When I was much, much younger (somewhere around 1st-3rd grade), I wanted to write and draw comic books. I read and collected comics. I even drew, stapled, and sold a couple of my own to very patient, generous family members. Even into my early teens, I spent time sketching, trying to get human proportions right, copying scenes from comics, illustrations from books, even an occasional photograph. By the time I reached high school, however, my interests were pretty diffuse, and I didn’t really see comic books as my future.
I have, however, always remained interested in the cultural impact of comic books–both in the stories themselves and as a cultural phenomenon. I trace this interest to about the same time I was collecting. I wanted a comic price guide so I could gauge the value of my collection, saved my allowance, and, for some reason (probably availability and proximity; I’m pretty sure I bought it at Waldenbooks. This is long before Amazon, kids), I bought a “price guide” that was a far from comprehensive listing of comic values. It did, however, have a lot of history about the comic book industry, particularly concerning censorship and Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, a book arguing that comic books were a corrupting influence on American children that led to Senate hearings and a “comics code” self-imposed by publishers.
Some time in my late teens, I read a review of a Graphic Novel, (you know, a respectable comic book) titled Maus. The premise–a story of the author’s father, a holocaust survivor, told through illustration with Cats as Nazis and Mice as Jews–really got my attention. It sounded brilliant, shocking, and was the sort of story-telling that you just don’t come across every day. It wasn’t until college that I actually got my hands on a copy. And it was just as brilliantly unsettling as I expected.
So it was pretty exciting to find out that Art Spiegelman, author of Maus, was going to be in Kansas City, for a lecture/performance with a Jazz combo. After announcing, “I’ve been called the father of the graphic novel. I’m here demanding a paternity test,” he rumbled through a personal/cultural history of his life with comics, sharing stories of how his father’s thriftiness brought used pre-comics code books into his house, a bit of enlightenment era aesthetics and post-modern theory, and declared that he really saw his work not as drawing “comics,” but delving into a “Co-Mix”: a hybrid of word and picture that told a story.
He then let the Jazz combo loose on a series of wordless books from the 19th and early 20th century, some “bourgeois satire” and other radical socialist tomes. It was brilliant, fun, thought-provoking, and–as he jokingly began–an insightful recount of the genealogy of the graphic novels that are taken seriously by reviewers, academics, and readers all over the world.
So–I wanted to share that with those of you reading my blog. But since I’m also playing with being creative in multiple genres, I’ve included below a comic panel–I’m waiting, along with some other folks, for Spiegelman to take the stage. Again, I didn’t keep up with my long-ago desire to be a comic book artist, so my style hasn’t advanced over the 25-30 years since I drew fairly constantly. It probably even regressed a bit.