Miscellanea and Ephemeron
04/13/2006 Archived Entry: "Gallery Comic Review: Stars, Crosses & Stripes"
Stars, Crosses & Stripes
Review by Tom Good
C. Hill promotes this large format work as a "gallery comic," meaning that it is comic-influenced art, but meant to be displayed on a wall as in an art gallery. I have noticed this style of art more and more lately. The genre poses some interesting artistic problems, and C. Hill has come up with good solutions that make this a satisfying piece.
Hanging a piece of art on a wall creates an expectation that it will make a pleasing impression from across the room. This is difficult for comic art, because the format was originally designed to be held in the hands and viewed by a single reader at close range. Framing a comic book page and putting it up on a wall can make it seem out of place and inconvenient.
Some artists tackle this problem by scaling everything up, as in Roy Lichtenstein's Whaam!, which works from a distance by being just a giant version of a comic panel. The drawback to this approach is that a closer look does not really add anything -- the whole story has already been told from afar.
The challenge is to make the composition work both from across the room and from nearby, so that it invites the viewer to come closer and then provides some reward for doing so. Stars, Crosses & Stripes succeeds at this. From a distance it looks like an unusual version of an American flag. Closer up one can see that the blue area contains a silhouette of a man, the red stripes contain white tombstones, and the piece as a whole has accompanying text.
In comic terms, various rectangular regions of the flag form comic panels. The blue rectangle at the upper left is the largest one, and the topmost red stripe makes a single long narrow panel. The rest of the flag is divided into small sections for the tombstones, which represent graves in the American cemetery at Normandy, for soldiers who died during World War II.
Many of the inscriptions use rhymes, irony, or wordplay reminiscent of Old West tombstones. For example: "Ted's canteen reached the shore in one piece at Utah Beach," or "Oswald crossed a 'T' on a Kraut before another dotted his eye," or even "On Operation Overlord, Pastor Phil drowned overboard." This humor adds another dimension to the work, and extends its emotional impact beyond wistful sadness.
The text that begins and ends the piece tells the story of the author's French grandfather and explores the impact of the war, America, and Americans on his life. The fact that this story told on an American flag turns out to be the story of a Frenchman is another nice twist.
The use of the flag as the main visual element invites comparison with Jasper Johns' Flag. Looking at Flag leads me to think about the nature of representational art. Though a painting of a horse is in no sense a real horse, a painting of a flag is in many ways a real flag. Its arrangement of colors and symbols is not just a convincing imitation of what we see when we look at a flag, but is essentially the very same thing. Similarly, a painting of the word "horse" would really be a written word, not just a good likeness of one. What about comics -- is it possible to imitate them, or only to create them?
Stars, Crosses & Stripes presents itself as both a flag (though a modified one) and as a comic. Is it a "real" comic, then, or something else that borrows certain techniques from comics? Unlike Whaam!, which imitates comics but does not really attempt to become one, Stars, Crosses & Stripes functions as a large, single-page comic. Though technically Whaam! is a comic panel, after viewing it one would not say, "I read an interesting comic today," but I think this could be said of Hill's work. I enjoyed it and found it to be thought-provoking.
Stars, Crosses & Stripes is available as a limited edition of 500 signed and numbered prints, sold at some comics stores and online at kameleo.com.
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