Skip to content

The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Image result for I, Parrot

The graphic novel I, Parrot combines two unquestionable talents. Deb Olin Unferth is a major new literary voice, whose award-winning short prose has appeared in a range of top literary journals, and her book-length work includes two story collections, a novel, and a memoir, all published by prestigious independent presses. Elizabeth Haidle is creative director of Illustoria, a visual storytelling magazine for children, and she brings a smart, cartoon energy to Unferth’s writing. Together the two tell the story of their narrator Daphne’s struggles to win custody of her son, maintain her relationship with her boyfriend, and care for 42 exotic parrots. The three goals interweave since the parrots belong to her boss, and she is taking care of them to earn money to pay her lawyer, while also proving to the court that “inappropriate abusive men” are not “loitering the household,” a fact made increasingly clear as her boyfriend, Laker, takes on the positive role of step-father to little Noah. Despite dominos of mishaps, the fragmented family and their 42 adoptive pets pull through together.

Although Unferth’s family-oriented plot and Haidle’s style sometimes evoke children’s illustrated books, the occasional “fuck” in Laker’s dialogue clarifies the target audience. This is for grown-ups—and yet the intentionally simplistic rendering is more than surface details. While always expressive, Haidle’s faces are more geometric than human: circle cheeks, triangle noses, blocks of hair. The effect is counterweighted by the subtle gradations of her interior shading, which look brush-stroked in gray wash.

Image result for I, Parrot

Her page layouts are playful and evolving, varying from traditional gutters to open panels to maze-like circles, with a recurring motif of diagonal divisions.

Image result for I, Parrot

Image result for I, Parrot

Image result for I, Parrot

The overall effect creates the sense of a children’s world inhabited by adults—which also describes Daphne. The core of her life is not her job or her boyfriend but her son. Haidle’s art makes that fact palpable by rendering every element of Daphne’s story in a style most suited to a child.  Even when Noah isn’t on the page, he is still his mother’s cartoon heart.

Related image

As the authors describe in a Comics Alternative interview, the project originated with Unferth’s stick-figure sketch of the novel, which earned her a contract with her publisher who then introduced her to Haidle. The two worked together long-distance, via email, Skype, Dropbox, and one extended visit. While most comics collaborations begin with a written script, Haidle instead adapted Unferth’s visuals, while Unferth in turn revised to include not only Haidle’s input but her personal experiences—including her own son’s insights into the character of Noah.

While the relationship of writer and artist is always complex, the complexity is even greater here. Typically an artist receives verbal descriptions only, often with complete control of layout. But any given image choice may or may not have originated with Unferth, with Haidle translating rather than wholly inventing visual qualities. I suspect this somewhat reduced Haidle’s role as author. It also implies that Unferth is the primary author, and Haidle her illustrator, a common credits division, which the cover and title page resists by listing both creators side by side and without attribution. It is Unferth’s first graphic novel, a form she said was different and harder to work in than she expected. She calls I, Parrot “a plot-heavy book,” something she strived for since her wide experience in prose writing gave her expertise in plot but not image. She also gives Daphne’s voice a sharp but believable eloquence from the opening page, describing, for example, “relentless errands over a churning earth” and “the roar of the unhappy mind.”

The novel is less successful at exploring the intersections of word and image that define the uniqueness of the comics form. Often a panel’s figures and its narrated or spoken language overlap in ways that duplicate each other rather than provide independent information that combines in unexpected ways. Page one, for example, opens with the narration: “I finally found a job,” followed by a smaller script statement, “That’s me, Daphne,” and an arrow pointing at a woman smiling and waving as if at the reader. Daphne as drawn includes additional information (she has long black hair, etc.) but the image-text relationship is rudimentary. When Haidle draws Daphne slumped in a chair, Unferth’s talk balloon “Sigh” adds nothing the image did not already convey. While the redundant style further implies a children’s book aesthetic consistent to the novel’s theme, Unferth and Haidle rarely challenge those visual norms and so don’t use other effects available to literary graphic novelists.

Since Unferth drafted the novel in sketch form and it is her first graphic novel, it’s not surprising that she hasn’t plumbed the form’s full potential yet. While I, Parrot is a solid entrance into the field, I predict Unferth’s future graphic work will go further.

Image result for I, Parrot


[A version of this post and my other recent comics reviews appear in the comics section of PopMatters.]


