|Comics and comic books have long been thought of as belonging to the realm of children, deemed immature as literature and amateur as art, summarily dismissed and denied any serious consideration. Granted, the recent Green Lantern film does little to dispel those notions, but merely with its multi-million-dollar existence it cements the tremendous leaps comics have made into popular culture, especially in the last few decades.|
“Together, Will Eisner and Tom Everhart’s exhibitions not only comment on social issues of city and country, but also testify to the power of comics and sequential art to transcend the medium and profoundly impact popular culture.”
Tom Everhart, Crashing the Party, 2011. Event poster. Courtesy of Animazing Gallery.
SEQUENTIAL AMERICA: American Comics and Social Commentary
Comics and comic books have long been thought of as belonging to the realm of children, deemed immature as literature and amateur as art, summarily dismissed and denied any serious consideration. Granted, the recent Green Lantern film does little to dispel those notions, but merely with its multi-million-dollar existence it cements the tremendous leaps comics have made into popular culture, especially in the last few decades. There are no fewer than three high-profile superhero films gracing movie screens this summer, while on Broadway, after much misfortune and false starts, “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” finally officially opened on June 14th (reception can best be called “mixed”). With popular culture so enthralled with comic books and comic book culture, two exhibitions currently on view are especially timely, lending insight into the relationship between comic books and the world at large.
“Will Eisner’s New York: From the Spirit to the Modern Graphic Novel” is an exhibition now on view through August 14th at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, located at 594 Broadway. Curated by Denis Kitchen and Danny Fingeroth, the exhibition features the central role of New York City in the legendary comic artist’s work through lithographs, comic panels, and Eisner’s own watercolors. Eisner (1917-2005) is widely considered as instrumental to the development of the medium, going so far as to coin the term “sequential art” in his 1985 book “Comics and Sequential Art,” and helping establish graphic novels as literature with the publication of his book “A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories” in 1978. With the character of the Spirit–and the emotiveness and charisma in the accompanying art–Eisner created a lasting impact on the superhero genre, but perhaps more importantly, was one of the first artists to feature New York in a stunningly pronounced, gritty and realistic way. Although at first he never stated outright that “the Spirit” was set here (the strip debuted in the Des Moines Register on June 2, 1940), Eisner showed garbage-strewn sewers in River of Crime (1947), depicted the homeless in Life Below (1948), and featured bird’s-eye views of a skyline that was undeniably New York.
The exhibition also features screenprints and panels from Eisner’s seminal graphic novel “A Contract with God.” Featuring stories set in and around tenements in the Lower East Side, Eisner further cemented his love for New York, and according to the curators, portrayed the city “as only a native would know it.” Nowhere is this idea more clear than in the 1988 “Big City” series of watercolors. With characteristic scenes of life in the city–Street Casino shows a shell game on a claustrophobic, crowded city sidewalk–Eisner features the humanity and vibrancy of New York without shying away from the less glamorous aspects of life in the city. The collection ultimately succeeds in highlighting Eisner’s portrayal of New York, one that is highly stylized, profoundly charismatic, and uniquely memorable.
If Will Eisner’s focus was the island between the Hudson and East Rivers, Tom Everhart aims his towards a larger land mass. “Crashing the Party: The Arty-Fact Paintings” is an exhibition of Everhart’s newest work now on view at the Animazing Gallery, located at 54 Greene St. Throughout the show Everhart comments on overpopulation in the United States while using Snoopy and other characters from celebrated cartoonist Charles M. Schultz. The paintings are the result of a 1991 legal agreement between Schultz and United Media that allowed Everhart to use Peanuts images in his art “for the term of his life,” an agreement that itself stems from Everhart’s near thirty-year friendship with Schultz.
“Crashing the Party” largely succeeds by placing Snoopy, Woodstock and Charlie Brown in a context completely different from the legendary comic strips. College Dogs Gone Wild (2011) depicts multitudes of Snoopy over a map of America. The map itself is covered in multicolored acrylic and varnish, with patches of color interrupting the multiple-Snoopy design, creating a sensation of overpopulation literally eating through America. This notion is further reiterated by “Given the Dog a Bone” (2007-2009). Showing an ecstatic Snoopy, the black-and-white, acrylic-and-varnish piece carries a street-art quality to it. The combined result is a comment on the literal dog-eat-dog nature of American gluttony, American overpopulation, and the harrowing implications for America’s future. Together, Will Eisner and Tom Everhart’s exhibitions not only comment on social issues of city and country, but also testify to the power of comics and sequential art to transcend the medium and profoundly impact popular culture.