POW! BAM! KRAZY! at the Vancouver Art Gallery makes me want to throw bricks at the curators

May 27, 2008, 6:57 PM
Well, here I am, waiting for Leonard Wong’s lecture to start and feeling like it’s pretty safe to assume I’m in for an hour-long lecture about men. Because guess what? According to KRAZY!—at least acording to the comics and graphic novels curators Art Spiegelman and Seth, only men draw comics and graphic novels.

Oh, wait, except for two anomalies (out of 16? artists), Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel. [Do they even talk about Bechdel’s fabulous strip that’s been syndicated since the 1980s, Dykes to Watch Out For? Or did she just get in because of her 2006 graphic memoir, the beautifully drawn but drearily-written Fun Home, which got her discovered by the straight world? I suspect it’s the latter, since she is the token woman in the graphic novel section, but I do not know the answer for sure, because I was so livid by the time I got through the comics that I could not even look at the graphic novels. I barely had enough strength make a crisis call to the 24-hour Wait Don’t Kill Anyone hotline, take a deep breath, then head up here to the fourth floor for the lecture. Where is Hothead Paisan when you need her?]

[Leonard Wong is starting to talk now.]

OK, I should have known how the exhibit would be. Because I went and heard Spiegelman speak a couple days before the opening, and it was so disappointing. The man, of course, is a genius. A fucking brilliant artist–

[Oh dear, here are all the superheros on Leonard Wong’s PowerPoint—oh wait, he actually showed the cover of Persepolis, which Spiegelman seems never to have heard of.]

Yeah, as I was saying, Spiegelman’s Maus is one of my favourite books. I can only dream of being able to–

[Oh! Leonard Wong mentions Sex and Sensibility—10 women artists—an exhibit in San Francisco this summer that he mentions to support the idea that society is taking comics seriously—he is already a million years ahead of Spiegelman.]

So I only dream of being able to draw and write as well as Spiegelman. And he speaks and uses PowerPoint so well. Leonard Wong could take some lessons from him. Like get a laser pointer. Fuck, Spiegelman wields the laser pointer like a master. And slow down. And look away from the screen.

So Spiegelman rocked the presentation as far as technique went. But women? Well, women made it into his history of comics just as a sort of side note about how women started to draw comics in the 60s with the shift from Superheros to more autobiographical, smaller stories. A couple slides from the first Twisted Sisters anthology (edited by Diane Noomin) and Lynda Barry and Whiz! Zoom! We’re back to the dudes.

Oh, Art. A lovely short sensitive hand-wringing Jewish artist whos ends up being no less sexist than Woody Allen. Not a mention, not a mention, of Marjane Satrapi—just to start with the bestselling Academy Award nominee. And forget any mention by name of any of the Twisted Sisters. Just lump them under women. And Diane DiMassa, Claire Bretecher. Nope.

But Chris Ware! Chris Ware is a genius. And the way he writes about fathers and sons in his flat, tiny, anally retentive 56-frame panels just moves Art to tears.

Afterwards I tried to tell myself that Art is just a product of his generation. But whatever. He’s still alive. He’s still reading. And now he is in a position to influence young minds! I wonder if he really thinks that only two women are good enough to be in this exhibit?

OK, but I love him. And I love comics. And how cool that I can go to the VAG and look at original drawings with scribbles and corrections and smudges… I wanna be a comics artist too, after all.

So I tried to keep an open mind when I got here tonight. And indeed, Chris Ware’s drawings blew me away with their spare graphic beauty and yes, their heart. I admit it, Art. You were right. I prejudged.

But then I turn the corner and find this guy, I can’t remember his name, one of the only eight—the eight!—artists chosen for the comics section. And I have to bite down hard to keep from screaming, as I read two walls of original drawings (in your basic pencil neck slightly slumped style of drawing men—no innovation here that I can see) of a bunch of guys playing golf, and talking about nothing and gee, har har, one of them always has to take a shit after the third hole. What did the curators say in their little write-up? Something about how on the surface his stories are simple but underneath they are about deep issues. Or was that Jerry Moriarty, with his deeply moving strips about a guy losing his wallet or leaving his annoying wife to go to Saskatoon where the porn is good. God I forget.

