Street Comics of San Francisco

I went, in part, to San Francisco to learn about the history of Underground Comix, and the role the city played in its development. I wrote about that elsewhere.

As I walked through the city, however, I encountered many examples of comic narrative at the street level. I’m sharing a little of that below.

You are great (in the Haight).

You are Great (in the Haight)

Not sure if this is social justice, but it was huge, surprising and cool.

Pacman Shield Ghost

The next two drawings were in a window, mostly likely drawn by a child. I wonder if they knew it would been seen by someone from the other side of the county, and posted on the Internet?

Help clean the Environment
resist fear poster

The next photos were taken in an alley in the Mission district. They were stunning, powerful and inspiring.

All these drawings and scenes were viewed by a visitor, documented and shared. And I saw a lot more, too. This tells me it’s worth making things like this and sharing them. You never know who will see it.

April Dawn Alison

April Dawn Alison holding photos

While cruising through SFMoma, my companion and I stumbled on the dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroids) of April Dawn Alison.

The exhibition drew from over 9200 photographs of April, taken by herself, or, very probably, a photographer named Alan Schaefer. Schaefer worked as a commercial photographer, and doesn’t seem to ever have had any gallery shows or exhibits. According to his friends and neighbors, he loved playing tennis, jazz records and was known simply as ‘Al’. 

No one knew that Al was also April. And no one had seen these photos until after his death in 2008. This collection was donated in 2017 to SFMOMA by painter and collector Andrew Masullo.

April Dawn Alison and her stats

Al and April lived in Oakland, California, and April’s world seems to be completely contained in Al’s apartment.

April Dawn Alison's legs
April Dawn Alison as a maid
April Dawn Alison in various states of undress
April Dawn Alison in a poodle skirt

There are many, many photos in the exhibit – I’m only sharing a handful here.

There is a joy in the photos I saw, which are beautiful, hilarious, enigmatic, and heartbreakingly sad. The work span more than three decades, beginning in the early 1970s, and then developing during the 80s into an exuberant, wildly colorful, and obsessive practice inspired by representations of women in classic film, fetish photography and advertising.

I wonder – did Al want these photos to be found? Would April want them to have been seen by the world? If they had it all over to do again, would April (And Al) have been happier and fulfilled if they had the chance to “go public” while they were alive?

There is a catalog on Amazon from the show, if you are interested.

Catalog from SFMOMA'S April Dawn Alison collection.

The San Francisco Cartoon Museum

My lady friend and I visited San Francisco earlier this month. I was excited to visit to Cartoon Museum to assist in some comic research I’m doing on the origins of underground Comix, which have deep roots in San Francisco.

Here’s text taken directly from their website:

Founded in 1984, the Cartoon Art Museum has something for everyone—from comic strips, comic books and anime to political cartoons, graphic novels and underground comix. People of all ages can view original cartoon art at exhibitions and screenings, produce their own comics and animation at classes and workshops, research deeply into our collection and library, and mix and mingle with professional and aspiring cartoonists. This unique institution houses approximately 7,000 original pieces in our permanent collection and attracts more than 30,000 visitors annually.

https://www.cartoonart.org/about

I wrote to them about a week ahead of time, asking if there was an optimal day to visit, and if there is a docent or someone from their collections that could help.

I never received a response.

What I found when I visited is not a museum at all, but a medium sized gallery. There is no collection on site, and no one with any knowledge of comix history. It was disappointing, as I had hoped to “research deeply into [the] collection and library, and mix and mingle with professional and aspiring cartoonists,” as indicated by their site.

The gallery had a collection of cartoony distorted portraits by John Kascht and some panels from EC Comics’ horror books. That’s it. After reading through the information panels EC comics, there is no scholarly insight about EC’s books or artists. All the information is already available on WikiPedia.

Below, on the comic rack, are printer copied covers of some EC titles, but not a real comic in sight. It’s a pretty appropriate metaphor for the “museum,” too. Looks good from a distance, but there’s no substance up close.

Friends, it’s not worth the $10 entrance fee.

UPDATE

Over a month after I emailed the cartoon museum, I received a response indicating that “We might have some people we can put you in contact with.” Ah well.

artMRKT San Francisco

Jordan Faye Block with be in San Francisco for artMRKT, which runs from May 16-19 at the Fort Mason Center Festival Pavilion and she’s bringing some of my dioramas.  West Coast friends – check it out! She will be in booth 621 with some fantastic ART.  Jordan is really great, too, so I hope you get to meet her.

ArtMarket

San Francisco

After the conferencing was done, I said goodbye to new friends like Sheila and Hugo and set to work recording with my old friend, Neil. Neil and I founded the “drums and keyboard” movement, which was very popular in Maryland basements during the 1980’s.

Then:

Neil and Jim

Now:

Neil and Jim

Neil and I were part of a quartet that played shows and parties during which we often would perform our drum-and-keyboard songs while our bandmates stood by and watched. I can’t remember why we did this, or how we managed to get away with it. Also, we enjoyed zesty French onion soup.

So, we nerded out and made some new music – mostly ironing out a new system of composing and bringing our two styles (and sets of technology) together again.

Mixing Drums

Mixing other stuff

Neil’s computer doesn’t have stickers on it (at least none he’s found yet).

But, it wasn’t all music – we ventured out to meet stormtroopers:

Stormtrooper

We also attended the Frida Kahlo exhibit at sfmoma. I couldn’t take pictures at that exhibit, so I’m posting this one instead. I loved it, however. Really amazing to see so many old photographs and even home movies of Frida.

Oh, snap!

And we faced our monsters:

Facing monsters

I had a wonderful time with Neil and lovely Hobbes. San Francisco is a great city, full of bananas, lime diet coke and Doritos – I can’t wait to go back some day.

Hobbes, me and the twin peak

The rest of our adventures are chronicled on flickr. I took almost 700 pictures!