Magazine article Humanities

Comics and the Classical Tradition

Magazine article Humanities

Comics and the Classical Tradition

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON AT THE MARYHILL MUSEUM OF ART IN Goldendale, Washington, the same museum that houses Rodin's The Thinker and objects d'art from the palaces of the Queen Marie of Romania, visitors can view images depicting a Victorian-era robot who fights alongside Teddy Roosevelt and Lawrence of Arabia; a historic journey through the U.S. Constitution; and a superhero whose name is Frank Einstein, a cross between Frank Sinatra and Albert Einstein, as part of "Comics at the Crossroads; The Art of the Graphic Novel."

The exhibition offers more than novelty, says curator Steven L. Graie. Inside illustrated story frames depicting human beings with supernatural powers and the ability to travel through time, one finds examples of the grander artistic tradition, especially in the attention devoted to action and physique.

"Today's comic artists are the inheritors of the classical European art tradition," says Grafe. "Representational and figurative art is more or less out of fashion in contemporary art circles. A century ago - and going back to at least the Renaissance - skillful modeling of the human figure was necessary for any artist's success. I'm hard-pressed to identify other groups of artists that are now so universally concerned with the human form."

Grafe hopes visitors see the sophisticated design sense and mastery with which comic artists render their worlds. Creating comic-book art is a complicated process, taking an army of creative personalities (although occasionally developed by a single artist). Traditionally, a writer comes up with the storyline and writes the words; a penciler uses drawings to illustrate the story; inkers ink over the pencil lines using India ink and a paint brush, supplying depth and texture; a colorisi provides color, light, and shadow using traditional fine-art techniques; and a letterer adds word balloons, sound effects, titles, and captions. Today, computers are often used to combine or replace some of these steps.

Since Superman appeared on the scene in 1938, comics have spanned a spectrum of literary, social, and political issues such as war, corporate and political corruption, drug use, and racism. In 1954, the Comics Code Authority was created to curb suspect content in American comic books. As a result, comic books became sanitized, spawning a new underground movement that emerged in the 1960s with more diversity, psychological complexity, and mature themes. …

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