>You Are Mini-Comics Creator

>Here are a couple of pages from my mini-comic, You Are Mini-Comics Creator (2005).

Jonathan Silpayamanant: You Are Mini-Comics Creator

Since Neil Cohn called me out on the claim that imageless comics are just what we call a “book,” I thought I’d offer my own counter-example to the apparent lack of imageless comics.
Kenneth Koch: The Art of the Possible! Comics Mainly Without Pictures

Neil mentioned the experimental poet, Kenneth Koch, and posted a link to a vid clip of one of his lectures with Charles Hatfield at the 2004 ComiCon about one of Koch’s books, The Art of the Possible! Comics Mainly Without Pictures (Soft Skull Press, 2003).

David Lasky: The RavenNeil also linked a post from MadInkBeard, where Derik Badman disusses the work of David Lasky, in particular Lasky’s comics adaption of Poe’s “The Raven” in the Orchid anthology (Sparkplug Comic Books, 2002).

So we have what are ostensibly the works of three creators (if I do not so humbly include my own) that prima facie demonstrate the existence of imageless comics. But really, as the tired adage goes, “the exception prove the rule.” I explicitely created my mini (as well as its companion piece, “in memoriam John Cage”) to prove my claim about the absence of imageless comics, false. But does this give us good reason, ala McCloud, to not talk about what is essential to comics: namely the sequence of images. While both Neil and perhaps Derik may disagree with McCloud and me, I question the fact that any of these examples are really imageless (for the record, Derik doesn’t claim the Lasky work is without images, only that they play a very small role in it).

Not really wanting to get into this too deeply (since the whole idea of pointing out the paucity of imageless comics was tangential to the main issue I was making in a previous post) I’d rather pose some questions. And let’s leave aside the whole problematic of text being very specific types of images.

The questions are:
1) Are any of the examples above really imageless?
2) If we omit the text from the latter two examples, would the pages be imageless?
3) Is my example actually imageless?
4) What are all those lines and blocked shapes then? Sure, we may call them the “frame,” or just simply call them “panels” and “word/thought balloons,” in other words, just the bearers or containers of the images (which, if I’m not mistaken, is Neil’s hypothesis).
5) Was Scott McCloud just talking bunk when he stated that two black squares, side-by-side, constitutes comics or a “map of time?”

I’ll just give some preliminary and quick remarks–though I don’t consider this discussion closed by any means. Books are generally used to bear or frame what we might call “linguistic images” (or maybe “lexical images”). These are obviously different than what we might call “pictorial images” or, if we need, sequential art. I don’t think most of us have a problem with distinguishing between the two, but for now I’m going to leave it at this.

If you want an excellent overview of the traditional debate between “text” and “image,” you could do a lot worse than reading W.J.T. Mitchell’s Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology or reading a number of the essays found at the online magazine of visual narrative, Image and Narrative.

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7 thoughts on “>You Are Mini-Comics Creator

  1. >Ok, I’ll bite:1) Are any of the examples above really imageless?That all depends on how one defines “image”. At a really strict level, no they aren’t imageless. On a more general level of comics convention, then really only my example, the Lasky, has images.2) If we omit the text from the latter two examples, would the pages be imageless?3) Is my example actually imageless? Ditto above.4) What are all those lines and blocked shapes then? Sure, we may call them the “frame,” or just simply call them “panels” and “word/thought balloons,” in other words, just the bearers or containers of the images (which, if I’m not mistaken, is Neil’s hypothesis). I think that within a conventional comic reading mindset those elements are part of the landscape. Someone would say “Where are the pictures?” The same as if someone hung up framed pieces of white paper in a gallery.5) Was Scott McCloud just talking bunk when he stated that two black squares, side-by-side, constitutes comics or a “map of time?”I think that may be taking it too far, particularly the “map of time”. Even in a comic two juxtaposed panels will not necessarily show the passing of time.Thanks for pointing out the Koch book, I’ll have to look that up.

