Humorously antithetical to typical gallery behavior, visitors are encouraged to page through the zines on display, and are even prompted to create their own pages for “a special edition of “Xerox Candy Bar.” The sign on the “Flaxicart” (a communal library cart) in the exhibit reads, “give a zine, take a zine,” reinforcing the collaborative component essential to the group’s aesthetic. The “Xerox Candy Bar” room is kind of like the elementary school art class everyone had with that one batty, but lovable art teacher that periodically disappeared along with all of the art and music classes.
According to Ghosh, “CartoonInk!” was also an opportunity to highlight emerging student comic artists, and to demonstrate the ways that SAIC is influencing the field. Collaborating on studio-based comics classes for the past five years, the curators of “CartoonInk!” realized that the school was home to a thriving comics community. “We would get together every semester to compare notes, compare student work, exchange reading lists and talk about comics,” says Ghosh. “Through our meetings we realized that these students were exceptionally talented, and that their work needed to be shown off to the larger SAIC community,” she explains.
Displayed alongside pieces from comic art celebrities like Chris Ware, the works of SAIC students and alumni hold their own. In the series “Looking Up,” Sara Drake uses graphite gouache to humorously illustrate the romantic relationship between two mythological lovers who have modern-day relationship problems. These smart, playful pieces — as well as works from other artists using painting, sculpture, collage, embroidery and animation — illustrate the larger idea of how contemporary comic art is being redefined by its experimentation in various mediums.
While “CartoonInk!” stresses the hybrid nature of comic art, several technically striking pieces stay true to the traditional “studio method” of drawing. Visually mind-blowing pieces, such as Marc Bell’s “Hot Potatoe”[sic] and Ellis Anderson’s “Abstract Exercise,” testify to the enduring talent and skill involved in illustration, upon which comic art is based.
The emphasis on technical expertise is balanced with an equally fundamental element of comic art: wit and humor. In “Untitled (Of Ages)” Daniel Morris sums up the common apprehension towards aging by depicting a middle-aged man and a twenty-something man each snobbishly assessing the other. The younger man’s thought bubble reads, “That will never happen to me,” and the older man’s says, “I bet he thinks men’s health is literature.” The jocular nature of the exhibition allows for a fun, dynamic experience devoid of the usual art gallery pretension.
Though the works in the show clearly contain artistic merit, “CartoonInk!” does not provide any sweeping conclusions about the rightful place of comics in the art world. Instead, the show suggests that its context is irrelevant to its content, because successful comic art should take the audience outside of the limitations of reality. Accessible, engaging, and original, “CartoonInk!” manages to transform the gallery space into an amusing daydream wherein the audience can explore the many ways that comics come to life. Regarding the question of comic art’s weight on the ever-shifting scale that identifies fine art, we should heed the advice of Chris Ware: “Do not sell to minors, critics, teachers, estranged parents or gym teachers.”
CartoonInk! Comics in Context runs from September 10th to October 15th in the Betty Rymer Gallery.