words playing different roles at the end of these paths than they might down their length. The second is the kind of layered shapes effect you get that sort of look like some 20th century painting.

CRAGHEAD: I think comics and narrative storytelling can learn -- and steal -- a lot from both information design and from Modernist, specially Cubist, painting. The diagrammatic pages are directly from my interest in how story and information can be delivered in different ways. The lines link the word with the pictures, as in a real diagram, but the connection between the two isn't always on the surface. The images and words also start getting mixed up with each other, scrambled, making something destabilized and a little confusing, which can open the readers eyes up to an experience of seeing the page rather than just reading it.

The layered shapes, and the references to Cubist and related Modernist artwork in general, comes from Apollinare's deep interest and enthusiasm for that work. It also comes from my thoughts about how the lessons of Cubism can be applied to comics and narrative storytelling. I'm just beginning to work on this, but I think there's something to investigate there and the parts of HTBE that go there are just the first steps.

SPURGEON: What are your expectations for an audience? Where does a book like this sell?

CRAGHEAD: I know that there's only a small subset of the comics world that is interested in something like this. It's poetry -- French poetry! -- it's weird drawing and it doesn't use most of the usual conventions of comics... Still, I think anyone can read it and get things out of it -- it rewards close reading. It's for sale at some online places [Cafe Royal in the UK and Little Paper Planes in L.A.] and is also available through my galleries in DC [Gallery Neptune] and Richmond, VA [ADA Gallery] and also at a local store here in Charlottesville, Destination Comics. I've also sold some directly over email. I'm exploring publishing it in France and I may issue a second edition when this one sells out.

SPURGEON: Do the pages with some of the poems included within them generally include all of the poems, or are there substitutes made in terms of visual information for words? How did you approach the issue of whether or not to include words?

CRAGHEAD: I took chunks of his work -- only two pages have complete poems. I didn't drop words out and replace them with images, but at times the images do function as words or letters, building on each other in a logical progression like letters forming words. The images and Apollinaire's words need each other in my book. I was making a friction between them that would hopefully, while still referring to the old things, make something new.

SPURGEON: Is there anything you discovered about Apollinaire's work in the process of working with it that you didn't know before?

CRAGHEAD: A big thing I discovered is his rich and deep affection for the world, for the stuff and materials and people around him. He's like Walt Whitman in that way, and, like the Cubists who led me to him, he always grounds whatever crazy flights he takes with the real, concrete things around him. I try to learn from that, to look at my work and ask, "Is this real? Is this close to a true experience?" and "How do I make something that is an experience, not merely something that points to one?"

SPURGEON: Is there any other cartoonist out there you'd like to see approach adaptation? Who? Doing who? Is it something you wish to continue pursuing?

CRAGHEAD: Adaptation is a rich land for us artists to plunder. Seeing Panter's Divine Comedy adaptation showed me how on can work from a text but make it completely one's own. The drawn version of Paul Auster's City of Glass that Paul Karasik and David Mazzuchelli made is another example of an adapted story that uses the friction of words and pictures to make something that runs parallel to the original text. David Lasky's Ulysses adaptation is another great piece. I do want to continue mining this vein -- there's one poetry project in particular that might take me the rest of my life, but I'm a little leery of it. There's also another French poetry project in the works.

If I could command people to do adaptations, I would order Ted May to do Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Crumb to do John Ashbery's Girls On The Run (which is Ashbery's poetry version of Henry Darger's drawings), and Kevin Huizenga to do Paradise Lost. I guess I'd also want to see Gilbert Hernandez do One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it's really unnecessary since his Palomar is as rich and alive as Marquez's Macondo.

SPURGEON: How much of a connection do you feel with Apollinaire's desire to match old forms and new? What is the purpose of doing so, do you think, for Apollinaire? Was it a goal in and of itself? Was it a way to better represent life or a political moment?

