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started his career publishing humorous illustrations, and used diagrammatic cartoon devices in his masterpiece The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors. Even though Duchamp’s break with traditional representational art in Western culture was deliberately cast against the idea of the Renaissance, reversing its humanistic ideals in a way that was appropriate to the democratic machine age that Duchamp found in New York along with plumbing and comic strips. But Modernist art remained classical in its approach compared to comics. And the true inheritors of the Renaissance approach may well be the cartoonists themselves, who invented a vernacular form of visual expression for a predominantly visual age in much the same way that 15th century writers such as Dante, Rabelais, Cervantes and Chaucer abandoned Latin and began writing in the language of the marketplace for ordinary people. Herriman’s Krazy Kat is a great example of how some 20th century artists began to use comics to amuse and enlighten people in a purified form of street language. Krazy Kat is a masterpiece of doodling in which seemingly silly drawings and elemental stories became parables of representation and reality as complex as “Don Quixote” -a book about popular literature in the guise of popular literature. In a Sunday page from May 24, 1936, Herriman deliberately plays with the idea of art just like Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty, but in a way that did not require a classical education. The title panel shows a portrait of Krazy Kat with a frilly lace collar typical in fine art portraits. The first panel shows Offisa Pup holding a brush and palette in front of an easel while Krazy looks on, puzzled by what she sees. The third panel reveals it is a portrait of Ignatz Mouse in jail, Pup’s obsession and Krazy’s true love. The Kat steals the portrait, runs off across the Mesa and eventually hangs it over the jailhouse window in such a way that it looks identical to the “real” mouse incarcerated there. Pup comes by, sees it and remarks to an art critic, “There…is the original of my picture”. The critic’s reply: “…lead us on to your masterpiece” shows his confusion between art and reality. Pup’s new obsession with art leaves Ignatz free to sling a brick at Krazy’s head in the final panel while the character’s muse upon what Pup will should title his painting. In this seemingly simple funny anecdote, Herriman was able to meditate on art, representation, love and law with the same sophistication of Hogarth and Duchamp. This is a story about a “bride” and her bachelors that needs no elaborate set of notes or education to understand. It is doodled in the language of ordinary people who read newspaper comics in 20th century America, but at the same time Herriman was able to weave into his tale the same level of sophistication that Cervantes or Rabelais did to their comedies that brought literature out of aristocratic and monastic libraries to the people five hundred years earlier. If you don’t believe me, circle back to the first panel -Herriman’s “portrait” of Krazy Kat is not within the frame shown there, but in the succession of frames arranged on the entire page, which ultimately is an enigmatic and provocative as Mona Lisa’s smile. When Stuart Davis evolved beyond copying comic imagery and began trying to copy the energy and jazzy flow of the doodles and diagrams he hit on just what made comics such a powerful medium of artistic expression and opened up possibilities for artists and

CHESTER GOULD Dick Tracy, daily original drawing detail

cartoonists that resonate to this day. Whether it’s the drippy doodles of Jackson Pollock or Jean Michel Basquiat’s spray of words and images, the emotive power of drawing remains as powerful as any image that drawing represents. Towards the end of his career, Chester Gould designed a villain for his comic strip Dick Tracy called The Brush, whose face was filled with dripping black lines in place of where ink would typically indicate eyes nose and mouth. Gould was a savvy artist who hid most of his creativity in the guise of telling hard-boiled suspenseful stories that kept his readers on edge. But like so many masters of American comics, he told another story at the same time -that the most fantastic aspect of art is the capacity to transform seemingly casual doodles from illustrations of how things look to how we feel about them. * © John Carlin, NYC 2006 was a curator of the “Masters of American Comics” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Hammer Museum in Los Angeles this year. He was also the co-author and co-creator Public Television documentary and book about 20th century American Art titled, “Imagining America.” (Images courtesy of the author)

DOSSIER · ARTECONTEXTO · 25

Profile for ARTEHOY Publicaciones y Gestion SL

ARTECONTEXTO Nº10.  

Dossier: COMIC WORLD / MUNDO CÓMIC 2006

ARTECONTEXTO Nº10.  

Dossier: COMIC WORLD / MUNDO CÓMIC 2006

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