Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Nevertheless, she persisted."

I am daily disappointed, overjoyed, angered, uplifted, and I have dealt with the turmoil in the best way I can: by cutting paper.

This is "Let Her Speak / Judah" – a new papercut that's one of twelve in my "Twelve Tribes" series, and the whole series is (apparently) going to be protest art. Each of the twelve papercuts is made with a minority super hero, with bits and pieces that help me struggle along with the ups and downs in my daily news feed.

"Judah" is traditionally represented by a lion, and is known as a leader — so my interpretation is made of cut-up comics featuring Storm (leader of the X-Men, occasional Queen, and so on). She's a strong woman who leads by example, and speaks truth to power. It's also got a few pieces of Brian Bendis's "Scarlet" as well (the protest scene shown in close-up below, for example).

The whole series uses a lot more speech bubbles than I usually do – with messages reflecting my beliefs in what America stands for: welcoming the stranger, striving for equality and rights for everyone regardless of gender identity, color, religion, etc... an America in which we "Let her speak."

I'll be premiering this series (and MORE) at Brave New World Comics (in Newhall, in the Santa Clarita Valley of Southern California) the evening of Saturday, April 8 — details will be posted here once I've got more to share, but please save the date for now.

Why am I posting this early preview? I'm inspired by all of the #shepersisted activity that's sprung up after the efforts to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren. This piece isn't called "Neverthless, she persisted" (but I'm secretly working on such a piece for an upcoming group show... again, details to come).

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Learning and teaching at Limmud in England

Heavy coats at all times for winter in Birmingham – below freezing most mornings!

Limmud UK! Thousands of attendees from around the world, hundreds of sessions — all focused on Jewish culture, education, and art. This is the 20th year of the conference… but our first.

Six months ago when my wife and I were first approached to teach at the conference in Birmingham, England, we were a little unsure about what it would be like, but we decided to take the leap — and it was fantastic!

Wearing the colors.

My wife, Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik, and I were asked to lead as many sessions at the week-long conference as wanted, so we picked some of our favorite topics and put together a host of options combining my art and her scholarship, some of which we’d presented elsewhere but some of which were completely new:

  • Women of Valor and Other Super Heroes
  • Damaged Heroes: Midrash and Pop Culture Mythology
  • Under the Chuppah with Superman and Lois Lane
  • Paper Midrash: Text Study with Knives

We'll be doing all this again in Fresno this spring, in case you missed us in England.

Most of these sessions centered around conversations between me and Shawna, with slides and text handouts for everyone in the session. It was great to share our ideas with inquisitive and engaged people. The “text study with knives” workshop almost didn’t happen… funny story: I had asked for art knives and cutting matts to be provided, and the resources folks were happy to introduce themselves to me with a box containing… BUTCHER KNIVES AND FOOD PREP CUTTING BOARDS. Split between anxiety and laughter, it wasn’t long before the confusion was resolved and the proper materials were located. I would be remiss if I didn't mention at this juncture how incredible the all-volunteer conference staff was in every way — as I said, THOUSANDS of attendees and HUNDREDS of sessions, and it all ran so smoothly... yashar koach to Limmud!

Plenty of photos from the workshop, since my kids were there (and willing).

I was also a panelist in a session on “Pictures That Say 1000 Words” (I discussed Morris Louis’s “Pillar of Delay”) and Shawna read a letter in the first “Limmud Letters Live” session (she read Henrietta Szold’s letter on saying kaddish).

But of course, there were so many hours in the day and SO MANY SESSIONS to attend, so we took advantage of all that Limmud had to offer. Torah, Talmud, Israel, cherry tomatoes (seriously)… and of course, I attended all of the art sessions I could fit into my schedule.

One of several GREAT sessions led by Professor Marc Michael Epstein of Vassar College

Artist Jacqueline Nicholls was also one of my favorite presenters; here she is discussing her "Draw Yomi / Daf Yom" project.

And here's Jacqueline Nicholls presenting a panel from "V for Vendetta" as part of the "Protest Art" panel.

I went to a session on the New Venice Hagaddah, which includes work by my buddy Hillel Smith.

