srijeda, 7. studenoga 2012.

Andrei Molotiu - antologija apstraktnog stripa

Prva antologija apstraktnog stripa (Abstract Comics, priređivač Andrei Molotiu). 
Apstraktni strip je strip bez priče, sveden na svoje temeljne, vizualne jedinice. Ili gledano s drugog kraja, riječ je o slikama povezanima nekom sekvencijalnom progresijom.

[for part I, see here.]

Abstract Comics: The Anthology is an impressive collection of old and new work with unique pages covering exactly what the title says. Fantagraphics’ bold book covers the years from 1967 to the present, with a selection of abstract comics from over 40 artists.
Now I think I’m a pretty open comics reader. Having primarily grown up on superheroes however, it’s only been the last 5 years that I’ve expanded my reading habits to include indie titles. It was Craig Thompson’s masterwork, Blankets that woke me up to the world beyond spandex and ever since then I’ve pretty much bought an indie title every week.
Abstract comics is a foreign concept to me though. I’m surprised that I’ve never thought of the genre before. It makes complete sense and after pouring through this hardcover from Fantagraphics I have a greater understanding and appreciation for the form. This intriguing 208 page tome includes some of the best work from pioneers in the field, as well as new work created for the anthology by artists including James Kochalka.
The introduction of the book is the only piece with words strung together that actually form an obviously coherent thought. Andrei Molotiu is the editor of Abstract Comics, and quite an authority on the subject. His work as an artist is reflected here and his introductory summary of what abstract comics actually are, as opposed to the use of the word in other art forms, is insightful. Even this obligatory introduction is treated with a loose abstract veneer, with plain text comprising the bottom half of each page, while above it sits the same words through the lens of simple shapes, which reminded me of the Kryptonese language. Yes, even with abstract comics, I can’t help but see things through my fanboy glasses. (There’s also a look at the history of abstract comics here). Molotiu defines the term thusly;
abstract comics can be defined as sequential art consisting exclusively of abstract imagery, and indeed most of the pieces in this volume fit that definition squarely. But the definition should be expanded somewhat, to include those comics that contain some representational elements, as long as those elements do not cohere into a narrative or even into a unified narrative space.
Whew. It’s the kind of talk that gets art students all sweaty. His 8 page introduction is littered with great work as he shows us the history of abstract comics, with examples of a bunch of artists unfamiliar to me to those who I didn’t expect to see, such as Wassily Kandinsky, Willem de Kooning, Winsor McCay and Steve Ditko.
Abstract Comics Intro DetailThings kick off with a great piece from 1967 by R. Crumb, as originally seen in Zap #1. As you’d expect, it’s only 3 pages, but packs a lot of zest, with rounded figures, cheeky expressions and wild imagery. For the next 200 plus pages I was bombarded (in a good way) with every form and technique imaginable. I never knew what each turn of the page would bring. Black and white, pencil sketches,  colour paintings and more – it’s all accounted for. Most of the works are only 3 or 4 pages long, with little or no text and some semblance of structured panels. I found myself treating the book like a portable art gallery as I let the images wash over me and tried to grasp their meaning. With close looks, there are stories of sorts to be told here, but as Molotiu mentions in the intro, abstract comics don’t have a narrative. I couldn’t help myself though and on some occasions examined the shapes in an attempt to form one. However, like all art the point is the enjoyment of the work first and foremost, rather than a desperation to cram it through out structured reasoning.
getsiv-6Molotiu’s work, The Cave was definitely a “wow” moment for me with its bold colours and gem like qualities, as was Andres Pearson’s work, with its swirling organic structures. Through some pages I could see how the panels, or the shapes within those panels, related to each other, which gave clarity to Molotiu’s introductory definition as to why this is different from abstract work done in other fields, such as cinema. James Kochalka’s (American Elf) work is exuberant and playful, as is Mike Getsiv’s. Blaise Larmee’s I Would Like To Live There is simple yet elegant while Life, Interwoven by Alexey Sokolin is 6 pages of increasing fury.
It’s hard to describe the experience of reading this anthology, but it must have been that much harder to choose the artists whose work would be shown here, especially considering this is the first book of its kind and it covers 4 decades. Book designer Jacob Covey must also be mentioned as there’s an undeniable sense of purpose that holds these pages together, from the cover to artists’ credits to last few pages. It’s subtle which allows the abstract comics to own the spotlight.
The book concludes with handy artist biographies for those that would like to discover more about them, and there’s also a useful accompanying blog which features work from the anthology and elsewhere.
I’ll admit that it was sheer curiosity that made me read this, and after enjoying its diverse offerings it brought me back to my art school days when I was exposed to a wide array of artists. It’s obviously a difficult book to review as well, especially as there’s no Good Guy A punches Bad Guy B action, but it was a treat for my often superhero consuming eyes. This is a book for readers who like fine art or those who would like to expand their sequential art experiences. A hearty slap on the back for Fantagraphics for choosing to create this marvelous example of a widely unknown artistic expression.
Abstract Comcis Preview 1
Abstract Comics Preview 2
Abstract Comics Preview 3

Molotiu on Fantagraphics' “Abstract Comics”

