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.

Here’s a thought about neglected structural aspects

Of course, video games, like movies, are an amalgam of many different media. Some lean on the time-based pleasures of narrative while others resemble the spatially-oriented work found in galleries and museums, visual and plastic arts that bend and shape the space surrounding them. But in the ongoing argument that would claim video games as an authentic, legitimate art form, the medium’s narrative aspects have been overemphasized while its structural aspects go neglected.

—Adam Fleming Petty, in The Spatial Poetics of Nintendo

The last sentence here reflects pretty well my feelings in regards to comics research and analysis.

Here’s a thought about comics grids invoking rhythm

I was asked why I always stuck to that nine panel grid in From hell and Alec and I said it was all about the patterns, and I referred to the game of noughts and crosses, or whatever you call it in your part of the world […] And how this opens up all the directions, all simultaneously. You can’t have patterns with 2. That’s just coincidence. You need to be working in 3.

– Eddie Campbell, in a blog post dated 8 September 2011