Italy dreaming

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I have a Sunday routine – I get up early, go to the gym, get breakfast, come home and watch CBS Sunday Morning. It’s always a great way to start a Sunday, the stories are always great.

This past Sunday (today, if you are reading this when I posted it, the whole show took place in Italy. Jane Pauley was based in Florence and there were stories from all over the country. So beautiful. You can watch the whole episode here, free.

I’ve always dreamed of spending long periods of time in Italy, you know, like maybe a whole summer or so. I’m usually in a rut – a travel rut, I go to the same places over and over again – this summer will be New York City again.

Something interesting that was mentioned in Sunday’s show, and something I had heard in the past is that if you are of Italian descent and have ancestors who came to the United States from Italy, like I do, you can become a citizen of Italy – have a dual citizenship between the US and Italy. That’s amazing to me. This also gives you some sort of citizenship as part of Europe according to the program, so that’s even more amazing.

It’s sort of full circle – my grandparents came to the US for a better life and I would consider going back to Italy for a better life.

In 2011, The Jersey Shore group, yes, that group, Snookie, et al, spent time in Florence. I started watching the show back then for the scenery. No seriously.  Here’s a NY Times article on the Jersey Shore people going to Italy.

I like so many areas – Milan, Florence, Naples, it’s hard to decide. I guess I should at least plan my trip before deciding where to live, right?

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Dominoes are part of a large new concrete landscape

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Photo courtesy Droga

Artist Bo Droga and his volunteer crew have been creating a large row of dominoes along US1, under the Metrorail tracks in Coral Gables, FL. The large columns in the area at the University of Miami along Ponce de Leon Boulevard have been turned from drab cement to black and white domino pieces. Droga’s work is inspired by many things, usually by his immediate surrounding and the local material at hand. “The common thread within my artwork is the simplicity in form, and use of everyday material,” he says.

The volunteers helping him on the dominoes project are all moms, all volunteers and all French.

The “Miami Dominoes” installation will eventually include 46 of the columns when completed, as of now, there are still a few more being worked on. They are up to 18 feet high.

Droga is Australian, who came to Miami by way of Paris. After all these years, he is the one who had the eye to see something that was staring us all in the face all these years.

I must admit when they were building Metrorail in the early 1980s, I would see the pylons/columns which we called “Stonehenge South” at the time and thought they would make great surfaces for advertising. Thank God that never became the case.

The crew uses large metal forms to create the round domino dots. The area will eventually be part of the long Underline project and Droga envisions outdoor tables and people sitting around in the area playing dominoes – a sort of sister to Domino Park that is in Little Havana.

Dorga originally had the domino idea for a project in Australia, but it never got off the ground due to permitting issues and when he moved here and saw the Metrorail pylons, he knew exactly what to do.The Miami-Dade County transportation and public works department helped him get permitted and he was off.

One thing that the local community has noticed – the dominoes are a “double six” set, where in Miami, “double nines” is popular. Droga knows that, but feels that the sixes make for a better look and art installation.

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My dirty car

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I’ve gotta start washing my car. As I left my condo building the other day, our maintenance man who was watering the plants with the hose asked me if I wanted him to wash down the car because it was dirty. Then later in the day I was at the mechanic and he said that I don’t take very much care of the car. The car runs perfectly and I always have it serviced and have things repaired, I just don’t wash it. Then he offered to buy it, this is the second time in my life that a mechanic offered to buy my car. I sold one to my mechanic years ago, this one I’m not ready to part with yet.

I’m too lazy to wash the car myself, for a few bucks, someone else will do it, so why not? This guy Jerry comes to our building and washes the cars. I usually wait for him to come to the building to do someone else’s car, so when I see him, I ask him to get to my car next and it’s done right away. If I call him to come over, he takes hours to get here and I end up sitting around all day waiting for him to arrive.

The car wash I loved to go to in the past is now a condo, so that’s out.

Funny thing, when I first moved into the condo here about 16 years ago, the day I moved in, the neighbor who parks right next to me was washing his car and I noticed he was always washing his car. I guess it was therapeutic for him, he loved to wash the car.