The conference took place over Hanukkah, and with our kids by our side (whom we’d brought along and who also enjoyed the heck out of Limmud) we participated in the nightly candle-lighting (big group lightings and individual hanukkiah lightings as well).

And of course, lots of socializing (I met and hung out with the incomparable Jeff Klepper!), Pokemon with "Rashi's Daughters" and "Fifty Shades of Talmud" author Maggie Anton (not joking), and Snapchatting.

I hope we have the chance to attend again — to learn and teach with our extended global Jewish community, and to revel in our religion and culture and traditions.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Cutting Paper in Orange County
at Temple Beth Sholom

What a pleasure it was to spend my Sunday at Temple Beth Sholom in Irvine, California, to cut paper and make art with almost 50 people from their community (including participants from their high school program)! The theme was identity, and participants had to design a papercut that reflected some aspect of their Jewish identity. Lots of names, in Hebrew and English, as well as stories from the Torah, symbols of joy and celebration, and even a pet chicken!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My Story Happens in Music – A commission for a cantor

Last night I got to celebrate my buddy Yonah's 45th birthday, and make a special presentation on behalf of his wife Sydnie. Yonah and I have been friends since junior high, so when Sydnie commissioned me earlier this year to make a new papercut to mark his birthday, I was pleased and honored to accept.

This papercut is called “My Story Happens in Music”and it measures 24" x 18". Yonah lives his life at the center of his family and community, and has literally done so at Dodger Stadium when singing the National Anthem — and so this papercut’s structure is based on Dodger Stadium, and includes elements from Yonah’s life, all taken from comic books. He is a cantor and singer and a father and a husband and a friend... and I tried to represent all of this in the papercut.

The title comes from a bit of text taken from a Daredevil story; as well, the papercut features cheering crowds and engaged congregations; it includes the characters Black Bolt (known for having the most powerful voice in the universe), Dazzler (who transforms music into powerful beams of light), and Ragman (one of the first openly Jewish super heroes). Obvious and subtle references abound, alluding to music and spirituality, family and community, humor and joy. There’s a dove, in reference to the Hebrew meaning of “Yonah”; soccer, a sport close to Yonah’s heart, which he shares with his children... and more than a few inside jokes between Yonah and the artist, whose friendship dates back to junior high school.

And of course, multiple references to the home and family that Yonah and Sydnie have made — the “4” from the Fantastic Four uniform, and a quote from the 45th anniversary issue of their comic... spoken by a certain postman... and comics from each of their birth years. The sheet music at the center is an interpretation of the book of Psalms, from A. Z. Idelsohn’s 1967 book, Jewish Music in its Historical Development. A listing of the comics used in the making of this papercut is on the back of the papercut, and includes:
  • Action Comics #903 (Sep 2011)
  • Astonishing X-Men #26 (Oct 2008)
  • Automatic Kafka #4 (Dec 2002)
  • Billy the Kid #88 (Dec 1971) — Yonah’s birth year
  • Bullseye: Perfect Game #2 (Feb 2011)
  • Daredevil #51 (Nov 2003)
  • Dazzler #4 (Jun 1981), #38 (Jul 1985), #41 (Jan 1986)
  • Fallen Angels #1 (Apr 1987)
  • Fantastic Four #59 (Feb 1967), #273 (Dec 1984), #543 (Jun 2007) — 45th anniversary issue
  • Green Lantern: Fear Itself #1 (Apr 2011)
  • Gwenpool Special #1 (Feb 2016)
  • Justice League #33 (Oct 2014)
  • Justice Society of America #11 (Feb 2008)
  • The Legion of Super-Heroes #300 (Jun 1983)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: The Legend of the Blue Knight #1 (Apr 1997)
  • Mutopia X #3 (Nov 2005) — daughter’s birth year
  • Nevada #1 (May 1998)
  • Ragman #3 (Dec 1991), #5 (Feb 1992)
  • The Ringo Kid #5 (Sep 1970) — Sydnie’s birth year
  • Shadowpact #6 (Dec 2006)
  • Stadium Comics: The All-Star Story of the Dodgers #1 (Apr 1979)
  • Superman #205 (Jul 2004)
  • Superman/Batman #44 (Feb 2008) — son’s birth year
  • Thor #394 (Aug 1988)
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four #4 (May 2004)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

You May Kiss the Groom – Both of You!

