Posts Tagged ‘comics’

Photo: David L. Ryan/Globe staff.
A detail of Barrington Edwards’s “Monumental: Oscar Dunn and His Radical Fight in Reconstruction Louisiana,” 2020. It’s part of a Boston University exhibit aiming to establish comics as a medium.

Comics have evolved until they have become an art. Are they also a “medium”? A new exhibit at Boston University argues for the distinction.

Abigail Lee reports at the Boston Globe, “For the comic fan, the assumption that comics are merely a children’s genre — colorful like an animated kids’ movie, easy to read like a picture book — is exasperating at best, inaccurate and reductive at worst.

“Comics, like any other art form, are capable of complex expression and storytelling. That’s exactly the idea an exhibit from Boston University Art Galleries, called ‘Comics Is a Medium, Not a Genre,’ aims to establish. …

“Some 184 pieces from 29 lenders are on display in what curator Joel Christian Gill calls ‘an explosion of comics.’

“ ‘We have as many kinds of comics as you can think of,’ Gill said. ‘When you walk in, it’s going to be overwhelming.’

“Gill is himself a cartoonist, historian, and the chair of BU’s Master of Fine Arts in Visual Narrative program. The Visual Narrative program began in fall 2022, and the exhibit was meant to roughly accompany its launch. When planning the exhibit, Gill sought to combat the misconceptions about comics.

“People often mistake the most prominent comics in pop culture as representative of the entire form, Gill said. For example: Because the Marvel and DC comics are well-known, many assume comics in general tell superhero stories, he explained, the problem is a conflation of genre with medium.

“As he put it: ‘It would be like reading a bunch of Stephen King books and then thinking all novels were Stephen King.’

“Gill pulled together a variety of comics — from fiction to nonfiction, newspaper strips to self-published works, mainstream to underground pieces — to provide a ‘macro view of comics.’

“Most of the pieces in the exhibit are samples from longer works, which allowed for the large assortment of comics, said Lissa Cramer, director of BU Art Galleries. … The exhibit includes Charles M. Schulz’s first published appearance of Charlie Brown, a self-portrait by ‘Maus’ creator Art Spiegelman that pays homage to the cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller, and pages from Alison Bechdel’s ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’ comic strips. Other artists featured are the comics pioneer Will Eisner, Mad magazine founder Harvey Kurtzman, and Denys Cowan, cofounder of Milestone Media, a company created in the 1990s to diversify comics.

“There are also several international artists showcased, including Claire Bretécher and Jean Giraud from France, Gabriella Giandelli from Italy, and Tatsumi Yoshihiro from Japan.

“Gill tried to create a diverse representation of artists of color, female artists, and LGBTQ+ artists. However, he was wary about arranging the artists into these sections or categories because he didn’t want to define them by their identities. Instead, the exhibit is organized ‘by what looks good together,’ Gill said.

“The curation process involved asking artists and lenders for specific works, but also giving them the option to contribute works of their own choice. Gill’s approach was unconventional, according to Cramer, but it made the experience ‘free’ and ‘collaborative.’

“ ‘This really is an artist-driven show in that respect because the artist got to choose what they thought was most valuable,’ Cramer said.

“Gill said he hopes visitors leave wanting to find comics that appeal to them. He emphasizes that comics encompass a range of genres and audiences because at the end of the day, they are a mode of storytelling.” More at the Globe, here.

“Comics Is a Medium, Not a Genre,” is on display through March 24, at the Stone Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. Free.

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. Photo: Vermont Folk Life Center.
The Most Costly Journey

Just before Covid descended on our world, an unusual comic book was created in Vermont. Using two languages, it spoke to the lives of migrants who work in the state in normal times.

Kaitlin E. Thomas, an assistant professor of Spanish at Norwich University, reported for Public Radio International’s The World.

“Imagine becoming a character in your favorite comic book, ” she writes. “For Latino residents in Addison County, Vermont, seeing their stories illustrated in print has been key to tackling some of the mental health challenges of migration. …

“Vermont is the second least populated state in the US and more than 50% of its residents live in rural areas. The state is confronting a range of obstacles — a declining labor force, an aging population, and difficulty attracting young residents. But Latino migrants are increasingly stepping into roles that would otherwise remain unfilled. 

“There is ample opportunity for migrant workers willing to venture to the far reaches of the Northeast, particularly in the agriculture, dairy and construction sectors. But even for the heartiest locals, Vermont winters can be a challenge to endure.

