This article examines for the first time the writings on comics and pop art by the surrealist Robert Benayoun in the 1950s and 1960s. Analysing Benayoun’s repudiation of Roy Lichtenstein’s work especially, it argues that these writings offer one means of navigating the rarely assessed overlap between surrealism and pop. Benayoun claimed immense significance for comics and derided Lichtenstein’s appropriation of the form from a political position gained from his immersion in surrealism; this position is only fully understandable through examination of surrealism’s theory of culture and its historical and cultural context of the 1950s and 1960s. Ultimately, I want to show not only why surrealism prefers Pogo to pop and Li’l Abner to Lichtenstein, but also how its occultist theory can accommodate culture where pop art sustains a conflict, in spite of what many have perceived as the collapse of high and low in pop.
Gavin Parkinson is a senior lecturer in European modernism at the Courtauld Institute of Art, editor of the Routledge series Studies in Surrealism and a former Reviews Editor of Art History (2011–2016). He lectures and writes on European and American art and culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and has a particular interest in art and science, comics and science fiction. His books are Futures of Surrealism: Myth, Science Fiction and Fantastic Art in France 1936–1969 (Yale University Press, 2015); Surrealism, Art and Modern Science: Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Epistemology (Yale University Press, 2008); and The Duchamp Book (Tate Publishing, 2008). He is also the editor of the collection of essays Surrealism, Science Fiction and Comics (Liverpool University Press, 2015). He has just completed a book on the surrealist reception of late nineteenth-century art, titled Enchanted Ground: André Breton, Modernism and the Surrealist Appraisal of Fin de Siècle Painting.