CRAGHEAD: I feel a great connection with the old/new aspect of Apollinaire's project. I hope my experiments and wanderings are like his - ones that are deliberate attempts to more closely render our experience of the world. Apollinaire was seeing so much change in his world that he knew the old forms just couldn't keep up and I see that now too. In art, and especially in comics, I see a lot of wide open territory.

SPURGEON: How would you describe the satisfaction you get out of work your very idiosyncratic corner of the comics world?

CRAGHEAD: The satisfaction I get from my work is both the process of making and the finished piece - seeing something I've made that baffles and confounds me. Something that stays mysterious. I'm not getting rich or famous, but I am finding new things all the time. Another satisfaction is the reaction I get from people and when I see others working along the same lines, artists like Andrei Molotiu and Gary Sullivan. That tells me we're on to something.

SPURGEON: Tell me about the rest of your 2007.

CRAGHEAD: With a crazy-drawing two-year-old daughter I'm busy without picking up a pencil, but I do have some stuff lined up. For printed work I have an 11-page piece in the recently released UK book Cafe Royal [issue zero], edited by Craig Atkinson. For that one I made three small tear-out and DIY booklets that all add up to a kind of autobiography. I'm not sure when it prints, but I've done a 4-page color piece for the next Rosetta from Alternative Comics. The pages from HTBE will be in a show in Portugal as part of the Amadora Comics Festival and there's a chance I may go see it. For art shows, I'm in a group shows in Washington DC, Pittsburgh and New York this fall, at least one of which will have an online component.

 

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Warren Craghead: All Over the Map

Bill Randall, The Comics Journal #281, 08.30.07

Warren Craghead, I miss you. At least I thought I did; truth is, you never went away. You were still working, just not in the small scene called "comics." I hadn't done a very good job of keeping up. I try — it's just that comics folks and art folks always have to sit at different tables, having separate conversations about the same things.

For those new to this conversation, Craghead made his debut in the mid-'90s with some well-received minis. He then won the Xeric grant in March 1996 for Speedy. Formally inventive, it was a traditional comic book with two smaller comics tucked inside. The smallest came in an envelope; its pages folded out to create new panels and paths. He played with the comics form, as well as language and the suburban landscape, at a time when Acme Novelty Library was still new.

A masterpiece in the traditional sense, Speedy announced Craghead's control of his medium after an apprenticeship in the minis. Though still the work of a young artist with his heart firmly on his sleeve, it was unique. Tom Spurgeon praised him in the Journal. More short works followed. Then nothing. Of his Xeric-winning peers, Linda Medley completed one of the best-received fantasy series of the last 10 years, while James Sturm put together a couple of graphic novels and a comics school. They set the bar high, but on the other hand, Walt Holcolmbe left comics when his marvelous series Poot didn't sell.

The story's common enough: An artist can't make a living in comics and moves on to illustration or teaching, investment banking or dishwashing. Craghead's story took a different path. He only disappeared to the myopic, like me, and continued working, albeit in galleries and the literary small press. Tom Spurgeon profiled some of that work in a 2003 interview archived at comicsreporter.com, and thanks to the Internet, I was able to contact Craghead via e-mail.

When asked about his presumed disappearance, he replied that, "There was a shift around 2000 in my work from the more comix-language driven stuff to the more drawing-based things. At that time I started to believe that the cartoon language I was using was limiting me — it read as cartoons and comix instead of as the things I was trying to say." Certainly, Speedy and the short strips on his old website used recurring characters, primarily a young man and an octopus in trainers. A graphic novel, of course, needs characters, and since talk about comics-as-art back then centered on creating the Great American Graphic Novel, one could be forgiven for expecting all cartoonists to aim for it, even if their unique talents suit other forms better.

Of course, the comics market is still geared for pamphlets and books, not experiments. Craghead noted this fact: "I will admit there was a little disappointment at how weird or ‘adventurous' comix had (and have) such a small audience in the comix world." There are, however, other places that support such work, and Craghead has discovered an audience in the galleries and elsewhere. The result has reinvigorated his comics, or "printed work," as he refers to it, citing "strong and robust connection" with the works hanging on walls.

