Examining the Art in Graphic Art

In a unique partnership between Lakeland Community College, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Laura and Alvin Siegal Lifelong Learning Program, a three session mini-course this month will deepen the connections between fine arts, film, and graphic fiction. The course, co-developed by the CMA, consists of three 90 minute weekly live video conferences, which explore the origins, genres, and influences of graphic fiction and narrative.

“The Distance Learning program at the Cleveland Museum of Art is delighted to have co-developed this course with Lakeland and to have partnered with the Laura and Alvin Siegal Lifelong Learning Program at CWRU for its delivery," said Dale Hilton, director of teaching and learning at the Cleveland Museum of Art. "It is a wonderful melding of our goals to use the museum’s collection as a teaching resource through videoconferencing, to collaborate with area institutions and to engage students of all ages in a stimulating, visually rich educational experience.”

On-camera host for the program Dr. Patrick McLaughlin, an expert in fantasy literature, science, and graphic fiction, is also the host of the acclaimed Comics Symposium. Dr. McLaughlin will examine the various intersections of fine art, graphic fiction and narrative; but first, on the CMA blog today, he sheds some light on the history of graphic fiction, and how the genre is representing a new direction in education. 

1.) What first attracted you to dedicate much of your research to graphic fiction?

The general public has been aware of and valued comic strips for sometime; but as of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, an awareness of and renewed interest in graphic fiction has increased proportionately, especially due to film adaptations of such works.  Keenly aware of this fact, in 2004 I–along with the English Department at Lakeland's support–revived English 2215, Graphic Fiction (after a two-year hiatus and with significant course enhancements in the area of the use of computer technology), as a team-taught course involving a faculty member with a graphic arts/fine arts background (drawing component) and me as a faculty member with an English background (writing component). Together, we instruct students on how to draw and write story lines for comic books, graphic novels, and film scripts.  

2.) Can you give a brief overview on the history of graphic fiction as a hint to what to expect in your videoconferencing course?

Graphic storytelling is as old as cave painting itself. Egyptian hieroglyphics (pictured at left: Nome Gods Bearing Offerings, c. 1391-1353 BC) and Mayan codex are also forms of graphic storytelling, and sequential woodblock carvings and tripyches have been early forms of telling stories in pictures and words. Tapestries and illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages were early forms of graphic narrative. Comics strips launched the modern era of graphic storytelling. Manga, anime, and true graphic novels have comprised the bulk of output which we now call graphic fiction proper.


3.) Are there any eras in the history of graphic fiction that have really helped to shape it, particularly as an “art?”

Most certainly. Although possibly contested, the works of William Blake combined words and pictures in ways that constituted prototypical graphic narrative.  William Hogarth's plate etching are another benchmark. Rudolphe Topffer's cartoons were also illustrative.  In woodcuts, artists such as Lynd Ward and Frans Masereel were exemplars, especially as they were influenced by German Expressionism.  Even Max Ernst's "collage novel" was influential.  In the 20th century, we have the likes of Herge's Tintin, Art Spiegelman's Maus, Alan Moore's and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, and Neil Gaiman's Sandman series (pictured below).  Of course, the Japanese proponents have been greatly influential: Osamu Tezuka, Katsuhiro Otomo, Hayao Miyazaki, and the like.  And let's not forget the writers and artists of the Marvel Universe and DC Comics.

4.) Many people associate graphic fiction solely in its print form. Are there other mediums of graphic fiction worth exploring?

Yes, many creators are experimenting with hypermedia versions–both interactive and non-interactive–on the Web, and some authors/artists are developing versions to be used specifically with mobile devices. And, of course, film versions and adaptations have come into their own in a very big way.

5.) We know that graphic fiction has influenced popular culture and television. On the other side of the spectrum, what often has influenced graphic fiction? 

In a word–LIFE. Less globally, techniques in film have highly influenced graphic fiction, such as montage, jump cuts, and so on. Movements in art such as German Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism have had a profound impact upon graphic fiction.

> Have a question about graphic fiction? Sign up for the course! Dr. McLaughlin will address questions and introduce attendees to the stunning sources of visual and conceptual ideas for authors/illustrators such as Art Spiegelman (Maus) and others working in this genre through the visionary lens of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. 

> Learn more about the Distance Learning program at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

> View the CMA's Prints collection

Blog Archive