Michael Dougan, From Houston to Tōno

« I’ve never been to Texas but I’ve heard Willie Nelson Sing. » — Mark Ballard

I’ve just heard of the recent, untimely passing of cartoonist Michael Dougan (1958-2023). Well, perhaps former cartoonist would be more accurate, but if so — he said his piece, made his mark, and moved on — and that’s cool. But can cartooning truly ever be left behind?

Dougan made his début in comics on the back cover of my very favourite issue of Weirdo, no. 17 (Summer 1986, Last Gasp), which also housed my pick for Robert Crumb‘s greatest short-form achievement, The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick, and a cover among his finest *and* most provocative. See both story and cover here!
Dougan’s first collection appeared the following year, published by Seattle’s fabled The Real Comet Press. The back cover was festooned with eloquent-upon-eloquent quips from his peers. For instance, Gary Panter wrote: « Dougan’s work is clear and he is not afraid. He is a big storyteller and a good liar. In East Texas the wire fences, orange colored tufts of grass, pine trees, tire tracks, piles of wood, and water towers are the best parts. The stories are about human desperation, a funny kind of desperation, an air-conditioned kind of desperation. »

And here are a few excerpts from its pages:

Dougan’s second and final collection, from 1993, was published by Penguin, no less! It featured longer, more ambitious pieces.
Kentucky Fried Funeral would have to be my first pick for Dougan’s masterpiece. Unfortunately, it’s around 20 pages long, so it was unfeasible to present it here. Still, here’s the opening splash.
A detail, perhaps, but worth noting, I think: Dougan preferred handling his own lettering, finding, like many a visual artist, the look and texture of mechanical text too… well, mechanical. Lovely!

In 2017, some twenty years after his last cartoon (that I’m aware of… Double Booked?, in Fantagraphics’ Zero Zero no.17, June, 1997) Michael and his wife moved to Japan and opened a café-restaurant. Read Michael’s own account of the saga.

This must be the place.
Of course, Dougan named his place after Bogie’s in Casablanca, but not without adding a couple of typos, for that modern touch.

Creative types often get restless, and Michael found himself a little niche answering people’s mostly, and sometimes incredibly, inane questions on Quora, with a potent mixture of withering sarcasm with a side of snide, all the while providing helpful information — whenever possible. Check out his feed, but let me caution you: it’s a bit of a frazzling rabbit hole (or warren, more accurately).

I’m hoping that, once news of Michael’s passing trickles over to his native land, that The Comics Journal will provide a detailed obituary of this notable artist. Farewell, Mr. Dougan.

Update: I see that TCJ has not let me down. Here’s their first piece in tribute to Michael.

Further update: The Seattle Times has just published a moving obituary by his friend, former The Rocket Editor Charles R. Cross.


Florent Chavouet, From Hideaway to Vista

I’ve recently given in to a long-time interest (a fool’s dream is realized‘) and purchased one of those pretty miniature book nook kits. In case you are not familiar with them, they’re usually the size of a big hardcover book once assembled, and are meant to be inserted on a bookshelf and provide a bibliophile with an intriguing glance into an urban landscape, a Victorian street, a bookshop, a train station, or whatever it is bookworms tend to go for. One painstakingly (and crookedly, at least in my case) glues together furniture and houses, cuts out tiny pieces of paper or slices of fruit, and connects wires to provide background illumination. The one I’m currently working on is a peaceful Japanese street with a sushi shop, a tea store, and lots of cherry blossoms.

I’m clearly not alone in my love for house miniatures or drawn isometric projections of a room. One can do without too much unnecessary psychoanalysis (perhaps it allows us to feel organised and in control when real lives and houses are quite messy), but most of us find such things soothing. Placing a tiny plate on a tiny table is profoundly satisfying; the 2021 game Unpacking makes good use of this, consisting of pulling various objects from a box and placing them where you want through different rooms of the house.

The art of French artist Florent Chavouet (see my earlier post Spotlight on Florent Chavouet) hits a similar note for me. His love of isometric projection and his elaborate sketches of storefronts and people’s rooms immediately attracted me, though at the time I didn’t think to verbalise the reason for it. I concentrated on his excellent graphic novel Petites coupures à Shioguni last time, so here are more glimpses of his other books.

Tokyo Sanpo : Promenades à Tokyo (2009, Philippe Picquier)
Manabé Shima (2010, Philippe Picquier)
L’île Louvre (2015, Futuropolis)
Touiller le miso (2020, Philippe Picquier), his latest book (which I haven’t bought yet, shame on me!)
A poster created for Zoom Japon magazine, 2021.

On a more seasonal note, two of his window panoramas drawn for the famous Galeries Lafayette in 2022:

Another thing I really love is imaginary food (which is why the duo of comic artists James Stokoe and Brandon Graham is going to be a post topic sometime in the future), and Chavouet did a beautiful job with his Gloutisphère, a map of the best food in the world… completely made up. Enjoy it on his blog!

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Matchboxes and Woodblocks

Much like fish painstakingly climbed out of the water and became mammals aeons ago, humorous representations of life, artists’ flights of whimsical fancy or taut fight scenes from centuries gone by morphed, over time, into something that resembled more and more what everyone now recognizes as comics. Me, I like blurred lines, the point at which several trees become a forest. What fun is it to live in a world where everything is well-defined, sorted into tidy little piles? Today’s Tentacle Tuesday stretches this blog’s comics-bound raison d’être just a teensy-weeny little bit. But I believe that the kinetic energy hidden within the following illustrations, the jump-off-the-page personality of these octopuses makes them close cousins to their more modern counterparts who dwell in the seas of sequential panels and images.

Just mentally add a speech bubble or two, if you must!

First of all, I have three woodblock prints, all three from the Edo period (Edo being the old name for Tokyo). The latter term refers to the period between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan, and is of interest  because it was characterized, among other things, by a flourishing interest in culture, be it music, poetry, theatre, or, more relevantly to the current post, art. That famous woodblock print, the Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, which I have no need to include because of its ubiquity, was not the first painting featuring a woman in the embrace of an octopus. Yet it’s probably the most influential one, precursor of the hentai now so entrenched in popular culture…. and it was created during the aforementioned Edo era by Katsushika Hokusai (who, incidentally, also brought into existence the ever-popular The Great Wave off Kanagawa, ensuring the relative immortality of his art.)

Collectively, the work crafted during the Edo era (not necessarily woodblock prints, although these seemed to predominate, but also paintings) is referred to as Ukiyo-e, which in Japanese vaguely means something like “images of a floating world”. Poetic as usual, the Japanese.

The fist woodblock print is entitled “Ryuko tako no asobi“, or The Fashionable Octopus Games. The British Museum (which seems to currently own this piece) describes it as « Octopuses re-enacting human amusements, such as the fight between Ushiwakamaru and Benkei on Gojo Bridge (top left) and sumo wrestling (bottom centre), dance, sword play, music, acrobatics, and other activities. » The artist is Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi-OctopusGames

The second one, a triptych, is called One Hundred Turns of the Rosary and belongs to the One Hundred Wildernesses series, which shows « a procession of demons who appear throughout the night, offering a spectacular visual encyclopedia of supernatural creatures of premodern Japanese folklore » (description from the website of The Metropolitan Museum of Art). The artist is Kawanabe Kyosai.

Kawanabe Kyosai-one-hundred-wildernesses

My favourite is the following woodblock print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, who had a great fondness for cats and inserted them seemingly everywhere. Visit this gallery of his cat-themed art over at the Great Cat blog, from which I’ll quote a paragraph for those who aren’t inclined to follow links:

« Utagawa Kuniyoshi was a great cat lover, and it was said that his studio was full of them. Often he could be seen working with a kitten snuggled up in his kimono. An apprentice, Yoshimune, reported that when one of Kuniyoshi’s cats died, he would have it sent to a nearby temple, and a Buddhist altar for his deceased cats was erected in his home. There he kept tablets with the cats’ Buddhist names on the altar. Kuniyoshi’s love of his felines spilled over into his art. Cats fill many of his compositions and he even began to give Kabuki actors cat faces. Kuniyoshi’s Ume no haru gjusantsugi was performed in 1835. A cat has shape-shifted into an old woman while a cat wearing a napkin dances while a cat licks the lamp. The cloth on the cat’s head represents the folk belief that cats would steal napkins and would dance together and howl “Neko ja!” (We are cats!). Cats often times licked Japanese lamps of the period because they were fueled with fish oil. »


I’ll doubtlessly howl “Neko ja!” at the next available opportunity.

Moving on, we have two illustrations from Japanese matchboxes.

First, a Japanese matchbox from around 1920s-40s. This little guy comes from a collection posted by Jane McDevitt, who’s passionate about matchbox art. I also really enjoyed her Eastern European matchbox label collection, which you can admire here.


Of further interest on this topic is this comic strip by Roz Chast about her predilection for collecting matchbox art, published in the April 4, 2016 issue of New Yorker Magazine. As it turns out, Chast rejects the hassle of actually owning them, preferring to keep her collection as digital files. I suppose I am a collector, for I definitely prefer “owning” the physical version of things that interest me, but to each her own!

And another matchbox octopus from the 1950s:


And it’s « goodnight from me »!

– ds