Camelot in Four Colors, Part 2

 

New stories of traditional Arthurian characters

These comics are usually (but not always) sequels to the original legend and often revolve around Arthur's promised return. As modern or future incarnations of the characters, the heroes of these stories are often heavily disguised. Stories which center on an Arthurian object or concept (e.g. the Holy Grail, Excalibur, etc.) rather than a personage, but which are not part of an ongoing series, have also been included in this category.


Avalon Highavalon high 1 cover

Written by Meg Cabot, illustrated by Jinky Coronado. Tokyopop/HarperCollins, 2007 to date.

Meg Cabot, a prolific and popular writer of children's, teen, and adult fiction, began her contemporary Arthurian series with a prose novel, Avalon High, published in 2005.  Following the success of the novel, Cabot opted to continue the story in graphic novel format.  Two paperback volumes have been published so far, with at least one more planned.

In the series, Ellie Harrison is an American teenager who discovers parallels between people and events at her new school, Avalon High, and the Arthurian legend.  Will Wagner, senior class president and quarterback of the football team, corresponds to King Arthur, while his girlfriend Jennifer Gold parallels Guinevere, his best friend Lance Reynolds parallels Lancelot, and so on.  Eventually, Ellie is confronted by her history teacher, Mr. Morton (Merlin), who reveals to her that Will is the true Arthur reincarnated, destined to lead the world into a new age of peace and enlightenment.  The love triangle fatal to the original court of Camelot is resolved when Will is reconciled to Jennifer and Lance and their relationship, and he himself falls for Ellie, the reincaranted Lady of the Lake.  Several individuals still stand in the way of Will embracing his destiny, however, including his half-brother Marco (Mordred) and the latter's girlfriend, Morgan.




 

Beyond Avalon

Written by Joe Pruett, illustrated by Goran Sudzuka and Richard Case. Image Comics and Desperado Publishing, 2005 to date.

This series centers on Megan, the daughter of King Arthur, and the first person to ever be born on the enchanted island of Avalon. After a long stay in Avalon, Arthur becomes restless, and suddenly one day departs into the mist, "a gateway to other worlds...worlds of fairies and goblins, lands of vanishing cities and places where lesser creatures walk as man." Megan, who is counseled by wise old Joseph (presumably Joseph of Arimathea) as well as Morgan (presumably Morgan Le Fay), ultimately decides to leave Avalon in search of her father and adventure.  Only three issues have been published to date.  A trade paperback collection was released in 2008.

 

 

 

 


"The Black Flight," Unknown Worlds #37

Written by Kurato Osaki, illustrated by Edd Ashe. American Comics Group, 1965. Reprinted in black and white in Swords of Valor # 1 (A+ Comics, 1990).

In this 12-page story, a young knight named Dorian attempts to rescue a young lady-in-waiting named Hilda from the unwanted amorous attentions of a much older magician, Merlin, but only succeeds when he invokes the aid of magical pterosaurs from the prehistoric past.  (Charlton publication information from the Grand Comics Database.) 


Butcher Knight

Written by Charles Holland, illustrated by Dwayne Turner. Image Comics, 2000-2001.

This story of Lancelot du Lac in contemporary times begins in Dark Crossings, published by Image in 2000. This two-issue miniseries, featuring the Image characters Witchblade, the Darkness, and Tomb Raider (from the well-known video game), tells how Lancelot (portrayed here as a black man) was betrayed by Merlin after the passing of Arthur. Attempting to gain the power to rescue Guinevere from the Queen of Bones, Lancelot allowed Merlin to transform him into a living gargoyle. After Guinevere had been saved, Merlin took vengeance on Lancelot for his and Guinevere's role in the fall of Camelot by imprisoning Lancelot in the stone body of the gargoyle, which was set on the roof of the convent where Guinevere would live out the rest of her life.

In the Butcher Knight series, Lancelot has returned to life in the present as Luther Washington, a reclusive painter who is still half-gargoyle, and who must consume the blood of demons to survive. Merlin still lives as well, as Barnabus London, head of a modern business empire. Luther finds himself allied with Daria, a seductive and ruthless witch seeking Merlin's power for her own purposes. The series concluded (somewhat abruptly) with the fourth issue.