If the question of what precisely defines a comic book is complex, the question of what makes an abstract comic book is certainly more so. Drawing from the worlds of abstract painting, narrative comics, and other sources which serve to inspire the imagination, a select few artists have created works that defy convention yet retain some of the traditional characteristics of comics like panel borders, speech bubbles, and other less concrete aspects.
In June, Fantagraphics will present a collection of such works in “Abstract Comics,” an anthology edited by Andrei Molotiu. The book includes short strips by R. Crumb, Gary Panter, and Lewis Trondheim, and original pieces by James Kochalka and others, and is complemented by a blog, which features new work and experiments by anthology contributors. CBR News spoke with editor Andrei Molotiu about the book and blog, the traits of an abstract comic, and the dynamic elements of superhero comics.
Recognizing that it is important to define one's terms, Molotiu opens “Abstract Comics” by discussing the boundaries of what is and is not an abstract comic, recounting some of the principles and laying them out in the book's introduction. “The term 'abstract' has been applied in a variety of different ways to comics,” he told CBR. “On one hand, you could think of something like 'Beanworld' by Larry Marder as being an abstract comic, since it has very abstracted characters. Nevertheless, it still has a forward narrative. If you just have a story with abstracted characters—a story that is otherwise narrative and has straightforward storytelling—it's simply not different in kind but only in degree from reducing human beings to cartoon characters, anthropomorphic ducks [as in 'Uncle Scrooge'], or what have you. That’s not the kind of strip I was interested in for the anthology.
“I took my cue from several abstract comics of the past, specifically beginning with Saul Steinberg, who had a number of pages of abstract comics in his 1960 book, ‘The Labyrinth.’ Starting from such examples, we can define an abstract comic as a comic that does not illustrate a pre-existing plot and that has only non-representational images in the panels. We can even expand this definition to include comics that may contain representational images, so long as those representational images do not cohere into a straightforward illustrated plot or narrative, and do not create a unified diegetic space.
Page from "Abstract Comics" by Patrick McDonnell, of “Mutts” fame.
“For example, one can imagine a comic that doesn't really have a plot, but in which all of the objects depicted belong in the same landscape, in which case the comic is basically surveying that landscape—most likely by means of what Scott McCloud calls aspect-to-aspect transitions. I wouldn’t include such a comic. For the anthology, thus, my working definition of an abstract comic was either a comic that contains only non-representational images, or one that that may contain some representational images so long as they do not cohere into a plot or a united diegetic space. I also allowed that some may contain words, so long as the words function primarily visually or pictorially and are not there to convey the narrative.”
Describing comics' place in the world of abstract art, Molotiu noted that there are affinities but only rare occurrences of the two media crossing over directly. “One can't really plot the evolution of abstract comics to the evolution of abstract painting, but there have been abstract artists in the past who became interested in the idea of doing some kind of sequencing,” Molotiu said. “This is somewhat connected to the notion of the series, as practiced by Mark Rothko or other abstract painters. What we call a series usually consists of a number of abstract paintings that are connected by similar formal concerns, but that don’t necessarily form a sequence. Often they are numbered, but that numbering tends to speak only to the order in which they were created, not to an order of reading that could hint at a definite sequence. However, some people become interested in exploring the connection of abstraction to sequence, possibly under the influence of abstract cinema, and the most important of those would be Kurt Kranz.”
Molotiu said that he was unable to include Kranz in the anthology (except as represented by a brief excerpt reproduced in the introduction) because he was not able to determine the copyright owner or representative, but is hopeful that Kranz's work will be included in a possible second volume. “Working at the Bauhaus from the late '20s to the very early '30s, when he was in his late teens, Kranz was inspired by the abstract cinema of Walter Ruttmann, Oskar Fischinger, and Hans Richter to make abstract art that progresses and changes from image to image to image,” the editor said. “The best work that he created at the time is a series of forty ink drawings titled 'Picture Sequence: Black/White.' In them shapes seem to grow from panel to panel—or, more accurately, from drawing to drawing. A circle, for example, multiplies into many circles, and you get a feeling of actual sequence developing from image to image.
Page from "Abstract Comics" by Ibn al Rabin
“Then there is a painting from 1937, reproduced in the introduction, by Wassily Kandinsky, who had been Kranz's teacher. It's called '30.' The painting is divided into 30 squares, and each square has either black-on-white or white-on-black glyphs on it. It looks very much like a comics page, panel after panel, and I would guess that Kandinsky was inspired by his student to create it. You can even find hints of sequence in some drawings from the 1930s by Paul Klee, who was also a teacher of Kurt Kranz, and I wonder if he too may have been inspired by Kranz.”
Other than Kranz and his impact upon his teachers, Molotiu includes a few other major names from the art world in his analysis of abstract comics. “I reproduced a [Willem] de Kooning, one of the drawings he made around 1960 when he was living in a small apartment without a really big studio, when he began drawing on smaller sheets of paper that he then glued onto larger pieces of paper or canvas. The piece I reproduce consists of four such smaller sheets that are combined, and it's pretty clear he arranged them in such a way that they have a sequence. The first three have more movement, and the last one kind of stops, almost like a four-panel gag strip. The next step was taken when Pop artists became interested in the relationship of comics with high art. I’m not referring to Roy Lichtenstein who, rather than investigate sequence, instead took sequentiality away from comics by focusing on single panels. I’m thinking, rather, of Jasper Johns's 'Alley Oop' of 1958. This is the one where Johns took an 'Alley Oop' Sunday page, glued it to a canvas, and painted it over to leave visible only the major shapes. This way you still see the panels, you still notice the major changes in composition from panel to panel, without however being able to follow the story or even recognize the characters. So that's the opposite of what Lichtenstein did--it maintains the sequence, but does away with the figures. Saul Steinberg put a number of clearly abstract comics in his book 'The Labyrinth,' which came out in 1960. And those function almost like abstract parodies—they’re actually, perhaps surprisingly, very funny--of daily strips. They usually have four panels and end with something like an explosion, giving you the basic structure of a comic strip but in purely abstract terms. Not so far from what de Kooning had done, really.
“To put it in a context, I think that abstract comics—or at least what one might call abstract sequential art-- have been occasionally made by abstract artists, who included sequentiality either within a single work like in the Jasper Johns or de Kooning pieces, or in a series, such as Jackson Pollock’s ‘Red Painting, 1-7,’” Molotiu explained.
Page from "Abstract Comics" by Mike Getsiv
Despite these convergences, most abstract artists were overall not interested in sequential art. “To a large extent, this was because abstract art, especially as defined by Clement Greenberg, was interested primarily in the direct confrontation between viewer and image, in which the main axis consists of that direct confrontation of the painting and the viewer’s gaze, as opposed to the side to side direction of reading, from one image to the next, that would resolve into sequentiality.”
Molotiu's introduction also implicates a legendary narrative comics artist, Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, and briefly discusses the abstract elements of his Dr. Strange stories. “The reason I mention Ditko is that there are a number of superhero comics that become so graphically powerful, because there's so much movement in them, that even if you completely ignore the text and even the figures, the vectors of force in each panel will lead you to the next panel,” the editor said. “You have these very strong graphic sequences in works by Ditko, Kirby and many others where even if you blur the whole image and get rid of the words, you still see a strong spotting of the blacks, for example, from which you can construct wonderful abstract compositions.”
The editor noted that though abstract comics might appeal more to the indie comics base than superhero comics readers, the latter form is often better suited to the needs of abstraction. “A kind of party line has been predominant in portions of the alternative comics world,” Molotiu said, which leads them away from the graphic energy the editor sees as inherent in art by creators like Ditko and Kirby. “I think that, oftentimes, abstract comics do end up maintaining more of that graphic energy, and I think that they can draw attention to this very powerful tool in the vocabulary of comics that may have been lost in a number of art and alternative comics.”
Molotiu also cited Gary Panter's “Zomoid” as mostly abstract. “You kind of see the image coming to existence, or disappearing into pure graphic trace, or being formed into a figure.” The work also has elements of representation, places the dominant emphasis on the purely graphic component of the art.
On the “Abstract Comics” blog, and also in the book, there are several examples of artists adapting narrative comics into abstractions, such as Johns's “Alley Oop” and Mike Getsiv's “Kirbstract,” highlighting a phenomenon that Molotiu calls “sequential dynamism” which he defines as “the dynamics of forces that lead your eye across and through a sequence, beyond plot, the graphic element that leads you from one panel to the next.”
Page from "Abstract Comics" by Benoit Joly
“About four years ago I took a 'Little Lulu' strip and took out all the words and began blurring it, changing shapes and making it more unrecognizable. And because it was originally black and white I colored it more non-realistically,” the editor said of his own abstracting practices. “It almost automatically became a graphic abstract comic. You can do it in Photoshop.”
There are, though, different methods for different artists. “Derik Badman drew digitally over a 1950s 'Tarzan' comic, and just drew the main compositional elements but got rid of the figures and the words. I think it's quite powerful,” Molotiu said. “Noah Berlatsky has two pieces in the anthology based on, respectively, an 'Asterix' page and an 'X-Men' page. As far as I can tell, he just looked at the originals and redrew them by hand. In such cases, these artists attempt to maintain that abstract play of compositional forces from panel to panel that they see in the original pages they copy, while moving away from the representational aspect of the comics.”
Beyond offering promotion for the Fantagraphics book, the “Abstract Comics” blog has had the effect of creating a community for abstract comics artists and inspiring others to post their efforts online. “I wanted a place on the web to bring together a lot of the efforts in this genre, which have been very scattered,” Molotiu said of the blog's origins. “I've been working on this anthology for the past five years, and five years ago there was a lot less material than there is now. One way I found a number of contributors for the anthology was simply, once a week or once a month, Googling 'abstract comics' in English and in French. I actually never figured out how to Google it in German, I should find a way. But every once in a while someone new would pop up who had done something of the kind. They were so scattered that I thought having a single forum on the web where they can come and bring everything together would be very helpful. It has turned out, to some extent, to be--we've only been in existence since April and several other people on the web, inspired clearly by our blog, have begun trying their own hand at abstract comics. Which potentially gives me more material for a second volume of the anthology, which is great.”
The blog also serves as a place to suggest and post the results of abstract comics exercises, in the spirit of surrealist “exquisite corpse” collaborations or limiting experiments in the style of Oulipo (“workshop of potential literature”) and Oubapo (the comics equivalent). While this aspect is in its “infancy stage,” Molotiu said he hopes abstract comics artists will continue to explore similar themes in this way. “I think the most there has been so far is the emotion challenge, proposed by Alexey Sokolin. It’s quite fascinating to see not only how different people see different emotions graphically, but how their renderings fit together and the extent to which there are some common threads between conventionalized notions of how to represent an emotion abstractly.
Page from Molotiu's "Nautilus"
“I think overall, there has been a sort of Oulipian component to much abstract comics production. On one hand, something like what Derik Badman or Noah Berlatsky are doing, basically transforming a preexisting strip, derives from the sort of Oubapian constraints,” he continued. “Also some of my own comics, like my series called ‘24x24: A Vague Epic,’ which is currently on show at ArtLexis gallery in Brooklyn and is going to be in my new book. There I wanted to divorce panel making from sequencing, so I would either take an old drawing of mine or make a new drawing, which would be a unified, single drawing, and then cut out of it panels and completely resequence it so that the ultimate product was not the drawing I began with but a sequence, a 24-panel, 4x6 page. Since each panel came from one drawing, there was a consistency of markmaking. My only rule was that I could never take contingent areas of the drawing and put them side by side in the comic. Basically, there seem to be continuities from panel to panel, but they are completely made up--I would usually try to take something from the top-left of the drawing and then from the bottom-right, panels as far apart as possible, and put them side by side in the comic. So again, I don't know if you'd call that a generative constraint, but it is largely Oulipian-inspired.”
Since “Abstract Comics” tackles a previously unexamined subject, it is perhaps not surprising that it will serve as an exhibition catalogue for a retrospective of abstract comics art. The exhibition, curated by Molotiu and Linda Norden, is titled “Silent Pictures” and will be on display from August 14 at the CUNY Graduate Center's James Gallery. “It's actually a double show: about half, or a little more than half in terms of works exhibited, will be from the anthology. We're going to represent every single artist in the anthology, I don't know if we're going to be able to get in every page, but every artist is represented,” Molotiu explained. “The other part is going to be a collection of silent sequential art and comic books in the woodcut style from Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, as collected by Art Spiegelman.”
In closing, Molotiu praised book designer Jacob Covey for his work on “Abstract Comics,” noting that his work complemented the anthology's subject matter. “I think it's his best work, and I think he might agree to some extent with that,” Molotiu said of Covey. “The overall graphic theme and design theme that goes not only through the plate pages but the introduction, the title page, the back matter, is quite fascinating. One of the things he's done is to base part of his design on the first plate in the introduction, which reproduces four pages from 'The Story of Two Squares' by El Lissitzky. Lissitzky's story is about a red square and a black square, and the graphic theme of the red square and the black square reappears throughout the book, both right before the table of contents, then leading into the plates, then the bibliography. There is constantly this design theme of red and black, and what might be seen as red and black triangles, functioning like arrows leading the reader to turn the page, but which are actually derived from half a square standing on one of its corners. Jacob basically picked up on the graphic theme of the first image in the introduction and disseminated it throughout the book, making the design itself Constructivist, in a sense. I thought it was a very great design idea and I'm very happy with it. The book becomes a powerful graphic design object in its own right. Jacob's notion was that--this being a book of abstract comics, not something you see every day, the first publication ever dedicated to the subject--we should do something more interesting, more out of the ordinary, to echo the book’s contents in the design itself.”
Molotiu also mentioned his own book of abstract comics, titled “Nautilus,” debuting concurrently with the anthology. “I'm pretty excited because I convinced my publisher to do it in the old fashioned European album format, like the hardcover ‘Asterix’ albums I grew up with,” he said. “It's being published together with a book, 'Reykjavik,' by another contributor to the anthology, Henrik Rehr, a Danish artist living in New York. We chose the titles advisedly, to be understandable in any language—just like the books themselves, being primarily silent, not to mention abstract, can be universally understood.”-

