Category Archives: Sculpture and Comic Art

Comics Forum 2011

Running across three days, featuring over fifty speakers and hosting more than one hundred and ten delegates overall, Comics Forum 2011 was our biggest event yet. Barring a few minor technical hitches things ran smoothly, and we enjoyed a wide range of very high-quality papers from speakers from around the world. We also saw some wonderful keynote presentations and discussions from Daryll Cunningham, Posy Simmonds, Tim Dant, Matthew Sheret and Tom Humberstone. A big thank you to everyone who came along and helped to make the event a success!

The 2011 page of the website has now been moved into the Comics Forum archive. The full text of the conference programme will be available to download from there shortly, and we also hope to be able to feature downloadable conference papers (subject to authors’ permissions). Watch this space for updates.

Comics Forum is now on Twitter, and the 2011 conference was live-tweeted by our very own Hattie Kennedy. You can follow Comics Forum at @ComicsForum to stay up to date with all the latest developments.

Comics Forum 2012 is in the works…


Comics Forum 2011 was supported by Thought Bubble, the University of Chichester, the Henry Moore Institute, Dr Mel Gibson, Routledge, Arts Council England, Intellect and Molakoe Graphic Design.


Comics Forum 2011 Preview by Kirstie Gregory, Ian Williams and Ian Hague

16/11: Sculpture and Comic Art (Kirstie Gregory)

The Henry Moore Institute is a world-recognised centre for the study of sculpture in the heart of Leeds. An award-winning exhibitions venue, research centre, library and sculpture archive, the Institute hosts a year-round programme of exhibitions, conferences and lectures, as well as developing research and publications, to expand the understanding and scholarship of historical and contemporary sculpture. The Institute is a part of The Henry Moore Foundation, which was set up by Moore in 1977 to encourage appreciation of the visual arts, especially sculpture. We are open seven days a week from 10am-5.30pm, with the galleries and library open until 9pm on Wednesdays. The library opens at 1pm on Sundays.

We are very pleased to be joining forces with Comics Forum for an event which considers comics and sculpture together from new perspectives.

Following a welcome to the three-day event from Comics Forum Director Ian Hague, Head of Sculpture Studies at the Institute, Lisa Le Feuvre, will give a brief introduction to the work of the Henry Moore Institute. Before the first session Kirstie Gregory will give a brief introduction to various themes of the day including experimental figuration, issues of narrative and space and the differences and dialogues between two-dimensional and three-dimensional art.

The first session will be chaired by artist and Academic Leader of Art at Leeds Metropolitan University, Chris Bloor, and the papers will look at historical interrelationships between sculpture and comic art. Richard Reynolds, from the School of Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins presents ‘The Superhero Genre and Sculptural Form – From Antiquity to Now’, in which he will look at the superhero genre as a key conduit for the reinvention of many themes of heroic sculpture (and painting) that have become disassociated from the discourse of contemporary fine art. This will be followed by Florence Quideau of Rutgers University, New Jersey, who in her paper, ‘The Visual Power of Sculpted Caricatures and Comic Lithographs’ will argue that sculpted caricatures and comic lithographs have an indelible visual power, also addressing the reversed practice of making two-dimensional drawings from three-dimensional caricatural statuettes, a method which emerged in Paris in the 1830s. Artist Ian Kirkpatrick will end the first session with ‘From Classics to Comics: Hero, Myth and Narrative in Contemporary Sculpture’ in which he will discuss his own practice in the context of comic art icons. He will propose that when enacted within contemporary artistic practice, comic icons fulfill similar roles to the ancient Greek and Christian heroes of classical painting and sculpture, offering familiar archetypes as touchstones for the examination of present-day concerns — while the structural innovations of comic art offer novel ways to convincingly depict narrative, character, scene and conflict.

