Friday, November 30, 2012

New Strange Maine Gazette is out!

Hello everyone! The Strange Maine Gazette is back in swing after our hiatus! I am mailing all subscriber copies out today, so most of you should get them by early next week. This morning I mailed copies to the various distribution locations across the state, so if you're in one of their neighborhoods, check in early next week to get your copy! Here's the list of statewide spots I've sent them to:

Boat House Beverage, Long Island
Captain Perry's Cafe, Long Island
Little Dog Coffee, Brunswick
Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library
Maine Coast Bookshop, Damariscotta
Owl & Turtle Bookshop, Camden
Fort Knox gift shop, Prospect
Treasure Chest, Waterville
Lithgow Public Library, Augusta
Books Lines & Thinkers, Rangeley
Mr. Paperback, Ellsworth
Mr. Paperback, Dover-Foxcroft
Mr. Paperback, Farmington
Mr. Paperback, Caribou
Obadiah's Bohemian Cafe, Machias
Calais Bookshop, Calais
York's Book Store, Houlton

If your bookshop or cafe needs copies, please let me know so I can add you to the list.

I dropped off copies here in Portland so far at:
Portland Public Library
Maine Historical Society Library
Strange Maine (the shop!)
Coffee By Design (Congress St)
Coast City Comics
Local Sprouts
The Green Hand Bookshop if you're intown, you know where to find them! :) Some of you will have read some of the articles in Vex Magazine or the Portland Daily Sun weekend edition previously, perhaps.

I always have copies here at the Green Hand (661 Congress St), so don't be shy, they're always available here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Edward Gorey in Portland, Maine!

I am pleased to take a few moments to remind folks of the opportunity afforded them by the current Edward Gorey exhibition showing at the Portland Public Library here in Maine. A longtime fan of Gorey’s artwork myself, I would hate to find out that any of you had missed out on this chance to see his work here in Maine – a definite rarity!
NOTE: Any image below can be clicked upon to see a larger version for more detail.

While Edward Gorey’s ties with Maine are tenuous at best, he is certainly a New England neighbor, lodging himself in the nearby regions of Cape Cod for the latter years of his life, and he was a great appreciator of New England Gothic sensibilities. He did a bunch of illustrations for author John Bellairs, some for stories which took place in Maine, such as the uber-creepy Johnny Dixon tale The Spell of the Sorcerer’s Skull, a personal favorite of mine, which takes place near the island of Vinalhaven. There is also a panel in Gorey’s Cycling Cards series (included in Amphigorey Also) that depicts the “Apparition of demon cyclist that appeared in the sky over Gasket, Maine several times during the second week in November, 1911.”

But here ends the Edward Gorey trail in Maine, until now.

Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey is presented by the Bank of Maine, in partnership with the Maine College of Art (MECA) and Portland Public Library. The show opened Friday, October 5, 2012, and will be on display through December 29, 2012 in the Lewis Gallery at Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland, Maine. The exhibition is free of charge to the general public.

The show is phenomenal, a once in a lifetime chance to be able to see almost 200 original pieces by this master of the pen stroke, as well as some of the published results collecting those endeavors. I have done my best to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity, a gift from the show sponsors to those of us living here, and have visited the show almost a dozen times so far. Even with that many visits under my belt, I have yet to look at everything on display!

Although the Lewis Gallery is not gigantic, it is a pretty good size, and many of Edward Gorey’s pieces are intimate in size. They are made to engage the viewer. In fact a friend who works as a security guard at the exhibit describes the inevitable process of looking at the Gorey show. People come in, scan around the room casually, strolling along the rows of framed artwork. Then one of the pieces catches their eye. They stop. They step closer. They step even closer. Slowly, they begin to bend nearer and nearer to the piece, until their nose is only inches from the glass. He tells me this sequence of events is almost inevitable.

I can imagine why. Gorey’s art is made up of infinitesimal pen strokes in the pieces where he really gets going. While this creates a pleasing and engrossing texture when the pieces are reprinted in their respective books, the printing process invariably greys out the tones of the piece. When you see one of these illustrations in person, the effect is staggeringly dramatic. In the original, the tones of ink achieve a drama unavailable in the printed version. The darks are so dark, the details so keenly applied. One cannot help but look more closely, and inspect what one might have missed previously. The colors in his watercolor paintings are also delectable in person. One imagines the glass protecting the artwork is not just to keep dust off (they know some of us just want to EAT them whole).

