These images are pages from Tales of the Buffoon, an original, full-length, 300 page graphic novel for adults, based on an age-old folktale. This book has been my sole focus for several years.
The format of Tales of the Buffoon consists of panels of drawings in the tradition of an illustrated children’s book, comic-book, or graphic novel. Each image represents a single page in the book. They are first realized with pencil and paper, then the sketches are scanned into the computer, where they are “inked,” (in the fashion of comic books), using a tablet. Color, lighting effects, textures, and patterns are also added in layers, making the end result a digital file. The story is told both pictorially and in narration. The plot is moved forward with titled “chapters,” or episodes, of individual tales of trickery and double-crosses, which somehow always culminate in the exchange of $300. Each ruse contains a twist or two, or more, and they become increasingly intricate. Together, the stories form a sweeping, picaresque novel set in an absurd universe of buffoons and buffoonery.
My involvement with Tales of the Buffoon has been long, multifaceted, and obsessive. It grew out of my interest in a folktale I discovered years ago, the subject of a Russian Constructivist, Sergei Prokofiev ballet of the 1920’s called Chout, created for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The story, an episodic, darkly comic scrap of a thing, intrigued me with its violence, trickery, cross dressing, and goat-murder. It is found in Alexander Afanasiev’s compilation of Russian folktales, but also crops up in folkloric traditions all over Europe and Asia as variants of folktale type 753 and include the Italian Campriano, Grimm’s Brother Merry, and the bible’s Christ and the Smith.
My first interpretation of the material came as a pen and ink “comic strip,” created for a proposed artist’s magazine. I went on to produce several large-scale Buffoon paintings as well, and, bringing the project full circle to its roots, I entered into a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant-funded collaboration with dancer/choreographer, Anne-Marie Mulgrew and composer, Claude White, on a full-length stage work, which premiered at the Painted Bride Art Center in February 1990.
In 1992, we entered into a second collaboration with filmmaker Glenn Holsten, at the time a producer at public television station WHYY-TV. Together we created a short for the Spotlight series, a program funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts that paired directors with area artists to help them explore the medium of TV. Using “green screen” technology, the dancers performed inside two-dimensional pen and ink drawings created by me especially for the production. The WHYY Spotlight series, including Tales of the Buffoon, went on to win a local Emmy.