Green Juncture

Today on the site it's Joe and the comics of the week.


Here's Jeet Heer on Ted Cruz and Rorschach, which is like having Stanley Crouch write about Kenny G. We miss you, Jeet.

Here's our own Sean T. Collins on Hellboy.

And here's Tom Spurgeon on various comic book industry stuff.

There are some nice reviews of my show What Nerve! in The New Yorker and Artspace. the show, as I've mentioned, contains work by  various people who have also made comics. I should note, and you heard here it first, that the Collected Hairy Who Publications book that accompanies the show should rewrite the history of underground comics. It won't, because comics people never look at art, but it should. We've reached a funny point in the culture where art is very interested in comics, and comics just won't play ball. It's "funny".

38 Responses to Green Juncture

  1. Robert Boyd says:

    Is art really looking at comics? I can’t tell. It seems like there is a step in the right direction followed by condescension or ignorance. I can’t tell if it’s two step forward and one step back, or one step forward and two steps back. Certainly we haven’t reached the moment where comics are fully integrated with the art world. But I remain hopeful–photography had a weirdly long path before it was really considered art worthy of being collected by art museums.

  2. Dan Nadel says:

    Yes, for what it’s worth (not much?) art is looking at comics. There’s a serious Jim Shaw retrospective (for which I wrote a catalog essay) coming to the New Museum in October. My show, which includes one of the mot influential cartoonists of his generation, Mat Brinkman, is at arguably the most respected gallery in North America; I co-curated a very well-regarded Victor Moscoso retrospective in February. Ben Jones has an enormous exhibition up right now at a good gallery. And artists like William Copley, as well as all the Chicagoans, are all ascendent. The recent ZAP was a huge deal in art circles. To me, that’s a huge step in the right direction. Sure, things like that Artforum issue are dispiriting, but if comics has become more insular in recent years, and less appreciative of its own genius artists and more focused on a strange academic fandom (see: Chicago symposium, Columbia University, endless basement “festivals”) and making everyone feel good. Maybe I’m seeing it all wrong, but then again, maybe it doesn’t matter at all! Who knows.

  3. Frank Santoro says:

    (see: Chicago symposium, Columbia University, endless basement “festivals”) lolz

  4. Ryan Holmberg says:

    Dan, look forward to the September issue of Art in America. I cannot say any more than that.

  5. Dan Nadel says:

    Ryan, I’ve seen the cover. That part is cool. I can’t tell if that Look Forward is sarcastic or not.

  6. Ryan Holmberg says:

    The SEPTEMBER issue?

  7. Dan Nadel says:

    Yes. I got friends in low places.

  8. The Imagists were directly responsible for reawakening my interest in comics during my HS years, albeit in the Chicago area and at the singlehanded direction of a great art teacher of mine.

    In Chicago comics circles, the Imagists are revered nowadays and their influence is readily apparent walking around a show like CAKE. Don’t know if that’s still just a “regional” thing though.

  9. Robert Boyd says:

    The reverence of the Imagists is far from universal, but they certainly are more highly respected now than they have been since the 60s. They were so successful in the 60s in Chicago that there was a certain degree of backlash against them from the N.A.M.E. generation. But now they’re getting the “elder statesmen” treatment.

    Copley’s sort of the same way–his reputation has waxed and waned–obviously it was at a high point when he was one of the “bad” artists that Marcia Tucker herded together for her landmark exhibit of “Bad” Painting in 1978 at the New Museum.

    And while I see the relationship between these artists and many others to comics–the cartoon figuration, especially–in only a few instances do I see their work as comics qua comics. It certainly comes out of a similar primordial ooze, though.

    The art world can more easily accept, say, Copley or Jim Nutt than it can comics, even the ones we admire most, because their work is almost all fits comfortably within the art world’s self-definition. They mostly produce(d) paintings and drawings meant to be exhibit on walls in galleries and museums.

    Shaw is interesting because his work is harder to pigeonhole (from the stance of the art world). But he certainly sees himself as part of it.

