Archive for the ‘Comics Journal’ Category
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
When I class a post on this blog as ‘off-topic’ I do so with caution, as it’s probably far too early to dismiss anything as being ‘off-topic’. Jeet Heer, a Comics Journal forum user sent me back to an earlier post of mine about Will Alsop and Winsor McCay to point out something that I’d most definitely missed.
Yes, Gray and McCay were both Masons. There is a subtle masonic joke woven into the famous “Little Nemo” page with the walking bed. The bed stumbles against a church steeple, causing Nemo to fall back into waking life: the idea being, as per Masonic doctrine, that organized religion is a stumbling block to the imagination and freedom.
There is a fair bit of Masonic themes in Gray’s work as well: the orientalism of many of Daddy Warbuck’s aids (Punjab, Wun Wey, the Asp) who form a brotherhood to protect innocence and goodness (Annie). Warbucks and company are an international fraternal order, held together by a common decency that trancends culture: the masonic ideal in a nutshell.
Or consider the figure of Mr. Am — a jovial diety in the Annie world. He looks like Santa Claus and dresses like an arabian sultan; he’s lived forever and testifies to the unchanging verities of reality (and of human nature); he’s a benign and jovial god, but somewhat distant from human concerns. He’s illustrates the principal of deism.
You learn something new every day…
My thanks go to billym (another user of the Comics Journal forum) who put me on to another artist who work I recognise but I hadn’t thought to look into: Ben Katchor. The picture above is an frame from A Date in Architectural History, a strip by Katchor in the January 1999 issue of Metropolis magazine. Follow this link for the whole strip.
I just love the mild humour of this short strip – perhaps that’s because I’m an architecture student training to enter a profession which has a strange language and value system that is so rarely mocked. Notice also the large panel: I don’t recall ever seeing an architect draw a building like that.
For any other newbies out there like me, there’s a good interview with Katchor by Catherine McWeeney here.
Frequent is the architecture student’s cry of disbelief when someone recommends a building to him, only to find it’s one that he vaguely remembered seeing somewhere before, but which he never had the foresight to think of. Today’s star suggestion over on the Comics Journal message board came from user tapvd, who directed my attention towards the Dutch artist Joost Swarte. Not only as Swarte a remarkable and prolific producer of comics in the ligne claire style (like Chris Ware), he also recently partnered with Mecanoo Architects to build this, the Toneelschuur Theatre in Haarlem, near Amsterdam. A trip to the low countries was already on the cards for my forthcoming easter break, so maybe a diversion via Haarlem will be in order.
Time to get my European Railway Timetable out. Thanks again to everyone making suggestions over the Comics Journal message board.
This blog announced itself on the discussion forum of The Comics Journal today: a big hello and warm welcome to readers who followed the link, your thoughts and comments on any of the subjects posted here are greatly appreciated. Welcome also to the select group of friends, colleagues and acquaintances I emailed earlier this weekend. I promise that you are more than just an incentive for me to make regular posts…!