Comics, anime, video games in an art gallery? KRAZY!

Filling the halls of an art gallery with comic strips, a constant stream of anime and a playable Pac-Man arcade game is a bold move. Not only does it risk pissing off highbrow art patrons, but it also has the potential to alienate followers of all things pop culture.

But the Vancouver Art Gallery’s KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art exhibit transcends any potential art-class feud by showing off the diversity of visual mediums over the last 100 years. From Gertie the Dinosaur to Will Wright’s universe-spanning Spore, KRAZY! is where mass media-lovin’ geeks and art-snobs can get together in appreciation under the same roof.

The exhibit is composed of over 600 pieces of artwork from seven different fields; Comics, “Graphic Novels”, Manga, Anime, Animated Cartoons, Video Games and Visual Art. Each section is self-contained within the gallery, but the connections between each discipline emerge quickly. At the very least, the exhibit fulfills project mastermind Bruce Grenville’s vision of composing a “survey of visual culture.” At the very best, the exhibit is a discussion on the potential of visual storytelling, represented by some of the brightest minds from all realms of popular culture.

Grenville likens the connection between each medium to the tangled relationship between the mouse, cat and dog featured in George Herriman’s Krazy Kat comic strip. Although each discipline functions separately, they “are inextricably linked together in ways that have come to define the scope and the purpose of their mutual endeavor.” He also hopes that the project will illustrate some French philosopher’s idea of an “inoperative community,” or “a community without community.” Which, from what I can tell, is when individuals benefit from belonging to a group that’s loosely tied together. [Which may be another way of saying it’s sort of like the relationship shared between cousins Larry Appleton and Balki Bartokomous in the 80’s sitcom ‘Perfect Strangers.’]

Even though the gallery has a worthwhile smorgasbord of multimedia on display, if you’re not willing or able to get to Vancouver, the catalogue does a serviceable job of presenting the exhibit. Although only a fraction of the gallery’s wares are featured inside the book, there’s still enough worthwhile content stuffed into 260 pages. This is largely due to Grenville’s approach to wrangling what should have been an impossibly large feat.

Instead of single-handedly picking all the material, he selected six co-curators— each one a respected voice within their discipline —and encouraged them to be as personal as possible while picking their selections. Each co-curator’s dialogue on the subject — from defending their selections, to their musings on their discipline— is what makes the project unique. You may not agree with each co-curator’s choices, but it’s impossible not to respect their opinions.

Art Spiegelman and Seth, who worked together on both the Comic and “Graphic Novel” sections, explain their hesitance to accept “graphic novels” as a label separate from comics, but still play along, referring to the section-in-question with quotation marks. They also explain the challenge in choosing which artists belonged in which category. But both the Comics and “Graphic Novel” sections form an expected and surprising group of passionate cartoonists that all blur artistic and storytelling boundaries. Chris Ware and Dan Clowes are there, as well as ‘paintoonist’ Jerry Moriarty and Shaun Tan.

Acting as curator for the Video Game section, SimCity-creator Will Wright puts forth his list of essential video games, from Pac-Man to his own soon-to-released Spore. Elsewhere, media critics Toshiya Ueno and Kiyoshi Kusumi split duties on the Anime and Manga sections, focusing solely on works from the last 20 years while the animation section, curated by Over The Hedge director Tim Johnson, takes a more sweeping approach and features one of the more diverse collections, showing off animation old and new, as well as examples of silhouette, digital and clay animation.

It’s an overwhelming exhibit that really comes together with Grenville’s Visual Art section (which he put together himself). It consists of ‘fine art’ influenced by mass media, with the obvious inclusion of Roy Lichtenstein, as well as the not-so-obvious SUV-sized sculpture of a psychedelic manga head. After walking the halls of the gallery, or flipping through the book, it almost seems possible that highbrow and lowbrow can cross paths and remain intact. Sort of like a community without community. I think.

Krazy!: The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art runs until September 7th at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Ryan Ingram

Ryan Ingram is Pop Culture Zoo's resident Canadian. He has never been a member of Alpha Flight, sadly. On Twitter, he's @ryeingram.