After the lunch break author and curator Paul Gravett will chair a session concentrating on monuments, monumentality and multiples. Tim Martin of De Montfort University will in his paper, ‘Smithson Entropy and the New Comedy’ look at the humour of Smithson’s essays and his comedy of matter, his shared jokes with other artists and his aggressive jokes aimed at art critics. Martin will demonstrate the anxiety that drove the artist’s wit. Following this Nottingham Trent University’s Stuart Burch will present ‘Statue of Judgement: Estonia’s Bronze Soldier from a Dreddful Perspective’, which will compare fictional events in Judge Dredd with remarkably similar disturbances which occurred in the Estonian capital, Tallinn in 2007. Events in Tallinn formed the basis of Kristina Norman’s installation work After-War, Estonia’s contribution to the 2009 Venice Biennale. Burch will explore the migration of ideas between sculpture and comics art through these examples.

The final session in the day will be chaired by the Henry Moore Institute’s Research Curator, Jon Wood and will look at the expanded space of comics. Curator and artist Kim Pace was the originator of the national touring exhibition ‘Cult Fiction (Art and Comics)’ in 2007 in which the work of fine artists and comic artists was carefully juxtaposed. In her paper ‘The Beginnings of Comic Language in Spatial Terms’ she proposes to extend the relationship between the language of comics – and its trajectory from Roman inscribed columns through satirical prints, drawings and newspaper comic strips – to include commedia dell’arte, the circus and sideshows, carnival and vaudeville, and will relate this to the beginnings of comic language in spatial terms. Dan Smith, from Chelsea College of Art and Design will present ‘Space and Excavation in the Work of Olivia Plender’. Smith will suggest that the use of comics is part of a strategy that incorporates the sequential visual narrative as a corollary to the sculptural, object based spatial elements of gallery practice, as part of the same ongoing practice of excavation and reconfiguration. The spatial play of comics in relation to the sculptural is an as yet underexplored aspect of this practice. Finally, Catherine Labio of the University of Colorado will look at ‘Comics’ Third Dimension’, underscoring the three-dimensionality of comics and arguing for the need to study comics in relation to architecture and sculpture (and vice versa).

Artists Paul McDevitt and Cornelius Quabeck will be making art which responds to the themes of the day throughout the conference.

The conference will be followed by a wine reception in the Henry Moore Institute, next door to Leeds Art Gallery from 5.30-7pm.

17/11: Graphic Medicine: Visualizing The Stigma of Illness (Ian Williams)

We are very excited to be holding the third international conference on comics and medicine as part of the Thought Bubble Comics Forum and are very grateful to the Comics Forum director, Ian Hague, for inviting us to take part.

Many medical schools have encouraged the reading of classic and contemporary literature to gain insight into the human condition, a move generally seen as corrective to this century’s overvaluing of medical science and technology, that attempts to bridge the gap between knowing about a disease and understanding the patient’s experience of that disease. (Squire 1998, p.128). As an alternative form of literature, and as an important visual presentation of the body and its social relationships, the medium of comics is attracting attention from healthcare scholars, clinicians and service users. An expanding body of academic literature on the subject and the enthusiastic reception for the subject at two recent international conferences held in London and Chicago signals the excitement that examination of the medium brings.

The theme for this conference is Stigma, which has a number of meanings when applied to medicine: it can refer to a sign, mark, feature, indicator of something, which generally has a negative connotation; a moral or physical blemish; a distinguishing personal trait that is perceived as or actually is physically, socially, or psychologically disadvantageous; or any physical mark or peculiarity that aids in identification or diagnosis of a condition. With its history of radical narrative and innovative representation, comics seems well placed to examine the phenomenon, and we have a diverse line up of speakers who will approach the subject from various angles.

We had a strong response to our call for papers, and to fit in as many papers as possible we will be running two parallel sessions. After few opening words from yours truly, Session 1A, chaired by my co-organiser, Maria Vaccarella of King’s College, London, will cover Stigma and Cognition. The two speakers are Sarah Leavitt, author of Tangles, who has come from Vancouver to speak and Lucía Miranda-Morla who is coming from Paris. Session 1B, chaired by MK Czerweic, aka ‘Comic Nurse’ who has contributed excellent posts on this blog and who headed the organisation of our recent Chicago conference, will cover Stigma and Disability. The speakers are Jean-Francois Ferraille and Shelley Cuthbertson. After a half hour break for refreshments, Session 2A, chaired by me, will be the first of two panels that cover Stigma and Autobiography, with speakers Andrew Godfrey and Katie Green. Panel 2B is entitled Stigma and Community and will be chaired by Fiorenzo Iuliano Postdoctoral Research Fellow in American Studies at the University of Naples “L’Orientale”. The speakers are Simon Moreton and Pushkar Aggarawal.

