Friday, October 24, 2014

Or Something Else: Towards a History of the Printed Picture Story

In a previous post, I speculated on the reasons why David Kunzle so emphatically foregrounded the term “comic strip” in the titles of all his major writings on pre-twentieth century printed picture stories.[1] I surmised that he was motivated not only by a desire to make his historical research relevant to contemporary issues, and quite possibly to facilitate the publication of his rather elaborate, profusely illustrated, and undoubtedly expensive volumes. I noted that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the first volume of Kunzle’s History of the Comic Strip (a.k.a. The Early Comic Strip) was being prepared for publication, the American newspaper comic strip, like jazz and cinema, was enjoying its first flush of scholarly attention, and several lavish publications were proving the material viable in the book market. Making one’s scholarship relevant to current debates and getting it published are eminently practical considerations that every career scholar faces merely to survive, and indeed becomes an intellectual obligation one owes to one’s work.

By 1968 Kunzle had already accomplished the herculean effort of unearthing, researching, and analyzing such uncommercial material as a series of broadsheets on the Popish Plot, a set of satirical playing cards, and Ruben’s monumental cycle of large-scale oil paintings on Marie di Medici that hangs in the Louvre. I speculated that his Introduction to volume one, the titling of the work itself, and a heavily annotated translation of excerpted material by Francis Lacassin for Film Quarterly,[2] each of which emphasize the term comic strip prominently, amounted to a pre-publication marketing campaign for The Early Comic Strip and a rather heavy-handed effort to tie his substantial but arcane scholarship to more seemingly fashionable contemporary discussions, particularly those concerning the American newspaper comic strip and film. This was not intended as a slight of Kunzle’s scholarship, a herculean accomplishment by any standard, but merely a questioning of the wisdom of retroactively placing that scholarship within the framework of the American newspaper comic strip, and my own personal rumination on what I view as the unfortunate precedent set for art historians and other scholars working anywhere in the field of printed picture stories.

Rather than revising that earlier post, I would like to elaborate on it here based on some new information, including a brief correspondence with Professor Kunzle himself, which he has kindly permitted me to quote.

Ernst Gombrich, Kunzle’s dissertation adviser, once criticized Arnold Hauser, author of The Social History of Art, for among other things of being “avowedly not interested in the past for its own sake,” but being engaged in historical research merely “to understand the present,” which Gombrich viewed as an egregious crime for an historian.[3] (Hauser had rather rhetorically asserted that “the purpose of historical research is the understanding of the present—and what else could it be?”[4]) Ironically, it had been Gombrich himself who had first pointed out that “to Töpffer belongs the credit, if we want to call it so, of having invented and propagated the picture story, the comic strip,”[5] in other words, of not appreciating the work Swiss graphic artist not for its own sake but in terms of its subsequent, present-day importance. To be sure, Gombrich never succumbs to the elision of referring to Töpffer’s work as comic strips per se, and it is left to his student Kunzle to formulate the bolder declaration that Töpffer is the “father of the comic strip.” Kunzle’s entire scholarly project as it regards picture stories, in other words, can be viewed as an elaboration of some of Gombrich’s intimations regarding the lineage of picture stories, while completely lapsing into the presentism Gombrich saw as such an egregious lapse in the work of other historians.

What I am suggesting, however, is slightly more generous to Kunzle. By 1968, he seems to have completed the body of The Early Comic Strip, and only chose to emphasize the term comic strip in the title, the Introduction and elsewhere, in the run up to its publication in 1974. In fact, as I point out in my earlier post, Kunzle expresses grave misgivings about the term comic strip even in the Introduction, and regrets employing the term in the Introduction to the second volume. He only seems to have become completely comfortable with referring to the work of Töpffer and other pre-twentieth century picture stories as comics strips much later, with the release of his two volumes on the “father of the comic strip” in 2007, by which point much of is scholarly reputation relied on his connection with emerging field of comics scholarship.

A figure study from 1988 by the author, illustrating this essay for no reason whatsoever.

“The Comic Strip,” Kunzle’s article for the 1970 Art News Annual, appeared after the body of The Early Comic Strip had been completed and while it was being prepared for publication.[6] In fact, “The Comic Strip” reads like a rough draft of what will become his Introduction to the volume, offering a more detailed view of the publishing climate of the time, and perhaps more insight into Kunzle’s motivation for framing his research in terms of the modern comic strip. Kunzle dismissively notes, “A dozen or so [annotated albums of reproductions of twentieth century strip classics], in various European languages, constitute the bulk of the comic strip ‘literature,’” which “accept as the ancestors of the modern strip such diverse monuments of art as Assyrian reliefs, Parthenon sculptures, Trajan’s column, the Bayeux embroidery, Mexican codices and medieval illuminations.” Kunzle insists that the “any useful definition of the comic strip” must include the following: “The medium in which the strip appears and for which it was originally intended must be reproductive, i.e. printed, a mass medium.” Kunzle further elaborates, “The true ancestors of the modern ‘comic’ are of two kinds: the narrative strip (a subdivided image) and picture story (series of interconnected, but physically non-contiguous images). Both are children of the printing press.”[7] This is a clear argument that the burgeoning publishing and scholarly attention currently focused on the comic strip should be conceptually widened enough so as to accommodate the broadsheet and picture story (material coincidentally included in the forthcoming History of the Comic Strip Volume One, which the article’s biographical note touts), but not become so indiscriminate and unwieldy (or meaningless) as to include all of art history.

“The Comic Strip” then proceeds to sketch out a brief history of the material that is the object of Kunzle’s primary interest, noting a general debasement and decline of these earlier picture stories that begins when “the modern comic strip [enters] journalism.”[8] This tendency culminates in the “simple farce and […] familiar domestic situations demanded by the readers of the Sunday supplements,” by which point “Töpfferian surrealism and [Töpffer’s] delicate psychology seem to have been left far behind.” Kunzle elaborates,

The draftsmanship too will soon tend to the mechanical, and over-production on the part of individual artists will be the rule. The [word or dialogue] balloon, long resisted as an esthetic obtrusion, now reigns uncontested, to eke out a basic pictorial inadequacy as much as to flesh out the story-line.[9]

In other words, the picture story form, in the guise of the American newspaper comic strip, will only become watered-down, debased, and hacked out, and for the most part falling well beneath Kunzle’s scholarly consideration. “This is not the place even to outline the daunting proliferation of the comic strip in our own century,” Kunzle concedes, as if he were even sincere about undertaking such drudgery.[10] It is only when, in conclusion, he turns his attention to the underground comix of Crumb, Moscoso, and Zap that Kunzle betrays any optimism for the picture story form, although he regards much of the work to be merely inventive “psycho-erotic fantasies.” In order to qualify as truly “radical protest,” Kunzle declares, “the comic strip requires no more than a return to the role it played in earlier centuries, and [a return to] a comparable degree of stylistic realism.”[11]

Like Kunzle’s subsequent 1972 translation of Francis Lacassin for Film Quarterly as well as the Introduction to the first volume itself, “The Comic Strip” seems rather an afterthought to Kunzle’s scholarship on “broadsheet picture stories,” and part of a conscious pre-publication campaign to rather superficially and insincerely tie his scholarship to more current contemporary debates in film and comic strips that seemed fashionable at the time. As I remarked in my previous post, Kunzle’s view of twentieth-century comic strips, i.e., of comic strips properly so called, is almost entirely condescending, sketchy, and dismissive, and dubbing his scholarship a “history or pre-history” of the comic strip seems to have been a strategy that Kunzle came to regret by the time he wrote the Introduction to his second volume of The History of the Comic Strip in 1990.