"Cagim," Eerie #116 and 117

Written by Budd Lewis, illustrated by E. R. Cruz. Black and white. Warren Publishing, 1980.

Borrowing a conceit introduced by T. H. White in his novel The Once And Future King -- that Merlin lives backwards in time -- Lewis and Cruz tell the story of Ambrose, an inept young stage magician who, in 1980, encounters the aged wizard Merlin -- his own "future" self, who has been sleeping for fifteen centuries under the enchantment of the witch Vivien. In the course of two published installments, Ambrose becomes a masked hero named Cagim and joins with King Arthur and twelve of his knights (revived as Rex Arthur and the Round Table Agency) to battle Vivien and her henchman Mordred to save the world. (Lewis also wrote an earlier, equally short-lived series about Merlin for Eerie.)


Camelot 3000

Written by Mike Barr, illustrated by Brian Bolland. 12 issues. DC Comics, 1982-1985. Reprinted in a single paperback volume in 1988, and in hardcover in 2008.

In Camelot 3000, perhaps the best known of Arthurian comic book series, Barr and Bolland tell of Arthur's return in the year 3000. As earth is invaded by aliens from outer space, Arthur is awkened from a centuries-long sleep in Glastonbury, Merlin is freed from Nyneve's spell holding him prisoner at Stonehenge, and eight knights, along with Guinevere, are discovered to have been renicarnated in this time. Lancelot is a wealthy French businessman and Guinevere is the commander of Earth's armed forces, while the other knights have returned in a variety of untraditional forms -- Gawain is African, Galahad is Japanese, and Tristan is a woman. The restored Knights of the Round Table soon learn that their old adversary Morgan Le Fay has also survived the centuries and is, in fact, behind the alien invasion. Morgan allies herself with Mordred, who has been reincarnated as the United Nations' Security Director. Lancelot and Guinevere resume their illicit affair, Merlin is again betrayed to Nyneve, and Perceval searches for the Grail, as the old story plays itself out once more.

Mike Barr came to Camelot 3000 as a veteran American scripter of superhero comics; Brian Bolland, as a popular British illustrator who had made his reputation as one of the early artists on the dark-humored dystopic science-fiction action series Judge Dredd. Their collaboration effectively combines their individual sensibilities with an understanding of the Arthurian mythos as much influenced by T. H. White (as refracted through Lerner and Loewe's musical Camelot) as by Sir Thomas Malory. The result is an imaginative extension of the Arthurian legend which, though it does not explore the legend's themes in an especially insightful way, is nevertheless an enjoyable science-fantasy adventure.

Also on the web:


Camelot Eternal

Written and illustrated by J. Caliafore. 8 issues, black & white, Caliber Press, 1990-1991.

This is an unusual series based on the question, "what if King Arthur hadn't died in his final battle with Mordred?" Since Mordred also survives, not to mention Lancelot and Gwynevere, the situation reverts fairly quickly to the basic state of things in Malory's last books (before the Queen is accused of treason). The series ceased publication before the story was completed.

 

 

 

 


Le Chant d'Excalibur

French. Published in Dutch as Excalibur.

Written by Arleston, illustrated by Hubsch. Soleil Production,1998 to date.

Three volumes of this series have been published thus far: La Reveil de Merlin (in English, The Rise of Merlin); Le Sidhe aux Mille Charmes (The Sidhe of the 1000 Charms); and La Griffe de Rome (The Griffon of Rome). Robert Vermaat writes: "As a French comic, this series has some very clear Breton overtones, though the story is set in Ireland, shortly after the year 1000. The young Galahad is forced to get married. Ring a bell? It does to Merlin, who has languished in a dolmen for 500 years, but who is unexpectedly set free by an overzealous priest. Merlin must bring Excalibur to the young hero, so that the realm of magic can be restored. That bell still ringing? It does to Merlin, who finds Galahad to be...a girl! When the confusion is over and the old geezer (yes, I mean Merlin) revives Fronhyr the dragon, the fun can begin for real: magic against the tyranny of king and church. Very promising and humorous."

 

 

 

 


Dracula vs. King Arthurcover image first issue

Written by Adam Beranek and Christian Beranek, illustrated by Chris Moreno. 4 issues. Silent Devil Productions, 2005.  Reprinted in trade paperback and limited edition hardcover, 2007.