My own relationship as a fan of Edward Gorey’s work began with the arrival of the series of John Bellairs books mentioned above, given to me as a Christmas gift by a family friend who was also a librarian. The stories were spooky yet I was unable to stop reading them. A few years later, someone else gave my family a copy of his pop-up book, The Dwindling Party. I was fascinated by the macabre storyline of family-outing-gone-wrong and the way it was paired with the playful pop-up book format. It perplexed and amazed my pre-teen mind. But it wasn’t until I began making my own art that I really began to explore Gorey’s work.

Set design for Giselle, Act II
As an avid bookreader, it’s no surprise that my own artistic leanings took off in the direction of book illustration. Edward Gorey was a tremendous inspiration in this respect. Not only did he do typography and book cover design, he also made extensive forays into set design, costume design, and all manner of formats to which his art could be applied. His house on Cape Cod was a live-in museum filled with his collected inspirations – saltshakers, finials, rocks, and other spherical objects. Today it has become the Edward Gorey House museum. He lived his art in all ways, so that one was unsure whether his art imitated his life or his art imitated his life.

Which makes it all the more shocking that someone might say dismissively, “I’ve always thought of him as an illustrator, not as an artist,” when Gorey was so much an artist that he lived his art, with gusto, aplomb, flair, and a curious passion. This is evident in his sketchbooks, four of which are included as part of the exhibit.

Early ideas for the Gashlycrumb Tinies

His finished work is as prolific as his ideas were, totaling to over 100 published books and projects within his lifetime. This exhibit showcases everything from early concept sketches to finely finished pieces, as well as some examples of the final printed products that resulted from his projects. Viewers will also be pleased to see early versions of cover art for some of his books.

In addition to this, he designed sets and costumes for countless theatre productions, some of which are also on display, and created popular animations and illustrated works for a wide array of artists ranging from Charles Dickens and John Updike to Virginia Woolf and H.G. Wells. His hand-illustrated correspondence to his mother and his friends is also present as part of the show, a rare treat indeed.

For a supposedly reclusive person, Edward Gorey was constantly and actively involved in the world around him.

The mysteries of seaweed!
Gorey often worked in black and white, with occasional delightful forays into watercolor. Working in a single color seems a strange thing to fault someone for, though some folks seems to think it is a mark against Gorey’s work (no pun intended). This is ironic when one considers that Gorey’s epic use of delicate nib marks to create texture and definition is a skill many artists aspire to, and when one remembers that James Whistler himself considered his own monochromatic nocturnes to be extremely serious and worthy undertakings, and the fact that Albrecht Durer’s drawings and engravings are some of his most famous art pieces even now.

Illustration has always struggled against the stigma of not being “art.” It is the subject of what seems at time an eternal debate – it is, after all, one of the Big Questions: What is life? What is art? Why am I here? Where did this paintbrush in my hand come from? I think you will find the answers are purely subjective, in many cases, and gain narrow definition only at the exclusion of other potentials, which is hardly a way to live at all. To paraphrase a friend’s remark, should I feel sad if I am considered to be “only an illustrator”? Only if it turns out I'm a slipshod and artless one, I suppose.

Here’s to living one’s art, and here’s to the folks that are giving us here in Portland a chance to glimpse how the art of Edward Gorey became his.

Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey is on view from October 5 – December 29. The Portland Public Library is located in the heart of Downtown Portland Maine at 5 Monument Square and is open daily from 10am – 7pm Monday – Thursday, Friday 10am – 6pm and Satuarday 10am – 5pm. For more information, visit

The show includes approximately 180 original works, including selections from The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Doubtful Guest, The Unstrung Harp, The Gilded Bat, and other well-known publications, drawn primarily from the extensive archives of The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust and significant private collections.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Funny Side of Maine Comics

As this weekend brings with it the second coming of Maine’s first big neo-traditional comic book convention, the Coast City Comicon, it seemed appropriate to concentrate the Strange Maine lens on weird Maine comic tie-ins.

