2003 was a pretty big year for animator and comic book storyteller Scott Morse. The highlights included being presented with the "Attilio Micheluzzi Gran Premio" award at the Napoli Comic Con in Naples, Italy. About that comic show Morse says, "They treated the guests and fans like royalty, and the convention took place in an actual castle." It was his first visit to Europe.
In terms of publications, 2003 saw Morse's "The Barefoot Serpent" (inspired by the life and films of Akira Kurosawa). Published by Top Shelf, the graphic novel garnered much critical acclaim and also proved a fan-favorite, even making some "Best Of" lists. Other Morse books released last year included "Southpaw" (about the trials and tribulations of a prize-fighting tiger) from AdHouse Books, plus a re-release of the celebrated slice-of-life story "Visitations" and a new complete volume of the Eisner and Ignatz nominated fantasy epic "Soulwind" from Oni Press.
So, how does Morse kick off the New Year to try and top the last?
With "Mr. Cloud: Paintings and Drawings," his debut solo gallery show featuring new multimedia artwork with subjects ranging from ghosts, boxers, monkeys, and more, drawing inspiration from places like classic children's books to the modern graffiti scene.
TORRES: How did this show come about? Whose idea was it?
MORSE: Gaston, the proprietor of the amazing Meltdown Comics on Sunset Blvd. in Southern California, had asked me awhile back to bring in some paintings if I had any lying around to help fill a back wall of his shop. Just beyond the back wall is Meltdown Gallery, which has been actively running gallery exhibitions for a couple of years now, I believe. I'd seen various shows there and always admired the gallery, so when I told Gaston I had a couple of paintings done for the shop, he suggested I do a proper show in the gallery, as they had an opening. Now, this all went down in December, and the show was set for January, so I had a bunch more art to get done fast.
TORRES: Have you always wanted to have a solo exhibit?
MORSE: Sure... I've had work exhibited in Porto, Portugal and Naples, Italy, and various other spots in America, but it'd always been as part of a larger group show. When this opportunity came up, I jumped on it, as it's something I've wanted to try for a while, especially after recently seeing amazing shows by Jordan Crane and Souther Salazar at Giant Robot's GR2 Gallery in L.A. It's just a really surreal feeling to have a room filled with your art and people actually standing around talking about it, sipping wine, having a great time.
TORRES: What can people expect to see at this show?
MORSE: "Mr.Cloud" is all new work, stuff done specifically for the Meltdown Gallery space. I came in the week before and painted "framing" murals to help the eye flow along each wall, to make the whole room aesthetically pleasing and kind of a unique experience. The actual work for sale is all done with cell vinyl, spray paint, oil pastels, graffiti markers... I actually worked mostly on wood with plexiglass screwed over it to add a sort of old-school animation multi-plane effect, actually drawing and painting on the plexiglass. Some of the pieces are actually t-shirt material that's been cut and attached to the first level of plexiglass, then painted and drawn over. Some of the pieces are on 2x4"s, some on sanded-down record albums and album sleeves. There are a few canvases as well, and a table I built and painted on. I rounded it out with some Chinese brush life drawings on the back wall of the shop. The key was to keep the whole show light-hearted, something kids and adults would like to walk through, but to make it feel sort of otherworldly at the same time. There are plenty of monkeys and elephants and weird animals, things like that... I'm a big advocate of keeping things light-hearted. I like to see people smile at the weirdness.
TORRES: So no older pieces at all? Stuff your comic fans might recognize?
MORSE: It's all new stuff... nothing has been published or is comics-related, but the feeling of a lot of my comics work is there.
TORRES: I'm just curious why you didn't just have a showing of your painted comic book work, your covers, etc.? Or a combination of new and old? As a big fan of your comic stuff, I would've loved to see some those paintings and drawings up close…
MORSE: That's what conventions are for, and printed media. I felt like this show should be other stuff, stuff that people haven't seen before or that can be reproduced easily in another form. This one's all about the experience of walking through the gallery. This isn't stuff you'll find in a book, and maybe shouldn't find in a book!
