Over at the ever-amusing (and often confusing) Co-Mix site, Blaise Larmee offers a definitional post on “art comics.”
His definitional statements are, “Art comics are rooted in an appreciation for American male-oriented genre comics,” “Art comics emphasize the surface and object-ness of the page,” and “Art comics creators are image-makers first, writers second.”
He contrasts this with “indie comics” which are (and I’m putting my interpretation on what he’s saying here) more about writing and a traditional “literary” sense. Comics as writing, rather than comics as art, which I think is a good general shorthand for the differences
I agree with his latter two statements, but I’m not sure the first statement is representative as a whole, or else there is a whole other world of comics out there that are neither “mainstream,” “art,” or “indie,” comics. I think of people like Warren Craghead, Dash Shaw, Frank Santoro (at least all his non-Cold Heat work), Aidan Koch, Austin English (who Larmee puts in his list of example, but who doesn’t, as far as I have seen, been rooted in those male-oriented genres), some of Jason Overby’s work, even Larmee’s work, (to stick to comics I can see from my desk right now) and probably others I’m not coming up with right now (such a host of european creators for the more avant-garde/indie publishers) who often have what I would consider a more poetic approach to comics, or at least a focus on visuals and texture and materials without being rooted in the “male oriented genre comics”.