1970 (age 51–52)
|Area(s)||Cartoonist, Writer, Artist, Inker, Colourist|
Francis D. Longfellow
|The Biologic Show|
"I Was Killing When Killing Wasn't Cool"
"The Blood-Clot Boy"
"The Trumpets They Play!"
Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days
Amnesia: The Lost Films of Francis D. Longfellow
Al Columbia (born 1970) is an American artist known for his horror and black humor-themed alternative comics. His published works include the comic book series The Biologic Show, the graphic novel/art book Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days, and short stories such as "I Was Killing When Killing Wasn't Cool" and "The Trumpets They Play!". He also works in other media including painting, illustration, printmaking, photography, music, and film.
At the age of 18 Columbia was hired to assist Bill Sienkiewicz in illustrating Alan Moore's ambitious Big Numbers series. When Sienkiewicz withdrew from the series in 1990 after the release of the first two issues, Moore and his backers at Tundra Publishing asked Columbia to become its sole artist. In 1992, Columbia left the project after accusations that he had destroyed his own artwork for Big Numbers #4. Columbia declined to address the subject publicly for several years, writing in a 1998 letter to The Comics Journal that "I could easily launch into a tirade about the extensive horror of my Tundra experience, but I much prefer the very entertaining and conflicting accounts already in circulation." In later statements he confirmed that he destroyed his artwork for the series but disputed additional claims by the other principal figures in the fiasco.
In a 2011 article reflecting on his Big Numbers experience, Sienkiewicz wrote that he and Columbia had long since reconciled over the matter, and that he was content to "[c]halk the feud up to the folly of youth."
Columbia's first published works appeared in the horror anthology From Beyonde in 1991, initially under the pseudonym "Lucien" and then under his real name. Tundra sponsored the publication of his first solo comic book, the slight but lavishly produced Doghead, in 1992. In 1993 the British magazine Deadline published his stories "The Biologic Show" and "Tar Frogs: A Pim and Francie Adventure".
In 1994 Fantagraphics Books published Columbia's comic The Biologic Show #0, which contained revised versions of the two Deadline pieces along with new stories in a similar vein. It received reviews and praise from other cartoonists including Mike Allred and Jim Woodring. The Biologic Show #1 followed in 1995, featuring the first part of a never-continued Pim and Francie serial, Peloria; an issue #2 was advertised but never appeared. Also in 1995, "I Was Killing When Killing Wasn't Cool" became the first of a series of two color short stories by Columbia to appear in the Fantagraphics anthology Zero Zero. In these works he adopted a streamlined drawing style evocative of early animated cartoons, particularly the works of Fleischer Studios. In later stories such as "Amnesia" (1997) and "Alfred the Great" (1999) Columbia combined these stylized character drawings with minutely detailed chiaroscuro backgrounds created using mixed media (including watercolor, acrylic paint, ink, and charcoal) and digital tools. "The Trumpets They Play!", a widely lauded work in this style based on the Book of Revelation, appeared in BLAB! #10 in 1998. In addition to his own creations, Columbia did color separations for the publications of other cartoonists including Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library), Archer Prewitt (Sof' Boy and Friends), and Catherine Doherty (Can of Worms).
Although Columbia gave occasional interviews during this period, the small quantity of his published output and the cancellation of several titles and anthology contributions, compounded with lingering questions about the fate of Big Numbers, made him an object of much speculation. "Whatever happened to Al Columbia?" was such a perennial question on The Comics Journal's online message board that it eventually became an in-joke referenced in later press coverage.
Columbia's career was punctuated by several prominent appearances in non-comics media, including set designs for David Cross's 1999 comedy special The Pride is Back, a post-9/11 illustration for the New York Times Letters page, and, in 2003, artwork for The Postal Service's platinum-selling album Give Up. In the comics realm, following a pair of covers for Zero Zero's final issue (#27, August 2000) and a small handful of pieces for other anthologies, his artwork stopped appearing in print for several years after 2002. He contributed solely as a writer to 2003's The Pogostick, a series about a mentally disturbed office worker illustrated by Ethan Persoff. The Pogostick earned a Harvey Award nomination for Best New Series but was left unfinished after two issues. A personal website, alcolumbia.com, appeared the same year with a "Coming Soon" sign but lay dormant for several years. It eventually emerged in 2006 as a Flash-based site hosting a shifting assortment of ephemeral content including artwork, photographs, music, and videos, along with numerous teasers for works that would remain unreleased, unfinished, or possibly nonexistent.
