This Is Totally Embarrassing. Lauren R. Weinstein. Illustration for Girl Stories. ©2006 Lauren R. Weinstein. All rights reserved.

TOLEDO, OH.- A new wave of critically acclaimed long form comic books, called graphic novels (a mostly grown-up version of the comic book), is the subject of a exhibition opening Oct. 2 at the Toledo Museum of Art.

Organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel examines the history, diversity and tremendous popularity of what is considered by many to be a comics renaissance.

The traveling exhibition features more than 146 artworks by 24 contemporary graphic novelists and historic artists in this ever-evolving art form.

LitGraphic looks at the development of sequential art through its practitioners. Their work continues to suggest new ways of seeing: wordless narratives by 1920s woodcut artist Lynd Ward and modern-day commentator Peter Kuper; revolutionary underground comix by R. Crumb and humorous, personal Girl Stories’ by Lauren Weinstein; works by Mad Magazine co-creator Harvey Kurtzman and Breathtaker co-creator Marc Hempel, and the pioneering art of Will Eisner (Contract with God), Dave Sim (Cerebus) and Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise).

Original book pages and studies, sketchbooks and videotaped interviews with graphic novelists are featured.

“Art and literature have a certain symbiosis that is epitomized in an art form like the graphic novel, which combines a strong narrative with arresting visual images,” said Don Bacigalupi, director of the Toledo Museum of Art. “This exhibition explores the art and history of the graphic novel through the work of a talented new generation of visual storytellers.”

For centuries, sequential imagery has been a direct, efficient means of communicating ideas and information. From the cave paintings of early man to the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt and the ceiling of Rome’s Sistine Chapel, pictures, when linked to convey an overarching narrative, have a unique ability to teach and inspire.

During the 19th century, Swiss artist Rodolphe Töpffer theorized about the creation of sequential picture stories and advised artists to “invent some kind of play, where the parts are arranged by plan and form a satisfactory whole.” His experiments with strip-like works employing character action and the passage of time were revolutionary in his day and set the stage for the development of the modern-day comic strips and books.

The 20th century saw the rise of comics as a popular art form through the graphic albums of Europe, Japanese manga and the adventures of cultural icons such as Superman and Donald Duck.

Although beloved by millions of readers, comics were not without their detractors who regarded the medium as a juvenile form of literature. Underground comix, which originated during the counterculture of the 1960s, and the development of independent comic book publishers in the 1970s and 1980s, challenged this notion. These publications gave voice and depth to a full spectrum of characters, emotions and stories, opening up a new world of possibilities for this visual literary art form.

Some observers believe contemporary graphic novels, with their anti-heroes, visual appeal and edgy story lines are positioned to usurp the role that the novel once played.

Artists in the LitGraphic exhibition include Jessica Abel, Sue Coe, R. Crumb, Howard Cruse, Steve Ditko, Will Eisner, Brian Fies, Gerhard, Milt Gross, Marc Hempel, Niko Henrichon, Mark Kalesniko, Peter Kuper, Harvey Kurtzman, Matt Madden, Frans Masereel, Frank Miller, Terry Moore, Dave Sim, Art Spiegelman, Barron Storey, Lynd Ward, Lauren Weinstein, and Mark Wheatley.

Two related exhibitions, Storybook Stars: Award Winning Illustrations From the Mazza Collection and Word Play, open later in October at the Toledo Museum of Art.

Storybook Stars, Oct. 9, 2009 – Jan. 31, 2010 in the Works on Paper Galleries, will offer 120 enchanting illustrations from artists who have won major awards for their work in children’s books. Word Play, Oct. 16, 2009 – Feb. 7, 2010 in Gallery 18, will examine contemporary artists’ use of both text and graphics as a means of artistic expression.