Tags: , ,

While wordless comics date back to the woodcut novels of Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward of the 1920s and 1930s, and Max Ernst’s 1934 A Week of Kindness, “A Surrealistic Novel in Collage,” revealed the non-naturalistic potential of sequential art, one of the most successful explorations of wordless surrealism in graphic form is the more recent H Day (PictureBox 2010) by Renée French. Though French also publishes children’s picture books under a pseudonym, H Day is hardly for children. There is no overtly violent or sexual content, and while the imagery sometimes evokes children’s genres—a cute dog, a round-headed main character—the sequence is quietly disturbing in tone, with a narrative logic that teeters provokingly on the inexplicable.

Image result for H Day (PictureBox 2010) by Renée French

French divides the novel into seven sections or, as she subtitles all but the first, “stages.” The shortest is five pages, the longest twenty-four. After an initially and especially ambiguous introductory set of single images, each stage consists of full-page images paired on facing pages. The pages are atypically small, 6” x 7”, and so well suited to single images. (French worked with even smaller pages for her earlier Micrographica.)

The spine divides the novel in half both physically and narratively. left-hand pages feature unframed white spaces with a recurrent human figure composed almost entirely by outline. Its only interior marks are dots for nipples, a curved line for ambiguous genitalia, and occasional curved lines for knees. The figure has no ears, hair or facial features. It appears on roughly eighty pages. For the first thirty, the figure stands in empty white space, interior and exterior defined only by its outline. Shortly before the novel’s midpoint, French draws a lone bed, and on the subsequent page, the figure reappears and soon lies across it, where it remains until the sequence’s penultimate page in which the figure stands to leave, after which the bed is featured alone again in the concluding image.

Image result for H Day (PictureBox 2010) by Renée French

The figure, both while standing and lying, undergoes a range of surreal metamorphoses. An undefined circle appears within the figure’s head on its second page. Though composed of the same kinds of lines that indicate exterior body features, the circle suggests a physically interior element, as if the head, unlike the rest of the body, is viewed in cross-section—an effect created by the absence of facial features. The circle might also be understood as metaphorical, until it takes on overtly physical qualities, soon expanding beyond the outline circle of the head itself. The figure punctures the circle with its hand and extracts a ribbon-like object that possesses more interior shading lines than anything else on the page. The ribbon retracts soon, leaving a pucker mark from which a straw extrudes, wrapping itself around the head-replacing object. A range of even more extreme transformations follow: pillowy worm-like objects grow from the head and crawl about the bed; cage-like tendrils wind from the head to form a lattice of ropes with the headboard—all while the figure remains otherwise motionless. Because the setting is also stationary, the left-hand pages create a partial flip-book effect, with each metamorphosis occurring incrementally.

Image result for H Day (PictureBox 2010) by Renée French

Right-hand pages feature a radically different narrative, both in content and style. Where left-hand pages use stark open space, all right-hand pages create fully defined rectangular panels. Though frameless, the panels establish borders through meticulous pencil shading that also defines rich spatial environments of ocean, sky, clouds, curving hills, and, most prominently, a city-like landscape of uniformly shaded building-like monoliths creating street-like spaces between them. Though this ambiguous world is initially peopled by darkly shaded human figures, the protagonist of the sequence is a small, dark dog who possess the only facial features in the novel. It wanders alone, struggling against a set of antagonistic forces: swirling black smoke emitted by an industrial-sized chimney, swirling gray water emitted by a sewer-like drainage pipe, and swirling, ant-like dots that either swarm around dead bodies or emerge from them to merge with the smoke.

Image result for H Day (PictureBox 2010) by Renée French

Though surreal, the narrative effect is still largely naturalistic as the dog makes various attempts at escape. But French at times undermines even this quality when figures, including the dog, transform between pages into similarly shaped objects that appear to be formed of wound string—with no contextually implied explanations. “stage 5” also abandons the dog and its environment entirely to depict a sequence of transforming birdcage-like objects with no earlier presence in the right-hand sequence. “stage 6,” however, returns to the surreal worldscape as a new monolith sails toward the dog to open a door-like passage and extend a plank which the dog walks to vanish within the monolith’s unknown interior before it sails away.

The final right-hand page features a version of the bed from the left-hand sequence, only rendered in the more finely detailed style of the right-hand drawings and with cross-hatched walls and floor of a more fully naturalistic space. The effect is not only a surprising merger of the two otherwise unrelated sequences, but it retroactively suggests a metaphorical link between them throughout. Because the bed does not appear earlier on right-hand pages, it is understood to be the left-hand bed, which, given its concluding primacy, refigures the entire righthand sequence as an expression of the left-hand sequence. The dog and its worldscape are not “real,” but are figurative representatives of the transformations of the left-hand character. Though those transformations may themselves be understood as metaphorical, within the logic of the two-sequence pairing, they are the novel’s baseline reality and so are “real” in that sense.

