by T. Hodler
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Let’s see if we can put that theory to rest.
But first, a quotation:
In the course of the last fifty years the painters who freed themselves from the necessity of representation discovered wholly new fields of form-construction and expression (including new forms of imaginative representation) which entailed a new attitude to art itself. The artist came to believe that what was essential in art—given the diversity of themes or motifs—were two universal requirements: that every work of art has an individual order or coherence, a quality of unity and necessity in its structure regardless of the the kind of forms used; and, second, that the forms and colors chosen have a decided expressive physiognomy, that they speak to us as a feeling-charged whole, through the intrinsic power of colors and lines, rather than through the imaging of facial expressions, gestures and bodily movements, although these are not necessarily excluded—for they are also forms.
That view made possible the appreciation of many kinds of old art, and of the arts of distant peoples—primitive, historic, colonial, Asiatic and African, as well as European—arts which had not been accessible in spirit because it was thought that true art had to show a degree of conformity to nature and a mastery of representation which had developed for the most part in the West. The change in art dethroned not only representation as a necessary requirement but also a particular standard of decorum or restraint in expression which had excluded certain domains and intensities of feeling. The notion of the humanity of art was immensely widened. Many kinds of drawing, painting, sculpture and architecture, formerly ignored or judged inartistic, were seen as existing on the same plane of human creativeness and expression as “civilized” Western art. That would not have happened, I believe, without the revolution in modern painting. [Italics mine.]
That can be found in Meyer Schapiro’s 1957 essay, “Recent Abstract Painting”, collected in his Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries.
It’s a common tactic of comics apologists to refer to comic strips as inherently “modernist,” but while that’s usually good for provoking solemn nods of satisfied agreement from fellow travelers, I’ve never really understood just what is meant by the claim. It strikes me that Schapiro may here point to a possible answer (or at least the kernel of one), and that, say, Picasso’s fondness for Rudolph Dirks’s Katzenjammer Kids might spring from the same source that led to his appreciation of African sculpture. (more…)
WARNING. Normally I wouldn’t put in a spoiler warning for a few blog notes, but this is a special case. I’m going to be talking about Love and Rockets: New Stories #3, which contains what is arguably one of the best comics stories ever, Jaime Hernandez’s “Browntown” (along with the stories “The Love Bunglers Part One” and “The Love Bunglers Part Two” which are essential accompaniments to the main tale). These stories are built around a series of unfolding surprises. The best way, really the only way, to appreciate them is to read them. It’s essential that any commentary be read after encountering the stories. So please go out there and read Jaime’s stories in this volume (and also Gilbert’s two stories) and then come back and read these notes.
No major insights here, just a little tribute to Spanish cartoonist Fernando Fernández, who passed away last month. A longtime artist for the Barcelona-based Selecciones Ilustradas agency, Fernández illustrated numerous romance and war comics for the British scene in the ’50s and ’60s, as did much of the SI crew, although he’s probably best remembered in North America for his odd contributions to Warren’s Vampirella magazine in the ’70s, “odd” because by that point Fernández was creating entire stories himself, then using SI as a means of licensing his work to assorted international magazines, whether whole or broken up as serials. Needless to say, he also turned in an obligatory Heavy Metal appearance when the time came, via his Zora and the Hibernauts album, pictured above as collected in 1984 by Catalan Communications. This is exactly what comics don’t look like anymore; I have pinpointed it through science.
And here is what comics do look like:
Greg Cook and TD Sidell were kind enough to offer us some excerpts from their catalog for “Right Thing The Wrong Way: The Story of Highwater Books“, opening October 1st at Fourth Wall Project in Boston. Greg did a great job on the oral history. So here’s one excerpt and there’ll be another on Friday. We pick up in 1997, as Highwater dude Tom Devlin published his first full book…
Coober Skeber 2: Marvel Benefit Issue debuts at San Diego Comic-Con in July 1997.
Tom Devlin: After I did that first anthology, and it was really kind of aggravating, and hard. But like anything, the sense of accomplishment once it was done was great. The harder something is, when you actually complete it and look at it and see that it worked out somewhat, there’s a bit of a rush. So I started to try to come up with what I’d do next.
I very specifically remember that I had three ideas. I remember talking to Ron and he said, “You should do superheroes.” Because my ideas were to do a children’s activity book and each cartoonist would do a page. It would be a puzzle page or a maze or all the typical stuff that would be in children’s activity books. The other one, actually the one that I kind of really wanted to do, was do an oversized Sunday newspaper and everybody would do sort of a classic strip or something they really liked in their style. Everybody would do a cover version. I remember partially the reason I picked that is that Ron was a really big Popeye fan and so I wanted Ron to do Popeye. I was a really big Pogo fan, so I was going to draw a version of Pogo. Then everybody else would just have to do whatever. And then the other one was superheroes.
I had done a bunch of signings at The Million Year Picnic. And it was a bunch of alternative people, like Tom Hart, Jason Lutes, Seth I think had been there by then. Just everybody you think of who’s still around who was doing alternative comics. There were like 15 people involved in five or six signings. We would just hang out and we’d always end up talking about superheroes. That was something I thought was funny and irritating. All these people who are trying to do something new still have these deep roots in superheroes. I wanted to do the superhero book to sort of be the end of that. Okay, you’ll all do your superheroes and that will be the end. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. (more…)
Kirby’s Fourth World = Star Wars? I know all the arguments, but I’ve only heard them from die-hards. Here in Pittsburgh I’ve learned that the theory is alive and well. So, really, who thinks this? Does this mean something to you people out there? Frank says: “Darkseid? The Dark Side? The Source? The Force? Just sayin…” Tom Scioli and Bill Boichel agree. Thoughts?
Confused in Pittsburgh
I’ve been lately stuck on writing briefly about books, which strikes me as a peculiar kind of rut — reviews are ubiquitous online, so why do it here? Well, much of my interest in comics lies in accounting for and understanding the history of comics, and so making sense of the overwhelming diversity of subject matter and approaches in all of these books rolling out month after month. Lately I’m most intrigued by books that either (a) explore a hitherto distant figure like Mort Meskin or (b) present a compellingly fresh (for comics anyway) approach to the history of the medium, which brings me to Holmes (more on Meskin soon).
Patrick Rosenkranz’s The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective is a companion of sorts to his previous book on Greg Irons and of course his Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975. What makes The Artist Himself unique is in the title itself — Rosenkranz has constructed a sprawling portrait of Rand Holmes as a man in conflict with the “the artist himself” — a man trying to carve out a way to live that allowed for art (never an easy feat) and an art that somehow made sense in his life. (more…)
For Nerds’ Eyes Only
Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean
Da Capo Press, $22.95
Even now, with comic books and “graphic novels” finally cracking through the art/literary establishment glass ceiling, you can count the number of intelligent, knowledgeable American comics critics who actually know how to write on two hands (maybe add a foot in there, too, if you’re feeling generous). In any fair version of that list, Douglas Wolk would certainly be one of the fingers or toes. Unlike a lot of writers about comics, Wolk is a professional, meaning he gets paid to write, and he writes about comics because he wants to, not because it’s all he knows; he’s not just an entitled fan who feels the need to tell you the long, sorry, and interminable story of how sad he is that he doesn’t like reading Sandman as much as he did when he was thirteen years old. (more…)
A few of my older reviews for various newspapers are no longer easily available. So to give them a somewhat more permanent home, I’m going to be posting them here, sometimes with a few words of after-thoughts.
Below is my review of Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics, from the Globe and Mail, July 21, 2007. After the review, I have a post-script written now.