You know that test in elementary school, the one the teacher hands out when she has a half hour to kill and a told-you-so lesson to deliver? It’s only a page long, but the whole page is filled with instructions, cross off this word and circle that one, sharpen your pencil, draw lines around paragraphs, etc. Instruction #1 is “Read all the instructions before you begin,” and the last instruction is “Ignore instructions #2-#18. Just sign your name at the top and hand your paper to the teacher.”
Well, I fell for it. Not in first grade, where I aced it, but just now. Often in social media culture, we only share the flattering. But not here. Thus follows a comedy of errors, one hail-mary success, and an upcoming gallery opening. Oh… and a hornswoggling case of mistaken identity. (Spoiler: I actually did not meet R Crumb last month!)
So. A few weeks ago, my friend Karin forwarded me a call for artists’ submissions for the third annual Comix Issue of our local indie paper, the Missoula Independent. The Comix Issue is fun and well-read, featuring the art of lots of local heavy-hitter artists, as well as newcomers. Exciting! Gotta do it! As my head hit the pillow that night, my mind trawled dreamland for an idea. And it arrived — at 3 am. (Why do they always come at the cost of a good night’s sleep? Ah well: worth it.)
Next morning, I laid out my story in the precisely specified dimensions, worked out rhymes, sourced images, sketched a draft, sketched the final, and was just about to ink it… when I went back and read the directions.
All of them.
That’s when I discovered there is a theme to this year’s issue: “Missoula in the Future.” What? How did I miss that? It was even in Josh Quick’s banner illustration:
My strip was a (non-morbid) story about the gravesites of our four pet rats… charming, but definitely not in the future. I was back to square one, except now with only a day left before the deadline.
Fortunately, my brain netted two more ideas. I scrawled them out and field-tested them on my parents and my sweetie. One idea flopped despicably with everyone:
The other got a thumbs-up from J., and crickets from my folks, who are the toughest crowd ever. So I went with it, even though it was a single gag panel, and not (as the submission guidelines further specified) a story with multiple panels. This way, I figured, at least I’d be rejected because they didn’t like my idea, not because I didn’t enter.
Amazingly, neither outcome resulted — the comic was accepted! Look for it in the Comix Issue of the Missoula Independent, which will hit the racks this Thursday, May 5, and on the wall at Clyde Coffee‘s gallery opening on First Friday, May 6 from 5-8 pm. Clyde is a great little spot on the Hip Strip, known for its avocado toast and locally roasted coffee. It’s an extra appropriate venue because the subject of my comic is the Hip Strip itself… which, yes, I am only going to tease for now. A little suspense never killed anyone! Here’s a tiny excerpt from one corner of the first sketch, which I actually forgot to include in the final strip, making this a web exclusive:
And maybe if I’m lucky, next year’s Comix Issue theme will be “pets” or “memories” or something I can use…
Aaaaand now the confession:
I did not meet R Crumb.
I thought I did, for three solid weeks. I could barely get to sleep that night, and the next day, I told practically everyone I knew about it. I blogged about it. I was so jazzed.
Until last Thursday, when J. and I were downtown and decided to check out the art once more. We waltzed into the DDC, and I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: every piece of art was signed “Rich Lande.” Now, when Crumb had introduced himself as “Rich,” I figured that was a nickname for Robert. And I figured the show was under the radar because R Crumb is totally not a gallery art person. But was it perhaps too much that when we Googled Rich Lande we got a biography that included a birthplace of Missoula, and graduation from a school of illustration in 1989–far too late for R Crumb? Why would he manufacture those details, and actually sign the art with a pseudonym? Oh $#!+…
It turns out that when I walked in and assumed the blues and jazz portraits on the walls were the work of R Crumb, and turned to John and said, “Whoa, wouldn’t it be wild if R Crumb himself were here?” …John instead heard something like “Whoa, wouldn’t it be wild if the artist himself were here?” So his reply of “He’s right over there” instantly catapulted me into an alternate reality, in which I dwelled for a jolly long time.
This explains why “R Crumb” looked nothing like his self portraits. And all the things I did not say, in order not to be an annoying fangirl (referring to his most common works, mentioning his fame, etc.) also served to keep things vague enough that the truth did not come out.
So, ha ha. Funny, a little sad, a little embarrassing. John did say that Rich is a big fan of Crumb and works in the same vein, but still– I’m sheepish that I did not discern immediately that the works were not Crumb’s.
But here’s the thing. For three weeks, I derived as much pleasure from the deceit that I had gotten to talk with R Crumb as if I actually had. This echoes the issue of forgery vs authenticity in art itself. Countless collectors proudly display art that brings them great joy–and which is not really what they believe it is. There’s plenty of murky morality in the business of counterfeiting art. One guy spent years making and selling forgeries and donated his proceeds to charity! That’s rare, but this episode of Shankar Vedantham’s Hidden Brain, goes into the psychology of more common fakery, and its effect upon connoisseurs.
Of course, Rich Lande is a real person who is making real art. He never represented himself as anyone else. The counterfeiting occurred in my head. That’s what makes it extra interesting: the art never changed. So here’s a proposal: maybe I should continue to relish the experience of meeting one of my art idols. Maybe deception and reality can coexist, and as long as we are aware of the tricks of our minds, we can derive enjoyment and encouragement from both. What do you think?
One thing’s for sure: somewhere, Rich Lande is walking around believing he has one hell of a fan.