“Temple Gate” (1913)

“Temple Gate” (1913)
by Bertha Lum (1879-1954)
5 x 10 in., color woodcut on cream, thin Japanese woven paper
Coppola Collection

Bertha Boynton Bull studied art at the Institute of Art at Chicago from 1895-1900. She was a student of stained glass artwork with Anna Weston. She then studied with Frank Holme, who founded the Chicago School of Illustration in 1898, and who was trying to print with woodblocks.

In 1903, she married Burt F. Lum, and honeymooned in Japan, which captivated her interests. She returned to Japan over the course of the next 16 years, learning to carve woodblock, make and color prints. She spent some of her later years in Beijing, adapting a hybrid approach to her printmaking.

She is credited for helping to make the Japanese and Chinese woodblock print known outside of Asia.

This piece is striking in person. The tones are muted and the paper, itself, is as light as a feather but super-tough. The other examples I can find all list it as a 1912 edition, but this one is dated 1913. Not all of her work carries the name stamp, but the example held by the Minneapolis Institute of Art does (and do most of their examples). The coloration on theirs is also (clearly) different from mine, although the size is exactly the same.

Just How Far Out of Context Can You Get?

I was out at a department store earlier today, and in passing by the cheesy furniture section, I noted (with great interest, as they say) this small three-drawer chest, emblazoned with the apparent New Age message “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

I just had to laugh.

Did the person who created this… or most of the people who see it… understand the origin of this saying?

In 1979, a film masterpiece was released: Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

I was never a Monty Python fan. My taste in what I find funny is pretty narrow and does not include silly, slapstick, or absurd. On the other hand, biting satire that skewers something, particularly something deserving of skewering, such as hypocritical institutions, gets my laugh, particularly when it is both clever and sustained.

And that is Monty Python’s Life of Brian in a nutshell. The only other thing that has ever come close is Book of Mormon.

Life of Brian starts with a simple and lovely premise. I wish I had been in the room when they thought of it: Brian Cohen is born in the stable neighboring the one where Jesus is born, and he is accidentally visited by the three wise men. Although they soon realize their error and take back their gifts, Mrs. Cohen is off to the races with her son, the Messiah. The movie is a satirical masterpiece.

At the end of the movie, Brian is sentenced to crucifixion along with over a hundred others. The prisoners, all hoisted onto their crosses, break into song in the grandest of Disney fashion to cheer each other up. The irony is sublime, as these victims all tap their toes and whistle to the song that closes with the credits: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
Eric Idle, 1979

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best

And always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the light side of life
If life seems jolly rotten
There’s something you’ve forgotten
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing
When you’re feeling in the dumps
Don’t be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle, that’s the thing

And always look on the bright side of life
Come on!
Always look on the right side of life
For life is quite absurd
And death’s the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow
Forget about your sin
Give the audience a grin
Enjoy it, it’s your last chance anyhow

So, always look on the bright side of death
A-just before you draw your terminal breath
Life’s a piece of shit
When you look at it
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true
You’ll see it’s all a show
Keep ’em laughing as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you

And always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the right side of life

C’mon Brian, cheer up!
Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the bright side of life

Worse things happen at sea, you know
Always look on the bright side of life
I mean, what have you got to lose

You know, you come from nothing, you’re going back to nothing
What have you lost? Nothing!
Always look on the right side of life…

Nothing will come from nothing, you know what they say?
Cheer up you old bugger, c’mon give us a grin!
There you are, see, it’s the end of the film

Incidentally, this record is available in the foyer
Some of us have to got live as well, you know
Who do you think pays for all this rubbish

They’re not gonna make their money back, you know

I told them, I said to them, Bernie, I said they’ll never make their money back

“Fantastic Four 286, pages 15 & 21”

“Fantastic Four 286, page 15” (January 1986)
by John Byrne (1950-) and Terry Austin (1952-)
11 x 17 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

One of the great comic book stories of all time is known as the Dark Phoenix saga, which appeared in the Uncanny X-Men comic #129-138 in 1980, ending with the apparent suicide of Jean Grey, who had been corrupted by her assumption of the Phoenix force in issue #101 (1976), soon after the reboot of the X-Men series (#94).

Issue #101: Returning from a mission in space, Jean Grey is exposed to the deadly radiation of a solar flare, and briefly attains her ultimate potential as a telepath and telekinetic. Before the crash of the space shuttle she was piloting into Jamaica Bay, Jean becomes a being of pure thought, and then reforms herself upon the crash, rising from the Bay with the new costume, identity and power – the Phoenix.

Issue #138: Corrupted by the Hellfire Club, Jean’s persona as the Phoenix became the Dark Phoenix. Eventually, she takes out an entire planet including the genocide of billions of lives. Although a dramatic plot point, the story element ended with the editorial decision that the character needed to pay for this transgression. During a final battle during a cosmic trial, the original Jean Grey persona resurfaces long enough to take her own life rather than fight the un-winnable battle with the Phoenix force. The death of one of the founding X-Men from the start of the Marvel Age was an unexpected and shocking turn of events for the readership. The powers-that-be declared that Jean Grey needed to stay dead.

In 1986, the company retconned history in a way that allowed the character to return.  Jean Grey was never the Phoenix. She was still on the bottom of Jamaica Bay in suspended animation following the original shuttle crash. The Phoenix entity had used her body and mind as a lens, creating an immensely powerful duplicate of Jean, but one which grew more corrupted and distorted the longer it remained separate from the true Jean. The return of Jean Grey happened in Fantastic Four #286 (January 1986), written and drawn by the same team that wrote the original Dark Phoenix Saga in 1980.

