I’ve enjoyed reading comic books since I was in seventh grade. I couldn’t tell you in which issue of X-Men Jean Grey becomes the Dark Phoenix nor would I hide the fact that when I was 18, I sold my comic book collection to a used bookstore for eight bucks so I could put gas in my car. But, as I grow older, I have come to re-embrace the world of comics I thought I had outgrown as a young adult, buying trade-paperback collections of the comics I once sold and the classic graphic novels I never got a chance to read such as Watchmen and Maus.
When approached about reviewing the book Krazy! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art, I had to think about it for a minute. I knew nothing about anime or manga and very little about video games. But, curious to see how the author would find a way to bring all of these seemingly different genres together into one book, claiming that they not only were interconnected but all considered a very important part of art history, I decided to take a chance.
Bruce Grenville, editor of The Uncanny: Experiments in Cyborg Culture, is one of seven co-curators of Krazy! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art, an art exhibition currently on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery in Vancouver, British Colombia through September 7, 2008. He explains at the beginning of the exhibit’s companion book of the same name that, in many ways, the show –- a collection of visual art in various media such as anime, manga, comic strips, graphic novels, cartoons, and video games –- was inspired by George Herriman’s Krazy Kat comic strip that appeared in United States’ newspapers from 1913 to 1944.
In this celebrated strip, Krazy, a cat of unspecified gender, is involved in a dysfunctional relationship with a mouse called Ignatz. While Ignatz displays absolute annoyance with the smitten cat by consistently hurling a brick at his head, this only re-enforces Krazy’s misconception that the object of his affection is actually in love with him. A third character, a police dog named Officer Bull Pup, spends most of his time trying to keep the peace between the two.
The strange dynamic between these three characters is much like the one between the varying art forms featured in this groundbreaking exhibit. “Comics, ‘graphic novels,’ cartoons, anime, manga, video games and art; each seems an entity unto itself, as different as dogs, cats and mice and yet these diverse genres are inextricably linked together in ways that have come to define the scope and the purpose of their mutual endeavor”, explains Grenville. He, along with other co-curators Art Spiegelman, Seth, Tim Johnson, Kiyoshi Kusumi, Toshiya Ueno and Will Wright, believe that other exhibitions in the past offered only a limited view of a much larger picture by choosing one particular medium in this realm of visual arts and focusing on it. Rather, the purpose of this book and its exhibition is to illustrate the “changing nature of visual culture and explore its links to mass media and traditional visual arts”.
What’s interesting about Krazy! is that it explores these art forms — their history and the processes that went behind creating them — presenting them in a way in that forces the reader to never look at anime, manga, or video games the same way again. These art forms are so commonplace in popular culture that it is easy for the general public to take advantage of what actually went into creating them.
Will Wright’s section “Computer and Video Games” is one of the most interesting parts of the book and features seven well-known computer, arcade and video game console games. He not only analyzes their origins and evolution but also their roles in popular culture, the art world, and how they are interrelated. Wright is the creator of the groundbreaking console game The Sims, and he talks about what he looked for when creating the Sims’ environment and what he used for inspiration in past video games. He also discusses his newest game, Spore.
A few of the other pieces selected for the exhibit and accompanying book are Walt Disney’s 1941 animated classic Dumbo, Harvey Kurtzman’s Corpse of the Imjin, Shigeru Miyamoto’s 1990 video game Super Mario World for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman, and, of course Krazy Kat.
For those who scoff at the idea of video games and graphic novels as real art, the exhibit does feature a section on Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg, two of the most popular pop artists of the 1960s, who both used cartoons and comic books as sources for their inspiration; quite appropriate, then, to include them and several pieces of their work in this exhibit and highlight just how influential they were in these ever-expanding media.
The pieces featured in this book are either explained by the artists themselves or from other artists within one of the connecting genres who admired their work. Bold, beautiful full-colored pictures illustrate it to give the reader the impression that they are at the exhibit themselves.
For those who can’t make it up to Vancouver to see Krazy! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art before September 7th, it’s companion book is as close to it as you can get. The next time you sit down to watch Toy Story for the 15th time, think how far animation has come from classic Disney movies such as Dumbo. The world of anime, video games, cartoons and comics is not going away. In fact, it seems to be taking over mainstream pop culture in an undeniably big way, as this past summer movie season has illustrated with film adaptations such as Speed Racer, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and The Dark Knight, with a flurry of even more comic book, anime and video game movies slated for release in the next few years. Embrace the kraziness.