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Notes from Art Spiegelman’s Portland Arts & Lectures appearance

Mr. Spiegelman’s title: “What the @!#* happened to comics?”

He used to do a talk called COMICS 101, because it was so ridiculous to think of people taking a class in comics. Now of course there are a bunch of places where you can get a whole degree.

I’d heard Art Spiegelman speak once before, at YALSA’s 2002 preconference on graphic novels. (It was a seriously influential event.)

I forgot how much he can pack into a single sentence, which is then closely followed by another sentence while I’m attempting to transcribe a version of the first. Next I realize that really I should also be looking up at the screen to see what images he’s juxtaposing with the words. Sometime thereafter it dawns on me that I haven’t taken any notes for the last few paragraphs, which means that the next thing I scribble is not actually connected in any obvious way with the scribble that immediately preceded it.

Here follows a few of my more coherently captured scribbles; the links I’ve added might or might not be endorsed by Mr. Spiegelman.

On Roy Lichtenstein: Using comics was a way out of abstract expressionism. The only people doing representational art in the fifties were cartoonists and tattoo artists. But Lichtenstein ended up being as useful for comics as his friend Warhol was for soup.

On Nancy: It’s a lot more work to not read Nancy than it is to read.

You want to use cartoon language in a way that works against its more pernicious aspects, e.g. racist caricatures.

The dance of the vulgar and genteel is one of the most productive struggles in America.

Krazy Kat was kept alive because Hearst’s nephew thought it was funny to have a cat get hit on the head with a brick.

Disagrees with the politics of Lil’ Orphan Annie, but the blank eyes are totemic — the absence of expression lets you in.

Every medium swallows the one that came before it, so the first comic books are collections of comic strips.

On Frederic Wertham‘s witch hunt: Okay, there were witches, but they were witches we needed, they were inoculating us with their toxins.

Joe Sacco has returned comics to its original Goya function: to say “I saw this.”

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  • Kevin Moore
    April 29, 2011 at 7:55 am

    You had me at Krazy Kat.

    Thanks for the report. I need to make it to a Spiegelman lecture one day. Same with Sacco.