“Add to the mix not knowing the local language, little access to public transportation, and separation from home, and it becomes a recipe for isolation, depression, substance abuse, and other mental hurdles for migrant farmworkers.

“ ‘People think that crossing the border is the hardest part, but the worst part is finding a way to survive after you arrive,’ said Guadalupe, 43, a homemaker and cook who came to Vermont from Veracruz, Mexico.

“Guadalupe is one of 18 contributors to ‘El viaje más caro” or “The Most Costly Journey’ — a project to create a comic-based set of stories that spotlight the experiences of Latino migrants in Vermont. She and her co-storytellers use pseudonyms to protect their identities in the midst of an increase of immigration raids and apprehensions in the area

The comic book project was sparked by Julia Doucet, an outreach nurse at the Vermont-based Open Door Clinic. While seeing patients at the clinic and in the field, Doucet noticed that the Latino migrant community she serves was dealing with an epidemic of failing mental health. …

“Doucet works with more than 300 Latino immigrant farmworkers in Addison County, the vast majority of whom are men under 40. They are primarily from Mexico, while others come from Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, and El Salvador to work in Vermont. Some speak an Indigenous language as their first language, while a third have completed less than an 8th grade level of education.

“In this population group, the topic of mental health can be sensitive. And with low levels of literacy and limited internet access, Doucet felt challenged to find a tool to best serve migrant workers struggling with mental health challenges. 

“With the support of Andy Kolovos of the Vermont Folklife Center and the University of Vermont, they started documenting the stories of migrant workers in Vermont.

“That’s when Marek Bennett, local Vermont cartoonist and educator, who had spent time documenting stories of marginalized people in Eastern Europe through comics, joined the initiative. …

“Topics such as language barriers, navigating new professional relationships, the traumatic experience of crossing the border, the pain of family members left behind, and much more are expressed in detail by participating storytellers. …

“Through the initiative, migrant storytellers talk about why they made the impossible decision to leave their home countries, and how some eventually managed to find happiness and community in rural, small-town Vermont.

“ ‘It helps all of us who are isolated. We talk about our situations,’ [said] storyteller Lara, a homemaker and gardener from Mexico. In her story, she offers encouragement to other migrant farmworkers to tap into mental health resources and the community — migrant and non-migrant alike.”

More at PRI, here.

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Art: Wei Man Kow

While many of us feel crushed under the weight of stories about Covid-19, cartoonists have been addressing the coronavirus in their own way, mostly trying to be helpful.

Jason Li writes at Hyperallergic, “No corner of the globe experiences the epidemic in quite the same way. … Cartoonists and illustrators have taken to the public squares of social media to express statements of solidarity, share experiences (and grievances), and laugh a little. [We’ve] collected our favorite works from around the world — taking care to include as many perspectives and geographies as we could, while still centering those in China, who remain most impacted by the virus. …

“[One] viral illustration by momo shows that Wuhan, ground zero of the epidemic, carries the support of everyone else in China. Wuhan is represented by a caricature of its famous food, hot dry noodle, while those cheering them on are drawn as foods from other regions of China.

“On a gentler note, the 3×3 comic [by] Wang XX is a fantastic encapsulation of the tenderness and care that people in China are feeling for one another during this calamitous period. In it, a seal, octopus, walrus and mouse help each other don their face masks and then hug it out. …

“[Another] comic about the shortages in Hong Kong by Ah To shows a person keeping toilet paper them in their safe along with their gold bars and surgical masks. …

“Many in and outside of China criticize its authorities for handling the crisis poorly and for muffling early warnings from medical experts. [A] mini-comic by A ee mi in Taiwan weaves a fantastical yet blunt critique of China’s healthcare system. In it, a coronavirus carrier is sent home without proper treatment, spreading the virus to their friends and community.

“While many airlines have suspended flights to China, the authorities in Hong Kong, which shares both land and sea borders with Mainland China, have staunchly refused to close off its borders. This has left its citizens incredibly anxious and angry. [Toballkidrawing] aptly depicts how the issue is viewed in Hong Kong — that the government is handing out a free pass for the virus to move in. …

“One genre of responses that’s been common across the globe is illustrated health advice. Some are comedic, some pithy, but the most popular are detailed and instructional. The above example by Wei Man Kow in Singapore was an unexpected hit and was subsequently translated into seven different languages by various strangers on the internet. (The artist has also made the instructional available for free download, including coloring book versions in Chinese and English.) Meanwhile, veteran cartoonist Sonny Liew (also in Singapore) teamed up with local doctors to put out [a] calming, animal-themed strip combating paranoia and disinformation.

