Dude, c'mon. Nobody wants to discuss comics here.
Okay, my idea for this thread is for it to eventually become a collection of links to writings on, about, or relating to comic books, and maybe art in general (so long as it has direct applications to comics, nothing on the relationship between cubism and surrealism or whatever)
Hopefully this will spark off some good discussions about comics as art or non-art or whatever they may be.
Please include any favorites you have, things you've read before and liked, things you've read and DIDN'T like, or things you just happen to find that are worth looking at. They can be new or old, written by comics professionals, comic readers, or people not directly related to comics.
I'll start of with this one.
The State of Visual Narrative In Film And Comics
By Peter Chung (Animation World Magazine, July 1998)
I bought three new video games this weekend.
You're all bastards. I'll have to go look now, and find a good one.
I'm trying to remember the last time I read a really good one online.
Neil Gaiman on the source of Ideas.
He never fails me.
Here's the Neil Gaiman bit I really wanted...
Not an essay, really, but his speech at the Harveys:
Thanks Ink, those were pretty great.
And yeah, I realize that there are only a handful of people here who actually give a shit about comics, but that handful can have an active enough discussion. And maybe if we bump this thread every week or so people who think that just drawing is good enough will stop ignoring it. Or maybe not.
Anyway, I like the article Peter Chung wrote because as much as we wish comics to be accepted as a mainstream form of literature, they aren't. They're a visual medium. And I also liked what he said about movies and comics making you have to use your imagination where books don't. I'm pretty sure I want to make movies some day, so it was interesting to read something about both film and comics and their relationship.
I just read the Chung essay, and for the most part, I think he's got valid points. I did, however, take issue with a couple of things:
Originally Posted by Peter ChungWhile it's true that quality storytelling through a balanced mix of knowing when to use narrative/dialogue, and when to let the artist tell the majority of the story is rare, I think it's more prevalent than Chung makes it sound. Granted, this essay was written a few years ago, and there has undoubtedly been an influx of fresh creativity into the industry lately. I think that over the past few years, we've seen a lot of quality creators emerge that have the ability to tell a story both through the visual and narrative elements of the work. I'm also not sure that comics are any more "forgiving" in this regard than film. I think the decision of which "in-between" frames an artist can cut from the progression of the story and still keep the ideas clear and understandable are often difficult to make. That's part of the reason there aren't more great storytelling artists in the industry. It's just not that easy.Originally Posted by Peter Chung
Again, I'll chalk up the fact that I don't agree with some of his comments on storytelling to the fact that the article was written in 1998. A lot has changed since then, even though a considerable amount has stayed the same. I do think that there has been a conscious effort on the part of many creators who have emerged over the last 5 years or so to break that trend, and hopefully, it will continue. Whether or not it will ever be practiced on a large enough scale to bring comics closer to the mainstream media we all know it CAN be is another question. We can always hope...
A number of things in the Chung article didn’t sit quite right with me, but pinpointing an exact concept was eluding me. Finally I re-read the introduction and realized that he makes a very quick and seemingly harmless assumption at the beginning, and it is this that taints the rest of the article for me. Right before delving into analysis, Chung says, “We may regard comics as a rudimentary type of film, lacking movement and sound. Looking at the problems with comics lets us study the basic nature of visual narrative and eventually reach a better understanding of the importance of film.” I think this statement is fundamentally flawed.
Comics are their own medium; not some bastardized form of film or literature or animation, but its own unique blending of these plus some aspects that are uniquely comic book.
