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Wednesday, August 11,2010

Not another strip show

Exhibit celebrates comics made in Michigan

by Eric Gallippo

If you still reside in this state, chances are you have a healthy sense of humor (or maybe an unhealthy capacity for escapism). Which is why it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Michigan is home to plenty of talented, funny, belief-suspending cartoonists and writers working in comics — from single-panels to serialized strips to full-blown graphic novels.


For proof, check out the “Michigan Comics: Mirth, Mockery and Mayhem” exhibit, which opens Friday at Jackson’s Ella Sharp Museum of Art & History. It features original work by 40 contemporary comics producers bound together by their ties to our Pleasant Peninsulas. Through the month of October, Marvel uber-villain Dr. Doom — as drawn by Muskegon’s Mark Rosema — shares wall space with Yellow Dog, creation of Detroit underground comics pioneer Carl Lundgren, and syndicated Ann Arbor cartoonist Dave Coverly’s quick wit is displayed alongside Phoebe Glockner’s critically acclaimed, realistic portrayals of social issues.


Curated by Coverly and Richard Rubenfeld, a professor of art history at
Eastern Michigan University, the exhibit was designed to open visitors’
eyes to the artists working in their own backyards.


“I just think people don’t think of Michigan when they think of cartoons and comics,” Rubenfeld said.


A
New York native who, as a kid, spent every minute he could hovering
around neighbor/idol Harry Lucey, primary artist for the “Archie” comics
from the later 1950s through early ‘70s, Rubenfeld said he also wanted
to find something “uniquely Michigan” about the work in the show. The end result proved too diverse for big generalizations, a testament to the state’s creativity and talent.


Coverly,
whose syndicated cartoon panel “Speed Bump” appears in 250 newspapers
worldwide (including The Washington Post, Detroit Free Press and
Cincinnati Enquirer), is proof of that talent.


In
2009, he received the Reuben Award for Outstanding Comic of the Year,
an accolade determined by his peers in the comics world, which he calls
“the highlight of my career.”


“I
was definitely surprised by the quantity of submissions; I was not
surprised by the quality, however,” Coverly said of the show. “Some of
these cartoonists’ work I’ve followed for years.”


Among
those he follows is Mike Thompson, editorial cartoonist at The Detroit
Free Press, whose entry in the show takes a swipe at “General Hospital” —
err make that… Motors: “America’s Longest Running Daily Drama.”


Sean
Bieri, design director at Detroit’s Metro Times, offers a single panel
gag starring intellectual zombies waxing heavy on their role in society
over dinner and then feeling “stupid for ordering brains.”


Music
fans will find familiar names in famed Detroit poster artist Gary
Grimshaw and Mark Dancy, guitarist and artist for ‘90s underground rock
mainstay Big Chief. Grimshaw, who made his name in the heyday of the
‘60s counter-culture doing spots for Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, offers a
spooky panel of a family gathered around what looks to be an Atari
video game system, while Dancy has contributed a biting portrayal of
ugly Americans vacationing in Mexico.


Flint’s
Patrick Hardin and Lansing’s Jef Mallett contribute some of the best
laughs in the show. Hardin’s panel is a play on the classic evolution
scene, from legged fish to upright man. Each link in the chain keeps a
one-track mind, thinking “eat, survive, produce,” until a guy in a
sweater vest arrives on the scene to ask, “What’s it all about?”


Although this exhibit focuses on artists working today, Rubenfeld said
Michigan has a major historical role in the creation and appreciation of
comic art, including the beginnings of comic fandom, first celebrated
at the original Detroit Triple Fan Fairs of the ‘60s and ‘70s, a
precursor to today’s Comic-Con International in San Diego.


The
Jackson exhibit is the fourth and final stop for this show, which first
went up at Eastern Michigan University last year. Ella Sharp Museum and
the Jackson District Library have programmed a series of comics-related
events to coincide with the show (full schedule and details at www.
ellasharp.org.).


Rubenfeld
said the response to the show has been incredibly positive. “Men and
women, young and old, grandfathers and grandkids — they’re all
responding to different things,” he said. “People will come to this kind
of show who wouldn’t normally come to an art show.”


‘Michigan Comics: Mirth, Mockery and Mayhem’


Friday, Aug. 13 – Oct. 31


Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday;


11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday;


noon-4 p.m. Sunday.


Ella Sharp Museum of Art & History, 3225 Fourth St., Jackson. (517) 787-2320. www.ellasharp.org

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