OWS: The Beautiful and the Arcane

October 16, 2011

At the Occupy Wall Street site yesterday, I saw some people wearing a small enamel lapel pin with this design.  I searched in vain for the man who was giving them away – I want one!  It beautifully expresses the facts of income and social inequality in a clean, concise, and compelling graphic.  Bravo to the designer!

Occupy Wall Street + Walter Benjamin +Pauline Christianity = Anaphoric Solidarity.  Whaa?  One of the strangest amalgams of intellectual systems I’ve come across, represented at OWS by two young men at a small table in the center of Zucotti Park.

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MAD about Wolverton

July 24, 2009

From his "Kiss" series

From the collection of Glenn Bray, on display at this Exhibition.

Wolverton wrote for the comics, for MAD Magazine, where most of his fans probably encountered him, and produced an amazing set of illustrations for the Bible published by the California church of which he was a member.  Looking at his images, it’s clear he was a formative influence on many artists in the undergound comix scene, Art Crumb, among them. (See the Snoid  after looking through Wolvertson’s stuff if you don’t believe me.)

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Jim Woodring and …

October 18, 2008

Jim Woodring is the latest comics artist to come to my enthusiastic attention.  Though he no longer does comic strips, he is legendary for his color and black and white stories about Jim – autobiographical I guess – and Frank, a humanoid figure who wordlessly moves through a landscape that exceeds the bounds of  the surreal.  In fact, to use that term, “surreal,” to describe him is to sink to cliche.  His stories of Frank are dreamlike and terrifying, but in a way that lacks the self-conscious arti-ness of so much surrealism, while being no less powerful.  I’d say, his images smack more of what I have experienced in my rare spells of delirium, but his stories all make sense, often moral sense.

The color page below will give you an idea of the eerie weirdness and humor that “Frank” brings to the world.  You can visit this link to see a faithful animation of his Frank character, but I think I like the regular old ink-on-page comics better.

The black and white page is from an issue of his “Jim” comics, and as usual, it is more structured along the lines of a wordy narrative…but of course, there is that giant talking frog!  I love this story for its wit, subtlety, irony, and sly philosophy.  It reminds me a lot of Italo Calvino’s story, “The Aquatic Uncle.”  The mastery of tone in this page, keeping to a steady highminded satire while portraying a sexy “girl-form,” a pompous and sensitive frog…prince? philosopher? demon?…and a tense socratic dialog on fear and human potential is amazing.  BRAVO!

…and gore…

Yes, somewhere there is a graduate student laboring on a Ph.D. dissertation on the comparative treatment of gore in Richard Sala, Tony Millionaire (two other of my favorites) and Woodring.  Consider first, Richard Sala:

His “noir”, Edgar A. Poe-esque adventure stories are filled with hacking, stabbing, decapitation, skull crushing violence.  Still, it evinces a laugh because he works within a genre and its anti-universe, always keeping it at a considerable emotional distance from us.  When I see those knives flashing, or helter-skelter piles of semi-clothed dead maidens…I chuckle or leer.

Tony Millionaire goes for the grand guignol, with a devilishly funny twist.  He’s not trying to scare us out of our seats.  More likely, he’d like to get us up and running to the can to vomit in disgust,

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even as we nearly choke for laughing.  When I look at his sliced up bodies (Everything always seems to grow back fine for the next page!) and buckets of throw-up, I grimace with disgust and chortle.

Then there’s Jim Woodring.  His violence is cool, often wordless and soundless.  Sometimes we don’t even know what is devouring or mutilating what.  Sometimes, however, it’s just straight out barbarity, but with no visual change in tone from the other actions.  Consider below:  Manhog observes Frank having a picnic with his dolls and grows distraught at his exclusion from the fun.  He rushes in and upends Frank’s picnic spread and runs off.

Later, Frank walks alone, despondent, but he happens on the debauched Manhog sleeping.  Watch him take revenge!

Is there any more clinical depiction of the savagery of human violence?  It is truly disturbing, distilled to its terrible essence by the magic of the strange, ridiculous incongruity of the cartoon format.


Are monsters sad?

August 18, 2008

I went to a wonderful exhibit of prints by Albrecht Durer today, including many of his most famous – The Knight, Death, and the Devil, Melancholia, and St. Jerome in his study. Looking at the detail from an image in his Apocalypse series shown above, (full image) I was struck by the forlorn aspect of this beast from hell as he vomits fire onto the world.  He doesn’t want to do it, but he must.  It’s his life.  Laying waste to the world.  Godzilla had his tragic aspect too, no?

I was also struck by the vomit imagery, so much like this visual trope that is to be found in Maakies again and again.  (See the whole strip here.)  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Tony Millionaire were a fan of Durer.

And then, there is that beautiful image of the Prodigal Son at the moment when he is inspired to return to his father and beg his forgiveness.  I can’t help but think that the pigs, on which Durer has lavished so much loving attention, are looking at the wayward son slyly, a little knowingly…”Oh, you’re leaving are you?  Well, be gone with you.  We have eating to do…

I was much taken as well by this image of Christ before Pilate, a woodcut from his Small Passion series.  I love the slightly crazy steps, rendered carefully in perspective but not like any steps I’ve seen lately.  They give it a slightly dreamlike atmosphere, I think.