I’m not trying to completely discredit his article though. He makes numerous good points and his main idea that the creation of comic material can learn a lot from film is definitely a valid thesis. But when he says “Comics Aren’t Literature” I can’t help but think that comics aren’t film either. As long comic creators strive for achieving a specifically filmic work or a specifically literary work, they will be only hindering their storytelling capabilities. One side of this dialectic would be comics that seem very Bruckheimer-esque in concept and practice. The comics with hot chicks and muscular men and big explosions that rely primarily on cliché and archetypes to portray character with a plot designed to deliver as many explosions and gunfights as possible provide an exciting action packed thrill ride, etc but are often lacking in varying other aspects. On the opposite side of the dialectic is the argument I occasionally hear against indie comics. That there is a lot of talking and posturing but nothing ever happens, the whole thing takes place over a cup of coffee. Both styles have different stories to tell and the method in which they are told suit their subject matter. I’m not dissing either. But they are really only aimed at niche audiences, ones that prefers either filmic or literary comics. Allow the two sides to reconcile and I think you get the majority of mainstream comics today that manage to achieve a comfortable equalization of the extremes. The comics that really stand out in comic history though, are the ones that not only balance the filmic and literary, but also utilize the truly “comic” (not Jerry Seinfeld comic, but the storytelling aspects unique to comics). Watchmen’s 9-panel grid and many of the zoom-ins and pullouts are obviously cinematic in nature, and its literary merit is obvious in story and character alone, if not also in its references to P.B. Shelley, Dante, etc. And then there are the aspects that work only in the comic medium, which we are still developing a vocabulary and methodology for understanding.
This is why I think Scott McCloud is such an important figure in comics, Understanding Comics works to grasp the unique storytelling capabilities of the comic medium without belittling it by forcing it to play second chair to film or literature (yes, Will Eisner’s Comics & Sequential Art does as well, but in a more practical way versus the theorizing of McCloud, and since this thread seems to be more concerned with the theory, I’m sticking with McCloud). Chung seems to just begin to lean this way in his conclusion, but stops short of really addressing the matter, and even then he only applies the dilemma to a specific concern. “The inevitable challenge for anyone working in narrative film or comics is how to convey the internal states of the characters. Understanding this issue is the key to discerning visual versus literary storytelling.” Internal states of characters are definitely a challenge in visual narratives, but Chung says, “Resorting to the use of voice-over narration or thought balloons is a literary solution that undermines the power of images.” I disagree with this. In film voice over narration may undermine the power of the image, and since he is an animator I can absolutely see his point in his defense of Aeon Flux, but comics aren’t film. An example that springs to mind is the use of voice over narration in the crime noir novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. According to Chung, this literary device would undermine the image, but in Frank Miller’s Sin City it seems to do the opposite by allowing much of the story to be told through narration and distilling some of the story telling out of the art and instead he creates powerful and stark visuals that show the action.
I think Peter Chung’s essay is without a doubt a good read and very pertinent to the discussion of comics, to a point. Perhaps if I have some time later I’ll throw in my argument on his ideas of film vs literature as passive.
NOTE: Yes, I know the arguments against Hegelian dialectics, but I think its application here works fine. Let’s stick to arguing about comics and not philosophy if you don’t mind.
--Comics Analysis Mod--
"I'd be all pyoo pyoo, and they'd be all, oh noes, I'm shot, and then I'd cut them." --me
I think that (surprisingly) Cheung is also setting aside the strides made in Asian comics to display a character's internal thoughts and feelings visually, techniques which are becoming more prevalent in Western books. Or maybe he thinks "manga" ("manwha" for him, I guess) is not the same thing as "comics".
For example (and this is something to which McCloud denotes nearly a whole chapter) the use of patterned imagery in the background of a panel may be able to indicate if a character is disturbed, frightened, placid, confused, angry, upset, in pain, and so forth. So can the very lines which are used to define the illustrations. The way in which the dialogue is lettered (best examples: Dave Sim and Will Eisner) can add depth to the character's "voice" and again, provide the very insight that Chung is discussing, and that latter technique is one entirely unique to the comics form.
Comics posess a range of unique techniques which can only be applied to static visual imagery, and I think these techniques (which warrant further exploration in our discussion) are part of what makes comics, as DJ has noted, their own medium, rather than (as many seem to assume) the bastard child of film, illustration and prose.
Dammit, DJ, I went and looked it up and I'm still confused...
Rassumfrassum definition makin' me look up other definitions to define the definition I needed to define...He·ge·li·an·ism n. The monist, idealist philosophy of Hegel in which the dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis is used as an analytic tool in order to approach a higher unity or a new thesis.
Yeah, DJ'll do that to ya.
He thinks on a different plane than most. I'd like to watch you 'n him sit in a room and talk about this kinda stuff, though. I bet it'd be pretty entertaining, and I'd learn a whole slew of new words to use (wrong).