Grand-daddy of the fan-artists?

Saturday my husband and I got a chance to do something focused purely on our own entertainment….how decadent!  It was our anniversary on Friday, and we’d taken a yoga class together as our celebration; managing to get out on a “date” on Saturday too made it a really special weekend.

So what did we do?  It was one of the last few days of the Lichtenstein exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, and we were BOUND AND DETERMINED to get there before they shipped all the works back to their respective homes.

Lichtenstein was one of the famous Pop Artists, along with Andy Warhol, who created art from everyday items.  He also seems to have been a really “method” focused artist, using systems of dark lines, composition and those ever-present dots to create virtually all of his works, over a very lengthy career, which spanned from at least the 50’s into the early 00’s.

I was more familiar with Lichtenstein’s images of distressed females, but as we wandered further into the exhibit, I learned that he had a significant period where he used materials from war and romance comics to inspire his works.  He would take images from those comics, tinker with the composition and text, and rework them with his unique system of dots, etc., to create new masterpieces.  Interesting….using familiar comic images to create your own works of art.  Suddenly, it dawned on me…this guy, he was a FAN-ARTIST!  And maybe one of the earliest ones!

Because I am a little (maybe a lot) older than the folks who have grown up with fan art as a normal everyday part of life, I really wasn’t sure how and when the idea of fan art came about.  So, being me, I had to come home and research the history of comics, fan-art and pop art (a little bit, mostly Wikipedia skimming and high-level browsing of other web pages), so I could understand how Roy’s work fit into the overall scheme of things, and if it were possible that he had some role in developing the concept of fan-based art.

Lichtenstein did most of his comic-related work during the 1960’s, with his most famous painting being Whaam!, derived from DC Comics’ All American Men of War.  Drowning Girl was inspired by DC Comics Secret Hearts #83.  It’s really interesting to me that there was a robust romance comic presence at that time.  I wonder how widely they were circulated, and who were the typical readers?  My mom wasn’t one of them.  She fit more into the housewife model of the 1950’s, emerging from that to become educated and employed as an R.N. in the 80’s.  Here is a typical image, which shows his the line/dot technique pretty well.

Comics in general, I found, have been around for a very long time, throughout all of human history, really (which kind of makes sense).

Etched into towers build in the AD years, illustrated tales of rakes from the 1700’s, they’ve been part of our collective media since the beginning.  The “superhero” comics that we now know emerged in the late 1930’s, with the introduction of Superman.  By the 1960’s, the superhero genre of comics took off, and has been the dominant portion of the comics industry since, followed closely by the graphic novel genre, which has also recently become a large, successful genre.

Pop art and comics seem to have had a relationship early on, but it might take a more detailed reading of art history texts for me to completely grasp how they influenced each other.  Pop art took its cues from “low art” sources, such as comics, but was considered to be a segment of “high” art.  Comic art seems to have existed in its own little world, somewhat like it does now, I suppose.  I found references that indicate that Andy Warhol’s works were used as inspiration for comic-book covers, although he himself didn’t seem to take inspiration from comics.  If anyone reads this and wants to elaborate on the relationship and cross-influencing of the two, please feel free to do so in the comments below 🙂

Fan art doesn’t have a very detailed description in Wikipedia; however, from the fanFICTION entry, the precursors to fanfiction were parodies and revisions of Alice in Wonderland, with the current surge of fanfiction that we know beginning with….any guesses?  Star Trek.  Just for fun, I had to include this image of  Spock from a series of altered images on Fanpop.

I did love that show.  Not enough to become a trekkie, or anything, but I did watch it regularly as a child.  So, fanfiction was gaining prominence during the 60’s, right around the time that Lichtenstein was creating his comic-related works, which is a nice little coincidence.

A side topic that is interesting about the fanfiction/fanart phenomena is the entire legality issue.  The idea of taking someone else’s image or character, and using it to create your own works, well, it’s a little thorny sometimes, legally.  It remains a current issue, with creators of original content taking different stances on whether they are supportive of interpretations of their works.  JK Rowling seems to have gone both ways, both supporting and litigating at different times.  A contemporary fantasy-genre favorite, George R.R. Martin, is apparently against fanfiction, considering it a poor exercise for an aspiring writer (which I would tend to agree with, to some degree; I presume he is also motivated about potential losses of revenue as well).  Blizzard, on the other hand, embraces fanart completely, featuring it prominently on their website and making it available for the broad community to access.  Lichtenstein apparently suffered more from journalistic criticisms of his “copycat” behavior, more than legal action.  Perhaps he was lucky, he lived before the storm of litigiousness that we currently live in.

So, that is a little sampling of what I discovered while looking into the possibility that Roy Lichtenstein’s war and romance-inspired works might be one of the first notable instances of fan art.  Could they be?  I am thinking that yes, they might.  There might be other more important events which precipitated the fan art movement, but it is very possible that his foray into copying and manipulating comic images was one of the early pushes that got the ball rolling.

I’d like to close with one last idea I had.  As I was looking at the images of the “distressed females” in the exhibit,

I thought of a prominent image that many of you may have recently seen.  It is the image of Jaina Proudmoore, clearly distressed.  I wondered first, if the artist didn’t subconsciously channel a little bit of Lichtenstein when creating the image of Jaina….and second, what it would be like if someone took that image, and remade it using techniques similar to Lichtenstein’s.  What do you think?  Jaina’s a little more angry, and she possesses an internal strength that you just KNOW the Drowning Girl didn’t have….I still wonder, who would Jaina call for help if she did…

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