Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hera Gallery showcases local comic arts

This Article was taken from the July 31st issue of the South County Independant.

By Doug Norris/Features Editor

WAKEFIELD - When you walk into the "30 Days + 24 Hours: All Rhode Island Comic Book Exhibition" now showing at Hera Gallery, be prepared. This isn't your grandfather's Kryptonite.

Here, Red Riding Hood is depicted as a sexually aggressive vagina. A plantain and a tomato are shown practicing safe sex. And the monkeys of old Rocky Point Park run amok in Warwick.

Hera's space is dedicated to a wide range of comic arts, from storyboards to prints, comic books to graphic novels, and even comic-inspired, pop art ceramics, all created by Rhode Island artists. The exhibition, which runs through Aug. 30, included a "24 Hour Comic Book Challenge" from noon on July 19 to noon on July 20 in which artists worked live in the gallery. The day also

featured comic-related events, including documentaries, slide shows, book readings and musical performers.

What results is a diverse and entertaining PG13- to R-rated show focused on handmade and limited edition comic art, from Peace Dale artist John Kotula's adventures of "Platano y Tomate," a series of illustrations for a bilingual HIV/AIDS pamphlet that the artist has described as "veggie porn," to Kingston-based artist Robert Wohl, whose entries include panels from his "Mister Mystery" comic book series.

Also in the room: Joanne DeLomba's colorful, whimsical and sharp "First Date" ceramic vessels, echoing Roy Lichtenstein. David Larson, a Rhode Island College graduate now living in New Hampshire, shows scenes from episode 16 of his "Stick-Man" comic. And Pawtucket's Jason Mayoh displays a range of work, including art from his comic books combining true stories with believe-it-or-not urban legends at a re-imagined Rocky Point Park.

The choice to dedicate six weeks of summer gallery space to comics made by local artists was a bold stroke by Hera. The work is extremely varied, balanced between raw and polished, subversive and slick. Some of it evokes the tradition of Golden Age comics, the age of lurid horror and mystery stories found in "Weird Tales" and "Tales from the Crypt." Other work seems influenced by the groundbreaking reality comics of Robert Crumb. Overall, this eclectic show in its fragmentary way reveals the pliability of the medium to tell stories and convey ideas.

In a summer when "Iron Man" and the Batman vs. Joker epic "The Dark Knight" are dominating movie theaters, comic art has never been more influential in the popular culture. But perhaps more impressive than its potential as a blockbuster movie franchise is the fact that comic art appears everywhere - in advertisements and screenprinted posters taped to Dumpsters and stapled to telephone poles. It retains its roots in affordable paper media but has branched out to canvas and clay. And now it's just as comfortable on the walls and floors of an art gallery as anything painted in oils, welded in steel or sculpted from stone.

As Robin might say: "Holy Picasso, Batman!"

Benjamin C. Laux of Wakefield (above) draws during Hera Gallery's "24 Hour Comic Book Challenge" held July 19, while Art Stein, also of Wakefield, checks out the concurrent exhibition, "30 Days + 24 Hours." The show features Rhode Island-based artists working in styles originating in the comic book format.