02/07/03
The Underground of Comics
    by John Cech

If you're into comics -- comic books, comic strips, sequential art and pictorial narratives -- the University of Florida has a weekend for you, this February 7th and 8th. It's our second annual conference on this popular art form, this time looking at those subversive, anti-establishment works, the Underground comics. The artists this year include (at the time we are recording this): Bill Griffith, Kim Deitch, Diane Noomin, Robert Williams, and Art Spiegelman.

Here's how John Ronan, one of the organizer's, describes the subject of conference: "During the 1960s a new chapter began in the historical development of the comics . . . . The emergence of American Underground Comix, as an aesthetic movement and as a radically new space for . . . graphic narratives, changed almost every single aspect of a mighty medium that at that point in time had largely been reduced to producing genre material for adolescents. The underground artists, freed from the editorial constraints of the mainstream. . . creatively expanded the visual vocabulary and narrative potential of comics, to a degree not seen since the emergence of the newspaper strips at the start of the twentieth century. Using humor, satire, and parody . . . the undergrounds spawned a generation of artists whose works . . . renewed the power and popularity of this cultural form. Political, social . . . and humorous, often all at the same time, comics produced within the undergrounds of the 1960s and 1970s, in America and in Europe, vibrate with a trenchant vitality and visual virtuosity to this day."

One of the leading figures in this movement, Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize winning author/illustrator of Maus, will be at the conference. Maus, perhaps more than any other recent work, has bridged the gulf that has sometimes existed between mainstream and underground comics. In these moving volumes, Spiegelman traced the story of his own family's horrific experience of the Holocaust of World War II -- a subject that, at the time, many felt should not be dealt with in a medium like comics. But anyone who has ever read Maus, which is now taught in many middle and high schools alongside The Diary of Anne Frank, knows that it is exactly the amalgam of visual and verbal power that comics hold which, in fact, allows them to do justice to a subject as important, and as human, as this. And if you want to see how comics are merging with children's books, look for the groups of stories that Spiegelman has collected in the two volumes of what he calls Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies, where that underground spirit is alive and well.

Click here to find out more about the comics conference: http://www.english.ufl.edu/comics/2003/

Copyright 2003 John Cech

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