Columbia returned to a degree of public visibility in 2007 with an exhibition of original artwork at Portland, Oregon's Floating World Comics, an interview on Robin McConnell's Inkstuds radio show, and the first of six appearances in the comics quarterly Mome. Between 2008 and 2010 he produced a pair of short-lived comic strips for the Alvin Buenaventura-edited comics pages of the magazines Arthur and The Believer.
In 2009 Fantagraphics released Columbia's most expansive work to date: Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days, a 240-page assemblage of fragmentary comics and illustrations drawn over a period of more than ten years. It received widespread critical acclaim and earned him two Ignatz Award nominations. His Mome short story "5:45 A.M." was also featured in the 2009 edition of The Best American Comics.
Columbia continued to contribute short pieces for publication through the 2010s, mostly to small press anthologies. His original drawings and paintings appeared for sale in online marketplaces, along with limited edition prints issued by various commercial partners. Some of this non-comics work saw publication in the pages of the contemporary art magazine Hi-Fructose and on its website. In 2018 Columbia released Amnesia: The Lost Films of Francis D. Longfellow, a collection of posters for the imaginary cartoons of a fictional Golden Age animation studio.
Alcolumbia.com closed in early 2012 and was replaced the following year by orangesunshinehouse.com, featuring a similar mixture of Flash-based content. In 2017 the site moved to a new domain, orangesunshinemedicine.com, before disappearing in 2019. In July of 2021 Columbia launched an Instagram account featuring his artwork and photographs.
In 2020 Hollow Press published a hardcover collection of The Biologic Show, reproducing both issues of the out-of-print comic along with a pair of related early works, in English and Italian language editions. Paris-based comics publisher Huber Éditions released a French language version of Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days in 2021.
From The Biologic Show onwards Columbia's comics have featured several recurring characters who continue to reappear despite having been killed multiple times.
- Seymour Sunshine: A frequent protagonist in Columbia's early work, Seymour Sunshine is a timid, passive manchild who resembles Koko the Clown. He first appeared in the story "No Tomorrow If I Must Return" in The Biologic Show #0. Other stories featuring the character include "I Was Killing When Killing Wasn't Cool", "Amnesia", and "The Trumpets They Play!".
- Pim and Francie: A pair of impish waifs whose antics get them into horrific trouble, Pim and Francie first appeared in the story "Tar Frogs" and are the protagonists in "Peloria Part One" and Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days. The two have a loosely-defined friend/lover/sibling relationship. According to Columbia they were originally modeled on him and his former girlfriend as cartoon characters before taking on a life of their own.
- Knishkebibble the Monkey-Boy: Described in the story "Amnesia" as a "childish icon for mischievous and filthy pleasures," Knishkebibble was introduced in "Peloria Part One". In later appearances he acted as Seymour Sunshine's sidekick, serving mostly to drag both of them into dangerous situations. He is greedy, conniving, and vulgar, and usually speaks with a hillbilly accent.
Music and film
In the 1990s Columbia was a founding member of the band The Action Suits, whose other members included fellow Fantagraphics cartoonists Peter Bagge and Eric Reynolds. Although he did not play on any of the band's recordings, he created the artwork for their 1997 single "Glazed Donuts". Columbia's own musical recordings with various collaborators have appeared sporadically on his websites and on streaming platforms including YouTube and Vimeo; none have been released commercially. He has also directed short films and music videos, including one in 2009 for the song "These Wounds Never Heal" by the American heavy metal band Unholy.
Columbia's story "5:45 A.M." provided the basis for a scene in director Santiago Menghini's 2014 short film Intruders, which was screened at various North American venues including the Toronto International Film Festival.
Gerard Way, author of The Umbrella Academy and lead singer of the band My Chemical Romance, described his exposure to Columbia's work as "a turning point" in the development of his own sensibility. Other artists and musicians who have cited Columbia as an inspiration include Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, Camille Rose Garcia, Dwid Hellion of Integrity, Frances Bean Cobain, and Esao Andrews.
In a 2009 interview with Juxtapoz magazine's Evan Pricco, illustrator Aaron Horkey asserted that "countless successful artists continue to pillage [Columbia's] back catalog, propping up their half-baked careers on the well-worn spines of second hand copies of Biologic Show."
