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Miami Herald hails top reads HARK! A VAGRANT, PURE PAJAMAS AND JINCHALO

Updated February 28, 2012


Artists at the top of their game, or not

By Richard Pachter
The Miami Herald
Feb. 2012

Hark A Vagrant. Kate Beaton. Drawn & Quarterly. 168 pages. $19.95.

Reminding readers that apparently stuffy literary figures were also supposed to be quite human, New Yorker cartoonist Beaton’s sly and often rude humor propels this anarchic collection of her hysterical historical ruminations. Aiming at culture high and low, she deftly skewers everyone from the Brontes to Ben Franklin to Nancy Drew. Rarely subtle, often over the top, Beaton’s simple but expressive art helps make its mark without ever obscuring the target.

Pure Pajamas. Marc Bell. Drawn & Quarterly. 96 pages. $22.95.

Canadian Bell’s strips have an early Crumb-like joie de vivre (with a dash of Julie Doucet) but he veers off the path of sexual angst and frustration and charges full speed ahead toward a strange land of hallucinations and absurdity. This collection gathers most of his regular jaunts into silliness and unruly lunacy. Other than a few naughty words and situations, Bell’s love of language and imagery would make him ideal for children, but grownups, too, will howl at his relentlessly ingenious words and images.


Jinchalo. Matthew Forsythe. Drawn & Quarterly. 120 pages. $17.95.

A collection of mostly mute fables of shape-shifters and hungry beasts, this sweet little volume, based on Korean folk tales, is wistful and whimsical. Forsythe’s lithe line work nicely complements the dreamy mis en scene. He’s a terrifically skilled artist, and this smartly understated performance adds to the charm and potency of his presentation.


 
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Featured artists

Matt Forsythe
Marc Bell
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

Hark! A Vagrant
Pure Pajamas
Jinchalo




  Robot 6 has been reading PURE PAJAMAS, on CBR

Updated January 12, 2012


November 6, 2011
Chris Mautner

Pure Pajamas by Marc Bell This is a collection of early strips and comic stories Bell did for various publications back in the 1990s though, except for one or two segments it bears a pretty close resemblance to the sort of work hes doing now. Bells comics always take place in a big-footed, anthropomorphic universe, where everything pills, the broccoli on your plate, a pair of pajamas seems capable of suddenly coming to life and doing a little song and dance. Its a vibrant, cartoony impeccably detailed world to be sure, but not one devoid of darkness. The broccoli could easily end up being cut to pieces and served on a plate of rice, cute little drunks can get crushed to death by speedy security wagons, you could be a piece of toast looking for advice from a psychiatrist only to end up as his breakfast. Theres a bit of danger and savagery in Bells world, which gives the stories in Pajamas a nice bit of tension and keep the whimsical nature of his universe from getting too precious.
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

           Featured product

Pure Pajamas




The Comics Journal interviews Marc Bell

Updated January 11, 2012


November 30, 2011
Dan Nadel

The Truth About Archie Bunkers Chair: An Interview with Marc Bell
BY Dan Nadel Nov 30, 2011

Color panel from Shrimpy and Paul and Friends (first appeared in Vice Magazine)

I first became aware of Marc Bells work in the mid-90s, just as minicomics seemed to be booming in the mediums own small way. Marc published prolifically (and, unbeknownst to me at the time, already had two real comic books to his credit) in minis and in newspapers and magazines. As the minicomics scene began to die off in the early 00s he started appearing in anthologies (including my own) and then moved into galleries and books of his own. Hes published four volumes of his work: an art book, The Stacks (Drawn & Quarterly); Shrimpy and Paul and Friends (Highwater Books), a collection of strips starring the titular characters; the monograph Hot Potatoe (Drawn & Quarterly); and most recently the comic strip collection Pure Pajamas (also Drawn & Quarterly). Additionally, hes edited books including Nog a Dod (Conundrum/PictureBox) and published scores of zines of his own. He currently lives in Guelph, Ontario with the artist Amy Lockhart.

Its been an intriguing journey, as hes developed a way to render his world across multiple platforms that communicates to viewers but remains completely his own language. His work zigzags back and forth between purely transparent, classic cartooning to much more interior image-making. In whatever mode you find him, however, when youre engaging with Marcs work youre playing by his visual rules. He took the lessons of imagists like Karl Wirsum and word-play collagists including Ray Johnson and managed to apply them to comics, which makes for layered reading/viewing experiences. When he segues into making stand-alone artworks, Marc wisely drops the narrative and manages, in drawing, painting, and collage, to create carefully defined spaces in which to explore private languages of line, color, and form, unencumbered by narrative or two-dimensionality.

Ive published and been friends with Marc for a while now and with the release of Pure Pajamas it seemed like a good time to talk. We conducted this interview in September of this year at my apartment in Brooklyn. It was transcribed by Conrad Groth, Janice Lee, Ben Horak, and Kara Krewer. Marc and I edited it for length, clarity, and to make ourselves seem much more articulate than we really are.

DAN NADEL: What I was thinking this morning about SPX was this: A lot of stuff, it seems to me, in this current generation lacks a certain amount of imagination, but actually I think what I mean is it lacks a unique interior vision. So when we talk about Ron Reg, or you, or Amy Lockhart, theres a particular aesthetic that cannot be duplicated, its unmistakable, and it seems to come from a pretty deep place. Theres no appropriation involved, theres no trying to be something else, and theres not a sort of friendly Hey, come on and shake my hand quality to it. What are you now, like 39?

MARC BELL: 39, yeah, Im turning 40 in November. Lordy Lordy.

Oh shit, you are fucked. [Laughter.]

What are you, 35?

35 now. I do think when you were coming up, and Ron, John Porcellino, whatever all the stuff was, was pretty outsiderish. What do you think? [Laughter.]

No, its true, I mean this stuff has a definitely folky kind of quality, and people like Ron, its uniqueI mean, what are you asking me?

Im asking you whats changed. What do you think has changed over the last 10 years?

Ok. The era of Archie Bunkers chair is ending. Dads are nicer now, the kids are more friendly, theres not as much, maybe, anger, like I dont think Rons work is angry, necessarily, and I dont know if mines really that angry, but theres

But its confused.

But its confused. Yeah, now people want something very clear, it seems. We were talking earlier and you used the word pop-yI dont know what point I wanted to make with this.

I dont know. Ive never thought of the Archie Bunkers chair thing, thats good.

Archie Bunkers chair is floating out to sea. It is obsolete. Do you understand what Im saying?

I do, I do, I think

I do think its kind of a generational thing or a sign o the times.

We were the new generation not so long ago, Marc. [Laughter.]

Its over.

Its over?

Thurbers the new generation.

Thurbers our age.

I know. [Laughter.] Its funny, when you first contacted me, I saw you as part of the younger generation. I suppose when you are younger it seems like someone a little younger than you is. Ok, but lets try to think of

Michael DeForge.

Michael DeForge, but then his stuff is really straightforward.

Very.

Very straightforward, pop-y. I gotcha now. I thought you were asking me who the new version of us is. DeForges stuff is certainly not as confused and crusty, and Archie-Bunkers-chair-ishy as my stuff. I mean, when I was 19 or 20 or so I designed this gig poster, and someone was saying to me, Oh man, looking at your drawings I thought you were like some 50-year-old underground freak or something. It was something I did when I was 20, and he thought I was 50 years old. I just did a signing in Pittsburgh, and these guys came up to me, and they were laughing, and they were like, Oh my God, we thought you would be like, wearing a duster, like an overcoat and shades and

Thats so funny, because part of the appeal of your work is that in some weird way, once you key into it, its very matter-of-fact.

Yeah.

It may be crusty, but theres an order to it: Your arrangements are solid and the information is all accessible, more or less. Its graphically precise work and its not like youre injecting a persona in there.

No, I dont know exactly what that joke was, but I think they thought I would be more haggard or something. Because of all the drawings, artwork, and stuff. I think maybe they were surprised I still kept some kind of youthful-ish appearance. But anyway thats beside the point. Yeah, because its true, my work isnt really about a persona necessarily. I mean some of my autobiographical stuff is joking about that, I guess. But that stuffs sort of long gone.

Yeah, its long gone. That was the 90s. That was the heyday.

That was the mid-90s, when we were the new thing.

Speaking of the 90s, the first time I ever heard anything about you as a person was Ron Reg telling me, I think this was before you and I even corresponded, Ron Reg was telling me that you lived in a van outside his house.

No, no, no, I was visiting Ron with my friend Neil and my friend R. J. (this hilarious newfie pharmacist), and we drove down to Cambridge in a propane-powered van which Neil later sold to Elf Power.

Oh, really? The band.

Yeah, the band. And then the van traded hands and ended up with Olivia Tremor Control. Neil is buddies with those Elephant 6 guys, and the van ended up being passed around Georgia between those bands, because I think propane is really cheap in Georgia, right?

Right.

So a propane van is excellent for touring around there, Im sure in certain states its really expensive. So anyway, we drove down from the east coast of Canada, we drove down to, well they were driving south, and I had never met Ron before, and we stopped in and visited Ron in Cambridge. At first we couldnt get a hold of him or something, and it was really cold, and we were trying to sleep in the van, and I so cold I went and slept a little bit at the Kinkos, until they threw me out of there. [Laughter] But we eventually met Ron, and hung out with him, which was great, because I had been corresponding with him. We had been sending mini-comics back and forth. And on that same trip, Ron was like, Hey, Marc, you should come. Im going to Providence, there are these crazy guys there that have this giant space, and they do shows and they make posters and its just nuts, you should check it out, youd probably like it. And I was like, That sounds pretty interesting, but Im going on this trip with these guys. So, I didnt get to go to Fort Thunder back in the day. But then I later I found out about all that stuff happening in Providence and met Ben Jones through the mail, and all that.

Marc and Ron Rege Jr. in Cambridge Mass, 1996. Photo by Neil Rough.

So how important was that community thing to you, coming up? Because you were exchanging minis with Ron, what starting in 97, 96?

Yeah, it was important to me, I was really taken by Rons stuff. Like you say, when youre describing that old kind of cartooning that maybe isnt as prevalent right now, or theres not as much of it coming up now, he really embodied that. And then at the same, I was working with all these other Canadians, so it was just making a connection in the States. Ron was an American version of the stuff I responded to. Its not just Ron; there were all sorts of other ones. But Ron was important, I think. And John Porcellino, who was really nice about promoting my stuff through his Spit and a Half distro.

Portrait of the artist as a young hockey player

Well, lets go back to London. So, you were born in 1971 in London, Ontario.

Yeah.

And what did your parents do?

Well, my dad worked at Ford, and my mom worked at Woolco, which became Walmart. Walmart bought it out.

And how many brothers and sisters?

Twin sister and an older sister, a year older.

So what were your earliest visual memories?

Oh, I dunno, I cant remember.

Really?

Yeah. I cant, can you?

Yeah.

What were your first visual memories?

My first really vivid visual memories are like, oh wait, maybe I cant remember either.

I dont have a great memory. I talk to my friend Neil when I need some information about my past. He has a really good memory, hell remember exact dates that things happened on. But he probably wouldnt remember my first visual memory. I used to have dreams of pretty detailed drawings.

Neil Rough decorated by Bell as part of his Altered Facebook Photo 10 Dollars project

When you were a little kid?

Im pretty sure. Im pretty sure, unless Ive fabricated that. You know how sometimes people fabricate memories?

Sure.

But Im almost positive I had dreams of detailed images or drawn images.

When did drawing become a real concern?

I think pretty quickly, I was always into it. I mean, people say, Aww man, it must take you a long time, And I go, Well, yeah, but not really. When I get rolling I can really draw really fast. Just because Ive done it so much. Thats what everyone always asks me, How long did that take? Its just like, I dunno, its kinda second nature.

And did your parents respond at all?

Yeah, they were fairly positive, they just probably got worried when I was older, like, What are you going to do now, what are you going to do with that? But I was encouraged, I guess.

By your mom or your dad or both?

Well both I think, initially. It was something I just did, and I wasnt stopped.

When did you actually start getting schooling in it?

Well, I guess Beal Art, which was a two-year course at a high school level. I finished a whole high school diploma or whatever, and then I went to Beal Art. So I actually ended up with 52 high school credits when I only needed 30. [Laughter] Before Beal Art I had an art teacher in high school who actually confiscated stuff I was doing. I was drawing on 8 x 11 papers folded over just drawing these really stupid comics. And they were in pencil. My best friend and I had these joke characters, the Galaxy Gang, where wed try to draw beneath us. Like, we werent that technically accomplished, but we were trying to draw like little kids.

Even worse?

Yeah, worse. I think we were inspired by the art in those Roger Ramjet cartoons, how basic and immediate it all was. We were making these in elementary school so these ones that were taken from me were a later version that I was drawing by myself. In this case, the main character Jimmy had grown up a bit and was into hardcore punk and drugs and that kind of thing. So, I was drawing these comics, I dont even know what the content was, but maybe they were somewhat objectionable, like adolescent, stupid humor. Anyway, my teacher saw what I was doing and he took some of them and didnt give them back. Also, I drew a strip for the school paper once featuring Jimmy as this terrible, violent machine shop teacher who would injure his students. I was actually in the schools machine shop class when I drew this and my teacher, Mr. Hendry, thought it was about him, that I was somehow making fun of him and I think I was called down to the office and given a talking to. The sad thing was that I really liked Mr. Hendry, he was a super nice guy and I was doing well in the class but I dont think they understood my satire. Or lack of satire. I was so mortified by it all, I dont think I could explain my way out of it.

Did Jimmy make any other appearances?

A friend of mine, Charles, bought one of these swish barrels, a barrel that had been used to make whiskey in it. You put water in it and turn it every few days and later you bottle it and there you have it, some sub-grade booze. We decided to call it Jimmy Juice and so I made a label for it with Jimmy lying drunk in the mud or something like that. We did some promotion, made a short commercial. We somehow managed to get the high school Vice Principal to endorse it on videotape, saying something like Jimmy Juice, the stuff that girders are made of. That was the official slogan.

Why didnt you just go to Beal Art instead of high school?

Thats a good question. Maybe I was too scared to start going to school downtown, or maybe I didnt know you could do that. But maybe it was better in a way because I was done with high school, and then Beal Art became this two-year art course. So Im getting credits for it, but its almost like going to art school. And having finished that program, they let me into university in second year.

Ah, so you got out and into university.

Yeah, but they actually asked me to leave Beal.

Why?

They really wanted me to be an animator. I took the film/animation course in my second year but I didnt want to do any animation. I had a video camera, and I was always videotaping stuff, and just goofing around with the video camera. I was constantly recording stuff off the television when I was a kid, recording movies, doing stuff like that. I made a very rudimentary documentary about Peter Thompson after I met him there at Beal. So anyway, I wanted to take film and maybe learn how to edit and stuff like that, and thats why I took film/animation. But the teacher clearly saw I was interested in cartooning, and he was really pushing me to go to this school, Sheridan College, which is an animation school. And he would say stuff like, hed say, If you dont do this, youre just going to end up working at IGA and youre going to be a failure [Laughs] Like that kind of stuff, you know what I mean?

So he was taking the ironic stab of pushing you into a lucrative career in animation, which is not lucrative at all. [Laughs]

Yeah, thats right. Maybe back in that day it seemed like it would be, I dunno. But Sheridan was like a farm school for Disney, right? I think even Americans, some of them, would go out to Sheridan. Its pretty well known. But anyway, they wanted to kick me out at one point.

Because you wouldnt do animation?

I dont think I saw myself as a rebellious student, but they saw me as someone who was really single-minded and knew what he wanted to do, and they didnt see that I was taking anything they were offering, in a way.

Thats it.

And in a way I kind of take it as a compliment, in retrospect, but at the time, I was kind of hurt by it. I was like, What? You want me to leave? What have I done wrong? So I asked them if I could stay. And there was one other thing that was kind of funny. I was walking by the teachers lounge one day, and I noticed there was a Life in Hell cartoon and it was one whereI might not be explaining it exactly the way it wasbut the general idea, I recall, was that there was a view of a classroom, and all the students were standing beside their desks, and then Binky is turned around, and hes facing a corner and they labeled him Marc Bell. So they really saw me as going against the grain.

So what were you doing? I mean, what were you drawing? What was the work?

At Beal Art I was doing lithography, which wasnt working out great because I would often mess up the stone. And I was taking that film/animation course, and again, the teacher really didnt think that was working out, because he wanted me to do animation, so I actually switched to ceramics weirdly enough. I started making these really stupid ceramics sculptures. At one point I think the teacher came aside and said, You know Marc, when you cast something in clay, it lasts for a long time, especially if you glaze it and stuff, this is going to last for a long time, so you should be aware of that. [Laughs] You know what I mean?

