Detail from "Telelphone with E.T. Russian" by Marie Bouassi.
Twenty years ago, it would've been unthinkable that Seattle City Hall would be home to a comics art show. But the unthinkable is now a reality: from now through July, the downstairs art gallery at City Hall is featuring an exhibit called Comix for All.
Curated by the indispensable Short Run festival, Comix for All features comics by 14 artists, framed and hanging in a downstairs hallway. The work still feels a little bit transgressive, like you might imagine a City Councilmember feeling a little uncomfortable as they walk past.
In fact, some of the work seems specifically selected to push at the austere surroundings. I'm thinking in particular of two works by Simon Hanselmann: a colored comics page that seems to be parodying Noah Van Sciver's angry-young-man comic Fante Bukowski and, especially, a poster featuring a weeping bear with yin-yang eyes that announces "ART MIGHT UPSET YOU - SOMETIMES IT'S SUPPOSED TO." But Hanselmann is not the only envelope-pusher: a page from Lauren Armstrong's comic "Cape Beer" features a pair of hands rolling a joint, putting us in the perspective of the joint-roller.
Some of the displayed art is excerpted from longer comics pages. Others are single illustrations drawn by cartoonists. Some are in color, others are in black and white. Together, the works create a kind of anthology of the modern state of alternative cartooning, exploded out onto the halls of local government.
Comics have a certain insouciance to them, an eagerness to prick at the face of authority. Who hasn't gotten in trouble for doodling in class, after all? Who hasn't drawn a caricature of an authority figure? Comics push at our leaders, find their weak spots, and expose them for all to see in an accessible, irreverent medium.
Seeing these pages on the walls of City Hall is a bit of a culture shock, but it doesn't feel like selling out. Instead, it feels like Short Run has smuggled something cool and interesting into an aggressively bland space. That's the glory of comics.
Comix for All will feature an artists reception on June 6th from 4 to 6 pm. All are welcome.