New MX cover art – Shadows of the Past

The Asheville Mountain Xpress paper contacted me to do another cover illustration. This time, not a humorous, cartoon approach, but something to reflect the story inside about the many monuments, and streets in the city named after, or memorializing figures from the city’s confederate past.

This was the cover that ended up being published for that issue:

Here is the finished art sent to the paper before the cover text was added and adjustments made by the staff graphics department:
  Shown below, the sketches and roughs I went through in coming up with a concept to meet the needs of the story’s author. He wanted something to show the history that went on around the monument in question (The Vance Monument) and allude to the other historical markers of street names, etc.


Maybe a silhouette of a modern youth (a desire to use children reflecting upon the monument(s) and their meaning was one element suggested to be needed) observing the Vance monument and a history of transportation was considered.

Adding confederate flags to one side (the past) and modern skyscraper to the present side was another idea.

Also considered were confederate and US flags on either side and just mountains and old and modern cityscapes.
Ultimately, we decided to go with the idea of two kids, one black, one white and I had the idea to not even show the actual monument, but rather the kids looking up at it and the shadow of it looming large (they used my suggested title of “Shadows of the Past” too).

There were discussions about why only boys were shown, so I added girls from each race as well and that was the combination they ultimately went with.

2016 Mountain Xpress Halloween Cover

For the third year (not in a row) I’ve been commissioned to come up with a Halloween themed cover design for the local Asheville alt weekly paper, The Mountain Xpress.

2016 Halloween cover for Mountain Xpress by Brent Brown

2016 Halloween cover for Mountain Xpress by Brent Brown

This year I was asked to do something with local architectural elements, such as the winged lions (I’ve been told they are not griffins, as they do not have the head of an eagle, just the body of a lion, with wings, but then again, I’ve read they could be either) at the Grove Arcade building. I toyed with a few ideas and we narrowed it down to just the lion statues at the Grove Arcade.

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I thought that was a cool thing to play with, so I looked the historic structure up on Google Street View to get a straight-ahead view of it, then took it into a vector program and made a simple vector-art version of it that I could then distort into an extreme, bug’s-eye view perspective to add some dramatic flair to it. I then used the handy 3-D artist’s model bodies in Manga Studio (now called Clip Studio Paint for some reason) to get the correct perspective and anatomy for the hipster-clown the animated architectural animals would be attacking on All Hallow’s Eve.

The gryphons/lions I had to just create from a reference photo and so their perspective is not as extreme, since I wanted to keep them recognizable in their newly-animated, attack versions and I also had to kind of figure out their perspective on my own.

Then, it was just a matter of drawing the correct details on the reference model, arranging it with the lions I drew, rendering out lighting and shade and details on the Arcade and generally improving the whole composition, while leaving space for the heads and subheads that were to come in later.

The previous covers combined Halloween with the election, since they fell so close to the same time that year. That was fun, but also hard to come up with anything new that hasn’t already been done before since the last day in October and the first Tuesday in November are always in close approximation each year and it’s a visually and satirically temptation to want to somehow link the two. I was glad I didn’t have to do that this year, as I had already used up all my ideas previously.

2012 Halloween cover for Mountain Xpress by Brent Brown

2013 Halloween cover for Mountain Xpress by Brent Brown

2012 Halloween cover for Mountain Xpress by Brent Brown

2012 Halloween cover for Mountain Xpress by Brent Brown

#RIPBeleChere

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Bele Chere, the street festival that began in Asheville during a time of Detroit-level urban blight and downtown deterioration (otherwise known as the 70s) is now coming to an end, due to the city ceasing funding the increasingly revenue-neutral and somewhat now-superfluous event.

It began during my still-under-driving-age year of turning 15 in 1979. Therefore, without a way to get to the big city, and later a lack of desire to drive anywhere at all, I don’t think I ever saw much of Bele Chere during its 35 year existence. I may have gone a few times as a semi-local when the kids were small, but other than participating in a few event-themed 5K races, the one real involvement with the festival circa 1989 when I was a paid vendor.

Me at 1989 Bele Chere, selling caricatures at my booth.

Me at 1989 Bele Chere, selling caricatures at my booth in front of what is now Pack Square Park.

Back then, the booth fee was around $500 and I sold caricatures. Unfortunately, unlike having an inventory of goods that can sell as fast as customers demand, I could only draw so many people at one time, no matter how many (or few) showed up to partake in this service/art form. At $6 each, I would need to convince about 83.333333333 people to have one done before breaking even on the booth fee alone. Therefore, I split the cost of the booth (I only needed room for an easel and two chairs anyway) with my friend Don, who enterprisingly sought to capture the zeitgeist and had several current pop culture phrases (what future generations would refer to as “memes”) printed up on T-shirts to peddle on his half of the booth. I believe he did a pretty good business selling the “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!” white on black designs.

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Don selling his “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!” T-shirts before LifeAlert™ trademarked the phrase a few years later.

