Contemporary comics practitioners—of the avant/indie/literary variety, like those published by Pantheon, Fantagraphics, or Drawn & Quarterly—are often called upon to defend the legitimacy of their medium. The popular history of comics in America (superheroes and Sunday Funnies) still frames the medium such that anyone drawing alternatively within it will inevitably have to address their practice in relation to that history. The rise of the “graphic novel” and the widespread success of such artists as Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, and Alison Bechdel (a Pulitzer Prize winner, a Guardian Book Award winner, and a National Book Critics Circle Award nominee respectively) has made this a slightly less common refrain, but it has been those very artists’ ad infinitum advocacy on the part of their chosen medium that has made it so.
Contemporary fashion intellectuals similarly have to defend themselves against the dominant image of their field. I’m talking about Fashion isn’t just frivolous feminine consumerism, it can be artistic, political, yadayada. Although the dominant, if dated, image of comics as a nerd’s enterprise and the dominant, still unfortunately relevant, image of fashion as a mean girl’s exercise in capitalist vanity make the two fields seem more disparate than punk rock and disco, comics and fashion actually have much in common. Both were brought into academy study around the same time, both largely due to the work of Roland Barthes and the study of semiology. Both are starting to creep into museum and gallery institutions. Both are visual languages. Both have dominant pop forms (like Marvel movies and the Vogue monopoly) and interesting, subversive uncurrents. Both have been flirting with the other lately, to great effect.
The three young cartoonists featured here, Jonny Negron, Julien Ceccaldi, and Walter Scott, all draw fashion better than Anna Wintour can edit it. They are part of a next generation of cartoonists—kids born around 1986, “The Year That Changed Comics” (when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns launched, and the first collected edition of Spiegelman’s Maus was released), who came of age while the comics aren’t just... discussions were already growing tired. These young artists haven’t had to contend with the same bullshit their cartoonist predecessors did. They’ve gotten to work from a wiped-clean slate, to make whatever they like. They are drawing inspiration from all sorts of sources, including the glossy world of high fashion. It looks good (they wear it well).
Meet Jonny Negron
Jonny Negron draws like the perv that I’m sure he is. I once had a boyfriend—the best sexter—who told me that, as a pubescent with no access to porn, he would write out his own erotica and read it back to himself while jerking off. This is what I imagine Jonny does with his drawings of Big Beautiful Women.
I love Jonny’s work because he puts high fashion on female bodies that don’t typically get to wear those clothes. His women burst out from—is that McQueen? Negron women are like brightly colored and better clothed Robert Crumbs: they thick. For a girl (me) tired of only seeing 15% body fat in a crop top and flatforms, Jonny’s illustrations are a celebration of the fantasy that fashion should be.
Meet Julien Ceccaldi
Julien Ceccaldi’s comics capture the ludicrous existentialism of the fashion victim, while his fashion captures the suck-it confidence of the hottest art chick. His lead is an androgyne in the opposite way that the fashion industry loves one: she’s all deltoids and biceps and abs, like a beefcake in drag or Tracy Anderson without the boob job. He prints his dolled-up jacked-up characters onto common athletica; eveningwear on a sweatshirt. “I like the idea of wearing a drawing of someone being so muscle-y and sexy and sassy,” Julien says, “it’s like the second best thing to being it.”
Julien knows both his contemporary runway fashion and his comics history, especially the Japanese, inside and out. Although he’s versed in both worlds, he recognizes they don’t converge often, and that’s what his work aims to do. His Cece Comics, which are published on Sex magazine’s blog, will make even the faintest fashion follower LOL with humiliating recognition. His self-actualized garment design is like the panacea to the industry victimhood his characters represent.
Meet Walter Scott
Walter Scott was interviewed fabulously by Whitney Mallett for Bullett last month about his comic book series Wendy, which follows the “trials and tribulations of a hungover gallerina ‘whose dreams of contemporary art stardom are perpetually derailed by the temptations of punk music, drugs, alcohol, parties, and boys.’” Wendy is the kind of girl who would wear one of Julien Ceccaldi’s artsy sweatshirts, but only if he gifted it to her.
Wendy has wicked art-girl style. Every time I read Walter’s Wendy, I’m inspired to pull out my best black-on-black bodycon separates and cruise for douchy band dudes. “I am really into Wendy wearing contextually inappropriate outfits,” Walter told me. “For instance, a glamourous bare-backed ankle length dress at a punk show, or a crop top at an art opening. It reflects a sort of muddled self- expression, but fabulous in it’s perpetual inability to keep it together. In that way, it encourages people to have a little fun.”
OMG, A Conclusion!
If comics are the nerds of the school of culture then fashion would be voted “most popular,” but both are way cooler when they get all up in each other. The fashion industry would be better if it exercised the reflexivity and semiological-directness that comics does so well. And comics could use some of the empowered sexiness that fashion boasts. Fashionable cartoonists like Negron, Ceccaldi, and Scott are not only putting out amazing independent art, they are also contributing to a beneficial muddling of fields that were once too-well defined. BBWs in McQueen, fashion victims painted on tote bags, and other “true to life?” (Ceccaldi’s words) images of fashion—where fashion’s mean girls meet the geeks, good things are happening.