Krazy! comics come to the Vancouver Art Gallery


Vancouver Art Gallery Exhibition

KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art

May 17 to September 7, 200

I went to see Krazy! last week. It’s the first showing at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) that I’ve been to in awhile, and as someone who spends far too much of their monthly income on video games, comic books and graphic novels it’s right up my alley.

The exhibit takes up two floors of the gallery, with the main floor being dedicated to comics and graphic novels along with anime and magna with the second floor turned over to video games and film. The show is curated by some of the big names of the featured industries including Art Spiegelman most famous for his Holocaust retelling Maus and Will Wright who created the Sim games such as Sim City and The Sims. The show offers an interesting examination of animation from cartoon stips in the newspaper with Krazy Kat to video games and modern computer animated movies.

It does not, however offer any context, something that is actually too bad since this is a rare opportunity to bring outsiders into the world of animation, and graphic storytelling.

Below the jump is my critique of the exhibit. It might sound negative, but really in total this is a good show and well worth your time. It’s certainly not perfect, but there is a chance that I’m being overly critical of it. I enjoyed my time going through the exhibit quite a bit, and would certainly recommend it to anyone regardless of their interest level in animated storytelling.

It was disappointing to me because despite the advertising campaign that shows the exhibit as being unusually un-arty for the VAG, the show takes great pains to be high art. Anything popular is eschewed in the favour of the underground works, save for Maus which is one of the best selling graphic novels of all time.

Some comic creators are embaressed that so much of the industry and the art form has been built on popular concepts, such as superheros and it’s sad to see that the VAG embraced the notion that it’s fine to ignore a major area of work because it’s too commercial. There’s no Jack Kirby, because he drew men in tights, there’s no Steve Ditko, there’s no Charles Schwartz or Peanuts [wp]. There’s no mid-century horror comics, romance comics, cowboy comics or anything that people actually bought.

Comics wise things tend to fall into two camps, the first being the crazy sexually charged comics of the 60s’ that owe so much to Robert Crumb (though in another omission Crumb isn’t even mentioned), and the clever dry wit comics that appear in publications like The New Yorker. These are, for the most part, great comics but they’re such a niche in the world of comics that it’s sad all that was left out simply because it’s popular.

Imagine a VAG display on the novel that featured three books, one of them being an entire room devoted to The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and you get some idea of how ill-balanced the display is.


I don’t know as much about magna and anime, but clearly neither does the VAG. It’s a nice looking part of the display, but there’s more to the genre than ninjas, giant robots and Samuel L. Jackson. Where as Grave of the Fireflies? Did I just miss any mention of Hayao Miyazaki [wp]? Where the comics portion of the exhibit worked very hard to ignore the entire popular history of the field, to make it seem far more like art for intellectuals, Japan is treated like a nation of teenage boys. Anything that might expand the genre is ignored.

The video games exhibit is on the second floor and is underwhelming. Maybe the fact that it sort of looks like a basement rec room is intentional, but it doesn’t really argue well for video games as art which I believe they can be. First up is a Pac-Man console from the 1980s, and in shockingly good shape. It’s free to play, and boy it’s fun. I used to love Pac-Man even though I’ve always been crap at it. Then a series of televisions line the floor, angled upwards, showing a number of different popular video game franchises. Some video game consoles adorn the wall, and then there’s a few character sculpts.

What to say about it? Not much since the VAG really gives no direction or information. Several of the television screens show Grand Theft Auto games, but I did not see any explanation or discussion of what the series has meant to the video game industry or how they can border on art. The only supporting text was about Will Wright’s new game Spore. The fact that Electronic Arts was one of the sponsors of the exhibit and are the company releasing the game is probably just a coincidence.

The animation section was too small to really touch on much of anything but I felt that it did the best job of showing the historical and cultural relevance of the subject matter. From early animation through Disney’s Dumbo to modern computer animated movies like Toy Story and Over The Hedge, it’s an informative if all too-small look at animation.

There’s also a theatre, where a movie is projected on all four walls and exhibit goers are able to sit on couches in the centre and watch the film. When I was there they were showing Over The Hedge, but other films also play such as Akira.

All in all the exhibit is well worth going to. It’s just frustrating that so much was left out, but with limited space things were always going to be left out. It’s obviously the curators call, and I’m sure it’ll be pointed out in the comments that my opinion is worth less than Art Spiegelman’s when it comes to comics. It’s just an opinion, I just disagree with the choices made.

4 Comments so far

  1. mweisman on May 29th, 2008 @ 9:11 am

    The curating was outstanding. Unfortunately, the "art" was not exciting. Perhaps when they get a new venue, they will be able to get something worthwhile to work with.

  2. Barbara Doduk (beelove) on May 29th, 2008 @ 9:25 am

    Thanks for the great sum up Jeffery. I was actually interested in going to this, but sadly now my suspicions are correct in thinking it would not be all that cool. Given the subject it could have been wicked. Sadly all too often VAG disappoints me.

  3. soundbyter on May 29th, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

    This exhibit could have been mutually beneficial; it could have drawn people who wouldn’t usually find themselves inside the VAG to take a peek at some Emily Carr, and it could have drawn people who wouldn’t normally read Batman comic books to take a peek at some Neal Adams or Gene ‘The Dean’ Colan.

    I found that it did neither; it lacked the placard to justify it’s content as art, and it lacked the content to justify a visit from people who wouldn’t otherwise visit the museum.

    I can’t say that it was a bad exhibit, but considering the subject they were handling, they could have done a much better job.

  4. Jeffery Simpson (van_jeffery) on May 29th, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

    Is anyone having trouble seeing the two images with this post? I see them fine but I’ve heard they’re coming up "image not found". If anyone else is having that issue let me know.

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