Thursday, November 11, 2010

But what is it?

Scan from Oletheros. Gaiman, Neil and Dave McKean. Signal to Noise. Dark Horse, reprinted 2007. (ISBN: 978-1593077525)

Comics have always intrigued me. And sequential art. And graphic novels. Or, generally, any interaction between still visuals and text (film being another creature). In the literary world, the idea of hybridization is a contentious one, and by extension, the idea of categorization. Fictional memoirs, story-poems (prose poem? short short?) -- how do we define pieces? Why do we define them?

It's been said that a piece is what the author calls it, or maybe a piece doesn't have to fit into a genre. Does it have to fit into just one, or can a piece work in multiple categories? I'm not sure.

I bring up this idea of classification because recently, I had a conversation with a poet friend about trying to create an illustrated fiction piece. He was thinking about integrating art into a poem. Neither of us were interested in writing responses to visual art that's already been created, or ekphrasis, but making something that was new, visually and textually. But we talked about the difficulty of attempting this (neither of us felt visual-savvy), and then we thought about general reactions to this specific type of hybridization. That is, to many, the act of adding art to text (illustrations or visuals to a short story or a poem or novel) is somehow equated to "dumbing it down."

The reverse is true, too. How many studio artists and teachers and historians consider comics and any type of cartooning style a "dumbing down" of art? Somehow, adding text to art is often considered a juvenile move.

Either it's illustrated prose -- why read a graphic novel when you can read a novel? -- or it's captioned art. There is something inherently "easy" about a visual/textual collaboration because the implication is that it's no longer pure visual or pure text, because most of us are used to deconstructing and analyzing and enjoying things on a certain set of aesthetics or terms. And to condescend something that utilizes both visual and text on the grounds that either element should be able to stand on its own, isn't productive.

Dear readers, what books have you come across that work both visually and textually? I've been meaning to check out William Gass's The Tunnel and Umberto Eco. Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a favorite of mine.



Jessica said...

I think that David Mack's graphic novels (comics? illustrated story?) are a beautiful example of how text can be combined with graphics to excellent effect. Mack's work can be found here:

Indiana Review said...

I've seen David Mack's work back in Daredevil -- really stunning, crazy work! A huge belated thanks for the link to his website!