Cartoon and comic book imagery are suddenly
ubiquitous. Since the 1950s in the United States, they have been considered primarily as an entertainment vehicle for children, their lowbrow status allowing them to thrive outside of the critical, aesthetic, and commercial criteria expected of the art world. Today cartoon-based imagery is regular fare on TV and in movies from Hollywood to Tokyo, aimed toward both children and adults. At the same time, an alternative use of this imagery is proliferating in cult and underground zines and comics, as well as in respected art galleries, museums, and contemporary art spaces around the world. As the boundaries between high and low blur to the point of disappearance, cartoons have emerged from cult status in the underground to mainstream culture, where they provide a vehicle for critique in a postmodern world. They continue a narrative tradition at a time when computer-generated systems of nonlinear thinking are emerging and epitomize the accessibility and disposability of our times. Cartoons and comics provide a universal language of immediately recognizable cultural icons that appeal to the instant-gratification demands of our contemporary world. Internationally, cartoon imagery is playing an increasing role in contemporary art. Whether through clear appropriation or distorted likenesses made with the purpose of satirizing its subjects, cartoon-like graphics are a visual language adopted by artists across the globe. Karen Finley renders a postmodern version of Pooh, riddled with contemporary questions about identity. Yoshitomo Nara’s evil-eyed, malevolent children and kamikaze puppies make reference to Japan’s role in World War II while explicitly defying our expectations of childhood innocence. Kerry James Marshall leads a group of African American artists who have adopted comic book language to revise their history. Artists are using cartoon imagery to address controversial, even politically incorrect issues that are difficult to assimilate into mainstream art galleries and museums through realistic depictions. Through comic book imagery, they can move beyond reality, shaping heroines, superheros, and even worlds for current and future escapism.
Paperback: 192 pages