Sunday, December 23, 2012

A colorful take on art and nature

There is an alliance between The Center for Cartoon Studies and The Montshire Museum of Science, which is almost as old as the former. I should know, for I was part of the first-ever class at CCS; and so, I was part of many first-evers, including the first-ever CCS field trip to the Montshire. We came equipped with sketchbooks and pencils and brushpens and charcoal; we departed with sketchbooks full of amazing rare things, the preserved moose and the preserved insects being among the most popular subjects to draw. Upon return to base, our task, or “drawing challenge” was to depict a story about a miniature figure among the specimens. I wove a semi-autobiographical narrative around the dead bugs. The result, “Insecticide” is one of my best works from my prolific two years at CCS:

Recently, I revisited my alma mater, and also returned to the halls of the Montshire. Of course, I carried a sketchbook. And a new brush. I'll share a few sketches:

Since my graduation, CCS has moved onward and upward in so many respects—including collaboration with the Montshire. The people of these two institutions have taken it to the next level, with a new exhibit (on display at the Montshire through February 3, 2013): Cartoonists' take on Charley Harper. It provides a unique compliment to the traveling exhibit Beguiled by the Wild: the Art of Charley Harper. Harper was a famed nature artist, best known for his seriagraph (silk-screen) prints of wildlife, in a style he called "minimal realism." He made art for many nature organizations, including the Cincinnati Zoo, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, and the National Park Service. On a trip with the Denison outing club (pre-CCS), I saw a poster by Harper on sale, probably at the visitor center of Bandelier National Monument. I knew that I had to take it home, and adorn the ceiling of my cabin at The Homestead. I didn't yet know Harper by name, but I recognized his remarkable compositions of wild animals, distilled to their essence.

And so,  in the Montshire, with a set of Harper prints at one end of the room, the other is adorned by work by CCS students, taking inspiration from Harper and from nature. (Evidently, I don't have a trademark on “Comics from the Wood.”) The colors are vibrant; and while Harper was a master of telling a story with a single image, the intrepid cartoonists apply minimal realism to a stories composed of multiple images in sequence. The results are charming, and well worth taking home, in the form of the comic book collection of the CCS work, which can be found at the Museum shop.

And I can recall all this positive detail about the exhibits, despite having lost my wallet on the trip back. Subsequently, I have been pressed to replace all my essential cards and Ids. Simultaneously, I have worked to prepare for Christmas with family, in my old home in West Virginia. It is a way of starting afresh, but with the weight of what has been and what's to come. I have much to do, to re-evaluate my life and path, and the pursue new challenges. I hope that I can take a hint from The Center for Cartoon Studies, and rise to new frontiers.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

The two color images are by Charley Harper, the former for the National Park Service, public domain; 
the latter is being used online to promote the traveling "Beguiled" exhibit.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Praise for Frog Stories!

Frog Stories, which I released in May 2012, has received a highly positive review from the comics critic Robert Clough.  Rob has a sharp analytical eye, and a column in the prestigious Comics Journal.  Evidently, I have passed his rubric.  He hopes to see more comics from me, which is good, because I will create more.

Comics legend Stephen Bissette (known for Swamp Thing, Tyrant, and The Unbelievable N-Man, among other works) has also given big cheers to the frogs.  On Twitter and Facebook, Steve wrote:

"Ross Studlar's FROG STORIES is one of my fave comics of the year; ideal Xmas gift for amphibian-fans, too!"

"I love Ross Studlar's comix, and this one is his best yet. Highly recommended, and a lovely package and read all the way around."

Frog Stories features four short narratives of life and death drama, starring frogs, mice, moths, beetles, and other small animals.  The eat-or-be-eaten world of the swamp comes vividly to life, in  black, white, and cross-hatched shades of grey.  Readers of any age can thrill to the feats of the frogs.  Yes, I agree that it makes a fine Christmas gifts, for fans of frogs or comics or nature or dramatic stories.  My etsy store is open, while supplies last.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My first winter in the Sierra

Lesley and I visited the Sierra mountains near Lake Tahoe, on a December weekend when the great majority of recreationists stayed home. We drove her old reliable station wagon uphill through cold rain, which became wet snow once we reached the elevation of 5,000 feet. And finally, in the dark, we arrived the entrance of Clair Tappan Lodge, and walked the final 100 yards to the heavy wooden front door. The vanilla smell of the Sierras was instantly recognizable, as we trudged ankle-deep in wet snow, schlepping our gear. We gladly stepped inside, where it was dry and warm. In the Lewis and Clark room, we sat by the fire, and met new friends. The rain and snow made conditions for skiing or snowboarding less than ideal. Therefore, only six or so souls, ourselves included, occupied the lodge per night.

The next day, it was hard to pull ourselves away from the fire. There were books to read and tea to drink and sketchbooks to draw in and online courses to complete for the renewal of our EMT certifications. The wind billowed against the windows of the lodge and the rain fell hard. Lesley and I are people who love the woods, regardless of weather. However, she was recovering from a cold, and wished to be cautious. In the afternoon, our opportunity arose, with a moment of clear blue sky, and light rain only. We saddled ourselves up with backpacks and snowshoes and ski poles, and into the woods we went.  We followed a trail called the "main drag."

All about us, the red firs, Abies magnifica, stretched for the sky, their trunks nearly black in color. Upon them, stag-horn lichens glowed yellow-green, like fluorescent lights. And there were lodgepole pines, and hemlocks, and spruces. We sloshed our way through sloshy snow, which was a foot deep in places. Breaking trail through the icy sludge was not easy. I walked in Lesley's footsteps for a spell, then took my turn. (And compared the former to Good King Wencelas.)

Save the moans of the wind, it was quiet. Except for the rhythmic sway of the treetops—back and forth like a pendulum—it was still. I teadily put one foot and one pole in front of the other, in front of the other. I had to keep my thermal engine pumping its pistons. We were two spots of warmth, in a polar landscape.

The forest seemed empty of animals, but they were nearby. Under cover of bark or earth, escaped from the wind and rain. Some animals, on the other hand, were quite unperturbed by the elements. We crossed footprints, a line of them, from a small canid. Perhaps a fox. Squirrels, too, had left their marks in the snow.

And then a black form swooped past us. The raven finished its concave arc, and alighted atop a dead tree. It croaked and called, and proclaimed itself lord of the realm. Then it flapped and rose from the tree and into the wind. It beat its wings strong, but hovered like a helicopter, against the wind's push. Then the raven broke the stalemate, and soared onward, and out of sight.

We came finally to the Lytton Lake, our destination. Or rather, the rippling snowy field, with boulders and forest beyond. The map assured us of a lake under the snow. We turned around, and commenced our return trip.

We stepped into a copse of trees, and felt the calm. Their trunks kept the wind at bay; we had a safe fortress. From the side of my backpack, I removed a gift. A thermos of hot tea. It warmed our hearts, both figuratively and literally.

In this landscape of rolling hills, rocky and snow-covered, the trees stood strong. The rain began to fall again and the wind grew stronger, and the trees swayed but stood. For many centuries, they had braved every storm, and then the coldest depths of winter and the scorching summer heat. The weathered old giants took the monsoons and droughts, undaunted. As for me, I was glad that we had taken some of their brothers and sisters, and fashioned their strong bodies into a house. With a fire inside, wherein I could warm myself. I thanked the trees, and quickened my pace for the hike home.