Friday, 16 September 2011

A Bad Start/ Mission Statement

This is a short comic I made recently for my application to the London Print Studio's internship programme. The application involved "explain[ing] in words and pictures why you're interested in comics", so this is kinda like a Mission Statement about my attitude to comics. 

Overall, I think it came out fairly well. I wanted to talk about Frederic Wertham and the Comics Code in a way that would distribute the blame not only to Wertham but to those who stayed silent and allowed the Comics Code to be put into effect. The fact that this was one of the most draconian and strictest censorship acts ever put into effect in Modern Western Society is an affront; than the fact that it inspired very little reaction from the artistic community is inexcusable. 

I wanted to point out that the reaction against that "Seduction of the Innocent" inspired was very much an extension of prejudices that were endemic to High Modernism as a movement in all forms of art at the time. In an era in which defining the "essential nature" of all forms of art (but most notably painting) was the most pertinent issue, synaesthetic art forms such as Comics were slighted for mangling two "noble" arts into a bastard offspring. In addition to these prejudices,  Modernism also encouraged highly elitist divides between "High" art and "Low" art, with Low art often hazily defined as Mass Media. To put it another way, a single, unique abstract painting laboured upon by the artist was the polar opposite of a run of  10,000 Comic Books produced by machine. 

In many ways, Modernism was an extended reaction to and rebellion against Mechanical Reproduction, and to my mind, the Wertham furor was an inevitable vengeful backlash. My one regret with regards to this comic is that for reasons of brevity I've dramatised the libricidic aspects of Wetham's campaign that have captured public imagination for decades. The truly harmful aspects of the American Campaign against Comic Books were the establishment of the Comics Code Authority. The Code was an authority that deftly evaded some serious 1st Amendment infringements by being a de jure "voluntary" certification, but imposed a monopoly on the Comic Book marketplace to such an extent that it became a de facto censorship body.  The Code stifled creativity, bankrupted competitors and allowed Marvel and DC to grab insane amounts of market shares, becoming in effect the only publishers on the market place. And, of course, it inflicted untold damage on the artists themselves. Wether or not Comics were art before the Code is a debatable point; the fact that they weren't after it is beyond any reasonable doubt. Any Comic published under the CCA logo is nothing more than a product

I've touched on some huge issues here in not nearly enough detail to do them justice. You can expect more from me in the future about Wertham, the CCA and the relation between Comics and Modernism.

Note to Art Fans; That's my facsimile of Sir John Everett Millias' Ophelia in panel 3 of page 2; my decision to actually Illustrate Ophelia's death on page 3 raises a great deal of questions about the relationship between Comics, Literature and Art. By illustrating Ophelia's death directly, do I destroy the ambiguity that is the most compelling aspect of her demise, etc? Discuss.

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