Art Speigelman apparently had a lot to do with putting the show together, which was clear from the selections of original strips and pages on the gallery walls, as many were the same strips and pages that Speigelman spotlights in his traveling lecture, which I'd seen back in October.
The spotlight mostly falls on composition, as I suppose it should be in an art exhibit, so features whole page innovators like Windsor McCay and George Herriman. There's several pages of a very funny Wil Eisner Spirit comic, where the comic is interrupted periodically by an announcement that the comic was holding a contest and would be calling one random reader during the reading of the strip. A few pages from the end, the comic is interrupted for a transcript of the phone call to the randomly-picked reader, who correctly answers the question ("Who was the 21st president of the United States?") Very meta, as we used to say in graduate school.
There were beautiful, insanely intricate pages by Chris Ware, some of which are as yet uncollected. Like most of the other originals, they're first drawn with blue pencil on Bristol board, then traced / made permanent with ink. Since the blue pencil isn't captured in the reproduction process, there are marks in blue that have been "edited" in a way by the ink. This is sort of graphic version of a "palimpsest" -- writing that has been obscured by other writing, as on a piece of paper used more than once. The level of detail that goes into his fake ads and visually-intricate ontologies is stunning -- it's hard to resist the feeling that you owe the work some serious study. These people must be crazy. (The fact that Ware also contrasts the form of comics with stories that touch on despair, loneliness, and our hollow hopes is also pretty fascinating, very funny, and oddly engaging.)
One thing I definitely came away with -- and which seems obvious to me now, even if I'd never thought on it before -- was how much more work these comics and comic strips must be than most of what is traditionally thought of as "art." Chester Gould, for example, wrote and drew the daily Dick Tracy comic strip for 46 years, and while his drawing is about as ham-fisted as the stories it tells, it is visually innovative and a mightily prolific effort. I wouldn't guess that Jasper Johns or Edward Hopper worked as hard.
And then you think that all of this art was created to be disposable. You had your laugh at the funnies over coffee and then later used them to start a fire, wrap your stemware, or train the dog. I would highly doubt that Jack Kirby or Charles Schultz ever had ambitions of seeing their work on art gallery walls. This was art that was meant to be ephemeral -- to get you through your coffee, or the fifth grade, or a rainy afternoon. It's overwhelming, or at least it seems so today, typing on my lunch hour...
The museum's gift shop has become a erstwhile comics shop, selling this month's issues of stuff like Aquaman and Archie, as well as really handsome and high end graphic novels. None of which your correspondent could afford.
(* Idea I plan to sell to Dunkin' Donuts or Krispy Creme: "April is the Crueller month.")
Still, having to take lunch at my desk still allows for internetsy, and my evenings have been mostly free. Here are some things that I have enjoyed in the spare moments:
Babies hate the Bushes (at left). Probably because she smells like cigarettes. And graft.
Batman and Robin vs. Surrealism.
McSweeneys 19 came in the mail, and includes lots of reproductions of old stuff. I haven't read any of it yet, but McSweeneys now more than ever seems to be more art than literature. I don't mind.
Springsteen sings Seeger. Susanna and Sweet sing Cinnamon.
Masters of American Comics arrives at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I'm going tonight for a preview. In fact, I'm leaving for that right no--
In a semi-related story, I've been reading Clinton's autobiography. So far, 250 pages into Vol. 1 have shown him to be a draft dodger, a womanizer, and slick beyond measure, but at clear genius levels. Whatever else he may be, he's intelligent, well- and widely read, ambitious, and a fairly decent two-termer in my estimation.
I've been deciding low and high
You won't get the democracy you're after
'Til the day you ITMFA.
I hear the voices
I read the front page
I know the speculation
But I'm The Decider
And I decide what's best.
All apologies to Pete Townsend. (What is it with this president and Who lyrics?)
By the way, Cheney's tax return lists his "Wages, salaries, tips, etc" as $7,423,433. Which means I make .005% of what Cheney does. And I didn't even shoot anyone in the face last year. Nor was I implicit in the profit-driven death of American and Iraqi young people. (In the interest of fairness, however, I also didn't provide lucrative no-bid contracts to my former war-profiteering employers.) At any rate, if one of you has the sign-up sheet for the revolution, please pass it over.
By the way: I am back from Ireland and I am back from Arizona. I'm tan, sober, well-rested, and ready to not concentrate on what I'm doing.