Exactly one year ago we adopted this 56-pound ball of pure energy named Blue. The photo on the left was taken by Amanda Jones about a week after we had adopted her (for a cover shoot for The Bark magazine), and we were still getting to know her. We still are. She is affectionate, exuberant, lovely, goofy, and frustrating. You know: a puppy. It's lots of work (naturally). Well, (as my dear Grandfather once said) Blue is two years old now. It's time that she get herself a job. Since she has no thumbs, she's going to have to get creative. To pay for her care and feeding (read: trail walks), I've started a redbubble shop featuring some of my designs. I've ordered a few of the products, and I'm happy to report that the quality is top-notch. Peep some samples below.
Friendlies: are you sitting comfortably? Good. Let me tell you a story.
Back in 2011 (my, how time flies), Jim Winters and I set out to make a follow-up book to his artists' book Queen for a Day. Jim Worked up a set of coats-of-arms, and I did portraits of my favorite queens. We hand printed the whole shebang at Inky Oxnard Studios on Rives BFK and trimmed and glued the prints into accordion-folded books. Behold.
On the left, my queens (interspersed with Jim's coats-of-arms) :
The B-52's. Siouxsie Sioux. Elizabeth Taylor from the movie Boom. Lynda Barry. Helen Lawson from the movie Valley of the Dolls. Pepper LaBeija. Rosalind Russell from Auntie Mame.
If you don't know who they are, then you haven't lived.
These are the colorful, talented, quirky, smart-as-a-whip ladies who inspire me to keep on making stuff every day.
Friendlies, come along on a weird trip to a planet without men!
If you know me at all, you know that I have a special place in my heart for Phillip R. Ford's epic drag queen space adventure Vegas in Space starring the ever-glamourous Doris Fish. You can imagine my thrill when I was asked by Peaches Christ herself to create a commemorative poster to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this sparkly gem of a movie. Nat Swope from Bloom Press and I decided that neon colors were a must (see below for the final print).
San Francisco is the city where New Wave will never die. Generations of inspired weirdoes flock here to hot glue things to other things at 3 am. If you listen close (even now) you can hear the neon ghosts on Market Street singing. Vegas in Space is truly a magical gem of a film, a sparkling time machine, an anarchic mishmash of glitter, glamour, and girlinium. Thanks to Peaches Christ for bringing it back to to the big screen, and for asking me to participate.
For the film’s 25th anniversary, Frameline, in association with Peaches Christ Productions and Troma Entertainment, is proud to present a fully fledged celebration of the movie that took us to the stars. Featuring an accompanying pre-show with Vegas in Space cast and crew in person, including director Phillip R. Ford, Miss X, Ramona Fischer, Lori Naslund, Timmy Spence, Kate Guthorn, Silvana Nova, and Connie Champagne! Get your tickets here.
This movie took nine years to complete. Phil Ford documented the entire production here.
I have a weird history with this film: in 2007, artist Jim Winters and myself made a set of prints of the legendary Doris Fish. The wood-frame screens (there were several!) were found in a box on the streets of San Francisco. I believe that Doris herself made the screens, and they found their way into Jim’s hands. With Philip Ford’s blessing, Jim and I created a set of prints using the screens and some spraypaint and donated a set of the prints and the screens to the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco.
Here they are:
Glamour first, Glamour last, Glamour always,
A silence fell over Wertz's social media presence. For months.
What was it? What was happening?
What is the sound of one page turning?
It is a book. This book. ABC OAKLAND. A new kids' book for Heyday Books, written and illustrated by yours truly. It's been a long time in the making, and it's getting close to being finished.
Here's a sneaky peek at a few of the images. I'm excited about this.
(VAGUEBLOGGING) p.s. There's more big news on the way. I can't tell you yet. (/VAGUEBLOGGING)
Hey Everybody, I'm excited to announce that I will be showing along with illustrator (and mensch) Josh Ellingson at the first-ever show at Mule Gallery in the lovely North beach district of San Francisco from January 20th through February 26. The opening is on February 5, from 6-9 pm. This event is part of North Beach's First Fridays gallery walk. Join us?
Josh Ellingson & Michael Wertz Jan 20th-Feb 26th, 2016
Opening Feb 5th, 6-9pm Mule Gallery 80 Fresno St. San Francisco, CA 94133
I'll be showing a bunch of the Some Wags prints : see below. All prints are framed & ready to move. We'll also have a small collection of unframed prints for sale.
See you there?
