It’s been a long time since a defense of comics as a medium of expression has been necessary. You might not like Zot, but Understanding Comics was the defense that the medium had long been waiting for.
I’d argue that it stands in the same place that a lot of scientific research does. It explains and concretely addresses the instinctive notions that many of us have about the world that we live in. They may not necessarily say anything new, but they allow those things that we already thought we knew to be said with some sense of objective truth backing them.
As in all disciplines, because of the constant shifting of paradigms, after a certain amount of time, readers may struggle to see how the seemingly antiquated thesis put forth by an author or researcher breaks any ground. Today’s comics world in the United States can be seen to have reached that point. A 2011 reader of Understanding Comics might see the work to be not much more than a well thought out statement of seemingly self-evident truths. Well of course, it’s over 20 years old! In my eyes, It’s a good thing that the universality of comics is genuinely seen to be a self-evident truth of comics.
How can I say this? What justifiable evidence do I have that isn’t tarnished with the bias of a publishers dirty money?
Well, simply look at Rage Comics and Image Macros. They’re One panel gags and simple strips and people love them. They use them, they make them, they share them, they change them, hell, when they’re good they even print them out!
For you folks that have been living under a rock lined with original pages of Gasoline Alley, here’s what we come the consensus that these two things are.
The Rage Comic
“Web comics with characters, sometimes referred to as “rage faces”, that are often created with simple drawing software such as MS Paint. The comics are typically used to tell stories about real life experiences, and end with a humorous punchline. It has become increasingly popular to create the comics using web applications often referred to as “rage comic generators” or “rage makers” (Know Your Meme)
I once saw John Porcellino in Pittsburgh give a talk about poetry and comics.
He spoke about the universal difficulty that we have as humans in making connections with others via our creations. Are we expressing things right? Will it matter to anyone? Will anyone read this? With a chuckle he went on and discussed how he had discovered a magnificent fact about humans.
When presented a poem, most people would opt to not read it. Draw them the poem and they all read it. All of ’em.
Besides being a core driving element of Porcellino’s work in minimal line poetry, it’s got a lot to do with the online explosion of rage comics. Honestly, how likely are you going to read about someone’s awkward encounter with a cashier at a bowling alley or insights gained while showering?
If someone draws, I promise you, you’ll be far more inclined to read it.
Here are some examples. I’ve included a couple of comics for those who don’t know much about these comics. If you’re already acquainted with them, feel free to scroll down
The Image Macro
On internet forums and imageboards, image macros are used to emphasize a certain phrase (often an Internet meme) by superimposing it over a related picture. Although they come in many forms, the most common type of image macro is a photograph with large text superimposed in Impact font, using all upper case letters and coloured white with a thin black outline. (Wikipedia)
Interestingly in a manner similar to gif responses, macros flesh out text with uniquely specific tones. Macros allow for intentional tone to come across clearly in communication online without folks having to have any metacommentary and to maintain an even level of discourse. While amibiguity is possible, it’s less likely.
An important element of these image macros and rage comics is that they also give the voice of joke and allow for multidimensional jokes to exist in few words. This ties in to the notion that in order for humor to be successful it needs to do three things. not be mundane (the less mundane the better), has to carry some kind of information that we are learning (the more aspects the better), and it has to be understood quickly (the quicker the better). In the case of image macros, the immediacy lent by the combination of text and image is superior to any text only set up. The multidimensionality can be seen when we see recontextualization and alteration of images.
One variant of these Macros would be the Advice Animals. Each animal has a personality that is created by the collective. Variations of one animal create subsequent animals which have differing personas. Here are some examples.
I feel quite confident in saying that what we’re dealing with here are comics free from cartooning. People are taking existing images and juxtaposing them, sequentially and creating narratives. While someone has to have photographed or illustrated the images used in both image macros and rage comics, as a whole creators are not creating the images that they are using.
I see the Rage Comics as a modern form of picture writing, where the writing utilizes the ability to copy and paste to its full potential. There’s no need to describe emotional reactions with words because they are captured by the embedded images.
Now, after all of that, this digital behavior might still seem infantile and unoriginal. The content of it, might end up unimportant in the long run, but the semiotic strategies that are being used are of because they relate to the thing that is essential about humans: communication. What better than to have one more way to reassure us that we are not alone in our experiences on this earth?
Comics-wise, it is important to take note of these developing picture writing trends because they further evidence the universality of picture writing and sequential narratives. As it stands these two patterns of story telling and character creation are being built upon comic’s established framework. Quite literally, many of these comics depend heavily on traditional frames. What’s special about these generalized faces and expressions is that by their repeated use and constant recontextualization, they are becoming the semantic units of a greater image language that can communicate in new ways!
In the past 4 years, there has been a widespread development, across English speaking users to utilize the format of the Rage Comic. While often vapid, there are incredible comics done by users that use the structures of the comics and the expected payoffs in extraordinary ways.
I wanted to post to merely let all of you who follow the Crinkled Comics Blog that I’d be writing a little expository piece on these comics and the memetic propagation of highly developed visual grammatical constructions on the internet.
I’ll touch upon Image Macros and Rage Comics together given that the comics function as multipanel systems and the image macros function in ways similar to single panel gags.
