Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why I Make Comics: Still Exploring Their Potential

 Click to enlarge images.

Perhaps you've figured it out; the art at Bungy Notes skews toward comics and cartoons.  I like creative illustration and caricature; I like the blending of ink-work with digital image manipulation.  But I find most mainstream comics, well, disappointing. I tend to prefer the experimental in comics, from wordless and story-less abstract comics to surreal underground indie comix, from poemics to visualized memoirs.  I promise this is not (just?) hip snobbery.  I have my guilty pleasures in the mainstream (Image being one of my favorite publishers).  But I dive into the margins of comics in part because I am always looking for further evidence of what comics can do.

In David Cronenberg's film Existenz, the topic is not comics but video games, although even this is a metaphor.  He observes, though, that in film and video gaming we've yet to see what these media can really do.  I tend to agree.  As a culture, we get locked into certain preferences for what the conventions of a particular medium should be.  Hell, we even teach them in the pre-professional training components of higher education.  What would it mean to abandon those conventions and see what else the medium can do?

Scott McCloud (among others) has persuasively shown different cultural trends in comics across cultures, contrasting US trends with those in Europe and Asia.  One can certainly argue with these distinctions, or better still, track the on-going cross-pollination of comic forms from culture to culture.  The larger point, however, is that comics may develop particular visual languages, but those languages are not the only way to do comics.

In Reinventing Comics, McCloud suggested that the Internet would revolutionize comics, both at the level of marketing/production and at the level of creative process.  While I think some of his more bizarre predictions have not (yet?) come to pass, it is clearly true that the Internet has been good for comics.  More and more, bloggers and other web-content producers are embracing an imperative in this medium for visual communication.  Rare is the blog that is purely textual anymore (or maybe I just refuse to follow blogs that don't include visual content).  Often, this visual content takes a comics form.

Fascinating explanation of time and culture using a
medium that often emphasizes the various way
time passes and moves in narrative.

As I continue to explore as critic and creator what comics can do, I am inspired by a variety of trends: comics for visualizing data, multi-panel comics for political argument, comics for explaining processes, comics for phenomenological expression, comics for...(fill in the blank).

And yes, comics (my own and others) do make for interesting blog content.  See, for example, this prescient comparison of Aldous Huxley to George Orwell for what comics can do in linking literature to contemporary socio-political concerns.  To me, this is more than simply illustration; the combination of words and line art contribute to the synthesis/contrast of these writers.  And the conclusion is, well, chilling. 

The popular perception is that comics are "simple," that they are reductive and do not offer any depth.  Comics are a sign of a decline in our culture?  I could not disagree more.  Or, at least, I contend that the potential of comics as both art and cultural commentary has not yet been fully explored.  This is not to say that folks aren't exploring comics, but just to assert that there is still undiscovered territory.  Here at Bungy Notes, I'll continue to use comics (and other visual messages and forms) as part of the discourse.  Consider that a promise.

(And yes, the comics on this page -- but not the video or movie poster -- are all my original work.)

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