A few months later, he said to me, “Don’t you notice how clean your car is?” I said, “Yes, why?” He said, “Because “I’ve been washing it every time I wash my own! I couldn’t stand how dirty it was!” I was shocked. I told him I thought it got clean from the rain. We don’t get much rain and I park underground, but I thought the times I was out and about driving in the rain, it washed the car.

He got insulted. I don’t think he ever washed my car again after that.

Darrin Bell, pumping out comics and winning the Pulitzer in the process

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

I recently wrote a story on Joseph Pulitzer, and then my next story, interestingly enough, is on a brand new Pulitzer Prize winner.

darrin-bellEarlier this week, cartoonist Darrin Bell (left) won the Pulitzer Prize for his political cartoons, he also does a daily comics strip called Candorville, which incorporates another comics strip which he produced for many years, called Rudy Park.

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TOM: Congrats on winning the Pulitzer prize! How did you find out?

DARRIN: Thank you. My editor at the Washington Post Writers Group called me at my home in California and told me. They flew me out to DC a couple days later so I could be in the Post newsroom during the announcement.

TOM: You do (or did) three comics – two comic strips and an editorial cartoon. I see you combined the two comic strips – Candorville and Rudy Park. How did that come about?

DARRIN: My syndicate realized Candorville and Rudy Park didn’t share any clients, and since I’d already done several crossovers between the two series, they suggested I combine them.

TOM: I also heard you draw story boards for films and tv?

DARRIN: I got a call out of the blue back in 2012 asking me if I knew how to draw storyboards. Coincidentally I’d taken a class in storyboarding just for fun a few months earlier, so I said sure, and ended up storyboarding a sci-fi pilot for Anthony Zuiker (CSI). I added my name and portfolio to a bunch of job sites, and then answered inquiries. I only accept jobs when I’m far enough ahead on my work, or if they’re flexible with their deadlines.

TOM: What is your schedule like when you were doing two strips along with the political cartoons and story boards? Did you work on Rudy Park one day and then the next Candorville, etc?

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A recent Darrin Bell political cartoon. Image courtesy King Features Syndicate

DARRIN: Rudy Monday’s, Candorville Tuesdays and Wednesday mornings, editorial cartoons Wednesday afternoon and the rest of the week, New Yorker submissions whenever I was awake enough after putting the kids to bed.

TOM: Do you work digitally or old school pen and ink?

DARRIN: Digitally. It’s the only possible way to get that much work done. When I worked with paper and ink, I would spend an entire weekday just cleaning cartoons up, scanning them in and getting them ready to color. An entire day.

TOM: What is your studio or work place like?

DARRIN: Quiet office space with red brick walls and ornate windows, one block from a river.

TOM: Favorite scifi tv show or movie?

DARRIN: Babylon 5, a show that chronicles the struggle against new authoritarian governments on earth and throughout the galaxy. The show’s far more relevant now than it was in the Nineties, when it first aired.

TOM: As for comics, which ones influenced you growing up?

DARRIN: X-Men and Spider-Man, mostly.

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Candorville by Darrin Bell, courtesy GoComics.com

TOM: Other than those, which comic strip would you like to crawl into, current or past, and spend the day?

DARRIN: Buck Rogers. Or the Star Trek comic strip from the 80s.

TOM: If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

DARRIN: I’d stop whatever cataclysm destroyed ancient civilizations all around the world 13,000 years ago (probably causing all the great flood myths and destroying Atlantis). That worldwide destruction forced the survivors to start all over, almost as if an advanced civilization was returned to the Stone Age. We’d be 13,000 years more advanced than we are now. There’s a good chance we’d also be 13,000 years wiser.

TOM: Thanks, Darrin, and congratulations again on the Pulitzer!

