Wednesday, February 17, 2010
New Acqusition--Sam Henderson
Sam Henderson, Cartoon Symbols in Other Countries
Sam Henderson is a very funny cartoonist who does a comic called The Magic Whistle. His drawing skills are somewhat rudimentary (but adequate to the task!)--his main talent is for writing humor (and he has indeed written for television--my nieces and nephews would be thrilled to know he wrote for Spongebob Squarepants, except that they are probably too young to realize that cartoons have "writers").
I liked this cartoon in particular because it expressed in a characteristically pithy way an important post-modern idea. This idea is that there is no essential quality of an artform. When we think of modernism, we think of a progression towards a pure, uncluttered expression of the essential qualities of the art in question. Painting for example became arrangement of pigment on a flat surface--anything more than that (like recognizable images) was mere illustration. Obviously, such a puritanical aesthetic meant that there could not be any national or regional differences. One thinks of the International Style in architecture, for example. (This puritanism is a caricature of modernism as it was actually practiced, though.)
Of course, post-modernism reacted strongly to this. One aspect of post-modernism was the notion of multi-culturalism, that different cultures may value things differently, and that in aesthetic matters at least, who is to say what's right? Regionalism is allowed once again to flourish.
Modernist theory (especially of the totalizing essentialist variety) never took hold much in comics, but there have always been those who sought to boil comics down to a particular essence. These are the great definers. I'd count Scott McCloud as one, although a pretty benign one.
What I take from this Sam Henderson cartoon is the futility of trying to pin down the essence of comics.
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