Cartoons, Caricatures, Comic Books and Graphic Novels

‘… are capable of expressing complex aesthetic and intellectual ideas…’

A summary of an article from American Art, reference below.

Jack Kirby Fantastic Four #50
Jack Kirby Fantastic Four #50

Comic art is being exhibited at museums and galleries, acknowledging its cultural influence.

Past major American exhibitions include Masters of American Comics (shown 2005-6, surveyed American comic art history during the 20th century), Comic Abstractions (shown 2007, focused on contemporary artists at MoMA), and Cartoon America (shown 2006-7, presented an overview of the extensive comic art held by the Library of Congress). Individual artists are featured through solo exhibitions.

American universities offer courses in comic art history, with the majority through english and literature departments. The rich visual aspect of comic art is studied less. Some exceptions include Will Eisner and Scott McCloud who wrote studies analysing the formal properties and structure of comics. However it is hard to find analysis of cartoons and comics within art history.

Why has comic art been neglected?

Barbara Shermund. I'm Sorry!
Barbara Shermund. I’m Sorry!

Comic art can be a democratic, accessible form of visual culture and function as a cultural object.

A thoughtful analysis requires attention to both comic art’s visual and verbal modes of communication.

Perhaps because comic art is a reproducible, mass-cultural product?

Comic art often supports dominant cultural values, yet maintains strains of anarchic humour and anti-authoritarian opinions. A Marvel comic might be an ‘assembly line’ effort, whereas independent comics may show a single author’s vision.

Perhaps because comic art resists strict categories?

Gary Panter RAW No.3
Gary Panter RAW No.3

Is it all humorous? What about dramatic works? Are they novels or short stories? Why does a graphic novel suggest something more serious and elevated?

When writing within art history about comic art, there is a tension between treating the subject with respect and seriousness, and draining it of all humour and lightness. Yet these ‘problems’ make comics rich for critical enquiry.

Issues explored could include:

  • high art versus low art
  • mass reproduction and image circulation in a global marketplace
  • visual culture and democracy
  • ethical and political implications of humour
  • how a comic strip page is constructed
  • visual literacy e.t.c.

Comic art (and other forms of visual culture) are dismantling cultural hierarchies and blurring distinctions between fine art and popular entertainment. Continued scholarship and academic attention should examine these topics.

eggsplosion michel majerus
eggsplosion michel majerus

Reference: Looking High and Low at Comic Art by Katherine Roeder, in American Art, Vol. 22, Spring 2008.


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Shirley Burley

Artwork Craft Creative Writing Graphic Design Photography

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