Comics Art Hardcover – 7 Nov 2013
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"This is a gem of a book" --Aesthetica
About the Author
Hailed by the Times as the greatest historian of the comics/graphic novel form in this country , Paul Gravett has been the co-director of Comica, London s premier international comics festival, since 2003. A curator of exhibitions of comics art, he is the author of several books on the subject, including Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics (2004), and Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life (2005), and editor and co-author of 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die (2011).
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In your recent publication ‘Comics Art’ you say that “Mixing and contrasting techniques is opening up fresh avenues of expression for graphic novelists” such as the recently published “Black Project” by Gareth Brookes who uses linocut prints with embroidery in his comic. Could you talk a little bit about the new wave of heightened realism in comics, how unexpected mediums such as this outsider art that allows ‘the continuous flow of reality’ to ‘opens up new possibilities’. Why is it important that artists experiment with new mediums in the comic book format?
I suppose traditionally comics have been made for print and made to be easy to print and this is obviously what Roy Lichtenstein exaggerated with his painted hard black outlines and clunky bold colours and this is how people have assumed comics look, and still do today. Now there is no end to drawing styles and printing techniques that can be applied, you know, even knitted comics - why not! Photograph comics, for example are hugely under-explored, if I had another hundred pages for this book there would be a chapter on photographic comics because its absurd that you have photographers who surely want to tell stories, surely some of them realise that they could do more than one photograph, yet they don’t there is a very small number of photographers doing this, it seems photography needs to wake up to the idea that it could be doing more narratively. There is also the notion that comics don’t need to look the same, that a multitude of styles can be used in the same book such as Glynn Dillon’s ‘Nao of Brown’ where he has two stories being told simultaneously.
In ‘Comics Art’ there is a particularly interesting discussion you make over the dualist nature of marrying images and words in graphic novels, the idea that words are a higher form of communication and don’t need the excess of pictures to explain thoughts. What would you say to the idea that it is the nature of subversion that is the essence of the comic art medium?
Well in one sense they are very subversive because they don’t behave and keep words and pictures separate, and certainly in historical terms, the mad German Gotthalde Lessing, a critic, was very concerned that there should be an absolute divide - that the two should never blend and this sentiment is still around - even Wordsworth published a poem in about 1850 that was against the illustrated page and was horrified that pictures were invading the wonderful world of words, and we still have this going on, this nervousness from the literary world that somehow pictures debase and simplify, so we cant pretend that the whole medium is subversive in terms of its content, but I do think in terms of its form, its actual structure, it is counter to a lot of peoples thinking.
Tate publishing is obviously part of theTate gallery whom occupy the old power station building. It has been noted that hosting art within this building is an intended narrative about the history of art and how industrialization and the subsequent commodification of culture has had an influence on artistic output. Roy Lichtenstein’s recent retrospective is an example of this, how his paintings contain a playful irony by inverting the throw away comic into high brow status. Could you tell us in your own words why this publication of ‘Comics Art’ published by such a large cultural institute such as Tate is such an important step for 'comics as art' as stated in the title of your book.’
Well the book “Comics Art’ is joining a list called the contemporary art series, which are sort of like surveys, accessible introductions to all kinds of subjects from installation art, land art, and also interestingly street art, a guy called Cedar Lewiston who is a very knowledgeable curator, put together an impressive show about street art which is one of these things that has come off the street and into the gallery, perhaps a little like comics art – and at one point we were hatching together an exhibition for street art and comics and partly out of that dialogue and proposing that project and possibly a book to go with it, came the idea from Tate that they wanted to do a book about comics. Tate is of course an important entree because ideally the book is possibly a toe, maybe not a big toe, certainly not a foot in the door at Tate for them to consider doing an exhibition about comics as art, but generally I am feeling that it is too big a leap for Tate to actually consider, possibly even in the next decade for doing an exhibition about comics, as art, it would upset the art world too much.
But didn’t they do an exhibition on Robert Crumbs cartoons?
No that was Whitechapel and that’s because the director there is alert to the fact that comics are art, and plenty of other prestigious galleries around the world have done it. It could happen, maybe Ill be surprised. When Crumb had his major show last year at the Muse da Modern in Paris at the press conference he was talking to the director saying ‘Why have you chosen my work to put here, its not made for the gallery wall its made for reproduction’ And of course, Crumb is one of the few who have been adopted by the art world. The director admitted he did not know a lot about Crumbs work or even his heritage of satirical art, and the director said that it was simply because a lot of contemporary artists site him as a major influence in their work.
Can you tell us a bit about how you came to be involved with comics yourself, you mentioned you have a law degree from Cambridge – why did you choose a less financially rewarding occupation? What magnetizes you to comics, why are you so drawn to its counter-culture?
A crucial thing was that when I was studying at Cambridge and getting completely bored with Law, I did it because my father was a lawyer, I discovered a lot about art, I had not had much exposure to art but going to Paris, reacting naively, having this friend of mine Augustus Martine, who never really accepted my enthusiasm for comics, nonetheless really opened up my ideas about art, stuff I hadn’t even thought about and that’s important because up until then my taste in art was defined by comics to a large extent, and defined by thinking the best evolution of comics was toward a greater and greater realism, artists like Neil Adams, who brought in this kind of slick photographic madison avenue advertisement art style, which influences artists today such as Alex Ross, who is this incredible painter of hyper- realist, slightly kitsch - kind of fantastically realistically drawn superhero’s with bulge’s and wrinkles, and it was a high point, and I remember being in the Pompidou for the first time and looking at a Paul Klee painting and thinking its comics! And it is! Its beautiful abstract comic panels! And crucially that has meant that my prejduces were put aside and horizons broadened.
After all these years of reviewing and writing about comics, often in a very poetic way, do you think we will ever see a graphic novel by Paul Gravette?
Well I’m not going to say never, actually one thing that might happen which a publisher mentioned which is were I could write about comics in a comic book, rather like MCloud, I wouldn’t draw it but it would be explaining comics, so well shall see!
Finally do you have any interesting projects coming up that we should know about for our Comics Bubble readers?
Yes myself and John Dunning are currently organising a project at the British Library that is going to be the biggest comics exhibition in this country has ever had, titled “Comics Unmasked, art and anarchy in the UK’ there was an equivalent exhibition like this one in France, back in 1990 for the Engelem festival which was the first major survey of British comic art, with lots of original pages it was called “God Save the Comics’ and it was there at the opening of the amazing comics center that the Engelem in South of France has, it was opened by the Jack Lang Ministry of Culture. Finally in Britain we get the chance to do a big exhibition about British comics next year at the British library - a fantastically prestigious venue, they are getting known now for doing really top class exhibitions and of course it is a literary prestigious place which will lift comics to a level where they have not really been seen quite before because absurdly there hasn’t been a show that focuses on just British comics before in the Uk.
Published by Tate Publishing
“Listen closely. It never stops. You can almost make out the scratching of pens and pencils onto paper, the tapping of typewrtiers, the clicking of computers, the buzz of printing presses and binders, all the assorted sound effects of writers, artists and printers creating more comics every minute all over the world’
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