    I hope this doesn’t come off as argumentative. I’m somewhat heartened whenever I see the boundaries of these two worlds fuzz together a bit. But I’m often reminded of something I read in an interview with Phillippe de Montebello, the longtime Met director. He said that he considered the mission of the Met to collect the best examples of art by human beings from every country in every time period made for every purpose in every medium. And yet, as far as I can tell, they have one page by George Herriman, none by Robert Crumb, E.C. Segar, Chester Gould, Chris Ware, Harvey Kurtzman, etc. This is America’s biggest, most comprehensive art museum. Almost all other museums in the U.S.A. are the same.

    That’s where I see comics failing in regards to the art world. Comics may have occasional success in some kunsthalles, commercial art galleries, alternative spaces, etc., but until comics art (and publications) are widely held in permanent museum collections, I think comics has a long way to go.

  10. Dan Nadel says:

    Robert, I agree with you on the museum situation. It’s a big problem. There a few interesting facets here:
    1) What is comic art? It’s a production artifact. It’s very difficult for even sophisticated curators (and perhaps more importantly, collectors) to get their heads around that. What is this wite out? Why is there rubber cement? What’s with all the blue pencil? It’s a strange class of object.
    Is it drawing? Print making? Something else?
    2) Let’s say you get around it. Where does a museum go to buy such a thing? Comic-Con? Heritage? The best chance is the occasional gallery show in NYC. The comics world makes it pretty difficult by being so, uh, longbox oriented.
    3) Let’s say you get a show going based on loans — then you have to deal with collectors who, if not outright hostile to museums and institutions, are highly suspicious of them. Comic art is primarily held by old school fans who are, to say the least, highly eccentric and secretive. Try asking the country’s largest holder of Steve Ditko art what he has.
    4) What are the institutions that actually are in the comics world doing? Oops, quick, look away! Except Ohio State. That’s one.
    5) Who is representing comics to the outside world? Look around at who that is. Seriously. We have a very short supply of smart, presentable, not insane humans like Todd Hignite.
    6) Obviously it’s a museum’s job to cut through all this bullshit, but there has to be some impetus to do so. I’m not sure what the upshot is anymore, having been around the rodeo a few times. It should happen, and as more shows happen and more artists and dealers collect (here I think of the potential influence of Jim Shaw, Cameron Jamie, David Kordansky, et al) it’ll change, but it’s a slow burn, and the comics people aren’t helping much.

  11. R. Fiore says:

    I think Dan’s point while not universal is nevertheless basically sound. Artists have been looking at comic art for a century and more as folk art, something unauthored like advertisements, that can be freely mined for imagery. As part of the natural world, as it were. There’s no analogous way that comics would mine gallery art. Also, there’s a certain antagonism that a lot of cartoonists feel that comes from the way representational art is or was derided in art school — the Art School Confidential outlook. Just how applicable are the techniques of painting or other single-image artwork to comics anyway? I imagine what a sequential artist would find most useful would be things like genre pictures, which have never been considered the highest forms of art. Illustration is more what a cartoonist would be looking at. Among the fine arts literature is probably more of an influence.

  12. Ryan Holmberg says:

    Dan might recall this, though I think he only heard the final outcome.

    When we were finishing Hayashi Seiichi’s Gold Pollen (arty manga from the late 60s and early 70s from Garo) I ended up through Japanese art history channels in discussion with the Japanese Art curator at the Met. He expressed interest in doing a show around Hayashi’s work in the Met’s Japan galleries, with Hayashi’s ukiyoe-influenced pages next to actual prints by Utamaro and Kiyonaga, etc. That seemed like a real coup, but then it quickly fell through as the MET was unwilling to borrow the artwork from Hayashi because it would cost too much and take too long to arrange shipping from Japan with all the necessary insurance and registrar paperwork, leaving us with two options. Either Hayashi gift the Met some artwork (and they wanted representative pages, rather than full works, if I remember correctly) or they buy the artwork. Hayashi has never sold his Garo pages, so he didn’t know a price, and refused to come up with one. I asked around to art dealers and manga collectible dealers, and they couldn’t come up with a price since something like this had never been on the market. I asked the Met, Well, How much are you willing to pay? Since asking them that question, I never once got a reply, and still haven’t heard from them to this day.