There will be an hour for lunch. In order to keep the delegate fee as low as possible, we decided not to provide lunch as part of the programme, but the Art Gallery is very close to many eateries and food outlets.

We will start again at 2pm with Session 3A, entitled Stigma and Society, chaired by John Swogger, illustrator of There’s Something Different About Dad which will feature Karrie Fransman and Fiorenzo Iuliano. Session 3B is the second of our Stigma and Autobiography panels and features Nicola Streeten and the comics artist known as ‘Brick’ with Theodore Stickley. The chair will be Mita Mahato, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Puget Sound, Washington State.

A quick break for more coffee and tea precedes our final parallel sessions- 4A, Stigma and the Reactive Body features papers by Mita Mahato, Sarah McNicol with Simon Weaver and Paula Knight. The session will be chaired by Nicola Streeten, author of the recently published Billy, Me & You. Session 4B chaired by Maria Vacarella, examines Stigma and Caregiving with papers by Muna Al-Jawad, MK Czerweic and Linda Raphael.

The day will conclude with a keynote address by Darryl Cunningham, acclaimed comics artist and author of Psychiatric Tales. Darryl has two more books due for publication shortly: Science Tales and Uncle Bob Adventures.

Speakers will have travelled from the US, Canada, Europe and various parts of the UK. We have a good number of delegates booked, who come from diverse backgrounds including healthcare, social work, medical illustration, comics art, publishing and various strands of academia. Part of the value of this conference will found in conversations initiated between delegates, the exchange of ideas and the meeting of future collaborators. Please make the most of your day, we aim for an inclusive experience. Do not be afraid to ask questions, introduce yourself to others or seek help from the organisers. We hope you enjoy it.


Squire, H.A. (1998) Teaching humanities in the undergraduate medical curriculum. In: Greenhalgh and Hurwitz Narrative Based Medicine: 128-140.

18/11: Materiality and Virtuality: A Conference on Comics (Ian Hague)

In the third day of Comics Forum we move on to consider some of the most pressing issues facing comics as an art form and an industry, in the present day. Taking as our organising themes ‘materiality’ and ‘virtuality’, we will be looking at the nature of comics as a printed medium and the ways in which digital forms are affecting the field.

We begin with two parallel panels. Session 1A looks at printing and publication, with papers from Mel Gibson, who will be considering the publication formats of British girls’ comics and the ways in which they impact perceptions of class; and Matt Green, who will be looking at the way in which visionary materialism has been manifested in works from William Blake to Alan Moore. Session 1B will look at readerships and communities, with Anna Madill talking about the material forms taken by Japanese manga when it is experienced in translation, and Sina Shamsavari looking at the ways in which “gay ghetto” comics work to construct notions of a “typical” gayness.

Following a short refreshment break, we resume with another set of parallel panels. Panel 2A looks at digital comics. Materiality scholar and co-founder of the Comics Grid Ernesto Priego will begin proceedings with a consideration of the importance of guidelines for the citation of comic art in the digital age; an important subject for the development of scholarship. Daniel Merlin Goodbrey will look at the various ways in which digital comics might develop to take advantage of new technologies, considering the possibilities of new forms such as locative, sonic, game, spatial and augmented reality comics. Dan Berry wraps up the panel with a paper that considers the shift from analogue to digital media and asks whether the move to digital is one that divests the print medium of its sensory qualities. Meanwhile, panel 2B will be looking at the intersections between comics and other media. Nicolas Pillai kicks us off here with a paper on truth and transmediality in the X-Files comics, followed by William Grady, who will speak on the complex historical interrelationships between comics and dime novels, focusing on the Preacher comic book series and the novels that narrated the life of Buffalo Bill Cody. Finally, James Peacock will discuss Jonathan Lethem’s use of concrete metaphor in Omega the Unknown.

