This teaching page provides analysis of the work of art, background information on the artist, key ideas, discussion questions, and online resources for additional learning. You can download a PDF of this teaching page and large images of Lead Pipe Sunday #2.
This work is on view in Art/Word/Image from December 2, 2017 through May 20, 2018.
Art Spiegelman’s Lead Pipe Sunday #2 tells a story about Derby Dugan alongside a more elusive pictorial narrative featuring Happy Hooligan. Dugan appeared as a character in Tom de Haven’s Funny Papers trilogy that included Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies (1996) which was illustrated by Spiegelman. Happy Hooligan was a character from an actual comic series by Frederick Burr Opper that ran from 1900 to 1932 in William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers. The complex story of these two characters unfolds in a non-linear manner across the pages of the lithograph.
Derby Dugan’s story begins on the "front" of Lead Pipe Sunday #2 with the storyline and dialogue presented in classic comic book style. Derby and his faithful hound Fuzzy are walking in the woods, commenting on their ability to be successful on their own and making references to the Great Depression. Lines such as “And I don’t need an Alphabet Soup full of Relief Agencies…” refer to the government-supported relief efforts of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which included the WPA (Works Progress Administration), a program that created many public works and also employed artists. Derby and Fuzzy witness a car speeding by, then hear a great “Crash!”—followed by Fuzzy's remark about the 1929 stock market crash—and come upon a woman lying on the ground. She awakens and begins calling for “Hans,” who Derby assumes is the driver. In the last frame, a figure, perhaps the afore-mentioned Hans, lurks in the dark armed with a gun.
On the reverse side, Spiegelman presents a single frame depicting Happy Hooligan, who was one of the most influential early comic characters. Happy Hooligan sits with his head in his hands in the middle of an apocalyptic scene. The landscape is ominous and barren, with Easter Island-like totems of other early comic heroes including Dick Tracy, Popeye, and Nancy surrounding Hooligan. Newspaper funny pages swirl in the air while a huge lightning bolt looms above Hooligan's head, pictured at the moment it is about to strike. The text in the lower left corner draws an explicit link between the Depression-era economic collapse and the end of comics:
“A CRASH! Is it the Thunder? The Economy? Motorized Vehicles, maybe? (The end of a Bad Trip?) Could it simply be an Overloaded Computer, or the sound of an Overburdened Heart Breaking? Who Knows? Certainly not this Unhappy Hooligan, a newsprint Star at the Dawn of the Century, whose Career Crashed in the Thirties when his creator’s eyes dimmed. He sits in the shadows, awaiting the Century’s End.”
Derby Dugan’s hat dominates the back panel, along with the word “CRASH!” and an implied explosion of angular black shapes at the bottom of the page. Vague shapes from an incomplete Derby Dugan comic strip form a hazy background.
Viewed together, the imagery and dialog in Lead Pipe Sunday #2 illustrate the social relevance of comics and, in Spiegelman's words, their ability to tell “a story that’s worth knowing and worth telling.”
Art Spiegelman is an American artist, editor, and cartoon advocate born as Itzhak Avraham ben Zeev in 1948. He began working as a comic artist in the 1970s. His groundbreaking graphic novel Maus, which examined his father’s experience as a Holocaust survivor, won Spiegelman a special Pulitzer Prize, and is credited with bringing critical and academic attention to comics and graphic novels as examples of artistic production. While some of Spiegelman’s work is published in book form—including Maus, his response to the September 11 attacks titled In the Shadow of No Towers (2004), as well as children’s books—he also worked as a contributing artist for The New Yorker for over a decade, and has contributed to and edited many other magazines. Spiegelman is considered to be one of the first artists to elevate cartoons, comics, and graphic novels to the level of “High Art.”
Spiegelman attended Harpur College (now the College of Arts and Sciences at Binghamton University) from 1965 to 1968. Although he did not graduate he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the College later in life. Along with the Pulitzer Prize, Spiegelman has received numerous awards and fellowships for his comics and his efforts as a comics advocate. He has lived and worked in New York City for decades and currently works as an artist, editor, and teacher at the School of Visual Arts in NYC.
- Non-linear narratives expressed in graphic art
- Comics art as a medium for confronting social issues
- Elevation of comics art to “high art,” commonly attributed to paintings, drawings, and sculptures
- By combining text and image in this print, Art Speigelman employed two different techniques for drawing the viewer’s eye. Which do you look at first? Why?
- What feelings do the image stimulate, such as, optimism, fear, worry, curiosity, or others? How are those emotions evoked? Are emotions more strongly evoked by the text or the imagery? Why?
- Imagine the images without text. What other stories can you develop from looking at the pictures?
- By combining a fictional historical comic book character (Derby Dugan) with an actual historical comic book character (Happy Hooligan) what is Art Spiegelman trying to say about the history of comic art? About the relationship between contemporary comic art and that of the past?
- Do you think comics can be an effective vehicle for expressing social concerns? Why?
ARTnews: Comic Relief
Paul Lopes, Demanding Respect: The Evolution of the American Comic Book. Temple University Press, 2009.