How and why were comics relegated to an inferior position in the worlds of art and literature, and what artistic steps did they take in order to escape it? In a paper titled “The development of the graphic novel,” Griff examines that question through via the history of comics and examinations of the work of Robert Crumb, Will Eisner, and Art Spiegelman, and their contributions to the development of the graphic novel. This Plan also includes a art installation called “Simpleton: An installed drawing,” and a full-length original graphic novel titled “Head scratching stories from Cloumbus County.”
1938 was a landmark year for comics. By then, most of the popular newspaper strips were already being reprinted as comic books, forcing new companies vying for a foothold in the market to create original material. An entrepreneur from Chicago named Harry Chesler opened up the first comic art studio in New York, which wasn’t so much of an art studio as it was an art-related sweatshop. It was here, and in other studios like it, that many of the conventions of mass-produced comics were formed. Due to the Great Depression, it was possible to pay a team of literally starving artists to create weekly comics for the same cost as reprinting strips from the newspapers. One didn’t have to have any skill or schooling in drawing, just the ability to contend with the demand. It was very much a quantity over quality system, where styles, stories, and even specific panels were endlessly recycled.
Maus raised the bar of possibility for comics yet again, becoming the first and only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize before they were even sure how to classify it. Spiegelman permanently changed the public view of comics as an art form, receiving massive and instant media attention with the publication of the first collected volume and becoming the first cartoonist to have his work included in education curriculums, from middle school all the way through graduate school.90 Let us pause and think about the monumentality of that achievement: there is very little graduate school-level literature that is palatable to middle schoolers. There are very few books read in middle schools that are the subject of extensive postgraduate work. Maus is able to extend in both directions, in no small part because it is a comic.
I remember the sort of exhausted, exuberant head-high of doing highly focused, mentally taxing work for months at a time. The inspiration for my Plan came from a lifelong engagement with comics, Gloria’s Graphic Novels class, and her Comics tutorial. I was in a six-person comics-making tutorial in which I discovered just how goddamn long it takes to draw a comic book. I’m real, real mean with a pen these days. Hopefully I can monetize that.
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