After lunch, our final parallel panels look at comics and philosophy and storytellers and storytelling. In panel 3A, John Holbo opens with a discussion of accretion and the crisis of the easel painting, considering the possibility that after the easel comes the panel and the page, and, perhaps, the post-page. Aaron Meskin follows this up with a discussion of the possibilities of site-specific comics and the ways in which such comics might function. In panel 3B, Alberto Cipriani and Mauro Marchesi will present their work on a Hong Kong tower block, in which they transformed the whole building into a comic. They’ll be followed by Christine Kuhn, who will consider the potential comics have to explore the space between the rational perception of the self and the narration of the irrational, sharing her work with a team of media specialists in bringing interactive graphic stories to the web.

After a short break we will hear from the first of our keynote speakers, Posy Simmonds. Posy is the author of such works as Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovery and her works have appeared in such publications as The Times, Black Dwarf, Woman’s Own, Sun, Observer and Cosmopolitan. Her talk will be illustrated with a number of her wonderful images.

We wrap up the sessions at the art gallery with a meeting intended to examine comics scholarship’s current position in the academic sphere and determine where we might go from here. The day concludes with an evening keynote session at the Carriageworks Theatre, just off Millennium Square. This discussion session will feature Professor Tim Dant, a reader in sociology at Lancaster University, Tom Humberstone, editor of Solipsistic Pop and Matthew Sheret, editor of Paper Science. The discussion will cover a wide range of topics, from the material qualities of printed comics to the shift towards digital forms.

The day promises to be a lively one, with talks on a diverse range of subjects. As Ian said, we are really aiming for Comics Forum to be an inclusive and engaging event that brings together scholars and creators in a mutually enriching dialogue. All are welcome.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Kirstie Gregory is Research Programme Assistant at the Henry Moore Institute. She studied at the Courtauld Institute, London, and the University of Queensland, Australia.

Ian Williams runs the website and also draws comics under the pseudonym Thom Ferrier, publishing strips online and in print.  He has trained in both medicine and fine art and has written for both medical and comics journals. His Medical Humanities MA dissertation was on medical narrative in comics and graphic novels.

Ian Hague is a PhD student and associate lecturer in the History department at the University of Chichester. His research focuses on how comics engage all of the reader’s senses to communicate information and meaning. He did his BA in English at the University of Hull, and his MA in Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. His research interests include materiality, technology, and theoretical approaches to comics.

Comics Forum 2011 is supported by Thought Bubble, the University of Chichester, the Henry Moore Institute, Dr Mel Gibson, Routledge, Arts Council England, Intellect and Molakoe Graphic Design.


Comics Forum 2011 Poster

The Comics Forum 2011 poster, put together by Ben Gaskell of Molakoe Design, is out today. As always Ben’s done a great job and we’re very grateful for all his hard work! Click here for a larger PDF version, and feel free to circulate this to any interested parties; all welcome.


Comics Forum 2011 is supported by Thought Bubble, the University of Chichester, the Henry Moore Institute, Dr Mel Gibson, Routledge, Arts Council England, Intellect and Molakoe Graphic Design.


Sculpture and Comic Art #5: Comic Dreams/Nightmare Sculpture by Kirstie Gregory

His weak spot was sexism. Like just about every 1960s icon (with the possible exception of John Lennon), he thought of women as ‘chicks’, second-class citizens whose function was the entertainment of men (ideally in a sexual sense). To say he was slow to recognise the aims of Women’s Liberation would be an understatement. [1]

Roger Sabin

I should state from the beginning of this posting that I have not been able to ascertain exactly how much Crumb worked on the sculptures I am discussing. Alexander Wood of Wildwood Serigraphs, who runs the official Robert Crumb website, told me:

Crumb worked on that with a sculptor. I think the piece you’re referring to is the Devil Girl piece, and that was constructed with plywood, wood, some wire and epoxy. There may also be bondo (a putty used for auto-body repair). Crumb worked on it (sanded) the sculpture a little, but mostly directed the project, especially the final touches, which had to be perfect for him. He [was] most active when painting it.[2]

The sculptures in question are certainly not unapproved pastiches of which he is not aware – and it seems he has had a significant hand in the production of at least some of them. I will be discussing them with this in mind.