What I find sad about the situation is that Kunzle in fact seems initially to have observed Gombrich’s admonition to study the past for its own sake, and seems only to have betrayed it after the fact in an effort to make his work more relevant and publishable. Kunzle’s scholarship on pre-twentieth century broadsheets and picture stories succeeds in appreciating them on their own terms, and itself forms a substantial contribution to art history on its own terms. It is only after the fact that Kunzle seems to have played up the lineage of this material to the American newspaper comic strip in the titling of his book and in articles mentioned above. It is true that Professor Kunzle has stubbornly stuck to his guns since then, which I find commendable, but this has only served to compound an original poor judgment.

One commenter to my previous post suggested that perhaps Kunzle employed the term comic strip simply because he viewed the objects of his study as comic strips. This ignores the fact that Kunzle for the most part eschews the term in the body of his work, demonstrating an instinctive preference for picture story or broadsheet whenever it is more appropriate (and considering he is concerned with material that predates the emergence of the term comic strip circa the 1910s, picture story or broadsheet is always more appropriate). It also suggests that it is somehow unreasonable to expect a scholar to examine his terminology, a particularly striking prohibition since Kunzle goes to the trouble of formulating a concrete definition for the term comic strip (one that could just as easily fit the term picture story) on more than one occasion.

Another commenter suggested that I simply ask Kunzle himself. I did write to Professor Kunzle, who was kind enough to respond collegially in brief and cordial exchange consisting of a couple of emails. He expressed more than once his current preference for the contemporary term graphic novel, which he regards as a more apt translation of Töpffer’s term “romans en estampes,”[12] and noted that the term “comic” in any case had always been problematic, since much of the material that has taken picture story form in any era has been anything but humorous. But he did not consider the scholarly let alone Gombrichian implications of regarding the broadsheets and picture stories prior to 1900 as comic strips, other than to say,

My only regret on the title of my Early Comic Strip is not to have called it Hogarth—Before and After, which might have got it reviewed in the bigger art history journals and saved it from the total blackout in the subsequent pullulating Hogarth literature.[13]

This only reinforces the misgivings he expressed in the introduction to the second volume of his two-volume History. Further, it tends to support my assertion that the decision to emphasize the term comic strip the titles of his scholarship and in the supporting articles noted above was something of a marketing move that backfired.

My larger point is not to psychoanalyze Kunzle’s motivations for framing his scholarship so emphatically within the term comic strip but rather to consider the implications of that framing on subsequent scholarship. Kunzle is widely regarded as a pioneer of the scholarship that emerged around the American newspaper comic strip and comic book. His influence has been so great that the material that originally formed the objects of Kunzle’s study are now commonly referred to oxymoronically as early comics. Meanwhile the American newspaper comic strip as a feature has already all but disappeared from our culture, not only receding within the space of newspapers but also as the newspaper itself has increasingly receded from the contemporary media landscape. The term comic book, likewise, has already given way to the graphic novel, a problematic term that will inevitably be succeeded by something else in the future. The question therefore is not which contemporary term should Kunzle have used in 1968 or might have chosen in retrospect now, but on the wisdom of choosing any contemporary term at all.

In case it is not yet clear, I would prefer that the entire field of study of broadsheets, picture stories, comic strips, comic books, et al be known by another name: the history of printed picture stories. (Although, by the same token, I am not as averse to tracing precedents to earlier, non-reproduced forms of picture story in art history. The question is always where to draw the line. Are not hand-copied Asian hand scrolls a form of reproduction?) To continue to refer to the study of the modern comic strip and comic book as comics studies, and the study of broadsheets and picture stories that are the subject of Kunzle’s scholarship as early comics, is to implicitly perpetuate the presentism that Gombrich inveighed against, the study of the past only for its current (and worse, momentary) importance, rather than for its own sake.

To stress the present importance of the matter: such a grounding of the field in a larger tradition of the printed picture story (rather than reducing that larger tradition to the narrower straightjacket of a particular contemporary manifestation) would enable twenty-first artists and scholars to see themselves not as enslaved to this or that particular commercial form (the comic strip, comic book, graphic novel, web strip, et al), but as embracing a larger artistic and communicative tradition. In such a case, artists would not have to return a debased and diluted comic strip or comic book vehicle to the more substantial social and political role it may have played in previous centuries (a tortured and illogical construction in any case), nor would scholars have to fight to culturally legitimize a stigmatized form. Instead, artists and scholars could simply realize that they have been perpetuating and studying a greater art form, and inhabiting a more substantial literary and pictorial tradition, all along.

Note: My intention is to revise and integrate both this essay and the previous posting to form a publishable article. Any comments are welcome.
___
[1] The titles are History of the Comic Strip, Volume I: The Early Comic Strip—Narrative Strips and Picture Stories in the European Broadsheet from c.1450 to 1825 (1973); The History of the Comic Strip, Volume II: The Nineteenth Century (1990); Rodolphe Töpffer: The Complete Comic Strips (2007); and Father of the Comic Strip: Rodolphe Töpffer (2007). It also includes Kunzle’s translation of Francis Lacassin, “The Comic Strip and the Film Language” (1972). See previous post for bibliography. Another article, “The Comic Strip,” is discussed in this posting.
[2] Francis Lacassin, “The Comic Strip and the Film Language,” trans. with additional notes by David Kunzle, Film Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 1, (Autumn 1972), pp. 11-23.
[3] Ernst Gombrich: “The Social History of Art,” Meditations on a Hobby Horse and Other Essays on the Theory of Art (London: Phaidon Press 1963), pp. 86-94; quote p. 93.
[4] Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, Volume 4: Naturalism, Impressionism, The Film Age (New York: Vintage Books/Random House, 1958), p. 3.
[5] Ernst Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, 3rd ed. (Princeton: Bollingen, 2000 [1960]) p. 336.
[6] David Kunzle, “The Comic Strip,” Art News Annual, volume 36 (1970), pp. 133-145.
[7] Ibid, p. 133.
[8] Ibid, p. 139.
[9] Ibid, p. 142.
[10] Ibid, p. 142.
[11] Ibid, p. 145.
[12] David Kunzle, email to the author, August 22, 2014.
[13] David Kunzle, email to the author, October 10, 2014.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Return to Funnytown: Recalling In Pictopia for a Reprint That Never Happened

UPDATE November 10, 2014: Here is the inked final for a new piece of art based on the 1986 story by Alan Moore, commissioned by a Brazilian collector and scholar.


