Spirit Photographs

January 17th, 2010

Man surrounded by signs of spirit presence

One of my favorite ridiculous phenomena of the Victorian Era:  the spirit photograph. You could pay money to be photographed and have the supernatural forces around you revealed on a silver plate, be it ectoplasm or be it a mournful feminine face lost a diaphanous swath of otherworldly chiffon.

Couple with a young female spirit

To the contemporary eye, they’re hilariously, magnificently fake; half-baked tricks of photographic exposure.  To me, they’re the perfect combination of anthropology and art, like old sci-fi movies set in a now outdated future.  They’re trying to envision something separate from their time and place – death, the year 1995 – but, hampered by their own chintziness, never achieve the escape velocity that real works of speculation or awe do.  We are looking at the lowest common denominator for how Victorian-era people (those who could afford a photograph, anyway) conceived of the afterlife.

Their origins are very cynical, these photos, but their falseness has now become quaint and pathetic.  Most of these photographers knew that they were scamming customers, but I wonder how many of them were lulled into thought that they were doing a pretty good job at interpreting an actual spirit world. Just helping it along, as it were.

For, example, of this photograph, the National Media Museum makes this note:


“The image of a young man’s face appears prominently over the man, draped in a cloak. The signature at the base of the image belongs to the sitter. The man had links with the person who compiled the spirit album, and he gave the photograph to her as a keepsake. He apparently recognized the young man’s face.”

Did any of these photographers avoid either the pure cynicism of a scammer or the self-delusion of being the spirit world’s darkroom assistant, and instead settle on the middle notion that they were simply giving people comfort?

Mourning scene

“A photograph of a mourning scene, probably taken by William Hope (1863-1933) in about 1920. A woman mourns for her husband in a Chapel of Rest, standing by his body which is wrapped in sheets and laden with flowers. The woman’s son stands beside her. The image of a man’s face has been superimposed over the original photograph. The spirit album notes that the family were Roman Catholics and believed in life after death.”

It does make me think about where we we might ourselves, here in this smug moment of the present, be sitting (unbeknown to us) on a little velvet chair, waiting for the nice man to take the exposure and show us another world – above, below, ahead.  And about how the effects of sorrow are the same in any time and any place.

Man with the spirit of his deceased second wife

Monday Morning Poem: Annie Stayed.

November 9th, 2009

My maternal grandfather died a couple of years ago.

We were very fond of each other – he took me to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (a full day and a half drive) from 7th grade through my high school graduation, a gift of immeasurable impact.  He was a bright, curious, caring, and endlessly enthusiastic man. He reacted with genuine joy whenever his didactic little granddaughter held forth on erudite topics.  I still remember his delight upon hearing me tear apart the production of Romeo and Juliet that was one of the first productions we saw together at OSF.

I didn’t ask for anything of his after he passed away; my mother knowingly brought me a few things that meant a lot, but all in all my memories were the most vivid token of our relationship.  Recently, however, his last wife sent my mother a number of his old files.  Including one entire manila folder full of every letter and picture and document I had ever sent him, or that my parents had sent him relating to me.

So I’ve rediscovered verything from short stories I wrote in second grade to novellas I wrote in middle school to graduation notices and e-mails and silly cards.  I haven’t quite had the strength to go through all of it yet, but one thing I did find:  the poem below.  I remember this odd, apocalyptic little poem quite well but had no record of it myself, so knowing that he had it all along is very touching.

And, now that he’s gone, the poem – being as its topic is a girl with a fondness for the departed – takes on a sweet poignance.

Anyway. Here it is.
Laundry day

Annie stayed.

Annie McSalva stood that day
but no one was there to enjoy her stay
only the ghosts had not gone away

Annie remained for the ghosts.

Annie McSalva walked down the streets
her feet tapping sidewalk to various beats
She looked in the theatres, all empty seats

Annie played Hamlet for ghosts.

Annie McSalva read all the books
out loud, in the library, and none gave sharp looks
the ghosts listened well in their crannies and nooks

Annie read on for the ghosts.