Over the decades, Maine has appeared repeatedly in various genres of literature, and comic books are hardly to be excluded from this category. My first inkling of this came with a note from a friend who thought I should know about a story purported to appear in an apocryphal 1970s issue of Doctor Strange #53, titled “The Creeping Oozing Murder From Maine.” Someone else told me about a giant killer lobster story featured on the cover of a Silver Age era comic. The stories range from superhero tales to old horror comics, and include a few homegrown horrors such as Glenn Chadbourne’s infamous encrusted artwork.

That’s not even counting all the Stephen King comic adaptations, or the comic book artists and writers who have lived here in the past, and those currently calling Maine home!

Now, I really wanted to show you guys that darn Doctor Strange issue, but I have been searching for it with no luck. Like much of the comic book world, this difficulty is compounded by the fact that Doctor Strange was also published as Strange Tales for many years, and that there is more than one era of even the self-titled “Doctor Strange” series. I found one of the #53s, but it didn’t have that particular story in it. So we will have to make do with other odd Maine comic book stories, and perhaps sometime in the future I will find the missing issue and cry “Eureka!” in a maddening agony of glee.

Meanwhile, did you know that along with the legendary Collinsport of Dark Shadows fame, Maine is also the location of the fictitious Harrow’s Point, part of the grisly Tomb of Dracula storyline? Over at the wiki on Headhunter’s Horror House (, I found a synopsis of the role of this ghostly Maine place -- if you are lucky, you will never find it for yourself.

A small island off the coast of Maine, Harrow’s Point is crowned by an old lighthouse, where at the turn of the century, the Victorian-era lightkeeper fell prey to a vampire after a shipwreck (it’s a long story), and began to prey on victims of his own. An attentive priest/vampire hunter, one Bishop McFarland, noticed what was going on and like any good Van Helsing, he dutifully drove a stake into the monster's once-human heart. However, what thoroughness he possessed left him and for some reason instead of destroying the remains properly, he locked the vampire’s skeleton inside a room in his cabin.

Some time later, another unlucky man accepts the position of lighthouse keeper which had been invountarily vacated by his predecessor with the encouragement of stake-wielding Bishop McFarland.

The new lighthouse keeper, Frank Neal, moves his family to Harrow's Point despite the protests of his wife (whose vampire senses were tingling, apparently). Of course, things don’t go very well for our new lighthouse-dwelling family. Matters are not helped by the fact that the local MD is named “Doctor Chowder.” Interestingly enough, this issue of the comic (Tomb of Dracula Vol. 2 No. 4, April 1980) also featured the first half of a 2-part interview with … you guessed it! … Stephen King, the Maine master of horror himself.

Maine monsters and other weirdness aren’t limited to bygone decades, though. You will find mention of Maine scattered within any number of current comics. Of especially note is the homegrown title of Hopeless, Maine by Tom and Nimue Brown, set to be released by Archaia (publishers of Mouse Guard and other comic goodies) the week following Coast City Comicon. Though now dwelling in Britain with his ladylove, Tom Brown’s creative heart doesn’t stray far from his home here in Portland, Maine.

Hopeless, Maine is set in a mysterious coastal town in our fair and freaky state, a place where anything can happen, and not in a good way, necessarily. The star of the comic is the mysterious Salamandra, shown here in the opening spread from the “Personal Demons” storyline. Check it out when it hits the stands on November 14th, or catch up with the story online at

Lighthouses in Maine do seem to be a favorite of comic writers. And fictive Maine does not just feature Harrow’s Point and Sal’s lighthouse in Hopeless. Did you know that Aquaman spent his adolescent years growing up off the coast of Amnesty Bay, Maine, in Curry Lighthouse?

Lighthouses, mermen and vampires aside, I think one of my favorite Maine comic book characters is still M.O.D.O.K (the acronym for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing). That little freaky villain, with his zappy powers and robotic levitating body, was invented (or so the story goes) by George Tarleton, a native of Bangor, Maine.

How many other weird Maine comic book characters and locations do you know? You might be surprised…


Coast City Comicon takes place November 10th and 11th at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel across from the Maine Mall in South Portland.