Terry Zwigoff’s film Crumb (1994) begins with a slow scan of a selection of 3D works of Crumb characters in the artist’s home, beginning with an unhurried shot running over a (painted wooden?) sculpture of a woman’s semi-naked body, her head thrown back in ecstasy/anguish, a contemporary reinvention of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Teresa. Of tough material, with rough surface, horrible facial expression, vastly exaggerated buttocks and breasts, the figure is semi-submissive by way of her uncomfortable contortion, the pose both acrobatic and pornographic. The figure is typical Crumb – his cartoons are full of his fantasy women swiftly, expertly, intuitively sketched: solid build, strong arms, stronger legs, large breasts, larger buttocks.[3] In his comics these women are often fleetingly and improbably sexually dominated by a man or men, often violently, emerging from an imagination utterly uninhibited, the pen an outlet for the artist’s darkest sexual imaginings.

Crumb inflates the female form and breaks it down (often literally) in order to underline his eccentric interests and odd observations such as affinities of the human body’s structure with furniture, missiles, balloons – he is alarmingly cavalier about dispensing with the head. These techniques, though disturbing from one perspective, are also often humorous and strangely compelling – the sculptures are by contrast simplistic and dull. I am reminded of a later scene in Zwigoff’s film wherein Crumb is having a conversation with an ex-girlfriend. She tells him that all the time they were in a relationship she thought his odd sexual ‘hang-ups’ were a pretence, a mistake Crumb finds humorous in its erroneousness. But though the artist may be self-aware regarding his sexual preferences unfortunately this self-knowledge does not extend to being able to judge sculpture. Later in the film we see Crumb attending a private view of an exhibition of his own work, with the gallery displaying his comics on the walls and a handful of large sculptures on the floor. One of these is an over-life-size woman with the head of a menacing bird (again a recurring character), which looks a bit like his current wife. I’ve always found the concept of ‘sexy animals’ quite off-putting in the gamut of sexual perversions, so Crumb was always going to be difficult for me, especially when one cannot flick through to another topic – his comic stories are usually quite ‘quick’, relatively short – it’s very easy to move between topics. Interspersed with scenes from the exhibition opening Zwigoff cuts to comment from art historian and critic Robert Hughes, who compares Crumb to Breughel and Goya, and gallerist Martin Muller, who suggests Daumier; I cannot but assume they are conveniently erasing these sculptures from his oeuvre.

One contemporary sculptor’s work with interesting connections is that of Rebecca Warren, a nominee for the 2006 Turner Prize, whose Croccioni (2000) and Helmut Crumb (1998) for example were made with an explicit awareness of Crumb’s female forms. Warren’s work however is not sexy – a pair of disembodied legs made of reinforced clay balanced on two plinths, for instance, appears to say more about the act of creation, and discovery through process. She is certainly concerned with the sexualised female shape, but in this messy clay medium she brings her figures far closer than Crumb to reality, fleshes them out, shows the peculiarity of a fetish for a single part of the female body. The comic is a medium of narrative, wherein one can explain, add depth, satire or somewhat balance a skewed initial view with an extended story and intelligent observation. All this potential is lost in Crumb sculpture, his skills and these benefits do not translate. Crumb seems incompetent to capture any depth one would think might emerge in the third dimension. The loss of words contributes – although much of the artist’s graphic work stands alone. I believe it is the wider narrative which is the chief blow to quality. If narrative is not usually physically an aspect of sculpture it is very often a strong invisible presence, something sculptors are very attuned to. Crumb seems not to be. By contrast, Chris Ware’s three-dimensional model-making skills are impressive, thoughtful and innovative. Similarly Seth’s models are delicate, subtle and atmospheric. Compared to the sculptural work of these two primarily comics artists Crumb seems to be satisfied to exhibit unfortunate misshapen lumps and nudge them by sleight of hand into the fine art world. Perhaps it’s all a big joke.

