Archive for July, 2009

Yokoyama Live Drawing!


Friday, July 31, 2009

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As Tim noted below, I seem to only post PictureBox-related crap. And true to form, here’s another one. But never fear! I am working on a long review of The Hunter. That will happen soon and my good name will be cleared. Anyhow, many moons ago, while in Switzerland for Fumetto, I shot this footage of Yuichi Yokoyama doing a live drawing demonstration. The camera’s a little shaky but it’s still a lot of fun to watch him conjure these faces onto paper. San Francisco denizens take note: Yokoyama will be making his first U.S. appearance on August 15th at the new Viz Pictures store, New People. The store in general looks extremely exciting and Yuichi designed fixtures and other interior details of the store. More details to come. Sadly he’s not able to continue on to NYC or anywhere else this time, but has promised me that he’ll do a proper U.S. tour in the year ahead. So, look out for that! In the meantime, enjoy the picture.

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Happy Birthday Dan! a/k/a Big Blog Announcement!!!


Thursday, July 30, 2009

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Happy 33rd birthday, Dan! (You are now the same age that Jesus was when he was crucified. What have you accomplished so far with your life?)

Most readers have probably already noticed one of the ways we’ve been celebrating Dan’s big day here on the blog: We’re adding a few new voices to the mix. There’s no denying that in recent months Dan, Frank, and I have found ourselves returning again and again to the same old subjects: I dither endlessly trying to figure out which word to use about what, Frank “riffs” on color ad nauseum infinitum, and Dan posts transparent publicity blurbs for PictureBox and/or his friends. It’s getting a little tiresome for all of us.

So it’s my pleasure to welcome two amazing writers to the fold, Jeet Heer and Dash Shaw, comics luminaries who surely need no introduction. (If you do need introductions, click over to their sites and start browsing around—you won’t regret it.) Most likely, they will both be gracing us with their online presence once or twice a month, and we couldn’t be happier that they have agreed to participate. They will undoubtedly enrich the site greatly in the weeks to come.

By the way, there will be more surprises in the near future here at Comics Comics, so don’t forget to keep checking in.

Thanks, everyone.

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Groundwork of Evangelion: 1.0/“cinematic” comics


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

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This is my first post here. I’ve never regularly written about comics, or anything else, before so please “go easy” on me and forgive my poor word-writing ability. Thanks to the CC crew for inviting me to participate. I will try to post once a month, unless my previous posts become too embarrassing.
Groundwork of Evangelion: 1.0 (2008) is a collection of preparatory drawings and pencil tests for the (forthcoming to the USA) animated movie. The pencil test drawings usually follow a grid but occasionally a single frame is enlarged to cover two tiers. It reminds me of how sometimes when a newspaper strip was collected into a book format the publisher would print a single panel larger than the others. Since everything was originally drawn to the same scale, a single panel would have larger text and the ben-day dots would be bigger, oppressive. It’d give it a Pop art aesthetic for just one panel. Or the old Crockett Johnson Barnaby reprints where the publisher stacked the panels Yummy Fur style. My favorite example of this is a Little Orphan Annie reprint where all of the panels were spaced out strangely, still following a grid but with unusually large gutters. Each panel was orphaned from the others. I wonder if the cartoonists themselves approved any of these decisions.

Anyway, this book isn’t really a comic book or an ani-manga (stills from a movie arranged as a comic for no good reason- see the Pantheon Scanner Darkly release) although you could read it as a confusing one. And it doesn’t have the fanboy nerd-fest feel of one of those “concept art” books, where you can see endless drawings of how a mecha looks and what all of the parts supposedly do.

This is a book of ephemeral, notational drawings for a movie that I haven’t seen yet. Large portions of it look like if Cy Twombly drew a comic.

