Sunday, November 12, 2006

Graphic Subtext

I've spent the last couple of days in bed, sleeping off a bad cold. In my few waking hours, I kept myself entertained by reading Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis:The Story of a Return, both graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi, an outspoken, punkish Iranian woman, regarded by many as one of the best in a medium too often thought of as a dirt-poor cousin of mainstream literature. Told in simple and expressive images and sometimes brilliant dialogue, the Persepolis stories are an intimate, funny, and unsettling memoir about growing up in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. Read The Independent newspaper's frank, fuck-you profile of Satrapi – Princess of Darkness – to know more.When I was a kid, I devoured comic books – the usual Wonder Woman and Catwoman, as well as schlock-horror 70s' classics such as Vampirella. I've just finished reading my boyfriend's complete collections of Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan, featuring the drug-addled, seditious, misanthropic, Hunter Thompson-like journalist, Spider Jerusalem, maybe the most appealing contemporary anti-hero since Hellblazer's John Constantine, and David Mack's superbly drawn yet twisted Japanese morality tales of abused young women, espionage, yakuza and assasination, entitled Kabuki. Although very different from each other, both were like having movies play inside my head. Unlike movies, they could be consumed in snatches, wherever and whenever I wanted. They lasted longer and were, ultimately, a lot more satisfying.
I first came across dense, paper-bound volumes of highly sexual and violent manga in Osaka and Tokyo, in 1993. They were a minor source of inspiration for my earliest paintings. More recently, I've discovered the more literary, mainly British and North American graphic novels that interest me most. At their best, they feel like a new way of both reading and seeing: an intricate visual narrative with pared-down dialogue and elemental, mythic characters that infect your subconscious like a virus. They work the way good art should (but rarely does).

3 comments:

crybaby said...

"The Maxx" by Sam Keith changed my life.

Jules Faber said...

Growing up on a farm, I was mesmerised by comicbooks - mostly of the Marvel stable, as back in the 80s it was much harder to get decent comicbooks out in the country.

However, they led me into a world from which I have never retreated. I produce comicbook work now and it remains for me, the very first artistic love of my life. It's what I will always return to after taking breaks away, and I know that this will be the case for the rest of my life. (When there are foms of art I will never return to).

There is so much scope with comics to not only be an artist per se, but a writer as well. Not to mention the breakdown of comicbook work that allows people to ink each others pencils, write characters for artists and artists themselves to experiment with various forms of art with little risk. This dissection continues through to laying out a story and the inevitable link to storyboarding.

I taught comicbook illustration to TAFE students and was always taken by how passionate they were about telling their stories. Much more so than the semi-glazed expressions encountered during animation classes (ironically).

Comics will always be, and have always been as forms of artwork, as storytelling vehicles and just as a means of expression away from the snooty upper crust of the 'art world'. It's no wonder that those same snooty folk look down upon comics, when in truth, comics have been alongside the entire time - and in fact, were around in other forms long before 'art' itself was recognised.

Comics are now finally coming into their own (in the west) with cinema and expansive comic stores. The biggest crowd-pulling films these days mostly have their origins in a comicbook or story or, at least, in design.

It's an artform that can't go away, because it has belonged from Day One.

alex said...

hear hear..

if education - and storytelling i.e. the myths of any society that allow us to understand why we are here (or at least accept there's no rhyme or reason)- has any hope of surviving, graphic representation will be essential. not surprised animation didn't engage as much as it doesn't require one to.. engage, or animate.. we have imaginations that cry out for fodder.

graphic version of Paul Auster's City of Glass - brilliant.