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Pulitzer and The World

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Images via Library of Congress

pulitzerI saw a great documentary on Joseph Pulitzer (left) the other night which of course was a lot about the New York World, which he published from 1860 until his death in 1911, after that his sons ran the paper (into the ground) and then in 1931, it merged with the New York Telegram to become the World-Telegram and then years later, in 1950, became the World-Telegram and Sun. You can see the Pulitzer documentary in full at PBS’s American Masters here. The story is great along with the images of the old newspapers and offices and of course, old black and white movies of street scenes and society at the time.

What was interesting about The World was that it seemed to have everything, especially on Sundays. It would print dress patterns, color comics, cut outs that kids could play with and had stories that were not breaking news, but features. Pulitzer and his staff would seek out human interest stories, which was a first for its time. He also designed interesting layouts and pages which were completely different than what was standard at the time – rows and rows of columns.

The World was one of the first newspapers to run comic strips and it started with the Yellow Kid which was stolen by Hearst his New York Journal (later the Journal-American).

One interesting item the documentary talks about was timing. When Pulitzer began publishing The World, New Yorkers started taking public transportation more often and the newspapers at the time were a perfect diversion on city transit.

I always loved old photos of the World building down on Park Row, across from city Hall. It’s gone as of 1955, and I found out from the Pulitzer documentary that it was due to Robert Moses, who seemed to destroy a lot of NYC in the name of progress, including the demise of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to which my father has not forgiven him to this day. Moses demolished the World and Times to build another ramp for the Brooklyn Bridge.

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These clocks can still be seen on the Sun Building today at 280 Broadway.

The Sun building was next door, but eventually moved to 280 Broadway, on the other side of City Hall,  where the is still today. Clocks on each corner show the name – “The Sun – It shines for all.” The Sun came back in the early 2000s but is only online now.

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Beautiful newspaper row.

The New York Tribune building was demolished in 1966 and is now Pace University.

The New York Times building at 41 Park Row is still there today. People mistakenly have claimed over the years that it was demolished for the Brooklyn Bridge entrance, too, but that is not the case. It is also part of Pace University today.

Of course, one of my favorites was the Herald, up on Herald Square, which is now an ugly box building housing Santander Bank and CVS, catty corner to Macy’s.

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The New York Herald.

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Outside the Tribune Building.

The World Newspaper

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‘Dunce” comic strip is in a class all its own

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

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Jens K at work. (Photo by Agnese Zile)

jensJens K. Styve is the creator of Dunce, a delightful Norwegian comic strip he created in 2016. What attracts you first are the drawings, each strip is a work of art; add the comic writing and quality to that, and you have an award-winning comic strip. (photo by Nicolas Tourrenc).
TOM: Is Dunce you? Why the name Dunce for the title character?

JENS: Whenever I’ve done anything autobiographical, it’s been me drawn with that pointy Dunce-cap. I think it’s all about that voice in your head, the self-evaluating critic. The voice that, each time you do more or less anything, goes “You idiot, why did you do that? Why did you say that? Write that? Draw that? Look, now you’ve made a mess.” I think this voice is pure biology, every human seem to be their own worst critic. You should probably check with a biologist, but I assume it’s how we all made it this far. I guess my inner voice is also a sarcastic, satirical writer that can add some fiction and transform these expressions into comics. When I started doing a daily strip with the pointy-hat character, the title Dunce sort of gave itself.

TOM: What is Dunce’s name? He has a son, what about a wife, I don’t remember ever seeing her.

JENS: The main character’s name is Jens K, maybe with a tiny reference to another resentful literary character (Kafka’s Josef K.). The son is named Gustav, I haven’t really figured out yet if the characters should have other names in English, I guess it’s part of the concept that this is actually in the far north of Norway, far above the polar circle. Gustav obviously has (or at least has had) a mother, many readers ask about her, but that part of the story isn’t told (yet).

TOM: Your drawing style is beautiful, is it digital, do you use pen and ink?