In this "high concept" miniseries, the 15th century Wallachian monarch known as Vlad the Impaler is turned into a vampire by Lucifer, and then transported 1000 years into the past to attack and destroy King Arthur and his court at Camelot.

Despite a frankly outrageous premise, the creators clearly know and respect their Arthurian source material, and they play their story straight.  Appearing at first to be a previously untold tale of Arthur and his knights, the narrative gradually develops into a particularly dark version of the familiar tale of the final days of Camelot.









"The Dragon of Times Square," House of Mystery #74

DC Comics, 1958.

This short science-fantasy story from a DC Comics anthology series, originally published in the May,1958 issue of the long-running DC anthology series (and reprinted in issue #228, Dec.-Jan., 1974-1975), describes an adventure of Sir Gawain in modern New York City. An electrical storm causes a time warp which brings not only the Round Table champion to Manhattan, but a fire-breathing dragon as well. (Original publication information from the Grand Comics Database.)


 


"In the Dark Ages," Amazing Adventures v.3, #1

Written by J. M. DeMatteis. Illustrated by John Ridgway. Marvel Comics, 1988.

This 12-page story of an unnamed knight traveling through a desolate, plague-ridden land in search of the Holy Grail appeared in a one-shot anthology title from Marvel. The artist, John Ridgway, later illustrated Marvel's 1994-1995 Prince Valiant miniseries.


"The Iron Warrior," Strange Tales v.1, #108

Written by Stan Lee. Illustrated by Steve Ditko. Marvel Comics, 1963.

Merlin teaches a lesson to an arrogant knight in this 5-page story from one of Marvel's anthology titles. (Story reprinted in Marvel Super-Heroes v.1, #30, April, 1971. Original publication information from the Grand Comics Database.)

 

 

 

 

 

 


Knewts of the Round Table

Written by Brian Fitzgerald, illustrated by Nirut Chamsuwan. Ongoing series, Pan Entertainment, 1998.

The following summary is from the creator's web site (www.knewts.com, inaccessible as of 2/24/00):

"It was a dark time for New Camelot...The Knights of the Round Table have been defeated and captured, but this news never reached King Arthur. Red Hand, a banished knight, led his Orcish horde to capture the kingdom which had no champions to defend it.

"In a cave far from the city, Lancelot, Galahad, Pervical, and G'wain awoke from a long slumber to a waking nightmare. Using a bewitched book, Red Hand had cursed the knights to a form part man, part newt. The shock of this transformation proved too much for G'wain, who raced into the forest mad and bewildered. He left behind a tentative Lancelot, a detached Percival, and a Galahad who believes that they have always been 'knewts'..."

Its punning title notwithstanding, the tone of this series is that of a dramatic fantasy adventure with occasional humorous touches.

 

 

 

 


The Knights of Pendragon

Written by Dan Abnett and John Tomlinson, illustrated by various artists. 18 issues (1st series), 15 issues (2nd series), Marvel UK, 1990 -1993.

The Knights of Pendragon , in its original incarnation, is one of the most intriguing and original Arthurian comics series that has yet appeared. The series is set squarely in Marvel Comics' fictional universe and features superheroes such as Captain Britain and Union Jack among the lead characters, as well as such guest stars as Iron Man , the Black Panther,and members of the Fantastic Four. The premise of the series is based on an interpretation of the medieval English poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" as an ecological fable; the Green Knight is a personification of the Earth's life force who bestows the "Pendragon force" on champions who stand against the Bane, forces of "winter and warfare" who use multinational corporations as well as black magic to achieve their ends. The Pendragon champions (also referred to as the Knights of Pendragon or simply the Pendragons) are a mix of ordinary British mortals and professional heroes like Union Jack. Each Pendragon force carries with it the memories of every champion it has possessed through history, so at times the modern Pendragons are overwhelmed by the personalities of prior champions like Gawain and Lancelot. The 15th issue of the first series introduces Adam Crown, a seventeen-year-old car wash attendant who, at the least, is possessed by the Pendragon spirit of King Arthur, and may actually be the "Chief Dragon" reincarnated.

