Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Word/Image Problem

Since moving to New York, one of my favorite cartooning related events was on a very rainy March 8th at Parsons School for Design, where Ben Katchor organized a symposium called "Rodolphe Topffer and theWord/Image Problem."

Katchor gathered a stellar group of artists and academics to present slides and discussions on visual narrative throughout history. The guest of honor was David Kunzle, biographer of Rodolphe Topffer, considered by many to be the inventor of the comic strip.
(I'm thinking of composing a post that addresses that question. Stay tuned).

For me, the highlight of the day was that I met my lifelong hero, Peter Blegvad. Years before he took up comic strips, Blegvad's songs and their accompanying notes and illustrations shaped my thinking about comics in crucial, fundamental ways. Please excuse my sloppy sketch of the man-- he performed songs accompanying slides of his artwork and I had to put down my pen to marvel at the effect.

Reading down the sketches, we find Steven Guarnaccia, Chair of Parsons' Illustration Department, giving the introduction; Victor Mair, Professor of Chinese Literature, speaking on Indo-Chinese picture recitations; biographer Aimee Brown Price on the unofficial cartoons of painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes; Blegvad; Princeton University's Anne-Marie Bouche on Dialogues of Text andImage in Medieval Art; cartoonist Ben Katchor on Graven Images in the Yiddish Press; Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman in the audience; James Miller and Noah Isenberg of The New School for Social Research in conversation On the Perils of Academic Specialization; David Kunzle on Topffer as Professional Dilettante; and Patricia Mainardi, Professor of Art History at Brooklyn College, delivering a very inspiring presentation on forgotten proto-comic approaches in nineteenth-century book illustration.

Scoff if you wish, but this is my idea of a good time.
(You'll want to click on these three pages to really see them)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cartooning Today

"Cartooning Today" was, I'm pretty sure, the name of this outdoor panel last week at the Brooklyn Book Festival. From left to right we see Kyle Baker, Mo Willems, a statue of Henry Ward Beecher, and moderator Brian Heater. One could read the whole interview here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


My new book with Rikki Ducornet should be out soon from Dalkey Archive Press. Here are some of the preliminary, concept sketches for one of the comic stories at the back of the book. Click to enlarge, of course.

Ben Marcus and William Gass

Here are a couple of sketches from readings at the Brooklyn Public Library sponsored by The Brooklyn Rail.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Izzy Challenge #5

I contributed to a panel in J.B. Winter's newest Izzy Challenge. My MoCCA tablemate, Isaac
Cates and I were amused to see our contributions side by side, through an accident of alphabetization.

Read Isaac's post about it, then read Winter's.

Winter does cool jam comics. You should check this one out.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Power of the Individual Panel

Cubofuturist interpretation of Durer's "Ascent of Venus" from Damn Weird #23, 2006.
Border & lettering is by Maximum Traffic.

Before we had the terms "Sequential Art" and "Graphic Storytelling," the pretentious name for comics was the advertising term, "Continuity Illustration." It's a horrible phrase, really, because it completely ignores the role of writing in comics. It diminishes the drawing too, since illustration is always subordinate to whatever it's supposed to illustrate. That said, I think this term needs to be brought back to our attention. "Sequential Art" emphasizes the sequence of images and leads us to think about the cinematic quality of comics. "Graphic Storytelling" stresses the rhythm and timing involved in the successful telling of a story. "Continuity Illustration" reminds us that a comic is also a linked series of individual pictures.

A germ carnival from "God Bless You," 1995

Since the underground comics faded in the late 70s, there's been a trend in the comics intelligentsia, such as it is, to view comic panels as visual syntagms or ciphers. It doesn't matter how they look. It only matters how they function. This view is supported by the fact that the good drawing found in commercial comics too often serves hackneyed stories. And it 's considered good drawing mostly because it's correct, not because it's creative, much less visionary. Although brilliant visual art has always thrived among indie comics, I see it consistently marginalized in the critical conversation. Maybe that's because writers find it easier to write about writing.

Universal language wars from "Volapuk," 1990

Personally, I love it when a carefully crafted comic panel makes me want to stop and study its effects. As a seasoned comic reader, I can hold the pacing in my head and read at any tempo I please. In my own work, I've sometimes spent up to two weeks working on a single panel-- designing it, revising it, packing it with ideas. You may think I'm wasting time but I believe I'm saving paper.

Pro Wrestlers on a scaffold from "Steel Pulse" #4, 1989.

So I'm launching this here thread where I'll occasionally post comic panels I'm particularly proud of to see if they can stand alone.