Other parts look like portraits of character scenes where the “performance” in the drawings are still being worked out. Since it’s all light-boxed from previous drawings, it has a thin-line traced drawing look like Warhol line drawings.
They’re marked with little notes that I don’t understand. All of the Japanese I once knew is gone, and I don’t know filmmaking vocabulary anyway. Unlike comics, which have a widely-known “insider” language (“these bubbly shaped frames around the words mean the character is thinking- is that cool with everybody?” “yeah, okay”) this is a totally foreign “insider” language used by the people at the studio to communicate to each-other. They weren’t drawn to be published for a wide audience; but here they are, published, and I could go into Kinokuniya in NYC and buy a copy. Awesome.

It seems like “cinematic” is used as a derogatory word for a comic because it suggests that the comic was designed for the reader to use it as a springboard to imagine something that it’s not. Obviously, most cartoonists would like to think that they’re making comics as opposed to imaginary movies awaiting a budget.

Since this is published and I could get a copy before I could see the movie, I’m left with a book that stands on its own in my mind. I know the characters from the animated series, but these drawings are too abstract for me to connect it to a specific scene. It’s too incomplete for me to use the drawings to imagine what the movie will be like.

Chris Ware and other cartoonists have frequently dissed the idea of “cinematic” comics in a variety of ways:

“Some of the best comics, I think, are still from the turn of the century, when the medium was still being developed as a language. And each particular artist developed that language to suit his or her own particular vision, which I don’t think has happened since the 1940s, where it’s just absorbed- this sort of ready made language of, sort of cinematic close-ups and dissolves and long-shots and that sort of stuff.”

I just googled “Chris Ware cinematic interview” and pulled this up. He’s said similar things in interviews I remember reading. I think Ware’s the greatest living cartoonist, but what’s strange about this argument to me is that:

(a) So many of the early newspaper comics that Ware and other cartoonists love and appropriate from have a language based in theater (like Thimble Theater). There’s a lot of theatrical staging in contemporary cartooning. Why is theater somehow more akin to comics than movies? When these early cartoonists were drawing comics, it made sense to be influenced by theater because it was an extremely popular medium, like movies are today. In fact, I think movies are a little tiny bit closer to comics (as a medium) because film is on a 2-dimensional plane while theater is 3-dimensional.

(b) What’s wrong with drawing from a “cinematic” language?

Here’s another Chris Ware quote from

“I don’t like to think of my work as ‘cinematic.’ A movie is passive — you’re watching it, taking it in. Where a comic strip, it’s completely active: you have to read it, search it for meaning, for the connection with your entire experience and your memory. Yes, you do have the illusion of watching something happen in a comic strip — but if it’s done well, it comes alive on the page like a novel. A novel is the most interactive thing ever created.”

I don’t think Ware is creating an either/or argument here. I don’t think he dislikes ALL movies, or feels that ALL movies are “passive.” I don’t know him, but I’d be surprised if that was the case.

This Evangelion book makes me think of “cinematic” comics in a positive way; not passive; one of many modern languages that comics can react to.

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Nabokov and Comics Revisited


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

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Vladimir Nabokov’s love of comics has been discussed on this blog before. Equally interesting is the flip-side, the love cartoonists have for Nabokov. Here are a few examples:

1. Jay Lynch interview, Comics Journal #114:

Lynch: Sure. Sometimes, I think that Nard N’ Pat is pretty much derived from James Joyce’s Ulysses and that Phoebe is nothing more than improvisations that spin off from Nabokov’s Ada.

Lait: How many times have you read Ada?

Lynch: Eight or nine. Jackie has known me for years, so he knows that I think Nabokov’s Ada is the greatest, most complex piece of fiction ever written. Once I did a thing for RAW called “The Goodnight Kids.” It’s full of Ada references. I figured if one person deciphered that, I’d be fulfilled.

“The Goodnight Kids” can be found in Raw vol. 1, #5 (1983).

2. Dan Clowes interview, Comics Journal #233, discussing his graphic novel David Boring:

Clowes: I was certainly inspired by Pale Fire, I think, with his undependable narrator, or maybe he is a dependable narrator, it’s hard to say. The way he sort of references this text, that being the old comic book, and sort of re-imagines it into what he wants it to be.

