By Sophia Kamps
My first love with comic strips was Calvin and Hobbes. I never really considered them art. Instead, I considered them stories. Funny, relatable, sometimes oddly heartbreaking stories. When I was seventeen, that precarious age when life seems to be rushing quickly towards an end of childhood you’re simultaneously desperate for and terrified of, I revisited Calvin and Hobbes when I read them to the child I was babysitting. I was surprised when Bill Watterson’s commentary on childhood and the magic of imagination brought me to tears. It suddenly occurred to me that, while Calvin and his sarcastic tiger companion may be forever young in the pages of Waterson’s books, a real Calvin would grow up and leave behind his imaginary companion. In reality, Hobbes would end up just a stuffed tiger. It was then that I realized that the words and images brought together in the comic strip has a uniquely powerful sway on human emotion. Comic strips can make you feel things. They can be art.
With the rise of social media, and in particular, Instagram, an art form that was once relegated to the Sunday newspaper can now have a handpicked audience of hundreds of thousands. With this comes freedom of content. More often than not, I find myself looking at comic strips that contemplate the quiet joys and loneliness of human existence. Artists use simple sketches, vivid colors, and poetic words to connect with readers in a deeply personal way. These comics strips reveal that the internet, which feels like an isolated, introspective experience, is in fact shared with millions of other people. We’re all feeling alone, together.
The visualization of poetic words as art is not a new idea. From Duchamp’s ready-mades to Jenny Holzer’s truisms, powerful words and phrases have a long history as art in their own right. Now, Instagram artists pair words with illustrations in diary-like comic strips. Often, the illustrations are not directly tied to the words. Instead, they evoke the same feeling. Common themes include loneliness, self-love, and little moments in life that feel very happy, very sad, or a confusing mixture of the two. In some ways, the overall purpose of art is to invoke feeling in the viewer. The introspective comic strip, through its minimalist, poetic approach and intimate relatability does just that.
Visually, the art of the Instagram comic is often sketchy, mixed-medium and bordering on amateur or child-like. This style adds to the overall intimate feeling. It’s like peeking into someone’s diary, with a lingering feeling that the diary may be your own.
In a lot of ways, social media sites like Instagram have merely made mainstream art forms that existed for a long time in the form of zines and indie books. However, the internet has also breathed new life into the comic strip art form. The ability to share with the world your innermost thoughts and feelings through art, to be an artist, even if you do not consider yourself one, is very powerful. The ability to witness the interior experience of another person is perhaps what art is all about, and how lovely that we now have a platform for sharing that.
* Mari Andrew is a New York based artist
** Meredith W. Park is an illustrator and comic artist