Back in the Days: Guru and Gang Starr in Copenhagen

For those of you who read Danish, my piece on Guru is now up in translated form over at Rapspot.

Also, I wanted to plug my man Frederik Høyer-Christenen’s photos — we both attended some of Gang Starr’s great shows in Copenhagen in the early 90s. Unfortunately, Frederik didn’t bring his camera to their first and greatest concert, at Rockmaskinen in Christiania in 1992, where they were backed up by Li’l Dap and and a fired-up Jeru the Damaja, but he was there for their show at Pumpehuset in 1994, once again featuring Jeru, as well as Big Shug.

Plus, there was the first Jazzmatazz tour in 1993, featuring Shug, Donald Byrd, Roy Ayers, DC Lee and DJ Jazzy Nice. Frederik caught them at Ridebanen, Christiansborg, during Copenhagen Jazz Festival and got the above shot of the legendary Donald Byrd and Guru, while I was away but had attended their stop at that year’s Roskilde festival the week before.

Sorry, these memories of course are of no use to anyone here, but those were good times and the pictures are nice! — rest in piece Guru.

Frank Frazetta RIP

The great fantasy artist Frank Frazetta (1928-2010) died yesterday at the age of 82. Surely the most influential artists within his genre and a significant comics illustrator and cartoonist too, his legacy is apparent everywhere. Basically, fantasy illustration as we know it would be much different if it weren’t for him.

His pen and ink work in, say the EC comics or even Li’l Abner, had a beautiful rendered, but also slightly stiff illustrative quality, not just in comparison with the latter’s creator Al Capp, but also paragons of comics illustration like Alex Raymond or Hal Foster, or even direct peers such as Wally Wood. But when working non-sequentially, he was without peer. Yes, his grasp of anatomy was far from perfect and he never had a great sense of space, but his work is possessed of a physicality and an energy rarely seen in illustration and his work coheres beautifully, making one forget its inaccuracies and immerse oneself in his imaginary worlds.

His is a strongly masculine idiom, and powerfully sexy, but never seems exploitative — it has a streetwise depression era integrity to it that finds virtue in action.

Above: the image that wet the pants of every adolescent metalhead, the 1972 Death Dealer (slightly cropped). UPDATE: Tom Spurgeon now has a full obit up. For galleries of Frazetta art, check Golden Age Comic Book Stories here, here and here, and this gallery is pretty decent too. And Gary Groth’s great feature-length interview with the man from The Comics Journal #174 is highly recommended.

Debuting DWYCK

Today I’ve posted my inaugural column–dubbed DWYCK in memory of Guru–over at Hooded Utilitarian, one of the liveliest and highest-falutin’ spots in the comics blogosphere. I’m honoured to be part of the team there, and excited about now being able to express my disagreements with everyone there from the inside, instead of just their bustling comments section. Thanks guys!

For this first column, I figured I’d write a little about cartooning and some thoughts I’ve been having about its role in the history of art since antiquity. What do M. Crépin and Doryphoros have in common? Tune in to DWYCK and see.

The Voice

“It’s mostly the voice, that gets you up/ And mostly the voice, that makes you buck/ Some got flavor, and some got skills/ But if your voice ain’t dope, then you gots to CHILL”

“Mostly tha Voice” (1994)

The recent passing of Keith Elam, a.k.a. The Guru (1961-2010 RIP), reminds us of an era in hip hop, that for all intents and purposes has also passed. A time when the culture was still underground, but standing on the verge of Planet Rock. Gang Starr was a transformative act, bridging the gap between hip hop’s second—”golden”—generation in the late 80s, and the music’s explosion onto the world stage as a defining pop phenomenon of the 90s. And in the beginning, Guru’s was manifestly the voice of change.

His warm, burred monotone had an inherent authority, revealed an acute intellectual foundation, and built upon the broader thematic claims for hardcore rap at the time being staked out by the triumvirate of Rakim, KRS-One and Chuck D. Where these masters challenged the format of rap, Guru’s consolidation of their innovations became a proposition for the future of the form, a statement of its viability and versatility, a formula for longevity. It made of an MC of somewhat limited technical skill one of the signature voices of hip hop, but the constraints it imposed on the ambitious and apparently somewhat unbalanced Guru seem also to have contributed to his sad decline as an artist over the last decade.

Bill Dubay RIP

The notable comics writer and editor Bill Dubay passed away a few days ago, and I just wanted to note it. I’ve enjoyed a good number of his stories for the Warren magazines and even wrote at length about one of them when I was older and more sentimental. It can be found here.

Tom Spurgeon has an informative obit up, and there’s a recent interview here. Rest in peace.

Ron Regé Jr. in Copenhagen this week!

As announced on the Comics Council webpage, the great American cartoonist Ron Regé, Jr. will visit Copenhagen this week, and participate in no less than two Council-organised events.

On Tuesday 27 he will give a presentation of his work and talk to Christoffer Zieler in the bar of the Department of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen (room 21.0.17), 4.30 PM. Free admission, cheap drinks and good vibes, so be there! Facebook.

And on Thursday 29 he participates in the second Comics and Beats event at Ideal Bar, Vesterbo (peep the flix from the first event here). He will be joined by cartoonists Rasmus Bregnhøi and Christian Skovgaard, and — once again — M. Dejean on the wheels. Council chairman Thomas Thorhauge will be MC. Free admission Facebook.

Above is an image from the Danish version of Regé’s She Sometimes Switched to Fluent English and Occasionally Used a Few Words of Hebrew, in Danish shortened to Piger mod smerte (‘Girls Against Pain’). Of course, Regé already has an established Danish connection in the form of his collaboration with the band Mew. Here’s the video they did together for the song “156” some years ago:

Contemporary Comics in Copenhagen – Programme

The programme for the international comics symposium that I’m co-organising at the University of Copenhagen in connection with the comics festival, is now ready.

The symposium presents papers from 12 international comics scholars on a diverse range of subjects in contemporary comics, features a keynote from Canadian scholar Jacques Samson, and a special appearance by Chris Ware, in conversation with British expert on comics Paul Gravett.

The full programme, including abstracts, is available on the symposium’s official website, where you can also sign up. Check it out — and come!!

Image from Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan — The Smartest Kid on Earth.