I don’t always do a good job of documenting my gallery shows, but I was able to turn that around this week when I visited “Pop! The Art of Comics” at the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art. I made the trek to Tuscumbia, AL in the company of Mid-South Cartoonists Association president Kevin L. Williams, who made the connection that got member art included in the show in the first place.
The TVMA may be a small museum, but they pack a lot of art into the space! The exhibit opened with samples from their collection of ukiyo-e prints, where they did a good job of linking the techniques employed by studios making those woodblock prints with the typical process of comic book creation. The details in these prints by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) are very crisp, and the colors are exceptionally vibrant, even 150+ years after they were printed!
Next we moved into the Bobby Denton Wing, which was devoted to the art of MSCA members! Lots of good work, including my own original art to “Visiting the Moon Kitties” (1997), and a printed episode from my “Watusi in Oz” storyline (2019).
The member artwork looked good in the space, and I was particularly drawn towards those pieces which highlighted the process of creation, something that’s not always apparent in the craft of the final printed piece.
An equally large space was devoted to the work of the late Christopher Hanther (1946-2021), and his epic sci-fi/fantasy strip, “Tandra”. While I’m accustomed to seeing artwork larger than its printed size, I’d never seen work as large as those “Tandra” pages. Clearly influenced by the epic adventure strips of his childhood, working at that scale gave him plenty of room to indulge his love of detail and texture!
I was intrigued by these self-published issues of Critter, where Hanther first began publishing his epic “Tandra” adventure. He was encouraged to make the move to self-publish at the advice of editor Roy Thomas, a colleague during his brief stint as an artist at Marvel Comics. Printing his original work in the company of reprinted adventure strips from the 1940s that had entered the public domain was a clever way to present his work as part of that storytelling tradition.
The “Pop!” show included a third gallery of vintage comics, grouped and labeled in way that nicely paired trends in comics with trends in society at large. While there were attractive groupings of comics (some by character, some by artist, most by theme), I didn’t bother photographing anything in that room. Besides, when you get the itch to look at vintage comics, there are already comprehensive sites like the Grand Comics Database and “The Newstand” at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics where you can easily do just that…
I completed my tour of the TVMA by taking in a pair of solo shows: the plein air paintings of Stacie Thomas, and the landscape drawings & paintings of Yuri Ozaki. Both nicely presented, and I was particularly captivated by the attention to detail in Ozaki’s pieces, a far cry from the simplification I apply in my own work.
Before heading out of town, Kevin and I toured Helen Keller’s birthplace, right across the street from the TVMA. It’s just one of many area attractions, as it turns out; the Shoals Area has a lot to offer!
(In addition to not always documenting my gallery shows, I’m not one to go about photographing my meals. We did, however, lunch at Superhero Chefs in Tuscumbia, where I enjoyed a satisfying War Eagle burger, the best fries I’ve had in some time, and a peach lemonade. Well worth a stop if you’re passing thru the area!)