June 3, 2001
6:51 AM   Subscribe

Perhaps Chris Ware is not only the most interesting sequential artist working today, but the most interesting graphic artist as well. Not familiar with his stuff? Like ACME Novelty Library or Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth? Pick up today's New York Times Book Review; Ware illustrates a number of the reviews, and the illustrations form something of a narrative.
posted by tranquileye (24 comments total)
Is "sequential artist" a euphemism for "comic book artist"? That's not a dig--this stuff is very cool, and I'm glad you pointed it out. I just hate euphemisms.
posted by jpoulos at 7:08 AM on June 3, 2001

Ware is certainly a comic book artist; I just like the term "sequential artist" better these days because it places comic book work in more of a legit artistic tradition. I will also suggest everyone check out Scott McLoud's excellent Understanding Comics, which explains these things better than I can.
posted by tranquileye at 7:28 AM on June 3, 2001

Comic artists should be proud to call themselves comic artists. The problem isn't with them, it's with art critics who declare some things legit and not others. But we all knew that. ;)
posted by darukaru at 8:53 AM on June 3, 2001

Alex Ross
Will Eisner
Frank Miller
Art Speigelman
Todd McFarlane

Mostly "superhero" artists (unfairly derided), almost all of them innovating for eons now.
posted by owillis at 9:48 AM on June 3, 2001

John, "sequential artist" does have some non-euphemistic value, in that it allows one to discuss something like McCloud's My Obsession with Chess or Demian5's When I Am King, which clearly draw from the comic book tradition but aren't doing anything that could actually appear on a page in a printed comic book. (I believe the term "sequential art" comes from The Spirit's legendary author Will Eisner, who also invented the term "graphic novel"; "sequential art" was meant to be a useful critical term, while "graphic novel" was just marketing speak.)

Of course, a broader understanding of "comics art" would do just as well, but hey.
posted by snarkout at 9:49 AM on June 3, 2001

See, for some reason I don't have a problem with "graphic novel". Maybe I don't mind euphemisms; maybe I just find "sequential artist" a bad euphemism. It sounds contrived, like "sanitation engineer". How about "story artist" or "narrative artist" or "action artist"?

Even "serial artist"?
posted by jpoulos at 10:00 AM on June 3, 2001

Except "sequential artist" has a specific meaning that none of those do -- comics art is art in sequence; even in those rare comics that do away with the panel, you still have a series of depictions to be read in sequence. If it's not meant to be read sequentially, it's not comics art. It's, I dunno, a triptych or something. (Check out McCloud's Understanding Comics, as previously recommended, for a discussion of how this sequence works, as well as panels and other things.)

It's not a great term, I'll agree, but Eisner gave it some thought.
posted by snarkout at 10:47 AM on June 3, 2001

"Sequential artist" for me feeds into the need of comic artists to flagellate themselves for not being "real artists" by shunning the "comic" label.
posted by owillis at 10:58 AM on June 3, 2001

I shouldn't have used the term "legit artistic tradition"; I should have said "broader artistic tradition," which is what I meant. High art/Low art arguments are bullshit.

The term "sequential artist" was coined by Will Eisner, which is just about good enough for me. I used it not because I think that "comic artist" is a bad term, but because my own feeling about what comic artists do goes beyond the limitations of the commercial comic and strip industries. "Sequential art" is a broad term that includes comic art as well as other things.

And isn't Ware great? :-)
posted by tranquileye at 11:10 AM on June 3, 2001

"Comic artist" should be done away with simply because it is inaccurate. Today's "comics" are not necessarily funny, nor are they comedies in a dramatic sense.
posted by kindall at 11:49 AM on June 3, 2001

Funny how Mefi gets bogged down in the semantics.
posted by crunchland at 12:16 PM on June 3, 2001

Define what you mean by "semantics".
posted by jjg at 12:46 PM on June 3, 2001

"Semantics" contains neither semen or ticks. Discuss.
posted by owillis at 1:20 PM on June 3, 2001

I feel verklempt.
posted by darukaru at 1:33 PM on June 3, 2001

So what happens when the mainstream starts using "sequentual art" in place of comics and starts poo-pooing it just the same?

