On Campus, Arts

New McMullen Exhibit Tracks the History and Evolution of the Comic Art Form

The intricate lines, biting dialogue, and distinctive styles of comic artists adorn the walls of the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College. The new exhibit American Alternative Comics, 1980–2000: Raw, Weirdo, and Beyond brings together over 120 works by comic artists, displaying the original sketches and colorful drawings of comics before they hit the pages of a magazine, graphic novel, or newspaper. 

The collection captures the growth of the comic as a respected art form by examining the magazine Raw and the anthology Weirdo. According to curator Andrei Molotiu, the exhibit is the first of its kind in its investigation of how, in the ’80s and ’90s, both magazines advanced the “cultural acceptance of comics.”

“It is a historical study that hasn’t been done before,” Molotiu said. 

The exhibit opened on Sept. 6 and runs through Dec. 4. It is located on the second floor of the museum in the Daley Family Gallery. Molotiu, senior lecturer of art history at Indiana University Bloomington, and John McCoy, assistant director of multimedia and design service at the McMullen Museum at BC, are the exhibit’s curators.

Profiles of 40 pioneering comic artists appear on the informational plaques between the framed works. The exhibit presents not just an immersive visual display but a “textbook on the walls,” according to Molotiu. 

Pieces from Raw magazine, founded by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, hang in the first room of the exhibit. A striking acrylic piece by artist Mark Beyer, who also worked as a comic artist, catches the eye with its vibrant orange and turquoise palette. 

Artist Krystine Kryttre translated the dark humor and style of cartoons into sculpture of a wacky creature made with taxidermy elements, which appears in the second room of the exhibit. 

Both Beyer’s and Kryttre’s pieces explore the array of mediums that comic artists worked with, a theme consistent throughout the exhibit. 

When Molotiu first saw the completed exhibit, which McCoy started working on in 2015, he said the experience was “mind-blowing.” 

“Even the very notion of being able to behold in front of you a piece of the original art on which they had drawn literally in pen and paper, which was photographed and printed—that seems so unreachable,” Molotiu said. “And all of a sudden we were able to gather all this work.”

McCoy said that Weirdo, created by Robert Crumb in 1981, highlighted the individual visions of artists and explored the mundanity of life and how it feels to be an outsider. 

“A lot of the works that we may consider to be the best works that came to be comics have come out of this alternative, creator-owned model,” McCoy said. 

The framed works ask visitors to step close to read the dialogue and captions on each piece of art. McCoy said he recommends that visitors see which drawings and colors catch their eye before walking closer to appreciate the narrative of the comics. 

“You just need to be willing to look closely, because you will need to look closely,” McCoy said. 

September 13, 2022