Annie McSalva swam in the pond
that led to the gutters and sewers beyond
but nobody stayed to drink that which was fond

to Annie, who swam with the ghosts.

Annie McSalva lay in the sun
and thought that the world had only begun
but the ghosts whispered back that it almost was done

Annie survived with the ghosts.

photo by Nocturnal Bob

Wednesday Fan Art

November 3rd, 2009

Another week, another drawing of somebody else’s character!  Continuing with the unintentional theme of “naked green ladies”, this week it’s Angora from The Meek, by Der-shing Helmer.

Sadly I drew this sucker on Bristol, and had to use my four remaining Colerase pencils – or else I would’ve watercolored again.

The Meek.

I’ve been gawking at The Meek since shortly after it started up, so it was a pleasant surprise to turn up at APE and see actual print copies of the first chunk!

The Meek is one of the few comics that manages to be densely, lushly illustrated… and lively.  Too often an artist will lavish all their time on the coloring or the stylish character design…and forget to inject life through gesture and interaction or, you know, writing.  The result is eye candy that I get bored with about ten pages in.

But Der-shing has been knocking it out of the park for several dozen pages now.  I can’t wait to see where she’s going and how these delightful, elastic characters are going to smack into each other.

Also?  I adore how she draws Angora’s boobs.

Family Man update!

October 28th, 2009


Pages 159 & 160 now online.

This concludes Chapter Two of Family Man – and therefore Volume One.  Starting today I get to research potential costs for a print edition.  I’ll be shopping it to publishers as well, but since this is, after all, Volume One and therefore presents a bit of a risk, I’m anticipating the need to self-publish it until I have the structure for Volume Two mapped out in a format understandable by other human beings.

I’m expecting that Volume One will be pricey to print; the comic loses legibility when printed in fewer than four colors (even though it LOOKS like the only color is sepia-green).  So stay tuned for a possible pre-order fundraising drive.  If you’ve had a great experience getting a color project printed, please refer me to your print vendor!


…I’ll be taking three weeks off of updating the comic to get a head start on the next chapter.  In the meantime I’ll be updating with drawings, a podcast, and other extras.  When I come back, Family Man will move onto a single, cohesive self-hosted website.

The comic itself, blog updates, notes, gallery images, cast page…all brand-new and all at Lutherlevy.com.  The site will have a complete (and extremely sexy) Comicpress overhaul courtesy my slightly unhinged design skills and the eternal patience of Comicpress guru Tyler Martin.

No ads!  No subscription fees!  Still free as always, just lots prettier and in one place.

I’d like to thank Joey Manley and the other folks who’ve pitched in at Webcomics Nation for providing a really great service.  WCN has saved me a lot of hair-tearing in the past few years.  If setting up your own webspace and installing Wordpress and Comicpress and customizing your theme and all that just feels utterly daunting to you, I totally recommend wandering over to WCN and checking out their features.

And now, back to the drawing board!

Family Man update

October 6th, 2009


Page 156 of Family Man now online!

Ariana’s mysterious doings continue in their mysteriousness.  Let me tell you, the research I did for panel four was one of the more stomach-addling things I’ve researched yet for this comic.  There will be others!

Appearances:  unless this incipient cold takes me down, I’ll be at the Wordstock Festival here in Portland this weekend with Erika Moen.  I won’t have books to sell (I’m reserving my stock for APE, so that California folks get a shot at the last of the first edition), but I’ll have prints and minis and buttons and stickers, and if you order the book from me I’ll send it to you with free shipping as well as a limited edition  print.

Then I’ll be at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco on October 17-18, gossiping about dead people with fellow history cartoonist Kate Beaton at Table 440.

I’ll see y’all there!


September 30th, 2009

This past weekend I was at the Small Press Expo (SPX) in Maryland, frolicking with my fellow cartoonists and other assorted comics industry folk and their associated people.

It was a dang good time, which I needed very sorely since it has been, shall we say, a challenging six months.  I sold out of books on the afternoon of the first day – and in fact I only have 30-some books left in this printing.

