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Jerry Moriarty:

Memories Of A Father

Jerry Moriarty’s Jack Survives comics have allowed him to identify and commune with the father he lost in 1953 when he was 15. “I didn’t have a man’s experience with my father, I never had a beer in a bar with him.”

Jerry got the education his father Jack never had and grew up to be a radical, largely solitary artist and art teacher, a world away from his Dad’s modest job, family life and conservative values. It was only when Jerry reached forty, his father’s age when Jerry first remembers him, that he began to reflect on everyday incidents in his life - a plumber’s jargon, a faulty TV set, shoe repairs, getting tangled in a dog’s leash - and imagine how the “Jack” inside him, what he calls “the better me”, might have reacted in his time.

Layered in brushstrokes of black and white, his picture stories, part comics, part painting, were discovered in 1979 by Art Spiegelman, then a fellow instructor at the School of Visual Arts. He and Francoise Mouly premiered them in the seminal RAW magazine in 1980 and compiled many of them in 1984, but this year brings The Complete Jack Survives, every strip, drawing and painting meticulously re-mastered to expose their full tonal range and previously little-seen under-drawing, and under-writing (“A dog napping seen I?” surfaces in an empty speech balloon), alongside tender photos and commentary. “My father has had time to become almost mythology to me, so Jack grows more poignant in my old age as I fuse myself with my Dad. 55 years after his death we survive.”

Jerry survives but without Jack, whom he stopped drawing in 1984. Since turning 62, he has adopted another avatar named Sally in large-scale, multi-canvas sequences, some of which were curated by Spieglman in 2004 for CUE Art Foundation. “I wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of my puberty in 1950 but this time as a girl. I titled her adventures Sally’s Surprise because 1950 was a world without Playboy or Barbie. Sally is surprised as she discovers sexual feelings, like I was as a boy.”

In the previously unpublished strip below, in mostly bright acrylics, a current influence from his favourite brand of Hawaiian shirts, an accident in a bowling alley unlocks the inner “Sally” in an elderly pinboy, all colour evaporating as she escapes through the window. “Sally is 14 now and still getting surprised, but not about sex anymore.”

Click image to enlarge.

Posted: November 29, 2009

This article first appeared in the December 2009 issue of Art Review magazine.


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Article Links

Buenaventure Press
Cue Art Foundation

Art Spiegelman
Chris Ware

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Featured Books

The Complete
Jack Survives

by Jerry Moriarty
(Buenaventura Press, 2009)

Comic Art Magazine #9
featuring an interview with
Jerry Moriarty
(Buenaventura Press, 2007)

The Believer Vol 7 #9
featuring an interview with
Jerry Moriarty by Chris Ware
(Nov/Dec 2009)