Andrei Molotiu is an artist and art historian who teaches at Indiana University, Bloomington, and who recently edited Abstract Comics: The Anthology, the first collection devoted to the genre. Offering experiments by established cartoonists as well as new pieces by emerging artists, the book is available from Fantagraphics and will serve as the exhibition catalogue for “Silent Pictures,” which opens on September 1 at the CUNY Graduate Center’s James Gallery. Nautilus, a collection of Molotiu’s own abstract comics, has just been published by Fahrenheit Editions.
ABSTRACT COMICS ARE COMICS that have abstract forms instead of representational images in their panels—when they even have panels, that is. Now, comics are an art of reduction anyway, so it’s easy to conceive of a story in which squares and triangles function as traditional characters. In abstract comics, however, the “story” being told is primarily one of formal transformations and visual energy, not the depiction of a narrative that can be otherwise conveyed verbally. Words may play a part in abstract comics, but primarily as graphic elements, not to communicate or to further the plot. Some imagery can be there,too, as long as it does not form into a story and as long as it does not cohere into a unified space.
I first discovered the possibility of abstract sequential art in the work of the Belgian artist Pierre Alechinsky, who was closely associated with the Cobra group, as I discuss in the introduction to the book. Many of his paintings from the 1960s on have subdivisions and abstract panels that are clearly derived from comics. Some of them, to me, looked like comic-book pages, and they inspired me to make my own abstract comics, as well as to seek out more examples of such work from other artists—which led, down the road, to this volume.
My first idea, in trying to survey abstract comics, was to create a wide-ranging anthology. I knew I wanted to include an important early work by R. Crumb––a piece from 1967 titled Abstract Expressionistic Ultra Super Modernistic Comics––and it opens the book. I also included a piece I commissioned a few years ago from Gary Panter. He has an ongoing project where you can commission drawings cheaply from him. It began at $100, and after every one hundred drawings, he bumps up the price by $25 (it’s currently at $225, so you can calculate how many he’s drawn so far). In terms of the commission, you give him three words and he draws whatever he chooses based on those words. The words I gave him were abstract, comic, and strip. As he had made only one other such piece previously (also included in the anthology), I suppose that I effectively helped double the quantity of Gary Panter abstract comics in the world.
One of my favorite aspects of working on this project was discovering the work of Benoit Joly, a lesser-known cartoonist from Quebec. In 1987, he drew an amazing abstract piece, a one-off that he did not really follow up on until I e-mailed him about the anthology. He drew another one for the anthology and has done a few more since. Another story like that comes from Mark Badger, who used to work primarily as an artist at DC and Marvel. When he was in art school in the early ’80s, he sketched out a two-page abstract comic, which he left unfinished. After he saw my own work on the Internet, he dug up the comic and put it on his website. I persuaded him to finish it and we ended up printing both versions, from 1980 and 2008, in the anthology.
Besides such hidden histories that I was able to unearth (another example is Patrick McDonnell, creator of the syndicated strip Mutts, who also drew abstract comics in art school but never published them), I also wanted to include several younger cartoonists whose work either had been going in that direction, even if it had not gone fully abstract yet, or had made use of graphic elements that I could see successfully working abstractly. I’m thinking here of artists such as Richard Hahn, James Kochalka, and Warren Craghead. So I invited them to try their hands at abstract comics.
Also included are people like J. R. Williams, who had largely given up comics and taken up abstract painting but had not thought of using his abstract style in a comic until I suggested he give it a try for the anthology. Conversely, there are artists such as Anders Pearson and Janusz Jaworski, who, independently of each other, began experimenting with abstract comics in the past few years. Coming out at this specific juncture, the anthology is fortunately able to capture all the recent creative ferment in the genre.

