Was No Dream”: from Peter Kuper’s The Metamorphosis (2003).
wasn’t sure what to expect from the Norman Rockwell Museum.
Rockwell’s craft stands uncontested, his ordinary subjects
have become iconic portraits of American life. So iconic,
in fact, that before arriving at the museum I was worried
that I’d seen it all already. But I hadn’t. Not like this.
The museum itself, set in a rolling field in cozy Stockbridge,
Mass., is as quaint and warm as any of Rockwell’s paintings.
And those iconic images burst with life and light and hope,
more radiant than any reproduction. Rockwell’s humbly provincial
scenes embrace significant and progressive ideas. He was a
champion of humanity and innocence, civil rights, freedom
of speech, of religion, from want, from fear. Said Rockwell
himself, “I do ordinary people in everyday situations and
I find that I can fit almost anything into that frame, even
fairly big ideas.”
Often touted as America’s favorite artist, Rockwell was, foremost,
an illustrator. And illustrators, including Rockwell, have
fought a fierce uphill battle for respect and legitimacy in
the art world. Rockwell’s art, his ideas, and his struggle
for validity made the museum the ideal setting for LitGraphic:
the World of the Graphic Novel. The exhibition explores
the roots of the graphic novel—which can be traced as far
back as the pictorial storytelling of hieroglyphics—and the
work of some of the best contemporary comic and graphic novel
Will Eisner, who has been rightfully dubbed the father of
the graphic novel, revolutionized the comic form with his
first graphic novel A Contract With God, which
explores faith, death, life and failure through the story
of a Jewish immigrant in the Bronx. Eisner asserted
that the comic form could break free from the confines of
funny pages and superheroes, that it was a dynamic and dramatic
medium, fitting for any story. Some of Eisner’s work can be
seen in the exhibition, and clearly marks a turning point
for the form and the diversity of its expression.
The exhibition features more than 146 pieces by 24 artists,
comprising a deftly arranged selection, which illustrate the
constant evolution of this medium of visual storytelling.
Among the treasures represented are pages from Peter Kuper’s
graphic retelling of Franz Kafka’s The Meta morphosis,
and his wordless political parable Sticks and Stones.
Kuper flew in from Mexico for the opening and was on hand
at the preview, his eagerness and passion for the form were
palpable as he spoke, thumbs tucked between his suit coat
and the straps of his backpack.
Kuper seemed most excited about the possibilities the comic
form holds, the room for exploration. “The form,” he said,
“even with its rich history is, developmentally, still in
its infancy. Artists are constantly finding new ways to use
the collages of images, words, ways not to use words.” Dave
Sim, author of the 6,000-page Cerebus, spoke of the
development and creation of his monumental work, a dozen pieces
of original art from the epic hanging behind him. Howard Cruse
discussed his veiled autobiographical work, Stuck Rubber
Baby, a graphic novel that follows a “young man coming
of age in the 1960’s whose growing awareness of racial injustice
and his own homosexuality places him at a crossroads.” The
book took Cruse four years to complete, and he recounted the
process almost nervously, habitually smoothing his hair as
he spoke, standing before his work with the slight hunch of
a man who has spent years at a drafting table. Cruse, too,
mentioned the freedom that the comic form offers: “I had a
big story to tell, and I waited years to find a canvas large
enough to deal with it.” Two hundred pages of sequential images
and text gave Cruz the space he needed.
Other artists represented in the exhibition, which runs through
May 26, include R. Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman, Art Speigelman,
Sue Coe and Marc Hempel, among others. The exhibit is a must,
not only for comic fans, but for anyone who celebrates illustration,
graphic commentary, personal storytelling, humor, fine art,
or the constant evolution of expression. “For so many years,
comics had a giant question mark over whether they were art
at all or just entertainment for kids,” said Peter Kuper.
“But comics,” he assured, “is a form that can do anything.”