Thursday, May 5, 2011

Comic Books Are Fine Art!

"It's incredible that the fine art world is finally taking (superhero) comics seriously. An exhibition like this would have been out of the question not so very long ago."
–Stan Lee

"With great power must also come great responsibility." –Amazing Fantasy #15

Few art forms have gone as unchanged and unrespected for as long as sequential art, and yet none has had as tremendous an impact as the superhero comic book. Veritable templates for inspiration, comic book superheroes are the post-modern mythology, encouraging generations of global youth while reflecting the society that spawned them. More than just dynamic illustrations on a page, the comic book is a medium that tells stories, and by presenting an exhibition that celebrates the collaborations of the greatest storytellers, my intention is to open a serious dialogue on the importance of this art form.

And this would seem to be the time for it.

This past
year, ten paintings by Andy Warhol – an artist who began his career riffing on the iconography of comic books, broke auction house records with realized sales surpassing one hundred, thirty-six million dollars. If there is a single bridge between post-war and pop art, it would have to be comic books. The fact that painted misappropriations of iconic comic book images command the respect (and extravagant prices) long denied to their source material is ironic in the truest sense of the word. Collectors of sequential production art have been privy to the biggest bargain in contemporary art for decades, making it all but impossible to organize a gallery sale of the absolute best. This show features forty important examples of modern comic book art from multiple, award-winning writers and artists, and there isn’t a single piece priced above three thousand dollars thus presenting a golden point of entry for patrons looking to diversify their Pop-Art collections with some of the most exciting creations from the pride of the genre.

This is the first important survey of comic book art from the modern era.

In years past there have been a handful of museum exhibitions showcasing art from comic’s Golden
and Silver Ages and there have been several shows dedicated to individual titles or imprints, but never before has such a landmark, and all-encompassing collection been offered for sale as part of a single, gallery exhibition. I started collecting some of the pieces for this show over fifteen years ago, and it became apparent very quickly that hesitation was not an option. Most collectors of comic book art are voracious readers and collectors of the comic books that showcase that art. As such, pages depicting pivotal events from popular titles become highly sought not only for the art, but for the significance within the cannon. Pages featuring main characters in dynamic action are among the most highly sought, but more so are the first and final appearances of new heroes and villains, and those in which the story changes direction or a character’s origin is revealed. Once purchased, the odds of them ever coming up for resale (affordably) is usually between slim and none. These pages represent more than just that which is pictured to the collectors who fondly recall all of the events of a series in that single page. To the comic book faithful, owning a Watchmen or All-Star Superman page is like owning the entire era in which those series were released, which also represents the rise of the comic book writer as media superstar.

All of the works featured in this show are from comic books released in the last 25 years. To some, this is the Copper Age, the Iron Age or the Dark Age, but to most it is simply the Modern Age. This era was christened by the back-to-back releases of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight and Alan Moore and Dave GibbonsWatchmen. These and other early masterpieces from writers Moore & Miller helped to shape all the relevant work that followed, including every piece highlighted in this focused exhibition of heroic fiction. I’d love to be able to claim that every signature collaboration released in the two and a half decades that have followed is represented herein, but that was simply not possible. Pages from modern masterpieces like Miller’s Daredevil and Dark Knight Returns or Moore’s Miracle Man and Killing Joke were snatched up long ago and routinely command peak prices on the rare occasions that they re-enter the marketplace. Bidding on a Dark Knight splash just opened at Heritage Auctions for $100,000.00. There are many others who have made tremendous contributions to the medium who are likewise not represented, due mostly to the unavailability of key pieces, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better collection of Eisner, Harvey, and Inkpot Award winning work from the last 25 years.

Beginning with Alan Moore
and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen (first published in 1986) and arriving at Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers (still publishing, and headed for a television set near you), Pop- Sequentialism includes original artwork from the landmark series and quintessential collaborations that have crossed beyond comic book fandom into the Pop zeitgeist, changing the perceptions and preconceptions of the hobby, the format and the culture.

I've been collecting pieces for this show for more than 15 years, so clearly this is not a passing fancy of mine. And I while I may be preaching to the choir, it is my very strong belief that comic books are fine art. That this particular brand of fine art happens also to be commercial should be cause for celebration not condemnation. When I selected the show premiere date of May 6, 2011 (two years ago), this was the only event happening in the world of comic book art. When I handed out over 5,000 postcards at Comicon International last year announcing the line-up of artist and writers, the release date of the Thor film had not yet been selected and Free Comic Book Day was barely slated for the first Saturday in May. There was definitely no evidence to suggest that a Frank Miller Dark Knight page would be offered via Heritage Auctions or that it would sell for more than one hundred thousand dollars on the same weekend. I by no means claim credit for this convergence of events, but I thank the powers that be for this incredible synergy. There will be three separate film crews covering the opening night celebration. I will be releasing my first book, a catalog of this exhibition. That book is 80 pages from cover-to-cover and it's available now from La Luz de Jesus Press for $7.95 plus shipping. It was important to me to keep it comic book sized (prestige format, like Dark Knight) and to make it affordable like the 80-Page Giants that inspired it.

Many comic book pros, filmmakers, musicians and other kindred spirits will be there, and I invite all of you and all of your friends. Please RSVP to to get added to the guest list or to buy a catalog for the first Fine Art survey of Modern Comic Book Art. If this is a success, I'm sure that museum exhibitions will be next, and Pop-Sequentialism will become an ongoing event that can change focus by genre, process and other criteria that will keep the idea fresh while furthering the cause for increasing the respect for this criminally underrated medium.

Matt Kennedy, your brother in geekdom.

POP-SEQUENTIALISM: Great Comic Book Art of the Modern Age
May 6-29, 2011. Opens Friday, May 6th @ 8PM.

La Luz de Jesus Gallery
4633 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027

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