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Posts Tagged ‘comics’

Flower Voyeur: A Comic

July 28, 2015 | by

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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 »

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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.

Mazzy Star Batman

May 5, 2015 | by

Sun Ra, self discovery, and apocryphal Batmans.

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Sun Ra’s Batman and Robin album, released under the name the Sensational Guitars of Dan & Dale.

My friend Amy and I moved to New York at about the same time, for the same reason: to pursue careers and then to decide we didn’t like ourselves in those careers. It was fine, when we arrived, to tread water for a bit—fun, even, in the way that living off peanut butter can be when creative success feels inevitable. After a couple of years, though, my excitement at living in the city started to curdle. I’d lost my master’s diploma somewhere between Boston and Brooklyn, but had somehow failed to shake my credit cards and student loans. So—terrified, with no real prospect of making a living as an artist—I watched my day job in publishing turn into my life.

It was a few months after the drudgery of fiscal responsibility kicked in that Amy introduced me to the joys of weekly comics. She’d set up a pull list at Midtown Comics, a twenty-dollar-a-week subscription that gave her something to be excited about on Wednesdays. Before she lent me her copies of the Batgirl reboot, I didn’t totally get it. Having read only occasional comics from the supermarkets of my childhood, I had never experienced a full narrative arc. I assumed that, like McDonald’s Monopoly™, there would always be a piece missing—what I might have jokingly called an objet petit a before my resentment of graduate school took over.

That changed after I set up my own pull list, taking the R train up to Times Square on my lunch hours and sneaking back into the Flatiron building with issues of Swamp Thing and Hellblazer tucked under my arms in opaque black plastic bags, like top-shelf Hustlers. It started off as simple transgression: the thrill of spending time with back issues of Savage Wolverine instead of the novels I should have been reading, both for work and as a “good literary citizen.” Before long, though, I developed favorite artists and writers—even letterers. After having lost my love of literature to the daily grind, it felt like a homecoming, to be excited to read again. All it took was two-page spreads of Morlocks tunneling through the bowels of Manhattan. “Good” was boring, I decided, arranging the books on my desk so I wouldn’t have to face their author photos. Better to be a delinquent with adamantium claws. Read More »