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|Comics: Works from the collection of Robert Boyd
Exhibition on view March 14-April 11, Sewall Hall 402
Opening talk and exhibition reception March 14, 7:00 p.m., Sewall Hall 307
For most of the 20th century, America found its aspirations, fears and
daily life reflected in comic strips. From the mid-1960s onward,
underground and alternative comics artists have turned comics into a
space for personal artistic expression. This exhibit of original comics
art, drawn from the collection of Robert Boyd, explores both of these
aspects of the art of comics.
WHEN I WAS in high school, I received a Christmas gift that changed my life--The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics (1977). This book was a collection of comic strips from the 1890s to the 1970s, primarily pre-war comic strips. It helped me realize that “comics” meant something more than Spider-Man punching Doc Octopus. Around the same time, I discovered Walt Kelly’s Pogo in old, beautifully-designed paperbacks that could still be found in used book stores. These old comic strips were rich and diverse, ranging from the working-class comedies of The Bungle Family by Harry Tuttle and Gasoline Alley by Frank King to the Manichaean chiaroscuro of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy to the elegant minimalism of Ernie Bushmiller’s Fritzi Ritz and The Little King by Otto Soglow. To read these strips was to enter the world of my parents and grandparents. The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Strips affected me in the same way that the Anthology of American Folk Music did for a generation of folk enthusiasts in the 50s—it opened a new world to me.
Then came college where I had a roommate who was into comics. He showed me that there were new things happening in this world, that it wasn’t all Spider-Man punching Doc Octopus still. I started frequenting the funkier comic book stores, where I found Love and Rockets #2. This was another revelation. The artists, brothers Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, were creating highly personal stories of Hispanic American life. These comics where art took the front seat, and other values—entertainment, licensing, making money—were secondary. This started me on a journey backwards and forwards in time—looking at the underground comics of the 60s, where cartoonists for the first time declared their independence from the logic of the market, forward to an ever-expanding world of art comics. I discovered artists like Peter Bagge, Jim Woodring, and Alison Bechdel, as well as first-generation underground comics artists, like Skip Williamson.
So when I reached adulthood and had some money to spend, it seemed only natural that I would seek out the original artwork from these cartoonists--both from the early 20th century and from the era of underground/alternative/art comics that ranges from the 1960s to the present. It’s an unfortunate fact that people think of superhero comics when they think of comics at all—Hollywood deserves most of the blame for that. But most of that stuff is of little artistic interest. This exhibit is my personal collection, but it is also work that I consider comics art worth collecting, despite the fact that most of it is little known in the wider public. Where else can you see it? Generally, museums don’t collect this work at all. I covet it, and beyond that I feel an obligation to hold on to it and protect it until the museums and libraries of this country finally realize that this is art worth preserving.
Robert Boyd Robert Boyd studied art and art history at Rice University (1992). From 1989 to 1998, he was an editor at several comics publishers, including Fantagraphics Books, Dark Horse Comics and Kitchen Sink Press. Since 2009, he has published and written for The Great God Pan Is Dead (http://www.thegreatgodpanisdead.com), a blog about art.
Download the exhibition poster>>
Emergency Room is generously supported by Rice Public Art and the Dean of the School of Humanities.