Friendlies, Here's my contributions to this year's Post-It Show at Giant Robot in Los Angeles. Thanks to Isabel Samaras for the hook-up and Mark Todd for inviting me! the show opens December 5. All post-its sell for $25!
Friendlies, I'm very excited. SomeWags has been printed, prepped, and hung on the walls of the oh-so-pink-and-pretty Glama-Rama Salon and Gallery in Oakland. The opening is this Saturday night, October 17, from 6-9 pm. The address is 6399 Telegraph Avenue near the corner of Alcatraz. It should be a hoot. I think there will be a short set of music by our band Special Ghosts (featuring AJ Pinecone and Isabel Samaras), as well as some uke and singing by my nephew Kellen Wertz. Punch and Pie! This is a show of new two-color screenprints created with paper stencils under a big tent on my back deck. PRINTING IN HEAT AND WIND CHALLENGE: ACCEPTED. To see some snaps of the work in progress, head over to m'Instergrahams to see #somewags in action.
See you there?
Friendlies, this month I interviewed one of my very favorite musicians, Karry Walker from Ultralash. Based out of Oakland, California, Ultralash is a folk electronica project made up by Karry Walker with a revolving cast of characters both real and imagined. Karry has several musical projects (we'll learn more about those in a bit), but Ultralash is her solo project. Her new album, A River Listless, is wildly compelling, atmospheric, spooky. I wanted to know more (and so will you), and so I asked.
Here you go.
Q: Can you describe Ultralash for a new listener? Who is Ultralash?
A: Ultralash is a character based on this young girl I used to see riding around in my neighborhood on a low rider BMX bike with a banana seat. She had freckles and flaming red hair, and she always had this huge backpack on. She would ride down the street on her way to wherever, and one day when I was sitting out on the front porch having a smoke it occurred to me that she was perfectly Ultralash. It was one of those moments when I didn't try to question what came out of me. I just went with it.
About 5 years later I walked into a bank and there she was, working as a bank teller. All the spark in her had been tucked away or discarded, as she greeted the customers in her black bank suit and bright, contrived smile. It was a sad day for me, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. It happens every day, to all girls who grow to be young women, unless you are extraordinarily vigilant about protecting that light within you from the pressures of conformity.
Q: How did you begin A River Listless? Did you set out to make a concept record, and/or did the concept arrive as you wrote?
A: Well, one day I was looking at my iTunes music collection. It contained a huge lot of recordings I had made over a period of about 10 years and I thought "geez what is all this stuff?" Most of it didn't even have names, just numbers and dates. So I began listening to the recordings, and then I thought "hey, some of this stuff is pretty good. I should catalog it." So I created two folders named "Light" and "Dark" and I just started shoving stuff into each of the folders based on my first impression.
When I was done doing that, sez me to myself "Let's make a record." So I flipped a coin - Heads for Light, Tails for Dark. Tails. So then I started listening in earnest, stitching together the tracks that told a story. I never really know where it's going. The story reveals itself as I work on it, and it's based purely on what makes me happy as I listen - what makes the little hairs rise up on the back of my neck.
Later, just like when you try to tell someone about a dream you had, the plot presents itself. I always have mixed feelings about this part, because it can become confined by it prematurely. I have my ideas about what that plot is, and there are certain elements built into the finished album that are my own meaningful bits, but those are personal.
The final decision to dispense with track numbers came after Myles Boisen and I mixed the record. Determining where one song ended and another began was proving difficult. Around that time I was with a friend and we were talking about how visual artists - painters, sculptors, film-makers get to have installations - a one time showing of their work. It was then that I came up with the idea of doing it as a sound installation - one complete composition, listened to one time. Several songs are available for download online for anyone who would like to listen in a shuffle.
Q: What was the timeline for this record? Did it all happen at once, or was it gradual? Both?
A: Fits and starts. The labeling project began in 2011. I stitched together a rough mix of about half of it in the next couple of months. Then I abandoned the project for a while because I was involved in other music projects like She Mob, an all girl garage rock band fronted by Joy Sue Hutchinson. I played bass, which I'd never done before! That resulted in recording She Mob's album Right In The Head.
I was also writing songs with Myles Boisen for a ukelele/slide guitar duet we call The Hollywood Laundrette. That also resulted in an album with brilliantly illustrated cover art by Michael Wertz!
But I didn't pick up the Ultralash project again in earnest until a year ago, April. I was reeling emotionally from some personal changes, so I threw myself back into the project to distract me from my own misery. And it did, because hey. There's working on yer shit, and then there's working on yer shit. And the latter has always, without exception, been more productive. At least for me.
