PULLMAN — At the mention of comics does a superhero like Superman or Spiderman dominate your thoughts? An artist who draws alternative comics might say your brain is stuffed with mainstream garbage.“I tell people I’m a comic and they think I’m writing fights and tights stuff,” said Seattle artist Tom Van Deusen, scornfully.
In one of Van Deusen’s comics, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, clad in a bathrobe, rattles around Seattle in a giant robot that he uses to smash in the roof of a Starbucks when he decides to order a cappuccino. It’s a satire on how a rich and powerful man is ham-fistedly changing the city and world. It’s also another entry in the Northwest’s storied alternative comics catalog.
Van Deusen is one of 10 Seattle-area artists featured in “Northwest Alternative Comics,” on display at the Washington State University Museum of Art through Dec. 17. Before the exhibit’s opening, Van Deusen painted a mural in the gallery with friend and fellow Seattle artist Max Clotfelter, whose work is also featured in the show.
Alternative comics sprouted from the underground comic scene of the 1960s
and ‘70s starring artist Robert Crumb, said Zach Mazur, curator of education and collections at the WSU museum. While underground comics focused on drugs and sex, alternative comics often address social issues and ills. Many see the Northwest as the birthplace of alternative comics beginning in the early 1980s with cartoonists Matt Groening, Lynda Barry and Charles Burns at the Evergreen State College in Olympia. Today artists’ work can be found in alternative weeklies, comic books, zines and graphic novels.
It’s something an artist does for love because there’s no money in it, said Van Deusen, who answers “angry emails for a video game company” for a living. On the side he helped start the quarterly comics newspaper Intruder and authored the 84-page autobiographical comic “Scorched Earth.”
Many of the artists featured in the exhibit have fine arts backgrounds, Mazur said.
“Everyone in this exhibit is breaking boundaries.”
Mazur and Ryan Hardesty, curator of art and exhibitions, worked with Larry Reid, manager of the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery in Seattle, and Casey Bruce at Danger Room Comics in Olympia, to create an exhibit spanning several generations of artists. It ranges from Peter Bagge, who took over Weirdo magazine from Crumb and chronicled the Seattle underground in the 1990s, to today’s emerging artists.
Other artists include:
Paul Chadwick – Began his career creating storyboards for Disney, Warner Bros., and Lucasfilm and is best-known for his award-winning comic “Concrete” about a well-meaning but tormented individual trapped in a rock-coated body.
Ellen Forney – Illustrated Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which won a National Book Award in 2007. Recently completed “Crossed Pinkies and Walking Fingers,” a set of 40-foot murals that opened this year in the Sound Transit Capitol Hill light rail station in Seattle.
Eroyn Franklin – Specializes in collage and cut-paper techniques. Her works include “Detained,” a visual reportage of illegal immigrants caught in Washington state’s detention system.
Taylor Dow – One of the newest artists on the scene, Dow released his 44-page comic “Apocalypse Dad” this year. His work “Abruption” won 2014 Best in Show at the Olympia Comics Festival.
If You Go
What: “Northwest Alternative Comics”
When: Through Dec. 17
Where: Washington State University Museum of Art
- An opening reception with the artists is 5 to 7 Thursday, Oct. 6.
- Award-winning cartoonist Peter Bagge will talk about the Northwest alternative comics scene and his career as Weirdo magazine’s managing editor at 6 p.m. Nov. 3.