On February 9th, from 4-7 PM, Medialia Gallery at 335 West 38th street hosted an opening reception for it’s 7th annual Panel to Panel Comic and Cartoon Art exhibit, this year entitled “One Thing Leads to Another”. Though the exhibition has been going for seven years, many comics event goers may not have heard of it or the remarkable talents it celebrates in support of the comics community. This year’s installment features the work of over 25 comics artists, and despite the heavy snows that fell on New York the previous night, the exhibit opened as planned to a substantial turnout.
The main exhibit room of the gallery had been given over to a wealth of original and printed comic panels and pages by current artists, many of whom operate in the New York area, and presenting a wide range of styles and genres within comics. From original superhero pages to strips and new, unpublished work, “One Things Leads to Another” suggested a commonality in craftsmanship, and the intrinsic stature of comic artwork. When comic panels are placed on a wall in a gallery setting, it changes perception of the medium itself.
While most comic readers never get a chance to view the original panels they read in much smaller format, the same original panels, given the space and time for observation have a somewhat different story to tell. When viewing original panels, guests were given the opportunity to examine in minute detail the often forgotten individual lines and brushstrokes that build sequential narrative, and when viewing panels divorced from their surrounding narrative, encouraged to reconstruct sequential narrative in their own minds. The result gave a sense of interrupted conversations, evocative and radically different in tone and content, but intriguing. It’s rare for readers to spend so much time examining a particular panel or page, and presenting comics artwork in this way encouraged a closer examination of the visual grammar of sequential storytelling. The overall effect, of course, left viewers wanting to turn the page, and follow these moments in narrative space.
[Nusha Ashjaee's work]
Though it would be difficult to describe in detail every artist’s work on display, each piece reflected a degree of skill and personal vision appropriate to celebrating comics as an art form. Nusha Ashjaee’s work was particularly compelling, handling religious themes and the perspective of childhood through intricately crafted forest settings. Gabrielle Gamboa’s piece “The Weight” really displayed the strength of short form to create uneasiness and questions in the mind of the viewer as a figure, walking with a deathly or perhaps devilish figure seemingly passes off this companion to a friend before departing on a country road. Christa Cassano’s parable of the overriding forces of nature, appearing in full-page composition in original pencils, was nothing short of eerie, all the more overwhelming due to its careful draftsmanship and organic style.
[Christa Cassano's work]
Several of the artists works displayed presented full-page format of a possibly complete visual story, like Jesse Lonergan’s moody and sensory-driven snapshot of two friends breaking into a general store by night, reflecting on the enthusiasms of their youth like toy soldiers and stationary before the police close in on their escapades. Jacob Chabot’s work showed impressive range, from pop culture icons like Spongebob to creator generated concepts. Alitha Martinez’s original artwork in pencil and ink for BATGIRL (with Gail Simone) brought a welcome verve and energy to the exhibit, reminding viewers of the value of the close-up on human faces to express emotion and tension.
[Jesse Lonergan and Chris Giarrusso's work]
George Folz’s contribution to ACA Residency project “A Letter Lasts Longer” introduced ambiguous use of pastel colors with light line work to the exhibit, and like many of pieces on display hammered home the human factor in visual storytelling, drawing viewers into the worlds and lives of strangers encountered on a gallery wall. Two of Dean Haspiel’s works were on display, including an outrageous one page tale, also drawn at the ACA Residency where he was teaching, representing the misadventures of the collectively owned character Shiftygoth. Though plenty of comics lining the walls pushed the boundaries of style of subject matter, Shiftygoth in “Starfish Chastity” took the cake. Haspiel’s second work, several pages from a creator owned Silver-Age inspired HOOKING THE RED HOOK, threw a sturdy punch of color into the largely pencil and ink-dominated show with its ruby reds, chrome yellows and cobalt blues as well as reminding viewers of the humor and intensity of the superhero tradition in comics.
[George Folz's work]
[Dean Haspiel's work]
Brooklyn artist Jen Ferguson was featured in a unique comics narrative experiment focusing on the disturbing role of violence in city life via animal-fable proxies in DUMBO, a full narrative based on the true life experiences of JG Thirlwell. Ferguson’s delicate and painted panels were jammed with fluid motion that contrasted with the abrupt interruptions of conflict in the tale.
[Jen Ferguson's work]
From pencils to inks and watercolors, “One Thing Leads to Another” selected an admirable range of chosen tools available to the comics artist, but also presented the lucid pop culture power of well-crafted photocomics from the series COMPLEX by photographer and writer Seth Kushner along with Chris Miskiewicz and Dean Haspiel, as appeared in issue #7 of CREATOR OWNED HEROES. Ethereal photocomics images from COMPLEX featuring Katelan Foisy and Miskiewicz drew attention to the more psychedelic potential of comics in the digital age when mixed media converges with sequential narrative, and a newly crafted page for an upcoming project also returned to some of the noir roots of comics storytelling.
[Seth Kushner's upcoming work]
These examples are only a few of the wide-ranging works on display for the 7th annual Panel to Panel exhibit, which continues until March 23rd at Medialia Gallery. Even for those well-versed in comics and comic art, appreciating the intense labor and often surprising genius of a single page or panel in a gallery setting is a rewarding experience. “One Thing Leads to Another” is certainly a celebration of the creative foment that leads to great comic art and is well worth a visit to challenge your everyday perceptions of just how comics narratives function and what kinds of stories comics art is most suited to tell.
[Books by John Jennings and Damien Duffy]
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.