Ceramic sculpture made while attending Bealart

So basically hes saying, Your stuff looks like shit, maybe you should think twice about it.

[Laughs] Yeah, or like, What do you think youre doing? I was making some of my cartoon characters in three dimensions. I had created lithographs of some of these characters also. And so I was making these creatures, they would have a clay body, and then it would have eight legs made out of doweling, with clay kneecaps. I didnt really have a clear vision of what I wanted to do, but I was drawing comics, and I was a little all over the place, but thats what schools for, I guess, right?

Yeah.

I dont feel like I really figured everything out till I was thirty, really, in reality, you know? Like technically. And then when I went to Mount Allison, I took printmaking, I was doing etching, and then

Mount Allison, thats Sackville?

Thats Sackville, yeah. I took printmaking, and I was drawing.

So, London though, seems like it is, or was, a pretty interesting place.

It was, it was.

In the 60s and 70s there was a pretty vibrant scene there.

Yes, in the 60s and 70s definitely. The whole Greg Curnoe/Murray Favro/Nihilist Spasm Band regional scene was going on and as an art student it was always sort of there in the background. In the 80s it didnt feel like much to me at the time growing up there but in retrospect it was actually pretty interesting and thriving in its own way. We had some interesting teachers at Beal, like Joseph Hubbard, who was doing really funny and interesting stuff and still is. London took a real hit in the late eighties and early 90s and the downtown really went down the tubes like in a lot of mid-sized cities.

One of the big themes of your work is working with friends, and so in London you met Pete Thompson

Yeah, and Jason.

Jason McLean. Is it fair to say that that was the core crew, initially?

Initially it started with myself and Peter and our friend Scott McIntyre working on collaborative drawings and Jason was making sculptures but he would have us over at his apartment and wed listen to the Nihilist Spasm Band and Peter would read from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy or something like that. And we formed the All Star Schnauzer Band. And then Jason went out west, and then I went out east, but we all still kind of kept the thread alive, one way or another. The thread actually became more involved later on. I guess the height of it would have been the late 90s and early 2000s.

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FEATURES
The Truth About Archie Bunkers Chair: An Interview with Marc Bell
BY Dan Nadel Nov 30, 2011

Was collaboration natural to you? Because thats such a huge part of your work. Its unusual.

Yeah, I guess it is. It started in the early nineties when I just started drawing with Pete and Scott and later started drawing with Jason. It seemed like a pretty natural thing to do. I cant remember if this was an influence but I went on a class trip to New York while at Beal and I went to see a giant Exquisite Corpse show at the Drawing Center. There was two parts to it, a more informal half that wasnt curated (nobody was turned away) and a curated part where you would have these old surrealist Exquisite Corpses mixed in with ones by contemporary artists and even contemporary cartoonists, which really knocked me out at the time. I know Panter was in the mix and I am sure Beyer was in there. In the informal part it was a totally mixed bag, Oh, theres Captain Beefheart next to some other people you hadnt heard of. And on the collaboration front, it was interesting to me to see the Royal Art Lodge come up in Winnipeg later on, because it was kind of a similar

Are they a little younger than you, or the same age?

I think they were generally around the same age except for Hollie Dzama who was younger. All I mean to say is that they were probably doing a similar thing independently as was Fort Thunder/Paper Rad. So you know, it was kind of interesting at that time it just seemed like there was a few pockets. I mean using those three as an example, but I think theyre pretty good ones.

Yeah absolutely.

So I think that for some reason it was something that was in the air. Right?

Yeah. Which is interesting in itself. It really begins with drawing in your work. Whether its comics or gallery-based work, image based work, it seems always drawing-based. Did you ever encounter resistance from people because of that?

Well yeah, when I was doing it it wasnt in vogue, right?

No way.

But you could look at what was going on, I could look at what was going on in comics.

Right.

And sort of appreciate it on that level that, or wait what am I trying to say?

Well in comics drawing was flourishing, in a sense.

Twas a great time I mean with Chester Brown and Julie Doucet and Clowes and Peter Bagge. I mean that was really something was happening there.

Yeah.

Right? I think Jason, for example he saw I was looking at that stuff. He was out West in Vancouver and he was near Seattle so he could see this thing sort of happening, right?

Right, right.

Cause it was in the water or something.

Yeah yeah.

So he sort of was like Whoa; actually I dont want to put words in his mouth but maybe he was like, Whoa Marcs on to something here. People are actually starting to pay attention to this stuff.

Right.

Canada can be really academic as far as art school goes and it just felt like that crazy drawing was not what was happening in art school at the time.

So did you publish in high school?

When I was in high school there was a pretty interesting punk rock scene in London in the eighties. And a bit of zine activity, there was this magazine called What Wave, which was a garage rock magazine. Im maybe more interested in garage rock now, or more aware of it, but at the time I wasnt that aware of that stuff, but anyway, Mike Niederman, who did comic/zine reviews in What Wave, and he would hand letter them, was the first guy to review my stuff. I was putting out these mini-comics, but they were magazine sized and offset. The first ones I did with a classmate of mine and later I was doing them on my own. I would do 200 copies, offset. Mike Niederman worked at this print place, M & T Publishing and they somehow had this low offset price point where you could actually do it. And I saw him recently and hes kept all that stuff he used to review. Hes got all the old Yummy Fur minis and other zines Chester had been submitting to, he was reviewing and collecting all that stuff, hes got all these old Richard Kern zines and all that 80s stuff. He brought a stack of things to show me at this recent London zine fair, and he keeps all this stuff in great shape, hes a bit of an archivist of that era.

Thats great.

Yeah, but I asked him, I said, I dont want to see my old publications, please do not bring them. [Laughs]

And did he bring them?

I think maybe he did, actually, but I did not want to see them. But come to think of it, the very first comic I did on my very own, before I did the offset at M & T, was one I had printed at the high school I was going to because I found out there was a printing course there. So it was printed offset and it looked terriblesome students did itand it just looked awful.

And this was Beal Art?

This was when I was going to Beal Art.

And while youre in Beal Art somehow you get your first comic book published by Calber Boof.

Yes. Or I guess it was a little after Beal Art. I think I drew in the basement at my moms place. You know? I drew the cover in blue line pencil first and then colored it. And, whoops, well you can still see the blue lines cause its in color. [Laughter]

You thought you were being pro.

Well yeah I thought I was being pro. I was being stupid. [Laughter] He put that out and it was a flop, right?

Yeah. Of course.

Caliber had this line of comics called Iconographix. Remember that? I think it would have been around 91. And then I moved to Sackville and I think I received the copies there. And then he didnt even want to do another one. I had to beg him to do Hep and I said, look if it loses money Ill pay for it. And I paid to have an ad in The Comics Journal for Hep. I put a little ad in there.

So you were really going for it?

Kind of, yeah. I was trying

And how did he even find your stuff in the first place?

Well I think I found him probably.

You submitted something.

I dont even know. To tell you the truth I dont even remember. I probably had some of those books he was doing and by that time I was ordering stuff from Fantagraphics and I probably submitted to them as well around that time.

And maybe because, what was the thing that he put out that was popular, Skin Graft?

Well he put out Dead World, which was popular at the time, by this guy Vincent Locke who was also pretty popular. It was a zombie comic. But that was maybe in his regular line.

Yeah yeah.

But then he had his Iconografix line and he put out Dave Cooper. I think he was publishing people like Jason Lutes a little bit. And Lowlife by Ed Brubaker I think?

Sounds right.

And he was publishing Brian Sendelbach and Dame Darcy.

Where was he?

Gary Reed was in Michigan and he would print at this printing place in Windsor: Preney Print and Litho. I think I must have talked to him on the phone a couple times but I dont remember. And he was busy. He was putting out a lot of stuff. He just started this blog where he goes through a bit of the history. I didnt know what was going on cause it was pre-internet and you didnt know whats going on anywhere. It was all guesswork.

I remember thinking that it was a cool company.

It was kind of cool. I was over the moon to get a comic book published.

So at some point, whether you knew it or not, you were like, Im gonna be a cartoonist guy.

Yeah. For sure, definitely. I just loved Peter Bagge and Chester Brown, and I was like, Im just gonna try and do that.

The funny thing is, at the time, it was not an unreasonable goal. There are these guys, they live in some place, they put out their comic books, there are letters in the back, you see an ad for it somewhere. Thats what it is.

I was working on Hep and I was working for the school paper, and I printed a few pages from Hep as the centerspread for the paper.

Yeah, thats good. Good advertising.

What I did another time was I did this little comics primer for people in the paper. I put a little Julie Dirty Plotte panel, and Id write a little blurb on Julie, and Id do Lloyd Dangle, and Peter Bagge, and plugged a bunch of stuff.

In the school paper?

In the school paper, as part of the comics pages. So I just got free rein, I could do whatever I wanted with it. So I begged Gary to do another one, and he did it, and then I think that was it. He was just like, No, no.

[Laughs.] No more Marc Bell.

And then I was kind of discouraged a little bit after that.

And then twenty years later, Pure Pajamas. [Laughter]

Exactly.

End of the line, my friend. So Hep flops.

Someone just sent me an email recently saying, Man, Hep is fucking awesome. [Laugher.]

Somebody finally things youre a hot, young cartoonist.

Exactly. [Laughs.] I tore up a lot of that stuff.

I dont like when any artist tells me that kind of story.

I kept examples, though.

Yeah, yeah. [Laughs.] So what happens after Hep? Then in the 90s it seems like youre doing a weekly strip off and on, or

You know, what I did then was I went back to self-publishing and thought, Okay, I guess Im going to start self-publishing. A friend of mine was partners in this printing business, it was Charles, the same guy I went in on the swish barrel with, and he printed The Mojo Action Companion Unit #1 mini. Around that time I visited the press. It was not a super slick operation. It was a bit scattered around there. Anyway, I put a cigarette butt down this grate. I was sure I asked first, but I could be creating that as an excuse to feel better. So this huge mushroom cloud of smoke came up out of the grateit turns out my friends sister had been sweeping up and swept all this sawdust down there or something, I dont know. But it was a mess and it wrecked their mid 90s computers. I was so mortified about it all that my friend and I lost touch after that. I think I was too freaked out to even go get the originals back.

An auspicious beginning. So that became a mini-comic series?

It did, yeah. I kind of modeled the cover colors for the first one after Zap #1 as a joke yellow and blue. It was a bit of an anthology. It had Jay Stephens in it. So I just started putting it out, and the second one was photocopied. I dont know how many of those I did over the years. But I think it maybe went up to number seven. And then Exclaim! at some point did a comic book style collection of some of that stuff.

Exclaim! was a Canadian music magazine.

Yeah, I ended up drawing a strip for them. I think my strip started in 95 or so. They asked me, and at first I was kind of resistant to it, and I cant even remember why. For some reason I didnt think it was a good idea but then when I started doing it and I was like, No, this is a good idea. This stuff gets printed thousands of times. It went all over Canada and it was free. So it was kind of perfect in a way.

Right. So if this is 95 that you hook up with Exclaim!, thats also the perfect time for indie rock going mainstream. So that magazine was probably a pretty big deal.

Yeah, I guess you could say it was, people would pick it up. Mark Connery was in there before I was in there, I think. Fiona Smyth, Joe Ollman, Alan Hunt. And it started off kind of almost zine-like, and then it got slowly slicker and slicker, and now its very slick. Theres no comics in there anymore; its pretty straight.

So your stuff was in there. Is it weekly or monthly?

Monthly.

So its being seen nationally. Its a big deal.

Yeah, because people saw it. And people would respond to it.

So at some point, when did they decide to put out a comic book of Mojo Action Companion Unit?

They had this other strip in there called He is Just a Rat by Tony Walsh. I dont know whose idea it was, but Exclaim! started publishing this He is Just a Rat comic, so I think at one point I just asked them, Would you print just a little flimsy comic book of my stuff? So I just loaded it with a bunch of stuff that was in the minis. There was just one, and it was tough for them to sell comic books, you know, if they werent concentrating on it. So thats how that happened.

So it was another false start in terms of publishing.

Kind of, yeah. Pretty much.

When did the weekly strip start up?

The weekly strip started when I moved to Halifax. This is like 97. Probably just after I went down to see Ron. So I ended up in Halifax, and I started doing a weekly for The Coast, the Halifax Coast. This was a time when I was just so broke. I was DJ-ing once a week, and I think the day I received my first welfare check, I was evicted. I finally got my rent togetheryou know what I mean? [Laughter.]

Yeah.

I was living in this place for free for a while, and we were supposed to do some work around there, but we didnt really get around to it. The landlord would come over and yell four sills!, meaning he wanted us to put sills in the doorways. I was really broke, and I was doing this weekly strip, and it was really scattered. Like a lot of the stuff in Pure Pajamas, where its really like me going, Uhhhh. I think that some of the earlier stuff in Pure Pajamas is that stuff.

There were some what I would call classics from that time.

And I was probably doing stuff for Vice at this time, too. I was doing a monthly Vice strip, and the Exclaim! strip, and the weekly.

And you were still broke?

Yeah, I was still broke. Totally, completely broke. For ViceI wasnt using a computer at this time, I didnt know how toI would photocopy the strip and then hand-color it with marker and mail it in. And when I asked for them back later Id only get part of them, and one of them would have a footprint on it. And Id get, like, fifteen bucks a strip or so. When I first started at Exclaim!, they were paying me fifteen dollars, and it ended (years later) at forty.

Pay rates probably arent much better now.

I know, probably not. Though, at the end of my run with Vice they were paying me a decent page rate, 200 bucks. What was my point hereI quit the weekly but then I started the weekly up again later in 2000 with the idea thatbecause the Montreal Mirror said they would take it, and then the Halifax paper said they would take it. So that meantI think I was making maybe 700 bucks a month from the weekly and the monthlies. And with that I could pay a cheap rent with that and have some leftover. So thats when I decided, Im gonna do my graphic novel. And thats when I started doing that Wilder Hobsons Theatre Abusurd-o stuff, was around 2000. And then I moved to Vancouver and I was pretty steady in Vancouver, working, doing that, and that transitioned into doing the artwork. But it was a pretty steady situation. I didnt finish that graphic novel. I have all that material but I just havent been able to get back to it.

Part of it was in Worn Tuff Elbow.

Thats right. I ran through a lot of info there.
Now, where did Shrimpy and Paul first show up?

Shrimpy and Paul was in Exclaim!. At first it was just random things, I think, and then it turned into mainly Shrimpy and Paul. I really started to take Shrimpy seriously at a certain point because Tom Devlin had invited me to put together a book for Highwater Books. So I simply wanted to get a book of Shrimpy stuff out and this was a way to accomplish that.

So tell me about Shrimpy and Paul. Where do they come from?

I was living in Montreal around 95, 96 and I drew a one off strip for a French anthology called Guillotine. Valium and Siris and Suicide and Trembles would be in it, all those guys. And ladies like Helene Brosseau. Anyway, that was the first Shrimpy and Paul strip. And then I started using Shrimpy more, and putting them into the Exclaim! strip.

page Shrimpy and Paul Exclaim! Strip (note to Frankie: these nine panel grids were later broken down into six panel grids for the Shrimpy and Paul book).

Because of everything youve done, theyre the two kind of totemic characters. Theyre like your Jimbo.

I feel like I almost like the idea of being like a one-hit wonder or something.

Did they show up in your sketchbook first?

I think I wanted to create this characterwell, you use the word totemic, and I wanted to make Shrimpy primitive weirdly primitive looking. I think I was trying to make simple characters, and I wanted to make Shrimpy simple. And I think Pauls from looking at Betty Boop and then maybe looking at Woodring. I wanted to use some of the old-timey bitsI liked looking at Woodring, and I was like, Theres a power in this kind of iconography the gloves people recognize it. So I wanted to make characters that were recognizable, but had their own identities the nipples thing is kind of funny. When I came up with that, I was like, Okay, thats funny. And Shrimpy is just sort of trying to make a straight, simple character, which seemed to go against my usual. I was putting in effort.

You were putting in effort to construct a comic strip.

Yeah. Of course.

And did that feel like the first time you had done that?

Kind of. I kind of did, really. Well, Im trying to think when the first strip is.

Shrimpy and Paul represents the sort of first earnest attempt at not just turning out comics about whatever, but about trying to tell stories about these two characters. Who are these characters to you? Was it just sort of a way to funnel your ideas? Were you ambitious? Were you feeling ambitious with them?

