Tribute to Otomo by Jean-Jacques Dzialowski, 2015 China ink and acrylic on paper ©Galerie Glénat

Leveraged Buyout pioneer Victor Kiam became well known for his catchphrase after buying Remington Products: “I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company.”

French financier Philippe Labaune, a comics collector and expert, has a similar story. He staged his first show, Line and Frame: A Survey of European Comic Art, last year at the Danese/Corey Gallery in Chelsea. The gallery has since closed but the show went so well Labaune decided to start his own gallery.

WHAT: Good for Health – Bad for Education: A Tribute to Otomo
WHERE: Philippe Labaune Gallery, 534 West 24th St.
WHEN: April 8 – May 8, 2021

“I decided to start a gallery after seeing the overwhelming public response to the show I curated at Danese/Corey,” Labaune told Fine Art Globe. “It proved to me that there is an audience for this style of work. In France, the comic/ bandes dessinées scene is considered an art form, and it is not necessarily seen as such here. I want to try and change that.”

On Thursday, April 8, “Good for Health – Bad for Education: A Tribute to Otomo” will open at the imaginatively named Philippe Labaune Gallery.

Born in 1954 in Miyagi, Japan, Katsuhiro Otomo grew up on American road movies. He moved to Tokyo in 1973 and ventured into manga with “Jyu-Sei,” adaptating the 1829 novella Mateo Falcone. His breakout hit was “Domu: A Child’s Dream,” which won Japan’s Science Fiction Grand Prix award and followed up in 1982 with “Akira.”

The Gallery is “devoted to championing and presenting original 20th and 21st-century comic art and illustrations by emerging and established artists from around the world.” This inaugural exhibition “will showcase illustrations by 30 international artists in homage to Japanese artist seminal 1982 manga series: ‘Akira.’ Featuring a selection of new work, the exhibition builds upon the 2016 tribute curated by Julien Brugeas at the Angoulême Festival hosted by France’s Ministry of Culture and Galerie Glénat, which honoured Otomo’s distinct aesthetic contribution to the genre.”

In an era where goofy pop art has been selling for eye-popping numbers as non-fungible tokens, it is perhaps surprising that comic art that has held up for decades still needs a devoted champion to be taken seriously.

That may be changing.

Comics finding respect

In Chicago, a new exhibit will open on June 19, 2021, at the Museum of Contemporary Art featuring artists who made the Windy City a hub of alt-comics in the 80s and 90s, including Lynda Barry, Ivan Brunetti, Dan Clowes and Chris Ware.

So maybe Labaune is onto something.

“Bringing this kind of work into a gallery space in Chelsea begins the process of taking the genre more seriously,” he told Fine Art Globe. “Artists who work on comics and illustration possess a skill and level of cleverness to create thick narratives in relatively small gestures and within the confines of the strip.”

Visually compelling narrative might be even more attractive as pandemic starved patrons have had movies and live theater largely absent from their lives. That hunger seems to be on Labaune’s mind as he launches this new venture.

“After this initial exhibition, my goal is to have shows that balance the artist’s comic strip work and their illustration work and see what sort of dialog happens between them when shown together. I am a firm believer when given the opportunity to create work ‘outside of the box,’ pun intended, magic can happen.”

Labaune is not new to risky ventures. He came to the US and became a partner at the money manager Stralem & Co., eventually becoming Director of Trading & Operations and helping amass over $2 billion in assets. He has pursued his passion for illustration — his apartment itself looks like a museum of illustration — full-time since leaving Stralem a few years ago.

But for Labaune, this isn’t just about sharing a hobby. He sees a chance to grow American interest in the entire segment.

“Another goal with these exhibitions,” Labaune told the Globe, “is to show American comic artists/illustrators and pair them with established and mid-career artists in Europe, Asia, and countries where there is a thriving comic/manga scene. I think there lies an opportunity for interesting discussions to take place between the works.