Crumb describes his first sexual experience being with a pair of his mother’s cowboy boots, alongside early sexual attractions to Bugs Bunny, and Sheena Queen of the Jungle.[4] Sex and comix and comics are inextricably linked, and the medium suits the subject. It is though more unsettling to be faced in 3D with one’s unwholesome 2D fascinations. It is not that sexual desire is not a valid subject for art, but sculptors with talent bring something more to their work – be it morality, amorality, beauty, complexity, even a tendency to push boundaries which Crumb displays in his comics, but not through these sculptures. Also perhaps worth noting, the female characters in Crumb’s cartoons are usually accompanied by pathetic or oddball male counterparts – but by themselves in the gallery space the objectification of the figures is magnified. Asked in an interview by fellow artist Steve Bell to define the purposes of satire Crumb answers, ‘to give us all relief from these taboos and these nervous tensions where things can’t be talked about. So humour and satire are a safety valve for releasing these nervous tensions’.[5] One gets the impression that for Crumb his pornographic characters are as much of a release and a compulsion as the elements of humour and satire. His sculptures stray from subversive humour to simply subversion (perversion?). In Zwigoff’s documentary Crumb displays these sculptures amongst comic collectible figurines. Perhaps this is how he thinks of his work – rather as super-sized versions of collectibles than genuine fine art contenders – a humorous mish-mash of the blow-up sex doll, the Surrealist mannequin and the Barbie doll. Paul Gravett sums up this tendency with a succinctness tempered by an awareness of Crumb’s genius for drawing:

With self-deprecating honesty, he shows how his conflicted feelings about women grew out of his teenage years, spent in lonely, horny, frustration, lusting after girls who ignored him. By the age of 20, he had not even kissed a girl. His hedonistic spree turned into a sort of twisted revenge.[6]

Kirstie Gregory is the co-convenor of Sculpture and Comic Art, taking place at Leeds Art Gallery on the 16th of November as part of Comics Forum 2011.

You can read previous editions of Sculpture and Comic Art in the Comics Forum Website Archive.

Comics Forum 2011 is supported by Thought Bubble, the University of Chichester, the Henry Moore Institute, Dr Mel Gibson, Routledge, Arts Council England, Intellect and Molakoe Graphic Design.

[1] – Roger Sabin, Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art, Phaidon: London, 1996, p. 95. Later in this paragraph however Sabin notes that ‘Later in his career, Crumb would have second thoughts, and create some of the most rounded female characters in comics [. . .]’ p.103.

[2] – Email from Alexander Wood to Kirstie Gregory, dated 06/09/11.

[3] – These women are a constant in Crumb’s work. For this article I was particularly refering to Robert Crumb, The Complete Crumb Comics Vol. 7, Fantagraphic Books: Seattle, 1991.

[4] – Terry Zwigoff, Crumb, 1994.

[5] – Robert Crumb interviewed by Steven Bell 18 March 2005, Guardian website, accessed 14 August 2011.

[6] – Paul Gravett, Graphic Novels to Change Your Life, Aurum: London, 2005, p.172.


Comics Forum 2011: Keynote Speakers and Programme

I’m pleased to announce five wonderful keynote speakers for Comics Forum 2011.

Appearing as part of Graphic Medicine: Visualizing the Stigma of Illness on day 2 (the 17th of November), we have Darryl Cunningham, author of Psychiatric Tales and the forthcoming Science Tales.

At Materiality and Virtuality: A Conference on Comics on day 3 (the 18th), we’ll be hearing from Posy Simmonds, author of Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe. Our evening keynote discussion will bring together Professor Tim Dant, head of sociology at Lancaster University and author of Materiality and Society and Material Culture in the Social World: Values, Activities, Lifestyles, Matthew Sheret, editor of Paper Science and Tom Humberstone, editor of Solipsistic Pop.

The programme is now available here.

Comics Forum 2011 is scheduled for the 16th to the 18th of November 2011, and will take place at Leeds Art Gallery. It will comprise three events:

16/11/2011 – Sculpture and Comic Art

17/11/2011 – Graphic Medicine: Visualizing the Stigma of Illness

18/11/2011 – Materiality and Virtuality: A Conference on Comics

The registration form is available here.

Tickets are priced as follows:

1 day ticket: £10

3 day ticket: £30

5 day ticket: £40 (includes two-day pass to Thought Bubble convention)

Comics Forum 2011 is supported by Thought Bubble, the University of Chichester, the Henry Moore Institute, Dr Mel Gibson, Routledge, Arts Council England, Intellect and Molakoe Graphic Design.

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