Art as conversation and the power of cartooning

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Groo and Buddy HollyI was grinning ear-to-ear as I walked up to Sergio Aragonés at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, opened the souvenir book to a page of the Groo 25th Anniversary section and proudly proclaimed “I drew this.”

Sergio was one of the first cartoonists I had been exposed to outside the traditional newspaper page, initially by my father who helped me a acquire a second-hand copy of the paperback In MAD We Trust! While many of my tastes have changed since, I’ve never lost my love for Sergio’s deceptively economic line work and an impeccable ability to distill basic human nature and emotion to its most effective (and humorous) form.

Cartooning is powerful and possesses a uniquely universal resonance because it focuses on the important aspects of an object and omits what isn’t relatable. As Scott McCloud said in his fantastic book Understanding Comics, “By stripping down an image to its essential ‘meaning,’ an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t.”

Though my opinions are constantly evolving, I’ve recently noticed that this philosophy carries through all aspects of the aesthetic works I enjoy. While I can admire the craft evident in representational artworks (especially that of David and da Vinci), I gravitate much more powerfully toward modern art movements such as impressionism, cubism, expressionism, futurism and modernism itself. While I attempt to maintain a fairly eclectic collection of music, I am hopelessly enthralled with rock and roll.

What do cartooning and animation in visual entertainment, modernism in art and design and rock and roll in music all have in common? All three respect a conversational view of art and communication. Purely representational works are mind-blowing for the events they describe and their impeccable level of detail, but they allow little room for personal interpretation. On the opposite side of the spectrum, more arbitrary works operating on pure expressiveness provide little foothold for comprehension. Conversational artworks are those possessing enough elements to interest, inform and/or enlighten the viewer, but with enough mystique that the audience might impart their own experiences and insight.

Like any good conversation, the best art is give and take. Of course, I maintain the prerogative to change my mind.