Friday, 29 March 2013

The Norman Rockwell Exhibition (2007)

LitGraphic: The World Of The Graphic Novel
Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA
10 November 2007 to 26 May 2008

LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel examines the development of sequential art through its practitioners. Their work continues to suggest new ways of seeing: wordless narratives by 1920s woodcut artist Lynd Ward and modern-day commentator Peter Kuper; revolutionary underground comix by R. Crumb and humorous, personal Girl Stories' by Lauren Weinstein; the visual thrill of works by Mad Magazine co-creator Harvey Kurtzman and Breathtaker co-creator Marc Hempel; and the pioneering art of Will Eisner (Contract with God), Dave Sim (Cerebus), and Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise). The exhibition features original book pages and studies, sketchbooks, and videotaped interviews with graphic novelists.

(from The Blog & Mail, 22 June 2007)
Here's a little bright light in the Pariah King Darkness that showed up late in March. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA (which has me humming James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James" all day whenever I read it even though I'm not sure if the line is "From StockRIDGE to Boston" or "StockBRIDGE to Boston"). Naturally, being the Pariah King of Comics I smelled a trap when they asked for the loan of High Society and Church & State Vol. 1. Usually in that case it's a set-up. I'm supposed to get all excited that someone wants to exhibit my artwork and then I find out that they just wanted copies of the books to flesh out an "Other Graphic Novels You Might Enjoy" part of the show while the actual artwork that's exhibited is the usual Fantagraphics suspects. So, I basically gave them the Comic Shop Locator number and suggested they find a store in their area who can order the books for them. Then intentionally forgot all about it.

Well, no, they did want to exhibit artwork and they actually wanted to exhibit a fair number of pieces... It is extremely gratifying, given that Norman Rockwell was the Pariah King of Painters most of his adult life, looked down on and sneered at as a magazine illustrator by the likes of Jackson Pollock. Fortunately he had a few years there where people with a lick of common sense could see the difference and actually began to treat him with the respect he deserved all along and, of course, today the ranks of those who look down on Norman Rockwell are probably as thin (but no less vocal) as they've ever been.

Gives a Pariah King hope, it does.

...The back wall of the exhibit was covered with perhaps a dozen (maybe less) pages from Sim and Gerhard’s Cerebus. A huge cover to the first Church & State collection, a number of pages from Jaka’s Story, and a couple pages from later books. Gerhard’s backgrounds are extremely impressive at this size, and I was interested to see how Sim had gridded out the guidelines for his lettering (horizontal and vertical lines, that’s not conventional I don’t think). I also noticed that the wavy panel borders used throughout Jaka’s Story were some kind of pasted on screentone-like substance. Looks like it was put on after the inking, which explains the perfect edge on those panels.

...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.

...There are other seminal works on the development of the graphic novel. One of the best examples is the collaborative work of Canadians Dave Sim and Gerhard. Sim's comic character Cerebus - a corruption of Cerberus, the mythical hound from hell - began in 1977 as one of the first self-published independent comics. It was originally written and illustrated by Sim for the first few years, but he eventually teamed with Gerhard, whose background art became one of the hallmarks of the series. Cerebus' success led to a slew of independent comics in the 1980s and was one of the first running comics to be collected into the modern graphic novel format. On display are panels from Jaka's Story, one of the series many story arcs. The exacting detail in the work - ink on board - as well as the great use of black, white and gray half-tones gives the work a stand-alone, cinematic quality.

Meeting Artists: Dave Sim, Peter Kuper, Howard Cruse, Marc Hempel, and Mark Wheatley all had work in the exhibit and attended the opening. I spent a few minutes and had good conversations with each, during which we said nice things about each other. Dave was great, and Peter and I turned out to have a mutual friend in Editor Charlie (not as big a coincidence as it may seem; Charlie knows everybody). Even artists much cooler, better, and more experienced than I admitted that showing their work in the Norman Rockwell Museum was something of a career highlight, which made me feel a bit less like a freshman at the senior prom.

...I walked back to the main building and met up with the official NR archivist, whose name I can’t recall because it was told to me in a room full of shiny things Rockwell. He led Dave Sim and myself down to the archives and allowed us to look through a few of the hundreds of boxes of Rockwell papers, reference photos and letters. The entire collection is being cataloged and transfered to digital format, a massive undertaking. I saw some wonderful things in there and, as an artist, I can only tell you it was inspiring to get a behind the scenes peek at the man and his methods. We all swapped Rockwell stories, but the archivist had the best stories of all.

...Dave [Sim], Lenny and Jeff T were downstairs with a museum employee and someone that looked like Terry Moore (and yes, later I found out it was Terry). The employee showed us around the Norman Rockwell Museum’s archives, where they host all of his fan mail, articles, magazines with his covers, etc. He stated the pictures had all been digitalized and put into a database, and the originals were in a freezer for storage. Later when I was talking to the museum curator she stated that they wanted to get the database online so others could view them also.

No comments: