Archive for April, 2007

Thank you Amanda in Chicago, who forwarded me this video, originally produced for This American Life on Chicago Public Radio.

It’s the first time I’ve seen Chris Ware’s cartoons animated, in a collaboration with animator John Kuramoto. The episode details can be found here.

realestate.jpg beauty.jpg

Two more books joined the bookshelf this week, both by the New York based artist and author Ben Katchor. Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer and Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District. I’ll blog more when I’ve had a chance to read them.


Hello from rural Norfolk, in the green and pleasant countryside of East Anglia. My delayed Easter vacation has allowed me to return to my family home, and to a landscape of multi-coloured heaths, punctuated by gnarled trees and thick forests. Villages here are built of brick and flint, and the occasional round towered medieval church pokes up above the generally flat landscape.

My apologies to regular readers to the prolonged silence on this blog: I’ve been occupied with other less stimulating things (releasing the inner white van man in me, fixing beligerant digital telephones and filing my Canadian income taxes, for example). Until I’m able to blog some more, I’ll leave you with this image – Theatre cross-section from 1996 by Joost Swarte. It’s included in the excellent study of the Toneelschuur Theatre by Jan Tromp, Henk Doll and Charles Reichblum, which was delivered to me just before I left Strasbourg. I’ll write some more about this book soon, because the Toneelschuur is looking to be an increasingly important building for my project; perhaps the only example of a building designed by a cartoonist. Other cartoonists have drawn buildings in sections, but I can’t remember one who has drawn one with the same appreciation of the hierachy and relationship of spaces in a building of such specific purpose. It’s also drawn with a humour that make similar architects’ sections so dull by comparison.

Going on retreat


A big thank you to everyone who has contributed to the ongoing research for this project. The bizarre French academic system is giving me my ‘Easter’ holiday one week after Easter. So, with my TGV and Eurostar tickets in hand, I’m about to head off for a couple of days peace and quiet back home in England. I’ll be taking advantage of this break to prepare the first chapter submission of my dissertation for Monday 23 April, which will draw on all of the work and reading that I’ve done so far. The chapter will not necessarily be suggestive of the final submission, and I’m under no obligation to actually include it in the finished thesis. It will, however, give me a chance to chew the cud and produce a concerted statement of intent for the rest of the dissertation.

I’ll post the chapter here in pdf format on or around 23 April. Thanks again to everyone who’s helped me out, I hope you continue to find more of interest here in the coming months.


Another connection was made over on the Comics Journal message board earlier this week, when Alex Buchet pointed me towards this short but very interesting article on Bernard Tschumi by the Canadian cartoonist and illustrator Stuart Immomen. Immomen provides a sound case for regarding some of Tschumi’s theoretical projects as out and out comics.

Probably conscious of the three figure asking price for a copy of Tschumi’s Manhattan Transcripts (1981), someone has snaffled the only copy of the book kept in the University of Sheffield library. I will attempt to hunt down another copy in the coming weeks to have a closer look.


While responding to one of my earlier queries about Nihei Tsumoto, Chris Lanier (on the Comics Journal message board) put me onto another Japanese artist: Yuichi Yokohama, whose work is now being translated into French. Lanier suggested:

You might want to check out Yuichi Yokoyama (who has some books in french translation — the dialogue isn’t dense so if you don’t speak French it’s not a problem) — particularly his book “Public Works” (Travaux Publics). His work is “art” manga, not genre work; “Travaux Publics” shows the construction of various absurd and impossible public works projects. I wrote about it here:

I don’t get to talking about “Travaux Publics” until the last four paragraphs or so.

Retrieved: 11 April 2007

Lanier’s excellent article is well worth checking out for his analysis of some of Yokohama’s other books, which I hope to get hold of soon. I read Travaux Publics over the weekend, on board a pair of big comfy German trains en route between Strasbourg and Stuttgart. The Easter weekend finally heralded the arrival of some consistently warm and sunny weather, and I must confess to being usually at my happiest sitting with a good book on a comfy train, looking out at the landscape roll past under blue skies.

Before leaving Strasbourg I’d been to see a rare big screen showing of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker. It’s a visual, aural and alegorical feast of a movie – certainly one of my favourite films of all time. It reminded me of the strange impression that it made on me the first time that I watched it as a British teenager, several decades after it was made. The context in which I watched it, and the expectations that I had of film in general were very different from those in which it was originally made. Many western audiences continue to find the film very difficult. To film fans raised on Holywood or even European cinema, many scenes seem ‘too long’ or ‘too slow’; the entire pace of the film is different, and Tarkovsky wasn’t under any obligation to subscribe to any western cinematic standards or norms.