UPDATE November 6, 2014: Here is the rough for a commission I am creating for connoisseur Flavio Pessanha who wanted to see a "cover" for the story. I will post the ink version here shortly.

The Judge Dredd and Vantage/Punisher simulacra threaten Dog Man, Red, and Flexible Flynn from the story, with Sammy Sleepyhead rendered for the first time up in the corner. "In Pictopia" is ™ and © Alan Moore and Donald Simpson 1986, 2014, all rights reserved.


Note: In 2010, the thirteen original art pages of my 1986 story, "In Pictopia," from a script by Alan Moore, was the subject of an exhibition at the Toonseum in Pittsburgh PA. In conjunction with the exhibit, a black-and-white reprint of the story, with a new cover, was planned, but expected funding for the publication never materialized, despite obtaining Alan's blessing through Chris Staros for the enterprise. The exhibit went on and was a delight, but the reprint did not happen. 
I had asked several participants involved in the creation of the comic in 1986 to write down their recollections for the reprint, which was edited by then-Toonseum curator John Mattie. The text that was prepared for the publication appears for the first time below.
--Donald E. Simpson, PhD
Pittsburgh, 2014

Return to Funnytown, or: How We Made Everyone’s Favorite Rarely-Seen but Critically Acclaimed Graphics Novella Without Really Trying
Most of the principal participants in the creation and publishing of  In Pictopia (except for Alan Moore, who is too busy visualizing new Funnytowns and Cartoonopolises) here provide an 'oral history' – or their best recollections after nearly a quarter of a century – of the curious confluence of circumstances surrounding the strip’s creation in the spring of 1986.
Gary Groth is the founder of Fantagraphics Books and publisher of The Comics Journal. Under Groth's editorial supervision, The Comics Journal began to distance itself from popular superhero comics and instead favored a more intellectual approach to the artform, championing independent artists and publishers like Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb. Groth regularly conducted the artist interviews himself, which despite being very scholarly, were often freewheeling, informal conversations.
Michael Fleischer, the  writer of DC Comics’ Jonah Hex, sued Groth, The Comics Journal, and Harlan Ellison for libel and defamation of character in 1980. Fleischer felt maligned in a published interview  between Groth and the admittedly cantankerous Ellison.
Groth coordinated and published Anything Goes #2 as a benefit comic in which In Pictopia was the centerpiece.
Don Simpson is the creator of Megaton Man, Border Worlds, and the 1990's adaptation of King Kong. He also gained attention for his illustrations in Al Franken's bestseller Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Megaton Man prefigured Alan Moore's Watchmen but with a more biting comedic edge, aggressively parodying the conventions of superhero comics and popular culture. Ben Edlund has acknowledged the huge influence of Megaton Man on his own series The Tick.
Denis Kitchen was a prominent figure in the early underground comics movement, founding Kitchen Sink Press in 1970 and publishing works by Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner, and Harvey Kurtzman. Kitchen went on to establish the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in 1986. Kitchen Sink published Megaton Man throughout its initial run.
Pete Poplaski was an art director at Krupp Comics/Kitchen Sink as well as the editor of Steve Canyon Magazine and has enjoyed a long career in comics, establishing close relationships with icons like Will Eisner and R. Crumb. Pete has drawn everyone from The Spirit to Spider-Man and has since worked with Moore in the Tom Strong series. He went on to edit The R.Crumb Handbook and The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book.
Mike Kazaleh got his start at Kitchen Sink, creating The Adventures of Captain Jack and working on titles such as Usagi Yojimbo and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures for Fantagraphics. He has also worked for several animation studios, including Filmation, Warner Brothers, and Bakshi Animation.
Eric Vincent is the creator of Kitchen Sink's Alien Fire and has worked as illustrator and colorist on many projects for Dark Horse and Image Comics.
The Germs of a Collaboration
Simpson: I had met Alan Moore briefly at the San Diego Comicon in 1985. This was the first time he had visited the United States, I believe, to promote Miracleman #1 for Eclipse Comics. It was my rookie year in comics, but Alan was already famous for a raft of work in England as well as increasingly for U.S. publishers, and very approachable. In fact, due to his encyclopedic knowledge of everything going on in the artform, he happened to be familiar with my work. I showed him photocopies of my “Phloog Thing” sequence for the forthcoming Megaton Man #6, about the sawdust dummy that Megaton Man sat as his office desk while his secret identity was out on an adventure. In this issue, the dummy had been shot through with a nuclear missile, drenched with “super soldier syrup,” marinated in a bog, and miraculously brought to life—a clear nod to Steve Bissette and John Totleben’s work on Alan’s Swamp Thing. Alan cheerily approved, and praised my mimicry of his writing. “But it isn’t Trent Phloog. It never will be Trent Phloog. It never was Trent Phloog,” Alan read out loud. “Brilliant!!”
“I suppose I should tell you, I’m ripping off Megaton Man,” he later confessed to me at a casual dinner that DC or some other company was throwing in the evening. “Well, not really, but I’m doing this character Dr. Manhattan,who’s kind of a serious Megaton Man…” Sure enough, Dr. Manhattan and the Silk Spectre go 'on patrol' under a full moon in Watchmen #4, a full year after Megaton Man and the See-Thru Girl had done so in Megaton Man #4.
It was thrilling enough as a young, beginner comic book creator, just to be meeting Alan Moore in person. I never dreamt I would get the chance to actually work with him, nor could I have ever forseen the cataclysmic circumstances in which such a scenario could even be remotely possible…
Comics at a Crossroads
Groth: Fleischer sued Harlan Ellison and myself in 1980. He took offense at comments made about him by Ellison in an interview I conducted and published in the Journal. The lawsuit dragged on for seven years with literally thousands of pages of depositions, motions, counter motions, etc. generated during that time, as well as much behind the scenes drama and craziness.
The lawsuit itself had polarized the comics industry. There was a faction of comics professionals who were rooting for Fleischer to win and bankrupt us. On the other hand, many well-wishers felt strongly that The Comics Journal served an important function and that, moreover, there was an important 1st Amendment issue at stake. At one convention in New York City, Fleischer gathered a dozen professionals together to do sketches that were sold with all proceeds going to his lawyer so that he could continue to sue. When I discovered this, we quickly lashed together artists who would sit on the opposite side of the same small room doing sketches for “our” side, willing to subject themselves to one of the ugliest social circumstances I’ve ever witnessed. I will never forget the image of Maurice Horn (what was the historian Maurice Horn doing there?) standing between the two room-length strings of tables, screaming imprecations at us in French
Our business insurance paid a substantial portion of our legal bills, but the remaining 20-25% was an enormous burden and one that a shoe-string operation like ours couldn’t sustain. By 1984, after four years of intense litigation we were in dire need of help to pay our legal expenses. I decided our only option was to go into the fund-raising business, and came up with the idea of a benefit comic, all profit of which would be placed in a Defense Fund bank account to buffer court costs. I would basically beg artists and writers and letterers and colorists and other creative types to contribute to it free.
It is still humbling to realize how many artists came through with contributions drawn especially for the six issues of the comic I put together or let us use pre-existing but unpublished work. It’s a long list that  includes friends, acquaintances, strangers, and sparring partners like [cartoonists] Frank Miller, Dave Sim, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Dan Clowes, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, and many other kind souls.
One writer I’d asked to contribute was Alan Moore, who was then by far the best writer working for mainstream comics and, as I recall, somewhat bristling at the editorial restrictions imposed upon him by DC [for whom he wrote Swamp Thing]. This was an opportunity to do anything he wanted, without editorial interference, and he sent me the script “In Fictopia.”
Once Alan provided the script, I had to find someone to draw it, an editorial chore I was neither comfortable with nor particularly good at. All of our comics were written and drawn by the cartoonist; we didn’t split chores up among writers, pencilers, and inkers in the big-company assembly-line approach we abominated.
