What Andy Warhol Reminded Me About Comics

When I write editorials of a particularly personal nature on Bleeding Cool, I really should be reposting sections and links to them here as an archive of thoughts for myself if nothing else, so here’s my latest mini-revelation about the nature of mainstream comics icons that came courtesy of visiting the Andy Warhol exhibit at MoMA this past weekend on the 30th of May 2015.

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Here’s an excerpt from the end which deals with comics:

The things that Warhol pioneered we know have had tremendous bearing upon popular culture and therefore comics, but even the methods which he used to produce art are still part of the handmade mass-production I see at indie shows from silk-screening to stamping and sharing coloring in work with other artists. We reproduce art, to a certain degree, en masse, while preserving some of the handmade elements that prevented his own work from feeling as sterile as the marketplace he emulated and commented on.

But this also has bearing on mainstream comics and established properties. How can the image of a mega star like Marilyn Monroe be rendered personal? Warhol even used a press photo as his basis. And yet through sheer personal vision and will he rendered her image personal to him while still being owned by all her admirers. And it wasn’t his goal to take that ownership away from them but to enhance it. In the same way, an artist or writer working today might create their Tony Stark or Batman. We talk a lot about the constraint of licensed properties, the heavy-handedness and fear that corporations might display when making adjustments to flagship characters who earn them a lot of their upkeep, particularly in merchandise and filmmaking.

We talk less about the devotion those characters evoke in fans and comic superstars and why they continue to draw our attention. We keep hoping for another artist or writer to get it right in our book, to make those characters feel like the ones that belong to us again, and sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. But that doesn’t mean that for another group of fans, they didn’t get exactly what they were hoping for in their very personal commodity. Fandom is like that. It strikes a fine balance. The image has to be recognizable, but it also has to say or suggest something new that brings out innate qualities we recognize as true to that icon. Andy Warhol didn’t invent Marilyn Monroe, though in the time that’s passed since then, he’s certainly influenced her legacy. He’d be more likely to say that she had invented him, in that stardom and his response to it shaped him.

What’s the final word on comics? Just because you see what look like precise lines reproducing images that you think you’ve seen every day for 20 years, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a personal statement from the artist. Just because you see what looks like a radical transformation of an icon you care about into what seems like an impersonal repetition of an overly commodified subject, that doesn’t mean that a comic creator isn’t trying to reach you as well. The odds are they are trying to tell you what those icons mean to them, and it may be a pretty profound message they are trying to convey if you’re willing to listen. The fact something can be both universal and incredibly personal to each of us may be one of the strongest statements popular culture can make.

You can read the full article here, and it does make more sense as a whole since I talk about my assumptions going into the exhibit and how they changed before exiting.

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