Comix at Clyde Coffee

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:

Yeah, but that text is tiny, right?
Yeah, but that text is tiny!

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:

This isn't the whole thing, but suffice to say it made exactly zero sense.
This isn’t the whole thing, but suffice to say it made exactly zero sense.

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.

Starstruck / the path from here

Disclaimer: It turns out I did not actually meet R Crumb! In a bizarre case of mistaken identity, I was fully convinced for several weeks that Montana artist Rich Lande was R Crumb. You can read about that foolishness here. But you should still totally check out Crumb! He’s awesome!

***

When you unexpectedly meet a celebrity, do you immediately think of what not to say? Such as…

  1. Can I take your picture?
  2. Can I have your autograph?
  3. Oh my god, you are just so great, I can’t even believe you’re standing here, like, you’re unreal, gush gush gush…
  4. Oh man, I love [that long-distant thing that the person is known for and that they are probably extremely tired of hearing about].
  5. Hey, will you [sing/do an impression/perform like a trained monkey]?

It is much harder to think of what would not be stupid and annoying. This is on my mind because on April Fool’s Day, I met R Crumb. (If you are also my Facebook friend, you may have witnessed my explosive gushing about the evening. Sorry.) If you are not familiar with R Crumb, well, you surprise me – I thought everyone knew his work. He’s one of the founders of the underground comics movement, and a fine illustrator and artist. You may remember him as the creator of Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, and that ubiquitous “Keep on truckin'” t-shirt (the mention of which would probably fall under What Not to Say #4).

truckin
Everybody’s seen this, right?

mrnatural

In fact, the gigantic, locally owned health food store where I work was originally a tiny, hippie, health food co-op known as Mr. Natural’s Good Food Store. His illustrations of Edward Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang” are sheer perfection, if you can find a rare copy – most editions, inexplicably, are text only. Lately he has made a serious graphic art version of the entire Book of Genesis. If you are curious, DO NOT google his images at work, because a lot of it is obscene. Do, however, watch the movies Crumb and American Splendor.

So, on First Friday, April 1, I was strolling past the Downtown Dance Collective and noticed that the lights were on and the place was full of R Crumb original ink portraits of jazz and blues musicians. Weird. That venue wasn’t even listed as having an opening this month. There were only about seven people inside.

I spotted a guy I know and said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be wild if R Crumb were here?” …and John says, “He’s right over there.”

I have to scrape myself off the ceiling. He is one of my art idols. I will kick myself forever if I don’t say hello, but all I can think of is What Not to Say. So I just look at the drawings and pretend not to be having an aneurysm.

When I finally summon the courage, he is very nice. “Hi, I’m Rich,” he says. He looks nothing like his self portraits, which often depict him as miserable. He’s laughing and talking with friends. We talk about art and paper and jazz and hand-made stuff. I ask him about some thin goop on his portraits that looks like white-out. He uses fine point Sharpies, nothing fancy. On a large scale, india ink with sable brushes. Sonny Boy Williamson’s portrait, he shows me, is drawn on the back of the piece of glossy paper that comes with a ready-made frame – the page with the happy family printed on it. That kind of paper is less porous. Why let it go to waste?

He drew these musicians’ portraits so people will know where the music came from. Everything comes back around, he says. We just don’t know how long it’ll take. I tell him that I paint windows and I have noticed that although vinyl sticker signs are convenient and popular, a lot of people want something that looks like a person actually touched it at some point. “Yes! Human DNA!” he says. He’s hopeful for the future of hand-made. “Never give up!” he says. Awesome.

So perhaps R Crumb is not a celebrity by most standards. But it was a thrilling evening for me. And if you’re in town, his work is up for the rest of April and May – worth a look!

*

In other news, within two weeks, my main squeeze J. will be hitting the trail. Heading from the Mexican border to the Canadian border via the Continental Divide Trail. It’ll take him about four months, god willin’. He is so excited and ready to go, it is nearly intolerable. But it is also hard to give him up!

IMG_20160306_120547654
Deep in the planning stages.

Maybe I should include a bit about his progress when I write. It is likely that he won’t be keeping a trail journal of his own. He loves the privacy and undiluted solitude of long-distance, wilderness hiking. I think it is a joy for him to just live it, and a chore for him to write, though his writing is fine. So perhaps I will spill what I hear. And he has promised to photograph some wildflowers…

Thus I’ll be on a journey of my own this summer. My own solitude, albeit surrounded by friends and cityfolk. Missing one’s sweetheart sounds like great fodder for art, no?

Also a chance to hog the kitchen table even more than I already do.
Plus a chance to hog the kitchen table even more than I already do.

I plan to join him for two weeks along the way, as well as personally deliver a passel of delicious care packages once he hits Yellowstone and points north.

Au revoir, intrepid Zippy Morocco! May your hike be beautiful and amazing.

*

P.S. One more goodbye: the Brink Gallery is closing. What a gem it was! Not intimidating or stuffy or jargony, just friendly and fresh, and whoever chose the exhibitors was willing to go out on limbs. A person may not always like what’s in the Brink, but it is always interesting. I guess the woman who runs it wants to do art of her own, and now she will get her chance. I had very privately dreamed of one day having a piece in a group show there. That will not be happening – except that in a very minor way, it will: If you visit the Brink this month, you’ll see stacks of self-addressed, blank postcards. Take one, make something, send it back. All the returned postcards (Postcards to the Brink, ha ha) hang in the window, spinning slowly as the air moves. So I took one home and inked a panther slinking off the edge, out from behind bars of dripped watercolor paint. “Slink off to stalk your passions.”

It’s not too late for you to get in on the action!