I guess I felt ambitious once I got rolling. I thought, I want to try and make some longer stories. For example, The Ball, The Goose, The Power! was me trying to sustain a narrative. So they were kind of a device to create a sustained narrative by setting them up in a situation and things unfolding from there.

Thats a lot of what your comics are: Situations in which things happen. And those situations are uniquely yours.

Yeah, and in Shrimpy and Paul, theres always this three-quarter view of this room. I dont know if youve noticed that. Its always these things going on in these boxes, so theres kind of a system there. Though it might seem kind of chaotic, its always on the same angle. You know what Im saying?

Yeah, I do. Its a classic comic strip device.

I like that classic thing: You always draw the door with the molding, and you draw the wood floor. Maybe that just goes back to old vaudeville-kinda comic strips; vaudeville style as opposed to cinematic style comics. I like the way Popeye looks: Its always got that same angle, and its consistent that way, but maybe mines on kind of a three-quarter angle. Im just trying to keep that kind of consistent look.

That makes sense also in the context of things like Kevin comics and Tofu Cube Guy. Those comic strip romps.

Yeah, it comes from looking at Crumb and old comics, or Betty Boop, and just trying to use the cartoon language. And a romp is a good term for those.

At a certain point with your comics, and its evident in Pure Pajamas, you seem to get restless with form and move away from anything too comic-like. So we get International Doodle Week as a strip, the strips in Kramers, the strips in The Ganzfeld, where youre getting restless with the romps and the panels. What was happening there?

With the Gustun strip, that was maybe one of the more extreme examples, where I was trying toand I think you were encouraging me a little bit, for me to break out of comics a little bit. And with the Duhy Science Network I was trying to do something a little different, and I think I was getting restless with it, and also, its just sort of been there, the aspect of the diagram. Ive always kind of done cross-sections; I really like that three-quarter angle view I was talking about with Shrimpy.

But its also getting more internal. Thats the funny thing that starts happening. One of the reasons why I think people responded so strongly to Shrimpy and Paul was that you made characters to lead you through the world. But at a certain point you abandon characters and youre just left with the world.

No, its true. I think youre right. Those really early comics we were talking about, like Boof, they were really weird, like really kind of internal. And I think when I started doing those newspaper strips, maybe I was conscious that more people would be looking at them, that they were supposed to be entertainment. With Shrimpy and Paul, I was also conscious, at a certain point, that they were going to end up in a book. Then, later, I was getting restless and kind of going back, going back into some internalized world or something with some of the later comics. Does that make sense?

It does. And it brings us around a bit to drawing as an end in itself.

Then there was an opportunity to do an art show, and I had been doing that kind of stuff all along, really, and so I went right headlong into that area and started to spend all my time doing that. And that was a bit of a relief because I didnt have to repeat things anymore the way you do in comics. It was wide open.

Well, the first art show is at Adam Baumgold Gallery in 2004?

It was my first real solo show. I had done two person shows with Pete and Jason, but I hadnt really created a whole solo show. I created a small one in Vancouver at the Blinding Light!! Cinema, but Baumgold was my first real solo art show.

But all the while, long before 04, you were making, for lack of a better term, artists books or drawing zines.

Yeah, I was making one-off drawings for drawing zines or artist books and making collaborative drawing books and mail art. Those collages I started making for the art shows evolved out of all this correspondence art that I was making. I was decorating envelopes and sending them to Jason and vice versa, and we have sent each other tons of that stuff, I was cutting out little pieces of paper and gluing them in grid-like collages on envelopes, and filling it with information. And that sort of informed those later collages. And when you put on that Ganzfeld show, instead of sending comics I decided to send that first slew of those construction things that I had made, and I think I made some new ones for that show. The whole idea of doing a show hit me at the right time, because I think I was really interested in doing that stuff some more at that time.

And these collaborations and constructions and things like that, it seems like there was a whole scene of that stuff that you were very plugged into that really was localized, and by localized, I mean just Canadian, which is a big locale.

Its just wide. Its wide. But its a small world up here.

Theres a poster you reproduced in Hot Potatoe for a drawing show, with Tommy Lacroix, Carrie Walker, Peter Thompson, Marc Bell, Amy Lockhart, Jason McLean, Owen and Terry Plummer, Holly Ward, Shayne Ehman, Dominique Ptrin, Dirty Debby, Alex Morrison. Now a bunch of those people have had significant careers on their own. So what was it aboutthere were comparable things going on in Providence, and the Royal Art Lodge, and probably god knows where else, San Francisco, if we think of Chris Johanson and those guys. So what was the dialogue like in this group, and what brought everyone together? Was it just that you guys were the only ones doing it, or was it a certain shared aesthetic?

I think there was a shared aesthetic. Pete and I influenced each other a lot, and our drawing sort of became seamless when we worked together because we drew together so much and influenced each other. And there was sort of a competitive quality, a healthy competitive quality, because we kind of allowed each other to rip each other off. It was encouraged. Like Pete would redraw something of mine, and Pete is a really skilled draftsman, so he draws something of mine, and it would be better or clearer, and Id try and steal that back and redraw it again, and wed have all these cross-references and repetitive words repeated in each others work and ideas. Wed joke around and come up with ideas or just jokes, and they would get into the work, and then, Pete also started redrawing some of Jasons books. Jason would put out a book, and then Pete would redraw it and give it a different name. We also had this joke band called The All Star Schnauzer Band that we would promote. Jason really actively promoted the whole book scene in Vancouver and liked to get everybody involved. So somehow it became this little scene that either attracted people or people were yanked into whether they liked it or not, because of a shared or admired aesthetic.

Even among the artists that we talk about, the Hairy Who and Saul and Crumb and whoever, thats a very unusual practice.

No one really did that. Jason put together a show in Vancouver called Nog A Dod, and thats kind of where the name came from for that book I put together of all this stuff. Nog A Dod were just random words that had been written down in one of the zines we had made together. The poster you mentioned was for a big launch we organized. We encouraged people to make new books for it, so Tommy made a new book called Beauty of Life, I think. And everyone brought their books down and some of our friends played music. It was at Ms Ts, this tranny bar that has since burnt down. It was almost kind of folk-like. It was a localized activity, we wouldnt make very many of these books. Wed make like forty copies. It wasnt necessarily about selling them, it was about sending Owen Plummer your new book or trading. It sounds all so quaint. Its kind of interesting. It was kind of an unusual thing, I guess.

Yeah. The mail art thing makes a certain amount of sense, but the copying and the obsessive trading back and forth is kind of unusual. And thats also all drawing based, with a few exceptions, like Tommy doing the collages. What I wonder is if there an ambition behind it? Was anybody thinking, Im gonna do this for a little while, and then Im going to parlay thisI want to do a gallery show, or take this somewhere its not. Or was it a thing you guys did and didnt talk about?

Its hard to say, because there were so many different people involved. Jason and myself probably had other ambitions. Like with my comics, I was fairly ambitious, because you have to be to get them out there. Ive never been really a reluctant artist as far as being a cartoonist, but those little minis, the drawing books, I like them as a counterpoint to that. That theyre kind of scarce. I enjoy that fact. But I still have a certain amount of ambition, and when I was asked to do a show in New York, then of course theres some ambition there. And its sort of outside of that, of what was going on in that little community, because I sort of stopped collaborating. I still collaborate, but not to the degree that I did.

Well, when theres a certain demand for your work you have to produce and cant spend too much time collaborating, but then you lose the do whatever I want vibe, I guess.

And in some ways theres a comfort to that, not worrying about having to produce, and you produce just to produce. But at the end of the day, you have to eat and stuff like that. So if you dont want to have a jobIts almost like I had different threads going on.

Was that confusing, having the different threads?

In some ways it was or is. Id be working on my art in these different mediums, and Id see what Peters doing, making these little black and white sixteen-paged zines, and very consistently and very prolifically, Id be like, Wow. There was something to that that I felt like I was kind of missing out on. A simpler way of doing things. By doing my own solo art shows in galleries, I felt like I was missing out on this smaller scene thats going on.

What were you getting from the smaller scene? Were you learning?

I think I learned a lot by collaborating with people. I am such a small blip in the art world, it is so hard to tell how I function in those parameters. I guess I have been learning about the business in the art world and how business is bad. Recently, I feel like Ive just been compiling stuff and almost taking a bit of a breather rather than moving ahead. Ive still been working, but I feel like Im in a bit of a different phase right now. I dont know. Collaborating could, or it probably did help me with opening the whole thing up a bit, and youre not as precious. And the whole idea of stealing from other people can be pretty inspiring.

Oh, really?

Yeah. We would encourage it, right? It was encouraged to steal from each others stuff. It was kind of interesting because it would get all muddied. Pete would steal something from me and use it, and then its not mine anymore, which is kind of great in a way. And then I could steal it back, or I could steal something from him, and Jasons doing the same thing, and we are sharing our iconographies a bit. In some ways it was like how jazz musicians might operate. Playing with each other, different combinations, because those guysI dont know much about jazzbut those guys would do that, riff on each other.

That makes sense.

We would share terminology and characters. The strip There is No Escape! uses characters Pete and I created, those blob things. There is No Escape! in particular was a bit of an homage to the whole drawing scene, there are tons of references in there to these small drawing books by different people. And thats Pete in there as the main character.

Actually looks like Pete a little bit.

At the time Petes characters would have often have a mighty sword and so I gave Petey one in the story.

But what gave you permission to start doing this? Because this is really starting to abandon the cartoon rules youd stuck to with Shrimpy and Paul. Its moving out of it. Like scenes on this third panel on page 128, so we remember for later, this is not a normal cartoon panel. Youre drawing a drawing world. Youre drawing a drawing about drawing, and then having a character run through it. What was going on there?

I dont know. I think I like the idea of cross-referencing or something and Id been doing these collaborative things all along. I guess I was giving myself permission to bring the art stuff into the comics. I felt like it was getting maybe a little out of control, because Im cross-referencing with a bit of, I dont want to say sarcastically, but its a little cheeky. I like the idea of giving things a little more importance than they might have, and then Im bringing in the Schnauzer Band. And I am bringing The Stacks into the comics.

And youre building up these imaginary objects. One on top of the other, on top of the other.

Its kind of like piling stuff up. And then in the background here (in There Is No Escape!), theres Brosse the Goose from Shrimpy and Paul. I think I told this story somewhere already about the origin of Brossebut this crazy woman was talking to us in Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, and saying, Do you know who Brosse is? Hes the goose. Do you know what that means? That means hes greedy. And I thought, Brosse the Goosethats interesting. I had this really crusty blue wood board that I liked, and with Liquid Paper I just drew this goose, or a bird on it, and I decided that was Brosse the Greedy Goose and I just took that and brought that into the Shrimpy narrative.

Did you worry when you were doing these sort of comics, though, that you werent telling stories anymore?

Oh, yeah. For sure.

[Laughs.] But it didnt stop you.

Didnt stop me.

In a sense, you were taking all these pieces and, in a sense, drawing what you might otherwise collage.

Im drawing collages. But when you first glance at them, they do look like regular comics sort of, but then you get into, and its just all stacked up.

Were they satisfying to make?

UmmIm proud of the drawing in this one.

I think the drawings fantastic.

I really like the drawing in this one; I like the coloring. That was when I trying to figure out how to color on the computer, and maybe I read something Jordan Crane wroteIm not sure if it was Jordan Craneand they said to use the brush tool. Maybe I read it wrong, I dont know, but I was literally coloring these pages with just the brush tool and not the magic wand where you just select areas. And it was crazy. One of these pages would take me sixteen hours or eighteen hours. It was so stupid. I could have done it in probably two hours the way I work now. So I gave myself carpal tunnel.

Doing the strip?

Yeah. Coloring it. At the time I had a deadline for one of my song comics. I think it was Mick Jaggers Lets Work For Vice. That awful song. And Tom Devlin colored it for me. I couldnt because my hand was fucked up.

Do you feel like your comics became about this world that you built up? Its interesting. You clearly, over time, have built up this visual and linguistic world, but then youre exploring it.

But some ways, in the back of my mind, I would think, Im not making it concrete enough. I would think, Maybe Id like to do something that really makes it more permanent. Like, should I make a map of this place? I was thinking about going further with it and really trying to stabilize it or something. Id introduced so much that I thought I should just double back and go through the stuff and really try to expand upon it. Rather than just making more stuff, rather than just making more components, which is unfortunately what I was doing, I think.

Thats your tendency.

Thats my tendency. I dont know, I guess I just do what I do. I probably have to make a real serious, conscious effort to control it more or something, to pare it down. Does that make sense?

It makes perfect sense. And so, Pure Pajamas Its an interesting book, because it does present a real cross-section of everything. We get a little bit of Shrimpy and Paul

In some ways, it was kind of too bad that Id put those comics in Hot Potatoe, because those could be in Pure Pajamas. But the reason I put those in Hot Potatoe is because they kind of referenced the art a little more. So these are more of the supposed entertaining comics, maybe. The romp comics, as you say.

And what was the reaction to these comics? Were in 2000, 2001, 2003, and youve got the weekly strips and Exclaim. What was the response to the sort of entertaining comics of the early 2000s?

The response to the so-called entertaining comicsIts funny you call them entertaining, because some people are just like, What, I do not And the other thing is, when I was putting stuff in weeklies and monthlies, often I was trying to get work done, so I could put it in a book later. For example, when Shrimpy was appearing, and I knew Tom Devlin was gonna put out the book, I was trying to get as much done as possible, and I was cramming, like, nine panels in this tiny space, and people could barely read them, I think. So probably some of the response would be just annoyance, I think. But I was just trying to get the work done. My space in the paper had gone from half a page to one quarter of a page and I still was determined to get the same amount of work done. And in a way, it paid off, because I got the book done, I got the Shrimpy and Paul book done. But sometimes Im not thinking enough of the audience. I just have something else on my mind.

What do you have on your mind?

I was just thinking that I wanted to get the book done. But people were fairly positive about Shrimpy, and people did respond to the Vice song comics, and people responded to a lot of these ones. These ones were in Vice.

Tell me about Vice.

About Vice?

Thats something that people really dont know that much about. You were there in the very beginning of this multinational empire.

Yeah, I was there. If I am remembering this correctly, Gavin first showed me Rons comics.

I didnt know that. So take it from the beginning. Where did you first meet Gavin McInnes?

He saw my comics somewhere, and I cant even remember where, but he started writing to me when I was in Sackville. Maybe he saw Hep.

Oh, an early Hep fan, eh?

I dont know what he saw first, but he started writing to me these funny, wise-ass letters, like insulting me and stuff. Hes a funny guy. I was in New Brunswick going to school, so to get home to London, Ontario, I would travel through Montreal. I started stopping in at Montreal and that was pretty interesting because there is a lot of cartooning going on in that town. Id be meeting up with Gavin. This may be 94, or something, probably. I met Gavin, and he was doing mini-comics; he was doing this mini-comic called Pervert. He drew a comic about me called Marc Bell Dish King, because I had a dishwashing job. There were all these mini-comic networks at that time. It was all through the mail. So I met Gavin, and I got in touch with the whole Montreal scene there. But what was the bigger question here?

Vice.

Okay, Vice. And then I moved to Montreal in 95 or 96 or something, and thats when Vice started up. At first it was Voice of Montreal, and Gavin and Suroosh were the editors, and later this guy Shane came in. And so Gavin dropped mini-comics. He still did comics for Voice, and I was submitting comics, and at one point I interviewed Dan Clowes.

You did?

In Voice, yeah. He was very patient with me, you know. And eventually Voice turned into Vice, and it was distributed nationally, kind of following that Exclaim! model, it was still free. And then I dont know if it moved to New York, and then it became a magazine, or vice versa. But it turned into a magazine. So I was giving him comics every month. I think at one point we had some falling out or something, and I stopped giving him comics for a while. But then when I was living in Halifax, he called me up and said, Hey, my new girlfriend really likes your comics. Can you do some more comics? [Laughter] It was pretty funny, so I was like, All right. So I started doing them again, and this is kind of like an off-and-on thing, and then that led to the last thing I did with them, a year ofor over a year ofdoing those song comics. And by that time they were paying me okay, and I was still doing my monthly in Exclaim!, and I was doing my weekly, and so when I started doing all that art, I was like, Somethings gotta give. So I quit Vice. Exclaim got rid of all their comics at one point. I forget what year. So Exclaim! got rid of all their comics, and I think I was still doing the Vice one, and I quit Vice, and then I forgetmaybe it was the weekly I quit last.

That makes sense.

And so I quit the weekly. I gotta say, the weekly deadline was driving me crazy. I was being silly. Id leave it till Sunday night, and then Id have to have it in by Monday night. So thats why International Doodle Week was happening every other week. And then I was just like, Look, I have to quit. I am not offering anything here. So I had to do it. So in a way, creating that There Is No Escape! thing seems fine for a weird anthology like Kramers, but putting that stuff into a weekly is so crazy.

