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Road Rage

Oh boy, holiday travel did a number on me. Luckily, Dan Nadel has returned to the site with a review of a new book about one of the most mysterious cartoonists of the last century, Herbert Crowley (who was featured prominently in Dan's own Art Out of Time).

Looking back on my own interest in the strip, now I realize that "The Wiggglemuch" strips were partly compelling because Crowley suggested an affinity with a larger and also esoteric visual and literary culture, which was unusual in comics at the time. The spiritual allusions, stiffness, and symbol-driven character design also suggested another way to think about comics entirely: less drawing-based and more like moving sculptures. I wondered then, as many others did, just how he intersected with comics. As it turns out, Crowley really was just stopping over. His life and work is now the subject of a large and generously illustrated book, Herbert Crowley: The Temple of Silence by Justin Duerr. It is the kind of scholarly and research-driven deep dive that I wish for about... well, most everything. Duerr gathers every conceivable strand of Crowley's unusual and extremely complicated life and work and weaves them together into a coherent and quite moving whole.

Duerr begins the book with a lengthy illustrated biography of Crowley, and then turns it over to absolutely stunning reproductions of Crowley's work, including the complete "Wigglemuch" run, plus two-unpublished installments, and numerous drawings and paintings. The artwork, aside from the comic strips, is wonderful, but not entirely unique to him. The imagery -- gargoyle-like forms, temples, and other mystical symbols -- is in keeping with slightly older contemporaneous Symbolists, like Odilon Redon and Felicien Rops, and the proto-Surrealist literature bring published at the time in Paris. It is certainly connected to last year's incredible exhibition at The Guggenheim in New York: Mystical Symbolism: The Salon de la Rose+Croix in Paris, 1892–1897.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—The two winners of the sixth annual Slate/CCS Cartoonist Studio Prize have been announced. This year, Keren Katz won for print, and Michael DeForge won for the web.

—And the latest guest on RiYL is Julia Wertz.


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