Mazal tov to Meir Bargeron and Jon Tam! I am so pleased to share with you the Bargeron-Tam ketubah, which I created for them — and they just signed it and got married this past weekend!

According to Kabbalah the four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot are especially holy days, and excellent for a wedding — and Jon and Meir got married during that auspicious time. For that reason, their ketubah is a hupah and a sukkah. The sukkah has many parallels with the hupah, after all: both represent dwellings, and are places of peace and comfort. We invite guests to join us for both, and we celebrate with food and drink. The top of the ketubah is the sukkah’s lattice roof, filled with texts about marriage taken from comic books and the ketubah text.

The lattice incorporates texts from comic books and from traditional texts referenced in the ketubah text – here, from the book of Bereshit (Genesis).
Overflowing with promises!

Here's where the ketubah gets its name from – text from X-Men #51 (August 2012). Also, text from the book of Hosea, referenced in the ketubah text.

Grapes and pomegranates climb alongside the English text: symbols of joy and family, and a reference to the wine Meir and Jon share under the hupah.

The section in between the English and Hebrew texts is made of tea leaves, specifically those used to make dong ding oolong tea, which the couple had in a tea ceremony prior to entering into the hupah. Blazing beside the Hebrew is a havdalah candle with two wicks joining into one flame; this represents the Havdalah service Jon and Meir included as part of their wedding, and the colors are those of the silk hupah under which they make their vows. The candle is also a reference to these words from the Baal Shem Tov:

From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven, and when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, the streams of light flow together and a single brighter light goes forth from that united being.

The ketubah is made of cut-up comic books, in particular wedding-themed issues — and many pieces are from mainstream superhero comics’ first same-sex wedding, in Astonishing X-Men #51. Comics in the ketubah include:
  • Astonishing X-Men #51 (August 2012) — wedding of Jean-Paul Beaubier (Northstar) and Kyle Jinadu
  • The Justice League of America #121 (August 1975) — wedding of Adam and Alanna Strange
  • The Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #2 (1983) — wedding of Val Armorr (Karate Kid) and Princess Projectra
  • Superman: The Wedding Album #1 (December 1996) — wedding of Clark Kent (Superman) and Lois Lane
  • Ultimate Comics X-Men #22 (April 2013)
  • The Wedding of Deadpool #1 (March 2016)
  • X-Men Legacy #255 (November 2011)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Place of the Cure of the Soul:
A Commission for Robert Kirkman and Skybound

This is “The Place of the Cure of the Soul,” a papercut I was commissioned to create for Skybound Entertainment (Robert Kirkman! The Walking Dead! Yeah, those guys.)

The papercut is a representation of the Ancient Library of Alexandria, one of the largest libraries of the ancient world and dedicated to the Muses. According to legend, an inscription above the library’s shelves of papyrus scrolls read, “The Place of the Cure of the Soul” — and what better way to represent Skybound Entertainment, whose work serves that same goal — with its body of work encompassing comic books, television shows, merchandise, games and more.

This papercut is made of a single sheet of cold press watercolor stock, thematic selections from the Oxford English Dictionary, and cut-up comic books from Skybound Entertainment including:
Birthright #8 (Jun 2015), #12 (Dec 2015), #13 (Jan 2016), #16 (Jun 2016)
Invincible #121 (Jul 2015), #123 (Sep 2015), #126 (Dec 2015), #128 (May 2016)
Manifest Destiny #14 (Apr 2016), #15 (Jun 2015), #18 (Oct 2015), #19 (May 2016), #20 (Jun 2016)
Outcast #12 (Sep 2015), #15 – #17 (Jan – Mar 2016)
Techjacket #10 (Jun 2015), #11 (Sep 2015), #12 (Dec 2015)
Thief of Thieves #28 (May 2015), #30 (Aug 2015), #31 (Sep 2015)
The Walking Dead #142 (Jun 2015), #149 (Dec 2015), #150 (Jan 2016), #151 (Feb 2016), #153 – #156 (Apr – July 2016)