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KRAZY!: Going Ga-Ga for Comics and Animation

You don’t have to be a Lichtenstein, Petitbon or Huyghe to know that comics, cartoons and anime provide ample fodder for contemporary artmaking. But are these dime-store magazines and virtual-world videos art in and of themselves? “KRAZY!” is a new blockbuster show opening this weekend in Vancouver which attempts to make the case that yes, by Jiminy Cricket, they are.

To this end, Vancouver Art Gallery senior curator Bruce Grenville assembled a team of some of the biggest heavyweights in an oft-lighthearted realm to curate this survey. The anime and manga sections, for instance, were co-curated by Kiyoshi Kusumi, a Japanese editor and global authority on the genres, and Toshiya Ueno, a sociologist, media theorist and critic based in Tokyo. Together they highlight the work of animator Ichiro Itano, whose camera angles and dynamic choreography are revered by anime fans, and provide closer looks at classic flicks from 1988’s Akira to 2004’s The Place Promised in Our Early Days.

Similarly, the task of comics and graphic novel curating fell to another crack team: Pulitzer Prize-winner and Maus maverick Art Spiegelman and Canada’s own Gregory Gallant (pen name Seth), whose images have graced the pages of the New Yorker as well as the walls of the AGO. Spanning almost a century from George Herriman’s iconic Krazy Kat to painter/comic artist Jerry Moriarty’s autobiographical The Complete Jack Survives, Spiegelman and Gallant’s comics section does an admirable job of condensing thousands of works into a representative few. (It also includes Chris Ware, who they consider one of the best comic artists alive.)

Meanwhile, Spiegelman and Gallant’s graphic novels section includes recent bookstore bestsellers like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Chester Brown’s Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography. (The curators call the latter’s figures “like Inuit sculptures placed into an empty landscape.”) But they also throw in some less conventional choices like Philip Guston’s 1971 Poor Richard and a new, highly visual hybrid that speaks to the immigrant experience, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.

And that’s just half the show.

Video games are also featured, curated by Will Wright, the American computer game designer who created genre-breakers like The Sims. Besides going retro with a Pac-Man and Super Mario display, Wright also uses the show to reveal characters from his upcoming release, Spore. (This game will allow a players to control the evolution of a species from its beginnings as a multicellular organism.) Hyper-popular, if controversial, video games like Grand Theft Auto also receive a showcased treatment.

Manga, as mentioned previously, has its own Japanese curators, but also receives an innovative exhibition design of curving, pod-like bookcases which hold hundreds of volumes of this addictive narrative and graphic form. The traditional misogyny of the genre also gets a whomping by artists like Junko Mizuno, a female Manga creator whose characters are almost exclusively gothic, violent women.

Animated cartoons are organized by Tim Johnson, director of the DreamWorks animated features Antz and Over the Hedge. Though Johnson is best-known for these G-rated digital commercial works, he seems well capable of delving deeper: his choices here include the 1926 Lotte Reiniger silhouette-animation The Adventures of Prince Achmed and indie animator Marv Newland’s confrontational and aggressive Black Hula. (Newland came on the scene in the 1980s with the popular short Bambi Meets Godzilla.)

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