Comical Conjectures on the Art of Comics

According to my father, there is a play out there titled simply Art. The main issue in this play is apparently that one character buys a canvas painted white for an exorbitant price, which leads to a series of jokes/conjectures regarding the state of the art world. While not be the most original sentiment, its relevancy does point out an issue in the art world, an issue which makes the question of whether or not comics constitute ‘art’ seem slightly comical in itself.

A frequently-invoked example of modern art preparing to eat itself is a 1961 work by Italian artist Piero Manzoni, wherein he produced 90 cans supposedly filled with his own excrement. There is also the found objects of people like Marcel Duchamp, most notable for his signed urinal ‘Fountain’.  Manzoni’s cans (which may have just contained plaster) were originally valued at their weight in gold; Duchamp’s signed pisser ended up reproduced in the Tate Modern. The fact that these are considered art may be bothersome, but it makes sense; you can get snobs and idiots to invest meaning and money in just about anything if you play to pseudointelllectual posturing or a regressive obsession with irony. What is bothersome is that comic creators put stories and images on a page and these twits put the contents of their bathrooms in museums, yet it’s the former who aren’t credited as the creators of true ‘art’.

Debating as to what constitutes true art in this scenario seems about as healthy and plausible as attempting autofellatio. Tezuka’s Buddha blends surreal comedy with a layered and at times touching story about a prominent religious figure, presented without overwhelming rhetoric or contemplation. Alan Moore’s Watchmen blends story arcs featuring themes of political divide, Cold War culture, human fallibility and ethical preponderance in order to create a powerful, unforgettable story about the human and superhuman. Even Jeff Smith’s Bone, a bizarre comic series that combines its own take on high fantasy with middlebrow cartoon humor, manages to sustain a suspenseful, emotive and contorted story arc in spite of its silly presentation. If one could do any of these things in a book, film or other ‘established’ form of media, it is not likely one would be so quickly disregarded as an artist. The fact that this is apparently an issue may actually lend some credence to Manzoni’s excremental enterprise –  the art establishment, whoever that is, has decided that this is art and that comics are not, probably because they and those cans are full of the same thing.

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