“The breadth of these illustrated responses mirrors the myriad lived realities of the coronavirus. While none will argue that the virus is not a global epidemic or phenomenon, few agree on how serious the problem is, and people around the world are experiencing and interpreting its impact in vastly different ways. ”

Check out all these comics and more at Hyperallergic, here. If you have seen other good cartoons on this topic, please link to them in comments.

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Illustration: J.V. Aranda
The website
Vulture has a list of 100 important pages that shaped comics as an art form.

Are you into graphic novels — serious books designed like comics? I haven’t read many, but I thought Stitches: A Memoir, by David Small, was wonderful. It was a dark but insightful retelling of the artist’s childhood. A doctor friend bought copies for patients after I told her about it.

At Vulture, 12 authors came together to choose 100 memorable comic-book pages that shaped the art form. In each case, they explain their reasoning. It’s a pretty fascinating post.

“The origin story of comic books isn’t flashy. No radioactive spider bite, atomic explosion, or shadowy experiment granted the medium the sort of ability that would have allowed it to arrive on early-20th-century drugstore racks as glossy, fully formed vehicles for sophisticated entertainment. Rather, it took a steady progression over the course of more than 75 years for the form to fully understand, and then harness, its powers. When the first comics arrived on newsstands in the early 1930s, they were a cynical attempt to put old wine in new bottles by reprinting popular newspaper comic strips. Cheaply printed and barely edited, those pamphlets were not what a critic at the time would have called high art.

“Yet today, the medium is flourishing in ways its ancestors could never have imagined: … a dizzying array of what the great cartoonist Will Eisner famously termed ‘sequential art.’ And, as evidenced by the sheer number of adaptations in film, television, and even on the Broadway stage, the rest of the entertainment industry has grown wise to what fans have long known: There’s a special alchemy that comes when you tell a story with pictures. …

“We have set out to trace the evolution of American comics by looking at 100 pages that altered the course of the field’s history. We chose to focus on individual pages rather than complete works, single panels, or specific narrative moments because the page is the fundamental unit of a comic book. … When comics have moved in new directions, the pivot points come in a page.

“To assemble our list of 100, we assembled a brain trust of comics professionals, critics, historians, and journalists. Our criteria were as follows: A page had to have either changed the way creators approach making comics, or it had to expertly distill a change that had just begun. In some cases, there were multiple pages that could be used to represent a particular innovation; we’ve noted those instances. We didn’t necessarily pick the 100 best pages. …

“Some pages are notable for their written content — game-changing first appearances, brilliant narrative innovations, and so on. Some are significant because the artwork told a story in ways no one had thought to do before, and ended up being emulated — or, in some cases, outright aped. … You can click on the title of each page to open a window with a full-sized version.”

I liked the first example, the 1929 Lynd Ward spooky guy. I think Asakiyume and I saw it the Fitchburg Art Museum when we met up for the graphics exhibition some years ago.

Vulture explains, “It’s inarguable that one of the leading pioneers of modern longform graphic storytelling was Flemish illustrator Frans Masereel. Right after World War I, he created a series of ‘pictorial narratives’ without words — you may have spotted his most famous, Passionate Journey (1919), in the gift shop at your local art museum.

“Chicago-born art student Lynd Ward discovered Masereel’s work while studying printmaking in Leipzig, Germany, and was inspired to use the oldest print medium — woodblocks pressed into ink — to create something very modern: the first stand-alone graphic narrative by an American, or as he called it, a ‘novel in woodcuts.’

“Gods’ Man (1929) tells the story of a struggling artist who makes a supernatural bargain with a mysterious stranger (pictured here) for a magic brush that comes at a terrible cost. The book, composed of one woodcut illustration on each of the volume’s 139 pages, was a surprise success,”


Art: Lynd Ward
Gods’ Man (1929). Always read the fine print when dealing with spooky strangers.

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I’m adding Julian Peters to the blog roll on your right. He’s a genius. A graphic artist from Canada who has chosen to illustrate some of the greatest poems ever. At least, some of my favorites.

Matthew Gilbert did a spread about Peters and his work on T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock” for the Boston Globe. Illustrations that could break your heart. I am in Matthew Gilbert’s debt for this gift of happy-sad. Read his essay, here.

Below are a few frames from Peters’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” by Keats, a poem I can’t read without hearing my father’s voice choke up on my cassette tape.

Go to Peters’s website, here, and luxuriate.  

Art: Julian Peters

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