Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Art Comics Supreme!

For all of the promise of daring and innovation implied by the sobriquet "art"comics (as its been applied to a handful of comics creators and publishers in recent years), anyone familiar with developments in contemporary art of the last 60 years and undertaking a sampling of recent "art comics" must surely feel as though they've unearthed a time capsule from an era pre-1960, if not pre-WWII. For with few exceptions, the dominant visual modes seem to be stuck in some version of the modernist-past, and a relatively distant past at that. Jumping into the art comics scene today is rather like finding oneself transported to a moment where expressionism and surrealism were still radical and new.

There is, across the spectrum of contemporary(post-Ware) art-comics, particularly American art-comics, the preponderance of a pre-WWII aesthetic characterized most blatantly by a naive primitivism rooted in expressionist and symbolist models.
If these sources seem a bit distant, a more contemporary touchstone can be found in Neo-Expressionist painting from the 1980's; Basquiat, Guston and Baselitz as distilled through the work of cartoonist/painter Gary Panter. Even so, the sardonic stance of Neo-Expressionist image -making is all but absent from contemporary art-comics, steeped (as some are) in an affected fin-de-siecle innocence and signaling a closer connection to the earnestness of late 19th century/early 20th century sources rather than the irony-infused post-modernism of the current day and age. While there are would-be Munchs, Redons and Dargers at work in contemporary art comics, at present there doesn't yet seem to be a Cindy Sherman, an Andy Warhol, a Jeff Koons or even a Takashi Murakami.

Given the peculiar history of comics in the United States, the oppressive nature of the comics code authority,the resultant infantilazation and denigration of the art-form, it's not surprising that a reactionary expressionism would rise in response to the highly polished illustration that currently dominates the major outlets for the form. As the avant-garde of the modernist era took a position in opposition to academic standards and bourgeois tastes of the day, so too does the comics "avant-garde" situate itself in opposition to the restrictions of the mainstream--(in visualizations, high-polish has been replaced with improvisatory expressionism; in narrative, melodrama has given way to the memoir; in packaging, the slickness of corporate mass-production has been replaced with the preciousness of the hand-bound, limited -edition mini-comic)-- a strategy useful for a young movement seeking to define itself to the broader culture at large.
Yet it is also a strategy mired in the past, for in a post-modern world(or post-post-modern as it may be) alienation from the culture is both the norm and an impossibility, and the avant-garde a shibboleth. Like it or not, nearly half-a- century later we still live in Andy Warhol's world.

So a reactionary primitivism, celebrated in some circles as the vanguard of the progressive comics movement-is actually its opposite, a conservative and regressive approach to art-making, disdainful( or oblivious) of the cultural shift from modern to post-modern, from alienation to assimilation.
What then would a truly contemporary art-comics movement consist of ?
In contemporary art, the dominant conceptual strategies of the last 40 years have been Duchamp-ian in origin: appropriation, pastiche and the disruption/exploitation of context . From Warhol to Johns to Basquiat to Barney to Hirst...on and on.
Examples of these contemporary strategies exist within comics-but oddly enough they're as likely to be found in the mainstream as anywhere else. Alan Moore, in particular, has been responsible for a number of works that are uniquely post-modern: his pastiche of the Superman mythos in "Supreme" ; the appropriation and re-definition of classic literary heroes in " The League of Extraordinary Gentleman"; the re-contextualization of pulp adventure in "Tom Strong" and the re-creation of the "historical" past in "From Hell" are all post-modern in their conceptualization and execution. That is to say they are works aware of their context and conceptualization-they explore fiction as a construct , not as a reality, and the comic book as context, not "universe"- inviting their audience to do the same. The concept behind each is at least as important as its execution.
Even "Lost Girls", which is a deconstruction of the erotic mode as art more than an actual work of pornography, is totally post-modern in its construction. In very concrete ways, Moore's work is a good deal more in tune with contemporary art and literature and therefore more progressive in its nature than a good many art comics of the recent past.