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  2. >Hey Derik,I think that within a conventional comic reading mindset those elements are part of the landscape. Someone would say “Where are the pictures?” The same as if someone hung up framed pieces of white paper in a gallery.Yeah, this has always been one of those areas that “avant garde” artists have explored, if only to break donw the barrier between what would be considered, to use the relevant example, an image or not an image.The monochromatic paintings of the color field painters and minimalists are the obvious culprits–but what happens when a painter, like Rauschenburg, paints a canvas white? I’ve stretched some black canvas over a frame myself, so there’s no need for me to paint it black, ala Ad Reinhardt.Doe we make the distinction between a “painting” and just a stretched piece of canvas merely by the work put into it by the artist-i.e. the actual usage of brush strokes–and if that’s the case then would the something be a painting if an artist painted a canvas with an “empty” brush (i.e. a brush with no paint on it)?Te get back to comics–what it if is a textless comic about the passage of time of a white wall? It’s a conceivable (if not necessarily an intersesting) comic. But it’s also one that would require no work (other than the drawing of panels) of the comics creator.I think that may be taking it too far, particularly the “map of time”. Even in a comic two juxtaposed panels will not necessarily show the passing of time.Right–and McCloud goes to great lengths to talk about, for example, the difference between how manga uses seperate panels of an entire scene (similar in function to the establishing longshot in film and a number of Western comics). There’s not necessarily a depiction of time, but of space.And to be fair, McCloud did use the two black sqare example to ask whether or not the “sequence” depicts one sqare at two points in time, or just two squares in different places.Thanks for pointing out the Koch book, I’ll have to look that up.Not a problem, but it’s Neil Cohn you should thank and not me.Cheers

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  3. >I guess the question is also, is a black square an image? Or a blue rectangle (I love Yves Klein, but I don’t think his monochromes are really images)?I may have to try my hand at a color field comic…I’d still like to think that an unworked stretched pice of canvas does not constitute a picture (I titled my original post “pictureless comics” because image seems too generic. Can we see something if it isn’t an image? Things get too complicated with these abstract words.”To get back to comics–what it if is a textless comic about the passage of time of a white wall? It’s a conceivable (if not necessarily an intersesting) comic.”I think there would be some other element of the structure that would have to give us the “white wall” concept. Without context, two white panels are blank to me (and I imagine to just about everyone else).”And to be fair, McCloud did use the two black sqare example to ask whether or not the “sequence” depicts one sqare at two points in time, or just two squares in different places.”It’s a bad comic if we can’t tell.”Not a problem, but it’s Neil Cohn you should thank and not me.”Whoops, thanks to Neil. (Whose book I’ll be posting on eventually.)I think my point in all this is that a)context matters and b)a picture/image-less comic is a kind of… crap, what’s the name of a thing you can never quite reach, only get closer and closer (like the old Zeno’s arrow tale).

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  4. >I’ll second the notion that context matters. My theory on balloons and panels is that, yes, they are partially only containers of the images (or text) (this is from my essay Interactions and Interfaces. However, I also note that there are two planes of reading that are interacting there: the Framing Plane (FP), which has those containers, and the Representational Plane (RP), which has the “content.”The thing is though, that these two planes might be able to pinch togther. So, if the “panel borders” are a part of the fictive universe of the page, they no longer belong to the FP, but to the RP. This is only determinable by the context.Incidentally, I should also note that my intentions for pointing out an example like this isn’t to say that images are or aren’t essential to comics. Rather, I do it to show that the structural features are not what define comics at all, because so many variations exist.

