Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.
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BAKER'S DOZEN for 05/27/2009
Pictures at An Exhibition
Richard Rubenfeld on the Michigan Comics: Mirth, Mockery and Mayhem from the Tri-Coastal State art show
I think it's fair to say that comics have finally "arrived" and are now generally recognized as a cultural force in these United States. Aside from the fact that comic-based and -influenced films now dominate the weekly attendance and sales charts, another sure sign of this wider acceptance of the medium is that the art itself is now seen as worthy of full scale exhibitions in art galleries and museums.
Still, much of the attention tends remain focused on those art shows and creators residing on either coast of the country, thus consigning many creators and their creations [along with the majority of this fair land] to the shadows and relative obscurity.
But there are exceptions to that general rule.
For instance, consider that over the course of the past eight years there have been a number of simply exceptional and extremely successful comic art shows that have been held in a seemingly unlikely spot located in the heart of the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes region. These shows were all well attended, and all featured examples of art drawn from the long and rich history of the medium, showcasing the true depth and breadth of the comics medium.
While it's true that every one of these shows have been the result of a lot of hard work by a number of people, my good friend Dr. Richard Rubenfeld has remained one of the constants, and a major guiding force behind each one of them.
Recently, Rich was able to spare a few moments between grading Art History exams to talk about the latest exhibition he helped stage at Eastern Michigan University, the artists whose work is included in the show, and how he and his fellow comic art lovers put it all together.
Bill Baker: So what is "Michigan Comics: Mirth, Mockery and Mayhem," where and for how long is it being held, and who was involved in putting it together?
Richard Rubenfeld: "Michigan Comics: Mirth, Mockery and Mayhem from the Tri-Coastal State" is an exhibition of original works by 40 contemporary cartoonists and comics creators that opened on March 31st and runs to June 5th  in the University Gallery on the campus of Eastern Michigan University. The exhibition was curated by me and Dave Coverly, creator of the syndicated panel Speed Bump, and includes original editorial cartoons, gag panels, comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, and murals.
Last spring Dave and I began screening and choosing the show's potential participants. We needed to set some parameters for the exhibition and decided to focus on contemporary artists. We included not only Michigan natives, some of whom no longer live in the state but worked here, and several artists who are not natives, but who currently live and work in Michigan. We also decided to concentrate on print media, although a number of the artists work digitally and some release online comics. Each artist is represented by at least three works.
An illustrated catalogue, designed by Frank Fisher, will be available shortly. Voices 3, an original anthology of works by local artists, signed by the artists and available for free in a limited edition, can be picked up at the show. Consult the EMU website for the gallery hours.
BB: Who are some of the artists involved, and how were they chosen?
RR: Artists involved in the show: Here are some of them: Editorial cartoons by the Detroit Free Press' Mike Thompson, and the Detroit News cartoonist, Larry Wright; gag panels by Dave Coverly--of course--Jonny Hawkins, Tom Prisk and Harley Schwadron; comics strips by Jerry Dumas, Jef Mallett, and Aaron Warner. Mainstream comics and illustrations by Katie Cook, Greg Hildebrandt, and Scott Rosema. Works by Michigan's first Underground Comix creators, Gary Grimshaw and Carl Lundgren, are included, as are experimental and mini comics by Sean Bieri, Jeffrey Brown, Matt Feazell, Phoebe Gloeckner and Marty Hirchak. Examples by graphic novel creators Jay Fosgitt, Jane Irwin, Dave Peteresen, and Paul Sizer. And I have left out a whole bunch of them!
On the opening night, I hosted a panel discussion featuring Dave Coverly, Katie Cook, Jane Irwin, Scott Rosema and Paul Sizer.
BB: What about the specific works representing their work? Did they pick the pieces being shown, or did you and your fellow curators pick them yourselves?
RR: A bit of both. When I was able to visit the artists, I usually chose the works for the show, but in other cases, the artists made the choices. We cast our nets wide so we could show a broad thematic and stylistic range in the gallery. Some artists sent more work than we could show; in those cases, Dave, Larry Newhouse, University Gallery Director, and I made the final choices. With the help of a number of volunteers, Larry, Dave and I mounted the exhibition.
BB: Are there any particularly noteworthy, or perhaps surprising, pieces in the show?