After the three (very long and hot) days, I think I had made a pretty good profit, surpassing the booth fee and markers, pad and tent, etc. costs and then some. There was some hassle with not being able to park anywhere near my booth space and having to drag all that stuff up a bunch of winding stairs and steep mountain roads every day by foot (or leaving it behind to be upturned and vandalized at night) that kind of stuck in my craw and prevented me from working with the festival again. So, I never did become a Bele Chere vendor at any other time after that one experience. I believe the booth fees went up so dramatically over the years, that there would have been no way to make a profit with such a business model anyway.

Once I started doing a weekly cartoon about Asheville and Asheville-related things, I kind of had to address the Bele Chere festival each year. By this time, the festival had outlived the original need for it. The downtown of Asheville had now become a vibrant, booming and hip place to be. The boarded-up, seedy city center that once needed an injection of life was long gone. Eateries, pubs, coffee houses, art galleries, touristy shops and performance spaces were doing a booming business downtown all year round now. Except for when Bele Chere would happen. Now that influx of out-of-town vendors and unruly, sometimes inebriated crowds (along with an influx of professional street-preaching instigators to mock them) would turn up and crowd out the market and space to the downtown business owners who now felt the festival was something to endure, rather than embrace each year.

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There were also now a number of festivals that proliferated all year long, that were much more inclusive of and embraced by the locals than Bele Chere. B.C. was now seen as an outsider festival for outsider vendors to sell to outsider participants. Even local bands were being booked less often for the musical acts and local brewers (which were also proliferating) were often overlooked for larger, corporate sponsors.

BeleChere2SMSo, the focus of the cartoons took on a more adversarial tone, to reflect the feelings of most of the Asheville (and surrounding) community towards the fest. Making fun of both the crowds and the local business reaction to it, as well as the apocalyptic aftermath of the yearly tempest, was the gist of many of the cartoons.

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MCcartoonBB44BIGIn the end, the “Beautiful Living” festival accomplished (or at least became irrelevant because of) what it set out to do and for that, the community should look fondly on its 3.5 decade run, even if the last few legs of the race were like running in a sweater in July.

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ahhhhhhh….. GHIC OUT!

I’m interrupting my current spate of blog posts responding to fits of pique, to announce an upcoming fit of geek. Namely the second annual incarnation of our local geek (comics, sci-fi, gaming, general pop culture) festival and/or “con” called, Geek Out!

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I missed last year’s inaugural GeekOut, due to commitments to offspring matriculation in other parts of the state occurring simultaneously, but I’m glad to announce that I will be included in the Artist Alley section of the con this year.

Along with offering to draw caricatures in exchange for only some devalued US currency, I will also be selling copies of my new 62-page full-color paperback book. It is a compilation of selected comic strips from the last 5 or so years of my “Land of This Guy” cartoon that has appeared on a mostly weekly basis in the local alt-weekly, The Mountain Xpress. Sure, you probably saw most of them already for free, but here they are printed on good paper instead of awful newsprint and additionally, I supply a director’s commentary on each one as an added bonus feature and page-filler!

I only have 50 copies, so be sure to stop by to get one either signed or not signed, depending on whether you like your reading material defaced with other people’s scribbling inside or not.

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Any copies left over will be available for sale here or on any of my other sites and any left over from that will be stuffed into a pillowcase and buried with me when I die, so that I can take the shame of my failure to get even 50 people interested in purchasing a small segment of my life’s work for less than $10 with me to the grave.

So, while I’m still here, come out to Geek Out this Saturday, May 4, 2013 at the Sherrill center at UNC-A from 9:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. and in addition to seeing cool guests and cosplay and a plethora of geeky goodness all in one place, also try to make my life have meant something!

Missed Conceptions: Part III

Ideally, a good local cartoon can cover several themes at once. In this case, I thought I had come up with a good way to cover something both topical and fun to draw (the upcoming annual Asheville “Zombiewalk” and the ongoing complaints of downtown panhandlers.

The Zombiewalk, which reached its zenith locally on 10/10/10, had now been relegated to an ordered pub crawl rather than the former large-scale (and apparently unwelcome) city-wide parade through the streets that said city leaders put an end to by way of imposing an unreasonably expensive permit fee upon the walk organizers, forcing them to downscale to a walk the previous year held at a “dead” mall on the outskirts of town, and this particular year within the confines of various downtown drinking establishments.

Combining this sight with the often-complainted-about gauntlet of downtown panhandlers (of which I had just read several gripes in the comments at the bottom of many online newspaper stories regarding downtown) that many have to pass by, seemed to me to be a pretty good joke. Especially since “braiiiiins” sounds so much like “chaaaaange” amongst the other similarities of hapless pedestrians being the recipients of the unwanted attention of large groups wanting something from them.

The cartoon ran as follows:

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Zombies printed in Mountain Xpress circa 10/16/2012

About nine days later, the following article shows up on the Mountain Xpress site:

“Dignity and respect” parade for homeless planned for Oct. 26

Members of the Asheville Homeless Network plan a parade to “promote dignity and respect for the homeless,” tomorrow, Oct. 26 at 2 p.m.