On page 15 (above), the newly revised Jean, still in the dress she was wearing when she went into space in issue #101, recounts the events of that evening. At first, no one connects Jean with her history as the Phoenix.

On page 21 (below), Captain America adds two-plus-two, and calls up a report on the life of Jean Grey from the Avengers archives – a report made by another of the original X-Men, also an Avenger: Hank McCoy, the Beast.

X-Men pages by Byrne and Austin from the Dark Phoenix era are some of the most expensive and difficult to get pages this side of 1960s Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko pages. I was surprised when both of these pages from FF #286 were still available at their nominal prices from the dealer who represents Byrne, a number of years after 1986. Page 21, in particular, has the original X-Men team in the center, and then three iconic panels below: Phoenix, first rising from Jamaica Bay in issue 101, Dark Phoenix, in her eeeevil glory, and the suicide moment from issue 138.

One of our universe’s original cosmic entities, the Phoenix has an affinity for Jean Grey as a host – she was an avatar of the Phoenix because her “spirit” was “most closely carved” from the Phoenix. Her perceptions and imagination had influenced the Phoenix and that it belonged to her by right and would one day come to her children.

In New X-Men #150 (February 2004), Jean bonds with the Phoenix force (the merged entity being know at The White Phoenix) as she is in another life and death return from outer space, and she is killed (for the first time) by arch-enemy Magneto. The Phoenix force eventually resurrects Jean (Phoenix Endsong, 2005), and Jean and the Phoenix have played in the background ever since.

In 2012, the original X-Men, as teens from their earliest years, are time-displaced into the present, and a young Jean Grey is once again in the contemporary Marvel Universe. The Phoenix has been looming in the background of this character, and even the ghost of the real Jean Grey started popping up in 2017. In December 2017, the Phoenix is scheduled to return, along  with the (adult) Jean Grey.

“Fantastic Four 286, page 21” (January 1986)
by John Byrne (1950-) and Terry Austin (1952-)
11 x 17 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

“Black Panther 1 p 23”

“Black Panther 1 p 23” (1977)
by Jack Kirby (1917-1994) and Mike Royer (1941-)
11 x 17 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

Forty Years Ago!

Commemorating the upcoming Black Panther movie from Marvel Studios, a blast from the first named solo series, in 1977, from the Panther’s co-creator, Jack Kirby.

“King Solomon’s Frog”

An antiquities collector named Abner Little tells the Black Panther of a treasure known as King Solomon’s Frog. Working with Mister Little, they track the Frog to the home of another collector Alfred Queely.  Abner Little explains that King Solomon’s Frog is a time machine. The Frog was once part of the fabled treasure of King Solomon.

A warrior woman known as Princess Zanda sends a squad of flying men to capture the Frog.  Princess Zanda arrives ahead of them however and captures the Black Panther.

“Robots & Monsters: 4 Seasons in China”

“Robots & Monsters: 4 Seasons in China”

“SeeSeeTeeVee” (2009)
by Joe Alterio (1978-)
archived at http://robotsandmonsters.org
5 x 5 in., ink and watercolor on paper
Coppola Collection

These are all from a cool crowd-sourcing project carried out by Joe Alterio and his wife in four campaigns between 2007-11. Joe and other artists would take three words that you suggested and create a “Robot” or a “Monster” (all of these are archived at http://robotsandmonsters.org), as well as some information about the charitable causes they used the money for.  Over 5 years, they created about 650 creatures and raised over 50K for their designated causes. The idea was lovely. I participated in four of the campaigns. All robots. In the 2009 campaign, I went for the seasons of the year with Chinese allusions.

The first robot (above) is named “SeeSeeTeeVee.” The three words were “Moon, Beijing, Autumn” (the big October holiday is the Fall Festival, and it is the one were you eat mooncakes). The inside joke here is that the shape of the robot is based on the distinctive architecture of the CCTV (China Central Television) building in Beijing.


“Faxian” (2009)
by Joe Alterio (1978-)
archived at http://robotsandmonsters.org
5 x 5 in., ink and watercolor on paper
Coppola Collection

The next robot is named “Faxian.” The three words were “Buddhist, Tibet, Winter.” Faxian is a historical figure; he visited India in the early fifth century AD. He is said to have walked all the way from China across icy desert and rugged mountain passes. He took back with him Buddhist texts and images sacred to Buddhism.


“Yan-Wow” (2009)
by Joe Alterio (1978-)
archived at http://robotsandmonsters.org
5 x 5 in., ink and watercolor on paper
Coppola Collection

The next robot is named “Yan-Wow.” The three words were “Fireworks, China, Spring.” The celebration of the Lunar New Year is called Spring Festival, and although actual fireworks have been curtailed throughout Asia because of the pollution, there is still plenty of noise. YanHua is the Mandarin word for fireworks.


“Qin” (2009)
by Joe Alterio (1978-)
archived at http://robotsandmonsters.org
5 x 5 in., ink and watercolor on paper
Coppola Collection

And that brings us to the summer. The three words here were “Xi’an, Summer, and Warrior.” Xi’an is the city where the terra-cotta warriors are located. These are part of the extended subterranean necropolis that the first Chinese Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, had built. When I think of stinking hot summer weather, I think of Xi’an.

“Concord Grapes with Idiazabal Etxegarai (Spanish Cheese)”

“Concord Grapes with Idiazabal Etxegarai (Spanish Cheese)” (2017)
by Abbey Ryan (1979-)
5 x 6 in, Oil on Linen on Panel
Coppola Collection

I wanted this one badly so that I would have a good companion piece to the one I posted about last week.

The contrast in color, texture, and shape … and attitude… is whimsically wonderful.