Comic Tragics: The Exploding Language of Contemporary Comic Art

In a time of a re-emergence of the Marvel and DC Comics cultural phenomenon, contemporary comic art has shifted from the fictitious superhero universe, full of caped crusaders and dynamic duos with meta-human strength, to a more direct, semi-autobiographical rendition of everyday struggles within a mundane world.

The Art Gallery of Western Australia presents ‘Comic Tragics: The Exploding Language of Contemporary Comic Art’, an international multimedia exploration of the esoteric world of the comic artist and their incredibly intense, personal and affecting works that connect with audiences in unforeseen, compelling ways. Curator of Contemporary Design and International Art, Robert Cook has selected nine contemporary comic artists considered to be some of the best in the world today; Gabrielle Bell (US), Stephen Collins (UK), Aisha Franz (Ger), Anders Nilsen (US), Tommi Parrish (AUS), John Porcellino (US), Dash Shaw (US), Emma Talbot (UK) and Ron Regé Jr (US).

‘Comic Tragics’ looks at new forms of comic and graphic art, pushing the medium of printed comics in different and challenging directions. Works are presented in various stages of completion from rough sketch to fully inked, through sketchbooks, finished comic pages, paintings and video, allowing an intimate understanding of their artistic processes and personal stories, unguarded explorations of the struggles of being human. According to Cook, “each artist really uses their work to hone in on core human issues, what it is to make meaning, to suffer and to live through difficulty, be that loss, anxiety, fear, and also to make work about the flipside, fragile hope and love and care.”

Artist Anders Nilsen is represented by two selections from books that address the passing of his partner, The End and Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow (2006). Both works are a collection of short strips about loss, paralysis, waiting, and transformation, reflecting the progress of his struggle to reconcile the great upheaval of death, and finding a new life on the other side. An expressive appreciation of time spent, the stories are told using artefacts of the couple’s life together, including early love letters, postcards, tales of their travels in written and comic form, journal entries, and drawings. These works are a deeply personal, romantic and ubiquitous in their reminder of relationships and mortality.

‘Comic Tragics’ looks at the relationships between self and society through words and image. The phrase “exploding language” reflects Cook’s intention to create an exhibition where the audience will “think about the ways that picture and text join and come apart, that comics work at the level of tone, and also of narrative, and their joy is how they bind and pull part, how they operate on a bunch of different, sometimes competing levels.” Nilsen’s elliptical characters are sometimes seen facing one another, almost wordless. The surface tension is so delicately maintained that a bow of the head has huge emotional impact. The figures in The End are generic; two people in outline with no distinguishing features. Nilsen’s distinctive, detailed line work and deft hatching is coupled with abundant white space and large, often frameless panels, conveying an ineffable sense of vulnerability and openness.

Cook’s intention was to create an exhibition that provides more than just a ‘forced’ overview of the field or insight into the medium of comics as an art form; “I wanted people to feel they can immerse themselves in an artist’s world. Which, given the small scale of a lot of the work is inevitable, you really get pulled into these lovely things, into their detail, their nuance.”

Art Gallery of Western Australia
9 April to 25 July, 2016
Western Australia