"Art Spiegelman came last week and was a really amazing guest. He did a Q&A for SCAD Students, after which he, Allen Spetnagel, and me went out to the front to smoke and chat.
(Allen Spetnagel and Mr. Spiegelman, photo by Charles Taylor)
Later that evening Spiegelman gave an amazing lecture, the details of which are too varied and long to try and do justice to here, but it was truly an eye-opening and exciting talk. One of the things that really got me going was some examples that he showed by Töpffer, who made comics in the early nineteenth century. A Swiss, I might add pridefully.
Anyway, I've always been extremely wary of claims of pre-newspaper comics. There's a school of thought that earlier examples of sequential picture narratives (such as the Bayeux Tapestry) are the first comics, but I think that this is an oversimplification - as with most art, I think that motive is everything and as such these works are NOT comics. I feel like it's an attempt to give artistic legitimacy to a medium which has always struggled for it simply by virtue of age and pedigree, and I think that's selling ourselves short - an academic equivalent to claiming that one's ancestors came over on the Mayflower, knowing full well they came through Ellis Island.
Thus I'd never read (or really looked at) Töpffer's stuff, but Speigelman showed a comic which was of men giving a series of toasts. I read it, and thought, "that's good, but you know what would make it better? Showing them drinking after the first toast, and therefore implying a drink after eah additional toast without having to show it," and then I realized that the comic I was looking at had almost the exact narrative structure of one of my own (the Goodbye Beard)! I thought I was being quite clever with mine, but apparently I was almost two hundred years late. It makes me insanely curious as to what other gems Töpffer has, what styles and syntaxes he may have invented that haven't been subsequently employed. Hmmm...
Anyway, afterwards we (Shawn Crystal, Doug Dabbs, me, Dr. Griffis, and some SCAD administrators) went to dinner with Mr. Spiegelman, and had a great time. At first the conversations were a little more rounded - what it's like to teach AND be a cartoonist at the same time, anecdotes, etc - but before long we got into some heavy shop talk about brush pens and fountain pens and ink and papers and all that good stuff, and I fear that we temporarily excluded the non-cartoonists at the table as a result, but all in all I think that everyone had a great evening. I know I did!"
Great report, Chris! And this coming week we'll also feature a report on the Art Forum beginning tonight and running through Saturday afternoon. Keep a eye out for it!