Among creators who continue to work along these lines, Seth and Darwyn Cooke have produced artfully post-modern works of depth and sophistication that do not resort to primitivism in order to distinguish themselves. More importantly (from a post-modern perspective) they don't differentiate between "art" and comics. The rejection of the more traditional or "professional" elements of craft (for ex: panel borders, de-personalized lettering) by some creators working within the new tradition implies a distinction between low-art and high art, the re-establishment of old hierarchies between popular culture and fine art. As though Greenberg's high-brow modernist culture had never been supplanted by Danto's pluralism.

The suggestion is then that for those of us engaged in the making of "art comics"- there is much to be gained via the embrace (and appropriation) of popular comics' idioms and genres-via the exploration of a broad array of mediums, techniques and conceptualizations- -and a good deal lost in reactionary posturing.

images: C.F. "Powr Mastrs vol. 1"Picturebox c. 2007; Cindy Sherman; Untitled Film Still, 1978. Alan Moore and Jerry Ordway; "Supreme", Image Comics.
all images copyrights to the respective copyright holders.


  1. There's a lot to respond here, Geoff, so I'll just pick and choose for now. I'm a bit uneasy about the demand that all the arts march in lockstep, and therefore that comics should go (should have gone?) through all the stages that gallery art went through. To begin with, it's its own art, and different parallels can be drawn with the evolution of other arts, such as cinema, literature, or music. (Has pop music, for example, really ever had a "post-modern" moment, as you define it, or is that specific chronology one applicable to just gallery art?)

    Secondly--comics DID go long ago through a postmodern stage; to begin with, much of underground comix could easily fit within the Pop Art aesthetic (see, for example, all the usage of popular icons, Disney characters, etc., for example in earlier issues of Zap). As you mention, "post-modernism" of the '80s kind does appear in, well, the '80s--in much of Alan Moore's work and that of his imitators (Morrison, etc.). Personally, I think it's good early on; by the time it gets to "Supreme" it's as stale as Koons' work is nowadays.

    Which leads me to my next thought--my first thought when reading the article: Comics have its own Cindy Sherman or Koons? God help us. They work within discourse structures that are specific to the gallery art world. They are not translatable into comics except as a (condescendingly) superimposed discourse, as far as I can imagine. As for comics having its own Murakami: isn't that akin to asking that comics have its own Lichtenstein?

    Danto had a story to tell. It's a Hegelian story, to begin with (though not really Hegel's, important aspects of whom Danto does not get). Greenberg had another. To claim that Danto's notion of posthistorical pluralism is supposed to have supplanted Greenberg's teleological notion of the evolution of art is, paradoxically, teleological.

    People are doing some great art out there. I'd much rather read Chippendale (whom, by the way, Kevin, I can't accept as "stupidist;" his work is incredibly smart, and has a really interesting conceptual basis) than pretty much any post-Watchmen Alan Moore. Comics can do much more, granted (I often say that comics may be the only medium currently whose potential is greater than any masterpieces created so far); but it won't do so by aping the evolution of gallery art, which as far as I'm concerned is in a much deeper period of stagnation these days, and has been for a long time.

  2. I should add: yes, of course, you can retort that "post-modernism" can be found in hip-hop sampling, electronica, etc. etc. etc. But wouldn't identifying it there, and claiming it to be a direct parallel to artworld PM be a falsification of the much subtler evolution of pop music--evolution informed by a great variety of other factors than inform the evolution of gallery art?

