Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

January 22, 2007

Paul Gravett Discusses Wally Wood


Paul Gravett discusses Wally Wood, the late, great comic book artist who was at once an embodiment of all the positive values of mainstream comics 1950-1975 or so, and an almost mythic personification of the self-destructive artist, two ideas that not only held power when Wood was alive but I think have informed attitudes towards comics ever since.

The interesting part for me is where Gravett rips into some hype for The Compleat Cannon.
I'm sorry, but great artwork alone, no matter how great, is never, ever enough in comics. That's one of the biggest fallacies that continue to hold this medium back. Fans of "good" drawing in comics, usually highly finished and illustrative, seem to be able to blind themselves to a comic's other woeful inadequacies. No wonder the uninitiated can't see what we see in them, once they start reading them.

This is certainly an articulate summary of a certain, historically informed point of view in comics, maybe a dominant one now, that comics has traditionally been art-crazy to the point that they've been blinded to the awful writing which often accompanied, and held back, some of the better artists' work. It's something I've probably written a bunch of times, and I think it describes a certain mindset that has existed in comics to a "T".

And yet I'm not sure I believe this in quite the same way anymore, mostly because I'm increasingly uncertain we've ever fully appreciated the contribution of great comics art to comics beyond bravura displays of technique -- the vibrancy and tone and feel and atmosphere of a comic that comes from the art. Leave aside Hal Foster or Wally Wood or one of today's excellent comic book artists like Darwyn Cooke or Steve Rude, and drop the title from the spare, optional panel in a Peanuts Sunday. What's left isn't lush illustration, but so much of Peanuts comes through that art, so much of its unique point of view, its heart, that it makes you stop and think how much in all instances might be coming from the visual element of comics-making.

One of the most exciting things about comics is that the medium can support what seems to me like two entirely different ways of reading the form: a kind of comics by suggestion, where the comic seems to exist in some idealized state that is the sum of triggers and approximations within the work, and a kind of comics by tactile experience, where comics are more literally marks on a page that cohere on that level before being allowed to serve as abstractions or approximations of anything. I think that's why I continue to read and find value in Wally Wood; while many artists suggest worlds with a life off the page, Wood gave life to objects on them.
posted 2:24 am PST | Permalink

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