It won’t get too fancy and I promise that I won’t ruin the fun of them by over analyzing. I just want to write my thoughts on them publicly.
You’ve been forewarned!
I’ll be honest with you, Batman bores me unless he’s drawn by Bruce Timm. Ok, ok, you’ve got others like Mazzucchelli and Josh Simmons that also make Batman stories that blow the competition out of the water, but Timm distills and re-contextualizes the essence of Batman and the world of Gotham in his drawings spectacularly in a way that I’ve seen no other artist capable of replicating.
When I was a kid I grew up watching Timm’s creations, Batman the Animated Series and Batman Beyond. They were available for viewing on Cartoon Network both in Venezuela and in the States so I was weaned on those stories and on Timm’s aesthetic.
I’m writing this post because of a post I read a while back on Bruce Timm’s Color Guides. It brought Timm back into my life and it had me scouring the web for more images. Unfortunately I haven’t found much that has satisfied me. Most of it was pin ups. Hell, simply Google Image Search “Bruce Timm” and 60% of the results are busty babes. Honestly, that shit’s boring. But his comics? Holy hell are they great! Too bad there aren’t too many scans out there. Take a peek:
In his work there’s a beautiful distillation of character that moves towards a genuine iconography. What better way to handle these mythological characters than with a deserved minimalism? While most stories in the world of comics have moved towards the razzle dazzle of photorealistim, Timm was doing some pure cartooning. This distillation of character parallels the distilled story-arcs both in the comics and the animation. Interestingly, Timm consciouusly told everyone on the Animated Series project to never touch Batman’s origin story. Batman’s story of tortured vengeance is so deeply entrenched in American culture that to go over the origins. Instead, Timm places the viewer in medias res in such a way that I’m reminded of Jim Woodring’s Unifactor and the myth of Sisyphus. There’s constant suffering and anguish, and the efforts are for naught. The moment one villain is safely put away in Arkham, another is let loose or another is born. The universe of Gotham is reset to its natural state.There’s never any development of justice and what better way to show this iconic sense of eternal cycling through pain than the iconic world that Timm appropriated and redesigned in the ’90s?
His figures are carved out along flowing forms of organic solidity. The bodies flow effortlessly, but the way in which Timm depicts their mass(particularly Batman’s) lends the acts to become even more impressive and acrobatic. There’s a real satisfying sense of gravity and force in his drawings.It’s my belief that in these drawings, the adherence to formal structure and simplicity allow the flowing human form to really take the spotlight.
Additionally, the coloring is extremely strong and crucial to the series’ success. Long gone are the days of the 4 Color Process, but it’s impact is readily felt when one flips through quality colored comics of the superhero variety. Timm’s color work channels the principles that allow for a bold solidity to register on the page and on the screen. These stories have to be iconic. They have to fit in a place in our minds that and its color and an adherence to formal visual structures that lend themselves to this iconicity.
In line with this, the story has to act as a map and cluttered frames with garish coloring distract from that. They prevent the story from being internalized and effectively taking advantage of the comics medium’s strength. The artist is doing too much of the reader’s work. It becomes nothing but entertainment at that point.
What’s wrong with that? Simply put, I’m not looking to simply be entertained when I read comics. I want something to chew on past the narrative, even if it’s a mainstream DC or Marvel story.
Sharing this appreciation we have the lovely folks at Fuck Yeah Bruce Timm! who put together a little tumblr that celebrates Timm’s illustrations.
Additionally, I found a copy of the Writer’s Guide to the Animated Series over at Comic Book Resources. Check it out if you’re interested in.
Here’s a selection of morsels for you to chew on for now:
Have you come across any Timm illustrations that you’d like to share? Leave some links and thoughts in the comments.
Almost finished with the semester.
You can count on drawings to be posted soon. For now, let’s bask in the vivaciousness of the following two animations by Norman Mclaren and Evelyn Lambart.
The following animation and its accompanying audio were both created by hand by painting and scratching the film.
Albert Ammons and Norman Mclaren team up to create this “boogie doodle”
then there’s the Oscar Peterson Trio’s work animated by Mclaren and Lambart.
And in a more contemporary note. You should check out Cyriak’s 2010 video “Cycles”. It’s a fun experimental video done digitally.
I’m just about wrapped up for the Fall Semester at Carnegie Mellon. Lots of work to complete before I go home, so for now all I’ve really got is link that you, my good reader, might enjoy.
Here’s a link to an image blog dedicated to the appreciation of the 4 color process of comics and the striking images that this analogue process creates combined with the artistic visions of the cartoonists who put them down into ink.
Additionally, here’s Supertype, Half Man Half Static’s solid little collection of high resolution titles from comic book covers. I see it as a good potential resource for lettering inspiration.
I’ve been drawing a bunch recently, but no story pictures. Sorry y’all, I’m too busy for that right now.
Here’s a preview of what you can check out at 4CP.
The mossy green on the top two-thirds of this image is a single, uniform, printed color. The darker areas and ghostly gutters and speech balloon come from the opposite side of the paper. When you’re on the lefthand page of a comic, this is the palimpsest effect; if you’re on the righthand page, it’s foreshadowing.