my recently acquired love of cartoons

This all began last year in a class called What Makes a Classic taught by the wonderful Dr. Britt. We were working through a list of works that were “classic” or were about what makes something a “classic”. I was particularly concerned with the establishment of new works as classics. Time is always the ultimate judge, but I attempted to discern the rules that time used to judge classics (This was my final essay for the class if you are interested Classics and Standards Essay Short Form).

At the end of the class we moved into new media works, specifically the discussion of the comic book or graphic novel as a serious form of literature and how it can be worthy of preservation. Thus entered Chris Ware into my life, forever shifting my understanding of symbolic communication. He is the author of the, “Literary picturebook,” The Adventures of Jimmy Corrigan The Smartest Kid on Earth. This is the outside of the book (I hesitate to even call it the back).

Photo Mar 19, 9 21 59 PM
click it, it will get bigger so you can read it

It is a particularly sad and lonely book in more ways than one. I highly recommend it. You can buy it here.

I did not grow up reading comics and did not understand the cult-like following they had established in our culture. I did see many of the superhero movies (but they really don’t have the same effect of a comic).

In a typical novel all of the text looks pretty much the same.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat. Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis autem vel eum iriure dolor in hendrerit in vulputate velit esse molestie consequat, vel illum dolore eu feugiat nulla facilisis at vero eros et accumsan et iusto odio dignissim qui blandit praesent luptatum zzril delenit augue duis dolore te feugait nulla facilisi. Nam liber tempor cum soluta nobis eleifend option congue nihil imperdiet doming id quod mazim placerat facer possim assum. Typi non habent claritatem insitam; est usus legentis in iis qui facit eorum claritatem. Investigationes demonstraverunt lectores legere me lius quod ii legunt saepius. Claritas est etiam processus dynamicus, qui sequitur mutationem consuetudium lectorum. Mirum est notare quam littera gothica, quam nunc putamus parum claram, anteposuerit litterarum formas humanitatis per seacula quarta decima et quinta decima. Eodem modo typi, qui nunc nobis videntur parum clari, fiant sollemnes in futurum.

You might glance down and read a word, maybe even grab a whole sentence, but it doesn’t really build anticipation. All the anticipation is built into the story itself, which is all fine and dandy, but what if you can build a story with words (like a normal novel) and with images.

There is a clearly a lot more potential in ways to build/read/experience a story.

In most American comics the panels read left to right because we are culturally conditioned to do so, but we are not strictly limited to this arbitrary limitation.

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The book does not even retain a typical story structure. There are no page numbers. There is no strict order. You are free to roam the story, connecting the symbols, interpreting and reinterpreting the text as new discoveries are made. You may even discover connections that were unintended (as literature teachers the world over are wont to do). Though this book is probably the most complex in terms of symbolic integration, there is another comic that I found, oddly enough, on a list of The Classics curated by the staff at The Verge.

It is called Transmetropolitan written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Darick Robertson.

Photo Feb 26, 9 01 04 PM Photo Mar 19, 8 35 21 PM Photo Mar 19, 8 36 09 PM Photo Mar 19, 8 36 59 PM Photo Mar 19, 8 38 48 PMThese are a few selections of pages from the comic. It definitely is not for children and asks some pretty interesting questions covering questions appropriate for a rogue, talented journalist (Jerusalem Spider // the guy in the top hat). The story is set in the not so distant future and confronts what happens when we unfreeze the cryogenically frozen people from the past or upload ourselves onto the web or merge ourselves physically with our digital technology. Science fiction is not all about laser swords and space whores.

We can look at the past and the future in the format of comics. We can move rapidly between these time frames. Chris ware says we will still be lonely humans, ultimately isolated no matter how we connect. Transmetropolitan says that we will wish we were isolated from all those solitary, nasty, brutish, and poor folks who roam our ball of dirt. Scott McCloud (who I found out stole the idea I had today for stories that move in all directions and managed to develop it, at least conceptually, after going back in time a few years…) presents in Time Frames a comic world in which there are multiple futures (could there be multiple pasts…?) and recursive stories or time loops which we are unable to perceive unless we become unstuck in time like Billy Pilgrim.

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Or we could read a comic book.


About Adam

I am an architecture undergrad @ Virginia Tech with an interest in emergent and interactive design.
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