Art critic Robert Hughes distinguished between two different aspects of a picture: the part "which can survive reproduction-- the story, the moral, the iconographic detail" and on the other hand "the authentic, expressive, incarnated touch of the artist."
If you want to appreciate the difference, go to the Billy Ireland Museum at Ohio State University to see their new exhibition of art from Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes and Richard Thompson's Cul de Sac.
I greatly admired these two strips when I first saw them reproduced in newspapers and compilations but the original pictures on display in Ohio add a whole different dimension-- highs and lows of color and line well beyond the reproductive capability of the modern printing press; preliminary pencil lines and mid-course changes which demonstrate the honest thinking of craftsmen at work; and most of all, the intimacy of what Hughes called "the incarnated touch of the artist."
Rather than reveal the secret tricks used to create the illusion of magic, these originals confirm that, indeed, the magic was true.
People have rightly bemoaned that history and economics have been unkind to the syndicated comic strip. Newspaper circulation has dwindled, strips have shrunk to postage stamp size, and other more explosive forms of story telling have stolen away key audiences. No wonder we are told that the medium can no longer attract Alex Raymonds and Walt Kellys. But if you look at the diminutive originals on display at the Billy Ireland Museum, you'll see that artists who are good enough can prevail over such limitations. Watterson and Thompson both simplified their images to the bare essentials. They were also generous with their labor, not seeming to fret too much that nuances in color might not fully reproduce, or that a few delicate lines might drop out of the printed version.
These two comic strips are my favorite strips of the past thirty years because of their marvelous drawing and imaginative themes. But as I walked through the two adjacent galleries I was most overwhelmed by the incredible heart in this work. I don't know how I missed it before... perhaps I had to see the originals to appreciate it fully. But in my view, that's the single most important bond between the work of these two terrific artists.
Big hearts are such a rare commodity these days, it's worth a trip to Ohio to witness the phenomenon for yourself.