I forget how I came to approach Don Simpson. My best guess is that I thought Don (who was finishing up Megaton Man) [had been underused and] certainly had the chops and the satirical instinct for the piece. At that point, Don was sullen, resentful, and smart—a lethal combination, and I say that with some fondness because I’m sure I embodied similar traits to some extent, which may be why we have gotten along or at least tolerated each other all these years. Don expanded the strip by four or five pages to accommodate Alan’s writing—which was fine by me because it meant four or five more free pages and a couple thousand more bucks to our lawyer.
Simpson: I had always admired Fantagraphics (particularly Jaime Hernandez’ enviable draughtsmanship on Love and Rockets) and The Comics Journal, thinking at the time that its approach to comics was “intellectual,” and therefore worthy of saving (although I’ve had my doubts since), and probably had a few sketches and maybe letters to the editor published in it as well as its sister publication, Amazing Heroes, by that time. I knew publisher Gary Groth at any rate, and had been to the Thousand Oaks offices (he would later be the only person in California to cash my Kitchen Sink checks for the few months I tried to live out there, for which I will be eternally grateful). I seem to recall that another artist initially had been in mind to illustrate Moore’s script, perhaps Gary Kwapisz, since I recall a “Gary” referred to in the script (Gary had been a frequent contributor of spot illos to TCJ, but hadn’t yet gone “pro” on Savage Sword of Conan).
Somehow the “art chores” fell to me, and I leapt at the opportunity, and probably devoted three weeks to drawing it (while Denis Kitchen anxiously watched his color line not only slip into oblivion, but its only consistent money-maker and deadline hawk fall way off schedule).
I drafted Kitchen Sink art director and Steve Canyon editor Pete Poplaski to pencil the barroom scene backgrounds and my junior high school bud Mike Kazaleh to pencil the scenes in “Funnytown.” At the time Mike was living in Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley above Los Angeles and already working on Critters and Captain Jack for Fantagraphics.
Kitchen: When Don had the opportunity to illustrate Alan Moore's piece he was working out of the Kitchen Sink Press complex in rural Wisconsin. My first reaction was negative. I didn’t want him to fall behind on Megaton Man, an important title for KSP at the time. I was also not thrilled that my rival publisher Fantagraphics was getting a foot in the door with Don.
Simpson:  I was pretty much wrapping up Megaton Man #8 and #9 of the satirical color comic’s ten-issue run, and preparing to embark on the somber black-and-white series Border Worlds, which would form part of an ill-fated science fiction line along with Anthony F. Smith and Eric Vincent’s Alien Fire. (This was in the wake of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon, and few of us lasted very long in the subsequent black-and-white glut.)
Groth: My criteria for pulling everyone together was basically stylistic appropriateness, skill, and youth—we were all around the same age, early-to-mid-20s, didn’t have families and onerous financial responsibilities, and had the leisure time to work on a great project for free. Don recruited Pete and Mike and I asked Eric Vincent to color it.  Eric was part of what I referred to as the “Dallas Mafia,” a fine and cheerfully cantankerous bunch with whom I’d get together every year at the Dallas Fantasy Fair. Eric was a skilful painter who was coloring covers of our Love & Rockets collections.
Vincent: Don I met later at some Con after he had been knocking out Megaton Man books for some time, and I got to see jaw-dropping pages for his upcoming Border Worlds series. I could have wept for what I knew was going to be lost from those originals to the printed page. There were few comic artists for whom I felt pangs of jealousy, but Don’s draughtsmanship, fluid brushwork and anatomical knowledge were well worth envying.
The Script
Groth: When I asked Alan Moore to if he'd be willing to contribute to the book, he unhesitatingly committed himself to two four-page stories. That was a generous offer: two stories for the price of none. When I got the script, there was a note attached saying “I got carried away and just did one eight-page script instead.” The story was a solemn and soulful lament about the decline of comics and one of the most poetic and eloquent statements I've ever read.
Simpson: I have no idea what became of my copy of the script—it was a bad photocopy of a badly typed manuscript, probably marked up with my original thumbnails. I may have passed it along to Mike or Eric, although I would think I would have mailed copies of the copy, or I may have just foolishly discarded it after completing the job.
Poplaski: Don was working like an octopus in the next office trying to break “the Kirby Barrier” (drawing four finished comic pages a day) writing, penciling, inking, and coloring Megaton Man and  Border Worlds (the back-up feature for Megaton Man). On top of all that he had accepted the opportunity to work with Alan Moore on a short comic story as soon as he received the script. I heard a loud laugh from the next room. Don kicked in my studio office door brandishing his Alan Moore script around in the air and said I had to help him knock it out immediately. He yelled he had to do it and I had to help him do it. I read the script and thought, “oh yeah, crowd scenes …that will take some time to figure out…and you ain’t got much of that!” So I agreed to help out. It was a challenge. I dropped everything (except Kitchen Sink Press’s high standards of quality which was always my reason for missing practically every deadline I ever had), and Don hit the drawing board blocking out his rough ideas based on Alan Moore’s lengthy stage directions. He handed me a page to structure a crowd perspective of burned out comic characters.
Kazaleh : I remember reading the script as written by Mr. Moore. It was typewritten. He went into a lot of detail describing the scene in each panel. It wasn’t so much that there was to be a ton of detail in each illustration, but the long description did give you a good idea about the mood of the drawing.
Vincent: It’s a shame Don no longer has that script, because it should be displayed along with everything else. Its what I remember the most about the project. How could an artist not respond with his best to this kind of writing? It was embedded in a stream-of-consciousness flow of directions, ideas, images and reference that allowed you to see the inner workings of Alan’s mind. Who else but Alan would provide pages of text describing a single panel? As the artist, Don could wade into this rush of thought for whatever inspirations he needed, or to stimulate his own search for source material.
Simpson: The script spoiled me for all future collaborations. It was so dense in detail and background information, philosophical asides and irrelevant digressions, more than could ever be drawn— it was as if Alan were simply putting all of his thoughts directly into my head, and then it would be my problem to translate and communicate those ideas to the reader.
Alan didn’t seem to mind if I chose a close-up or a long shot in any particular spot, since he had said what he wanted to say in the script and was for all intents and purposes done with it. This was the first script I ever illustrated besides my own legal-pad notes for Megaton Man, which was generally improvised page by page. I didn’t realize at the time that it was natural to have sympathy for my own ideas, but not so easy to warm up to somebody else’s, with Alan Moore being a miraculous exception among comic book scribes. Unfortunately, all subsequent scripts I’ve illustrated in comics as a “freelancer” were of the “Page 1, panel 1, caption, dialogue” variety—more like an impersonal Ikea instruction sheet for assembling a Billy bookcase, while Alan’s script was like an inspired gourmet recipe (with personal asides from Julia Child).
The story was obviously a black comedy, satirizing the state of the American comic book industry in the mid-1980s, which then seemed like it was going to hell in a hand-basket (an apocalyptic prediction that from the point of view of independent cartooning turned out to be mild). In those Direct Sales, Baxter-paper days, everything had to fit into the “continuity,” everything had to be rationalized and explained for the sensibilities of literal-minded fans, everything had to be revamped and restarted, no matter how old or irrelevant the trademark, with shiny new costumes and new collector’s item first issues emblazoned on the cover (even Denis Kitchen insisted on a new #1 when I drew Return of Megaton Man in 1988). The story can also be read as the inexorable progress of late capitalist modernity, crushing all non-western contenders, and the inevitable extinction of individuality and originality in the contemporary world. In other words, it’s just as apropos today as it was in 1986. Heck, I don’t think you can even launch a humble comic book today unless the toy figure line, trading cards, computer games, big-budget movie, Happy Meals and paperback adaptation are already lined up for synchronous release. 
Living  “In Pictopia”
Simpson: I took a few liberties, young buck that I was at the time (all of 24 years old). First, the original title had been “In Fictopia,” which I promptly changed to In Pictopia—more visual, I thought (and if anyone objected, and nobody did, I could always change it back. We were doing this for free, after all). I also expanded the cramped 8 pages called for to a leisurely 13 pages, employing a Cinemascope “widescreen” panel to impose a steady rhythm.
