Comics folk are often more than a little socially maladjusted and self-effacing. Lots of childhood alone time and years spent doodling in the back of the class will do that to a person. Art-gallery regulars, on the other hand, are accustomed to considering even the most toddler-esqe prints with chin-rubbing seriousness, asking the invariably serious artist what his or her work "means." For the latter, smiling at Sarah Oleksyk and Matt Davis' prints of a three-headed Cerberus pug or a valiant unicorn in Under the Donut Tree is just too much to ask. At City Hall on First Thursday, the comic-book and art-snob worlds collided. Throw in some of Portland's chronic hand-shakers (I saw more than one high-profile local politician looking for recognition among the hoodie-clad comic-book 20-somethings) and this month's show should have been an awkward disaster. Luckily, with plenty of casual onlookers and actual comics fans in attendance, disaster was avoided.
Each month, the city commissioners host an art show in their offices specifically targeted at a different community, a tradition started in January 2006 by Sam Adams' office. February's show zoomed in on African-American artwork, while March focused on survivors of genocide. This month tackled Portland's illustrators and comics creators, and organizers did an admirable job in pulling together a wide spectrum of talent, from Decemberists illustrator Carson Ellis to former WW contributor Ryan Alexander Tanner.
A few excited kids broke the dull hum of art-'n'-politics chatter by giggling at the cleanly inked primate protagonists of pages from Colleen Coover's Banana Sunday and Guy Burwell's 20 painted ceramic tiles of topless, redheaded men with various physical peculiarities, titled Naked Pictures of Your Ex-Boyfriends. The kids' reaction, smiling and laughing, was appropriate. Adults don't always get that.
Kids were also responsible for providing the music. The Vibrations, three curly-haired brothers who rocked both covers—they did the Decemberists' "O Valencia" and, after some initial heckling, back-to-back Pink Floyd covers—and originals, pulled off both adorably and with real rock chops in the echoing marble hall between the offices.
I recognized artist Steve Laffler perusing the gallery walls, and he told me about his contribution: two inked pages from an upcoming noir-ish superhero comic (in one page, Laffler's faux superhero takes a date to a fancy restaurant and is forced to wear a house suit-jacket over his spandex). "It's not really a superhero story," Laffler says. "It's about a guy who likes to wear the suit and go clubbing and stuff." He continued on his way, smiling at the gratuitously bulbous characters in Carolyn Main's wood-mounted comics pages. Laffler probably isn't really an art-gallery guy, I thought to myself, but he likes to put on the costume now and again.