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The Globe and Mail recommends HOT POTATOE in its holiday gift guide

Updated December 9, 2010

Gift Books Guide: Comics & Graphica

Thursday, Dec. 02, 2010

Gift ideas for people of all ages who still love to read comics

HOT POTATOE: Fine Ahtwerks: 2001-2008
By Marc Bell, Drawn & Quarterly, 272 pages, $44.95

There’s a fuzzy line between comics and fine art, and Marc Bell is determined to doodle all around it. A spiritual heir to R. Crumb and Jim Woodring, the Canadian artist has collected more than a decade’s worth of his absurdist tableaux, rendered in ’zines, mixed-media art and watercolour drawings. Is this a graphic novel or an artist’s monograph? Potatoe, po-tah-toe.
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  Akimbo finds MARC BELL to be

Updated February 9, 2010

Marc Bell's Hot Potatoe | Art and Cold Cash | David Merritt at Museum London

by Sky Glabush

For this report, I want to focus on the play between words and images and look at two exciting new book projects as well as the work of David Merritt, whose drawings and installations amble on the peripheries of image and sound.

Marc Bell, Hot Potatoe (cover), Drawn and Quarterly, 2009

I found myself loitering by the bookrack at Forest City Gallery, pouring over a recent publication handed to me by gallery director Jason Schiedel. Once inside this intricate and delightfully perverse world I couldn’t easily escape. A droopy, pink-eyed, bearded creature with oven mitts for hands and buckteeth looks out across the landscape and mutters disdainfully, “Ew Gaud.” His is a world somewhere between Sponge-Bob and Joseph Cornell where Philip Guston looms large and oven-baked Sculpy magically transforms into pieces of bacon. Drawn and Quarterly’s new publication Hot Potatoe is a frolicking gambol around the stream of conscious meandering and comic virtuosity of one of Canada’s best graphic-folk-art noodley-doodlers Marc Bell. My favourite character is “Tim Ho Ton.” Part hookah-pipe, part recycled roll-up-the-rim cups, he is the incarnation of that early morning fix of genetically modified, MSG and ephedrine-soaked caffeine.
(Disclaimer: I can’t exactly claim that Bell’s book originated in London, Ontario, but a case could be made that without Greg Curnoe, Kim Moodie, Beale High School and fellow students Jason McLean and Peter Thompson, this might not be such a hot potato. And Peter Thompson, who does live in London, makes a guest appearance. So there.)
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USA today recommends HOT POTATOE!

Updated December 7, 2009

Comics recs: A modern-day 'Cinderella,' a funky 'Potatoe' and more

Ann Oldenburg

Hot Potatoe by Marc Bell
About five years ago I got a book by Marc Bell called The Stacks (it's out of print now). It was so great I kept it beside my bed forever; my only complaint is it was tiny, and Bell's drawings are so intricate that I'd have to squint to catch all the detail.

That's not a problem with Hot Potatoe. Finally, the artist gets the treatment he deserves with a beautiful hardcover that does justice to his absurd and layered work. Potatoe collects Bell's stuff from 2001-2008, so it's more of an art book than a narrative. I'm happy to own it because I discover something new every time I turn a page; I read a review once that compared Bell to children's artist Richard Scarry in that respect, though he also reminds me of R. Crumb. Either way, that ain't too shabby.
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  The Walrus "Cheggs Oot" MARC BELL & HOT POTATOE!

Updated November 23, 2009

Chegg It Oot: An Interview with Marc Bell

by Sean Rogers

You may have noticed, decorating the pages of the December issue of The Walrus, a series of little drawings called “Schematic Diagrams for Proposed Objects.” These colourful chunks were chipped away from the alternate reality that Canadian artist Marc Bell has been building for the past decade and more: a populous, overwhelming place where “everything has feet,” even the least detail demands annotation (“brown sock means I’m working in Quebec”), Philip Guston’s self-caricature comes into inexplicable conflict with ex-Ontario premier Ernie Eves, and imaginary corporations peddle such necessities as gravy, tarps, stone, and adhesives. It’s a place I’ve written about before, and which Bell’s new book, Hot Potatoe, exhaustively maps out, often aided by cheeky, Nabokovian text pieces. The artist was gracious enough to exchange a few emails with me about his intricately detailed universe.

* * *

Hot Potatoe features drawings, mixed media constructions, comics, watercolour, and other work. What sort of thought processes do each of these forms require? For instance, how do you compose a comics page versus a drawing?

