Where does High Art stop and Low begin

Where does High Art stop and Low
begin? It may never have been a simple question, but Pop Art ensured that from
the '60s on, parsing the issue would be murder - for anyone, that is, who needs
to draw a line. Craig Yoe is not one of those people, as he proves in Arf Museum (Fantagraphics), issue two of
an anthology chronicling "the unholy marriage of art + comics." (Modern Arf came out last year.)

curatorial philosophy is so eccentric it's hard to describe, but one consistent
theme is the interplay between cartoonists and their museum-celebrated cousins.
Digging back through a century of obscure newsprint, he finds strips mocking
art trends, toying knowingly with highbrow concepts, and making sly allusions
to celebrated paintings.

Yoe also
hints at influences in the opposite direction (Roy Lichtenstein copping Jack
Kirby panels, for instance), but those can be harder to pin down. Anyone who's
been reading Arf, though, can't
help looking at the occasional museum exhibition as a tangential extension of
the concept. MOMA's recent Dada show (a catalog is available from DAP), for
example, chronicles troublemaking artists who not only used newspaper
illustrations as raw material, but thoroughly embraced the anarchic spirit of
the funny pages and occasionally even (as with Otto Dix and Georg Scholz) made
paintings that look like beautifully rendered editorial cartoons.

In more
contemporary art, of course, the line between painting and comics is often
blurry, and plenty of hipsters view them both in pretty much the same light.
That might lead to odd concepts at gallery shows, but it can make for great
magazines where anything goes. Unfortunately, personal experience indicates
that the most interesting of these aren't necessarily the ones that get the
widest exposure.

In The Drama, a quarterly mag now in its
eighth issue, the front half of the book takes the form of a friendly
art/culture digest - the kind of place where artist Q&As and gallery
profiles keep company with a few pages of "X v. Y" record reviews (example:
John Coltrane vs. Acid Mothers Temple). The back, though, calls itself "This
It" and presents, without commentary, a couple dozen single-page examples of
new comic work that ranges from sketchbook pages to quirky gag strips.

Also in
its eighth issue is Comic Art
(now published by Buenaventura Press, the folks behind the cutting-edge
anthology series Kramers Ergot),
which as the title suggests examines comix in a format akin to glossy art mags.
Here you'll find things like Chris Ware offering lavish praise (read:
comparisons to James Joyce and Stravinsky) to the Richard McGuire piece "Here,"
which blew my mind when Raw
printed it in 1989. Elsewhere, profiles of obscure (in the U.S., anyway)
creators like Anke Feuchtenberger sit beside a long, and long-overdue, article
on caricaturist Drew Friedman. For my money, the mag strikes just the right
balance between familiar faces, explorations of stuff I've heard of but didn't
really know, and artists who were completely unknown to me. (This new issue
comes with a beautiful micro-book by Seth, in which the famously anachronistic
cartooonist profiles 40 of his favorite obscure "cartoon books.")

Any of the above periodicals would likely be happy to profile Jon Langford, the
Mekons and Waco Brothers troubadour with a sideline in fine art. Nashville Radio pairs the musician's
lyrics and scraps of memoir with the inimitable paintings that have earned him
an increasing following over the last decade. Enamored of Nashville's golden
era, adorned with odd bits of oft-macabre humor, and lovingly abused to create
just the right faux-vintage patina, Langford's portraits of folks like Johnny
Cash and Loretta Lynn are like a hillbilly's version of Andy Warhol. I smell a
future issue of Arf in there

More by John DeFore



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