RR: Oh gee, there are so many. They are all of very high quality. Based on written responses, certainly two of the highlights are the murals by Greg Hildebrandt, one depicting DC superheroes and other Marvel ones. Only exhibited one other time, at the Montclair Art Museum a few years ago, they are 12 feet long and have generated a lot of comments. Dave Petersen's exquisite Mouse Guard drawings have been identified by many as their favorites as have three sweet illustrations by Katie Cook. Jeffrey Brown's tiny pieces and the screen prints by Mark Dancey have been mentioned often as have the original Frazz strips by Jef Mallett.
BB: Please correct me if I'm wrong, but won't this show eventually be hitting the road?
RR: A smaller version of the show will travel. After the main exhibition closes at EMU in June, the traveling show goes to Gallery 194 in Lapeer in mid June and July, and the Little Theater in Canton in August . Later in the year, it is likely that the show will travel to the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson and possibly Western Michigan University. Other venues are being considered.
BB: Well, if someone reading this would like to host the show, can they still participate?
RR: Absolutely. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Larry Newhouse at email@example.com.
BB: "Michigan Comics: Mirth, Mockery and Mayhem" isn't your first show featuring comic and cartoon strip art, is it?
RR: It is actually the fourth comic art show I worked on for EMU. In 2001, there was "What a Hoot: Comic Art at EMU; three years later we ran "Holy Moley: More Comic Art at EMU. 2006's "Leapin' Lizards: Comic Art Returns to EMU was the inaugural exhibition in the new University Gallery.
By the way, I have also collaborated on recent exhibitions of vintage pinball machines and Alfred E. Neuman, and helped bring Art Spiegelman and Scott McCloud to campus.
BB: Now, I know for a fact that you're not a recent convert to comics as an art form. Why don't you tell us a little bit about your past, personal connections to comics and strips?
RR: My love of the comics goes back over a half century. Growing up in the New York area in the 1950s and 1960s definitely had its perks. Archie cartoonist, Harry Lucey, lived down the block. Woody Gelman, a cartoonist and also the publisher of Nostalgia Press, also lived in my hometown. I was fortunate to be a part of a group of comics devotees called TISOS (Look for an article by Rich on this seminal fan organization, which included Len Wein and Marv Wolfman as members, in as forthcoming issue of Alter-Ego), and visited the DC and Marvel offices frequently for awhile. I attended the earliest comic conventions in New York and got to visit Milton Caniff, Jack Kirby and Maurie Sendak, who were then living in the area.
BB: Have you been able to incorporate your love of the medium into your work as an educator throughout the years?
RR: Definitely. I am an art historian and include material on the comics in several of my classes, in addition to the exhibitions. I remain a devotee and think the possibilities of the medium haven't even been scratched yet.
BB: Any thoughts on the current state of the art? How about the industry itself?
RR: You really don't want me to get started on that. A colleague tells people I have no off button! [General laughter]
BB: OK, fair enough!
As a tenured professor, you're not really required to "publish or perish" anymore. Which leads me to wonder why you do all the work of mounting this and all those earlier shows? In other words, what do you get from doing all that hard work?
RR: As you said, I already have tenure, so my position is secure. My exhibitions are labors of love. And then I get to host some great guests on campus, including Al Feldstein, Marie Severin, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.
BB: And what do you hope those attending this show, be it at EMU or one of the stops on the upcoming tour, get from it?
RR: I hope they enjoy the show! Although I am not a Michigan native, I hope to bring attention to the tremendous accomplishments of our cartoonists and comics creators. With all the bad news lately in the state, I hope this show will be a breath of fresh air.
BB: Do you have any plans for more comic art shows in the future?
RR: Not at this point.
BB: Anything else you'd like to add before I let you get back to work?
RR: Just come to the show!
For more information on this show, go to http://www.emich.edu/fordgallery/index.html.
For general directions to Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, and the New Student Center and University Gallery, head over to http://www.emich.edu/fordgallery/map.html
If you'd like to learn more about Bill Baker and his work, or buy any of his books, simply go to www.BillBakerPresents.com.
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|05/27/2009||Pictures at An Exhibition - Richard Rubenfeld on the Michigan Comics: Mirth, Mockery and Mayhem from the Tri-Coastal State art show |
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