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Monsters of Webcomics

Funny Page Freedom

There is truly no medium that has not been transformed by the freedom and widespread availability of the internet. Music, television, film; even the more traditional media of drawing and painting have crossed previously unimaginable thresholds as a result of the all-pervasive yet intangible world wide web. And now, just as you can get your daily dose of news via your laptop, so, too, can you enjoy the funny pages online.

The comics in the paper presented a wide variety of humor to appeal to all tastes: the innocent childhood pranks of Dennis the Menace and Family Circus; the slightly more subtle yet still family-friendly escapades of Charlie Brown and Snoopy in Peanuts; all the way to the wonderfully ironic and philosophically potent Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes. There were also the serials like Prince Valiant, which, because they weren’t funny, I never read, but now have a new appreciation for since my discovery of the graphic novel.

Now, imagine the possibilities of the comic strip creator who is no longer bound by the desires and demands of editors, publishers, newspaper companies, and the public. No longer must the artists and writers fear the reprisals of a prudish public, nor must they cater to publishers whose only concern is the bottom line, often at the expense of true hilarity or complex plot development. Audiences can get a small taste of this at the Cartoon Art Museum’s "Monsters of Webcomics" exhibition.

A small exhibition, "Monsters of Webcomics" hints at the enormity of the internet revolution and its far-reaching consequences. The works of only nine artists are represented, but the style, subject matter, and medium of the artists are sufficiently varied to provide a small taste of what lurks in the corners of the internet. Panels, graphic novels, strips; from hand-drawn and colored to computer generated, the works show not only the multiple processes an artist and/or writer might go through in creating a comic, but also the diversity of forms that comics can now take.

Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant” comics poke fun at cultural and historical giants such as Marat, Mary and Percy Shelley, George Washington, and yes, even Santa Claus. Her pen and ink drawings are simple but not simplistic, effectively illustrating and complementing her hysterical perversions of the oftentimes questionable antics of the likes of Yeats and George IV. Imagine Calvin and Hobbes meets The Far Side, with a little Mark Twain thrown in.

For pure visual gags, check out Nicholas Gurewitch’s “The Perry Bible Fellowship". Funny, ironic, and clever, Gurewitch’s panels play with our sense of propriety in a mischievous way that often involves beloved childhood heroes and games. Between an insanely inappropriate proposal and a peeping Raggedy Andy, Gurewitch leaves viewers strangely cheered.

However, just as the internet allows otherwise unappreciated works to gain the exposure they truly deserve, it also allows for some works whose humor and/or general clarity are difficult to find. For example, while Chris Onstad’s poster prints for his comic strip, “Achewood", are bold with a cool vintage feel, the comic strip itself is rather bizarre and nonsensical; I felt like I was reading Hegel again, thinking that it had to make sense in some way but being unable to figure out how. But at the same time, “Achewood” also has a sense of making fun of that very idea, that if something is confusing yet sounds sufficiently philosophical that it must have some profound meaning. Hmmm.

In any case, the exhibition includes some really wonderful, or at least interesting, comics and serves more as an introduction to the world of webcomics than as a comprehensive catalog (a task that would be impossible). If nothing else, let it pique your curiosity about what the funny pages have been missing all these years that the internet can now provide. Also be sure to check out the extensive virtual gallery (of course) that provides access to more than 100 other artists online.

Cartoon Art Museum
Now through December 6, 2009
Tickets: $2-$6