Nowhere is that connection more apparent than his omnibus Web project, A Map's Little Spell. Craghead maintained a Web presence early at the defunct www.craphead.com, but the Web now seems more amenable to his work. Skirting the distribution problems that continue to plague comics, using the Web lifts his work out of the gallery too. It makes his recent work more accessible and offers yet another chance to examine this fascinating artist.

A Map's Little Spell is an extension of a 2006 solo exhibition at the Greater Reston Arts Center in Virginia and reveals an artist with a compelling vision of middle-class suburbia. The map in question charts a home and yard; clicking on parts takes us through hallways and rooms, or out the window. Occasionally one of his old comics shows up. Reimagined for the Web, the work shows how his formal imagination has developed.

While the comics use heavy lines and lots of hatching, his newer drawings show a free, fearless hand. Touchstones include Saul Steinberg and the early Picasso, two masters of line. Somehow, Craghead doesn't suffer from the comparison, as he has pared his work down to the essentials of contour. Household goods appear as lightly sketched outlines, houses as a stray window, yet both are abundantly clear for what they are. Beneath the drawing, he layers scraps of paper. This is heady work, demanding that the viewer enter the drawing and wander around. The language of traditional cartooning barely resembles his mature line-work.

Considering that most of the exhibit consists of drawings and collages, the choice to include the older comics seems at first unusual. His line was not yet as confident, and the emotions had little restraint. Moreover, these comics read like a primer on what cartoonists were talking about back then: the "Page-a-Day Speedy" takes up Dave Sim's work schedule; the "24-Hour Speedy" follows Scott McCloud's plan for quickly making a "complete" comic. Now, few still self-publish, and Sim has retired for the time being; even the 24-pager has fallen out of fashion. Yesterday's rallying points now seem quaint. If you weren't there, they need footnotes.

Nonetheless, the comics and the drawings all come from one artist, and his concerns have not changed much. Chief among them is memory. The "24 Hour Speedy" quotes from Faulkner's history-obsessed Absalom, Absalom, and the Map charts memory as well as the suburbs. It echoes the "House of Memory," a classical mnemonic that assigns different memories to rooms of a house. So the older comics are artistic memories, points in his maturation, just as the other "rooms" echo the past. For example, "Bedroom 5" is subtitled "a diary," and "Bedroom 1" features a "ghost seen. haunted. Supposedly a sweet thing." With its collage and digitally overlaid square blocks of color, the layout recalls Richard McGuire's Here, though Craghead favors the poetic over the literal and direct. McGuire's narrative style is like a Mondrian; Craghead's a Braque.

Among the works in these rooms, two stand out as traditional comics. Both "Thickets" and "A Flame Expelled" use panels or pages in sequence. "Flame" shows where Craghead was headed back in the Speedys. Rather than use characters, he combines domestic items with spoken and written words. It opens with a birdhouse. Objects, like a lamp or a car, stand in for "you" and "me," recalling the time "I expelled that flame, with your help, all over the map." It seems to recall a car trip, and the two travelers' relationship. The objects become totems for memories barely hinted through words. This is a fragmented poetry in the word's truest sense: Panels become like couplets, rhythmic containers for snippets of image and memory. The drawings reflect the compression of image and sound that marks the "poetic." The emotions are true, and unlike the sometimes-mawkish Speedys, they are sure.

"Thickets" goes even further. Opening with a window, it reveals nothing directly. The 50-odd pages that follow enact an exhaustive catalog of the suburban home, breaking it into parts and symbols, exploding it with an orthodox Cubism, exploring it with words. Sexual undercurrents run throughout, giving it an arc, but the surface is a consideration of suburban life. He writes, "A house, in relation to all the other houses," but he draws dumpsters; he "wants to write an X on the map, a real spot" and satisfy the American impulse to build a home. So the house's concrete steps are "just like the Romans," but the empire, it's later revealed, is just lawn. The impulse is parodied and taken seriously by multiple voices. My reading just scratches the surface. Like the drawings, the comic needs to be explored, even lived in. Were it a book, it would be noteworthy; as part of this expansive, generous website, it's somewhere to get lost.

