PRINT Summer 2014

Jim Shaw

Jim Shaw, The Jefferson Memorial, 2013, acrylic on muslin, 12 x 22'.

IN ART SCHOOL, we are handed a sort of “carney” attitude toward the world—us against the rubes. We’re told that, in our exalted place as outsider observers, we have a unique take on reality that those caught up in its daily routines can’t see. But every time I try to comment on the world using some “new” aesthetic arena, like hairdos, clothes, film, etc., I find there’s someone in that domain who has already done more interesting things with it than I could ever come up with. Every time I work in the realm of comics, for instance, I discover a whole raft of artists who have done it better—and for miserable pay, with no respect outside the field. Ramona Fradon, Bill Everett, Dick Sprang, Wayne Boring, and Bob Powell are some of the geniuses who have recently come to my attention as I attempt to use and understand all the conventions and nuances of graphic, inked marks and sequential storytelling. They are additions to the pantheon of great comic artists who, month after month, managed to dredge up whole worlds out of their heads and onto the page, under endless deadlines and the rather dumb stories* their editors forced on them.

The color study for Whores and Blasphemers, 2014 (see page 294), with a text quoting the annoying child evangelist Duffey Strode, contains a lot of splash elements that ape the style of Sprang, who drew Batman and Superman in the World’s Finest Comics (1955–63) in what was a particularly old, cartoony, 1940s pop manner unusual for the silver-age, early-’60s, more “polished,” corporate DC. In the Jefferson Memorial mural, 2013, there are four artists’ characters referred to, all of whom had the “power” to stretch, or even discorporate: Jack Cole’s Plastic Man was the original; Jack Kirby’s Mr. Fantastic was a nonhumorous version that ushered in the iconic Marvel ’60s heroes; Elastic Lad was one of many inexplicable variations that Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen (drawn by many artists) transformed into, in one of the weirdest stretches of corporate surrealism in history (all in the pursuit of selling comics to nine-year-old boys); and, finally, Fradon’s genius creation Metamorpho, who spills onto the side like an AbEx splatter. All of them quadfurcate from a single figure in an attempt to deflect the deadly attack of a US drone, in the umpteenth reference to Picasso’s Guernica. Much of my recent work also relates to nineteenth-century political cartoons, and I figure that the drones and their equivalence to Nazi aerial bombardment are a fit subject for dark political humor in the present decline.

*Sometimes the genre conventions of the stories give a surreal or nightmarish charm as well, and the effect of the repetition allowed these artists to hone their skills.

Jim Shaw is an artist based in Los Angeles.