JENS: In 2014, I came back from a 14 year long hiatus from comics. Actually I thought I had quit for good, with my steady job as a graphic designer. I did miss making comics, I guess what I missed most was working offline and analogue, with old fashioned tools like brushes, nibs, good paper and the meditative “flow” of drawing. So I returned. I decided to do a daily strip, just for myself. My days were packed, but I found that if I got up insanely early, I could sketch and ink a complete strip each day before going to work. These were self-published in small zines, and this eventually turned into my Dunce strip. The whole point then, was to do this without using any computers. After a year or so, my strip won several competitions and ended up running in Norwegian magazines and newspapers. After doing maybe 150 strips on paper, I bought an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, curious (and a bit skeptical) if these gadgets could recreate my analogue and “inky” style. One of the really good brush-makers for Procreate (Georg von Westphalen) came by and offered to make a brush pack based on my style. That did it, I switched to iPad.

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TOM: What does your studio/workspace look like?

JENS: Since I went full time comic artist in October 2017, I’ve been working at home. I have a separate room for work, but when I have the house for myself, I move around. My dog Brego (who is introduced in the strip, and often seems to be stealing the show) keeps me company, when I move to another place to draw, he finds another place to sleep. Kitchen is for writing, I have a good chair by the large window for sketching, and I do the inking in my office. All my nibs and brushes are there, in close vicinity, and although I do most work on the iPad now, I try to keep them active. Ink on the hands, and those random accidents that can’t be undone, is still what gives the best “flow”.

TOM: Dunce is run in newspapers in Norway and that area of the world. What is the schedule like is it run daily? How far ahead do you have to have the strips in?

JENS: It is running daily, and has been doing that more or less non stop since January 2017. That means I have to produce at least five new strips every week. There has been times (up to quite recently) when I’ve been so far behind that I handed in the next day’s strip at 12 every day. That is not at all recommended. I’ve now been able to build up a buffer of around four weeks. Also, I now try to make six or seven strips weekly, so that I can have a vacation one day, or even be able to get sick.

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TOM: I’ve read various quotes comparing your work to others but I don’t see it, I think you are totally unique. But who are your comic/cartoon influences?

JENS: My influences are pretty widespread, and they also change a lot. Some people mention Quentin Blake and Ralph Steadman, I admit those two have been great inspirations. I grew up loving French and Belgian comics like Asterix and Franquin, in the 90s I was hooked on Fantagraphics stuff (Hate, Eightball etc), and strips like Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes have always been with me. Lately I’ve been looking into manga comics, working quite hard to find something to get hooked on. I’ve found a few gems, last one was The Girl From The Other Side, which I think everyone should read. Another artist who’s books I keep close these days is the Italian cartoonist Gipi.

TOM: What was the first thing you would seriously draw? I mean, I would draw Fred Flintstone, I always remember as a young child doing that. Did you draw a character or have a favorite subject at a young age?

JENS: Ah, I remember copying Beetle Bailey in very early years. I was maybe 12 when I decided I wanted to become a comic artist. My theory was that I had to draw every day, so that’s what I did. Much of the daily grind at that time was copying whatever I could find. Some comics were almost impossible to copy, and those were often the ones I liked most. I think I was early aware of the mystical quality in a line/stroke and how some drawing styles had more of a “soul.” Early on, I found it hard to do comics, because I was more into drawing than writing. In my recent comics hiatus I wrote and published two novels, so that was pretty much turned around in time.

TOM: What famous artist, dead or alive, would you want to paint your portrait?

JENS: I think Quentin Blake could do a good one, probably also Richard Thompson. Those would probably be ink drawings. If I was to be painted in oil, it could maybe be by Australian comic artist Ashley Wood. Or Norwegian Edvard Munch, he would have painted me as some sort of devious villain.

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TOM: Who is your favorite super hero?

JENS: Ouch, I don’t mean to be cocky, but I’ve never been enthusiastic about any superhero comic (or superhero movie). Guess my reply just has to be «blank» on this one.

TOM: If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

JENS: I would have started doing this Dunce-strip in 1995, when all newspaper editors were happy and positive people with an optimistic outlook for the future.

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Jens K at work with Brego nearby. (Photo by Agnese Zile)

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