So, unbeknownst to me, Warren Craghead has been not only busy, but remarkably productive. A Map's Little Spell is just the easiest to find. He continues to exhibit widely on the East Coast. His adaptation of Erin Pringle's story "The Only Child" in the literary journal Barrelhouse's third issue has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Furthermore, his personal website at wcraghead.com reveals that his April show at Gallery Neptune in Bethesda, Md., is accompanied by a 100-page artist's book. It's not his version of the Great American Graphic Novel. Better than that, it's his version of the poetry of Apollinaire, entitled How to Be Everywhere, echoing the "beauty and bafflement of the real world" Craghead finds in the poems. And which I find in his comics and drawings. So, for my favorite artist I thought had disappeared, let me say: Welcome back. I'm sorry I was gone.

 

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Review of "HOW TO BE EVERYWHERE"

Pedro Moura, LerBD, 07.22.07 (Lisbon, Portugal)

Regularmente, surgem discussões sobre os espaços ocupados pela banda desenhada e pelas artes, enquanto esferas afastadas, sobre os espaços fronteiriços onde ambas são acolhidas num qualquer diálogo, sobre os espaços que as diferenciam e sobre os que as aproximam. As mais das vezes, essas discussões atravessam as naturezas sociológicas, históricas, essencialistas, disciplinares, de cada uma dessas artes. As mais das vezes, atravessam uma cegueira aspectual, que se relacionará sobretudo com uma entrega demasiado desequilibrada, informada ora pelo ressentimento ora pelo preconceito, a uma dessas esferas. As mais das vezes, quando se fala de onde e quando e como se aproximam as “grandes artes visuais” e a “banda desenhada”, olham-se para as instâncias em que a primeira ausculta a seguinte como fonte de matéria plástico-social a explorar para depois a empregar num qualquer exercício de desmantelamento cultural, desconstrução política, crítica estética, ou para os exemplos em que a segunda mima a primeira pelos canais da ironia, da acérrima diatribe, da desinformada gozação, ou do mero aproveitamento de determinados efeitos superficiais.


É raro, portanto, que se olhe e procure e discuta os momentos em que no seio da própria banda desenhada se experimentam valores e tacteares usualmente apenas encontrados nas ditas artes de primeira, tal como raro é procurar exemplos de obras já dos círculos das artes visuais que dialoguem de facto, de igual para igual, com conhecimento, entendimento, respeito e até encantamento, com a banda desenhada enquanto saber e saber-fazer autónomos, enquanto modo de expressão específico. As razões dessas raridades em termos de discussão e alertas são muito simples, e devem-se ao simples facto de que a existência desses diálogos, dessas obras, dessas instâncias ser rara nela mesma.

Mas de quando em vez essa raridade é rasgada e contrariada e surgem pessoas que demonstram que as melhores experiências estéticas, os mais arriscados gestos, não são devidos a iluminados do exterior de outras disciplinas “descendo” à banda desenhada, mas sim irrompem do seu interior, mesmo que sejam fulgurantes apareceres, votados quem sabe a um desaparecimento e a uma falta de herança (o que aconteceu com Vaughn-James, com McGuire, com muitas das experiências de Spiegelman, com Coché, Alagbé, Fortemps...). Uma vez, em discussão, disseram-me que “abrir as portas para um muro não interessa para nada”, acusando-se a inexistência da herança ou a impossibilidade de se ir para além desse ponto de experimentação como se se tratasse de uma inconsequência em si mesma. Mas não partilho essa visão. Parece-me antes que, mesmo sendo esse gesto o que ele é e onde ele leva – uma porta aberta para uma parede de tijolos intransponível (e só nós, aquém dos criadores, é que podemos entendê-la como tal, apenas e ainda) -, deve ele, o gesto, ser gloriosamente feito e preencher essa promessa com a sua própria acção, cumprimento, existência.


