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Preview: Comments on: Abstract Comics: The Discussion

Comments on: Abstract Comics: The Discussion

Derik Badman's Comics and Writing

Last Build Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2013 13:54:16 +0000


By: Charles Hatfield

Fri, 26 Feb 2010 06:14:37 +0000

Mine French is crap too, near to non-existent, but I struggle through. And that Fresnault-Deruelle is some key stuff (just referenced it in my class the other day!).

By: Scott Bukatman

Thu, 11 Feb 2010 16:34:06 +0000

Thanks. My French sucks.

By: DerikB

Thu, 11 Feb 2010 12:56:47 +0000

Scott, the tabular/linear comes from, first, I believe: Fresnault-Deruelle, Pierre. “Du linéaire au tabulaire.” Communications 24 (1976): 7-23. (One of the (THE?) first academic journal issues devoted to comics.) If your French is good, I can send you a copy.

By: Scott Bukatman

Thu, 11 Feb 2010 07:45:33 +0000

I finally spent a day with Groensteen's book, which is pretty darned useful -- more than I'd originally thought (silly me). LOVE the passage on p113 where he rejects the gutter/inference model of comics reading in favor of a radical discontinuity: "Reading a comic, I am here, then I am there, and this jump from one panel to the next... is the equivalent of an electron that changes orbit." Question for Charles (or anyone else): Groensteen employs the terms 'linear' and 'tabular' -- are these his, or Fresnault-Deruelle's (as Charles has it in his post on Thought Balloonists)? Hawks (again): I follow you, Craig, and I wouldn't push my reading too far -- but to me it's remarkable how much Hawks does without such things as point-of-view shots. That seems like such a fundamental part of the CHC that its absence is noteworthy. No POV, no easy access to subjectivity -- here, too, I find a similarity with Ozu... You're absolutely right that the adults in Hawks often aspire to the condition of children, and that has a lot to do with the superfluity of, you know, ACTUAL children. Hey, same kid is in Monkey Business -- leading a virtual lynch mob of other kids... So sentimental, that Hawks.

By: DerikB

Wed, 10 Feb 2010 23:46:04 +0000

Herge makes use of the page turn as an element of suspense/surprise quite a bit (similar to what you're saying in re Lutes).

By: Craig Fischer

Wed, 10 Feb 2010 23:32:46 +0000

Thanks for clarifying what you meant by "tabular," Scott. I think comics artists are maybe more aware of the "tabular" than us critics tend to be. I remember having a conversation with Jason Lutes a few years ago, where he was explaining the informal "rules" that he followed when laying out his pages. One such rules: always stage a big narrative surprise in the upper left-hand corner of a double page spread, so it's the first thing a reader sees when s/he turns the page. According to Lutes, readers quickly scan (like a table, perhaps?) all of the panels in a two-page spread before they hunker down to read the panels in a linear fashion, and a cartoonist loses the element of surprise if the reader registers shocks prematurely. As I recall, Eddie Campbell ended his interview in TCJ #273 with a bunch of rules, and though I don't have the issue in front of me, one of those rules went something like this: "The reader knows what happens within an entire comic book seconds after opening it. If Magneto is revealed as the surprise villain at the end of the comic, the buyer will know this before s/he leaves the comics shop." This seems like an explicit reference to X-MEN # 17, which ends with a splash page of revealing Magneto to the reader, which undoubtedly communicates that this MOMENT IS IMPORTANT. Is this the kind of tabular information you mean? Oh boy, Hawks. I might've lapsed into hyperbole when I called Hawks a "quintessential storyteller," but even though he uses less decoupage than his contemporaries, his shot choices still follow classical Hollywood style parameters: for instance, don't most of his long master shots frame human bodies in plan americain style? I'd agree that later Hawks films--RIO BRAVO, HATARI, MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT--are more digressive than earlier works, but I'd argue that Hawks never strays far from the goal-driven protagonist, closure and invisible style that characterize Hollywood classicism. (Not a coincidence that Hawks' and Ford's films get loose-limbed--I'd argue that DONOVAN'S REEF is less classical than anything Hawks ever made--as classical Hollywood dies a prolonged death.) Hawks and kids: that's fascinating. The only example of an actual kid I can think of is Foghorn in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, and he acts like a horny adult male), but there's are plenty of adults who want to be kids, like Susan (and eventually David) in BRINGING UP BABY and Grant and Rogers in MONKEY BUSINESS. Ozu's characters reluctantly embrace mono no aware and get on with the business of being parents and salarymen, but Hawks seems to be saying that a return to childhood is a dangerous but highly desirable state...

