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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old January 4th, 2005, 04:00 Thread Starter
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High And Low

Several years ago, there was a large comprehensive exhibition (which I saw at the LACMA), titled "High And Low". It was a look at the influences of such disparate elements as advertising, grafitti, characature and comics on modern art. It was the best exhibit I ever saw, and I have seen a lot of them, and it helped me to realize some linkages between "low" popular culture and "high" art, which I had never really thought of before. My favorite part was the section on comics (of course) and that is what I want to discuss here.
To say that the comic strip has had a great effect (and vice versa) on the developement of modern art, is a rather obvious statement to make, what with Roy Litchenstein and Phillip Guston being avatars of pop modernism and R. Crumb and Art Speigleman being exhibited in galleries. However, the back and forth linkage between earlier comic strip art and Dadaism/Surrealism is not so readily apparent. I will try to demonstrate this cross-pollination in three parts.
In the late 1890s the modern form of the comic strip was created by a group of cartoonists known as the "Herald Group", since they worked for the Hearst Syndicate's New York Herald Newspaper, mostly. Hearst himself had fond memories of reading the horrific "instructional" comics of the German Wilhelm Busch (whose somewhat Freudian tales of little boys sticking their noses where they don't belong and suffering the consequenses are well worth searching out on the web), and generally supported his artists in their endeavors while working them like slaves on the other hand. An interesting fellow, Hearst.
Part One: "Nemo Is Always Falling Out Of Bed Into A Dream"
Anyway, Hearst found his first great cartoonist in Windsor McKay, creator of Little Nemo In Slumberland, the most beautiful color comic strip of all time. McKay, who had performed a sort of vadeville show while painting on a scaffold before a crowd all over the midwest (and also created the first animated pornographic film), came eagerly to New York to draw the beautifully drafted and highly bizarre Dream Of The Rarebit Fiend. The connection between the subconscious dreams of the comic strip (which were submitted by readers and were often the types that an analyst would have a field day with) and the subconscious dreams made manifest of DeChirico and Dali are quite startling. McKay's entire almost four year run of Little Nemo is an evocation of the feeling of being half asleep or dreaming whilst awake. Characters stretch and compress, a bed goes walking along the rooftops of New York, dinosaurs run through fields of giant mushrooms, text bursts the bounds of the frame and nemo always ends up falling out of bed. He is always in the middle of the dream before he knows he's dreaming. If this did not influence the Surrealists in some way (as McKay was widely syndicated and his imitators were working worldwide by 1915), I would be supprised. Unfortunately, the availablilty of McKay's work online is rather poor.
Next: "Mutt and Jeff meet R. Mutt and Krazy Kat Luvs Miro and Vice Versa"

You know the scene it's very hum-drum
And my favorite song's entitled "Boredom"...
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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old January 4th, 2005, 04:06 Thread Starter
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Oh, a biography and some work by McKay is found here:

http://www.bpib.com/illustrat/mccay.htm

if you all come to my house you can see some more. Apparently, I still aren't attatching things correctly.

You know the scene it's very hum-drum
And my favorite song's entitled "Boredom"...
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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old January 4th, 2005, 04:33 Thread Starter
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Part Two:

One of the most popular and influential strips of the early part of the century was Bud Fisher's Mutt And Jeff. Using exaggerated body forms, drawn lightly upon a proletarian background, Fisher's protagonists squirrel their way around the racetracks, bawdy houses and apartments of lower class life. Striking a cord with Americans and the rest of the world, Mutt And Jeff were hugely popular and influential. Picasso was a fan of the strip (and of Jim Swinnerton's Little Jimmy) and a similarity of style between the simplified outline of cubism and the comics is self-evident. Of course, Marcel Duchamp signed his famous readymade Fountain R. Mutt in partial homage to a favorite comic strip character.
Despite Fisher's popularity, the greatest comic strip artist in terms of influence and artistic talent--for who recalls much about Mutt and Jeff today, except as a catchall term for a short guy and tall guy?--is george Hermann's Krazy Kat. From the first appearance of this strangely surreal strip, it was understood that the art-form had taken a great leap forward. As avante guarde as comic strip art has ever been, Krazy Kat was never terribly popular with the general public, but artists always read it as a kindred spirit on the newsprint.
Visiting Arizona's Monument Valley around 1910, Hermann saw the falt bizarre desert landscape and adapted it as the background for his strip. With that innovation he loosed the story from its moorings and set it into archetype. The tension between the city and the country and the real and the unreal has never been so well displayed in the story of a cat a mouse and a dog. In Krazy Kat, the story is always the same, yet endlessly different. The wicked Id-like Ignatz mouse throws a brick at the innocent dreamy Krazy cat, who see's this violence as an expression of love. The dog, Ofissa Pup, is the spirit of the Law and ends every story by tossing Ignatz in jail. he doesn't have to, because Ignatz likes tossing his bricks and Krazy likes being hit by them, but he always does. He does it because he has to and because it is an aesthetically pleasing act and because he loves Krazy but cannot admit it. And in these activities, on its stark black and white background, everything is in perfect harmony.
Krazy Kat was Surrealism before Surrealism was even declared a movement. How can that be? Well, certainly Krazy Kat LOOKS surreal, but it also has great affinity with the singular works of Joan Miro. A series of anthropomorphic forms, drawn with grace placed upon and infinate landscape. The dream of play in the simplest of landscapes.
See Krazy Kat here:
http://www.krazy.com/
Next: POGO! POGO! POGO!

You know the scene it's very hum-drum
And my favorite song's entitled "Boredom"...
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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old January 4th, 2005, 04:36
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Do they have any information on Alfred Jarry Pere Ubu aka Ubu Roi?
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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old January 5th, 2005, 16:12 Thread Starter
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On the net or in the exhibition? UBU was/is in both.

