Cartooning Like You Mean It

Cartooning, Teaching & Living – by Tom Hart

Navigating a Linefield

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The Linefield is a word I have been looking for for 20 years.  I’m using it partially to  describe the visual mark making and image making that gives much of a comix’s feeling to the reader. It’s not the “art!” If I hear one more person commend “the art” in a comic I’m going to key somebody’s car. Art is a word that encompasses much more than the visual conveyance of ideas, which is usually what people mean when they say it.

The linefield is much closer to what they mean.  It’s the drawings of the character and character of the drawings, but it’s also the reading and navigating experience, and it’s the soul of the creator poking through to the material world like buds and weeds through a sidewalk. Shards of the creator’s intention and confusion (because who isn’t confused just being alive?) making it’s way to wall, papyrus, cloth, paper, screen.

The linefield, while visual, isn’t just describing the visuals. It’s also the complete synergy of mark-making with narrative intent, whether it be dramatic or reflective. More about that below.

In fact, I don’t know entirely what linefield means. I think in the case of a word used to describe an emotional and subterranean action you are involved in, you are perhaps better off not being able to entirely nail it down.  (Like a sufi chasing the meaning of Allah, I have been chasing the linefield and I never find it, I never look it in the face, I just like it when it and I are close by. )

Ben Jones' Thaz- "story?" "art?"

Ben Jones' Thaz- would you separate "the art" and "the story" here?

Why do we create art at all? Partially because our senses are wrong, our perceptions are limited. We need art to refocus what we see, and allow us to create other pathways to experience our world. The linefield is that new pathway. It describes a visual record of a creative experience incorporating elements of drama, poetry, mark-making, dance, acting, imagining, crying, celebrating and just about every verb a human is capable of.  But in our medium, comix, and for the sake of this exploration, I want to focus on the first three as helping us define the linefield: mark-making, drama and the poetic reflection.

The mark-making in a comic is what has traditionally been called “the art.” (I’m keying that teal Buick right now.) It’s a simple word to define. We call it style, drawing, etc. It often combines the ability of the artist to convey our concrete world into 2-dimensional representations,  with a sense of exaggeration or emphasis that distorts to a psychological and emotional effect.

Drama and poetic reflection (shorten the latter to “poetry”) I think are the two poles of what has traditionally been called “the story.” (That will really get me on a tear. Separate “art” from “story” and I’ll key anything in sight.) Drama refers to the dynamic tensions between personalities in opposition. Characters wanting something different. Poetry, for me in this instance (because the word is extremely malleable), refers to the impulse to reflect deeply and slowly and to allow space for reflection. It tends to hamper drama unless that reflection is being used to inform dramatic decisions (see Hamlet.)  (And for more on “poetry in comics” see my post here.) (And more tomorrow, too.)

Somewhere mashed around these three ideas, lies the linefield. You can’t talk about one with the other two, and maybe it’s best to discuss all three at the same time.

In my favorite comics, and even many I don’t enjoy reading but respect, the linefield can be a powerful new manifestation in my ordinary world. Gary Panter has one of the most powerful linefields you will see. In his best work, you ARE Jimbo, walking his denuded landscape, navigating the hatches and lines of his apocalyptic, commercial, anti-commercial, historical limbos. The linefield in Jim Woodring’s comix shimmer and constantly spin off into new characters and visions. E.C. Segar’s comix did something similar; sweat, desire and ferocity spinning and shaking off from the linefield into weird compact myths about giant birds and witches, injustice and hamburgers.

The list could and will go on and on. The best artists in this medium have made marks and drama and poetic reflection their own. I’ll explore those creators in time,  but I want to start with a look at the linefields of Yoshiharu Tsuge, Ron Rege and Jack Kirby.

Tomorrow, an old unpublished post furthering drama vs. poetry, then later in the week, Tsuge, Rege, Kirby.

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Written by hutchowen

January 11, 2009 at 1:31 pm

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