When Comic Art Meets High Art, the Results Will Surprise You

There are two graphic novels out this summer about Jean-Michel Basquiat, and you’re definitely going to hate one of them. Which one? That’s harder to say. Julian Voloj and Søren Mosdal’s Basquiat and Paolo Parisi’s Basquiat: A Graphic Novel couldn’t be more different: Mosdal emulates the artist’s agitated lines, while Parisi uses flat zones of primary color, in the style of Basquiat’s mentor Andy Warhol. Aficionados will doubtless disagree about which book works — but that was probably inevitable. There’s something inherently odd about using one artistic tradition to depict the life (to say nothing of reproducing the work) of an artist from a different tradition. And yet, not only are a growing number of cartoonists creating books about famous artists, but their approaches are dizzyingly varied. When is a comic book a fitting tribute to an icon?

It’s a question that numerous publishers and creators are eager to address. Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, Jackson Pollock and Francis Bacon have all been memorialized in panel form in recent years. It’s not a stretch to use the quintessentially modern medium of comics to capture the life of a 20th-century artist; the free-flowing Niki de Saint Phalle: The Garden of Secrets, by Dominique Osuch and Sandrine Martin, is a particularly ingenious tribute to an underappreciated figure. But even Velázquez, Caravaggio and Goya are getting cartoon treatments.

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