- Illustration from The Civil War Diary of Freeman Colby by Marek Bennett
It's been a minute since cartoonists had basically two career outlets: comic books and newspaper funny pages. At the Mad River Valley Arts gallery in Waitsfield, a current show demonstrates how the art form has blossomed. "The Mad Contemporary" features work by 15 artists that ranges from highly accomplished to aspirational, from book excerpts to stand-alone drawings.
The very name of the art form is slippery: We use the words "cartoons" and "comics" interchangeably, even when the work is decidedly not comical. And someone came up with the arid term "graphic novel" for book-length cartoon-style works even if they're not really novels. Whatever. MRV Arts executive director and curator Sam Talbot-Kelly covered the bases in the show's subtitle: "A Comics and Cartoon Art Exhibition."
Fans of the genre will recognize some of the participants — several of them are contributors to this newspaper and/or affiliated with the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction.
Cartoonist Rachel Lindsay submitted an original board from her graphic memoir Rx. Glynnis Fawkes shared pages from her book Charlotte Brontë Before Jane Eyre. Marek Bennett is represented by images from his book The Civil War Diary of Freeman Colby and the cover of The Most Costly Journey: Stories of Migrant Farmworkers in Vermont, Drawn by New England Cartoonists (the latter published by Vermont Folklife Center). Children's illustrator-animator Dan Abdo has several drawings, including a spread from the book Grumbalina and the Flower Power Spell. A page from Daryl Seitchik's Follow the Doll represents her in-progress painted graphic novel inspired by Slavic folklore. Artist and educator Jenni Bee (Belotserkovsky) shows her love for the Green Mountain State in her digital comic "VERMONTing."
Many of the submissions are single drawings, such as Julianna Brazill's flower-sniffing "Peony Perv," Sarah "Freedz" Conlon's digital compositions of fantastical creatures, Myleigh Modun's "cutesy-dystopian lineup of stuffed animal fashion," Niko Stonorov's sweet pencil drawings titled "Bad Dogs of Vermont" and panels from Valley Reporter cartoonist Keith Davidson.
To augment the exhibition, Talbot-Kelly pinned to one wall dozens of cartoons made by youngsters at a camp this summer — the first ever at MRV Arts. Another display shows visitor responses to panels from a New Yorker Cartoon Caption Game.
From line drawings to lushly painted illustrations, whether silly or somber or in between, "The Mad Contemporary" manifests the captivating synergy of words with pictures.