Cartooning Like You Mean It

Cartooning, Teaching & Living – by Tom Hart

Posts Tagged ‘Gabrielle Bell

Comics as Poetry, Part 1

with 5 comments

I’ve been obsessing about “comics as poetry” for about 15 years. The topic came up on the Studygroup 12 message boards, so I chimed in with this:

It seems to me (despite there being academic definitions) that “poetry” or “poetic” is about a simple communion between author and reader, where the image and meaning making is a task largely given to the reader, through a deft handling of compositional elements by the artist/author. In perhaps one other simple way to word it: a lot left intentionally out.

So poetic is Ben Katchor (left out: specifics of reaction, sometimes, or specifics of internal thought, or exact explanations of dialogue) or Peter Blegvad or “Screw Style” (though to my Western eye that may border on surrealism) or Ben Jones or Kevin H.

There’s a line where a narrative crosses into the “poetic” under this description. Is “Poor Sailor” poetic? Probably, sure.

Poetic also sometimes (though I may disagree) can refer to a virtuosity of language (here: words, pics, etc.) but sometimes that virtuosity is about the dexterity in leaving things in and out. The difference between Blankets and Lynda Barry, maybe. Or Fun Home and Graffiti Kitchen.

Anyway, that’s what I think. Poetry is how much do you give the trusting reader to create a dialogue between her/him and the art? And how penetrating or powerful is that thing that then happens?

Austin English is right to crave it. Go Austin, but be articulate, man, and don’t get sucked in by that Devlinian rhetoric (“EC comics are the worst, man!”)

I was surprised to see people giving poems to cartoonists to draw (but glad some colleagues got good gigs) for this exact reason: you’re asking another artist to add more stuff. It’s probably going to clutter and cloud it and I think Randall hits on the points well. When I think of my favorite real poetry (ie all words), the idea of an illustrations at all is absolutely antithetical to enjoying and experiencing them.

Oh yeah, drawings alone can of course be “poetic”, but it gets hard and weird to define. Renee French and Gabrielle Bell have a poetry in their drawings. In Gabrielle’s case, I think I can almost find the words for it. What is left out is how she feels about what she is drawing. There’s attention and grace, but the absolute understatedness of emotion allows a lot to happen between the viewer and the drawing.

This isn’t true of say, Dave Cooper, a creator whose interest lies in the weird conflicts and tensions he creates between thought and emotion.

In Renee’s case, there’s such a vivid investment in the drawing that it’s hard to know what she’s feeling. Seems like everything: rage, joy love, fear. Her poetry lies in there somewhere, I think.

Written by hutchowen

February 21, 2008 at 2:27 pm