Maximalism, in modern art, is usually seen as a reaction to minimalism (a post-WW II current in modern art). The art world tends to be very solipsistic and looks at its movements on a fairly narrow spectrum. I want to use the term a little more broadly. I want to think about maximalist aesthetics as a more general tendency in art, and specifically comics. There is a minimalist aesthetic as well, but that’s beyond this little post. I’ll develop that another time.
I’m in the process of writing about Crisis on Infinite Earths (COIE) for my Event Horizon column, and I wanted to classify George Pérez’s art in some way. He is famous for drawing comics stuffed to the gills with lots of characters and detail. He takes pride in this. According to Rob Clough, once on a comics panel, he said, “why use three lines when you can use TEN!”
His drawings are not what distinguishes his approach from others. Pérez draws his figures and backgrounds squarely in line with comics realism, an approach, which, in the American context, is traceable back to Neal Adams. This style is more realistic (realism here is relative to older approaches like Wayne Boring, it’s still a mannered realism) figure rendering, finer inking, focus on light and shadow, and how they add depth to the figure. One day I’ll have to unpack this more. In any case, Pérez’s basic style owes much to this approach.
Where Pérez differs from the pack is in how he approaches the comic book page. He draws a large quantity of detail in each panel. But, he also has a tendency to layout the page in a very dense manner. In COIE especially, each page has a lot of panels. 10-12-15 panels per page are not uncommon, sometimes more. Overall, Pérez approaches art and layout in a hyper-detailed and dense way. His layouts are complex, imaginative, and despite the density and enormous amount of detail, very clear. He’s is a maximalist in form and content.
Maximalism: A Definition
To summarize, here are some qualities of maximalism in comics:
- Quantity: large amount overwhelming detail: Geof Darrow, Hard Boiled.
- Depth: a lot of secondary details, jokes, etc. scattered in the panels that may or may not related to the main narrative: Will Elder, Mad Magazine.
- Density: of information or layout: George Pérez on COIE.
- Scope: massive narrative length, scope, breadth of influences: Dave Sim, Cerebus (this definition developed by Tim Callahan).
Many other examples exist out there. The maximalist tendency is present in comics from the beginning and can be traced from Windsor McCay, to Jack Kirby (especially his later work), to S. Clay Wilson, to Gary Panter, to contemporary practitioners like James Stokoe. The above should be seen as an exhaustive definition, rather as notes towards one. Let me know if you have ideas or suggestions on extending or improving this definition.
Oh and check out this Twitter thread on Maximalism for additional suggestions and ideas:
Explore more posts related to my Event Horizon column about the comics from 1985-87.