“I Prefer Looking at Drawings”

Over at Design Observer, Dan Nadel offers some harsh criticism of the graphic design world based on a particular exhibition, calling its “selections in graphics and pop culture […] conservative and long out-of-date.” He calls one set of works “blatant Chris Ware rip-offs” and suggests some works that would better represent “current trends in graphic visual culture,” such as Matt Brinkman’s posters and Kramers Ergot. He also notes that the history of design and visual culture should include 2000 AD and other illustration-oriented publications.

Some of the graphic designers who read Design Observer, of course, are less than happy to be accused of being part of an insular world. One suggests that an alternate title for the piece could be “I prefer looking at drawings,” which doesn’t seem entirely unfair: before reading this article, I was familiar with Nadel mostly for his writing on comics in Print and The Gansfeld, and his suggestions here are closely connected to movements in art comics.

Part of what I find really interesting about this, though, is that this doesn’t fit so neatly into the classic story of “the mainstream” ignoring the beleaguered “junk medium.” Browse around some design sites, and it becomes pretty clear that graphic designers are similarly lamenting that they’re ignored by “the mainstream.” You even hear some of the same discussions going on at design conferences that you hear at comic cons, with people debating the relative merits of doing work that is more challenging versus work that encourages more widespread “literacy.”

I wonder, though, if comics creators are becoming more design literate through the influence of artists like Chris Ware and the mini-comics and web comics scenes, while the art and design worlds might still need to brush up on their knowledge of comics. In Design Literacy, Steven Heller relates how he had to work hard to get the rest of the judges on the Chrysler Award panel to even consider that Gary Panter’s work is more than just funny drawings. That was awhile ago—but if Nadel’s comments are indicative of anything besides his personal preferences or that particular exhibition, perhaps not much has changed.