Starr's out tonight.
A Few days back I made reference to the different ways old newspaper comic strips are nowadays presented. I suppose you could oversimplify it and say there is the nostalgia camp and then the Comics-are-ART camp, and I’m leaving out the mass market here, that still has a place for Garfield and The Far Side. Both camps long ago decided to kick out the whole soap-opera photorealist genre from the ‘canon.’ Old time comics historian Bill Blackbeard dismissed the whole lot as ‘dismal talking head soaps’ in The Comic Strip Century that Kitchen Sink Press published. He would have liked comics to stay forever the way they were in... the early '40s(?). In the Art camp, John Carlin just ignored the whole subject in the historical survey in Masters of American Comics. I’ve already cut up the first of those books so that it exists in my collection in pieces, and the Masters book is starting to feel like going the same way. Having denigrated it I should give an example of the kind of nonsense in it that annoys me.
“Hogarth’s sequential narratives and later studies such as The Analysis of Beauty consolidated the graphic experiments of earlier prints and established a complex language of graphic devices that artists have borrowed from ever since.
I have a book of Hogarth’s complete prints; I believe i'm a perceptive reader, but I honestly don't know what Carlin is saying. If anything, Hogarth was trying to hold onto a tradition that was fast disappearing, a tradition of picture making and viewing that involved a very complicated reading of symbols. There is no modern pictorial idiom that works that way. Carlin’s writing represents a kind of historiography that is of late considered bogus, this making a continuous narrative out of art so that one thing must be seen to clearly point the way to the next thing. It is considered thus because it tends to lead to false conclusions. The notion that artists stand on the shoulders of a bigger man before them so that they can see further than the bigger man is one of those metanarratives of which postmodernity chooses to be be incredulous.
These Mary Perkins books themselves have the look of having been incubated in the first camp, the nostalgia one. They are glue-bound and delighfully commonplace and unfussy in their appearance and the typesetting in the introductions is utilitarian, all just like this kind of book used to be twenty years ago. The stories, well, if you haven’t encountered the strip before, see Dirk Deppey’s review of Vol 1 from spetember last, or this other chap here who has fallen in love with Mary. The memory and copies of the strip have survived intact due in no small measure to guys like David Apatoff, who wrote a great piece about Starr on his blog. The last time I referred to him in this blog I may have called him a cranky old geezer, or described him as belonging to the 'flat earth school of art scholarship', head in the sand hoping that when he pulls it out modernism will have gone away. And I wrote what I wrote knowing full well that I would probably need to sing his praises a little further down the line..
My purpose here is to point to two or three aspects of the 'Photo-Realist style', as prof Mendez terms it, in his excellent work on the subject, which somebody must publish in book form! He has three pages on the strip under discussion which would make an excellent monograph just by themeselves.1,2,3, as well as pages on all the other major exponents of the style: Raymond, Drake, Kotsky etc. He has a wonderful survey of the advertising art of the period too, and shows how this connects with the style in the strips. Goddamn it, somebody publish it so I can stop trying to find my way around the peculiar design of his site.
Anyway, what I like. Days like this one from Oct 1957 (in volume 1). I was looking for a model for having figures just talking to each other, with body language carefully noted. Starr was a big influence on my thinking in that direction. Note how both characters appear in all three panels. They start facing, and end with their backs to each other.
The 'talking building' has been much scorned by the 'Vertigo generation', replacing it with the more cinematic 'voice over'. Bring it back, I say. Interestingly, there are two talking buildings in this one sunday, from the mid-seventies which can be seen entire on the Mendez site.
I love the way that, while the main characters always have a high degree of idealization in their depiction, there are so many nicely observed individuals among the secondary characters. The artist is obviously photographing his friends for reference.
After discussion with Classic Press publisher Charles Pelto I intend to write an intro for an upcoming volume of the series in which I'll talk about a lovely 1968 colour sunday tearsheet which I had professionally photographed many years ago so that I could keep it pristine forever, back before I realized that forever is bogus.