Living on the web 

Comic artist Dennis Morin on the high points of low-brow art

In Dennis Morin's self-portrait, he's Photoshopped an image of himself onto a charging bear, which has the torso of a horse and machine guns for arms. If it doesn't sound like the self-portrait of an artist concerned with "high art," it's because Morin isn't. In his recent short animated video, "Work Related," a blond ponytailed man, who looks suspiciously like a more muscular version of Morin, shotgun-blasts zombies threatening a busty woman. The video reveals that, of course, the zombie attack is just him daydreaming at work. It's an apt look into the psyche of a man whose imagination is informed by graphic art.

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  • Dennis Morin on YouTube
  • Still from “Work Related”

Morin, 31, has an upcoming show at the Zootown Arts Community Center full of the images he likes creating best, like the bearotaur. His work is populated with superheroes, videogame characters and dominatrix alligators spanking clowns. "One of my favorites is an orangutang body with a giraffe head," he says, and laughs.

Morin moved with his family from San Jose to Missoula when he was 15, and grew up immersing himself in comic books. He remembers going to the old Red Iguana shop on Higgins Avenue during lunch breaks at Hellgate High School, where he paid close attention to which authors and illustrators created his favorite renditions of characters like Wolverine and Spiderman. Morin idolizes artists like J. Scott Campbell, Carlos Pacheco and Joe Mad, who pioneered a fusion of American and manga-style rendering.

So after Morin graduated high school, he aspired to be an artist, but wasn't sure what kind of direction to take with his career. "Looking back I would rather have gone to a commercial art school, but I went for fine arts instead," he says.

When he started school at the University of Montana in 2000, he found out that comics aren't particularly respected in academia. "I was told comic books are 'low art,'" he says.

The first few years of college were rough. Morin struggled to figure out how to fit a "fine arts" mold while still doing what he loved most. But a college professor helped hook him up with one of the best gigs of his life, creating animation for a short-lived program on the Trio cable network called "The Yesterday Show." The premise involved host John Kerwin meeting with people like Cheryl Ladd for a "where are they now?" profile. The show didn't make it past a couple episodes, and Trio, which Entertainment Weekly called "the 'it' cable network of 2003," shut down in 2007. But the experience helped Morin see that there was a place in the world for his work. "I consider it the most amazing thing I've ever done," he says.

These days, Morin mostly draws and publishes his art digitally. He uses an illustrator program on a tablet and posts on sealwebcomics.com. The site is named after a cartoon character he created in college, a hyperintelligent seal that works in special ops—a SEAL seal, that is. He's also created a detective spoof called "Dick Uppercut." Morin has hopes that his webcomics might take off, but says it's tough to find the time to update it while holding down a full-time job in the Missoulian packaging department.

Morin says his intention with his work isn't to ask heavy lifting of the viewer. That seems appropriate for pop art, a movement where its most iconic images, like Andy Warhol's soup cans or Richard Hamilton's collages, are often funny or seemingly simple.

"Some postmodern art, you can stare at it for hours and never get it," he says. "I'm like, 'Here's an image, have fun with it.'"

Dennis Morin's exhibit The Life of a Webcomic, opens at the ZACC, 235 N. First St., on Fri., July 12, with a reception from 5:30 to 8:30 PM.

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