Kazaleh: Don asked Pete Poplaski to pencil in some of the old timey comic strip characters and me to pencil in the funny animals. Don and I had gone to school together back in Michigan, but we were living in separate towns by this time. I penciled my bits onto Bristol board, then mailed the art to Don for finishing. The whole story was inked by Don.
Simpson : Pete populated the barroom with Joe Palooka, Kayo from Moon Mullins, and a variety of Dick Tracy-esque villains. Mike handled the scene where an aging Goofy-type dog gets the crap kicked out of him by a bullying mob of X-Men types. This was all before Who Killed Roger Rabbit—Alan Moore had a postmodern, hybrid pop-culture sensibility well before we even recognized what that was.
Poplaski: I remember it like it was 24 minutes ago. I was late as usual, about two months behind in my deadline for Steve Canyon #14 (we always backdated the publication date to the correct one in the front page indecia even though this February magazine actually came out in June), at least a week behind on coloring a Spirit cover for Uncle Will [Eisner], and all over my floor were scattered paste-up scraps for reconfiguring 1954 Milton Caniff strips into the Steve Canyon 3-D comic (I used the floor a lot).
Working on this In Pictopia project in the “Post-Silver” era of comics was very much akin to the legendary tales told about how many of the great old 52-page “Golden Age” comics from the 1940s were created spontaneously on the spot. So, just like Marvel Mystery #2 (I never had that ish) with the original Human Torch battling it out with the Sub-Mariner, fire versus water, there was Don Simpson playing Carl Burgos at the kitchen table drawing the Human Torch, and there was I, being Bill Everett, sitting in the bathtub drawing the Sub-Mariner pages! And so, with great determination, along with mass quantities of caffeine unstabling our molecules, we willfully approached the “Kirby Barrier.”
It was quite an ambitious thing to attempt because of the high standards set by the hilarious and miraculous performances of Wally Wood and Will Elder in the old Mad magazine, counterfeiting all the drawing styles of different cartoon characters, like for example, Wally Wood’s double-pager of famous comic strip characters in an old folks home. Great stuff!  Don and I stuck to our drawing boards day and night, bleary eyed and with a bad cigarette-like taste forming in our mouths even though neither of us smoked, into the endless early hours of the morn, grinding it out.
I don’t think you could say Don and I broke the “Kirby Barrier” with the In Pictopia pages, but we may have scratched it a little bit. He and I returned to our regular projects after the weekend without any noticeable dip in Kitchen Sink Press stock options occurring.
(Editor's note: Eric Vincent's incredible coloring techniques, unable to be preserved in the reprinting, lend significant moods and details to the original work. Though his work is unrepresented, Vincent's notes comment on many of the touches that made the original In Pictopia such an extraordinary piece.)
Vincent: I really enjoyed working out the color schemes for the various neighborhoods of  In Pictopia. For the “Mandrake the Magician” type character—Nocturno the Necromancer – I used purples and browns to suggest the decomposing stock of newsprint, the last holdout of the great comic characters of the past.
The Funny Animal neighborhood next to Nocturno’s district would be only a little better—Gladstone was still doing reprints of Disney comics at the time and there has always been a big interest in Donald Duck in Europe, not to mention the airing of old cartoons on TV—so I gave them a muted palette a little more attention/money could finance, though one still showing the ravages of sulfur on cheap pulp paper.
As a Golden Age superhero, Flexible Flynn is looking pretty rough, but he still has white in his word balloons—he’s still marginally “hip”—while Nocturno’s text shows his age. As the magician explains, it is the contemporary superhero that enjoys the high production values that their popularity can finance. Overdeveloped physically and hypersexual, these cruel, arrogant monsters have the garish, almost primary color palette that, color-wise, demonstrates their brutal, simple-minded attitude towards justice- something we see in action when Nocturno walks in on several superheroes terrorizing Red, a down-on-her-luck adventure comics character living in the same building.
Kazaleh: I recall seeing Eric Vincent’s blueline paintings over at Fantagraphics and being very impressed. [I loved] the way he was able to capture the feel of old, brittle newsprint. It was completely appropriate for the story.
Simpson: I don’t recall whose idea it was to draft Eric Vincent for the coloring, but it turned out to be a brilliant stroke. His colors added so much to the story and brought it to life in my opinion (a more recent reprint essayed a Photoshop interpretation which, unfortunately, could never take the place of Eric’s work in my eyes).
The Pictopian Legacy
 Groth: I was knocked you by what Don delivered. I remember thinking at the time that it was too good for a benefit book! Don will hate me for saying this, but I think it’s one of the greatest—if not the best— thing he’s ever done in comics. I haven’t read it in years, but Alan’s script is skillfully controlled, human, warm, elegiac, intellectually engaged and conceptually resonant. Once the words and pictures all came together, the comic became a lovely, even exquisitely perfect and seamless piece of work. In Pictopia turned out to be one of those serendipitous creative confluences that occur too rarely in one’s life, and I’m pleased that my miserable and unfortunate circumstance could serve as a catalyst.
Kitchen: When I saw the finished results, I was truly impressed. In Pictopia is my favorite Simpson comic and a highlight of the medium for this era. It still resonates today. Alan had his finger not only on the pulse of the art from but also the state of the industry.
Vincent: This story would have made a great series, and you can see some of the ideas here that Alan went on to develop further in Watchmen. I enjoyed doing it, and am glad the money that was raised helped Fantagraphics with the Ellison/Fleischer mess.
Kazaleh: Overall, I thought the story came out quite good. It said what a lot of us were feeling at the time about how all the fun in comics was being replaced by something nastier. I hope the fun will come back someday.
Poplaski: In Pictopia was well received. Less than two decades later I was handed my own eighteen page Alan Moore script for the lucky thirteenth issue of Tom Strong, for which I was asked to illustrate the concluding six-page chapter in a sort of period C. C. Beck Captain Marvel -cartoon style. It was fun. But the kids these days, I’m tellin’ ya, these kids will never know the glory of them “Post-Silver Age” days in comics.
Pictopian Theory
I think that many of us [comic book creators] at that moment were heading in the same direction. We had imbibed the same pop cultural material, wildly diverse as it was, and were trying to make sense of it—to systematize it into a coherent body of knowledge, as Kant might put it. A less generous description would involve those derogatory terms, “pastiche” and “eclecticism.”
But the idea of taking improbably conflicting comic strips, such as Siegel and Schuster’s Superman, Bob Kane’s Batman, and William Moulton Marston’s Wonder Woman—each unique in atmosphere and idiom, despite a certain generic similarity—and effacing them into a single “house style”—was at the heart of the comic book industry’s founding. Not to mention the hybrid world improbably forged from the imaginations of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, for which Stan Lee served as Master of Ceremonies over at Marvel Comics Group many years later.
If you grew up wanting to draw comics in my day, it meant you wanted to embrace all of these influences and many others besides, and make them your own. Today they would call this kind of creative bastardization a “mash-up,” meaning that it’s not really a bastardization at all, but kind of cool. Still, it has disturbing connotations for those of us who recognize that independent artists are the most likely to produce the best material.
Alan Moore, Kurt Busiek, myself and many others made our own “artificial” company universes to escape the restraints of copyright and trademark law, and do what we always thought should have been possible in comics, which is to have fun making them. It was a kind of protest movement against the big companies and editorial control, and restrictive “continuities.” I tended to do it in a more satirical way, and I was certainly emboldened in my own work subsequent to “In Pictopia” and The Watchmen.
We are all heroes of our own comic strips, and yet all of our realities collide in a shared Pictopia. The problem is when one totalizing narrative is imposed on everybody, and then you have violence against individual identity. That is what the postcolonial and postmodern struggles are all about, which is why I think this work still speaks very powerfully to our contemporary condition.
___
Note: "In Pictopia" originally appeared in Anything Goes #2 (Fantagraphics, December 1986). It was subsequently reprinted in The Best Comics of the Decade 1980-1990 Volume 1 [of 2] (Fantagraphics, 1990), and in George Khoury, The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore (Raleigh NC: TwoMorrows Publishing, 2003).

