torsdag 4 maj 2017

Underground comics.

At first when I went through the underground comics presented on our reading list, I didn't really find anything that appealed to me, which is actually what I want to talk about for this post.

Before taking this course my own perception of comics was that they are meant to be enjoyed. To be perfectly honest, the reason I never really looked into comics before is that when the word was mentioned, all I could think of was the stereotypical superhero comics; a genre that has never particularly appealed to me. And as a habit, if I pick up something I don't enjoy I tend to put it aside and not take a second glance. Something I in recent years have come to realise is a habit that significantly narrows my own mindset.

When I mentioned in class that I wasn't able to find any comic that appealed to me, our teacher made it clear that "These comics aren't meant to be appealing. They are meant to chock and make us question things." That was important for me to hear, because it allowed me to approach these comics differently.

As an example I want to talk about one of the comics I read, Robert Crumb's 'Mr. Natural'. A couple of the strips were fairly harmless and more sort of whimsical, but some of them where quite upsetting. Mr. Natural is by no means a likeable character and he exerts oppression and brutality on people around him and displays a general selfishness and inability to empathise with others. The strips that contained sexual content was particularly upsetting to me (though I want to make clear, not because the content is sexual, because after all that is something very natural, but because of the brutal nature with which it is presented). I was curious to the mindset behind the creation of the comic and did a bit of research. It seems that a lot of the things I found upsetting, was rather conceived as refreshing by a lot of the audience, which goes to show how different attitudes and perceptions can be.

One comic strip in this section, though not one showcasing Mr. Natural, is a breaking the 4th wall type comic. A somewhat overweight and scrubby man is walking down a street filled with attractive women. He starts talking about how in real life, none of these women would pay him any attention, but because this is a comic, the reality can change to his liking. With this attitude he walks up to a woman and asks her to give him a blow job right there on the street. She responds politely, saying that she would be happy to, but starts to protest. The man pays no heed to her protests, starts pulling his pants down and eagerly forces the woman's head to his crotch. After politely trying to evade his forcefulness the woman finally puts her foot down, explaining that this is a public magazine and that this sort of behavior is inappropriate within this venue. She then promptly walks off, leaving the man stunned and disappointed.

This kind of comic seems to be a clear uproar against the censure of mainstream publications. Though as I mentioned before, I believe in the importance of a variety of material, and that even heavy and upsetting topics is important to be exposed to. I do also however remain in the belief that some topics will be harder to digest if they're shoved in ones face, rather than presented in a timely manner. I also think it's good that there are different venues in which these subjects are handled, and that can be sought out or referred to when the want or need arises. Either way, holding a discussion is important.

If anyone reading this disagrees with any of my statements, or have insights they wish to bring to the table, I'll be interested in hearing your own thoughts in the comments.

Eisner and Thompson, God and blankets.

This weeks reading was by far the most emotional for me. The two graphic novels 'A contract with God' by Will Eisner, and 'Blankets' by Craig Thompson, both share similarities as well as distinct differences in way of storytelling. In both novels there is the backdrop of God being a part life and of the people involved, wether it's directly or indirectly, yet the main focus is that of the character's humanity and experiences trying to get through life.

A contract with God.


Will Eisner's novel is very raw and unflattering. It follows the events of a number of characters with no apparent relationship to each other, as they struggle to get through life while facing all kinds of hardships. It deals with subjects like rape, alienation, poverty, death, alcoholism and abuse to name a few. Admittedly, this novel was very emotionally challenging for me to read, and at times I had to put it away because it was hard to bring myself to read any further. That said, these are important subjects to deal with, and even more important for people with little or no experience of these matters to be exposed to. The graphic novel seems to be a good platform to do so, as one can get an even more personal impression of the subjects at hand.

When reading a traditional novel, the language and descriptions can be incredibly colourful if written well. Even so, what we as readers are able to picture in our minds will be limited to things we have already seen. With the graphic novel, the author/artist can further describe the emotional state of the subject matter using, not only visual clues that would be lost in writing, but even the energy of the brush strokes has it's own effects - if it's harsh, edgy and scribbly versus if it has a soft, flowing line and ornate elements. Writing can produce this effect very effectively as well, but I find that imagery offers an additional dimension to the storytelling.