    The “production artifact” issue that Dan brings up I think will disappear the minute there is a developed and recognizable ART WORLD market for these objects. And that’s already happening, is it not? Has Christies or Sothebys ever sold comics pages?

  13. Tony says:

    Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s Paris branches have auctioned tons of original comics pages of the European big guns (Moebius, Franquin, Bilal, Hergé, Pratt…) for obscene figures, most recently:
    3,889,500 €URO
    3,821,947 €URO

  14. A few comments:

    I, like a lot of other art-school trained cartoonists, turned to comics as a way to go beyond the limitations of the Art World™. I don’t have much interest in said Art World affirming or even acknowledging my work. There undoubtedly are many others like me in comics, which may account for the (relative) lack of direct engagement cartoonists have with that world.

    That said, I do think cartoonists are engaging with that world more readily now than ever before. Just take a look at the work on display at CAKE, or the Brooklyn Show. Up above, Mr. Fiore questioned how applicable fine arts methods are to comics making, and I would answer “as applicable as cartoonists want them to be,” which more and more is becoming “quite a bit.”

    I don’t sell my original artwork because, to me, the art for sale is the finished book. If you want the art, you and anyone else can buy it for $5.

  15. Robert Boyd says:

    Dan–You’re right about the “old school fans” and the general clash of cultures between museums and dealers/collectors of comics/comics art. With art collectors and galleries, the way of dealing with with museums is well established. Speaking with the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Museum of Fine Art-Houston, she explained that one painting they had recently purchased came about because a gallerist in town called her and invited her to look at an artist’s recent work. She suggested the museum acquire a piece. The curator agreed, but from there it went through a lengthy vetting. Then the gallery owners donated the work. So it was a win-win–the museum got a work it wanted, the gallery got to say a piece by an artist it represents had been acquired by the museum. But dealers of comics art probably don’t see museum acquisition as prestigious. For a gallery artist, being in a museum collection potentially increases the value of your art. In the long run, I think that would happen with comics art, but it’s not currently the case.

    Likewise with collectors. They have well-established ways of dealing with museums–to help museums acquire work by artists they collect in depth, by bequesting art, by loaning art, by buying on behalf of the museum, etc. They know the curators and vice versa. I was visiting a collector I know, and there was a big blank spot on his wall with a post-it note that read “Art the Studio Museum Harlem Until such-and-such date”. It made me smile, but he was obviously proud that a piece he owned was being shown by a museum. Not to mention that this proclaimed the importance of the piece. But as you say, this isn’t (yet) the case with comics and comic art collectors.

    Maybe the reason I am skeptical of progress on this front is that I don’t want to be disappointed if it fails to materialize. Things are moving more-or-less in the right direction.

    I have a friend who is a small-time art collector but knows nothing about comics. I took him to see a cartoonist friend of mine and we each bought some of the cartoonist’s work. Afterwards, my collector friend asked me if the prices he paid were typical (he had bought I think 4 pages for a little over $1000). I said they were, and he was appalled. One doesn’t want to use price as a substitute for respect, but if this art form were respected more by the art world, prices for original art would be much higher. This would benefit at least some cartoonists. I personally like buying original art from cartoonists because I know they get FA from publishing the work in most cases.

  16. Dan Nadel says:

    @ R. Fiore; I don’t think it’s true that all artists have mined comics that way. Some have, but many, like the Chicago Imagists, Copley, Kelley, Sue Williams, Carroll Dunham, on and on, have used the modes of drawing, color, and representation that comics engenders. That latter use is much much more interesting, and analogous to how artists like Chris Ware, Mat Brinkman, Ron Rege, Lauren Weinstein, Aline Crumb, et al, have used the mark-making and symbologies of contemporary art in their cartooning.
    @ Holmberg: I’d forgotten about that “fun” exchange. You may be right about the market, but that market needs some prime movers. It’s far, far away. Sotheby’s and Christie’s had comic art auctions 15-20 years ago but there the problem was the umbrella of comic art. It doesn’t make sense to auction, say, comic book cover recreations with Chester Gould pages. That’s like auctioning Peter Max paintings with de Kooning paintings. There has to be a serious attempt made to make a case for the good, important work.

