In 1992, CNN’s Moneyline with Lou Dobbs ran a story about Image Comics draining Marvel Entertainment’s creative department. Marvel owned the characters their artists created, and had complete creative license to change storylines and alter artist vision. Major artists left Marvel for Image, where they had creative license over their own characters and felt they worked for a company who valued the “warm bodies” behind the characters, giving stories life and depth.
At the Strathmore’s most recent exhibit, “A Shared Universe: The Art of Comic Books“, a screen plays that Moneyline clip on an infinite loop. It becomes a little silly to watch this condescending piece echo through a room full of comic art history whose impact has visibly endured– and the proof is on the walls. Comic art, and art it has influenced, has become a respected medium. Students at acclaimed art universities can major in sequential art (think panels, storyboards), and learn under the best artists, writers and inkers in the country. In fact, international students come to American schools to train in this art. Lucky for us, those students have art on display at this exhibit.
In the Mansion at Strathmore, Exhibit Curator Harriet Lesser does fantastic work of making the distinction between inspiration and implementation. The first floor consists of artists that have been influenced by comic books in some way– perhaps with color or composition, or subject matter, but the work’s not done in traditional comic style. The second floor could easily be its own exhibit on the history of comic book art, and its progression from a style that struggled to be taken seriously by mainstream culture, to the base of summer blockbusters.
The exhibit runs through Saturday, June 8, and we want you to be as equipped as possible to make the best of your visit (Bethesda is far, but this is totally worth it). Below are our favorite pieces and some of the exhibit highlights.
- Saturday, April 26 – Art Talk for Adults, free.
- Sunday, April 27 – Beyond Text and Line: A Discussion on the Art of Comic Books, $5
- Sunday, April 27 – Screening of Stripped, $10
- Ongoing through June 8 – comic reading room and pop-up shop
Wodzianski creates oil works on canvas inspired by comic styles, quite literally inserting himself in his paintings behing the masks of various favorite childhood superheroes. His personal statement claims he works in “crocodile tears, puppy dog tails, and magpie chatter.”
What Wodzianski really does best is understand identity roles. The basis of so many superhero stories is that they’re average joes, underdogs, or victims of tragedy. A superhero of status is something rare (see: Tony Stark). By painting himself behind comic book character masks while wearing the characters on his t-shirts, he reminds us how important the stories behind these characters are and why we came to love them in the first place. Why would you put anyone other than yourself behind the hero mask?
Panel art takes a new form in JD Deardourff’s work. His ability to present panels in a non-traditional manner makes his art much more dynamic and even chaotic than the typical storyboard style we’ve all come to expect. His screen prints take the volume of an entire comic book and cram it all into one frame to emphasize the impact.
Deardourff’s work is based on collages made from splash pages from his personal comic book collection. It’s not completely obvious at first. The best way to understand it is through the multi-print piece “Spring Blockbuster, process and final” in which all the colors and shapes involved in a single frame of his are deconstructed. Deardourff mimics the pre-computer comic printing process of separator coloring in CMYK by screen printing, which yields unpredictable results.
“TimberWolves at Chicago” is a favorite, at least for me, because it uses a shape that isn’t native to comic art: a circle. Comic art is full of angles and hard lines, and circles almost seem too soft to fit into that. The piece itself has plenty of angles and edges and squares, but the fact that all of these are contained in a round collage actually makes the image even more chaotic– in the best way possible.
When we were all little, how many times did we drape ourselves in a towel and call it a cape? Haven’t we all played dress-up as superheroes countless times? Mark Newport made his superhero suits a reality by knitting them over a number of years. They’re all exaggeratedly tall, emphasizing the larger-than-life image of superheroes.
Newport also creates ink-jet works depicting his thought process and intentions, sort of a comic book version of himself. In many of these, he’s knitting while naked, hunched over sitting on the floor while shadowed by tall standing figures. There’s desperation and kindness portrayed in these that you don’t get immediately by simply looking at the costumes. This representation of himself is earnest, and sincerely just wants to help.
Owen Smith’s comic style needs very little introduction. His portrait of Jay Z as Jackie Robinson has been a Rolling Stone cover. He’s done cover art for the New Yorker, the LA Times and Sports Illustrated. Currently the Chair of the Illustration Program at the California College of the Arts, his style is comic realism. The main classic comic element at play here is exaggeration. Facial features are almost over-the-top, but still realistic enough to avoid being mistaken for caricature.
When Josef Rubinstein emigrated to the US at age 5, he found that communicating through comics and illustration was easier and more personal than struggling through English. Finding his voice through comics lead to him freelancing at age 17, and since then he’s worked for every comics company. Best known for his inking work, his process is has set the bar at an impossible high for every inker in the business right now.
Rubinstein also holds the Guinness record for “having inked more pencillers than any other inker.” Damn.
It’s a really weird feeling to see one of your favorite webcomic artist’s work hanging in the walls of the Mansion at Strathmore, but also remarkable. Kate Beaton is one of many female artists transforming the world of comics online. Because of her and many others, the webcomic world is almost evenly split between male and female artists, which still isn’t the case in traditional weekly published comics. Her comics are also some of the funniest in the exhibit, as well as the most clever.