This Sunday, there's a can't miss event. Unfortunately, it's across town at Cinefamily and starts exactly when the event I'm now attempting to promote ends! Oh, well, I'm pretty sure my parents will still show. Come one, come none--there may not be another event like it for quite a while.
Printmaker Jordan Rae sent me this lo-fi work-in-progress photo this morning; he's printing a black velvet poster out of my salute to Successories. The remaining black flocked portion runs along the lines of an elementary school glitter and Elmer's project. Jordan explained he has to add black shavings to a sticky ink base, possibly using a DDT-type sprayer and hazmat set-up of tarps last seen on the TV show Dexter during disembowelment. Wish him luck! The end result will be on sale Sunday. He's also working on some other artist prints which he plans to sell online.
Finally, last weekend's Silverlake Jubilee street fair was something of a wash. The patrons seemed most interested in the traffic jam of amuse bouche fusion trucks lining the street. These upscale "roach coaches" are a craze in L.A. at the moment, with people monitoring Twitter feeds to discover transient locations to line up for Kimchee sliders. If we had had a bookmobile and some vegan stroopwafels, we might've been in business. During our downtime though, Ted Stearn, fellow Mome employee currently among those carrying the serial burden, drew this funny version of Wally, no longer "waiting for a flood."
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
The most obvious antecedent to the episodic structure of Wilson is the daily comic strip and its familiar "a few panels of setup followed by a panel with a punch line" format. But another influence, one that can account for some of what makes Wilson so strange, is the theater. Clowes has said he conceived of his previous comic, Mister Wonderful, as a "two-man play." This gave him a chance to play dramatist by trimming down his approach: in much of the story, two characters just sit and talk. In a recent interview, Clowes noted that theater was again on his mind as he worked on Wilson, a "one-man play" that develops theatrical conceits in ways that reveal some profound ambiguities of narrative practices present within comics.
Mister Wonderful used an expansive archive of comic techniques -- speech balloons, thought balloons, interior monologue boxes, fantasy scenes, flashbacks, and unusual formal approaches -- to give us access to Marshall’s thoughts and feelings:
But Wilson strips away nearly all of these devices, featuring only the present-tense image overlaid with the word balloon:
But "word balloon" isn’t quite right. Convention has taught us (or perhaps deceived us) that what appears within a word balloon is spoken. At a recent talk on Clowes’s book tour, an audience member asked if Wilson was speaking or thinking the text that appears in the balloons. "That’s a really good question," Clowes replied; "I’m not sure."
In Wilson, the balloon (it’s not quite right to call it a speech balloon when referring to Clowes’s work) has no single function -- sometimes it implies spoken text, other times thoughts, and elsewhere its meaning can’t be fixed: “I’m not sure.” Clowes is rarely schematic with these things. Just because a type of balloon functions a certain way in one strip doesn’t mean it works the same way (or needs to be interpreted the same way) in another.
Here’s where the dramatic conventions come in: In the traditional theatrical soliloquy a character speaks to no one. But a soliloquy is often interpreted as if it’s unspoken, as if it embodies the uncensored and most truthful thoughts of the character (Wilson is uncensored -- hostile to others and himself, for example -- in a way that most people are only in their heads). It is spoken, of course, because that’s the way to deliver thoughts on the stage. The book’s second strip (and many others) fit neatly into the soliloquy mode:
On this kind of page, Wilson, essentially alone on stage, speaks-thinks to himself; the balloon signifies speech and/or thoughts. But the soliloquy has another strange aspect. Even when other actors occupy the stage near the soliloquist, tradition suggests they simply do not hear him -- they act as if he isn’t talking (because in a way he’s not) or as if he isn’t there. Many of Wilson’s single-page "blackout gags" take this approach: he says awful (and awfully funny) things to people, yet his speech gets no reaction from them. In the vaudeville blackout gag, the theater’s lights are cut off immediately after the joke. There’s no reaction from other characters, only from the audience. And this often happens in Wilson: Clowes cuts the scene right after his hero speaks. The last two panels of "The Money":
A sense of Wilson as documenting ‘Wilson alone on stage’ is reinforced by his many phone conversations. He talks, but we never once hear the words of his interlocutors:
Throughout the comic, so much of the action is off-stage or off-page: these are the same thing in Wilson. Other characters begin to feel like props in the main character’s psychodrama -- they don't have quite the same "ontological" status as he does.
A few strips replicate the visual perspective of being in a theater: the static position of an audience member watching a play. The characters are drawn at the same size in each panel and are fully visible:
(Clowes discuses the above strip here.) There are no filmic shifts of perspective implying a moving camera or a mobile viewer; the scene is unedited, as it would be in a playhouse. And the panel border becomes an analogue for the proscenium arch, creating a frame that houses the actors and scenery -- the entirety of the fictional world available to the viewer.
