One Flew Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest — Comics Between Old and New

This essay was originally published in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition Comix — on the contemporary intersections between comics and the fine arts — at Brandts klædefabrik, Odense (Sep. 22 2007 — Jan 6 2008). Now that the exhibition is over, it is presented here in a slightly edited version. The catalogue is available in both English and Danish through Brandts bookshop here.

Comics are both an affirmation of something old and an offer of something new in art. During the early modern era in Europe, comics became separated from the ancient narrative and pictorial practices to which they belong and with industrialization, and modernity they began a new, turbulent life as one of popular culture’s most obstinate bastard children. This existence outside the perimeter of high culture relegated comics to a relatively limited range of expression and genres, which they however cultivated in a way that ensured their survival as an independent and powerful art form. At the same time, comics served as one of the most fertile hibernation grounds for figuration and archetypical narration in times when these were having difficult times in high culture. Although the distance between them has always been short and it has been a long time coming, we have in recent years been seeing a confluence of comics and fine art so pronounced that the traditionally rather clear boundaries between them will have to be re-positioned, if not eliminated altogether. Not surprisingly, this all leads to highly interesting new work.

Picks of the Week

We MUST make this work. We MUST have a kind of integration where we can be both Christian and Muslim and live next door to each other.

But we need unequivocal support for democracy. For our basic rights. For the equality of the sexes. And this applies to everyone in this country.

— Villy Søvndal, political leader, SF

The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Cartoon Crisis vol. 2? Not really, but things are bad enough as is. Jakob Illeborg runs informative commentary in English, while the showstopper of the week was surely the leader of left wing political party Villy Søvndal’s virulent criticism of extremist islamic organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir and its role in the proceedings as well as in Danish society in general. And he’s been following it up in recent days (only in Danish, unfortunately, but if you read Danish and haven’t seen it, do).
  • Comics treats! Dan Zettwoch, Kevin Huizenga & Ted May are currently ganging up on great fun facts-comics, Ron Regé Jr. has started a series of eye-popping drawings on the theme of “The Cartoon Utopia”, and there’s a new site up collecting interviews with the great Alan Moore.
  • Walt Kelly’s test animation for a never-realised animated Pogo cartoon (part I, part II, thanks Dirk). An interesting artifact with some lovely cartooning and an increasingly relevant if somewhat hammy political message. And think about this: What do YOU reckon Albert’s voice sounds like?
  • The Twin-Faced Gatekeeper

    Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure, out this week, reconstructs the last FF story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, never published in its original form, but chopped up and combined with artwork by Johns Buscema and Romita in FF #108, which went on sale the same month as Jack Kirby debuted for his new publisher, DC. Neither version of the story — both are printed in the comic, along with what remains of Kirby’s original, uninked pencils — is one for the ages; Lee’s reconfigured version makes a little more sense and works better dramatically, but is also more banal, while the original as reconstructed here is an uninspired mess built on a rather good idea, and with a couple of standout moments from both Lee and Kirby. For more on this, see this critique by Craig Fischer (as well as this reply to it by Charles Hatfield) and this analysis by Sean Kleefeld.

    Transcending all that, however, is the splash page. Testament to Kirby’s instinctive feel for fascinating visuals, he decides to open with the FF clustered around a two-headed bust of Janus, the Greek god of beginnings. His pencils, unadulterated by Joe Sinnot’s admittedly wonderful inking, best showcase the gruff texture of his rendering and sets the scene wonderfully with a view of the characters in depth. But it is that bust’s expressive duality, which engages us the most. Young Franklin, only a few years younger than most of the intended readership, reaches out enthusiastically towards it from the background, despite the worried faces of the grownups. The page is an eminent example of what a splash should to — it draws in the reader and kicks of the story. And it holds such promise.

    Denmark on Fire


    As a person living in Nørrebro, the Copenhagen neighbourhood where Ungdomshuset used to be, I’ve witnessed quite a lot in recent years. During the battle over “Ungdomshuset”, when anarchists and other pale kids dressed in black defended their base against the radical Christian community, “Faderhuset” (“Father’s House”), by fighting the police, lots of cars and containers were set on fire, and lots and lots of stores had their windows broken.

    The other day a few thousand muslims demonstrated outside the window of my studio. Followers of the religious organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, angry and shouting (calling freedom of speech a “plague”, democracy a “disgrace”) passed by; first a group of men, then a group of women and children. They demonstrated against the republication of Jyllands-postens most notorious Muhammed-cartoon, and they did it in a peaceful manner. But over the last eight days there has been fires on Nørrebro, which quickly spread, first to other parts of Copenhagen, then to other parts of the country. These riots have caused severe damage, according to media reports there have been between 400 and 500 fires, and the damages include a couple of burned-out public schools.

    2007 — The Best Hip Hop Albums

    Already some ways into 2008, I figured I’d still write a little something about the hip hop albums I enjoyed the most in the past year. The genre is clearly going through changes, seeing not only a substantial generational shift and a geographical displacement of its creative locus to the South, but also what seems to be a return to its roots as a localized, urban underground genre as sales of high-profile mainstream material is in free fall, and the wave of innovative suburban white avant-garde hip hop of the years around the turn of the millenium has lost steam. Though the last few years have been meagre indeed, quality seems to be winning through in various places. Despite recognizing the above-mentioned overall trends, I was happy to recognise that the music I enjoyed the most the past year, at least in terms of albums, came from all over the place. Anyway, without further ado — check out the following albums if you haven’t already.

    This is that shit.

    Picks of the Week

    The danger arises not only when there is an assumption on the religious side that membership of the community (belonging to the umma or the Church or whatever) is the only significant category, so that participation in other kinds of socio-political arrangement is a kind of betrayal. It also occurs when secular government assumes a monopoly in terms of defining public and political identity.

    — Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • The Archbishop of Canterbury’s highly controversial lecture on the intersection of British and Islamic law, as well as those of other religions is well worth your attention if you’re at all interested in the role of religion, and especially Islam, in modern secular society.
  • Steve Gerber links. The passing of the mainstream comics auteur this week has prompted the posting of a good deal of interesting material relating to the man and his work. Here’s Gary Groth’s 1978 interview with Gerber from The Comics Journal, and here’s Dale Luciano’s 198? essay on Gerber’s most famous creation Howard the Duck, also from the Journal (warning: PDF). Also, be sure to read the personal reminiscences of Gerber’s friend and colleague, comics writer Steve Grant here. And here’s comics critic Tom Spurgeon talking about Gerber on the radio. Plus, read some Howard the Duck here. Thanks to Dirk for the heads-up.
  • Last, but not least, check out this interesting German short film. Rather Lynchian in tone, but well-executed and both mysterious and creepy. (Again, thanks Dirk.)
  • “No Discussion Should End in a Funeral”

    Today, major Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende prints Kurt Westergaard’s notorious Mohammed-cartoon for the very first time, alongside an editorial entitled: “No Discussion Should End in a Funeral“. Since the Cartoon Crisis began in September 2005, Berlingske Tidende has played its part in a very careful manner, similar to that of most American papers. But the murder plot against Kurt Westergaard has obviously challenged editorial positions, and accordingly, almost all major Danish papers today reprint the cartoon in an act of solidarity with Westergaard and Jyllands-Posten.

    Photo: Allan Lundgreen,