Archive for the ‘Comix Scholars Discussion List’ Category

This blog post was started months ago but was abandoned due to other commitments. It is, however, a relevant account of one article that was particularly important to the dissertation. 

Welcome back to those loyal regular readers who have missed me for almost a month. My apologies for the prolonged silence, but with the end of the academic term in France I’ve been somewhat occupied submitting design projects and relocating back to the UK. I’m now settled for the summer in sunny London, looking forward to the convenience of the the capital’s various libraries and galleries. It’s been several weeks since I started reading Nathalie op de Beeck’s 2006 essay Found Objects, published in volume 52, number 4 (winter 2006) of MFS Modern Fiction Studies. The article is available online for most academic institutions via the Muse portal.

With just a few weeks left of my semester here in Strasbourg, there was time for one last weekend trip before the final push towards the end of term. So on a warm Thursday evening I was at Strasbourg station to board train 64 to Paris: a ‘proper’ train of sparkling white and red German Railways carriages en route from Munich to Paris. This elegant old train arrived with a full service restaurant car and a rake of first and second class carriages, each offering big open saloons or more private six seat compartments. Why the importance of this train? Because this would be one of the last days that train 64 would operate. Just three days later, Strasbourg was to be catapulted into the twenty-first century with the arrival of the TGV Est Européen. Every one of the old fashioned trains will be replaced by modern high speed trains. The restaurant cars are going, the old passenger compartments are disappearing, and fares are being cranked up – on average by about 30-35%. Even the once-mythical Orient Express – which once connected London with Istanbul – is getting another leg chopped off its once grand route: from this weekend it will only operate between Strasbourg and Vienna, barely an overnight shuttle.

With a lingering nostalgia for a soon-to-be-antiquated form of transport, I found my reserved seat in a compartment. As we left Strasbourg, I considered that this was the ideal situation for me to catch up on some reading – on a leisurely four hour train ride through rolling countryside. And as we passed through Lorraine, I splashed out on dinner in the restaurant car, and drank to the death of ‘real’ train travel. An atmosphere of lingering nostalgia was suitably established.

op de Beeck introduces her essay by explaining how she sees Jem Cohen’s film Lost Book Found and Ben Katchor’s comic strip Julius Knipl Real Estate Photographer through the “contemporary interpretations [ … that … ] relfexively intersect with Walter Benjamin’s critical theory.” (p. 808). Cohen and Katchor “critique contemporary existence by remaining closely observant to overlooked details, outmoded artifacts, memory and forgetting … they attend to the passage of time, the gradual obsalence of machines and functions, and entropic repitition in the urban space” (p. 808). op de Beeck classifies Katchor’s comic strips and Cohen’s films as aphoristic formats: “we read it fast, but the melancholic sensation lingers” (p.808). Similar, perhaps, to the effect of a train journey. Reminiscent also of Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings, and the cricket player seen from a moving train, running up to the stumps but out of sight by the time he bowls.

The essay has introduced me to a filmaker (Cohen) and a film that I did not previously know of (Lost Book Found). In Lost Book Found a wandering narrative is told by a pushcart vendor in New York City, who encounters a lone man fishing for detritus through street sewer grilles. The pushcart vendor is an invisible observer in the bustling city – an anonymous figure who becomes so recognisable that he is quickly overlooked and made part of the cityscape. Similarly, the real estate photographer Julius Knipl explores Ben Katchor’s re-imagined New York City as a near-invisible observer.

Their texts overlap in mutual appreciation of transience, futile gestures, and the human condition … both Katchor and Cohen contribute to a dialogue on the remembered past, with a critical eye on how antique artifacts and productive labor are understood…

Nathalie op de Beeck, Found Objects, MFS vol. 52 no. 4, Winter 2006

As an architect, I am interested in the narrative techniques of urban observers such as the pushcart vendor and Julius Knipl: participants in a complex urban geography who, because of their profession or social situation, become extremely well placed observers and even chroniclers of the passage of time in a city. The idea of adopting the role of such a person in order to re-map urban spaces is nothing new in more progressive schools of of architecture, but it also presents many exciting opportunities to consider the understanding and broader presentation of architectural environments as they are occupied and changed over time.

Katchor promts readers to recognize the significance of each tiny detail, and in that brief wakefulness, to sense the overwhelming intricacy of modern life.

Nathalie op de Beeck, Found Objects, MFS vol. 52 no. 4, Winter 2006

Cohen asserts his camera’s eye through the use of documentary-style cinematic techniques. Katchor, meanwhile, draws a complete fiction of a city with such attention to detail, and such a furtive and fast moving line that we are drawn into imagined but utterly convincing urban environments.

This false work of so-called memorializing – creating imaginary places, fake memorials to sympathetic people, and auratic objects analogous to actual artifacts – becomes crucial to storytelling, and to the cultivation of contemporary empathy despite mass distraction.