A common thread through all of my work seems to be a stacking of information and imagery, and me trying to arrange it all somehow. But there are specific differences: the mixed media pieces require a lot less planning than how I would go about drawing comics, for example. When I am creating mixed media things, I like to start out with a big mess (scraps, doodles, random bits of paper) and refine it over time. There is a lot of layering and do-overs. Perfect for someone like me who has difficulty with decisions. The downside is that it is sometimes hard to cover up the bits and pieces that I like, but which may not contribute to the overall composition of the thing.

The other side of the coin is comics, which take more planning. I draw those in pencil first. That’s when most of the redoing happens, all the erasing and do-overs…Fans of cartoons often enjoy a pristine comics page that looks effortless. Mine never seem to escape a certain kind of tortured look, however. I push very hard with my pencil and it looks like I might be trying to dig through to the other side of the paper and escape.

The watercoloured drawings are created in much the same way I create a page of comics. But these days I am using nicer paper.

Hot Potatoe includes some of your collaborative work with Peter Thompson and others. What role has collaboration played in how you make art?

I don’t work on as much collaboration as I used to, but I think collaboration has really helped me try to use some of the same tactics in creating my own work. Often I am consciously trying to interfere with my own natural way of working in an attempt to create a compelling image — sort of imitating what happens when one draws with another person, trying to get at an unexpected result. Throwing a wrench in the works. Also, my own work has that “piled on” look that some collaborative work has. Figures will have multiple faces/views, a cubist look or something like that.

How does the approach differ when you’re compiling and editing a book like Nog A Dod, which is more about the work of your peers, as opposed to when you’re putting together something like Hot Potatoe, which is all you?

Well, I had more distance from the material used to put together Nog A Dod (since it was by other people), and that was very helpful in order to edit it. Nog A Dod was pretty exciting to put together because the material had been produced originally in small-time, self-published booklets, so I was happy to bring it to a bigger audience. When compiling Hot Potatoe, I became a little tired of the material because it was all “me, me, me,” but I had to remind myself that most of it had only appeared as art on the wall, and most people probably had not seen it before. My general tendency is still to cram a lot of stuff in, and certainly both Nog A Dod and Hot Potatoe are pretty full.

I wonder what you have to say about what attracts you to (1) prog rock, and (2) E.C. Segar. What kind of play, if any, do those influences have in your work?

(1) I loved prog as a teenager—it was my way out of heavy metal (I thought it was smarter), but I don’t know if it was a good way out. I don’t have as much patience for it now, but I have been trying to listen to Van Der Graaf Generator to see what that is all about. My love of prog has been replaced with things like Can and The Fall, which you could certainly link to prog in some ways. Looking at my work now, however, you might be able to see my prog roots in there.

(2) Segar is the opposite of prog, much more groovy and looser. As important as it was to stop listening to the whole five parts of Supper’s Ready by Genesis every day (as great as all of them are), it was also important to look at Segar and things like Betty Boop to see where somebody like [Robert] Crumb came from. Segar is the perfect cartoonist. Vaudeville comics at their finest.

Do you think of the figures in your drawings and constructions as characters in the same way that you do the characters in your comics? Like, is the “Balsam Adhesives” guy someone who could interact on the page with a Petey or a Paul or a Pootie, or is he just a satisfying collection of compositional elements?

I don’t think “Balsam Adhesives” guy could interact with a Petey or a Paul or a Pootie unless he was simplified a bit. It wouldn’t be impossible, but it would take some work to distill him down to his more bare essentials. In “There Is No Escape!”, the story starring Petey, there are illusions and representations of some of the “non-comics” stuff, but it was a challenge to distill some of these things down into comics-land. While my comics are very busy, they do need to have a bit of simplicity to make them “move”. A good example of this would be Basil Wolverton’s comics versus his crazy, detailed illustrations. You would expect his comics to look as detailed as those stand-alone drawings, but they don’t, and if they did, they wouldn’t “move” like they do.

The paper cup with the “Lime Ricky” logo is conspicuous among your constructions for being, unlike the ones advertising Gravy World or Canadian Aztec, from a restaurant chain that actually exists. Any fond memories of Lime Rickey’s restaurants?

You know, I don’t recall this restaurant. Did the staff dress in green? I bet they did! I was mainly familiar with the soda fountain drink of the same name on the menu of Mel’s Tea Room in Sackville, NB.

I’m curious about your connections to your hometown’s artistic history. Are there any London, Ontario artists whose work you feel a kinship with? I’m wondering in particular about Greg Curnoe’s collages.

