by Corry Shores
[Search Blog Here. Index tabs are found at the bottom of the left column.]
[Central Entry Director]
[Literature, Drama, and Poetry, Entry Directory]
[Graphic Literature, Entry Directory]
[Molotiu's Abstract Comics, Entry Directory]
[Below is a detail from the symbol text]
The top text in black is a series of shapes that seem to match one-for-one the series of lettering in the bottom red material that is in English. I have not checked all the text, but it seems from a quick inspection that the symbols follow a standard equivalence, which might be the following.
I am not entirely sure what the purpose is for duplicating the text in these shape-symbols. The only difference I have noticed is that at the end of the shape-symbol part the editor gives his initials in symbol, while in the English part he does not. Also, I did not find in the symbol section the English part's footnoted image credits. The shape-symbol section is also where most of the images are placed. In the rest of the text, Arabic numerals are not used on each page to indicate which one it is in the sequence. Instead, the shape-symbols stand in for each page's number. So one must keep in mind the equivalences to know which page is which. However the cartoonist's name and the work's title are given in Latin letters on each page.
Of course, abstract comics can be defined as sequential art consisting of abstract imagery, and indeed most of the pieces in this volume fit that definition squarely. But the definition should be expanded somewhat, to include those comics that contain some representational elements, as long as those elements do not cohere into a narrative or even into a unified narrative space; such a definition closely parallels that of "abstract film," and also has the great virtue of allowing us to file in the category R. Crumb's "Abstract Expressionist Ultra Super Modernist Comics" from 1967 (published in Zap no.1, and the first piece in this anthology) [...].
What does not fit under this definition are comics that tell straightforward stories in captions and speech balloons while abstracting their imagery either into vaguely human shapes, or even into triangles and squares. In such cases, the images are not different in kind, but only in degree, from the cartoony simplification of, say Carl Barks' ducks. Thus, the use of "abstract" here is specific to the medium of comics, and only partly overlaps with the way it is used in other fine arts. While in painting the term applies to the lack of represented objects in favor of an emphasis on form, we can say that in comics it additionally applies to the lack of a narrative excuse to string panels together, in favor of an increased emphasis on the formal elements of comics that, even in the absence of a (verbal) story, can create a feeling of sequential drive, the sheer rhythm of narrative or the rise and fall of a story arc. As this book attempts to be the first to chronicle, over the better part of the last century and with increasing frequency in recent years, cartoonists and other artists have played with the possibility of sequential art whose panels contain little to no representational imagery, or that tells no stories other than those resulting from the transformation and interaction of shapes across a comic page.
Between them, the artists investigate how every aspect of the mechanism of comics can be exploited and made the vehicle for sequential development - from the panel-to-panel play of abstract shapes that creates potent formal dramas (such as in the pieces by Lewis Trondheim or Andy Bleck), to the sequential potential of color (in pieces by Grant Thomas or Mark Gonyea), panel rhythm and page layout (for example in the contributions of Warren Craghead and Henrik Rehr), page-to-page rhythm (Jason Overby and Alexey Sokolin), and so on.
While openly an allegory of the Russian revolution, and also disqualified from our definition of "abstract comics" by the captions underneath each image, El Lissitzky's book nevertheless presented in the six pages of its story a graphic drama whose narrative arc, notwithstanding its allegorical aspects, relied on primarily formal transformations - specifically, from disorder to clarity and harmony.(iv)
Later in 1937, we see a sequential work by Wassily Kandinsky, Thirty, where the painting is broken into 30 panels, although there seems to be "no clear sequence" (iv).
In Jackson Pollock's Red Painting 1-7, circa 1950, "the relationship between the paintings seems to go beyond the more accepted notion of seriality (where the number of related pieces play variations on one pictorial theme) and toward a gradual transformation of form from image to | image that is not so different from what Kranz had achieved in his earlier picture series" (iv-v).
In his Black and White (San Francisco) (1960), Willem de Kooning "not only constructs a formal dynamism that carries us sequentially through the piece, but also fashions a simple narrative arc by differentiating the last panel, with its near-verticals, from the energetic diagonals of the first three drawings, thereby suggesting a kind of abstract punchline to his four-panel 'strip' " (v).
If de Kooning's piece only evokes the formal mechanism of a comic, the artists connected to the Pop movement addressed popular culture more directly. While Roy Lichtenstein's well-known transformations of comic-book imagery dismantled comic sequentiality by isolating individual panels and blowing them up into stand-alone paintings, Jasper Johns took the opposite tack in an early piece, doing away with recognizable figuration but still maintaining the the impression of sequence. In his painting Alley Oop of 1958 [...], he glued a Sunday Alley Oop newspaper strip to a canvass and painted it over, eliminating representational details and maintaining only larger areas of color which still suggest the shapes of word balloons or characters. The result is a visual impression of a comic strip, as seen perhaps from a distance or when squinting. Yet, perhaps due to our familiarity with the Sunday pages, the piece still reads, though we are only able to perceive the main dynamics of the images without recognizing any of their figurative content.
brought the graphic and painterly energy of American Abstract Expressionism together with a more European new figurality. In 1965 Alechinsky began subdividing the surface of his images, arranging abstract and near-abstract shapes in patterns clearly derived from sequential art (both from comics - which he readily acknowledges as an important source - and from medieval and Renaissance narrative painting series). In much of his work this subdivision has remained marginal, usually to be found along his paintings' borders or predellas; however, in several drawings made in 1977 [...], the arrangements of panels clearly imitated the layouts of bande dessinée pages, suggesting mysterious narratives that could only be guessed by the reader.
connection to popular culture negated the possibility of overt experimentation with abstract forms, abstract play and the sequencing of | formal events often snuck in, whether consciously intended by the artists or not. [...] In Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland of March 1, 1908 [...], Nemo and his companions are subjected to the counter-clockwise turning of the colonnaded hall that they are trying to traverse. the page establishes a strong graphic rhythm as the hall's vaulted ceiling appears as a blue wedge marking, as it were, from panel to panel an in reverse order, the times from 9 to noon. The contrasting brown-yellow-and-green columns undergo a movement already familiar to us from de Kooning's piece: beginning from a provisional state of balance in the first panel - a horizontality that may appear as visually stable, but that is countered both by the panel's asymmetry and by our commonsensical knowledge of how buildings are supposed to stand - they cycle through five more unbalanced states until they come to rest, vertically, symmetrically, and in accordance with the laws of architecture, in the last panel (last except for the usual small inset of Nemo waking up, that is), the wider size of which also marks a clear ending to the strip. While this graphic sequence is, of course, tightly enmeshed with the characters' own reactions to the fantastical goings on, it is in no way masked by them, and is indeed the first thing to be registered by the viewer's gaze when approaching the page, even before beginning to read it.(viii)
Molotiu continues "many of the most aesthetically satisfying comics can also be seen as, deep down, abstract comics, if one only looks at them in the right way. Besides gathering the best of the genre of abstract sequential art - or, rather, in the very act of doing so - this book attempts to cast the light that will enable such a look" (ix).