Solo comics and books
- Doghead (1992, Tundra Publishing)
- 23 Skidoo, minicomic (1994, Wow Cool (Berkeley, CA))
- The Biologic Show #0 (October 1994, Fantagraphics Books)
- The Biologic Show #1 (January 1995, Fantagraphics Books)
- Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days (2009, Fantagraphics Books); also published in a French translation (Huber Éditions (Paris), 2021)
- Amnesia: The Lost Films of Francis D. Longfellow (2018, PO Press/Floating World (Portland, OR))
- The Biologic Show (2020, Hollow Press); a collected edition containing issues #0 and #1 of The Biologic Show, material from 23 Skidoo, and the 1992 short story "Johnny 23", released in English and Italian language versions
Comics with Ethan Persoff
- Writing, The Pogostick #1 (February 2003, Fantagraphics Books); artwork by Ethan Persoff
- Writing, The Pogostick #2 (December 2003, Fantagraphics Books); artwork by Ethan Persoff
- McConnell, Robin (host) (February 7, 2011). "Al Columbia". Inkstuds (podcast). Event occurs at 0:23:01. Archived from the original on May 15, 2021. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
- Kavanagh, Barry (October 17, 2000). "The Alan Moore Interview: Malcolm McLaren and Big Numbers". Blather.net. Archived from the original on January 11, 2010. Retrieved December 18, 2009.
- Eastman, Kevin. Interview by Gary Groth, The Comics Journal #202, March 1998, 38-99.
- Campbell, Eddie. Alec: How to Be an Artist (Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2001), 112-116.
- Columbia, Al. Letter to the editor. "Kevin Eastman Is a Big, Fat, Fucking Liar!", The Comics Journal #205, June 1998, 5.
- Wood, Ashley. "(Seeking for) The True Story Behind Big Numbers's Fall Out". Archived from the original on March 12, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2013.
- Young, Robert. "Zero Sum Masterpiece: The Division of Big Numbers (AKA Searching for Al Columbia)", The Comics Interpreter Vol. 2 #3, 2004, 8-18.
- Pádraig Ó Méalóid (January 2, 2011). "Bill Sienkiewicz speaks about Big Numbers #3". Slovobooks.blogspot.com. Archived from the original on January 6, 2011. Retrieved June 9, 2013.
- Groves, Adam. "Funnybook Flashback: From Beyonde, Doghead and The Biologic Show". The Bedlam Files. Archived from the original on October 3, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
- Back cover, The Biologic Show #0, October 1994, Fantagraphics Books.
- Woodring, Jim. "Muss I Den?", Jim Vol. 2 #5, May 1995, Fantagraphics Books.
- "'Amnesia' stillframe painting #45". Comic Art Collective. Archived from the original on June 15, 2006. Retrieved October 18, 2007.
- "It's 2000: do you know where the Devil is?". The Yale Herald. Archived from the original on May 21, 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2009.
- "Five For Friday #20—Shorts". The Comics Reporter. March 11, 2005. Archived from the original on April 2, 2020.
- Gravett, Paul (October 8, 2006). "Al Columbia: Columbia's Voyage of Discovery". paulgravett.com. Archived from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
- Ware, Chris. Acme Novelty Library #5. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, Spring 1995.
- Ware, Chris. Acme Novelty Library #6. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, Winter 1995-96.
- Prewitt, Archer. Sof' Boy and Friends #1. Montreal, Quebec: Drawn & Quarterly, September 1997.
- Doherty, Catherine. Can of Worms. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, March 2000.
- "Al Columbia: Out of the Shadows", interview, Comic Collector #6, 34-36 (Colchester: Aceville Publications, August 1992)
- "A chat with ol' Al Columbia", interview by Ian Lynam, Velour #1 (Berkeley, CA: Migraine, n.d.).
- "Mr. Al Columbia", interview by Bwana Spoons, Ain't Nothin' Like Fuckin' Moonshine #10 (Portland, OR: Bwana Spoons)
- "Pim & Francie Answers 'Whatever Happened to Al Columbia?'". Things From Another World. September 8, 2009. Archived from the original on February 10, 2016.
- "Whatever Happened To Al Columbia?". The Comics Reporter. October 5, 2006. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011.
- "Al Columbia filmography". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2014. Archived from the original on December 15, 2014. Retrieved June 9, 2013.
- "As the Taliban Flee, Time to Send In Fido". The New York Times. November 19, 2001. Archived from the original on March 26, 2016.
- "Al Columbia - Credits". AllMusic. Archived from the original on January 8, 2016. Retrieved June 9, 2013.
- "2004 Harvey Awards". The Harvey Awards. Archived from the original on August 27, 2013.
- MacDonald, Heidi (October 6, 2006). "Al Columbia.com". The Beat: The Blog of Comics Culture. Archived from the original on March 1, 2021. Retrieved October 14, 2021.
- "'The Land of Broken Hearts' – A Rare Exhibition of Artwork by Al Columbia". Floating World Comics. Archived from the original on May 14, 2021. Retrieved October 14, 2021.