Abstract Comics: An interview with Andrei Molotiu

 Andrei Molotiu co-curated the recent show Silent Pictures , is the author of the recently published anthology Abstract Comics, and of the equally recent Nautilus, a collection of his own abstract sequential art.  This Spring ArtLexis held an exhibition of his work.  Taken together Molotiu’s activity adds up to something like a campaign for “abstract comics” as a new and specific genre of contemporary art.  In the interview below Andrei and I  discuss what might be considered the rules of the game.
Ibn al Rabin, The Empire Strikes Back
CS:  You express disinterest in equating the abstract comic with abstract animated film.  And so I am looking at this image, Ibn al Rabin's The Empire Strikes Back, and noting how very different it is than your own work in that it moves from frame to frame quite legibly within a narrative.

AM: Well, yes, this kind of gradual transformation is one of the “established” (if we can call it that) modes of abstract comics, and people like Ibn al Rabin or Lewis Trondheim have done really fascinating things with it; personally, however, I am interested in different kind of effects in my own comics.  Sometimes when you have only such gradual transformation in an abstract comic you may almost feel like you are dealing with storyboards for animation; the shapes go from point a to point b to point c and give the illusion that you are following them through time—though an abstract comic, by definition, cannot have a sense of diegetic time (because no representation means no diegesis, no fictional world in which time can have a meaning; because introducing a sense of represented time implies moving away from the simple presence of graphic events on a page).  When you get a sense of represented time, a sense of illusion seeps in, and the comic becomes almost like a time graph, with the panels in the sequence showing events that take place some set time interval apart.  So there is something a bit paradoxical about Ibn al Rabin’s comics, especially the ones in the book Cidre et schnapps, from which this page comes.  They have titles that suggest a diegesis, a mimetic narrative, but on the other hand they are just blots on the page enacting that narrative—perhaps allegorically?  I think they work better, for me at least, if you don’t give in to the mimetic temptation, if you actually see them as blots on a page.
Andrei Molotiu, Realm of Coral in 24x24: A Vague Epic
 To see them as blots on a page also means, in a way, to see them as simultaneous, and to realize that the perceived passage of time is a construct, resulting from the visual juxtaposition of the panels.  I think it’s important—for abstract comics, and also for comics in general—to not lose this sense of simultaneity, of the unity of the layout, where you can see all the panels (on a page or a double page spread) at once.  If you do lose that sense, you end up conceiving a comic as just a storyboard, and I think that does a disservice to the potential of the medium; comics offer a complex reading structure that suggests time differently than an actual time-bound reading or viewing experience.  You can contrast it to the reading of a (prose, as opposed to graphic) novel, where the reader simply follows along a string of words; and though many words do co-exist on a single page, you don’t tend to think of their co-presence on the page as an aesthetic component of the novel.  Visual juxtaposition—and therefore, from one point of view, simultaneity—is however an active aesthetic component of the comic medium.  One thing that is interesting to me about abstract comics is exactly that they contain no preexisting narrative and therefore no excuse for a sense of diegetic time.  You’re not following a story, so what you are left with are the actual visual elements on the page (panels, shapes) that move your eye from panel to panel but outside of a fictional time frame.
The other side of the equation is the distinction between abstract comics and abstract painting.  In the Michael Fried/Clement Greenberg take on abstract painting you’re supposed to take in the painting’s composition at once, instantaneously.  Well, abstract comics won’t let you do that either:  the juxtaposition of panels that suggests a kind of simultaneity (therefore going beyond simple storyboard reading) at the same time denies instantaneity:  you can’t take in both the layout and each individual panel at once, you have at least to keep transitioning from one to the other, and from panel to panel in traditional reading order, etc.  So I think that comics work in between these two extremes, the linearity of storyboards or prose, on one hand, and the instantaneity of abstract painting, on the other.  Rather they have more of a complex tabularity, I guess, by which I means something like a table (say, the table of elements), which contains both simultaneity and sequence.  And abstract comics, I believe, are especially well-placed to exploit this complex structure.  Does that make sense?
CS:  Yes it does absolutely, I had a real appreciation for your use of Jackson Pollock’s piece in your anthology, recently in Third Mind, but it appeared as an anecdotal aside and a failure if you will because Jackson Pollock is doing “One” over and over and over again, very much involved in that sense of an at-once-ness, and the painting by Jasper Johns, Alley Oop, was a beautiful counterpoint to that.  I’m going to quote what you say in an earlier interview:  “I think that, oftentimes, abstract comics do end up maintaining more of that graphic energy, and I think that they can draw attention to this very powerful tool in the vocabulary of comics that may have been lost in a number of art and alternative comics.”  It is almost an address to action painting, only here most apparent through the lens of Jasper Johns work, and what occurs in the Johns is an abstraction of narrative as you move from left to right and frame to frame.

Jasper Johns, Alley Oop, 1958
AM:  You're referring to my discussion of Pollock's Red Painting 1-7,  from 1950. I gave a talk at CUNY where I expanded on Jackson Pollock beyond what I said in the introduction to the book.  There is a Hans Namuth photograph of his studio from 1951, in which you can see a number of his black and white paintings that he painted side by side, on a single piece of canvas, and that piece of canvas looks like nothing so much as an abstract comic strip.  Greenberg always discussed the importance of a painting’s being aware of its edges, of the frame, but Pollock was doing absolutely nothing of the kind; rather, he was just eyeballing it.  He would put about three different compositions on a single canvas, sometimes side by side, in a row, sometimes in more complex arrangements that look even more like abstract comics.  The way they were originally created they did not have the “instantaneity” or unity demanded by Greenberg or Fried, the canvas was divided and you tended to focus on one panel at a time, therefore needing time to explore the entire piece.  But usually he went on to cut them apart and then exhibit them only one “panel,” so to speak, at a time.  [I have, since the interview, found a couple where he didn’t cut the panels apart, such as “Number 7, 1951” and “Untitled (after CR # 328)”.]  It’s interesting that his original impulse, occasionally at least, seems to have been more towards this kind of juxtaposition of compositions, because the side-by-sideness, if that’s a word, was then completely negated in the cutting. From a Greenbergian perspective such juxtaposition was unacceptable, because it fragmented the overall composition, kept if from being unified.  Furthermore, it brought in a time element.  The only [other] time he didn’t do that was in Red Painting 1-7, from 1950.

Jackson Pollock, Red Painting 1-7, 1950
I’ve loved Pollock for a long time, and surprisingly enough—because most people think it’s his poorer work—I’ve always been partial to his black and white paintings.  I’m struck, whenever I see them in a museum, by the pure phenomenological experience of the dried black pigment stuck to the fibers.  There’s such a tremendous energy in those paintings, and one thing I’ve tried to do (not always consciously, but I can see it in retrospect) has been to recapture this energy and put in the service of what I call sequential dynamism—the visual forces, in a comic, that can lead you across the page from panel to panel and that in a way create a different kind of frozen moment, one in addition to an action painting’s frozen movement of the brushwork, the artist’s hand that moved across the surface of the canvas. In abstract comics you have the additional movement of  the juxtaposition of panels, the suggestion of reading direction that is given by the composition, the vectors of force in each panel.  And when I say “frozen,” it is because the abstract comic sits there, as any comic does, waiting to be put into motion by the intention of the viewer, of the reader, and also to put into motion the visual attention of the viewer.  Comics, so to speak, both are awoken by the viewer and they awake the viewer’s gaze and sense of reading.

