What is comic design

Living in a box. Design and comics

In contrast to cartoons and illustrations, comics tell a story over a longer series of pictures, which is usually accompanied by text. So that the readers are immediately in the picture, the comic artists fall back on subtle codes so that one can quickly and clearly recognize an atmosphere, a social status or a state of mind, and this also includes design. A dynamically dressed comic figure on an "Eames Lounge Chair" (1943-1956) is immediately perceived as a modern person, while the cozy-looking character of the popular comic book "Moomin" (1958) comes out as a traditionalist when he calls the so-called " Butterfly Chair »(1938) described as uncomfortable and impractical. Design has always been part of imagined comic worlds, because design is a big part of our everyday life, which comic artists reflect.

Comics' breakthrough as a medium was their targeted marketing in US newspapers at the beginning of the 20th century. Colored, full-page comic strips in Sunday newspapers, such as the stylistically innovative story about the adventures of the dreaming boy "Little Nemo in Slumberland" (1905–1924) by Winsor McCay, reached millions of readers every week. High culture and simple life alike were given visual codes and satirized with the help of design. Finally, European comic artists included direct allusions to existing modern design objects in their works.

Such as the Belgian Georges Remi, known by his stage name Hergé, who achieved world fame for his »Adventures of Tintin“ translated into over 70 languages. In the fifth volume of the comic from 1934, Hergé drew the “MR-10” chair by Mies van der Rohe from 1927, an object that - like Hergé's simplified, abstract drawing style “Ligne claire” - uses material and form on the Function should reduce. The design and comics of this time defined modernity in the same way: as striving for internationality, universal availability and mass production. Since the 1930s, comics have been published in different forms and move in a wide variety of genres. During this time, an avid comic strip readership was introduced to the comic book format, and new genres were added in the 1940s and 1950s, including superheroes, horror, love stories and science fiction.

While comics have always been inspired by existing design objects, the 1960s ushered in a phase in which pop culture - including comics - had a major influence on high culture and design. The fantastic imagery of the science fiction comics of that time left its mark on the designers who were experimenting with fiberglass and plastic injection molding at the time: the »Boomerang« desk by Maurice Calka from 1969 or the »Tomato Chair« by Eero Aarnio from that year 1971 are an example of this. In the 1980s, artists like Javier Mariscal, who were comic strip artists and designers at the same time, presented a completely new approach. After Mariscal had made a name for himself as a comic artist in a re-opening Spanish society, he designed humorous pieces of furniture, including the "Garriris" chair (1987), which would never have existed without the success of his comic characters of the same name.

While digital news portals have been replacing printed newspapers for years, and comic book sales have been falling in light of other available mass media, the popularity of comics as books - also known as graphic novels - has been increasing since the 1990s. This format addresses serious issues such as war and injustice in society, or reinterprets and narrates historical events in a way that reaches a wider audience. This is also the case with the graphic novel "Eileen Gray: A House Under the Sun" published in May 2019. The duo of authors / illustrators Charlotte Malterre-Barthes and Zosia Dzierżawska reconstructs the creation of the villa »E.1027« from the perspective of the late designer Eileen Gray - and thus opposes the generally widespread version of the story in which Gray's part in the Work received no adequate attention for decades.

In order to appreciate the relevance of Japanese manga as a global cultural phenomenon, “Living in a Box” presents a selection of different mangas as well as three “Manga Chairs” (2015) by the Japanese design studio Nendo. The objects will be on view for the first time in an exhibition in the Vitra Schaudepot. Each chair should represent a design element from the complex imagery of the Mangas: One chair shoots through the room at the speed of light, another hops over the floor, the third collapses - the chairs don't move a bit. The exhibition “Living in a Box” highlights the common zeitgeist of comics and design objects from the Vitra Design Museum's collection, which led to their respective creation - be it with pen on paper or with injection molding. The shelves of the Vitra Schaudepot provide the perfect backdrop for these icons of design history, who can thus be touched as the main characters in their own comics.

Living in a box. Design and comics
May 24th to October 20th, 2019
Opening: May 23, 2019, 6:30 p.m.



  • May 24, 2019 October 20, 2019 /