TORRES: Where does the name "Mr. Cloud" come from?
MORSE: The name of the show is a sort of in-joke with my friends in L.A. Whenever someone's being a grump or raining on everyone's parade, they're Mr. Cloud. It helps lighten the mood with things to address any seriousness in a silly way, and that's something I think can be spread pretty much anywhere... a little mood-lightening.
TORRES: So, this whole exhibit from the artwork on display to the stuff to "decorate" the gallery, etc. all came together in one month?
MORSE: I spent about a month on the bulk of the show, with most pieces coming together in the last couple of weeks. I finished hanging the show the morning of the opening reception. I knew what I wanted to do to the gallery itself, painting on the walls and all that, but I didn't know how many pieces I'd need, so as I hung things I'd sort of gauge how much more I needed to do and bring in to fill it out. I kind of went with the flow, really, until it felt right.
TORRES: How did you get the word out in such a short period of time?
MORSE: Promotion pretty much entailed hitting a few message boards, sending out a mass e-mail press release, and getting some fun postcards printed up to leave around town in record shops and places like that. Word of mouth really helped it along.
TORRES: Tell me about the opening reception. How did it go?
MORSE: Better than I could have hoped! The place was packed, and we went through all the food and drink we brought... a case of wine in an hour, with the last minute help of James Silverman, a buddy of mine, playing bartender. I had trouble walking through the actual gallery at points, there were so many people. I'm really pleased with the turn out. We sold quite a few of the pieces that night, and Gaston let me know we had sold a few more during the first week, as well.
TORRES: Knowing your friends and connections out there, I expect there were some "celebrities" on hand? Drop some names!
MORSE: Sheesh... well, surprisingly enough, a few comics people showed that I had no idea would. Jim Mahfood knew I'd smack him around if he didn't show, so he came, along with Joe Casey, Mark Waid, Ross Richie (a producer on the upcoming "Mage" flick, among other things), and lots of friends, family, and neighbors showing support. During the week I know Greg Rucka, Anissa Dorsey, and Geoff Johns came through, as well, and threw down with the support. Pretty cool of everyone to stop by, really, pro and fan alike! I'm incredibly honored.
TORRES: So, people still have a couple of weeks to go and check out the show? What are the hours? Is there admission?
MORSE: There's no admission cost, and the show will run through till February 7th during regular Meltdown store hours.
For more information:
Meltdown Comics & Collectibles
7522 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
For those of you who may have never picked up a Scott Morse comic before, the artist himself says, "I'm most proud of 'The Barefoot Serpent,' 'Visitations' and 'Soulwind.' Those first two, though, are probably the most accessible things I've written along the lines of what I'd like my career to be known for. I'm very much in favor of bringing a sort of innocence to the stories I tell as a sort of commentary on heavier issues, and I think 'The Barefoot Serpent' and 'Visitations' succeed on more levels than most of my other work, as far as what I really want to be doing with comics."
As for what new projects Morse is working on for 2004: There's "Batman: Roomful of Strangers", a 64-page, fully painted project focusing on Jim Gordon and his time away from Gotham following the events of "Officer Down." Morse is also working on painted short stories for "The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft" and "The Escapist." Plus, there's "Lyrical Whales" (about a children's book author with writer's block who befriends an elderly neighbor woman with Alzheimer's) his next project for Top Shelf, which he hopes to have ready in time for convention season. Also, coming soon is "Spaghetti Western" (about a modern-day robbery by some crazy western fanatics) to be published by Oni Press.
And that's just the comic book stuff. You may be hearing an announcement or two about the animated projects Morse is developing this year as well. Although 2003 was a pretty big year for Scott Morse, 2004 is shaping up to be even bigger…
Next week: Mike Hawthorne hypes "Hysteria."
Meanwhile, if you're feeling like Mr. Cloud today, drop by the OYM forum and we'll try and cheer you up!
Thank you for your attention.