Imagined Medieval Comics Illuminate the Absurdities of Modern Life

In 2005, the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture revised its famous food pyra­mid, jet­ti­son­ing the famil­iar hier­ar­chi­cal graph­ic in favor of ver­ti­cal rain­bow stripes rep­re­sent­ing the var­i­ous nutri­tion­al groups. A stick fig­ure bound­ed up a stair­case built into one side, to rein­force the idea of adding reg­u­lar phys­i­cal activ­i­ty to all those whole grains and veg­gies.

The dietary infor­ma­tion it pro­mot­ed was an improve­ment on the orig­i­nal, but nutri­tion­al sci­en­tists were skep­ti­cal that the pub­lic would be able to parse the con­fus­ing graph­ic, and by and large this proved to be the case.

Artist Tyler Gun­ther, how­ev­er, was inspired:

I start­ed think­ing about the mes­sag­ing school chil­dren in 1308 were force fed to believe was part of a heart healthy diet, only to have the rug pulled out from under them 15 years lat­er when some monk rearranged the whole thing.

In oth­er words, you’d bet­ter dig into that annu­al goose pie, kids, while you’ve still got 6 glass­es of ale to wash it down.

The imag­ined over­lap between the mod­ern and the medieval is a fer­tile vein for Gunter, whose MFA in Cos­tume Design is often put to good use in his hilar­i­ous his­tor­i­cal comics:

Mod­ern men’s fash­ion is so incred­i­bly bor­ing. A guy wears a pat­tered shirt with a suit and he gets laud­ed as though he won the super bowl of fash­ion. But back in the Mid­dle Ages men made bold, brave fash­ion choic­es and I admire them great­ly for this. It’s so excit­ing to me to think of these inven­tive, strange, fan­tas­tic cre­ations being a part of the every­day mas­cu­line aes­thet­ic.

The shapes and struc­tures of women’s head­wear in the dark ages are tru­ly inspir­ing. Where were these milliners draw­ing inspi­ra­tion from? How were they engi­neered? How com­fort­able were they to wear? How did they fit through the major­i­ty of door­ways? What was it like to sit behind a par­tic­u­lar­ly large one in church? I’m still scrolling through many an inter­net his­to­ry blog to find the answers. 

Kathryn Warner’s Edward II blog has proved a help­ful resource, as has Anne H. van Buren’s book Illu­mi­nat­ing Fash­ion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Nether­lands.

The Brook­lyn-based, Arkansas-born artist also makes peri­od­ic pil­grim­ages to the Clois­ters, where the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um hous­es a vast num­ber illu­mi­nat­ed man­u­scripts, pan­el paint­ings, altar pieces, and the famed Uni­corn Tapes­tries:

On my first trip to The Clois­ters I saw a paint­ing of St. Michael and the dev­il almost imme­di­ate­ly. I don’t think my life or art has been the same since. None of us know what the dev­il looks like. But you wouldn’t know that based on how con­fi­dent­ly this artist por­trays his like­ness. After gaz­ing at this paint­ing for an extend­ed peri­od of time I want­ed so bad­ly to under­stand the imag­i­na­tion of who­ev­er could imag­ine an alli­ga­tor arms/face crotch/dragon pony­tail com­bo. I don’t think I’ve come close to scratch­ing the sur­face.

Every time I go to that muse­um I think, “Wow it’s like I’m on Game of Thrones” and then I have to remind myself kind­ly that this was real life. Almost every­thing there was an object that peo­ple inter­act­ed with as part of their aver­age dai­ly life and that fas­ci­nates me as some­one who lives in a world filled with mass pro­duced, plas­tic objects. 

Gunther’s draw­ings and comics are cre­at­ed (and aged) on that most mod­ern of conveniences—the iPad.

The British monar­chy and the First Ladies are also sources of fas­ci­na­tion, but the mid­dle ages are his pri­ma­ry pas­sion, to the point where he recent­ly cos­tumed him­self as a page to tell the sto­ry of Piers Gave­ston, 1st Earl of Corn­wall and Edward II’s dar­ling, aid­ed by a gar­ment rack he’d retooled as a medieval pageant cart-cum-pup­pet the­ater.

See the rest of Tyler Gunther’s Medieval Comics on his web­site and don’t for­get to sur­prise your favorite hygien­ist or oral sur­geon with his Medieval Den­tist print this hol­i­day sea­son.

All images used with per­mis­sion of artist Tyler Gun­ther

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How to Make a Medieval Man­u­script: An Intro­duc­tion in 7 Videos

Medieval Monks Com­plained About Con­stant Dis­trac­tions: Learn How They Worked to Over­come Them

Why Knights Fought Snails in Illu­mi­nat­ed Medieval Man­u­scripts

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Octo­ber 7 when her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domaincel­e­brates the art of Aubrey Beard­s­ley, with a spe­cial appear­ance by Tyler Gun­ther. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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