Reading a Japanese cartoon for the first time can be similarly disarming for a western reader. You might be bored of hearing it said, but it’s quite a shift in habits to learn to read a book from ‘back to front’, although the French editors have been kind enough to include a little explanation panel about how to read manga at the beginning of the book (that would be the back of the book for those of you not used to Japanese).


Note how that the French translation maintains the Japanese script: Yokohama acknowledges in the author’s note at the beginning of the book how important sound effects are to his strips, and even for a non-Japanese reader, the bold shapes become almost heirogliphical.

Put simply Travaux Publics is, without doubt, one of the strangest books that I have ever read. I tried to summarise the book, for this article, but subsequently found that Lanier explained it in his article much better than I could:

Its four stories show the construction of strange monuments and spaces. They describe huge mobilizations of resources for apparently useless ends. One “public work” is a fluorescent-lit room, set into a boulder, positioned in front of an absolutely straight (and also artificially constructed) canal. Another is a glass room, outfitted with chairs and a floor of Astroturf, set under the surface of a man-made lake. These constructions are not only absurd in themselves, the methods of construction are entirely impractical. The third “public work” is an artificial mountain, assembled from boulders that are dropped from airplanes, then coated with glue flowing from a single hose.

Chris Lanier, Fight! Fight! Fight! The High Hat

Retrieved: 11 April 2007

The book is, quite simply, bizarre. Picking up Nihei Tsutomu’s Abrama at the same time as Travaux Publics made me appreciate just how different Yokohama’s style is to mainstream Japanese manga. In absolutely contextless landscapes, massive machines, cranes and rolling elements charge through scenes to create rivers, lakes and mountains.


There is absolutely no suggestion where these machines have come from, where they are going or who controls them. It is (to me) almost terrifying.


The landscape is almost a stage, serviced by unseen machinery that drops down from the skies to cut, dig, excavate, pour, yank or tear into the surface of the earth. As soon as a mechanical arm, aeroplane or enormous rolling rock has left the frame of the panel, it is forgotten. The ‘public works’ of the title are the only consistent element in the story, gradually nearing completion. Yokohama explains in the author’s notes of the French edition:

Des manga sans l’histoire – Ce qui m’importe c’est de représenter le passage d’une scène à une autre. Il n’y a pas lieu de raconter une histoire. Le monde dans lequel nous vivons offre une multitude de choses intéressants: n’importe quelle situation peut être saisie et restituée en bande desinée. Si j’élaborais moi-même une histoire, elle serait entachée de la conscience et des intentions de l’auteur que je suis, et c’est que je veux éviter. Même si des personnages évoluent dans mes œuvres ce n’est pas le monde des hommes que je veux dépeindre. Je veux décrire des événements naturels qui progressent, comme un typhon ou un déluge, sans rapport avec la volonté humaine.

Yuichi Yokohama, Travaux Publics
Montreuil, Éditions Matière, 2004, p. 7

Which I would translate as:

Manga without stories – What is important to me is to represent the passage of one scene to another. It is unnecessary to tell a story. The world in which we live offers a multitude of interesting things: any situation can be seized and retold in a comic book. If I worked out a story by myself, it would be sullied with my own conscience and my own intentions, and I want to avoid that. Even if characters do evolve in my work, it is not the world of the men that I want to depict. I want to describe natural events which progress, like a typhoon or a flood, without relationship to the human will.



The stories are not without human characters. In one instance, the finishing touches upon a particularly strange underwater viewing gallery are made by a team of exciteable humanoids who appear to celebrate the completion of their project as if it had been part of a race. In the same author’s notes, Yokohama states:

Des personnages sans psychologie – Je ne m’intéresse ni aux sentiments des gens ni à leurs emotions. Je ne traite que ce qui est visible à l’œil. Mes personnages n’agissent pas pour la satisfaction d’intérêts collectifs ou individuels, mais pour atteindre un grand but, pour accomplir une grande mission.

Yuichi Yokohama, Travaux Publics
Montreuil, Éditions Matière, 2004, p. 8

Which I would translate as:

Characters without psychology – I am interested neither in the feelings of people nor in their emotions. I examine only what is to the eye. My characters do not work towards the satisfaction of a collective or individual interest, but to achieve a great goal, to achieve a great mission.

