Gallery exhibits inspired by comic books are really nothing new. In the late '50s and early '60s, pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein showed clear influence from the four-color periodical publications.But "Pop-Sequentialism," an exhibit opening tonight at the La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles and running through May 29, is different. This isn't art "inspired" by comic books, and it's not showy covers or splash pages displaying iconic poses. It's actual original pages of comic book art from some of the biggest mainstream releases of the last 25 years. For La Luz de Jesus gallery director Matt Kennedy, the goal was to celebrate the process of collaboration in comic books, demonstrating the input of both artist and writer. "I wanted to make sure that there were a lot of interior pages, so that people could get a sense of the process," Kennedy said. "I could have loaded this full of pages by people like Travis Charest and Adam Hughes, and it would have been great art, but neither one of them has ever really worked with a really great writer. The history of comics in the past 25 years in the history of the comic book writer as rock star."
Don't think that Kennedy is simply an art scene dilettante with a passing interest in the medium. He's a long-time comic book fan dating back to his childhood, and comic book art has crept into past La Luz de Jesus exhibits — but never quite so prominently as in "Pop-Sequentialism."
"There was an episode of Simon and Simon," Kennedy told of the '80s detective series that unexpectedly helped further his passion for comics. "The episode had a murder mystery that was solved in a comic book. The artist had put clues in this issue — it was like #65, like an arbitrary number. It wasn't #1. I remember watching the show and someone remarking that this issue was more valuable than the first issue. I was like, "Wow, how is that possible?' And I went and dug through some of the comics I kept from when I was a little kid, and Werewolf by Night #31 and #32 were in there, the first appearance of Moon Knight.
"I then went through the Yellow Pages and found out that indeed there were comic book shops that specialized in selling comic books. Located one of them, and went there, and I ended up getting a job there very quickly. The first piece of comic book art I ever bought was at that shop. It was a Swamp Thing cover that Steve Bissette and John Totleben had done. I spent the entire summer, and two months in the fall, working in trade to pay off that piece of comic art."
Kennedy's comic book art purchasing has since culminated in the more than 40 pieces that make up the exhibit."They let me know pretty quickly that you just got to buy the stuff," Kennedy said of working with artist reps. "They're not interesting in holding it for a show. It's going to sell, they can't turn away a definite sale for a possible sale. Unlike any other exhibition that we've ever had here and probably most galleries in the world, I bought every single piece for the show, because I believe in it so strongly."
The four walls of "Pop-Sequentialism" are easy to navigate, but filled with so much notable pieces of comic book history it's difficult to process it all. The entire curation process took Kennedy two-and-a-half years, and crucial moments from many of the most celebrated series of the past two decades are represented, from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman, to Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man. (All pieces of the exhibit can be seen here.)
With that comes the need to put these pieces in proper context for the many who might be unfamiliar. To that end, Kennedy has published an 80-page catalogue — which he cheekily dubbed an "80 page giant," again proving his knowledge of the source material — to provide contextual information alongside the art.
"Comic fans know, so they don't really need much of an explanation about why things are great," Kennedy said. "People who generally buy paintings and pop art won't know what's key, necessarily, about this first page from The Filth unless they know the comic."
Among the more expensive works on display are a color proof from Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins' Watchmen #6, and a two-page splash from Astonishing X-Men #7, by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday (both $3,000).One of Kennedy's personal favorites is a two-page splash from the Teen Titans Lost Annual by Bob Haney, Jay Stephens and Mike Allred, showing the classic version of the team encountering John F. Kennedy.
"It's real pop art, because it's referencing pop culture," Kennedy said.
A striking element of the exhibit is that, contrary to what you might expect from a gallery show in LA's hip Los Feliz neighborhood, it's nearly all from comics published by Marvel and DC, with big-name superheroes like Batman, Iron Man and Captain America all present. The non-big two entries are either titles from Vertigo (a DC imprint) like Shade the Changing Man or Y the Last Man, or creator-owned series from well-known mainstream talent, like Incognito or The Walking Dead.
For Kennedy, it was definitely a deliberate choice.
"Mainstream comics have a bigger impact," he said. "Most world leaders grew up reading comic books. Even people who grew up in areas where comic books weren't readily available, someone gave them a comic book at some point. Superman means something completely different to a 45-year-old man than it does to a 75-year-old man.""Pop-Sequentialism" opens with a reception 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. May 6, and runs through May 29 at the La Luz de Jesus Gallery, 4633 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!