H ere I am sitting at the computer scanning the art pages of After the Snooter to prepare digital versions for the big Alec Omnibus planned for next year from Top Shelf. Just watch out it doesn't run you over. So in between scans I'm doing a bit of catching up around the blogosphere.
Jeet Heer has posted his excellent essay Guy Davenport: the writer as cartoonist online. Jeet focuses on the neglected aspects of Davenport's work, best explained in these biographical notes:
Many of Davenport's earlier stories are combinations of pictures and text, especially Tatlin! and Apples and Pears (where some of the illustrations are of pages that resemble those of his own notebooks).
"It was my intention, when I began writing fiction several years ago, to construct texts that were both written and drawn. [ . . . ] I continued this method right through Apples and Pears [ . . . ]. The designer [of A+P] understood [my] collages to be gratuitous illustrations having nothing to do with anything, reduced them all to burnt toast, framed them with nonsensical lines, and sabotaged my whole enterprise. I took this as final defeat, and haven't tried to combine drawing and writing in any later work of fiction."
From the same source, this caught my eye:
Two sentences he wrote about Ralph Eugene Meatyard apply to himself as well: "He was rare among American artists in that he was not obsessed with his own image in the world. He could therefore live in perfect privacy in a rotting Kentucky town."
Charles Hatfield discusses Thierry Groensteen's The System of Comics
The book's heart is in its description of comics as networks of images: comic art, says Groensteen, "is not only an art of fragments, of scattering, of distribution; it is also an art of conjunction, of repetition, of linking together". The relations between images are, for Groensteen, what define the comics "system." The sum total of these relations he refers to as arthrology, of which he distinguishes two degrees or types: restricted arthrology, meaning the linear relations that comprise the "sequential syntagms" of a story; and general arthrology, meaning distant or translinear relations, to describe which Groensteen invokes the concept of "braiding," that is, the linking of images in networks across even the breadth of a long work such as an album or graphic novel. (As Groensteen himself suggests, one example of braiding might be the recurrence of the smiley face icon in Moore & Gibbons' Watchmen; the repetition of this image, though discontinuous, constitutes a major structuring device in that novel.) The sense of comics that emerges from all this is grand and architectonic.
I once had a taste for this kind of investigation, but now I tend to see it as being in the realm of fiction, which is to say that I enjoy reading it as i once enjoyed reading, say Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I'm not sure it has more practical value than a chess game. There is a certain contingent in Art that likes the idea that all art can aspire to the abstractions we find in classical music. Thus in teaching myself the rudiments of musical composition (Only so that I can better understand a book such as Charles Rosen's The Classical Style, as well as 'sleeve notes' (as we used to call 'em)), I can get excited trying to figure out:
Compared to seventh chords, ninths play a decidedly secondary role in composition. The reason lies in the different ways the resolution of the dissonance relates to chord progression. Adding a 7th to a triad produces a dissonance that cannot resolve within the chord. Thus F in the seventh chord G-B-D-F resolves to E, a tone foreign to the G chord. Using the 7th, therefore, promotes progression to a new chord- one that contains the tone of resolution. Because the dissonance so powerfully influences harmonic direction, it is useful- indeed necessary- to think of seventh chords as a special category, bearing in mind the fact that they are really triads plus a dissonant passing tone or suspension. (from Harmony and Voice Leading by Aldwell and Schachter))
However, while all of that serves a demonstrably useful purpose, which is to say that at the end of it a graspable music may be made, I would not dare to think that comic books are discussed so seriously often enough that a new bunch of words couldn't be spontaneously coined for each and every occasion.
Furthermore, there seems to be a resistance to any terminology becoming a shared vocabulary. Is it possible to refer to 'visual-verbal balance' without feeling that one has become the physical and actual embodiment of RC Harvey, or to say 'aspect-to-aspect transition' without truly imagining that one is heading off home to a cheery supper with Ivy McCloud?
A while back I dismissed Douglas Wolk's Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean with the casual 'this will do more harm than good'. A few were irked that I should comment without even reading his book. Indeed, my feeling was that the title alone had done all the damage. I took it to indicate that Wolk was conflating the whole idea of the art of 'comics' into the idiom (a very shrivelled one) of American comic books. Derik Badman, a much more prosaic and patient fellow than myself, goes through the job point by point, confirming for me that I have better things to do with my time.
His focus on the binary of “mainstream”/”art comics” is extremely problematic (including the confused overlap with mainstream/independent). On one level, I can’t imagine why the general reader would care about such things, and similarly why anyone would want to make them knowledgeable about such insider-y and useless distinctions. Just the term “mainstream” itself grates, for its illogic. But also, Wolk’s idea of “art comics” relies on his idea of style being “at least as important” as content and on the use of deliberately “ugly” art. His argument for art comics as style over content seems so indistinct. Couldn’t one easily say that the so-called “mainstream” superhero comics are an example of style over content? Wolk frequently returns to the idea of “ugly” art in comics, yet, despite his attempted forays into aesthetics (like Kant), he never makes any good claim for what “ugly” means. He says that “it’s a result of a conscious choice to incorporate a lot of distortion and avoid conventional prettiness in style.”
Labels: comics crit 1