Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Anti-Comic

Welcome to the second Design and Style of comix week. We're almost done for everyone I'm boring especially badly with this run of drivel. I'm currently in a post-Morrison burnout, nearly crying about the fact that I've just finished reading through Grant's entire Doom Patrol run and rereading his Animal Man. Morrison himself forecasts this emotion, when he talks about what I see as a sort of theme of both series, "Yeah. Well, that's the trouble with my stories--they always seem to build up to something that never actually happens. That's the trouble with my life, too." I won't tell you where that's from for fear of revealing too much, but I do think you can feel Morrison's early work here, like say Radiohead's "Creep," plunging into emotions that you want to exorcise from yourself, depressions you want to leave behind. The same sort of emotion that I read in a Tao Lin interview I can't be bothered to dig up at the moment where he talks about writing with the viewpoint that he was not happy at the present, but could foresee a future pleasantness. Blah, pity parade and all that, need to get to the technical stuff now before I turn the angst knob up past 11. Neo looking across the rooftops, eventually he has to make the jump...

As a writer, an academic, an artist, as a person, I've become obsessed with the categorical boundary lines, piqued by words like "race" or "medium" or "genre." All these little lines we might draw to create the artist's rendering of what we think is the world. Reading comics as of late has been...not so much difficult but odd. Perhaps I could make a connection to reading poetry before I wrote poems. My own lack of artistic talent and disinterest in writing scripts creates a wall, an inability to fully conceive of what the comic writer's job is like. I've been able to consider myself so removed from the musician or the illustrator so as to not be able to uncover their secret ways but perhaps purely due to the importance of the word "writer" itself, the divide I find between myself and the comic writer is upsetting.

How could we investigate the differential between a comic writer and a writer in general? I must admit to putting forth some stupid sentences here, but I think the point gets across. One way to detail some of the specifics of a comic creator would be to look for those comics that stand on the line of definition, called by some comic books by others various other names. Grant Morrison's Bible John, Doom Patrol 54, as well as various writing styles he makes use of in describing his stories could easily be called poetry. Neil Gaiman calls Alan Moore's Swamp Thing #34 a "prose poem," itself a hybrid idea I am very much interested in.

What I mean to suggest is that there exists within the comics medium a force to undo all set rules, to create the anti-comic if you will, similar to what you might find in any art form. Namely the driving force that you might call terrorism if it manifested politically presents itself in art by breaking down the barriers and blowing up the old definitions. What is, then, the anti-comic?

We must first once again define the comic. Here in America it means superhero serial story told in panels progressing along a page. Signal, a comic I do not own and have not read, can be easily seen to be fighting at least a few of those details. It's my opinion that the point of view shifting, narrative uncertainty that comes from the traditional Peter Milligan caption is also right there at the edges of the comic book wall pushing. Chasing Victor, my own fictional comic book was meant as a sort anti-comic. Yet even the name "anti-comic" is itself a useless concept, as the very idea of expanding the definition of the term "comic" is dependent upon calling what is created comics. Just as much of my work is self-titled "poetry" for the purpose of putting forward the argument that poetry can be and is anything it wants to be.

The rise of the illustrated novel like Gaiman's Stardust, the line between a novel and a comic becomes slightly less defined. Stardust was serialized in four "issues" presented in prestige format, a noted comic book publication form. One wonders what is the difference for the illustrator when creating an "illustrated novel" or a "comic book." While one can easily make the argument that these are two distinctive forms, further complication does arise. Gaiman returns to such an idea with "Fifteen Portraits of Despair" in Endless Nights where one truly does get the idea that they are reading something different than a comic, something new. Grant Morrison develops this further by bringing it to the mainstream, writing Batman #663 as (I will quote a comics site here) a "story written in prose with some illustrations."

Rodó, I think it was, connected Edgar Allan Poe and Transcendentalism in way that probably made the macabre poet spin in his grave. He was making true connections between two supposedly opposed opinions and helped use these to create his own worldview. The Caribbean can be defined geographically as the islands in the Caribbean Sea, but in studying Caribbean history, the word means something else entirely. Caribbean grows to be defined as impacted by colonial warfare and populated by a majority slave population for centuries. I, myself, began to imagine somewhat facetiously the concept of "Caribbean" as being completely unrelated to geography, fully governed by its new definitions.

This relates to a potential change in the definition of "comic book" as being related to a sort of mutation of form, not simply the traditional narrative and style, but rather the very essences of what a comic actually is. I will leave it to writers themselves like Warren Ellis or Neil Gaiman to pick up on what these essences actually are and as usual will present little if any necessary information to the nonexistent public that reads this blog. The anecdote that comes to mind is about a discussion I had with a friend of mine a few years back, going something like this:
"Alex Ross art gets ruined by word bubbles."
"That's comics."
Ultimately, Ross's paintings of superheros lie right within the divide between comic books and other forms of art. The medium grows and expands outward into the world like a culture, poems are in essence comics, yet superheros are not simply all that comics are because comics can and are anything. And here perhaps is where I most identify with that mysterious figure called the comic creator, standing there on the edge of what you yourself consider a specific form, you shove and push at your own boundaries, always hoping to expand, to open up, and understand as much as possible.

Or rather that's who I want to be. I also want to be someone who's written a good enjoyable blog post but I've failed at that. And in poetry there is always someone else out there at the cutting edge pushing the envelope far out of my reach. But as a comic reader or as we like to call ourselves as a fan-boy, this is why I am drawn to these types of things. You feel like you are a part of it and no matter how delusional you are, the ultimate result is a very fitting catharsis.

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