NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
Dre Grigoropol has been a staple of the Philly comics scene for years. An award winning comic artist, zine-maker, and performance artist, she is the creative force behind both the webcomic Dee’s Dream and the comics appreciation site Comixgab. Never one to shy away from talking shop, I sat down with Dre to talk the nitty-gritty details of her art, including tools, techniques, influences, and inspirations.
Corey Bechelli: How long have you been drawing?
Dre Grigoropol: I have been drawing since my earliest memories. As soon as the question “what do you want to become when you grow up?” was introduced, I knew I wanted to become a professional artist.
CB: Do you have any kind of formal art schooling?
DG: I went to art school. Before that I took art and design electives in high school and focused on my art classes in my early school career.
DG: My comics are usually comedies or dramadies about daily culture and relationships. I have a webcomic I work on called Dee’s Dream. It is about a novice DIY indie rock band. The feedback I receive from readers is that it is really hilarious.
CB: What are some of your favorite art tools? What are some of your favorite techniques?
DG: I like to draw on bristol. I really take advantage of the paper weight since I use a lot of Speedball Super Black Ink and Turner Design Gouache in white. My favorite drawing tools include Pentel’s Pigment Ink Brush Pen and the G model nib in a Tachikawa Comic Pen Nib Holder. I always have had a great deal of respect for traditional comic art and I feel pride to work in that way, but lately I have been making some comics completely digitally. Since the start of this year, I have been drawing on an iPad Pro with the free software MediBang. I have really been enjoying drawing digitally. In the program my favorite pen to draw with is the G Pen.
CB: You are a big fan of anime and manga. What are some of the works that made you a fan of the genre?
DG: I was heavily into video game culture since a super young age and I had a subscription to the magazine Nintendo Power. When they started to include monthly manga based off of their game characters like Super Mario Adventures and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, I felt captivated. The collections were printed in trade paperbacks and recently were reprinted and are available at any comic book shop. The art looks just as beautiful today as it did back then.
The first animated work that really drew me into the world of anime is the ninja movie The Dagger of Kamui. I saw this movie when I was in 5th grade. It is a very deep, complicated, long and sad story. The animation and art really resonated with me.
At the end of the VHS tape was a life-changing preview of Urusei Yatsura which was also distributed by Viz. I was so captivated by how odd and quirky that clip was. Soon, I realized I could pick up the Urusei Yatsura manga at my local comic shop. I started reading other work by Rumiko Takahashi like Ranma 1/2, Maison Ikkoku, Rumic World and others. I grew my manga collection by picking up any issues I could find and urged my friends to do the same.
Another milestone in my manga gratitude memories was manga anthology MixxZine by Mixx Entertainment, which later became Toykopop. It included Sailor Moon, Magic Knight Ray Earth, Harlem Beat, Ice Blade and Parasyte. I subscribed to it as soon as it was advertised and anticipated the issues being mailed to my house.
CB: Name your top 5 all-time favorite comics.
DG: I really like lighthearted series like Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2, Blue Monday, Archie and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
CB: The Yucky Nerds is the name of your performance project. What is it? How did it start? What is its goal?
DG: Yucky Nerds is a “nerd rock” band my friend Ken Richard and I created. It began under my comics and cartoon art appreciation podcast Comixgab’s umbrella when I asked Ken to write a theme song. Soon, I wanted in on the musical creativity and the band was formed, more songs were written and shows were performed. The mission of the band is to increase solidarity towards nerd culture, while having fun.
CB: Where can people find you on the internet?
CB: Does art have the power to change the world?
Corey Bechelli is a comic creator and art-enabler of sci-fi psychedelia that plumbs the likes of American fascism and the internal realm to create work that is buoyant, meditative and, as he calls it, “pro-living.”