Leonard Wong is back to the superheros. Oh, he mentions Wonder Woman.

Sigh. At least the panini at the VAG café was filling so I don’t have low blood sugar and can keep from crying.

While I am waiting for Leonard Wong’s parade of men to be over, I am thinking about all this. Am I only interested in comics by women? No, far from it. Are my favourite comics by women? Some of them. Not all. In fact I am quite a major fan of both Spiegelman and Seth. (I should note that they both managed to get into the small select group of artists featured in the show. Hmmm.) And how about the awesome guys behind Gay Comics in the 1980s like Howard Cruse? Or David B? Or Charles Burns?

I am not a big fan of superheros (and neither is Spiegelman or Seth, but Leonard Wong is). Nor am I a big fan of comics about non-events (like golfing and shitting) that critics state are actually much deeper than they appear to be. Seth actually does these incredible drawings that you could salivate over for hours, but then you feel kind of cold at the end of the book because nothing ever happened in all those meticulous pages. Unless you are into old guys wandering around for days on end. I tend to be more attracted to stories with substance, with tension, with some sort of, um, plot, I guess. Some sort of insight. Like Maus or Persepolis or anything that Lynda Barry has ever written.

Now we are looking at the cover of Phantom Lady, and noticing how her breasts look like headlights, they are so pointy. But he is talking about the psychologist who started the whole big fear-mongering thing about comics, so that is kind of interesting. And the gayness between Batman and Robin.

Is it cool that Leonard Wong is at least showing Brides Comics and hinting that women might be reading this stuff too? Oh, back to Nazis and Rex the Wonder Dog.

Oh, the new Wonder Woman of the 60s… Now Crumb… who again I love but God, everyone talks about Crumb. What about his wife, Aline Kominsky Crumb? I’d choose her tales of horribly irritating scrappy Jewish ladies over Crumb’s navel-gazing loser guys any day.

Oh! Leonard Wong is showing the cover of Wimmen’s Comix—now he is talking about women… oh… he says something like, there weren’t a lot of women reading comics at the time, the women writing comics were mostly trying to get into the underground comics scene, but even that was a little bit of a boys’ club. “So they wrote their own comic.” It seems like he is saying that Wimmen’s Comix was the one book that all those women put out back then in the 70s?

God! It’s been an hour now. Should be almost over. I am tired now. I sort of want to throw my Macbook on the floor and scream but not really. I mostly want to go downstairs and lick Lynda Barry’s original drawings and then go home and spread out my materials and draw my own shit and re-read Miriam Engelberg and Posy Simmonds and Roz Chast and try to piece together a short history of comics for the class I am teaching in July and in spite of being neither an expert comics writer nor an expert comics historian, I want try to figure out a way to tell the history of comics with fewer penises. I think I might be able to do it. I’ll let you know.

PS And yes I am going to come back to the exhibit and look at the rest of it, and I will correct anything I got wrong after this first incomplete visit and I really will try to leave the brick throwing to Krazy Kat.

7 comments

  1. Milena says:

    Sarah, how could you say shitting is a non-event????? In my life, it is not only a full-on event, it is a grand and elaborate affair! And here’s where I thought this is the stuff comics are made of! :)

  2. Donimo says:

    I feel your pain! Excellent post with so many great links (and jabs). Your class will get a better idea of the diversity in the comix universe than anyone attending any VAG show or lectures and that’s so wrong. Too bad you don’t get paid the big bucks to bring a show together.

  3. Can’t disagree at all with anything you wrote – especially about the more recent material. Comics have exploded and fragmented so much that there is no one narrative line about their development… and so selecting anyone over anyone else is going to expose some fundamental assumptions about what (and who) is and isn’t important. I think you nailed what those assumptions were pretty (and depressingly) clearly.

    Also… why no web comics? They’re so obviously the next frontier, redefining the audience both in composition and relationship.

    I suppose I have to acknowledge the importance of anime and manga… but god, I’ve never been able to relate. The misogyny is usually repellant, and once you get past that layer it’s the nihilism, and once you get past that layer it’s the infantilism, and once you get past that layer… you’ve run out of onion.

    That said, I wallowed in the comics and graphic novels for the better part of two hours. And I drew my demon (only 99 to go!).

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