Saturday, March 28, 2009

More on Image + Text

As a follow-up, here's that completed demo done in-class at the Bear Gallery of the one-page vignette: culled from at least eight different sources + a few of the "6 Word Stories" (including an extra line that somehow materialized during the process). I touched it up as a grayscale in Photoshop; adding just a bit of value, nothing fancy, minor cleanup here & there, but pretty much just as it appeared on Bristol. The sampled images have been remixed and heavily edited so as to be completely divorced from their source material; zoomed-in, cropped, flipped, combined or otherwise altered . Plus there's the factor that the appropriations in this drawing are "substantially reworked" enough to constitute a "transformative" work versus a "derivative" work.
Transformative use
"... does not 'supersede' or duplicate the objective of the original, but uses it as raw material in a novel way to create new information, new aesthetics and new insights. Such use, whether successful or not artistically, is transformative."
Simply put, a drawing of something put into the context of a distinctly different medium - in this case the vignette - begins to assume an entirely different meaning. Now the meaning behind this piece in particular, as I've already mentioned, is an largely a demonstration of a class exercise, one that I hope spurs some independent exploration for their own pages. It shows how unexpected surprises arises when you let go of tightly scripted narratives and self-conscious creativity; it's just a fun little refresher that circles back in turn to loosen up my own works.
I actually dug the ambiguity of both some of the individual pictures and also the dis/congruity when juxtaposed against the words; entirely new directions can be taken with a seemingly benign image of say a teapot for example, a single cup, and the words "... and nobody showed." Awww...

Brings up a musing over an article and series of local presentations about the recent collaborative works in the book “Double Moon: Constructions and Conversations” between artist Margo Klass and writer Frank Soos.
In the interview about the interplay between their two spheres of creativity, Klass said:
“We wanted the idea of words and images together...” and “...visual language would be a doorway to where verbal language was going to be explored...” and “The idea is to come up with one’s own meaning, to interpret it individually, and that’s what has happened...”

Sounds rather familiar to those of us in sequential art, and brings up a rather amusing and ironic perspective from someone who's had a foot in both worlds for many years now. On one hand this is exciting to read about, hear of and see the "fine arts" world embracing this new medium and taking advantage of the creative possibilities.
On the other hand, this is exactly the type of work that has been being produced by comic artists for quite some time - first in America, then Europeans and most recently the Japanese have all successively elevated it into an artform. Stuff like this pokes my jaded cynicism over what looks like yet another example of snooty elitism within the territorial pissings of the art world; fortunately the phenomenal ascendancy of "graphic novels" in contemporary pop culture has firmly established the legitimacy of this medium in both literary and visual arts. So hey, that's cool; it's all good, the more folks that draw from the well (pardon the pun) the better. In fact, I dug up some preliminary sketches (shown here) done years back when Klass' work (juxtaposed with text from a poem by Arlitia Jones) just so happened to be in the Bear gallery during another field trip, and my class incorporated her pieces into that semester's vignettes. I got a chance to show them to the artist herself, as I really enjoyed her show, and she seemed very receptive and graciously pleased at the results of the class assignment and the student's interpretation of her work.

Mini-rant aside, I've already mulled over the relationship between image + text on an earlier posting, and what the role congruity/discongruity has with single-panel cartoons and how humor can arise from the perceived contrast between the writing and the drawing. This observation can extended even further when one considers the simple physical fact that all the works displayed in a gallery are essentially on this continuum (and yes, this does mean I have a tendency to look at everything as a cartoon). Extra depth in meaning can be gotten from the deliberate titling, or captioning, these works - unless the creator bails out and defaults to the generally worthless "Untitled." Even conscious obfuscation with cryptic, nonsensical or pointless words provides a final gesture from the artist; often it is the last best chance to manipulate the viewer towards a specific, intended interpretation or reaction to the piece, like a signpost if you will.

Then there's all the additional conceptual interplay when captions and text boxes are introduced within a panel and 1st or 3rd person narration is used in combination with the symbolic language of comics like balloons and such. The possibilities and power of using this rich and visually complex medium continue to fascinate me on many levels; "what's going on?" and "how does this work" are the hallmarks of creative curiosity that keeps rewarding investigations and repeated viewings. Every once in a while I remember to just simply enjoy it for what it's worth too, and stop pole-vaulting over moose turds..

As a related side-note, I just finished re-reading the original "Watchmen" graphic novel (by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins) after watching the movie for a second time in the theater. After getting over my initial resentments (akin to when Peter Jackson pissed all over my childhood with his version of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" movies) and grudgingly conceding that the two mediums are vastly different species only distantly related (at best), it brings up the sharp distinction how comics operate as opposed to the spoon-fed special effects of modern cinema. Case in point being how the arrangement and size of the very panels in the comic shape the pacing of the story far more effectively than the sledgehammer approach of director Zack Snyder in his adaptation. The movie has to be judged on its own merits and aside from the original source, and in my humble opinion, in the case of adaptations taken from pure text, rarely rises to the same level of aesthetic enjoyment that anyone with half an imagination can come up with on their own. Again, the Watchmen movie relied in most instances and almost shot-by-shot copying of the comic scenes, but made some baffling choices as to when, where and why to deviate from the book. Yeah, I have to admit I'm a purist; personally it's the difference between eroticism and pornography, and so 99% of the time I prefer the books to the movies.

So back to the dynamic relationship between pictures & words; a sophisticated language using its own secret codes begins to evolve, and these visual and written elements interplay with and influence the actions or subject matter depicted. Scott McCloud explores this complexity at length in his latest volume "Making Comics" - he's the world's leading theoretician in these matters, and the two samples here illustrate exactly what I'm encouraging the students in my class to experiment with in their critique pieces. My demo posted above shows how with the "Six Word Story" vignette, to varying degrees almost all of these relationships are present, especially #5/Interdependent and #6/Parallel. What geeky fun - this is the sort of stuff that intrigues me to no end.

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