Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Btwn the Lns:Illustration, Comics and "A"rt; Part 1

In so far as comics are an imagistic art, there remains a relationship to illustration that is worth examining-not so much for the historical ties( which are well-documented) but for conceptualizations of both practice and appreciation that resonate witihin the artform and its industry yet today. Comics are not illustration, but the methods of the latter have often been used in the service of the former. Just the same, there is also an important distinction between illustration and art(with the capital "A")-having nothing whatsoever to do with commerce--that has had a tremendous impact upon the development of comics as an artform, in both perception and practice.

First -it must be granted that illustration, as a practice and artform in its own right, differs in its premise from that of "fine" art. This distinction resides not in illustration's tradition as commercial practice, nor in the disingenuous notion of art-for-art's sake that disguises the big-business that is the artworld. Rather-the distinction can be seen in the way the artist approaches their task in both conception and in the use of materials.

This was made clear to me recently during a semester -ending critique of a student's work in the Art dept. at the University where I am fortunate enough to teach. A good student, a substantial amount of good work which the faculty all enjoyed viewing. Yet the chair of our department observed that the work was least effective when bound by its illustrative qualities. The student naturally asked "what is the difference between illustration and art?"

What is self-evident visually is not always so clear verbally, but after some consideration-and not at all sure of myself I offered this: that illustration concerns itself with answering the questions raised by the narrative, art raises questions of its own.

Illustration is circumscribed by narrative, art is not. Illustration is concerned with events, art with something else.
Keep in mind-this in no way precludes a work of illustration from being art. But the nature of its discourse makes this exceedingly rare, for it requires the illustrator's knowing repudiation of his craft's very reason for being.
This is why then, one can point to a Duchamp ready-made and confidently say it is art, and view a beautifully rendered J.C. Leyendecker Arrow shirt advertisement and say it is not.
Part II: Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Comic Book Ghosts of Christmas Past Give up the Ghost to Comics of Christmas Present(s)

maybe this is a lame way to kick off this blog--aging boomer, waxing nostalgic about comics of past Christmases-(Jeez! isn't that enough to make you wretch? or at least yawn...).
Unfortunately or otherwise-I do indeed cherish those twenty-cent wonders I bought on the last day of school before Christmas vacation lo' those many winters past, but very few of them are actually worth re-visiting or re-reading--nevermind writing about 35 years later. I mean-who's gonna get all hot and bothered discussing an issue of DC's "Strange Sports Stories" ?
Still-the excitement of those days when I could run to the corner drugstore and pick up 10-15 new comics for $2-3.00 bucks --money that I'd hoarded from unspent lunch money--and choosing the books with great care-knowing this was the stash to last me the entire vacation---then finally settling down to look the pile over when I got home from school -- this was an incomparable joy.

I admit then that one of my guilty middle-aged pleasures is attempting to relive that experience at this time of year, by indulging in my semi-annual comics buying spree-(yep, still hoarding the lunch money). Compiling a comparable stash these days would break my bank--or at least empty my wallet--and given that most of my expendable(ha!) funds are tied up in publishing through "Look Out!Monsters"--I have to pick and choose among a glut of great books, none of which cost twenty cents.

So what might a discerning reader with $100. limit go for? Do I buy one book? or go for five-- or six ?


Agony defined.

Why is it that $100. today seems so much less than $2 or 3.00 from 1973?Therein lies the secret of the problem with our economy.
Well-I've got to pick up Beto's "Speak of the Devil", no question. I buy everything Los. bros. do-and it's still not enough. So- fourteen bucks- ok. $86. big ones left.
The big question for me is always how much to spend on new work by contemporary artists and how much to spend on collections of previously published material. I've been reading IDW's reprints of classic comic strips-Caniff's "Terry and the Pirates" and Gould's "Dick Tracy"-( you don't need me to tell you that both live up to their well-deserved status as classics)-and I'm afraid I'm hooked. They both read like master classes in comic strip storytelling--and the IDW editions are exceptional, certainly the "Terry" series is definitive(I so wish the Tracy set included color-and was printed on different stock-but those caveats don't in anyway diminish Gould's electric narratives.) . So let's go for "Terry" volume 4--and Tracy volume 5--at Amazon that totals $54.00. Still $32.00 left!

Well-here's where the difficulties set in. I've got to have "Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko" from Fantagraphics--that's $26.00. But Mark Evanier's "Kirby:King of Comics" is also $26.00. Alrightalright--I'll put off that decision for as long as I can. Nah-the hell with it-gotta have 'em both.

But what about Eddie Cambell's "the Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard"? ($12.00 )And I've heard good things about "Abandoned Cars" by Tim Lane--($16.00) and Nate Powell's "Swallow Me Whole "($14.00). Jason Lutes has volume 2 of Berlin out ($14.00) and then there's Yoshihiro Tatsumi's "Goodbye" ($14.00) Alison Bechdel's "Essential Dykes to Watch Out For"($16.00) Is there anything by Gipi I'm missing? No-oh wait--I haven't picked up "Garage Band" ($12.00)-and Tezuka's "Ode to Kirihito" ($16.50) So--How much is all that?


like I said-3 bucks seemed to go so much farther in 1973.

Now where was I--Ok, Beto's "Speak of the Devil"...