There were 321 paintings created for Nashville artist David Landry’s new graphic novel, Th3 Anomaly. It’s rare that readers of graphic novels ever get to see the actual artwork off the page, but Landry and abrasiveMedia, a nonprofit arts organization in the Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood, had a novel idea: spread them out throughout the 2,000 square feet of the gallery and have visitors engage with the art and novel in a three-dimensional environment. The result is what abrasiveMedia is called the “World’s 1st & Only Gallery Sized Graphic Novel.” Landry will be on hand to celebrate the opening of the exhibit on Saturday, January 30 from 6-9 p.m. at abrasiveMedia (438 Houston St, Ste 257). Tickets for the event range from $5-$35 are available here.
The idea for the exhibit began in 2011 when abrasiveMedia’s residency program received the ambitious proposal by Landry. The idea, according to a release, “was to blend fine art with comic book style narrative to create a graphic novel you could walk through. The art organization fell for the pitch.
After the story was written — an expansive tale revolving around the adventures of Nikola Tesla, Sarah Bernhardt and Jules Verne — Landy got to the work of creating the art. Dozens of costumes and props were made, and 17 models were recruited to portray characters in over 5,000 reference photographs for the paintings. All in all, it took four years and 8,000 hours to make the proposal and book a reality.
How To Play Nashville caught up with an exhausted but excited Landry via email prior to this weekend’s opening to to ask some questions about the story and process.
How To Play Nashville: Before we get into the work regarding the art, I’m curious about the story. Of the three people you mentioned, you have an inventor and electrical engineer (Telsa), an actress (Bernhardt) and an author (Verne). All of them actual people, and all adventuress in one way or another. And Verne, of course, wrote of adventure. But it’s an interesting gathering of historical figures. Can you tell me a little bit about where the story comes from and how you came to write it.
David Landry: I wanted to tell a fictional story about how the steampunk aesthetic could actually have become a reality, and what would have caused anachronistic technology to exist. I chose Nikola Tesla because he is the father of our modern society. Without him, what we know to be our modern society would look very different. At the beginning of the story Tesla disappears from the Earth before he is able to make his scientific contributions, and comes back in the 1950s where he finds a steampunk world without wireless communication, alternating current, microwaves or electric motors. I happened upon Sarah Bernhardt as a main character during my research into the life of Nikola Tesla. I combined Bernhardt with characteristics of Katherine Johnson; the woman who the real life Tesla would have had a romantic relationship with if she wasn’t already married, to create a single fictional character. In my story Jules Verne wrote fictional books based on his actual adventures, and plays into the plot of the story which revolves around a mysterious Mcguffin called the Rubicon (a puzzle box capable of teleportation and time manipulation). Obviously there were a lot of liberties taken by me in altering some of the real life characters in very fun ways to connect them together in the story. I found elements of real history that were never explained and connected the dots. In the story the world is controlled by a secret science society that is trying to solve the mystery of the Rubicon. Th3 Anomaly is full of adventure with Jules Verne flying around on his air ship and Nikola Tesla battling Ninja-Pirates. There is magic, science, monsters and journeys to places never seen before.
HTPN: I love the idea of the taking the art of a graphic novel, that while a three dimensional physical object, is mostly a two-dimensional experience, and creating engagement in the gallery. It’s not often we get to see the actual art photographed for graphic novels. You’ve taken it a step further and created an experience. Was that something you had thought about prior to 2011, or something the space at abrasiveMedia inspired?
DL: Creating a 3-dimensional, life-size graphic novel was always the goal. It has evolved a bit during the four years that it was being created, and having the space at abrasiveMedia to display and access helped with that evolution. But even in 2011, I envisioned the display to be very a immersive experience with the actual costumes, props and miniatures on display along with the paintings. I wanted the gallery experience to be as exhilarating as it is walking into a comic-con and being surrounded by all the displays.
HTPN: I imagine people who do not read graphic novels will have a new appreciation for the form. But I also think the fine art element, combined with the graphic element, creates a really interesting way for adults and children to bond and appreciate art. Was that on your mind?
DL: The main reason that I created this new experience was to bring the excitement of reading a comic book into a fine art gallery. Five years ago, I felt that the format of art galleries had become outdated and stagnated. Most children dreaded having to walk through a fine art gallery. Very few people, myself included, were as excited to go to an art gallery as they were to go to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster in the theaters. I wanted to change that and I’m proud to say that for Th3 Anomaly exhibit I believe that I have. Pretty much everyone that I encounter today who hears about or sees Th3 Anomaly, whether it is children, teenagers, parents or even grandparents, are visibly excited to experience fine art presented in this fashion. I would actually describe most people’s reaction as giddy. I can not tell you the last time I have seen people giddy to see fine art. They can’t stop talking about it. To me that is really incredible and I feel like I have accomplished something meaningful in the worlds of fine art and comics. My hope for the future is that Th3 Anomaly inspires other artists to continue creating inventive fine art experiences that keep people excited about going to fine art galleries.
The opening event on January 30 will feature themed drinks and hors d’oeuvres, live character models, behind the scenes exhibits, and interactive experiences centered around the characters in Th3 Anomaly. The 124 page printed graphic novel and an ebook version of the story will also be available for purchase. After the abrasiveMedia opening, Landy says he’d love to take the exhibit on tour, and is in talks with a gallery in Los Angeles and several comic-cons that have shown interest.