The entire story with original coloring by Eric Vincent can be read online here.
"In Pictopia" is ™ and © Alan Moore and Donald Simpson 1986, 2014, all rights reserved.

Friday, October 17, 2014

For Drawing-Based Art: A Manifesto of Sorts

Drawing is the foundation of art—the basis of painting, sculpture, architecture, fashion, theatrical design, film storyboarding and production design, industrial design, picture storytelling, and so on.

The various Neo-Dada and “new media” practices which comprise Contemporary Art (installation, performance, concept, video, et al), lacking a basis in drawing, are in themselves insufficient to sustain the traditions and historical trajectory of visual art.

Drawing is the direct expression of the mind through the hand; mindful composition is inherent and native to drawing.

Critical theory, expressly antagonistic to the graven image, posits the text as the only valid form of mindful composition, as the only possible expression of thought.[1] Contemporary art practices subserve critical theory by providing a steady stream of novel conversation pieces for verbal exegesis that on their own would provide a feeble aesthetic experience, let alone thoughtful communication. Promised a shortcut to significant form, contemporary artists eschew the difficult burden of providing meaningful content, which the critical theorist is only too happy to retroactively supply through the back door. This is bad art and bad philosophy.

Contemporary art can be exhausted by words; drawing-based art cannot. Contemporary art cannot exist without words; drawing-based art can. Drawing-based art is perceived as being a threat to the word; contemporary art is utterly dependent upon it. And yet the word and image have never been in competition, but along with music, dance, and other creative arts form a holistic expression of communication. Such an imagined or manufactured opposition as dominates contemporary artistic discourse can yield only creative sterility.

Evan Dorkin's Milk and Cheese, drawn by Don Simpson.