As one of the founding members of the Artclash Collective, he’s put together the annual West Philly Fun-a-Day, now in its 13th year. His live, kinetic reading-performances of his comics (such as Astral Sass, a “psychedelic cosmic philosophy comic”) are as spectacular in their vim as his accompanying illustrations to his musical co-projects Blown Away and charm/strange experience are (verbally) quiet and (visually) bold! But whether bright and central or behind-the-scenes, Corey’s multiple kinds of art can be linked perhaps by their ethos of introspection and vivacity. I highly recommend Corey’s canon for its soulful narratives, soaring foundational-existence questions and big, blocky designs and colors: sunny and scary, he’s a reasonable and reliable detailer of the everyday human horror.
– Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, curator
Rebecca Katherine Hirsch: You are an individual who comes together with others to create art experiences with galleries, art shows, music, and performances. Tell me about that.
Corey Bechelli: Under the name Corey Bechelli, I draw comics, usually by myself, but sometimes collaborating with others. Under the banner of the Artclash Collective, I helped found the annual Fun-A-Day project and show, which is an art project encouraging participants to work on a creative project every day during the month of January, with a group art show in February. Under the name charm/strange experience, I created projected visual accompaniment to composer Gina Fontana’s piano music. Under the name Blown Away I performed live projected rhythmic mark-making along with Sammy Shuster’s original music. Under the name Corey Bechelli I project my comics and read them to audiences, usually using weird voices.
RKH: In a sentence, describe your arts (comics, lifestyles)
CB: Preposterous psychedelia attempting to offset a growing cultural nihilistic malaise.
RKH: Who are you as an artist alone? And how does this enable the art you create and curate with others?
CB: I am heavily influenced by the psychedelic experience. My comics all explore similar themes of transcendence, enlightenment, and the quest for continued awareness. In my mind, these themes make up a “pro-living” philosophical stance. When collaborating with other artists, either as a visual artist or curator encourager, I try to continually promote a “pro-living” stance, encouraging creativity, spontaneity, and self-actualization. The world can often be devastatingly horrible, but it is also amazingly mind-blowing. The creation of art is a safe space to work out “anti-life” feelings and find our own individual “pro-living” practice.
RKH: What genre is your art? How do these genres affect your LIFE?
CB: Most of my art could be categorized as cosmic sci-fi. This makes sense to me as science-fiction is usually used to project a world that we as a species can strive to get to. We need to use art to express our creativity and practice our creative thinking, to better mold the world around us into a direction we feel it should go.
RKH: Can you tell me the genesis of your art experiences? What are their FRAMES, what are their MODES and how do they OPERATE?
CB: For some reason I really understand visual images. I began drawing as a child, where I used it as a coping mechanism to help me feel better about the outside world, often the source of overwhelming emotions. Making marks on paper made me feel better. This coping mechanism has never been abandoned; instead, it was reinforced continuously by myself and others, until I began to actively use it as a tool to disseminate ideas. I gravitated towards drawing comics simply because any drawing with a story or plot is a comic, and the more complex the story, the more drawings are needed, so the more I could draw and ignore the outside world. In a way, creating comics forced me to create my own interior world, of which comics are some of the few things that purposefully escape outside. Ideally, my comics are infused with specific ideas or themes that are carried through in both the art and story, the goal being the emergence of an abstract concept that is transferred from the comic to the reader’s imagination. Once the reader has the idea in their head, it can live on and mutate/die/combine with other ideas into something else. I’m just making colorful memes.
RKH: Can you go over the storylines for one of your comics or illustrations and explain WHY and HOW it emerged?
CB: “Beyond death, beyond ethereal physicality, exist innumerable energy levels, realities with a logic unto themselves. An untold number of beings wander these fantastic planes, exploring the unknown, pushing the boundaries of the conceivable. What happens above space, outside of time, in the outer reaches of the unthinkable?”
This is the gimmick text for Astral Sass, my ongoing comic series and occasional performance piece. Each issue features tales from the Higher Vibrational Realms, following Energy Beings on a quest for Ultimate Awareness. It’s a psychedelic cosmic philosophy comic.
At one point in my life, I was heavily influenced by Carlos Casteneda’s Don Juan books. I hold a kind of cognitive dissonance with these works, as I find them fascinating and full of profound existential truths, but at the same time they are a greatest hits collection of new age mumbo jumbo, used to manipulate and abuse a generation of desperate truth seekers. Astral Sass is my attempt to reconcile my paradoxical feelings about Carlos Casteneda… and really, about life itself.