Q: What's your writing process like? Acoustic guitar and recorder? Piano? Notebook? What's your best time of day to make music?
A: I daydream a lot. Occasionally there's something in that stream of consciousness that's worth writing down. And if I'm lucky and paying attention, I will. Some of my most favorite lyrics were written in less than a minute, and most of my favorites were written in ten. It's just a matter of paying attention at the right time. Often it happens when I'm outside on the front porch having a smoke. But my favorite time to record acoustic songs is first thing in the morning, sitting up against the wall, dog at the foot of the bed. That's how I recorded two songs on A River Listless. I used Garage Band to record "Skin." I used my iPhone voice memo app to record "Do You Ever Think About Me."
Q: Upcoming shows or events? What should we know?
A: I'm throwing around ideas and footage for a music video for Terminal Velocity, one of the songs on A River Listless.
I'm also currently working on a contemporary remix of Kitka. Kitka is an internationally renowned women's choir who perform traditional Eastern European women's music. The Ultralash remix should be released sometime in the latter part of this year.
So there she is, folks. I'd like to thank Karry for the interview, and for all her beautiful music.
Friendlies, please know that the Campout 11 Poster for 2015 is now available for sale in the shop. Also! Also! AND! I just cut the prices of MOST of the posters in the shop by HALF. I need to make room in the flat files. It's gettin' crowded in there, and we have lots more posters on the way. So! Point your glowing boxes over to the shop, have a gander, and drop some coins. You'll be glad you did.
This month's interview is with Nat Swope from Bloom Screen Printing in Oakland. Nat was kind enough to give us an interview (in between running his shop, teaching classes, and little league with his kid). Nat and I work on a few projects a year together for clients who need multiple prints, and he always does an amazing job. Q: Hi, Nat. How are you?
Doing fine, thanks.
Q: How did you first learn to screenprint?
My aunt Mary, who is an artist and art teacher, gave me a rudimentary introduction to it. I had already figured out stencils, cutting frisket, so screen printing made sense. A little bit later I got a job printing shirts. That's how I learned about production, on the clock. I didn't go to art school. I was into photography so exposing screens photographically was pretty exciting. This was the late '80's/early '90's so I caught the tail end of paste up before computers really came into play, which I always thought was helpful later on. Most art departments back then were still using copy cameras and rubylith. But the short answer is I learned how to screen print the same way you learn how to do anything: by doing it over and over again. The other thing that really accelerated the learning process was printing for other people. It led me down a lot of roads I would never have gone down had I only been doing my own work. Getting a glimpse into other people's processes has been invaluable.
Q: What about screenprinting gives you that special feeling inside?
Screen printing is a bit like assembling a puzzle and I like that. I like graphics and flat, clean color. I like paper. If things are going well it can be meditative and rhythmic. At this point though it's really about the people I'm working with. I've been lucky to work with a lot of people I genuinely admire.
Q: Can you tell me a few of your favorite clients?
Too many to name and I don't want to leave anyone out.
(book by Michael Bartalos)
Q: When a new client comes to you, what do you ask them?
Can I see a file before we talk about cost and deadlines?
Q: What's your favorite kind of job to print?
Again, it's the people I'm working with that matters the most. I like seeing what gets them excited. Often the client is responding to something I'm not really thinking about. My concerns are usually technical. I'm in problem solving mode and the artist is usually operating on a more emotional, gut level--do I like how it feels?
Q: Is there a kind of image that is _not_ served by being screenprinted?
Well, it has to be designed with the medium in mind. It's a flexible process but it can be unforgiving. If you don't understand spot color and key line you're going to have a hard time. Not everything has to be simple spot and trap, like a coloring book, but if you don't at least understand those things you're in for a rough ride. Less is more. It's also a fine line between surrendering to the process and being particular about certain things. Choose your battles. It's good to aim for perfect but perfection is unattainable. And boring.
Q: I know you used to have a machine-run press, but you gave it up to focus on hand work. What about doing all your prints by hand appeals to you?
Autos are great and there is nothing inherently better about things made by hand. Part of what I like about screen printing is that it is mechanical and I do not fetishize the hand made. The machine just kind of turned my studio into a factory and I just didn't really like it. I have more room to maneuver in my small space now.
Thanks again to Nat Swope. If you want to see some of the work in person (and take some goodies home as well), visit Bloom Press (2310 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland) on May 3 during First Friday.