For Katy Siegel, art “is the discipline where one can exercise any other discipline—from cooking to sociology to architecture to biology to theater—free of the normative rules proper to those disciplines, professions, schools.” Art is therefore “useful to individuals who want to engage [in] these other activities without really learning them […], as amateurs who won’t be judged as architects or actors but as artists.”[2] Contemporary art therefore comprises a range of practices best described as amateurish versions of other creative categories, and which those categories at their most accomplished and professional for the most part want no part of.

No one expects performance art to be good in the dramatic sense, and theater history wants no part of it. Likewise, video installation is not a part of cinema history, just as conceptual art is not philosophy. Yet these practices have wound up inhabiting the art world, supplanting drawing-based art, an aberration of history spawned by the rise of photography and related media and a willful corruption of art enabled by historians and intellectuals who either lost sight of this basis or for whatever reason have always been hostile to it to begin with.

Avant-garde posturing and art student experimentation may offer a travestial rebuke of the excesses of handmade illusionism, but to persist in such ironies beyond a certain moment of historical or personal development, and to reduce all possible art to such a sterile strip of creative enquiry, is to wallow in hopeless immaturity. Artlab is over.

Art, pace Raymond Williams, is exceptionally fine, worthwhile, and enduring communication of which all human beings to some degree are capable (dance, music, poetry, and so on). Without this communication, there can be no art. For Williams, art is
the substantial communication of experience from one organism to another. Art cannot exist unless a working communication can be reached [...]. When art communicates, a human experience is actively offered and received. Below this activity threshold there can be no art.[3]

But as Williams warns,
There is great danger in the assumption that art serves only on the frontiers of knowledge. It serves on those frontiers, particularly in disturbed and rapidly changing societies. Yet it serves, also, at the very center of societies. It is often through the art that the society expresses its sense of being a society. The artist, in this case, is not the lonely explorer, but the voice of his community. Even in our own complex society, certain artists seem near the center of common experience while others seem out on the frontiers, and it would be wrong to assume that this difference is the difference between ‘mediocre art’ and ‘great art.’

For Williams, the notion that “ creative’ equals ‘new’ […] is a really disabling idea, in that it forces the exclusion of a large amount of art which it is clearly our business to understand.”[4]

The alliance between the art world and academic art history and its emphasis on the auratic presence of the original work and its verbal interpretation inevitably leads to an emphasis on the museum and gallery space and the irrelevance of the creative work itself. The cultural center, to the extent that it is a modern manifestation of the sacred center, emphasizes the church building over the church, the sermon over the religious experience, the palace of culture over culture itself. Originally built to house drawing-based art, these structures have learned that such works are not essential, making possible art’s substitution by pseudo-artistic conversation pieces. The emphasis on auratic presence is a corruption of art and a hindrance to the historical development now possible especially through means of reproduction.

Drawing-based art has never been dependent on the elitist museum or gallery space for its display and public adortion, and in the age of mechanical reproduction, is certainly not dependent on the auratic presence of the one-of-a-kind object. Like the word, the image can be transmitted and distributed democratically, in reproduction; the product of the hand is no more constrained than the product of the vocal chords, or of the body. The apparent imbalance of these sensory extensions through the uneven development of disparate media now appears simply the accident of a certain technological history, to which McLuhan still offers useful insight. The scholarly display and archival preservation of original art remains desirable and important for research, but the sacralization of original art as an act of public, communal worship can never be anything other than exclusive and exclusionary.

Photography is by its nature a recording medium, not an art. To argue for photography’s status as art on the basis that its technical parameters are set by humans and specific to human perception is specious. If photography is not a recording medium, then there is no such thing as a recording medium, outside of an indexical footprint in the sand. To be well done, photography requires a selective eye, just as sound recording requires a selective ear and cinematography a directorial touch. But these are recordings of artistic compositions, not artistic composition itself. Photographers who are considered artists are artists by virtue of these other considerations, not because of their mastery of the technical aspects of photography. Mindful expression is not native or inherent in recording media.

The insistence that drawing is merely manual photography, and therefore irrelevant to art today, is the most fundamental and willful misunderstanding posited by logocentric critical theorists, that has catastrophically deformed and debased notions of art in the modern period.

Since the inception of photography, the market has steadily replaced the hand of the artist with the camera, and the manually-generated image with the mechanically-recorded image. Ostensibly hostile to market values, critical theory imagines drawing-based art, visual poesis, as superfluous to contemporary art, thus paradoxically furthering market aims. In lockstep with capital in its repudiation of cognitive manual skill, critical theory replicates market values in the realm of art, exiling the draughtsman from Contemporary Art. This double-barreled assault on drawing by capital and critical theory amounts to shooting the wounded.

Larry Marder's Mr. Spook, drawn by Don Simpson.

In contemporary art, drawing, visual composition, is forbidden and only writing, textual composition, is permitted. This alliance between the museum and gallery-based art world and academic art history has only achieved total dominance quite recently, but is only the most recent chapter in a long and hard-fought struggle. For the moment, Talmudic, Puritanical iconoclasm has gained the upper hand over the sensualism of the eye and hand, and the Judao-Christian word appears ascendant over Greco-Roman image, an age-old tension in Western civilization.

The attack on drawing as thoughtful composition is specific and unmistakable, the settling of an old score by grudging writers who jealously claim the text as the only form of thoughtful composition. It is an internecine knife-fight in a prison riot, a shiv between the shoulderblades of the visually adept by the verbally adept, rendered moot in a culture that is completely visual and overwhelmingly dominated by mediated images. To face a deluge of mediated imagery with only words is to fight with one arm tied behind one’s back. Drawing-based art, as vital as language in processing and communicating human experience, is even more crucial to navigating the mediated, virtual world. Writing and drawing must join together if the mind is to survive, and our notion of art must be reconstituted accordingly.
____ 
[1] Max Horkheimer explicitly claims the Second Commandment as the basis of critical theory. See Max Horheimer, letter to Otto O. Herz, September 1, 1969, in Gesammelte Schriften, volume 18, Briefwechsel 1949-1973 (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1996) p. 743; cited in Sven Lüttken, "Monotheism à la Mode," in Alexander Dumbadze and Suzanne Hudson, Contemporary Art: 1989 to the Present (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), pp. 304, 310, note 11. Frederic Jameson, among others, has made the claim that "thought is linguistic or material and that concepts cannot exist independently of their linguistic expression," i.e., that communication of the mind by any other means is impossible, a curious stance for one who comments so authoritatively on art. See Frederic Jameson, "Symptoms of Theory or Symptoms for Theory?" Critical Inquiry 40 (Winter 2004), p. 403.
[2] Katy Siegel, "Lifelong Learning," in Dumbadze and Hudson, op. cit., pp. 408-419; quote p. 410.
[3] Raymond Williams, “The Creative Mind,” The Long Revolution (Columbia University Press, 1961), p.42.
[4] Ibid, p. 47.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Conventions of Contemporaneity: An Anxiety Dream

