“Predictable” is a word that, sadly, often applies to the contents of modern newspaper comics pages (what remains of them). In February of 2004 readers of the San Francisco Chronicle suddenly found themselves confronted with a new feature on the comics page, “All Over Coffee” by Paul Madonna, that set that notion nicely askew.
As an East Coast resident, I don’t get the Chronicle, but I can imagine that, for some, the feature was a source of confusion, despite the paper’s introductory article; but for others the reaction must have similar to the one I had when I first encountered All Over Coffee on the web: “Wow. What is this?”
The feature consists of a drawing, usually a beautiful pen and wash drawing of buildings, streets, rooms or architectural elements in San Francisco (and sometimes Paris, Amsterdam and elsewhere) accompanied by a short bit of writing, a few lines to a few paragraphs.
The writing consists of seemingly random musings, comments, suggestions, observations and generally enigmatic phrases written into and juxtaposed against the subtle beauty of the wash drawings. The “strip” ostensibly revolves around two unseen characters, Maurice and Sarah, whose abstracted thoughts and conversations form the text.
The drawings themselves are sometimes as wonderfully quirky and thought provoking as the writing, bits of seemingly incongruent architecture, flashes of streets, textural patterns of rooftops, storefronts, house sides, museum interiors, apartment lobbies, alleyways, cornices, telephone wires and TV antennas, often wrapped in geometric shadows and rendered with an intense affection and attention to detail.
Is it art? Sure. Is it literature? Yeah, that too. Is it poetry? Sometimes. Is it comics? Well, no (in that it’s not sequential storytelling as far as I can discern). Is it fascinating and rewarding? Almost always.
Madonna’s wash drawings are simply wonderful; his sensitive linework, sure draftsmanship, masterful applications of wash and keen eye for light and shadow produce images that are uncannily evocative of place, even for those of us who have never been to San Francisco.
Even though I have been to Paris, I don’t find those images any more or less resonant than the ones of San Francisco; the “place” he evokes isn’t as much a geographical location as the immediacy of one’s own surroundings, the sense of noticing the scene, and the moment, in which you find yourself.
Combined with text that, almost regardless of its actual content, has the common thread of causing you to slow down and contemplate, the final piece produces a poetic suspension of the ordinary; or more accurately, a reframing of the ordinary as extraordinary.
Madonna’s drawing style manages to retain some of the informality of travel sketches (and some of the journalistic immediacy of sketchbooks by Robert Crumb and Chris Ware), even while refined to the point of a finished work. He seems to have found a delicate “just right” spot between the two. He exercises that balance within individual drawings, with passages of intense detail against blank walls and great negative shapes of skies, often criss-crossed with telephone wires, window frames and the edges of architectural forms in a rich and playful compositional geometry.
His website opens in rather newspaper-like columns with news, announcements and links to various features and projects. All Over Coffee has its own section.
There is a book collection of All Over Coffee that is available from Amazon or directly from the publisher, City Lights. As announced on the All Over Coffee main page, a new collection, Everything Is Its Own Reward (the name of which is taken from this panel) is due in April of 2011.
Madonna has also provided illustrations for other books, including A Writer’s San Francisco: A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul by Eric Maisel, and Nikko Concrete Commando by Delfin Vigil (a magazine-like MagCloud publication, click on “Show Preview” on the page).
The bulk of the All Over Coffee images available online are in the Purchase section, in which you can purchase either original art or fine art prints of All Over Coffee pages. You will find some redundancy between the two, but the features are numbered, and I doubt you will object to seeing a given piece more than once.
In his presentation of the images on the site, Madonna gives the date and location of each drawing and a brief comment on the piece and its creation.
All Over Coffee is also, of course, a continuing feature in the San Fancisco Chronicle and its online edition SFGate. You can follow the online version here and access the archives here.
In whatever form, in print on online, take Paul Madonna’s invitation to slow down, look around and maybe contemplate a bit, all over coffee.
[Via Escape into Life]