Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lit Graphic at the Rockwell

Last week Jeanette and I visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts to see the exhibition called “Lit Graphic: The World of the Graphic Novel,” which is on view through May 26.

Co-curators Stephanie Plunkett and Martin Mahoney told us that Tom Wolfe invented the term “Lit Graphic” to describe the art form of the contemporary novel-length comic book, which has unfortunately been overlooked by most art museums.

Will Eisner, whose work on the groundbreaking Contract with God (1978) is well represented in the show, is associated with the more familiar term “graphic novel” (though some say the term was used as early as 1964 by Richard Kyle). Another pioneer was Lynd Ward, who told wordless stories with woodcuts in the 1920s and 1930s. Forty-nine of those delicate images, each separately framed, festoon one wall.

Let me say a word about what is not in the exhibition. There are no French or Japanese comics, no daily or Sunday comic strips, and only a few samples of Marvel or DC superhero comics. Although most of the works deal with serious, real-world themes, the curators stopped short of exhibiting work that is extremely violent or risqué. But that still leaves a diverse and vital field of talent.

In the room tracing the history of the graphic novels, there are some representative examples by Robert Crumb (including a teenage sketchbook) , but the other two rooms place the emphasis on the contemporary American scene.

As Mark Wheatley observes, graphic novels are not a genre, but "a language--and it's a visual language." Altogether, there are 146 works by 24 artists, including pages by Peter Kuper, Lauren Weinstein, Harvey Kurtzman, Marc Hempel, Dave Sim, Terry Moore and many others.

You can get an online preview of the work and the personalities by viewing the half-dozen mini-documentaries shot on location by producer Jeremy Clowe and recently posted on YouTube:
Part 1: Peter Kuper
Part 2: Marc Hempel
Part 3: Brian Fies
Part 4: Continued

The Rockwell Museum deserves a lot of credit for their pioneering spirit in championing American narrative art in all its forms. In conjunction with the Lit Graphic show, the museum is hosting a student graphic novel contest, inviting high schoolers from the northeastern US to submit their creations. Winners will be honored in a mini-exhibition at the museum. More information: Link.

Norman Rockwell himself explored personal, edgy themes like war and racism in his later career, and he was always supportive of young talent and new graphic ideas. I feel very sure that he would have been pleased to see the huge turnout of young people who attended the opening.

For museums interested in hosting one of the Rockwell Museum's traveling exhibitions (including Dinotopia), Link
Lit Graphic press release: Link
Recommended reading list from TIME: Link
Tomorrow: Eye Stripe


Erik Bongers said...

Thanks for this little deviation towards Graphic Novels.
I have "Blankets" and I had "Maus", but I didn't really now how to expand my American shelf. I think the Time magazine will prove to be a good tourist guide.

Hey, you almost got me to forward the invitation for the exhibitions to a name I know at the Belgian Comics Museum, but after seeing the security, enviromental and fee criteria...

James Gurney said...

About the Dinotopia traveling show I should mention that there are two of them. The Norman Rockwell show is traveling in the USA and is called "The Fantastical Art of James Gurney." You'd go to the site for that.

But there's a whole separate European traveling show of 49 works, all from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. It's called "Return to Dinotopia," and will be shown in late '08 at Maison d'Ailleurs in Switzerland. If you have leads for booking that exhibition, please contact Patrick Gyger at

Sorry for the plug, but I just wanted to clarify.

James Gurney said...
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