The Wicked + The Divine @ The Gallery at Munro House

The Wicked + The Divine Exhibition, The Gallery at Munro House, Leeds, November 2016

In participation with Thought Bubble 2016, the Gallery at Munro House are hosting an exhibition dedicated to the covers from Image Comics’ instant cult classic The Wicked + The Divine. Created by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, WicDiv is a beautiful, thought-provoking and downright cool comic book series that turns the superhero trope on its head in an innovative way that neither condescends nor overcomplicates.

When a comic references Christopher Marlowe and the equally significant Vengaboys on the same page, it’s clear that we aren’t dealing with something glib or throwaway. WicDiv is a British export which we can be more than proud to wave in people’s faces.

It feels flippant to call The Wicked + The Divine a comic book series, even though that is exactly what it is: you can buy issues of the story at comic book shops across the UK and beyond as well as during the exhibition’s run at the Gallery. The artwork is reminiscent of Daniel Clowes, albeit cleaner, more stylised, and yet the series doesn’t take itself so seriously that you would feel out of your depth in buying it as a first foray into this subculture.

It’s not that there is a form of snobbery about comic book art and illustration, but there is a universal lack of respect when it comes to work that is not usually displayed in a frame in a museum, or that has been run through software (see: video games, animation and textile design). But is it not right to call McKelvie’s illustrations art? In the same way that society once scoffed at Roy Lichtenstein, are we currently waiting for someone in the know to allow us to treat illustration, graphic design, and other leftfield mediums as fine art?

The Wicked + The Divine Exhibition, The Gallery at Munro House, Leeds, November 2016

Fine art has been described as contemporary art with a timestamp, which is possibly one of the reasons we aren’t yet comfortable in contemporary work done by artists such as Joan Cornellà, Deth P. Sun, and Sara M. Lyons as reverently we do as more traditional pieces. Why are we so dismissive of works that aren’t created in methods of a bygone era? Why do we rob ourselves of joy because it isn’t canon?

The Gallery at Munro House is not of this attitude. Their exhibitions and events range from photography, print, even food—their City of Cake event was lauded as one of Leeds Indie Food Festival 2016’s highlights. Art is subjective, and yet we still give hierarchical status to certain mediums. We need more galleries like this one to give a platform to these artists that smash that belief.

Jamie McKelvie’s work—be it The Wicked + The Divine, his other collaboration with Gillen, “Phonogram”, also being shown, or the work he has done with musicians such as Chvrches and Tegan and Sara—is nothing short of stunning. The exhibition is modest but the work is undeniably dripping in talent and finesse.

Thought Bubble is a city-wide convention that celebrates this kind of work—comic book illustration, prints, graphic design—and so McKelvie’s work will be appreciated by those who really know what they’re looking at when it’s presented to them. However, when will the time come when these pieces are displayed and critiqued alongside the kind you see in the more distinguished galleries? Let us hope it is sooner rather than later.

Filed under: Art & Photography