Comic-Book Altermodernism

Frank Santoro recently posted a note about ‘fusion cartoonists.’ He sees the work of Paul Pope and Scott McCloud’s Zot as progenitors of a new stylistic movement (a loose term – perhaps a better word is sensibility?). Other, younger cartoonists mentioned in the same breath are Brandon Graham, Brian Lee O’Malley, and Dash Shaw. Their work (according to Frank – and I concur) is a new kind of fusion of contemporary and international influences. Their works draw on art from all the major comic-book producing regions: America, Japan, and Europe. This international miscegenation is key.

Frank likes Jazz metaphors and I think ‘fusion’ generally fits… though it’s perhaps a little broad. I’ve been thinking recently along similar lines, but aligning these artists with a recent art-world concept of Altermodernism. The term & concept was coined by Nicolas Bourriaud in 2005. Bourriaud asserts that post-modernism has exhausted itself and it must be replaced by a new concept. His candiate is Altermodernism. Here’s his explanation:

“Artists are looking for a new modernity that would be based on translation: What matters today is to translate the cultural values of cultural groups and to connect them to the world network. This “reloading process” of modernism according to the twenty-first-century issues could be called altermodernism, a movement connected to the creolisation of cultures and the fight for autonomy, but also the possibility of producing singularities in a more and more standardized world.”

To my eyes this really fits what Frank is describing.

Altermodernism itself is still rather vague and ill-defined… it’s very new after all… but at least it’s meaning is not yet so overstuffed like it’s predecessors post-modernism and modernism. I for one would be thrilled to see comics at the head of an artistic vanguard, embracing and extending the meaning of the zeitgeist with the same kind of determination seen in the art world. Down with Alternative. Long live Altermodern!

3 Replies to “Comic-Book Altermodernism”

  1. Sounds good. But that’s a tough word to say easily. Fusion is easier to say. And, technically, Dash Shaw coined the term and I used it. I don’t really like Fusion Jazz so I was a little put off by it, but I think the term resonated with folks a little bit. “Alternative” is in such usage that it may be difficult to overtake…

    Anyways, the point is that this new way of assimilating influence is taking hold, I think, largely because of the availability of reprints. For Brandon Graham to unite Bode and Moebius 15 years ago would have been really difficult because their work was out of print for years. Now with the web, for images and for tracking down out of print books, it’s a new ballgame.

  2. Absolutely. I’m not married to the Altermodern term either. Just trying it out for a size. But what you say about reprints also carries though to to the art world. Altermodernism is at least partially fueled by ‘other modernisms’ that existed outside of the main western strain. Eastern European modernisms, South American ones, etc. Movements and work that were largely confined to specific areas and tended to be dismissed as regional. This history is being reclaimed for a new generation. It seems analogous to me at least on some level. Here’s Bourriaud again touching on history.

  3. ‘a new kind of fusion of contemporary and international influences’

    i’m unsure how this is different from postmodern collage.

    i honestly see more potential for the altermodern in what frank calls ‘the elmo generation’, in those who marry the universal themes (read: western modernism) of indie comics with the local, regional aesthetic concerns (fort thunder) of art comics.

    jason overby ( might be a good example of this. he uses fort thunder’s aesthetics as a sign that locates himself within a larger community, unlike, say, the original members of fort thunder, and their followers, who seemed to use signs in an enclosing, self-referential way. i see jason overby’s comics as ‘logging onto the internet’ and fort thunder / art comics as ‘creating a local internet’.

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