(image captures from comicscomicsmag.blogspot.com)
Given this, I want to expand on Geoff's comment about the "few exceptions" he sees to the reliance on notably older modes of art in art comics by looking at some artists who venture farther afield and which directions they take.
When I was in art school (this was in the early 1980's) we used to throw around various glib ways to categorize art, mostly as a way to get our own bearings and reassure ourselves that we had a handle on all this weird shit. One term we liked was "stupidism": a type of art characterized by bright colors, "looseness" in execution, obsessive patterning and repetition, and childish (or infantile) subject matter often drawn from pop culture.
Stupidism as we defined it was very countercultural and opposed mainstream art dogmas like formalist abstraction, minimalism, conceptualism, and postmodern "critical theory" in general. Chicago's "Hairy Who" were the only artists we applied the label to that made much of a splash, but it seemed like every art school in the 80's harbored some young guys attracted to this style - usually they smoked a lot of pot and skateboarded in the parking lot.
The reason I bring this label up is that most of the few "art comics" I've seen that bear a clear relationship to contemporary, postwar art - Paper Rad, CF, Matthew Thurber, Brian Chippendale and so on - strike me as "Stupidist".
(image by Matthew Thurber)
These cartoonists belong to a broader generation of artists who came up in the 90's and reacted against the triumph of the "Pictures Generation" brand of 70's/80's conceptualism. It's a large and interesting group - I guess you could include Raymond Pettibon in there as an early member, and "Beautiful Losers" like Chris Johanson, and my fellow ex-Winnipegger Marcel Dzama, and hundreds of others.
On the whole, these artists are clearly much less interested in the sort of systematic "readings" the Pictures Generation artists (Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine, Barbara Kruger, etc) brought to bear on art and all its academic reliance on poststructuralism and related critical theories.
(sculpture by Sherrie Levine)
(image by Richard Prince)
(image by Barbara Kruger)
I'm on board as far as all that goes. I've always felt that the rise of "critical theory" was made possible by a weakness in art at the time: theory should be chasing after the work, trying to catch up and describe it - not serving as art's basis. And I've always enjoyed a lot of this type of "anti-intellectual" work - up to a point. It's just that all its avoidance of logic and rigor and coherence can start to make for pretty thin gruel after a while. As someone (I think it was artist/critic Doug Harvey - something of a Stupidist himself) said: "once you've seen 10,000 Raymond Pettibon drawings, you've seen them all".
(Raymond Pettibon at work)
At any rate, my point is not to critique the relative merits of these styles - it's to emphasize their relationship to that expressionist/symbolist/romantic pole that Geoff brought up. The art - and the comics - coming out of this group is overwhelmingly oriented towards what Kenneth Clark, way back in the day, used to call the "Dionysian" side of art.
This is half of the old split that always gets made between the two supposed main currents of culture, the other being "Apollonian" (other distillations of this same dichotomy get played up too: expressionist/conceptualist and romantic/classic for example). The Dionysian side of culture is seen as dark, raw and primitive, while the Apollonian side is said to be light, ordered and civilized.
In art as a whole, these two poles act as the extremes between which the zeitgeist tends to swing, but in comics - especially "art comics" - the Apollonian side is little in evidence. Without wanting to advocate for one deity or the other (honestly! I like both), I think it's fair to argue the creative benefits of a little balance. So - just for balance - here are a few examples of comics artists working the other side of the fence, with nary an emotional outburst, a lurid color or an expressive mark between them:
(image by Icecreamlandia)
(image by Paul Dwyer)
(image by Ethan Persoff)