Bonn's Bundeskunsthalle has opened a comprehensive transnational survey dedicated to the art of "Comics! Mangas! Graphic Novels!"
Curators Alexander Braun and Andreas C. Knigge have assembled an exceptional collection of over 300 original panels from the US, Europe and Japan, examining the evolution of a most elusive art form, from its beginnings as the first visual mass medium in the late 19th Century to its later celebration as the « Ninth Art » all the way to its ambiguous current status as an economic powerhouse driven by mangas and superheroes on the one hand and a haven of independent expression since the rise of the « graphic novel » on the other.
The Bundeskunsthalle exhibition, the most ambitious of its kind in Germany, navigates this fragmented landscape by highlighting pivotal moments in the medium’s history, such as the publication of serials like Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland and George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, which were the first to target adult audiences in American newspapers.
The Underground & Independent section of the show does a wonderful job of highlighting the trailblazers who broke new ground in the 1960s, when the emerging counterculture and its ethos of Sex, Drugs & Rock ’n’ Roll spurred maverick artists such as Robert Crumb and Guy Peellaert to upend the traditions of their chosen field from both sides of the Atlantic, paving the way for a new generation of comics creators in the 1970s. Peellaert would leave comics—or bande dessinée—behind as early as 1970 after a whirlwind of genre-defying visual experiments, while Crumb continued to hone the distinctive aesthetic he had started with « underground » strips such as Fritz the Kat in 1965.
On view at the Bundeskunsthalle is an absorbing panel from Pravda La Survireuse, created in 1967, in which Peellaert draws inspiration from the Detroit riots of the same year. In this memorable piece, the iconic heroine, her narcissistic love interest Beau and her sidekick cupid L’Amour are gratuitously assaulted by brute police forces after seeking refuge in a hippie shack reminiscent of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury flower-power utopia. This is the artwork’s first public display, and it provides a rare opportunity to study Peellaert’s technique up-close, with layers of preliminary pencil sketchings and traces of corrective white paint visible under the assuredness of the dramatic stylized silhouettes rendered in black ink.