The first series features a unique blending of real-world envirionmental horrors, Arthurian fantasy, and superhero adventure, building to a truly memorable epic climax as Pendragon champions are called from every time and nation to defend the Green Knight in his stronghold, the Green Chapel in the mystical dimension of Avalon, against an overpowering assault by the forces of the Bane. The second series, written by the same authors but featuring different artists, is much less successful, with the concepts and characters reworked in an apparent attempt to make Knights of Pendragon a more conventional (and commercial) superhero team comic book on the model of Marvel's X-Men or Image's WildC.A.T.S., with mediocre results.

See the entries for the Black Knight and Doctor Strange for other approaches taken to "the Pendragon" in Marvel's comics.

Co-author Dan Abnett also scripted the graphic novel Uther, the Half-Dead King.

Also on the web:


Lady Pendragon

Written by Matt Hawkins, illustrated by various. First series, one issue, Maximum Press, 1996. Three-issue miniseries, Image Comics, 1998-1999. Ongoing series, 10 issues, Image Comics, 1999-2000. Various special issues, including Lady Pendragon: Prelude, Lady Pendragon v. 2 #0, Lady Pendragon/More Than Mortal, Lady Pendragon: Merlin, etc.

Matt Hawkins' Lady Pendragon, following an inauspicious start, became one of the most visible, and certainly the most heavily marketed, Arthurian comics of the 1990's.

The first and only Maximum Press issue begins with Arthur's death in battle with Mordred and describes how Queen Guinevere takes up the sword Excalibur and attempts to keep her husband's dream alive. In the Image Comics relaunch, Hawkins continues the story of Guinevere in the 6th century, but also introduces a present-day storyline centering on Jennifer Drake, a historical novelist who becomes the new Lady Pendragon when she pulls the magical sword Caliburn (in this version, a sister sword to Excalibur) from a stone and ushers in a new age of magic on Earth. Later issues feature parallel storylines of Guinevere and Jennifer Drake, though the latter comes to predominate. Jennifer is aided by Merlin in the present as she battles against modern incarnations of Morgana and Mordred.

During the series' run, Hawkins enjoyed incorporating a wide variety of material into his storyline, including a number of historical or scientific theories that many would call "fringe". Such material included, but was not limited to: Atlantis; the Ark of the Covenant; intelligent life on Mars; the "Christ's bloodline" theory of the Holy Grail; the Knights Templar; the "Spear of Destiny"; the Druids; and Greek, Babylonian, and Egyptian mythology. While it was hard to take the end results too seriously, a reader might find that Hawkins' enthusiasm and audacity covered a multitude of sins.  Hawkins moved on to administrative duties at one of Image Comics' partner studios in 2000, and suspended work on the series.  He returned to his creation for a single issue, Pilot Season: Lady Pendragon, in 2008.


Legends of Camelot

Caliber Press, 1999-2000.

This series of "one-shots" by different authors and illustrators generally featured retellings of traditional Arthurian legends, as described in Part One, but Legends of Camelot: The Enchanted Lady presented a previously untold story of young Arthur prior to his becoming king. The story provides a "secret origin" for a familiar Arthurian character.


Madame XanaduDoorway to Nightmare cover

Written and illustrated by various,  DC Comics,  1978 to date.

Madame Xanadu represents an unusual treatment of a traditional Arthurian figure in comics, having made her first appearance some thirty years before her identification as the sorceress Nimue was made explicit.  

Created by David Michelinie (writer) and Val Mayerik (artist),  Madame Xanadu made her debut in Doorway to Nightmare #1 (1978).  Depicted as a mysterious woman operating a fortune-telling parlour in contemporary Greenwich Village, Madame Xanadu offered assistance to people facing various supernatural threats.  This series lasted only five issues, and after a single follow-up one-shot (Madame Xanadu v.1, #1, 1981), the character was relegated to making guest appearances or playing a supporting role in a number of DC Comics' series and miniseries.  In The Spectre v.3, #7 (1993), a story written by John Ostrander featured Madame Xanadu explaining her past: "I used to be a sorceress.  A master wizard taught me my craft...  He told me when we met that it was fated and that in the end, I would confine him in a tree.  I did, too.  It was his doom."  The Madame Xanadu cover image for issue tworeference to the legend of Merlin and Nimue was evident to the knowledgeable reader, but the identification of Madame Xanadu with the Arthurian character would not be made definite for another fifteen years.