Right. Where its really meant to be a different kind of forum.

Wheres the entertainment value there?

So, Vice. What was the atmosphere? Were you hanging out with them?

Oh, yeah. I was hanging out with them. Like I say, when I was first coming from school in New Brunswick to Montreal to hang out with Gavin and check out the Montreal comics scene Id see Gavin. He was already hanging around Derrick Beckles around that time. This was before Voice had started and Gavin was still drawing mini-comics. Gavin and Derrick were very sharp, and they were a really funny comedy duo, one upping each other. Anyway, I just felt like a hayseed or something. But Gavin got a kick out of me for whatever reason. And he liked my comics, and we were trying to break into the mini-comics scene.

And then they broke into the international media scene.

And then Gavin sort of changed popular culture with his humor. He kind of did, really. Right time, right place, and it kind of just worked that way. Or maybe he was just part of something that would have happened anyway.

At a certain point at Vice, around the late 90s, 2000, the whole reputation around Vice was cocaine and misogyny and fuck everything.

Wear heels. No sandals. [Laughter.]

And the less benign kind of stuff. Did that ever give you misgivings?

Being in there? No, no. Because Im on the comics page. Gavin would always say, Im just running this page as a favor, like this running a D&D club, you guys are fucking lucky youre in here. He had that attitude. [Laughs.] Because he had moved on, right, hed clearly moved on. But that whole thing, I thought it was interesting, because it was getting all over the place. To be in a magazine, and it being distributed all over the States for free. It was a great business model in a way; it was crazy.

So tell me about the Vancouver years, because thats when I first met you.

Yeah, you sent me, what was it? Ganzfeld number

One.

Number one, yeah.

I dont even know how Iwell, Id been ordering your stuff from Spit and A Half.

Oh, yeah. Thats right.

I think. Or Wow Cool. Somehow I had your mini-comics.

That was an interesting time, because The Ganzfeld was happening. I was talking with someone about this the other day. When I saw The Ganzfeld #2, I was like, Whoa. This is going to be very popular. Which is funny in retrospect.

Shows what you know. [Laughter.]

Exactly! I was being completely nave. But the format appealed to me. I was like Whoa. Its really design-y, and its got things to read, and it has comics. This is the publication for me. But now I know in retrospect

nobody likes that stuff. [Laughter.] As it turns out.

But it was an interesting time for me, because the Shrimpy [book] came out, and The Ganzfeld was starting, and Kramers 4 was being assembled.

Thats 2003.

That was a pretty interesting time.

Well, its an interesting time, tooI guess this is something I wanted to talk to you aboutRight around that time there were a lot of things happening. Theres Kramers, theres Ganzfeld, theres the Giant Robot stores having all these shows, there was The Drama, The Broken Wrist Project. There were all these things, all these little things were popping upit coincided with the vinyl toy boom, I guess.

And a surge in the housing market. Like when housing was good. I always link it to when things were going kind of crazy.

Thats interesting.

And the art market was starting to go crazy. People were buying stuff, thats what I mean to say. And there was this kind of surge ofpeople had money.

I never thought of that.

You know what I mean, though? People had money.

People had money, and so they were both producing and consuming, you mean?

I guess. Maybe I should think this through a bit more before I

No, talk it out. I think youre right, it just hadnt occurred to me. It makes perfect sense, what youre saying. Because its after the millennial recession is over.

And they dropped the interest rates, so housing prices went up, and people were feeling wealthier. And then in 2008 it all kind of fell of a cliff.

Tell me about it.

And then in galleries, its tough.

That whole kind of doodle-y doodle gallery thing really crashed.

I remember being at an art show in San Francisco, and this was maybe 2007, it was a show of street art or west coast lowbrow or whatever you want to call it. I dont know how to describe it, but it was this giant party, I forget who put on the party, but it was really happening, bands playing, it was jammed, and there was all this shitty art on the walls, I dont think I recognized any of it really. I dont know my street art but it was certainly seemed like a bad version of that kind of stuff. And I was like, This cant stand! This is such bullshit! And maybe its still standing o
 
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

           Featured product

Pure Pajamas




  PURE PAJAMAS and BLABBER BLABBER BLABBER on CBR's 6 Most Criminally Ignored Books of 2011

Updated January 11, 2012


January 6, 2012
Chris Mautner

4. Everything Vol. 1: Blabber, Blabber, Blabber by Lynda Barry (D&Q). It seems odd that a Lynda Barry book should make this list after the deserved acclaim that greeted her last two books, Picture This and What It Is. Yet aside from a review at the AV Club and a New York Times profile (which admittedly is nothing to sneeze at) Im not sure anyone talked about this new collection of some very early work other than to acknowledge its existence. It certainly seemed to slip off a lot of peoples radar (including my own) when it came time to make a best of list. Yet Blabber offers a fascinating look at Barrys early development as a cartoonist, as she moves from the delicate, oddball Ernie Pook to the rawer, more emotionally savage material of Boys and Girls. Theres a lot here for Barry fans, and fans of good comics in general, to chew on.

2. Pure Pajamas by Marc Bell (D&Q). I have no evidence backing this up, but I suspect Bell is an artist that confounds a number of people. He adopts a big-foot, potato-nose visual style in the best comic strip tradition, and his world is a friendly, anthropomorphic fantasia where everything, from your breakfast food on down is eager to wish you well. On the other hand, his stories lean towards the distressingly surreal, cute characters can easily come to violent ends and things can go bizarrely awry for the most absurd reasons. Myself, I find that tension between the rubbery cute and off-kilter savagery to be one of Bells strengths. Pure Pajamas, which collects various strips and stories Bell has done for various media over the years, is about as good an example of those strengths as youre likely to find.
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Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Marc Bell

           Featured products

Blabber Blabber Blabber
Pure Pajamas




Republican America likes D&Q books

Updated January 10, 2012


December 18, 2011
Alan Bisbort

Cartoon publisher caps another fine year with enticing gift possibilities.
 
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

           Featured product

Pure Pajamas




  Anders Nilsen's highlights of 2011 on Graphic Eye

Updated January 9, 2012



This year, Anders Nilsen released his enormous, career-spanning collection of Big Questions. He followed it with a tour that took him across North America and Europe. In September, he braved our Proust Questionnaire, so we invited him back to share his highlights of 2011.


Here are nine things he came across in his travels that he "really dug:"
Viande de Chevet, various artists, (Stephane Blanquet, Editor)(UDA)
Going Back, Cathy G. Johnson (Self Published)
Quodlibet, Katja Spitzer (NoBrow)
Pure Pajamas, by Marc Bell (D&Q)
That Adele song I kept hearing everywhere I went
Islands by Brendan Munroe (self-published)
Rise and Fall by Micah Lidberg (NoBrow)
Dylan Reider's video part for Gravis shoes.
Mariah Robertson photo show at the Baltic Museum in Newcastle, UK
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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Marc Bell

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Pure Pajamas




PURE PAJAMAS, DEATH-RAY, ONWARDS TOWARDS OUR NOBLE DEATHS among Montreal Gazette's top picks of 2011

Updated January 2, 2012


December 29, 2011
Ian McGillis

Regular readers of Montreal Mirror cartoonist Marc Bell will embrace Pure Pajamas (Drawn & Quarterly, 96 pages, $22.95), a collection from a sui generis artist whose characters small heads and huge feet bear the unmistakable influence of R. Crumb, but whose work takes a more benign, childlike view of humanity and its discontents. Dont let the small page count mislead you: Theres enough going on in a typical Bell page to keep you absorbed for as long as most whole books would.

Also: The Death-Ray, by Daniel Clowes (Drawn & Quarterly, 48 pages, $19.95) makes one of the Ghost World authors most sought-after limited edition comics available in book form for the first time; Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, by Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn & Quarterly, 368 pages, $24.95) sees the father of modern manga telling a shattering Second World War tale of soldiers betrayed by their commanders.

 
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Featured artists

Marc Bell
Daniel Clowes
Shigeru Mizuki

           Featured products

The Death-Ray
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths
Pure Pajamas




  The Tartan interviews Anders Nilsen and Marc Bell

Updated November 3, 2011


Canadian artist Marc Bell sat in the sunshine in Polish Hill, drinking an iced coffee from Lili Coffee Shop and pondering the existence of two of his main characters.

Maybe in a general sense, I was trying to make a comedy duo, he said, referring to the Shrimpy and Paul strip which populates many of the pages of his new collection, Pure Pajamas. I mean, Shrimpys dynamic Shrimpys very straight and flat, he doesnt talk a lot. Hes kind of annoying and deadpan, and Pauls always stressed out. I just present them with problems, and things get kind of convoluted.

Theres a lot of comedy duos where the one guy doesnt talk, Chicago-based artist Anders Nilsen remarked from his lawn chair beside Marc.

Really?

[Stan] Laurel and [Oliver] Hardy, doesnt one of them not talk?

Well, theres also [magicians] Penn and Teller, Bell said after a moment of thought. But Im pretty sure Laurel and Hardy both talk.

Bell and Nilsen make an interesting duo themselves. Both are celebrating new releases with a road trip across the East Coast, giving out readings and book signings along the way. Nilsen recently released Big Questions, his complete graphic novel. Bells new collection Pure Pajamas is a collection of his work in newspapers and anthologies. Just after starting out on their tour, they had stopped in Pittsburgh on Sept. 16 to host a reading and book signing at Copacetic Comics. Located in Dobson Street in Polish Hill, the store also houses the Lili Coffee Shop and Mind Cure Records.

Bell grew up in London, Ontario, where he attended a vocational arts high school called Bealart. He then went on to study art at university. He creates comics and mixed media pieces, which have been described as a mix of commix, high art, typography, and cartoons by the National Post. His drawings are incredibly detailed, imaginative windows into a world full of fantastic characters and surreal landscapes. Zany text swirls throughout the images, labeling objects as a cloud cave or a gnewest machtoe.

When asked about his working process, Bell described his reliance on experimentation and impulse. I dont plan too much, he explained. I start things out trying to make a bit of a mess, then turn it into something more concrete. I start out in sort of a flimsy way and then build on that for example, theres a lot of collage in my work, and I use scraps and casual drawings for those, and then I concentrate on turning that into something bigger.

Another collection of Bells, Hot Potatoe, was published in 2009 and is a collection of comics, mixed media, water colors, and a monograph on the author and artists own life, written with Matt Soucie. The book details his life, career, and even his death in 2075, which involves George Stroumboulopoulos, a small soapstone sculpture, and a case of breaking and entering. Bell reflected on his future life: I hole up in this French hotel room, doing this laissez faire European art style, painting cupcakes, and later I go back to Canada.

In a way, Nilsens own book is also a collection. Nilsen has published Big Questions in parts over the past 10 years, and as of this fall, the story is available as a whole for the first time. A haunting modern fairy tale, it has been called Nilsens magnum opus. One of the fascinating things about Nilsens work is that the plot and characters of Big Questions feel deeply rooted in reality, in spite of the many fantastical elements throughout.

When asked about the storys 10-year development, Nilsen said that he always saw the story as a whole. Thats one of the reasons why I like this book being out its really one big story, he said. A lot of people thought it was just this slow, meditative little vignette, [like] it just seemed to come out of nowhere. The birds in the story came out of this weird drawing exercise that I did. Writing this story its like, you are inventing it, but it feels like its this story that already exists in the world, and youre trying to see it as best you can and get it down.

The aforementioned birds are central characters in the story. Many comic artists take pains to draw their characters as individuals, but Nilsens birds, though very distinct characters, have no visual markers for readers to differentiate one from another. They started out as generic birds, he said. I was presented with the problem of should I differentiate them, and I thought that was probably a good idea. I played around with the idea of giving them markings, but then I found that I was really interested in the fact that theyre the same. Like theyre this group that is essentially the same being.

Big Questions is a lot about how people make meaning, he continued. All these little birds are watching human events unfold, and they all have different interpretations of whats happened, and theyre all wrong. They cant know that its beyond their limits to understand. When asked about whether he knew the conclusion of the story all along, or discovered it as he wrote it, Nilsen thought for a moment before responding, Theres a quote I heard about the conclusion of a good story: it should feel surprising, but also inevitable. The only advantage you have as a writer is that you have time to think about it and figure it out, but to the reader it should feel obvious from the start.

Nilsens unique drawing style has a strong influence on the tone of the narrative itself. His line marks are detailed and concentrated in some areas, and sparse or completely absent in others. This creates a dream-like quality, as though the characters are passing through a stark, barren plain broken by only a few places of rest. I think its just the way I draw, but I am definitely aware of it informing the content of the story, Nilsen said. Its sort of realistic, but I have this idea of wanting the drawings to be indifferent to the story, and to the reader.

Nilsen and Bell both spoke about the importance and support of the artist community. Groups of comic artists and writers, those communities existed before the internet began to play a role, Bell said. There was this thing called Factsheet Five its gone now, probably online it was in the 90s, and it was this magazine that listed tons of different zines and comics. It didnt do reviews, it just gave short blurbs, explaining what these works were, and giving addresses.

Pittsburghs own zine community gathered two weeks ago at AIR in the Northside for the Pittsburgh Zine Fair. Another upcoming event is PIX, the Pittsburgh Indie Comic Expo, which will be running at the Guardian Storage Facility on Oct. 8 and 9 in the Northside, and will be free to the public. And of course, there is always Copacetic Comics, which houses an incredible range of graphic novels and print pieces. Boichel is extremely knowledgeable about the world and history of comics, and is always willing to inform and help visitors. The store is a valuable resource for Pittsburgh artists and comic writers themselves.

That evening at the store, readings, talks, and comic interpretations of music took place in Lilis as Bell explained, [comic interpretations] started for Vice magazine they said draw Rebel Yell, draw R.Kellys Worlds Greatest, and then they gave me this Bruce Springsteen song; it had so many lyrics in it I could only do part.

Afterward, the crowd trouped upstairs to Copacetic Comics for the book signing. The store, though much larger than its previous location in Squirrel Hill, was packed with fans and comic lovers. Tables were piled high with comics and graphic novels, and Copacetic Comics owner Bill Boichel made his way throughout the room expertly, handing out flyers for upcoming Pittsburgh comic events and working the register.

Meeting and talking with Bell and Nilsen was an amazing experience. Both have created incredible work, and are very passionate and dedicated to their art. With them, a conversation about comics was like sitting in the middle of a crossfire: References to artists, favorite comics, obscure artworks, and inspiration shot back and forth at a high speed, revealing their knowledge and place within the supportive culture of the zine community.

Bell and Nilsen also offered advice to art students. When youre in art school, you have big ideas, but you can do a lot more with less I would actively collect paper, and just use what was immediately around me, Bell said, referring to his collage work.

Its sort of a truism in art that accidents can create the best work, Nilsen added. The thing about art school that has the best potential is that you get to experiment and try so many different things. Enjoy what you do, but also do it a lot. And if you have to do it a lot, do what you love. A lot. And dont smoke crack.

Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Marc Bell

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Pure Pajamas




HOT POTATOE in Border Crossings

Updated April 27, 2010


HOT POTATOE

by Lee Henderson

Drawn & Quarterly is a Montreal-based publisher known for printing comics and graphic novels, and HOT POTATOE, Canadian artist Marc Bells latest book for them, is, in its scope and presentation, more like a catalogue raisonn than a story in pictures. At over 250 images, it is a truly a Ulysses of graphic novels, a genre-defying autobiography, an effort at mythmaking, a source of eternal gags, and references to earlier gags. HOT POTATOE is a massive exhibition catalogue without an accompanying exhibition. HOT POTATOE is a Pale Fire, as well, a lifetimes worth of work completed in eight years by someone under forty. There are introductory essays from the likes of such perfectly Nabokovian critics as Dirty Debbie, Tommy Lacroix and Lulu Peabody-Sherman, as well as careful annotations for each image, a glossary of terms used by Bell, an extensive interview with the artist and a chronology of Bells career that notes with confidence events in the years leading to his death in 2075 in Hamilton, the extinction of the waffle and the rediscovery of Bell and a massive museum retrospective in 2081 at the Gerard Doody Jr. Waffle Museum in Houston, Texas.