So emotion exists, but in a very limited and impersonal manner. The great mission exists only partially within the frame of the cartoon panels. The reason that the great missions have been started or the reasons that they are such great goals remain hidden, denying us an understanding of the motivation of the few characters that exist in these stories.

In the closing panel of the story about the construction of a new mountain (above) two passengers in a light aircraft seem to take delight in discovering the new geographical feature. This panel remains one of the most interesting to me in the whole book, especially since Yokohama claims not to be interested in the development of human characters. I can’t help reading this panel and wanting to know where these futuristic plane travellers came from. Why is the sight of a mountain so exciting? Do they not have any mountains where they come from? And is that why so much energy and effort is put into constructing these massive ‘public works’?

The idea of a comic strip without a story is interesting, but this just shows that even Yokohama has had difficulty not implying some kind of continuation: some kind of before and after. It is impossible for the reader to follow the construction of this mountain without asking ‘why’, ‘how’ or ‘where’.

I initiated this project because I was frustrated with the sterility of images of buildings that told nothing about ‘why’, ‘how’ or ‘where’ they were built. In Travaux Publics it seems I’ve found an artist who perhaps aspires to the disconnection of mainstream architectural photography: the isolation and purity of the subject that lies within the frame of the picture, and the simple progression from one image to another rather than the obligation what comes before and after, or outside the frame of the panel.

I naturally reserve the right to change or adapt my opinions as I continue to think about this one. Thanks again to Chris Lanier for recommending the book and for publishing his interesting profile on Yokohama’s work.


Greetings from a quiet little village just outside Stuttgart, where I’m spending Easter with long lost friends. After a fine meal, everyone has settled down to tonight’s feature film on TV, the second installment of the Lord of the Rings saga. I would join them but a) it seems all foreign programming on German TV is dubbed rather than subtitled; b) I don’t speak German; and c) I really got bored of the Lord of the Rings about half way through the first film. So I’ve peeled off to ruminate on some of the reading I’ve been doing over the weekend at home in Strasbourg and on the train ride here.

In addition to the chunky monthly print edition of the magazine, subscribers to The Comics Journal also get exclusive online access to a small but growing archive of previously published material. While entire issues are now being loaded onto the website soon after publication, a handful of earlier articles have also been put onto the Subscribers’ Area of the website, including Gary Groth’s December 1997 interview with Chris Ware. This was originally published in issue number 200 of the Comics Journal, a fantastically popular issue of which all back issues have now been sold. Examples of TCJ # 200 now trade for several times their original cover value on eBay, so it’s been good news to find this article online. There is (unsurprisingly for a Comics Journal interview) a lot of interesting material in this massive and largely unedited article, which came out on more than fifty A4 pages when I printed it off on Saturday for more leisurely reading. With this in mind, I’m probably going to come back to this one over the next week or two as thoughts bubble to the surface.

(Note: because I’ve retrieved the text of this interview from a web page, I don’t have any page number references from the printed magazine. Short of advising you to print out your own copy in 10pt Arial Narrow on A4 paper, there’s not much I can do to help about this…)

Something that has struck me from the first reading of this interview is, however, an interesting explanation from Ware about the difference he finds between “real drawing” and “cartooning”.

I think drawing is “about” – or at least good drawing is about – trying to see. It’s more about detail and looking. Whereas cartooning is making a story happen with symbols … cartoon drawings are -just by nature of how they’re used as symbols – in a lot of ways not really drawings because the information that they have is so rudimentary, or conceptual.

Chris Ware, interviewed by Gary Groth
The Comics Journal # 200, December 1997

Ware seems to make this distinction quite clear: a comic strip is not a series of drawings of people or places, but a series of drawings of symbols that represent people, places, emotions. Ware has already made his thoughts clear on the use of words in comics (see this earlier post), so we interpret these symbols to mean words, pictures and any other visual device that he employs in his strips.

But Ware’s comics are not just about symbols. Far from it, their notably measured rhythm is generated in no small part by the use of both “real drawings”and “cartoons”.