Friendlies, Milkfed Press and Wertzateria Illustration are proud to offer "Home", a set of six beautifully letterpressed two-color blank greeting cards, suitable for sending or framing. Each set arrives to you signed and numbered with six folded blank cards on "Lettra" flourescent white paper and six printed envelopes. This is a limited edition of ninety-five sets. These six images are based on dogs who have lived at East Bay Animal Shelters. The cost is thirty dollars plus shipping. Get yours here.
From upper left: Home. Big Head. Dahlia. Olive. Bowie. Big Ears.
The full set.
All wrapped up.
Here's some video of the shenanigans whilst printing. The dream of the 90's is alive in the East Bay!
Victoria mixing the perfect red.
Friendlies, the Mojave Phonebooth was a working telephone in the middle of the Mojave Desert in the middle of nowhere, and our pal Doc was its champion. I came across mentions of the booth in the late 90's ; this little booth attracted travellers (and callers) from all over the world. Doc is putting a book together about the entire experience called Adventures with the Mojave Phonebooth. NPR interviewed Doc about the booth, and that's a good listen. I also asked him a few questions about the Booth, and Doc kindly took the time to reply. Read on, after the photo.
Q: I know the booth itself is long-gone, but I heard you can still call the phone number? (psst: 760-733-9969)
A: After the NPS destroyed the Mojave Phone Booth, I tried to obtain its number but (probably under pressure from the NPS) Pacific Bell told me it was permanently "retired." I tried again, with the same result, when ownership passed from Pac Bell to SBC and again it passed from SBC to AT&T. Last year, though, someone screwed up and noted phreak Lucky225 acquired it. Right now it's a conference line but Lucky is amenable to using it for other purposes to be revealed in due course.
Q: Besides phone booths, what's the other most peculiar thing you've found in the desert?
A: Given what becoming known did to the poor Booth, maybe I should skip this question? (But maybe the Door in the Floor!) (I can say no more.)
Q: What was the best thing left at the booth by visitors?
A: What springs to mind is something left after the Booth was destroyed: someone made a colorful, tiled, full-size headstone for the Booth. (It was confiscated, almost certainly by the NPS, who also came out to break up and cart away even the concrete pad on which the Booth had stood, in an effort to discourage people who were coming out to visit it. You know what they say about tax dollars.)
Q: Can you tell us a little about the Mojave Phone Book?
A: Indeed, sir (and thank you!)--although it seems almost impossible at the moment, my book Adventures with the Mojave Phone Booth is scheduled to be available this May.
Q: Is there a corollary weirdo community happening somewhere that you know of?
A: With the exception of maybe Burning Man (or the Internet at large), I might be tempted to say Slab City.
Doc, thanks for your time. I can't wait to read the book.
I was lucky enough to catch a word with Mrs. Vera (David Faulk), who is an amazing San Francisco artist and personality. David and Michael Johnstone (who created the photos above) are the fearless leaders of the Verasphere (pictured below). Here's the Verasphere traipsing down the runway for a show at the DeYoung museum. Each year for Pride, they splash San Francisco with enough color to make a rainbow blush. Read the full interview with Mrs. Vera after the photo.
All photos: Michael Johnstone
Dear Mrs. Vera, I hear you're a fan of the comics. Can you give me a few of your favorites?
It's been a long time since I read EVERYTHING...the completist/collector(former) in me misses that era of possible comprehensiveness, a ship that has long since sailed. I always was drawn to writers who could build long story lines and develop sub plots, and growing up for me that was Steve Englehart, who could really hit the head on stories that were pure fantasy but socially relevant and just soapy enough that they seemed ABOUT to become adult (gosh JUST LIKE ME!). At 13 that was Avengers, Dr. Strange, he took a whack at most of Marvel's and a bunch of DC's titles. I could not get enough, for years, but now relentless continuity just exhausts me, and I can't afford it anyway. But I still love the mythic qualities of superheroes and power struggles. Mrs. Vera is all about the fighting of crime and the leaping over of tall things, mostly grass, but still...
