The cover image with which the collected Art Comic first greets the eye, in juxtaposing Yves Klein’s “Leap into the Void” with Jeff Koon’s “Balloon Dog,” sends a strong, clear signal of what is in store for the reader, once they crack the cover. The protagonist’s leap here is made with an expression mixing equal parts of hope, fear and anxiety (with, perhaps, a hint of aggression), likely matching Thurber’s own feelings regarding the work’s central concern: the contemporary, NYC-centered, fine art world, and his experiences therein and thereof.
The story begins from the perspective of youthful idealism embodied by students attending Thurber’s own alma mater, Cooper Union, at the end of the 20th century. It’s not long, however, before the naiveté necessary to maintain such idealism is buffeted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that define the nexus of personal expression and financial gain that is (or at least was) the art market.
The narrative employs a playful shifting of modes throughout, cutting back and forth between documentary, history, horror, fantasy, science fiction, autobio – even religion – and, especially, the absurd. The master thread woven through all is surrealism, giving the work an underlying structure that shares some notable common ground with Chester Brown’s Ed the Happy Clown (also from D & Q).
While the stage upon which nearly the entirety of the drama which unfolds within Art Comic’s diegesis is set in the USA – primarily NYC – the entire publishing history of Art Comic – first as a series of black & white comics from Swimmers Group, and now as a full color hardcover (with new, bonus material, natch’) from Drawn & Quarterly – has, intriguingly, taken place in Canada. Hmmm… perhaps Thurber is onto something here.