…I try to use “real” drawing occasionally, or sort of a looser drawing, as a waz of anchoring a sense of place or feeling. By either floating it below or above the story it seems to take on this sort of tonal quality, like a long note held…

Chris Ware, interviewed by Gary Groth
The Comics Journal # 200, December 1997

Ah yes, the musical references once more. Ware dismisses his own musical capability during the interview…

At one point I played piano in front of around 600 people at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha and it was such a traumatic experience I don’t even remember if it went well or not. But I have a feeling it went quite badly. Nevertheless I decided at that point, “maybe this isn’t what I should do.”

Chris Ware, interviewed by Gary Groth
The Comics Journal # 200, December 1997

It is quite apparent that Warehas a masterful appreciation of the quality of muscial rhythm. This certainly is not the first time that he has made a reference from comics to music (again, see my earlier post on Daniel Raeburn’s introduction to Chris Ware) and the inclusion of these panels of “real drawing” is a noticeable feature of his longer stories. Open up Jimmy Corrigan pretty much wherever you please, and you’ll find the occasional ‘wide’ shot of a place where the events in the rest of the page are taking place. The effect of a larger single panel without dialogue is indeed notably effective at creating “a long note held”.


The use of gently falling snow in this example (from Jimmy Corrigan) heightens the delicateness of this pause at the end of a comparatively ‘busy’ page. If a single “real” drawing anchors the story to a place or inserts a moment of rest in the larger scheme of the story, it can so with an almost audible silence. These page compositions had lead me to believe that Ware was a phenomenal ‘architect’ of the page, laying out individual pages with a careful eye for the rhythm of the story, often inserting a moment of silence at the end of complex sequences. But it seems I might have been mistaken.

GROTH: Let me ask you about the mechanics of designing a page. You do approximately one page a week:

WARE: Uh… yeah. Two pages of the story a week … One on top of each other.

GROTH: So when you start to compose a page, do you rough out the whole page and then just move toward the lower right-hand corner?

WARE: Work down. Yes … Sometimes I might rough out a few panels with just shapes of where the characters are going to be. But a lot of times I go back and change that. For the most part it’s panel by panel, and I’ve met a lot of people who are surprised when I saz that, but I don’t think there’s any other approach I could use that would allow for the sort of detail that accrues. I might measure out a few panels, or I have an idea of how I might try to fit things in, but I might also end up completely changing that.

GROTH: Do you run into situations, for example, where you only have so much space left in the last panel, and it’s the wrong amount of space?

WARE: I do a lot of subdividing.

Chris Ware, interviewed by Gary Groth
The Comics Journal # 200, December 1997

Much more to come on this interview, which I hope to blog in the next week or so.


Just a few kilometers away from here, on the other side of Strasbourg, are the headquarters of Arte television, which must be unique in the world as a entirely dual language arts and culture TV channel. The channel broadcasts two feeds with the same programming, one in German and one in French, to France, Germany and Switzerland.

This episode of the Arte documentary programme Comix (directed by Cités Obscures artist Benoit Peeters) on Chris Ware was broadcast in 2005, and by means that are probably not entirely legal, has found its way onto YouTube. Nothing ground breakingly revelatory, but an interesting insight nonetheless, and a very tastefully edited and directed film. The introduction is in French, but the rest of the programme is in English with French subtitles.

Part one is here:

Part two is here:

Part three is here:

In the last year or two, I have occasionally considered taking some baby steps from blogging into podcasting. It’s a new medium that I’m really interested in, and right now there’s some great stuff out there which embraces and fools around with everything you might consider sacred in audio broadcasting (Letter to America from Belfast, Northern Ireland, being one particularly surreal favourite of mine). However, issues to do with time, the amount of space on my hard drive and the way that I  sound on tape has encouraged me not to. Luckily for me there are people out there who are much more talented that I and who have none of those issues, so it’s with much excitement that I found Inkstuds this week: it’s a weekly one hour radio show on CITR radio in British Columbia that’s also published online as a podcast.

The programme’s been on the air for a while now, and it’s great to browse the back catalogue of episodes to hear interviews with big name artists and even a few old friends. Well worth subscribing for the variety of interviewees…

abara.jpg tp.jpg

Being somewhat peeved to find my weekly French class cancelled again without any notice, I dropped by the Strasbourg manga bookstore Librairie Kaobang this morning and picked up Nihei Tsutomu’s newest book Abara and Yuichi Yokoyama’s Travaux Publics. Note that although this study is being carried out in English, it’s ten times quicker and easier for me to get hold of Japanese books in their French editions; as far as I know Travaux Publics has yet to be published in English, although I’d welcome any corrections on that.

