Comics: A Better Means To An Artistic End
If a line of symmetry were to be drawn down the center of the paper, it would seem that each character rests within his environment about to collide with the other. Even without words, a vivid story begins to formulate in my mind, and hopefully I share the artist's vision.
Comic book art is the Pez dispenser of modernism. The aesthetics of this accessible medium walk side by side with pop culture. No other art form can reach so many people due to its incredible volume. Each Wednesday of every week brings new issues of titles that have been in circulation for decades. Despite the vast numbers that arrive at retailers each month and the respect they sometimes receive (like Art Speigelman's Pulitzer Prize winning Maus), comics are under appreciated in the literary world, but why? They use a clever organization of symbols to express concepts shared by all people in their own social environment, and provide more tools than conventional art to truly show artistic intention.
Comic artists choose to express personal thought with universally complex themes through a symbolic medium. No one refutes the idea that comics do not demonstrate realistic form. Comic artists do not attempt to portray the simple beauty of the natural world; rather, they try to relate a universal idea with a stylistic approach. Magritte's painting of a pipe with the inscription, "this is not a pipe," at the bottom demonstrates the way in which comic books are misunderstood. In his explanation of the art form, Scott McCloud uses pictures of various characters following Magritte's structure. For example, he draws a picture of a cow and states that "this is not a cow" (McCloud 26). The pictures only resemble what we associate with them. Just as humans assign arbitrary symbols, or words, to familiar concepts, the comic book character stands for what the observer has to take from it. By simplifying the subject matter enough, the artist makes a representation that can apply to everyone. Perhaps those who identify with Charlie Brown can do so because of his lack of detailed, discernible features. Charlie Brown can look like any one of us, representing universal low self-esteem.
Mike Allred represents the population of comic artists who use the most simplistic style of symbols. The piece that I have chosen to look at is a pin-up he did for a collection of short Batman stories. A "pin-up" gives the artist complete freedom to express human nature through one image without a plot that needs to conform to the character's continuity. The villain in this isolated battle is surrounded by symbols. Although I have never actually seen a standard alarm clock set on sticks of dynamite, I know this symbol means a time bomb. And the proximity of the little hand of the clock to its starting point probably means that Batman has little time left. I realize that the color of cigarette smoke does not resemble the color of human skin, but in this context...