CS:  I was fascinated by the use of the word gutter to describe the space beteen frames and the difference between paintings and comics and films is that in the comic book the frame is in the picture and there’s something very important about that. The frame being in the picture is somehow the device that pulls in the attention of the viewer differently.  An abstract comic can be very decorative and full as though they were all-over paintings in that about-to-become wallpaper sense of things.  But then you might notice that there is an almost palpable mobility of the frames themselves.  It makes me think of this toy by Dan Graham.
Dan Graham, One, found here.
So this gets me to your exhibition at ArtLexis. The piece was called 24x2: A Vague Epic, and as 24 pages on the wall it covered the gallery. Since it is available as a folio, there was for me an interest in shuffling, in my agency as a viewer being such that I could actually control the narrative. But in fact what I learned was that even though these arrived as a folio of loose sheets there was a very definite narrative in that they were pinned to the wall from beginning to end.   There’s not the sense of agency and chance that I was at first invited to consider.  Can you say something about the kind of agency that interests you, as something that is appearing from beginning to end in a deliberate way without giving someone the agency to actually shuffle?
AM:  Well, generally with regard to abstract comics, I’ve been interested not only in creating panel-to-panel sequentiality, but also in placing within each one of my pieces some kind of “narrative” arc, such as one that might lead from a low-key beginning to higher intensity and then ending low-key again.  Not all abstract comics need to do this; for example, the pieces in the anthology by Richard Hahn don't really do this, they exhibit more of a pulse and rhythm that vibrates from panel to panel, a movement in and out of the picture plane, but no arc per se.  But personally I’ve always been interested in the possibility of still maintaining such an arc—let’s call it a “sequential arc,” maybe, like a narrative arc but within abstract form.  At the same time, in 24x24 in addition to this arc I was concerned with the unity of the layouts, so in a way each page in that series forms a kind of hybrid picture that can be read both as a unified layout with a grid imposed upon it and as a sequential arc.
Andrei Molotiu, 24x24: A Vague Epic, installation view at Artlexis,  2009.
I should add that the pages were created sequentially.  They were laid out panel by panel, one at a time, and the unified composition only appears out of the juxtaposition of those sequential images.  I only realized this was going to be a series after I’d made the first three or four, and then I said to myself, ok it has to be a series of twenty-four because that is (more or less) the traditional number of pages in a comic book story, and also because there were twenty-four panels in each strip.  In this series, probably more than I’ve done in other pieces, I started to put more or less descriptive titles on each page that somewhat took them beyond pure abstraction, as for example happens in—and this has always been a huge influence on me—Jackson Pollock’s Full Fathom Five.  Once you contemplate the meaning of the title you begin thinking of space in the sea, you begin thinking of coral, of seaweed, and therefore it is not purely abstract, it becomes an underwater space.  Obviously not a perspectival space, but a space where everything is afloat at every level; and such a “floating” space, if you will, itself tends to become abstract inasmuch as it differs from the box space of the Renaissance, where everything is weighed down to the ground.
As I began giving the pages titles, more or less akin to Pollock’s Full Fathom Five, I realized that I was actually toying with images that were right on the threshold of legibility—right beneath it, perhaps but which could suggest to people this or that kind of representational shape.  I was reading recently a review in The New Yorker, of the new Kandinsky show, and the reviewer said he could never enjoy this one painting by Kandinsky because he always sees a football helmet in it; and there’s also the story of Braque telling Picasso that he could see a squirrel in one of his cubist paintings, and Picasso basically going off and destroying his painting by trying to get rid of the squirrel.  But I don’t mind when people find such representational elements in my pieces, especially in my 24 x 24 pages—as long as this recognition remains vague and uncertain, more along the lines of a Rorshach blot.  I actually enjoy it when people interpret these abstract shapes as figurative elements, even though they were not intended as such.  Anyway, to make a long story short, I found that adding the title gave a kind of direction to the interpretation of the piece, structured the viewer’s experience as to what he or she might find in it; and when arranging the piece as a print series, with each plate printed in a different color ink, I found that color suggested a mood for that reading.  I found myself trying to give the entire series the feel  of a barely remembered film from one’s childhood, like The Empire Strikes Back, which I haven’t watched since I was twelve but still remember fondly (funny, I wasn't even thinking of Ibn al Rabin's piece when I came up with this notion!).  Trying to recall that movie, I don’t remember anything but my sensations, and tremendously vague memories of the imagery, mostly moods.  So, in a way, with 24 x 24 I was trying to suggest in the present moment that vagueness of memory (through the vagueness of abstraction in which one nevertheless may be able to find some figurative shapes, and through the titles, which almost work like chapter headings for some DVD of a long-forgotten epic film), the memory of a story more as a sequence of moods than of events—and that’s why I called it a “vague epic.”  Admittedly, “vague” is also my own bilingual pun, coming from Stéphane Mallarmé, my favorite poet (you can find my translation of his Afternoon of a Faun here.) Mallarmé was always interested in an effect of vagueness in poetry, but for him vagueness, le vague, also related to the notion of the wave, la vague.  Same word, different genders.  (And clearly, waves relate to my underwater imagery.)  Mallarmé is probably my greatest influence, when he talks about the music underneath poetry.  For him surface meaning in poetry was only necessary so that poets don’t get stoned—I mean attacked, reviled—by the public.  The true meaning of poetry is the abstract music under the words.  In the same way, I’ve been trying to get at the music underneath the images, the graphic music that underlies sequential art.

CS:  This is what I like about the introduction of that piece by Jasper Johns, and I was thinking very much of abstraction as a sort of unconscious moving through the narrative.  I can tell you from a viewer’s experience what your work looked like in the gallery: My initial response was that this is very cool, as in that register of cool as opposed to hot.  The gutter is now literally the wall, the abstraction is very decorative, and it took time.  The colors became cues, spotting the wall as a kind of punctuation in time.  For someone literally standing in the middle of the room and looking at everything from the distance, slowly - and I haven't yet even reached the point where I understand that there is a beginning and an end - I’m  beginning to see  what the gutter is doing - that it is in a very literal way creating a discretion between one thing and the next. I then began to see  that there are different topographies, each page was giving me a view that was really quite specific, there are even different angles of viewing.  It became clear that there wasn’t an homogenous space from one page to the next that had been simply sliced apart. This was not immediately evident but gradually evident.  So the way that you’re talking abut the epic as something that can belong to a childhood memory, that earning of one’s way past some field and into another where sensations are evoked and specific but not articulated as though they belong to ... well in this case the fall guy is narrative but we don’t even need narrative anymore at this point.   And it’s only after this point that I understand enough to ask the question “Can these be shuffled around?” can I arrange them at whim?, and there’s a clear narrative I’m told. It’s not until that point that I go up to them and I read the titles.  I am moving around the room, checking back and forth, trying to ascertain with effort some sort of meaning that I’m being guided towards which ultimately fails.  I don’t know if anyone has ever told you what it was like to look at that hanging in the gallery.

AM: I’m tremendously grateful to you for telling me all this.  In many ways that’s how I wished it to be read. I don’t want to say you were “correct,” but it confirms that I was able to create them in such a way so as to convey the experience that I’d had myself and that I was trying to convey.