 By Bill Rhodes on 10/25/2012 11:47 AM 
The event starts with a rally at Pritchard Park and a walk to City Hall, says organizer Raven Al’Rashid. She notes the hope of making “a more public voice for the issues of the homeless and homelessness here in Asheville.”
Al-Rashid explains that a recent cartoon in Xpress by Brent Brown was a particular concern to the group. “It is hard enough out on the street without people thinking you are monsters,” she says.In the cartoon, Brown compared homeless people to the Zombie pub crawl held downtown. “We are not monsters, and we invite Mr. Brown to join the parade and educate himself on the real issues,” said Al’Rashid.”Another of the parades’ organizers, Noah Harbin points out “Yes, homelessness is a problem. Homeless people are not the problem, only the symptom.”
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So here we go with the homeless advocates complaining about a cartoon again. Even though I have done many cartoons in the past that are sympathetic to the plight of the homeless and even though this cartoon is specifically addressing panhandlers, not homeless people (not every panhandler is homeless and not all homeless are panhandlers, maybe some people should look at the type of broad generalizations they themselves employ). Also, the “monsters” in the comic are people pretending to be zombies, no one in the comic or real life thinks they are actual monsters.

As a reflection of how different groups can see the same cartoon, the folks over at Ashtoberfest, who sponsor the Zombiewalk, were apparently unaware of the cartoon’s role as a malevolent attack on human dignity and saw it as (gasp!) a funny cartoon!

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Missed Conceptions: Part II

In my experience, most complaints about cartoons seem to be due to a misunderstanding of the premise or punchline of the joke. Or sometimes an understanding of, but objection to the joke, its intent or execution (or even subject) or, in the event of political or social commentary, just a disagreement of opposing ideology.

However, the “outraged” party du jour of this particular comic from 2011 had a complaint that was a new one on me altogether! The cartoon in question was a series of jokes featuring a recurring character, “Ironey The Iron” who was a de facto narrator for Asheville happenings, as he was an anthropomorphic version of the well-known urban art piece (sculpture) on Wall St. and Battery Park Ave. appropriately facing the Flat Iron Building outside the Mountain Xpress offices.

As I had done in previous incarnations of the Ironey strips (here and here), I addressed a number of recent local issues that seemed ironic in some way. One of them, was that a local photographer, though coming off a recent win as Best Local Photographer in the paper, had nevertheless made public his concern about being able to make a living here, or indeed, to even continue to pay to live anywhere. This was stated on his Facebook page and repeated on an Ashvegas blog post about the photog in question, Micah MacKenzie. I thought it nicely pointed out the irony of being “successful” in the arts here and still not actually making enough money to even pay your (inflated) local rent. The cartoon ran as follows:

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Ironey the Iron III printed in Mountain Xpress circa 11/15/2011.

The next week, I hear from an editor that they had received this letter to the Editor by a Patty Cooper which, bizarrely recounted how “offended” she was about the cartoon because… well, just read it yourself:

“I am highly offended by your cartoon that shows someone in a green hat, and brown pants, and who is a photographer [“Brent Brown: Ironey the Iron,” Nov. 16 Xpress]. I walk these streets all day wearing about the same outfit, taking pictures. I would hate to assume that this is supposed to be a caricature of me.

Yes, I sit with homeless, and many others as I spend my days here. I can assure you though, as a land and homeowner in Vermont, and having an apartment to stay in while here, that I am not homeless. I also have viewers of my work all over the world. I do not see any homeless persons walking these streets with photography equipment or handing out cards about the video and photo work I do. Yes, I was offended.

I could not figure out why persons were walking up to me today telling me all about services that the homeless have here. When I told them I do not need those services they seemed shocked. Now I know why. I am sure that you would not have posted a caricature of some better-known local artist like that. I consider this defamation of character.”

— Patty Cooper
Asheville

So, I was tasked with penning a response to this person’s, shall we say, colorful view of the world, before I was told who even wrote the letter. I first wrote Micah to make sure he didn’t write it, as it was about him, but he had not even seen the cartoon, or got the connection that it was about him, until I pointed it out. Assured the letter writer was indeed not the subject of this comic, I replied:

“No, the cartoon was not about you, whoever you are, (the Xpress edited that part out) The cartoon of the photographer who’s forced into homelessness despite, ironically, being the best in his profession, was not based on you. Rather, the cartoon alludes to a Nov. 2 entry on the Ashvegas blog about local photographer Micah Mackenzie, who posted on Facebook of his struggle to survive in Asheville (ironically after just having won the title of Best Photographer in the annual Mountain Xpress Best of WNC issue). Even then, it was not a literal representation of him and other actual artists actually living in boxes on the street, but rather a premise taken to an extreme to achieve what people with senses of humor call a ‘joke.’

The clothes’ colors were chosen at random and not based on any person living or dead. To further set your mind at ease, the iron depicted in the cartoon, while based on an existing sculpture on Wall Street, does not in real life have human limbs or a face and does not narrate local events.”

— Brent Brown
Asheville

That, hopefully satisfied the offended party, but probably not. Additionally, the woman who was pictured being led away by police for distributing fliers was not very happy with the way she was drawn, but in fairness, I never went out of my way to find a photo when I did it and I just drew a generic woman, so no offense was meant.