In the ongoing series Madame Xanadu (published under DC's Vertigo imprint), author Matt Wagner (also the creator of other notable Arthurian comics, as discussed in the Mage entry, below, and the Demon entry in Part Three) and illustrator Amy Reeder Hadley chronicle the character's previously untold history.  The first two issues (Aug. - Sept., 2008) described how the forest-dwelling enchantress Nimue Inwudu, sister to both Vivienne (the Lady of the Lake) and Morgana, attempted to protect Camelot from Morgana through her sexual influence over the wizard Merlin.  Nimue discovered, too late, that Merlin himself was consorting with demons, and scheming to manipulate the course of history.  Unable to prevent the fall of Camelot, Nimue tricked Merlin and imprisoned him in a hawthorne bramble, but not before he "disenchanted" her with a final curse, forcing her to secure her immortality thenceforth through the use of potions.  







Mage

Mage coverWritten and illustrated by Matt Wagner. First series, Mage: The Hero Discovered: 15 issues. Comico, 1984-1986. Issues 1 - ? reprinted by Comico in a trade paperback volume (198?); all issues reprinted in paperback volumes by Donning (1988?) and by Image (1998 - 1999). "Interlude" episodes of "Mage" published as back-up stories in Grendel # 16-19, 1988. Second series, Mage: The Hero Defined: 15 issues.  Image, 1998 - 2000; collected paperback editions also published by Image.

In the contemporary urban fantasy Mage: The Hero Discovered, a young man named Kevin Matchstick reluctantly gets involved with a magician named Mirth and an assortment of supernatural enemies under the command of the Umbra Sprite. Kevin finds himself possessed of superhuman abilities he doesn't want, and ultimately learns he's King Arthur reborn.

This first "Mage" series (the first of a projected trilogy) makes a subtle use of Arthurian themes throughout the story -- the Umbra Sprite is searching for the Fisher King, and his underlings include the Marhault ogre. Mirth's identification with Merlin is clear, if unspoken. The climax of the story comes with Kevin's drawing a magical baseball bat -- Excalibur -- from the side of an alley dumpster.

Arthurian elements are less overt in the second series, Mage: The Hero Defined, which finds the Pendragon joined by a number of other heroic archetypes, including incarnations of Hiawatha and Hercules. Mirth is nowhere to be found, and Kevin rejects the claim of an addled elderly man named Wally Ut to the title of "World-Mage". Kevin's heroic companions might be viewed as his Knights of the Round Table, or they might not. In the series' conclusion, the World-Mage is revealed, and Kevin learns that his identity as the Pendragon is more complex than he had supposed. The story of Kevin Matchstick is scheduled to conclude in a final series, Mage: The Hero Denied.

Both series present a unique and personal interpretation of the Arthurian legend, melding myth and folklore with aspects of the superhero genre as well as autobiographical elements (Kevin Matchstick is based, visually at least, on Matt Wagner himself), in an original vision which has resulted in one of the most intriguing and entertaining comics on an Arthurian theme produced to date. 

Matt Wagner has also written and drawn a Demon miniseries featuring a very different approach to the legend of Merlin, and has also dealt with Arthurian elements in his writing for the Madame Xanadu series (see above).

Also on the Web:


"Merlin," Marvel Preview #22

Written by Doug Moench, illustrated by John Buscema (penciller) and Tom Palmer (inker). Black and white, Marvel, 1980.

Long-time Conan the Barbarian artist Buscema attempted an artistic tribute to "Prince Valiant" 's Hal Foster in this single-issue story, an original adventure of Merlin set in the traditonal medieval Arthurian setting. A knightly young stranger charms the court of Camelot but turns out to be a son of the Devil; Merlin and Arthur have to rescue Guinevere from his nether realm. (More than two decades earlier, Buscema had illustrated an adventure of Sir Lancelot for Dell Publishing.)

 

 

 

 


Merlin: Idylls of the King

Written by R. A. Jones, illustrated by ?. 2 issues, black and white, Adventure Comics, 1992.

In this sequel to the same author's Merlin, the wizard is involved in an angel's quest to return to Heaven. (All information from Camelot 3000 and Beyond.)


"The Return of King Arthur," Valor #1; "The King's Service," Valor #2

E.C. Comics, 1955.