Marc Bell works his way through the culture from allusions to Hollywood movies, low-brow animation, and high-brow art to late-night commercials, underground comix to gangsta rap. Bell has a gift for incomprehensible gab, juggling a dozen language gags in complicated comic pages that, like Ulysses, could take you twenty-four hours or a lifetime to read. Known to a host of fans for Shrimpy and Paul, a long-running four-panel narrative comic strip that appeared in alternative weeklies across North America, Bell has said in an interview that 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. Its true the grid is still there. Totally invisible, but it exists. A kind of intertextual graphic art novel in which the creator plays a version of himself being investigated by yet another version of the creator. Marc Bells heavily text-based, comic-based work he calls fine ahtwerks are biting the fringe of the avant-garde in both the comics universe and that of contemporary art.

To look, Bells style is fluid and practiced; his figures are a collision of early idiom that includes wide slacks with sharp creases, a Cliff Sterrett style via Philip Gustons lumpy, potato-nosed, Nixon-cheeked amoral protagonists on canvas. Bell, like Guston, has found a way to imply the comic frame and do without. And Saul Steinbergs subjective landscapes within. Yes, in his art pieces, the figure becomes the frame. The text bubbles float untethered or popped, and words and letters are in a freefall.

Many have seen Bells experimental work over the years in the drawing quarterlies Kramers Ergot, The Ganzfeld, PictureBox editions and elsewhere. Most of the hundreds of original artworks shown here passed through the hands of his New York dealer Adam Baumgold; Bells many exhibitions are listed at the back of HOT POTATOE.

The Dan Quayle reference in Bells title is intentional. Wrong spellings and goofed grammar crop up everywhere in his work. Misspells are essential for an artist schooled in the history of comics. The Joycean urge for neologism was in full effect in Krazy Kats unspooled poetry of the Coconino playa, and the musicality to Lil Abners backwoods modernist malapropisms and Pogos post-Disney patois shook newspaper readers awake in the morning. Bad spelling is an act of debasement before the reader, and comic creators never claim to be anything other than clowns, but it tests the reader to see if theyre too pretentious to hear. Toons always used [sic] grammar to decipher the real sickness in society, and it is worth noting Bell is extremely prolific. Verily, this is gnee-o gneppotism (in dude city) is the title of an ink and watercolour work from 2003 of two men, possibly George Lucass interns, about to shake hands on bizz-ness.

In the past, Bell has collaborated with plenty of artists himself on handshake deals. After moving from his hometown London, Ontario, to Vancouver with Jason McLean, the two collaborated on the All-Star Schnauzer Band (a fictional rock group whose gig posters the two created), and self-published a shelfs worth of mini-art books distributed at BBQs, art fairs and comic shops. He and artist Jason McLean continued to collaborate during a time when the two began to share paper with a growing circle of like minds. Bell worked on projects with animators and painters Amy Lockhart, Shayne Ehman, Keith Jones, Jo Cook, Owen Plummer, and Robert Dayton, and began his strip Shrimpy and Paul. Conundrum Press in Canada and PictureBox distributed the us edition of Bells anthology of this heyday of Vancouver minibooks, a collection of drawings and collages spanning roughly 19932005. Called Nog A Dod: Prehistoric Canadian Psychedooolia, it was published in 2006 and featured the extended family of artists with whom Bell collaborated in his drawing life. Nog A Dod was a foie gras primer on a Vancouver scene full to the neck with great drawers; the book has all sorts of individual and shared work, but never enough of one particular style. In HOT POTATOE, we see Bells style on its own and can really marvel at the vastness of his enterprise, and the extent to which Bell has dedicated, possibly pathologically, his life to the amazing world of Nog A Dod.
 
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

          



  MARC BELL is interviewed by the Torontoist

Updated April 6, 2010


An Interview with Comics Artist Marc Bell

by Dave Howard

The first time I met Marc Bell was at one of the first Canzines in the mid 1990s. He and Gavin McInnes (who went on to found the infamous Vice Magazine) had come down from Montreal, sharing one of the many jammed tables set up for zinesters to sell their wares. Throughout the day, Marc and Gavins mischievous antics, animated conversation, and general disdain for just about anything that stood still charged the atmosphere in the hall. They were creating a scene. And Marcs charming comic zineswhich positioned him as a kind of young Canadian Robert Crumbflew off the table.

It is some 15 years later and Marc has never abandoned his totally original vision. Today he is represented exclusively by the Adam Baumbold Gallery in New York, and his work sells for far more than his much-collected early zines. If that werent enough, Drawn & Quarterly recently published a massive volume of his collected comics work entitled Hot Potatoe.

Last week I had an opportunity to interview Marc over the phone, just after his recent move back to his hometown of London, Ontario, with his partner Amy Lockhart.

Dave Howard: Youve broken in and started doing the art thing more as your source of income, rather than your comics. Can you talk a little bit about your transition from one to the other? And what is it you feel you might be giving up and gaining by moving from comics to fine art?

Marc Bell: Well, I think the art thing came along at the right time. I was doing this weekly comic, and it was good because I was getting paidsteady income, though it was very small. And when the art thing came along, it was stuff I was interested in doing at the time, and someone was interested in showing it. In my weekly I was doing a story and it was driving me crazy. I felt I had started all this stuff in the narrative and I couldnt deal with it. So, whenever I didnt feel like continuing the story, I would do a thing called International Doodle Week, where it would just be a drawing. And then it became more and more frequent. Maybe about the same timeIm not sure which happened firstthere was a little interest in showing the art work in a gallery, at a level I hadnt been able to do before. And there was interest in this stuff that I found interesting to make, and so it was just an obvious choice to move my attention a over bit. But you know, making the art, its still very cartoony, its the same thing I have always done, its just not about the stories as much. I dont have to draw the same character over and over.

Howard: |You say its the same thing as your comics but without the narrativewhat is that same thing?

Bell: Filling up space. (laughs)


Howard: The war with paper?

Bell: Well, yes, that and the war with paper. Though the war with paper has more to do with the mixed media thing, with the collage work (than the drawing). I like creating the mixed media work because it feels like something is being accomplished. Using these bits of paper to make something, it actually seems like there is a purpose, but with the narrative stuff there wasnt a purpose, because I wasnt sure what I was trying to say.

My comics are kind of absurd already, but it was becoming frustrating because I wasnt as confident about my writing and Id think, Oh, man, Im working on this thing thats supposed to be a graphic novel, and I dont know where Im going with it! I may go back and try to finish that stuff, maybe in the same way I finished Shrimpy and Paul. I spent a lot of time fixing Shrimpy and Paul up. I think it worked out all right the way it worked out.

Howard: I agree.

Bell: Theres a French edition thats just been published.


Sample page, showing some of Bell's comics art
Howard: Yes? In Europe or Quebec?

Bell: In Europe, with this publisher, Cornelius. Im going there in April. Ive never been.

Howard: Is your work getting more international attention?

Bell: Not that much but maybe a little bit from the new book. Maybe some people were sort of aware of it before, and these things work in cycles, so when people see it this time they say Oh yeah, that guy. Lambiek (a famous comics store in Amsterdaam) asked me to do a show, and so Im doing a show there. And then Im going to go to Paris for the Shrimpy et Paul thing. But I dont know if theresmaybe theres a little attention.

Howard: Well its better than nothing thats for sure.

Bell: Well, I feel in some ways the comics world has forgotten about me, because I havent been that active.

Howard: Youve been a big influence. I hear that some people are now doing the Marc Bell style. Have you heard of this kind of thing? People copying you?

Bell: Copying? Well, a little bit.

Howard: Or more along the lines of influencing them, that kind of thing. I think thats something.

Bell: I think its more that there has been a second wave of people that have been influenced by a lot of the same things. There was that whole wave ofthere was the Royal Art Lodge, and Fort Thunder, and there was the work that you can see in that Nod a Dog book I put together. All that stuff was happening at the same time independently and now I think theres a second wave of people doing that kind of stuff. Drawing, for example, is back in art.

Howard: Youre saying its a bigger thing, a group of ideas that have effected more than you, and that is now effecting a second wave as well?

Bell: Yeah. I was affected by Fort Thunder when I saw it but I was already doing my own thing. It was sort of the same when I saw the Royal Art Lodge stuff. Id say Fort Thunder and Paper Rad have been the most obviously influential on these new artists. Its an American thing, mostly. But I feel perfectly fine if myself and my peers may have had a hand in influencing things like Islands Fold or what have you.


Sample page, showing one of Bell's more recent art pieces
Howard: Tell me about the book, Hot Potatoe. The book was something of a big dealits really put you on the map, taken you to a different level.

Bell: Really?

Howard: I think so. I mean its a huge tome. It feels like a more permanent thing. I have a lot of your mini comics, and Ive had some of your work, and Ive enjoyed it. Its part of the small, select collection of stuff I never really got rid of, collecting so many zines for so many years. Now, you have this big tome, youve amassed quite a body of work, and the book itself is a real pleasure to go through. Its very permanent. Its hardcover, its about an inch thick, its really solid. Its something Im going to keep, something Im going to hold on to.

Bell: Yeah, no, thats good. In some ways it feels a little excessive, but in other ways, I think it was a pretty good solid run of work, over that time, over the past ten years. I mean, Ive made a lot of stuff, and I stand by that stuff. At times I think its almost a ridiculous book, and then on the other hand I think, no, its fine. Its a group of good work. I like how it looks. I tried to set it up in a formal way. It just has that extra bit of excessiveness going on.

Howard: I dont feel theres any filler in there.

Bell: Oh no, I agree. Like I say, I stand by it all. People tease me about the book, like its a tombstone, you know what I mean?

Howard: Like its going to weigh you down, like an anchor?

Bell: No, like a tombstone, its likewell, what do you do after that? Youve got this big Marc Bell book, what are you gonna do after that? Im not sure how to explain it.

I dont think theres too much that was that extraneous. Like there may be a few things I could cut out, but Id have a hard time cutting much of it out, I do stand by it. And there was stuff cut out, its certainly not everything I did in that time span.

Howard: Ten years is a long time.

Bell: It is a long time. Theres more. But, yeah, Im proud of it. I intended it to be a satire of a monograph. But a half-satire. Half serious, half satire.

Howard: It does feel to be some self-consciousness there, almost. Some of the joking and the self-referential stuff.

Bell: Yeah. But then, you know, I had a big part of putting it together, organizing it, and putting writing in thereit doesnt have that detached element. It says right on the cover I am not a museum. Normally an art book would be put out by a museum or some third party so there would be a certain distance. This book is self conscious because I have had a hand in it, and Im certainly making light of that.

Howard: Do you ever get caught up in any kind of self-consciousness about your art?

Bell: Well, oh yeah, theres always self consciousness going on I think. I make self-conscious work, its always deflecting from itself. When I first started using found scraps of paper and doodles to create collage/mixed media work, I found it pretty interesting because I hadnt thought to take this stuff that Id been collecting and make it into a more finished, refined work, so to speak. As I continued, it became more self conscious because it became more of a predetermined method. But I think it just becomes simply a way of working, and I try not to be too internally negative about it, I usually just try to let it go.

Now that this type of work is more popular its like its become even more self conscious. Sometimes I start thinking Im just part of this trend of this weird, nonsensical, cartoony or psychedelic or whateverhip artwork. So that makes me self conscious. But then I just try and remind myself Ive been doing this kind of work for a long while, and I dont feel too terribly about it.

Howard: As youve moved away from narrative work into less-constrained world of fine art, the characters from the backgrounds of your comics seem to have taken the foreground. It almost seems that your work is made entirely of elements that once upon a time would have been in the background of your comics. That was a pretty bold thing to do, to really trust yourself to just go with what feels right rather than what senseor the constraints of narrativetells you differently. Was that a new experience for you, to just go with what felt right? Can you advise other people how to get at that? Is it a way or is it a natural development?

Bell: It might just be what Im supposed to be doing, you know? It may be a way of working, or I just figured out what works best for me, instead of trying to force this story that Im not necessarily entirely comfortable with.

Howard: Less and less interested in?

Bell: Maybe. Some people who are more interested in and who want to read comics sometimes dont get what Im doing, and they see it as doodling thats just gone out of control. You know what I mean? But I dont know how that would help anyone else discover what theyre supposed to do.

Howard: Your way is your way, and not necessarily

Bell: Its my way or the highway! (laughs).

Howard: (laughs) Well, I guess youve answered my question.

Bell: (laughs) Dave Cooper said to me once, think of yourself as an artist who happens to do comics.
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

           Featured product

Hot Potatoe




HOT POTATOE the "season's treat" says The Calgary Herald

Updated February 10, 2010


Art Books

by Nancy Tousley

MARC BELL'S HOT POTATOE
Consider Hot Potatoe the season's treat. Marc Bell (Shrimpy and Paul, Illusztraijuns for Brain Police) is a Montrealbased comics artist whose work crossed over into art galleries ages ago. Hot Potatoe is his first artist's book, a big beautiful tome whose pages are covered with Bell's horror vacui, fine line watercolour drawings, mixed-media collages and constructions, and absurdist writings. His fantastical takeoff on the artist monograph, which this book resembles, begins with a piece called See You in The Funny Pages, Marc Bell: A Highly Organized Guy, by Don Van Vliet, the musician formerly known as Captain Beefheart, now a painter, and romps on from there. For those in the right frame of mind, this is a must-have.
 
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

          



  Fisk interviews MARC BELL

Updated February 9, 2010


Marc Bell Interview

Marc Bell is a Canadian artist who is situated somewhere between cartoon and fine art. His attention to detail and exploration of forms mixed with a clever sense of humor and a bit of surrealism invite the viewer to get lost in the world each piece of his creates. Bell has self-published several collections of his work, both independent as well as collaborative.In 2006, he edited a compilation of artworks called Nog A Dod: Prehistoric Canadian Psychadoolia which included the works of Bell, Amy Lockhart, Jason Mclean, Dirty Debbie and more. Bell recently published Hot Potatoe: Fine Ahtwerks: 2001-2008; additionally, a touring gallery show under the same name is making its way from New York to Nebraska.

Did anything in particular spark your interest in Illustration, Zine Culture, Cartoons, etc? Have you always drawn, or did something get you started later on?

Its hard to say what it was exactly but I was into Mad Magazine when I was a kid and Richard Scarry. I always drew and created little projects. I created my own version of Mad called Dumb Magazine. I watched Pee-Wees Playhouse when I was a teenager and somebody in my art class worked at a comics store and he showed me Yummy Fur and that led me to Peter Bagges Neat Stuff and I was pretty blown away by these grown up comics. This led to turning into a producer of self-published things as oppposed to just being a consumer.

How do you come up with your subject matter? Do you ever run out of ideas, and if so, what do you do when you get stuck?

I think I have drawn so much that it is very natural to me. I do repeat a lot but try to vary this in my approach using different materials and scale. I dont ever really get stuck but sometimes I get frustrated with how busy my stuff ultimately becomes! I am at the point where I would like to switch things up but I am not exactly sure how.

Youve been known to collaborate often, what do you look to get out of the process? When is it better to work alone? If you could choose anyone to collaborate with, who would it be?

Hmm, I am not sure what I am looking for other than the unexpected to creep in. Either that or a solid unification of two styles together. Its probably better to work alone when I want to create a body of my own work (sorry, that answer is kind of obvious!) I am not sure if I really have a dream collaborator, I have been very happy to collaborate with the persons I have collaborated with already.

What designers/artists influence you today? What else informs your work? Surroundings? Pop Culture? Something else?

1. Chicago Art (Hairy Who, HC Westermann, Christina Ramberg, Joseph Yoakum, Ray Yoshida etc)
2. Fellow Nog A Doders
3. Folk/uneducated art
4. Aztec/Mayan art
5. Other cartoonists and artists too numerous to mention
6. Random stimuli that I cant pin down till I experience it

What is your driving force? What is it you want to say with the work you are putting into the world?

You know, I am not really sure. Some might dismiss my work as random or meaningless or fun or as an inside joke but it is a joke I want to share with the world even if it doesnt have a specific meaning or interpretation. It might seem pretty chaotic but I see a lot of it as pretty formal in a way.

With all of the design blogs/webistes out there, for us and students all over what would you like to see with FISK?

You know, I am not sure what I would want to see with FISK. I suppose FISK should just focus on things that are interesting to FISK. I have no real advice for FISK. FISK will do what FISK does.

Having published a lot of your work yourself, what advice would you give to any fledgling designers/illustrators trying to get their work out there?

Well, there is a lot of this design-y stuff these days. I suppose any advice I would give would be to look at stuff you genuinely like and try to create things that are a combination of stuff you like and stuff you would like to see. To add something relatively new rather than just following trends. Nothing is exactly new but you probably know that. I almost threw a having said that in there but I am trying to learn from Larry Davids teachings, haw (a joke you might get if you watch curb Your Enthusiasm).

Dream client or project? Worst client/project experience?