  3. Hi Andrei-
    no one is "demanding" anything...heaven forbid! rather suggesting- that a movement that has identified itself- or perhaps has been identified with-sensibilities more often associated w/ the "fine" arts (rather than the applied or commercial- as had been the case in the not -too-distant past) -might, at this juncture- begin to stretch beyond the narrow confines an aesthetic that has come to define the trend thus far. Because the movement has itself suggested an association w/visual art(gallery art if you wish)-one finds oneself directed to that arena for alternatives. And indeed, there are various strategies, conceptualizations or approaches-in the history of 20th and now 21st century art- to draw from--but that yet remain untapped-or under-utilized, while others(specifically, romantic/expressionist) dominate the discussion/practice. It's silly to think, or to suggest that I might believe for that matter- that art forms must follow some parallel development. That's a mis-reading of my intent-and if it came across that way I apologize for the clumsiness of my language--but my point is- that whether you -(or I)-like the artists I mentioned or not(and taste is indeed beside the point) -they employed strategies borne from a consciousness of the image in relation to context -that may prove useful to an imaginative comics artist. Again-a comics Koons, Sherman or Murakami is a silly idea(like some kind of Bizarro art-world)-but comics creators equally aware of the potentiality of image-making -from perhaps a conceptualist point of view rather than expressionist-might prove interesting. (and perhaps that might mean moving beyond drawing-to collage, photo-manipulation,appropriation, I don't know what else)A good start is your own book, Andrei--"Abstract Comics: the Anthology" , which offers myriad possibilities to those interested in making artcomics. More so than that which has come to define the trend thus far. (*full disclosure-I have a piece in the anthology*) Again-the Abstract Comics blog has offered proof that there exists a wide array of possibilities, the potential of which remain largely untapped.
    We can argue about Danto and Greenburg another time-but I do believe Greenburg's view is itself history now, rather than a description of a living condition-and yes, there are people doing great work out there, absolutely. Still, I can look at Chippendale,(without much pleasure, I'll admit) but I'd rather read "From Hell".

  4. Geoff--I have even less time now to address everything I would like to address, but I can start...

    The problem is that from the chronological standpoint that sees modernism as somehow surpassed by postmodernism, my own interest--abstract comics--could be seen as old hat. I don't think it is (obviously!), but I also don't think it could comfortably fit into a specific pomo section of art history. Generally, I think that the chronology espoused by gallery art/MoMA paints with VERY large strokes, ignoring many other events and, in many ways, even falsifying the development of art and theory. What I'm interested in, for example, is not in post-modernism as a theory-based art, but--to put it simply, in a critical, radical modernism that formed and shaped theory, especially deconstruction. We tend to associate Derrida with the "pictures generation," as Kevin puts it (it's nice that we now have a moniker for that period in time), but Derrida's work itself derives from a specific tradition of French high-literary modernism, from Mallarme to Philippe Sollers. In a way, deconstruction is modernism-based philosophy (and therefore, as Kevin puts it, theory chasing art, not the other way around), as opposed to pomo being theory-based art. I think that following that thread, modernist art gestures are much more relevant, much more critically radical, than they have been given credit for either in Greenberg's theories, or by people rejecting Greenberg's theories. Within this view of history, postmodernism is just a further elaboration, not a next stage--or I should say, it's doubled, on one hand a further elaboration of that radical critique inherent in modernism (say, in Jasper Johns), on the other hand a retrograde, if not reactionary gesture, pulling away from the breakthroughs of modernism (for example, pomo architectural theory creating the theoretical context for Prince Charles' advocacy for Ye Olde England values in buildings). In any case--I'm not even committed to these terms, I think that "modernism" may be too compromised by now to be of much use, but all I'm arguing is that that tradition of radical critique, which is philosophical in an immanent way (in Webern, in Pollock, in Joyce you can find that immanence) can be continued, and is as important as ever when divorced from the local turf wars of the gallery world. For that tradition, much of pomo discourse (the unthought part of it, I would say) was a distraction, and even harmful.

    Which may not address at all what you were saying. But just to say that the view of history from which you seemed to be criticizing comics is not the only view, and I think that its deficits should be noted before asking the medium of comics to follow into its logic and develop accordingly.