Its emergence happened when I let go. Using everyday tools, not subscribing to a particular point of view, I began drawing various scenes taken almost verbatim from my inner monologue. Allowing myself the freedom to draw whatever I wanted to, in whatever way I wanted to, with whatever I wanted to, opened my mind to become a sort of conduit for spontaneous creative energy. The characters I draw write their own stories, as they are living embodiments of a larger transcendental energy, and I am just the substrate through which they take form in this specific reality.
RKH: What are your influences?
-Being alive and all the horrors and joys that come with it.
-Works (performance, art, music, writing, and so forth) that subtly hint at the profound effects of Living on the psyche.
-Jack Kirby, Eric Drooker, Carlos Castaneda, Terrence McKenna, professional wrestling
RKH: Can you tell me why you’re interested in the story of Gilgamesh?
CB: Apparently the Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest recorded story in human history. In reading its plot and story details I was looking for some kind of universal truths that would unite a person of today with a person of antiquity. I did discover a unification, and was interested in exploring the idea of exalting one specific person into demigod status. From what I understand of the story, it is a sort of redemption narrative for Gilgamesh, who begins as a murderous raping tyrant, and ends as a humbled beacon of cultural preservation. I explored these ideas through a lens of the current Neo-Fascist American Oligarchy in a comic called “The Parables of Gilgamoid.”
RKH: Is it helpful or harmful to draw powerful villains?
CB: Helpful, especially if the goal is to create a powerful antagonist that a protagonist can somehow overcome. If the protagonist itself is a villain, it’s a bit trickier, but exploring villainy through art is a better way to deal with the concept than actually being a villain in real life. I’ve explored villainy through a protagonist before. I personally don’t see a point in contributing to a larger cultural nihilistic death worship, so I used the constraint that I still needed to acknowledge the negativity the villain creates, and show its destructive consequences, not revel in its transgressiveness. All that being said, the “anti-life” side of living needs to be explored in some way, as we all have to deal with the concept of death.
RKH: What’s it like to make art by concentrating on the faces of terrible people?
CB: Of course terrible is subjective, but some of these people seem completely terrible simply because they seem to always inhabit an “anti-life” frame of mind. I once drew a series of trading cards called “All-Star Scumbags,” featuring George W. Bush and his cabinet. In a certain way, I began to feel bad for these people, bad for humanity in general. I drew them in black and white, from photos, so I was creating abstract representations of their likeness. Distilling their image down to its core components just made me think that we can all be broken down to similar parts, thus we all share a similar experience on some level. I was creating images of people who seemed to have forgotten that we all share more similarities than differences, that we are all basically in the same position, and that this forgetting is just a trait of human nature. We can all forget this from time to time . . . but these people forgot it more? They were at least in a position where their forgetting had an enormous negative effect on large numbers of people.
RKH: What is your process? How does your work get formed?
CB: Almost everything I do is collaged in some way. It’s great because you can see both the larger structure of the work and the intimate details at the same time, while leaving room for spontaneity and letting the work itself come alive and show you where it needs to go. With my comics, I generally have an idea of a theme and just start drawing things, scenes, whatever. Sometimes it’s characters or random scenes, other times I draw multiple pages. There comes a point where that initial burst of energy dissipates, and I take a look at what I’ve got and figure out where it’s going, if it’s viable, what I need to do to keep working on it. Sometimes I’ll rough out a whole comic, other times I’ll start writing a story or dialogue, sometimes I’ll redraw what I already drew to get it right, other times I just go with what I have and keep drawing. Eventually through a kind of start-stop-start approach something will emerge.. I always have various projects going on at one time, at various stages of completion, and kind of rotate through them, like they are ideas on a lazy susan. I work on something until I can’t any more, then spin the wheel and see what’s next. Somehow things actually get done this way, but external deadlines like comic shows or performances help keep it all on track. There are plenty of finished works I have that could be reworked and “made better,” but I’m learning to let go and leave finished things finished. If I “messed up,” then get it right next time. Done is better than perfect. We have a finite amount of time in this world, so I need to keep going.