Image result for H Day (PictureBox 2010) by Renée FrenchDespite all of the surreally ambiguous imagery, the two-fold narrative concludes clearly enough: the dog’s sailing away and the human figure’s leaving the bed are linked, positive outcomes. H Day has a happy ending. And while the imagery is open to interpretation—are the shapes that extrude from the human figure’s head visual embodiments of “thoughts” and the dog’s narrative the content of those thoughts?—French’s not-entirely-wordless novel does provide one unavoidable interpretation. The back covers states: “the artist illustrates her struggles with migraine headaches and argentine ant infestation.” While I appreciate the pleasures of a narrative hook, I wish the marketing team who wrote the summary did not include so reductive an explanation.

French has made similar statements in interviews; she told WOW x WOW: “My book, H Day (the version in France is called Céphalées, and it’s silent so that only affects the title) is an attempt to show what it’s like to have a migraine, from the outside and the inside. There’s an ongoing series of drawings on the left hand pages that take you through the pain part of it, showing a character who eventually merges with the bed in a pretty violent way. And then on the right hand pages there’s a story that I’d visualized for years, in order to distract me from the headaches. Even with that entire book, I still go back to that subject. Most of the portraits with things exploding out of the face or the skin warping around the head, are based on the migraines.”

But the back-cover summary, even aside from its erroneous emphasis on an ant infestation, does the novel a disservice. French’s decision not to include her explanation in an introduction or afterword establishes the novel as independent of the creative history that produced it. Yes, French suffered migraines and those migraines led to these images, but the novel is more than that personal chronicle. It both contains those autobiographical facts and exceeds them—an aesthetic effect undermined by the back cover.

And yet, while the title H Day is inherently ambiguous, the French title, Céphalées, means simply “headaches.” The difference of a single word—the novel’s only word—overwhelmingly defines its content. Where Céphalées is the impressionistic tale of a migraine attack, H Day is a surreal study in narrative ambiguity.

I recommend H Day.

Image result for H Day (PictureBox 2010) by Renée French

[A version of this post and my other recent comics reviews appear in the comics section of PopMatters.]

Tags: ,

I’m happy to report that Bloomsbury has green-lighted my and my co-author Leigh Ann Beaver’s book proposal: Creating Comics. It’s based on our hybrid creative-writing/studio-arts course, which we taught for the second time in spring. We’re busy drafting and illustrating now, plus we asked our students if we could include some their work in the book too. They said yes. So I’ll be happily posting work-in-process material on and off for probably the next year.

Working with Leigh Ann has been a massive learning experience for me, especially since I (like some of our more hesitant student) have uttered the dreaded sentence: “But I can’t draw.” So a lot of our first chapter is about building skill and confidence–mine included.  Here’s the best trick:

Working from photographs, preferably your own, gives a comic real-world specificity. Comics creators from a full range of genres and styles begin by staging a photo shoot. Robyn Warhol describes graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel’s “practice of taking snapshots of herself posing for each of the characters in every frame, then draw from the snapshots … to get every bodily gesture, every wrinkle in the clothing, every angle just right” (7). Bechdel does not reproduce every wrinkle in her actual drawings—her style in Fun Home is relatively sparse—but the poses add realism to what might otherwise appear cartoonish in its simplicity. Working in the Kirbyan dialect and subgenre of horror fantasy, artist Bernie Wrightson created the premiere Swamp Thing episode in House of Secrets #92 (July 1971) by posing friends in the roles of villain, damsel, and hero-monster. Bechdel dressed in a man’s suit and tie looks a lot more like her father than Wrightson’s friend looks like a mud-encrusted swamp creature, but the photographs still provided the necessary gestures and angles to give the comic a naturalistic edge. For his comics adaption of the silent film classic M, Jon J. Muth takes the photographic approach to its extreme:

All of the scenes in M were enacted by people in character. I cast friends, family, and strangers, gathered clothes and props, and decided where each scene would be shot… After directing and photographing a scene, I would make my drawings from the photographs… If I took a poor photograph—one that was over- or underexposed or blurry—then I did a drawing of a poor photo. I didn’t correct anything…. When I duplicated a photograph by drawing it, the drawing extracted a different range of emotions than the photo. This happened though I tried to be as faithful to the photograph as possible… This was a discovery, and not by design.” (192)

And this is the kind of discovery possible only through image making. No script can produce it.