When I first wrote about Wilson a few weeks ago, I mentioned that one way to think about the strip was as a “dramatic monologue,” a poetic form connected to theatrical conventions. This discussion of the form may offer some ideas that can be applied to Wilson. . .
Also: Here's an odd "reaction shot"; perhaps the "inscrutable" Pippi's response to the always antagonistic Wilson appears as the image on the screen:
Saturday, May 8, 2010
For a long time I had saved among my paperwork a xeroxed rant of the type usually found stapled to telephone poles that was given to me by my friend George Woods. His girlfriend at the time worked downtown under what was then the B of A skyscrapers in a mall bookstore and was given multiple copies by the author himself, a Balwant Singh Choudry. I've always enjoyed the neural telemetry and meticulous/hopeless documentation found in these sort of tracts. It's as if the author feels so forsaken that he overcompensates by imagining he is under relentless scrutiny. At the end of 2006, a decade after receiving the screed, I decided to illustrate it for the anthology Kramers Ergot 7. Because the book's page size was that of a broadsheet, I tried to replicate the hideous gradient fills found in modern Sunday newspaper coloring. There's also my usual lifts, this time from Woody Allen, B.C. and brethren, and Prinzhorn Collection psychiatric art. I'm sure the likeness is not even close.
It reminds of when I worked in the complaint department at a computer company, and someone wrote in that their laptop had been stolen by the FBI/CIA/Catholic church and also mentioned deployment of a time machine. As a joke, I prepared a form letter, a portion of which read, "We do indeed have your laptop." Obviously, that wouldn't have been a good reply. I still hope Choudry would enjoy this comic, though I suspect he is no longer among us.
Friday, May 7, 2010
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The Blog Flume has been on the web for 30 months. In that time, I've posted around 35 short illustrated 'essays' (a few of these were initially written for other publications). I tend not to write reviews (though I have done a few); often, I find some aspect of a comic that seems interesting to me and try to develop my ideas about it in a way that will (hopefully) make these observations interesting to others. The methods I use and the issues I explore vary, but I would call an approach I often use 'visual close reading': I focus on details -- and often on formal aspects -- that lead me to ideas about the artist's aesthetic practices and perhaps to observations about cartooning as a whole.
Rather than produce something new, here they are, identified by key terms and somewhat organized, but in no particular overall order:
Casper, Harvey Comics, single page, close reading, form, the great page.
Richie Rich, Harvey Comics, design, money, sex, gender, power, close reading.
Tim Hensley, Wally Gropius, form, color, space, Walter Gropius, children’s comics.
Daniel Clowes, Wilson, multiple styles, narration.
Daniel Clowes, Ice Haven, genre, stillness.
Daniel Clowes, Ghost World, dialogue (last line), close reading.
Daniel Clowes, Mister Wonderful, word balloons, narration, psychology.
Steve Ditko, word-text relationship, design, reader expectations.
Steve Ditko, representation, abstraction, beauty.
Steve Ditko, movement, close reading.
Jack Sparling, Tiger Girl 1, superhero parody, stupid but good.
Sammy Harkham, Crickets 2, genre, humor, review.
Chris Ware, Acme Novelty 19, design, form, shape and color leitmotif.
Lisa Hanawalt, I Want You 1, form, types of comics, narrative.
Alex Nino, multiple styles within a story, DC Comics.
Jack Kirby, aging, psychology, horror, DC Comics, reader expectations.
Dave Sim, Glamourpuss, punctuation, editing.
Marvel Comics, Girl Comics 1, gender, editing.
Roy Liechtenstein, lettering, design, comics.
Tomine, mini-comic, style.
Pete Morisi, design, Charlton horror comics, stillness, appreciation.
Pete Morisi, static, stillness, design, Charlton western comics.
Charles Schulz, Peanuts, punctuation, prose, poetry.
Charles Schulz, Peanuts, time, narrative, background, conversations.
Teaching comics and describing style.
Four Great Stories of 2007, Clowes, Ware, Tomine, Gilbert Hernandez, close reading, general commentary.
Kelley Jones, Doug Moench, Batman Unseen, “quality entertainment.”
Ivan Brunetti, John Buscema, Avengers, design, unintentional connections between panels.
Ivan Brunetti, New Yorker cover, design, sentimentality, Central Park, close reading.
David Chelsea, point-of-view, subjectivity, autobiography.
Ted May, Injury Comics, art comics, adventure/action.
Jason, Sshhhh!, Ugo Rondinone, high art, appropriation, swipes.
John Stanley, Thirteen Going on Eighteen, shading, craft.
Critics, artists, validation, cartoon elite.
Criticism, analysis, reviews, close reading, judgment, negative criticism.
On "The Comics Revival.
On original art and collecting.
[Faces by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia, from Nova 12 (1977)]