  17. Jeppe Mulich says:

    Just as a quick comment to Ryan’s comment above: The British Museum has a few pieces by manga artists, including at least one by Suehiro Maruo, in their collection, but these are for the most part paintings rather than original pages. I believe they also have first editions of some tankōbon, but not sure which. Of course the Museum is primarily focused on cultural and historical artifacts rather than art, so there are no doubt other factors at play in their choice of acquisitions.

  18. jamie jamie says:

    ‘I don’t sell my original artwork because, to me, the art for sale is the finished book. If you want the art, you and anyone else can buy it for $5.’
    Righteous, John P.
    That, to me, is the coolest thing about comics.

  19. James Romberger says:

    In comics, the complete finished work is complete stories, which are in turn comprised of the final printed pages, often in color. I am never comfortable with the idea of museum- or gallery-exhibited original art that shows work only in fragmentary and unfinished form, marred with correction fluid, pasteovers and editorial scribblings. One cannot expect the public or the art critical establishment to be able to fully appreciate and comprehend such incomplete statements. I’m not saying that comics shouldn’t be shown, but that they need to be carefully and thoughtfully curated. Originals should be shown with reproductions of the complete printed stories they are part of, so they can be assessed in their proper context.

  20. Ryan Holmberg says:

    @Jeppe. Yes, I am familiar with the manga collections of the British Museum. I know the curator there, and wish I could get her to write about this subject, since she knows how things really are at museums. But from what I recollect, the situation at the British Museum indeed is original artwork (primarily non manga pages, as you said) or first editions of tankobon — but the latter rule can be quite silly: I remember them having in their display cases next to ancient Jomon art books I know I can pick up for a couple of dollars at a used bookstore in Japan. They also did an interesting project where they commissioned Hoshino Yukinobu to create a detective story set at the British Museum. I think the artist ended up donating a few of the pages. Details here:

    They also hosted Hayashi Seiichi when SISJAC and I brought him to London. Here’s a photo of Hayashi and me and the museum’s staff looking at old Edo period books at the museum. The coolest things they showed us was original drawings by Yoshitoshi, a clay grenade, and some Utamaro porn.

    I think what Robert Boyd said about the process and social dynamics by which artwork is typically acquired by museums is absolutely important. And maybe the most important. I think we need to separate the Comics and Museum issue from the Art versus Comics issue. The former is not as ideological as the latter. While we think of financially well endowed museums with money to do whatever they want, that’s not really the case when it comes to acquisitions. My understanding is that most work at even major museums comes in through collectors donating their collections (or parts thereof, or single pieces) or the museum approaching patrons to fund a specific purchase from the market (auction or gallery). I cannot see the latter applicable to comics, since the prices are so low by art world standards, and because there’s no reliable market. But I think if a major collector donated their 100 pages of Ditko, or if Crumb offered his archive (if he has an archive) to any institution willing to care for it and exhibit it, I cannot imagine any serious art museum saying “No, it’s not art.” I can see MoMA easily devoting the entirety of their drawing galleries, in the next available calendar slot, to a temporary exhibition of any serious collection of comics art they might get.

    Also, I remember the curator at the British Museum saying to me something to the effect of, “We don’t want one of the best objects, we want twenty or a hundred of them.” This wasn’t an expression of greed. Her point was that if a museum gets a major donation, then that makes it much easier for them to begin expanding the collection with smaller purchases. If you convince the board that Museum X is already a leader in comics art and has one of the country’s or world’s best collections, then they are all the more likely to motivate patrons et cetera to do more. Right now, I think Comics and Museum debate is no longer an Art vs Comics debate. It’s not a taste issue, it’s a practical issue. One major “gift” and the flood gates will open.

  21. Dan Nadel says:

    Ryan, I agree with two important provisos:
    1) At said fantasy museum there would have to be a curator who was receptive to the work and who could raise money for the care of the work. Donations need a receptive home. 100 pages of Crumb would still need some money attached AND a curator who would encourage the acceptance of such a donation. Museums don’t just take donations willy nilly, even if it’s Crumb.
    2) Said fantasy collector would need to be a collector whose work was vetted and could provide the appropriate values, provenances, etc.
    So… there are a buncha practicalities in there.