So it’s back at the printers for another round, and I’m keeping those 30 in reserve for APE, where I will be splittin’ my table with Ms. Kate Beaton (history nerds unite).  If you order a book online before Halloween – which is when I’ll start shipping the second printing – I will throw in a snazzy extra Bite Me! print that I am devising this week.

Anyway.  Next week will see a new page of Family Man, but in the meantime, here is my brief and fragmentary convention report for SPX, in cartoon form, drawn 30,000 feet in the air on only three hours of sleep and a cup of airplane tea.  DOES IT SHOW.


Seriously, the Miss Teen Maryland USA pageant orientation, right next door.  Hundreds of long-limbed, insectile lasses with no visible pores and heels higher than the Empire State Building.  The contrast between the pageant girls and the females of SPX was enough to suggest that the human species is actually sexual trimorphic.


I am sure that Kate appreciated my help a whole lot, especially that bit where I frightened all her customers.  Seriously though, she is a classy lady.  Once or twice she was convinced that she had been horrible to somebody when really she had said “thank you” in a gentle voice and then politely excused herself to attend a panel.

We’ll be shackin’ up together at APE, so be sure to come witness the amazing power of the Goofus and Gallant history show. (hint: I am Goofus)


Apparently next door at the beauty pageant they were introducing themselves under hot lights, and the AC had to be cranked up to guarantee that no make-up would run or sweat stains would appear.  The result was several thousand shivering nerds.  I myself resorted to wrapping a pashmina around my head to save my frontal lobe from icing over completely.


The party outside of the Ignatz awards was very enjoyable.  Towards the end of a very strong hotel martini I wound up spending some quality time with Jim Ottaviani.  A few years ago, Jim O saved me from the purgatory of temping at the local hospital by having me draw Wire Mothers for him.

I rewarded him by failing to realize that 9 by 12 inches is not the same proportion as 6 by 9 inches, but luckily he is a forgiving guy.  The conversation then segued into a discussion about how much we like secular humanism.

Pastries:  the Comics Bakery table was overflowing with delicious homemade treats, and still further veggie pastries were fetched from the pastry shop a few blocks from the convention.  Also I stayed at Carla Speed McNeil’s house, and her fabulous husband Mike kept doing things like making biscuits, chocolate cookies (”to go with the sorbet I made”), scones, etc.   The result was that I probably took in a whole stick of butter over the course of the weekend.


Before she took me to the Metro to catch my flight, Carla left me unattended in her studio.  The result is that I now know more about her upcoming projects (Finder and otherwise!) than any of you sorry fools, and she has some inexplicable stains on her penciled pages.  Also I got to see her Eisner award.  You could use it to kill a man no problem.

And that is all I had the energy to draw on the flight home.  It was a really great time – I will be back again next year if it’s up to me.  Thanks to everybody who stopped by or who shared my company over the weekend.  I’ll see some of you in San Francisco in a few weeks!  (with the last copies of the first edition…)

The opera, she is universal

September 8th, 2009

Hi all!  As I mentioned last week, I’m taking this week off of updating the comic to celebrate my birthday on the 9th, and to spend this past Labor Day weekend visiting my family. And also to catch up on store orders, and all that paying work that I had to postpone due to an exciting bout of Mystery Food Poisoning-esque Illness.  (good news, though: ginger beer and saltines are just as delicious as I remember them being.)

But, as promised, I’ve uploaded a new batch of notes for page 14o-150!  What do microbats, Immanuel Kant, and Catherine the Great’s choice of saddles all have in common?  They are totally tangentially related to Family Man!  As is everything I potentially find interesting.

In other things that you should be reading, I recently received a copy of Volume One of Skin Horse, the wonderful comic by Shaenon Garrity and Jeffrey Wells.  It is beautifully produced and just as delightful as everything I have come to expect from Ms. Garrity and her collaborators.

I mean, god, the storyline with the silverfish alone is worth its weight in gold.  I mean, where else will you find a single panel like this, in which a silverfish explains their finest silverfish opera:


The entire damn storyline maintains this grade of lunacy, and I don’t think I have ever seen ten more expressive lines than what Shaenon does with those freaking silverfish.