Read my last post to hear how I found out about these two books. Thanks once again to Matt Kish and Chris Lanier on the Comics Journal Forum who corrected my spelling and suggested them to me. These two books should more than keep me entertained on the trains to and from Stuttgart over the easter weekend.


More superb networking results this week, started off by the friendly undergraduate architecture who sold me an espresso in the Strasbourg architecture school’s k’fett (student café) the other day. We got chatting when I looked over the counter and saw him busily inking in a comic story he was drawing. He recommend I look out for a Japanese manga artist with a name like Tihei Tsumoto. I searched high and low and failed to find the artist he was referring to, until those awfully nice folks (specifically forum user Matt Kish) over at the Comics Journal Forum (again) put me on the right track.

So, with the spelling issues resolved, I’ll hopefully post more very soon on Nihei Tsutomu (yep, got it right this time). I’m very excited by this opening into manga, a genre I know very little about.

A certain professor at the University of Sheffield once expressed the opinion that ‘blogging’ was a largely self-indulgent and arrogant medium in which to write.

To a certain extent, I hope he is correct. You can find out more about why I started this blog and why blogging for an academic project interests me on this page.

tcj281.jpg toneelschuurtheatrehaarlem.jpg

Last weekend’s messy gastric-virus-in-Paris hoopla pretty much knocked me and all my study plans for six this week, so I’ve been busy trying to catch up with my design class obligations here in Strasbourg before letting myself get distracted by any juicy reading. However, the good old credit card helped me lift my spirits with two new additions to the bookshelf which will be arriving shortly. First up, I’ve finally got round to subscribing to that bastion of comics culture, The Comics Journal. I’ve picked up the odd issue from time to time in the past, and always been impressed (if not by it’s sometimes arrogant editorial tone) by the sheer weight and intelligence of its contents. Big, chunky and incisive interviews and articles with dozens of new book reviews. Buying a year’s worth in dollars reminded me just how little I take advantage of the weak dollar; it will be a very worthwhile investment.

Secondly, Jan Tromp, Henk Doll and Charles Reichblum have put together a monograph on Joost Swarte‘s colloborative project with Mecanoo Architects, the Toneelschuur Theatre Haarlem, which I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on. A trip to Haarlem looks unlikely in the next few months, but then after my miserable experiences being ill in a Paris hostel, I think I’m going to be relatively happy staying still for a while.


As I mentioned earlier, I should have been in Paris this weekend. Unfortunately a rather unpleasant bout of food poisoning sent me straight back to Strasbourg a day after I arrived. For many of the twenty-four hours or so that I spent in Paris, I was confined to my bed on the seventh floor of a crowded hostel that had no lift, no secondary staircase and no apparent fire escape. In the sleepless delirium, I was reminded of this cartoon from Punch magazine, by Peter Birkett. Click on the image to find out how to buy prints.


    "no words no action" was an experiment in academic blogging. The blog recorded the progress of reading, research and investigations that lead to a Masters in Architecture dissertation at the University of Sheffield in autumn 2007. You can find out more about the author's interest in blogging here.

    To find out more about the thesis, download the original dissertation proposal (pdf format) from February 2007 or the semi-formal first chapter (pdf format) from April 2007.

    Further research projects are in the works, and their dependence on human interaction and networking suggests more blogging will be inevitable when the time comes.


    At the time that this blog was created, James Benedict Brown was a fifth year Masters of Architecture student at the University of Sheffield. James' personal blog is here.

    James graduated in 2008 and now lives and works in Glasgow.


    This project was supervised by Renata Tyszczuk at the University of Sheffield


    If you want to correct me on something, offer an opinion on a particular artist or building, or if you'd like to recommend someone or something to find out about, please feel free to leave a comment. Just click on 'Comments' under the headline of the relevant post...


    Click here to browse James' bookshelf, and to purchase books being used in this project.


    I've managed to miss almost half a dozen compelling conferences around the world so far this year, simply because I have no (more) money to travel and no time to escape my studies in Strasbourg and Sheffield. However, if I had a magic plane ticket and plenty of time, here's my selection of essential conferences to attend. Hopefully I'll be there for more of them next year... click here for the diary (updated every time I miss another one).

  • NOTE

    All images are used for illustrative purposes only, and the copyright remains with the artist and/or creator. Please contact me if I have misappropriated an image or incorrectly credited it. Thanks... JBB


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    The content of this blog is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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