Nathalie op de Beeck, Found Objects, MFS vol. 52 no. 4, Winter 2006

Just like Garrison Keillor’s Tales from Lake Wobegon or Stuart McLean’s stories from the Vinyl Café, fictional environments and settings are vital to convincing storytelling. I extremely interested in Katchor’s tales of the city precisely becaue they invoke such powerful sensations of nostalgia and loneliness, even though they are set in places that never existed.

Even though I don’t speak German, I’m kicking myself for not finding out about this conference sooner. Thanks to Matteo Stefanelli on the Comix Scholars Discussion List for bringing it up though… as with all the others, maybe I’ll make it next year.

Comic und Stadt (Comics and the City: Urban Space in Print, Picture and Sequence) 7-9 June 2007, Berlin, Germany.

Instead I’m going to Paris for the weekend, and I’m hoping not to be as sick as last time.

What follows is an email posted by myself to the discussion list of the University of Florida Comics Studies programme earlier today:

I’ve been lurking for a few weeks on this list, and this is my first post – I’ll try to keep the introduction brief. I’m studying towards a Masters in Architecture at the University of Sheffield in the UK (http://www.shef.ac.uk/architecture). If all goes to plan, this will hopefully conclude in the summer of 2008. I’m also studying for one semester (via the Socrates-Erasmus programme) at the école nationale superieur d’architecture de Strasbourg in France.

My dissertation is provisionally titled ‘The Comic Architect’. It begins with the relatively established assertion that architecture is very poorly represented in the books, journals, magazines etc that are primarily used to promote and discuss it (see ‘This Is Not Architecture’, ed. by Kester Rattenbury for a good primer on this discussion). ‘Official’ photographs and images of buildings are usually made before the building is occupied by its intended users, and are usually sterile, timeless and people-less images that elevate the building from functional space to high art. There are even arguments for saying that some buildings (such as the Case Study Houses by Schulman and others in fifties California) were designed for their representation, since they were competing to be included in a popular magazine.

So, if architectural photography lacks time, narrative and a sense of character, can comic illustration techniques better represent architecture?

The dissertation will be submitted in November 2007, although I am extremely interested in taking it further, perhaps to a phd starting in 2008 or 2009. It will be an interdisciplinary study, but it will fundamentally attempt to examine the possibilities of one form of narrative representation in another context.

The project is being logged online at:

https://nowordsnoaction.wordpress.com/

and I invite you to browse the blog and post comments wherever you feel the urge.

“Martha Kuhlman” <mkuhlman@______.edu> wrote:

2) I like the articles in MFS winter issue, and I’d be eager to hear some reactions to them. In particular, what do people think of the article on Chris Ware? (Comics Architecture, Multidimensionality, and Time by Thomas Bredehoft). If you don’t have this issue or article, I would be interested in your opinion of Daniel Raeburn’s book on Ware published by Yale. Anything at all on Ware would be interesting, in fact.

Firstly, to Martha Kuhlman, thanks for flagging up an article and journal that had escaped my attention. My university has access via MUSE, so I’ll read the article over the weekend, but I can cerftainly comment on Raeburn’s book. More extensive thoughts on the book and my own subsequent thinking re: my project are blogged here:

https://nowordsnoaction.wordpress.com/2007/03/12/reading-daniel-raeburn-on-chris-ware-part-one/

https://nowordsnoaction.wordpress.com/2007/03/25/reading-daniel-raeburn-on-chris-ware-part-two/

Raeburn writes with the impression of some authority, and to me one of the most interesting points is the parallel between music and comics.

What you do with comics, essentially, is take pieces of experience and freeze them in time,” Ware says. “The moments are inert, lying there on the page in the same way that sheet music lies on the printed page. In music you breathe life into the composition by playing it. In comics you make the strip come alive by reading it, by experiencing it beat by beat as you would playing music…”

Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (Monographics)

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004, p. 25

Note also how Ware carefully controls the pace at which we experience the passage of time by the use of ‘silent’ panels, or repeating images that slow the pace right down. There’s a review of Ware’s ‘Acme Novelty Library #17’ in the recent April 2007 issue of the Comics Journal by Adam Stephanides which makes a similar observation.

This combination of irregularity with regularity, producing an almost Mondrian-like effect, creates a sense of rhythm, much more so than in Jimmy Corrigan or [Acme Novelty Library] # 165. In contrast, a page showing Alice looking for the bathroom is divided into 12 equal-sized panels, giving a feeling of stasis, as do two pages divided into six equal-sized panels, depicting Alice’s homesick memories of her old home and best friend. In a way, issue # 17 is a return to Ware’s early short comics, which were often about rhythm as much as anything else, but Ware’s approach to rhythm is much more sophisticated than in those comics.

Adam Stephanides, The Comics Journal no. 282, April 2007.

For me, it’s this control of the underlying ‘rhythm’ of a comic than interests me… could architects better explain or describe their buildings using these techniques than in traditional plans and sections, or photographs and renderings?




  • ABOUT THE PROJECT

    "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.


  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    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.


  • ABOUT THE TUTOR

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


  • ABOUT YOU

    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...


  • BOOKSHELF

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


  • CONFERENCE DIARY

    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


  • SOME RIGHTS RESERVED

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


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