This, oh this…!

I came upon this via Twitter this morning: Sam Lavigne wrote a program that will turn any text into a patent application. Of course, that’s just delightful in itself, especially with the sample output he supplies: Kafka’s The Hunger Artist becomes “An apparatus and device for staring into vacancy”, and from the illustration idex to the Communist Manifesto (“A method and device for comprehending theoretically the historical movement”, PDF) we learn that

Figure 52 schematically illustrates the icy water of egotistical calculation.

Great, right? Being a big fan of machine-appropriated nonsense, this tickled my fancy enormously, but Lavigne’s inspiration for the program was just as exciting to me:

I was partially inspired by Paul Scheerbart’sPerpetual Motion Machine, a sort of technical/literary diary in which Scheerbart documents and reflects on various failed attempts to create a perpetual motion machine. Scheerbart frequently refers to his machines as “stories” – I wanted to reverse the concept and transform stories into machines.

Machines as stories, really? See, that’s another thing that alwaqys makes my mouth water, cross media metaphors :) Lavigne also provides this illustration from Scheerbart’s book which — apart from the obvious similarity to Mickey Mouse, there — immediately made me think of comics:

fig-21True, I think of comics pretty much all the time, so no surprise there. For instance, I’ve been evangelising about IKEA manuals as a form of pure, pantomime comics. However, Scheerbart’s approach adds a layer of complexity (cause and effect, directional motion) which 1) adds to the narrative potential of diagrammatic comics, and 2) is very tongue in cheek for his part, because he’s really having us on with the whole construction bit. Perpetual motion is, of course in violations of the laws of thermodynamics, and Scheerbart is merely using the form of technical schematics to his own, philosophically meandering ends.

I can’t claim to have a very technical mind, myself, but this caught my interest enough to look further into the visual techniques of diagrams, and hopefully work some of it into my own, idle comics experiments. Oh, and Das Perpetuum Mobile is available as online text, although only in German as far as I can see.

30 Days of Comics 2013 – Day 6

So, this wasn’t technically drawn on November 6. What I did do that day, however, was fight off a stomach ache, so there. For those not satisfied with the excuse, I’ll happily go into further detail about the whole chain of events, starting with a thai lunch warmed over one time too many.30days2013-11-06_hurdleNo, the last picture is not my bum getting off the toilet. What kind of person would even ask that?

30 Days of Comics 2013 – day 5

I’m playing catch-up on my 30 Days entries, so be kind not to point out the difference between the title of this post and its date…30days2013-11-05_monsterIn case anybody missed it, I count James Whale’s Frankenstein movies among my healthier obsessions. This comic is sort of the seed for a story that would reflect the whole creation/creature/creator thing.  It’s probably been done before, but I’d rather not know about it :)

Right, moving on quickly to publish the rest of my back log!

30 Days of Comics 2013, day 4

My gift to the world outsideSlightly more modest than yesterday’s three palindrome minicomics, this is also a bit of a copout: I’ve actually tried to get this comic together for a few weeks, but I only assembled the five(!) separate plates today (adding fixups and spare parts). The text is a paste-up of Deftones lyrics — I know, it’s turning into a pattern, right? Since the C’est Bon Kultur In><Between exhibition where I first leaned on the band’s song lyrics for inspiration, I’ve returned to them several times.

Maybe maybe you will see more of/like the comic above. I’ll let you know!

30 Days of comics 2013: Day 2

Picking up straight out of bed, having my morning coffee while drawing:

Trembling

Your koan of the day, coloured pencil and charcoal pencil:

30days2013-11-02_1It’s not

A watercolour interpretation of the Danish poster for the 1953 War of the Worlds movie, spiced with a mangled Schwarzenegger quote. Don’t ask me what It’s supposed to be about, I just work here!

30days2013-11-02_2.2I’m really enjoying playing around with these water soluble coloured pencils, but I’ll spare you some of my less fortunate experiments (yes, this is one of the better ones, thank you!).

In the throes of the unexpected

30days2013-11-02_3Felt tip pen, charcoal pencil, digital colours+edits.

This describes quite well how I feel most mornings. Otherwise, no comments.

Original comics art sale: Resistansen

Gallery

This gallery contains 13 photos.

Next up in my virtual yard sale is the original artwork from my short book, Resistansen. Details follow, leaf through it below first: Open publication – Free publishing – More astoria This charcoal & graphite comics is a rollicking, raunchy … Continue reading

#30dayscomics – Day 2

Okay, you got me. It’s really day 4 today, but I’m playing catch-up today. Hopefully Day 3 will be up before November 5 is upon us….

As you have probably noticed, I’m trying to work grafitti/street tags into both layouts and contents. That and city spaces, but let’s stay with the grafitti for a second. It is a form that is completely foreign to me; I was never a tagger, or part of the whole hip hop/street culture. Since I started teaching comics, however, I’ve had one or two students in each class who almost manically filled sketchbook after sketchbook with elaborate signatures and aliases.

