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The Larger Story

Today on the site, we have a new column by Ken Parille, which will delight grammar enthusiasts and annoy everyone else (maybe in a productive way). It concerns copy editing in comics.

6. The comics page is like the poetry page. Poets enjoy a freedom with mechanics that prose writers don’t — and the same is true for cartoonists. A cartoonist may decide, consciously or otherwise, that she needs a two-period ellipsis in one speech balloon and a seven-period ellipsis in another because “it reads right,” a tactic that makes sense. These panels by artist Mark Connery use poetry-like line and panel breaks, dividing and reorganizing words and ideas in the manner of poets such as e. e. cummings:

mc

Similarly poetic, Aidan Koch’s The Whale employs open-ended, unpunctuated lines:ak7. A cartoonist’s overall approach can make the notion of consistency irrelevant. Ben Jones’s comics gleefully violate all manner of prose rules. He magically transforms mistakes into ‘not mistakes’ by the Power of Jones.

eejones

What he can do, however, others often can’t. But why is it OK in this case and not another?

We also publish a review by Rob Kirby of Jon Allen's Ohio Is For Sale.

Jon Allen’s Ohio Is For Sale, a “funny animal” comic for mature readers, originally appeared in a series of minicomics, highly regarded by those lucky enough to have chanced upon them. In the spirit of Simon Hanselmann or Tedd Stearns, Allen traces the adventures of anthropomorphic heroes as screwed up and self-destructive as Hanselmann's Megg and Mogg, and as haplessly trapped in the twists and turns of fate as Stearn’s Fuzz and Pluck. Allen’s cast is every bit as funny: his droll comic timing and assured, slightly eccentric pacing enlivens any standard “burnout roommate” tropes he draws upon, making for a highly entertaining read.

Ohio's protagonists are three post-high school roommate bros: Patrick, a feline prone to existential longing; Leonard, a floppy-eared dog who acts as a sounding board for Patrick—and is basically up for anything; and Trevor, a rather vacant cat with little on his mind beyond hanging out and watching television. The trio live in a state of perpetually delayed adulthood in a ratty house complete with a refrigerator stocked with only beer and ice cream. In between slacking off they routinely get into all sorts of big trouble.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. The San Francisco Chronicle checks in with the Cartoon Art Museum.

When the museum lost its lease on Mission Street last year after its rent doubled, it was easy to assume the story had ended. But if anything, the 31-year-old institution — the only one in the western half of the country dedicated exclusively to comics, cartoons and animation — has been more visible in San Francisco.

“Busy is good. It absolutely beats the alternative,” says [Andrew] Farago, who continues to work as the museum’s curator. “We didn’t just want to sit around and wait for things to happen. You can’t let people forget that you’re still around, and still doing your work.”

—Awards. The Cartoonists Rights Network International has announced that this year's Courage in Editorial Cartooning award will go to the Iranian artist Eaten by Fish.

This year’s recipient, whose pen name is Eaten Fish, is an Iranian national, currently interned in the Manus Island detention camp in Papua New Guinea. This notorious detention center is funded and overseen by the government of Australia.

Various human rights groups have spoken out against the Manus Island camp, with the UN recognizing that indefinite detention and the practices employed in the camp constitute ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment’ and break the UN Convention Against Torture to which Australia is a signatory.

—Reviews & Commentary. Shawn Starr reviews Michael DeForge's Regarding Quicksand.

Regarding Quicksand opens on a wide shot of the sole character adrift in an unknown body of water, untouched. We only see the man's entire figure twice, once on the first page as an establishing shot, and then as the last panel of the story. He is alone, scared, and flaccid in that first shot and surrounded, contemplative and erect in the last. What surrounds him, and what causes these changes in his body, beneath the surface, is the crux of the comic. Told in a deadend [sic?] tone DeForge explores each and every feeling the man encounters, but in a way that the images being shown and the words being said are taken to a fantastical extreme. Shifts in the current, floating debris and mud turn into slugs crawling into the man's ear and mermaids biting his neck like little vampires.

—Not (Exactly) Comics. Morgan Meis writes about the work of painter Nicole Eisenman (which should be of interest to comics fans).

Stylistically, [The Session] verges on being a panel from a cartoon strip. A figure resembling Eisenman herself reclines on a couch at her analyst’s office. She has dirty bare feet and a hole in her pants. She clutches desperately at a box of tissues as she weepingly shares tales of woe to her analyst, who jots down notes in a chair nearby. A vase near a bookcase at the left side of the painting is shaped like a phallus. It is a cute and gently self-mocking painting, but not obviously the stuff to put the contemporary art world on notice.

On second glance, however, even a relatively “light” painting like The Session is making a strong argument about what painting can and should be. The painting represents real things in the real world (books, chairs, vases, clocks, etc.). It is figurative (Eisenman likes to paint the human form). It is narrative (the painting shows an experience of misadventures on the analyst’s couch to which plenty of people can relate). Representational, figurative, narrative painting has existed ever since the dawn of painting as an art. But it has been out of critical favor for quite some time now. Only recently has the tide begun to turn. So, the story of Eisenman’s success is tied to a larger story. That story is the journey of painting over the last hundred and fifty years.


One Response to The Larger Story

  1. As I hope the piece ultimately makes clear, I’m an “anti-grammarian” when it comes to text on the comics page.

    I added something to help clarify this:

    Given the important role that text, punctuation, and related mechanical conventions play in the art of cartooning, it seems odd that most readers rarely, if ever, look in detail at these issues. I’m not saying that there is a “grammar of comics prose” that would make it easy to definitively label something “correct” or “incorrect.” The medium is far too fluid for that. But we could say that each cartoonist or comic creates their own temporary internal grammar — and it’s worth asking what ideas that grammar involves and if the artist/comic follows it. (And deviations could, of course, be valid and interesting.)

    As for annoying people, I can’t seem to help it, though I try!

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