As the new comics writer for Bad at Sports, I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit debating how to contextualize comics as an art form for the audience of a contemporary arts blog. Writing about comics from an arts perspective is a relatively new development for a medium that has been around since the 1830s. Historically, comics have been meanwhiled into the margins of art and institutional processes of cultural validation. In a not so distant past, it would be unheard of for the managing editor of an arts publication like B@S to devote an entire column to comics criticism (or for the editor herself to be the creator of a superhero comic featuring a lady lead). Comics were certainly not something made in art school or written about in the canons of art history. Declaring to family members that you wanted to tell stories with words and pictures was cause for embarrassment and heartbreak. But things are shifting. When I told my dad in 2009 that I wanted to use my life to make comic books, it was met with a sigh of relief, “Oh good, we thought you were going to be a painter.”
For the purposes of this blog, and as a cartoonist myself, debates about the validity of comics as a medium bore me. This is not to say that as comics become more enveloped in academia or part of the art economy that artists shouldn’t be paying attention. There is a lot of smart and critical media being published that speak to this, such as an essay by cartoonist, Caitlin Cass published last month on Inkt Art. For me, comics were validated as a suitable baseline beat for self-expression the first time I found my dad’s stack of pulp comics in his closet, or the first time I checked out a comic book from the public library, or the first time I created a mini-comic as an art student in 2009. The list continues ad infinitum.
Meanwhile… was originally (and continues to be) an interview series and critical exploration which I began with fellow cartoonist, Krystal DiFronzo. We were tired of comics criticism or attempts at canonization that were not indicative of the dense and diverse artistic communities that we, as creators, are apart of. This column is an extension of that project. Each month I will be highlighting and providing captions to an array of artists and thinkers who take comics and narrative creation as a given for navigating their world(s).
To kick off this series (and to tide readers over until next month) I would like to underscore comics/things available on the web for leisurely perusal. ENJOY!
1. Aidan Koch’s gorgeous book, The Blonde Woman, was created with assistance from a Xeric Grant and was originally released online via The Study Group Magazine website. I recommend reading it all in one sitting if possible.
2. The New York Times recently published a mini-comic by C.F. called Face It.
3. Cartoonist, Brian Chippendale made an animated music video out of flip-books he drew as a kid. There’s a dragon and eyeball bombs in it – need I say more? Black Pus – 1000 Years
In the spirit of the holidays, I thought I’d post something a little on the playful side: a comic I recently revised while thinking about the relationship between text and narrative, how we propagate myths as a society and (even) how drawing can be a kind of dramatic reenactment.
Neil Brideau: I think over the past few generations comics have really come into their own. They’re being accepted more by the larger cultural world, and I think that helps cartoonists break out of their shells a little bit. Most of CAKE’s exhibitors are in their late twenties and early thirties, and I feel like this generation is a lot more social than their immediate predecessors. There’s this stereotype of the alternative comics artist toiling away in their studio not getting any financial or critical compensation for what they love, and feeling sorry for themselves. But I see our peers really celebrating their creative process and the creative process of others. Not that there aren’t a lot of nights spent alone in a room inking pages of comics very few people will read. I think Chicago too, in general is really welcoming of DIY and small-run creativity. Whether it’s the Night Market, or the CIMM Fest, or the Chicago Zine Fest, or Printers Ball, or house shows that DIYCHI is putting together, Chicago seems to be an incubator for lo-fi production and celebration of that production. I think cartoonists in Chicago react to that energy, and are more social and community-oriented animals.
This week we are trying something new. Truth be told, we were planning on trying something new at the beginning of January but due to various mishaps we are two months late. The snappy-est title we could come up with “Great Stuff.” What that really is a subtitle for is “Great Stuff that was found in our offices regardless of how it got there.” So we begin “Great Stuff” with Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant.”
Last fall Beaton’s new comic anthology “Hark! A Vagrant” was published by Drawn and Quarterly, and is truly delightful. it arrived our offices and quietly sat in a pile of things that needed to be read for several months, never really hinting at the ridiculous good times to be had within but one quiet afternoon I picked it up and could not put it down. Beaton’s a veteran cartoonist whose work has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, the National Post and the New Yorker. Beaton is a kind of spiritual kin to Bad at Sports. Her work draws heavily on her degree in history and her broad knowledge of literature, and then couples those intellectual impulses with an absurd sense of humor which would make Monty Python proud and had me laughing out loud over and neglecting phone calls. In fact, I’ve come back to it and reread it twice since my first reading. If you are a fan of art, literature, Canada, history, and being an intellectual well making fun of intellectuals this shit will tear you up.
