American Splendor Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

American Splendor

How does an artist communicate? In the paintings of the great classical artists, the colors, expressions of their subject's faces, and the surrounding activities all contributed to a mood and content of the times in which they wrote, as well as their own emotional connection to their painting. During the time of Michelangelo, when the human body was considered an art form his paintings and sculptured were created in fine detail, of beauty and specific realism. At the turn of the 20th century, Artists had a new idea, a new flavor to express in their work. The European art world had been dominated by the Michelangelo, his contemporaries, and his imitators for so long that public sentiment in the art world moved in new directions. In response to, or more aptly in reaction against, Claude Monet shoes a unique style, which communicated the beauty of the content, but in a swirl of dots and colors rather than smooth blended strokes. Impressionist art was suited for Monet, and he established his reputation by departing from the smooth colors blending and undetectable brush stroke of the Renaissance era.

Impressionism soon gave way to abstract and cubist art as painters experimented with the elements of the painting itself. Abstract artists and those that followed abandoned the idea that a painting should visually represent the subject matter and chose to communicate images, and feelings of their subject rather than the external beauty. The Abstract artist flourished in the 1960's and 70's as a function and precuts of a disjointed and emotionally misunderstood social consciousness.

Much like rock and roll musician who took the invention of the electric instruments and created screeches, whines, and howls which had never been considered music, the abstract artist, took individual elements, such as line, patterns, and the actual subjects of his drawing, and put them together in visual presentations which had never before been considered a painting.

Harvey Pekah's work also focuses on communicating the emotional connectedness, or lack thereof, of the middle class blue collar worker of the times in which he wrote. Cleveland, Ohio has no particular claim to fame. Setting on the southern shore of one of the great lakes, Cleveland has built its existence on the steel mills and power generation facilities which produces raw materials and components for business throughout the Midwest. Cleveland takes in raw materials, and ships milled steel, and other manufactured goods. It is a stopping point in the manufacturing process, without any particular claim to fame.

The workers and blue collar effigies in Pekah's book are the product of the mundane, lifeless lives which are typically the result of repetitive factory work.

Personal reward is negligible, and the unspoken mantra is that life consists of pursuing the same thing day after day until death. The Factory... The Job... The Time clock... The Boss all compete with the person's efforts to build a self-respecting life. Pekah's storylines communicate the hopelessness of a stale blue collar life, and he has assembled a cast of artists who are able to catch the emotional connectedness, and disconnectedness of the characters to their surrounding in order to complete the emotional communication of Pekah's literature.

Art Crumb is one of the artists contributing to American Spender, and in the first book's story, Art does a masterful job of connecting the dots between character and emotion. The Story, entitled Harvey Pekah Name Story is a monologue. The adult Harvey Pekah stands against a stark, brick wall talking about his name, and his personal dysfunction regarding accepting the uniqueness of his name. He recounts the typical adolescent terrorism which most people receive about their names in elementary school. Harvey talked about wanting to have a new name, John Smith, and then goes on to tell the reader of a short event during which time he discovered 2 other people by the same name. At the end of the story, the others with his name have died, and he is left alone again. The next to the last frame finds the protagonist asking the question "Who is Harvey Pekah, anyway?" To which the final frame response with nothing at all, no answer, no identity, nothing.

This cartoon could not have been drawn with Charlie Brown clarity and simple lines and communicate the confusion of the character. The setting, clarity and simplicity of Charles Schultz's Peanuts would conflict with the confusion, alienation, and self depreciating attitude of this cartoon's main character. Instead, the drawings in this cartoon are dark, full of scribbled lines, and unclear boundaries. The figure stands alone, and half of his face is obscured in shadows, as if by a bare light bulb fixture hanging just out of sight and to one side of the character in the panel.

In two panels, the apparent identity crisis seems to lift. The first is a mention of the characters wife; someone loved his name and accepted him. To this, the character straightened him, and his eyes appear out of the shadow. The second time the person appears to be a persons, rather than 'Oscar the Grouch' with a suit and tie occurs when the character discovers that there are two other people in the city with his same strange name. This information brings the man hope, that maybe it isn't so strange after all. While the words communicate this, the man's face brightens, and comes out of the shadows again, only to return into depreciative self-evaluation.

Each frame in this comic contains a single emotion... defensiveness, isolation, fear, doubt, hope, anger. In wonderful cohesion, the artist communicated the emotion with the body language, posture, and facial expression throughout the short cartoon. Together, they communicate the personal, the image, the actions and the emotions of the character, and the story.

Budgett and Dumm use other techniques to communicate the emotion of the stories which they illustrate for Pekah. In as story Awakening to the Terror of the same Old Day" Budget and Dumm use the positioning of the subjects, and the backgrounds to communicate the level of connectedness and the emotional content of the story. This cartoon is the tale of a singular and isolated man. He has no girl friend, no family, and walked through daily life pursuing the same activities over and over again. Much of the cartoon is wordless, and the man is shown:

From a distance

From the back

In a mirror

Through a window.

These scenes, like the backdrop on a stage, communicate the aloneness of the man.

In other panels, in which the man is talking with a person with whom he has no connection or relationship, one of the two people, normally the main character is seen from the back, while the other person is shown from the front.

The oppositeness of the positioning communicated to the reader that these people are not together. Even if the setting is work, or an interaction with a lover, the two are separate, and unconnected.

Only panels which depict a connectedness between the subjects are drawn with faces showing of each of the parties. In this particular, cartoon, the main character is returning from a trip to the grocery store when he comes across a couple friends. As they stand and talk about the weekend football game, their faces are all toward the reader, engaged in long sentences and talking about things that are meaningful to each. Perhaps the most striking panel is the beginning of a story called The Day before the Be In. This story is a short clip about a live-in couple's weekend. Through the story, it becomes clear that they argue more than they encourage, and the relationship is on its way down. The end of the story is the result of the couple's inability to communicate. They fight because all morning each has been pursuing their own personal gratification, rather than deferring to, and loving the other. After reading the entire story, the first panel becomes an emotional communication of the entire relationship.

The first panel is a depiction of the couple in bed, just as the alarm clock is ringing. One so awake and the other is not. The man's left hand is center to the panel, as is the woman's, and no wedding band is drawn on either. The setting and relationship is clear, but the drawing only becomes meaningful after reading the cartoon. The panel is drawn upside down. The subjects are lying down, so it is possible that to look at them with their heads toward the bottom of the panel and the end of the bed at the top, but starting the comic with this upside down image does not make sense until the reader reaches the end, and discovers that everything in the relationship is upside down.

Finally, Gerry Shamray used the type of drawing technique in order tom communicate the emotions of his characters in the individual panels. In a story entitled An Argument at Work the artist draws different panels in…

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