- McConnell, Robin (host) (April 5, 2007). "Al Columbia". Inkstuds (podcast). Archived from the original on May 15, 2021. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
- Roberts, Randall (June 27, 2008). "Arthur Magazine on the Ropes Once Again". LA Weekly. Archived from the original on May 14, 2021. Retrieved October 14, 2021.
- "2010 Ignatz Award Recipients". Small Press Expo. September 12, 2010. Archived from the original on October 1, 2021. Retrieved October 14, 2021.
- "Al Columbia—Jack Never Woke kUp". Gray Area Print. Archived from the original on May 15, 2021. Retrieved October 15, 2021.
- "Al Columbia 'Toyland' limited edition giclee prints". Floating World Comics. Archived from the original on May 14, 2015.
- MacDonald, Heidi (November 23, 2009). "Prints by Marc Bell and Al Columbia available". Archived from the original on February 25, 2021. Retrieved October 15, 2021.
- Voynovskaya, Nastia (June 17, 2013). "Al Columbia's Pim and Francie Continue Their Adventures in New Works". Hi-Fructose. Archived from the original on June 25, 2013. Retrieved October 15, 2021.
- "Amnesia: The Lost Films of Francis D. Longfellow by Al Columbia". Floating World Comics. Archived from the original on December 31, 2019. Retrieved October 15, 2021.
- Arsenault, Marc (August 11, 2013). "Al Columbia Relaunches Orange Sunshine House Site". Archived from the original on May 14, 2021. Retrieved October 15, 2021.
- Michael, D'Amour (February 13, 2017). "Al Columbia = dessins et musique". Michael D'Amour – Site Officiel. Archived from the original on May 15, 2021.
- "alfredcolumbia". Instagram. Retrieved July 31, 2021.
- "The Biologic Show". Hollow Press. Archived from the original on March 1, 2021. Retrieved October 11, 2021.
- "Pim & Francie". Bande Dessinée Info. Archived from the original on October 10, 2021. Retrieved October 15, 2021.
- "Pim & Francie par Al Columbia". Huber Éditions. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
- "Blog Archive » Interview: Al Columbia Pt. 2 [of 4]". The Daily Cross Hatch. December 7, 2009. Archived from the original on October 13, 2012. Retrieved December 9, 2009.
- Torreano, Bradley. "Action Suits | Biography & History". AllMusic. Archived from the original on May 17, 2021.
- "Eric Reynolds - Action Suits 7-inch - Art by Al Columbia". Comic Art Collective. Archived from the original on May 25, 2011.
- "Unholy's Video For "These Wounds Will Never Heal" Available For Viewing". Theprp.com. November 30, 2009. Archived from the original on May 17, 2021. Retrieved October 18, 2021.
- Mabe, James (April 8, 2016). "Interview: Aeron Alfrey's the Land of the Moth". beautifulbizarre.net. Archived from the original on May 17, 2021. Retrieved October 18, 2021.
- "Intruders (Short 2014)". IMDb. Archived from the original on August 12, 2021. Retrieved October 18, 2021.
- Wong, Ada (September 14, 2014). "TFS Festival Quickie: Santiago Menghini, Director of 'Intruders'". Toronto Film Scene. Archived from the original on April 22, 2016. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
- "Gerard Way Interview with IGN.com". Mychemicalfreak.com. July 14, 2008. Archived from the original on July 29, 2008.
- "Fresh Ink Online With Gerard Way". G4tv.com. January 30, 2009. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved October 8, 2013.
- Van, Jennifer (March 21, 2007). "TV on the Radio revels in the moment". The Georgia Straight. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016.
- Bradner, Liesl (March 12, 2012). "'Snow White': O.C. artist lashes together Disney forests, dark folklore". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 10, 2016. Retrieved October 18, 2021.
- Dozakhi, Hassan (March 4, 2014). "Integrity Interview". Eternal Abhorrence. Archived from the original on May 17, 2021. Retrieved October 18, 2021.
- "Frances Bean Cobain: No Apologies". Interview. July 16, 2010. Archived from the original on April 11, 2021. Retrieved October 18, 2021.
- "Into the Mystic: Esao Andrews and Thinkspace Bring 'Petrichor' to Mesa Arizona". Juxtapoz. April 15, 2019. Archived from the original on April 20, 2019. Retrieved October 18, 2021.
- Pricco, Evan (interviewer) (September 3, 2009). "Juxtapoz 15th Anniversary Art Auction: Aaron Horkey". Juxtapoz. Archived from the original on September 17, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2013.
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