You mentioned Jasper Johns, and I hadn’t quite put this together before now—but I think there is a connection between what I do in 24 x 24 and what Jasper Johns did in his painting Alley Oop.  There, Johns pasted a Sunday Alley Oop page to his canvas and covered it with just blotches of paint, blotting out the representational details but leaving in the larger shapes, so that abstraction is revealed as a kind of unconscious of the representation—he draws out the vagueness, the abstract wave of shapes that’s underneath the narrative of the Alley Oop story.  This is close to what I was trying to do in 24x24 and more generally in my abstract comics.  One of my favorite comic artists is Jack Kirby, who did a great amount of comics from the ‘40s through the ‘80s.  You can see a transformation of his work around the mid-sixties, and I believe that at the time he is beginning to learn form Lichtenstein, noticing the powerful abstraction of form had always been there in his own work but becoming more and more self-conscious about it. Especially in 1965 to 1975, his work becomes so graphically powerful and intentional, and I find myself enjoying it not so much for the storylines but for the unconscious abstraction underneath the story, that gives the story its graphic weight.  In a way, in 24x24 or in my piece Expedition to the Interior I’m almost providing for the reader’s conscious  experience something that I experience, in other comics, as the unconscious.   Of course, abstract painting itself was trying to do that, with Kandinsky already trying to provide harmonious compositions, like he had seen in earlier art, but without the distraction of representational form.  But abstract comics do this for sequential art.
Andrei Molotiu, Expedition to the Interior
CS:  This is really what made me interested in Stanley Cavell and his thoughts about automatism. He’s talking about film but he’s interested in the camera, and the relation film has to what he refers to as the photograph’s automatism.  In The World Viewed, published in 1971, he’s describing film as being in a situation in which it hasn’t realized itself as a medium, and that it’s become a way in which we look out at the world and we hide behind ourselves as we do so. 

AM:  What does he mean by that?

CS:  He says, and here is literally the passage: “Our  condition has become one in which our natural mode of perception is to view, feeling unseen.  We don’t so much look at the world as we look out at it from behind the self.  It is our fantasies, now all completely thwarted and out of hand which are unseen and which must be kept unseen.”* Film hides us in the dark, as it were.  And so he wants to fight for film’s potential, for film to fully realize itself as a medium, by leaving this place where we look out at the world from behind the self.

AM:  So it’s referring simply to the notion of film as a voyeuristic medium, where the body of the viewer is hidden?

CS:  Yes, and so he comes upon this word automatism as a way of, you were talking about  energies as moving from frame to frame, and he’s speaking of medium-specificity as having this unconscious automatism, and of not being given a priori: “one might say that the task is no longer to produce an instance of an art but a new medium within it...  The failure to establish a medium is a new depth, and absoluteness, of artistic failure.”  He continues, “In calling such things automatism's I do not mean that they automatically insure artistic success or death but in mastering a tradition one masters the range of automatism's on which the tradition maintains itself, and in deploying them one’s work is assured a place in that tradition.”  Because of your own resistance to film and interest in the dynamic sequentiality of the comic I’m drawn to the sense of this word “automatism” as a way of understanding the dynamics of the medium, which is now a growing international scene of abstract comics.  You’ve shown that it is only the conditions of visibility, what I’m pointing to as automatisms that are already visible in the medium, which have to do with what you were referring to as their graphic energy.  Cavell is putting pressure on film and narrative and still, much in the way that you want to be resistant ...
AM:  I would have to go back to Cavell’s text for a full understanding of what he means by “automatism,” but one thing we might be saying here may have to do with the subconscious ways of reading or scanning the page that are involved in taking in any comic—does that approach “automatism” in the way you are using it?

CS: Yes, and it is true that I may be pushing the word a little bit closer to you than it actually is.  Another thing I can’t help think about is the little conversation we had about Bergson’s Matter and Memory, you were actually thinking of this quite seriously before you embarked on Abstract Comics.
AM:  Yes, I have something on Bergson that was published in a web journal, actually, a good while ago.  If we are going to gather everything that I’ve done and look at what it has to do with abstract comics, let me go back quickly and say that I did study with Stanley Cavell.  I was half film and half studio-art major (fortunately they were in the same department), and there was an active debate between my film-studies advisor, Vlada Petric, the curator of the Harvard film archive at the time, and Cavell.  Petric was always concerned with identifying the specifically “cinematic” in cinema, declaring some films not at all cinematic, inasmuch as they didn’t do anything interesting with editing, camera angles, what have you. I’m sure this influenced my notion of sequential art, wanting comics do more than simply represent, narrate.  But, on the other hand, Cavell’s response was that the moment you put something in front of a camera and film it, transferring an image of reality onto celluloid, it becomes automatically cinematic; and so the debate was between the cinematic as a kind of active intentional quality put into the piece by the artist, and the cinematic as a preexisting condition of the medium itself.  Within comics such automatism may relate to the pre-set structures of reading—from top to bottom, left to right—which already create a kind of pre-existing dynamic of reading; but the visual experience of the comic can be enhanced through the more active, intentional introduction of sequential dynamism—which I suppose would correspond to Petric’s notion of the cinematic.
Andrei Molotiu, 24x24: A Vague Epic, installation view

