Sunday, 20 March 2011

Comics as fine art

I am a comic nut -- nobody knows this about me because I am properly ashamed of the fact. Luckily I seldom get questions about why, as an English major, over half of my bookshelf is filled with graphic novels. I've gone through those days of worshipping those modern myths, the super heroes, and I will be forever grateful to Spider-Man and the Justice League for getting me into drawing comics in the first place (really it was Tintin and Calvin and Hobbes which got me started, but it wasn't until later that I realized it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life). However with the discovery of the graphic novel, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and the wild world of Vertigo, my style of drawing and outlook changed very much.
        I hate reading analysis of stuff that's supposed to be fun, so skip this paragraph if you like. But I've struggled wit myself for some time pondering whether comic books can constitute 'fine art'. Whoever says that comics cannot speak poetry, let him read Krazy Kat, Pogo, the later Calvin and Hobbes strips, and graphic novels like Craig Thompson's Blankets. But comics of epic and timeless value, foremost of which are the likes of V for Vendetta, have to be put in perspective before they are labelled, as I did initially, as high art. They will shine through the ages above all other comics, but do they hold a candle to other modern art, like Munch or Mondrian? The effort involved, the creativity required, the origins of the idea and the cultural significance are all there (now I'm thinking specifically of V). To falter at my own hurdle, I have no idea. With more reading I expect I'll succumb to my own bias and decide "of course comics are fine art, you illiterate!" But to be honest, this isn't something that is ever going to effect my immense appreciation and enjoyment of the art form.
For the next week or two I'll begin reviewing my favorite comics and suggest which are surest to suit your pleasure.


  1. One of the greatest things that ever happened in my life occurred in an 8th grade art class. The teacher, Joe "Rock" Edwards started off the class at the beginning of the year by saying, "I want you to to develop your own talents and discover art that you enjoy."

    I sat there for a moment and then worked up the courage to ask, "Is cartooning art?"

    "Sure it is," he replied, "Who says it's not?"

    From that day on, I immersed myself in the work of Charles Schultz (Peanuts),Jeff MacNelly (Shoe, political toons), Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County), Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury), Phil Foglio (Dragon Magazine's "Fun with Phil and Dixie), and countless works from the artists working for Marvel, DC and First comics.

    While I cannot say I've achieved any measurable level of success in my artistic endeavors, I can say that cartooning offers a release for me like no other activity. It's a format that allows for heady subjects to be covered in a form more palatable to the reader. The visuals bring understanding of an artist's viewpoint. The humor, makes us able to laugh at something that would normally outrage.

    Comics as "high art"? Who cares if comics are ever granted that artistic status? It's an art form that doesn't need that classification. It's beautiful in its own way, classic because it has broad appeal and wonderful because the rules that govern traditional "high" art do not apply.

    Comics are just wild, fun and wonderful! Enjoy them for what they are, and make no apologies for it!

    And if you're interested, here's my offering on the web: Sorry for the pimping, but I wanted to show you where I'm at with some examples of my own cartooning, and illustrate my points from above!

    Thanks for a great blog post!

  2. Comics are great, no need to be ashamed of that!

  3. Yeah, there are definitely many levels of interpretation regarding the "best" comics. This was definitely an interesting read!

  4. Calvin & Hobbes definitely qualifies as art, in my opinion. I have several of the collections, & like to re-read them every couple of years, & they always make me laugh. I love to give them as gifts too, they're awesome for any occasion. I gave one to a friend after her grandfather passed away, & she was so grateful for the laughs.

  5. Ugh, Blogger didn't post my last comment! Calvin & Hobbes is definitely art. I have a few of the collections, & I like to re-read one or two every few years. They always make me laugh, no matter how familiar the strips are.