The above illustration demonstrates a range of photo research examples. Each includes an original photograph and a drawing made from it. The goal isn’t fidelity—unless that’s your particular style. Sometimes the drawn image varies significantly, referencing the photo for general ideas. Other times the references are exact but edited—like Leigh Ann’s sparsely arranged bricks. Some of the images are traced on a light board; others are freehand. Chris made the tree and fence in Word Paint. Some of the images add details—Leigh Ann invented those beach balls but copied Godzilla from a website. She also photographed a colleague to copy in brushwork, showing the differences of media too. Our student Anna pulled a photo from her phone to use in her memoir about running, and Mims snapped pictures of her own hands while in class to use for a character. The four-panel strip at the bottom was taken from a class photo shoot with students posed with instruments and in animal masks. Your camera is an invaluable drawing tool. You’ll use it to refine images as well as create original content through your own photo shoots.

Below is my process of turning a photograph into a comics panel (which I definitely won’t be including in the book). I started with an image Lesley forwarded me from her phone.

The part of the photograph I liked most was also the easiest and most fun to draw, so I started there:

Those ground plants were my next favorite:

And once I have a base pattern, it’s easy to manipulate and insert multiple times:

Like everything else, the tree is just a crosshatch of intersecting  straight lines:

There’s no sidewalk in the photo, but I could picture it and liked how the lines interacted with the geometry of the fence:Another base pattern for the smaller tree:

And drop it in:Fill in spaces in the bark for more texture:And why not expand the fence another lopsided wrung?

Sadly, the perspective on the cenral tree was off, so even though I like how the tree in the photo loops in and out of the fence, I rearranged:

And I hoped some invented roots might help with perspective too:My image is hardly photorealism, but the differences are at least interesting:

Students in my spring term class “doodled” characters and then redrew them a few dozen times in different positions and actions untill their lines came almost effortlessly. I decided to follow my own lesson plan and created two characters while on vacation last week:

Our family vacation included Prague, Bratislava, and Vienna, so I Word-Paint doodled while in trains, airports, and early mornings in rental apartments.  Central European art museums are crammed with Klimt and Schiele, and I think their distortions were a happy influence. I named the skeleton “Wally,” after Klimt and Schiele’s favorite model and Schiele’s lover, and the demonish character “Egon,” Schiele’s first name.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of placing cartoons inside photographed environments. Our last breakfast was in Vienna’s Korb Cafe, which had the most amazing basement:

The room was closed for breakfast, so I was able to snap a dozen unpeopled pictures on my phone–more than enough for Wally and Egon. I didn’t have a story, so I just started drawing, seeing what gestures and positions emerged. I didn’t have any dialogue in mind either, but I like talk bubbles as a graphic element, so I matched styles to each character. Wally’s body and bubbles are made of squiggly lines, Egon’s are straight-edged.

If you applied for a writing job at Marvel in the 1960s, you were handed four pages of a Fantastic Four issue with all the words removed and told to fill in the captions and bubbles. Feel free to do the same with these:

Personally, I’m not sure words are needed. David Byrne says, “Singing is a trick to get people to listen to music for longer than they would ordinarily.” Maybe words can be a way to get readers to look at pictures too, but I think in comics they can distract from the images. I may experiment with words later, but first here’s the one-page version:


Image result for Pieter Coudyzer graphic novel Outburst

At first glimpse, Pieter Coudyzer’s graphic novel Outburst fits firmly in the revenge genre defined in the mid-70s US by the Stephen King best-seller and Brian De Palma box office adaptation Carrie: a sympathetically hapless but unsuspectingly powerful victim of teen bullying is finally pushed too far. Though Coudyzer is a Dutch author, and so his pop culture references are likely different, he narrates from his protagonist Tom’s point of view, establishing reader sympathy from the opening pages. The flashback structure anticipates the promised outburst of the title too, with the police arriving to arrest Tom as he begins to narrate his past.

After pages of schoolyard pranks and mockery, there’s no surprise when Tom finally loses control. As in Carrie, his victims are his school’s most popular couple and the source of his worst suffering.

