Cartooning Like You Mean It

Cartooning, Teaching & Living – by Tom Hart

Posts Tagged ‘poetry

Images that Sing; Kiki and Herb Again

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There is this moment I think about all the time from The Young Ones. The Young Ones was an ensemble comedy TV show from the early 1980s on BBC about 4 horrible college students living together in squalor who hate each other. Vivian, the house “punk” has devised a trick involving a fake finger and a kitchen knife. The other three roomates are hollering amongst themselves, while Vivian is shouting over them, trying to get their attention, wildly brandishing his kitchen knife, screaming “Watch my trick you bastards!”

That’s it. That’s the moment. For some reason, this image resonates with me, sings in me, stops me in my tracks and makes me smile sometimes. I don’t know why. I don’t need to know why.

But if I think I about it, I understand: It echos my need for attention, and my glee in silly grotesqueries, and my delight in being brazen and especially in demanding that you want something from people. Something about those qualities make me love this moment- this dramatized, actualized, manifestation of those themes in my life. I am haunted by the Jon Lewis image above for the same reason, I think.

In fact, when I look at the last 2 1/2 years of my comic output, I now realize this was the governing theme: trying to be heard. No wonder these images speak to me so much.

We all experience images from narratives this way. There are always moments that sticks with us, for reasons we may uncover later.

I asked a couple friends for their “images that sing” and here’s what I heard.

One friend says he always remembers a moment from a 40s-era Dick Tracy comic strip, where The Brow is being squashed by a Spike Machine. The brow is desperately crying: “Oww. Somebody stop the spike machine.” Another friend said that an image from the movie The Shining always haunts her, of the Shelly Duval character dragging a knocked down out Jack Nicholson character down the hall and locking him into a food closet.

The first image is about pain, oppression, helplessness, and a desire for connection. The second, about empowerment after feeling victimized by someone you love.

—————“DON’T ANALYZE!” HOGWASH!—————

I’ve heard that people think it’s dangerous to analyze such connections, and that there’s a magic in not knowing how certain connections work. I don’t buy it. First: emotion will always work faster than analysis. Second: there will always be new things to be moved by. Third: let yourself be moved by the understanding, too.

Look at Kiki and Herb. Kiki and Herb are a faux-torch song duo who perform as if they are on a reunion tour of sorts. Their supposed heyday was decades before and now Kiki; damaged, drunken, spiteful and absolutely, desperately human sits on the piano basically dying, telling old stories and singing cover songs.

They perform a version of the 80’s hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart” which is quite moving, a little funny, and desperate. The final minute or so of the song is monstrously powerful. A crescendo has been building for minutes, Kiki is now riffing on the original’s “turn around bright eyes” motif. Kiki is quoting The Byrds, Joni Mitchell and louder and louder, she ends by screaming, yowling Yeats poetry (with Herb like a lost sailor shouting his background parts into the storm of Kiki’s desperation) “The falcon cannont hear the falconer… Surely the second coming is at hand…”, riffing more, “Turn around…. turn around… don’t turn your back on me… don’t turn your back on Kiki!!! Kiki loves you! Kiki needs you! Kiki would die for you!!!”

All this crazy manic energy has just coalesced, and you realize, the decades old “turn around” of the pop hit has been transmutated. Now its a plea: “Turn around, come back. TURN AROUND, STAND STILL AND BE LOVED BY ME GODDAMIT.”

Kiki -and if anyone is a falcon who can’t hear the falconer, it’s her- is crying for you to believe in her transformation, her second coming. She is turning and turning, and transforming and transforming, watching you walk away, but she won’t have it .TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND! The song ends with her demanding to have her love accepted. DON’T TURN YOUR BACK ON ME! KIKI WOULD DIE FOR YOU!

It took me dozens of listens to this song at full volume to realize all this. It gets more powerful each time I hear it, and the more I decode, the more it moves me to tears…

And of course, this moment too, is about being heard, like most of the moments that are moving me right now.
——-

What are your Images That Sing? What are they about? Pay attention to those, like anything you attend to, it will grow. More will appear, and they will strengthen your own work. DON’T TURN YOUR BACK ON ME!

Written by hutchowen

March 29, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Matt Madden’s Pantoum

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Matt Madden has been studying poetry forms for some time; he digests them and creates new sequential art forms with them, or creates their equivalent. Matt’s latest exercise in the arena is the “pantoum.” Matt describes:

The pantoum structure is one of interlocking quatrains where the first and third line of one stanza become the second and fourth lines of the following one. The last stanza ends with the very first line of the poem and has the third line in the third-to-last position.

Here, he takes a three page story I made in 2001 (written in Lynda Barry’s workshops, for what it’s worth) and turns it into a 6 page festival of mud lust and paranoia.

Take a look at his posting and read the full comic here.

On a related note, Gary Sullivan chimes in about “Poetry in Comics” on my comments page here, and on his own blog, here. This seems to be spurred by Austin English’s letter in The Comics Journal a few weeks back, and Bill Randall’s published response.

Written by hutchowen

February 24, 2008 at 10:58 pm

Comics as Poetry, Part 1

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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