Warren Craghead já havia apresentado curtas experiências em torno da banda desenhada em alguns dos volumes editados por ocasião das Small Press Expos (SPX). Também editou um pequeno zine intitulado Speedy. Este livro agora é o seu último grande projecto. Trata-se de uma colecção de desenhos que foi alvo de uma exposição e é agora re-organizada e re-apresentada em forma de livro, e que despontou de um interesse e de um diálogo com a poesia de Guillaume Apollinaire. Se bem que tenha experimentado aproximações diferenciadas nos trabalhos anteriores, o estilo encontrado numa dessas pequenas experiências da SPX repete-se em How to be everywhere, o qual não pode ganhar outro apodo senão “desagregado”. Nenhuma das figuras está “completa”, nem sequer os contornos se fecham, os rostos não possuem informações suficientes de expressão, os textos vogam em formas livres e sem ordem nem peso, as palavras separam-se nas suas letras.


Apollinaire é um dos nomes que mais contribuiu para a abertura do mundo na poesia. Isto é, Apollinaire deu oportunidade a que a poesia se reinventasse não enquanto voz lírica e estruturação verbal que marca distância do mundo mas veículo onde a estranheza verbal mimasse e respondesse à estranheza real que existia já no mundo, tangível. A experiência directa, física, espiritual do poeta da 1ª Grande Guerra foi um dos aspectos que mais contribuiu para um literal “estilhaçamento” da poesia, o qual encontrará ecos quer nos temas que na própria forma (caligráfica, tipográfica) dos poemas. Os primeiros sintetizam-se na guerra, no ser desagregado em variadíssimos elementos para depois se compor com todo o universo, na ausência de uma linha temporal ou espacial, numa predilecção, que estava “na moda” das letras e artes da época, pela vida da metrópole... Outros poetas alcançariam o mesmo, e não é de desacompanhar Apollinaire de nomes portugueses como os de Sá-Carneiro (“Todo me incluo em Mim”, escreve Sá-Carneiro em Manucure) ou Álvaro de Campos ou o interseccionismo de Pessoa.


A segunda encontra-se numa das “linhas de produção” de Apollinaire, que se consubstancia nos caligramas, isto é, poemas nos quais a disposição dos versos, das palavras, das letras – pois as unidades chegam mesmo a ser desagregadas a esse nível – assume uma figuração que se deseja iconicamente significativa para com o próprio sentido textual do poema. Aliás, é o poeta de expressão francesa quem cunha a palavra, no título homónimo do seu livro de 1918, unindo as palavras gregas “beleza” (kalos) e “escrita” (graphein; pois o sufixo –grama é um erro “normalizado” na modernidade). O aspecto importante reside no facto de que o que faz emergir a beleza não é o sentido construído paulatinamente pela escrita, isto é, “o que quer dizer”, mas é o próprio acto da escrita, o gesto de escrever, o “como” que se torna veículo dessa beleza final. Sendo uma característica possível de se encontrar na “Poesia de 26 Séculos” (Jorge de Sena), é Apollinaire que funda a existência desta aproximação à visualidade da poesia na modernidade. Mesmo não tendo tido este nome, os caligramas constituem uma tradição já antiga, e muitas formas e figuras: os carmen figuratem foram, por exemplo, objecto de cultivo erudito nos tempos do barroco ibérico. Essa experiência seria continuada também depois do poeta, na poesia visual, que também teve uma feliz e desenvolta existência em Portugal e onde algumas das experiências havidas chegaram mesmo a ocupar um espaço que quero ver como fronteiriço à banda desenhada. refiro-me, sobretudo, a O Escritor, de Ana Hatherly. É através destas associações, pela força verdadeiramente poética (poiesis, um “fazer”) das escolhas verbais sobre Apollinaire e a sua criação visual, que Craghead atinge um patamar da poesia em banda desenhada assaz significativo e produtor, bem mais além dos Poema a Fumetti de Dino Buzzati, de contornos mais narrativos, e ainda que diferentes, constituindo exercícios próximos dos que Dice Industries e Katharina den Hausladen apresentaram (entre nós, na Mesinha de Cabeceira Popular).