I don't know. What happened when the mainstream started using "black" in place of "nigger"?
posted by kindall at 2:23 PM on June 3, 2001

Damn, I knew I'd been meaning to do something more worthwhile with my life these last few months - investigate more comics (or sequential art, if you will). To stray vaguely back onto the topic that started this thread off, Mr. Ware shall be at the top of my shopping list as he seems to be producing some good shit.

Ah, SCUD, where did you go? (sniff)
posted by MUD at 5:27 PM on June 3, 2001

Coincidentally, I just finished reading Comic Book Nation, by Bradford W. Wright, which I would recommend to anyone interested in the history of comics and their relation to american culture.
That bad boy, and Understanding Comics might help illustrate why some people refer to them as Sequential Artists.
posted by Doug at 5:43 PM on June 3, 2001

A few pages in from the end of Speak, ah-Quimby The Mouse. You are the cure for my winter-time blues.
posted by holloway at 5:59 PM on June 3, 2001

This is where it started for me.
posted by owillis at 6:08 PM on June 3, 2001

i was overjoyed to see chris ware's cover for the nyt book review, and then when i discovered and read ware's seven? additional black and white or color narratives inside, i declared "This is the Best New York Times Book Review ever," or at least the only one that has ever made me laugh out loud multiple times. the way that the different sequences work off of the knowledge gained from each other is delightful, though i don't think it formed a single linear narrative.

as for the 'sequential artist' term, the problem is that it sounds grammatically wobbly. i have no problem with narrative artist, etc. but by using the adjective sequential, it sounds like you are describing the person, not the type of art he or she makes, and how can you describe a person as sequential? the adjective has no meaning in that regard.

what is meant is that the person is an artist whose art has a neccessary sequential aspect to it. the term "sequence artist" might clear this up a bit, but the problem is that a comic artist's work has much more to it than just the sequence that this implies. so i don't like the term. use cogent graphical narrative illustrator for all i care, but use something that makes grammatical and semantic (meaning) sense.
posted by benjamin at 7:50 PM on June 3, 2001

"comic book artist" has worked quite well for 70+ years. I hate the fact that these supremely talented people have to change the name of their profession for acceptance by the cognoscenti.
posted by owillis at 7:57 PM on June 3, 2001

It's funny that everyone has been arguing about my calling Ware a "sequential artist," rather than my assertion that he is "most interesting graphic artist" working today.
posted by tranquileye at 8:07 PM on June 3, 2001


Ware's work is definitely interesting and somewhat more palatable to the non-comics reading public. His work on Jimmy Corrigan has attracted the most outside press of any comic in recent memory. Yet this type of attention seems to be a closed-off anomaly that occurs every few years. How many people that read Spiegelman's Maus in 1992 went on to discover other worthy comic books?

I personally prefer Jason Lutes work on Berlin. This work of historical fiction could easily appeal to a large section of the non-comics reading public, but will they ever hear about it? Once the discriminating reader is finished with Ware's book, where do they go from there?

Is there any way to persuade people to follow Ware or Spiegelman into a virtually unknown world of entertainment?

That's one of the problems I've been experimenting with. I've found that giving free comics to children and adults is rewarding and interesting. I fully remain convinced that there is a comic book for almost every person to enjoy, if they only knew about it.

In that sense, Ware is very intersting, because his high profile is exposing his work to people who otherwise never would have heard of it. If that can change just one person's mind about the dramatic storytelling power of comics, then I'm all for it!

posted by JDC8 at 9:43 PM on June 3, 2001


Jimmy Corrigan certainly was some of the most interesting graphic art I've seen. But I haven't seen enough to judge. I've never seen the late nineteenth century funny pages that he's harking to. I just take him at face value.

Really, my favorite part about his work is its social commentary (Going to Mars, buying Mars souvenirs, eating from a Mars food flavored tube in a similar little bubble to the one you were in at home-- drawing the parallels to the way people travel these days is fun). The inventive graphic part is what makes me want to read it in the first place though-- the sexy, attractive part.

How great his graphics are versus another great person working today-- I'd be surprised if there's someone who'd be doing something comparable. Not comparably good, just comparable.
posted by benjamin at 8:43 PM on June 4, 2001

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