When I was reading Pale Fire, I remember the thing I really responded to was the idea that I had, as a kid, read comics that my brother had left lying around, and I had tried to take from them some unconscious message that wasn’t necessarily there. I thought that was such a great thing in Pale Fire how this unreliable critic who’s sort of mis-analyzing this whole epic poem that John Shade has written, is actually creating this whole new work of art that’s possibly even superior to this great poem itself.

Clowes also included a Nabokov joke in Eightball #17: a gag cartoon titled “The Lepidopterist.” David Boring is full of allusions to Nabokov. Perhaps the most subtle is a statement made by the hero to his lover, “You’re the original of Wanda.” (p. 92.) Nabokov’s last, unfinished book (which will finally be published this fall) is titled The Original of Laura.

3. Chris Ware interview, Comics Journal #200:

Ware: There is a segment in Lolita where Humbert Humbert is trying to describe the accumulative effect of a number of events going on in his visual field as he comes upon an accident scene in his front yard. He has to go through three or four paragraphs to describe what’s happening, and he excuses himself and the limits of his medium for its inherent lack of simultaneity. This is, of course, something you could presumably do in a comic strip, though it wouldn’t be nearly as funny.

4. In his novel Laughter in the Dark, Nabokov described a fictional animated character named “Cheapy the Guinea Pig.” In the anthology Zero Zero, issue #27, Al Columbia did a one-page strip imagining what Cheapy looked like.

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Plodding Along


Monday, July 27, 2009

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As some readers may remember, a while back I suggested that it would be nice if we could all agree on an adjective that could do the same work for comics that “literary” and “cinematic” perform for literature and film. For various reasons, the post proved somewhat controversial. In the end, the most popular suggestions were, if I remember correctly, “cartoonic,” “pictographic,” “Herrimatic,” and “McCloudy.” Later, the great cartoonist Mark Newgarden told me he had thought of the perfect word, but had forgotten it before running into me. It is a maddening thing to reflect upon for too long.

Anyway, in the comments to Friday’s post, gentleman Jeet Heer recommended an essay about Nabokov and comics by the scholar and cartoonist Clarence Brown. Coincidentally, in the piece in question (which mostly concerns instances in Nabokov’s writings which Brown believes are informed by the aesthetics of comics), Brown advocates for another possible contender to the comics-adjective crown:

I needed a word that conveyed the sense of “comicstrippishness” but that would be less clumsy, a word that conveyed something like the soul or essence of the comic strip. …

Chess is essentially an abstract play of force and counterforce constrained within a rigidly measured grid of relationships; as such, it is quite independent of its material incarnation in patterned board and pieces. Similarly, the procedures of pictorial narrative, the left-to-right movement of figures against a ground and in sequential frames, can be adumbrated in verbal patterns. That, at least, is what I attempted to name when I came up with the term “bédesque.”

The French call a comic strip “la bande dessinée,” or popularly “la BD.” My coinage bédesque has passed the test of satisfying the linguistic intuition of native speakers. I tried bédesque on Alain Besançon, the writer and political philosopher, who was on an opportune visit to Princeton. He first countered with bédique but then decided that he liked bédesque better.

—Clarence Brown, “Krazy, Ignatz, and Vladimir”, Nabokov at Cornell, edited by Gavriel Shapiro

“Bédesque” has the advantage of a French etymology, as “cinematic” did, but also has a disadvantage in that “la BD” isn’t as commonly used in English as “cinema” has been. Somehow I don’t think this will take off, though I can’t think of any practical objections offhand other than that comics fans are likely to reject it as pretentious. In any case, I haven’t been able to find any other references to the term online. Oh well: More grist for the mill.

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Paul Karasik on Fletcher Hanks


Sunday, July 26, 2009

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Paul Karasik is the very first cartoonist I interviewed (well, as an adult. When I was 13 I interviewed Paul Ryan for an 8th grade paper and made a case that he was vastly under appreciated, natch). That first Karasik interview became a lengthy examination of comics history and was published in the very first Ganzfeld back in 2000 with considerable help from our own Tim Hodler and the beloved Patrick Smith. When we debuted the issue, Paul sat behind our table at SPX and helped flog the thing. Why, mine eyes, they grow misty just thinking about it. Ok, wiping away the tears from my keyboard, I now present, nearly 10 years later, Karasik v. Nadel: The rematch. Paul looks better than ever: He’s in lean, tanned, fighting shape, while I am old, graying, bitter, hunched and prone to mumbling. Paul won again. Sigh.