I had a dream last night that I attended a current San Diego Comicon (in reality I have not attended the biggest comic book convention in the world since 1996, and by all accounts it is now almost ten times bigger than it then was). Upon entering, one was completely overwhelmed by an island of booths containing a Wonder Bread display, of all things (simulated loaves of Wonder Bread stood as pillars holding up a canopy over the space), followed by islands that were fully-furnished convenience stores so that attendees would not have to go outside the hall and out into downtown San Diego to shop for necessities. (No doubt this symbolized how commercial and insular comic book conventions have become -- you don't even get to experience the wonderful city you are visiting at all.) With my portfolio, I finally found my way to artist's alley (I had not bothered to reserve a space in advance); I did not recognize any of the younger people there, and nobody recognized me, although only a few artists had set up this early in the show.

Patrick Daugherty, director of the Frank L. Melaga Art Museum, pondering the placement of my work yesterday. Some of Frank L. Melaga's paintings from the permanent collection are on the facing walls, while my works are on the floor waiting to be hung and in the showcase in the background.

I saw a group of artists seated on a raised podium, about eight or ten young people, mostly male but some female, all dressed remarkably alike in black with ball caps or berets like a paramilitary volunteer police militia, and thought I spotted Billy Tucci among them, but he kept disappearing behind the heads of other people. This group must have been his entourage, although they all seemed to be sketching or autographing, although no fans were yet present.
 
Pages from Alan Moore's "In Pictopia," which I drew in 1986, and two Megaton Man splash pages, one from 1989 and 1999.

I finally ended up in an internet cafe somewhere in the dealer's room, populated mostly by young Asian men, who were all buzzing about their laptops. (I suppose mobile device now dominate comic book conventions as they do everything else, although this had not been the case the last time I was at the San Diego Comicon). For some reason I was table hopping -- I'm not sure if I was giving advice, showing my work, explaining how to find my stuff online, or just trying to get connected myself. When I finally sat down to get online myself, I realized my laptop was missing. I looked everywhere for it, and came to the realization that it had been stolen. (Why would any of these people with their much slicker devices steal my old clumsy thing with nothing on it?) Then I woke up.

The showcase is a mixture of artists and comics that influenced me as well as some of my own art, including "Batman Upgrade 2.0" from DC's Bizarro World (2005).


No doubt this dream came to me because I had been helping to hang my gallery exhibit of old and new cartooning and life drawings last night, and had attended a small comic book show in Youngstown last weekend. I have been doing a great deal more cartooning since this past spring than I have in many a year, since I returned to college and earned my PhD. I don't think of any of this as a "comeback," in part because I have little idea what I would be coming back to. Am I being sucked back into the scary world of comics, and is this dream a portent of what it will be like? Anxiety!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fun With Texture: Demo from a Cartooning Workshop

This sheet was drawn on Strathmore medium drawing 400 series 9" x 12" creme paper as a demonstration for a cartooning sketchbook workshop at the Carnegie Museum of Art in 2008. I enjoyed those workshops immensely. They were usually held in summer, although in recent years I became too busy with graduate school to be able to offer them. For years the museum refused to offer cartooning instruction, insisting by policy that educational offerings coincide with works on view in the museum galleries. Finally, in 2004, with the R. Crumb retrospective as part of the Carnegie International that year, I was invited to give instruction.

 
Since then the museum has canceled adult education workshops in drawing, painting, ceramics and other traditional media in favor of lectures relating to contemporary works of art. It is nothing short of tragic to see the museum art world forsake interactive drawing, the basis of all the visual arts (including architecture, cinematic storytelling/storyboarding, theatrical set and costume design, etc.) for passive dispensation of theory. The proper response to art is artmaking, not idle attendance at a lecture.

Two CMAs and the Second Commandment: A Digression

The current artworld, centered in public museums housed in large, monumental neoclassical buildings, have run the risk of succumbing to an ideology centered on their own self-importance as elite palaces of culture rather than democratic institutions of municipal and civic engagement. Cleveland's museum early in its history built a palace but emphasized education for all classes of Clevelanders, and despite the impulse to move to the right, has managed to successfully balance the two; but Pittsburgh, unfortunately, has not. Under its current leadership, Pittsburgh's CMA (as opposed to Cleveland's CMA) has embraced the ideology of contemporaneity in which various pseudo-Dada practices form the basis of high-flown intellectual discourse. But such mere pseudo-political conversations as can result from the contemplation of found objects, installations, performance and the like, while often interesting and verbally challenging, are rarely as rich as the contemplation of visual art that are works of the mind, as manually-generated images almost by the very means of their origins almost inherently are.

The mistake that over-educated, verbally-adept critics, curators, theorists, and art historians continually make is to disregard visual composition such as only the hand produces as thoughtless, or at least not as thinking on a level comparable with words. Old-fashioned craft, according to this ideology, is reserved only for the wordsmith and never the image maker, who is invariably regarded as a capitalist sell-out for rendering illusions corresponding to apparent reality, or at the very least mechanical and uncritical like a camera. Likewise, such honorifics as thinker and genius are reserved for the writer of texts, and even the title artist, when bestowed upon maker of conversation pieces, is not done without the most arch and patronizing irony. The bias for text over image runs very deep in our culture, going back at least to the Judao-Christian second commandment, which Max Horkheimer claimed as the basis and justification for contemporary critical theory.*

In any case, one hopes that the ascendance of logos and the iconoclastic impulse that has subtended much enthusiasm for modern and contemporary art over the past century or more will prove to be only a temporary aberration in our culture, and for a return of drawing to the educational environment of the city of Pittsburgh, and to the artworld nationally and internationally, in the very near future.

*See Max Horheimer, letter to Otto O. Herz, September 1, 1969, in Gesammelte Schriften, volume 18 Briefwechsel 1949-1973 (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1996) p. 743; cited in Sven Lüttken, "Monotheism à la Mode," in Alexander Dumbadze and Suzanne Hudson, Contemporary Art: 1989 to the Present (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), pp. 304, 310, note 11. Lüttken attempts to make the rather unconvincing argument that a total ban on representative art is a valid form of criticism of the image and the proper role critical inquiry, suggesting the temperament of critical theorists.

For more on drawing, see The Withering Away of Drawing. For more on the Dumbadze anthology, see After Critical Thinking.