  22. Phillip Dokes says:

    Just why are comics supposed to bothered that we’re not accepted by the fine art world?? Do Sci-fi writers worry about how they’re not being incorporated or represented in the music industry? We know what the taste makers think of comics for the past 50 years=Lichtenstein. (a grand overstatement yes, but sadly, show me another overview of art history to prove me wrong, please, i’d love to see it!)

    Last thing, in galleries paintings/objects are for the most part viewed at while standing and totally DO NOT TOUCH. You can’t sit back on the sofa with it like you can a comic. Like…holding a Matisse in your hands is one thing, reading a Mazzucchelli is another.

  23. Ryan Holmberg says:

    @ James Romberger. I hear what you are saying, but look at any Prints and Drawing department at a museum. It is filled with sketches, marked-up pages, doodles, and what not, not just of old masters but also of modern art. Sculpture departments have maquettes which they routinely exhibit. Architecture plans. Furniture designs. Though I know these are all different types of things, and not like the finished comics pages, fundamentally I don’t think the aesthetics of the “production artifact” is an obstacle for either museums or their visitors, especially in the case of comics pages where the finish and artistry is so obvious. Comics pages will probably end up in Prints and Drawings department, so it might be useful to think how they might function in that context of exhibition and acquisition.

  24. Chris Ceballos says:

    But John P, I really, really, really want the original last 2 pages of Belmont Shores. I don’t need them and I happily enjoy reading my copy of the comic book whenever the mood strikes. But there’s something about seeing the actual page with ones eyes that make the soul vibrate. It’s the same thing that motivates me to go to a museum to see an Alfred Sisley painting, not content to merely look at one in an art book or online.
    And what will happen to your original pages someday when you pass from this fleeting existence into the Unifactor?
    I hope that when I pass into the beyond my daughters will appreciate and continue to privately exhibit my original Woodring, Horrocks, Seth and Porcellino.
    Comics are art, even if they’re never embraced as Art! I’m mean, you can’t hang a comic book on a wall unless you kill two copies, removing the staples and tearing the pages apart.

  25. Chris Ceballos says:

    Imagine a world where Frank Miller produced only one copy of the Dark Knight Returns and then sold it to a billionaire in Europe where it sat in his private library for a generation, and upon the billionaire’s death it was donated to the Louvre and put on display and was revered like the Mona Lisa, and then perhaps in 5 or 10 additional years good quality copies were produced and sold to the general public.
    With this legitimize our favorite art form? Is this what we want for Comics?

  26. What a killer comments section!
    I too sought out cartooning as an alternative to the “fine art” world
    and feel a bit uncomfortable about showing my originals out of the context of their book.
    I recently had a funny back and forth with a curator who was putting together a show of work by SAIC alumni
    and i felt embarrassed explaining to him that, although some of my pages are hand colored,
    the color and the line work are done in separate layers because they’re really intended for print and not display. (He was patient with me and we figured things out!)
    That said, i was saw the “Masters of American Comics” exhibit at the Milwaukee Museum of Art at a really formative time- I knew painting didn’t feel quite right and I’d just started cartooning. That exhibit sealed the deal for me. And seeing the white-out and the blue pencil made my dream seem attainable. That’s why, whenever and wherever possible, I think it’s important to show comics originals. Because you have no idea how they might influence the next generation of artists, “fine” or otherwise.

  27. Robert Boyd says:

    Chris Ceballos, do you really think your example is what we’re advocating? I’m all for the wide dissemination of comics (in fact, I tend to think many of the best are not disseminated nearly enough). But in addition to that, I’d like the best comics (whether in printed form, electronic form or in the form of original artwork) preserved and made available to the public and to scholars in museum settings.

  28. I’ve only sold one or two original King-Cat pages, and early on. It never felt right to me so I stopped. Nowadays I do custom recreations of pages if people want them. I’m happy to do that, but I keep the originals for future use. They’re all going to OSU when I die. That way they’ll always be available for people to see.