    I'm also a bit confused about the notion of "romantic/expressionist." I'm not sure who this would apply to--I certainly don't see anything "expressionist" in any of the Fort Thunder guys... Maybe Paul Pope, David Choe? But that's a very small section of the comics world, and probably not what you were referring to. As for Romantic, well, I guess there is that nostalgia that permeates Chris Ware's work, and others', but still... I don't see it. I think we need different terms.

    (cut short for length)

  5. Part 2:

    I think the pleasures one derives from Chippendale and from "From Hell" are totally different. "From Hell" may be, I suppose, pomo at the level of story--as a piece of literature--but it does nothing of the kind at the level of image, the actual visual embodiment of the narrative. (Actually, come to think of it, you could call Eddie Campbell's art there "expressionist" with more reason than most.) All of Moore's work is two-tiered, a pre-existing storyline coming to be illustrated visually, and re-inforcing an old word-image hierarchy. As such, no matter how much he plays with levels of reality, pastiche, recontextualization, his work has little to say about how all of these notions apply to images, which function in a much tamer way in his work--and indeed, much more tamely than, say, in Kirby or Ditko. (There are a few exceptions, such as the Bissette/Totleben art in Swamp Thing, but I still don't think that has anything particularly pomo about it.) In Chippendale or Brinkman, on the other hand, the story is born out of the image, there is not that hierarchy of illustration. I love reading Moore as literature; but as art, and especially as critically relevant art--not to mention as art I can appreciate for its own sake, not for the secondary pleasures of illustration--give me Chippendale or Brinkman any day.

  6. Andrei - you bring up so many points that I'm going to lazily wait until I my next post to respond to them fully, but in the meantime I want to ask you about your remark that Chippendale's work has a "conceptual basis".

    (As an aside, I would hope that it's obvious in context that by "Stupidism" I wasn't referring to a lack of intelligence on the part of the artists, but rather to a rejection of academic strictures and a common intuitive - hell, expressionist! - modus).

    Do you mean "conceptual basis" in the sense of Conceptualism or just in the sense of "hey, Chippendale's not stupid!"?

  7. Andrei-
    thanks for the continued interest and dialogue--and for that last post, which, while not an argument entirely new to me-has rarely been framed in such a concise and clear manner. I can't say that I agree, but I do accept the criticism of the historical models I've been referring to.
    But again, that originates w/influences and models many making artcomics have apparently drawn from. (Kevin has quoted one or two in his post).

    I am curious to hear more on this point-
    "... modernist art gestures are much more relevant, much more critically radical, than they have been given credit for either in Greenberg's theories, or by people rejecting Greenberg's theories"-

    I'm skeptical-but certainly willing to listen. How can a movement so thoroughly assimilated maintain its radical authority?
    (This is not suggest that PM is at all radical-but the notion of "radical" in the current environment is something worth exploring)

    And re: my "From Hell"/ Chippendale analogy-hell, that was flippant. But I think you make something more interesting of it than I intended. Absolutely two different experiences-
    "the hierarchy of illustration" is a very interesting distinction-and suggests a larger question about the experience of comics as art and literature. Is Campbell's involvement in "From Hell" less than Moore's-less than Chippendale's in "Maggots"? Is his creative contribution somehow separate/distinct from the work as a whole? Can the work be read as a whole-or does the implicit hierarchy (story/image) Andrei has identified make that impossible/improbable?

    And what of experiencing comics as "art"? does the process of Brinkman or Chippendale (as suggested by Andrei)
    bring comics closer to the experience of "art"? (and what do we mean by "art"? "Visual" art-"high" art?Painting? Some kind of organic whole? ) If indeed the story is "...born out of the image..." or the process-in Brinkman or Chippendale-
    does that suggest a different hierarchy? Or the abolition of the story/image hierarchy?

  8. Kevin--I would hope there is a wide range of options between "conceptualism" and "hey, he's not stupid!" Basically, what I meant was that I have seen him speak and also chatted with him about his work, and there are clear, intelligent choices being made in his work both as to subject matter (the allegorization of the squatters vs. business interest and city government in Providence struggle into the world of "Ninja"), as well as to the formal choices used (very close together, moment-to-moment transitions; the treatment of marks that unify each page; the direction of reading; etc.) It's not just made by instinct or some romantic celebration of spontaneity. I actually believe this also shines through from his work, so you don't really need to have talked to him to get it...