Warren Craghead III aproveita precisamente essa “linha” para fazer construir o seu próprio caminho. Segue a estrutura dos poemas (“imita” as formas) de Apollinaire dedicados à torre Eiffel, dos da chuva, um outro que desenha um rosto, delineando-o ao mesmo tempo que o descreve.... Quer dizer, toda a poesia de Apollinaire é a matéria-prima que Craghead emprega em How to be everywhere, mas não a única. Ou, por outras palavras, não é a matéria primeira, já que se seguem outras, segundas mas não secundárias. E todas elas são relativamente claras de identificar, já que vogam em torno do mesmo intervalo temporal referente aos poemas originais: as colagens cubistas de Braque e Picasso, meia-demoiselle d’Avignon deste último, uma fotografia de Lartigue, a mulher da tina de Degas. Estas dizem respeito à via erudita, mas tal qual as colagens referidas, também penetram nesta obra objectos desconexos – enquanto signos individuais – da cultura quotidiana desses tempos que compõem um todo significativo: peças de maquinaria automobilística ou militar, aeroplanos e bicicletas, meias de renda em pernas viúvas ou roldanas que nada sopesam, candeeiros de rua, flores, capacetes, postais. E soldados, trincheiras, florestas dizimadas. É numa destas florestas que, letra por letra na ponta dos ramos quebrados e dos troncos despojados que se espraiam os versos (na sua tradução inglesa, claro está) do poema “Merveille de la guerre”, e que dá nome a este livro: “Je lègue à l'avenir l'histoire de Guillaume Apollinaire/Qui fut à la guerre et sut être partout”.

Acredito que não existe obra qualquer de qualquer arte que não possua, nos seus aspectos manifestos ou nos interstícios mais subtis, um signo do próprio programa a que se entrega, um emblema mise-en-abîme da própria obra. Há um outro poema/ilustração em How to be everywhere que me parece cumprir esse destino. Sensivelmente a meio (as páginas não estão numeradas, e cada página/prancha pode ser lida como uma unidade poético-icónica singular), surge um desenho de um rosto de um homem(aqui mostrado em imagem). Por cima está escrito “Let Us Rejoice” (“Rejubilemo-nos”). No interior do rosto, contornando-o em cada elemento e até mesmo substituindo o signo icónico (o olho, deixado “em branco”) pelo signo verbal (“mistake” e “our eyes”), espraia-se o poema que Apollinaire escreveu para o casamento de André Salmon (aliás, o rosto poderá ser um retrato dessa outra personagem da época). No entanto, é curioso notar que as diferenças permitidas pela tradução inglesa e a segunda selecção de Craghead levam a que se sublinhe ainda mais o programa da experiência de um desenho em diálogo com as palavras. O trecho do poema original reza (literalmente) assim: “Não porque tenhamos crescido até que possam confundir os nossos olhos e as estrelas/(...)/Nem porque firmados na poesia tenhamos direitos sobre as palavras que formam e desfazem o Universo”. O poema, tal como surge nestas páginas (mais uma vez, literalmente), lê: “Não porque sejamos altos, muitos confundem os nossos olhos com constelações, nem porque firmes na poesia tenhamos o poder das palavras em formar e deformar o universo”.


