The comic goods

Katy Stevens on Comic Book Lifestyle

Girls aren’t supposed to like comics, so where does that leave me? And comics aren’t supposed to be smart, literate, or beautiful either. I wonder how people can still believe that? Someone I quite respect once looked at me puzzled as I had my head buried in a mini-comic and asked, ‘Didn’t you study English literature?’ This was supposed to be a thinly veiled slight on myself and my reading material but in fact it showed up the abuser as a regressive reductionist who evidently hadn’t moved into the 20th century (let alone 21st) with the rest of us.

The Comic Book Lifestyle exhibition and accompanying Silent Army Anthology are prime examples of where self-published comics are situated within contemporary artistic and literary practice today. Since the comic form is really a multimedia one (in the purest sense of the term) it possesses unique qualities to communicate and represent the personal, the outrageous, the intimate and the imagined. The exhibition multiplies this already manifold means of representation through incorporating the sources of the exhibited works—found objects, letters, scraps, scribbles and clippings are located within the same space as the artworks. These artworks evoke their humble origins by being scrappily taped to the gallery walls—postscripts and after thoughts still in place on the borders of the illustrations.

The Braddock Coalition/Silent Army are 3 comic artists who seem to live and breathe the form, hence the exhibition title I suppose. The work (and scribbles, letters etc) expresses an obsession that refuses to die or subside, a compulsion without escape. Perhaps this is the mark of a committed, if mad, artist or creator.

The exhibited works are largely focused on the personal and autobiographical rather than the fantastic and imaginary so lauded in mainstream comics. The visual style is also deliberately distinct from the mainstream styles which proliferate—they are more closely related to commercial illustration than the archetypal comic form spread across comic store shelves. This style and commitment is also realized in the recently launched Silent Army Anthology featuring the work of 20 “comic book veterans” of the small press persuasion. This Express Media publication is a creatively engorged collection of work from in/famous players in local comic art. The breadth of artwork and narrative style is considerable and impressive, ranging from the grotesque and abject (Glenn Smith) to the quirky, cute yet disturbing (Keiran Mangan) and everything (that can be drawn) in between. As always I loved Amber Carvan’s work, not least because her confessional tale of a broken childhood friendship expresses an intimate and unmediated style which I find charming and affective. Matt Taylor’s hyperactive tale of puppets on rebellion is a hilarious, yet chilling tale. The collage work of Tim Danko is a lucid reminder of the popcultural origins of the comic, maintaining aesthetic quality throughout.

The exhibition and print anthology form an impressive collection of the quality calibre and range of alternative comic artistry in Australia today. If nothing else they should certainly trouble the conservative opinion that deem comics ‘trashy indulgence’, and hopefully they will encourage many to seek out the obscure and the wonderful that populates the local comic scene.

Comic Book Lifestyle, Linden St Kilda Centre for Contemporary Arts, St Kilda, Melbourne, April 18-May 26; Silent Army Anthology, published by Express Media, info@expressmedia.org.au, www.expressmedia.org.au

RealTime-NextWave is part of the 2002 Next Wave Festival.

RealTime issue #49 June-July 2002 pg. 5

© Katy Stevens; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2002