Thanks to Gabe at Desert Island for hosting a fun evening and asking me to interview Paul on the occasion of his book signing for the fantastic second Fletcher Hanks volume, You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation. Click below to listen to the interview.

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Lost & Found


Friday, July 24, 2009

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1. A vanishingly small subset of readers will be interested in this, but for those of you who enjoy discovering the hidden connections between Nabokov and comics, under-appreciated great-novelist John Crowley believes he knows the answer to one of the master’s more obscure comic-strip allusions. (An allusion that apparently baffled Alfred Appel Jr. himself, no less.)

His answer is here.

2. These are all over the internet already, but I would still feel remiss if I didn’t draw your attention to the comics coverage at The Onion AV Club and Vice this week. Some of the content in both is a little hinky (Is “hinky” a word? Does it mean what I want it to mean?), but some of it is pretty good and shouldn’t be missed. In particular, I recommend the interviews with Seth (who I was pleased to learn is a fellow Dick Ayers appreciator), Michael Kupperman, and Al Jaffee, as well as a top ten list from Gary Panter.

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July Tour Diary


Thursday, July 23, 2009

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Hey Everyone, Frank Santoro here with a scene report. Please enjoy:

Thursday July 16th: Drove up to NYC from Pittsburgh, PA. Made it by 4. Mazzucchelli/Nadel talk at MoCCA was at 7 so I had time to rest. Found a parking spot right outside my summer sublet studio good thru the weekend. Yes! Dash rolled by and I showed him the rare early Yokoyama story that I had xeroxes of. Well, they’re Dan’s xeroxes and I had “borrowed” them for a few months. Never got around to making my own copies, oh well. We walked over to MoCCA. Humid as hell. But that means there’s lots to look at New York. Broadway and Bleecker is like a catwalk. Ahem.

Anyways, we thought we’d get to the talk early and get a good seat. Everyone else had the same idea. It was packed. Said hi to Dan and to Mr. Mazzucchelli. Made my way to the back. Stared at the art on walls. It has to be my favorite exhibition of comic originals, ever. Maybe the first career overview I’ve seen that doesn’t feel like a highlight reel. It’s a reflection of strengths and of rhymes. Lines of thought. Sounds and pauses.

The talk was great. I thought to myself that David’s apprenticeship in the belly of the beast (Marvel) has afforded him a POV that not many other (any other?) cartoonists working outside of mainstream comics have these days. And specifically to “alternative” comics, there is no one who learned within the tradition of (mainstream) American Comics who’s making new work at his level. Mazzucchelli talked about unlearning many of the approaches to comics that he developed because of the nature of the business of comics, of monthly deadlines. I think what’s so interesting about this “unlearning” is how it broadened his scope and how he can do both; how he’s choosing to challenge himself. Meaning he’s choosing a new phrasing style like a musician. He can play standards like no one else and then his own compositions are like some Duke Ellington 12-piece orchestral suite. He can do both. How inspiring is that?

Friday July 17th: Went over to Desert Island with one of my “Hype-Up” boxes. Y’know, the usual mix of “retarded” comics from my collection for the discerning reader. All three bux each! So, run, don’t walk, run over there and see what you’re missing. Talked to Gabe about doing something for his free comics newspaper Smoke Signal. Had a taco and a Mexican Coca-Cola (the kind with real sugar) next door.

Met Ray Sohn and his wife, Tomomi, over on 14th and 8th. We walked up to the old DIA Center where Dan was having his talk with Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis. Boy, was it humid. Another great talk. Aubrey’s a total ham and told story after story. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, well, click around the interweb and then come back. Cool. You back? Awrite. So, anyways, Aubrey hammed it up, made fun of Dan at every chance and basically regaled the audience with stories about Syd Barrett, Marc Bolan, Paul McCartney, and just about everyone else involved in the ’70s Rock scene. His best friend is Robert Plant. He said, “Paul McCartney, who’s staying at the same hotel as I am here in New York, asked me if I wanted to go to his concert tonight, but I said, ‘No I’ve got to do this bit at the museum for my book.'” He gave Dan a sideways glance and Dan grinned widely as if to say, “Why wouldn’t you just go…?” Haha. It was a riot.