Craghead “apaga” todo o resto do poema, transformando as razões do rejubilamento inicial nesta dupla negação. É como se fosse está série de aniquilamentos o primeiro ou o gesto fundamental para dar espaço e início a uma novo movimento (desfazer e depois refazer o universo). O olho apaga-se mas é redesenhado noutra forma. As palavras que compõem a parte que promete o poder das palavras desagregam-se em letras, mas é como se quisesse somente demonstrar a possibilidade de recombinar-se. Tal como nas regras gramaticais do inglês, as duplas negações anulam-se, não existem. Menos por menos dá mais, Não por não dá Sim (o “sim” de Molly Bloom, outra personagem sensivelmente do mesmo período: mergulhar no negativo para descobrir as potencialidades das artes).
O uso da palavra constelação desperta de imediato uma associação às noções de Walter Benjamin, impedindo-se pensar em qualquer ideia como uma mónada, um átomo indivisível, singular e separado de tudo o resto, mas antes entender tudo como estabelecendo pontos de relação entre si. Cabe-nos a nós, interpretantes, leitores, experienciadores, apercebermo-nos de quais as linhas que unem uma “estrela” à outra “estrela”; desenharemos, seguramente, constelações diferentes, mas podem existir muitos pontos em comum. A meu ver, How to be everywhere tem todo o lugar na (minha) constelação da “banda desenhada”. Espero que partilhem ou encontrem pontos em comum com esse entendimento.

 

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Review of "HOW TO BE EVERYWHERE"

Alexandra Silverthorne, Solarize This, 06.17.07

I recently picked up a copy of Warren Craghead's book How To Be Everywhere and I honestly don't feel like I can do it justice. Craghead's black and white sketches are based on the work of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and they interweave Apollinaire's language with drawings.

Craghead visually shows you the poetry. One might imagine that this could instead limit your view of the words, but rather the drawings expand into new possibilities and things that you have not yet thought of. I've been keeping the book by my bed and at night before turning in, I often pick it up. Sometimes I view just one page and sometimes I thumb through the entire book- either way, my mind is swimming with new ideas on art, philosophy, language, and life. How To Be Everywhere is absolutely brilliant.

My one regret is that I had not read Apollinaire's poetry independently before diving into the book. In my mind, Apollinaire's text will always be linked from now on with Warren Craghead's art.

 

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Review of "The Only Child"

Shawn Hoke, Size Matters, 02.12.07

Warren Craghead’s illustration of Erin Pringle’s “The Only Child,” appearing in Barrelhouse, is nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Warren sent the SIZE MATTERS office a copy of the 20-page story, so lucky readers get to see something cool instead of that damn picture of Kate and I gearing up for the Super Bowl.

Warren Craghead created the lovely and amazing mini-comics Jefferson Forest, Thickets, and Jefferson Estates. (Each link, has a couple sample pages courtesy of USS Catastrophe.) I’ve always enjoyed Warren’s work for its restraint. He consistently blindsides you with the quiet nature of his faltering, often disappearing, line.

The work here is different. It’s more substantial, less fleeting. The lines are more solid, the structure of things doesn’t fritter away like it does in much of Warren’s mini-comics work. But “The Only Child” still has that unmistakable charm of the minis. The children in “The Only Child” accompany their father to his office, only his office is anything but typical. It has drawers and filing cabinets, but they’re not filled with paper.

Grab your own copy of Barrelhouse to get the full story. It’s definitely worth any cover price to see 20 pages of Warren’s work. You can also check out his blog, Drawer for more of his work.

I’ll leave you with this little doodle from the back of the accompanying note: This perfectly captures what I like about Warren's work.

 

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The Ten Most Innovatine Mini-Comics

Shawn Hoke, Size Matters column on Comic Book Galaxy

 

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Other People's Dreams

Tom Spurgeon, Profile in The Comics Journal #263

 

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Free Association is theme of show at Courthouse Gallery

Anthony F. Hall, The Lake George Mirror (Lake George NY)

 

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"Salvage" Shines Light on Region's Art

Tania Garcia De Rosier , Albany Times-Union, 01.26.03

 

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A Nice Fit

David Brinkman, Metroland (Albany NY), 09.19-25.02

 

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Simple Pleasures

William Jaeger, Albany Times-Union, 01.20.02

 

 

 



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