Visu­al Arts

Co-Mix: A Ret­ro­spec­tive of Comics, Graph­ics, and Scraps

  • Review
December 4, 2013

On page 34 of Co-Mix: A Ret­ro­spec­tive of Comics, Graph­ics, and Scraps, a cat­a­logue accom­pa­ni­ment to a recent exhi­bi­tion of Art Spiegelman’s work, we see a full-page com­ic titled Drawn over two weeks while on the phone…” The twen­ty-pan­el black-and-white sequence fea­tures, among oth­er things, a woman poised naked beside a win­dow sill, a man with a shrunk­en head and long neck star­ing down at the front of a row­boat, his thought bub­ble cap­tur­ing a sin­gle sim­ple tri­an­gle, and a minia­ture horse sit­ting on a chair beside a lamp­shade, con­vers­ing with over­sized shapes. For those famil­iar with Spiegelman’s career-span­ning inter­est in for­mal exper­i­men­ta­tion, such exer­cis­es in play­ing with the secret lan­guage” of comics (Spiegelman’s words) will not come as a sur­prise. Before he was the Pulitzer-prize win­ning author of the now canon­i­cal Maus books – the two-vol­ume graph­ic mem­oir recount­ing his father’s expe­ri­ences in the Holo­caust, as well as their rela­tion­ship – Spiegel­man was already well-known as a major fig­ure in the under­ground comics world. His exper­i­ments in dia­gram­ming words and pic­tures togeth­er on the page had already earned him a rep­u­ta­tion not only as a mas­ter prac­ti­tion­er, but as a pro­fi­cient com­men­ta­tor and edi­tor as well.

Co-Mix offers a wide-span­ning and eye-open­ing look at a career force­ful­ly launched well before the car­toon­ist came to be known as author of the text that intro­duced comics as a form wor­thy of high lit­er­ary” inter­est. He con­tin­ues to be praised (and some­times scorned) for the very achieve­ment that, as this vol­ume seam­less­ly reflects, emerged out of an inter­est in what J. Hober­man apt­ly pin­points as a desire to con­found the high-low art dichoto­my. “[H]e is an innate­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic, inher­ent­ly non-hier­ar­chi­cal artist,” Hober­man writes in an essay includ­ed in the volume. 

Flip­ping through the beau­ti­ful full-col­ored pages of this over­sized book, which includes every­thing from unpub­lished strips and sketch­es to pub­lished New York­er cov­ers, one wit­ness­es the works of an artist and writer con­tin­u­al­ly engag­ing at the thresh­old of a ver­sa­tile and, in many ways, still emerg­ing medi­um. As Spiegel­man prog­nos­ti­cat­ed in a 1974 Artist’s State­ment: As an art form, the com­ic strip is bare­ly past its infan­cy. So am I. Maybe we’ll grow up togeth­er.” While both the author and the medi­um have, in some ways, grown up,” Co-Mix help­ful­ly reminds its read­ers that such a shift was a lot more rev­o­lu­tion than evolution.

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