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Committed: The “Batman On Robin” Exhibition (Warning: Explicit Imagery, for mature readers only, NSFW, etc)

by  in Comic News Comment

This Friday sees the opening of an exhibition of original art inspired by the relationship between Batman and Robin at Mission Comics and Art from February 6th – March 3rd. The exhibition includes original works from 30 artists, including Ed Luce, Sina Grace, Beth Dean, as well as the curators; Justin Hall and Rick Worley. I spoke with Worley and Hall about the exhibition, and they gave us a preview of art which will be included in the show (which I’ve included below the interview.)

Please note that some of the imagery is of a graphic nature and will not be appropriate for all ages.

Sonia Harris: Can you tell me how you came up with the idea for the exhibition?

Rick Worley: I was doing a reading for a release party for the Fantagraphics collection No Straight Lines about the history of queer comics, which Justin [Hall] had edited and very kindly included some of my work in. Justin read a piece he had done about two real life male prostitutes who had been paid by a client to dress up as Batman and Robin, which was a fetish of his, and I had just recently, coincidentally, done a commissioned story that had been written about another true life story about somebody who had gone to a Halloween party dressed as Robin and found a guy dressed as Batman, and they ended up having sex together. Justin and I were talking about how funny it was that we had both happened to illustrate things on that theme, and one of us said that there must easily be enough of that stuff in the world to make a whole show of it, and that’s how it started.

What made me think it would be an interesting show is how, despite both being sex stories involving Batman and Robin, Justin’s piece and mine were so completely different. The stories reflect the life experiences and sexual inclinations of the people who draw them. I thought it was interesting how such a specific theme could provide such a variety of responses, and how some of those responses tell you more about the artists than they do about Batman and Robin. The original idea of the show was actually to try to collect and do a retrospective of Batman and Robin slash stuff that already existed, since there’s enough of that in the world already to probably do 10 good shows. Once we started to talk to artists about it, though, we found that there was no shortage of people who wanted to original pieces specifically for our show. Actually, the show goes up tomorrow and I’m still getting messages from people asking if they can contribute pieces. So apparently the idea hit a nerve. I think the show is going to end up with around 30 contributors, and we’ve already had people talk to us about traveling the show after it comes down in March.

I was talking a little while ago to some friends who are heterosexual and who aren’t really into comics, and when I told them the show was about Batman and Robin and the theme of the show their immediate response was, “Oh yeah, they totally fuck.” It’s something that’s become such a part of the subtext of the characters over the decades that people get it right away.

Justin Hall: Rick and I first came up with a dream list of possible contributors to reach out to, but then the ball started rolling almost faster than we could keep up with. A lot of artists came forward on their own with work, and the response in general has been remarkable, and incredibly diverse. As Rick said, we have an entire range of artists, men and women, gay, straight, and bisexual, doing everything from classic gay erotica, to curtain fiction (“domestic” slash), to really surreal pieces. We have everything from traditional comics art, to oil paintings, etchings, tattoo art, photograph, ink washes, digital prints, etc. We’ll even have some poetry read at the opening, along with the comics! It’s really interesting how such a narrowly defined subject, homoerotic takes on Batman and Robin, can lead to such a tremendous range of art.

SH: How did you choose artists to contribute to the exhibition?

Rick Worley: The idea was to get as diverse a group of artists as possible to see what they would bring to it, as you can probably see from the samples (below). We have female contributors, heterosexual contributors, even a lesbian Batwoman and Catwoman story. We have paintings, digital art, and some traditional comics-style pen and ink.

SH: Batman and Robin are copyrighted characters, have you had any problems with using them as your inspiration for this exhibition?

Rick Worley: I don’t see any problem with that. For one thing, most of the pieces fall into the category of commentary on the characters, we aren’t presenting them as official products, and I think they’re well within the definition of fair use. Also, within comics there’s a big tradition of artist alley, where people can do their spins on the characters, and there’s also the fact that artists are allowed to sell the original art for pieces that are made for reproduction. We aren’t selling books or programs or charging admission, the only thing for sale are the pieces created by the artists, and I think comic book stores do these types of shows all the time.

Justin Hall: I’ve talked to a couple of lawyers about this, and they agree that this should all fall clearly within parody. Of course, if Time Warner really wants to go after us, they certainly have the money to do it. I really hope, though, that the powers that be recognize that slash fan fiction is a more sophisticated and interesting phenomenon than simple plagiarism or vulgarity. The art in this show is utilizing popular culture icons as the means of expression for other sets of ideas; this doesn’t diminish the properties of Batman and Robin in the slightest. It makes them more profound, and more relevant, precisely because they can be used by so many people to so many artistic ends, even if those ends were unintended by the original creators.

The Batman on Robin exhibition runs from February 6th – March 3rd at Mission: Comics & Art, 3520 20th Street, Suite B, San Francisco CA. The opening reception is on Friday February 8th from 7pm onwards, with readings, drinks, snacks, and a chance to meet some of the artists.

(Art at top right of article: Beth Dean.)


Above: Ed Luce’s art, complete with real body hair.


Above: Yssa Badiola touching portrait of the duo.


Above: Stealing the punchline from the last page of Rick Worley and Jason Quest’s comic.


Above: Painting by Craig Bostick.


Above: Adorable bat-messaging art from Mari Naomi.


Above: Justin Hall’s Kama Sutra-inspired dynamic duo.