Tags: 2000 Maniacs!, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Horror, Nicolas Labarre
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Loved this! Great job, Nicolas!
I enjoyed this too…. I do, though, wonder about the choice to do it in comics form. There are some places where I can see the benefits: the diagram showing the head/arm at the center of the shot, and the reproduction of the close-up of the knife. But at other moments (images of the author sitting on a couch talking, for example) it seem distracting, at least to me.
I have this problem with comics essays in general — Scott McCloud being the biggest example, I guess. I don’t know…what did you feel like you gained by doing it as a comic, Nicolas? Did you feel like you lost anything?
“I do, though, wonder about the choice to do it in comics form.”
I knew if I waited someone would say that for me. Too many talking heads. Maybe better as a comic with more text (do not fear the text) and fewer images.
What did you think of Understanding Comics formally, Derik?
Thanks for the kind words, Qiana!
Regarding the decision to do this as a comics rather than as an article, I fully agree that the last two pages do not cohere into an interesting comics. However, I felt that the more diagrammatic pages, dealing with the sequence itself, produced interesting results. I watched the movie as part of an ongoing work on horror in comics and adaptations. I was struck by the fact that horror seem to work in a very different way in each medium, and sought to refresh my memory about horror and gore movies. After being struck by that sequence, I felt I could explore this tension myself to a certain extent: hence the “Tchoc” on page six. I felt using comics would allow me to provide a comment on the film while also attempting to replicate some of it effect (anecdotal evidence from a sensitive friend suggests it worked to some extent).
More generally, what I like about comics essay is the ability to convey incidental information without having to address it directly. Thus, providing a sense of place (in this case), a sense of who the author is (in general) seem to be valuable aspects of the form. It seems to me that this emphasis on what Jakobson calls the “phatic” element of communication, its social rather than informational aspect, helps to foster curiosity for subjects you hardly care for otherwise. I know it works for me: the form helped me read through Logicomix, Palestine and Reinventing Comics, to choose a few examples of subjects I’m not particularly interested in. Of course, the comparison is unfair. Essay in comics forms fail for me when they convey too little information, when they are simply uninteresting graphically or when they assume a grid and a few balloons suffice to make a comics.
Did I lose something by making this a comics? Certainly. I miss my footnotes and I miss some breathing space to introduce more nuanced comments. I feel however that many things are gained, if only from my perspective: after all, I took on to doing comics precisely to get away from word-processor.
As a sidenote, Thierry Smolderen has some interesting words about the relationship between comics and diagrams in Naissances de la bande dessinée, de William Hogarth à Winsor McCay.
Noah: Too many talking heads. Comic artists are often loath to really use text in comics at any length, which creates this untenable visual situation when they are using material that needs to be textual. They end up adding excess and useless images just so that the textual content will be all broken up in short sections (God forbid the reader have to take on a whole paragraph at a time! [gasp] [shock]). I guess this goes to comics low roots, its troubled connection with illustration, and perhaps that most comic artists are more drawers than writers.
Nicolas, thanks for discussing that. I think you definitely do get some benefits, including the ability to replicate some effects, as well as opportunities for humor (the last couple of panels are quite funny.)
Derik, I think that all makes sense…though Nicolas is a writer first, I believe.
I also think that there’s probably at this point simply an issue of historical form….that is, people have an understanding of the way comics look, and moving towards text heavy with illustrations would start to be experimental — and for the most part people doing essays in comics form are interested in ease of communication (drawing in people who wouldn’t otherwise be interested, as Nicolas says) so the impulse to experimentation of that sort is nonexistent.
There have to be more experimental formal essay comics, surely. Domingos…?
The second half of Dave Sim’s Glamourpuss is basically an essay about photorealist comics and the death of Alex Raymond that is done as a mix of comics and rather text-heavy pages with illustrations and comics panels. That’s the first thing that comes to mind.
Yeah, the heavy text with comics panels thing is probably as old as the hills. I do believe it precedes Glamourpuss even in Sim’s work. I like Nicolas’ comics essay but the reservations above are understandable. Pages 5-7 are probably where the choice of presentation works best.
I think the problem with cartoon essays in general is that they often come off as facile. There’s often this desire to make things as clear as possible but I think the rules change slightly when you do things in comics form. The lack of complex artistic expression in cartoon essays is what I hate most about them. They’re better than political cartoons but often unable to extricate themselves from that shallow heritage.
“They’re better than political cartoons but often unable to extricate themselves from that shallow heritage.”