So, seriously, shoo.  Go buy.

A Londres, ad Londinium, to London

August 25th, 2009

I find myself once again on terra firma (by which I mean terra Pacific Northwest coast of the United States of America), and after a few days of wrestling with free-floating nausea and the sudden desire to take naps, I am mostly over that nasty jetlag business.  Did you know that the technical term for jetlag is “Desynchronosis”?  The science-fiction beauty of the word almost makes up for feeling like the human embodiment of a stagnant pond.

But before all that, London was spectacular.  I had been there just last summer and had a wonderful, leisurely time, but it was a sort of  I wandered lonely as a cloud approach.

Whereas this year Katie and I together staged something more closely approximating The Charge of the Light Brigade. In six-ish days we managed to ruthlessly hammer down at least six months of Londoning.  We stayed with my grandmother at her temporary flat just a few minutes’ walk from Kew Gardens; so going into the central city was a commitment, and one that we lived the hell up to.

My favorite highlights include:

- running into the entire Chinese Communist Party at Marx’s grave monument; a herd of perhaps thirty middle-aged Chinesemen wearing neutral-colored golf-shirts and khakis (and one guy in a Beijing Opera t-shirt; doubtless he is the class clown).  They all clustered around the Giant Marx Head and chatted sternly, took stern photos of each other, and were generally stern until they left the graveyard, crossed the street, and immediately lit up 30+ cigarettes before sternly walking down the hill.

- observing the awestruck wonder of the crowd by the National Gallery at the sight of a bagpiper wailing away on top of the Fourth Plinth in the One & Another public art project.  I cannot describe the bravery of this man, willing to dress entirely in black and red wool in the beating sun on top of a plinth high enough to give the more prurient tourists hope of resolving the “do they wear underpants under those kilts or not” issue.

- meandering tipsily around Southwark-area pubs with Fiona and Tim, Mitchy, Janet, and Jane, laughing about the hilarious accusations leveled at the UK’s National Health Service by pin-headed American lawmakers, talking about what all of our grandfathers had done during the War, and pestering me for a print edition of Family Man (yes, I promise, geez, yikes).  It was really wonderful to meet people once again, and see some new faces too!  I feel tremendously lucky to have instant friends in such wonderful and far-flung locations.

- chattering with my favorite completely bonkers antiquarian print seller (the prints, not the seller), Tracey A. Brett, one of the many book and print dealers on Cecil Court.  We managed to get away with only eight or nine prints, and the traditional recital of Tracey’s life story (”MY FATHER DIED AND LEFT ME THIS SHOP…I HAVE A PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY FOR EVERYTHING HERE…”&c).

Never again will Katie doubt the accuracy of my impersonation of a delightfully batty shopkeeper, or my descriptions of her massive stock of wonderful illustrations at unsettlingly low prices, or the dangers of attempting to actually move within the shop (”I REFUSE TO CHANGE MY FATHER’S PRICES…DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING, THAT SHELF WILL FALL DOWN ON YOU…”).

- taking a sunset walk around Little Venice – certainly the least London-y feeling place in town, a strange little gypsy fragment of continental Europe plopped down between an upper-end residential neighborhood and a faceless business district.  A few blocks out of the Tube and we found ourselves in the rosy, sunset-lit canal full of eccentrically-painted and named river boats, little floating caravans with herb gardens bobbing along on top.  Immigrant families stretched out in canvas chairs in the little emerald-toned park, and machine-tanned ladies in impractical little dresses left their lip-gloss on crystal glasses in taverns along the water.  We found the quietest and hippest little pub in the area and nattered together about narrative and identity until the sky went cobalt and we ribboned our way Kew-wards once again.

- stopping by the V&A (my museum girlfriend); after wandering around the Cast Courts, which contain the full scale cast of the Trajan bloody Column, we split ranks so that Katie could go look at interesting things and I could take more moody black and white photography of statuary.


