The state of the Danish avant-garde

In today’s issue of Danish newspaper Information, Matthias Wivel writes about contemporary experimental comics in Denmark, as well as the changing cultural perspective on the form – and yes, if reports are correct my name is checked. My translation of the blurb:

Comics have become high culture
New comics are renewing in subject matter; experimental, innovative, expressively abstract, and move from the narrative toward more musical and lyrical patterns. After 200 years as low culture, comics have become avant-garde.

The article opens with a sample from Signe Parkins’ excellent work before tracing the factors that lead to this point – and that’s as much as I can offer at the moment as the piece is behind a subscription wall, but I’ll surely update here when I get a copy of the newspaper…

“You don’t create comics —”

There is a biopic about Edmond Baudoin! That's fantastic, he is one if the great living masters of comics. However, there's one paragraph of the press release that I can relate to and recognise (below is Domingos Isabelinho's translation from French): To justify his refusal to give him a prestigious award a publisher admitted one…

Ahoy, Londoners!

On Saturday 14 May, you can buy my book When the last story is told at the Comica Comiket in London! It’ll be available at the Lines of Enquiry table, manned by Dave Crane and Simon Russell.

Lines of Enquiry is a recent cooperation between Crane, Russell, Gareth Hopkins, Simon Moreton and myself, joining our efforts to promote each other’s fringe comics at a wider range of festivals than we would be able to individually. Watch this space for more Lines of Enquiry appearances!

Here’s a thought about Roy Lichtenstein

[…] one thing Lichtenstein accomplished by putting a single panel on a gallery wall was to force us to look at that panel in a whole new way. We know the panel has come from a larger narrative, but we are left to imagine what went before and what will transpire after. On top of that we are asked to see the frozen moment; it’s emotional content, it’s graphic power, it’s strange mix of words and picture; for itself.

– Rick Veitch, Panels Out Of Context

Old Lichtenstein has been on my mind as well for a while, and Veitch’s thoughts make me wonder some more: Yes, Lichtenstein appropriated comics panels for his paintings in a way that’s ethically dodgy, but the formally interesting thing in this context is what he had to do with the images to make them work as individual paintings.
My (not fully developed) argument is that the basic rules of composition do not apply to comics panels entirely as they do to other visual art – the non-sequential sort, some might say, although personally I’m not too hung up on sequence.

In comics, every panel codepends on its neighbours in the page, and artists will (more or less consciously) compose it to guide the reader’s gaze across the page as well as within the panel (In fact, visual linguist Neil Cohn recently published a paper analysing the way readers will read a basic comics page.) If, however, a single panel is culled from its context, it will likely have image vectors pointing every which way on to a next panel now unavailable to the spectator. It’s in this perspective that Lichtenstein becomes really interesting to me, because comparison of his work to the original shows clearly that he didn’t simply copy the panels 1:1 – he often reconfigured their elements to work as single image units, although they would still imply a larger narrative unseen to the viewer.

Whaam! original 01 Whaam! original 02_full page Whaam!

The above examples (source: the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation’s Image Duplicator site) show how Lichtenstein combined two panels from different issues of All-American men of war into the diptych Whaam! The scanned comics pages are actually from Lichtenstein’s resource file (or “Notes”, as they are called on Image Duplicator), and you’ll notice that the explosion panel has been cut more or less exactly where the canvases of the paintings join.

I hope to be able to examine the source material (or prototypes) to Lichtenstein’s “comics paintings” in their intended context to identify just where and how he felt a need to adjust compositional elements for his specific purpose. Hopefully that will give some new insights into the compositional principles and how they differ, compared to just analysing comics as an isolated phenomenon.

For an exhaustive comparison of Lichtenstein’s “comics paintings” and his sources, visit David Barsalou’s Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein flickr stream. Barsalou has done a massive amount of research to reconstruct Lichtenstein’s swipe file.

Side note: You should also check out Simon Russell’s comic Roy, which is a wittily acerbic comment-as-a-comic on the pop artist’s best known works and their (re)production.