If one were to make a list of the top five most active and influential visual artists of the past decade in Northeast Ohio, John Greiner (aka John G.) would be solidly toward the top.
Whether you realize it or not, you've probably seen his work, and you may have seen more of his work than that of some of the most established "fine" artists in the region. Best known for his sandwich posters for Melt Bar and Grilled (which you can see in this fine rag every week), countless local concert posters and his Lake Erie Monster comic book, put together with collaborator and fellow Clevelander Jake Kelly, John G. doesn't have much idle time.
Despite all this, you probably don't know much about John G. himself. TurnStyle Films and director John Nix are hoping to change that with a new documentary based on Greiner's professional and personal history. Draw Hard premieres online Friday, Feb. 27, on Fandor and VHX.
The film includes a number of cameos featuring Greiner's friends, including Melt owner Matt Fish, aforementioned collaborator Jake Kelly, and All Dinosaurs' Dave Gibian, as well as fellow artists Joshua Rex, Grainne Bird and Kevin Czapiewski.
"He has a way of inspiring people in ways you never would have thought going into a conversation with him," says Gibian.
The film begins with Greiner's friends and peers describing how easy it can be to misperceive Greiner. By discussing his broody exterior before the opening credits, the films' creators simultaneously dismiss the misperceptions and open up a broader conversation about Greiner himself. It's true he can come off gruff at times, but Greiner is among the most thoughtful and warm people we've had the pleasure of meeting and working with.
Through their own words, Greiner and friends discuss the artist's personal and professional career. Draw Hard is an intimate look at the man behind the work, with a special emphasis on the relationships his artwork has created with his friends, clients, fans and peers.
The filmmakers did a particularly good job of discussing Greiner's projects for half the film before mentioning his disability. (Greiner uses a wheelchair.) While that certainly adds to the sheer magnitude of his accomplishments, it also doesn't define him.
"To be honest, it's really easy to forget," admits Greiner in the film, "mostly because I'm pretty independent and capable in a lot of ways that allow me to live a pretty un-tethered life to this thing, this disability, this paralysis. I don't let it dictate to me what I'm going to do or not do. So if there's something I want to do, I'm going to find a way to do it."
Greiner severely injured his neck in a BMX accident in the Metroparks near his home in May, 1995. Following intensive surgery, he temporarily lost feeling from his neck down. Eventually, though sheer determination and a lot of hard work, he taught himself to write and draw again.
"When you're drawing with a brush, a pressure sensitive tool, and you can't feel your hand ... I mean, I know where it is, I can see it, I can sense it, so I've just had to learn how to do that through trial and error," explains Greiner. "I think determination, just having the will to do it, that's what I do. I don't draw fast, I draw hard."
Draw Hard's firsthand insight offers context to both the man and the work. By the end of the film, Greiner comes off as an intelligent, humble "real" person. It's hard to say if the film is more about the artist or the work, but that's probably because the two are so inseparable.
My only complaint is that the film is too short. At just 20 minutes (including credits), the film does a wonderful job of packing a lot of information and history into a small window, but some things were left out. Also, despite showing clips of Greiner in attendance, the film didn't discuss his crucial role as organizer of Genghis Con, the region's premier independent and small-press comic convention. However, if the only complaint is that there wasn't enough of the film, there are much worse problems to have.
As mentioned previously, the film will be available this Friday, Feb. 27, on Fandor and VHX. Fandor is a Netflix alternative subscription service dedicated to building larger audiences for independent filmmakers. The site features free trials that allow you to stream Draw Hard. You can buy or rent the film through VHX for a small fee. The creators have included bonus content as an incentive for purchase. There are a number of packages available, including bundles with copies of Lake Erie Monster and Director's Commentary.
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