I’ve come to appreciate the form and penmanship required to do these pieces, that sometimes remind me of Quranic calligraphy (which, because of language barriers, I don’t understand either, and therefore am equally fascinated by). The funny thing is, some of these students find it very hard to separate the form from the literal meaning of the words. They simply cannot translate those letters into other forms that don’t carry verbal meaning. I have still to find some way to handle this in my teaching, but now I’m trying to practice what I preach.

These early, awkward attempts to ape “street” calligraphy are mostly done from photo references that I have collected the last couple of years (among those a very thorough documentation of a Finnish bar toilet that was covered from floor to, and including, ceiling in layer upon layer of tags) so if anybody recognises their handiwork on these pages, remember what they say about plagiarism and flattery… Besides, I’m still learning.

Another thing: I’ve always hated when somebody tries to mimick a culture they don’t understand or belong to, usually getting the whole thing ass-backwards. Lego pillaging Maori culture to make their Bionicle line, springs to mind; or Lichtenstein’s comics swipes. But here I am, doing the same. Maybe it’s a midlife crisis. Apologies in advance!

May contain traces of language

A few days ago, esteemed cartoonist Rod McKie wrote a very flattering blog post about my 2006 graphic novel, Sortmund. He seemed to like the art a lot, but what makes the review more interesting to me is, he got the story perfectly right. That may sound like I’m dissing Rod’s literacy, but quite the contrary—you see, the book was only ever published in Danish, a language he does not speak or read.

I find that incredibly fascinating; that a book, which I have always thought of as rather dialogue-driven, narrates so well visually, too. Mind you, I’m not blowing my.own horn here, a lot of water has run under the bridge since I finished Sortmund, and I’ll be the first to point out its flaws.

Once again, it’s mostly to Rod’s credit that he got it. What follows is a rambling meditation on the comics form, which fell out of my head after reading his post:

You often hear the question from non-comics readers, “How do you read these things?” People don’t know if they’re supposed to read text or image first, where I suppose we trained readers take both in at a glance. So yes, Rod is not just a reader, he’s a professional drawer; he knows the language of comics, as his review also shows.

But everybody can read comics, it’s just a matter of the visual grammar used in the individual work that might pose an obstacle. There are different kinds of visual shorthand that make sense to readers accustomed to the genre, form, or even culture in which the comic is created—but may be incomprehensible to beginning comics readers.

Take the banner image at the top of this site, which is my own joke on those clouds of dust that follow people running in gag cartoons and strips (only in my drawing, the cartoon-me isn’t moving, so oh man, I just ruined the joke). It may originate in animated cartoons from the ’40s, where Tom & Jerry, et al would leave a cloud behind when they broke into a sprint.

Or, remember when DragonBall appeared in the West? Didn’t take anybody long to figure out what those instant nosebleeds meant, but I’m sure we all had a short, head-scratching moment before the shoe dropped. That. That’s how untrained readers feel about comics all the time.

Provided of course they only pick up manga, or superhero comics. Those things are like being thrown into Advanced Mechanics class when you just want to learn to drive a car. No, everybody can read comics, across language barriers. It’s mostly the idiomatic trappings that cut off new readers, or the required trivial knowledge of, say, Wolverine’s past as a mercenary in WWII. That was all the cape-bashing for this post, I promise.

Everybody can read comics, and most of us do on a daily basis. If not daily strips in the newspaper, then instructional infographics. They help us not going into the wrong toilet, finding the emergency exit, or using chopsticks in Asian restaurants, etc. Of course, polemics aside, what we think of as comics tend to be a tad more narrative, or even expressive, than the assembly of a Billy bookcase.

Instead of just using framing for clarity and focus, cartoonists use it in a narrative manner, to convey setting, ambience, mood, tension, or release. The same goes for layouts, pacing to time the page turn; light, shadow, colours. Those are the elements of grammar used by the comics creator.

And intuitively so—making comics, we play on the heartstrings of the reader no less than the Don Drapers of the world, or any other propagandist. The most important part of that is not letting them feel it when we play them. Or making them like it (and by “them” I mean “you,” but ignore that for now).

Even when you learn to recognise the techniques and slights of hand, a story well told suspends that cold rationality, because it is more interesting than the mechanisms that switch the backdrops and make the puppets move.

At their finest, comics are not the even balance of text and image that some people would claim; they are visual narratives, using text only for emphasis, or for elaboration. For those things that absolutely must, or cannot, be told, not shown. Most of the time, however, the words just fly out of the characters’ mouths in abundance, like the celebratory pomp of an Olympic opening ceremony (that was a pun on “balloons”. You’re welcome).

Circling back on our starting point: Aside from the fact that Rod works with visual storytelling for a living, I think the language “barrier” became a reason in itself for him to read the images more intently. I’ve had some great experiences personally, trying to wrench meaning from foreign-language comics. You become more inquisitive as a reader when you approach the work as a puzzle to be solved.

Rod speculates briefly on how his comics horizon might have expanded if he were not an English reader, or if he had learnt more languages and been able to read more works untranslated to his native tongue. I’m in the same situation by proxy, so to speak, teaching myself only english so I could read the US comics I was mostly interested in, in my pre-teens.

I’m not sure anymore if we should regret it so much. We share another language.