Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Comics Versus Art

by Robert Boyd

Comics Versus Art is the name of an upcoming book by Bart Beaty, dealing with the usually fraught relations between the art world and the comics world. This conflict will be made tangible at the opening of the UH Masters Thesis show at Diverse Works (Diverse Works is hosting it because the Blaffer Gallery is undergoing renovations).

Ted Closson MFA show

Ted Closson is about to get his MFA at UH, and is specializing in something quite unusual for the UH program--comics. I've written about him before. The thing about doing comics is that the end result is not something you display, it's something you read. Consequently, displaying comic art on the wall of a gallery is problematic. (I think the same could be said about most video art, which is why galleries often show videos in separate darkened rooms with seating.) Whenever a museum or gallery shows comics art, the problems with displaying it are usually high up in the curator's list of concerns. I know they were for me with Walpurgis Afternoon. Some cartoonists don't like their work on walls. To them, the work is a book that you read, not a picture you look at. The French cartoonist Blutch won't allow his work to be displayed that way. When he was honored with an exhibit at Angoulême, the big annual French comics festival, in 2010, he showed nothing but pastel drawings--no comics at all.

So Closson had some choices to make for his part of the thesis show. And his choice is interesting. On opening night, a part of Diverse Works will be converted into a micro-comic book convention which he is calling Nighthawks at the Last Supper. Instead of forcing comics art to fit into an art world idiom, he is bringing a comics world institution into an art space.

In the song "Chiclete com Banana" (1959), Brazilian singer Jackson do Pandeiro sang about culture clash:
Eu só ponho bi-bop no meu samba
Quando o Tio San pegar um tamburim
Quando ele pegar no pandeiro e no zabumba
Quando ele entender que o samba não é rumba
Aí eu vou misturar Miami com Copacabana
Chicletes eu misturo com banana
E o meu samba vai ficar assim

Quero ver a grande confusão
É o samba-rock meu irmão
This translates, roughly, as
I'll put bebop in my samba
When Uncle Sam plays the tamburim (a Brazilian percussion instrument)
When he plays pandeiro (a Brazilian percussion instrument) and zabumba (a Brazilian percussion instrument)
When he understands that samba is not rumba
Oh then I'll mix Miami with Copabacana
Chewing gum mixed with banana
And my samba will stay that way

I want to see the big jumble
It's samba-rock, brother!
Two cultures will be clashing with Nighthawks at the Last Supper. I want to see the big jumble.


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