  9. Geoff--

    "How can a movement so thoroughly assimilated maintain its radical authority?"

    Let me step back for a second, away from the visual arts. I find Derrida's argument in "The Double Session" very powerful, where he argues that Mallarme's use of textuality (and Mallarme is the modern poet par excellence) essentially functions as a monkey wrench thrown into the structure of Platonic representation--structure which had defined the understanding of art (and many things beside) from the Greeks until the 19th century, at least (and still does so for most work being produced today). It threatens and deconstructs the subject/form dichotomy, the centrality of meaning (verbalizable, monological meaning) in the understanding of the work of art, etc.

    I would say that much the same was accomplished, at about the same time, by Manet; very quickly, back-of-the-envelope argument: I am always amazed at those who, following T.J. Clark, see "Olympia" as radical because it showed a working class prostitute, supposedly. No, that's just turning it into a specific kind of genre painting, and what Manet did is to threaten the very categories (derived, ultimately, from classical representation) that defined the hierarchy of genres: The "Olympia" presents us with a--well, presence--that is neither that of the sitter itself as portrait, nor that of a genre character as fiction, and indeed comes to threaten the division, which had informed the reception of genres, between painting as representation of reality or painting as fiction.

    These are just brief examples--but I use them to show that the modernist breakthrough was much more than something to do with local, art concerns; in a way, it began challenging an entire metaphysics on which Western thought was based.

    (Cutting it short for length; another post coming)

  10. Similar "philosophical" (in the widest sense of the word) effects can be found in the work of Joyce, Webern, Picasso or Pollock (not to mention Rauschenberg, Johns, or Twombly). There is something in that "making it strange," in that introduction of strangeness into the world that avant-garde art excels at, that makes it radical, theoretically. And I would argue that that strangeness has NOT been assimilated; what has been assimilated is a set of formal gestures, which were tamed and repeated, turned into fashion. There is (at least) a tug-of-war between modernism as radical critique and modernism as fashion, and I think that reacting to it, as fashion, often keeps us from perceiving its deep radical potential. But maybe one has to step out of the artworld to perceive this!! (I currently think that's the case.) It is up to us, as critics and/or as artists coming after those breakthroughs, perhaps also as philosophers, to perceive and valorize that radical, critical potential, not to let it be seen as nothing more than fashion.

    To follow up on your last paragraphs--I believe that the hierarchy of illustration still follows a very tidy classical structure of representation (subject/form, dominance of verbal over visual. etc.) that does come directly out of Plato (using Plato, as Derrida does, as synecdoche for a much wider ideology of representation). Brinkman and Chippendale, for example (or Panter, or abstract comics) do lead to the abolition of that story/image hierarchy, as far as I'm concerned. But this is probably a study that needs to be done elsewhere than in a blog's comments thread.

  11. Andrei-this has been a pleasure. Thanks for devoting so much time and energy to the discussion.
    Manet is such an interesting choice. I am in absolute agreement with you about the radical nature of "Olympia", "Le dejeuner", etc.---and there is something within his awarenenss of genre and the function of "the painting" in its context(historical and physical)--as well as an awareness of photography-that one can connect to Duchamp and Warhol. In this way it feels so contemporary. (Or perhaps here I'm imposing my own concerns upon what is quite simply a great painting-at least that's what my painter friends say.)
    There are aspects of your position that interest me-and are well worth further thought--the assimilation of a "set of formal gestures"-and the distinction between modernism as radical critique and fashion. I can't speak to the Derrida-but nevertheless, I do feel that there are principles of modernism -modernism as it developed in 20th century visual art--that don't carry the weight that they once did, that no longer seem so certain. Certain formal criteria, the belief in the autonomy of the art object,the distinctions between high and low art,the inevitability of progress and the emphasis on formal evolution, utopian manifestos,etc.-many of these criteria simply feel worn out, remote-distant from the culture we inhabit now-and the experience of making art now. (And I'm old enough to remember the shift--from the dominance of one mode of working-wherein we(art students) were taught to think in lock-step...a period during which "illusionism" was tantamount to a crime against art--to a very different moment only a few years later-when making pictures- of pictures- seemed only natural.)

