On the open, natural light-filled walls surrounding the second-floor landing of the central stairwell of the Bedford Free Public Library, there’s a new exhibit: “The Anatomy of Comics.” It is an opportunity to see the process behind creating visual narratives.
“The Anatomy of Comics” features contributions from 10 artists who are students or faculty in Boston University’s Visual Narrative Masters of Fine Arts Program. The show will be on display in the gallery of the Library until March 13.
Visual narratives encompass comics, comic strips, story books, comic books, long form graphic novels, picture books, animation, narrative art, and more. Visual narrative can be found all around – online, at the bookstore, in newspapers and magazines, in text books, on the television and big screen, in video games, print and digital advertisements and on the walls of a library. It cuts across different modalities to tell and visualize a story.
The Library Arts Steering Committee made up of Jean Hammond, Astrid Reischwitz, and Carol Rissman said, “We see comics as both art and literature, perfect for a gallery located in a library.”
Along with the support of the Friends of the Bedford Free Public Library, the committee invites the public to a free artist’s opening reception from 5 to 6 p.m. this Sunday, Jan. 28 in the library lobby and gallery.
The B.U. Visual Narrative MFA program, a department of currently around 15 artists, is in its second year since its inception. “The Anatomy of Comics” was spearheaded from curation to creating qualifications to mounting the art by students within the program.
This isn’t to say the collection represents a group of novice artists. Within the group on display, artists have published more than a dozen award-winning graphic novels and have had comics featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, Boston Globe, The Nation, The Vineyard Gazette, and more.
Works from these artists have received accolades from The New York Times and the Young Adult Library Services Association, and have won multiple Eisner Awards (that Wikipedia calls “the comics industry’s equivalent to the Academy Awards”), an Ignatz award, and a Cartoonist Prize.
The criteria of this collection is to portray what it takes to make a comic – “the process that makes us come back to the studio every day,” according to the artists’ statement binder on the side of the gallery adjacent to the reference desk.
Most of the artists spotlighted in the exhibit have a preliminary concept sketch mounted adjacent to a finished colorized panel on a simple white foam board backing, both pages generally the size of a letter piece of paper. The pieces show the process for primarily one page or frame excerpt from a book, larger story, or collection of frames. To appreciate the concept or process, get up close.
Paul Karasik, a lecturer in the B.U. Visual Narrative MFA program, submitted the piece “Gone Postal.” The display shows four panels with a description below each describing the evolution and process that brought Karasik to his finished piece. The piece itself tells a story within the collection that tells a larger story about the art form.
Joel Christian Gill, Chair of the B.U. Department of Visual Narrative, called comics a “medium” for storytelling rather than a genre. The artists are not just great illustrators, and they are, (Gill, himself has an MFA in painting, and first started drawing by replicating comic strips and cartoons when he was younger), but are storytellers who use illustration to help move a message forward.
Visual Narrative topics are varied and wide-ranging, from superheroes and children’s books to humor to education to more complex issues in society. Gill is an award-winning historian in Black history and has authored several novels including “Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence,” two volumes of “Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History,” and last summer released a graphic novel adaptation of Ibram X. Kendi’s book “Stamped from the Beginning.” (A page from “Stamped from the Beginning” was Gill’s submission to “The Anatomy of Comics” display.)
According to the artist statements at the library, other artists displayed in the gallery are influenced by their lives identifying as Latine, Chinese immigrant, Asian Jewish, LGBTQ+, and struggling with mental illness.
To get the story across, the visual part of the visual narrative has to “seamlessly add beauty to the story in a natural way, and not distract or take away from a story moving forward,” according to Gill. The art “has to be good, but not too good.”
Visual narrative storytellers face the challenge of finding balance to tell a captivating story. “The Anatomy of Comics” aims to share some of that process.
Gill said, “You really have to fall in love with the beauty of the process to love creating comics.”
The storytellers contributing on the walls or to the artist statements in “The Anatomy of Comics” include: Joel Christian Gill, Lefleche Giasson, Sandeep Badal, Cathy G. Johnson, Paul Karasik, Ariel Kohane, Jade Rodriguez, Sadie Saunders, Ella Scheuerell, and Xinhui Wang.
The gallery is free, open, and accessible to all during regular library hours.