Image result for Pieter Coudyzer graphic novel Outburst

Coudyzer literally draws Tom sympathetically, rendering his eyes in colored close-ups that contrast the black-dotted faces of his classmates. Tom’s popular love interest Aure’s eyes are colorless, but Coudyzer draws her black pupils distinct from their surrounding whites. The other characters, especially the most bullying boys, look at Tom and the reader through disturbing black smears. Even when “what’s-her-name, the least popular girl in class” refuses to share a kayak with Tom during a class outing, she looks at the ground with the same scribbles. Though Coudyzer sometimes draws Tom’s eyes similarly, they are always framed and tinted by his glasses. The bully Yves tells him, “those glasses sure come in handy obscuring your dumb ugly mug”, but they also make Tom seem human.

But Tom isn’t human. In the Poe-like opening, he calls himself a “madman” and describes a forest growing inside him. While a metaphor for his tamped down suffering, the forest is also literal. His arms and legs have become branches and roots. The physical transformation began after he was tricked into writing Aure a love letter. Now instead of laughing at him, the class stares silently as dropped leaves appear around his feet. In the next pages, Coudyzer draws Tom in silhouette as branches protrude all around him. The images are oddly metaphoric though, since Tom’s simultaneous narration explains that the forest “slithered out of me, along my fingers, my toes … Fortunately, the rest of my body was spared.”

Image result for Pieter Coudyzer graphic novel Outburst

If Outburst followed the typical bullying plot, Tom’s life would have grown much worse afterwards, but instead Tom tells us “I grew accustomed to my new body” and even achieved a “sense of belonging” when he enrolled in university. No one comments or flinches when his cluster of branches accepts the diploma handed to him on stage. Though he wears sacks to disguise his former arms and legs, he is “content”. His boss briefly questions his “handicap”, but doesn’t care. His deepest challenge is the solitude he seeks. After his first shift as a lone night guard, “the forest inside of my head doubled” and soon his “dreams faded”.

Though unarticulated, those dreams are not of the forested “island of your dreams” he described to his school psychologist, but their opposite, the false promise of Aure’s love that motivated him to return from the school outing instead of remaining hidden and alone within a hillside forest. When he sees the now adult Aure in a grocery store with the former bully Yves, Tom literally “CRAAAAAAACKS!!!” His forest explodes across the building, killing Aure and Yves both. Though nominally a horror scene, Coudyzer avoids blood until afterward, when one of Tom’s countless branches drips red dots across the floor.

Related image

The more disturbing image is of Aure’s face as a cluster of Tom’s branches push into her mouth. The violent penetration suggests not only murder but rape too, and it is the last we see of Aure. But in her final close-up, Coudyer renders her one unobscured eye as distinct and colorful as Tom’s. When she first appears in the grocery store, her eyes are colored too — a fact Coudyzer emphasizes by inserting a flashback panel of her younger face, now with the smeared black eyes of her classmates. Though her bully of a husband appears smear-eyed in a similar flashback panel on the following page, the adult Yves is human-eyed now too.

They are not villains. Coudyzer’s visual narration suggests that even though many children can be inhuman in their cruelty, even the worst eventually grow into human beings. It’s unclear whether Aure was ever cruel. She stuck her tongue out at Tom once, and her reaction to his love letter was merely annoyed: “Tom, I want a word with you. What’s this supposed to mean?”

In the present scene, Aure initiates the conversation, pleased to have bumped into Tom. It’s only when she mentions the love letter that Tom’s “true home finds” him. Though a sexually-motivated double-murderer, Tom is arguably a victim too. But Coudyer’s choice of names complicates even that reading. Tom admits he was “Always looking where I ought not to. Always peeping.” It’s unclear whether the peeping Tom reference originated from the Dutch version of the novel or was introduced by translator Peter Mennen, but it further suggests that Tom is not simply a victim who got his just revenge. In the end, he finds complete isolation in his forest — an ending that is both escape and punishment.

Related image

[A version of this post and my other recent comics reviews appear in the comics section of PopMatters.]

Leigh Ann Beavers and I just finished teaching our combined ENGL-ART 215 “Making Comics,” which ended with a display at the library during the spring term festival.  I’m wildly biased, but I think our students are amazing.  You can see that for yourself. Here’s their selection of pages–many many thanks to the library staff for the awesome enlargements.

Hung Chu:


Maddie Geno:


Daisy Kelly:



Henry Luzzatto:



Anna Nelson:


Kate Paton:


Mims Reynolds:


Coleman Richard:


Grace Roquemore:


Emily Tucker:


Plus we have a logo:

















Last week I offered a principle of closure specific to abstract comics: they don’t have any. When you look at a sequence of abstract images, you see the complete story, with nothing left to infer. No closure.