For many of today's comics fans, E.C.'s horror, science fiction, and crime anthology comics represent a high point in the history of the comic book; in the 1950's, however, these same comics attracted so much negative attention that the publisher, threatened with censorship, eventually felt compelled to cancel them, replacing them with a variety of new comics. One of these, Valor, featured short stories dealing with heroism and combat in historical periods ranging from ancient Rome to the time of Napoleon.

During its short five-issue run, Valor featured two original stories including Arthurian characters, both written by Al Feldstein and drawn by Wally Wood. In "The Return of King Arthur", Arthur appears to have returned from Avalon during the time of the Crusades to lead a revolt against Norman tyranny -- but is he truly what he seems? In "The King's Service", a young knight is challenged to prove his loyalty to King Arthur and worthiness to join the fellowship of the Round Table -- but who is the mysterious old man who joins Sir Geoffrey's quest as the young knight's squire? Both of these stories feature twist endings in the E.C. tradition.

Both stories, along with the rest of the Valor series run, have been reprinted in recent years in both a single-volume hardcover (black and white) and as indivdual periodical issues (color) by Russ Cochran and Gemstone.


"Sir Lancelot," Four Color #606

Dell Publishing Co., 1954.

Dell published one adventure of the most famous knight of the Round Table in its Four Color anthology series prior to the American premiere of the television series, The Adventures of Sir Lancelot. (A later Dell one-shot based on that series is discussed in Part Five.) I do not actually know if the 1954 issue featured a retelling of a traditional Arthurian story or a new adventure; although precedent appears to favor the former, I have decided that the more prudent choice is to list it here.

 

 


"Sir Lancelot and the Haunted Tower," Robin Hood and his Merry Men #32

Written by ?, illustrated by ?. Charlton Comics, 1957.  Reprinted in Charlton Classics #6 (1981) and in black and white in Swords of Valor # 1 (A+ Comics, 1990).

This 5-page adventure features Lancelot's rescue of a young woman and her father from a castle besieged by the wicked Duc de Fer.  (Charlton publication information from the Arthurian Annals and the Grand Comics Database.) 


Other Titles

Five other comics series may be mentioned in this category. All of these feature Arthurian characters in supporting, rather than central, roles, or as one figure in an ensemble:

Morgan Le Fey appears in the six-issue miniseries The Black Dragon (Marvel, 1985; reprinted in one trade paperback volume by Dark Horse Comics, 1996), written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Bolton. In this fantasy adventure set in England during the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Morgan is portrayed as the Queen of Faerie. Other Arthurian characters and themes are not mentioned.

A Distant Soil, written and illustrated by Colleen Doran, is essentially a science-fiction series about a group of contemporary Earthlings (a couple of whom are the children of an extraterrestial) who become involved in a conflict between factions on the planet Ovanan. Galahad is a supporting character in the storyline, presented as a knight of the otherworldly realm of Avalon who becomes involved with the other characters when he falls through an interdimensional gateway into our world. A Distant Soil has been published in three distinctly different versions since 1983; it is currently being published by Image Comics, with three trade paperback reprint collections available. (More information is available on the official A Distant Soil web site.)

Fate's Five features Merlin, Captain Nemo, Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and the King of Atlantis, all brought to the present to battle evil. (Source: posting by Rodney Parrish to the alt.legend.king-arthur newsgroup..)

Knights on Broadway, a short-lived science-fiction series from Broadway Comics (1996), features a prescient child genius who is inspired to create a new band of high-tech knights to avert future catastrophe. She imagines that she may be the reincarnation of Morgan Le Fay; this question was left unresolved by the series' cancellation after three issues.

Otherworld (DC/Vertigo, 2005), a seven-issue miniseries written and drawn by Phil Jimenez, tells the story of a diverse group of young people from modern-day Los Angeles who are transported to an alternate world divided between opposing forces of magic and technology. Merlin appears as one of the main leaders on the side of magic.

StarGods (Antarctic, 1998 - ?; title spelled "Stargodz" on covers) is a science-fiction series focusing on galactic empires whose rulers are the basis for the gods of human mythologies. The series includes in its cast a priest named John Gilead who is identified as Sir Galahad, the "Grailknight". Story and art are by Dean Zachary and Scott Clark.


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Last updated 9/14/08. Email your comments and suggestions to Alan Stewart.