CS: Are the new pieces in which you are thinking of animation, is that a new step for you or have you been thinking about it for a long time?
AM:  That goes back to having done film and animation back in college.  When I was 15, 16, like everybody else I wanted to direct, to be a film-maker, but in college, after having studied both film and studio, when having to make a choice for my senior thesis I decided to go to studio.  But I’ve always felt caught between the two. More immediately, my recent flirtation with animation started a couple of months ago when I simply couldn’t settle on a color scheme for a comic I had created, and so I decided, why not just try all colors, shift the color continuously? I thought I remembered Photoshop has some animation capabilities, and it took me about half an hour to figure out how it works.  So, for that piece Flow, I made the colors shift from top left to bottom right—enhancing the direction of reading a comic—looping through the entire color spectrum.  When I finished it I thought that’s kind of cool, the design itself can stay put but the colors can shift, and I thought that’s the only way for an abstract comic to contain animation and yet still remain a comic, not become animation.  Then a Finnish visual poet who had found our abstract comics blog back in April and discovered the notion of Abstract Comics, she’s done a lot of them since, Satu  Kaikkonen,  posted a blog entry saying she wanted to try animated abstract comics too, partially because she found what I had done unsatisfactory, too limited.  That got me thinking about how far the notion of animated comics could go.  This is a debate not only in abstract comics, by the way, but even in mainstream comics, you see some web comics from Marvel or DC containing limited animation—and critics say that then they stop being comics at all. The question, for me, is whether one can maintain the abstract relationships of shape to shape, from panel to panel, across the comic’s grid, once you’ve added movement inside the grid.  If you add movement, is it still a comic?  To some extent I’m not sure it is.  The thing about comics is that still images create the illusion of dynamic movement, so the moment you put an actual, time-based movement within each previously static image, within each panel, it works against that illusion of movement, that sequential dynamism born out of still images which I see as the essence of comics—or at least of abstract comics.  Nevertheless, in some way I wanted to explore the edge between comics and animation, and to some extent I don’t see this as a major direction but a brief exploration; I’m not sure how far I will go into it, because I really think of abstract comics, pure comics, as the main field I want to explore.  But I think also having done all these abstract comics I needed a break, to clear my mind for a while.  My most recent, For Bruce Conner, is the one I’m happiest with.  Yes, it is inspired by Bruce Conner’s films but even more immediately inspired by Bruce Conner’s drawings, which I’ve been utterly bowled over by—for example the little ink drawing hanging as a scroll in the Third Mind show, which was absolutely one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen (the tiny reproduction of it in the catalog is disastrously small and conveys nothing of its effect).  So the animation that I made started from a hand-drawn remix that I had done about half a year ago of a Bruce Conner drawing, and it somehow felt appropriate to animate it.  I ended up cutting it up into quarters and arranging it in four panels, and having each panel loop through an animation cycle, so that it’s both static and dynamic, and each cycle is a slightly different length.  The movement in each panel is from the top left to the bottom right, again to emphasize the direction reading of a comic, but because they have different cycles the overall composition of the four-panel piece changes gradually, as the four panels start in sync, fall out of sync, then take a very long time to fall back into sync—so that almost at no moment is the composition ever the same.  So I like the idea of a combination of the grid structure of an abstract comic with movement, it becomes a kind of hybrid medium, but I still think the animation makes it a unified image more than a comic where you would read the panels in order, 1,2,3,4.  On the other hand I’ve found that, if I force myself to impose that sequential reading, and, say, look at panel one for the duration of a cycle, then shift to panel two and—if it’s halfway through a cycle—I wait for a new cycle to begin and then watch that entire cycle, then move on to panel three and so on, it is quite satisfying.  It does weird things to one’s sense of rhythm.
CS:  I’m  interested in how the animation is in relation to the gutter and you mentioned that you were going to the edges. What came up for me (and this is very opportunistic) is that in JStor you can type up a name to see what happens and so I typed up Bruce Conner as I was interested in the fact that you had chosen his work as the vehicle with which you would step in to this new form - a questionable form you’re saying. What came up was a pretty interesting short little essay from October called “Observations on the Long Take,” by Pierre Paolo Pasolini.  He’s interested it seems in Bruce Conner as someone who is really involved in montage and what it is that montage does.**  Here’s a nice little passage, "The language of action is thus the  language of non-symbolic signs in the present tense; but in the present it makes no sense, and if it  does, it does so only subjectively, and in an incomplete and mysterious way."  He is interested in montage as opposed to the long take in that it is the cut as the ending that produces meaning. I’m interested in thinking of these abstract comics - and I’m  coming at this from an art-historical perspective, I don’t know anything about comic books, I never even read them! - But I’m really interested in the fact that the page of the comic book has frames that appear as the picturing. And it is not neutral in that it even has a name, and that the gutter is actively producing meaning. I like very much that Pasolini was thinking about the language of action as a language of non-symbolic signs and what it means to cut into that...
AM:  As I said, I was also a film studies major, and this goes back to the basic debate between the long take and montage, between André Bazin and Eisenstein.  For Eisenstein the meaning of film comes from the cut, the edit.   Bazin was more focused on the long take, and clearly this inspired the debate I mentioned earlier between Petric and Cavell (Bazin, like Cavell, was more interested in the phenomenology of film photography, which is better expressed in the long take); but in terms of the drawn medium of comics, there is a very close parallel between the way meaning arises between the panels, in the gutter, and the way that Eisenstein discussed the notion of the edit. Eisenstein started from a notion of dialectics—well, dialectical materialism, as he was supposed to say under the Soviet regime—and for him there was a dialectical relationship between the two shots united by a cut, with the resulting meaning being greater than the sum of the two parts.  This is not really different from what Scott McCloud discusses, in his book Understanding Comics, with his notion of closure.  For McCloud, comics are inevitably fragmented, but as we read them we effect this closure from panel to panel that makes us perceive continuity across each gutter, when in fact there is no continuity, there is only a cut.  Sometimes closure can be achieved very easily, automatically, such as in what McCloud calls moment-to-moment transitions.  On the other hand, there are transitions where closure is not so automatic, such as when two completely different things happen in the two panels, and you are the one who has to put the two things together, to find the continuity.  The best example that McCloud gives—and the subject may seem rather cliché, maybe because he is so imbued with traditional comic-book narrative or maybe because he is doing it ironically—shows in the first panel a man yielding an axe, screaming “I’m going to kill you” as he chases another fellow; in the second  panel all you see is a cityscape with a scream sound-effect rising over it.  We automatically assume that the second panel is occuring immediately after the first, and the scream rising over the cityscape is the scream of the person who was killed by the axe murderer.  But clearly a lot of assumptions on the part of the reader play a role in this act of closure, in order to unify the narrative—as McCloud says, it is the reader who decides to let the axe drop.  To go back to abstract comics, this has been very useful for me to realize that abstract comics did not have to work only in the gradual transformation—apparently “moment-to-moment”—way we discussed earlier, when we were talking about the work of, say, Ibn al Rabin. Clearly the closure is effected there very easily.  But in many of my comics I avoid such a gradual transformation and like to juxtapose images where you cannot see a clear transition the one to the other—but you are, ideally, effecting the closure abstractly.  I guess I’m proposing that closure does not necessarily need story, representation, to function. It’s more like getting two very different sound events that still make sense rhythmically or even melodically, one after the other.
Erasing Dreamland, by Mark Charles Brown, 2006

CS:  The interest in Bruce Conners is very specific in supporting what you said, and the background is that the film alluded to by Pasolini is Report, a film of Kennedy being shot.   What I was noticing in the Mark Charles Brown's interpretation of Conners [above] is a similar but filmic interest in what happens when different frames are cutting into the movement of a scene.
AM:  Well what it reminds me of is Abel Gance’s Napoleon, 1927 or so. The movie is mostly  projected with only one projector, but in the final sequence all of a sudden  two more projectors kick in, and the screen goes from being the traditional 3:4 ratio to a 1:4 ratio, an incredibly wide screen.   In this final sequence—the conquest of Italy—the three screens sometimes are synchronized, sometimes are out of sync, and it becomes an amazing visual experience, an ecstasy of imagery.  It’s done with tinted film, and to celebrate Napoleon’s victory the left screen becomes tinted blue, the right red, transforming into the French flag itself. 

Abel Gance, Napoleon, found here.

An effect of this is that it makes you aware of film as a spectacle presented to you while you are in the auditorium, as oppposed to allowing you to be a voyeur, in the dark, and sucking you into the diegesis of the film.  When you have only one screen you get one diegesis to be sucked into, but having three side by side you are too aware of the spectacle of projection to remain simply a voyeur.  I guess you get the same thing from Nam June Paik’s installations—many TVs at the same time function very differently than the fascination of a single one—or from Christian Marclay’s pieces with three or four side by side screens, with montages of different music clips.

CS:  What happens when the shift is made as it has been from the frame by frame appearance of the comic book as it appears on a page, and a page that is going to be turned - which is a very specific thing - and referring to this thing called the gutter as what appears between each page when it is pinned to the wall?

AM:  Well, beyond the gutter you have two more things in any comic, you have the little valley in the spine between two pages (is there a word for that?) and the rhythm of page to page turning, which is a very powerful tool in comics.  Artists who have made longer abstract comics have taken into account the experience of the viewer upon turning the pages, not only from the point of view of shifting from one page to the next, but also knowing the impact of a shape or graphic event being on the right-hand or left-hand page, on the verso or recto.  For the anthology I asked the contributors whether they wanted their piece to start on the left-hand side or the right-hand side, and most had clear preferences.  This effect, this dimension is also currently used in conventional comics—for example in a superhero story you might have the big reveal of the villain as you turn the page, and therefore you get a kind of visceral experience of this revelation.  Clearly this effect is not quite possible in an exhibition, because if you put the pages side by side on the wall you don’t get the experience of turning the page.  The difference between a book experience and a wall experience, if I may say so, is if I may that a wall experience is a second-degree tabular experience—that is, not only are the panels side-by-side in the space of the page, but the pages are side-by-side in the space of the wall.  On the other hand, this way on the wall you get a second degree gutter, so to speak, which for me becomes quite powerful, but in a different way.  This issue—book versus wall—has been to some extent debated in the notion, and the movement, of gallery comics spearheaded by the artist Christian Hill, who has pushed for comics made specifically for the gallery.  In the show, when we placed Patrick McDonnell’s pages on the wall, side by side, their compositions seemed to move up and down across the pages, almost in a wave.  If you step back and see the whole comic at once you can get the feeling of the narrative arc in one glance, and then you can step closer and read it frame by frame.