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  5. >I guess the question is also, is a black square an image? Or a blue rectangle (I love Yves Klein, but I don’t think his monochromes are really images)?Yeah, right–you brought raised that with:That all depends on how one defines “image”. At a really strict level, no they aren’t imageless. On a more general level of comics convention, then really only my example, the Lasky, has images.I think Neil’s distinction between Framing Plane and Representational Plane is just putting the point a little more technically (sorry Neil–it’s been months since I’ve read your “Interactions and Interfaces” essay–I only had some vague recollections about some of the ways you addressed and defined the usage of panels/text balloons).Whether a black square is or is not an image doesn’t really seem to be too important to me-but whether it is a “representational image” or a “non-representational image” as opposed to a “non-image” might be a more useful set of distinctions, maybe? I’m going to have to go back and re-read that essay Neil, because you might have already clarified some of things I’m sorting through here (and I apologize in advance if I make some assumptions about where some of your work might have led because of what you’ve posted here).I’m starting to feel echoes of Magritte as I think and type about this. But given how Neil defines the (FP) and (RP), if we have an image of a black square (or a close-up of an Ad Reinhard painting in a square panel if you want to look at it that way), it would fall into the (RP); but if it’s not an image of a black square then it would fall into the (FP). Regardless of which it is, within the context of a comic, it’s going to mean something–it’ll just mean something different depending on how we interpret it or–dare I say it–depending on what the author intended.I guess what I was trying to highlight is that we don’t just see (or hear or smell or whatever) “images” but we see “images of x.” So yeah, the black square may or may not be an “image of x,”–to paraphrase Magritte, “This is not a square.”I’d still like to think that an unworked stretched pice of canvas does not constitute a picture (I titled my original post “pictureless comics” because image seems too generic. Can we see something if it isn’t an image? Things get too complicated with these abstract words.Too true. And now that I think about it–I think I keep wanting to use “images” becuase I have a relatively broad definition of it. For example, we can see “linguistic images” (i.e. text); we can hear “linguistic images” (i.e. spoken language). So it’s a bit of a metaphorical extension, but this is the way alot of people studying the neurology of perception refer to those ephemeral mental objects in our heads. It’s a usage that was a reaction to the “propositional accounts” of mental cognition which was roughly the idea that we don’t experience depictive imagery but only have lists of propositions or “linguistic images” (as some of the charitable might grant).As far as the context idea is concerned–I’m thinking about how some of the early 20th century avant garde painters started using “generic” titles like “Composition No. 1” (the Fluxus artists from the 60’s did the same) just so that they could move away from the associations that normally accompany the usage of a less abstact title for a work.For example, I could title my comic book with “blank” panels:”Portrait of a Temporal Process as a New White Wall”and that would give all the context needed for a different set of interpretations than what I would get if I left the comic untitled.b)a picture/image-less comic is a kind of… crap, what’s the name of a thing you can never quite reach, only get closer and closer (like the old Zeno’s arrow tale).Maybe just a “Zeno’s Paradox?”Incidentally, I should also note that my intentions for pointing out an example like this isn’t to say that images are or aren’t essential to comics. Rather, I do it to show that the structural features are not what define comics at all, because so many variations exist.I’m seeing your point more and more Neil. I also think some of the examples we’ve been discussing (or having thought experiments about) are also instructive in showing us how far the structural features can go before we can no longer even consider something to be a “comic.”I’m going to have to re-read your articles (and read some of the new ones).And Derik, I look forward to reading what you have to say about Neil’s book.

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  6. >And now that I think about it–I think I keep wanting to use “images” becuase I have a relatively broad definition of it. For example, we can see “linguistic images” (i.e. text); we can hear “linguistic images” (i.e. spoken language). So it’s a bit of a metaphorical extension, but this is the way alot of people studying the neurology of perception refer to those ephemeral mental objects in our heads. It’s a usage that was a reaction to the “propositional accounts” of mental cognition which was roughly the idea that we don’t experience depictive imagery but only have lists of propositions or “linguistic images” (as some of the charitable might grant).In an odd sort of way, this reminds me of the way “object” is used in old Buddhist dharma theory… “object of sight,” “object of sound,” “object of mind” etc…Oh, and don’t necessarily jump on my essays for my account! Although… I’d be curious what you have to say for some of the new ones. I know that I had been developing several of them back before you took your web-hiatus, so you might find somewhat familiar things in there.

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  7. >In an odd sort of way, this reminds me of the way “object” is used in old Buddhist dharma theory… “object of sight,” “object of sound,” “object of mind” etc…Haha–that’s not surprising. See I was born in Thailand, and my primary caregiver here in the states has been my Thai mother. Ever since I started formally studying Buddhism intellectually I’ve come to realize how much of the Therevada tradition I’ve absorbed because of my interaction with my mother. It was surprising to me at first, but then I think about the fact that I can recall and talk about Jataka tales and the episodes from the Ramakien just as easily if not more easily than stories from the Bible; or just some of the ways that I interact with people because of the “manners” I was taught, and it all makes sense that I’m to some extent a product of a Buddhist upraising.Oh, and don’t necessarily jump on my essays for my account!Not a problem Neil–it would make discussion between us much more smooth if I didn’t have to half-ass make up what I remember from reading them way back when.Although… I’d be curious what you have to say for some of the new ones.I just commented on one of them at your forum.I know that I had been developing several of them back before you took your web-hiatus, so you might find somewhat familiar things in there.Yup, some of the ideas came up at your forum back then, so some of it did seem familiar. Glad to see you’ve been keeping busy with your work and research–and your articles are always a very pleasurable and interesting read even if I seem to disagree with most of your ideas. For me–the important part is that they give me something new to think about–or a new way to think about something that’s not so new (like comics).

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