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A Review By: Steinblogger

The following review of Paul Gravett’s talk, Comics As Art: Art As Comics appeared on the Steinblogger blog on August 13, 2007.

At Heidi MacDonald’s insistence (no, she didn’t personally insist that I go, but rather posted it to The Beat), I went to see Paul Gravett’s talk on comics and art at MoCCA tonight. His presentation was subtitled Comics as Art, Art as Comics.

Mr. Gravett has written several books about graphic novels and manga, and I found his talk to be thought provoking. I also left looking to buy some work I wasn’t familiar with (Mattotti’s Fire and Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan), always a good thing.

For me, the Big Thought of the Night was on the perceived difference between comic book art and fine art. Images in comic books, according to Gravett, are “expendable.” The reader is “driven by the pulse of the eye-stream that takes you across the page.” Fine art, as in a gallery or museum, on the other hand, is slowly taken in, contemplated. You take your time with it. Taking a slow, contemplative manner with comics gets in the way of the narrative “eye-stream.”

(An aside: I love that combination of words: eye-stream. It encompasses what web comic books need to achieve to be a great way to read comics. By the way, a really interesting “infinite canvas” - a la Scott McCloud - was created for an exhibition Mr. Gravett talked about. Check it out.)

I can think of more than a few examples in my collection where the comic book art needed to be contemplated. Bill Sienkewicz’s Moby Dick, which he told me is being republished by Image this Fall, comes to mind. I spent many languorous hours contemplating the last page of that book. Dave McKean and Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum. Matt Wagner’s hand painted foregrounds, airbrushed backgrounds, and Sam Keith’s inks in (the original) Mage: The Hero Discovered. Ted McKeever’s Metropol. These examples have compelling eye-streams. There is worth in being able to consume a comic book, yet come back and meditate on an image or page to be enveloped in a particular feeling, or line, or color. I don’t think Mr. Gravett would disagree with me.

I think both expendable comics and comics that demand contemplation can have compelling eye-streams and great narrative power. It’s just that some you come back to just to look at, and some you don’t.


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My Books

1001 Comics  You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett

Comics Art by Paul Gravett from Tate Publishing

Comics Unmasked by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning from The British Library

All contents © Paul Gravett, except where noted.
All artwork © the respective copyright holders.