Literary Arts Masterminds: Tim Lane
Tim Lane isn't anyone, he's everyone. That's not an insult. The transplanted Minnesotan, who moved to St. Louis four years ago, is a graphic novelist, an instructor at Washington University and a regular contributor to Riverfront Times. And as the unveiling of his new collection, Abandoned Cars, ahem, illustrates, tapping into the lives of paranoids, wizened racists and motorcycle-riding romantics is his way of uncovering the extraordinary in the (relatively) ordinary.

If pathos comes in colors, Lane's black-and-white depictions are the gold standard. The deep pool of black hollowed out in the eyes of a waitress or barfly — that is loneliness. The fuming cigar whose plume of white smoke resembles gun smoke a few panels later — that is foreshadowing.

The writing's not too shabby, either. Lane, whose sources of visual inspiration range from Francisco Goya, the painter some consider "the father of modern art," to Howard Gossage, who revolutionized the advertising business by fusing it with modern art, cites storytelling influences such as Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver.

Magan Wiles
Jennifer Silverberg
Magan Wiles

Lane says he likes Carver because his stories "don't tell you what to feel or think," while Hemingway's In Our Time convinced him vignettes could work as well as stories — something he has demonstrated time and time again during You Are Here's three-year run in RFT. Two other writers, Henry Miller and Louis-Ferdinand Céline, inform the column's tone.

"The way they wrote is very lyrical and beautiful, very conversational as well," Lane says. At least as important, he adds, is that Miller and Céline managed to break convention without forgetting that "they too were just bums. The writing style is very vulnerable. I have tried to emulate that to the best of my abilities."

This artist, whose sartorial signatures include a shaved head and aviator sunglasses, is as modest about his work as he is intensely committed to it.

"I'm only a small piece of a huge story that's too big for me to comprehend," a largely autobiographical character says in Abandoned Cars. "And one of my character flaws is seeking meaning in experiences that may not have any." It's a rare dose of introspection you won't find many artists engaging in. You don't have to pan thick prose for literary gold here — epiphanies surface in minimalist nuggets.

Eric Reynolds, an editor and publicist at Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books, which published Abandoned Cars, sees Lane's work evoking a noir appeal that carries with it a Midwestern vibe, though "you don't get a lot of specific geographic locations from it." John Hendrix, Lane's colleague at Washington University, says Lane's strength lies in the clarity of his work: a two-dimensional formal approach, and a dichotomous palette of black and white that make his images more akin to film than to classic illustration. "I think Tim's making a real mark on the scene," says Hendrix, who published Lane's work in the New York Times during a stint as art director of the paper's op-ed page. Hendrix adds that Lane and others who stand out on the local landscape of underground comic illustrators — Chris Samnee, Dan Zettwoch, Kevin Huizenga, Sacha Mardou, Ted May — might do for St. Louis "what grunge did for Seattle."

In the meantime, Lane says he will be working steadily to finish the next two graphic novels in an anticipated trilogy. A self-acknowledged night owl who's as comfortable talking Picasso in 20th-century Paris as he is throwing back pints of Schlafly, Lane says moving to St. Louis from New York City was a financially pragmatic decision. When he isn't teaching at Washington University, Lane logs hours at the Soulard Fine Arts Building in his favorite neighborhood. His commercial clients include Rolling Stone, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

"The side of art that has to do with money and is based on financial worth is not a game I want to play," says the artist, whose Eden would include trains rumbling past overhead and live blues shows.

Of course, romanticizing a lifestyle that requires juggling numerous jobs and working every day of the week is dangerous. Lane says the "unsophisticated advice" he doles out to students who attend his classes and wayward souls who contact him via e-mail goes something like: "Get a portfolio together, start pounding the pavement, bring an umbrella because it might rain."

As deadpan as it sounds, a metaphor probably lurks in there somewhere.
—Matt Kasper


Performing Arts Mastermind: Magan Wiles
Theater can be an amazing tool for social justice."

St. Louis actress Magan Wiles believes that theater can have an impact on everyday life. After growing up in small towns throughout Ohio, Wiles came to school at Saint Louis University — she calls it "one of the best-kept secrets in the Midwest" — and so far her St. Louis theater credentials run the gamut from SLU theater, where professor Gary Wayne Barker described her portrayal of Catherine in Standing on My Knees as "one of the finest performances by an undergraduate actor that I have ever seen," to her upcoming title role in Evie's Waltz at the Rep.

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