Friday, January 22, 2010

Abstract Ditko


Those interested in Steve Ditko and abstraction in comics should check out this post by Andrei Molotiu and the comments on the Abstract Comics blog.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Shoot Myself Being Interviewed


Here was an exercise in disorientation. It seemed I could either concentrate on speech or filming, but neither at once. The result at least follows in the online clip tradition of puppy antics. Witness Lisa Hanawalt, Paul Hornschemeier, Sammy Harkham, and John Pham under similar duress here.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Richie's Ledger: Money Sex Power

The single-mindedness of Harvey Comics' characters -- Little Dot’s obsession with circles, Casper’s desperation to find a friend -- is matched only by the intense repetition featured in the design of Harvey comics. Nowhere is this better seen than on the cover of Richie Rich Bank Book$ #32.

Symbols for money – dollar and cent signs – appear 13 times, gems 6 times (9, if you count the 3 in "Richie Rich" in the upper left corner), and “Rich” appears 10 times. Add to this a glittering gold bank, a wad of bills in Richie’s hand (certainly not fives or tens), 2 bank books, and a very large account book in the shape of a dollar sign, with dozens, perhaps 100s of dollar-sign shaped pages (that's at least 34 representations [symbols, words, objects] of wealth).

A house ad for Harvey Comics in the issue ratchets up this financial frenzy even further.

During the month this comic came out (August 1977), Harvey released 13 different Richie Rich titles: Vaults of Mystery, Cash, Jems, Riches, etc . . . But as the weeks passed, the value went up for the "giant" comic in the final column: week one was Millions; week three Billions, and the final week culminated with a wealth so vast it couldn’t be named with a word that corresponds to something: Zillions (even the Zs echo the shape of a dollar sign.)

If the comic has a hero with riches beyond measure, the perfect antagonist must be a threat to this wealth, which was built on the energy of the workers. His antithesis:

It's no wonder that on the first page Richie expresses the capitalist-hoarder's worst fear -- a workers' revolt:

"Gasp! Have the estate workers gone crazy?"

Luckily, things are not what they seem. The workers are only carrying out Mr. Rich’s orders, no matter how crazy they are.

And what are we to make of the cover's exchange between Gloria and Richie, or perhaps more accurately, between her and his money book? Given that Richie Rich is a children’s comic, it might seem crude to suggest that the account book and its placement are sexually suggestive.

But children’s books are usually written by adults . . . If the characters were adults, we might say:

The phallic shaped book represents the male’s totemic power; he uses his superior access to wealth (his ‘inheritance’ as a male) as a form of seduction. The male occupies the literal ‘seat of power,’ sitting in a purple chair ( the color of royalty, which in the US means Rich People) and he is positioned in a Masonic mystic triangle formed by three gems. And the female is off to the side, looking on excitedly and admiring his ‘account.’ His masculinity is a form of exaggeration and ornamentation (gems even have their own tassles), like a male bird’s mating dance. Gloria’s face and hand gestures communicate her surprise at, and her appreciation of, the phallus/book’s ostentatious size and shape, saying, ‘I’ll bet I know what kind of book that is.’ She is responsive to the ritual display he enacts for her benefit -- and for us, as he looks at the viewers, for we are the third party in this love triangle. Had she placed a 'bet' as she suggests, she would have won. She certainly knows what kind of book it is in a literal sense: a book that records and displays the Rich family's riches. But does she know what kind of book it is in a symbolic sense? Like the superhero comic, the children’s humor comic can often explore an erotic power fantasy, playing out a cultural script about gender, money, and desire -- a sexual economy that the child (Richie, Gloria, the reader) intuits yet cannot articulate.

But they're not adults; they're just kids in a kid’s comic . . .


Money Aura


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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gallows Humor Exhibit in Detroit


You know the year is off to a good start if I'm searching for myself on Findagrave.com; I'm listed more than once! I also have a small drawing in the exhibition "Funny/Not Funny" at the University of Michigan's Work-Detroit Gallery: January 22, 2010-February 26, 2010.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

The Smartest Kid in China

Courtesy of Tim H. comes this link to a flicker set of 54 photos of Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan ("Traditional Chinese Edition").

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Friday, January 1, 2010

A Cover of the Decade

“Sentimentality” has become a bad word, a term used to describe art that wants only to make us feel good about ourselves: Through its excesses, the sentimental text manipulates us, generating a heightened emotional response that confirms our belief that we are deeply sensitive people. But there are other kinds of sentimentality than that practiced by, say, Thomas Kinkade or the Lifetime network.

This New Yorker cover by Ivan Brunetti, my favorite winter scene, shows a restrained sentimentality that’s seldom seen, perhaps because it’s so difficult to pull off. The cover references and revises a number of familiar sentimental scenarios:

First—a girl under the moon, a traditional pairing that evokes a longstanding association of femininity and the moon, and often suggests an imperfect romance (romantic scenes often occur under moonlight). The figure could be viewed, sentimentally, as one of pathos simply because she is skating alone. But the “romance” here does not look outward toward an absent lover, but inward; the skater’s eyes are closed, and there’s a contemplative, contented expression on her face.

Second—a classic formulation of sentimentality is “virtue under duress,” and we see a muted version of that here. While the image "feels" placid, there’s a sense of danger. Ignoring the obvious concerns, the skater (flaunting convention as many literary sentimental heroines have) has jumped the fence during the New England ‘January Thaw’ (the cover is dated January 8th).

Yet there's also a figurative sense of safety that's created by the design. She is within an implied 'circle' that's formed by all of the circular objects in the image:


Some traditions of sentimental art feature strong moral and visual contrasts, creating a moral-aesthetic value system. Brunetti’s cover recalls this approach, but is far more subtle. The cover is balanced by opposing images/objects, but is never symmetrical.


The moon is somewhat aligned with the path and the skater; the blue fields of the sky and the buildings are echoed in the water and its light ripples, but in different shades. The natural motion of the skater (her curlicue trail) reacts with the barren, ‘weeping’ trees and against the rising skyscrapers that tower over her; and the doodle-like looseness of her legs and body are set against the firm lines and block shapes of the buildings. Her naturalness appears to confront both the city’s artificial constructed-ness and the creeping dangers of nature – she’s “on thin ice” (the cover’s title). We can see her as actions as admirable, but also a little reckless; perhaps she should open her eyes. We have a sentimental investment in her; we worry. [The tone of the marginal drawings also balances the main image's mood -- they’re a series of light comic gags about melting.]

In many literary and visual traditions, the favored sign of sentimentality is the tear. One harsh critic of 19th-century sentimental novels even created a “lachrymal index” in which he derisively listed instances of characters crying. While there are no real tears here, teardrops and teardrop-like gestures are plentiful: the snow dripping from the tress, the dozens of lit windows (which are not square but teardrop shaped), and the melting New Yorker logo (if it were to worry about the cover’s protagonist, its tears might be white).

All of these images, plus the scenario itself, suggest the pathos of genuine sentimentality without the excess associated with the mawkish type. Holiday images often drown in their own sentimentality, but this cover, like the skater herself, moves lightly on its surface.
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*Here are a few images that feature skating in New York’s Central Park, a visual tradition in which we could think about the New Yorker cover --


Winslow Homer: Skating on the Ladies’ Skating Pond in the Central Park, New York (1860):


Currier and Ives: Central Park Winter - The Skating Ring (1862):


Thomas Kinkade: Skating in the Park (1989):


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