‘LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel’ Exhibit Report
This weekend I had the pleasure of heading up to Stockbridge, MA, for the Comic Arts Festival and "LitGraphic: The Art of the Graphic Novel" exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum.
It was my first trip to the museum, and as I mentioned in my previous tease for the event, I’ve been kicking myself for not making the trip years ago, when I lived a much shorter distance from Stockbridge. The area surrounding the museum is a beautiful, rural landscape that was a breath of fresh air (literally) from the New York City madness.
The "LitGraphic" exhibit consisted of several rooms filled with various pieces of art from both well-known creators and some who I’ll admit I had never heard of prior to seeing their work on display in Stockbridge. On the day we attended, the museum was also playing host to some of the creators whose work was featured in the exhibit, and had scheduled several signings and other events as part of a "Comic Arts Festival."
One of the first pieces of art I encountered was a series of Niko Henrichon’s original, inked pages from Pride of Baghdad, including the impressive two-page "Baghdad Cityscape" spread. My less comics-savvy partner, who accompanied me on the trip, was amazed at the linework on the pages, and on several occasions when I wandered off to view other elements of the exhibit I returned to find her admiring this piece again.
Several pages of Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise also found their way into the exhibit, with one piece in particular catching my eye. Titled "The Point Is, She Found Me," the inked two-page spread included a sequence of progressively smaller square frames within a larger scene. The frames directed the reader’s eyes to a figure hidden in the bushes — something that might have been overlooked entirely without the frames zeroing in on the small face in the scenery. It was a nice, unconventional layout that added to the story instead of distracting from it.
In a corner of the exhibit were also some sketchbooks from artist Barron Storey, showcasing his jumbled, mixed-media style of work that appeared in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Endless Nights anthology. The display also featured a variety of dog-eared pages from his sketchbooks, including among other things, a set of small, incredibly detailed drawings of Saddam Hussein and Yassir Arafat on opposing pages. The former sketch was captioned with a single sentence: "Hussein, looking a bit like Stalin."
While wandering by the exhibit of work by Sue Coe, featuring watercolor illustrations for her graphic novel Sheep of Fools, I had a Norman Rockwell moment of my own when, in the process of moving on to the next piece of Coe’s art, a boy of about 11-12 stopped in front of me, cocked his head to the side and began staring at "Fleeced," a graphic image of a sheep in the process of being sheared. He stood there for several minutes, not saying a word, with a look that seemed to indicate he was equally fascinated and repulsed by the image. This frozen moment in time seemed entirely appropriate for a museum dedicated to Rockwell.
Various art by Peter Kuper, including pages from Stop Forgetting to Remember and the adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, was also on display — occupying more than a full wall of the gallery, in fact. This was one of a few wide-reaching collections that featured pieces at various stages in the creative process, from pencils to inks and even a few spreads at various stages of airbrushing.
One of my favorite pieces was a selection of illustrations from Harvey Kurtzman’s The Jungle Book, featuring inked pages with acetate overlay. The collection of work encompassed a complete story by the MAD Magazine founding editor, and provided a great look at the rough sketching that peeked out from underneath the inks.
The museum also hosted a complete set of inked pages from one of Will Eisner’s Spirit stories, a 1947 tale called "Baxter’s Perfect Crime." Although I was disappointed that this particular story didn’t feature one of the large, introductory splash pages I’ve always loved in Eisner’s Spirit adventures, it was nice to see my partner so surprised when she read the date the story was published and comment that the art looked years ahead of its time.
The Eisner collection also included a few pages from A Contract With God, included some of the more marked-up originals from the project. On one of the pages, it looked as if Eisner had re-sketched the chin on one of the female characters at least five or six times, as you could make out several layers of white-out and lines beneath the surface of the panel. The attention to detail evidenced by the pages was impressive, to say the least.
Another wall in the exhibit was filled with art from Lynd Ward’s graphic novel God’s Man, composed of 139 wood engravings. I’m not sure if all of the engravings were on display, as the story’s narrative didn’t really seem to gel with me, but many of the engravings were impressive as standalone pieces of art.
In what was certainly no coincidence, a pair of inked pages from Frank Miller’s run on Captain America were displayed on a wall opposite Eisner’s pages from The Spirit. The Miller art, from a story titled "Home Fires," was flanked by movie posters from the adaptations of Miller’s Sin City and 300 graphic novels. I found myself wondering which wall the movie poster for Miller’s adaptation of The Spirit would end up on.
