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Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

‘Drunk’—A Pub Scrawl

Wisconsin artists contribute to Las Vegas comic book

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Bars are a haven for storytellers. Some of the best tales that have ever been spun were formulated over pints in a pub. J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of the Rings, spent evenings in Oxford’s Eagle and Child pub, brainstorming with writing buddies like C.S. Lewis. Storytellers of all kinds—exaggerators, fabricators, travelers on a tangent—are drawn to the drinks and the guaranteed audience, even if it is just the bartender.

As grand as these ideas born of booze and smoke may be, they are often left behind on the barroom floor, never to see the light of day. In the case of a group of Las Vegas artists who would meet at a bar every Friday for drinks, they bucked the trend and delivered Drunk, a relevant and insightful 128-page self-published graphic novel that illustrates alcohol’s influence on our culture, for better or for worse.

Michael Ogilvie and co-producers Sean Russell and Michael Todoran saw the stories they shared with their friends as creative material worthy of the comic medium. It was a collaboration that didn’t require much artistic compromise, because each of the 25 artists they invited to take part in the project (including themselves) was tasked with writing and drawing his or her bar story.

“Most of the artists are visually very, very strong and talented,” Ogilvie says. “Even if their work was totally abstract, if the visual strength of the narrative was successful, we printed it.”

Drunk is, decidedly, a mixed bag of artistic styles and tones, from the simplified and exaggerated cartoon drawing style of Ivan Brunetti to the unusual, abstract figures drawn by Chris Bauder and Sue Kay Lee. There are stories of clarity and disarming vulnerability in this compilation, and moments that are vulgar and dark. Some of the bar tales are the stuff of fantasy and others are all too real, like Russell’s recollection of the time he spent tending bar at a VFW post in Menomonie, Wis., while earning his BFA in sculpture from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Each story is strong enough to be judged on its own merit, yet all piece together perfectly.

One of the artists, Jim Pink, is a retired director of the graduate program in visual arts at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and former teacher of all but two of the contributing artists. Pink spent his youth in northern Wisconsin, where his neighbor, legendary comic artist Norman Pettingill, inspired him to make art. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan holds a substantial collection from the hundreds of pen and ink drawings Pettingill created depicting life in the North Woods. The center allowed the producers of Drunk to reprint “North Woods Tavern,” “B Cn U,” “Moron Gulch,” “Saturday Nite at Louie’s” and “Hangover Bar” for inclusion in the graphic novel. Notable ties to Wisconsin aside, Drunk pulls in accomplished artists from all over the country.

The tales that unfold in Drunk illustrate how, as individuals, we conceptualize and remember the world subjectively. While our stories, and the way we share them, can differ drastically, common threads like alcohol disclose our shared humanity.

Until a local bookstore decides to carry Drunk, which is printed in black and white, and bound in a limited-edition hardcover with a bright red ribbon page marker, customers can purchase it online for $25 at www.vegasdrunk.com.