Went out to dinner with Ray and Tomomi. Talked about the idea of abstract comics. About narrative comics. About the differences in the practices of narrative art and “non-objective” art. Ray’s making these square drawings that are like updated Stuart Davis abstractions but still feel “narrative”. It’s a weird gray area in the practice of 20th-21st century Art that hasn’t been explored much. Single images strung together or shuffled to create a web of narrative is nothing new. But somehow when one thinks about how most comics have a very specific linear narrative and how the practice of most Modern Art has been to deny that narrative thread, to break with the old traditions in Art, it does make one think about the potential for a new type of practice in Comics. I dunno. Good dinner conversation, though.

Got caught in the downpour coda of a hot humid Friday night.

Saturday July 18th: Woke up early and got ready for class. Another “Hidden Tempo” class in my studio. Just getting organized. Had to rule a bunch of paper. Make templates. Set up the room. Was kinda nervous cuz I didn’t know most of the people taking it this time. Last time I almost knew everyone. Still, it was great. I did my song and dance. They drew, they laughed at my wacky theories, and then they all flipped out when I proved my theories correct by using their own drawings. Haha!

After class I got a text message from Dan: “Lee Perry is playing a secret show in Gowanus. You’re on the guest list. Starts in an hour.” Some days, I just love my life. Rushed over to Carroll Gardens on the F train. Found the outdoors club, the old Project Room on Bond Street, a stone’s throw from the old PictureBox office. The sun was going down and it was just the most amazing scene to behold. Me, Dan, and Helene Silverman standing around taking in said scene when here comes Lee Perry decked out in full regalia, walking towards us like a general. His road manager, Sebastian, is leading the way with Lee’s luggage and I run over to lend a hand. Sebastian is the generous soul who invited Dan and me to Lee’s house when we were all in Switzerland, and this is the first time we’re all seeing each other again. It was just amazing; the timing couldn’t have been better. It’s not everyday you get to see Lee Perry play a show. I was standing five feet away from him while he sang. The sky was that perfect magic twilight color.

Hung out with Dan and Helene over at her house. Gary was at band practice with Devin. Helene made pizza. Dan told some funny stories about the projects he’s juggling. From the sound of it, Art Out of Time 2: Electric Boogaloo should be pretty good. Anyways, Dan’s really entertaining some nights, and he was hamming it up worse than Aubrey Powell, haha. Just kidding, Dan. Good times, good times.

Sunday July 19th: Got ready for my second class. Smaller this time, only four people, which was fine cuz I was a little beat. Matthew Thurber and Dash Shaw were two of the “students” so it was basically a hangout. I still did my song and dance. The students still laffed at me. And again I watched them all marvel at how their own drawings prove my friggin theories. Go figger. Maybe I know what I’m doing.

After class me and Dash went and had a burrito. He’s on fucking fire. I’ve never met someone who works as hard as Dash does. He’s got a bunch of projects on the stove and a bunch of festivals coming up. A Portuguese edition of Bottomless Belly Button is coming out. Portuguese? Who gets a Portuguese edition of their comic made? Maybe French, maybe Spanish, but Portuguese? I guess that book is doing okay. Sheesh! We talked about Mazzucchelli and this idea of “apprenticeship” in comics, how it’s sort of faded away. We talked about that Trevor Von Eeden interview in the Journal again. What if Von Eeden would have taken the offer to draw Year One? Would Mazzucchelli have taken the same path? Of course.

Talked about SPX and the next TCAF. Then I realized that Comic-Con was this week and thought, wow, no one I know is going. No one’s even talking about it. The comics world is so fractured now. What they do has nothing to do with what we do.