    Anya, I agree. To a cartoonist, seeing great original comics work in the flesh can be life-changing.

  29. Chris Ceballos says:

    Robert Boyd: No I don’t think anyone wants that to be the norm. I “curated” an exhibition at a black box theater in the late 90s, killing a dozen copies of my favorite comics, because I wanted people (those already inclined to appreciate non-mainstream art) to be exposed to an under appreciated art form. It’s just interesting to me what makes art legitamate Art! and why we feel it’s a necessary and important goal to achieve. Is any art more legit because it has a place in the Met and an 8-figure price tag at Sotherbys?
    As long as I can read a new King Cat every 6 months or so, Rome can burn.

  30. Frank Santoro says:

    “Is any art more legit because it has a place in the Met and an 8-figure price tag at Sotherbys?”
    Yes, silly.

  31. Pueblo Crier says:

    There was just a piece in the Huffington Post on 7/21/15, “The Outside has Officially Squeezed Its Way Inside The Art World,” by arts writer Priscilla Frank about the trend in NY art galleries embracing comics and “outsider” art. Austin English was featured, among others.

  32. “Is any art more legit because it has a place in the Met and an 8-figure price tag at Sotherbys?”
    Yes, silly.

    Love you Frank, but I couldn’t disagree more. Legit to who? That’s the point some of us are making here. If someone, whether an artist or viewer/reader, needs their stuff in the Met to feel fully legitimized, then I feel sorry for them, truly. They’re, as Zen Buddhists would say, “like ghosts in the grass.”

  33. That said, it comes down to different strokes. The world of comics is big enough to contain all this stuff.

  34. Ryan Holmberg says:

    I don’t see the museum simply as a legitimizer of taste. There is also an archival factor. The question is about original comics artwork, not books. I prefer my comics in print in a book, not as a drawing on a wall. But, if comics pages are exhibited occasionally in a museum, it doesn’t take away from my experience of the book. Unlike painting and sculpture, comics have a double status in which reproduction is as legitimate if not more legitimate way of consuming them than original art work. But presently, I think there are limited venues at which to see original comics art. Private collectors are not so approachable. Perhaps museums will keep them hidden in storage for the most part, but they will be up for public view from time to view and potentially accessible to researchers. It’s not EITHER we consume comics as comics via printed books OR as art via wall displays. Both can happen. And as we hope someone will preserve the original books, I also hope someone will preserve the original artwork. The market introduces a greed factor that makes this all very distasteful. But think about it more generally, as increasing the different ways comics might be appreciated, and guaranteeing that important original artwork will preserved by institutions that are fastidious about preservation.

  35. Agreed, Ryan. That’s why I’m so excited about what the Billy Ireland at OSU has done, and will continue to do into the future. The stuff is cataloged, preserved, and also readily available to the public through exhibition, personal reference, and lending. And they thoroughly understand comics as comics.

  36. James Romberger says:

    Ryan, I don’t know what sketches and doodles have to do with the issue at hand, if anything, we might sit alongside prints and drawings that are actual finished pieces in their own rights.
    For exhibition, it might be impractical to always display whole printed stories but at least, a copy of the printed color page should be shown alongside an original art “artifact” which is at best an incomplete statement.

    And there’s a problem if the only way comics can be considered to be “real” art is as “outsider”, or “primitive” art, as if we are all mental patients or hillbilly recluses, as the slumming golf-clappers throw us grudging acceptance.

  37. Pueblo Crier: If anything, that Huff Po article proves something else to me about art/comics. The article tries to make point that the artists in the show are interested in comics…but makes no mention of any comics they’ve actualy made. And, as far as I know, no of them have made comics besides me.

    I guess I think the art world is only superficially interested in comics, the ‘idea’ of them, or interested in people who have PERHAPS made comics, but have defined themselves artistically in some other way.

  38. But, then again, people like Ella Kruglyanskaya function as cartoonists to me
    I do think theres a lot both worlds can learn from each other. It’s a shame that they’re so shut off from each other.

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