This Monday, after Small Press Expo, I spent the better part of a day at the National Gallery of Art on the Washington Mall. The National Gallery has the marble bust that Jean-Antoine Houdon carved of “Count” Cagliostro when the latter was a popular figure in France, in 1786 (see first image, above). Most well-known portraits of Cagliostro (including the engravings that were sold all over Europe during this period) were based on this bust, which shows Cagliostro, his collar untied, turning his eyes heavenward.

I felt I would be remiss if I did not make a close study of this portrait, as — it being a sculpture — it portrayed him from the rear as well as the front. In my graphic novel Spirits and Seekers: Cagliostro in Courland, I will have plenty of scenes in which I show him in 3/4 rear view, showing from the front (in midground) a person reacting to what Cagliostro is telling them.

At the Gallery, I drew 5 sketches of the bust. Alas, I did not think to raise up my phone to take photos of the bust from above, merely fretting about having left my camera behind. The bust is placed on a pedestal where Cagliostro’s head level would be about that of a person 6 feet or over. This is most likely a convention rather than a deliberate distortion, but as the historical Cagliostro was in all likelihood more like 5 foot 6 at most, my heroine, Elisa von der Recke, would be taller than he, looking down at him when they met in 1779. (Her exposé of him would be written in 1787.)

The Houdon bust does make one thing clear: by 1786, Cagliostro’s hairline had receded considerably. De Loutherbourg's caricatures of him (after the two had a falling-out) probably show him with a wig.

Another bit of information that I’m glad I got from the bust was that Cagliostro’s natural hair was quite wavy. It’s very hard to tell this from the widely-available photographs of the bust, as they are from the front or 3/4 views, and with his head tilted up, the side curls dominate. In 1786 he also wore his hair longer than most men of the era — even tied, it went about halfway down his ribcage.

There is a painting of Cagliostro on the French Wikipedia page about him that does not look very much like Houdon’s bust: he is shown with an underbite not evident from Houdon. Noplace on the Web can I find any credits for this painting that list the artist or date; I am tempted to chalk this up to people on the Web passing information around without attribution. If anyone can help me nail down the true source of this portrait, I would be very grateful.

I’ll be at Table G11A at Small Press Expo this weekend, Saturday (11 AM - 7 PM) and Sunday (Noon - 6 PM). We’re at the Bethesda North Marriott again, 5701 Marinelli Road, Bethesda, half a block from Rockville Pike and the White Flint Metro Station.

Another colored pencil drawing done from memory during Boston Comic Con this past weekend. This one is of Elisa von der Recke, Cagliostro’s disillusioned protégée. This, too, will have to be redone with the original Darbes portrait (1784) in front of me. Dress wrong, background wrong, hairstyle wrong, head too big.


BCR held its last regular meeting at the dear old Democracy Center last night, after six years.  We shared our favorite memories of the place, there was laughter, tears, loud noises from the improv group in the next room… and we did a jam comic!    Everyone should always support the Democracy Center, a bastion of ramshackle progressive independence in the now all-too-corporate Harvard Square.  But for BCR… on to the Cambridge Public Library!

And I was there. Farewell old venue.

(Reblogged from bostoncomicsroundtable)



I thought you had to “make it” to start feeling imposter syndrome. It turns out that all it took was making enough money off art 4-5 months in a row to officially call it a part time job. Now I’m sitting here with deadlines falling apart, because I’ve failed for so long up until now, and am terrified of doing well. Really hoping that this will help.

Reblogging this from last night

Heck, I’ve felt impostor syndrome every time I even took a little step. Doesn’t happen so often now, but this is the story of my whole twenties.

(Reblogged from bmprager)

At Boston Comic Con this past weekend, I drew Cagliostro from memory based on the Houdon bust. Now I have to try again looking at a photo of the bust. The bust, by the way, is in the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

Last week I spent three days in New York City, first at the Frick Collection and then (most of that time) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was sketching and photographing reference material that I thought would be useful for my graphic novel Spirits & Seekers: Cagliostro in Courland, set in the Duchy of Courland (now about half of Latvia) in 1779.

The first three sketches shown here are not from items in the Frick Collection, but in the Frick Art Reference Library around the backside of the house. All three are from a folder reproducing portraits by Josef Friedrich August Darbes, who also painted at least two portraits of Elisa von der Recke (née von Medem). Elisa is a focal character for Spirits & Seekers, as she met Cagliostro and wrote and exposé of him.

Item 1 is from a 1780 portrait of Countess Julie Sievers (Countess Manteuffel). It is unclear how the Manteuffels in this folder (see Item 3) connect with the the Zoege von Manteuffels, or Manteuffel gennant Zoeges, as they were sometimes called; the mother of Elisa’s half-sister (Anna) Dorothea was a Zoege von Manteuffel.

Item 2 is from a 1778 portrait of mathematician Leonhard Euler, who was living in Saint Petersburg, Russia, at the time. He was not connected to Cagliostro or the von Medem family, nor was he in Courland during this period to my knowledge. I sketched him because he chose to be painted in informal dress — the sort of outfit a gentleman (especially a gentleman of learning) would lounge around his own home or home-office in. Euler wears a fur-trimmed banyan (robe) and a loose turban over his untied hair. Men who wore wigs on formal occasions would wear such a turban over their shaven or close-cropped heads.

Item 3 is from a 1782 portrait of Count Gotthard Johann Manteuffel. All the sketches I did at the Frick, both the Collection and the Library, I drew in graphite pencil as that is all they will let you use there. They don’t even want you to write your own notes with a pen.

Item 4 is a sketch of an excerpt from a painting at the Met. the Met, unlike the Frick, allows colored pencil, or so I was told when I called beforehand; and nobody bothered me about it when I was there. This sketch is from a circa 1776 family portrait by Angelika Kauffmann of Lord Derby with his wife and child; this is his wife, Lady Elizabeth Hamilton (Lady Derby). I chose to sketch her because of the feather headdress, as I may have at least some of my characters wearing such gewgaws.

The other sketches I do not include here, as they are of decorative and useful objects — furniture and the like — from the period in question.


A preview of E.J. Barnes and Jay Kennedy’s subcultures comic ‘HAMS’!

Here’s the first page (of 6) of Jay Kennedy’s and my story “Hams”, that will be appearing in Ninth Art Press's Subcultures upcoming anthology.

(Reblogged from ninthartpress)