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Lecture: Famed cartoonist Art Spiegelman's 'What the %@&*! Happened to Comics?'

By Zach Lederman
On March 24, 2014

  • Famed cartoonist Art Spiegelman presented his thoughts on the evolution of the comic and graphic novel mediums to an audience at the Jorgensen Center Monday. JON KULAKOFSKY/The Daily Campus

Comic books and graphic novels of all sorts took center stage on Monday night at the Jorgensen Center for Performing Arts, during a lecture given by famed cartoonist, Art Spiegelman.
Spiegelman is perhaps best known for writing and illustrating "Maus," the two-part graphic novel that tells the true story of his parents' experiences living as Jews in Nazi-controlled Germany and their subsequent torturous time spent living in concentration camps. He was invited to UConn as a part of the annual "UConn Reads" program (which is focused on another graphic novel, "Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi, this year), to give his opinions on the current state of comics and graphic novels as artistic mediums. Although, he is best known for "Maus," it is by no means his sole artistic endeavor. During his tenure, he has written other graphic novels, illustrated for "The New Yorker" and founded his own magazine, "RAW," with his wife, Françoise Mouly.
The lecture, entitled, "What the %@&*! Happened to Comics?" began with a brief introduction before Spiegelman took the stage and began his talk. Aided only by a projector, which he used to show various strips, covers and famous pages from comic history, Spiegelman began by telling the audience of his own history and relationship with comic strips, and how he originally became interested in the medium. Of course, the presentation was not really about Spiegelman himself, and so he quickly turned to discussing the evolution of comics.
During the lecture, Spiegelman explained the various components of a comic, and how simple things like the direction a character is moving, or the way the panels are arranged, can completely alter the reader's perception of the scene being displayed. He used examples from some of the most famous comics ever written, including "Lucy" and "Little Nemo." He also discussed technological advancements, and how they were quickly shaping the ways that comics were both created and distributed.
After the lecture had concluded, Spiegelman lit up a cigarette (which almost seems to be a trademark of his in the way he depicts himself in his comics) and settled down for a question and answer session. Many students in the audience were students in the School of Fine arts, so most of the questions asked pertained to finding a way into the illustration industry.
"Success is really a fluke," said Spiegelman in response. "When it comes to comics these days, all bets are off. There are so many different forms they're taking now, which makes sense, as we live in a very obviously visual culture. So there really are plenty of fields for those of you that are visually skillful. But success? Well, that really comes down to a fluke. You just keep practicing and practicing, and eventually you'll submit something and it will be a hit. There's no real secret to it, it's just getting lucky."

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