Look past the sweep of Superman’s scarlet cape. There’s bizarre, beautiful panel-framed characters waiting in Cleveland’s comic history, drawn by a diverse world of Northeast Ohio creators, from autobiographical champion of the mundane Harvey Pekar to the noir, black-and-white grit of James Giar.
“People don’t realize that [Cleveland] has such a wealth of artists working in this genre,” says Mindy Tousley, executive director of the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, whose exhibit Graphic: The Counter Culture of Cartoons, Comics & Graphic Novels in Northeast Ohio shows through Sept. 8. “Some tell me they had no idea that Superman started in Cleveland until the Siegel & Shuster Society formed.”
Consider the exhibit a crash course. Drawn mostly from the personal archives of curators Laura and Gary Dumm, an illustrator who notably drew for Pekar’s American Splendor, Graphic stretches from Superman’s early incarnations to The Cleveland Press editorial cartoons of Lou Darvas and beyond.
Venture further into the one-room show to discover oddball, tender touches, such as a Pekar doll made by his wife Joyce Brabner. Pekar’s screen-printed face stretches in a red grimace, his slightly weathered body wearing doll clothes stitched from the real Pekar’s T-shirt and jeans.
You’ll find new additions to the canon, from zines and the anime-indebted art of Cleveland Institute of Art students to Derf Backderf’s My Friend Dahmer illustrations.
Graphic proves our impact on comic history — even if it often goes unnoticed. And during a summer when it seems like an entire universe of international artists has descended upon our city, Graphic was also designed specifically to stake a claim for Cleveland creators left in the shadow of the Front Triennial.
“They really only targeted the big institutions, and they kind of left out regional people,” says Tousley. “[Don’t] bring in international artists — let’s promote what we’ve got.”
Regardless of your Front feelings, here Cleveland’s voice screams loud. If comics are where counterculture meets accessibility, Cleveland, as always, has the best of both worlds.