No Sunday in Comix

Ulysses_Rob_Paris_2Paris, when it drizzles…

So I’m on vacation. Sort of. A life making comix means never really not thinking about comix so even here, in Paris with my wife for our fourth anniversary, many things still revolve around the work I’m doing.

We’re staying at a hotel across from the Odeon Theatre and about a block or so from the site of Slyvia Beach’s SHAKESPEARE & COMPANY. The nearest comic shops, six of them, are in the Sorbonne area three blocks away. I’m seriously considering buying a set of TIN TIN figures from there which I can use as still life material in my watercolor paintings. I still draw the ULYSSES “SEEN” pages each early morning, I just do it in some café instead of my own studio.

So my comix mind doesn’t get a chance to stop running much these days, though vacations like this provide a newer terrain and more exciting vistas for it’s morning workout.

Paris is a wonderful spot to allow an artist’s mind to wander. Cliché conversations about poetry, painting, modernism, cultural identity and class politics occur in an easier manner in the Left Bank cafés over coffee and bordeaux than they do in Philly sports bars over Yeungling Lager and shots of Tuaca. There’s something quite serious about the daily joy in conversation here that makes Paris a better refuge for an agile mind fresh out of the silence of the studio and still actively thinking about art. It makes taking one’s art, especially when it’s cartoons, so seriously somehow socially easier.

And then there’s the sense of style; oh-my-fucking-god what a sense of style predominates Paris. Normally, as a midwestern American, I’m suspicious and quickly dismissive of the overtly stylish. Generally speaking, if you wear a sport coat, a tightly wound scarf and a silly little man-purse in a city like Detroit then you are, most likely, an affectatious wanker. Here its just a cultural norm and, somehow, it works (for them, at least. I still look silly in a scarf).

In this respect every bit of cultural chauvinism that Parisians are so often accused of comes to be true. Culturally speaking- which is to say that as a culture which fully embraces its own identity and places it within a historical context – France does in fact kick our bastardly American ass. Quietly. Knowingly. As if it understood the “real deal” of itself in the wider world better than most do. This is, of course, the hallmark of arrogance, this sureness of one’s self. No wonder we’ve assigned them such a character as stand-offish snobs. They do seem, the French, to hold some closer notion of what they’re culture means to them than we have as outsiders. To a Frenchman, cultural identity is a given. We Americans, um, not so much.

Ulysses_Rob_ParisReally, what would it be like to grow up with the Louvre as your neighborhood museum? After all, this isn’t a museum so much of French art (though there’s plenty) as it is of French Imperial identity; not so much an exhibition of what the French, as a nation, have made through the accomplishments of individual artists as it is a showcase of what they possess and have taken from the world as conquerors and how it contextualizes them. American art museums seldom give us such an assured cultural identity, such an awareness of our place in the tapestry of world history as the Louvre gives Parisians. No wonder then that they wear their fashionable scarves and expensive metro bags more comfortably growing up with a sense of cultural, literary and stylistic entitlement as they do. If I, personally, have had any cultural sense honed by growing up in and around the Detroit Institute of Arts, growing up around middle America, it’s not of what I’m entitled to, who I am in the midst of world history, so much as what my culture has achieved through a morally dubious, broadly ambitious and overtly aggressive approach to seizing new opportunities and new markets. We, in our American art, are not seen so much for our place within history as we are known for talent in running against it.

I’ll be here for a few more days soaking it all in; the museums, the comic shops the cultural acuity, the fantastic wine and the drizzly weather. I’ll have a few more blog posts from and about Paris in that time, but I’d love any suggestions from readers on places to see while we’re here.


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