    I like the idea of "strange"ness , but work within the modernist canon that I find most strange- is just as likely to be disavowed by devotees of modernism( and I'm not suggesting this of you, Andrei)--Duchamp,Dada,Cage,Beuys- for example. Yet to me, they seem most radical-and pertinent- yet today.
    And I suppose that is why I suggest it might be of value for interested artcomics creators to explore this territory when considering their visualizations.
    Collage, for example,(think Hannah Hoch and John Heartfield- or Max Ernst, even) rather than brush and ink-initiates an entirely different way of thinking about the image and the way in which it functions. By adopting such a process,(and, of course, it's only one of many choices) something truly strange is bound to come.

  12. This is rude and childish and yes I only read half of this essay and none of the comments but you are missing the boat in a humongous way Geoff. The very fact that current 'underground' comics bother to attempt naive, sincere formal gestures is a self-conscious purposeful move much wiser and more contemporary than you realize. A lot of artists will simultaneously refer towards a very post-postmodern and genuine, sincere hopefulness as well as produce a subtextual understanding of the impossibility of contrived naivety. We are not in Andy Warhol's world anymore, we are beyond it, and you, dude, are hopelessly mired in the past.

  13. Geoff--I suppose I'm lucky to have gone to school at a time when the hegemony of abstract art no longer held sway, so I'm not influenced by that institutional element (which, I would argue, has little to do with the actual important breakthroughs of the avant-garde).

    You write: "Certain formal criteria, the belief in the autonomy of the art object, the distinctions between high and low art, the inevitability of progress and the emphasis on formal evolution, utopian manifestos, etc.--many of these criteria simply feel worn out, remote-distant from the culture we inhabit now, and the experience of making art now."

    I do think that we have very different views of what modernism means, and some of the criteria that define it for one seem like only secondary characteristics for the other. That said, I think the list you provide shows, to begin with, that there is no such thing as a unified modernism (clearly, the artists believing in "the autonomy of the work of art" are not the same ones writing utopian manifestos; there is an art-for-art's-sake modernism, and a social-utopian modernism, and those are very distinct from each other). More than that, maybe coming from a (slightly) younger generation, I feel that it is indeed Pop Art--and post-modernism as a whole--that more strictly enforces the high/low border than modernism ever did. It is because of Lichtenstein, because of various appropriations of "popular" art in the '80s, that much of the artworld still only can conceive of references to popular art as ironic, and cannot accept that artistic achievement in a popular medium can be as important as achievement in the gallery art world. This is a sentiment that--though pervasive still--grows stale by the day, and I would argue it takes exactly a "modernist" emphasis on pure form to demonstrate, outside of social contexts, that a breakthrough in comics, say (and I don't mean abstract comics--I mean, for example, Kirby) is as important as Jackson Pollock's. Pomo's stance of irony will never allow it to see Kirby for what he really achieved; a modernist perspective just might.

    I don't know--it's just that some of the attitudes that to you seem remote, seem to me--maybe if tweaked, deconstructed, re-arranged somehow, made strange again--exactly what we do need right now. And I do find elements of that in the work of Fort Thunder, for example.

  14. What I love about this last post, Andrei-is the fresh thinking (to my stale mind) you bring to these issues. I may not agree with you, but I am really interested in your perspective--and I hope to incorporate this last notion( the role of PM in the high low divide )into my own considerations of these issues. This is exactly the kind of productive exchange Kevin and I were hoping for.
    I think this is a fine note on which to close the discussion, don't you?