I have just produced a giant book of my art called Hot Potatoe with the help of Drawn and Quarterly and that was a realized dream of mine.

A dream client would be one that would take artwork off my hands and make beautifully thorough documention of said work and then pack it up and ship it out to wherever it has to go. I hate documenting and packing art. I have no idea why they would go to this trouble but I would be very pleased about it all.

Whats next for you?

I dont know. I am thinking of moving to a failed industrial town in Ontario. I am having a bit of trouble working because I dont have a workspace I like so that is a major concern that will get sorted out soon I hope. My shui is currently a little off. A variation on my Hot Potatoe show is traveling from NY to Sackville, NB (to the Owens Art Gallery) and there it will be called Did Yoo See The Exhibition Of The Chunky Floors?.

Do you wear patterned/designed socks, plain socks or no socks?

I wear socks. Some are patterned but mostly they are plain black, blue or brown.
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

           Featured product

Hot Potatoe




HOT POTATOE reviewed in Quill and Quire

Updated February 9, 2010


BOOK REVIEWS
Hot Potatoe: Fine Ahtwerks 20012008

by Andrea Carson

The most fascinating thing about Marc Bells Hot Potatoe is the stream-of-consciousness artistic sensibility that permeates every page, from the cover to the contents to the numerous essays within. Nonsensical words, doodles, and character drawings are found everywhere in this luxurious book, as are echoes of Bells influences from comix, pop culture, and the world around him. Bell honed his style while attending an arts high school in London, Ontario, with a group of likeminded, comics-obsessed artists including Peter Thompson and Jason McLean. They shared a keen interest in comics like Ralph Smart Adventures and Boris the Bear, and collaborated often, a practice that Bell continues today.

Hot Potatoe is filled with gorgeous reproductions of Bells convoluted, dizzying drawings, paintings, and mixed-media constructions. Its a visual feast, interspersed with several essays, some of which will thoroughly mystify anyone unfamiliar with the linguistic intricacies of Bells world. There is a transcript of an enlightening interview between Bell and Drawn and Quarterlys creative director Tom Devlin, occasionally interrupted by inane remarks from the audience. Similarly, an essay about Bell by Tommy LaCroix begins innocently, before devolving into an excruciating glimpse into the writers bout with severe alcoholism.

Bells fine ahtwerks, as he calls them, owe a debt to the American painter Philip Guston, and allow Bell to free himself from the boundaries of linguistic meaning through the use of an idiosyncratic cast of characters and neologisms. The words bloo chip, gneppotism, and buncake all feature prominently in his work. In 2008s Shoo Slog (included in this collection), words, scenes, and characters seem to stop just short of overlapping on the page. So crammed with imagery are his works that Bell must suffer from horror vacui (the artistic term for fear of empty space). Even his biography overflows into the year 2075, when he will be killed trying to defend himself against Prime Minister George Stroumboulopoulos.

Hot Potatoe is a book for a particular audience, but what a book! It will inspire fans of Bells work, and intrigue, confound, and bewilder everyone else.
 
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Marc Bell

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Hot Potatoe




  HOT POTATOE tops Vice's

Updated February 9, 2010


Nick Gazin's Comic Book Witch Hunt #8

Jerry Seinfeld once said something about how childhood is a constant quest for candy. I spent a lot of my time looking for candy, but I was hunting for comics even more. Comics equalled happinesseven bad ones were great. Obsessive wanting has led me to writing comic book reviews. Only now I no longer hunt for the comics. The comics come to me.

In tribute to the insulting top-ten lists of the once mighty Wizard magazine, I rank the free comics I get from best to worst. I think its funny to also burn the worst comic. I dont think that the people whose comics I burn appreciate my humor, but to be fair I dont really appreciate theirs.

1)
Hot Potatoe
Marc Bell
Drawn And Quarterly
Finally. Marc Bell first entered my awareness with his comics in Vice wayyyyyy back in the when. Then the Shrimpy and Paul book came out and it quickly became one of my favorite comic books. His comics were funny both for their visuals and unique use of language (I still say cheg it oot in casual conversation). His drawings combine the beautiful flatness of the characters in Gustin paintings and the ability to create impossible environments in three dimensions that odd characters can explore and wander around. He was a herald of what was coming in the fine art/comics/print world. Its here now and its continuing to come. And so am I.
This book is a nice big hardcover textbook of Marc Bells fine-art pieces and comics and some writing about how important he is. I dont really know how much I can say about this book before Im talking out of my ass. Marc Bell makes his brain leap mental hurdles when he draws and draws things that are too weird for most people to imagine. Marc Bell invents a beautiful world thats full of friendly possibility. Go buy this book, pea brain.

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Featured artist

Marc Bell

           Featured product

Hot Potatoe




The Winnipeg Free Press reviews HOT POTATOE

Updated December 14, 2009


Hot Potatoe's ambiguity delightful
Graphic novel, or art book? Could be either one

by Kenton Smith

Just what is this? Is it a graphic novel, or an art book?
As the internationally recognized Montreal-based artist Marc Bell's work straddles the line between comics and "fine art," it could really fall under either category, while being adequately represented by neither.
That's OK, though; the ambiguity of Hot Potatoe is part of its delightfulness. There's one drawing that may summarize what Bell's up to.
It features an odd flying anthropomorphic character called Querbus, who says there "is also a street in Montreal named 'Querbus.' I'm not sure if I'm named after it or it after me. I'm pretty unconcerned about it anyway ... Not even sure why I mentioned it."
Well, exactly. Likewise, what's the point of the recurring motifs of gum underneath shoes, "worn tuff elbows," or wooden planks protruding from faces?
Probably the same as misspelling the titular potatoe: because Bell just likes it. Why does he draw bacon in his "abstracted, boxy" fashion? "I came up with a way to draw bacon that interested me," he writes, "so I started to repeat it."
There's an entire section of Hot Potatoe cataloguing recurring idiosyncratic Bell-isms. But is it art?
Bell's drawings, collages, constructions and mixed media works are fanciful, oddball, twisted, bizarre, delightful, unsettling, absurd, cartoonish and sometimes hilarious. They are sometimes actual comics, too, but even when they aren't the influence is pervasive.
About the only time he offers anything resembling social commentary is a cartoon in which specific allusion is made to the second Iraq War. Bell's absurdist approach perfectly encapsulates the conflict's incoherence: George W. Bush was only barely more articulate in explaining his reasoning.
But we've gotten away from the question. What is the point, one might ask. What is the significance? One answer could be: does art have to have some sort of earth-shaking significance, as some would have it? Can't it just be, you know, fun?
Bell's work is lots of fun. His method is to break down the elements of a given thing's representation -- i.e., how a thing is drawn -- and reassemble it as a visual riff on that thing.
A sense of play permeates Hot Potatoe. Even in the sections that provide some useful analysis of the art, the impulse of the jokester is at work. This is best exemplified in the "interview" of Bell by publisher Drawn & Quarterly's Tom Devlin.
Bell ostensibly makes some serious points about his work, while audience members ostensibly ask stupid questions and heckle. What's genuine and what's not?
Indeed, Hot Potatoe could also be considered a humour book: although it's formatted like a typical serious art book, it simultaneously comes off as a send-up of the serious art book format. Those with an affinity for Mad magazine and humour cartoons may very well get a kick out of it.
In addition to art and comics aficionados, Hot Potatoe is also recommended to those who remember colouring all over the page, lines be damned, and holding your finished masterpiece up with pride. Bell's art is like a grown-up version of that, and it might just bring a smile to your face.
 
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Marc Bell

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Hot Potatoe




  The Montreal Gazette declares comics are for grown-ups!

Updated December 14, 2009


These comics are for grown-ups

R. Crumb on Genesis, literary icons get pulp treatment, and more

Ian McGillis

From the Garden of Eden, to todays Montreal, to unmapped worlds of fantasy, graphic literatures storytelling range knows no bounds. Here are some of 2009s best.

The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by R. Crumb (W.W. Norton, 224 pages, $31). When the granddaddy of underground comics a man who has been gleefully causing fits among censors and guardians of political correctness for decades takes on the job of illustrating the first book of the Old Testament, controversy would appear guaranteed, would it not?

But while the single biggest surprise about this book is that Crumb has done it at all, the second biggest might be just how respectful he has been with the source material. (He uses mostly the modern Robert Adler translation.) Yes, some of the imagery might be bit, ahem, Crumb-like for the comfort of some the voluptuous Eve on the cover can probably serve as a fair litmus test in this regard.

But in representing the text so faithfully, Crumb reminds us that Genesis is, after all, full of stories of people behaving in all kinds of less than perfectly noble ways. Potential detractors are thus left without a leg to stand on, and everyone else is free to celebrate a great artist rising spectacularly to a great challenge.

The Complete Essex County, by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf Productions, 512 pages, $31.95). In this family saga set in an imagined version of the authors native southwestern Ontario, Lemire taps into some of the deepest wellsprings of Canadian mythology: hardscrabble farm life, long winters, stoicism, solitude and, as well as anyone has ever depicted, the central role of hockey. The result is a book that achieves an epic sweep even though its relatively light on text.

Lemires fluid, expressionistic black-and-white style hes especially effective with faces and how they echo across generations speaks volumes by itself. As a storyteller, hes bold enough to walk the thin line between melancholy and sentimentality, never quite succumbing to the latter. Essex County packs an enormous emotional punch.

Aya: The Secrets Come Out, by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly, 135 pages, $24.95). This, the third volume in writer Abouet and artist Oubreries ongoing series about life in Abidjan, Cte dIvoire, in the 1970s, maintains the standard that placed the first two on multiple international best lists.

Abouets touch as a writer is deceptively light; she sneaks in political points on class, gender and post-colonial identity among a dispassionate cross-section observation of everyday goings-on in a bustling city at a time of relative prosperity.

Oubrerie employs vivid colour and an almost Modigliani-esque sense of line to create an effect both stylized and realistic. A glossary of Ivorian terms is provided, but many may well find themselves immersed in Ayas world to the point where theyre happy to let the context do the explaining.

Stitches: A Memoir, by David Small (McClelland & Stewart, 329 pages, $29.99). When he was 14, David Small underwent a throat operation that left him unable to speak above a whisper for years. His parents, never paragons of loving openness, had told him the procedure was to remove a cyst; in fact, as his father revealed later, it was for cancer caused by the radiologist fathers over-enthusiastic use of X-rays.

Small, a prominent childrens book illustrator, has a harrowing tale to tell of family dysfunction and deceit in baby-boom America, and his treatment shows that when a form associated with childhood (comics) is used to depict childhood trauma, the effect is doubly powerful.

The conceit at the heart of Stitches that a boy whose voice has already been ignored, then has his voice literally removed might appear heavy-handed if Small didnt make it so real for the reader. Seldom in a memoir has redemption been so honestly earned.

Masterpiece Comics, by R. Sikoryak (Drawn & Quarterly, 65 pages, $24.95). On first glance, this may look like a version of the cheap illustrated pulp titles that gave countless young people their entre into the classics. Look closer, though, and what youll find is a subversive mash-up that makes short shrift of any attempted distinction between high and low literature.

Characters from the canon (Shakespeare, Bront, Homer, Kafka, Camus and more) are placed in takeoffs on popular comic strips (Blondie, Mary Worth, Garfield, Ziggy et al), where they deliver their lines straight.

Visually, Sikoryak mimics the original strips so uncannily that you can almost be lulled into thinking youre reading them, which only adds to the sparks raised by this enforced cohabitation of two very different iconographies. Laughs are scored at the expense of both sides, but counter-intuitively, Sikoryak sends you back to the originals with a fresh perspective.

Far Arden, by Kevin Cannon (Top Shelf Productions, 382 pages, $19.95). If you only buy one madcap future-dystopian adventure comic set in the Canadian High Arctic this year, make it Far Arden. Cannons oddly heavily populated northern milieu global warming a few disturbing steps down the line, maybe teems with multiple overlapping storylines. Its all an odd but effective cross of contemporary nerd-hero comix with Tintin-style exotica.

Cannons drawing style has the spontaneous feel of a lightning sketch, but theres nothing underdeveloped about his plotting, which zips along with the manic logic of a bedroom farce.

The Hipless Boy, by Sully (conundrum press, 224 pages, $19.95). This collection of 43 loosely connected urban miniatures occupies a spot on the comix continuum somewhere between Archie (an influence the author acknowledges) and Adrian Tomine, except with far more sex than either. Sully (the pen name of poet/painter/illustrator Sherwin Tjia) sets his stories of what Douglas Coupland has dubbed Generation A (hipless is the opposite of hip) in a specific and meticulously observed environment. Montrealers will have fun identifying local backdrops, but anyone can enjoy Tjias keen-eyed, emotionally generous worldview.

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, by Josh Neufeld (Pantheon, 193 pages, $28.95). Spike Lee has told the story on film (When The Levees Broke), Dave Eggers as literary non-fiction (Zeitoun), and now Josh Neufelds Hurricane Katrina chronicle states the case for graphic literature as on-the-spot journalism, social history and protest.

Seven people, representing the gamut of classes and backgrounds in New Orleans, are followed through the storms prelude, strike and aftermath; four were refugees, three stayed in the city through the worst. Telling domestic details a mans anguish over the fate of his cherished comic books collection, a Spider-Man doll floating face down in a bathtub, prefiguring horrors ahead establish the human dimension that drives home the storms ultimate cost; deployment of saturated colour gives each strand of the story a unique emotional flavour.

Ojingogo, by Matthew Forsythe (Drawn & Quarterly, 152 pages, $14.95). Dispensing with words, Montrealer Forsythe narrates the fantastical journey through perilous dreamscapes of a little girl and her pet squid entirely in images that are at once exquisitely simple and laden with suggestion. The world-gone-strange feel recalls Lewis Carroll and the childs assertion of identity through adventure Maurice Sendak, with perhaps a touch of Calvin and Hobbess mischief thrown in, all filtered through a Korean folk lens as viewed by a contemporary Westerner. That may sound like an awful lot of referencing, but rest assured the ultimate effect is as light as a feather in the best sense.

Red: A Haida Manga, by Michael Yahgulanaas (Douglas & McIntyre, 112 pages, $28.95). There can be few better examples of graphic lits malleability than this. Yahgulanaas, a Haida living on Bowen Island, B.C., has adapted the visual iconography of his heritage and applied the storytelling approach of Japanese Manga comics to tell a tragic story of war and revenge one whose themes transcend their native setting to take on a classical dimension.

The overall effect is uncanny, as if a totem pole has come to life to act out a legend. Yahgulanaass circular approach to narrative, in both images and words, may demand a couple of go-throughs to absorb, but the effort is worth it.

The Beats: A Graphic History, by Harvey Pekar, Ed Piskor, et al. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 199 pages, $27.50). Every new generation of aspiring hipsters, it seems, passes through a period of venerating Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs et al before defining its own oppositional identity. Anyone feeling ripe for the influence couldnt ask for a better primer than this one. No snobs themselves, the original beats would surely approve of their message being introduced through the populist medium of comics; another big mark in this books favour is that it digs beyond the obvious names to spotlight less celebrated figures like Diane di Prima and Slim Brundage.

Hot Potatoe, by Marc Bell (Drawn & Quarterly, 273 pages, $44.95). Here is a book occupying the sparsely populated zone where alternative comix culture mingles with the gallery-driven world of fine art. Presented slightly tongue-in-cheek (the artists bio continues up to his death in 2075 at the hands of former Prime Minister George Stroumboulopoulos) as a monograph on the work of the 38-year-old, London, Ont.-raised Bell, Hot Potatoe gives a sui generis artist the large-scale showcase his fanatically detailed, ever-morphing surrealist multi-media collages demand. A cubist construction by Picasso or Braque as reimagined by a high school stoner with the technical command of Crumb is as good a stab as any at describing a typical Bell composition. Price tag notwithstanding, Hot Potatoe offers real value for money. Almost any given page of this hefty volume can be stared at and studied for hours.
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Featured artists

Abouet & Oubrerie
Matt Forsythe
Marc Bell

           Featured products

Ojingogo
Aya: The Secrets Come Out
Hot Potatoe




PopMatters reviews MARC BELL'S ability to walk the line

Updated December 14, 2009


Hot Potatoe: Fine Ahtwerks, 2001-2008

by Sarah Cole

If I was backed into a corner and had to come up with one word for Marc Bells newest release Hot Potatoe, I would have to go with dense. Both in style and content, there is so much to wade through, let simmer, and sink in after digesting Bells work. Bell, a Canadian cartoonist/artist, has dedicated himself to creating what he refers to as fine ahtwerks,and alternates between being exhibited in fine art galleries, like the Adam Baumgold Gallery in New York City, and creating independent comix and album art for underground bands from his hometown of London, Ontario. In this way, Bell seems to be part of a growing trend of individuals who exist within the overlap of the art world and comics scene Venn diagram, a space whose very existence contests the necessity of the line in the first place. That said, his work similarly reflects both comic culture, as well as fine art among other references.

