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Cartoon Polymaths: An Exhibit of 8 Comic Creators That Shattered the Mold


If you are in the New York City area and like comics that push the boundaries of the comic book medium, I cannot urge you strongly enough to check out the Cartoon Polymaths exhibit at The New School. But for everyone else, we’ve got an overview, photos, and videos that capture a small part of the experience.

Cartoon polymaths — gifted cartoonists who also excelled in another field — make for a great exhibit subject, as you get to see their work in two different mediums, such as music or puppetry, and how their work in both areas influenced each other. Some of these artistic interactions are straightforward, such as Winsor McCay’s work in early animation. Others, like Richard McGuire’s, are less linear; his use of textural sounds in No Wave music probably has a relationship to his efforts to break the grammar of comics with optical illusions and puzzles, but it’s not particularly easy to put into words. It’s awfully fun to try though.

The exhibit is cleverly displayed in interlocking structures that creates the impression of the room as three dimensional panel frames. Each structure is centered around a polymath and gives a taste of both their comic and non-comic book work. Featured artists include Winsor McCay, Tony Sarg, Saul Steinberg, Mariscal, Richard McGuire and Paper Rad (Jacob Ciocci, Jessica Ciocci and Ben Jones).

The exhibit spans a hundred years of art, but rather than seeming disjointed, the playfulness and innovation on display makes each artist seem like they belong next to each other even if they have almost nothing else in common.

Some highlights include Richard McGuire’s New Yorker cover which was designed to be read up and down, down and up, left and right and right and left (center in the above photo) and McGuire’s strip Here breaks apart time by creating interacting panels within panels set in different years but occurring in the same location. Here is difficult to explain but easy to understand when reading it, so I suggest you check it out either in in Ivan Brunetti’s An Antho­logy of Graphic Fic­tion, Car­toons and True Stories or if you are not a scrupulous individual it is illegally reprinted here.

Other fascinating works include Saul Steinberg’s experiments with using text as an image and Windsor McCay’s early animation and beautiful, original printings of Little Nemo in Slumberland.

Cartoon Polymaths runs through April 15 and is located at the Anna-Maria & Stephen Kellen Gallery at 13th St. and 5th Ave. in Manhattan.

How A Mosquito Operates by Winsor McCay

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