  15. Hi everyone! I'm new here. But I like this discussion. I don't know a whole lot about new art comics coming out right now. My understanding of a lot of the material from Fort Thunder and Paper Rad is that it was produced by art school's discontents, borne of a semi-reactionary response to art theory or institutionalized competition in the commercial and/or gallery realms, but I could be completely off the mark. I see Geoff's point about Alan Moore, but also agree that it's a literary post-modernism and not a formal post-modernism or innovation that would actually expand or even interrogate the underlying principals of the comics form. The pirate story in Watchmen is a pastiche, and plays with the idea of the (I wanna say...) "supertext" of the average commercial comic book, but the story with the big blue guy is still supposed to be the "real" story. Moore's use of pastiche here is definitely relatable to post-modern novels. I actually feel the so-called RAW generation and the Pictures generation, both of whom were centered in '80's New York City, occupy roughly the same conceptual/historical space. The pictures generation sought to return to images in fine art with a newfound criticality, much of the RAW stuff seems to return almost to a pre-comics-code experimentalism and open-endedness. Tijuana bibles and Ernie Bushmiller were given equal appreciation because of a critical detachment from the medium. Michael Smith, a "Pictures Generation" artist known primarily for his eighties video art, even went so far as to release his own post-modern comic book about comics, The Seduction of Mike, through Fantagraphics in 1997, albeit this was done with artist R. Sikoryak. To create comics or paintings or photos with images at all is in itself conceptually unsound to the most puritan post-modernists. And yet to cut art off from its own history is to negate the idea of art itself. But people still want to make art and art can, and should, still communicate with people, even if it is communicating about art itself. My understanding is that the painter Tom Lawson, photographer Cindy Sherman, and others in their generation confronted this double bind and created self-reflexive "pictures of pictures" as Geoff said, which, in a sense, opened up the issues of content and form for further debate. But the idea would be that the game has changed; painting and images in general are no longer in a seat of supremacy, their use is more self-conscious and detached. I would argue that comics went through a similar transformation in the 1980's. Chris Ware, Kaz, and Mark Newgarden all come to mind as artists who mine the history of both mainstream and underground comics as well as fine arts. Kaz's characters are transparent amalgamations of pre-existing characters from Disney cartoons, Bazooka Joe comics, Nancy, etc. The world they inhabit is built from a set of tropes and signifiers borrowed and stolen from other popular sources. This is the same modus operandi that Sherman uses in her film-stills series, though replace the comics with generic film heroines and movie set locales.

  16. Terrific post, John. I'm so glad you've added to the discussion-Your comparison between the Pictures generation and RAW is particularly on target- -there was definitely a connection between what was happening in the galleries and the East Village and RAW's sensibilities.
    I'm not familiar with "The Seduction of Mike"-but I'm really excited about Sikoryak's new collection "Masterpiece Comics" from D&Q. Can't wait.

  17. John--yes, I too think that the Raw/"pictures generation" comparison is totally on target. Actually, I would say it even goes back a few years before Raw, to Spiegelman's "Breakdowns," which does that kind of quotation/pastiche/sampling work brilliantly, and was directly influential on the Raw artists, from Newgarden to Richard McGuire's "Here" to Chris Ware's "I Guess." "The Malpractice Suite" is the masterpiece in "Breakdowns" from that point of view--establishing a musical rhythm of samples/repetition that echoes what would happen in hip-hop production only a few years later, and which perhaps comes closest to what Robert Wilson and Philip Glass were up to, just around that time, in "Einstein on the Beach" (to extend the parallel to another relative of "the pictures generation"--or what we might call NY pomo downtown culture of the late '70s-early '80s).

    As for "The Seduction of Mike"--do you know what role Michael Smith played in its creation, compared to Bob Sikoryak's? Because (perhaps because I didn't know who Smith was), I always thought of it as a Sikoryak book, because it's so close to the sensitivity of his later, solo work.