But, as hinted at before, what one is perhaps first struck with upon opening up Hot Potatoe is just how much is in there. All 272 pages are filled to the brim. Even the inlays of the book are covered with illustrations. If the sheer volume of these drawings werent enough, their elaborate detail is even more mind-blowing. Nearly every drawing is chock-full of little phrases, often repeated throughout, and intricate patterns and filigree. And despite the sheer magnitude of work that is contained within, it never feels thrown together or schizophrenic. In fact, Bells illustrations and comics are incredibly coherent, and while not telling a straightforward narrative throughout, make sense taken together. This is most likely because of the insane level of internal mythology that goes on within Bells drawings and comics. Certain phrases like bloo chip, gnee-o gneppotism, (Bells) trad, and common images like soft drink cups, bacon, and the worn-tough elbow are intricately woven into various pieces of both his strips and his art/illustrations.

Existing alongside Bells own mythologies and sometimes unclear references are common cultural artifacts and figures from the larger sphere of North American culture. Lindsay Lohan, Golds Gym, Tim Hortons (re-rendered as Tim Ho-ton), as well as the artist Philip Guston, all make appearances in Bells work. Philip Guston, whose own art of the 1960s has often been commended as strongly cartoon-like, is, in fact, the title character in one of Bells longer strips, Gustun: On These Layers of the Earth that he drew for comic, illustration, and culture magazine, The Ganzfeld. Beside these more explicit references, Bell also incorporates bogus corporations like Hot Bun Parachute, Gravy World, and Gnostic Pizza, especially in his series of collages that he makes of soft-drink cups. His revisions of popular culture through misspellings, and placing them alongside other more obscure references, makes what would usually be incredibly familiar seem absurd and almost uncanny. It sometimes comes off as a bizarre time capsule in which things that would be familiar and common currently are taken and placed in a time and place completely removed from their usual context.

While I am often wary of art and comics, particularly those that employ either heavy abstraction or an otherwise impenetrable style, Bells work seems to be especially successful in evading being absurd and nonsensical for sheer obscurantist purposes. Alongside the strong presence of consumerist tropes and employing an absurdist, scatter-shot panorama of popular culture, is a very interesting tendency of hearkening back to human figures. Often after looking at the page for a moment, among various phrases scrawled across the page and weird patterns proliferating, it suddenly becomes obvious that the center figure, or sometimes even the very outline of the whole drawing, is actually feet and eyes, and lo and behold, something very like a human figure, albeit often a strangely proportioned one. In this way, Bell seems to distinguish himself by tracing a unique way in which one might think about how something as commonplace as the human figure itself might be more foreign or strange than initially assumed, as well as how that which is usually thought of as absurd might be more familiar than it seems.

Hot Potatoe, in addition to being well-put together in terms of the flow of drawings and comics, similarly has a great collection of essays, as well as an amusing interview. While a lot of essays and pre- and post-scripts in comics collections seem, honestly, to be a throwaway or almost an afterthought, the extra material in Hot Potatoe offers a really nice complement to the drawings and comics. The essays range from the humorously scholarly to the just plain humorous, but in this sense fit well with Bells own ridiculous, yet smart and strangely sincere style.

One of the most interesting essays included is one by the unfortunately named Mark Slutsky that is an excerpt from a larger Financial Review article. In the article, Slutsky proclaims that there has been no artist more attuned to the debt crisis than Marc Bell. He points to an illustration that Bell did in 2004 called Angry/Funny Side, stating that it is an astonishingly direct attack on the speculation-driven investment tendencies that enriched hedge fund managers, but that ultimately led to instability and financial ruin. Slutsky then proceeds to do more of a close reading of the illustration that is both at turns engrossing and amusing. Either way, the essay adds an interesting critical lens through which one might come to understand Bell, as well as points out some of his influences and his own influence on realms even outside the arts and comics world.

While it is certainly dense, Hot Potatoe isnt completely impermeable. In fact, Hot Potatoes ability to negotiate between seeming opposites is its ultimate strength. It walks the line between arts and comics, navigates comfortably between absurd humor and sincerity, and seems to be both entrenched in the overly familiar and the totally weird. If for no other reason, Hot Potatoe should be checked out for its impressive ability to marry such disparate seeming elements.
 
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

          



  MARC BELL is the Artist of the Day on Art Hound!

Updated December 7, 2009


Artist of the day: Marc Bell

October 27th, 2009

We recently discovered Montreal-based artist Marc Bell thanks to his in-depth interview on Fecal Face. Marc is showing at Adam Baumgold Gallery in NYC through Nov. 14th. Bell also has a brand new book out compiling his work from the last decade called Hot Potatoe.

Marcs work is strongly influenced by folk art and comics. I really like the lo-fi feel of his collages and how, despite the humble materials used, Bell successfully weaves in references to contemporary pop culture.

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Featured artist

Marc Bell

          



MARC BELL in the London Free Press

Updated November 30, 2009


Cartoonist's new book plays with London roots

by James Reaney

When The Free Press last seems to have encountered Marc Bell, it was 1997 and he was known as the Weird Cartoonist.

Bell was looking forward to a gala launch at a Toronto venue for his latest work.

Basically, Im broke, he said then. But I like making books. I like the idea that you can buy something for $3.

Bell was soon to move on from London and find his career moving up.

On Wednesday, Bell is back in home town on the same night his show closes at the hip NYC gallery that represents him. Now based in Montreal, Bell has become an internationally renowned artist who has influenced a new generation of artists working in a similar vein. Critics say his work involves wordplay, comics, folk art, popular culture and fine art.

Bell is joined by fellow Montrealer Amy Lockhart at the Black Shire pub tonight. Bell will be showing images and talking, while Lockhart will screen some of her animation, organizers say.

Lockhart and Bell are celebrating the recent arrival of books, published by Drawn & Quarterly. Bells is Hot Potatoe. Lockharts is Dirty Dishes.

Bells works vary from pen and ink drawings coloured with subtle watercolours, to comics, to elaborate mixed media cardboard constructions. Drawn & Quarterly says those elements are combined for the first time in Hot Potatoe.

Bell is the author of several books including Shrimpy & Paul (Highwater) and The Stacks (Drawn & Quarterly).

Back in 1997, Bells creations as the Weird Cartoonists featured a depressed, spineless-looking character called Marc Bell. He had no family, no steady job and no normal friends. Its basically a mixture of quasi-autobiographical stuff and ah, what would I call it? kind of a joke, Bell said at the time. I usually try to base stuff on real life. Its me, but its not me. Its sort of absurd stuff. Its dark, but its playful.

The playfulness continues, even if Bell can take a different look at what it means to be Marc Bell these days.

Bells Hot Potatoe plays on the famous spelling of potato by former U.S. vice-president Dan Quayle. Somewhere in the book, Quayle offers the only negative review of Hot Potatoe, saying (Bell) just didnt get it right at all.

That entry is part of a chronology which begins with Bells birth in London in 1971. It continues even beyond his death in 2075 when Bell dies after being attacked by the prime minister, George Stroumboulopoulos. The mixture of fact, fiction and fantastic satire in the chronology includes enough detail to qualify as Bells own self-portrait of the artist as a young man.

The chronology records his continuing friendships with such London-tied artists as Peter Thompson and Jason Mclean among others. Bell attended Saunders and BealArt before studying at Sackville, N.B.s Mount Allison University in the 1990s.

We ended up influencing each others drawing a great deal, Bell says of his friendship with Thompson after they had finished Bealart. We were hanging around with Jason, too, a bit.

These days, Bell, Thompson, Lockhart and Mclean are among the artists in the hit touring exhibition, Pulp Fiction, organized by Museum London in 2008.

A key event in his artistic development had taken place much earlier, at Westmount public school. His December, 1976 kindergarten report is reproduced in Hot Potatoe, saying the young Bell has made a good adjustment.

Helping him during the early school years was his mother, Sharon Bell of London, one of several of Bells family here.

Early on, a teacher was not impressed by Bells art skills. Word came home saying her young son was not a good artist. Knowing that he was, Sharon Bell took samples of Bells intricate drawings done at home to the school. Those early masterpieces immediately cleared up the picture.


 
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

          



  MARC BELL in the Montreal Mirror AND on the cover!

Updated November 30, 2009


Bringing home the bacon,
and the waffles too

Occasional Montrealer Marc Bell packs a
plethora of deranged doodles, perturbing
paintings and weirdo wordplay into a big
damn retrospective book, Hot Potatoe

by Rupert Bottenberg

From his early days in the 90s mini-comics scene through strips in Vice, Exclaim! and yes, the Mirror, and on to New York City gallery shows and Ganzfeld contributions, Marc Bella native of London, ON and an on-again, off-again Montrealerhas mastered a distinctive visual art style thats equal parts diligent design and frenetic frivolity, folk-art naivet and cryptic wit. The disciplined density of his fine linework captures a complex code of slapstick Weltschmerz that many have since imitated but few if any have matched.

This week, Bell and his publisher, Drawn & Quarterly, launch the massive, hardcover retrospective book Hot Potatoe. The Mirror conducted an e-mail interview with Bell about the dawn of his doodling, his fraught connection to comics, the significance of bacon and Bingo Bango Man.

Mirror: Hot Potatoe is a hefty tome, the size and weight of a pineapple upside-down cake. Even so, despite its 270-odd pages, its still bursting at the seams with characters and shapes and words and patterns and stuff. Id imagine compiling such a juggernaut was an exhausting task.

Marc Bell: It was certainly a task. And I was certainly exhausted when I was finished. Also, a little tired of myself! That is a lot of Bell in there, but I really did try to weed out the weak.

M: In the book, you frequently refer to your formative doodle sessions with artists Peter Thompson and Jason McLean. Can you tell me a bit about how those experiences made you the manly man you are today?

MB: I met both those guys at Bealart, an arts high school in London, Ontario, in the early 90s. We formed the All-Star Schnauzer Band there, a joke band that we continued to promote and develop. I started drawing with Peter. I was a little bit more Black Sabbath and he was a little bit more Talking Heads, and we met in the middle.

I went away to school in New Brunswick, Jason went away to school in B.C. and Peter stayed in London, and none of us cried about this because we are real men. We sent each other elaborate packages in the mail that we decorated with delicate little nancy-boy clippings and curiosities and childish sayings.

M: A few years ago, you had a weekly strip in this very paper called Wilder Hobsons Theatre Absurd-o. By your own admission, you painted yourself into a corner with that thing, and nobody here could make a lick of damn sense of it.

MB: Ouch! I did an artist talk last night at Concordia and there was this young man there who used to read my weekly strip, starting when he was around 12 years old, and he said he was really into it and used to clip it and even copy from it. That was nice to hear.

I think my comics divide people. Some people love them, others dontor are bewildered. I did receive some entertaining hate mail for Wilder, including several e-mails from this guy who claimed to live under a bridge and thought I was directly attacking him in the strip, and he threatened physical harm. I wasnt too worried because he lived in Halifax and I was in Vancouver at the time. Also, I am pretty tough.

M: For the most part these days, youve moved away from the comics medium and its traditional formal conventions. However, youve held onto a certain comics-based iconography and language, as well as emotional and philosophical tone. How important is the comics medium to you?

MB: Well, it is my roots, of course. I will always be seen as a comics artist because its how I became known in the first place, and I am still informed by comics. I do like having my feet in both worlds, and find the art world interesting because it is so expansive. The comics world will always like having me around, even if it is mainly to complain about me and how my comics never made any sense.

The art world, on the other hand, will always be relatively indifferent, I think. I dont have the high concepts or youthful ambition it takes to make a real splash, so to speak. At the end of the day, its all the same. You go to bed and then get up and try again.

M: Youve done a fair number of somewhat three-dimensional, collage-based works in recent years. What can you tell me about that?

MB: I had an opportunity to create a solo show of my work and so it was a good time to develop this kind of collage stuff I was already doing. Ray Johnson was an influence. He created these incredible collages with a relief surface using very simple materials. His stuff was art but it was also cartoony.

The thrizzle of the sizzle

M: You have a host of funny little critters and bonhommes who recur in your work. Who are a few of your favourites and like, whats their deal?

MB: Comic-book characters usually have to be a little simpler because they have to move and tell a story. Mr. Socks and Bingo Bango Man are favourites of mine. They are in a co-dependent relationship because Bingo Bango Man has no arms and is very limited as far as life skills go, and Mr. Socks is always helping him out. Mr. Socks could use some me-time but he just cant help himself, he is too stressed out about his friend.

As for characters in my art, Balsam Adhesives is a good one. He wears a waffle cone hat with a strand of bacon woven through it. Theres also Bad Mon Tonne. He wears a hat that resembles a shuttlecock.

M: Your work is full of bits of text, seemingly random and juxtaposed fragments of conversations, weird catchphrases and commercial slogans. What compels you to do that?

MB: Maybe it is from creating comics and being interested in the combination of words and pictures. I like the idea of random announcements of nonsense. I like the lyrics of Mark E. Smith of the Fall and sometimes I am trying to get at something like he does, but visually. Im sure he would hate hearing that and dismiss my work as rubbish. I would like to send him a copy of the book so he could throw it out with his spring cleaning.

M: Theres also a lot of food in your work. Bacon is ubiquitous, waffles and bologna abound as well. However, the only reference in Hot Potatoe to what might be considered healthy food is this one metal dude you drew with plain soy vanilla on his T-shirt. Whats with all the food, and why do you gravitate to the unhealthy stuff?

MB: It does look like there is a lot of unhealthy junk food in there. Im not sure you are aware of this, but soy milk is also a highly processed food. But seriously, Im not sure why there is all this food in there. It could have something to do with the fact that food ads are everywhere. Food is the lowest common denominator.

I once drew a boxy, abstract form of bacon and I liked how it looked and so I kept on with it. The waffle imagery goes back to my Schnauzer Band days. The Schnauzers had this stadium stage show with a waffle as its centerpiece. Mr. Duck Chocolate designed it, it was his brainchild.
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

          



The Coast reviews HOT POTATOE

Updated November 23, 2009


Good to get lost in Bell's ahtwerk

by Sue Carter Flinn

If you've wondered what the former Coast comic artist has been up to the last couple of years, this 276-page, glossy, hardcover book will satisfy your nostalgic longings (it also doubles as a weight. Heavy!). Spend hours trying to peel back the layers of Bell's drawings, comics, typography and mixed-media cardboard pieces, but you'll always end up lost---there are no obvious entry points into his maniacally detailed geography of personal icons, pop-culture teases and wordplay. Imagine if Heinz Edelmann's Meanies from Yellow Submarine grew up on MAD comics, and had a drooling hankering for bacon. Don't expect the artist essays to shed any light on the "Gnostic Pizza" series ("not to be confused with...Mystic Pizza..."), or the meaning of salty pork products, either. Each page is a new adventure, each "ahtwerk" its own treasure hunt.
 
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

          



  MARC BELL interview on fecalface.com!

Updated November 17, 2009


Marc Bell Interview

by Trippe

Hailing from Montreal, Canada, Marc Bell's work is constantly negotiating between disparate influences including comics, folk art, popular culture and Fine Art. Embedded in his drawings is complex and layered wordplay that allude to these influences while remaining deeply funny. Bell's works vary from pen and ink drawings colored with subtle watercolors, to comics, to elaborate mixed media cardboard constructions, and, put all together for the first time in HOT POTATOE, provide a comprehensive portrait of a multi-talented and influential contemporary artist. Marc Bell's book HOT POTATOE shall be released this October through Drawn and Quarterly.

Marc Bell is the author of several books including SHRIMPY AND PAUL (Highwater) and THE STACKS (Drawn & Quarterly), as well as the editor of NOG A DOD (Conundrum Press, PictureBox). Marc is represented by Adam Baumgold Gallery in Manhattan.

Marc is going to be in San Francisco for the Alternative Press Expo on October 17th and 18th.

Age? Location? Artistic education?

37 going on 38. Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I went to an arts high school in London, Ontario called Bealart which allowed me to enter 2nd year University Fine Arts. In University became more and more behind in my academic courses and didn't get my BFA. There is a more complicated version but I don't want to bore your readers.

Tell us a little bit about your new book that's due out soon?

I have an advance copy here, it is fairly mighty and it will be out around mid-October. It's called HOT POTATOE and there is ALOT of stuff in it.

Fish-n-chips or a cheese burger?

