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Posts Tagged ‘comics’

Long Story Short: In the Studio with Aidan Koch

August 20, 2015 | by

Photo: Amanda Hakan

Photo: Amanda Hakan

On Aidan Koch’s cover for our Summer issue, six panels depict a woman lounging and reading and ruminating at the shore. Each panel exists both as a discrete event—here, she looks at her book; here, she shades her eyes—and as one sentence in a paragraph about the woman’s day at the beach. The issue also features Koch’s comic “Heavenly Seas,” the story of a woman who travels to a tropical location with a man she doesn’t love. It is twenty-eight pages long and contains just over a hundred words of dialogue and no narration. The difference between “Heavenly Seas” and the cover sequence is like the difference between Lydia Davis’s long short stories and her very short ones.

Koch, a native of Olympia, Washington, is the author of three book-length comics—The Whale, The Blonde Woman, and, most recently, Impressions. She also makes sculptures, ceramics, and textiles that reinterpret the classical motifs that appear in many of her comics. Her narratives are elliptical, fragmentary, and open-ended; it seemed appropriate to include “Heavenly Seas” in an issue that is largely about translation. Last month, I met Koch at her studio, in the basement of a tatty mansion she shares with eight other artists and a corn snake named Cleopatra, in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Where did the story for “Heavenly Seas” come from?

I’d been trying to think about how to utilize the idea of traveling. I’d read a couple of Paul Bowles books, and I liked how well he captured the mindset of how foreign places can seem to the traveler and how that’s seductive but also scary. He also thought about people’s attitudes in different countries and in confronting different cultures. That’s something I’d been considering, since it’s a big part of my life. I’ve been traveling constantly for the last three or four years. I left Portland in 2011 to travel and just didn’t stop. I went to Spain and Turkey, then I was in Scandinavia and around Europe. My book Field Studies documented 2012, when I lived in a different room in a different city every month, just because I didn’t know what to do with myself. I thought maybe I’d figure it out along the way. Read More »

Flower Voyeur: A Comic

July 28, 2015 | by

Thinking Through Images: An Interview with Nick Sousanis

July 20, 2015 | by

First idea map for Unflattening, April 14, 2011.

First idea map for Unflattening, April 14, 2011.

Everything about Unflattening is odd, from its ungainly title and unfashionable subject matter (Rudolf Arnheim art theory meets Herbert Marcuse radicalism meets Scott McCloud comics boosterism) to its provenance: Nick Sousanis initially wrote and drew this full-length comics essay as his graduate-school dissertation. (He was earning his doctorate in education at Teachers College Columbia University, studying under the philosopher and social activist Maxine Greene.)

Sousanis’s career might be considered a little odd, too. He followed up an undergraduate degree in mathematics with a brief stint as a professional tennis player, then cofounded and edited a cultural magazine in Detroit, while also working as an artist. This isn’t the typical career path for a cartoonist—though to be fair, that profession doesn’t provide many followable emblematic models in that regard. Wild enthusiasm and plunge-taking fearlessness aside, Sousanis seems like a solid citizen; while his ideas are radically utopian, their flavor is resolutely wholesome. He is reminiscent of the kind of small-town high school teacher who’s popular with students because they believe he tells the truth and is unafraid to veer away from the curriculum-assigned script.

The script Sousanis is veering away from in this case is the age-old Western bias against visual imagery (and in favor of the Word), which he traces back to Plato’s cave. Sousanis believes that verbal language alone is a poor vehicle for capturing the multidimensional, many-layered fullness of human experience, the equivalent of Edwin Abbott’s two-dimensional flatworms trying to explain a sphere. It’s not so much that a picture is worth a thousand words, but rather that a picture is worth concepts that can’t even be put into words. And in an attempt to prove his case, he drew it.

What does “unflattening” mean?

It would be easier to tell you what the book’s about than to tell you what “unflattening” is. Actually, I’ve thinking about that lately because there’s a French translation in the works, and they can’t use that word because it doesn’t mean anything.

How could it not mean anything?

Well, I don’t think it means the right thing. It doesn’t mean anything in English—it’s not a word people use. The book is very much an argument that we make sense of the world in ways beyond text—teaching and learning shouldn’t be restricted to that narrow band. So rather than talking about visual thinking and multimodal stuff—from Howard Gardner to Rudolf Arnheim, people have been talking about it—comics just let me do it.

That’s what the book is about, if it’s about anything. Read More »

A Right-Size Dream

July 9, 2015 | by

An appreciation of Tove Jansson.

Tove Jansson, ca. 1967. © Moomin Characters TM

Tove Jansson, ca. 1967. © Moomin Characters TM

One day my mother—who immigrated from Hungary forty years ago—was visiting my apartment. She noticed that on the fridge my boyfriend and I had taped a large picture of Charlie Brown, which we had torn from the pages of The New Yorker. It was just Charlie Brown standing there with his hands at his sides. Upon seeing the picture she stopped and said, “What a nice boy! Who is it?” The remarkable thing wasn’t only discovering that my mother had strangely never encountered Charlie Brown, but that upon seeing him for the first time, she immediately liked him, felt sympathy and tenderness. Until that moment, I had not fully understood the power of comics: I had never witnessed so starkly what a perfect line can summon. A line drawn with love can make us as vulnerable as what the line depicts. Whatever cynicism I had about how commerce creates familiarity creates conditioned responses creates “love,” it crumbled in that instant. An artist’s love for what they create is what creates love.

The first time I encountered Tove Jansson’s Moomin strips, I had the same feeling as my mother: what a nice boy! (Or whatever sort of creature Moomin is—a creature from a tender dream.) There is such vulnerability in his eyebrows, in his little round tummy, in the way he doesn’t have a mouth, in the babyish slope of the bottom of his face.

It was strange, then, to learn that Jansson’s first drawing of Moomin was an attempt to draw “the ugliest creature imaginable” after a fight with her brother about Immanuel Kant. Read More »


Silly Love Songs, and Other News

July 6, 2015 | by

Frans Hals, Buffoon playing a lute (detail), 1623.

Gabrielle Bell on Her Book of … Series

May 27, 2015 | by

My First Time” is a new video series in which we invite authors to discuss the trials of writing and publishing their first books. Consider it a chance to see how successful writers got their start, in their own words—it’s a portrait of the artist as a beginner and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.

Our second installment stars Gabrielle Bell, a cartoonist who began to self-publish her work in the late nineties. Every year she would release a new thirty-two page comic: Book of Insomnia, Book of Sleep, Book of Black, Book of Lies, Book of Ordinary Things. In 2003, these were collected in When I’m Old and Other Stories, but before that, “I was selling them for about three dollars each,” she says, “which is about how much they cost to print.” She talks about her struggles to remain disciplined and the intensity of her yearning for a role model. “I remember having fantasies of some great cartoonist just taking me under their wing and teaching me everything they knew ... I was really struggling with depression a lot, I think ... I was almost able to directly translate it into the comics.”

If you missed yesterday’s interview with J. Robert Lennon, you can watch it here—and stay tuned for videos with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and Christine Schutt later this week. There’s also a trailer featuring writers from future installments of “My First Time.”

This series is made by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling; we’re delighted to collaborate with them.