By Sarah Schneider, grad student MICA’s Illustration Practice, Fall 2013, Critical Seminar Final Paper.
Comics have historically been separated from art and literature, cast off as a ‘low brow’ art form in the public consciousness. Generally created for reproduction, either as a disposable booklet or a humorous addition to newspapers and magazines, cartoonists were not regarded as artists, and their work was culturally disregarded. However, in the past fifty years, a lot has changed in the world of comics and sequential art. Many of the characteristics people considered to be defining aspects of the medium have fallen by the wayside, as younger artists experiment with the juxtaposition of words and images in ways previously unheard of. So much has been done in the realm of ‘comics’, the definition has become convoluted, and many of the distinctions that kept cartoonists from being considered artists are becoming obsolete. Currently, it is difficult to find a clear explanation of the difference between cartoonists and artists. Some of the only explanations still applicable have to do with context. Art is shown in a gallery, comics are reproduced in printed forms. Many artists utilize both contexts simultaneously and without biased, making it even harder to find people who fit under one label and not the other. (Gravett)
Although comics were previously thought of as a mainstream art form, aiming to appeal to large audiences through horror, romance, and humor, the medium lends itself well as an avenue for more difficult and engaging ideas. Small scale, accessible to large audiences, and intimate in nature, the potential for comics as a means to story telling, political, social and personal commentary has given countless artists an ideal means to uncensored self expression. (Gravett) Certain artists have utilized the combination of words and pictures, the essential element of comics, to create loose, poetic, personal narratives.
When artists Raymond Pettibon and Marcel Dzama began creating drawings on a small scale in a cartoonish or illustrative style, the sophisticated ideas and non-linear narratives that ran through out them distinguished them from what could be considered comics. In the late 1970 and 1990s when these artists began their careers, their work appealed more appropriately to those frequenting art galleries than the usual comic book crowd. Although they are considered fine artists, their works has been reproduced in countless magazines, books, and prints. Occupying both galleries and print forms, this innovative work helped broaden perspectives on the creative potential for illustrative and cartoonish artwork. The tension between the recognizable and accessible imagery and the obscure or difficult ideas they expressed captivated both fans of comics and fine art. Not exactly fine art, not quite comics, Pettibon and Dzama helped create a space for new kinds of work to be made, work that is both comics and art.
Raymond Pettibon (b. 1957)
No Title (And now the…) 1987
Ink on Paper
In the late 1970s, Raymond Pettibon quit his job as a high school math teacher in California to pursue art full time. Brother to Greg Ginn, the founder of punk band Black Flag, the artwork of Pettibon appeared on record covers and flyers of many bands in the punk scene at of the time. Pettibon has a consistent and recognizable comic-like style and is regarded one of the most significant artists of the past century. Combining single images, usually appropriated from various sources, with text he lifts from literature and popular culture, to create work that is often satirical or anti-authoritarian in nature. He uses one or two bold colors, loose draftsmanship, with hand written type to create his distinctive visual style. Although his work resembles cartoons in a direct way, Pettibon asserts his work is not cartoons or literature, but something else, a response to both. In an interview with Denis Cooper, Pettibon discusses the differences between comics and fine art, and many of his answers are confused or contradictory. He says he feels uncomfortable drawing a distinction between artists and cartoonists but doesn’t think it makes sense to have his work considered or compared to comics. He says he has made ‘comic-book type stories’ and they are ‘something