Then we met up again and determined that we had both fallen in love with the completely bad-ass special exhibition, Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design.  Plushies of nuclear mushroom clouds?  Tiny slippers made out of taxidermied moles?  A rowboat bathtub?  An enormous radiator shaped like a Victorian ornamental flourish?  All this and hilariously creepy atmospheric sound effects?  Yes please!

- squeezing into the French House, the Soho pub where Charles Degaulle met with the London wing of the French Resistance and where my namesake, the poet Dylan Thomas, did his best to drunkenly forget the only existing copy of Under Milk Wood on the bar.  We burrowed our way in through the end-of-work-day crowd and found ourselves in a tiny wood-paneled pub full of old music hall publicity photos.  They only sell half-pints, so we sipped from our little fairy glasses and were served with immense cheerfulness by a crew of four young hipster barkeeps, who somehow managed to all squeeze into a bar area about the size of the average tissue box.

Then we wandered over to an Italian restaurant, Piccolo Diavolo, chosen completely at random – nearly being stampeded as we entered by a cloud of mysterious foreigners who had just finished off a rowdy limoncello toast – and had the best meal of our whole trip there, trilled over by various theatrical Italian waiters.

- we also managed to make it to three excellent plays, thanks to my marvelous grandmother’s ability to scheme, connive, charm, and camp her way into the hearts of London’s ticket booth staff.  The best two were a really crisp and lovely staging of Arcadia, a Stoppard play I adored in high school, and the puppetry marvels of War Horse.


And, rather remarkable considering that I’ve seen only half a dozen plays in the UK – I recognized one of the cast members from the cast of Hay Fever at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, a production I saw entirely on a whim last year.

If you’re in London and can see yourself to some tickets, both were really stunning (and often diametrically opposed) works of stagecraft.

- and, silly though this might seem to those of you resident in the UK:  we saw a fox. I’ve never seen a wild one before; only a few fennec foxes in Seattle’s excellent zoo.  They’re largely an element of folk tales, children’s entertainment, and decorative design (and, I suppose, the furry community…) for Yanks in my area.  So to see a long, lean, rusty specimen go loping across the road in Kew for a round of mouse-hunting in the cemetery was a lovely and very English moment.

Beatrix Potter

Then we saw a taxidermied one with golden maggots coming out of its ears at the V&A making a statement about mortality.  So really, foxes all over.

When I tell you that I’m leaving out two thirds of the things we managed to squeeze in, you might understand exactly how packed a week it was.  It’s a marvel I have any legs, brains, or money left.  It was really a stunning time for the both of us; I think I probably owe my grandmother a pony now.

My next journey will be to the decidedly less romantic area of Bethesda, Maryland, for the Small Press Expo (SPX) in late September.  Then San Francisco in October for the Alternative Press Expo (APE).  I can’t really stand to think about ever being in an airplane again, but I’m sure that

Family Man update!

August 18th, 2009

Page 151 preview

Page 151 of Family Man now online!

From afar, with the help of the scheduled update function, I give to you this week’s page.  Barring major airline tragedy, I’m in London at the moment, and studiously trying to ignore the internet while I run around sticking my Yank nose into every corner of the city.

But I managed to hammer this page out before taking off.  Last week, bats!  This week, thorns!  Future graduate student writing their thesis on potential elements of symbolism in my oeuvre:  you’re welcome.

I will note that Spinoza’s name has the Portuguese word for “thorn” at its root, and a thorny rose (along with the Latin word for “Caution”) appeared in his seal.

Those are blackberries, though.  Future graduate student:  accept my apologies.

All the wonders of capitalism in the store!

Late update, new store

July 8th, 2009

This week’s page of Family Man will go up on Friday!  Paying work intervenes.  But, in the meantime, I have a new store online!

Now you can purchase glorious chicken stickers, or custom-order prints of Family Man pages, and I can actually have a back-end order and fulfillment system which means no marking up spreadsheets with highlighters and crying myself to sleep at night because your order is inexcusably late and probably you hate me now*!

Everybody wins.

(*If you are Abigail Ravn or Caitlin Starling, send me a line – your orders didn’t make it through the mail.)

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