I think it was Jason Mclean, another London-born artist, who showed me those Curnoe collages with bus transfers and things. It led us both to using those in our work as a reference point to our hometown. We would glue them to the outside of letters we mailed to each other. Curnoe and co. were very stubborn about being from London and working in London, a real regionalist viewpoint. In much the same way that The Hairy Who and other Chicago artists rejected what was going on in New York at the time they started, Curnoe and co. didn’t feel they should have to go to the big city (Toronto) to get respect. It is a different world now, with this internet and “globalization” or whatever you want to call it, and I don’t know if that point of view could really truly exist anymore. You would have to work really hard to maintain that kind of bubble.

You have lived and worked all across Canada, but a specific sense of place, even if it’s only alluded to, is still present in much of your work. How important is where you’re living to what you’re working on?

I might have done all right as a stubborn London artist, not sure, but I found I had to get out and be stubborn all over the place (ho ho). A good chunk (almost all) of Hot Potatoe was created in Vancouver. I was there for eight years and it was a good place to get a lot done. I appreciate that you get that “sense of place” from the work: I am not sure how it is communicated, but I am happy it is. I don’t know if you have seen Curnoe’s map of North America with the U.S. missing (Canada is joined to Mexico), but I cannot claim the same sort of differences with the United States in my work, as most of my successes are tied to the U.S. My stuff does not have the “message” it seems to take to be understood that well in Canada. I think Canada is very overwhelmed by academia in art, to a point where [the art] will probably change a bit or possibly already has [because of that pressure]. I like to work in opposition to SOMETHING, so it’s okay if this academic “art that is good for you” sticks around a bit longer.
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View on Canadian Art recommends HOT POTATOE

Updated November 23, 2009

Cartoon Art: Philip Guston, Marc Bell et al

by Andrea Carson

What is it about the increasingly popular art that brings together illustration, graphic design, graffiti and cartoons? It’s a huge trend that you might say was begun, in its most recent form, by the American painter Philip Guston in the 1970s, when he abruptly dropped Abstract Expressionism for his own style that he’s now most famous for.

Guston made the change because he was looking for an art with more meaning. Speaking of his feelings in the late 1960s when America was at war, he said “I was feeling split, schizophrenic. (I thought) what kind of man am 1, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything - and then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue. [..] I wanted to be complete again, as I was when I was a kid…. Wanted to be whole between what I thought and what I felt.”

The more recent resurgence of this type of work can perhaps be attributed to the likes of Marcel Dzama, Barry McGee and others, and its latest incarnation is in the work of artists like Jason McLean and Marc Bell.

Marc Bell debuts his new book, Hot Potatoe, with a two-person book signing and exhibition at Toronto’s Magic Pony, alongside Amy Lockhart. It opens on Friday, November 20 (That’s tomorrow) and the exhibition continues, I think, for a while.

Look out for my review of Hot Potatoe, by Drawn and Quarterly, which will be out in the January/February issue of Quill and Quire.

Until then, I’ve got to recommend this book. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read, filled to bursting with Bell’s drawings, paintings, constructions and a very interesting double page of scans of his address book filled with random doodles. There are essays that make no sense, and some that make some sense. But it’s not about that. The book asks that you loosen your idea of what art is, of what an art book is.

It’s pretty great, especially if that cartoony, vintage-y aesthetic is your cup of tea.

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  MARC BELL interview on Book By Its Cover

Updated October 28, 2009

Hot Potatoe: An interview with Marc Bell

by Matt Leines

Marc Bell is many things; a part time schizophrenic storyteller, the King of Canadian Psychedooolia, future national treasure, a humble and kindhearted, fearless visual visionary. I first became aware of his work from his Shrimpy and Paul and Friends comics published by the old Highwater Books, and his appearances in Vice Magazine. Early on his characters, which I narrowly viewed as the Golden Age of Comics, if LSD had been handed out in the 30’s, immediately struck a chord with me. Since then, however, Mr. Bell has been boggling my mind year after year, as his bizarre intersections of lines and shapes, bold colors, and confusing forms (is it a person, or the ground that a person is walking on, or both simultaneously?), continually destroy the high regards I held for his previous bodies of work. In November, Drawn and Quartlerly will be releasing Hot Potatoe, a giant 272 page book of his work, from his early comics to his most recent drawings and assemblages, along with lots of surprises. And if you are in New York, please visit the Adam Baumgold Gallery, where Marc has tons of works in a show of the same name through November 25. Here are some questions Marc was kind enough to answer:

ML: Who is Marc Bell, and can I believe a word of what he tells me?