A pair of tables in the center of one room also contained a few old Stan Lee and Steve Ditko issues of Strange Tales, but there wasn’t any original art from the pair or anything that would be new to longtime comics fans.
One of the last rooms I wandered into housed some of the more autobiographical work on display, but also a few pieces of the more fantastic projects, too. One of the first pieces on display was a selection of pages from Brian Fies’ graphic novel Mom’s Cancer, as well as several pages from Jessica Abel’s La Perdida. Both of the collections were inked pages selected from their respective works, and both seemed to encompass a full chapter from each title.
Lauren Weinstein, one of the creators who was in attendance that day, provided selections of art from Girl Stories and Goddess of War, an autobiographical graphic novel and her first foray into the fantasy genre, respectively. I wasn’t familiar with her work prior to the show, but was impressed with what I saw. In one piece, a page contained colored representations of a large lineup of Barbie dolls she customized through the years, with notes about how each doll connected to various people in her life and on her mind.
"Once a Barbie enters my realm, she goes through at least three weeks of conditioning," read the caption, which described in great detail all of the steps necessary to acclimate a mass-marketed doll into her personal collection.
Several pieces of work from Cerebus creator Dave Sim also found their way into the gallery, including selections from Jaka’s Story, Church & State, Vol. 1 and Form & Void. The page that really caught my eye was a spread from Jaka’s Story that featured an almost entirely white winter scene, with a bundled-up child being led away from a solitary, snow-covered bench and playground horse by her equally bundled-up guardian. Neither character’s face could be seen beneath the scarves and jackets, and the field of white in the background dominated the spread and gave the environment a desolate feel.
One of the other projects with a wide range of art on display was a collection of pages from Breathtaker, the graphic novel by Marc Hempel and Mark Wheatley (who also writes and provides art for our own ComicMix series EZ Street). Not only was there pencilled, inked and watercolored pages (as well as cover images) on display, but the creators even provided several pages of script. The collection also featured original art by Hempel from The Kindly Ones, a collaboration with Neil Gaiman set in the Sandman universe. Both Hempel and Wheatley were in attendance at the show that day, signing and moderating panel discussions.
Various other highlights of the exhibit included several pages from Stuck Rubber Baby (seen at right) by talented creator Howard Cruse, who was also in attendance that day; a sequence of pages from Mark Kalesniko’s Mail Order Bride; a quiet, excellent inked page from Matt Madden’s Odds Off, titled "Good Night," (my partner particularly liked this one); and even an original, inked page by Robert Crumb from Zap #12 (titled "Cave Wimp").
"LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel" remains an ongoing exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum through May 26, 2008. While the collection of art I’ve described here should be reason enough for comic fans to make the trip to Stockbridge, I can’t help but add how impressed I was with the rest of the museum. As I wandered the graphic novel exhibit, I overheard bits and pieces of the Rockwell lectures occurring throughout the day and decided that a return trip was definitely in our future — one in which I could take a guided tour of the Rockwell galleries as well.
The day wound down with a dinner attended by Wheatley, Hempel, ComicMix columnist and industry legend John Ostrander (GrimJack, Munden’s Bar), Mary Mitchell, ComicMix Editor-in-Chief Mike Gold (who wrote about the day in his most recent column), my partner and I, as well as various friends and family. The drive home was uneventful, and I really can’t recommend enough that you make the best of a nice day in the coming weeks and journey out to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.
You won’t be disappointed.
For information about "LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel" or the Norman Rockwell Museum, check out the museum’s website at www.normanrockwellmuseum.org. The graphic novel art exhibit will continue through May 26, 2008.
Image credits are as follows, from top to bottom as presented:
Untitled. Lynd Ward. Illustration for "God’s Man."
©1929 Lynd Ward. All rights reserved.
"The Street Singer" #4. Will Eisner. Illustration for "A Contract With God."
©1978 The Will Eisner Estate. All rights reserved.
"I Don’t Know if You Understand." Dave Sim. Illustration for "Cerebus:
Jaka’s Story." ©1988 Dave Sim. All rights reserved.
"There Was No Help." Howard Cruse. Illustration for "Stuck Rubber Baby."
©1995 Howard Cruse. All rights reserved.