31 August, 2005

More on Brattleboro's Comic Art Exhibit and 24-Hour Comic Challenge

Gabriel Greenberg is the guest curator for the Comic Art in The Green Mountains exhibit currently running in Brattleboro, Vermont. The exhibit, which I covered last Sunday, features works by James Kochalka, James Sturm, Steve Bissette and other Vermont cartoonists. I spoke to Greenberg briefly last Saturday as the museum's 24-Hour Comic Challenge, a complement to the Comic Art exhibit, was getting underway. In the last few days I have had a chance to talk to him some more about the event.

Noted comics observers from Steve Bissette to Tom Spurgeon have remarked that they were surprised by the number of people that turned out to create 24-Hour comics on Saturday. Greenberg told me "When the director of the Museum, Konstantin van Krusenstiern, and I first discussed the idea of a 24 Hour Comic Challenge, we thought we'd be lucky to get 10 partcipants. As it turned out, nearly 50 showed up, making ours one of the largest such events ever to take place." Greenberg himself managed to create his own 24-page comic while the event was underway, somehow balancing his own administrative duties with the creation of his art. He also created a beautiful mural that serves as a welcome to visitors of the exhibit.

When I was at the museum, one thing that struck me was the diversity of the cartoonists gathered to create their own 24-Hour comics. Greenberg says "Our 49 participants were an amazingly diverse crew. Their ages ranged from 17-53, they were nearly one-third women, and they cut accross the social spectrum. There were school teachers, illustrators, hip arty types, hard-core comics fans, experimenters, and experienced adepts. It was an impressive range."

You would think that such a large crowd there to celebrate as joyous an artform as comics would have a hard time getting to work, but Greenberg notes they were fully committed to their goals that day. He says "They worked...so hard. No sooner had we hit the official starting bell, then the museum fell into a hushed silenced. Fifty people intently trained on achieving the near impossible. The hum of energy and focus filled the museum, and was sustained unbroken until the 23rd hour. It was unlike anything I've seen: a passionate factory of comic book creation."

Unlike corporate comics factories, though, it appears these creators were able to follow their own creativity wherever it led. Greenberg told me "The comic books were as diverse as their creators. There were science fiction fantasies, personal confessions, political protests, superheroes, cartoony meanderings, slap stick parodies...Drawing styles varied from obsessively well-groomed to the wild and experimental. The tools ranged from computer, to ink wash, to colored pencil."

Greenberg confirmed what I noticed on the way out of the museum Saturday afternoon, that the event was spilling outside, in addition to the creators doing their thing inside the facility. Greenberg says friends of the participants came and worked on their own art projects through the night, in moral support, and a sewing circle sprouted on the lawn of the museum.

One thing I noted in my report on the event was how wonderous it was to see these artists creating art among all the art already on display in the Brattleboro Museum. Greenberg agreed, saying "It was wonderful to see a museum transformed this way. No longer a formal space set aside for carefully inspecting high art, the Museum became a melting pot of enthusiasm, interaction, and creation. I overheard a group wandering the 'Comic Art in the Green Mountains' exhibit, saying, "This is the inspiration room." The participants could be seen all night getting up to take a break from their work and taking a good long look at the James McGarrell paintings around us."

So while the comics industry continues to struggle with how or even if to welcome a diverse clientele of all ages, sexes and interests, it seems that certain that these people have put the artform on notice that they are a force to be reckoned with, if not now, then soon. Greenberg says "By the time noon came [on Sunday, the end of the 24-hour event], we were a happy, dazed group, unable to believe what we had just pulled off. One girl told me, 'I learned more about drawing in the last 24 hours than I have in my whole life.'"

Greenberg noted that he, too had learned a lot about the power of a passion for telling stories through comic books. It seems to be a passion that won't be extinguished.

In addition to the Comic Art in the Green Mountains exhibit, Greenberg is also curating "Comicology: The New Magical Real," at the Slought Gallery. The exhibit deals with magical realism in contemporary comics and features works by Charles Burns, Marc Bell, Dame Darcy, Kim Deitch, Anders Nilsen, and Ron Rege, Jr.


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