« Linky linky | Main | The Passion of Joan of Arc »

December 08, 2004

Comments

Kip Manley

(One feels one must point out one isn't a total illiterate: the Calvert School put me through Great Expectations and David Copperfield, of course, and I went on a Nicholas Nickleby tear as a kid after becoming enamored of the PBS broadcast of the stage version with Roger Rees. But aside from that.)

As for comics, and prose, and film: comics has the advantage of walking the borderland where representational image and allusive inscription get all tangled up; it takes just a nudge to tip the signifier over into sign and back again. —I'd plump for both Los Bros. Hernandez: Beto, for the obvious Dickensian qualities, not just in the melodrama but also in the caricatures and grotesqueries he draws; Jaime for the very synaesthetic qualities you're digging at: "Flies on the Ceiling" is a fucking masterpiece.

It's an issue (in part) of control: who's got it, and how much. And film, weirdly, has the short end of a lot of sticks. The "authors" are at the mercy of so many contingencies: each other, technology, the setting, the light; the "readers," in turn, must give up total control to the strictly linear reading experience: fast forward and rewind and slomo and freezeframe allow a limited form of lingering, but it's hardly the same thing.

With prose—words, rather—the author to a certain extent is at the reader's mercy. You (the author) won't be able to dictate the precise plums conjured up in the reader's mind: how cold, how sweet, what the icebox looked like, where it stood in what kitchen. But you can be sure that some plums and an icebox are conjured up (so long as the reader has had some experience with plums, and an icebox, yes); because they are so slippery, those things can easily become something else, and with a little help you can guide that: though not so far as to make the plums some girl's virginity, I don't think.

But if you film it, you've got these plums and that icebox, and the only things those can become, really, have time and space to become, are what you can allow them in the movie itself, and that's why maybe film succeeds best as spectacle or as long-form serial storytelling, in which you can remember how in the second season they were in that orchard where they stole the plums, and now she's in the middle of the night pulling a plate of plums out of the fridge and eating them alone at the table, it's just a throwaway shot, but think what it must mean—!

But I'm going on too long to state the obvious. —With comics you get not the best of both worlds but some of the strengths of each: the author (can I not scare-quote it now?) gets to say this icebox, those plums; the reader gets to skip ahead and around like Nabokov if they like, lingering to take in this splash, thrilling over that intricate mosaic of overlapping, cascading panels. And with great power, yadda yadda: the wise cartoonist will take that into account, and Chris Ware will start to play maddening formal games with panel transitions and memory, and Herge will draw flat simple characters—easy caricatures to identify and identify with—in intricately worked-out backgrounds—beautiful, precise jewel-box worlds to explore—which leads to Scott McCloud's masking theory. The reader has the control; the wise cartoonist gives them something to do with it.

Maybe not. —I'm reminded of an illustration from Frederick L. Schodt's Manga! Manga! He's talking about why maybe comics are so popular in Japan, and he points out how natural it is to express yourself in comics when (one of) your written language(s) is ideogrammic: he uses a panel from Tezuka, in which the characters all strike poses similar to and bouncing off the shapes of the various words they're bellowing. I've often wondered not what the pun ends up being, but what it feels like to read it at a glance, on all the different levels that are there.

jholbo

Yes, didn't mean to make it sound like it is my appointed task to polish up your literary culture - my dear, dear boy. (Good point about the manga. I, too, wish I could know what it is like to be able to make puns like that without actually having a whole line of cheerleaders just spelling out the words.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Email John & Belle

  • he.jpgjholbo-at-mac-dot-com
  • she.jpgbbwaring-at-yahoo-dot-com

Google J&B


J&B Archives

Buy Reason and Persuasion!

S&O @ J&B

  • www.flickr.com
    This is a Flickr badge showing items in a set called Squid and Owl. Make your own badge here.

Reason and Persuasion Illustrations

  • www.flickr.com

J&B Have A Tipjar


  • Search Now:

  • Buy a couple books, we get a couple bucks.
Blog powered by Typepad

J&B Have A Comment Policy

  • This edited version of our comment policy is effective as of May 10, 2006.

    By publishing a comment to this blog you are granting its proprietors, John Holbo and Belle Waring, the right to republish that comment in any way shape or form they see fit.

    Severable from the above, and to the extent permitted by law, you hereby agree to the following as well: by leaving a comment you grant to the proprietors the right to release ALL your comments to this blog under this Creative Commons license (attribution 2.5). This license allows copying, derivative works, and commercial use.

    Severable from the above, and to the extent permitted by law, you are also granting to this blog's proprietors the right to so release any and all comments you may make to any OTHER blog at any time. This is retroactive. By publishing ANY comment to this blog, you thereby grant to the proprietors of this blog the right to release any of your comments (made to any blog, at any time, past, present or future) under the terms of the above CC license.

    Posting a comment constitutes consent to the following choice of law and choice of venue governing any disputes arising under this licensing arrangement: such disputes shall be adjudicated according to Canadian law and in the courts of Singapore.

    If you do NOT agree to these terms, for pete's sake do NOT leave a comment. It's that simple.

  • Confused by our comment policy?

    We're testing a strong CC license as a form of troll repellant. Does that sound strange? Read this thread. (I know, it's long. Keep scrolling. Further. Further. Ah, there.) So basically, we figure trolls will recognize that selling coffee cups and t-shirts is the best revenge, and will keep away. If we're wrong about that, at least someone can still sell the cups and shirts. (Sigh.)