Hung out with Aaron at the studio. New issue of Cometbus is out and looks great. We got caught up and drank coffee til the wee hours of the night. He split and then I crashed out on the floor. Got up at the crack o’ dawn and packed the car. Time to get outta Dodge. Take the money and run. And that’s just what I did. Six hours later I was back in the “City of Champions” (what you didn’t know Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup this year?).

Anyways, thanks to everyone who took my class this past weekend. It was truly rewarding. Really. Thank you. Over and out.


Fletcher Hanks! Live! (Sort of!) Thursday!


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

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It’s my honor to grill Karasik at the event below!

Come out to celebrate the release of “You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation!” by Fletcher Hanks, edited by Paul Karasik.

Thursday, July 23, 2009
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Discussion at 7:30 with signing by Paul Karasik to follow
Desert Island
540 Metropolitan Ave btwn Union and Lorimer
Brooklyn, NY

Karasik will speak with comics historian and publisher Dan Nadel about Hanks’s legacy, and both will take questions.

Fletcher Hanks, who worked under pseudonyms such as Henry Fletcher, Barclay Flagg or Hank Christy, is one of the more mysterious comic book artists active in the late 1930s and early 1940s. His work stood out for its weirdness and themes of brutal vengence, but little is known about the artist himself. Among his comic book heroes are ‘Tabu, Wizard of the Jungle’, the lumberjack hero ‘Big Red McLane’, and the cosmic superheroes ‘Stardust, The Super Wizard’ and ‘Space Smith’. ‘Fantomah Mystery Woman of the Jungle’, is often called the First Female Superhero. Hanks’ work appeared in Fox, Fiction House and Timely Publications for three years (1939-1941) before he abruptly stopped making comics. What little is known about the artist’s fate is outlined in two collections of his work both edited by cartoonist, Paul Karasik. ‘I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets’ won an Eisner Award and the second volume, ‘You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation!’, when combined with the first, comprises the Complete Fletcher Hanks.

also: Fletcher Hanks coloring books (with Charles Burns cover!) FREE with purchase of the new book at the event.

plus: a limited edition Hanks screenprint will be available at the event and is now available for preorder.

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Heinz Edelmann 1934-2009


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

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Heinz Edelmann, March 2006

I’m very sad to write that one of the truly great illustrators of the 20th century passed away today: Heinz Edelmann.

Most famous for his design of the Yellow Submarine characters and conception of a number of key scenes in the film, Heinz had a truly remarkable career as an image maker spanning the early 1960s until just a couple years ago. His talent lay in combining rigorous conceptual thinking with gestural mark making and a late modernist, playful sense of graphic design. He could draw in a delicate outline or a slashing brushstroke, but whatever it was was always adapted to the individual problem he was trying to solve. In this his guiding lights were Picasso and Steinberg, and his peers in late 20th century illustration include Milton Glaser and Tadanori Yokoo, though he surely would have dismissed such a comparison as overly generous. Amongst his achievements are an amazing series of posters he both drew and designed, hundreds of book cover designs, and scores of illustrations for the German edition of JRR Tolkien’s books. The latter series was excerpted in The Ganzfeld 7 and a sampling of the former can be seen here. He was also a very well regarded teacher at Stuttgart’s Academy of Fine Arts. One of his finest pupils, the illustrator/designer Christoph Niemann, wrote a great tribute for Graphis some years back.

Illustration for Twen, circa 1968

Newspaper illustration, circa early 1990s.

In 2006 I spent a couple of wonderful days in Amsterdam interviewing Heinz about his life and work. He was a true gentleman with a delightfully wry sense of humor and an honest humility. I had a great weekend with him and his wife Anna, as well as their daughter Valentine. They welcomed me so warmly and allowed almost a dozen hours of Heinz’s time. Heinz had a lot to say about his work, the medium in general, and the history of image making in the 20th century. Those conversations will see print one of these days, though now I of course wish it had been much sooner. He was never less than brilliant. I’ll miss knowing he was out there — a beacon of intelligence, morality and aesthetic quality. Rest in peace, Heinz.

Early 1970s ad for Tolkien books.