Only in a World of Sequential Art

24 frames-a-second? No, I prefer thinking in panels-per-page myself. More flexible.

Poetry or Prose? No, I can choose between romantic or constructivist, photo-realistic or cartoony, impressionist or classical as I build my story (or afterward). More variety that way.
"I really think comics are more fun when they play to their strengths, and do the things that movies can’t do, and go to places in the imagination where movies can’t go. Let’s take up the type of storytelling that movies daren’t do, you know? Why are we conforming to Hollywood storytelling styles and losing sales when we can do anything? ... Comics begin with a guy, with a pencil and an imagination, or a guy at his word processor, and after that anything can happen. And so rarely does."
~ Grant Morrison interview in Comic Foundry, final issue, Spring 2oo9 (& readable here)
Comics are not 'movies on paper'. Nor are comics 'visual literature'. Those statements aren't strictly speaking wrong, they are close to the truth-- a version of it. But comics are something else entirely and to limit them by what other media can't do is... just limiting.

Josh's recent post about investigating form and a recent conversation with comicsmith Jason Little at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival has got my brain flowing with old academic thoughts. "More academic than usual," I hear the multitudes scream? Yes, more academic than usual.

Can you imagine the distinct world of the comics medium?

the opening pages of the Luna Brothers' "Girls" #1
Image: A young man in the throws of orgasmic physical pleasure. Image: A young woman lays with her clothes in disarray. What just happened? Not what you think.
The magic of comics is in the 'sequential' part of sequential art. Two images in sequence create a moment of time, but a moment made up of two frozen images can create particular illusions other mediums can't. A momentary trick that makes the status of the Lunas' main character painfully obvious. The second panel is a close-up. He holds a pornographic magazine and not a woman's love, as he wishes he did.

the faux-prose at the end of "Watchmen" #1-11 and "Superman: Earth One" and probably thousands of places
Whenever a comic visually displays something with text in the fictional world in such a way that it can be read as if it were actually prose, something unique has happened. A film that zooms in so close that the viewer can read some text on the screen would be awkward and slow the film's pace to horrible effect. (It was common in the 1940s, sure, but it was awkward.)

In a comic, the reader can stop to read the text as if it were prose, give it a quick scan, or choose not to read it at all and simply accept it as another two-dimensional prop existing in the world of the comic (at peril of missing out on part of the story, of course).

the typewriter sound effects in Jason Lutes' "Berlin" #3
The "tak" "takketa" "takka" sounds coming from Kurt Severing's typewriter transform suddenly into snippets of words being pounded out by the writers across the street, at least in Severing's imagination. All in typewriter font.

Environmental onomonopeia becomes a representation of a character's perception of the world in the very image of the environmental element's effects on paper! Or something like that. Either way, it's beautiful. Almost as beautiful as the moment where musical notes in the air become birds in flight.

the entirety of Jason Little's "Jack's Luck Runs Out"
The WHOLE THING is drawn in an imitation of the classic playing-card illustration style, everything from the characters and their props in the foreground to the environment of Las Vegas in the background.

The same stiff poses, the same blank stares from your game of 52 pick-up, but now in the service of a disturbing narrative about vacuous gamblers, show girls, con-men and the spiteful things they do.

the 'thought balloon-storm cloud' in Brendan Leach's "Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City"
As a young man walks the streets of New York City circa 1904 turning over and over in his mind the current events of his life (like we all do) snippets of the last conversation he took part in dance around his head, mixed up like a tiny abstract poem surrounded by rough, uneven, random lines.

Comics can use any visual art styles or tools, any design elements, any written languages, and any typographic fonts the creator chooses! These examples I've given are only a fraction of the tricks and experiments out there that could only have been done in a comic.

Can you imagine the world of sequential art? A world where time exists frozen forever in snap shots, yet feels animated in sequence? A world where text can be read like prose, but the story can be told in bold visuals like film? A world that moves without motion and speaks without sound.

I can, and it is so damn beautiful.

~ @JonGorga

Quote of the Week 12/16/10

"The characters were not Kirby characters- he famously grumbled about getting the Losers assignment, as he told stories about winners- and in most of the stories our heroes are barely distinguishable from each other: Captain Storm is more monocular, Gunner is younger, Sarge is tougher and Johnny Cloud is, well, marginally more Navajo.

But it doesn't matter. They became four everymen, standing in for all of us. And it's rarely about them."

-Neil Gaiman, from his introduction to the Jack Kirby Losers omnibus.

Towards An Understanding of the Form

For a little over a year now, Jon, Clare and myself have been working on this blog, what we've come to call The Long and Shortbox Of It. For me, the site was born out of a crappy summer and the need to do something with myself, to think and to write.

That summer is long past, and the ennui and sorrow that made it so miserable have passed with it, but the need, and the blog, remains. I'm proud of what we three have built here, and I'm glad to say that now, a year and some change in, we have a small but growing dedicated readership, and a place within the online comics community. We have forged something great.

But for most of the past few months, I have been absent. I've been gone for a whole myriad of reasons, none of them particularly interesting or important, but now, I think, I'm ready to return to regular updates. With me, I bring not only a new energy, a new fire to think about comics, but also a manifesto- I am looking towards an understanding of comics as a form.

Those of you who have had the misfortune of sitting through one of my talks at comics studies conferences are well aware that, intellectually, I've become obsessed with form, with style and function. This has mostly manifested itself so far as an interest in how collecting comics changes them, and I think I may have finally hit on something interesting and important, something that says something about the way we understand comic books. It will have to wait until my next presentation or paper but, suffice it to say, I think it will be big.

With that in mind, though, if we zoom out of my own personal interests for a moment, we can see that, in the bigger picture, the form is standing at a crossroads. What it is, precisely, that we want out of the way our comics are presented is a much more important question now than it ever has been before, with the proliferation of digital comics in particular. From here on out, then, most of my work here is going to focus on the questions that such changes raise. Look for posts on reading comics on the iPad. Look for a series about the difference between the original run of Casanova and its rerelease. Most importantly, though, look for these posts to exist as part of a conversation with the form, with the content, with the quality of the work. These issues don't exist in a vacuum, they exist as a larger series of questions, questions that I want to use this space to explore.

I hope you guys don't mind if I take you along for the ride.