Many of Roy Lichtenstein’s early paintings appropriated imagery found in comic books. Drowning Girl samples a page from issue #83 of Secret Hearts, a romance comic book illustrated by Tony Abruzzo and published by DC Comics in 1962. In Abruzzo’s original illustration, the drowning girl’s boyfriend appears in the background, clinging to a capsized boat. Meanwhile, the drowning girl in the foreground laments with closed eyes.
To create Drowning Girl, Lichtenstein cropped Abruzzo’s splash page (a comic book page with a single image surrounded by a frame), showing the woman alone and encircled by a threatening wave. He also 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. Describing his use of the comics medium, Lichtenstein says, “My work is actually different from comic strips in that every mark is really in a different place, however slight the difference seems to some. The difference is often not great, but it is crucial.”
Critics continue to debate the differences between Lichtenstein’s painting and Abruzzo’s illustration. The similarities continue to invite questions about authorship, style, and the value society ascribes to different forms of art.
Additional text from 2021