Going back to our discussion of my animation, it would be interesting to begin questioning the use of the gutter in cinema and animation. We were drawing an equivalence between the comic book’s gutter and the film’s cut, when discussing Eisenstein and McCloud, but if you project two or more reels side by side, you really get a double gutter, in a way a gutter in space and one in time, and that deserves to be more explored.

CS:  I would like for posterity’s sake to ask you about the show that was at MoMA, Comic Abstraction.  You were just describing a real ambition to exhibit comics in a gallery context...

AM:  What was funny about the show is that I was working on my Abstract Comics book when I learned that MoMA was doing a show called Comic Abstraction and I thought “Oh my god, I’m being scooped!”  But their focus turned out to be really quite the opposite of mine, because abstract comics is about a series of juxtaposed abstract images, while Comic Abstraction turned out to be concerned with traditionally unified abstract works—paintings, mostly—which happened to contain rendering elements derived from comics. The only piece that might have had some overlap was by Rivane Neuenschwander.  She colored in the pages of an old Uncle Scrooge comic, maintaining the panels and graphic rhythm of color from panel to panel, together with the empty word balloons.  But overall they are two very distinct movements.  My concern about the Comic Abstraction show at MoMA is that it continued the logic of their 1990 High/Low show, which is basicaly a logic of high art’s appropriation of popular, and supposedly anonymous, culture.  To some extent, MoMA still seems to be able to enshrine “popular culture” only when it has been appropriated in high art.  There was a good example of this in the Comic Abstraction catalog (which I don’t happen to have on hand right now), in the entry for an artist who made large murals by copying explosions from a comic book.  The catalog showed the comic-book panel that had been copied, but only labeled it as the source for the painter’s imagery, giving it no other credits whatsoever.  Clearly it was from a recent comic, written and drawn and inked and colored by somebody—by people who have names.  The panel must have been scanned from the actual comic, so they could have easily found the names of its creators.  Not labeling it as anything but a (apparently anonymous) source for the mural denies the agency of the comic artists, and suggests that such lowly imagery is only given merit through its appropriation in “high” art.

CS:  It’s a curator’s sensibility to appropriate in such a way.  As you began talking I had this strong reaction to the manner of appropriating, and thinking of Jasper Johns’s painting and how important Leo Steinberg’s essay “Other Criteria” was, or is for me, in finding another way to talk about early Pop Art paintings as flatbed picture planes.***  I like very much your efforts in all of this to have some integrity about what is actually visible in a medium, and this is what I was trying to get at with regard to automatism.

AM:  The overall tendency in what I am doing is completely to ignore high and low hierarchies, and to realize that powerful formal developments have arisen with as much creative agency at every level of culture.  Jack Kirby is as important for me as Jackson Pollock, and I draw no distinction between the two in the way that MoMA, for example, might.

Jack Kirby, Thor, found here.
 *  Stanley Cavell, "Automatism," in The World Viewed, Harvard University press, c. 1971, pp. 101-108.
** Pier Paolo Pasolini, Norman MacAfee and Craig Owens, "Observations on the Long Take,"  October, V. 13, Summer 1980, pp. 3-6.
***  Leo Steinberg, "Other Criteria," published in Other Criteria, University of Chicago Press, c. 1972.
 Catherine Spaeth, c. 2009 -  /

20-page preview at Fantagraphics Books

Fanta preview on Flickr

Multi-part abstract comics feature at Action Yes online quarterly


First review of Abstract Comics: The Anthology at Comic Book Jesus

Blurb on list of "The Hottest Graphic Novels of Summer 2009" (Graphic Novel Reporter)

Review at The Walrus, "Canada's Best Magazine."

Jog's brief review

Douglas Wolk's brief review

Comicsgirl's review

Chris Mautner's review at CBR

Our first Spanish-language review

Review at Graphic Novel Reporter

Review at Comic Book Galaxy/ADD's blog

Review by Sara Cole at PopMatters

Review in Berlin daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel and Iffy Google translation of same

Further blog post by writer of Der Tagesspiegel review

Review by Pedro Moura, in Portuguese

English translation of Moura at Succo Acido

Douglas Wolk in the NY Times Book Review

Book Soup blog

Thierry Groensteen at Neuvieme Art (January 19, 2010)

Charles Hatfield at Thought Ballonists

Craig Fischer and Derik Badman discuss the Anthology at Madinkbeard

Best of lists:

Eisner Award 2010 nominee for best anthology

Politics and Prose

Doug Harvey in LA Weekly

Design Observer

Reviews of "Silent Pictures" exhibition:

Review at Dart: Design Art Daily

Review on SVA Continuing Education blog

Japanese-language review of "Silent Pictures" and Google translation of same


Prolifération des lapins

A little abstract comic de rien du tout I made few days ago :

abstract comic by Mattias-Fausse-Monnaie
Prolifération des lapins, Mattias-Fausse-Monnaie, october 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

More pages and sequences from a work in progress

I'm currently envisioning it as a 200-page book, tentatively titled "A Survey of the Territory." These pages will most likely be tweaked and/or re-sequenced before publication.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Last Vispo anthology

Closed Caption, visual poem by Damian Lopes, from The Last Vispo

Very soon, Fantagraphics will publish The Last Vispo Anthology: Visual Poetry 1998 - 2008 edited by Crag Hill & Nico Vassilakis. The editors' site. Fantagraphics page.

It includes 143 contributors from 23 countries. Many of the visual poems use elements of comics, or bear a family resemblance to comics: works by David Ostem, Bill DiMichele, Jim Leftwich, Gary Barwin, Serge Segay, & a collab between Marc Bell & Jason McLean come to mind.

Troylloyd/Troy Lloyd & I from the Abstract Comics anthology are also in this one.

Unlike comics, the majority of visual poems are single page works. Everything happens in the space of a single page. Sequence is the order of where you focus your eyes as you "drink" the contents of a visual poem.

I suggest that reading visual poetry is helpful to developing visual literacy.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012

comic rip/ rosaire appel

a collage of ripped up printed proofs - scanned & digitally colorized. 14" x 22" print.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Intercorstal: Page 60

Here's Page 60 of The Intercorstal. I started this a long time ago and then put it to one side, unsatisfied with how it was going. Found it again by chance in my copy of Watchmen when I went to the 2000AD Mega Signing event in September.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

graphic novel by Rosaire Appel

"an unauthorized account"

Continuing to be intrigued by the language of abstract forms and by the possibility/ impossibility of  narrative, I found myself entrenched in this project called "An Unauthorized Account." It will have several iterations based on the same imagery. Since it is 'unauthorized' who can determine which is the definitive version? So far it exists as a commercially printed book and as a book-collage, unique piece. Eventually it will be a video and  an abstract wall-comic with gigantic speech balloons - or tiny ones. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

books full of pictographic symbols

here's a page from Warja Lavater's (also known as Warja Honegger-Lavater) book Pictograms. Warja was a Swiss artist who made accordion books. More sample pages here. An edition of her book is in print. I found out about her at gramatologia.
& here's a page from Xu Bing's Book from the Ground. From an exhibition in Shanghai. It should have been published already, but doesn't appear to be available. The site isn't working, however is.

a few years ago, I posted about Wilfried Hou Je Bek's translation of parts of The Epic of Gilgamesh into the pictograms taught to Chimpanzees & Bonobos by ape researchers. The link to the complete PDF doesn't work any more, but there's an excerpt in here.

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