Comics remain between the categories of bourgeois aesthetics. They are neither literature nor art. They lack the depth of a novel, the richness of a painting, the density of a poem, the detailedness of a photograph, and the motion of film. That all this is missing is only natural; otherwise comics would not be comics. But they do not really lack these specifics of other media. Comics emerge from a mixture. As Art Spiegelman once put it: comics are a com-mix, a mixture of words and images (Spiegelman 1988: 61f). As most people maintain, comics seen as commix contain rather too much than too little: too much is mixed up; there are too many series; and there are too many funny and funny moments.
By Ole Frahm, published on Image [&] Narrative way back in 2003.
I hope mr Frahm has gotten a broader perspective since then but, to be honest, even though I was taken aback by his opinion when I first read the essay, it does cover between 90 and 95 % of all comics published, then and now.
NB! I realise Frahm has relevant points to make but I have one too, which demands I look one-dimensionally at his essay.
Too many cartoonists carry a nostalgia embedded in their very understanding of the form, a throwback to one century ago when comics were still finding their feet as a mass medium. At that time comics were cheeky, brash, satirical, and exactly, as is natural in that situation, too much.
And that was their attraction, back then; as was the case in the ’60s when the underground movement decided to infuse their take on (a nostalgic reimagining of) comics with some healthy sex and drugs. They were just cónstantly on the edge.
But there were other comics in the early 20th century: Little Nemo, Krazy Kat (in its way “too much” but with a deeper layer); and more importantly, the work of people like Frank Masereel, Lynd Ward, and Charlotte Salomon. The latter might not have thought of their work as comics, yet their works precede and anticipate a freer form of “graphic novel” that is taking root in the works of Martin tom Dieck, Warren Craghead, and Lynda Barry.
There are other traditions to cling to than the ipertinence of the Katzenjammer Kids. Cartoonists, do take a good, hard look at Ole Frahm’s essay and ask yourself if you aren’t part of the problem he (also) outlines? Are you thriving on the controversy of being more impudent in a comic than you could be in written form?
Look then at our tradition, and do look beside what is only too well known from more than a century of newspaper dailies. Shout all you like that comics are per definition a) short-form, b) funny, and c) boundary-pushing satirical. I’m Danish, I’ve seen just how many boundaries cartoons can nudge before they break.
I see in the current (original) graphic novel market a trend that carries back to Töpffer, Masereel, and for that matter Palle Nielsen. And Eisner, Trina Robbins, the Crumbs, etc too, of course. But most of all I think modern age graphic novels (that is, big comic books) as understated expressions, ot too much at all!