As for Thompson's 'Blankets', I find that he utilizes this even more effectively than Eisner. Not only does his line quality change pretty drastically depending on the mood of the scene, but the text becomes part of the images, cutting across them or flowing through them, falling with the snow, spreading out into the branches or wrapping around the characters like a comforting blanket. Thompson's imagery also flows seamlessly between reality and a sort of dreamlike state based on how the main character perceive his experiences. This has an effect that is at the same time poetic and easy to relate to.

Both of these novels are beautiful accomplishments in their own rights, yet there are so many more approaches out there that I look forward to discover as I delve deeper into the subject of comic.

Conventions of the comic book

Taking this class has been particularly interesting to me as I've been able explore this genre that I've taken for granted most of my life, and get to know the history behind it. There are sub-genres within the comic industry that I haven't reflected over or in some cases even knew they existed; sub-genres that each have a complex history of their own, with a more or less of an uphill battle to break through.

As a child, the comics that were most prominent and that you could find in just about every store and magazine stand was 'The adventures of Donald Duck', 'Bamse, the strongest bear on earth' (A Swedish comic that I absolutely adore to this day), and the Belgian comic 'TinTin'. My brother had a monthly subscription of the Donald Duck comic books and I remember that they took up most of the space in his bookshelf. I didn't read much of them myself (I resorted to watching the animated series on TV), but I remember that they had a small slice of an image on each spine that, when put together created a continuing scene. It intrigued me to see the image take form, but to my great dismay the comic books never arrived in order, and by the time my brother ended the subscription, there were still large middle sections missing.

In contrast these childhood impressions of the comic industry, this weeks reading and class discussion exposed me to the journey and conventions of the comic book as an art form. When I was younger it never occurred to me that comics could be made even for grown ups. Not that I didn't think grownups could enjoy them, it simply never occurred to me to even reflect upon it. Now with more exposure, I have come across a number of comics and genres that deals with heavier subjects that are important to address in our day and age, but that I would be very hesitant to propose to children. Though that's something I will go more in depth with in coming posts, especially the underground comics.

Even so, I read some Carl Barks stories for this week that are specifically advertised towards children, and they too have a lot of grown up jokes that I wouldn't have understood as a kid. Thinking about it, it makes sense. Most of what is written for children is inevitably written by adults. It would be strange if none of the things that they enjoy would sneak their way into their own creations, no matter the intended audience. And even more true is that, thinking back on when I was a child, a lot of the things I enjoyed then, I still enjoy to this day. The only thing that's really changed is the insight with which I can perceive them.

fredag 24 februari 2017

Back to the roots and into the wonder.

For this week we took a dive into the origin of, and the mindset behind some of the earliest comic strips. As someone who's fairly uneducated in the subject, it widened my perspective on what forms they can take and what they wish to achieve. Generally when I think of the phrase 'comics' mainly the things that come to mind are the superheroes of Marvel and DC. However that is only a small portion of the comic tradition, as part of a larger and rich history.

The comics we read were 'The Adventures of Little Nemo in Slumberland' by Winsor McCay, 'Krazy Kat' by George Herriman, and 'Peanuts' by Charles Schulz. They were interesting to compare as they where all part of the early development of comics as a popular medium, and the artists behind them took very different approaches as to how to explore and refine it. For this post I'll be focusing on Little Nemo and Krazy Kat.

The Adventures of Little Nemo in Slumberland.

'The Adventures of Little Nemo in Slumberland' is a title I've heard mentioned many times, but had never read until now. Like many others before me, I was captivated by the rich imagination and astonishing craftsmanship of Winsor McCay. Visually and conceptually, this comic is on a level all of it's own, however it is clear that McCay was struggling with how to best incorporate text with the images. The speech bubbles are often awkwardly places; sometimes cramped in a corner and sometimes almost without room for the text.

Likewise, especially in the early strips, McCay tended to repeat in the explanatory text on the bottom of each frame what was already stated in the images, making the reading experience a bit tardy. As I was reading, it was also sometimes confusing to figure out which image the text belonged to, and going back and forth between the images and isolated text hindered the natural flow of reading. Even so, there is no doubt Winsor McCay was a frontier in his field, exploring and utilizing his medium (not only in comics, but in animation as well) in ways that would inspire and affect many artists, both in his time and those who followed after him.

Krazy Kat was the one that felt the most like a contemporary newspaper comic strip in its design and setup. It displayed some raw humor through imposed violence and relational miss-conceptions between the cat and the mouse.

At first I wasn't particularly drawn to the crude style of the drawings, but as I was reading I started to more appreciate the expressionistic value of the imagery. By this time, some of the comics creators looked to surrealism and the subconscious workings of the mind for inspiration. Krazy Kat seems to be one of those examples. I noticed that while the figures where seemingly occupying the same space, the background elements kept changing. Their number and placement where consistent, but from frame to frame one thing could change into a completely different object altogether. It felt reminiscent of the non-sequitur style which McCloud discussed in his book about comics. It became almost like a fun little side narrative of it's own, and I found myself looking for the objects to see what they changed into as the frames progressed.

Krazy Kat.

The more we delve into the subject of comics, the more I get to experience first hand just how wide it really is. Though narrated through the same or similar principal of sequential images confined within squared off borders, the stories themselves and the way they are presented visually are immensely diverse. How comics first began and how rapidly the art-form evolved into it's various branches has certainly been a treat to examine.

söndag 22 januari 2017

Understanding Comics

Last week we read Scott McCloud's 'Understanding Comics'. Though a bit confusing at times, I found this introduction to the art of the comic book largely helpful. The fact that the book itself is a comic helps to visually strengthen the topic McCloud presents.

There is a lot of subjects in this book that intrigued me and some that where completely new to how I view comics. One thing that especially caught my interest and that I have witnessed in other media as well, is the way western vs. eastern artists choose to move the story forward, mainly by way of pacing and focus.

A lot of eastern visual storytelling evolves around or is aided by establishing a "mood or a sense of place" to use McClouds own words. In comics (or rather manga) this is largely created by a heavy use of moment to moment panels as well as panels showing nothing but environmental scenes. In movies and series it's the same principal, where great time is spent showing the journey of the characters and the landscape they're traveling through, or going about chores such as cooking or cleaning.

From up on poppy hill, Studio Ghibli.

In western culture however the focus tends to lie in action based storytelling, where a lot of things happen very quickly and where the plot is driven by the characters. If scenes occur where the characters do travel, attend to chores or is having a meal the focus is still centered round the character by way of action or dialogue and is usually just a means of showing that character in a certain light.

Cartoon Network's The amazing world of Gumball.
Though I find certain enjoyment in both of these approaches, the eastern way gives me a particular sense of satisfaction. I often find my self tired after watching for example an American TV show and though momentarily amused, it often tends to leave something unfulfilled when ended. Movies like those from Studio Ghibli allows me to live within that world rather than simply being a bystander. When ended and even during parts of the movie I often find myself contemplating and just feeling what is happening within the story.

I'll admit that I have yet to read more comic books and manga to make the same comparison within those genres, so I am looking forward to see what I will learn in this class as the semester progresses.

söndag 15 januari 2017

Lit. of Comics and the Graphic Narrative

Being in a school that doesn't allow for much time spent on anything but studies, I once again decided to take a literature class to quench the thirst for reading, and to get the opportunity to think about and discuss what we have read. This time I'm learning about comics and the graphic narrative, and even this far into the semester I can safely say there's a lot more to this subject than I imagined.

Harbour. By; Shaun Tan

Our first assignment was to read The Arrival; a graphic novel by Australian artist and author Shaun Tan. Tan mainly deals with social, political and historical issues. The Arrival focuses on immigration, and with the use of nothing but pencil drawings Tan tells the story of a man who travels to a new country to find a better life for himself and his family. In this strange land such mundane things as communicating, understanding the functions of every day items, buying tickets, going to the market and knowing what to eat and what not to eat becomes an immense struggle. Luckily the protagonist meats kind people who are willing to aid him in understanding the new culture; often times people who have suffered similar fates to his own.

The structure of this book is very interesting. Tan works in graphite, but he has used digital media in order to add warm or cool tones to the panels, and subtle textures to give the feeling of old photographs. The art in this book has a very realistic approach yet a lot of the subject matter is both whimsical and otherworldly; an aspect that works as a great tool for this kind of storytelling.

Even though the arrival is mainly rooted in the immigration into Australia, the world Shaun Tan builds is one that doesn't exist other than in his storytelling universe, yet all the trials the people in this story faces are very much real. The effect is that Tan has created a hugely universal story; one that, no matter where we come from, we can find something to relate to. Weather it's the alienation, the fear or the welcome support of a kind fellow being, the feeling is well communicated.

Personally I find this graphic novel more moving than many comic books that uses words as a storytelling aid. A big reason behind this lies of course not only in the beauty of the images, but how those images communicate the story; the subject matter, the pacing and the progression of the content. Shaun Tan uses a variety pacing for the panels. Some where he zooms out to show the entire setting of a scene, letting it take up the entire page, and some smaller panels that focuses on an action, shown in longer sequences of moment to moment. In moments of distress, the story moves faster: from action to action or even scene to scene. The lack of words makes for a story that feels more intimate by focusing more on the emotional rather than intellectual experience of the situation.

Shaun Tan has been one of my favorit storytellers for a long time now, and is probably the one that has influenced my love of art the most. If you have yet to discover his wondrous world, I warmly recommend reading any of his works.

The market. By; Shaun Tan

måndag 30 november 2015

Literary speculation.

The class we're taking, Literature of Horror, Fanstay & Sci-Fi, for which I created this blog, main purpose (from what I understand) is to discuss genre, it's subcategories and what defines each of them. Although a keen reader, who will gobble up mostly any work of literature put infront of me, I must admit that, before taking this class, I had no idea there was such a distinction as genre vs. literary fiction. From what I gather, after discussing it in class and reading up on it some more, while genre has certain elements that distinguishes one from the other, literary fiction is harder to place, falling in to either several or neither of the genre categories. While genre also focuses more on entertainment, literary fiction tries rather to emphasize meaning. This can be done through evocative language, thematic purpose and dimensional characters. And then of course, there are some works of fiction who falls into both categories.

So the question arises, is one better or more important than the other? To this, my instant response would be no. While understanding the presence of genre, as a way to not confuse the reader (or the writer) too much in what the work is trying to communicate, and by way of more easily finding what you're looking for in the bookstore, they each have something of worth to communicate.

I found it interesting to hear from our teacher that, even as late as by the time Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings came out, genre wasn't really a thing, but is rather something that has arisen after that. And now, all of a sudden, there are people that frown if you can't place your work into a genre, or if you have elements that border between the genres.

Then I wonder, have we always been such snobs when it comes to literature? As long as the work is well written and enjoyed by the reader as well as the writer, what difference does it make weather or not the work can fall into a certain category, really? Personally I find that works of literature that are more free and playful in it's expression; books that does not worry so much about what category they fall into, but rather that is formed in a way that works best for the story it's trying to convey, weather it be genre or literary, are the ones I enjoy reading the most, and are also the ones I learn the most from. Good examples of this are the stories created by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett who doesn't necessarily fall in to any genre, and writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, and Nicolas Sparks, who clearly falls into the distinction of romance and drama; yet they're all writers who are cherished and appreciated across the globe.

I do think it's a good thing genre exists, if nothing else to create that variety by having certain guidelines, but I find it equally important to be able to break from those guidelines without being frowned upon. Because in order to convey a truly great story, how important is categorisation, really?