The 2011 Eisner Awards: Bob Dylan, Richard Dadd, Henry Darger, and Jeremy Bastian.

Bob Dylan, circa 1964.

Bob Dylan, circa 1964.

To quote Andy Greene at Rolling Stone: “In 1963 The Grammys could have given the Best New Artist award to Bob Dylan, but they went with Robert Goulet.”

I’ll continue.  In 1964, Henri Mancini’s single “The Days of Wine and Roses” won best new song, meaning that the Academy liked that revolutionary tune better than Bob’s new single titled- wait for it- “Blowin’ in the Wind”.

In 1965, someone named Gale Garnett won best Folk Recording for “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”, with the soul-wrenching lyrics:

We’ll sing in the sunshine,
We’ll laugh every day,
We’ll sing in the sunshine,
Then I’ll be on my way.

These words- of course- beat out this meaningless tripe:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Yup, once again Bob got trounced.  This kind of thing goes on for the next FIFTEEN YEARS.  Let me be clear: I’m not a Bob Dylan fanatic.  But we’re talking the man who wrote “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, “Maggie’s Farm”, “Like a Rolling Stone”… and that was just in the next year.  Seventeen years of greatness, while bands like the 5th Dimension CLEANED UP at these awards ceremonies.  (I actually like the 5th Dimension, but with the same part of my brain that also likes Milli Vanilli.  Who by the way also won Artist of the Year at the 1990 Grammys.)

I don’t think that anyone has heard Henry Mancini’s version of “The Days of Wine and Roses” in twenty years, and I’m pretty aware of vintage music but have no clue who Gale Garnett is.

On the other hand, in 2003, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (the record that was home to “Blowing in the Wind”) was ranked number 97 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and in 2002, was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.  “The Times They Are a-Changin” was named by Rolling Stone in 2004 as #59 on their list The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time, and on December 10, 2010, Dylan’s hand-written lyrics of this song were sold at auction at Sotheby’s, New York, for $422,500.

Jeremy Bastian and his larger-than-life imagination.

Jeremy Bastian and his larger-than-life imagination: the special fan appreciation artwork in its entirety.

Jeremy Bastian creates an illustrated masterwork that can barely be called a “comic book”.  Most artists have to produce a page a day- or more- to keep on schedule; Jeremy takes as much as two weeks to finish a single page.  It’s not that he’s slow, it’s that his brain works in a way that is much closer to Richard Dadd or Henry Darger than anything we see in contemporary comics- Jeremy’s style is more kin to Victorian political cartoons or Winsor McCay than the arena defined and dominated by Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko.  I’ve called him “The Rain Man of comics”, and it’s the closest I can come to explaining how he can spend so much time exploring every millimeter of a piece of paper, filling it in not just with lines, but characters and sub-storylines.  You could blow up any single square inch of Jeremy’s art and find an entire new storyline diverging.  It is an attentiveness that is of course madly obsessive, and equally brilliant.

It is no surprise that this is a man who barely uses technology and lives in a farmhouse with his wife in an “off the grid” lifestyle that is practically Amish.  This is not anachronistic posturing, the man actually lives in a different world than the rest of us.

His inkwork is presented in a comic (that word again!) called Cursed Pirate Girl, and the response has been overwhelming.  It’s the kind of book that makes new fans of the comic medium (Cursed Pirate Girl was the most successful comic book campaign in crowdfunding history, and our polls revealed that a majority of the supporters had never bought a comic before being enticed by this one.)

We were so thrilled by the outcome of the Kickstarter campaign, that Jeremy created a special artwork that we are making into a poster to send as a gift to everyone who supported the book.  He’s holding it above, and unless you have a few days and a magnifying glass, you’ll never grasp half of what this madman has created.  But let’s look at some details!

Cursed Pirate Girl and Merstag

Cursed Pirate Girl riding a Merstag

I should point out here that Jeremy uses a OO brush.  When Dave McKean and Grant Morrison were looking at the book, Dave was very impressed… until I told him it was done with a brush and not a pen…

Dave McKean: “He does this with a BRUSH?  That’s mad.”

Grant Morrison: “It looks like he’s just pushing the AIR around…”

Grant Morrison: “I’ll say, it’s more like the ‘absence of brush’!”

The tiny lines are literally invisible unless magnified:

Merstag detail @500%

Merstag detail @500%

For example: at anything less than 500%, you can’t tell that there is a man in the gun tower window on the Turtle Cannon!!!  And see that the cannon is sculpted as the mouth of a roaring lion?