I think Nicolas manages, at least in the sense that this is really an essay, rather than a diagrammatic textbook a la McCloud. The points being made here about how horror works, and the close formal reading of scenes, are subtle and thoughtful.
The problem for me is less even the talking heads than the need to show a rock when you’re talking about a rock, or a hillbilly when you mention a hillbilly…. I guess you could argue that the obviousness and clunkiness of it is thematic in those instances since the film is itself obvious and clunky, and those characteristics are part of what Nicolas is talking about….
Ah, but that’s what I mean. The talk-a-rock, show-a-rock thing is a clear example of superficial artistic expression. Even superhero comics try to avoid that I think.
Remember that Polly and her Pals thing which you linked to recently. That didn’t need to be a comic for the most part.
I plead guilty to the talk-a-rock, show-a-rock complaint. Things are slightly different when it comes to the hillbilly, though, as this is also an example of the incidental information I mentioned earlier. I send my comics to a group of reader who are French for the most part, and not all of them are familiar with the stereotype. Representing the hillbilly was a way to allude to representations they might have encountered in other context, without having realized they were variations on a widespread type.
Another argument which has surfaced while discussing this topic off-line, is the way essays in comics calls attention to the construction of their object. Because everything is explicitly filtered through the author’s skills and style in a comics, nothing appears transparent, objective or factual. That’s pretty obvious whenever McCloud redraws a panel in Understanding Comics, for instance, and you have to wonder whether the original really looked and worked that way. In other words, the visibility of the code in comics calls our attention to the fact that we can never discuss facts or cultural objects, but merely useable and simplified models of these facts and cultural objects.
“the way essays in comics calls attention to the construction of their object.”
That’s an interesting point. Are there any examples of comics essays that take advantage of this po-mo aspect?
You can do this in prose too though…there’s a Donald Barthelme essay that comes to mind, or Borges of course….
But Nicolas, ever since Montaigne invented the genre the essay has traditionally been personal, subjective, non-transparent. So drawing is, here, a feature and not a bug.
My favorite comics essay is probably Crumb’s ‘Where has it gone, the beautiful music of our grandparents?’
Alexis : I agree, but comics make this subjectivity impossible to miss, if only because it is much easier to recognize and characterize “style” in drawing than in writing.
As to authors who foreground this necessary subjectivity, Boulet’s autobiographical Notes on his blog, which often take the form of mini-essays, frequently call attention to the construction of representation. In several strips and for various reasons, he declines to draw a person and replaces that person with a popular culture character, making it impossible to read the following conversation or discussion as a naturalistic depiction of an “authentic” event.
Splendid and delightful! Loved the palette, varieties of visual approach. And the script is excellent, covering journalistic, cultural-critical, intellectual, aesthetic bases. Giving nods to the cheesy exploitation aspects, while noting where “2000 Maniacs” becomes something more.
About the dubiousness of “doing it in comics form”; heaven forbid somebody should not take the easy, predictable route, and stretch an art form beyond the areas of its obvious strengths!
Just because a creative project may be inherently flawed, in some ways doomed to fail in some respects, doesn’t mean it’s not creatively worthy. Aesthetic virtues and complex emotional effects can result from these oddities; the very “not quite right”-ness of the work preventing straightforward emotional string-pulling, and achieving strange pleasures.
Even some masterpieces may result: consider the absurdity of a true story about the Holocaust starring cartoon mice and cats; the tragic death of “Camille” or “Giselle” (!) acted by hand puppets*; “The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion”**
Look at Magritte’s “The Menaced Assassin”: http://www.friendsofart.net/static/images/art2/rene-magritte-the-menaced-assassin.jpg . Less obviously surreal than other canvases from the Belgian master, acquiring its power from the many ways it deliberately “fails” as a crime illustration: the stiff, doll-like qualities of the protagonists; the absurd weaponry wielded by what are presumably officers of the law; the “three voyeurs” peeping in the window.
If not quite in that exalted plateau, there are plenty of virtues in Mr. Labarre’s comics-critique. Regrettably, no time to further enumerate now; things have been ultra-busy in the home front…
* The Standwells’ repertory troupe, The Little Players, whose fans included Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Colleen Dewhurst. http://theater.nytimes.com/mem/theater/treview.html?res=9802EFD6133BF934A35754C0A964948260 .
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So why do I fear the possibility of Drawn & Quarterly licensing one of my favorite manga? Because of how they publish their manga.
April 12, 2011 | 39 comments
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