Saturday, August 08, 2009

Smart people thinking and talking about comics

This is the cover of the the catalog for This is a Comic Book, the show currently on exhibit at Mahan Gallery that I told you about the other day.

It's a show featuring original art from a lot of great cartoonists like Anders Nilsen, Nate Powell, Lauren Weinstein, John Porcellino and many others, but it's also a show about the comics medium, its possibilities and limits, the art world's relationship with the it and, in the words of the curators, "the tenuous line between acceptance and co-option."

The catalog explores some of that through a series of essays and interviews, in addition to reprinting many of the images of the show. I wrote one of those essays, which is a large part of why I keep talking about the show, although I'd honestly be talking about it all the time this even if I hadn't, as it deals with the medium I'm always thinking and talking about it, and does so from different angles than I usually see.

If you live in or around Columbus, I can't recommend you check out the show strongly enough, and, if this sort of thing is up your alley, suggest you shell out $5 for a catalog (it's only a $1 more than an issue of New Avengers!). Or, at the very least, tuck in to the gallery copy of the catalog while visiting, particularly the essays On the Wall and The Problem of Professionalizing, which raise a lot of interesting questions about comics.

Here are a few quotes from several of the pieces in the catalog...

Representations (like a page unstuck from a comic book) activate all conceptions one has about the “real” object (and its platonic form). But amputation, decontexualization and museumification serve to separate us from objects eve as they allow us to physically be close to them. In the case of comics, the platonic form is the comic book: 32 pages, glossy cover, stapled, newsprint, and if possible, with slight yellowing. But that’s not what we get at exhibitions about comics. That would be too simple. In this paradox is a metaphor for the shedding of meaning that occurs to objects that have been ripped out of their historical, cultural, and physical roles and inserted into any one of the hundred of thousands of white-walled rooms across the world.

—Jimi Payne and Colleen Grennan, from their curator’s note, on one of the major areas of focus of their show

Does a single page, removed from its intended context, adequately convey the work of an artist who creates comic books?

Though he was approaching the concern from a different angle, Jeff [Smith] asked the same question. He constantly reminded us that this (pointing to an original page) isn’t his work, this is (holding a floppy single issue in his hand). But he also understood that we didn’t have an exhibition without original art and, philosophical concerns aside, we proceeded to select the best examples from Bone’s 1300 pages.

I imagine that every cartoonist would agree with Jeff—that his or her work is the final, mass-produced book and not one of the original pages.

—Dave Filipi, film video curator at the Wexner Center for the Arts and co-curator of Jeff Smith: Bone and Beyond, on one of several challenges in hanging cartoon art in a gallery.

Certainly, there are publishers of comics, and there are readers of comics, and there are reviewers of comics and stores and websites and T-shirts and any number of potentially lucrative licensing deals to be had. Yet there are not technically jobs in comics. Comics, in this way, are unlike other art forms: There does exist a large art market, with museums to work at, galleries to show in, venues to perform in, alternative spaces to sell pieces in, entire arms of publishing to sustain you and—coming soon, on Bravo—reality TV programs you can star in devoted to exploring the life of the contemporary artists. In addition to making work, you can restore it, write about it, edit it, sell it, represent it curate it, sell tickets to it, or lecture about it. In other words, art is a business. A massive one.

But comics? Not so much.

—Anne Elizabeth Moore, author and editor, on the problem of professionalizing the comics medium

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