By: Scott Bukatman

Wed, 10 Feb 2010 16:30:03 +0000

Charles: Saying the linear dominates the tabular isn't to say that there aren't artists who will, either consciously or intuitively, take things in another direction. So bring on the Maggots; no problem! I agree that the grid has been naturalized for us -- I'm reminded of a Cul de Sac from a year or two ago in which Alice doesn't yet know that the cat in one panel is the same cat as in another. While the grid can be played with in many things, you're also right to note that it seems to be the condition of the medium that many of the works in AC address -- that's a really valuable point. I'm not sure, however, that saying that comics are predominantly linear is tantamount to saying that comics are *innately* narrative -- that they're predominantly narrative would seem to be self-evident (hence Abstract Comics as a new field, coming in from another direction), but that's not the same as saying that they have to be. Narrative, in comics and in film, becomes a way of organizing a progression through time, or an exploration of space. It's an anchor as much as a reason for being. Craig: "Are you (and Derik) saying that when we read a traditional comic, our linear reading of the panels is supplemented by a further apprehension of the tier, the layout of the page, the double-page spread, etc.?" I think I *am* saying that, but I'm not committed to it. Someone above mentioned that McCloud might put too much weight on the inferential activity that the reader performs, and I think that's true. Readable comics (and I mean that term descriptively, not as an assignation of value) lead the reader very carefully from panel to panel, and employ a battery of techniques to cover the "gutter." Just as in film, techniques were developed to compensate for the violence of the cut between one shot and the next. The page is definitely part of our experience of the comic, but our focus is pulled from panel to panel (*most* of the time). Re Hawks: But Hawks is rarely exemplary of the classical Hollywood cinema -- look again. Very little decoupage: he uses much longer takes and far fewer close-ups. He does not look like either Cukor or Ford... His work has been described as a kind of cinema verite (Wollen) or home movies (Thomson), and these comparisons actually make some sense. Truffaut noted that films like Hatari (and by extension To Have and Have Not, Only Angels Have Wings, and Rio Bravo) are really like film shoots -- people hanging out, waiting for the next day's shoot... The emphasis is on multiple people in the frame, reacting to one another within a single shot. Of course, that's totally different from Ozu stylistically, but thematically, I think they have much in common -- an interest in exploring relationships re-using casts and story situations. On the other hand, there are no children in Hawks, and therefore no parents. Unlike Ozu.

By: DerikB

Wed, 10 Feb 2010 14:12:00 +0000

Charles: I'm not sure linear = narrative. For instance take a look at my recent post on Pascal Matthey's work. It's linear, but much more descriptive than narrative: I'd suspect the grid-like layouts of much of the AC work is a result of the creators western (comics/bd) roots. I don't think any of the contributors are drawing on a manga tradition. While I'm on that, something else I forgot to throw out there during the conversation is this manga by Maki Sasaki, which has an abstract quality more like the Crumb piece than other, though still leaning more towards narrative (though an abstract narrative):

By: Craig Fischer

Wed, 10 Feb 2010 12:23:11 +0000

Scott, thanks for your comments. I'd forgotten all about THE CRITIC! I found it hilarious when I was a kid, and after I read your comments, I watched it for the first time in at least 15 years. Still delightful! I'm not sure I know what you mean when you contrast comics' linear storytelling and "tabular modes of apprehension." Are you (and Derik) saying that when we read a traditional comic, our linear reading of the panels is supplemented by a further apprehension of the tier, the layout of the page, the double-page spread, etc.? If so, we've got to bring Groensteen into the discussion, since his definition of comics rests on the connections that readers can make between a single panel (what he considers comics' most basic unit of signification) and the larger formal "multiframes" of a comic. On Hawks: grouping him with Ozu as "a filmmaker exploring endless variations on a set of motifs, worked through with a stable of actors" is painting with too broad a brush. Couldn't that description apply to hundreds of auteurs besides Hawks and Ozu? For me, the difference is in the way each director tells their stories: Ozu uses "pillow shots" and Tatami-level camera height, while Hawks adheres much more closely to the Classical Hollywood norm of invisible style. (I was relying on Bordwell, Thompson and Staiger here.) I should've been clearer: Hawks is a Hollywood classicist, not a "quintessential storyteller" in some overly generalized sense.

By: Charles Hatfield

Wed, 10 Feb 2010 06:46:55 +0000

Good to see Scott's comments here. He said, "Despite the frequent contention, that I’ve bought into, that comics are always linear and tabular in equal measures, they are, finally, I think, predominantly linear, with the tabular as a supplemental feature of the work..." For some reason I'm wanting to go back to Chippendale's MAGGOTS (yet again) and see if I can put this to the test. Don't worry, I'll resist the temptation! Does saying that comics are predominantly linear tantamount to saying that comics are predominantly narrative? I came dangerously close to saying that in the conclusion to my review of AC, but I also wanted to telegraph just how much I enjoyed reading outside of that narrative zone. It occurs to me that the work in AC is testimony to how the grid of the comics page has been naturalized for us, so that we are able to see that grid/lattice structure and immediately infer progression. (In this sense, the tabular supports, or enables, our apprehension of the linear.) I note that, in contrast, many narrative comics are able to abandon the grid momentarily, or even for extended sequences, and of course some comics do not use an explicit grid at all; some comics will spill out of the normative grid into various other ways of using the page. But the pieces in AC, by contrast, generally stay within the grid. I guess what I'm getting at is that narrative comics can sometimes abandon or exceed the grid, since the narrative through-line still gives the work cohesiveness; the work in AC, though, seems to rely on gridding very much. I'd venture to say that abandoning BOTH enunciable content (narrative, or exposition) and the grid would make it just about impossible to recognize something as a "comic." Note that even the fairly radical Craghead or Mavreas examples use rectilinear shapes and spaces -- panels, as it were -- rather than, say, the slashing diagonals characteristic of much manga.