There are SO MANY great books out today, I'm astounded, having waded through decades of material half-heartedly in search of something to get excited by. I think the medium, it's writers in particular, have really come into unassailable artistic legitimacy, elevating the field higher than I'd imagined possible, and the art has evolved so much since my early days. It is all so much more sophisticated. I'm very writer-driven at this point still. I think Jonathan Hickman does amazing, and varied work really utilizing the medium. East of West, Manhattan Projects. His Fantastic Four was delightful, and his Avengers work is fascinatingly worked-out and intricate. Saga is amazing, and funny as hell. I like to use humor in my work, and I like it in the work of others as well. I thought Young Avengers was a hoot, and The Wicked and Divine is especially fun, because I'm a million years old now and the dialog is so, well, satisfyingly hip and young and clever. Joss Whedon's writing for same reason. Velvet and Lazarus and Hawkeye are like perfect screenplays. I've loved everything the Luna Brothers have done (Alex and Ada, Girls(so messed up!), The Sword. The list is HUGE, it's a renaissance really. Morning Glories, Silver Surfer (Michael Allred is such a stylish blend of down-to-earth and out-of-this-world), She hulk is a hoot, Rachel Rising a disturbing hoot. Grant Morrison always delivers. Darwyn Cooke too. Astro City. I like sprawling but contained universes. I could go on and on, so instead I'll mention two things I used to love, but found I eventually couldn't look at one more panel of! I LIVED for Cerebus, for years, but came to hate the book for reasons I still can't formulate to my satisfaction. It was like a descent into poor mental health that I just stood by and watched (yikes!). I also cannot read another X-men story. PLEASE don't ask me too. It's like watching ghosts playing tiddly-winks for ghost grapes. I'd buy THAT, of course. Zot was a masterpiece too. Wuv me some Wuvable Oaf. Oh lordy, the beat goes on....bottom line, comics have never been smarter.
What's your new studio like, and what can you do there that you couldn't do before?
San Francisco, I still love it and feel REALLY lucky to be here, but it's been rough making it work the past few years. I lost my Studio space- full of paintings- and had to move ALL of my Mrs. Vera kibble and kaboodle out of my apartment, and then lost my apartment. Visual Aid closed, the closest thing I'll probably ever get to gallery-esque representation, a huge loss to myself, and more importantly, the city. Anyway, It's all in a shipping container one can drive right up to now, but it has been three years of down-down-down-down-down-down-sizing and, well, depressing unproductivity. But I found a great place, and my apartment shares a wall with my partner-in-crime Michael's flat, in an amazing building in Hayes Valley. It's like a very poorly written sit com, and I have a feeling our dogs will get a spin-off series if anyone happened to tune in. Michael and I have been together 22 years, collaborating on the photos and costume shenanigans, but never actually lived in the same building until now. It's all TOO perfect, and I'm happier than I've been in years. I hasten to point out that this is NOT the San Francisco 2013-2015 Real Estate experience of ANYONE else I know, and I have a positive dread of being some poster child rainbow story of the moment because of my uncommon good fortune. At the moment I need to archive, I need to paint again, Mrs. Vera needs new outfits, I need to get GOING again. All of which can be achieved in my new space!
I think of Mrs. Vera as a summertime creature. What is wintertime like for Mrs. Vera?
I came to THIS planet to escape the summer of my home planet, which is 80,000 years long, but it looks like your beautiful Ice Age is Kaput. I only look like a 'Summer' because of the horrible accident I had as a child in the spray-tan factory, and also maybe because I lack the ability to sweat, and bees love me, and one of my feet is shaped just like a cinderblock-sized Ice Cream Sandwich. Go ahead, try and guess which foot! I'll never tell, a Lady needs her secrets after all.The best thing about winter, since you ask, is that you can make jello molds outdoors without running up your electric bill, and you can also pretend it's going to rain, probably, and people around here don't look at you as if your crazy. Okay, now I'm just projecting. Most people avoid making any kind of eye contact with me at all, during the winter, but that's just because they are jealous of my AMAZING silver diaper! Want me to make you one for the Pride Parade this year?
And Thanks, ever so much, for noticing I'm alive! It confirms my Doctor's theory that I am, so that's ONE less thing for me to worry about. I'm crossing it OFF the list!
Thank you thank you thank you for a lively lovely interview Mrs. Vera!
Friendlies: I'm attempting a little experiment over here. We (the royal we) have created a monthly inbox zine called Wertzeen. If you sign up, it will arrive, like a magic mist, in your email inbox. Once a month, and no more than once a month. It is a zine without the paper: a zeen. We’ll keep you informed not just of our illustrative scribblings and meanderings but also of the happenings of the Bay Area creative community. It will be good fun, and it means you no harm. It is free and easy. If this interests you, click on over to this page.
I'm posting issue #001 tomorrow, and I can't wait.