The Art of Sequential Storytelling

Aug. 22 - Oct. 17, 2013

Curator's Statement:

Presented in conjunction with the comics symposium comiCulture, The Art of Sequential Storytelling offers a detailed look into the diverse world of comics. Works in the exhibition highlight the comic book industry from creation of the artworks to their eventual consumption, that is, when the publications hit retail stands. A visitor to an exhibition of traditional fine arts media – painting, sculpture, or photography, for example – would expect that each work was created by a sole artist. Visitors to this exhibition, however, will often see more than one name listed next to the panels, reflecting the tendency for the industry to employ multiple individuals with specialized skills to complete the final product. From the writers of the story to the pencillers, inkers, colorists, and letterers, the generation of a comic is truly a collaborative effort. With multiple iterations of a single title displayed, from the initial sketch to the completed print, many of the pieces in the gallery demonstrate this group process. No sets of works in the gallery show this more than those by the Mental Diversions Studios team. Ayla Bly, Ram Perez, Charles Michael, Clarissa Wagner and Terry Wagner teamed up to produce the 3rd and 4th issues of Shifters and Sam Carcamo and Clarissa Wagner worked together to produce Paradise Lost.

The exhibition also presents the various formats of sequential storytelling. The term “comic” is loosely used: A bound book featuring a superhero. A strip in the Sunday funnies. A lengthy graphic novel. All of these formats were selected for display. Likewise, each artist engages in a flurry of different themes. With all of the artists living within a 500-mile radius of Houston, a local flavor persists in the exhibition. Gary Watson’s politically charged After Twilight series imagines a dystopian, fascist, and independent nation of Texas in the not-so-distant future. This joint effort started off as a screenplay co-written by Watson, Richard Alvarez and Sandra Yates and later turned into a six-edition publication illustrated by Douglas Brown and with help from Meagan Tanner and Chandran (coloring) and Rosalind Young (layout). The themes of personal liberty, national sovereignty, and justice found in After Twilight continue in Charles Martin and Will Weinke’s Wonderboy series (cover design by Dustin Oswald). Many works, such as the determined bounty hunters of Maurice Terry Jr.’s Las Locas, Eric Gorman’s epic toy battles from the War graphic novella, or the phantasmal ghouls of Garret Gainey’s The Corpse, play into modern audiences’ attraction to intense drama and violence. Dark themes abound in James O’Barr’s The Crow, which became the most-sold independent graphic novel of all time and was later adapted into a blockbuster film starring Brandon Lee.

Leroy Brown’s strip ICECUBES offers pause from these somber and sometimes horrific scenes. Lighthearted in nature, the circle of artic friends and their adventures perhaps for some recall simpler days of playful innocence. If Brown’s work doesn’t evoke these pleasant feelings, surely the collaboration between husband-and-wife-team Terry Parr and Halo Seraphim does. Their playful recreation of the Care Bears brings out the inner child in all of us. As does Don Rosencran’s depiction of a magical, fairy-filled tree from Welcome to Ralton.  Bruce Small’s Transyltown is a mix of the macabre and youthful discovery, illustrating the adventures of Timmy, an awkward young vampire. Small challenges traditional methods of producing comics: his is a digital series read online, demonstrating that methods of consumption continue to evolve since the first comic book was printed and sold 80 years ago. Mark Nasso is heavily motivated by science fiction and fantasy: look in the gallery for drawings of a Confederate army of skeleton ghosts and even the alien—yes, THAT alien, from the film franchise starring Sigourney Weaver. James Linares’s barren white snowscapes in Losing the Thunder, written by Damon Jackson, are contrasted sharply by a shadowy, mounted warrior. In one scene, hand, hilt, and shield jut out of the frozen tundra. Has our hero just smitten his enemy, or is this a chance encounter with a recently slain fellow tribesman, for which vengeance is imminent?

In the 1960s, Roy Lichtenstein’s large-scale paintings borrowed from contemporary comics began to bridge the gap between fine art and pop culture. The conventions of Lichtenstein and other Pop Artists greatly influenced the eclectic forms of the Postmodernists, and today the line between fine art and “other” is substantially blurred. The Art of Sequential Storytelling is postmodern in spirit, elevating comics to the status of museum-worthy. Yet, the exhibition is also didactic, affording visitors an in-depth look into an industry unfamiliar to most. It is my hope that fine art aficionados develop a new appreciation for all forms of sequential storytelling and that fans of comics find inspiration in traditional art-making processes.

Jeffrey Bowen
Coordinator of Audience Development, UHCL Art Gallery

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