RKH: You create visual art. What has this art created of you?
CB: A being with a pretty well developed sense for non-verbal communication, with the ability to, in moments of acute awareness, understand the underlying intent and/or emotions of specific works/situations and examine them from multiple perspectives from within a rich interior world. On the flip side, I believe this has hindered my ability to communicate effectively verbally, as I learned to comfortably process my thoughts/feelings through drawing, not talking. On the flip side of that, I’ve also developed a keen understanding of the underside, the unspoken forces emanating from the Transcendental Object outside of time and space (God, higher calling), and the idea that there is so much more to life that we can explain. The sense of mystery, and exploration, remains essential.
RKH: What do you do for fun?
CB: I like to go on random adventures to weird places or weird situations with a partner, then recapitulate in detail how weird it was. Sammy Shuster is one of my favorite people to do this with.
RKH: Does ambiguity play a role in your work?
CB: Yes. I think it’s good to leave some wiggle room for the viewer/reader to have their own interpretation of a work of art. It will happen regardless. If the work can be intentionally created with ambiguity, that just creates the possibility of more potential interpretations, which is a good thing in my mind. It’s all about the transference of the meme and letting it be a living, evolving construct.
RKH: What ideologies and questions can the comic reader detect in your work?
CB: A brief list of ideologies explored in my work includes socialism, capitalism, communism, anarchism, racism, patriarchy, misogyny, white supremacy, self-actualization, destiny, afterlife, transhumanism, monogamy, polyamory, nihilism, and death.
-Can we shift levels of awareness?
-How do we maintain specific levels of awareness?
-What is the responsibility of a self-aware protagonist to the other characters in a narrative?
-Is there a hierarchy and who does it benefit?
-Can we topple oppressive systems of control? If so what is it replaced with?
-What is beyond death?
RKH: I love the kinetic momentum and bigness to your artwork… How would you DESCRIBE the visual experience of creating it?
CB: It’s completely nonverbal, and for me, the level of information packed into any one line, shape, or color can often far exceed something like 10 pages of writing. The visual experience comes at me from the underside, a deeper level under girding verbally constructed reality. In a comic like “Astral Sass” I am attempting to create a purposefully psychedelic environment, so I push colors to the limit, making them as bright and varied as possible within the confines of CYMK printing or RGB color space, while using lines as a sort of containing unit to get across a type of plot. I don’t necessarily see swarms of rainbow colors in every psychedelic experience I have, but there is a level where under every color there is a Crystal Matrix of All Color ready to burst forth, so constant use of rainbow color is in a way a visual shorthand implying the understanding of the Matrix. I also purposely change the way I’m drawing, or the tools I’m using, to better reflect the emotional core of the narrative. This is partly helped by collaging a comic together over time . . . one day I will draw a scene with colored markers and crayons, two days later I’ll draw a different scene with just a black pen. Just like in real life, each moment can feel different, so having that reflected in the drawing is important.
RKH: What’s your performance philosophy? Do you write in the aim of performing?
CB: I think I need to have some type of practice before I perform, simply because I find it too difficult to both perform and watch myself on the first try. Practice helps me take mental notes, and gets me accustomed to the specific amount and type of energy I need to bring to make the performance successful as a meme transference device. I don’t always plan on performing every comic I draw, but I’ve found it’s easy enough to transpose comic panels into single images for projecting, so with a little work, every comic could be performed. Like anything, it’s a different medium and changing the form will change some things about the narrative, but as long as the core themes are still communicated, that’s OK. The core idea is the point. It just gets adapted to different mediums.
RKH: What other projects are you working on? For example, the podcast you spoke on with Dre [Grigoropol]…
CB: I have a number of projects in various stages of completion. Here’s a short list:
-I’ve been a guest on a few episodes of Dre Grigoropol‘s Comixgab podcast. I actually am planning on interviewing her about her work soon.
