A Conversation for Comic Strips or Sequential Art

It's just a medium

Post 1

Musencus II (Muse of Dilettantism in Multiple Arts)

Hey, nice article - congratulations! It's truly a sad thing that it's still necessary to write articles about the fact that comics are not solely kid's stuff (and have never been for that matter). Isn't it quite amazing that people usually don't label 'books' as low-level or trivial even though there are just as many badly written no-quality books as there are trivial kid's stuff comics?
I think comics are just a medium. What one makes of it depends on one's abilities, imaginations, artistical qualities. Surely there are lots of comics that needn't avoid a comparison with outstanding pieces of literature from authors like Hemingway, Mann or whomever. I'd just like to mention Art Spiegelman's 'Maus' or Dave McKean's and Neil Gaiman's 'Signal to Noise' or 'Violent Cases' or 'Mr. Punch' - comics that don't deal with superheroes at all, but with death, the Holocaust, being a kid.
Come to think I wouldn't even call superhero-comics trivial automatically: Superhero stories have become myths and these myths can be treated in new and original ways (like Miller did with the Batman myth) that make people think about the functions of myths (e.g. why do so many people wish that some god-like creature came along to 'righten the wrongs' of society?). Alan Moore did a fascinating piece on these matters in 'Watchmen'.
There's one thing you mentioned that I don't agree upon (or misunderstood): I don't think that people don't see meaning in realistic pieces of art. Surrealistic paintings (Magritte, de Chirico, Dali and so on) clearly make people think about the message they're supposedly meant to convey, although they are highly realistic in the way they depict things. Or think of painings by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Turner - all of them are entirely realistic and still mwe find meaning in them. Maybe realism is somehow looked down upon, because art's been tending to avoid it in recent decades - but then there's video art and that's also pretty much 'realistic' mostly.
To find meaning in comics you not only have to be lucky enough to read a good one, but you have to get used to the way comics tell stories, to the intimate relationship between words and pictures, because that's what I think what makes comics so unique: It's not the words, it's not the pictures, it's the combination of the two. Sometimes words comment on the pictures, sometimes they even conradict them - and thus a synthesis is created that is possible only in a medium that combines the virtues of other media. Yes, I love comics, although I am aware of the fact that most comics are just crap - just like the majority of books, or films or whatever is in fact crap. The few and rare examples of what can be done with the medium make it worthwhile to look for them.
Once again congratulations for your article smiley - smiley


It's just a medium

Post 2

Fragilis - h2g2 Cured My Tabular Obsession

I just wanted to second pretty much everything musencus II has said. Hurrah! I especially enjoy Maus, Violent Cases and Mr. Punch also. And I would add Sandman by Meil Gaiman as well. I would also add Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan to the list of comics that rise above the ordinary fare. smiley - smiley


It's just a medium

Post 3

Musencus II (Muse of Dilettantism in Multiple Arts)

Sandman - rigth. I forgot that one. Although I think it lacks Dave McKean's art. The stories are just great but the artwork doesn't quite match. You mentioned some list of outstanding comics - was that published in The Journal of Comics? Or else, where can I obtain this list? smiley - smiley


It's just a medium

Post 4

Heffalump

You've both listed some fine examples that I failed to mention. Warren Ellis is one of my essential reads, whatever he does, (although some of his recently released 'early' stuff, 'City of Silence' is rather primitive by his standards). Check out his website on www.warrenellis.com. He frequently places new articles in there about comics or about anything that interests him and is always good reading.

I agree with you full about the superhero/myth thing. Superheroes are the modern mythic characters, just like previous generatins had Robin Hood or Hercules. Because of the advancements in science and a general ideology of the evolution of mankind into a brave new world over the last hundred years, superheroes have reflected a more fantastic and impossible seeming sort of hero. But the basic needs of human nature are all there in the classic hero archetypes. Superman is the typical Jesus figure; an all-powerful and incredibly merciful being who came to us as a child to child-less parents from another plane of existence (Krypton). Batman represents a different side to our heroic natres. The ideal of the man who raises himself to fight injustices as a highly skilled vigilante. Batman is the modern Robin Hood, there is no doubt. Maybe my next article should explore the ideologies of the superhero genre. (My university thesis was on Batman as myth. Love the topic...)

As for the realism thing... maybe I didn't explain myself adequately. Scott McCloud goes over it in depth in his book Understanding Comics, but basically, with realistic art (and I seperate it from surrealist art, as does McCloud) the meaning, if any, is more of a subtext. The art doesn't convey the meaning as much as the actual subject or scene. With more abstract art, it is the art and method itself that conveys the meaning. The meaning is less subtextual and more inherent in the piece as a whole. Does that explain it better?