The high points for me include jokes about the “Great Gatsby,” the Brontë sisters, St. Francis, and Canadian stereotypes. the back covers cartoon is a special treat for those of us who’ve devoted our lives to things that are often difficult to empathize with.
You can find more delight with Kate Beaton here.
David Shrigley fans, take note: Shrigley will be signing copies of his new book What the Hell Are You Doing? The Essential David Shrigley TONIGHT at 7pm at Quimby’s Bookstore, 1854 W. North Ave., Chicago. Tomorrow night, he’ll be speaking at Columbia College Chicago’s Stage Two from 6:30pm – 9:30pm, 618 S. Michigan Ave., 2nd Floor. Quimby’s will be there both nights to sell the hell out of his books. Should be good! And stay tuned over the coming months for Duncan’s interview with Shrigley on the podcast (dates still TBD). Full details on tonight and tomorrow’s events below:
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? The Essential David Shrigley
“David Shrigley is probably the funniest gallery-type artist who ever
lived.” -Dave Eggers
“With a casual gesture Shrigley points to that hideous shape whose
name I’ve never known—and then he names it. And the name is
profoundly, embarrassingly familiar. I’m laughing while frantically
searching for a pen, so desperate to capture the feeling he has
unearthed in me.” -Miranda July
David Shrigley is the rare artist that can comfortably walk the fine
line between pop culture and high art. While he’s animated videos for
musicians such as Blur and Bonny Prince Billy, his work can also be
seen in world renowned museums such as MoMA and the Tate Modern, and
his highly distinctive style has been on display in galleries in New
York, Paris, Berlin, Melbourne, and beyond. He is also clearly a
The aptly named WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING: The Essential David
Shrigley [W. W. Norton & Company; October 24th, 2011; $35.00
hardcover] is an outrageous compilation of his illustrations, comics,
photography and sculpture. His crude drawings and unexpected
compositions are at once childish and clever, and each depiction oddly
sincere. They capture the morbid humor of Edward Gorey, the absurdity
of a Monty Python sketch, and the peculiar perspective of a Charles
Addams cartoon. In short, this beautiful, full color collection is an
indispensible introduction to one of contemporary art’s most
fascinating and provocative minds.
The pieces in this book are an eclectic and encompassing
representation of Shirgley’s interest in the surreal. From a
photograph of a hot dog (affixed with googly eyes and tucked
comfortably into bed) to childlike drawings of humanity’s most
grotesque members (a man drinking a goblet of blood, captioned simply
with “CHEERS!”) this book is a both a celebration of condemnation of
humanity’s most base urges, fears, and delights.
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? is remarkably bold, and Shrigley leaves
no topic untouched. Through colorful commentary, he explores
everything from clowns to caffeine, sexuality to God, and all the
delightfully inappropriate bits in between. You would be hard-pressed
to find, in any other work of art, a match to Shrigley’s satirical
brilliance. As Will Self points out in the introduction, “Shrigley’s
photographic works suggest the refined eye of someone sent back from
the future beyond the looming apocalypse, charged with assembling
images that, while ostensibly of the mundane, nonetheless explain how
it came to pass that humanity destroyed itself.” By turns unsettling,
moving, and gut-wrenchingly funny, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? is a
revealing glimpse into an offbeat, darkly comedic, and utterly
hilarious artistic mind. For more info: davidshrigley.com/.
Tues, Sept 20th, 7pm at Quimby’s Bookstore 1854 W. North Ave., Chicago
Wed, Sep 21st , 6:30pm – 9:30pm at Columbia College Chicago – Stage
Two 618 S. Michigan Ave., 2nd Floor.…Quimby’s will be there to sell
These events are co-sponsored by Quimby’s Bookstore, Columbia College
and AIGA Chicago.
Quimby’s Bookstore 1854 W. North Ave Chicago, IL 60622 p:
773-342-0910 f: 773-342-0998 quimbys.com