Comics! Lichtenstein: Recontextualisation, Attribution, & the Soul of Art

Lichtenstein: Recontextualisation, Attribution, & the Soul of Art

Lichtenstein: Recontextualisation, Attribution, & the Soul of Art

Ah, Lichtenstein. Famous, revered, historically important… unless you’re a comics artist or cartoonist.

I have a perspective on why the fine arts–sorry, the Fine Arts–traditionally malign comics artwork & the act of cartooning. But first, two definitions of ‘cartoon.’

During a panel at TCAF 2010, I first heard Seth define a cartoonist as one who is the solitary creator of comics; the individual as writer & artist (which I like to think of as writer-artist-colourist-letterer-cover-designer-and-sometimes-publisher, or the a-e-i-o-u-&-sometimes-y of visual literature).

The other definition is one I’ve only heard from a single source, & have yet to find a concurrence beyond my own. The source is Barrie artist Tim Bilton, & he defined ‘cartoon’ as ‘to outline.’ It came up in discussion when, after attending TCAF 2010, I began to refer to myself no longer as a comics artist, but a cartoonist. Tim asked,

Do you work in stained glass?

Huh?

He explained stained glass artisans refer to arranging their metal frameworks as ‘cartooning.’ He thought it odd that I, a specialized pen & ink illustrator, would apply the term to my medium. A later convo included my assertion that I couldn’t find an online reference connecting cartooning to stained glass (did Google fail me?), & perhaps the usage was a local phenomenon.

Seth’s definition seems one of pride, in collecting self-contained comics creators under an umbrella term that could have been anything (if he has specific reasoning beyond paying homage to the comics heroes of yesteryear who made ‘cartoons,’ I am ignorant of it; maybe I should read more interviews he’s given).

Sea Turtle (stained glass window 14 x 14 in) by Robert Rawson

Sea Turtle (stained glass window,
14″ x 14″), by Robert Rawson

The stained glass practise, though, is a beautiful analogy. They lay outlines; we (typically) lay outlines. And I see this as where the trouble brews.

If we concede that cartoon equals outline, then great, revered oil paintings had cartoons as the planning stage, sometimes even laid down on canvas to act as guides for paint to follow & cover up.

Cartooning, then, is the first step toward a work of Fine Art, but never the totality. Historically, professional cartoonists typically drew their outlines of characters & objects, then sent that art to stand on its own or be coloured/filled mechanically with separations, dot screens, etc.

To my ear, it sounds akin to a logical fallacy, & one that keeps the Lichtenstein Foundation from acknowledging any artistry on the part of the creators of Roy’s source material. Seriously, check out the links accompanying my webcartoon; they reveal ignorant & classist attitudes toward cartoonists, with zero regard for any source attribution.

Vanilla Ice tried that. He became $4 million of dollars poorer for it, & also credited the source authors. What makes audio artwork so fucking special & comics art such shit?

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