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Comic art is a 20th century art movement related to pop art. Its aesthetic qualities draw heavily from comic books. At the dawn of the 1900s, comic book series began to proliferate. Their styles became more standardized and certain characters were popular among different audiences.
Comic art, like pop art, grew as a response to 20th century Western culture. Mass media and advertising inspired artists seeking to comment upon society. Comic art uses some of the same motifs as mass production comic books, like flat colors, bold outlines, and popular subjects.
In the 1960s, several artists emerged who shaped early comic art. In the US, Roy Lichtenstein produced large paintings depicting idealized figures in different situations. Details like speech bubbles and enlarged Ben-Day dots (used in commercial printing) added to the effect. Other notable comic artists include the Spanish collective Equipo Crónica, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, Peter Blake, and Rosalyn Drexler.
Later in the 20th century and into the 21st, Japanese manga began to have a significant influence on comic art. Artists like Takashi Murakami and Chiho Aoshima worked in flat vibrant colors and depicted anthropomorphized plants and animals in a comic book style. Their “Superflat” style has had a strong influence on comic art.
Comic art can be classified by era, material, and culture.
Through different periods, one can observe trends in comic art. Motifs and styles can determine the period in which the piece of art was produced. The golden age of comic art was 1960s New York City. Artists produced large scale pieces, often using collage techniques. In the 1980s, some comic artists were influenced by subway graffiti. An example of this style is Keith Haring, whose work originated as illegal public art. In the early part of this century, Japanese manga style is often referenced.
Comic artists may work in different media. Oil, acrylic paint or ink used with various printing techniques are common materials used in comic art. Canvas, wood or paper may be used as a base. Comic art might also take the form of a collage or sculpture. Sometimes artists use clippings from popular print media in their work.
Finally, comic art can be classified by what culture it comes from. This could be the country or the smaller subculture or community the artist was a part of. Some prominent places where comic art has thrived include the US, Japan, England, Spain, France, and Italy. Communities of artists usually thrive in large cities where they can build off of each other’s ideas and make connections to market their work. Thus, New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo and London are some influential cities for comic art movements.
Some of the rarest and most valuable comic art is by artists working in New York City in the 1960s. A few famous painters made their mark in the comic art world and continue to be highly valued. More recent comic art may also be highly valued depending on the artist’s reputation.
Some unique pieces of comic art include works of various media. For example, there are Chiho Aoshima’s video pieces, which depict comic-influenced landscapes and change from day to night as the viewer looks on. Other unusual and interesting pieces are the sculptures of Jeff Koons, such as his lifesize balloon sculpture of the Hulk pushing a wheelbarrow filled with flowers. The Superflat artist Takashi Murakami even adorned the Palace of Versailles with manga-style figures in 2010.
In 2020, the famous comic artist Roy Lichtenstein’s 1994 work Nude with Joyous Painting sold for $46.2 million. However, another of his works sold for $165 million in 2017! The painting, Masterpiece was created in 1962. It depicts a woman speaking to a man through a speech bubble, a common convention in comic art.
A piece of comic art may be valued for different reasons. One of the most important factors is the artist. It is very helpful if there is a signature on the piece.
Provenance is also important to a piece of art’s value. It is important to know who has owned it in the past and where it has been shown, if at all.
Condition is another significant factor in determining the price of a piece of art. Art that has been damaged by sunlight or humidity or has been refinished or altered in some way may be less valuable.
Leah Illingworth is a content specialist here at Mearto. She loves learning and writing about art and antiques each day in addition to exploring the history and stories behind art movements and objects.