Current titles in my reading list...
Sandman (just completed collecting the set), Starman (best superhero title out there), Miracleman (Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman explore the ramifications of godlike superheroes), Transmetropolitan, Authority, Planetary, Strangers in Paradise, Bone, Liberty Meadows (it's hilarious, check it out), Hellblazer, 100 Bullets (this is a MUST READ), The Sentry (intelligently written superheroes in the Marvel Universe? Believe it!)


It's just a medium

Post 5

Musencus II (Muse of Dilettantism in Multiple Arts)

hm ... I didn't quite come to terms with this realism thing when I read McCloud (whose book is nevertheless completely fascinating and a major step forward to our understanding of comics). I'm just not sure that realistic vs. abstract art really makes a difference in that sense for people looking at it. What I mean is this: People tend to look for meaning anyway and they do so more or less thoroughly depending on any kind of situational variables (e.g. thea are tired or not, they know the artist or not etc.). Maybe abstarct art is kind of more open to interpretation. Is it that what what you mean? That there's are more limited set of possible meanings in more realistic pieces of art? This might be true in general, but I still think that given enough motivation and some kind of knowledge about art realistic art lends itself just as easily to any kind of interpretation as abstract art does. Motivation may be the core variable here. It' a pity, no one ever bothered to examine just how people percept pictures in comics, as this would be an interesting piece of research. May be certain techniques give us an idea about what I comic is all about and thus influence our perception.
... puh, pretty difficult to explain this. Sounds a bit confusing even to me. smiley - sadface
You mentioned a university thesis about Batman - now, this sounds really interesting. I held classes on comics here at the university, and Batman really seems to be a character that offers a whole range of interpretations. I don't think, he's just some kind of modern Robin Hood. Especially in the last couple of years, Batman's darker aspects were stressed to a point where he seems to have become completely ambivalent. Consequently he's referred to as 'The Dark Knight' and comic books quite frequently discuss his obsessions and questions concerning ethical aspects of his 'crusade'.
One last thing: I read your journal entry in your personal space and just wanted to say that I think I understand how you must feel (even though my experience with situations like the one you mentioned doesn't involve kids). It's awful that something that was once love turns into something that's so ugly and painful. My best wishes for you and your kid! smiley - smiley - I hope you don't mind I mentioned this here.


It's just a medium

Post 6

Heffalump

Gee, thanks for that last comment. I reread that ex-wives rant of mine in my now calmer state of mind and grimace, but hey-ho.

The Robin Hood reference to Batman is one suggested by Alan Moore in his introduction to the trade of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns. Both characters share an anarchic sense of justice. Although Robin has reached mythic status, that grey line between fact and fiction, Batman obviously is still very clearly a fiction. I think it worth pointing out though, that Batman seems to have been a necessary product of his era and has constantly adapted to the ideological needs of society around him. At the time the Bat-Man was created, there were two other characters using a similar inspiration published months either side. Two other vigilantes that used bats as their motif. In fact, one of them even had a very similar epiphany to Bruce Wayne's vision of a bat, the fateful night of his decision to become the Bat-Man, almost down to the same dialogue! Also, The Shadow has obvious links to the same need for a dark vigilante. It seems as if the story of Batman was one that just had to be told, that was waiting to break out of the universal subconcious during the late thirties, until Bob Kane's image finally captured the essence that the public responded to so well.

I wish I'd thought of some of this stuff when I was writing my thesis. It might have got a half decent grade then. As it was, my thesis was written bewtween drinking binges and skirted around the whole issue in an embarrasingly short-sighted fashion. I reread it now and see all the assumptions and questions I should have been discussing.


It's just a medium

Post 7

Blues Shark - For people who like this sort of thing, then this is just the sort of thing they'll like

My two pen'orth.
Batman always was the Dark Knight Avenger, way back when. The clean cut guy that arrived in the Fifties was a marked departure from what Bob kane had envisaged in the Thirties. Bats was always The Shadow to Superman's Doc Savage, both taking their lead from ther popular pulps of the day.
I was interested to read the list of worthwhile comics lited by you both, ,but a little disppointed that neither of you appear to reading much outside of the American mainstream-ever tried Gary Spencer Millidge's "Strangehaven"? Or any Japanese stuff at all-I recommend "Pulp" from Viz as you both appear to have an admiration for Warren Ellis, and he's just started writing a regular column for Viz Communications. Very interesting stuff, even if i don't particularly care for his work much. (I've met him a couple of times in the comics shop in Southend and always come away thinking what a funny guy he is, but still can't read his stuff. Go Figure.)


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