Thursday, 4 February 2016

Unconstrained: Comic Art by Five Emerging Artists

Andrew Dorland
“It’s the money,” laughs Andrew Dorland, who reflects on the vast change in the acceptance of comic art. “When I was young you couldn’t admit to owning a stack of comic books. You couldn’t get a girlfriend if you did,” he smiles. 
     Andrew is one of five emerging artists selected for a show in the multi-purpose room at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. The show, Unconstrained, runs in tandem with Lynn Johnston’s show featuring a great selection of panels from her strip For Better or Worse.
     Money plays a big part of the comic book/graphic novel scene today, more than it ever has, however it’s still not easy for individual artists to make a living, but there are more opportunities for independent artists now than ever before.
     What helped those comic loving kids, both young women and young men living in the 1990s meet one another and create our current seismic shift in the comic world began when Dick Tracey and Star Trek-like technology - primarily the World Wide Web of the 1990s – gave them a huge opportunity to discover one another in online "chat-rooms." Internet communication spurred like-minded popular culture fans to organize, hang out and eventually support their favourite artists in huge comic conventions in which Hollywood later squarely invested. Superheroes and characters from fantasy and science fiction novels, along with rebooted TV shows and movies are now very hot roles for actors. A huge boost came simultaneously with improvements in computer graphics, which made settings and action scenes – one-on-one fighting and mass battles scnenes – less expensive and more believable. A-list actors were happy to take roles that were once afforded only to B-list actors. For the audience, the quality in pop-culture has jumped so much that it’s easier to willingly suspend your sense of disbelief. 
Artist Bios
     Fans are now legion and vocal. The audience has expanded to include high-school "jocks" and university professors who go to conferences to present papers on the subject. 
     Also contributing to huge changes is that for many years now many comic artists have been producing work that is as good as anything put out by serious novelists and professional painters. This is happening at a time when the adult world of literature is getting a major shake-up. One example is that adults today, not teenagers or kids, purchase eighty percent of young adult novels, mostly fantasy based. And more professionals in the arts field question the funding of contemporary art that looks a lot like the modern art of yesteryear. The idea that originality is of prime importance in fine art is waning. Content and social messages are returning to the fine art world.
Callen Banning
     Graphic novels such as, Optic Nerve, Essex County, Skim, Louis Riel, Sandman, Persepolis, Maus, Black Hole, It’s A Good Life if You Don’t Weaken, Ghost World, Love and Rockets, From Hell, Pyongyang, and many more, mostly American, British, Canadian and French, are all having deep and resonating influences on masses of people. This is due to their literary and social merit. Graphic novels are regularly turned into serious movies and television series, getting rave reviews and earning huge profits. And it all comes from the brains and talents of individual artists.
    Andrew is right. It is the money, but it’s also the artistic quality and depth of the stories. Andrew’s work also show’s this, as do the other artists in this show. It's clear that each artist in the show has phenomenal drawing skills, which they use to better play around with pure aesthetic approaches and cartoon panache.    
boy Roland
     Stacey Hare Hodgins, assistant to the director at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery since September of last year has a background in social work, women’s studies, and has lots of coordination work experience in her resume, but this is her first curated show.
     Stacey says the show came about organically in order to fill the space. Stacey’s partner knew Kyle Lees and she discovered they were both Lynn Johnston fans. Stacey’s approach for the show was to have as broad a definition of comics as possible, thus the title, Unconstrained. A few of the pieces tread into fine art territory where a story line is less important than making aesthetic statement. But the talent is still there and clearly displayed. 
    “We wanted to convey that comic art is art,” says Stacey. “That it is valuable in it’s own right and worth sharing. We are merely scratching the surface as to what is happening in town. We are more or less just dipping our toes in to see.” 
    “My intention,” continues Stacey, “was to try and remove this idea that the gallery is elite and for a certain kind of audience member. And because I know there’s a lot going on in the community.”
Kyle Lees
     Even before the launch of the show excitement was generating. Most of the artists in the show have  their own fan-base and a few of the artists have already sold a number of works or printed graphic novels and comics.
     Andrew used to be a stockbroker, and returned to his métier, his love of producing art and comics. His first comic, Scarabs, for which he used the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to fund the printing is based on Andrew’s experience as a stockbroker, mixed with a good deal of fantasy elements. It took him a year to do the writing and drawing. You can see the campaign here:
     Other phenomenal artists in the show include: ­­­­Callen Banning, Kyle Lees, Merk, and boy Roland. boy Roland has a show called ODEUM at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery, with an opening this Friday, February 5th at 7pm, running till March 5th with two other shows. 
     Head to the Thunder Bay Art Gallery to check out Unconstrained. Each artist has projects which you can get information through Google and Facebook. The artists are all actively up to something worth checking out. And soon enough they'll each get their own write-ups. Unconstrained is just the tip of a popular culture iceberg in Thunder Bay. 

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