I also theorized that plot points in abstract comics are determined by image order, not image content. I’ll make those rules explicit here:

1) An abstract sequence begins in balance and ends in balance:

2) If there are three images, the middle image is imbalance:

3) If there are four or more images, the second is disruption and the penultimate is climax:

4) If there are five or more images, the middle images are imbalance:

This week I’m testing those ideas. And there’s no better place to find abstract comics online than Andrei Molotiu’s blog, Abstract Comics. But not every abstract comic tells a story. Sometimes abstract images are juxtaposed and so connected but not in a narrative sense. For example, this page from Gareth Hopkins’ “Found Forest Raw” is divided into traditional comics panels, but the content doesn’t make me want to read them in a traditional left-to-right, top-to-bottom z-path. Instead I find my eye wandering randomly:

To create a story experience, the images have to trigger a sense of ordered sequence that is read–rather than a set of images that can be appreciated in any order. This one (created by a Russian high school student during an abstract comics workshop) does that for me:

I experience a story because I read each ink blot as the same blot that is undergoing a sequence of changes. The blots all represent the character “blot.” In terms of plot points, I see this:

Alternatively, I see three subplots. Images 1-4 are straight-forward growth, images 5 and 6 are about the blot dividing, and then in image 7 and 8 it shrinks to nothing. Noting that ending balances become opening balances of next subplots, it plots like this:

Whether divided into subplots or not, the ending balance is nothingness. “Blot” is gone. But after looking at the final image, I find myself inferring the same state prior to the first image, making the first drawn image not balance but disruption:

I only infer that after studying the whole sequence, so it’s a kind of mental revision, but it still means I’m experiencing undrawn story content. There was blankness before there was “Blot.”

So I just contradicted the first half of my first rule of abstract plots: the first image is always balance.

Things get more complicated with the next example (by another student in the same workshop): This strikes me as not one sequence but four, with the first spanning the first three rows. That story is about string-like lines gathering and amassing into a ball and then traveling and finally vanishing into the distance. I read the first image as a disruption of what to me is an undrawn but implied panel of uninterrupted white. I infer a similar image after the last panel in row three, making that last image a climax:

So in addition to violating the first half of my first rule of abstract plots, I just violated the second half too. This abstract comic doesn’t begin or end with an image of balance.

One more:

At least this time the first image is balance. But not only is the last image not a new balance, it doesn’t feel like a climax to me either. It feels like imbalance with not only the resolution but also the implied climax leading to the resolution yet to come:

That’s a lot to infer from abstract images, and it seems to decimate my proposed principle that closure only occurs with representational images. I made very similar inferences about a rolling snowball in Peanuts strip in a previous post:

But I think these abstract comics actually support my argument.

Each example of inferred plot points occurs because I experience representational qualities in the not-entirely-abstract images. Because “Blot” ceased to exist at the end of its story, I retroactively inferred that it must also not have existed prior to the first image. The first image is now its birth–a state that necessarily implies a pre-birth state.  I’m understanding “Blot” to exist (and to have once not existed) in a sense not constrained to the world of its physical canvas but as part of a conceptual story world beyond it.

While I experienced story-world time in the first comic, in the second I experienced both time and story-world space. Those string-like lines, while literally two-dimensional, evoke a three-dimensional world. Otherwise I couldn’t perceive the ball of strings as vanishing into the distance–it would instead be shrinking.

The third comic implies not only time and space, but also gravity and physics. The abstract object is an object, one abstract in shape but that exists three dimensionally as it extends downward, and the grass-like lines begin at rest before flying up to it through some kind of magnetic-like attraction. The story ends on a kind of cliffhanger (imbalance) because the trajectory of drawn action implies to me greater interaction yet to come.

None of that is “abstract.” All of my inferences, all of the closure I perceived, comes from my applying norms of my world to the world of the images–which is no longer just the canvas. All of the above abstract comics have story worlds. And a story world is where the imagined but undrawn events experienced through closure take place.

So abstract and representational aren’t cleanly divided categories. They’re opposite poles on a spectrum.  And a more precise term for that spectrum is mimesis, or real-world imitation. “Blot” is clearly not of our world, but its world is like our world to the degree that time passes there and objects like “Blot” exist only for a certain duration. Though the ink marks that represent the string-like characters in the second comic are two-dimensional, their world is seemingly three-dimensional. And the story world of the third comic even evokes our familiar laws of physics.

So this round of tests refines my earlier claim to this:

Closure is mimetic.

Non-mimetic images don’t produce it.


[If you’re interested, this is part of a four-part sequence. It begins here and continues here and here and ends right here.]

Tags: , ,

%d bloggers like this: