Article published in INSCRIBE issue 3, summer 2010/11

   

 It does not follow

 

  

The new commission for Going Down Swinging magazine is my “loosest” comic yet. The last double page spread combines a picture of a monk climbing a mountain, a written passage about a hideous jesus who lives in the dark and a picture of my three year old son playing with his toy trains. What happens when these are together? It’s a question for me as much as for the reader. We experience the disparate parts of our inner and outer lives within ourselves, and I don’t know how we do it. Loving our loved ones and wanting to bash someone’s face in, longing for filthy sex and feeling humility before god or universal spirit or the earth, they all exist within the one person, and I’m not sure what it means, other than that these incommensurable things must somehow sit together, because they do.


Reading a comic is like running along stepping stones. When a comic reads smoothly from panel to panel it’s as if the stepping stones are placed at just the right distance. When the transitions between panels are too easy, too obvious, the stones are so close it’s just no fun. As the transitions get more and more challenging, the stones get further and further apart, your leaps get bigger, and the whole thing gets more and more exciting, until you don’t make it.    

The stone-too-far of comic transition is the non-sequitur (“It does not follow”). When the panel that follows does not follow, you have a kind of failure, but you also have a cool paradox. The limits of the form reveal themselves. You can almost hear the synapses popping as a reader struggles to connect two panels which, for whatever reason, are just too distant.  


Partly I became interested in big leaps because I didn’t want to have to draw all the little in-between pictures. I want nuance and realistic detail in my drawings. They take a while.   

 Characters present a special problem. As readers we look for story, and stories are about characters. The same ones have to keep reappearing. But every time a character reappears in a comic, it’s because the artist made him all over again, from scratch. I cannot be arsed doing basically the same drawing over and over. It seems like an obsessive compulsive disorder.  


I try to make art that creates conflicting emotions at once: funny and sad, horrible and beautiful, silly and serious, pathetic and sublime.    

I went to art school to be a painter, but found I couldn’t get paintings to create these opposites for a viewer. Pictures I thought were both hilariously silly and sublimely dark were met with confused frowns and polite enquiries about my emotional welfare. Not the response I was after.  

  

Theatre was a revelation. The first show I directed was understood by the audience immediately. Osama gave a little speech about being un-catchable and un-killable and then sang a rendition of the Danny Kaye number ‘You’ll Never Outfox the Fox’. Israel and Palestine had a jelly wrestle to the death in a winner-takes-all match to solve the middle-east crisis.  

  

I learnt it was easy to turn an emotion on its head in a time-based medium. One element can follow another. A man can die horribly, but then he can get up and dance. I also learnt about association. Instead of trying to blend conflicting elements like dark seriousness and frothy silliness to create a new frothy-dark-silly-serious whole, a better approach was to keep the silly and the serious elements discrete but to present them with each other so that the audience combined them in their minds.  

Then I had a son. The time and energy commitments of theatre became impractical; the work I was producing started to suffer, so I went back to visual art.  

For three years (my son is three and a half) I’ve been serious about comics. Comics are like paintings with theatre abilities.   


I remember being impressed by Milan Kundera’s Immortality and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting because they both told several stories through alternating chapters in which the characters and content never “tie together”. Only the underlying themes connected the stories, and it was the reader who did the creative work of making the sum of parts into a meaningful whole. These were leaps of a different order – not from panel to panel, but from story to story.     

In Soldier of Fortune for the Tango 9 comics anthology (‘Love and War’) I tried something similar. Three comics run parallel. In one story, a Russian woman tells the reader his past lives, transforming as she does into a vulture. In another, WW1 soldiers in a trench read fortune cookies. In a third, my younger self and I have an argument. Three stories, three big stepping stones. What the overall piece was actually about was somewhere in the empty space between.  


 

  

In Fighting Monk, the commission for GOING DOWN SWINGING, no fighting is ever depicted. The monk has no real action at all. He is seen from a long way off, he is seen mostly from behind, his face is seen only once. My attempt to solve the problem of drawing the character is to make him like an empty space.  

It is the settings – the Merri Creek, the Merri Creek Bridge, a mountain range, a rug in the living room and the toys upon it – which are treated as the main subjects of the pictures, lavished with nuance and detail and given the attention and prominence normally given to the main character.  

The monk is unknowable, nothing appears to be actually happening, but the settings have a hypnotic power.  

My aim is that these pictures hum with an ungraspable significance, as if something important is about to happen, or had just happened, or was happening right in front of you but you just couldn’t see it.[1]  

A vacuum of meaning that you, the reader, feel compelled to rush into and fill.   

You create both the character and the story in one giant leap.   

I hope it works.  


[1] These ideas are cribbed from Moving Pictures by Anne Hollander, Harvard University Press, 1991

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It does not follow | 2010 | comics, painting, theatre | Comments (0)

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