Monday, May 16, 2011

The Fine Art of Comics

by J.S. Holland

I think you'd better sit down, kids. I'm about to reveal a JSH trade secret here about my artwork that I've never divulged before, although I did hint broadly at it during my Small Voices exhibit of micro-miniature paintings in 2004. One of the biggest influences on my artwork - not just the miniatures, but all of it in totality - comes from when I was a little kid reading comic books and being fascinated by the glimpses of pictures hanging on the walls of the homes of cartoon characters.

As a pre-school-age child, I already had that peculiar literalist-extrapolationist kinda autism that nowadays you love me for and pay me money for. I was always the kid who observed, "hey, Dennis the Menace's living room looks totally different in this story than it did in the last one. They must have gotten a new couch and done some remodeling." And of all the little background details that I studied intently in each comic panel, none were so compelling as the pictures on the walls.

Some comic artists didn't delineate the pictures, they just put a frame on the wall and left it at that; maybe a couple of slanted lines to indicate the glare of glass, or maybe a hasty scrumble to merely suggest that something was there without actually bothering to draw it. But most comic artists seemed to take especial pleasure in placing weird pictures on the walls, drawn so tiny that it took a child's eyes to even see them properly. My eyes are old, but they're still nearsighted and I can still see very teensy-tiny things that might give an average adult the pig-eye. And thanks to the macro setting on my digital camera (I don't own a scanner, believe it or not), I've begun going back and looking for these little art-within-art Easter Eggs. I'll be doing art reviews of these specimens on an ongoing basis here as part of J.T. and I's neverending research.

For today's entry, we've here reproduced examples from Betty & Veronica #169, January 1970; and Sugar & Spike #93, December 1970. We're already sort-of cheating right off the bat here, because the painting seen at top in the Betty & Veronica comic is not a subtle background detail but the actual focus of the story. That's OK, I'm still intrigued by any representations of artwork in comics. Here, Mr. Lodge buys a $200,000 abstract painting by "Pablo Pickartzo" and Betty ruins it for him when she points out that it resembles Archie's head; henceforth he can no longer look upon it without mentally picturing Archie.

But elsewhere in the story, another painting is seen on Mr. Lodge's wall in the background - and what the heck is it? Some sort of creature with opaque eyes and enormous pointy upright ears seems to be crouching with its rear end to the viewer. I guess. Or something. Whatever it is, it's most assuredly art!

The other two, from Sugar & Spike (seen above) are prime cuts of our meat, now. One depicts a woman with such a hourglass wasp-waist figure that it seems to suggest she's wearing a corset. This, along with her enormous bouffant-hair, leads me to believe she's from the 1800s, or specifically the Victorian era. The other image, well, I don't know what quite to make of it, but who can say it isn't beautiful? A mustachioed man with giant fried-egg Svengali eyes and a Dutch-looking coat that has big collar flaps and even bigger buttons. It's enigmatic, it's engaging, it's art! If I had a large print of that, suitable for framing, I'd have it on my wall by half past ten.

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