-I recently completed a Psychedelic Romance comic called “Psychedelic Gaze,” which contains four short stories. I think I have a few more stories to add to it, so I will either make another issue or just expand the one that already exists.
-I’m working on an All-Ages Coloring and Activity book called “Call of the Cosmos,” which, like “Psychedelic Gaze,” I’ve already published but plan on adding pages to.
-There’s a performance project in the works with Gina Fontana that seems likely to take up the bulk of my summer. More planning is needed here but I think it will be good.
-I’m always working on my comic “Astral Sass.” I have published 5 issues so far, and have 6 others in various stages of completion.
-There are a few projects on the back burner that aren’t getting a sustained push, but I work on regularly, including a psychedelic action comic, two different capitalist revenge fantasies, an illustrated manual describing white supremacy as a corrupting virus, a sci-fi collaboration with Richard Cocchi, and a continual mail art exchange with James Jajac.
-I’m also tabling at the Scranton Zine fest in June, the Lehigh Valley Zine Fest in August, and hopefully the Philly Zine Fest in November.
RKH: Can we find you on the Net?
CB: Yes. In order of actual activity:
RKH: Please finish the sentence: Art, sorrow, desire, ____
CB: Art, sorrow, desire, transcendence.
RKH: What don’t people know about your art?
CB: It’s readily available for free, for trade, or for purchasing.
All artwork by Corey Bechelli.
Roberta Fallon’s reviews and features have appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia Weekly, artnet, Art on Paper, Art Review and elsewhere. From 1999-2011, she was the art critic for Philadelphia Weekly writing a weekly column of criticism and features, and from 2000-2005 she wrote the Philadelphia Story column for artnet.com. In 2003, she co-founded The Artblog, which has been recognized for excellence twice by Art in America, and was a finalist for the prestigious Warhol/Creative Capital Arts Writers Award. It is also one of Philadelphia’s most well-known and prized arts publications.
-Julius Ferraro, Curate This co-founder
Beth Heinly is a leader in the alternative arts community in Philadelphia. She’s talented, opinionated and original. No matter what she’s working on—comics, a performance art piece, an exhibition or her experimental performance art festival, Beth works from her life and her passions. As a member of two important alternative galleries—Little Berlin and Vox Populi—she has curated and shown work by herself and others. Her interest in science led to a wonderful art and science exhibit at Little Berlin; as a collector of art, she curated a memorable collections show at Vox Populi; as a zine maker and collector, she organized a zine library at Little Berlin that now is archived at Temple University Libraries.
On Artblog, I am on the receiving end of Beth’s funny and wise The 3:00 Book comic. Every Monday I anticipate Beth’s comic with the same eagerness I feel when cracking open a fortune cookie—I’m looking for a pun, a bon mot, some wise words. While a fortune cookie rarely lives up to my hopes, Beth’s comics deliver. Sometimes salty, sometimes sweet and always beautifully composed, Beth’s comics reverberate.
The 3:00 Book has a Charlie Brown innocence but without the sugar coating. Both Peanuts and The 3:00 Book praise the simple things in life. For Beth, there’s a good sandwich, her cat Zion, and vacuuming (yes, actually). For Charlie Brown, there’s baseball and his dog Snoopy.
The 3:00 Book characters (a thinly-veiled Beth, her boyfriend, and a naïve, snobby girl with curly hair) can be biting and mean or sweet as pie. No matter which extreme, the encounters ring true and come from someone who’s a student of human behavior and has been on the giving and receiving end of some fraught exchanges.
Drawn in a beautiful and reductivist style that’s satisfying for its clean lines and generous white space, Beth’s comics are complete art—from concept to execution. I highly recommend you take a look. Watch for her Open Call Guerilla Outdoor Performance Festival (OCGOPF) this summer in Rittenhouse Square and Collins Park. And here’s some of her other work.
Here are a dozen of my favorite The 3:00 Book comics. The titles are mine, not the artist’s.
Trying to please people and how that sometimes works out
Being a killjoy
Being a killjoy 2
Failure of imagination
Facing facts in a relationship
The lure of pretending