“Art Fight! Quality vs. Nostalgia” June 10, 2010 – Posted in: A Picture's Worth, Blog, Featured Columns – Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Last week we had a great discussion regarding “grails”–your one or few most-ever-desired pieces. (To read and join in, just click .) Everyone who posted theirs (including me) had one or two things in common: the grail piece was either something by a favorite/greatest artist and/or something from our cherished past. Some recalled their very first comic book, others a book that impacted them in a meaningful way.

This got me thinking. (Dangerous, I know. But I’m wearing a condom.)

How much of your grail is because of quality (an artist you think is the best or your favorite) and how much is nostalgia? Do you have one of each? Can you even separate the two? Or do your grails represent equal amounts of both?

I’ll go first.

My “triangle” of favorite artists has been Michelangelo at the top, with Frank Frazetta and Jack Kirby at the opposite sides. (The letter “A”, as in Art, is just a triangle with legs. Coincidence?) The latter two guys have switched places between “number two and three favorite” over the last twenty or so years since I formed the triangle. (Michelangelo became number one while I was in college. Before that it was Kirby, Frazetta and Bernie Wrightson. I still have Wrightson grails too.)

Kirby was the first chronologically, having discovered him as a youngling when my folks bought me the book and record sets of AVENGERS #4 and FANTASTIC FOUR #1, which were exact reprints of the comics (minus the ads) along with a big 33-rpm vinyl record (before CDs, for those with non-prehistoric memories). The audio had actors reading the comic verbatim, with a few cheapo sound effects. (Most memorably, a loud, annoying, reverb-laden voice booming, “PAAAAAGE THREEEE!!” and so on at the start of every page.) _Apparently, Marvel never had editorial approval, which I embarrassingly found out years later when someone told me Namor’s name was pronounced “Sub-MARE-in-er” and not “Sub-Ma-REEN-er” like the record. Whoops.

I don’t recall how old I was but I must have been under six, since I started reading books when I was four. I do recall my friends and I sitting in my room, following along like entranced monkeys. After that I saw Kirby’s name and work in several comics history texts. The one I remember most vividly was THE PENGUIN BOOK OF COMICS at age eight, which reprinted the cover image of CAPTAIN AMERICA #106, referenced last week as my “major” grail. The art was full-page in color, but strangely, the editor blocked out the words “Cap goes” in the caption so it just read “Wild!” with a big blank space at top. (Editorial manipulation?)

Now that I think of it, the cover and/or splash of AVENGERS #4 would really be my “money no object” grails (with the page of cap lying on the table after being rescued a close third) but those are more fantasy than reality. Not only would they be insanely priced, but in all honesty I could not keep them in my possession. Those pieces are too important to American pop cultural history and our art form for one person to selfishly hold. I’d have to, in all good conscience, put them in a museum. (Probably either the cringe-worthy-named Cartoon Art Museum or the Smithsonian’s American History.) _So I’ll stick with CAP #106 because it’s at least partially possibly attainable, it’s not culturally significant, and frankly, I think it would look cooler on a wall, as it doesn’t rely as much on color for its impact. (All those Avengers need their bold, primary-colored outfits!)

Frazetta came along while I was just starting high school when I received THE FANASTIC ART OF FRANK FRAZETTA or THE FRAZETTA TREASURY books. I know I’d seen his work elsewhere earlier, but those books really unleashed my awe like BP unleashed oil in the gulf. Once I took in those and other books, he went right to the top of my list and has barely budged since.

Another contender would be an original Charles Schulz PEANUTS strip, as I devoured his Treasury books as a child. Soon after, I acquired every paperback reprint I could get my hands on and still have them today. That strip not only helped me to read but also learn all the basic necessities of visual gags, expressions, strip construction, pacing, punchlines, themes, characterization, the “language of lines” and so, so much more. But I couldn’t pin down a particular strip for a grail as there are literally dozens that are meaningful, hilarious and prime examples of Sparky’s genius to me.

Back to my original point: both my Kirby and Frazetta grails would be examples of both quality and nostalgia, as I regard both gentlemen to be among the elite of American art. The specific Kirby choices are due to nostalgia, while my favorite b/w Frazettas (the Buck Rogers covers, the Canaveral Press and other Burroughs art, and some of the men’s mag stuff) are based more on personal aesthetics. So I’d have to conclude that my grails are more quality-based for artist choice, and more nostalgia-based for example choice. Sounds like a copout but it’s the truth.

How about you?



P.S.: The offer for a non-grail-priced commission still stands. I haven’t been hit by asteroids yet but ya never know. Just ask Craig here!


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