    Lastly, I could mount a stronger defense of Fort Thunder (or rather of Chippendale and Brinkman, specifically)--but maybe that's getting too much for this thread. Let me just say (as a theorist, as well as an artist) that I see no reason why art made out of dissatisfaction with, or desire to avoid, art theory (let alone "institutionalized competition in the commercial and/or gallery realms") should be qualified as "semi-reactionary." There is no demand that art follow theory--and indeed, it's always fresher (as Kevin himself has argued in his post) when it doesn't, but rather makes theory follow in its wake.

  18. In reference to "The Seduction of Mike" I don't know much about it at all, but the character Mike is consistent to the persona Michael Smith establishes in his video work like "The Mike Show" and other stuff. His Dale Cooper-esque appreciation of coffee and speaking in vague gosh-daln-isms. There's little touches that to me remind me of Michael Smith's videos, like when he's walking through the park and there's an inexplicable group of soldiers there plotting something. I'm not as familiar with Sikoryak's work but maybe we can assume this is a true 50-50 collaboration.

    I don't have a lot to argue with Andrei about re: the semi-reactionary thing. I guess I meant anti-intellectual. Like a kind of ironic romanticism where they realize that their imaginations are colonized and defined by popular culture, but in any case adopt the cartoons and signifiers of that culture and re-purpose them to create a stoner romanticism. Now that I say that (whatever it means) I'm realizing it's essentially the Robert Crumb approach. I guess the only difference being 40 years after Robert Crumb it might seem like "not enough"? I don't know, it's pretty half-baked from my side and I don't have a strong emotional or moral/ethical position on it though my language might infer that. Something tells me I'm digging myself a hole. And Perhaps this perception of mine only really applies to dearraindrop and Paper Rad. I don't even know if dearraindrop makes "comics" proper, but they certainly make a lot of collage, and unrepentantly stupidist collage at that. Honestly I don't follow Paper Rad, Fort Thunder, etc. guys enough to find the golden nugget buried in the melted-crayon-and-candy-bar sludge, but I'm open to the possibility that it's there.

  19. Also, when I say "romanticism" I'm using it in the irresponsible way where you say that instead of saying "expression of inarticulate emotional content predicated on an assumption of the validity of the subjective viewpoint of the artist". And I also regret writing both "ironic romanticism" and "stoner romanticism" in the same sentence, or at all for that matter.

  20. Re: "The Seduction of Mike."

    I wrote Bob Sikoryak directly to ask him how the collaboration with Michael Smith had gone, and I sent him a link to this thread. First of all, his reply began: "This is a pretty fascinating discussion--I haven't heard much discussion of these ideas before."

    --umm, I just had to type that sentence in, because it wouldn't let me paste... Hmm. I was going to say that he also sent me a lengthy excerpt from an interview, where he discussed "The Seduction of Mike" and his collaboration with Smith, and I was planning to cut and paste here the most relevant passages, but I don't seem to be able to, and I don't have the time or energy to retype them now. Anyone know how I can get around this?

    Also, John, as you seem to sense, much of Fort Thunder's work (and especially Chippendale and Brinkman) is very different from Paper Rad or dearraindrop, and really does not qualify as "Melted crayon and candy bar sludge" in any way. I have little to say about Paper Rad--their comics have always left me indifferent, but I must say that my 4-year-old is a great fan of their DVD "Problem Solvers," and I kind of like it too. They should do more of that kind of work. But check out Brinkman's "Teratoid Heights" or Chippendale's "Ninja"--they're something else altogether.

  21. I will do that! And I agree about "Problem Solvers". Last year I saw a band play a show at a club where they played "Problem Solvers" on a screen behind them, and the band was completely upstaged.

  22. "Stoner romanticism" is a poor choice of words indeed. Unless, of course, you meant to wholly dismiss the entire Fort Thunder/PaperRad movement as utterly worthless.

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