I suppose a cheese burger. The classic. Fish and Chips are never a good idea as they sound. As much as I like the idea of eating them they are always too greasy.

Describe your process of creating a new piece.

That depends what kind of piece I am working on. If I am working on a watercoloured drawing it is fairly straightforward. I could explain further if you like (the specifics) but they are essentially that (an ink drawing that is watercoloured). My mixed media pieces are a little different/more involved in that they can go through all sorts of changes. I have a couple boxes of "scrap" material that I go through to select things to get the image going. The scraps are usually old drawing scraps of mine or paper I find interesting. Sometimes they are actually half-finished works or pieces of pieces that didn't work out that I decided might be better composed into something new later on. Anyway, so I gather some things and begin and see how it goes. In some cases I will compose one of these works and work on it over a long period of time and then decide I am not happy with it and then cut it up and it ends up being used to create several new pieces. For example: recently I was working on a 20" x 15" piece and decided it just wasn't working and so that was cut down into three stand alone pieces and there were several other parts were leftover and these elements were integrated into (I think) three other works. So I like it to be changing and shifting in an attempt to keep myself engaged. Sometimes these things just become uninteresting to me and something must be done about it.

Ever almost die? If so, tell us about it.

I almost accidentally killed a co-worker way back when. I do not know if I could have lived with it. At least I do know that he is a Christian and I could have imagined him in heaven forgiving me. He escaped unharmed but it was close.

What materials do you normally work in?

For the watercoloured works I use: "Professional" Windsor Newton watercolours, good watercolour paper like Fabriano or Arches "blocks", watercolour brushes, technical pens and koh -i-noor ink and dip pens (HUNT 107).

For the mixed media pieces I use a combinations of things: all kinds of scraps of crappy paper that has a pattern or texture I like or a drawing or a "doodle" on them I like. FW acrylic inks, Board, Brushes and white glue.

New York or Paris?

I have never been to Paris but I might go soon as "Shrimpy and Paul and Friends" (my first book) is being translated into French by Cornelius in Paris. I may try to go to Angouleme.

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, how
would you do it?

That is always hard. I say "cartoony art" sometimes but in my minds eye, that makes me picture all sorts of work I may not really like and so I wince and embarrass myself and people wonder what's wrong. Recently, I explained my painted/collage stuff as "folk"-y. I don't pretend to be some kind of self-taught artist but my painting skills are sort of rudimentary the way I see it (compared to my drawing ability) and I like it that way. Sort of. I want the painted things to have a bit of a sophisticated but crude/hommade look to them. Like an interesting quilt (if you follow me). If you look at something like those quilts from Gee's Bend, those are more interesting to me than the "finest" NY abstract art. I'd rather my mixed media stuff look a bit like a homemade "contraption" or a well-worked object than look like what one might think of when they think of "cartoony art". When I look at HC Westermann's work I am pretty blown away by how he works in this way (high-low craft). My drawings and comics sometimes resemble Science Fiction or Fantasy Art I suppose which probably has something to do with growing as a boy in the 1970's.

What comics were you interested in as a kid and besides art what else interested you?

I wasn't really that interested in regular comics store kind of comics, I am not even sure how aware I was of them when I was a kid, but I was interested in all sorts of cartoony stuff like Mad magazine and Richard Scarry and lots of other stuff like Star Wars and Micronauts and legos. I didn't like sports but I liked running around in the woods and "pretending". I was pretty into Star Wars, I remember drawing a comic in a doodle pad of what I imagined the third installment to be like. I got into "weird" comics as a teenager after seeing Yummy Fur by Chester Brown and Neat Stuff by Peter Bagge.


How long have you lived in Montreal and what brought you there?

I've lived here for a little over a year. I lived here about 14 years ago so I have come full circle I suppose. I moved here from Toronto, where I was only about 6 months. I like Toronto but it is expensive there and I couldn't kid myself that I was a real "go-getter" any longer. Before that I lived in Vancouver for about 8 years in two different apartments in the same building. I made a lot of work in that time!

What do love most about living there?

It is inexpensive. I don't have a lot of real attachments to this city which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. I don't speak french and so I live in kind of a bubble. It's a beautiful city and also is (strangely) the cheapest one in Canada to live in (other than Winnipeg, but they have tons of musquitoes) so it gets my vote for now. Also, Drawn and Quarterly is here so it has been real handy to work with them on the book here.


If I came out for a visit what would we do/ where would you take me?

Well, if you like Gravy and Cheese Curds and French Fries we could go get Poutine. That's the obvious one but it should be done. There are all sorts of other things to do depending on your tastes and style. If you are Roman Catholic and it is New Years Day I could take you to this giant church where they walk up the stairs on their knees. Inside it is like a Catholic amusement park with a gift shop and the heart of a saint or something on display.

What are you really excited about right now?

I am excited about my book Hot Potatoe coming out and my Hot Potato show at Adam Baumgold Gallery and seeing what is around the corner from there. I think I am supposed to look at an "unbound" copy today so that is pretty exciting, yes. I am also excited about Shrimpy and Paul being translated into French by Cornelius in Paris. And I might even try to go to Angouleme.

Beavis or Butthead?

I actually don't know the difference. Can I answer "IDIOCRACY"?

When are you the most productive?

Right about now. Mid afternoon and early evening. This sometimes changes with the weather.

Favorite trip taken?

Japan for sure. Amazing. That was last year. I had never been off the continent!

What brought you out there? Work? Play? Hired assassin?

Japan is the only time I've traveled outside of North
America. My friend Shayne Ehman was asked to show there at a place called Tokyo Wonder Site and so he then asked if Seth Scriver could join him (they have been working on this epic animation about a cross-Canada hitch-hiking trip together called "Asphalt Watches") and so that led to him asking me as well and the show was called "Shayne Ehman and Friends". My part in the show was relatively minor but that was ok, it was fun to just go to Japan and not have TOO much to do and walk around.


Music?

Right now I am listening to Gene Clark. Lately I have been listening to some less "crazy" music like this and Tommy James to calm my aging nerves. But in the "crazy" dept I have been checking out these Eugene Chadbourne records where he worked with The Sun City Girls and Camper Van Bethoven. Also, I had never listened to Tubeway Army before, it's pretty good. Stand-by's: The Feelies, New Zealand pop, first Men Without Hats record, The Stranglers, old mix tapes made by my friends Trish and Kip, Can and The Fall (Mark E. Smith is one of my favourite lyricists/writers),

What were you like in high school?

I had long hair with funny bangs because my mom didn't think I should have hair in my eyes. There is a picture in Hot Potatoe of this era and people love it (thanks Mom!). I was very short till grade 11. High School is not what I want to remember but I suppose I was alright depending on your perspective. It's hard for me to say. I was naively opinionated. Kind of like now but with less perspective. I certainly was not a hit with the young ladies of Saunders Secondary School. That all sounds so negative but it could have been worse in all sorts of ways.


Last good film you saw.

A few, can't decide. "The Wrong Guy" starring Dave Foley. "Welfare" by Frederick Wiseman. "Angelo, My Love" by Robert Duval. This great movie Paul Newman made with a really long name, something to do with the "Effect of Radiation" and "the Man on the Moon".

Charles Glaubitz wanted to ask you: Hey, whatever happenned to tough worn elbow #2 from Fantagraphics? Did it ever come out?

Hi Charles. Worn Tuff Elbow is on hiatus. I gave up my weekly and have been ignoring comics for the past while. I may return to the comics if I get a graphics novel grant! "Comics Ain't Buttah!"

A few artists you're excited about right now.

Many of my hoser peers that appeared in Nog A Dod, I always like to see what they are doing. I'm excited about Owen Plummers new high-fashion angle (in conjunction with "Luella"). I also enjoy the work of many Yankee Doodle Dandies too numerous to mention here but I should mention Chicago was a real hot bed for a while, beginning with the work of HC Westermann.

Upcoming projects and/ or upcoming shows, etc...?
-Hot Potatoe solo exhibition and launch at Adam Baumgold Gallery, October 15th, 2009
-Hot Potatoe Book Tour is listed at marcbelldept.blospot.com
-There is an interview in "Hot Potatoe" if you wish to see it. There is also one linked to on my blog. I can dig it up if you want it.
-Solo show at Owens Art Gallery in January 2010. Owens Art Gallery is part of Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB. This is where I went to Art School
-Shrimpy and Paul being published by Corneius in time for Angouleme Comics Festival (in France)


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Featured artist

Marc Bell

          



HOT POTATOE reviewed by The Walrus

Updated November 17, 2009


Hot Potatoe

by Sean Rogers

If you find Canadian artist Marc Bells work forbidding, too dense, too busy, flip to plate 102 in Hot Potatoe, the new monograph devoted to his work. Start here! the drawing advises in its upper corner, with an arrow pointing to a hand-lettered title that reads, Not Comics or Video Game. Then move your eyes down through the composition, past the head of a malformed tuff guy, to his epaulet- and Easter eggclad shoulders, through his patchwork body where critters romp and expostulate, and finally over to his knuckly paw, in which he grips a single rasher plucked from an enormous pile of bacon. Around and across this weird being, Bell scrawls a series of notes-to-self, asides that dwell on fantasies, finances, world events, and the Muppets.

With its jaunty self-references (a real turning point in my career) and catalogue of Bellian tropes (did I mention the bathtub full of wieners?), the piece is, in a sense, a primer for the artists other fine ahtwerks from the past eight years. Hot Potatoe collects many of them, frothing mishmashes of portraiture, topography, cutaway diagrams, automatic writing, and athletic socks. Bells most visible works have long been his comics, and while some strong examples anchor this volume, Hot Potatoes main virtue lies in teaching us how best to peruse not just his strips, but all the mans creations. Like his sequential art, Bells other werks (prints, watercolours, mixed media concoctions) benefit from a thorough read, rather than the old gallery wall once-over.
 
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

          



  Marc Bell interviewed in The Capilano Courier

Updated October 20, 2009


One potatoe, two potatoe, three Marc Bell: New boundary-devoid comic, Hot Potatoe

by Reza Naghibi

I look upon the cover of Hot Potatoe, Marc Bells graphic novel thats due later this month, and think that this guy has established a style that would take the entirety of an article to describe. Im surprised Tommy LaCroix was able to do it so well in his essay See You In The Funny Pages, which is all about Bell and his work. My comics are pretty free-wheeling, so to speak, but I really try hard to rein them and try to make them readable, says Bell via e-mail. Indeed, searching for a narrative or structure or something to follow is one of the first tasks you undertake in trying to interpret his work.

The interior pages of Hot Potatoe are something along the lines of recounting the slew of events from a night of drunken debauchery, and the hangover, and finding out what it is you may or may not have slept with all in a single, two-dimensional piece of fine ahtwerk in ink. No, that still doesnt really cut it. Its part cubist. All objects have a face. He winds up creating this goofy netherworld, this halfway point where the whole universe he creates hangs between both inanimate and sentient, LaCroix states when describing Bells work in his essay. The work is busy, intricate, detailed to the point of obsession, Tommy LaCroix eloquently describes Bells art, informed . . . deftly executed composition. I happen to agree.

The grotesque details in his work employ, at times, collaborations with likeminded artists, peers, and colleagues they will literally draw a bit, then post it to the next guy who will in turn do the same thing. The work is what you might call part fine art, part comic, in style. His work has seen art gallery walls, weeklies, even Vice magazine, but this comic launches at a shop on Main street, here in Vancouver. Its about this, like, protagonist who, on each page, is perpetually subjected by his environment. Perhaps a commentary on life, or the human condition, or what-have-you. LaCroix calls it Words and scriptsinvading the figurative subject matters space, crowding it inward and out.

In an art gallery, people see [my pieces] as some kind of cartoony artwork and in a comic book, this stuff is seen as illustration or something else and not comics, says Bell. One great thing about Marc Bells work is the response it gets. The Minneapolis Star Tribune thinks it leaves you feeling as if you have bees in your head, and LA Weekly says hes a riddle wrapped in a conundrum further wrapped in salty bacon. You just know this guys work is going to be great when people respond this way. Again, I happen to agree. Modestly, Marc Bell tells me, I am trapped in some kind of nether region. Sometimes its frustrating that I wont really be taken seriously in either medium, but I can live with it. You can see for yourself, October 19th, at Luckys Comics on Main Street.
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Featured artist

Marc Bell

          



MOCCA exhibit reviewed by The Toronto Star

Updated August 17, 2009


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Artists push past limits at eclectic exhibition now at MOCCA
Jun 28, 2009 04:30 AM
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Murray Whyte
Visual Arts Reporter

Big group shows often labour with a unifying theme, and in so doing, some of the group always seem to linger on the edge, not quite part of the party. For a recent example of this, have a look at the Power Plant's current "Universal Code," which, while chock-full of outstanding pieces, is saddled with a few wallflowers not quite up to its nature-of-the-universe premise.

Here, we can learn a lesson from "Pulp Fiction," the just-opened summer show at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. Curator Corinna Ghaznavi skips the thematic frame in favour of aesthetic one apt, too, because there's not a theme to be found here at all.

I don't mean this as a criticism. In fact, it's a compliment. "Pulp Fiction," first staged at Museum London (Ontario, that is) is as fresh and unpretentious a museum show you're likely to find anywhere, an agglomeration of roughly-made objects, drawings and videos that help to embody a scene that has, completely organically and with no real intent at all, made its way from the outside-in.

If anything, "Pulp Fiction" is a survey of a do-it-yourself scene in Canadian art that has flourished across North America in recent years, outside the sanctified realms of the art world proper. By this, I mean most museums (because they're afraid of unknowns), commercial galleries (because they're leery of artists without Masters of Fine Arts degrees) and artist-run centres, which, even in their function as parallel spaces, have limits entirely apolitical doodling, for one, apparently, and lacquered, oven-baked socks, for another.

Many of the artists know each other; just as many collaborate, trade and drink together. This is work unencumbered with lugubrious theory and political intent.

Not so long ago, that would be more likely to appear at a craft fair than an art institution, but it proves that there's something to be said for critical mass.

Drawing on quirky interpretations of popular culture, the cut-and-staple 'zine scene, and the growing popularity with the graphic novel form, do-it-yourself scenes have insinuated themselves in the Official Art World in an entirely organic way: Among a generation of young urbanites, for sheer relevance, they simply couldn't be denied.

This is a long way of getting to the work itself, which is, by turns, dizzying, accesible, hilarious, macabre and in one instance, disquietlingly bleak.

That's an exception, and there's hardly a piece to be found here that sits on the outside, or falls flat; but for my money it's the drawings of Peter Thompson that stand out. From London, Thompson's a clear descendent of the creepy psychedelia rendered by another generation's dominant quirkly outsider, Robert Crumb; Thompson avoids Crumb's sexually fetishistic weirdities (in this show, at least), but his sharply-drawn technique provides a nice tension with the wildly appealing, surreal forms he draws.

In one piece a giant mechanical head teeters on a ball of fuzz (I think); like in most of his work here, the clustering of images, most of them not of this reality (is that a log ... with feet?) are almost too dense to parse. Small blocks of text float alongside them: "In this dream I had, there was a tarantula, except its legs were hard and ivory-coloured."

Similarly, Thompson's ink drawings collaborations with Marc Bell are dizzyingly involved; a series of them are loosely based on The Hobbit (loose, as in very; no Hobbits appear, except in text: "Bilbo kept his stuff in his mom's basement until he moved to his own pad.") Another selection of Bell's work, a little older, is less captivating, but more appealing, if that makes sense: Small and hand-made, they are colourful collages, painted, not drawn, that have a warmth his other work does not.

Warmth may not be a prority for any of these artists (one piece from Seth Scriver and Shayne Ehman is a car hood emblazoned with the words "F--k off" in sparkling blue and orange, which may be an appropriately-outsidery comment on art institutions in general).

But like it or nor, warmth is the inevitable byproduct of all this hand-made stuff. It is homespun-seeming, in the best way. Like James Kirkpatrick's lovely multi-part installation, "lots of people saying hello." Figures built from leftover furniture pieces, charcoal sketches, a crude projection, and an outstanding canvas this is cozily personal stuff, to be sure.

There's video here, too, which brings us from warm, in Amy Lockhart's lovingly hand-made animations, Walk for a Walk and The Devil Lives in Hollywood, to supercool, in Barry Doupe's computer-animated film, which is gorgeous, seductive and chilling: "Stop, you're hurting me," intones a female computer voice as a pixellated chair topples and breaks.

Not quite a wallflower; but at this party, the surly guy in the corner, alone with his drink? Maybe.
 
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Featured artists

Marc Bell
Seth Scriver

          




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