Turtle Cannon detail @ 500%

Turtle Cannon detail @ 500%

And the best part of all of this: nothing is to chance, nothing is random.  There is a reason for EVERYTHING in these artworks, a story as to who, what, and why everything is unfolding.

Skull detail @500%

Skull detail @500%

So why the Bob Dylan reference?  “Ain’t it hard when you discover that /He really wasn’t where it’s at?”  In 1965, while “Like a Rolling Stone” crept out of the speakers, the powers-that-be decided that “The Shadow of Your Smile (Love Theme From The Sandpiper)” was the best song that the world had produced that year. (See: American Idol.)  But thirty-nine years later, when Rolling Stone magazine named “Like a Rolling Stone” “the greatest song of ALL TIME”… “The Shadow of Your Smile” was nowhere to be seen.

The comic industry’s equivalent to the Grammys, The Eisner Awards, are named after a truly visionary artist named Will Eisner. Eisner was a man who, using the unrespected medium of comic books, redefined the art of storytelling in a way that has influenced a century of artists and filmmakers.  When reviewing this year’s nominees- where you will find Jeremy Bastian and his creation noticeably absent- why not compare them to… you know what?  Scratch that thought.

There are a lot of amazing books nominated, by a lot of great writers.  I LOVE Afrodisiac, just to name one.  That said, let’s put the nominees for Best All-Ages Book and Best New Artist in a time capsule.  And let’s review this in… um… how long did it take the Academy to catch up to Bob Dylan?  Seventeen years.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take THAT long for the powers-that-be to recognize an artist who Warren Ellis, Guillermo del Toro, Geof Darrow, Tony Harris, Dave McKean- and many more- have vocally championed.  Jeremy may not win an Eisner award this year, but he can sleep soundly knowing that people with the best taste in the world think he’s the cat’s pajamas.  His book won’t have the “Eisner Award Winner” stamp this Fall, unfortunately, but give a moment’s thought- while listening to some Bob Dylan, of course- and see if you respect any of these opinions:

“I LOVE Cursed Pirate Girl!  It is a bright light in a vast sea of sameness.”

-Charles Vess (The Sandman)

“Combines the endearing qualities of classic children’s books with a modern day sensibility… The results are whimsically naive and genuinely hip.  Not only is it worthwhile reading, it’s worthwhile studying!”

-Gary Gianni (Prince Valiant)

“How someone can channel such turgid spontaneity into the gossamer precision seen here is beyond rational explanation.  Clearly he’s captured his own inner child, plied her with enough Victorian sweets to kee her up for days, and then chained her to a drawing board in a tiny room.”

-Jackson Public (creator of the [adult swim] cartoon The Venture Brothers)

“This is the stuff that makes other artists jealous and comic readers drool… a throwback to classic storytelling any age can enjoy.”

-Dave Petersen (Mouse Guard)

“It’s all too rare that I see work that is truly original- and I almost NEVER see work THIS original.  Jeremy Bastian is a genius.”

-Mike Mignola (Hellboy)

“Authentic and timeless and wonderfully bizarre.  This looks like something from 1892 but is totally ahead of its time- I wish I’d thought of it!”

-Gerard Way (The Umbrella Academy)

And my favorite:

“Jeremy Bastian is a transplanted 19th century prodigy who has harnessed the Mysteries of the Microcosm; with the hands of a surgeon and the mind of a magician he conjures and entire universe in the space of a single drop of ink.

Cursed Pirate Girl is our generation’s Alice in Wonderland.

-Gail Potocki (Symbolist painter, “The Union of Hope and Sadness”)


And my feelings?  I think that history will be favorable to the creativity and brilliance of Jeremy Bastian.  With the praise noted above, I think I’m in pretty good company for thinking so.  But history is an ever-unfolding path, and in the meantime, as we wait to see how history turns out, Mister Bob Dylan asked it best.  I think that the answer to the question below is: when you are true to yourself, when you are true to pushing your boundaries, passionately exploring the potential for making art that is truly unique and unquestionably special, popularity contests don’t matter.  I pick Bob Dylan over Robert Goulet, any day.

“How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?”

One Response to “The 2011 Eisner Awards: Bob Dylan, Richard Dadd, Henry Darger, and Jeremy Bastian.”

  1. I love the early era Bob Dylan. He really was, especially for the counter-culture of the time, a prophet of the people.
    On another note, you are a brave man, Thomas, for admitting that any part of your brain likes Milli Vanilli. But then again, you can always blame it on the rain.

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