You know the scene it's very hum-drum
And my favorite song's entitled "Boredom"...
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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old January 5th, 2005, 22:12
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Great stuff. May I add to this the Burma Shave signs?

The Story:
Clinton Odell developed a brushless shaving cream which he called Burma-Shave. At a time when folks were really starting to travel America by automobile, the brushless shave cream eliminated the problem of packing a wet shaving brush and cup. Odell had an excellent product; all he lacked was a marketing plan. What was about to happen, is one of America's most successful advertising plans ever!

Allan Odell, one of three sons, convinced his father to spend $200 for some materials to construct highway signs. In 1926, using recycled lumber, Allan fabricated the first Burma-Shave verses, and erected one set of signs along Route 35, between Albert Lea and Minneapolis, Minnesota.



WITHIN THIS VALE
OF TOIL
AND SIN
YOUR HEAD GROWS BALD
BUT NOT YOUR CHIN
Burma-Shave


DIPLOMACY IS
TO DO AND SAY
THE NASTIEST THINGS
IN THE NICEST WAY
Burma-Shave


IF HARMONY
IS WHAT YOU CRAVE
THEN GET
A TUBA
Burma-Shave


Within weeks, drug stores began running out of Burma-Shave, and ordering more. The next year, Allan and his brother Leonard set up more signs, spreading across Minnesota and into Wisconsin, spending $25,000 that year on signs. Orders poured in, and sales for the year hit $68,000.

Although Allan wrote many of the early jingles himself, what made the sign campaign so successful is that ordinary folks were encouraged to write the jingles, and were awarded cash prizes up to $100. The family rejected any jingles which were even the slightest bit offensive. During WW II, homesick GI's would erect Burma-Shave lookalike signs in Alaska, Germany, and even Antarctica!

Eventually, about 7,000 sets of verses were posted along highways in 45 states. A sign crew with just 8 trucks maintained all the signs. The road men calling themselves "PHD's" (Post-Hole Diggers) changed the verses at least once a year and replaced any broken signs. Most farmers were more than willing to allow the signs to be erected on their land, for little more than a case of the product each year. The little Burma-Shave company grew to $3 million in annual sales.



CATTLE CROSSING
PLEASE DRIVE SLOW
THAT OLD BULL
IS SOME COW'S BEAU
Burma-Shave


SUBSTITUTES
CAN LET YOU DOWN
QUICKER THAN
A STRAPLESS GOWN
Burma-Shave


All good things come to an end. The Odell Family sold their company to Gillette, which in turn became part of American Safety Razor, and Phillip Morris. The huge conglomerate decided the verses were a silly idea, and that other types of advertising, especially television, would sell more product. By 1966, every last sign disappeared from America's highways. A very few ended up in museums.

Clinton Odell, founder of the company, died in 1958. Allan Odell, who came up with the sign idea, passed away in 1994, and his brother Leonard in 1991.



IF YOU
DON'T KNOW
WHOSE SIGNS
THESE ARE
YOU CAN'T HAVE
DRIVEN VERY FAR
Burma-Shave

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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old January 7th, 2005, 06:51 Thread Starter
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I wish they still had those Burma Shave signs on the road. It'd be much more fun than waiting for the Gonzales Broccoli Festival sign (and the cute little Broccoli Festival mascot guy!) or those stupid Andersen's Split Pea Soup billboards (I've had it, it ain't worth 300 miles of advertising) on a drive down 101!
To continue on the comic art theme:
In the late 30s, the comic strip began to be surpassed by its bastard stepchild, the comic book. Strips essentially moved from continuity to what are referred to a "one gag a day works" in that they were short form works containing an entirely new joke per day. Thus, something like Beetle Bailey or Family Circus can be continued by god knows how many artists for 75 years without anyone really noticing. Thus they pass out of the realm of art and into the realm of pure lazy commodity. The great exceptions to this rule were Charles Schultz's Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes and the Farside. As a matter of fact, I once saw an artist's detournment of a Calvin and Hobbes strip that was a memorable peice of political art, as he took the character's names seriously. Another current of the comic strip evolutionary line is the strips that were essentially satiric or editorial in nature. Doonesbury (which I don't like) and Bloom County (which I loved) are two such strips. The best of these, in my opinion, was Walt Kelly's POGO.
Using the convention of little cute critters in a Southern swamp, Kelly was able to explore many political and social situations that would not have otherwise made it to the comics page. This swamp was less the self-contained rampant Freudian world of Krazy Kat than a sort of expanded allegorical setting used to safely comment on the politics of the period (McCarthyism etc.). Some might say that this removes POGO from the world of art and into politics, but art and politics are never far removed. Plus, you can see a link between POGO and Gunter Grass's Tin Drum here ( ):
http://www.pogopossum.com/
As a final note on the comic strip, it may seem that I've only mentioned American strips. Well, I did, but only because the idea of the comic strip and the idea of America are quite intertwined, and they are a part of American popular culture spread all over the world. Especially after WWII, the comic strip and comic book (despite the good work of Herge's Tin-Tin and the wonderful Asterix the Gaul) became one of the symbols of the all-devouring nature of American pop culture. By the 1950s, this fact was a source of much tension and ambivilance in European art. The Situationist International made use of comic strips and books (frequently detourned) in much of their art, usually as a form of protest against the tidal wave of American pop culture. the work of Asger Jorn (yes, I know he was a COBRA Artist, but he was also in the SI until he got kicked out) is typical of this type of "guerilla" use of the comic form.
http://www.cobraart.dk/jorn.html

You know the scene it's very hum-drum
And my favorite song's entitled "Boredom"...
Heather is offline  
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