Thursday, October 14, 2010

Graphic Novels Go Platinum At The School Of Visual Arts

By Nancy Mattoon


Illustration From Gant Powell’s Graphic Novel,
Letters to Guilford Norton Thomas Whitleim:
A Collection of First-class Problems.

(Image Courtesy of School Of Visual Arts.)


When French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote in 1849, "Plus ca change, plus c'est le meme chose," he wasn't talking about graphic novels. That term, designating a book-length story for adults told in images with or without text, only came into popular use in 1978. But the roots of graphic story telling are ancient.

Illustration From: Poetry and Prose
By Maria Goldfarb.


Paleolithic cave paintings were meant to communicate a narrative, although modern readers can't be sure if the story is ceremonial, religious, or just another "fish story" about the big one that got away. Egyptian hieroglyphics were a combination of letters and pictographs, or characters that look like what they represent. And early Christian Church fathers used icons and illuminated manuscripts to help get their message across to would-be converts, most of whom were illiterate.


A Page From Miss Eggplant's American Boys,
By Jungyeon Roh.


Swiss artist Rodolphe Topffer (1799-1846) is considered to be the granddaddy of comic strip art and graphic novels. His comic tales of love and loss were told through sequential autography, a looser form of the lithograph. Toppfer encouraged artists to "invent some kind of play, where the parts are arranged by plan and form a satisfactory whole."

Philip Bowles' Illustration For
Reflections of Hilario: A Pictorial Essay.


The 21st century ancestors of Toffer are being celebrated in a new exhibit from Manhattan's School for Visual Arts (SVA). The Book Show, is an exhibition of 20 books created by students in the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Department, curated by Department Chair Marshall Arisman and faculty member Carl Nicholas Titolo. Arisman is proud of the impact of the art form on the publishing world, "If you walked into Barnes & Noble 20 years ago, there was not a graphic novel section. Now it's huge...It's not just 14-year-olds."

Image For Ryan Hartley's
Age Of Exploration.


The range of subject matter in the show, which runs through mid-October 2010 with highlights available online, is staggering. Phillip Bowles' Reflections of Hilario: A Pictorial Essay is based on the true story of Hilario Arguimbau, a prisoner during the Spanish Civil War who produced cartoons to record his experiences. Ryan Hartley's The Age of Exploration is a resource guide and journal for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, which will be further shaped after the show by students in a Brooklyn after school program. And Jungyeon Roh's lyrical Miss Eggplant's American Boys is based on a 2008 hit single by singer Estelle. It tells the story of an Asian vegan on a quest to meet her ideal man in America.

Jonah By Ben Voldman.

Marshall Arisman notes that his highly selective 20-student MFA program used to produce primarily illustrators of magazines, newspapers, and children's books. These days he says more than 40 percent create graphic novels. SVA alumnus Dash Shaw, who began creating graphic novels as kid, explains, "It's really immediate, if you just have a pen and some paper you can make it. That's different from movies, which require a lot of money." The chair of the BFA Illustration and Cartooning Department of SVA, Thomas Woodruff believes the school's students are part of a brave new world for graphic novels, "We’re in the midst of the new platinum age for sequential art."
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