roy lichtenstein drowning girl
Roy Lichtenstein, a world-famous pop artist from the 1960s, created paintings that were heavily influenced by popular culture – both contemporary and historical. Lichtenstein’s work draws upon the “popular advertising and the comic book style” of the 1950s and early 1960s. The best example of intertextuality within his body of work is his painting Drowning Girl (1963). Drowning Girl depicts a crying woman who appears to be in the process of being swallowed by turbulent waves. Despite her immanent death, her focus is solely on her sorrow. In the top left corner, Lichtenstein harkens to the contemporary comic panel with a text bubble that states: “I DON’T CARE/I’D RATHER SINK THAN CALL BRAD FOR HELP!”
Julia Kristeva defines intertextuality in terms of horizontal and vertical axes, the latter referring to the relationship that a text has with other pre-existing texts (Kristeva). Examining Drowning Girl in terms of this vertical axis, we can see that Lichtenstein is both accepting popular culture and negating pre-existing artistic expectations that have their foundations in classical painting. Lichtenstein does this by using a painting technique called Ben-Day dots to create the illusion that the image is “mechanically reproduced” (Wikipedia). Understanding this painting as text, we can also see how it is related to the “already-written” (Barthes). Drowning Girl is heavily influenced by a comic panel from 1962 from DC Comics, however, the most interesting artistic reference I believe that Lichtenstein makes in his painting is a reference to nineteenth century Japanese print making (Wikipedia). If one examines the waves that encompass the woman in Drowning Girl and compares them to the extremely well known print by Hokusai The Great Wave of Kanagawa, one will notice striking resemblances in between the two.
1963. Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 67 5/8 x 66 3/4″ (171.6 x 169.5 cm)
A rendering of the basic elements of a composition, often made in a loosely detailed or quick manner. Sketches can be both finished works of art or studies for another composition.
Lichtenstein based many of his early paintings on imagery he found in comic books. The source for this work is Run for Love! published by DC Comics in 1962, the cover of which the artist significantly altered to arrive at the finished composition. In the original illustration, the drowning girl’s boyfriend appears in the background, clinging to a capsized boat. Lichtenstein cropped the image dramatically, showing the girl alone and encircled by a threatening wave. He changed the caption from “I don’t care if I have a cramp!” to “I don’t care!” and the boyfriend’s name from Mal to Brad. In addition to appropriating comic books’ melodramatic content, Lichtenstein manually simulated the Benday dots used in the mechanical reproduction of images.
As a Pop artist, Lichtenstein fused “high” and “low” forms of visual culture in his work, uniting fine art with everyday materials. He was particularly inspired by the heightened emotions and stylized imagery of mass-market comic books, which he recreated in large-scale oil paintings. The scene depicted in Drowning Girl was taken from “Run for Love!,” the lead story in issue 83 of DC Comics’ Secret Hearts, from 1962. The original illustration fills an entire page; it shows the drowning girl’s boyfriend in the background, clinging to an overturned boat, and includes a long narrative text. Lichtenstein cropped the image dramatically, focusing on the girl’s anguished expression and the menacing waves that wrap around her. He also shortened the text in the thought bubble beside the heroine’s head, resulting in a more ambiguous story, and changed her boyfriend’s name from Mal to Brad—a name he found more “heroic.”
As directly as possible . From a cartoon, photograph or whatever, I draw a small picture—the size that will fit into my opaque projector . I don’t draw a picture to reproduce it—I do it in order to recompose it . I project the drawing onto the canvas and pencil it in and then I play around with the drawing until it satisfies me.
In 2003, Sarah Rich and Joyce Henri Robinson contrasted Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day dots use in Drowning Girl with another artist’s work, noting that the work “satirizes the melodrama of soap operas and serial comics, turning the drama of the title figure’s potential suicide into a high camp performance”. 
Roy Lichtenstein (1967)
In the 1960s, Lichtenstein started working on a series of paintings titled War and Romance. Although the series spanned a relatively small part of Lichtenstein’s career- only five years- the stylized comic book works have become synonymous with his art pop style. As he stated at the time of their creation, “I was interested in using highly charged material, like Men at War and Love comics, in a very removed, technical, almost engineering drawing style.” He elaborated, “I was very excited about, and very interested in, the highly emotional content yet detached impersonal handling of love, hate, war, etc., in these cartoon images.”