MB: Marc Bell is this person who is perhaps known most for his comics in “small press” or “a little bit bigger than small press” but he also creates stand-alone artwork that he shows in galleries. I think most of what he is saying here is true though sometimes his memory is not great.

ML: As best as you remember, what is the first art type thing you remember creating?

MB: You know, I am not sure I remember creating this but at one point I created this imitation of a BC strip with a daddy longlegs coming out of the anthill. I also sort of remember creating a comic strip of what I imagined the third Star Wars movie to be before its release. I drew it in one those doodle pads. I don’t know what happened to it but it would probably be somewhat illegible to my grown up eyes. As a child it probably made complete sense to me.

ML: In the past we’ve discussed our processes, and if memory serves correct, you don’t really start a drawing or work with any grand plan. A drawing is able to develop freely, and may end up being colored or left black and white, or even collaged later on to become something else. How has your process evolved with the evolution of your work, especially as the comic storytelling influence has become less literal?

MB: I have always made standalone “art” alongside comics. But at one point (about 5 years ago) I stopped drawing comic stories. The collaborative stuff and my stand alone “art” have always been a little looser because I don’t have to plan as much but more recently I have been penciling “art” drawings much in the same way as I might pencil a page of comics and ink it. I think I just needed to break away from that comics way of working for a while, though in a general sense how I work still resembles the way in which I made comics. In all these mediums I work in there is a stacking of information/images. The “mixed media” work I do is probably the most removed from the comics but they are usually still composed with a grid in mind.

ML: What influences you on a daily basis, and what’s one thing you are desperate to do?

MB: I like to keep up with my peers and what they are doing. My fellow “Nog A Dod”-ers and people like yourself I get to wondering about. I am curious, I get a kick out of the art world and how ridiculous it usually is. There are not a lot of people here in Montreal that create the kind of work I do and so sometimes I miss Vancouver and what was going on there because it did feel like there was something going on. Many of those Vancouverites have since moved to Toronto and that place is too expensive for the likes of me so I am in a bit of a bubble for now.
Looking forward I would like to create a group of works that relate to each other a little more. I have been thinking about pulling some of the characters in the works out and elaborating on them a little more as single entities. Sometimes I wish I could make less cluttered pictures!

ML: Brick Snakes. Please extrapolate.

MB: Ray Johnson drew Brick Snakes and Jason Mclean created a collage of a Ray Johnson Brick Snake with the Canada Council logo on it (Canada’s Art Funding Dept) and so this was the “Canada Council Brick Snake”. I took that idea and applied to actual grant application acceptance/rejection letters. I remember seeing one of your works with the snake and wondering “whut the??” I am sure I asked you about this (?), but I forget the answer. Was yours a response to Johnson as well or were yours self-made snakes?

ML: I didn’t know about the Ray Johnson connection
till after you or Peter told me about it. I always considered my things more worm like, and I called them “Eye Worms.” The bricks actually came later on, at first they just had meaty rings around them. But it was real strange the first time I saw your snakes, to see such a similar idea coming from so far away. You Canadians seems to have an uncanny culture of unselfish idea sharing that doesn’t seem as predominant here in the States. What effect has collaborating with and riffing on ideas of your peers, had on your own work? And have you ever had issue with your ideas being used by others?

MB: Peter Thompson and I would often redraw each other’s characters or icons when creating collaborations. Or we would come up with something that would be reused and would evolve over time and through these recreations. Peter started “re-drawing” books by Jason Mclean. So we decided at one point that it would be funny if we continued to “steal” from each other’s work and use it in our own. In fact, it was encouraged not just tolerated. I think it was a healthy version of being “competitive”. I think stealing is usually ok unless somebody is making a million dollars of another’s creation and then it becomes problematic I suppose. And I suppose, other than that, if people respect each others work it usually seems ok to me. People have shown me things that have reminded them strongly of my work here and there and it doesn’t bother me. It might it if it was part of some huge ad campaign and was terrible. Anyway, I have certainly had my influences!

ML: You are no stranger to print, having self published and pro published dozens of books and comics. How does the release of Hot Potatoe compare?

MB: Well, it is probably the most exhaustive thing I have put together. It was a real privilege to create it, it seemed like something that would be made about an older artist and so I did try to make fun of this fact a bit by making fun of the form. A sort of half-serious monograph/satire.

ML: What’s next for Marc Bell?

MB: Well, Marc is having a show at the Owens Art Gallery in Sackville in early 2010. The town where he went to art school. His Shrimpy and Paul book is being translated into French by Cornelius (I believe I mentioned this about four times in another interview by accident). More stuff. A little rest.
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